Go to Chapters ...
The Chicken Hat
On the Bing

Folk might well be thinking that the Innerleven Bowling Club was dominated by women, and that the men would accept anything for a quiet life! Big women and wee men. Jane Austen with just a hint of King (or more rightly, Queen) Kong.
I suppose that there is no denying it.
Except in one area of living ...
... Romance!


The Chicken Hat

Strutting, and puffing out the feathers was a man's job. Every male child learned this at an early age. There's not much time between getting out from under your mother's apron, to find a job, then getting married and having your own apron. Only a few years of being a real man, and chasing the girls, pursuing romance and sweeping women off their feet.Then you were handed a brush and told to sweep the floor - and don't forget the corners!

Some managed to enjoy that freedom for longer than others. Some got married quickly, because they had to. Some got married later, because the wedding do had to wait for a Provident loan. And some never got married for all sorts of reasons - the brakes on their pushbike needed adjustment, and they had gone over the handlebars, or the Army (or prison) got them first.

There was one, though, who looked likely never to get caught in the net ...
The Cauldcoits Casanova.
The Dubbieside Dandy.
Ronnie McLauchlan - The Midnight Pitboy.

Ronnie maybe didn't have great looks, but his patter was pure magic. While the other men were shelling out for brandy and Babychams, in the hope that the alcohol would give them more of a chance than nature ever had, Ronnie spent all his money on Brylcreem, a sharp suit, tie and shoes.
I tell a lie. Ronnie had a cousin who worked for Burtons the Tailors, and the clothes were out on a weekend pass. He did, however, buy the Brylcreem, and the string vest was actually his.
When some poor punter's money had run out, Ronnie would glide past. A woman who sensed that her cheap date was running short of ready cash, was easy game for Ronnie. A quick glance at the opposition fumbling in his trousers for loose change, a Brylcreemed nod at the bar, a firm hand on the elbow, and the woman would find herself sitting on a bar stool. A wee bit of patter, and she would be buying Ronnie a pint and a nip.

You just had to admire his technique!

Ronnie was a regular at all the Innerleven drinking establishments. Well, the ones who encouraged women anyway. You know the sort of place. Tables, chairs and fancy fittings like that. Sawdust sprinkled only around the edge of the bar. Sure signs that you could take a lady for a couple of drinks without having some idiot getting his head bounced off the floor.

He'd do the Innerleven Hotel during the week, because you got a higher class of women there. But he still put in an appearance at the Glue Pot, next to the Model Lodging House, especially if the pickings were a bit down. The ladies of negotiable virtue in the Glue Pot had been known to wipe the chalk off their soles if they fancied a man.
Ronnie could get a chalked price down faster than Jimmy the Fishman could, when his fish barrow ran out of ice on a hot day.

At the weekend, Ronnie was a member of the Innerleven Bowling Club. Not to play bowls, because the combination of four woods and Brylcreem just doesn't bear thinking about. Ronnie had only one style of drive. That was in the direction of women. And now, there was something new at the Bowling Club. A fresh scent in the water. All the way from America.

Jeannette had crossed the Atlantic for her grandmother's funeral, and having been to the Crematorium to pay her respects, she was staying at her gran's house. With her gran who had been to the funeral, too. Nettie Simpson. (If you're a little bit confused about the last statement, it's because her gran wasn't quite as dead as everybody had reckoned).

Anyway, Jeannette was at the Club that Saturday night, and being American (rich) and single (desperate), she was attracting a lot of the wee fish (and the odd lobster). Every single man between 20 and 60 (and a few married ones as well!)reckoned they were in with a chance.

She was a fine figure of a woman. Shoulders like a navvy, with nylon-clad legs like those really big sticks of Burntisland Rock. (Without the wee picture, mind). She wore a reddish-brown dress, cut low at the front, and barely reaching below the knee. Then, there was the hat. Perched on her head, with long feathers sticking out. The ones with fluff on the bottom.

If the Statue of Liberty were ever allowed to go rusty, you would have a perfect picture of what Jeannette Day Pendexter looked like. She was a stunner (as Erchie Ballingall found out when his face got too close to her southern exposure!)

Ronnie had come along with Senga Marshall that night. Senga thought Ronnie was courting her, and that it would only be a matter of time before things became serious between them.. Last weekend, Ronnie had taken her up to the Buckhind Braes, for a walk in the countryside. When she had emarked that it was just a little bit chilly, she was angling for a cuddle, or the romantic 'let me pit ma coat aroond yer shooders, hen!' Always a good sign of serious intent.
Ronnie was the master of the romantic gesture. Quick as you like, he had moved one of the cows in a nearby field so that Senga could have a warm spot to sit down on.
When it came to pulling talent, Casanova was nowhere. Compared to Ronnie, he couldn't even pull his boots on.

