TAC 33 Index
LISTEN CLOSELY NOW, my best beloved, and I will tell you of a thing that I saw in the long-ago time, when I was a young buck, and the Highlands were not over-run by English schoolteachers ticking lists of hills.
It was one of those days that, in the West of Ireland, are called "soft". You know, when the rain comes straight down; without any apparent malice, but without any apparent good wishes either. The Scots are more forthright, they'd call it "dreich". Coupal Bridge was about as salubrious as Jamaica Bridge, and probably had more water going under it. The Buachaille was totally clagged-in; Trilleachan Slabs were one big water-slide; all in all, a fairly typical West Highland week.
When you find that, for the last three days, your best mate is deliberately breathing in at the same time as you are, and you're both being terribly polite (that means saying "Please" and "Thank you", instead of "OK" and "Ta"), there's only one thing to do. Head for the Kingshouse before you kill each other.
The back bar was full of other miserable sods, each with a personal nimbus moored overhead. Even the beer was wet. Why doesn't it lift your spirits when you need it most? Why do you feel worse after each pint? Why does he keep trying to be cheerful?
Then the door opened and the bar was full of the Creag Dhu. If it had been a film, the door would have crashed open, and they'd have stood in the doorway looking real mean. Instead, it sort of flickered, and they were inside. There were only three of them, but the room seemed full. It was obvious that they were the Creag Dhu because only they can walk across the river without getting their feet wet. (Chris Bonington merely thinks he can.) One of them wore an old flat cap that would have kept Grangemouth refinery going for a week, one wore a Bogart trilby, and the red-haired one was bare-headed. I remembered seeing him doing something very technical and brutally strenuous on The Ben earlier in the year, and making it look so easy that I was tempted to try it. I fell off, of course.
Miraculously, sensibly, room was made for them, and we all resumed our low-pitched whingeing. Well, you have to make an effort, don't you?
Then your man came in. He was probably called Eck, or Airchie; raincoat over the shoulders, one of those daft little caps with knitted sides and tartan on the top. With a West Highland Way terrier under his oxter; with its own wee tartan jacket on. Oh, and Maisie, or Queenie, two paces behind like the good wife she was. And some fool made room for them to sit down.
This was when the depression deepened, the gloom got gloomier, and misery more profound. The dog was a yapper. At everybody and everything. If you stood up, sat down, lit a fag, it yapped. It even yapped when I sneaked out a fart. There was a kind of rhythm to it; two on one note, then one an octave higher. Sort of Yap, Yap, YIP! And he kept apologising for it, and she kept shushing it like a child.
The sound of whingeing climbers was replaced by the yapping of this beastie, and the grinding of human teeth. It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop, like Chinese water torture, it was like ... like Cilla Black. (By the way, did you ever wonder why her parents named her after a mythical sea monster? On reflection, they must have been psychic.)
The Creag Dhu came to the rescue. Oily Cap leaned over to the dog's people.
"See that dug?", he said, and pointed to the redhead. "He'll eat it."
Did you know that silence can spread in concentric ripples? It sort of went outwards till it reached the walls, then gushed back again. Breaths were bated all around the room. Well, there's not much you can say in reply to that sort of thing, is there?
In the hush, Airchie picked up the dog, and walked quietly out of the bar, with Maisie still two paces behind. In the shocked stillness that followed, the red-haired one said mildly: "I wouldnae eat it all myself, I'd save some for youse boys."
In the roar that followed, it almost seemed for a moment as if the sun had come out.
TAC 33 Index