Dram time. Scotland © John MacPherson


William Kemp, Sandy MacDonald and Ginger Wilson came from the area of the Scottish Highlands in which I was born.

They were British troops from a Highland Division captured as Prisoners of War during WW2 in Europe, who realised that speaking gaelic had an advantage. Their German captors could not understand them!

Try as they might the Germans could not translate a word of what was being said by the captive trio. Expert German linguists were brought in, but despite exhausting their repertoire of obscure European languages they could not decipher one word of the lad’s gaelic conversation. And finally assumed they must be speaking some obscure Russian dialect. And so must therefore also be allies, as Germany was not at war with Russia at that point. This gave the lads an idea. They managed to escape from their captors, and speaking gaelic at every challenge, were able to walk 1000 miles across Europe, through Germany and France and back to Scotland. Back to their home land.

Ginger lived a few doors away from me. He was old by the time I knew him, but was a good friend of my parents, and he could still walk the couple of miles to town, albeit slowly. I used to meet him in the pub in town some evenings. He would stand at the bar, and engage visitors in conversation (we lived in a tourist town) and then recount the story of his wartime exploits, and relieve the hapless tourist of several large whiskies in return for the gift of of his story (fair swap I think!). And on a good evening, Ginger would get well and truly blootered (drunk)!

This endless supply of free drams (whisky) pleased Ginger. But created a serious amount of annoyance for some of the other hardened drinkers who, storyless, were not gifted with large amounts of free alcohol. And they resented Ginger this advantage.

And so one night I encountered Ginger, half sozzled, and barely visible through a fug of cigarette smoke, thrilling a couple of American tourists with tales of his exploits in WW2 Europe. Looking for ‘local colour’ the Americans had stumbled onto Ginger, and were now confronted with not just ‘colour’ but Ginger, positively fluorescent.

Drams flowed. And more drams. And drams and drams and drams. Much to the annoyance of some of Ginger’s peers, also ex-soldiers, who started to heckle him. Before long an argument broke out. Resentment spilling over into angry words.

It went something like this:

Heckler: “You’re just taking advantage of people Wilson!”
Ginger ” Away with you, you’re just jealous!”
Heckler ” Jealous? Of you? Away ye go!”
Ginger “Aye you are, because of my exploits!”
Heckler “Exploits? What exploits?”
Ginger “Getting out of Germany during the war! And I got a medal!”
Heckler “Bah, we all got medals!”
Ginger “You didn’t get medals for doing what I did though did you..nah nah nah!”

Heckler stopped for a moment, thought long and hard through the whiskyfog and answered with a note of triumph:

“No WE all got our medals for FIGHTING the Germans, not for running away from them! Running like you did all the way back home to your mammy!”

The ultimate heckle, the searing edge of the savage put-down, the silencer. Ginger huffed and puffed and grimaced and groaned, but realised that defeat had just been laid across him like a shroud. And that was it.


Well until the next American tourist entered, looking for enrichment.

And then it all started up, all over again.

Stories. Stories. Stories. And drams.

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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