No sooner had Senga bought Ronnie a pint, than he was off, like a dark fin cutting across the pool towards Jeannette. Senga's Bacardi and Coke was thrust into Jeannette's hand, and Ronnie's brilliant teeth were turned up to full brightness.

"Thocht ye micht fancy a wee drink, there, hen. Sort o welcome ye tae Scotland."
At the word 'hen', everybody flicked a glance at her hat. Don't know why!
"Ayuh shorely cayun tell you, bustuh! Ah ain't no hen!"
Flick. Glance. Hat. They all did it again!
Smooth. That's Ronnie.
"Nae offence, there. It's jist us Scots kennin a guid lookin burd when we see wan!"
Flick. Glance. There's a pattern developing here.
"Ayun you ah?"
"It's the Bacardi. Should've pit mair Coke innit. Sip it slower, hen."
Flick ...

Jeannette backed off a step, to avoid getting dandruff down the front of her dress, before realising that, given the amount of Brylcreem applied, Ronnie would be taking it all home with him. As for Ronnie, his plans involved taking a bit more than that home.
And Senga was not part of his plan!

It was obvious that Jeannette was not one to be taken in by Ronnie's slick words and the offer of a free drink. Ronnie, though, had a way of anesthetizing the common sense node in a woman's brain. Tonight, the rest of the world would be supporting him.

Senga - for starters!
Senga was not happy. Never mind a woman scorned. Just see how one reacts when she has paid for a round, then seen her Bacardi and Coke given to another. Even Ronnie's unique anaesthetic wears off without constant reinforcement.
It's one thing to spend your money from the Mill on a romantic evening - but only if you benefit!

"Heh you!"
Suddenly, it got quiet. So quiet that you could hear Malkie behind the bar, short-changeing the till.
"Aye! You! You wi' th chicken on yer heid. That's mah Bacardi you're drinkin!"
Senga had a voice that could sandpaper the bottom of an Edinburgh sewage dumping barge.
"Are ye listenin, you ...?"

Well, everybody else was listening by now, and Jeanette certainly wasn't deaf. Neither was there anything wrong with her voice.
"I don't see a name writ on it anywhere, and it jist so happens to be restin in my fist for the time being!"
Judging by the emulsion paint flakes falling off the ceiling, definitely nothing wrong with her voice!

"An that's mah man ye're leerin at!"
Senga was determined. Ronnie was paid for!
Not that Jeanette was in the least bit bothered.

"Well mebbe you folks got different ways of looking at things ... I'm thinking that you might be owing me an apology?"
"An why wid ah be gi'en the likes o you an apology. Efter aw, it's me that pey'd fur the drink an the Brylcreem, an it's you whit's got her haunds on bith!"

Now Jeanette could see a good jab when it hit her.
"You're a fiesty one ain'tcha? I seen a smaller set on a prize bull."
It just didn't hit her hard enough to stop her.
" Cryin' shame yer wasting all yer energy talkin' to the hand. I ain't gut yer drink and I ain't gut yer man. And I ain't gonna sit here and lissen whilst you run your trap. Jest move it on out the door sister and we'll get back to where we wuz."

Onlookers in the line of fire started remembering urgent appointments. The domino players in the corner started chapping, even when they could get the double six out. And the urinal in the gents started to look like a real good place to visit.

"Are you an the chicken in this the gether, or is that jist the chicken talkin?"
"Well now ... I'd say you wuz havin a bit of trubble hearin mah words. Maybe that's not the onlyiest thing you gut trubble doin. Might jest be havin trubble keepin your man happy."

This was starting to get serious!
" Got to ask that question now, don't we?"
When the talk gets to the 'keepin a man' stage ...
"Whatdidya say your name wuz honey? Nevah mind ...
Ah don't 'spect we'll be exchanging cahds for the holidays!
And jest for the record ...that wuz Jeannette speakin ... and this heyah headpiece ain't got one lick of chicken on it ... nor under it neithah!"

Ask anybody who was in the hall that night, and they'll all say the same thing. Jeanette's hand never left the end of her arm. They'll all swear to it. And yet, with a smack like the wrath of Jehovah, Senga took off backwards.
Over the dance floor - and not dancing.
On to the domino table - and not chapping.
Then on to the floor - and not conscious!

