CELTIC WAVES by MIKE DAWSON

lochness

“The Car in front is a Toyota,” Malcolm announced to Shirley.

She smiled sweetly and sidled up closer to him on the bench seat of the humungous Motor Caravan. “You are such fun to be with, Malcolm.”

It was a primrose yellow, P-reg Celica with the top down and it sped past them like a spider on roller-skates. The passenger’s chestnut hair flowed free in the wind. Jarvis Cocker roared from a CD in the cockpit and the driver’s middle finger was stuck up in the air in front of the rear view mirror.

They’d been behind Malcolm and Shirley for twenty minutes on roads built for advertisements, winding through pine trees above the shore of Loch Ness. The Celica took the middle of the road to sweep round a bend and out of sight.        “People can be so rude,” complained Shirley.

“They can’t spoil our holiday, love,” he assured her.

The Metro behind them, doing thirty-five in second gear, was also in the middle of the road, its driver desperately trying to spot a clear stretch of road to overtake. The BMW and Granada behind him both contained bickering families with stressed-out executives wishing they were back at work.

The caravan chugged to the top of the pass where the trees became less dense. A small car park on the right overlooked the magnificent lake of Loch Ness, dark, cold and mysterious. Malcolm lurched over to the right without signalling and half a dozen pairs and some odd brake lights flashed on desperately. The quicker cars dropped gear, hoping to be in line to overtake the Metro and reach the Holy Grail of Scotland’s open roads.

“Ooh, it’s lovely,” exclaimed Shirley. “Let’s find somewhere down by the lake and have our tea.”

“OK, but one photo first.” Malcolm reached for the camera on the seat behind and hopped out of the caravan. He approached a walker resting on a bench, enjoying the solitude, a backpack the size of the Metro by his side. “Will you take a photo of us, please.”

Through the viewfinder, Malcolm and Shirley in identical Fair Isle sweaters put their arms round each other and grinned. Behind them a threatening sky provided the only backdrop. The walker, trusting his memory and preferring first-hand experiences, was unfamiliar to modern cameras. He pressed the button too hard and took seven shots of the same scene at which point the film automatically rewound. He began whistling to disguise the noise.

The caravan lurched back onto the road and built up speed as it rolled downhill. A Jag braked from sixty to twenty-three and crawled along on its bumper.

Half an hour later, the tea was brewed and Malcolm and Shirley sat at their little camping table sipping perfumed tea and eating the shortbread they’d bought at the last garage, where they’d put thirty-five gallons of diesel in the tank.

“Isn’t that someone fishing over there, off that platform, Malcolm?”

“Oh yes. I wonder if he’s caught anything. Maybe he’ll sell us a fish for supper. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’ll go and see.”

Malcolm stumbled over rocks and pebbles and approached an elderly man, sitting at the end of a short wooden jetty. He was on a low folding stool, hunched forward, a large tartan cap pulled down over his face. An old-fashioned Polaroid camera rested in his lap and a line flopped into the water no more than six feet from the shore. Evidently he was asleep, though this did not deter Malcolm.

“Afternoon,” Malcolm shouted.

The man woke, alarmed. He turned to Malcolm and through a thick grey beard and wrinkled face, crystal clear eyes looked him up and down.

“Ay,” he said.

“You Scotch?” Malcolm suggested.

“Are you meaning Scottish?” the man said softly.

“If you like. Scottish,” Malcolm corrected himself.

“Irish,” said the man.

“You’re Irish?” Malcolm was doubtful.

“It’s Scottish, not Scotch. Me, I’m Irish, not a Jock. Not Scotch, not Scottish, Irish. I’m a Paddy, see, and me name’s Paddy too.”

Malcolm had no wish to pursue this. He had no idea what the man was talking about, though it seemed his name was Paddy. He became sheepish. “Caught anything?”

“Just the one, I think.”

“You think?” Malcolm queried.

”Hard to tell.”

So much for supper, thought Malcolm. I’ll butter him up a bit. “Fancy a cuppa?” Malcolm offered.

“Ay, grand”

Malcolm shuffled off back to the caravan, where the only receptacle he could find was a stained plastic toothbrush mug. Don’t suppose a man like that will mind, Malcolm thought, rinsed the cup lightly and filled it with stewed tea.

