Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age
A few years ago. No! I tell a lie. It was many years ago, that I over-nighted in Thurso with the intention of next day, catching the ferry from nearby Crabster to Lerwick. I had arrived by train at Scotland’s most northerly railway station and put up at the Royal Hotel, before taking in the sights of this one-time, Viking settlement
It was a grey winter’s afternoon and a cutting, gale force wind was blowing in from the sea but I persisted with my culture tour and managed in short order, to see all that there was to see; a ruined castle, a church dating from 1245 AD and a war memorial. My sightseeing completed it was back to the warmth of the hotel.
Fortunately the hotel had a bar – a somewhat basic establishment, typical of most Scottish bars in those days – and it was open for business by the time I got back. The tap room was already quite full and I noticed that some of the customers were not suffering any pain. By the noise they were making it sounded to me that they were celebrating a birthday or something similar.
You don’t have to be in Scotland for any length of time to learn about the ‘half and a wee half’ : a half pint of dark beer with a shot of whisky on the side. I was not in the habit of drinking such concoctions but – when in Rome… On the positive side, the Scotts are also noted for their hospitality and that afternoon was no exception. I hadn’t had my elbow on the bar for more than five minutes before a hawff a ynd a wee hawff . appeared unordered, in front of me.
The invitation came from the only female in the noisy company; a middle-aged lady who looked like Margaret Rutherford in the Miss Marples, TV series. From across the room she raised her glass to me “Slainte Mhath! Sassanach.” She shouted above the noise, obviously having quickly pegged me as an Englishman. “Slainte Mhor!” I mouthed, returning her salute.
As happens in agreeable company, I was still there as the crowd thinned out and afternoon blended into evening and then into night. I learned from the barman that Miss Marples was a local wealthy eccentric and was celebrating a courtroom victory over disputed salmon fishing rights. As the evening progressed she had gotten wilder, even to performing Scottish jigs, which exposed her ample thighs cased in stockings, held up with a pair of rubber bands; one brown and one red.
Her revelry eventually ended with her asleep at the bar, leaving the barman in a quandary – how to get her home? Being the only standing customer left, I helped carry her to a taxi he had called. Seemingly Miss Marples’s foibles were well known to the driver who refused to take her home unaccompanied. There was no alternative, so the barman and I squeezed into got in the back seat of the cab, with her snoring noisily between us.
Miss Maples and her husband, a crazy fool, according to the taxi driver, lived some distance from Thurso and we had to drive a few miles along the coast road, battered by the wind and spray. The house, when we finally reached it, was shrouded in a copse of wind bent, fir trees and was in darkness. Between us we managed to get Miss Marples out of the vehicle and with the barman and I supporting her, reached the wrought-iron garden gate. It was locked.
After five minutes of me repeatedly pressing the bell, a chink of light appeared from the house, some twenty meters distance. We could hear no sound above the howl of the wind. Nothing happened for a few more minutes and I was about to lean on the bell again, when a tall, shadowy figure appeared out of the gloom and thrust a double-barrelled shotgun at us through the bars of the gate.
I let the barman do the talking, as my English voice could have produced an adverse reaction. Trying to appear calm and cool under the circumstances, he explained that lady had sadly had one over the eight and we, as gentlemen, had brought her unmolested to her residence. With the shotgun still pointed at us and shouting to be heard above the howl of the wind, he ordered us in a broad Scottish accent – quite unintelligible to me – to put her down where she was and he would pick her up in the morning. We were only too happy to oblige and wishing the apparition goodnight we escaped to the taxi.
We drove a short distance from the house and ordered the driver to stop and switch off the car lights. The barman and I were curious to see how Miss Marples’s husband, acting alone, would manage to get her into the house. There was no need for silence because the wind would drown out any sound we made. Peering from behind a bush into the darkness we saw that she was still there, propped against the gate where we had left her. The light in the house had been turned off.
We remained there for a least a further ten minutes but no one came out of the house. There was little else we could do, apart from ringing the bell again to remind him that she was still there. Instead of us risking getting shot if we returned, we consoled each other that it was probably not the first time she had been dumped at her front gate. W somewhat reluctantly returned to the waiting taxi and headed back to Thurso.
Next morning, with a thick head and a twinge of guilt, I took the ferry to Lerwick and I never had an opportunity to return to Thurso. But I remain curious to this day as to whether or not her husband did come and pick her up in the morning.
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