The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

Tim and I explore the beach,

Wide-eyed in wonder at all it does teach,

Watch a gull hang in the air,

Yet not a string to hold her there,

The mighty sea that ebbs and flows,

But where does all the water go?

Ignorance is bliss, I’ve heard them say,

So maybe it is better not to know,

Simply emulate our Tim,

Romp around without a care,

Then home, Breakfast and a comfy chair.

The ship docked in Folkestone, on the evening tide, a crescent moon hung low down, caught in the rooftops of the town, it was a beautiful evening, tomorrow morning would see the crew paid off. Work was short during the years leading up to the Second World War and ships were laid up in every river and loch in Scotland, and although Jimmy had a second engineers ticket he had been known to sign-on as stocker just to have a birth. The first port of call for Jimmy and Laurimer, tomorrow morning would be the Seaman’s Union hoping for a ship. Jimmy and Laurimer had grown up together, gone to the same school, and on leaving school, gone down the pit together, they were as Jimmy’s mother used to say, “Joined at the hip”.

Even at school, the two boys were never out of trouble of one kind or another, more for the excitement of it rather than from necessity or pure devilment. They were sitting on there hunches back against the Co-op wall, where most every stitch of clothing on their backs and every morsel of food they consumed came from as it did for most everyone else in the village.

“Do you have any fags on yi” Jimmy asked.

“Nay chance ma mother keeps her eye on them, she caught me the other day slipping twa fags fa’ the packet”.

“I have an idea, come on”, Jimmy was up and off along the front of the Co-op building before Laurimer could open his mouth. Laurimer followed the fleeting figure passed the Co-op, and the Minto Hotel and down through the snicket to the back of the hotel. Like many hotels at that time the Minto had a brewery at the rear of the building, guarded with a tall brick wall and two large stout Brunswick green gates.

“Give me a punt up” Jimmy demanded of his pal.

“Where are you going,” Laurimer asked, excited and nervous at the same time, Jimmy was forever getting them into bother.

“Keep your voice doon, you will wake the deed in Lisa Brae cemetery, just give me a punt up over this gate” Jimmy demanded.

Jimmy nimble as you like was over the gates, with an anxious Larimer now standing alone and feeling vulnerable on the outside.

“Here take these” and from under the gate came a dozen empty beer bottles. As Laurimer gathered up the bottle, stuffing them down his jumper, Jimmy was back over the gate and had dropped light as a feather to the ground.

The front of the Minto Hotel had a long lobby and off it was the lounge and the bar proper, it also had a hatch that opened up into the bar for carry-oot customers. Jimmy hammered on the hatch, and heard the gruff voice of old Wullie on the other side,

“Keep your hair on, I’ve only got twa hands”.

The hatch slid open lighting up the dim corridor and the smell and heat of the bar pored out of it.

“What do you twa scallywags want?” Willies’ breath was as foul as his language.

“We have some bottles fur yi” and with that Jimmy started placing the ill-gotten gains on the small counter.

“Some of these bottles are not oor’s, they don’t have oor labels on them” gruffed Willie.

“They’re all yours”, Jimmy insisted.

“Wullie had been stacking the bottles in a crate behind the bar as they came onto the shelf, “That will be 6 pence,” he said.

“Ma brither wants fags” Jimmy was not going to give an inch. Wullie passed the loose Woodbine over the counter and banged the door shut.

As they walked towards the front door Jimmy stopped, “The buggers short-changed us” and was about to turn back when Laurimer stopped him.

“Are you mad, we got away with it and got the fags, let’s get out of here, now” he insisted.

The beer bottles were coming in through the hatch a bit too frequently, Willie smelt a rat. Jimmy had climbed the gate and dropped down the other side but found only empty grates stacked in the yard, no bottles. Making his way over to the sliding door he found it had a large chain and padlock securing it. In frustration, Jimmy grabbed at the chain and gave it a good hard pull, and to his surprise out popped the staple holding the chain and padlock with such ease that he almost fell on his backside as it came away. Sliding the door open a foot or so he slipped inside the brewery and helped himself to half a dozen bottles from a stack of crates.

As the bottles slid under the gate to Laurimer waiting on the other side, Laurimer exclaimed: “These bottles are full”.

“Will you keep your voice down, don’t you think I know that” Jimmy was not in the mood for long explanations, just wanting to get away as quickly as possible.

“What do we do with the beer in the bottles, we can’t take in full bottles to Wullie?”

“We are not taking them to Wullie, that’s the beauty of it, we don’t have to go near the pub, we are going to sell them to the big boys on the corner, get some money to buy fags” a beaming Jimmy explained.

A week had passed and Jimmy was once more over the brewery gate, in through the sliding door and about to pinch a few bottles of beer from the stacked crates, when all of a sudden, the brewer light came on and standing before him was big Wullie and the hotel’s owner, who also just happened to be the magistrate. Jimmy’s chin hit the floor, he was so surprised he could not even think to scamper for it.

“So it’s young Hamilton is it, we seem to have oor thief Wullie,” said the magistrate. “Well lad, what’s it to be, punishment now, or will your dad be accompanying you into my court tomorrow morning?”

“Jimmy knew what would happen if his dad found out, a good leathering with his razor strop, “Now Sir,” was all he could muster.

Trousers down and now hanging over a beer barrel, the horsewhip stung like hell, O’ sha’ boy, O’ sha’ boy, he let out at each and every stroke of the whip.

The next day, behind the bike, shed Jimmy was asking a halfpenny from anyone that wanted to see his stripes.

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