The Grey Man




Do one thing every day that scares you.

Tranquility Base

Jimmy Gladstone sits in the garden chair gazing out over the Firth of Clyde, admiring Ailsa Craig's rocky cone, which shimmers in the early morning heat haze. Behind it, along the distant horizon, Arran's 'Sleeping Warrior', an irregular line of grey mountains, silhouetted against the blue sky.
In his mid sixties, Jimmy looks, at first glance, like many other elderly folk holidaying on this caravan park on the cliffs, high above Croy Bay. Enjoying the view, sun and tranquillity of this glorious summer morning on the Ayrshire coast.

Some spects of the man prompt a second glance however.
The head of thick white hair. The thick muscular arms, folded over his barrel of a chest, sleeves rolled tightly above the elbows. The pipe protruding from the side of his mouth, wisps of blue smoke drifting lazily over him and dispersing in the hot, still air.
But it's the wooden sticks - a crutch and a simple walking stick propped against the chair - that ultimately draw people's attention.
"Jimmy, aht's breakfast ready." A woman's voice, thick with the Glasgow dialect and accent, calls from inside the caravan.
He withdraws the pipe from his lips, blowing out a mouthful of smoke and taps it gently against the side of the chair, knocking the ash from the bowl.
"'Right! Bae right in lass." he responds in similar tongue.
He grips the crutch and heaves himself slowly from the chair, clumsily, without grace; a lifetime of using the sticks making it second nature. The crutch creaks as it takes his weight, and he locks it under his armpit on 'the bad side', before steadying himself with the walking stick in the other hand. A moment to get his balance.
He's a short stocky man, the weakness of his lower body is more than compensated by the power of his upper torso. A cobbler by trade, his arms are strong and solid; his hands like vices. One leg is perfectly normal, but the other, shorter by a few inches, hangs limp and useless like that of a ventriloquist's dummy. Having got himself vertical, he manoeuvres with crutch and stick, to the doorway.
He hates it when he falls over. Sometimes for no reason other than gravity scoring points on him; other times after a few too many drams. He hates soft chairs, sofas and the like.
"Too damn difficult tae get oot eh." he'll tell people.
And he hates being helped.
"Thae mean well, bit thae jist get in eh road. An thae kin get hurt if thir no kerful. Ye see, thae pitt thir hauns unner mah ermpits an try tae lift meh up. Bit thae don't realise thit, wance ah get the tap eh the crutch unner mah oaxtir, ah jam thir haun atween the crutch an mah ermpit. Ye want tae hear em scream when aht happens!"

Caravan at Croy

With skilful coordination of sticks, arms, good leg, balance and determination, he gains access to the interior of the caravan through the tiny kitchen area. He passes his niece and her husband, busily filling plates from a sizzling frying pan, and continues along the 22 feet of caravan floor towards the table set for breakfast. It has two narrow cushioned seats running either side, transformed from the single beds of an hour ago.
He sits down on the end of one of the seats, discards the sticks, propping them carefully to the side, and shuffles his way along the tight space between seat and table until he's ensconced in his favourite position against the big bay window at the end. The view from the window, out over the Firth, is tremendous. He sighs and continues his observation of the Craig.

Holding their hot rims in teacloths, Lily brings two steaming plates to the table, and sets them down.
"Wher's Robert?" she asks curtly.
"Still alang it the showers." Jimmy informs her.
"Ah telt him tae hurry. Thit this wid bae ready soon. It'll bae caul bae the time eh gets back."
"Ach, ye know whit these young yins urr like lass." Jimmy says, picking up his knife and fork, ready to tuck into the bacon, sausage and egg put before him.
"Ah watched thim earlier whin ah wiz up ther. Aw staunin beautifyin thirsells in eh mirrors lik a bunch a lasses. In eh time it took me tae hiv a wash an quick scrape wae the razor, thae wurr still squeezin thir plooks! Eh'll bae back whin eez hungry."
"Ah'll pitt his unner the grill." calls her husband from the kitchen.
The three of them settle down around the table and start eating.

"Wher hiv you bin? Thoat ye'd goat loast!"
Lily aims at Moonwatcher when he steps into the caravan, towel round his neck and wet soap bag in hand.
"Aw it wiz great tae get a shower an a shave." replies her son, unconsciously reverting to broad Glaswegian in the company of family.
"Yer breakfast's unner the grill." informs his dad.
"A shave!" laughs Jimmy. "Whit dae you need a shave furr? Ye hivnae goat enough oan yer face tae shave. A bit a bum fluff is aw."
"Aye right! Bliddy cut massell wae rushin."
"Aw poor wee sowel!" says Jimmy with mock sympathy. "A wee lad like yersell shouldnae bae playin wae a razor."
He erupts at the sight of Moonwatcher dabbing the side of his chin with a piece of tissue as he approaches the table. His laughter becoming uncontrollable, Jimmy drops his knife and fork on the plate wheezing as his broad shoulders bounce up and down, shaking the whole caravan. It's infectious and the others follow suit. Moonwatcher can't help but join in the hilarity as he collects his plate and sits down beside his great uncle, still dabbing the bleeding spot on his face.

