THE BUDGET

A man in the grip of his passion will not be thwarted. John’s response to my inability to explain myself is a single “Hmmmh,” whereupon he continues to harangue me in TV speak: “The shinty stick or golf club or whatever weapon Robbie decides to use will be resting on your right shoulder. Got it?”

“Uh-huh.”

“But what the viewer will see is you bringing the club down and across your body to smash into the giant container of whisky, shattering it into hundreds of pieces, okay?”

“Uh-huh,” I grunt indistinctly. I try to smile to indicate that I now realise that the word Jeroboam has nothing to do with the ancient Israelites.

“But that’s not how we’re going to film the sequence, is it?”

“Shuppose not.”

“Definitely not,” chirps John. “What we’ll do is have the head of the club resting on the side of the full massive container, the jeroboam – know what I mean?.

Unfortunately, I do, although the knowledge comes far too late.

“And,” John continues excitedly, “ I’ll film you rapidly drawing both arms backwards and upwards until the club is resting on your shoulder. Get it?”

I remain silent. John doesn’t notice and continues, laughing: “You see, ,Norman, I’m going to film in . . . reverse.”

“Reverse,” I repeat, as though I understand his gobbledegook.

“Yeah,” John says in a cheery, friendly voice. “Neat trick, humh?”

I turn my head to the passenger window. As I gaze at the dark waters of Loch Fyne I close my eyes and wish I could wake up gorked out in a wee white hospital bed somewhere. Until we reach Inveraray, I swallow yawn after yawn in strangulating gulps. Feeling heavy and dazed, I manage to tumble out of the cab about fifty yards beyond the arch on the road to Loch Awe. I am huddled against the boundary wall of either the Police or Fire Station sucking on my last cigarette when I see Robbie emerging from the back offside door and making his way toward the store on his side of the road. I shout to him to get me cigarettes.

When he returns I am waiting in the rain beside the front passenger door. “Here,” Robbie says, extending a packet of Benson and Hedges. “Let me give you some money,” he adds. “This’ll get you a meal on the ferry . . . and stuff.” He pulls out a bundle of paper money – twenties and tens – from his wallet and holds it out to me. “It’s on the budget,” he offers by way of explanation.

I crumple the money in my hand and stuff it into my dressing gown pocket. I don’t count it. I merely view it as another murky financial transaction in the long process of filming Tormod.

The phrase ‘on the budget’ I have heard on numerous occasions since we started to film this never-ending epic. In flash restaurants in Glasgow and Oban and in humble bodegas in Spain this was the jaunty phrase Robbie employed to justify expenditure on food and drink. An unpleasant sensation, not yet a thought, used to spread through my innards. I really ought to have enquired about the amount of money Belle Allée were investing in this project, and, more importantly, what was my share of it. For the first and only time in my long history of participation in television programming I hadn’t asked for a contract before the cameras began to roll. At the back end of 2008 I was so short of money that when Robbie came to me with the proposal that he be allowed to film a documentary about my life and sordid times I entered into a fuzzy agreement without taking the time to kick the tires.

For now, it was a case of taking a deep breath, gritting my teeth and getting through the unpleasant business of completing Robbie’s documentary. As we used to say in Govan when I was a lad whenever an initially tedious procedure had to be followed, ‘Rise, horse, and you’ll get grass.’ The problem was that maybe I had already received all the grass I was due.

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