Mindin’ o’ James – University Years, 1966 – 1972

Feb., 1967:  James inherited a big braw cawr when his faither deid, makin’ him even mair o’ a fine callant. It was a Vauxhall Cresta, dark and light blue in colours. Ae nicht he was drivin’ a couple of freenz hame, and they stertit canoodlin’ an’ neckin’ in the back seat. James pulled up and turned roon’ tae the couple tae say, “Excuse me, you two, this car’s upholstery is two-tone blue an’ ah’d like it tae bide that wye.”  Aye, ah wuz in the front seat, so this is an accurate account fur share.


In university years, about age 21 or 22, yin weekend at hame near Perth James and I had some cannabis from Edinburgh, and rolled it up for a good smoke at my home five miles from Perth (My parents were awa’, of course!)  We had high expectations (literally!) but efter half an ‘oor o’ naithin’ much happening, we concluded that the dope supplier had duped us … this often happened, perhaps the pot was auld or no’ very guid in ra first place. Onywye, it was only a small amount and we felt pretty good about being with it, hip and hippy or some such … fortunately perhaps, I think the experience kept us keepin’ tae pints o’ heavy in Sandy Bell’s, the now world-famous local pub that hosted folk music legends sic as Aly Bain, Gerry Rafferty, Billy Connolly and mauny others. I recall Bert Jansch o’ Pentangle there yin time way back, he was comin’ oot as ah was gaun in … I held ra door open fur him!

A Coupla Diagnoses – Grant House, Sept., 1967 to June, 1969. 

1. “’Swind, man!” Efter a few pints yin night, about Springtime, 1969, I complained of a bad stomach, an’ a bitto a pain in my side. James, in his fourth year of medicine, told me to have another drink, adding: “Iz jis’ wind, man!”  Next morning ah was sae poorly ah went hame, a twa-hoor train journey. I saw a GP within a few hours, but he had to send me to a hospital 30 minutes drive awa’ tae be checked by a specialist, so I was eventually diagnosed by Mr Matheson, the Bridge of Earn hospital surgeon. He said it was acute appendicitis requiring a speedy operation to save my life. The next five days were spent recovering in hospital from the operation and effects of the general anaesthetic which caused awfy painful coughing to get rid of serious phlegm. James came to visit me, bringing two packets of cigarettes as a gift! I know I grimaced and had a hellish coughing fit. I can still see James smiling now. We loved those kinds of daft pranks at each other’s expense. Must say it wuz a great relief to get treatment, the diagnosis gied me a fair fung fleg. No, no’ the yin fur wind!

2. “‘Snae Cancer!” More recently about 2011, I got a lump under my right arm about the size of a gobstopper. I happened to be visiting James at this time and he kindly examined it carefully, poking and squeezing, and me telling him “tae keep yer hauns whaur ah cun see them” … after a few minutes he declared it was “unattached, bifurcated and non-cancerous”. Amazing the terminology one can mind when it’s so personal. Subsequent checks with doctor and a surgeon proved this great  diagnosis correct, it turning out to be just a cyst caused by stretching my arm up cleaning the ceiling in the cottage at our home near Paraparaumu. 

So that’s a fourth-year medic’s diagnosis of wind compared tae lang later efter 40 years experience as a doctor declaring something not cancer!

James’s self-medication:  He did this quite often but I mind yin time in particler: he had a dose o’ the flu or maybe felt it cummin’ oan. So he bought a quarter bottle o’ rum tae go with three or four Disprins or maybe Aspirins. Anyway, the whole amounted to a fair powerfu’ ‘mount o’ medicatin’. He was a’richt in the mornin’!

In 4th Year Medicine (Check?):  James had a custom of swotting for hours a few days before an exam. It was a term exam and he had stayed up a’ nicht then fa’en asleep thereby missin’ the test. The practice efter tests was to meet in Sandy Bell’s at lunchtime for the ritual post-test pint or three.  I had joined Rod Muir, Tom Bell and Alan McDonald who had managed to get tae the test.  They were fu’ of wunnering where James wuz. About ten minutes later he appeared with a wee peevish smile on his face … “Fung slept in, dinnah?” The good outcome was that he was able to resit it and as Rod ruefully said, “I’ll bet he passes it, tae. He aye does, only just!”  He did.

