Minding James by Alan McDonald

I did not really know James at Perth Academy back in the early 1960s. We only got together in first year at Medical School in Edinburgh. I remember our first meeting. He was wearing his trademark black Reefer jacket, very popular in the Swinging Sixties. He was also an early fan of Levi jeans, a bit beyond me as a country bumpkin from Auchterarder. James converted me! My first pair I mind them well costing £2.12/6; my most recent Levis were £100!

There was a car trip, to a pub of course, near to the time of an exam. James, from the back seat, changed his mind, possibly realising he needed to do some swotting, so he leaned forward from the back and removed the ignition key – no engine power at high speed is a bad idea but somehow we all survived.

Another car one: James for some reason left his Hillman Imp blocking access to Grant House, our student hall of residence. Unfortunately there was need for a fire engine to get up close. The fireman managed to get into the car but pulled the handbrake on so hard it needed expert help to release it. James was not happy at all.

James was very proud of the Vauxhall Cresta he inherited from his father, especially liking the registration number, SES686. Some friend trying to be funny suggested a sharp pencil could easily pierce the bodywork.

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

Another source of pride was his Zippo lighter, something that became popular later with the many smokers around in those days. That reminds me of a smoking event. James was part of a drinking session in the Killiecrankie Hotel lounge, and there would have been maybe four or five of us smoking – a favourite remark of his at such times was, “Let’s get a fug up.”  Times have well changed.

Don’t know if OK to mention this, but here goes. James recalled his first meeting with Claire. This was at a Student Union dance. He told me he asked what she was studying and was more than a little taken aback to hear she was still at 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 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. I think Ewen asked him not to spill any.

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! 

I have other fond memories but they can wait a wee bit … it’s been over 50 years! 

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.

                                                                                                                                                                                             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