A Day Weel Spent

One morning, one morning,
One blue and blowy morning,
I met my love one morning
In Cairnsmill Den.

--R.F.Murray

I turned the engine aff an lat the caur rowe up tae the yett. The hoose still haed thon eerie cast, the curtains puld back nae mair nor a fit on aither side. I gaed intae the buit o the caur an lifted my clubs for tae mak my ettle claer, but on saicont thochts laid them doun again an shut the buit gey canny.

I teuk the yett wi me richt tenty tae no lat it jirg, an made my road up the peth wi a canny fit, nae sign o ony life ahint the nairae slap in the curtains, an it wisna till I got tae the door that I jalouzed aa this canniness wis a mistak. Tae chap or no tae chap? It wis uizual for me tae juist gae on in, but it wis uizual as weel for me tae clash the caur door, sneck the yett lood, an walk up the peth wi a Ay, hou's it gaun? til a neebor or twa. I chappit quait an gaed in ben.

Airchie wis sittin in his chair at a tuim ingle. "Aweel, Airchie," I tried tae soond juist aff-the-luif, "what fettle?"

He gied a wee tug abuin his breek knees but settled back in his chair again, leukin up at me like he wis accuized o something, tho it wis me wis at faut here. What haed I no cried in for in the six month fae the funeral? A single man can git aa thrang wi his ain wark an forget the things wants daein.

"Wull yer dauchter be up the day?" I spiered. Airchie's laddie emigrated a year syne, but his dauchter still wins up fae Newcastle maist weekends.

"The morn," says he, "I'm no awÓ tae the gowf wi ye if that's what ye'r 'hinkin." Sae he haed up an seen me throu the curtains efter aa.

"Och come on, min, it'll be a day weel spent." He says naething sae I breenged on, "Oo'll awÓ up tae Gullane an the sea air'll be grand."

Airchie keekit up ootthrou the near-shut curtains like he wis wonderin aboot the weather for the first time that mornin.

"Or juist Duddinston if ye want," says I, "that's no faur."

"St Andraes," he turns his heid an leuks up at me, "St Andraes."

Nou o aa the touns bi aa the links in aa o Scotland, St Andraes wis the last name I wanted tae hear aff o Airchie at a time like this. But the'r times whan bad is better than nane, an no lang efter, Airchie's howfin his clubs inaby mine in the caur an we'r awÓ.

An a grand hurl it wad a been gin there haed been ony crack atween us. But Airchie juist haed the ae thing on his mind an a muckle sair hert, an me wi nae idea hou tae spaek aboot thae kin o things. It's the first I'v ever crossed the Forth athoot the passenger at laest keekin ootower at the Muckle Brig, an on a mornin like this an aa, the sun sklentin throuatween the girders an castin three vast shaidaes ootower the watter.

An sae we haudit quait aa up the M90 an alang the Howe o Fife. "See, Airchie, that's whare yer parritch comes fae," says I whan the Scotts Porage Oats factory hove in sicht juist afore Cupar, "an thare the milk ye poor on't."

"Ay, Scotts Porage Oats, Wisemans Dairies," he lauchs, but in a saicont his face haes that blank, taen-like cast again, an bides like that aa the road tae St Andraes itssel. Whan he tee'd aff at the first hole it wis like turnin oot the driechest gemme o gowf in aa history, an I dinna mean the weather, for the war a braw sun on oor backs an the caller braith o the sea in oor hair.

But the war this ae hole we cam til, an Airchie's interest that faur tint that he tees the baa athoot as muckle's a keek at it, an sets his feet that near thegither that he haes tae jouk his knees tae win contack, an sicna deevilish whiech he taks at the baa ye'd a thocht he wis for beltin it aa the gate tae Hell an back.