At the Edinburgh University Halls of Residence,  Grant House about 1968: James discovered somehow that there was another man after Frances (Fanny), his girlfriend from school days of ower fower years afore. She had left Edinburgh for work near London.  So James vanished one Friday afternoon, came back Monday, having driven all the way to London and back. I don’t know what transpired, he could be secretive. However, we both visited her on our way to France one time, maybe six months later, they spent a heap o’ time talkin’.  I never fund oot whit was gon on. No’ lang efter tho’ James met Claire at a student dawnce: “This is my friend, Graham,” he plainly introduced me to her. James was surprised to learn later that she was 17 and still at school. I think there was a problem afore the above scootin’ aff tae London – Irène visited from France and stayed at James’s dad’s hotel, and Frances visited too. Things werenae awfy guid efter that.  

Karate at University: James and I did this for a coupla years, goin’ tae training usually twice a week, lucky to have Hamish Henderson, the European champion as wur teacher.  It was a grand wye o’ keepin’ fit. An’ a great excuse for a few pints o’ lager efterwards in Leslie’s Bar on the road hame frae the gym at a university outlier, the Kings Buildings. Later around  1977 or 1978 in New Zealand we ran a coupla marathons theigither; it was guid runnin’ along pechin’ thegither – we managed to finish, tae.

Summers, 1967 – 1969: on one of several visits to Lynda’s parents’ cottage up in the hills near Killiecrankie, no’ far frae Pitlochry, James, Ewen and I wi’ a couple o’ ithers wid stravaigh across the sloping fields aboot five mile (sic) tae Blair Atholl. It was great being oot in the hills, gawn somewhere  … yeh, it was tae the pub, the Blair Atholl Arms tae play derts an’ drink several pints ower lunchtime. I recall James laughing out loud when Ewen was aghast at the “pint” the old barman had poured with a huge head of froth on it, aboot an inch as I mind, and asked him how much for that glass. On being told two shillings, Ewen asked, “And how much do you charge for a pint?” The old fellow was not pleased, saying quite forcefully, “Oot! Ah’ll no’ stand for that kind o’ rude talk!”  Thus ended our darts and drinking that day until 5.00 opening time at the Killiecrankie Inn five miles back. It was a braw day for a dauner … straighter along the railway line! Ah can still hear James’s muckle guffaw at Ewen’s great question. 

Mah version aboon was minded efter a few pints. Here’s a mair accurate version frae ra cus’mer hissel’:

“We were oot walking in the hills of Perthshire maybe in wur early 20s,  went into the Blair Atholl Arms pub at the back o’ the hotel. It was a real dive, the pub. We ordered pints, the auld serving felly managing to put quite a head oan mah pint, so I asked him, “How much do you charge for a pint here?”  On being told, ah said, “And how much do you charge for this?” He was not a happy barman. It got us thrown out!  Never mind, we walked five miles to the next pub, then hung around till opening time at 5.00.

The Battle of Killiecrankie, Robert Burns

“Whare hae ye been sae braw, lad? Whare hae ye been sae brankie, O?

Oh, whare hae ye been sae braw, lad?  Cam ye by Killecrankie, O?

Chorus:  An’ ye hae been whare ah hae been,  Ye wadna been sae cantie, O;

An’ ye had seen whit ah hae seen,  I’ the Braes o’ Killiecrankie, O.”

Sometime in 1969 or 1970 possibly (Efter bidin’ in the Pollock Halls of Residence a coupla years):  James invited me over to his Chambers Street flat he shared with Ewen whae’d gawn hame furra weekend. It wuz furra bite tae eat an’ withoot sayin’ a few glasses. I brought a bo’le o’ wine at the appointed time, jist a 10-minute donner frae my flat ower ra Meadows. The flat was in darkness, seein’ in ra windies aboon the door. I knocked a wee while, thinkin’ he mustah fa’en asleep, summat he was prone tae dae at the end of a day.  I went ootside fur aboot 15 minutes to wanner aroon’ in the cauld and dark, returning tae chap on the door again, determined to rouse him, huvin’ decided he hud tae be there, too much that even he hud forgotten. At last he cam tae the door, looking awfy dishevelled and gey sleepy. He ushered me in grumpily, and to my surprise a young lass emerged from the bedroom … ah, the penny drapt! I was fair chuffed to gain entry, thinkin’  that James had done sae tae, an’ hopin’ tha’ mah knockin’ hadnae interrupted his.

