The Grey Man




Let tears come when your heart tells you of its sadness.
Let joy come unasked, unplanned.

The Littlewoods Girls

If Moonwatcher could think of any reason for leaving this place, it could only be the hunger now gnawing at his belly. A dawn search through the backpack, under the sleeping bag, and in the corners of the tent, produced the meagre offerings now arranged in front of him. He sits cross-legged, under the canvas, waiting for the midges outside to leave. A packet of dehydrated tomato-soup, two teabags, and a long-lost chunk of 'Kendal Mint Cake', covered in fluff, hair, and crumbs from the bottom of the his bag.
With the stove dead from lack of fuel, his options are limited, so he painstakingly picks the debris from the discoloured lump of mint-cake, before nibbling it's corners, making it last, imagining bacon, eggs and black pudding sizzling in a pan.

If it wasn't for the lack of food, he'd stay longer, explore further. He doesn't want to leave.
It takes longer to strike camp than anticipated. First, the midges take their time heading to ground. Then comes the frustration of packing the tent and sleeping bag into the backpack as it was before. Somehow, they just won't fit this time around, and require considerable coaxing, cramming and cursing before finally relenting as the straps are tightened down.
Logic tells him that the pack should be lighter now, but it doesn't seem so as he hefts it up to test it's weight. With everything stowed, ready for the off, he sits on the wall of the sheep ree, and lights his pipe for the last time.
He takes a final look at what has been his home for the past two days. The sunrise over the mountains is spectacular. Looking out in the direction of the Jarkness Rig, he sees no sign of life, and of this, he's glad. Unlike the day before, when he repeatedly, anxiously, scanned the horizon in the vain hope of company, he is resentful at the thought of sharing this place with anyone. The idea of another human presence encroaching on his 'territory' annoys him.
He's come to love this place, its wildness, solitude, beauty. In that short time he's been privileged to have seen it at its worst, and at its best. He has met 'The Grey Man'.
His stomach rumbles. Time to go.
Clenching the stem of the pipe between his teeth, he slides off the wall, on to his booted feet, heaves the pack on to his back, and strides out from the sheep ree.

The Caldons is emptier as he limps into the site, towards the small rectangle of flat, yellow grass marking the spot where his tent had stood, a few days before. The break in the weather has chased away many of the fair weather campers and he's glad of the lack of few people around, as he becomes increasingly conscious of his appearance and body odour. Pulling off his boots, he finds the large blister on his heel has already burst. The skin is rubbed clear, leaving an open raw patch of flesh. First Aid can wait until he gets the tent up and retrieves the bike. A shower and something to eat also rate highly.

"We were about to send the Mountain Rescue boys out looking for you, feller!" the Ranger informs him, as he's reunited with his bike.
"Said I'd be a couple of days." replies Moonwatcher defensively.
"Aye, but the last we saw of you, you were heading up into a bloody thunder storm. If you hadn't turned up tonight we would've come looking for you. Seriously mate."
"Sorry about that. But, I'm here now, safe and sound." he replies, as he searches through one of the pannier bags.
"Must've been pretty rough up there, that first night, eh?"
"Aye, a bit wet."
He finds what he's looking for - a now, very squashed, deformed Mars Bar - flattened like a pancake, the wrapper pretty much shredded and stuck to the repeatedly-melted and re-solidified chocolate. Wrapper and chocolate have become one.
The Ranger screws up his face in disgust as Moonwatcher picks the larger bits of paper out of the mutilated, shapeless bar.
"Take it you're out of rations then, kid?"
"You take it right." replies Moonwatcher, giving up on the embedded paper, and stuffing the mess in his mouth.
"Shop's open." suggests the Ranger.
Moonwatcher, cheeks bulging, chews noisily.
"In a wee while. I need to get cleaned up first."
He swallows the last of the chocolate, licking lips and fingers, spitting out bits of wrapper.
"Wow! That was good!"

His skin is still glowing from the hot shower, as he stands in front of the mirror in the toilet block. The blade of the razor feels good, as it slides through the lather and bristles on his face, leaving smooth skin in it's its wake.
He rinses off, and looks at the face in the mirror. A month shy of his twenty second birthday, he leans close to the glass, checking for grey hair among the thick, dark strands. Both sides of his family have thick white hair - a prospect endearing to him.
The shock discovery of a grey hair near his temple has him tugging it out, vainly hoping that it will be a lesson to others to stay away.
Paradoxically he wishes he looked older. Too many people assume he's a youngster, still in his late teens.
"Are ye no a bit young tae bae daein iss joab son?" is is a regular comment he regularly hears during his working day, which can involve anything from stemming bleeding wounds, and trying to resuscitate dead people, or deliver to delivering babies.
"Too young to have grey hair." he mumbles to himself, as he pulls a clean shirt over his head.

