Polldubh (II)

Polldubh means “black pool” which is funny because there never was a place less like Blackpool. No towers – unless your looking at the crags which flanked the glen and gave us our evening entertainment. No promenade unless you mean the narrow earthen track with the varicose tree roots which led through the woods to our tiny cottage which was named after the gurgling hollows in the river nearby. And absolutely no illuminations. Only a paraffin lamp, hung from the hook in the blackened ceiling and orange flames guttering in the old iron fire-range.
It was John (of course) who found the cottage and rented it from the waterboard – or was it the Forestry Commission? Some such. And it was John who found us work as county roadmen. I had arrived, totally broke, from a climbing holiday in Skye. Tom was still in Glasgow chasing women. John and I cycled the six miles to Fort William, made enquiries and ended up talking to the Borough Surveyor who was surprisingly accommodating. We found out afterwards he had a son who was a student, so he knew the score. He told his foreman to give us the jobs. Tom had given us delegated authority and so we gave his name as well.
In late evening, when the midges had driven us indoors and darkness had settled into the glen, we sat by our wood-fire and talked. Tom and I of climbs done and planned. John of philosophy and the meaning of words. He opened my eyes and my mind. I don’t think he realised that for I, at that age, could not admit defeat.
The foreman gave us a three minute lesson on how to use and sharpen a scythe. The equipment, we were told, could be hidden in the bushes. It was true. Folk were honest in those days. Daily we cycled betwixt the job and our cottage. Nine miles. Three of us. But with only two bikes. John had brought his own bike from Glasgow on the train. Like John it was neat and tidy. It behaved responsibly. The other, we inherited with the cottage. It was not neat and tidy. It did not behave responsibly. It was very large. It had been built for very large Highland postmen with flat feet. It was black. It had upright handlebars and had those ancient roller-brakes, all rods and levels and cams, which looked like the way they distributed the machinery-power in a factory during the industrial revolution. The bike had no gears so ascending hills required determination…

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