“I’ll just take this over,” said Malcolm to Shirley. She looked up from the People’s Friend, smiled at his thoughtfulness and nodded.

Malcolm picked his way over the boulders, but tripped and spilt a good third of the tea. He placed the tea on a rock and wiped his hands on his initialled handkerchief. He was just picking up the mug again when a sheet of water rose from the surface of the loch. Malcolm looked out to the loch and his mouth dropped open. It was the most incredible thing he’d ever seen in his life. A head the size of an elephant and shape of a camel stuck out of the water and looked straight at him, also with open mouth. Immense tyre-like rings comprised the body of the creature.

Malcolm froze, speechless for a few seconds. “Sh…, Sh…., Shirley!” he whispered, shouting. “Camera. Get the camera quick.” Shirley too was motionless at the sight before her.

There was a flash from Malcolm’s left and as quickly as it had risen, the beast slipped back into the depths of the loch, leaving behind it a small wake of concentric circles already lapping gently on the shore.

On his right, Malcolm heard crashing in the caravan and Shirley appeared in the doorway with the camera. There was nothing to see and though she pointed it out to the loch, she realised there was no film anyway. She gestured to Malcolm.

“Oh no,” he moaned.

Malcolm rushed over to Paddy. “Did you see that? Did you see that?”

“Ay.” replied the man calmly. “Ay, I did.”

“You didn’t get a photo, did you? You did, didn’t you?” Malcolm’s excitement mounted as he realised that right then, Paddy’s camera was developing what could be the most incredible photograph. “This is..,” He couldn’t finish. He just shook his head, amazed.

Shirley joined them and they all looked down at the camera as it ground and whirred. It seemed an age, waiting for the print. Then the edge began to slide through a slot and curled round the camera.

“There’s nothing on it,” said Shirley.

“Wait,” said Paddy. They waited.

And the white paper developed into at first a faint and then a sharp image of the head of the beast they’d just seen, the Loch Ness Monster. Malcolm and Shirley stood transfixed.

“Good,” Paddy decided, wafting the photo to dry it.

“Good,” Malcolm repeated, “Good. This is absolutely fan-bloody-tastic. Do you know what we can get for this?”

“We?” said Paddy.

“Well we all saw it,” Malcolm shouted.

“You’ve got a photo?”

“Well, no. But we saw it too.” Malcolm was dashed. “We saw it, didn’t we Shirley?”

“Of course we did. We all did.”

“But you’ve no photo,” Paddy said.

A gloom spread on Malcolm and Shirley as they realised that they had no evidence of this remarkable event. Malcolm wandered to the shore and started kicking stones into the loch.

“I might get fifty pounds for this,” Paddy whispered.

“Fifty pounds,” thought Malcolm. This stupid old git thinks he can only get fifty quid for a photo of the Loch Ness Monster. The Sun would pay a small fortune and they’d be famous for ever.

Paddy slid the photo into an inside pocket and started to pack up his gear. Malcolm and Shirley stood on the shore, gazing out to the water. Shirley had put a new film in the camera, but they knew it wouldn’t reappear. “Jesus, Shirley. We’ve seen the Loch Ness Monster and some daft old man’s got a photo to prove it. And he thinks it’s only worth fifty quid.”

“You could offer to buy it,” said Shirley.

“He won’t sell. Do you think he might?”

“You can ask,” she replied. “He doesn’t seem very bright.”

“You’re right,” Malcolm said, cheering up. He went back up to Paddy. “You wouldn’t, er, consider, er, maybe selling that photo, would you?”

“Selling it?” Paddy repeated. “Well, how d’you mean?”

“I’ll pay you for the photo,” explained Malcolm, he thought unnecessarily.

“Oh, I don’t know, “ Paddy mused. “I might get a reward or something. And maybe me name in the paper. Or a photo.”

“I’ll give you a good price.”

“Oh. I’m not sure, son.” He bent over and scooped up in his hands hundreds of maggots making a break for it. “How much would you give me?” he said without turning.

“Two hundred pounds?” said Malcolm quickly.

