Mirren’s tale

I think it was the second time we went to Whithorn, in 1998. We were doing a concert on the Saturday evening at the Swallow Theatre – which, as anyone who’s been there will be aware, is in fact a barn in the middle of nowhere – and had all been allocated places to stay in various houses/B&Bs in the surrounding area. Frances and I were staying with Kaye’s parents in Wigtown, and Kaye’s mum had come to the rehearsal and lent Kaye her car to drive us back, and also to drive Sari and Lena to their lodgings, but due to a lengthy rehearsal, time was a bit tight.

They’d been told by David the owner/manager/organiser that they were staying in a place called Glasserton, which was signposted left down a narrow lane just by the Swallow Theatre. Kaye hadn’t heard of it and asked him for directions. He obliged with a very comprehensive description of the route, but Kaye was a little confused when he pointed in the opposite direction to the signpost. ‘Isn’t it that way?’, she asked. He looked perplexed, which should have given us a clue really, but insisted that no, his directions were absolutely correct and if she followed them she couldn’t fail to reach Glasserton.

We duly set off in a north-westerly direction, and after about 10 miles of following his instructions to the letter, found ourselves in a largish town called Garlieston. After driving around aimlessly for a while, we discovered some maps in the glove compartment, which turnd out to be Kaye’s father’s old Ordnance Survey maps dated circa 1964. Fortunately these country places don’t change much in 35 years, so we were able to locate Glasserton on the map (about 6 miles south of Whithorn, i.e. back the way we’d come and then on even further). With time against us, we steamed off, me in the front seat brandishing the ancient map, down godforsaken country lanes and byways, only to discover when we got there that Glasserton consisted of two houses and we’d been in the right place the first time! A couple talking at the gate of one of the Glasserton houses eyed us very suspiciously as we drove up and down.

What had actually happened was that David had given us directions to the right place (Garlieston) but given us the wrong name (Glasserton – well, it’s an easy mistake, he only lived there!), thus leading us on a thirty-mile wild goose chase. By this stage there was less than an hour to go before we had to be back at the Swallow, with eating and changing to be done, and so an executive decision was taken, not to take Sari and Lena back to Garlieston but instead for us all to eat and change at Kaye’s mum’s, but with time now at a serious premium, Kaye slammed her foot down and hared round those country lanes in an alarming fashion as though our lives depended on it.

But time wasn’t the only thing in short supply. I’d noticed some while back that we were low on petrol, but Kaye – obviously not anticipating the lengthy detour – had said it would ‘be all right’. Now, however, the gauge was hovering dangerously near the bottom of the red zone. Teeth were gritted and knuckles whitened, and the distance to Wigtown seemed longer than ever. Finally, Kaye remembered that there was a petrol station near her parents’ house, and it was now that she achieved her ‘squire’s daughter’ moment of glory.

It hadn’t been until we at last had the garage and her house in our sights that an awful revelation had struck me. When Kaye’s mum had been down earlier, in an effort to be helpful she’d taken back with her all our belongings, including all our bags and Kaye’s jacket, leaving none of us with any money. ‘Kaye’, I ventured tentatively, ‘can you actually pay for this petrol?’ ‘Oh, that doesn’t matter!’, she exclaimed. And with minutes to spare, she lurched abruptly left into the garage forecourt and screeched to a halt in a manner befitting Starsky and Hutch. Although she now denies this, as a doddering attendant approached the car, she wound down the window and, in the most authoritative tone I’ve ever heard her use before or since, demanded: ‘Fill her up please – and put it on Dr Brewster’s account!’. I swear the guy almost tugged his forelock. Now that’s what I call real power. …

Of course we made it, albeit somewhat rushed, and I remember it as a fantastic concert followed by lovely free food and booze and a terrific session by the Usual Suspects – Frances on guitar (and penny whistle – or was that Sheena?), Peter on flute, Sheena and Kaye on fiddles and a bit of random drumming by various people. We must have all been quite tipsy, as the night was rounded off by Kaye driving me and Frances back to hers, me in the front and Frances on the back seat playing the guitar in the pitch darkness! It was in this manner that the two of them premiered ‘Let the Mystery Be’ to me. A classic moment indeed.

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