Travels Thegither (Expurgated)

Yeh, “Expurgated” … you’d understand if you saw the “Unexpurgated” version! All you have to do is ask! 

James’s Travel Advice: James would tell me before we left for France or Greece or some place, “You need to get a burrd tae travel wi’, somebody to share with, a great way tae travel is wi’ a burrd. You need a burrd, man!”  I always thought it would nice but never achieved such a relationship.

Killiecrankie Cottage:  A lot of our travels in Scotland were simply from Perth a couple of hours drive north to Pitlochry and on to Killiecrankie (Yes, the Soldier’s Leap is famous there). Lynda’s parents kindly allowed us to go often, at least half a dozen times while were were at school and university. We loved hiking around the hills and ending up in the Blair Atholl Arms or the Killiecrankie Hotel, always managing to arrive at opening time of 5.00 p.m. Here we are among hills and heather.

The Man (with Pipe), Ewen, Lynda, John, Maggie, The Writer!  Ben Vrackie in background.

In London as teens with James and Lynda … they wanted to go to a strip club.  I didn’t want to go, being 17 or so and very virtuous, but I was happy for them to do it. I said I would do something else, probably walk the streets. James turned on the persuasive bit which he could do ad nauseam. I gave in. The place they chose was a dive, very small, crowded. It was terrible! Men in raincoats in dry weather. We stood up the back. Afterwards I think James said something like, “Winnae be daein’ that again.”  I said, “Fung didnae want tae dae it at a’, ya bugga!”

James and I stayed with Polish friends of James’s father, and I recall having to curb our tendency to laugh uncontrollably when the wife kept saying over breakfast, “Eat! Eat! Eat! You’re not eating enough!”  I suppose it was the Polish equivalent to Scottish drinking whisky – “Get it doon ya!”

Going to France in May/June 1964 (?)  So we were about 16, a couple of weeks off school to do mind-expanding travels, amazingly our very academic Perth Academy allowing us to miss classes.  On the train to London, James proudly produced a weird device, an electric trouser presser to put a crease down the legs of his Levi jeans. James loved Levis and wore them seriously pressed back and front like a pair of suit trousers. I have no memory of him ever using the electric tongs on our trip because maybe he didn’t have the right plug for French sockets. Strange that a few years later he would appear looking like a scarecrow at Edinburgh Royal Hospital, and be upbraided for his appearance by the professor.  This was the time we stayed with a woman friend of Felix, James’s dad. Her name was Lucienne, I forget her surname. She was living on her own maybe in her late 30s, ancient to us! We would joke she was a former mistress of his dad … James loved outrageous stuff even if it was a bit at his and connections’ expenses. We shared a small double bed at the top of the narrow house (three floors?) and each night at light out of course we’d say the likes of, “Keep yer fung hawns tae yersel’ ” and “Nay fung fartin’.”

Lucienne made us a special lunch one time, onion soup French style. There was grated melted cheese in it with the result that it came up to our mouths in long strands. We thought this was the funniest thing and went into uncontrolled giggles. Fortunately Lucienne thought it was amusing, too. We blamed the fortified wine she gave us with the meal! I remember her great coffee, made in one of those Italian jugs, first time for me to see one.  

We also visited several times other family friends of James’s dad. They had three of a family, two sons and a daughter. It was the beautiful Irène we were mainly interested in although we were impressed by the elder son, Henri Witkowski who was a concert pianist at the ripe old age of 26 or so.  His teacher had been a student of Paderewski who in turn was a student of Chopin, so we were fairly conscious of being in the presence of very close-to-greatness when  Henri sat down at the upright piano in his parents’ modest coal-mining home in Marles-les-Mines in north-west France. We often joked later how he had sat perfectly, stretched his fingers and announced, “Une petite étude de Chopin.” If that was something of an ear-opener for us young lads, there was also an eye-opener when Irène was going to sit one of her Baccalauréat exams at school one morning. Before leaving home, there was a ritual opening of a bottle of champagne to wish her well.

In return for our school allowing us to go to France for a couple of weeks during term time, I wrote a piece about it for our English teacher. He read it out to the class, I guess as a way of broadening their horizons. I can’t think that it was because it was brilliantly written. James didn’t care much for that kind of public sounding off, as he thought of it, not caring much for the limelight himself. I didn’t mind, it was a way of sharing about our “holiday”, apart from which it was a chance to show some writing skills on real live experiences.

Irène and Henri outside their home in Béthune, NW France, 1964

Summer, 1966 before going to university: James, Dave Blair and I decided to go to the Lake District for a short holiday.  At the time I think there was some reluctance on Js’s part to join but perhaps his reason for delaying was real: his father kept giving him work to do at the hotel, so he was needed and that took always took precedence.  We waited three days and then had to go without him as it was getting close to going to university – it was only a three-day holiday, but I know James was surprised we’d gone without him.

