A Stone’s Throw from Summer

Continued from Chapter 2 of “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can.”

Following last night’s inebriation I’m waking this morning at a plumper hour than normal.  It’s my ringing phone that gets me up and I’m confused, not just because I’m sleeping deeply but because it’s such a rarity.  I’m hoping it’s Myra, or even Diantha, but it’s Mark, the gardener I met in Dumfries, inviting me to his place in Rigg for a wee bit of dinner.  I’ve swapped many a number on my travels, always with a pinch of salt in terms of promises of keeping in touch, but this new friendship has come to fruition and I’m pleased, hence there seems to be a portentous vigour to my baby wipe ablutions.

After a long and sunny walk up the bank of the Solway Firth, I return to the tin can and drive down the coast towards Rigg, picking up a bottle of wine on the way.  I have no trouble finding Mark’s nice ex-council three-bedroom semi and his equally nice girlfriend Pamela.  She’s petite, bespectacled and smiling and I like her instantly as she makes me so welcome, saying her man’s told her all about me and my project. The pleasant smell of cooking is in the air as Mark guides me through to the living room. We sit there, resuming our conversation where it was left over pints of Edinburgh, while Pamela busies herself in the kitchen and their little dog takes an instant shine to my leg and then my rucksack for afters.  “Sid!” snaps Mark, “It’s not a bitch! Sorry mate.”

“He’s OK,” I say, thinking otherwise as my bag’s footballed and fucked about the laminate floor.

Mark and Pamela are the perfect Scottish hosts and as we finish the wine and he fetches out the Old Pulteney single malt I know this is going to be a good time.  Pamela prefers to leave the whisky alone, and keeps disappearing back to the kitchen while Mark and I swap stories.  I tell him how I nearly burned down my tin can, and how I couldn’t get rid of the aftertaste of haggis, which however much I tried I couldn’t get on with.  He laughs awkwardly, and it’s just then when Pamela tells us to sit at the table as she’s about to plate up.

“I hope you like haggis,” she says, and I glance sheepishly at grinning Mark.

But what can you do?  Only say it looks and tastes delicious of course.  I manage to get it down, and keep it down (despite the added pressure of seeing Sid eating from a plate identical to mine) as it sloshes about with the malt.  I don’t want to be unkind and ungrateful because they’re a lovely couple, always laughing and Pamela always teasing Mark for never popping the question.  

“Marriage?” he says with a conspiratorial manly wink, “Once bitten twice shy.”

“I said that about the haggis,” I think but do not say.

“Are you married?” Pamela asks, and I tell them I’m separated and have been ‘bitten’ twice.  I also say I have kids from my first marriage and I rarely see them, and in fact I haven’t seen my eldest daughter for ten years.

“That’s so sad,” she says, and I say yes it is but don’t embellish other than to explain I don’t know why.

I’m interested to learn about Mark’s job as a gardener and Pamela’s job as a music teacher in Annan.  She plays piano beautifully, I later learn, so beautifully in fact that when they ask me to fetch my guitar I politely and humbly decline, insisting I couldn’t hold a candle to her perfect pitch.  I do, however, fish my baby ukulele from my dog-eared rucksack and we enjoy an impromptu ceilidh, extemporising rude words as we go along.

Over yet more Scotch, they ask about my work and are particularly fascinated in my travels and work in Rwanda.  I begin to unravel stories, like the one of Aline who was forced to bring up her siblings after her parents were slain during the genocide, but it’s a heavy topic and I shift things back to the here and now, proposing that we start a new soap, called Annandale.  With Pamela’s creative input we start mapping out the most fantastic and hilarious storylines imaginable – it’s a damned good laugh and it’s doing my soul good, and I’m sorry it has to end.  They offer to put me up for the night but I politely decline, insisting I should persist with the stealth-camping and I’ve already parked in a quiet spot nearby.

“Don’t you get lonely?” Pamela asks, and I say I do.

After bidding farewell amid promises of keeping in touch and thanks for the drinks and the “delicious” haggis, I find the tin can where I left it, patiently waiting in the little lay-by near a railway bridge on the dusky lane to Kirkpatrick.  

As I sit to smoke and ponder a perfect evening, there’s a sudden thump on my roof.

“Yer fuckin’ paedo!” I hear.  Shocked and scared, I slide open my side door and see four youths on the bridge.  The light’s dimming and I try to make them out properly, deciding they’re maybe fourteen years old or so.

“Fuckin’ paedophile!” one of them repeats, “Jimmy fuckin’ Savile!” and they begin to pelt my van with stones.

What do you do?  Deny it?  But that somehow makes you feel horribly and uncomfortably guilty.  Tell them to fuck off?  “Dad, a paedo in a campervan was abusive to me!”  Chase after the little bastards?  Obviously a very very bad idea.  So in the end I decide the best approach is to just ignore it and hope it goes away.  But it doesn’t, the stones keep thumping on my roof and I’m fearing losing my windows, until finally I decide I have to do something.

“Fuck off!” I shout as I emerge from my door with my phone to my ear, “I’m calling the police!”  Thankfully this works because they disappear into the gloom.

It’s a horribly disconcerting episode and a disappointing end to a nice day.  I’m reminded of the time I was attacked, and sit there shaking, fearing the youths will return with back-up, with more friends, with their bigger brothers, with their fathers.  There can’t be many worse things to be called than that.  And I’ve been called many things.  But I can’t drive away, I’ve had too much whisky.  All I can do is dig in, stay awake and hope and pray I’m left alone. 

And then, just as I’m thinking of coffee to sober up my head, and vowing to leave Rigg and head back up the coast, my phone rings for the second time today.  I wonder if it’s Mark to say I left something behind, or is it Myra or Diantha?

“Hi Dad,” says my son Liam.

“Hello son!”

“Just wondered how you are?”

“I’m fine now I’ve heard your voice,” I say, “I’ve just been called a paedo!”

“Where are you?” he says with a laugh.

“Scotland.  They called me Jimmy fuckin’ Savile!”

“You’ve travelled a long way Jim,” he says.

“Don’t you start,” I say, “I’m heading to Glasgow.  Then up to the Highlands if the old tin can will make it.”

“But can you make a detour to Derby?” he asks, “I’ve got the date for my graduation and I want you to be there.”

“Of course I can,” I say, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Thing is,” he adds, “We’ll all be there.”

“Even Emily?”

“Even Emily.”

And then come the words I’ve been wanting to hear for years, the words that make my heart leap in my chest, the words that form the most wonderful bookend to my day…  “And she’s really looking forward to seeing you Dad.  She wants to make it up.”

To be continued…

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