I canna hink A wis muckle mair nor fower or five year auld the verra first time A clappit ma een on a deider. Noo ye maun hink yon’s a gey queer-like wey tae open a bookie siccan this een, an hink tae yersel, by, whit’s this lad hinkin aboot? But A says to youse, that gin a bookie’s tae be an honest bookie, an no jist a pile o havers, then we maun set aff on the recht fit, an be honest wi wirsels fae the aff. An sae it is; fan A hink on ma childheid, death aye seems affy close. But this parteecular deider, A’ll hae tae explain mair aboot.
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A wis brocht up in a bonnie kintra hoose no far fae the auld toon o Arbroath, far ma faither had a motor garage. In fect, he wis the main Ford agent for yon pert o the coonty, an sae wis a person o some importance. Ma mither aye hud the taste fur the finer hings in life, an the pair o them had set up in this muckle hoose, recht on tap o a hull, whaur ye could look oot’n the windaes an see the hale o the Tay estuar laid oot afore ye, as faur as St Andrews. At necht ye could see the lechts o yon bonnie toon, an forbye the Bell Rock, and closer by, in the Tay itsel, the auld Abertay lechtship, her’s noo tied up alangide in Dundee dock. By day ye could get a recht good keek at her through the auld tellyscope that ma faither hud bocht ex-WD fae M.L Thomas in Alyth; she wis reid aa ower an hud the name “Abertay” screivit in whecht letters as high as a maun on her side.
Well onywey, the hoose hud come complete wi a hen-rearin business, wi three muckle sheids fur the layers, and three wee sheids fur tae bring oan the chicks. As weel as this, the hoose hud a muckle great vegetable an fruit gairden, like as not a hangower fae the days o the nineteenth century; but however it hud come aboot, the war o thirty-nine tae forty-five hud kept it gaein strang. Fur ye maun remember– hae A no mentioned this? – the year that we moved thir as a femily wis nineteen fifty echt, fan A wis a bit baby o twa year. Retionin — yon curse o the efter-war years — hud only jist been done awa wi, an A’m no sae shair there wir no some folk thocht it wid come back — nor some as wantit it back, neither. So ye see, haein a muckle vegetable gairden wis a handy hing in they days; ye could feed yer femily on fit it produced, an hae a wee bit left ower tae sell for a bit pocket-siller forbye.
Noo, this deider had been auld Jim, the gairdener. Bein as hoo ma faither wis aye affy busy at the garage, an ma mither worked beside him, rinnin the office, thir wis naebody tae look efter yon muckle great gairden that wis supposed tae feed aa the muckle mous o the hoose. Sae ma faither hud struck on the ploy o haein Jim in tae work the gairden an mind the hens, an fit we didnae eat, an he didna sell through the garage, he wid sell tae McKnight’s the greengrocers; an aa that wid pey auld Jim’s wages fur the two-three oors o darg he did ilka day. An as far as A kin recollect, this suited aabody jist fine. We aa et like lords, Jim wis peyit through the garage books, ma faither pit the profit in his ain pooch, an niver a look-in did the taxman hae.
Jim wis officially retired, but he was keen enou tae get a wee bit darg fur tae mak his pension ging furrer, an forbye, he wis een o they chiels wha aye likes tae be busy. He’d workit aa his life on the railways, an he’d been a gerd. In they days, A dinnae ken aboot noo, bein a gerd on the railways wis as fine a testimony tae a body’s cherecter as ye could get, an they wis lookit on as bein as trustworthy as the likes o bank-menagers or doctors.
A’ll aye mind o Jim — he wis that jonnic a chiel, wi his whecht hair an baald pate, an his bonnie pink cheeks. He aye reekit a pipe, an he aye wore the same-like duds- a pair o blue dungarees ower a checkit shirt, a blue denim jeckit an a pair o great bleck tackity buits. Mark you, he wis aye turned oot spotless, even if the dungarees wis a wee bitty faded. He smelled o a queer mixture o taebaccy an somehin else A couldnae quite place, but A later cam tae realise wis washin sodae.
Mony wis the lang oor that A, a wee bit laddie o mebbe four-five year be yon time, wid spend in the currogated irn sheid whaur wi kept aa the gairden tools, whiles Jim workit awa sherpenin a scythe or tinkerin at the muckle great rotovator — a temperemental scunner o a hing, but wunnerful tae see fan it wis workin recht. A mind o the smell o yon sheid — aa creosote an petrol an weedkiller. It wis a grand sheid yon, in fect it hud been the gerage fur tae pit the motors in afore the new een wis biggit.
Or whiles we’d be in the wee pottin sheid doon by the bit orchard, or in the greenhoose, whaur Jim wid aiblins be prickin oot the seedlins. He niver stappit his darg whiles A wis thir, but he niver stappit talkin, either, whiles speirin questions siccan a wee leddie mecht answer, but maist o the time jist tellin tales o his days oan the railways, and the muckle steam engines that wir still gaein in they days, fur Jim hudnae jist been a gerd oan some wee country branch line, no, Jim hud been a gerd on the big express trains that went awa tae fabled ceeties o legend likes o Embro or Glesgae or Aiberdeen an even, trow me or dinnae, London.
