Extract from the Journal of a Highland Journey, Circa 1970
He seemed to have left Pitlochry behind in no time at all. When he came to the top of a rise in the road, he looked back to see a faint silhouette of the town away in the distance. Ahead of him, stretching for miles on either side of the narrow strip of road, the ground was flat and purple with heather. Mountains, blue and hazy, filled the far horizon. This is more like it, he thought. This is what he had come for.
And then he saw them. They were about a hundred yards away on his right, standing beside an old, battered wooden caravan that had been parked a few feet back from the road. A skinny-looking pony grazed at some distance from the caravan. The four men all had long hair and wore black bonnets and different coloured kilts. The one furthest away wore a green kilt and was fiddling about with what looked like a set of bagpipes.
Tinkers! His mother detested them. She said they were a blight over in Eire, her homeland. ‘They’re not like the Gypsies,’ she once warned him. ‘The Gypsies are a proud people. Tinkers will rob and murder you as soon as look at you.’
He told himself that he couldn’t turn back, that that would be cowardly, that he had no option but to brazen it out. He gulped and crossed over to the other side of the road, so that the width of the road would separate him and the tinkers, and then he marched towards them.
As he got closer to the men, he saw that their hair and their clothes were dirty and unkempt. When he passed them, the one in the green kilt shouted something which he didn’t understand. He just smiled and waved nonchalantly and kept on going.
It was only when his back was to the tinkers that he really became frightened. How stupid could he have been? He was trapped now, unable to turn back. They could drag him out into the heather and cut his throat and leave him there, and no-one would know.
There was a boulder by the side of the road just ahead of him. When he reached it, he sat down on it, pretended to tie one of his laces and looked back at the tinkers. They were all too busy to notice him, though. A bus full of tourists – Americans, probably – had come up from Pitlochry. Three of the tinkers were selling sprigs of ‘lucky heather’ to some of the tourists, while the fourth tinker, the one in the green kilt, was starting up the bagpipes.
He got up from the boulder and continued on his way at a brisk pace. He was immensely relieved not only to be leaving the tinkers behind, but also to be quickly out of earshot of the screeching and wailing of the worst rendition of ‘Scotland the Brave’ that he would ever hear.
* * *
Brendan Gisby was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, halfway through the 20th century, and was brought up just along the road in South Queensferry (the Ferry) in the shadow of the world-famous Forth Bridge. He has published two novels, "The Island of Whispers" and "The Olive Branch"; a collection of short stories about growing up in the Ferry during the 1950's and 1960's, "Ferry Tales"; and a biography of his late father, "The Bookie’s Runner". His author's website can be found here. Brendan is also the founder of McStorytellers, a website which showcases the work of Scottish-connected short story writers.
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