Apéritif: James and I would often say over the second pint or glass of wine, “Ah, that’s better!” We enjoyed drinking as students and on into our 20s because it was relaxing and we revelled in the social side of it, meeting other folks in a bar or at a party. I sometimes wonder if this meant perhaps there was difficulty for us in sobriety or normal living. I haven’t dwelt too much on that because there were quite a few of us, maybe up to a dozen good friends all enjoying pints in a pub, wine in a restaurant (or at a film theatre!), and if we could afford it, some whiskies. There were a few instances, a few contretemps which we eventually managed to laugh about, totally untellable here – there has to be some sense of decorum! We always had a good laugh when James would say, “I feel a drink coming on.” Then half an hour later, “I feel another drink coming on.”
Drinking Starting: We didn’t frequent pubs until we came of age, back then in Scotland that was 18. Maybe the first time we actually got some cans of beer was when we were camping with my cousin Billy at the Mull of Galloway, a farm there had a nice campsite, and we could walk round on the beach to the town of Drummore, maybe three or four miles away. There Billy, being a year older than us, maybe he was 17, managed to purchase a couple of cans of McEwan’s pale ale, which we took back to the tent to enjoy at our leisure. One time my father arrived to pick us up, and we hadn’t hidden the cans properly. Knowing my dad, I don’t think he cared too much. Anyway, he probably blamed Billy!
Home Brew: One of my flatmates, Gareth, a medical student a year younger than James, made very fine home brew from tea leaves. When I say “very fine” is was helluva strong. James and I loved it! We would sit up late at nights on weekends enjoying its relaxing qualities. One time we stayed up all night, then walked over the Meadows about a kilometre to get a coffee at the David Hume Tower student cafeteria. We were so out of it, we just sat there laughing at all the dull sober people around us, thinking of them that they’d had a night’s kip. It was such an experience, James later referred to it as an alcoholic trip, something that quite a few other students did with psychedelic drugs. It was the Sixties after all, and you know what they said about them … yeh, if you remembered them, you weren’t there! Our home brew misbehaviour occurred only once, thankfully.
James became great friends with my father, someone always ready to share a glass, especially and always whisky – my father was no wine drinker! A dram or three of Johnny Walker was the ticket. James and he were definitely brothers of the whisky bottle. However, two more unlikely friends you’d go a long way to encounter: the one highly educated, sophisticated and much younger, the other a farmer and hardly literate – clearly a victory for a shared sense of humour, cigarettes, a lot of Scottishness and Scotch!
Wellington, Nov., 1978: James and my father who was visiting from Scotland for a few months, enjoyed protracted whisky drinking, so much so that they’d stay up all night. On one of those occasions they ran out of whisky about 3.00 a.m. but James managed to recall that I had a bottle in my bedroom, the door to which I had locked on going to bed, wisely thinking I didn’t want anyone coming in and stealing it. Well, such was James’s (and probably my father’s) need for more Scotch, James knocked and called at my door, waking me and starting a protracted, “Come on, man, give us your whisky!” Eventually, in order to get back to sleep before work in a few hours, I gave in. When I came home late the next afternoon, my father and James were still asleep, no doubt about to rise and start boozing again.
Of a Friday evening in Wellington in the late 1970s James and I would arrange to meet at a bar for a couple of drinks. He was usually late by well over 30 minutes, so one Friday I decided to get wise and arrive later to reduce the waiting time which often could be up to 45 minutes. Of course, James had managed somehow to be not so late that evening … so I was met with, “Where the fuck ya been, yacun’?” I think I secretly thought a little of own medicine may be good.
Christchurch: Not sure when, maybe for Hamish’s 21st birthday party, he is James’s second son. I think it was about 2012 at Gwynfa Ave. There were five or six cases, each containing a dozen wine bottles delivered at the back door. I’m sure it was after the celebration, or maybe no celebration at all, just the regular delivery. I asked James how long it would take him to get through that lot. He said a couple of weeks. I said, “Oh, that long!”
James’s drinks of choice: Well, pretty well anything but latterly I know he was doing white wine, gin and Cointreau … yeh, mixed together, or maybe just the first two chasing down a Cointreau. James loved “kwaffing Kopious Kwantities of Kwantrow”. Then there was whisky – one of the best memories is about him and close friend Jerry who had accidentally dropped and broken a bottle of malt. James got the great idea of getting straws and they both spent some time sucking up the whisky off the floor And that reminds me of … The dropping of Johnny Walker Red: We went many times to Killiecrankie Cottage way up in the hills north of Pitlochry. Four or five of us got back one night from the hotel bar down the road maybe about three miles away. We had bought a bottle of Johnny Walker Red for further drinks and laughs before “pit”. Somehow the carrier of the bottle managed to drop it on the stone floor, so that was the end of late hours and serious drinking that night! Still, we had a keg of good Scots “heavy” so we were all right for a couple of pints.
Other Drinking Dens: Apart from regular visits to Sandy Bell’s, there were other pubs we frequented sometimes at fixed times. For example three or four of us would meet every Wednesday lunchtime (Wed. afternoon was half day at university for playing and training in sports) for a few pints at Greyfriar’s Bobby, a fine old comfy pub with a classic lounge, just round the corner from Bell’s. Then there was the Café Royal, a huge circular bar in a room with six tall Royal Doulton ceramic tile portraits celebrating some of history’s greatest innovators, such as Caxton, George Stephenson and James Watt looking down on the alcoved seating all around the walls. For a time several of us met there once a month to taste their excellent lagers and drink in the old atmosphere … so to speak.
James and I and other friends enjoyed a great drinking camaraderie but we were seldom anything other than civilised in it, no matter where: Edinburgh, Paris, Perth, St Andrews, Rouen, Athens, Noosa, Rhodes, Wellington, Prestonpans, Christchurch, Malia, Dundee, Dunkeld or the Brig o’ Earn … or wherever. He was always pleasant, wonderful to have a glass with, and would often say in the company of friends, “Aye, this is braw!” … admittedly after a good few glasses, so he could well have been referring to the drink.
Wanaka, Aug., 2018: I asked James at his 70th celebration why he was making such a weird cocktail of white wine and gin. After saying it made the gin taste better, he said it was very relaxing. I said, “Yeh, it would make me so relaxed I’d probably fall over and not be able to get back up.”
On Moreton Island for Tom’s 70th in Nov. 2018, James opened one of Tom’s pressies, a bottle of Cloudy Bay, and was about to neck it when I said, “Better no’ let Tom see you, mun, that’s a prezzie to him from us.” James said, “Ocht, he’ll no’ mind!” Indeed, later Tom told us he didn’t care for Sauve Blanc. Pissed me off a wee bit though, the thought that we’d bought a special bottle for Tom for James to nick and neck.
The last email I sent to James:
“Hope you can aye put another shot of Kwantroh in yer gin and wine! Nothing like kwaffing kopious kwantities o’ Kwantroh, kuncheh!”