He musta teen tae me, or else he niver hud ony grandchiels himsel, fur A mind ae day he wis hoein at ma faither’s roses- ma faither aye liked roses, an he had a wee rose gairden set oot in a neuk ahent the hoose next tae the bit orchard, wi roses in baids an wee strips o gress lawn in atween the rows, so a body could daunder up an doon an admire the blooms like. Onywey, in thae days- mecht be the same noo fur aa A’d ken- fowk liked tae see bare earth in atween thir roses, an wae betide ony reckless weed that mecht dare tae raise its sonsie heid.
So, Jim wis hoein at the roses, an A wis wi him, nae doot distractin the auld body fae his darg, but he niver let on that he minded, even if he did. As yaseyell he soon got tae bletherin tae me aboot his time on the railway, an he showed me his auld gerd’s fustle. He’s brocht it special tae show me.
It wis a crecker, bress, an bigger as ony fustle A’d iver seen, or iver seen since, fur that metter. It wis cried the “Acme” fustle, an the name was stampit oan the tap, alang wi the letters “LNER”. There wis twa grooves merkit in the verra metal near the hole ye blawed in, an this wis caused, as Jim sayed, by his hivin held the fustle that lang atween his teeth that they’d wore awa the bress. Fan he blowed it it gie’d oot sicca screech that ye’d hink it wid fair caa in yer lugs, an it soondit jist like the eens they yased at the station in Arbroath. Which wis fair enough, for that’s fit it wis, efter aa.
Ye cuid jist imagine the huge loceymotives huffin an puffin thir wey ootna the station fan ye blawed it. Onywey the upshot wis he gie’d me this auld fustle o his, an A wis that teen wi masel A didnae lay aff blawin the fustle fur days tull ma faither sayed he’d tak the blasted hing aff me if a didnae stap yon wheepin that wis deevin him; an efter yon A caa’d canny an only blawed it fan he wisnae aboot.
A kept yon fustle fur mony a lang year, but like a wheen ither hings, it wis tint somewhaur alang the line atween then an noo. A wonder if some ither leddie’s got it the day, or if it endit up in a wee junk shoap an got sellt tae a collector o sic hings, mebbe een o they Embro chiels, fa wid, nae doot, hae recht daintily reddit the auld hing up an pit it in his cabinet, whiles bringin it oot tae show his collector-freens, sayin, “Noo here’s a braa hing, a genyewine gerd’s fustle o the LNER, circa nineteen thirty-twa.” Weel, mebbe it’s a fancifu thocht, but it’s a comfortin een fur aa that.
Noo Jim bidet in a cooncil hoose in Arbroath — jist aboot aa the workin lads bidet in cooncil hooses in they days, an they wisna conseedered ablow themsels fur that. An forbye the cooncil hooses wis whiles the bonniest an best kept o aa the hooses, for the fowk then wis unco canty, an they widna let onybody pint the finger at them fur no keepin thir hoose recht reddit. But Arbroath wis a guid echt mile awa, an Jim bidet on the ither side forbye, at whit they cried the Horologe Hull.
At the beginnin he yased tae come oot tae the hoose on his ane bike, but ma mither said it wisna recht tae mak an auld body go a bike aa yon way, an specially seein as their wis some hulls that wid mak a strang man’s een pop, an Jim’s bike wus a muckle hivvy auld hing wi nae gears forbye. But the trouble wis that Jim hud niver leaned tae drive, an so, whiles ma faither wid nae doot hae been happy enou tae let him run in an oot in een o the garage cars, fur petrol wis cheap then, he wis kinda snookered there. Onywey ma faither cam up wi the solution an gie’d Jim a moped tae come oot on instead.
Noo a moped the day is a wee lechtsome hing wi a potty wee motor that maks a noise like a bee. A ken, cos A’ve tried tae go een, an A’m fufteen stane, that the day’s moped disnae seem recht solid for a lad likes o me. But in they days mopeds wisnae like yon ava, they wis mair like proper motorbikes, jist wi pedals oan. The size o the engines wisna restreected tae fufty seesee like they are noo, an as lang as the hing hud pedals oan, ye didna need a licence tae go it.
This een wis a twa-tone green monster that hud a muckle Villiers one-twa-five seesee twa-stroke engine, an it weyed a ton. A hink it mecht hae been a Raleigh but A canna jist recht mind noo. Aiblins it’ll com tae me an A’ll try an mind tae pit it in fur ye. Onywey, A tell ye, it wis lucky that thir wis a guid steep hull awa fae the hoose fur Jim tae get a run at gaein hame, an that he bidet up a hull i the toon, whaur he could get a stert tae. A hink he’d a stuck tae his auld pushbike else, an niver mind the echt miles.
