Continued from Be Just and Fear Not, from the novel “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can.”
Ae fond kiss and then we sever, Ae farewell and then forever. Robert Burns, Dumfries, 1791.
When I wake up suddenly the rain pelts onto my roof like the sound of scuttling rats and I instantly decide it’s not the day for walking. Or indeed for making decisions. My ablutions are an angry affair, this thing about Diantha and this thing about Myra rubbing me up the wrong way, chafing my soreness. Yet still there is time, like there is always, but with seemingly nothing in terms of home to fill it, I drive the way the tin can is already pointing, and drive until the tired heart of this machine sounds like it’s ready to stop beating.
Some time later I’m in Dumfries, where I stop and say how angry is the River Nith in this fucking downpour? But with loneliness for company and despite my earlier resolve not to make decisions, I decide to don my waterproofs and take a six-mile walk downstream and back. Clear my head of all this nonsense is the drill.
In town I enjoy the Robert Burns Museum but the town itself I think feels a little tired and unemployed. Between the nods to High Street fashion shops there is more than a smattering of Poundlands, BM Bargains which actually is a grand place well up there on my hit-parade of shops, cheap nail bars and dark fishing tackle stockists with open doors where the smell of maggots pours out as from open wounds.
A bit like Leeds, there are “ginnel pubs” to be found and, surprise surprise I find one, where I can get me a corner, sit quiet and drip dry. The Globe Inn, which celebrates Burns with his own little tap-room, is quiet at first: just an attractive young couple who are more attracted to Facebook than they are to each other; two women, their husbands, two little dogs and two hearing-aids, on the husbands not the dogs; an old guy glued to the horse racing on television; and an American tourist who’s only here to get directions to somewhere else.
In my heart of hearts I know finances are getting low, but I am a liar to myself. If I have a hundred pounds in my pocket and spend twenty of them, I still have a hundred pounds left. That’s how my mind makes it work. I tell the same untruth to my bank account and that’s why I’m rooting in my Pierre Cardin wallet for my card to buy lunch, and thinking inevitably of Diantha and if she’s now in London, and if I should go against her father’s orders and track her down… And then I say again I must stop these thoughts.
The jolly wee lass who is the bar manager serves me a pint of Edinburgh and recommends the Haggis served with boiled “tatties” and “neeps”, which she helpfully tells me means potatoes and turnips and that’s how it comes in these parts. I’m not a fan of turnip, I tell her, but as this journey of mine is supposed to be experiential and as I’ve never eaten Haggis before, I ought at the very least to allow it to introduce itself. Forty minutes later I’m wishing I’d rudely turned my back on it and pondering the anomaly that the turnips are the most appetising thing on the plate. But of course I am English, and when the nice wee lass comes to ask if everything’s ok I tell her that yes it’s lovely thank you very much.
By the time I’m on my second pint of Edinburgh the bar has filled up. Though the American tourist has gone to find the place he was really looking for, the old guy’s still glued to the horses, the young couple are still fixed to their phones and the two old ladies with the husbands, dogs and hearing aids have been joined.
Mark, aged 60, is a gardener from Rigg near Gretna, who’d been in the pub trade for years before buying a bar in Spain and going bust, which caused his marriage to go the same way. Like me he laments the death of pubs and blames the smoking ban, cheap supermarket booze and the Monopolies Commission in equal measure. He and his three mates, Bill, Davey and Dek, are all friendly and lively with laughs and banter, making me feel most welcome. They even insist on buying me a pint, which despite my rule of two because I’m driving, I drink, largely because I feel like getting pissed and drowning my sorrows. It isn’t long before I’m laughing, loving the ribaldry, feeding off the effected nationalistic pride and one-upmanship and embracing the fun that’s been lacking in my life.
Two hours later when we’ve swapped numbers and they’ve gone to the wives and food they’ve kept waiting, I buy a bottle of plonk from Iceland and drive five miles to Glencaple on the banks of the Salway Firth.
“It’s grand there,” Mark said.
“Fantastic views,” Dek said.
“Campervan-friendly,” Davey said.
KEEP OUT, the signs say, FAST FLOWING TIDES AND QUICKSAND.
At first I think my new mates have been taking the piss, so I ask a fisherman and his wife if I’ll be OK.
“Och you’ll be fine,” he says, and reveals his name is Henry.
“So long as you don’t go too near the edge,” his wife says with a titter and no titular revelation. I am a tad, just a tad, reassured as I swing the tin can into a bay for the night.
The rapid tides are indeed pretty awesome, and I learn from Henry that once upon a time they went to fish with Haaf nets (invented by the Vikings) and they fishermen had to draw straws to get the best place to pull out the salmon and the sea trout.
Later, after a glass or two of plonk in the dimming light, I look again at the warning sign.
DANGER. FAST FLOWING TIDES AND QUICKSAND. KEEP OUT.
In my state of orangeness I flirt with going down there to see how dangerous it really is, and how long it would take to engulf me, carry me off on its tide to oblivion or suck me down through its sands. I even ponder how to approach it… before deciding the best approach is to just stay in the tin can with my plonk. And I am duly rewarded for that decision as I see an osprey soaring overhead before coming down to fish, which makes me realise how lucky I am, and how good this whole thing is. An avian talisman clawing its way into my life and telling me to stop where I am on the bank.
To celebrate that, and to desalinate the aftertaste of haggis, I decide to knock up some pasta. Just as I’m tucking in I smell burning plastic and realise I’ve put my biscuit tin on the hob. Leaping to action, I bang my head on my bookshelf and stub my toe… then spend an hour balanced on one foot scraping the melted plastic off the stove. My cold pasta, like my biscuits, are off menu, and I finish up with cornflakes to accompany my plonk while nursing and cursing a split toe.
“Robert Burns,” I say out loud, “but not as quick as plastic.”
Nevertheless, A Man’s a Man for a’ That, and I can’t allow my spirits to dampen. I think to myself I liked Dumfries, I liked Mark and his mates, and I like Glencaple for its peace and tranquil moisten sundown beauty.
So it’s a happy man who’s drunk and ready for his bed, and who thinks that like the osprey’s talons as it gripped the fish, like the Haaf nets that once kept more, this place is trying to keep him too. And he goes to sleep with that notion, the notion that his decision to come here was the right one, he’s a man who will not sever, who will not say farewell. Finally, he’s a man that doesn’t know the talisman came clawing its way into his life with something else, something far more profound, something far less rainy and far more wonderful, for his tomorrow.
To be continued…