Celtic Illumination, part 267, Lang may yer lum reek
I have to admit that the Mensa members I was lucky enough to meet in Glasgow were some of the nicest people I had ever encountered. I do remember the ex-royal navy guy and the local business man who gave me his access card for the festival, but the one I really remember was a beautiful young man from one of the Scottish Islands. He was, to me anyway, a typical highlander, physically huge but softly spoken with a beautiful Scottish burr to his voice. He had come to Glasgow for the festival and we were talking about what he was doing. He said he painted gnomes. I unfortunately was still repeatedly running that advert from the back of the Mensa magazine through my head, you remember the one, ‘If you so fecking clever, why aren’t you rich?’
As this guy spoke to me it dawned on me that he had an idyllic lifestyle. He lived on a remote Scottish Island and made and painted gnomes for a living. There were no sharp suits, no flash cars, no pretence, just a simple enjoyment of life. But as I listened to him describe his lifestyle of growing most of his own food and fishing for his supper, it began to occur to me that perhaps I had been moving in the wrong direction, career wise. It was so easy to fall in to the trap of chasing money, for money’s sake, to climb the property ladder, to become a success. I can’t remember his name but he surely did make me think. It wasn’t just that event that started to change me; other incidents were having an effect on me. For example Tony and Mary. When working in Leytonstone I had stayed with Tony and Mary and the three of us would regularly get hammered.
We would sit and drink whisky into the wee small hours, Tony would normally slope off early, leaving Mary and myself to drink ourselves into a stupor. Mary was quite a good looking woman and with Tony’s wealth she was normally dressed in the finest clothes. We were great friends and although I knew that Tony was quite wealthy I never felt jealous or envious of his position. In a way I respected him, for he had wanted to become an optician and had driven a taxi during the evenings and nights to pay to get through the opticians training. So it came as quite a shock to me when you think that your good friend who appears to have everything a man could want, the big house, the three cars, speedboat, sailboat, weekly flying, when his knockout wife turns around to you and says, ”He hasn’t made love to me for seventeen years.”
I had already started to see that money wasn’t everything and the big fellow from the islands certainly helped me along that route. It wasn’t the only thing that Mary ever said to me that had me stop and think. Because we were all so close she once told me that everyone in the village thought Mary and I were having an affair. I was mortified. However that’s not important. With everything that I was involved with I was certainly learning an awful lot about Civvie Street, perhaps not enough and perhaps not quickly enough, but I was most certainly learning and building on that knowledge. I still was getting the odd bit of work from Mensa, acting as a member of a business consulting group, most of that work was in London and the surrounding areas. It was interesting seeing how people made money and I knew it would eventually contribute to some grand idea, probably.
One group that I was a member of within Mensa was a group that had special interest in adoption. We formed a network of people who could find answers, or get information, for adopted people about their natural birth parents. We weren’t doing anything illegal, we were simply cutting corners, and why not. But the one thing that annoyed me was that my old girl friend back in Ireland, Pat, worked for the civil service. She told me that she could access all birth records from her computer however people in Northern Ireland, who had been adopted, were not allowed to find out any information about their birth parents. This annoyed me so I started a letter writing campaign, backed and supported by the special interest group in Mensa, writing to Members of Parliament demanding that people in Northern Ireland be allowed to access their birth records. Gerard was still eligible for national service should he ever return to Germany, so I used this as my motivation.
I had been told that my mother had died giving birth to me and my father had left the country so there was no real point in me trying to find any information out about myself, but my original birth certificate would allow Gerard to escape his stint of military service. It was frustrating knowing that Pat could press a couple of buttons and have the information on the screen before her but she would be in an awful lot of trouble if she told me anything. For me we were back to the old No Blacks, no dogs, no Irish, situation. How, or why, were English, Scottish and Welsh people allowed to access their birth records and people from Northern Ireland were not? It was tremendous fun writing letters to the great and powerful, well, politicians and head of civil service departments.
I was having fun meeting all sorts of weird and wonderful people, even the proprietor of the bed and breakfast establishment where I stayed in Glasgow was a little bit weird, to say the least. I arrived at the place, a large house in the centre of a long row of houses and knocked. I actually thought I was being welcomed by Ebeneezer Balfour, and for those literary heathens among you that’s the uncle in the book Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson. A mean and crotchety man, living a sparse life, alone, in a huge house. And it was a huge house as, only when you got through the heavy front door, did you realise that it also comprised of the house next door too. As with all weird and wonderful people I simply had to sit down and listen to his story.
He had been living with a woman; they had built this business up and even expanded by buying the house next door. They had been together many years but she had died. Now her two children, from a previous marriage, wanted this fellow out, and to sell the houses and split the money, so his tentative approach had been him trying to figure out if I were some sort of spy for his step children. He showed me my room which was all Bri Nylon sheets, curtains and carpets and perfectly mismatched furniture. He invited me down for some coffee and I followed, amazed and I mean truly amazed not only that tartan wallpaper existed but that the whole dining room was covered in it. The mantelpiece was dotted with tiny dolls in Scottish dress, both male and female and the walls carried the obligatory stuffed and mounted stags head. It was not a room to have a hangover in.
He was worried that my fine little car might become a target for thieves so insisted that I bring it around to the rear of the house and park in his yard. I did and was so pleased, as parking was proving to be a nightmare. As and when I could, I would sit with him and listen to his stories, I think he was quite lonely but on my final evening he insisted that he put some ‘stuff’ in the boot of my car. It was a small gift, for being such a nice fellow and not a spy. He told me I wasn’t allowed to look in my boot until I got home, but like any normal person, which I am of course not, I stopped at the first motorway service station and had a gander in my boot.
It’s hard to describe what was in my boot. A collection of items would cover it but they were so varied I found it strange why he had given me them in the first place. There were a couple of bales of tartan cloth, but it was the finest Harris Tweed all stamped and labelled and in the best condition. Hundreds of pounds worth of cloth. There was a couple of little plastic dolls, some jerkins and a wig. People would never stop surprising me. I got back into my little car, on to the motorway, and headed South for England but for some strange reason my mind was wandering off North, to remote Scottish Islands and gnomes.