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 pu’ed 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, exac’ly like this ain but “two-tone blue”.

Anither source o’ pride was his Zippo lighter, somethin’ tha’ became popular later wi’ the munny smokers aroon’ in thae days. Tha’ pits me in mind 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 gawn tae school.

James an’ auld school friend, Ewen, shared a room thegither in digs in Mayfield Terrace, a guid 20-minute walk from university. Ah hope this isnae an unprintable memory: yince oan gettin’ back frae the pub, James went tae the toilet. There was a pint mug there, an’ for fun he decided to urinate intae it. He emerged wi’ it to announce proudly he had filled it, not just filled it but ra source o’ 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 common expression: “I feel a (something) coming on,” like a pint of McEwan’s heavy, or a fag or even a slash. Perhaps ra maist inventive one was coined by James when obviously feeling hot, he said, “Ah feel a coat comin’ off comin’ on.” Ah must say I find it strange how such unimportant bits stick in mah memory. Maybe sum’in’ tae dae wi’ hoo often one heard them.  

No’ 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 o’ a particular activity, he would say, “It’s a piece o’ piss, man.”

Back tae Grant House. Someone answered the phone in the lobby an’ was asked to gerra person occupying Room 109 (or whatever his nummer it was) – some prankster (no’ me!) had put “C. Hook” on the card on his door.  Ra phone answerer had gone tae the room, seen Jay Bo’s “name”  and then gone tae the TV  lounge to ask: “Is there a C. Hook here?” Unsurprisingly, I understand ‘ere was nae confirmation forthcoming. 

I weel mind munny pints in Sandy Bell’s, prolly the maist frequented pub by us students. Nae excuses were needed to attend. Ah seem to recall that 1.00 p.m. had to be religiously observed. We would have to stawn’ precariously on a greasy terracotta tiled floor. Certainly, if any liquid grease dripped oot o’ yin o’ ra pies, it instantly went solid oan ra flair. The pies were kept in a plastic box. The old question was always, “Are thae pies hot?” The reply, “Well, they should be, they’ve been in rere a fortnight.” If ah close my eyes ah can still see tha’ mangey box.

The missin’ o’ an exam was summin’ I managed to do, same as James. It was Biochemistry in second year. It was sharely ain o’ the elements in my efforts to escape from medicine but they managed tae haud oan tae me. Maybe jist as weel in the end. They hauded oan tae James as weel! 

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

We lived, for a wee bit, at 6 Bruntsfield Road.  James was partial to “liar dice” and games of poker, often accompanied by someone with a “debt sheet.” Do hope you dinnae still have sic a documents.

I dinnae recall James being at a’ sporty – not in character, really. Unlike me who kidded mahsel’ ah could play fitba’.

I hae ither fond memories but they can wait a wee bit … it’s been ower 50 years! Hing oan! Here we go: ah jist minded a couple of old tales featuring The Man. Yin o’ them is a bit hazy but our group of the usual suspects was in our favourite drinkin’ place, Sandy Bell’s pub. James was on call from his attachment, workin’ only a few minutes away in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary –  he was havin’ 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 ha’ been ra proverbial last straw for him. Legend has it that, in extreme frustration, he dropped the offending bleeper intae his pint of heavy. There must be a shred of truth in this because ahm quite share I couldnae ha’ made it up.

The second event was in the Café Royal (no, not a caff, but a magnificent auld bar – read mair aboot it in “Mindin’ O’ Drinkin'”). It was still much ra same group in ra pub, but this tale involved me. I headed to the bog furra required regular slash. While admiring the white sanitary ware, ah 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 ra 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