It's no that Airchie canna gowf, but he maun a been gittin fair mad at me draggin him aa the road oot here whan aa he wanted wis for tae sit. Aa the same, the baa wisna gaein that faur oot, the wind 'aff the nairth' soopin it back, an wi it bein sicna hiegh sclice, the war plenty time for it tae be blawn across, till for Airchie's sake I gits tae hopin it'll win tae the green, an bi certy it dis, it comes doun vernear vertical an stots twathree yaird across the gress. I shades my een fae the sun the better tae see the wee spark o white, an efter a saicont or twa like it wis keekin ower the lip o the hole for tae mak shuir it wisna ower faur doun, in it dreeps.

"In the name o..." this is me. It maun a been ane o thae zen things, like whan ye'r no giein it the laest bit attention, but ye ootdae yersel for aa that. I leukit ower at Airchie, but he wis juist staunin thare wi his heid in his oxter, scunnert. I think that wis the meenit I began tae understaun him. Aw ay, holin oot in ane, but wha war the for tae win awÓ hame an tell aboot it? Ance a sowel starts thinkin like this, the'r nae plaesur in onything ony mair.

Efter oor nip an bit denner we teuk a turn roond the toun, an nae wey could I think on o liftin Airchie's hert abuin. "I ca'a believe I'v no been back here in twinty year," says he. St Andraes is sicna grand wee toun wi the cathedral an the touers an the links an the sands, but Airchie's nostalgia didna rax til aa that. The kin o things bathered Airchie wis hou Wullie Low's wis caad Tesco nou, like that haedna happened back in Dalkeith an aa, an he vernear gret whan he saw Ma Broun's wis awÓ.

"That place saved my life whan I wis a student," qo he, "the bargains wis tae be haed thare." He led the wey a couple o streets, syne stopped ootby a traivel agent's wi a muckle granite entrance. "This wis Henderson's Beukshop," he says, "the war aye a chiel here wi his besom. Hackie, oo uised tae caa him. Whanever I wis wantin intae the shop he'd be soopin awÓ at this step an gittin abl˛ my feet." Airchie lauchs an shaks his heid. "Ay, Hackie." Syne he turns tae me, "What div ye say til a wee dauner alang Lade Braes?"

I wis nae gledder o hearin this nor I wis o hearin him haudin for St Andraes for the gowf that mornin. Lade Braes is a quait wee roadie that leads on tae the KÝnnessburn Path, an the KÝnnessburn Path's a dowiesome, bieldy place shaded wi trees, an I didna feel up tae, never hiv felt up tae, the kin o phÝlosophical crack ye micht finnd yersel gittin intae wi a weel-educate weidae-man in Airchie's frame o mind.

"It's a funny 'hing," says he whan we wins tae the KÝnnessburn, "what mirky this place is bi hou I mind it."

"Ay, I dout the trees is up fae you wis last here," qo I.

"Twinty year syne," says he, "I canna believe it. It's that mirky an caller an weet."

An shuir eneuch, in spite o the blue in the lift the damp fae the KÝnnessburn gart us finnd oor hair cauld an weet whan we ran oor fingers throu it. "Ay, the trees is up," says I, "aa'hing chainges."

Twa students cam by, luif at luif. Ye dinna aften see the students wierin their gouns, but thir twa wis. The lassie pits her mooth tae the laddie's lug an maks a Prrrrrrrpt soond that gars him back awÓ fae her. She catches his luif in hers again an thegither they lats oot a muckle skriech o lauchin an gaes their was.

Airchie turned an watched them dwinin awÓ intae the distance, "The lassie's saicont year, the laddie's juist a bejant. Ye can see fae hou they wier their gouns."

I keekit at the muckle rid aicademic gouns. I ken bejants is first years, but I couldna see the differ in the wierin o the gouns.

"Ay, aa'hing chainges," Airchie kept a ee on the dimÝnishin sparks o rid, "but life gauns on."

I vernear says thir wirds back at him, Ay, life gauns on, but it wad a been ower like a tellin aff.