"Let meh tell ye this! Pretty soon, ye'll bae considirt rich if ye've a caunle an a loaf ah breid eh wae hings urr gaun."
The Glaswegian accent booms through the camp shop, as the woman drops her purchases into a carrier bag. She's referring to the latest headline displayed by the newspapers, laid out at one end of the counter.
Moonwatcher hasn't read a newspaper or listened to a news report since he left home, but can't avoid seeing the word 'STRIKE' emblazoned across the front pages. Strikes have become all too common over the past few years. It seems the whole country is coming to halt. Miners, transport workers, bakers, dustbin-men, firemen; even his own colleagues in the Ambulance Service have been holding meetings, and laying plans. A sub-header announces government preparations for petrol rationing.
As he steps up to the counter, arms full of provisions, he wishes he was back in the hills with only the 'Grey Man' for company.

A borrowed pot heats up the tinned food, purchased from the shop. Everything gets chucked in: mince, potatoes, hot dog sausages and beans. As he stirs the steaming mass, he butters thick slices of bread with the Swiss Army knife, frequently dipping dry large chunks into the pot and chewing as he goes. He's ravenous, and it takes a final tin of cold creamed-rice to fill up the corners, and satisfy his hunger.
The meal finished, he lies out in front of his tent in the pleasant afternoon sunshine, and sleeps.

The holiday's almost over. Tomorrow he heads home.
Probably cycle back up over Rowantree, say "Cheerio!" to Davie Bell at the Toll, then shoot down past Tairlaw, and spend a night in the now empty caravan, before getting a train from Ayr the following day. A train that'll have him back in the city within an hour.
He's pleased with what he's done and seen, the people he's met. Thoughts of a return visit are already forming in his head that evening, as he cycles the forest road into Glentrool. Places he's heard about: The 'White Laggan' and 'Back Hill of the Bush' bothies intrigue him, and beckon him on to make future trips.
Then, there's the 'Grey Man' - he must go there again, sometime soon.
But tonight, as he cycles slowly through the conifers, he's headed for the 'House o' Hill' for one last pint ... or two.

It's getting dark by the time he wheels around into the alley at the side of the inn, and secures the bike to a drainpipe. Lights are already on and the sound of music, voices and laughter - female laughter in particular - filter out into the evening air.
Inside, the bar is crowded, and smoky. All the bar stools are occupied, and it's standing room only. Moonwatcher works his way through to the bar and catches the barman's attention; ordering a pint and a large Glemorangie. Only then does he look around.
The tabled area, where he had lunch - it seems such a long time ago - has been commandeered by a large group of women. Chattering, giggling, incredibly noisy women, of ages ranging from late teens to late fifties. Their tables are cluttered with drinks and it's obvious they've been here a while. A large pint-tumbler at the centre of one of the tables is stuffed with notes and coins - The 'Kitty'.
As Moonwatcher swallows a goodly mouthful of malt whisky, his attention's caught by a girl in the group sitting at the table nearest to him. She's in her early twenties, dressed in mini skirt, white knee length boots, and a tight fitting polo neck sweater that the hugs the shape of her slim body. Her hair is blonde, long and swept over one shoulder. Her make up is heavy - big eyes and lashes. The fashion of the day.
Moonwatcher is in love!

