I used to travel frequently around Scotland. It was the best job I ever had. The Scottish people are lovely, for the most part, and the scenery sublime. I remember driving one winter morning from Inverness down to Perth. The temperature had got to -11C when the water in the washer bottle froze. Every 10 minutes or so I had to stop in a lay-by, gather up a handful of snow and use that to clear the windscreen. But, oh, the view. The sun rising over the Cairngorm mountains to the east turned the landscape a delicate rosy pink against a duck egg blue sky. And I was being paid to be there.
Every couple of months or so I would spend a week ‘up north’, joining the company’s Regional Manager for a tour of our clients. He was a broad Glaswegian with a heart of gold and a dry sense of humour; we did have some laughs. On one especially memorable trip we were due to head out to the Shetland Islands, 150 miles north east of the mainland. It was to be a two hour drive across Scotland to get to an hotel near the airport, ready for the early morning flight. But, before that, there was The Match.
Now, my colleague was your original dyed in the wool Scottish football fan. In Glasgow there are two principal teams and rivalry runs deep. Every time we passed the Temple of Ibrox, which seemed a necessity irrespective of the direction of travel, we had to raise our hands prayer like and then bow in homage.
On this particular night it was an international ‘friendly’ and Scotland were playing Norway. No way were we starting out on our journey until he’d seen the game. Jimmy (we’ll call him that) had gathered some chums together in a bar and ordered a round of beer. Yours truly, interested in neither football nor beer, sat in a corner with a book. And an orange juice. Because you can guess who had been elected to drive. Well, it was only 90 minutes to wait, right? Wrong. Many pints may have been consumed but at the whistle not a single ball had hit the back of the net. Extra time. And more beer. And still the score line remained unchanged. Jimmy was outraged.
I tried to make light of it. “It could have been worse.”
“You could have lost.”
“We should have won.”
He fell asleep almost as soon as we got in the car, much to my quiet relief. But, it didn’t last long.
“Stop the car, I need a wee..”
We were passing through a small town and I drove round every part of it, some roads more than once, until we found the small squat building at the back of the public car park. Nor was that the end of it. By the time we reached Aberdeen I had the dubious distinction of knowing the location of every gents’ convenience on the A96.
It was 11.30 p.m. before we reached the hotel. The rooms had been booked for me by an administrator back in the office but it wasn’t the place I normally stayed. It wouldn’t be long before I found out why. As I pulled up the car Jimmy jumped out. “I need a wee… now!” He disappeared into what looked like the entrance to a sports club adjacent to where we had parked. Leaning back against the driver’s head rest I tried to relax after the journey.
Jimmy was away too long. Just as this thought began to gain traction the passenger door was flung open and he landed heavily on the seat, slamming the door shut behind him and depressing the button to lock it.
“A bloke just came after me with a GOLF CLUB, just for me wearing a SUIT! Accused me of being English. ENGLISH!! For pity’s sake, do I SOUND English?”
“We’re not staying here. It’s gang warfare in there!”
I looked beyond the sports club to the hotel. It didn’t seem so bad. But Jimmy had read my thoughts. “NO WAY!”
We called the place that I usually book. “I’m sorry Madam. There’s an oil conference in town. You’ll struggle to find anywhere tonight.” The next two hotels on my mental list gave the same message. The phone rang. It was Mike. On hearing our plight he volunteered to check out some places too. And in the meantime we’d start driving back out of town, where the chances of finding a couple of vacant rooms might improve.
Half an hour later, still nothing. I‘d tried even the really posh places. Given the circumstances I thought I might be able to swing it on the expenses. And then, on a hillside in the middle of nowhere, Jimmy spotted the dark hulk of a building with a single neon sign.
“What do you think?”
“What alternative do we have?”
I pulled off the road. As we approached the building its fuchsia pink neon ‘E’ started to blink.. and then went out:
Just like something out of Psycho.
(to be continued..)