Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag

Autumn 1963. That's me, kit bag balanced on my shoulder, walking along the road that leads from the village to the croft where Mum and Jimmy live. It's about a three mile walk. It's a fine walk. I always enjoy it. On this section, to my right, across a narrow field busy with curious black Aberdeen Angus bullocks is the beautiful river Don laden with sparkling granite rock, and to my right a gently sloping hill, home to Scots pine begins it's journey into distant mountains.

The slightly inadequate tinkling of a bicycle bell causes me to stop and turn. It is Jimmy. He is on his way home from his work in the local quarry. He throws a leg over the saddle and dismounts expertly.

"Fit like Loon," he asks. It's the local dialect. It means how are you boy.

"Nae sae bad," I answer. Not too bad.

I haven't seen Jimmy for nearly a year now. The last time we met I was in a tremendous rage at him and my Mum and I threw rocks at them, breaking windows, and cutting Jimmie's head. I was back in a children's home after that escapade, and then joined the Merchant Navy. This was me coming back from my first voyage. I wasn't sure if I had a home to go to, but had decided to chance my luck with Mum again. She was usually quite pleased to see me after our separations.

Jimmy, a man of few words, and I walked on in silence, side by side for a few hundred yards.

"I'll tak it," he says, gesturing towards my kit bag.

"No, no really it's fine, I can manage."

"Gies it here noo," he says, reaching out a powerful arm, grabbing the bag from my shoulder and settling it with one swift motion across the handlebars of his bike. And then without another word, cycles off in the direction of home.

That small gesture of kindness, from this quiet, dour Scotsman, who had good reason to dislike me, had a huge impact on me, and I viewed him in a different light from that moment on.

In that gesture Jimmy had acknowledged me, shown a caring aspect that I had been too young to appreciate about the man before. He had shown he cared. He had put our unhappy past away. He had moved on, and in doing so, he had allowed me to move on too.

Maybe at the time I didn't realise the significance of this event. Sometimes we have to look back to glean the benefits. But today I still remember the moment, and that speaks volumes.

We were friends after that. Relaxed in each others company. We didn't have long together though. Jimmy died the next summer. Swiftly taken by cancer.

It wasn't just a kit bag he carried that day. It was a bag full of hope. I love you Jimmy, you miserable old bugger. I promise you I shall always carry someones kit bag if they need help.


  1. Great story, John. It was nice hearing about your friend Jimmy and I'm glad you will carry on his legacy. Take care.

  2. ...Curious black Aberdeen bullocks,, Love your descriptive prose John. A moving tale full of pathos. Great word pictures.

  3. I sure like how you write, John.

  4. I enjoyed a new memory of Jimmy. I hope to hear more of the story soon. He was the closest you had to a father and I am glad you feel that camaraderie. (How is that for a word?)

  5. This time of year it's nice to remember good things about our past and how it plays out in the present. I haven't told you but I bought your book when it came out; I liked it.

  6. a beautifully written piece. :-)

  7. It's nice to hear this little story about Jimmy and his kind gesture. ...well written as usual John.

  8. From what you say, John, I would have liked Jimmy. Enjoyed reading about him.

  9. Ah... great tale of a small favor that meant so much.

  10. What a great piece, it would be a good short story, well, in fact it IS a good short story. I'm glad Jimmy acted this way. Glad I had read your book too so I knew who he was and what the background was.