Paddy seemed unimpressed. “Aah, that’s a lot of money, son. A lot of money.” He carried on picking up the rest of the maggots one by one, some of them crushed by his arthritic fingers. No Steve McQueens. “It’d be nice to get me photo in the paper though.” Malcolm was beginning to realise that this was what he seemed more interested in. He thought quickly. “Look, I’ll give you three hundred pounds. No more. But what we can do is take your photo here and make sure that’s in the paper with the photo and the story. We’ll have to have witnesses, won’t we Shirley? Yes, we can do that. What do you think?”

“Well, that would be nice. Are you sure you’d do that?”

“Of course we would. So what do you think?” Malcolm was getting pushy.

Paddy shifted slightly, uncomfortably, but said, “Ay, OK then, why not?”

“Fantastic,” said Malcolm.

“You got three hundred pounds then?”

“Oh, er, well, no, not exactly. Not with us.”

“Ah, that’s a pity then.”

“But we’ve got some cash,” prompted Shirley.

“How much cash have we got, love?” asked Malcolm.

Shirley went into the caravan and scrambled over the seats and took some money from a hiding place. “Forty” she called and brought the money over.

“We can give you a cheque too. We can give you forty and a cheque for two-sixty,” offered Malcolm.

“Oh I don’t know if I like that.”

“Why, what’s the problem?”

“Well, if you give me a cheque and I give you the photo…”

“Yes?” interrupted Shirley, getting impatient.

“Well, then you have the photo and all I have is a cheque,” Paddy continued.

“So,” said Malcolm.

“So, “ repeated Paddy. “So, that’s not very clever, is it?”

Shirley realised what he was getting at. “It won’t bounce, you know,” she said a little indignantly.

“You can see his point, I suppose,” said Malcolm.

“There must be something we can do,” said Shirley. “Let’s have another cup of tea,” she said as if that was the solution.

“Another,” said Paddy, who hadn’t had the first.

Shirley brewed up and they sat and had tea. Paddy took a gulp and immediately produced a hip flask and poured something from it into the toothpaste mug. He offered the flask, but Malcolm and Shirley declined. They looked at each other and raised their eyes. This man, a tramp really, was impossible. Malcolm almost considered taking the photo by force. Shirley knew he was too much of a coward.

After some time, Paddy said, “Maybe, just maybe.”

“Yes?” said Shirley and Malcolm immediately.

“Well,” Paddy began. “What if you give me your cheque and I put the photo in the post to you..”

“Yes?” prompted Malcolm.

“Well then. I can cash the cheque while the photo is in the post.”

“Right,” shouted Malcolm. “Brilliant. What do you think, Shirley?”

“Yes, it’s a good idea.” She wondered vaguely why they hadn’t thought of it.

Shirley found an envelope and stamp in a drawer and addressed it and Malcolm wrote out a cheque for two hundred and sixty pounds to Mr Patrick Mullen. The stamped addressed envelope was handed to Paddy and he produced the photo and slotted it into the envelope, licking it with a large unhealthy-looking tongue. Shirley took a photo of Paddy with his back to the loch where they’d seen the monster. I’m not sure that will make the album, she thought.

“There’s a post box just down the road,” Paddy told them. “Mail’s gone today, so won’t be no more till Monday.”

“That’ll work out fine,” said Malcolm. “Your cheque will be cleared by Tuesday.”

They all arranged to meet at the post box and Paddy plonked his gear onto his old bicycle and set off. Shirley and Malcolm drove down the road a short distance, saw the post box and pulled off the road to wait.

“This is it, Shirley. Fifteen minutes of fame.”

“At least.” She giggled. “What about him?”

“Oh I’m not sure the photo of him will come out very well. What do you think?”

It clicked. “Over-exposed, I’d say,” she laughed.

Paddy wobbled up to them and set his bicycle against the post box. He produced the envelope and Malcolm produced the cash and cheque. Paddy gave the envelope to Malcolm, who kissed it and slotted it into the box. The cheque and cash went into a battered brown leather wallet.

“Bye then,” Malcolm put out his hand and shook Paddy’s firmly, suddenly remembering the maggots.

“Bye. Bye Missus,” he nodded.