It wisna lang afore we cam til a muckle trianglar green whaur the war nae trees forby aa roond aboot it. "This is Cairnsmill Den," qo Airchie, "I wis juist a bejant, she wis a bejantine." He stopped an lifted a finger for tae pynt alang the peth an I waited for him tae say She cam doun this road fae...

But no a wird did he say: he juist glowers doun the peth till I jalouzes he isna juist glowerin. His een's movin an it's like he can see Nancy again in his heid, Nancy daunerin her lane doun this peth abl˛ the bonny blue sky, the KÝnnessburn pinklin an her auburn heid blawin oot ahint her in the braith o a younger, brichter Lade Braes. Airchie began tae turn, his een alowe as she seemed tae gae by, him leukin strecht throu me like I wisna thare, an I kent that whatever wis unfauldin in his heid that meenit wis faur ower muckle a maiter for my praisence tae be ony consÝderÔtion. He turned a slaw three-quarter circle an I saw what like it haed been, Nancy spyin the leuk in his ee an turnin til him, Airchie blinkin tae hear the Cockney twang firsthaun for the first time in his life.

"Oo sat doun thare," he pynted at a sate aby the burn. "That's hou it wis for us, oo juist catched sicht o ane anither an oo wis winchin."

He walked on. At the end o the peth the war a millhoose, the stane laid aby. We stuid on the wee brig at the fit o Hallow Hill. "Thon's the Cairnsmill itssel," Airchie babbit his pow at the hoose syne leukit doun at the watter. Efter a while he lat oot a lang souch. "Ay," qo he, "like the lade tae the mill, sae she wis."

We gaed on up tae Hepburn Gairdens. Ornar streets in this toun is whiles caad gairdens. "Airchie, ar ye no mindin 'hings kin o at odds wi what they wis?" I wis ettlin at pyntin oot whatna tirrivee the war whiles heard comin fae the hoose whan I cried in on him an Nancy, me clashin the caur door an sneckin the yett lood for tae warnish them o my approach. But it didna seem the kin o thing tae say.

Airchie kent fine what I wis thinkin. "The bairns wis near grewn," says he, "the hoose wis like... they wad start a airgyment, me or Nancy wad stick up for the tane, syne Nancy or me for the tither. An oo aye wanted the bairns tae stick in for the university, whan they wanted oot the schuil an makkin their ain siller: that wis aye hingin in the air an no helpin 'hings." He keekit back doun throu the trees at the Cairnsmill Den. "But I'm startin tae mind what like she wis afore, whan the war naebody but me an her. It wis juist whan the bairns wis up an awÓ... juist whan they wis up an awÓ, she wis up an awÓ hersel."

We stuid quait thare a fair while, Airchie still keekin doun at the Den, afore I spak. "I can see that, Airchie, I can see whatna awfu job it maun be tae hae that kin o unfeenished business."

"Ay, but she kent," Airchie raxed a muckle braith an his vyce seemed tae brichten, "she'd a kent as weel as I did that better times wis on the road again."

"I dinna ken if I'm liftin aa this," I sheuk my heid as we gaed on, "it's weel ayont me. I di'a ken hou I thocht a bit gowf wad..."

Airchie pat up a haun tae stop my bletherin, "Na, ye'r richt, ye'r richt eneuch," qo he, "it's been juist like ye says. A day weel spent."

I stops an turns tae leuk him strecht in the ee. "Sae what happens whan oo win back tae Dalkeith?" The smaa cheer that haed come intae Airchie's face seemed tae vainish awÓ as he leukit doun at the plainstanes, an my hert sank for tae think it wis mibbie aa for naething efter aa. "This'll no dae, Airchie," qo I, "some'hing's gau' hae tae chainge."

He keekit ower an doun at the Cairnsmill Den again, but says naething.

"Sae what's it gau' be?" I'm sayin.

He keekit up at me. "It's time I puld the curtains back a wee bit," qo he. "Ay. Lat in a bittie mair licht."

© Sandy Fleemin 2003. First published in Lallans 59 (ISSN 1359-3587).