Long, long ago, 42 years to be exact, I traveled through England and Scotland by train, taxi and bus, losing articles of clothing and my high school ring along the way. It’s not hard to lose things unless it’s a misbehaving two year old that you’d like to drop off at the mall, but then everyone jumps up and says, “Hey, you can’t leave that kid here.” Anyway, on the train ride north from London I recall a 15 year old jockey who looked 12 offered to buy me a pint of Guiness. Yes, he was legal age to do so. He drained his and I gargled and gagged on what tasted like a coal miner’s tobacco juice spit. The kid won by six furlongs, roughly 1,320 yards.
I rolled into Edinboro, Scotland a couple of days before New Year’s Eve of 1974, i.e. it was still 1973 and I was still 17. I toured the city and the castle up on a prominent hill and wandered up above the Firth of Forth past wild heather. It was a harsh beauty that far north, but softer than what I was told existed way up in true Scotland, where true Scotsmen wear kilts. The accents grew more primal along the latitudes also. I bought a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat and matching scarf in Cooper Tartan (to fit in) and wore them with my old bomber jacket, bush jeans and blue suede sneakers. It was a memorable look that still makes fashionistas wretch. I think I stuck out like a butt blister Yank.
As luck would have it, I met three Australian guys at the youth hostel. We got along immediately. Two of the guys were on their tour of Europe before returning home to university. The third was their old mate, Rob Campbell, whose family had moved to London several years back. Nice girthy guys with meat on their bones. It felt comfortable to have new mates. And so, as New Year’s Eve approached, we decided to celebrate our good fortunes with large quantities of scotch whiskey. Off we went on Princes Street acting like we knew something, like we were princes of a sort.
So many liquor stores to choose from and so little time. We walked into one that seemed affordable and asked for scotch. The proprietor smirked, “Which one, me Buccos, we’ve got over two hundred types. You want single malt or a blend?”
“Uh, (trying hard not to look as stupid as we were) how about the one with the pirate on the bottle?”
“Ummm hmmm. That’s rot gut but cheap, one pound twenty.”
“We’ll each have a bottle then. Cheap is what we’re looking for. And pirates.”
“Aye, matey. Here ye be.”
We walked along and took piratey swigs from our bottles, pretending it tasted good when it actually tasted like smoked ammonia from an old rubber hose. When we got back to the hostel, many of the guests were gathered in the expansive basement kitchen, including an old, very drunk, white bearded Scotsman in full kilt regalia.
He was from the north of Scotland and nearly unintelligible with his brogue over a quart of scotch in his belly. He hiccupped, staggered and swore aggressively. He was down to maybe six active brain cells, which were jumping off of him like fleas on a drowning basset hound. We called him Scottie and he answered our probes.
Of course one of the Aussies asked if he wore anything under his kilt. The old man made a mean face and squinted at us, and then peed on the floor. He slurred, “What do you think, mate?”
We howled with laughter and made sure to avoid Scottie, the mean drunk from Glasssszzzzzgoooowwww. He was going to be very sick in the new year, and stinky damp. Off we went to find rare adventures on Princes Street. And I ‘m sure we had some fun times, none of which I can recall. I remember vaguely meeting some girls and going to a club or pub or something…. I became separated from the group, although I might have simply fallen asleep while they moved on. In any event I was many furlongs behind my new friends and very lost in Scotland. (I remembered being in the same predicament once back home on a summer’s evening. I crawled into a dry storm drain and slept on a bed of dry grass and leaves, maybe a snake too. I believe I survived. ) So I decided to bunker down for the night in a dark doorway, which I did for a few hours. Eventually a foot patrol cop woke me up and directed me elsewhere, just like that line in the Who’s song, “Who are you?”
I woke up in a Soho doorway
A policeman knew my name
He said “You can go sleep at home tonight
If you can get up and walk away”
I staggered back to the underground
And the breeze blew back my hair
I remember throwin’ punches around
And preachin’ from my chair
Well, it wasn’t like that. I simply started looking for landmarks and trying to regain cognition. I turned the focus key but nothing happened in my brain. I staggered around Edinboro on New Year’s Day like it was a ship tossed at sea. “Oh it’s a pirate’s life for me.” Like most bad ideas that later turn into good stories, this one finally ended. I rode the train back to London and stayed with Rob for the rest of the week. We had a romping good time doing things I still cannot publicize until my deathbed confession. I don’t believe I’ve had any scotch fur many long furlongs since then, Mates. No regrets.