Head­ing home af­ter pants shop­ping down south, we went where no­body knows us

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - AGENDA - Iain Maciver

Mad ideas come to us when we’ve been on the wine or the cake

Be­fore we headed back to Scot­land, we went shop­ping in Glouces­ter. Jackets, shorts, un­der­crack­ers, that sort of thing. Just as ev­ery is­lan­der does in Sauchiehal­l Street once a year, we repli­cated pants shop­ping in the deep south. Then we went on a cul­tural tour.

Glouces­ter Cathe­dral is mag­nif­i­cent. Ev­ery­one in the big kirk was so friendly. They were all smil­ing and some were even laugh­ing. That was when we re­alised we had been walk­ing around the cathe­dral with Moun­tain Ware­house’s “70% Off ” price tags hang­ing from the backs of our col­lars. Aaargh.

My care­fully-re­searched nu­tri­tion regime went for a bit of a bur­ton in Eng­land. We had Korean lunches, Ital­ian din­ners and Greek mid­night feasts. Well, I had a cheeky wee doner ke­bab on the last night. Thank good­ness I did.

Head­ing back up Scot­land­wards from Glouces­ter was some­what of a ’mare. Dire weather warn­ings and pelt­ing rain de­layed us set­ting off un­til mid-morn­ing.

It was chuck­ing it down in lower and mid­dle Eng­land. We saw ac­ci­dents and tail­backs. As we reached Lan­cashire though, Mrs X and I were smiled on by He­lios, the Greek god of the sun and prob­a­bly ke­babs too, and his winged char­iot pushed us speed­ily to the mo­tor­way ser­vices at Gretna Green.

Ah, Gretna. Such an amaz­ingly ro­man­tic place. I held Mrs X’s little hand as she stepped down from the Vaux­hall Vi­varo and glided to­wards the en­trance.

I gazed into her deep smil­ing eyes as she lifted a tiny golden crumb which she then slowly pushed on to her warm lips. So lovely. So lovely, in fact, that I was be­ing over­come with that eter­nal long­ing, that un­yield­ing yearn­ing for the ul­ti­mate sat­is­fac­tion. I just could not re­sist that mag­i­cal al­lure – I had to go and buy some of that car­rot cake my­self.

Climb­ing back into the van, we re­alised it was teatime and we hadn’t booked a bed for the night. We de­cided to go some­where we had never been be­fore. Mad ideas like that come to us when we’ve been on the wine or on the car­rot cake. It was the cake.

You can have a vino or two in Eng­land with­out turn­ing the bag, but know­ing we were head­ing into Alba – and its no­to­ri­ously tough drink-drive laws – we weren’t chanc­ing it.

In Eng­land, you can drive with up to 35 mi­cro­grammes of al­co­hol per 100 millil­itres of breath. In Scot­land, it’s just 20 mi­cro­grammes. Not a drib­blette of plonk was had. In­stead we were in­tox­i­cated by cake and the thought of a cosy di­van for the night.

Where to? Let’s go up past Glas­gow this time. Dum­bar­ton? Nah, there’s just a rock there. Auchter­muchty to see if we can spot The Pro­claimers? Auchter­muchty? Och, no. Flick the road atlas open. It fell open at Ler­wick.

OK, not up there ei­ther. Then it fell open at Dunoon. We set up Seonag, the sat­nav app thingum­myjig. Then we re­alised we would have to take a ferry or go all the way up Loch Lomond­side, turn left at Ar­rochar and then back down the Cowal Penin­sula to op­po­site Gourock and Greenock. Naw, we would be there too late.

Wait a minute. What’s that other place op­po­site Greenock on the west side? We could drive there di­rectly. He­lens­burgh? Neither she nor I had been to the child­hood home of TV in­ven­tor John Lo­gie Baird and Bonar Law, who soon af­ter the First World War be­came the short­est-serv­ing prime minister of the 20th Cen­tury.

Quickly Googling a hostelry, we found He­lens­burgh was wel­com­ing trav­el­ling teuchters with no home to go to.

“At the next round­about, take the third exit onto the A74(M) and con­tinue to­wards He­lens­burgh.” Thank you, Seonag. Take the rest of the night off. I’ve got this.

We loved the thought of go­ing to a place which we had never vis­ited and no one would know us. As we checked in, re­cep­tion­ist Sarah brightly asked if we were from the is­lands.

She has strong con­nec­tions with Har­ris and Barra. Lovely girl. Prob­a­bly re­lated some­where along the line to Mrs X on the Har­ris side too.

Greet­ings over, let’s kick off our shoes, go into the restau­rant and re­lax anony­mously with lob­ster­cakes and wee drams of Glayva.

Wait­ress Louise was re­ally help­ful and lovely, too. Then she asked if our ac­cent was from Lewis. Turns out Louise’s cousin is mar­ried to Mrs X’s old pal of yore. Yarns ga­lore. Ach, who wants to be anony­mous any­way?

Mrs X, it turns out, was deeply touched by the side of me she saw dur­ing our brief visit to Gretna Green.

She told me I was quite lov­ing when we were down there. Was I? Re­ally? She wished I was like that all the time. I thought I was. Ap­par­ently not.

She has been go­ing on and on about it. She said: “You were very dif­fer­ent in Gretna. Nor­mally, the only time you ever want to kiss me is when we have been out and you have had a wee drink.”

Hmm, maybe. Mind you, that’s when I usu­ally want a ke­bab as well.

Glouces­ter Cathe­dral is mag­nif­i­cent, and ev­ery­one in the big kirk was smil­ing and laugh­ing – noth­ing to do with the “70% Off” price tags hang­ing from the backs of our col­lars

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