As they eat in silence, interrupted only by occasional chuckles from Jimmy, Moonwatcher considers the day before, and his fortunate encounter with John and his taxi. John had just dropped Jimmy off at the caravan site, and was heading back into Ayr.
"I saw the bike upturned at the side of the road, an ah kent the erse in the air wiz Robert an Lily's lad."
He'd heard him tell Jimmy at the caravan door, as he and his dad were manhandling the bike out of the taxi.
Jimmy and John had become good friends a couple of years previously. Jimmy, getting off the Glasgow train at Ayr station, had made his way laboriously up to the taxi rank. It was to be his first visit to the caravan and Lily had told him just to get a taxi out to Croy.
Seeing him approach on sticks, John had got out and attempted to help him into the cab but, typically Jimmy, he politely declined the offer. However, as they were pulling away from the kerb, Jimmy mentioned that, in all the rush, he hadn't had a chance to 'get a wee dram'.
"Cannae have that." said John, and pulling the taxi up outside a pub, he got out and opened the door for Jimmy, who needed no encouragement.
"I'll park over there. Just don't be too long."
When he came out the pub a few minutes later, and a double Bells heavier, Jimmy stood on the pavement, fully expecting to have to hail another taxi. Next thing, John drives up from his lookout point, and opens the door like a chauffeur picking up a VIP.
Jimmy was all chuffed. But it didn't end there. A few moments later the taxi was sitting, engine running, meter off, outside an off-sales while John picked up a 'kerry-oot' for his passenger before heading out to Croy.
A lasting friendship was born. Christmas cards and presents would be exchanged between the two and from then on, Jimmy would contact John whenever he was coming off that Glasgow train. John's was the only Ayr taxi Jimmy would travel in. If he arrived early or John was late, Jimmy would sit and have his dram in the station bar, safe in the knowledge that John would pick him up and ferry him out to the site.

"So, urr ye jinin us furr the tottie howkin this efternin?" asks Lily of her son, as she washes the breakfast plates in the tiny sink.
"Yeah, ah noticed thae wurr harvestin eh field whin ah arrived yisterday."
"The fermer's invited evrybiddy oan the site tae collect the left-ower totties an help clear the field, noo thit the harvesting machines are finished."
She hands him a sudsy plate for drying. He works the dishcloth and smiles.
"How could ah say naw?"
This has become an annual event on the caravan site and works to the advantage of both parties. In days past, prior to the introduction of mechanical harvesting, people would travel from far and wide, seeking seasonal employment, manually harvesting the potato crop from the Ayrshire fields. Back breaking work.
Nowadays, it's just a bit of fun, with the farmer getting the left-over potatoes removed from the field, so that he can prepare it for the next season; the caravaners getting a bag or two of Ayrshire 'new potatoes' in return for a couple of hours scavenging.
"Ah'll bae there." says Moonwatcher, his mouth watering already at the thought of the taste.
"Bit furst, ah'm takin a walk doon tae the beach."
His mother smiles, nods... and hands him another plate.

Dark glasses kill the sun's glare as he walks briskly down the tarmac path towards the cliff edge, a whiff of melting tar evident in the heat being generated by the midday sun.
As he draws level with the old wooden BB hut, his attention is captured by flashes of reflected sunlight over towards his right. Glinting off glass and chrome, the flashes are coming from a line of distant cars, high up on the main road. The vehicles are crawling along at walking pace - each believing they're rolling backwards uphill. For the road they're on is Croy Brae or the 'Electric Brae'. Travelling along this straight section of road from the north, a vehicle seems to be going downhill. But, if stopped with the handbrake off and gear in neutral, the same vehicle will roll backwards up the hill of its own volition! Explanations range from electromagnetism to magic but it is, in fact, an optical illusion caused by the surrounding countryside. The road only appears to be on a downward gradient.
Moonwatcher recalls how, when they were younger, his brother and he would whoop with laughter when their dad stopped their black Wolsley 4/44 on that very hill and it would defy gravity by moving back up the way it had just come.