"Ye ken ye can get arrested for whit you're thinkin, son!" says the barman, as he sets the freshly-poured pint down on the wet bar top.
"Eh!" stutters Moonwatcher, startled by the unexpected comment, and almost choking on his whisky. He smiles.
"Pure thoughts. Honest mate, I was thinking only pure thoughts."
"Aye! Right son, you an all the other hopefuls in here the night. Mind you, there's no many in here could afford a round wae them, ah can tell ye."
A couple of others sat on stools to either side, laugh at the comment, but it's drowned out by a burst of laughter from the tables. For a moment the men go quiet, wondering if the women have overhead what they were saying.
"What is it anyway?" asks Moonwatcher. "A hen night?"
"Naw, no them. They're aw fae 'Littlewoods'."
"Aye, ye ken? The fitbaw pools company."
"How so?" asks Moonwatcher, genuinely confused.
"The big house at the end of the loch, just before the Bruce's Stone - 'Glentrool Lodge'. Ye ken the wan?"
Moonwatcher nods as he lifts his pint.
"Well that's owned bae the faimly that own the big 'Littlewoods' company. During the summer, they let groups of their workers - mainly lasses fae Liverpool - come up here for weekends. There's some kinda rota-system in place. It's a sort of perk. All expenses paid thing, ah believe. They even allow wans that have been ill tae come up here tae convalesce."
"Certainly plenty of convalescing going on tonight. Bit of medication as well, bae the looks of it." says a guy nursing a flat pint.
"Usually, they aw go doon tae Newton Stewart for a night oot," continues the barman "but for some reason, they've landed here the night. No that ah'm complainin! No the wae they're drinkin."
He laughs.
"Bloody nightmare when they're orderin though!"

As he says this, 'Whiteboots' and one of the older women, get up and make their way to the bar; obviously their turn to get a round in.
'Whiteboots' clutches the 'Kitty' glass, the older woman, a crumpled piece of paper on which is scribbled a long list of drinks.
A distinctive Liverpuddlian accent invades the bar.
"Could I have ... em, let me see now luv ..."
The older woman pulls her spectacles to the tip of her nose, and holds the list nearer her face.
"A Blue Lagoon, two half-pint Shandys ..."
She breaks off to bellow across the floor, over the music from the jukebox and the rabble of voices.
A nod from the corner confirms the order.
'Yes, that's two half pint Shandys pet. Now what else ... a Whisky Pimms, Rum and Pep ... eh ... three Babychams ... eh no, make that two Babychams, and a Brandy and Babycham. A Rum and Coke. A Lager and Blackcurrant. One Vodka with Lime, and one with Orange ... eh, can you make that out Tricia luv?"
She holds the list up to 'Whiteboots', and points to a smudge. The lovely Tricia looks closely, and shakes her head. Moonwatcher, seizing the opportunity, quickly offers assistance.
"Would you like me to have a look? I'm usually quite good at deciphering these kind of things."

The list is offered, and he uses the chance to move closer to Tricia; smelling her perfume and feeling his heart quicken. A painted fingernail points to the item of confusion. He nods a knowing nod.
"It's a 'Screwdriver'! One of the Vodkas should have a fresh orange in it - it's called a 'Screwdriver'.
He's sure he sees Tricia blush a little, as he hands back the paper. The older woman scowls and looks again at the list, before returning her attention to the barman. Desperately trying to keep up, he is pouring and mixing drinks, scooping ice cubes, and spearing cherries on to little umbrellas.
"Err ... yes. One of them scr ... what that young chap just said."
Tricia smiles at Moonwatcher.
"Thanks." she says, blinking overly dark lashes. His heart melts.
"No problem. This your first time here?"
"Yeah." she nods.
"Enjoying yourself?"
"Yeah." she nods.
"Staying along at the big house?"
Another nod.
"You're all from 'Littlewoods', I hear."
Moonwatcher pushes the envelope.
Double nod this time. Progress.

"You just here for the weekend?" continues Moonwatcher, undaunted.
Moonwatcher senses the initiative slip from his grasp. Tricia turns her attention to placing drinks on trays. He gives her a hand. They work in silence, while the older lady pays for the round, then meticulously checks the change.
It takes three trays to hold the cargo of drinks being transported to the tables. The 'Kitty' glass, although considerably emptier, is quickly topped up from purses and handbags, amid much negotiation.
As she settles back in her place at the table, a quick exchange of glances between Tricia and Moonwatcher at the bar, signals the end to a relationship that never was - but will continue in his imagination for some time.

Just at that moment, following in response to a shouted request from one of the tables, a hand behind the bar turns up the volume of the juke box, and Slade's 'Cum On Feel The Noize' booms out.
Unknown to anybody, at the same time, the same band are recording a Christmas song that will hit the number one spot in the charts, a few months later, and is destined to remain a Christmas favourite over thirty years later.

As the Littlewoods Girls 'feel the noize', singing, swinging their arms in the air and bouncing in time to the beat, Moonwatcher grabs a vacated stool, turns towards the bar, orders another drink, and looks to the future.

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Original story and material © 2005 Bob Wilson
Layout, editing and additional material © Dave Sloan 2005, 2012, 2016
'tachras' and 'Winding Yarn' © Dave Sloan 2005, 2012, 2016

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