Peter

Pat? He takes it all in his stride. He's seen
students come and go. It doesn't mean
a lot to him. A stolid soul. As far
as he's concerned, his job's to mind the bar.

It opens at five, the Beer Bar, and Peter's first
to the counter. "A'm no an alcy, Ah jist get a thirst
sitting in lectures" "'saa right pal. 'sfine by me,
jist as lang's ye've got the readies ..." "Ah, repartee
is alive and well in Glasgow - behold the proof
in Peter and Pat" "Go home ye sassenach poof!"
A meaner cut than Peter could have known,
Terry went off and sat on a bench on his own.
It wasn't the 'sassenach poof' that stung to the core
but thoughts of home that were with him more and more.
Here among black-faced tenements, dripping rain,
and gritty Victorian statues, Coppice Lane,
Ashton-Under-Hill, in Worcestershire
seemed like a fading dream. For over a year
he's thought about dropping his studies, going back
to his family, his parent's farm. Peter's knack
for getting it wrong had earned him more than a few
black eyes, cut lips, and yet he never quite knew
how he caused offence. Not that he's thick
(five highers and prizes for mental arithmetic)
but Gav had summed him up the time he said
"Dae ye mind how in primary school it was aye the red
haired weans that used tae smell? Well look at Peter -
he'll clear the bar if he sits beside the heater."
And we all knew Gav had got him just about right
true or not, he looked as if he might . . .
something about him, puddingy and greasy,
to picture him seven years old was all too easy.
Another Monday night. Groups filter in -
medics in noisy jackets swanking gin,
the rugby crowd, pouring it down their necks
and over their heads, and lying hard about sex,
and over in teuchter corner, Tonald McPhail
and his brother and cousins discussing whether an ale
is properly called a beer, and whether God
intends a man to drink, and Wullie Todd
the Orangeman with a voice like Owen Brannigan's
who can't see past his bigoted shenanigans
and doesn't know the sash his father wore
was worn through some fifty years before,
and Peter in his place, a permanent fixture
gathering round about him the usual mixture -
homesick first-years looking for any friend,
hardened drinkers wanting someone to lend
a sympathetic ear and not remind them
of futures sneaking quietly round behind them.
Peter was never one for making speeches.
Years of being told to shut up eventually teaches
even the thickest skinned of pudgy boozers
to know their place. There's winners and there's losers.
But something snapped. At dead-on nine o'clock
Peter upped and left. It came as a shock
to everyone, even Peter. He took a scunner
at being who he was, and 'done a runner',
shouting, "That's it, Ah've hud it upti here!"
Pat said, "It's no luk him ti leave his beer
hauf drunk. Ah hope he disnae dae onythin daft
He's no cut oot fur trouble. He's hellva saft".

Something between a moped and a scooter,
all rust and chrome with a seat designed to neuter
even the toughest crotch in the thickest leather,
but Peter's thoughts were a hundred miles from his nether
parts, as he kicked it into life and headed
home; but home was the very place he dreaded.
A single-end in Yoker. His mother and spurious
uncles. She still pretended. It made him furious.
Before he reached as far as Scotstounhill
he's thinking, "Hame? Ah'm buggered if ah will!"
Dumbarton Road, the sunset, and beyond. A
mecca for Peter, another for his Honda,
till somewhere in the region of Garscadden
rebellious dreams of freedom come to gladden
his addled brain. Petrol? A near full tank -
why stop at all? There's life beyond Clydebank,
beyond Dumbarton, and time for a decision.
Gareloch or Lomond? Peter has a vision
of Sunday-school picnics somewhere near Glen Luss.
"Nae question, boys, it's the A82 for us!"
But the sun's going down and there's something grimly black
about Lomond water. He's thinking of turning back
when a truck roars past at a disconcerting rate.
He says, "Best concentrate on going straight".
Now it's become matter of survival.
"The journey's where it's at, no the arrival"
he tells himself and more or less believes it,
or that's the way the alcohol perceives it.
Another twenty miles and Lomond's glum
black depths are in the past. Next stop, Tyndrum.
Except he doesn't stop. Why bother? It's shut,
there's nothing doing here. Keep moving. But
there's a graunching sound whenever he changes gear
that his bones can feel though his ears try not to hear,
and burning oil is a far from welcome smell
when you're far from home on a bike that's far from well.
Dalmally now, and it's shedding sundry parts
jerking along the streets in spits and farts.
None shall sleep within a half mile span
of Peter's progress round Ben Cruachan.
That bike was never meant for the Pass of Brander.
and soon it's scraiching like a clapped out sander.
At last, an easy downhill stretch through Connel
till Peter tries to brake. "Oh Chrlst, the haunle!"
and sure enough, the lever flies assunder.
Swerve. Crash. Swear from somewhere under
a twisted heap of plastic, chrome and rust.
No broken bones, just oil and blood and dust.
A time of groans, a time for taking stock -
"Connel's the back o beyond an it's wan o'clock
in the moarnin. Wan thing's shair - Ah canny bike it.
Thur still five mile tae Oban. Best jist hike it".
The dawn came up to find him on the edge
of town, asleep with his wreck, beneath a hedge.

John's an early riser. He has to be
in bed-and-breakfast season. A cup of tea
at six, then whistle up Bob for his morning walk
across the fields. He likes it. He can talk
about the day ahead, about his plans,
with Bob, who's more than happy to be man's
best friend and bark agreement when required.
A collie's grin can leave a man inspired.
Salt air. Heather and bracken. Stretch the legs
for half an hour, then fry the bacon and eggs
for last night's guests to send them on their way
well fed, well rested. Routine. But today -
"What's up Bob, do you think there's ghosties near
or what? It's half past six. There's no-one here.
You've never carried on feartie-like before,
you daft galoot..." Then John heard Peter's snore,
elsewhere an unremarkable human sound
but eerie emanating from the ground
under a hawthorn hedge. "It's some old tramp
fast asleep in the ditch!" Bedraggled, damp,
unprepossessing as a lump of stew,
Peter woke up, attacking, "Who ur you,
you n yer dug, gettin me ooto ma bed
this time o the moarnin, eh?" John shook his head,
"Sorry. I thought I'd see you were OK,
that's all. Is that your Honda there, by the way?
It looks in need of tender loving care."
"Aye, me n aa, pal. Wur baith the worse fur wear
this moarnin, me n ma bike. It's knacked. Ah'm broke.
Ah'll huv ti leg it ti Glesca n thats nae joke".
"My wife's got a bike like that. I'll tell you what,
I'll give you fifteen quid for it. It's not
a goer without about forty quid on repairs
but I could break it up and use it for spares".
And Peter, seeing no sensible alternative
held out his hand and grunted an affirmative.
John wheeled it home. "Hey, Irene, look at this -
a tenner, from a student on the piss!"
while Peter, in his own eyes suddenly rich,
said, "Bikes, who needs them? Thon wis aye a bitch.
But here we ur wi Oban in easy reach.
Ah might as weel huv a day doon oan the beach".

It's five o'clock on Tuesday and Peter's the first
to the counter, limping, grimy, looking his worst.
Pat nods, "Man it's yersel. How come ye're lame?"
"Oban. Smashed it. Flogged it. Got a bus hame".

2 comments:

Brian said...

you talented soul - love it ! I remember trips like that ma'sel' !!as indeed you would, which reminds me of Dunure and a hill and a broken leg ......... !!

Dave said...

ankle, ankle...

Cheers Brian!