Minding James – University Years, 1966 – 1972

In university years, maybe about age 21, 22, James and I got hold of some cannabis, and rolled up for a good smoke at my home five miles from Perth (My parents were away somewhere, of course).  We had high expectations (literally!) but after half an hour of nothing much happening, we concluded that the supplier of the dope had duped us … this often happened, perhaps the pot was old or not very good in the first place. Anyway, it was only a small amount and we felt pretty good about being with it, hip and hippy or something … fortunately perhaps I think the experience kept us keeping to pints of heavy in Sandy Bell’s, the now world-famous local pub that hosted folk music legends such as Aly Bain, Gerry Rafferty, Billy Connolly and many others. I recall Bert Jansch of Pentangle there one time way back, he was coming out as I was going in … I held the door open for him!

“Wind, man!”  Staying at Grant House, Sept.1967 to June, 1969. 

A Couple of Diagnoses

1. After a few pints one night, maybe about Springtime, 1969, I complained of a bad stomach, and even a pain in my side. James, a fourth year medic. told me to have another drink, adding: “It’s just wind, man!”  Next morning I was so ill I went home, a two-hour train journey, saw the doctor within a few hours, and 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 very 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 an awful coughing fit. I can still see James smiling now. We loved those kinds of daft pranks at each other’s expense.

2. More recently about 2011, I got a lump under my right arm about the size of half a golf ball.  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 upwards cleaning the ceiling in the cottage at our home near Paraparaumu. So that’s a fourth-year medic’s diagnosis of wind compared to 40 years experience as a doctor declaring something not cancer!  

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 all night then fallen asleep thereby missing the test. The arrangement after tests was to meet in Sandy Bell’s at lunchtime.  I was with Rod Muir, Tom Bell and Alan McDonald who had managed to get to the room to take the test.  They were full of wondering where James was. About ten minutes later he appeared with a peevish smile on his face … “Fung slept in, eh?” The good outcome was that he was able to resit it and as Rod ruefully said, “I’ll bet he passes it, too. He always does, just!”  He did.

About 1969 or so, it was after a medical exam. All the other medical friends were gathered for the ritual post-exam pint or two in Sandy Bell’s, including “Tumsh”, Tom and Rod. Where was James? He hadn’t turned up for the exam. He had been studying so hard for two or three days of cramming that he had fallen asleep during the night and failed to waken for the exam. James joined for a few pints though!

At the Edinburgh University Halls of Residence,  Grant House about 1968: James discovered somehow that there was another man after Frances, his girlfriend from school days of over four years, left Edinburgh for work near London.  So James disappeared one Friday afternoon, came back Monday, having driven all the way to London and back. I don’t know what transpired, he could be very secretive. However, we both visited her on our way to France one time, maybe six months later … hard to say … they spent a lot of time talking.  I never knew what was going on. Not long after James met Claire at a student dance: “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 before the above, when Irène visited from France and stayed at James’s dad’s hotel, and Frances visited too. Things weren’t too good after that.  

Feb., 1967:  James inherited a fine car when his father died. It was a Vauxhall Cresta, dark and light blue in colour. One night he was driving a couple of friends home, and they started canoodling and necking in the back seat. James pulled up and turned to the couple to say, “Excuse me, you two, this car’s upholstery is two-tone blue and I’d like it to stay that way.”  Yes, I was in the front seat.

Maybe in summer, 1964 (We listened a lot to “It’s all over now” by The Stones, playing on Radio Caroline almost every hour.) While still at school, we were camping at the Mull of Galloway with my cousin Billy, the three of us in one small tent. We were joking (or wildly imagining?) one night in our sleeping bags about if one had a “bag off” or a wee sweetheart in the bag, and Billy said, “There’d be no room for the hard-on, it would have to go somewhere.”  James retold that one for many years. “Mind the time”  always the starter to some funny memory … Yeh, you’re right, I hear you saying, “That’ll be funny to youz!” And the dafter the better! Billy remembered this camping summer vividly, saying he still smiles at the memories and even chortles at what James used to say, “Speak to me, brown lips!”  before letting go a trouser ripper.

Karate at University: James and I did this for a couple of years, going to training maybe twice a week, lucky to have Hamish Henderson, the European champion as our teacher.  It was a great way of keeping fit. And a great excuse for a few pints of lager afterwards in Leslie’s Bar on the road home from the gym at a university outlier building, the Kings Buildings I think.

Summer, 1968, 1969 or so: on one of several visits to Lynda’s parents’ cottage up in the hills near Killiecrankie near Pitlochry, James, Ewen, I and a couple of others would hike across the sloping fields about five miles to Blair Atholl … yes, to the pub there, the Blair Atholl Arms to play darts and drink several pints over 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, 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’ talk!”  Thus ended our darts and drinking that day until 5.00 opening time at the Killiecrankie Inn five miles back. We went there along the railway lines!  I can still hear James’s great guffaw at Ewen’s great question. 

Here’s a more accurate version:

Reminds me of an old school friend, we were out walking in the hills of Perthshire maybe our early 20s,  went into a hotel pub, a real dive, ordered pints, the old fella managing to put quite a head on my mate’s pint who then asked, “How much do you charge for a pint here?”

On being told, he said, “And how much do you charge for this?”

It got us thrown out!  Never mind, we walked five miles to the next pub, then hung around for opening time at 5.00.

Sometime in 1969 or 1970 possibly (After staying in Halls of Residence).  James invited me over to his Chambers Street flat he shared with Ewen who had gone home for the weekend. It was for something to eat and a few glasses. I brought a bottle of wine at the appointed hour, just a 10-minute walk from my flat  across the Meadows. The flat was in darkness – I could see in the windows above the door. I knocked for quite a while, thinking he must have fallen asleep, something he was prone to do at the end of a day.  I went outside for about 15 mins to wander around in the cold and dark, returning to knock again, determined to rouse him. At last he came to the door, looking quite dishevelled and sleepy.  He ushered me in grumpily, and to my surprise a young lady emerged from the bedroom … ah, the penny dropped! I was pleased though to gain entry, thinking that James did too, hoping that my knocking hadn’t interrupted it.

Grant House, maybe 1969 or so.  James quite enjoyed gambling, esp. playing poker. One night in the dining room of our floor 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.  I don’t think he played cards again, didn’t do much gambling.

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

Late ‘60s Back of Bell’s one evening with several friends, all medics, one of them was 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: 

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 “Ron’s Dong”).

Smoking at University:  Back in about 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 now, 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 of 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 maybe 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, “Whose 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, maybe a third cheaper than Kent.

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 always replied with, “Aye, got a great bagoff!” –  whether it was true or not.  

Oct. 14, 2023   Watching a bit of the new “Top Gun” film tonight I recalled James keenly. He loved that kind of film A long time ago we went to many a film together, to see the likes of the Clint Eastwood “Dollars” films, Michael Caine in “The Ipcress File” and “The Italian Job”,  also of course the James Bond films … all usually with a bottle of wine. One time there were maybe four of us and we had smuggled in some wine and cups. One of the cinema usher women saw us doing something not allowed, and came to the end of the row shining her torch to see what we were up to. James had acted quickly putting the bottle between his feet on the floor, cups too all gone into pockets … and James was only just warding off a serious fit of the giggles.