Mindin’ o’ James by Auln McDonald

Ah didnae weel ken James at Perth Academy back in the early 1960s. We only gorragither inra first year o’ Medical School in Embry. Ah mind weel wur first meetin’. He was decked oot in his trademark black Reefer jacket, awfy popular in the Swingin’ Sixties. He was also an early fan o’ Levi jeans, a wee bit ootwi’ me as a country laddie from Auchterarder, sae ca’ed The Lang Toon coz o’ its wan lang street. James converted me! Mah first pair I mind weel, costing £2.12/6; mah most recent yins were a hunner quid!

Ah mind weel a car trip, to a pub of course, near to the time of an exam. James, frae the back seat, changed his mind, prolly realisin’ he needed tae dae some swottin’, so he leaned for’ard frae the back and removed the ignition key – nae engine poo’er at speed is no’ a guid idea but somehoo we a’ survived.

Anither car yin: James for some reason left his Hillman Imp blocking access to Grant House, wur student hall o’ residence. Unfortunately there was need for a fire engine to get up close. The fireman managed tae get intae the car but pulled the handbrake back on sae hard it needed expert help tae release it. James wuznae happy at a’ – he didnae like onnybody messin’ wi’ his caur.

He was richt proud o’ the Vauxhall Cresta he inherited frae his faither, especially likin’ the registration number, SES686. Some friend, tryin’ tae be funny, suggested a sharp pencil could easy pierce the bodywork.

James’s inherited Vauxhall, exactly like this ain but “two-tone blue”.

Anither source o’ pride was his Zippo lighter, something that became popular later wi’ the many smokers aroon’ in thae days. That reminds me o’ a smoking event. James was part of a drinking session in the Killiecrankie Hotel lounge, and there widdah been aboo’ fower or five o’ us smokin’ – a favourite remark o’ The Man’s at such times was, “Let’s get a fug up!”  Times have well changed.

Ah dinnae ken if a’richt tae mention this, but here goes. James recalled his first meeting with Claire at a Student Union dawnce. He tellt me he asked her what she was studying arra university, an’ was mair’an a wee bit ‘stoondit to hear she was aye arra school.

James and old school friend, Ewen, shared a room together in digs in Mayfield Terrace, a good 20-minute walk from university. Hope this is not an unprintable memory: once on returning from the pub, James went to the toilet. There was a pint mug there, and for fun he decided to urinate into it. He emerged with it to announce proudly he had filled it, not just filled it but the source of his great achievement was that it was exactly a pint to the brim. Ah think Ewen tellt him no’ tae spill onny.

In those days there was a widespread expression: “I feel a (something) coming on,” possibly a pint of McEwan’s heavy, or a fag or even a slash. Perhaps the most inventive one was coined by James when obviously feeling hot, he said, “I feel a coat coming off coming on.” I must say I find it strange how such unimportant bits stick in the memory. Maybe something to do with how often one heard them.  

Not unique to James, but he was perhaps the major employer of addressing you with the vocative word, “man” at the end of a sentence. When describing the ease of a particular activity, he would say, “It’s a piece o’ piss, man.”

Back to Grant House. Someone answered the phone in the lobby and was asked to get the person occupying Room 109 (or whatever his room was) – some prankster (not me!) had put “C. Hook” on the card on his door.  The phone answerer had gone to the room, seen J’s “name”  and then gone to the TV  lounge to ask: “Is there a C. Hook here?” Unsurprisingly, I understand there was no confirmation forthcoming. 

I well remember many pints in Sandy Bell’s, probably the most frequented pub by us students. No excuses were needed to attend. I seem to recall that 1.00 p.m. had to be religiously observed. We would have to stand precariously on a greasy terracotta tiled floor. Certainly, if any liquid grease dripped out of one of their pies, it instantly went solid on the floor. The pies were kept in a plastic box. The old question was always, “Are these pies hot?” The reply, “Well, they should be, they’ve been in there a fortnight.” If I close my eyes I can still see that mangey box.

The missing of an exam was something I managed to do, same as James. It was Biochemistry in second year. It was surely one of the elements in my efforts to escape from medicine but they managed to hold on to me. Maybe just as well in the end. They held on to James, too! 

James spent some time as a registrar in the Western General. My sister-in-law was a matron there and she certainly remembered him. How could any of us forget him?

We lived, for a bit, at 6 Bruntsfield Road.  James was partial to “liar dice” and games of poker. Not the other games, accompanied by a man with a “debt sheet.” Do hope you don’t still have said document.

I don’t recall James being at all sporty – not in character, really. Unlike me who kidded myself I could play football.

I have other fond memories but they can wait a wee bit … it’s been over 50 years! Hing oan! Here we go: I just remembered a couple of old tales featuring The Man. One of them is a bit hazy but our group of the usual suspects was in our favourite drinking place, Sandy Bell’s pub. James was on call from his attachment, working only a few minutes away in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary –  he was having a bad day. As required, he had his “bleeper” device in his pocket.  Just as he was taking a sip of his pint, the device went off.  That must have been the proverbial last straw for him. Legend has it that, in extreme frustration, he dropped the offending bleeper into his pint of heavy. There must be a shred of truth to this because I am quite sure I couldn’t have made this up.

The second event was in the Café Royal (no, not a caff, but a magnificent old bar – read more about it in “Pints o’ Heavy”). It was still much the same group in the pub, but this tale involved me. I headed to the bog for the required regular slash. While admiring the white sanitary ware, I glanced laterally (as one does) and noticed a large, deeply tanned fellow “pointing percy at the porcelain” using parts of both hands to keep the flow in the right direction. Retelling this back in the bar produced quite a reaction – partly disbelief. James said, quick as a flash, “So ye didnae think o’ gi’en the big yin a hawn?”

James “getting a fug up” … with Jim Guy, a non-smoker!


James not in Reefer jacket! This is his graduation from Edinburgh Medical School, 1972