Efter Jim deed the moped sat in the tool sheid fur years, an fan a wis a bitty aulder A ettled tae gae it wi a pal o mines fan wi wis bored een Setterda efterneen. It near busted wis jist tae gar the hing row, an A hud strained muscles in ma wame fer days efter. An wi niver did get it tae stert forbye, in spite o wis rowsin it recht doon the bottom o the hull ootside the yett, sae wi hud tae push it beck up the steep hull tae the hoose, fur A wis sweirt that ma faither mecht ken A’d been oot on’t wi’oot askin. So that wis that.
A cannae hink A wis at the skale yet fan Jim deed, or aiblins it wis durin een o the holidays, for A remember A wis at hame wi ma mither an the lassie, settin in whit we cried the livin-room. Weel it wis aboot the only room in the hoose that hud a fire that wis ever lit, forbye the kitchie, so ye kinda hud tae live in it. But this musta been in simmer, for A mind quite clear the chestnut tree was in leaf. Jim wis oot mowin the lawn wi the auld Ransomes lawn mower, fit wis a big, hivvy hing, but it mowed a recht bonny lawn, so it did.
Onywey I mind the lassie staunin up all o a sudden like, wi her phiz aa whecht as a sheet an pintin oot the livin-room wundae, speirin whit wis wrang wi Jim? A luikit oot tae an thir wis Jim lyin oan his beck in the middle o the lawn, an the lawn-mower oan its wey tae level the lupins, so A kent thir wis somehin up, even though A wis that young.
Weel, ma mither took een glisk an went for the telephone recht quick, an phoned the garage. She tellt me tae bide whaur A wis, an then she an the lassie ran oot tae the lawn wi blenkets tae cover the auld bodie up. Weel, A gowkit oot the wundae a while, an then A went oot tae, despite whit ma mither hud sayed. A wis niver that obeejunt as a chiel, A’m sorry tae admit.
The twa weemen niver mindet me, though, fan A got up. Ma mither wis oan her knees — she wis an unco bonny wumman then, ma mither, an she wis aye recht weel pitten-on, an thir she wis, oan her knees oan the lawn in a guid tweed skirt, wi Jim’s haun in hers, jist sayin nothin and greetin. The lassie wis staunin ahent her, an be the luiks o her she had gotten a recht fleg. It turned oot she’d niver seen a deider afore.
But Jim — Jim jist looked that peacefu, ye ken. He wis jist lyin there oan his beck in the gress, likes as he’d teen a fancy tae lig doon an watch the lift a while afore he went oan wi his darg. His een wis wide open, starin up at the blue. He wisnae scary ava. Aiblins his cheeks wis a bitty less rosy than they yased tae be, but that wis aa.
A’ve nae idear foo lang we wis thir, in the middle o the lawn, but it wisnae mair as a puckle meenits, an the nest hing A kent thir wis a car at the yett an then it opened an in cam Peter, the chief salesman. He musta drove like the verra bars o Hell tae hae gotten thir sae quick, fur they wis even afore the ambewlance. He wis a great lang skinny chiel, wis Peter, aye smilin, an fit ma faither cried “a decent block” if iver thir wis een.
Weel, it must hae been a guid echty feet atween the yett an the lawn, an A sweir Peter canna hae took mair as ten loups tae cover it. A’d niver seen a man run like that afore. A mind thir was a low sorta mound at the edge o the lawn, a guid six feet wide an three feet high, wi a horse-chestnut at een end and an a rose-bed at the ither, an Peter took that wi een bound o his lang shanks. Thir wis een o the mechanics wi him, a young led, but he didnae fancy deiders ony mair as the lassie, an he hang back.
Onywey, Peter cam up an kneelit doon, felt fur a pulse at Jim’s wrist an listened at his cheist — mind this wis no lang efter the war an maist leds kent a bitty first aid then — an then he jist strechtened up an shook his heid. Ma mither tellt the lassie tae awa intill the hoose an mak aabody a cuppy tea — for she wis nae use whaur she wis wi her een like gobstoppers an her phiz aa whecht an bubblin like a bairn — an then wi aa jist kinda stood thir till the ambewlance cam.
A mind Peter pit his erm roon ma wee shudders as if tae comfort me — A tellt ye he wis a guid led — but A wisnae recht feared, nor even that upset. A didnae realise fit it wis tae be deid, acoorse, an auld Jim jest looked that quiet an happy an relaxed, but A kent somethin awfy hud happened for ma pair mither wis still greetin an Peter hadnae smiled eence, which if ye kent him ye wid tak fur a muckle bed sign.
Weel, fan ye hink on it, it wisnae a bed-like wey tae ging that auld Jim tuik — oot in the open, in a bonny gairden, the flooers aa oot, the sun shinin brecht doon on ye, and Bang! Jist like thon yer deid. Aiblins he hud a bit pain, but thir wisnae a trace o’t on his phiz, nor wis thir ony blude; the auld bodie jist lookit like he wis restin. But thir wis een hing that stuck in ma mind, an it his stuck thir iver syne; deith has a guff aa its ane. Thir nothin sib, nothin ava, an though it didnae fleg me thon day, A’ve niver forgot yon guff, an A dinnae hink A iver will.