"Yah gut a name, Brylcreem boy?"
"Ah'm Ronnie. Ronnie McLauchlan."
"Jeannette. Jeannette Day Pendexter."

Since the way was now clear ...
"Haw, Jeanette. Ye fancy takin a daunner in the moonlicht?"
Ronnie only had the one record ...
"Shorely do, Ronnie!"
... but it was a good one.

On the Bing

Ronnie had their coats collected, and Jeanette out of the Club, before Senga had the bill for breakages tucked into her unresisting hand.
"Hoo dae ye reckon tae a wee stroll along the Wellesley bing?"
I can only assume that Jeannette thought the 'bing' had something to do with that Crosby fellow. The one that did the films with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.
"Is the 'Bing' abaht heyah, Ronnie?"
"Naw. Ah'll get us a taxi."

Now, for some reason, since the day that Jeannette had arrived in Methil, no taxi had been seen within a mile of the place. Probably a coincidence.
Just then, a wee Standard 10 came up the road. With two young men in it. Two Jehovah's Witnesses.
Ronnie jumped out in front of the car.
Two nervous Jehovah's Witnesses.
I've never seen a car stop so quickly!
"We're gaun tae the Wellesley!"
"But ..."
"Get in, Jeannette"
"But ..."
The Chicken Hat got into the car, followed by Jeannette"
Two very nervous Jehovah's Witnesses.

Ronnie hauled himself into the seat beside Jeannette.
In the front, the two Witnesses were starting to truly believe that Jehovah had drawn their names out of the hat for the testing.
"Where did you say you desired to go?"
The driver's adam's apple was working a double shift.
"The Wellesley!"

The two Witnesses jumped to it.
With the front passenger changing gear so that the driver could concentrate on the steering, they were away. Gears crunching, tyres squealing, Witnesses praying, that wee car took the Swan Brae like an express train. Denbeath went by like a vision of Purgatory.
And they were at the Wellesley pit entrance before you could say 'Watchtower'

As the engine expired from nervous exhaustion, and the two in the front tried to slide down and blend with the seats, Ronnie and Jeannette got out.
Jeannette was all for Ronnie paying the two men, but Ronnie refused on the grounds that a taxi driver should use the clutch when changing gear.
And apart from that, he didn't have any money on him.
For Ronnie, the women usually paid!

"Jist folley me, hen ..."
Just for a fraction, you'd have sworn that the two Witness's eyes had flicked up.
"... an ah'll show ye the secret wey tae the bing."
(Known only to several thousand pit workers over the past 60 years!)

Jeannette followed Ronnie down the winding dirt path to the pit yard. Those L.L. Bean industrial-grade nylons did their job, and the jaggy nettles and thistles were forced to admit defeat.
"We'll jist cut roond b' the electric shop, an along the pit road tae the bing."
Even at that time of night, the electric shop was humming with activity.
"Ayuh, Ronnie? Who works abaht heyah in the middle of the night?"
"That'll be the bell men"
"Bell men?"
"Aye. They're the boys that're no fully skilled, so they're no allowed near the dangerous stuff. So they jist work on the signallin. Phones. Bells. That sort o thing.
Mind you, half the sparkies here shouldnae be allowed near a licht bulb, if ye catch mah meaning. Faur too dangerous fur the rest o us!"
"And these heyah 'bell men' work on their bells at night? Like church bell ringers?"
Jeanette was obviously getting a bit lost here, so Ronnie - always helpful to a woman - helped her out.
"Naw! Nae bells on the back shift. They're cuttin up the scrap cable. Chappin it doon, so's it'll fit in a piece box. That wey, they can sneak it oot the pit, an mak some money sellin it tae the scrap men. Guid money in copper cable, there is"
"And is theyah much scrap cable?"
"Oh, aye! Some o they bellmen c'n turn a twa hunnert yaird drum o cable, new in the day, intae scrap on a quiet back shift."

In the moments of silence as Jeannette thought her way through all this, the faint sound of praying drifted down from Wellesley Road.

"That's stealing!!"
"Only if ye're caught, doll. Only if ye're caught. This is the Coal Board we're talkin aboot. There's nae end tae the lives that the coal an the politicians h've ta'en. Thae men'll work hard aw nicht, tae steal a fiver's worth. Guid luck tae them."

Soon, Ronnie and Jeannette were past the (rapidly diminishing) cable store, and out on to the pit bing.