Grant House, maybe 1969 or so.  James quite enjoyed gambling, especially playin’ poker. Ae night in the dining room o’ wur flair at the student residence, a stranger joined our game, turning out to be a bit of a card sharp, so much so he caused James to have to write a cheque I think for about 30 pounds, a substantial sum back then … the equivalent of around 300 pints of “heavy”, so about two terms or six months of pub drinking for James.  Ah dinnae think he played cards again, didnae dae muckle gamblin’.

Grant House again:  Some prankster changed James’s name on the card on his hostel door to “C. Hook”.  You’ll huv tae guess the adjectival word’s initial there. (For the uninitiated, uninformed and unworldly it can stand for See You Next Tuesday.) Anyway, ah think James quite liked the new name, so he didnae buther fixin’ it. We went occasionally to the TV room and yin time were sitting in the dark with a dozen others watching Top of the Pops or Ready Steady Go or some such popular music programme o’ the day. Someone poked his head in the door and asked if there was a C. Hook because there had been a phone ca’ fur him, just giving his room number.  I turned to James and whispered, “That’s you, man!” He slid down in his chair, saying, “Shut the fuck up, man!”  I don’t think we ever found out whae the caller wuz but we did wunner if they were told James’s new name. 

Late 1960s in back o’ Bell’s ae evening wi’ several friends, all medics, yin o’ them worried about the state of his penis, and asked them to take a look at his dick in the loo, possibly happy to put it in the hands of their medical knowledge. Here’s a dramatic narrative, calling Ron by name of Pete to protect his identity and augment the onomatopoeia – actually doesnae muckle metter noo, he’s land syne deid.  

There we were five of us, pints in hand, and suddenly Pete blurts out that he’s got spots all over the end of his dong …  

(If you feel you’ve got the stomach for the rest of this story, go to the section: “Ron’s Dong”).

Smoking at University:  Back in aboot the late ‘60s when we heard the research on smoking saying that it was really bad for you,  James said, “Och, it’s OK for us to smoke the noo, they’ll have found a cure for cancer by the time we’re auld.”  James was able to smoke more expensive ciggies than the rest o’ us. His favourites were Rothman’s Kingsize, Senior Service Plain (no tips or filters) and Kent with it’s Micronite filter giving you a more satisfying taste, although I doubt if that was the reason for James smoking them – I know they were a bit milder than other brands, which was mayhap why he often had a packet of throat-rasping Gauloises not too far away.  It was the years of camaraderie enhanced by “pushing” your cigarettes, offering your open packet for someone to take one. Among friends we would share the pushing, saying quite often, “A’richt, whae’s push is it?” James used to love saying, “Here, have a kun’ ya Kent!”  We were more than happy to take one because they were better than our shorter cheapies like Number 6 or Sovereign, Kent being aboot a third dearer.

James at university and later would say to us after being at a dance or somewhere meeting females,  “Did you get a bagoff?”  Bag there meant a woman to spend the night with, possibly a loose woman. Bag was also generally used to describe a plain woman, not very becoming, as in “What a bag!” Anyway, we aye replied with, “Aye, got a great bagoff!” –  whether it was true or not.  

Oct. 14, 2023   Watchin’ some o’ the new “Top Gun” film the nicht I recalled James sherply. He loved that kind of film.  A long time ago in the Sixties we went to many a film thegither, to see the likes of the Clint Eastwood “Dollars” films, Michael Caine in “The Ipcress File” and “The Italian Job”,  also of course, many James Bond films, the real Jay Bo, Sean Connery … all usually with a bottle of wine. Yin time there wuz fower o’ us and we had smuggled in some wine and cups. One of the cinema usher women saw us doing something secretive, and came to the end of the row shining her torch to see whit we were daen. James had acted quick pittin’ the bottle between his feet on the flair, cups too a’ gone intae pockets …  James was only just warding off a serious fit o’ the giggles.