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Drunks in the Distillery


After a summer gardening behind the Chinese gardeners Bruce Clayton and I had saved enough for a one way ticket to Heath Row Airport in London. This was going to be a huge adventure and we promised each other to be very careful with the little money we had because somehow we had to get back. At eighteen however, thoughts of how to get back seems of little concern to us. I was fortunate that Bruce Clayton was an Englishman and he had an old great Aunt in Surrey, England so we bused it out there. She was delighted to see her distant nephew and we did her garden for her over innumerable cups of tea, such as I had never had it before. Mrs. Coxhill was busy in the kitchen preparing wonderful meals for us, but after a week we felt we couldn’t transgress on her hospitality any longer and took off hitchhiking north - a destination that our Vancouver friend had recommended might bring a job. This was Joe Hobbs home.We were now in Leister and he fed us and put us up for the night sleeping under his billiard table! Next morning he phoned an old friend of his who managed his distillery in Fort William. We were coming and he wanted us to have jobs for the summer and a decent salary. Our cup runeth over! Slowly we hiked our way up into the Scottish Highlands, perhaps the most beautiful and peaceful place on earth. Highland cattle grazed beside little streams coming down from the hills. There were shades I had never seen before, mauves, purples, roses and orange hues. When we walked into the Inverlocky Distillery grounds we were taken aback at the unfriendly tone the workers presented to us when we said we were there to work for the summer. The Boss said there wasn’t enough work for the boys who were already there and we should bloody well go up the road to another distillery. However when we said we were personal friends of Joe Hobbs that all changed and he put us in his car and drove up to Hobb’s castle to arrange accommodation. The castle turned out to have been built by Lord and Lady Abinger, and had been occupied by the army during the War. That plus the vandalism such as spraying wine on the ceilings made quite mess of it. It was in 1945 that Joe Hobb’s Dad had purchased it and renovated it. He was the one who built the family fortune smuggling whiskey into America during Prohibition. The Inverlocky Castle Hotel was economically feasible as he ran it in conjunction with the distillery and let out a few of the hundreds of room contained therein to the very wealthy. Charlie Chaplin was one recent guest as an American tourist. Chaplin and Oona had rented the whole castle for two weeks. They wanted complete privacy and sure paid for it. The rate was 300 pounds per suite per night. They took all the suites so no one would see them during their stay. So we were introduced to the castle staff and particularly fell in love with the kindly old cook in the kitchen. Yes we were hungry again. By the way after the Abingers had died out the castle was taken over by Queen Victoria and the roads and philodendron trails were all named after her in some way. The grounds were surpassing beautiful and most of the staff were there just to keep it all magnificent. There was a golf course and Red Roe deer shooting as well as a huge patio where a special Dew of Ben Nevis whiskey was served just for the castle guests. Our lodgings were in a stone cottage on the castle grounds. The cook said if we needed wood, coal or food just let her know and she would arrange it. Soon she ordered one of the boys to go out and kill a chicken for us. The cottage had a fireplace for heat and was furnished in a turn of the century style so I was very happy. Meanwhile the morning came and we started to work. We were to work our way through the Distillery polishing the copper pipes and cleaning the big mash tanks. Well, we were so pleased with everything and so in debt to Hobbes that we applied ourselves and in a couple weeks had the place really buffed. There really wasn’t a job there for us, but one had been made anyway. Each morning started with tea and broes (bread) served in the Tea Room and then the thirty or so workers magically disappeared somewhere. Wherever it was we were not invited to join them. After awhile we got the impression we were being shunned. So talking with some boldness I approached the youngest worker and said, “Hey Caddy, we had heard the Scots were frugal but I had never heard they were so unfriendly”. “Well, Laddy”, he said, “you boys are just here for the summer. You are working rings around us and have you not noticed that the English management in those upper windows are watching you boys pretty closely at what you are accomplishing and how good the plant is looking. This plant has been automated and we are on here on sufferance until we retire, but there isn’t much to do. Now you are showing management just how lazy we have become and we resent you!” But he said, I can fix this.!So next morning after Tea we were invited to follow the workers out and across the rippling little Burn. We followed our new pal into the Queen’s warehouse. This cavernous building was filled with twenty years of whisky production. A duty had to be paid to the Queen on every gallon of booze before it left. There was an old Scot in a little glass room watching over the thousands of barrels stored there to age. This jovial old drunk poured off Gills (a quarter of a pint) of very over-proof whisky for all the workers including us. He said,“Do you wish a small shot?” No ,we said, we will have what the rest are having! Inverlocky So with a toast to the Queen we all raised our glasses! By the time we got back into the distillery I was drunk. I was never allowed to drink at home so I had zero tolerance for that Scotch. In the warmth of the distillery with the mash cookers steaming away Bruce and I hid back somewhere behind a big tank, fell asleep, and did not come out until the luncheon bell sounded. After more tea and a bowl of oat meal we all traipsed back into the Queen’s warehouse again for yet another gill! That wrapped up any work we could do for the rest of the day. Soon we were just one of the boys, lazy, out of it and called by first names by all the Scots, even to be invited home to have supper with them! They were all quite poor but they showed great hospitality at their table and presented good cuts of lamb to us! We said we were taking the food from their mouths. But they insisted. Soon we had a whole new attitude to the Scots. Meanwhile Joe Hobbes and his lovely wife Greta arrived in their Bentley to use their luxurious suite in the castle for the summer and they had a lovely daughter Mary Anne and a eighteen year old son Peter. They too were all drinkers. I guess when you own a distillery that is what you do! Shortly. Joe’s sister Pat also moved into the castle for a month. It seems that Joe had inherited the Distillery and Inverlocky Castle. Pat had inherited buckets of money and a huge townhouse in Belgravia in London. Pat seemed to be hated for some reason by the family so she befriended Bruce and I and that was so easy to do. Her passion was having a glorious picnic lunch packed and up we four (her maid) drove up into the mountains higher than the Noseeums would bite, a real menace in the Highlands. Pat always had a case of clear Dew of Ben Nevis in the trunk of her Rolls Royce. Bruce and I were away over our heads there and we knew it. We wondered if we should say we had to continue our journey but usually were too overcome to make a sound decision. Pat was falling in love with Bruce. She was about 65 so this started also to be a problem, because no one could ever say no to Pat. And so although in many ways this was an ideal summer the presence of so much alcohol was off- putting and we were too insecure to just say no! The summer ended, we got a ride back to London with Pat, Bruce now driving the Rolls! Her Belgravia address was fit for a Queen and was overstocked with Pats many servants as she was really useless. While there, I met another old friend from Vancouver, Annabel Edwards, a operatic singer who wanted me to have lunch with her at the Dorchester Hotel, but I had nothing good enough to wear. She said go and rent your self a complete outfit, a morning suit complete with patent shoes and socks. This was a chance of a lifetime to dine in London Style so I got fitted for a morning suit and Annabelle and I were being seated in the scandalously beautiful dining room of the Dorchester, servants fluttering around, music wafting from the quintet. The table was laid with fresh flowers and the rows of spoons and forks promised to confuse me. Don’t worry, she said, just use them from the outside in. I can’t recall, the lunch at all I was so worried about the direction the conversation was heading and it seemed I was selected for some bedtime calisthenics. Afterwards, I returned my suit and shoes to the rental agency, but I had lost my socks somehow and my virginity as well! Bruce and I decided we had to get out of that City and get back down to poverty and head out to see Europe. From Dover we crossed on a very choppy day and disembarked at Ostend to begin thousands of miles of walking through history, all with no liquor!



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