Summer, 1968 – A visit to France, in Paris, maybe the one with Tom, the three of us in my parents’ mini-van. Certainly Dennis Eden was there (He was driving Alan McDonald around in his E-Type). We were all at a restaurant. Someone, surely not James, suggested we do a runner, and leave without paying. We managed it – Dennis gallantly and rightly went back the next morning and paid.

On the same trip in 1968, staying a night in Caen, four of us in one room. James and I went out to have a drink, while Tom and Dennis stayed in the room. We chanced on a nightclub where a great American blues singer, Champion Jack Dupree was advertised as playing – he had been living in Europe since 1960, as one of the great number of Mississippi and Louisiana bluesmen who found audiences for their music in Europe. We had listened to one of Champion Jack’s LPs regularly at home, along with Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson … no, no, I mean they were blues singers, we had their LPs! We were desperate to get in and we succeeded. It was great standing so near at the musician’s upright piano while other clubbers danced around. I recall Champion Jack wore gold and silver rings on his fingers. Here is a photo of him, a fair bit older than when we saw him in his mid-50s.

 Champion Jack Dupree, about 1985, in his mid-70s

Travel Memories by Alan McDonald:  It was about the Summer of 1968, I think, that we had a trip to France – especially Paris. I had been travelling with Dennis Eden in his E-Type – rather posh blessing France with our presence! I think you had a maroon Mini Van and had had a bit of an accident but it was still going all right. James and you were there, don’t recall Tom, perhaps it was before he joined “The Perth Men”. Anyway, there was a trip to part of Paris, Maisons Alfort, to see a childhood friend of my mother in Auchterarder. She had married French/Polish gent, name of Boris Levine. He took us out to a nightclub just off the Champs Elysées. He had last been there in 1945! I recall a couple of “likely ladies” trying to get us to buy them drinks and cigarettes, not singly, whole packets! We must have looked right suckers –Boris rescued us. We were very glad to get out of there alive.

France, Late 1960s: We met up with my cousin, Billy in the South of France. Got a great photo of me lying on a dyke, James’s foot on my chest. Dave Blair was with us that time. We also met up with Dennis and Alan McDonald.

Billy, Writer, James in South of France (No idea where exactly!)

End of 1960s – Driving from Paris to Béthune (3-4 hours) one night after dinner and drinks …  no idea why not staying another night in Paris, but I’m sure this was the time we went to Paris with Irène and Stephanie and we stayed in  Hôtel du Théatre on Rue Jacob – possibly they had to be back to go to school on Monday. I recall well being able to drive safely back, unworried in the days before police checks and breathalysing. James slept all the way, occasionally waking for a Gitane! We were in our early twenties, I think … maybe the end of the 1960s. Can’t think we were any younger driving like that. Funny, I recall the drive back from Paris, not the drive there. The car must have belonged to Irène’s folks … or someone related. Who on earth would allow their car to be driven to Paree by a couple of very young blokes?

1970 – Going to Greece: first, overnight train to London/Dover for the Channel Ferry; then train to Brindisi, South of Italy; ferry to Patras, bus about 200 kms to Athens. On the overnight train  to London I said to James I was going out of the compressed compartment to lie on the floor at the end of the carriage. James said, “No fung way ahm lying on a fung floor.” He climbed up into the baggage rack and curled up. I doubt if it was much different to the floor, actually probably a damn sight more uncomfortable.

This was the time we gave blood for money in Athens; it was great to get some extra pocket money to add to our savings from our “Neat Grun'” work, making sure that rural Perthshire graveyards had well-cut grass, creating neat ground. (See “Blood Money, Blood Oath!” story)

Greece, Rhodes, the first visit in 1970:  James was all set up to do a month’s medical “thing” after his 4th year I think, on the island of Rhodes, but on visiting the hospital and finding it not to his liking he decided not to bother and we enjoyed the rest of the time sunning, swimming and drinking Retsina. He had to do the hospital time later back in Edinburgh.

We met Sue and Janet at the resort of Malia on Crete, and promised to visit them in Newcastle where they’re doing teacher training. Newcastle is only about 2.5 hours drive from Edinburgh. At the end of our month on Rhodes and Crete we had a few days in Athens. I spent them going to the beach and eating out at night; James got sick and slept for 48 hours on a rooftop bed among maybe 30 other beds. He would later blame “Fung Greek tomatties”  he’d eaten on a ferry from Crete to Athens.

Hygienic Pants? Before going to Greece I think the first time, probably 1970, James recommended paper underwear. I duly went to a chemist and bought a packet. They turned out to be useless things, falling apart. Luckily I had packed a couple of proper Y-Fronts.

Greece, Aug., 1971   To Greece, the island of Ios with James and Claire / Tom and Ailie. We took ferry to Santorini, a huge volcanic lake. I went on next day to Crete for two weeks more holiday.