As we march towards Robert Burns Day, we celebrate Scottish oddness:
One of my office-mates was Peter Lentini (pronounced pee-dhu) from Rhode Island – black leather jacket, hiking boots, thick black mullet, and an accent straight out of Italian-American caricatures. A perfectly likeable man, perfectly unaware of how strange he seemed outside of his element, let alone in Scotland.
Kelvingrove Park bounds the University of Glasgow – where we were office-mates – on two sides. The park is large and sprawling, it straddles the Kelvin River which empties into the Clyde, and it is thickly wooded enough to seem pretty in the day, and to conceal all manner of illicit activity in the dark. Several times on my walk home I saw teams of policemen, in track suits with walkie-talkies, synchronizing their watches in preparation for a night in the park, peaking around trees. I was also aggressively curb-crawled all the way home, on a couple of occasions, by single men in cars who believed that I was for rent.
It was just one of the perversities of municipal geography that I had to walk across the park twice daily, and another perversity that all of the pubs you wanted to be at were on one side of the park and the kebab (and fish and chip) shop that was open latest was on the other. So, one night after closing all the pubs on the Great Western Road, Peter Lentini decided that he was just peckish enough to make the walk worth his while, and he set off across the park.
Halfway across the park, in the inky dark, he was confronted by a strapping lad who asked if he had any money to spare. Peter shook his head and made as if to continue, but the strapping lad blocked his way. “You misunderstand me, I am very politely mugging you.”
Peter began to splutter, and to dig through his pockets, and to let loose his absurd Rhode Island accent.
“Aoch, I’m sorry mate, you’re a foreigner. I’m sorry. What kind of ambassador to Scotland am I? I’m so sorry, off ya go.” And with that the strapping lad stepped back into the dark wood to await another – preferably English – victim.
Here is part three of six of the BBC biography of Ivor Cutler, Looking For Truth With a Pin. Part four tomorrow, if you can wait.