Fingernails digging into the ash gray leather seat in the back of a new-smelling Mercedes, I’m trying hard—very hard—to focus on the words spewing forth from my Glaswegian taxi driver, Michael, and not on the horror I feel as we narrowly miss killing an old man and his dog as they teeter on the edge of the country road we are zooming over. Because Michael speaks as fast as he drives (which is very fast) and because I’m not able to breathe as blood courses through my head from an unwelcome jolt of adrenalin, I can’t be certain of what he is saying, but it sounds something like this:
We are hurtling along a wet, curvaceous road in a fine gray mist, following the rumpled shoreline of Loch Lomond, and I am doing what I always do when I’m scared shitless: phonetically repeating, in my head, whatever it is I am hearing, which, in this particular case, is Michael’s dithering.
And then it suddenly hits me: I know exactly what he is saying. Sort of. He’s saying, “That foolish old man is going to be hopping mad when a policeman tickets him for strolling down the road.” (If you don’t speak Scottish English, what he’s actually saying is, “That cakey grandad’s gauny do his bunnit if the polis tickem ‘im for daunerin’ doon the road,” but never mind that; let’s just go with my translation.) From that moment on, I understand Michael perfectly, though there is just the slightest lag time between whatever he is going on about and the translation that occurs in my brain.
To wit: I’ll miss my boat if that slacker doesn’t get a move on. A reference to the old crofter puttering along in a wee car ahead of us.
“Aye, wouldn’t bubble even if Ah did,” I say. And by the surprised look in Michael’s eyes reflected in the rear-view mirror, I can see that he’s quite impressed that I speak his language.
Well, well, well.
I have been in Scotland for only a day or so and already I am fluid in the local patois. C’est extraordinare, don’t you think? It would seem that, as far as the Glaswegian taxi driver dialect is concerned, I am an idiot savant.
“It’snaeusegaunsailinthisweather, init no?” Michael dithers.
Translation: It’s no use going saling in this weather, is it?
“Aye, better to find a pub and get plootered,” I tell him.
Michael laughs heartily, both at the sentiment and, no doubt, at my expert Glaswegian delivery. Than, as the Mercedes’ side-view mirror rips through an overhang of wet bracken, scattering tendrils of shredded green fern across our windshield and over the car’s boot, he tells me a story, which now that I can understand him is really quite amusing. It’s about how he and his pals were at a pub in Glasgow the other night when someone nicked his beer.
“Ah said, ‘Don’t act it, arse heid. Ah left a full pint standin’ oan the bar when Ah went tae the lavvy.’ That brought im up, init no? He’s no a bad guy really, jist bit of a bear.”
I don’t need to translate arse heid for you, do I? Or lavvy? Thought not. You see, you’re starting to understand Glaswegian as well. Brilliant!
I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about Michael. First of all, he is a most excellent driver. Already I’ve watched him nip in between several caravans (that’s what they call trailers over here), skillfully avoiding oncoming lorries (that’s what they call trucks), and miraculously dart around a suicidal deer that jumped in front of us out of nowhere in the Argyll Forest. Secondly, it’s my fault, I fear, that we are going excessively fast. I got up a wee bit late this morning, still suffering from a bit of jet lag, and when I ran downstairs to the lobby to find Michael snoozing in a chair waiting for me, the first words out of my mouth were, “I’ll miss my boat if you can’t get me to Oban in four hours!”
Pipers in Oban at the start of the Classic Malts Cruise. Photo by Christine Spreiter.
Michael, to his credit, took this unexpected news with perfect aplomb. Shoving me into the back of the Mercedes as if I were a kidnap victim, he grabbed my luggage, tossed it in the car’s boot, and off we went down the highway like a couple of bank robbers.
Fine chap, Michael.