STRAY LEAVES FROM THE TEA BOWL
By Stephen Cashmore
It was 10 p.m. A silver moon rose into an indigo sky, while, away towards the enchanted west, the sun fell slowly into a cloudless bed. All along the Mall dancing midges whirled round and round in ceaseless reels, driven by tunes unheard by human ears. Shirt-sleeved visitors lolled against the road bridge, idly eyeing a young angler who stood waist-high in the river, lashing the rolling water with his fly line. It had been a truly beautiful day.
Earlier, during the brightest part of the afternoon, a few regulars stood nursing their beers in the dungeon gloom of a local bar. Questions were being asked, and one remained unanswered. What was the sailor's byname for the Panama Canal? Someone remembered hearing it once, but time and age had dimmed the memory. Could anyone help? No. At crisis times like these a touch of humour comes in handy.
"I've been drinking for over forty years and there's one woman whose face I've been looking at behind bars all over Scotland. And do you know, that woman doesn't look a single day older."
"When you say 'behind bars', I take it we're not talking about Porterfield."
"Don't be stupid! The woman I'm referring to is right here in this very establishment."
"Give up, man, you've been drinking too long. You're brain's gone to mince."
"No, no, it's true. Look." And sure enough, there on a stout bottle label was the familiar sweetheart in her red sweater.
"I wonder who she is?"
"You mean you don't know. Shame on you! She's Mrs Younger - I think."
Still no one was any the wiser.
"Mrs Younger. George Younger's wife. You must remember George Younger, the MP."
"Och aye, Secretary of State for something wasn't he. A good old fashioned Tory. George Younger - My, my."
But one man doubted. "Nay, nay. That cannot be right. A Tory's wife in a red sweater? Never!"
Just then the sudden appearance of mannie dressed in tropical shorts and open-toed sandals turned all attention to the weather.
"Jeepers! I thought it was a mirage come through the door."
"Be sensible, man. A mirage doesn't throw ten pound notes over the bar."
The newcomer was congratulated on his good sense. "You're better off indoors this weather, boy. The midges 'll no' nip your legs in here."
"No, but the flies round this bar 'll bite a hole in your pocket."
Everyone agreed on one thing - the day's weather was exceptional.
"I was down along the Esplanade this morning. Beautiful blue sky, hardly a ripple on the Firth. It could have been Trincomalee I was looking at."
"Aye, that's just what it was like, right enough."
"Oh? And when were you in Trincomalee?"
"Year before last. I was fishing for prawns in the bay there."
"Heavens! That's a hell of a journey to go for prawns."
"Not really. It's only just up the coast from Oban, isn't it?"
But as no one was really sure, the geography lesson came to an end.
"Ah, if only we had weather like this for six months of the year. Why, the A9 would be nose to tail with caravans and coaches."
"Aye, the beaches'd all be crowded with wealthy tourists, and there'd be luxury hotels all over the place, and they could shut the gates at Dounreay any time they wanted. We'd get ourselves jobs as waiters or something."
"Or toyboys, like in that Shirley Ballantine film."
"I could picture it just. Manuel Mackenzie, Pedro Mackay and Juan Sutherland. We'd have to talk different, too. Ex-cuse-a me, Jeemy."
Everyone was still laughing when a well kent figure stepped through the door and went straight into the gents. When he came out, our man was turning to go back out of the place when a voice from behind the bar asked him what was wrong? "Have you had your tap stopped, or has your slate not been paid?"
"Are you no' wise, man? A lovely afternoon like this and you're cooped up in this place like a bunch of troglomites. Have ye no gardening left to do?"
"Simmer down, boy. We're in here getting some practice in."
"Practice! Practice for what?"
"Why, for the weekend of course. It's bound to be lashin' rain. And where will you be then, if you're no' in here, eh?"
Highland Archives Index
Steven Cashmore 1999
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