The caravan trundled back onto the road. “Oh Malcolm, what a lovely holiday this has turned out to be. Glen Campbell?” she said. He nodded and Rhinestone Cowboy softly crackled through the door speakers. Paddy meandered down the road, his bandy legs sticking out perilously close to passing cars. He entered the village and parked outside the bank. He filled in the slip to pay the two hundred and sixty-pound cheque into his account. The cashier reviewed the slip and the cheque, looked at him and raised an eyebrow quizzically. Paddy stared straight back, his blue blue eyes making her look away from his. He left the bank and rode back the way he’d come, turning right and dismounting to walk up a steep hill through to the back of the village to the fields and his farm above.

At the door to the farm, Paddy lifted off the fishing gear and leant it against the wall. He entered the outhouse and called for Morag. She came to the door and helped him take off waders. He couldn’t take them off without her help so he had to cycle and shop after fishing with them on. Paddy squeezed Morag’s hand and left by the back door through the outhouse. He put on a dark blue overcoat and changed his cap from the warm woollen one he’d had on all day to a dark blue peaked cap. He kicked off some battered slippers and pushed his feet into some boots on and tied the laces as best he could, then he picked up a knife and a bunch of keys hanging on the wall.

Facing the outhouse, a few feet opposite was a high barn with a corrugated iron roof.

Paddy walked into the barn and stopped at a pen which was full of squealing piglets.

He let himself through the gate and the piglets ran around him and between his legs, excited not frightened. The sows in the pen opposite rubbed their noses up to the bars separating them. Paddy chose a lively piglet, which looked the fattest of the litter, trapped it in a corner and picked it up under one arm. It kicked and squealed and tried to bite its captor, but Paddy was impervious. He carried it to a marble slab just outside the barn. Holding the piglet down with his left hand, he took the knife and cut deep into the throat. The legs twitched for a few moments so he held it down to prevent it kicking itself onto the ground. Then, he opened the back door of a red van and spread an old blanket in the back. He returned to pick up the dead pig by its legs and threw it into the back of the van and returned to sluice the slab with a bucket of water taken from a massive water butt. The diluted crimson liquid flowed over the edge of the marble onto smooth cobbles and into a drain.

Paddy drove down the hill and out of the village towards the spot where he’d been fishing earlier. He turned off the road, parking just before the jetty. Here, he took out the pig from the back of the van, carried it a few paces and placed it at the end, which was about six inches above water. A few drops of blood dripped through the slats into the lake. Paddy got back into the van and drove off. Once, hidden behind a tree near the road, he’d stayed to see what happened. But he never wanted to see that ever again.

The van stopped at the post box, where he got out and took the keys from his overcoat. He selected one of the marked keys, holding them up close to read the numbers, then opened the box and lifted out the few letters. There were only two letters, so it was not difficult to find his, “Mr and Mrs Malcolm Knighton, 3 Buttercup Hill, Ruislip, Middlesex.” This was put into his inside pocket and the rest replaced.

He then drove back into the village and parked in the Prince’s Arms car park. As he went into the snug, Gordon, the landlord, welcomed him.

“Hey Paddy. How you doin, lad? Pint of McEwans and a Bell’s?” It was an old joke Gordon thought they shared. They didn’t, since Paddy didn’t think it amusing. “Daft Egyt”, he thought to himself and handed Gordon the van keys. He wasn’t going to be driving again tonight.

“Guinness and a Bushmill’s, Gordon. The usual if you please.

The noise from the bar opposite was a cacophony of clacking pool balls, MTV and electronic fruit machines. One of the young lads in there was at the bar getting his round of lagers in and spotted Paddy at the bar taking a sip of his whiskey while he waited for his Guinness top-up. “At least he does that right,” Paddy thought.

“Hey,” shouted the boy to his friends. “It’s Postman Pat” and all the boys shouted in unison “Hello Postman Pat,” and fell about laughing. They could easily see out into the car park, so they’d been eagerly anticipating this since the red Royal Mail van had driven in.

These boys were OK and had always been fine with Paddy, so he joined in the fun, though this was another joke wearing a bit thin.

He squeezed into the bench where three other elderly men were setting up the dominoes.

“Did you cut yourself, Paddy?” said one, seeing a smear of blood on Paddy’s hands.

“I’m too sharp for that,” he laughed. “Whose shout?” The four began a marathon session.

 

Written by  MIKE DAWSON     

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