If you've never been out on a bing, and especially at night, I'll have to try and describe it for you. Standing high above the bing were hundred-foot towers. Big steel pylons with powerful lamps on them. Some were yellow with sodium light, and some were blue-green with mercury vapour lamps.
The street lights up on Wellesley Road showed the world of man, but that world was a distant past, and had no part of here and now.
The ground was flat and bare. Nothing grew there. Here was dumped all the stone and dirt brought up from the depth of the pit, and never trodden on in the entire history of man, ape or monkey.
Grey and monotonous during the day, it became a land of gold and silver at night. Shadows of deepest dark, with suggestions of form that the eye could never comprehend. No landscape that man could find himself fitting into, but memories from the depths of evolution chittered in the back of your mind.
And yet, it was beautiful. Like an eternally frozen landscape. Silvered plains and gilded crests. And like a dream, it would all be lost in the morning.

Ronnie was a master.
Jeanette was under the fairies' spell. Many a lass had fallen under the enchantment of the Wellesley bing. There could only ever be one outcome ...
Up on Wellesley Road, the two Witnesses prayed.

On this night, of all nights, Ronnie didn't have the bing entirely to himself.
Right in the middle of the bing was the explosives magazine. All pits do a lot of shotfiring, and need to keep plenty of explosives on site.
Of course, nobody in their right mind wants half a ton of ICI and Nobel's finest anywhere near, if they can help it.
So they dig out a hole in the middle of the bing. Put big, strong walls around it. Then build an explosives magazine with a roof so thin that you could blow holes through it with a pea-shooter. The idea being, that if one dodgy stick of Unigel or Polar Ajax goes 'whoops!', the other half ton will join in with a flash and a bang.
With the strong walls and the flimsy roof, all the blast goes straight up. No harm to anybody, unless you happen to be a seagull on its way back from a late bingo session, and taking a shortcut across the bing.
Not a place, then, for the sane and sensible.

But, then, that wouldn't include Jeek Walkinshaw.

Jeek was a gun fancier. Most men settled for greyhounds or pigeons. Easy to feed, and not likely to attract the attention of the police. Jeek liked guns. Shotguns, he could get a licence for, but pistols were definitely out of the question. Lugers from the war, and those big, heavy Webley revolvers that the army dished out to officers. Guns so heavy and clumsy, that officers - not being daft - would leave them behind rather than lug them around. They spoiled the cut of a nice, tailored battledress.
And what an officer left behind, the Jeeks of this world would sell on for a carton of Player's Navy Cut. Grubby hand to grubby hand. Down hill all the way.
Ending up with Jeek Walkinshaw.

Now Jeek had figured out that the last place on earth, anybody would want to come, would be an explosives magazine. And if Jeek wanted to shoot off a few bullets, then the magazine was the safest place to be.

That night, Jeek had the Webley, a box of cartridges, and a shopping bag full of bottles. Not Barr's Irn Bru or anything like that. You got thruppence back on them. But the ones that would go in to the bin anyway.

Jeek was partial to HP sauce, and he liked to read out the ingredients on the side of the bottle. In French. This was the only French that most Scots learned as children.
As Ronnie guided a bedazzled Jeannette to his favourite spot, Jeek was at the magazine, setting up the bottles.
"There's a nice wee cumfy bit across here, hen, if ye want tae set a spell"
Ronnie was heading for a particularly advantageous three-piece suite that somebody had dragged out on to the bing, and dumped.

Revolver in holster, ready for his Wyatt Earp quick draw, Jeek started in on the French ...
"Cette sauce d'haute qualité, est une mélange ..."
"Do you hear something, Ronnie?"
Eager to keep the magic going, Ronnie shushed Jeannette.
"Jist you sit yersel here. There's nuthin oot here ..."
"... d'épices et de fruits orientaux ..."
"Sounds like French, Ronnie. Real bad French. But French ..."
"Dinnae be daft! Whaur oot here w'd ye get a bloody Frenchman?"
"... Est également excellente pour enrichir le saveur ..."
The magic was fizzling like a damp squib.
" Ayuh rathuh thank it's time we were a-goin home, Ronnie!"
"... aux soupes, hâchis et ragoûts."
"Whit th bluidy hell's gaun on, here?"

Jeek spun round. Out came the Webley, and as the sauce bottle wobbled into his sights, Jeek pulled the trigger.


The bullet went past the sauce bottle without so much as a by-your-leave. Nowhere near it!
Whizzing across the bing, it hit the only target that a self respecting bullet could possibly go for.

The Chicken Hat!