The soft sand of the bay is populated with islands of sun seekers, equipped to varying degrees with the paraphernalia of sun worship: deck chairs, sunbeds, airbeds, inflatable balls and floatables, parasols and the like.
Kids, pails and spades in hand, dig ever collapsing holes in the hot, dry sand and try to figure out why water being poured into sandcastle moats disappears so quickly.
Moonwatcher much prefers the beach when it's quiet. Off season or in poor weather. When the salt breeze stings the his face and tastes the his lips. When the waves roll ashore in great white crests and crash against the rocky cliffs at either ends end of the bay. When the only other signs of life ares are the screeching gulls or the occasional solitary beach walker to whom a courteous nod of the head suffices. He's walked this beach in raging gales, hood up, head bent against the driving wind and spray, eyes squinting through blowing sand.
He makes his way out to the compact wet sand whose surface is rippled with the indentations caused by the waves of the outgoing tide, and peppered with telltale little coils left by the worms hiding underneath. He walks along the waterline towards the rocky Point in the distance, dodging the odd lazy wave as it tries to lick his ankles.
Gradually, the sunbathers thin out, and, by the time he reaches the promontory and clambers over the seaweed covered rocks and crab inhabited pools, he's alone.
From the Point another beach opens out, another bay, and in the distance, perched precariously on the cliff, is the dramatic citadel of Culzean Castle. Robert Adam's 18th Century masterpiece for the Kennedy's, with it's its Oval Staircase, Round Room and magnificent gardens.
Moonwatcher saunters along this deserted beach. Another day, he might make his way along to the rocks under the castle, climb the path that leads to the gardens, and join the tourists in the grounds, perhaps even step inside and have a browse around the armoury. But today he contents himself exploring the caves along the way. He always experiences a tinge of excitement when he enters them, feeling the darkness wrap itself around as he steps warily forward. Some are fairly deep and relatively cavernous. Without a torch he can't venture too far into their depths but enough to get the feel for them: their coolness, dampness, eeriness. The dripping of water echoing in dark tunnels. His imagination turns to Smugglers, Tolkien's Moria, and ... Sawney Bean.

Tales are told of a family from around the 16th century, who preyed on travellers on the road that winds it's its way down the rugged Ayrshire-Galloway coastline.
Somewhere along the shore, Sawney Bean - originally from the Lothian region - set up with his family in a deep cave hidden under cliffs. They lived there for many years, inbreeding and growing into a sizeable clan. They would stalk wayfarers in the dead of night, trapping them in the darkness, robbing and killing them. But then, worst of all, dragging them off to the cave to dismember the bodies and feed on them.
As the numbers of missing persons increased, so did the level of fear in the region. But the the cannibals remained undetected, their existance existence unknown - some say for as long as twenty five years! It's reckoned that hundreds fell victim to the gruesome family.
The exact location of the cave has been the subject of much debate, but Bennane Cave in Galloway is said to be a possible location.
Eventually, the Sawney family's luck ran out when a man and his wife, returning from a fair one night, were set upon. The husband escaped, his wife was less lucky. But the secret was out and a large mob tracked down the cannibals to the hidden cave. In it, they found a sizeable family of men, women and children, living in abject squalor like savages. Strewn across the floor of the cave were bones - human bones. Parts of dismembered bodies, some preserved with seasalt sea salt, hung from the roof or were stored in cold recesses. The clothes, belongings and weapons of hundreds of victims were also discovered.
The story goes that the family was hauled off to Edinburgh and executed. Before being burned at the stake, the wives and children were forced to watch as the men had their hands, feet and private parts amputated. The men were then left to bleed to death.
These thoughts dull Moonwatcher's enthusiasm for further cave exploration, so he makes his way, rather more hurriedly than he'd admit, back to the cave entrance and out into the welcoming brightness of daylight. He's no longer alone. A few holidaymakers have followed him over the point, curious to see where he had gone. Screaming kids inevitably follow. He looks at his watch and reluctantly decides to head back.

His uncle is sitting alone at the table, reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose. 'The Highwayman' open at the page with the Grey Man's photo.
"Is iss eh rock ye wurr talkin aboot last night?" Jimmy asks.
"Yep. That's eh wan."
"Ah'm jist lookin it it. It really dis look lik a man's face disn't it?"
He turns the book around, peering at the picture from different angles, as though in doing so he would see more of the rock.
"Man, eez even goat a wart oan eez nose! An ye say eez up in eh hills sumwherr?"
"Aye. The Galloway Hills." says Moonwatcher.
Jimmy puts down the book, takes off his glasses, and gazes out the window.
"I wiz in Galloway wance. Wan eh mah bus runs it wiz. Wae went tae Girvan furst an en oan tae Newton Stewart ah hink it wiz. It rained aw the wae. So iz yer rock man near Newton Stewart?"
"Well, it's doon aht wae uncle. Bit it's a bit further north, an inland. It's pretty remote country."
"Bit ye like aht soart a hing daent ye son?"
"Aye. Ah love it. It's great tae bae away oan the bike urr oan fit walkin ower eh hills."

Uncle Jimmy

Jimmy takes his glasses off and looks down at the book.
"It's no sumhin ah've ever bin able tae try massell."
His nephew realises he may have struck a sore point.
"Sorry uncle, ah didnae mean tae..."
"Sorry! Furr christ sake son, don't bae sorry furr me."
He bursts out laughing again.
"The thoat a aw aht peddlin an traipsin ower hills in eh rain disnae dae much furr meh ah kin tell ye. Gie me four wheels any day. Ah'll stick tae mah bus runs and John's taxi. Aht's merr mah style. Iz loang iz a kin get aboot oan mah sticks aht's eh main hing. Too minny folk lik me feel sorry furr thirsells. Hink eh world owes thim sumhin. Well let meh tell ye son, eh world disnae owe ye hing. Iz loang iz ah kin keep oot ah wan eh em bliddy wheelchairs ah'll bae happy."

Jimmy Gladstone kept out of a wheelchair for nearly another thirty years, seeing in the new Millennium in his nineties.

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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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