Book: The Auchencookie Chronicles by Allan Neilcategories: Book, Humour, Boozer, Polis, Mastermind, Old Folks, Lowland Scotland
Allan Neilabout this book: I was born and raised in a small town in the Lothians and although I have lived Down South for over half a century I still harbour a warm spot for my hometown. Remembering some of the characters around the place and witnessing (from afar, mostly) its transformation from the backwater industrial place of yore into the new, fashionable suburb, it was with a sense of wistfulness that I decided to write The Chronicles. Here, in full, is the first chapter - kind of extended foreword, really. The town, in the days of my adolescence boasted a local dialect, that outsiders might find some difficulty with, so I have included a dictionary as Chapter 2.
Chapter 1 - A Geography Lesson
So there you are with the Road Atlas open and asking, 'Just where is Auchencookie?'
Well, as I still deal in proper measurements, like rods, chains, poles, furlongs and so on, being a pre-war baby and can't relate to distances in kilograms or whatever they are in these erstwhile European Union days. Therefore, to make it easy for everyone, Auchencookie is wherever you want it to be in Lowland Scotland south of a line which runs between the Firths of Forth and Clyde.
It was once a thriving wee place in its own right, with most of its male and a large proportion of its female inhabitants being employed either in the manufacture of commodities above ground or the extraction of coal and ironstone from below. Alas, these industries are distant history and have been partially replaced by what are known as 'service industries', in which the employees drive German cars the size of Panzers, drink skinny latte, own Maltese Terriers and use aftershave.
Auchencookie has grown in recent years owing to a lot of building activity and an influx of commuters who work in the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In general the New Auchencookians tend to stick to their own social circles and a number of new licensed premises and restaurants have opened. These are almost entirely patronised by those described by an Auld Auchencookian patriarch, George Washington McGurk as 'Yon arty-farty lot.'
The newcomers tend also to travel into Edinburgh or Glasgow for other, more esoteric kinds of entertainment.
The 'Auld Auchencookians' have kept faith with the old, familiar establishments, like the Boggy Inn. They still do their weekly shop at 'The Store' (Co-op), tending to shun more pretentious upstarts like 'Delicatessen Maggiore'; Floury Frank Broon's bakery still holds sway in the hearts of Auld Auchencookians, although the newcomers, mainly young up-market Mums prefer 'Sogno di Toscana'; 'Poisson Parfait' has not quite managed to force Pongy Parker's wet fish shop into piscatorial oblivion.
Due, they say, to the skin-stripping north-east winter wind that shrieks up the valley, Auchencookie folk often live to a very ripe old age, when some of the bodily functions that young take for granted begin to develop, shall we say, annoying irregularities. As I am personally well along this downward path I feel I need not apologise too much for indulging later on in some gentle humour at the Auld Yins' expense.
A feature of Auchencookie is the Happy Evensong Retirement Centre, where many of these Golden Oldies pass the final burnished chapters of their lives.
Right next door is the very popular Boggy Inn, so that the residents of Happy Evensong can enjoy the odd bevy and be just an easy stagger away from home. They 'widnae be seen deid' in the 'Firkin and Faggot'.
A short bus ride, free to any Happy Evensong residents and other Auld Yins in possession of free bus passes (all of them actually!) is the wee hamlet of Shoogleside, a collection of small cottages on a hillside about 50 minutes' walk, for the young and unencumbered, to the north of Auchencookie. There isn't much in the way of work around there, following the closure of local industry and coalmines and the 'downsizing' of the local Army Depot. (Downsizing = evisceration).
The hourly bus from Auchencookie is highly popular with the holders of the aforementioned pensioners' bus passes as it stops directly outside Shoogleside's main attraction, Jammie's Bar. The return bus is slightly more difficult as catching it involves crossing the road. However, after a couple of drams that difficulty, or at least the perception of it, happily fades away.
Jammie's Bar is run by a rotund, jolly man with a broken nose and a Tate Gallery collection of tattoos, a retired professional wrestler called Jamie Gallagher, or to give him his professional name, 'The King of Kong'. Mr Gallagher had intended that the bar should be called Jamie's Bar, but the signwriter turned out to be dyslexic.
South of Auchencookie, on the edge of Boggy Moss, lies the little village of Bumblebridge.
Bumblebridge differs from Auchencookie in that all of its social life revolves around the Wee Free Kirk.
I use the phrase 'social life' as it defies inclusion in any other pigeonhole involving, as it does, residents of the village furtively doing the kind of things that the Wee Free Kirk declares that 'Thou shalt not do.'
For example, one local resident, Coriolanus McGurk, was the most prolific distiller of moonshine whisky in the Scottish Lowlands who, when challenged by the Meenister, the Reverend Pee Wee Walker, defended his activities by saying, 'Reverend, Ah never touch a drap. Ah only make it. How dae ye ken it's the devil drink anyway if ye've no' tasted it.' Pee Wee replied, 'Oh well, for the sake of ecclesiastical accuracy I had better try a drap.' The fact that the Reverend missed the next two Sunday services speaks volumes for the quality of Coriolanus's product.
So basically, that is Auchencookie. It is hemmed in by hills to the west and moors to the rest and claims fame by being the last outpost of civilisation on the road to the charnel houses of Carlisle.
Oh yes, I nearly forgot. You want to know how the Reverend Walker earned his nickname of Pee Wee. Well, it all evolves from the moonshine tasting at Coriolanus's place. When the Reverend staggered away home, he was followed by four McGurk children who watched as he follolopped into a small copse to relieve himself. So quickly does fame spread in the tight communities around Auchencookie.
Before we plough on into the book I will put up my hands to any accusation that the narratives lack complete chronological accuracy. I am aware of this and plead that the story lines are, in my most humble opinion, more important than that and I hereby claim literary licence.
On with the show!
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what to read next: if you read and liked this book...
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