STRAY LEAVES FROM THE TEABOWL
By Stephen Cashmore
What quirk of fate is it that seems to determine that whenever youre hurrying to keep an appointment, some well-kent acquaintance materialises to delay you? A taxi draws up at the door; the phone rings and its 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 taxis away and its too late to call another. So youll just have to walk.
Ten paces down the street and suddenly theres someone at your side. Its cantankerous Jackie, the man with a million moans. Once upon a time it was the Scottish Special, then it was Cairn, now its Pentland Housing. And always its the Council, every department, including some that have never existed, the Commissioner for Public Morals, for example. And doctors! "Dont you talk to me about bloody doctors! Heres me with a hundred symptoms anyone can see, and they cant find nothing wrong with me! Dont you mention doctors to me."
"Hows 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 whats wrong with cantankerous Jackie this merry morning. In one ear, out the other, its 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. Whod be a public servant with clients like this? But the doctors 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, youre 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 whens the funeral being held, and whos the deceased sisters husband, and didnt 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. Theres a lot of vicious tongues in this town, let me tell you")
"I canna help you, Betty. Lord knows Ive enough problems of my own, without getting involved in other folks affairs. But heres a man wholl be able to tell you. He writes in the paper."
"And whos he?" Betty demands. "Is he that cheil whats always rattlin on about politics?"
"Politics? Hes more sense than to write about them. Whos interested in bloody politics, anyhow? MPs and councillors - a bunch o gibbers with nothing better to do. And its us whats paying for it all."
"And whats wrong with our own MP then, eh, Jackie? Well, Ill tell you boy theres nothing at all wrong with him. Hes 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 its 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 hes wearing his usual wry smile.
"Hows it going, Jackie boy?"
"Ah, no great, Cheordie, no great at all. Im crippled wi piles and strangled by bureaucracy."
"Well, Jack, as long as youre no crippled by bureaucracy and strangled wi piles, then youre doin no too bad."
Georges philosophical gem more than compensated for a missed appointment, but its extremely unlikely that cantankerous Jackie saw it that way. Hed 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?"
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Steven Cashmore 1999
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