Highland Archives


By Stephen Cashmore

The other week one of this newspaper’s more venerable columnists outlined the pros and cons of going away down the line on public transport. The risk of forced company with incompatible strangers was highlighted, but nothing at all was said about journeying with one’s acquaintances. My old friend Bruce had a tale for my ear on the subject of travelling companions.

Life was becoming humdrum. Work had become monotony; long time pals just so many stale cakes. Jaded and Thurso-weary, Bruce needed a change of scene. He’d bus off down to Glasgow for a few days and get his bilges baled out. It seemed a good idea. Billy thought so, too.

Billy is always out of sorts with someone or something. The kind of character who’d provoke a rammy in an empty house, Billy’s life-long hatred can be purchased with one flippant remark. Equally, if he takes a shine to you, nothing you could do would put him up or down. The mere mention of a trip south was enough to convince him that getting away from ‘this bloody town and all these small-minded wifies – of both sexes,’ was just the medicine he needed.

By way of celebrating in advance this promised release from parochial purgatory, Billy advised a Saturday night spree. ‘A good fill’s what we need. It’ll make for a shorter journey.’ Now, while Bruce had serious doubts about the potential benefits of alcohol as a travel tonic, he didn’t want to fall out with his friend. He’d go along for one hour and a very maximum of three pints.

One a.m. on Sunday morning found the two pals swinging their legs on a bench half way along the Mall. Having just sat down on an unmentionable rubber object, Billy was not in the best humour. Worse, he could in no way convince his companion that the evening could not possibly be called complete without a visit to Thurso’s premier night-club. ‘Too old,’ was Bruce’s excuse.

‘Nonsense, man! I’ve seen a chiel in his mid-fifties boogying around the dancefloor!’

‘Aye, but he came from Stoke-on-Trent,’ which was a thing impossible to deny or argue against. The upshot of all this was that Billy went clubbing and Bruce went home to his bed.

Next morning’s churchgoers were not amused to see two rough-looking individuals standing at the city link stop gulping the last dregs from a fortified wine bottle. ‘Flip, but I needed that down my neck, Brucie boy!’ remarked Billy, endorsing his relief with an almighty belch, which drew disapproving stares from middle-aged passers-by with hymnbooks. ‘And just what the – ‘.

Somehow, however, Bruce managed to prevent his friend saying something that may have been held against him in a future life, and the pair of them scrambled aboard the bus.

They sat at the front - Billy insisted on it. ‘You feeling ill, or something?’ Bruce asked.

‘Ill? Me ill! Nah, nah, man. I’ve just had an overdose of bad dreams, that’s all.’

At Watten a couple got on looking worse the wear for some kind of overindulgence or other. ‘Bloody drunks! It’s a damned disgrace. I bet they’re away to Inverness to dry out.’ But Billy was wrong; the sore-heided pair got off at Wick, leaving Bruce and his mate as sole representatives of the chronic intemperance society on the bus. All the other passengers were in full possession of their common senses.

Bruce was looking out of the window. ‘What the hell are you deeking at?’ his friend asked.

‘Oh . . . I was just looking to see if there were any buzzards about.’

‘Huh! There’s enough buzzards on this bus. And old fowls, too.’ This loud observation visibly aroused the wrath of several respectable ladies sitting within earshot of Billy. He didn’t care. Far from it – he positively revelled in this species of vulgar notoriety. Having upset half the bus, he now gleefully decided to provoke his friend. ‘You’ll never guess who I was smoochin’ with last night when you were tucked up in your kip.’

‘Go on then – amaze me. It was Madonna, wasn’t it?’

‘No. It was that ugly critter, Alison.’

Now, Alison being someone he was still quite fond of, having known her in the biblical sense, Bruce was not exactly overwhelmed by this remark. He pretended not to have heard it - which was tantamount to admitting that Billy’s arrow had gone straight to his heart. Emboldened by this knowledge, Billy tried another dart. ‘And which corpse did you pinch that old jacket off, eh?’

The garment in question was Bruce’s pride and joy, a buckskin levi jacket he’d had for over thirty years, and which he wore only for special occasions - like visiting Glasgow. He couldn’t let pass an insult of this magnitude. ‘Am I wrong or what, or aren’t you a Beatles fan?’

‘Aye, but what’s that got to do with that manky old rag you’re wearing on your back?’

‘Well, if you happen to look at the cover of the Rubber Soul album, you’ll see John Lennon wearing a manky old rag – the exact same as this one.’ Suitably chastened, Billy responded by falling asleep with his mouth wide open, leaving Bruce to his pursue his buzzard-spotting undisturbed.

Over Berriedale they went, swinging and swaying around all the fearsome hairpins between there and Helmsdale, and never a peep out of sleeping Billy. Whatever fears he had harboured of being sick seemed to have been totally unfounded. Safe and sound on gentler ground, Bruce relaxed, closed his eyes and felt himself drifting more in than out of sleep. Maybe Billy had been right after all, and a good fill really did shorten the journey. When the bus stopped at Brora, Billy awoke with a start. ‘What’s up, man?’ his friend enquired. ‘Are you wanting an ice from Capaldi’s, or are you feeling not well?’

‘Never felt better,’ responded Billy as he spewed all over Bruce’s treasured buckskin jacket.

When they got to Glasgow Bruce took his jacket to a specialist leather cleaner, who shook his head. ‘It’s only fit for the bin, son. That’s one skinful you’ll be regretting, I shouldn’t wonder.’

‘No. It wasn’t me that puked on it. Chiel next to me on the bus was travel sick.’

‘He’ll be no friend of yours, then?’

‘Not any more’, replied Bruce; ‘Not any more.’

Highland Archives Index


Steven Cashmore 1999

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