It is 9.30 pm as Anne and Gordon emerge from the motor coach; it isn’t raining in Portree. This is a surprise. The rain had been heavy for hours and the wind still howls on Skye. After hours on the coach it’s a relief to be in the open. They decide to walk to their hotel. A mistake. The heavens open. The raindrops huge and icy. In a less than protective bus shelter they put their backpacks into protective covers and walk on up the long hill in the dark. The road is awash. Within minutes they are drenched.
Arriving at their destination, they enter the public bar. Silence falls as customers stare at the dripping interlopers.
The silence is broken by a wit, Could it be raining out there?
Ignoring the hilarity of the question, they dump their backpacks in the corner and hang their sodden jackets on hooks by the door. At the bar they order two large single malts and ask for the menu.
We stopped serving at nine.
We’re residents, Gordon says.
Restaurant’s closed, sorry.
Is that the best you can do?
You don’t sound sorry.
An elderly man, stubble chinned, dressed in chef’s whites seated on a high stool at the end of the bar, asks, Hungry, are yer?
Restaurant’s closed, the barman says.
I’m the bloody restaurant, the chef shouts. If I feel like making these good folks a decent meal on a night like this I will, even though, he adds with a meaningful wink, I’ve had quite a few sherbets.
Thank you, that’s kind. Just something simple would be great. We’re …
Leave it to me, he interrupts, clambers down from the stool and totters, swaying out through a door. I’m yer man.
What’s a sherbet in this context? Gordon asks.
Booze, I think, booze, Ann replies.
He’s pissed, the barman explains.
Anne and Gordon order two beers, sit at a table and wait.
From a distance they hear the noise of crashing pans and loud swearing. Time passes. They take two more small malts. Silence. The door bursts open and the chef staggers out backwards, bearing at shoulder height, two enormous stainless steel salvers and, with a feat of extraordinary balance, weaves his way to their table and sets down his burdens.
There you go, he shouts, told yer I’d see yer right, and he takes two pairs of pliers from his pocket and clatters them onto the table along with knives and forks. Enjoy! He staggers to the bar, where a fresh pint is waiting, climbs onto the stool, and, precipitously sways.
Incredulous, they stare at lobster claws, crabs in shells, shrimps, smoked eel, winkles, langoustines, kippers, scallops, clams, fried potatoes, and slabs of thickly buttered white bread.
To yer liking? the chef shouts.
I’m really sorry, we’re vegetarians. The potatoes will be good and the bread and butter.
For fuck’s sake, and after me having taken a few sherbets to cater for fuckin’ vegetarians and foreigners.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.