THREE WHISKIES

Now, I am not suggesting there was any jiggery-pokery on the part of Robbie Fraser whenever he uttered the words ‘on the budget.’ I do confess to feeling a stab of anxiety when I imagined that any increase in expenditure in the budget might result in a diminution of my fee for the gig. All I know is that in March Karen Smyth lodged a thousand pounds with Glasgow Sheriff Court to pay for a bill I owed GHA. Was that it? Had I been paid in full already?

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo – in which direction do I go? I wheel away from the Honda and break into a clumsy half-gallop back towards Neil Iain Maclean’s Royal Hotel just beyond the arch.

“Don’t you dare go to the pub, Norman,” Marion shouts as she dismounts from the back seat of our vehicle. “Robbie and I are coming with you.”

The three of us more or less clatter into the lounge bar at the same time, to the open-mouthed astonishment of the young barman who is reading a newspaper behind the counter. We present a strange vision. One cool dude with four-day growth on pale chops, one female d’une âge certaine with cheeks crimson with anger, and a doubled up freak in a wet dressing gown, with exposed pale legs and torn green slippers on his feet.

“Three whiskies,” I gasp. “And what will you guys have? Robbie? Marion?”

I draw a veil over what followed. I fuzzily remember a prolonged drinking session during which I regaled the company – increased by the presence of several jolly locals who had somehow heard of the freak show in the pub – with Gaelic songs and half remembered Glasgow street chants:

‘Olaibh i buileach, tha tuilleadh san stòp, Drink it all up, there’s more in the stoup,

Deoch slàinte nam Muileach len cruinneagan bòidheach, Here’s Good Health to the natives of Mull with their beautiful maidens,

Olaibh i buileach, tha tuilleadh san stòp, Drink it all up, there’s more in the stoup,

Am Muile nan garbh-bheann tha fiadh as a’ gharbhlaich, In Mull of the high bens, deer dwell in the rugged regions,

Tha gobhair is meanbh-chrodh is sealgair an eòin ann, Goats and small cattle and fowlers are there,

Olaibh i buileach, tha tuilleadh san stòp, Drink it all up, there’s more in the stoup,

Dh’òlainn i, phàighinn i, thogainn an àird i, I would drink it, pay for it and raise it up,

Air cloinn-nighean an t-Sàilein ‘s gach àite rim eòlas, To honour the girls of Salen and every place I know,

Olaibh i buileach, tha tuilleadh san stòp, Drink it all up, there’s more in the stoup,

‘S e bhith sealltainn nad aodann ‘s do ghruaidh mar na caoran, It’s while gazing at your face, with your cheeks like rowan berries,

‘S mi smaoineachadh daonnan air faoineas na h-òige, I think of the foolishness of youth,

Olaibh i buileach, tha tuilleadh san stòp, Drink it all up, there’s more in the stoup,’

Again, the ballad of the foreign sailor who landed in Govan:

‘The first time I struck Govan,

The first time that I reached that shore,

I went down to the smoky alleys,

Trying to find a welcome door.’

Needless to tell, the poor victim falls for a pretty young girl, and accompanies her to her lodgings. There he is drugged, robbed and thrown out into the gutter.

There was certainly a hot time in old Inverary town that Sunday afternoon. A pupil of ‘Curly’ MacKay arrived with his accordion, and John the driver and cameraman joined the session. Somehow Marion and Robbie got me back into the passenger seat of the Honda and I closed my eyes for the last lap of the journey to Oban. Suffice it to say that the deep dream of peace compounded of equal parts alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs fortified me, or at least anaesthetised what I call my mind, for the horrors of what I was to encounter on the ferry. Yes, it was on the voyage between Oban and Castlebay, Barra, that I met the Mysterious Asian Beauty.

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