STRAY LEAVES FROM THE TEABOWL
By Stephen Cashmore
The other week one of this newspapers 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 ones 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. Hed 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 whod provoke a rammy in an empty house, Billys 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 fills what we need. Itll make for a shorter journey. Now, while Bruce had serious doubts about the potential benefits of alcohol as a travel tonic, he didnt want to fall out with his friend. Hed 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 Thursos premier night-club. Too old, was Bruces excuse.
Nonsense, man! Ive 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 mornings 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. Ive just had an overdose of bad dreams, thats all.
At Watten a couple got on looking worse the wear for some kind of overindulgence or other. Bloody drunks! Its a damned disgrace. I bet theyre 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! Theres 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 didnt 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. Youll 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, wasnt 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 Billys 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 Bruces pride and joy, a buckskin levi jacket hed had for over thirty years, and which he wore only for special occasions - like visiting Glasgow. He couldnt let pass an insult of this magnitude. Am I wrong or what, or arent you a Beatles fan?
Aye, but whats that got to do with that manky old rag youre wearing on your back?
Well, if you happen to look at the cover of the Rubber Soul album, youll 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. Whats up, man? his friend enquired. Are you wanting an ice from Capaldis, or are you feeling not well?
Never felt better, responded Billy as he spewed all over Bruces treasured buckskin jacket.
When they got to Glasgow Bruce took his jacket to a specialist leather cleaner, who shook his head. Its only fit for the bin, son. Thats one skinful youll be regretting, I shouldnt wonder.
No. It wasnt me that puked on it. Chiel next to me on the bus was travel sick.
Hell be no friend of yours, then?
Not any more, replied Bruce; Not any more.
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Steven Cashmore 1999
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