Highland Archives


By Stephen Cashmore

What quirk of fate is it that seems to determine that whenever you’re hurrying to keep an appointment, some well-kent acquaintance materialises to delay you? A taxi draws up at the door; the phone rings and it’s an old pal who has some red hot gossip to pass on ("in the strictest confidence, of course." Of course!) Then, just as you finally get them off the line, the taxi’s away and it’s too late to call another. So – you’ll just have to walk.

Ten paces down the street and suddenly there’s someone at your side. It’s cantankerous Jackie, the man with a million moans. Once upon a time it was the Scottish Special, then it was Cairn, now it’s Pentland Housing. And always it’s the Council, every department, including some that have never existed, the Commissioner for Public Morals, for example. And doctors! "Don’t you talk to me about bloody doctors! Here’s me with a hundred symptoms anyone can see, and they can’t find nothing wrong with me! Don’t you mention doctors to me."

"How’s tricks, Jackie?"

This question is a major mistake, but to spare readers a tiresome catalogue of physical ailments, a fifty- percent selection from a medical dictionary will give an idea of what’s wrong with cantankerous Jackie this merry morning. In one ear, out the other, it’s the only way to stay sane in such situations.

It arrives as no surprise to hear that Jackie, too, has appointments to keep. Doctor first, then the Council Offices. Who’d be a public servant with clients like this? But the doctor’s place is not too far away, and Jackie has been a near neighbour for many years. No doubt patience really is a virtue, but sometimes temporary deafness would be a better blessing.

"Jackie! The very man I was wanting to see."

A mature lady steps forth from a shop doorway where she appears to have been waiting in ambush.

"Good God Betty, you’re like to give me a heart attack! Have you no considerations for a sick man?"

Obviously not, for, without one word of apology, Betty launches into an interrogation that makes the Gestapo seem like a team of WRI quizmistresses. Does Jackie know so-and-so has just died, and when’s the funeral being held, and who’s the deceased sister’s husband, and didn’t one of the daughters once run away to Brora with a married man?

("The shame of it! And the family tried to keep it quiet, too, but some sad people went round telling tales. There’s a lot of vicious tongues in this town, let me tell you")

"I canna help you, Betty. Lord knows I’ve enough problems of my own, without getting involved in other folk’s affairs. But here’s a man who’ll be able to tell you. He writes in the paper."

"And who’s he?" Betty demands. "Is he that cheil what’s always rattlin’ on about politics?"

"Politics? He’s more sense than to write about them. Who’s interested in bloody politics, anyhow? MP’s and councillors - a bunch o’ gibbers with nothing better to do. And it’s us what’s paying for it all."

"And what’s wrong with our own MP then, eh, Jackie? Well, I’ll tell you boy – there’s nothing at all wrong with him. He’s an honest gentleman."

"Exactly woman, you said it. An honest man. Now what qualification is that for a politician, eh?"

This interesting question is answered by one totally unrelated to it.

"Well, what does he write, then? I bet it’s all that stuff about Thurso folk what none of us has ever heard of. A lot of rubbish!"

Sometimes you just have to grin and get on with it. But just when things look terminal, a fresh face comes upon the scene; George, an easy-oasy character, never seen with a girn on his face. This morning he’s wearing his usual wry smile.

"How’s it going, Jackie boy?"

"Ah, no’ great, Cheordie, no’ great at all. I’m crippled wi’ piles and strangled by bureaucracy."

"Well, Jack, as long as you’re no’ crippled by bureaucracy and strangled wi’ piles, then you’re doin’ no’ too bad."

George’s philosophical gem more than compensated for a missed appointment, but it’s extremely unlikely that cantankerous Jackie saw it that way. He’d more than likely have told the doctor about a pain he was having in his neck; "Could it be something to do with my haemorrhoids, doctor?"


Highland Archives Index


Steven Cashmore 1999

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