Feathers, pins and bits of felt flew everywhere. This tribute to bad fashion sense was gone in an instant. And the fashion industry on two continents breathed more easily.
Jeanette, on the other hand, dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Ronnie stood in a cloud of feathers. Stunned. Like the child in a pillow fight who suddenly realises that his mum will be looking for an explanation. And Ronnie was looking for an explanation.
So when the eider settled down, he found one.

Jeek Walkinshaw.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Ronnie was not happy. When Jeek saw Ronnie heading for him, neither was Jeek.
Now it was time for the Wrath of Ronnie! The very air took on an Old Testament feel, and quotes from the Scriptures seemed easy to come by.
Jeek dropped the gun, and ran!
Up the pit road, accelerating like a tourist who had eaten Calamari for the first time. His secret, safe place was now the last place he ever wanted to be.
Ronnie picked up the gun. It was starting to look as if the bing would be Jeek's last place. Ever!

"Come back here, ya miserable wee bauchle!"
Jeek ran even faster.


The bullet gouged the heel from Jeek's left boot, and Jeek started veering around in circles.
"Mmmm?" said Ronnie "Ah winder ...?"


The next bullet removed the other heel, and Jeek rocketed off at a tangent. The Wrath of Ronnie was guided from above. It seemed that the very air was crystallising, and the powder of prayer was falling on the ground.
Standing in a swirl of gold and silver smoke, Ronnie looked ready to part the seas.


As it happened, only Jeek's hair got parted.
There was no way that a man could move that fast ...


... but that night, Jeek could have girdled the world in 80 minutes.

As Ronnie lined up the last bullet, between the 'O' and 'A' of Jeek's National Coal Board donkey jacket, a quiet voice came from the direction of the 3 piece suite.
"Leave him Ronnie. He's no worth it."
The quiet contempt of a woman will stop a man, no matter how far gone he is in his anger. With a wee shrug of the shoulders, Ronnie turned away from Jeek.

Kerrack! The sauce bottle disintegrated!

"Ronnie. Ah think a w'dnae mind a wee cuddle ..."
And Ronnie, being Ronnie, obliged.

Up on Wellesley Road, the two Witnesses were still praying. They'd been at it for half an hour, and the car windows of their Standard 10 were completely steamed up. In a different age, things might have been said, but this was then, and things were different.
There is no doubt that Jehovah always listened to his Witnesses, but even they accepted that it wasn't right to demand answers. Or actions.
That night however ...

Suddenly there was a terrified face pressed up against the steamy window. Hands were banging on the door, and Jeek was shouting!
"Save me! Save me! Fur the love o Goad! Let me in."
Now you show me the Jehovah's Witness that would turn down that request!

That, of course, was years ago.

Jeanette went back to America. Got married soon after, and had a wee lassie. She called her Ronnetta. The two Witnesses emigrated to Kenya, set up house together. And spent the rest of their days, happy in a native hut with no doors. That way, no-one could slam a door in their face.
Jeek moved to Bellahouston, and can still be seen in George Square. Lecturing on the evils of firearms and irregular bowl movements.

Ronnie was always Ronnie.

That 3 piece suite on the Wellesley bing might be updated from time to time, but nothing really changed. Ronnie was so successful with the women that he gained one more nickname ...

The Pirnie Perambulator.

There were so many women who had to move out of the area, and find another place to push their prams. (Wee note for Americans - that's a baby carriage)
Folk were a wee bit stuffy then, and the only way to be a respectable single mother was to be a 'war widow'. Thanks to Ronnie, later genealogical researchers were exceedingly puzzled about a mysterious regiment from the Methil area One that seemed to have sustained one hundred percent casualties in the early 60s in one of those undeclared bush wars that Britain was perpetually mixed up in.

Nobody could trace the fathers, or the regiment. But those in the know, would look at the father's address, and if it was anywhere near Innerleven, well ...
... just pencil in Ronnie McLauchlan.
The clincher being Brylcreem stains on the original certificate.

Just the other day, I received a letter from wee Ronnie. You know the one I mean. Nettie Simpson's great-grandaughter from America.
Ronnetta's son.
He's really in to that genealogy business, and thinks that his family has some connection with the 1st Regiment, Levenmouth Fusiliers.
Heaven knows what he's been told!
I'll have to think very carefully before I answer his questions ...

   Go to Chapters ...
The Chicken Hat
On the Bing

Top of the Page

tachras Home Page
Talk to tachras
Translate into English
Darwin's Mouse
The Annexe