Imagine, if you will, Ernest Shackleton and his posse marooned in the Antarctic, their only hope was to walk the hundreds of miles over the desolate ice flow with limited provisions, wearing little more than stout shoes and tweed jackets in the hope they’d make it to a remote research post…
Well, the other morning I experienced nothing like that – it snowed and my fingers got a bit cold when I inadvertently grabbed the metal tent poles with my bare hand.
I walked through beautiful snowscapes…the problem with this kind of weather is that your casual rambler has nowhere to sit for fear of getting cold bartocks.
So I arrived in the thriving metropolis that is Annan a little footsore and weary. I wandered into the first hostelry in town – The Blue Bell Inn.
It’s a little known fact that lager shandy is the panacea to all ails (not ales – that would be just silly) , with this in mind I partook of the sacred nectar.
Having heard my story, several of the punters provided me with more – I mean, it stands to reason doesn’t it that if 1 pint is good for you then several would turn me into a superhuman?
I met the wonderful Jim Jackson, a Humanist, who’d plied his trade at the Old Blacksmith Shop in Gretna.
Mistaking his role, I asked if he forged steel or shod horses. Quick as a flash he said, “I have forged many relationships…”
…he’d spent 20 years marrying folk in Gretna, and, to be fair, he was a bit of a show off.
With twinkling eyes and a smile never far from his lips he told me tales of Annan – once famous for it’s sandstone – a lump of which is in the base of the Statue of Liberty – Cochranes, the boiler makers were famous for fitting one of their fine copper constructions in the African Queen in the film of the same name – it’s famous tourists – Hans Christian Anderson who, it is said, declared that the inhabitants of the nearby village of Cummertrees had the worst sense of colour he’d ever encountered.
But I don’t want to tell you about this wonderful man – no, I have a tale to tell about Paul – not his real name – who provided the wandering loon with fine hospitality.
I had some donated funds in my pocket and, after the subzero temperatures I felt I deserved a roof and a proper bed. The barmaid contacted a guy she knew and it was agreed that I’d go and stay in a b&b up the road.
After a bit of a chat, Paul decided that I was going to keep the money for another time. He invited me to stay with him.
He’d been a psychiatric nurse for some 20 years – we chatted like old friends – other punters came and went – the guy who’d recently lost his wife, had suffered a heart attack and had decided to move down from Ayrshire (and looked remarkably like an older Robert De Niro.), the guy who came in demanding to pay for everyone’s drinks – shouting that his wife was a whore and was so gently asked to leave by the local folk in blue…
The barstaff laughed at Paul, “He’s got previous – he took in a guy who was cycling around the UK with his dog in a trailer.”
I looked at Paul – he smiled and nodded.
I enjoyed the open and frank way he spoke and joked with me.
When I told him that I had borderline personality disorder he asked, with a smile, “Have you got a knife?” Only half in jest…
“No,” I said, “the sharpest thing I have is my rapier wit…”
I’m a card.
I thought of Charlie Paton the polar explorer who’d said all that time ago,”Chis, you’ve got to have a knife.”
Paul has epilepsy and lives in sheltered housing. He asked me if I ever failed to take my medication – I confessed I had in the past – I’d had some crazy notion of rebellion…
Paul suffers from something similar.
He fed me with vegetarian fayre – including a full cooked breakfast – while he had a yoghurt.
Each time I thanked him he said, “What else would I do?”
Throughout my ramble I’ve always wanted to feel like I’m making some kind of contribution – Paul really helped with that – he was thrilled to have someone in his home, who he’d never see again, who he could tell some of his trickier stuff to.
Job done. Just listening – a bit of prompting – challenging at times – simple really…
I’d never thought of that.
Walk a mile