New Scotland Street Chapter 20: At the Wally Dug

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A few weeks earlier, Bruce had started going to the Wally Dug. This was a pub in Northumberland Street, just around the corner from Big Lou’s, and it was rather more convenient than the Cumberland Bar for his flat in Abercrombie Place. Angus had started dropping in there too, having initially been dragged in by Cyril, who had a strange affinity with the place.

“It’s possibly something to do with the name,” Angus remarked to Domenica. “Cyril must feel that a pub called after a dog is his sort of place.”

Domenica was tolerant of what she regarded as Angus’s tendency to anthropomorphise – at least when it came to Cyril. He endowed the dog with far too great a degree of understanding, she thought; Cyril might be intelligent by canine standards, but he was still a dog, with all the limitations that this implied. Ultimately, it was a question of neural matter: Cyril had a dog’s brain, and that governed the extent of his abilities. Cyril would never have language; he would never have a command of logic; he would never have the ability to think out of the box that was dogness, or canininity, the state of being a dog. And yet, of course, he had emotions – and even Domenica, with all her doubts about dogs in general, had to admit that in the canine breast there were lodged the very deepest of emotions. Dogs suffered – they suffered daily; they felt the most awful pangs the moment their owner left their sight; they felt the most intense regret when they were in disgrace for doing any of the things that dogs find it so hard to refrain from doing; they pined when their routine was changed and the familiar was replaced with the unfamiliar.

But Domenica felt that any suggestion that Cyril might respond to a picture of a wally dug on a brewer’s mirror was no more than the fondest of imaginings. Angus, she realised, wanted Cyril to be more human, and this ambition distorted his view of what Cyril might reasonably achieve, given the limitations of his species. Cyril was Angus’s best friend – she understood that, and accepted it to an extent. She would have preferred him to spend more time with his friends, but understood that he was one of those men who seemed to get by without seeing friends regularly. Matthew was a regular friend, and Big Lou – up to a point; and there were four or five people in the Scottish Arts Club, but apart from that she would find it difficult to name many others whom he saw all that often.

Angus was on reasonable terms with Bruce, even if they had very little in common. If they met in the pub they would talk to one another, but Angus would quickly find himself irritated by Bruce’s vanity and self-obsession. On that evening, as Bruce entered the Wally Dug, he did not expect to meet Angus, nor indeed Cyril. The person he intended to see, though, was already there, sitting on one of the bar stools, deep in conversation with Murray Campbell, one of the bar’s owners.

Murray had business to attend to, and went off to do this while Bruce greeted his old friend, Gav. Gav had been at school with Bruce at Morrison’s in Crieff, where they had been constant companions. They saw one another less frequently in their university years: while Bruce went off to study land management, Gav had enrolled for a course in product design at Napier University. Their meetings over the following few years had been irregular, but recently they had taken to getting together every couple of weeks, usually in the Wally Dug.

Gav worked for a small manufacturing firm in Dalkeith, just outside Edinburgh. This firm designed silica-based pot holders, spatulas, and other kitchen implements. They also held the patent on a new method of getting recalcitrant lids off jars, and were hoping to put that into production in the not-too-distant future.

Bruce approached Gav and shook his hand warmly They took evident pleasure in one another’s company, reverting without difficulty to the easy-going relationship of their schooldays.

“So,” said Bruce, “what’s new, Gav?”

“Nothing, Bruce-o,” said Gav. “Same old, same old. You know how it is.”

This exchange of words had become a private tradition of their friendship, and never changed. Thereafter the real conversation began, which was seasonal. In winter, it was largely focused on rugby, and on the prospects of Scotland in the Six Nations and in various other organised stramashes. In the summer, the rugby conversation was briefer, being restricted to a quick review of the doings of the Australians and New Zealanders. Both Gav and Bruce had been at that significant event at Murrayfield when Scotland had trounced the All Blacks so convincingly. On this particular evening, at the bar in the Wally Dug, they relived those sacred minutes, as they had done so many times since the day, before they moved on to discussing affairs of the heart.

“How’s that woman of yours?” asked Bruce.

“Sally? Oh, same old, same old.” Gav paused. “And you? Breaking anybody’s heart these days?”

“Fighting them off,” replied Bruce. “You know how it is.”

“Jeez!” said Gav. “Some guys have all the luck.”

“You could say that,” said Bruce. “Still, I do it all for Scotland!”

Gav took a swig of his beer. “Jeez, I needed that.” He paused. “You know something, Bruce-o? I think I may have met somebody who’s just right for you.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Oh yes? Italian fashion model? Drives a Lamborghini?”

Gav laughed. “No, not quite. But not too bad otherwise.”

Bruce looked at his friend. “You don’t think I need any help, do you? Because let me tell you, I really am fighting them off, you know.”

“Oh, I’m well aware of that,” said Gav. “It’s just that … well, I think you’re at a bit of a crossroads, Bruce-o.”

Bruce was quiet. You are at a crossroads. He remembered the words of the horoscope he had read only half an hour earlier. You are at a crossroads. One way will lead to disappointment, possibly failure; the other will lead to achievement and success. And here was Gav, of all people, uttering exactly the same pronouncement. It was quite uncanny.

“Crossroads?” said Bruce.

‘Yes,” Gav replied. “I think you are. You have to decide, pal. You have to get yourself fixed up.”

“Fixed up? Why?”

Gav made a gesture that was hard for Bruce to interpret. It might have signified acceptance, or it might have meant that a conclusion had been reached only reluctantly. “You don’t want to be single forever,” he said. “Cooking your own dinner when you’re forty. How sad is that?”

“I’m not forty. Far from it. I’m not even thirty yet.”

“No, but you will be one day, mate. And then what?”

Bruce waited.

“Sally has this friend, see. And she saw you – this woman – she saw you at a party, and asked Sally whether she knew you.”

“She asked Sally? This woman asked her if she knew me?”

“That’s it. Apparently, she said, Who’s the dead sexy guy with the hair. That’s what she said, Sally told me.”

Bruce shrugged. “So, that’s what they all say.”

“Yeah, sure. But let me tell you something about this woman. Something seriously interesting.”