Bill Mills' room

Bill Mills

Dental Care

by  Bill Mills

          Let’s call him Mr McGregor.  Mr McGregor had been interested in the Puffers for many years and being a keen photographer, had many hundreds of slides of the Puffers and their ports of call on the Clyde and the West Coast of Scotland.

Because of his long-time interest, for years Mr McGregor had the special privilege from the Company to sail for a few weeks every year on a Puffer of his choice, to wherever that Puffer was going.  This concession was given to very selected persons.

          There was a particular skipper with whom Mr McGregor sailed with if he possibly could.  Wee Jimmy was the Senior Skipper and he commanded the latest of the new diesel boats. This particular voyage was from Ayr to Brodick.

          The weather was just on the point of ‘no go’ conditions for the wee Puffer.  But the forecast was talking about an improvement after midnight and the Owners had ‘mentioned’ to Wee Jimmy that it would be good for future business if the cargo of general merchandise could be delivered to the customer on time.  On time meant the following day.

          The skipper had been looking out of the rain- streaked windows of the small wheelhouse at the dark, wild night.  Even with the shelter of the quayside around them the Puffer was heaving and struggling against her mooring warps.  He turned to his friend of many years – pushed his hand up under the brim of the ancient, sweat-stained soft hat, and scratched hard through the white curly hair on his elderly scalp.  He pulled the hat back into place with a jerk.  “Ah weel Mr McGregor – I suppose the forecast could be right – the gusts don’t seem to be just as strong as they were.  I think!..  It’ll still be a bumpy old passage till we get some lee from Arran.”

          Just before midnight the little Puffer left the protection of the inner basin and out into the main harbour, turned to starboard and headed out between the north and south piers, already feeling the strength of the wind, the slanting rain and the heavy swell.  With the skippers permission Mr McGregor wedged himself into a corner of the small wheelhouse and prepared to enjoy the bad weather in an uncomfortable perverse way – as he always did.

          Wee jimmy took the stopper out of the brass ‘communication pipe’ to the motor room.  A distant, irritable, brassy voice called “Whit dae ye want?”.  Wee Jimmy bent over the pipe and called back – “ I ken I dinna hae to tell you Chief but we dinna want anything going wrang doon there on a nicht like this.”  The distant yelp in the darkness from the bright brass pipe told him “ If ye didn’a hae to tell me – what the bloody hell are ye telling me fur.!” There was a ‘chunk’ as the voice pipe was sealed at the other end.

“Ah Mr McGregor – I think the Chief is just a wee bit tetchy..”

Mr McGregor waited a few minutes and then said – “Why don’t you use the engine-room phone.?”   Wee Jimmy turned to look at his friend in the dark corner- “ It hasn’t been working for three weeks – the Chief’s been too busy to fix it.”

          Slowly, as they moved away from the sand bar outside Ayr Harbour, the sea became longer and a touch more comfortable as the Puffer climbed and fell, climbed and fell, lurched and heaved.  But every now and then the odd one would be bigger and different.  The Puffer would shudder and almost stop as it hit a mass of water.  And Mr. McGregor had to tighten his grip and stiffen himself to stay in his corner as his feet tried to slip on the wet deck and a thick water pipe attacked his kidney.  The helmsman swore as he fought both the wheel and to keep his balance.  Wee Jimmy told the man at the wheel – “ Yer doin fine Angus – hold her as best you can.”  And another load of salt water poured over the bow, along the deck and washed the bridge windows in a determined deluge.

           After one particularly violent heave Mr. McGregor heard the quiet but strained voice of the man at the wheel – “Eh Mr McGregor – could you do me a wee favour?.”   “What’s that Angus?” asked Mr McGregor.

          Through the dark wheelhouse the shape of a hand proffered something to Mr McGregor,  “Could you keep these safe till we get in. With all this jumpin’ aboot I’m frichtened there will be a breakage or loss.”

          Mr McGregor braced himself with a foot against a panel as he relinquished the grip of one hand to close his fist round whatever it was that was held out to him.  He recoiled and nearly shot out of his corner as he realised that what was in his hand was a mouth-wet, full set of false teeth.

          A kind of empty voice came from Angus –“Thanks, I only got them yesterday.”

          From the small, vague figure of the skipper came the heartening words – “Och – Angus.  They’ll be as safe as houses with Mr. MacGregor.”  There was the suggestion of a giggle from Wee Jimmy.

          The forecasters were correct.  The weather started to moderate and they also got some lee from the high mass of Arran.  The motion of the wee coaster improved to just being rough and by the time they approached the pier at Brodick it was almost civilised.

          Mr MacGregor pulled his stiff, sore and weary body out of his corner and gratefully stretched in an almost steady environment.  He heard Wee Jimmy call down the voice-pipe –“Ach – you did very well Chief – that was quite rough.”  Swear words charged up the pipe before they heard the ‘chunk’ as the pipe was closed at the other end.  The skipper drew on his stumpy pipe and said –“ Chief seems to be happy enough.  We’ll just have time for a mug of tea and breakfast before our customers come down for their wee bitty cargo.”

          Mr McGregor turned to leave the wheelhouse and a voice behind him said –“ Er  Mr McGregor  –could I have my ‘wally’

 teeth back now please.?”  It took some self-control for Mr McGregor to put his hand into his pocket and extricate the naked dentures, force a smile and say – “Any time Angus- any time.”
Bill Mills