The Farmer’s Loft
A child once asked me what I see when I am blind. I remember telling her that what she sees with her eyes closed is what she'd see with her eyes open, if she was blind. That was beyond her comprehension. Perhaps she was too young to understand. Perhaps it was because she was too young that she could ask this question. I don't know.
I was born blind. Too much gas at birth they said but in those days there was no compensation. The gods got it wrong but so what, we all make mistakes don't we? It was as the jam pot sticky fingered politicians would say, “that was how it was done then”. They played by the rules. More mistakes come my way but I pass them by. More so for you I think. After all, I don't see many of my errors.
I'm Danny Robertson, two years short of sixty. My dad died five years ago. My mother has been with me till recently. She now has Altzheimer's disease. She doesn't always remember me and now sees me even less than I see her. I visit her in her care home sometimes. I mean I am taken there, of course. So, you’ve understood. I'm alone. It's the way I want to stay. I've told the social work committee that I can cope and they agreed to provide some additional care in the form of Aggie. But the Jury's out. I can't make my mind up whether Aggie comes to make my life easier or if she's part of the front shock troops waiting to add enough points to say, 'time for residential care, Danny'.
Take Mark. He's my man. Drives me around, takes me to gigs, and brings me home. Big fella he is.
Big and soft. I've known Mark Cameron for years. He's one of the few who rings the door bell even when there is no light in the house. Who needs lights when you're blind? Lights are for guests. He's not a guest; he’s my best mate and has a house key.
Aggie arrives around 9 am three days a week. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. She makes soup and pours it into a flask – the red flask. Red to her but the one with two stripes of tape down the side for me. She does my washing and ironing and lets me know what the postman has brought but I decide whether I trust her to open the mail. I usually tell her to leave them. Mark reads them to me. I let her read out the postcards of course. Can't stop her reading them anyway. She makes a coffee at 10.45 am with Ken Bruce talking behind her on Radio 2. That's when she talks to me. The house seems full then.
'Phoned your order to Tesco yet Danny?'
I nod and enquire.
'What are you having for tea today?'
'Not sure yet. Got to set you up first.'
'Don't worry about me. I never go hungry.'
'You don't eat enough!'
'Don't need to. Don't play sport, don't burn up that much energy.'
'There must be a lot of energy in the amount of thinking you do.'
‘Hmm. I’ve never thought about that.’
'I'll hoover around the house in a moment. Easy to do in your home. No paraphernalia to get in the way.'
'Ah that reminds me. Can you get rid of that TV in the corner? Since Mum's left it's not in use to me and the more space I have the better.'
'You never listen to the sport on telly? The Grand National, Match of The Day?'
'The radio paints better pictures. It'll save the license fee too. '
She takes my mug away and then the droning of the hoover starts. I wait till it ends. How I love that wailing dying drone just before silence. She'll be away soon.
'So how are you coping on your own Danny?'
I suspect this is the official part of the deal.
'Better than ever.'
'Must be difficult without your Mum.'
'Not really. Mark takes me round to see her.'
'No I don't mean that. I mean...
'I know what you mean, Aggie. I really do.
Listen, I know this house back to front and inside out. I don't starve and I've got my routine. I've friends and interests and what I can't do, I usually don't need. Except of course the help you give, to keep me in the house. And that's what we want, eh?
'As long as you feel you can manage, Danny.'
And that's the tension over for forty eight hours. The door closes and I take out my clarinet. I place the reed under the cold water tap for a couple of minutes turning it over again and again. I assemble the instrument. I run over the scales and play to my hearts' content. Pitch perfect I was once told. 'Great ear', they said. ‘Pity about the eyes’, they meant.
I hear the car in the drive. I'm ready. Mark rings the door bell. I open it.
'In blue today, Danny?'
'If you say so. And you?'
'Browns mainly. You’re fine. Got the box?'
I pick up the clarinet case and set the alarm by the door.
'Better leave a light on too.'
'Upstairs light then. That'll get them thinking!' says Mark mischievously. I get into his Astra XL and drop into the bucket seat.
We set off to the Farmer's Loft. It's Friday night and the band play there each week. Wilf is on drums, Alex on saxophone, Mark on keyboard, Pete on rhythm guitar and me on clarinet. It's occasionally a sextet when Alex's wife Anne comes and sings but tonight she can’t make it, so we'll all take a turn. Sweet Georgia Brown gets us going. Everyone seems to be foot tapping. Pete draws close to me and confirms my thoughts.
By mid evening, I'd had a couple of soft drinks. Oh don't think I told you. I don't drink alcohol as it makes me sleepy and clouds my mind. I prefer the alert thoughts I always have. The only time I feel out of myself is when I am playing the clarinet. Sure enough, minutes later and Wilf tells me I have the solo spot next. I stand up and take four steps forward. Mark brings forward the mike. The First Time ever I Saw Your Face. It makes people think. It's a sultry slow ballad and the words they know by heart. So ironic. I play it note perfect. Of course I do. I play it so often at home, alone, in front of a silent audience. They applaud and I smile. I nod. ‘Encore’ they shout. ‘Later,’ I reply, ‘later.’
The hubbub of chatter increases. A glass of tonic and orange is placed in my hand.
'You all right Danny?'
'Yea, I'm fine.'
Alex and I compete to play. The sax and the clarinet are too similar in sound except one's wood and the other's brass. When I say wood, I mean Japanese hard black wood in my case. I upgraded after years on an inferior model. This one has more warmth, more charm. I sip my drink and relax aware that a smile is on my face. It's a smile of contentment, a feeling that I'm out with friends who do not question me, they take me as I am. We take a break
There are a couple of lads standing to my rear. There are no seats there. I feel uncomfortable. Their voices are lowered but as my back is turned to them, I must look as if I am showing no interest in their discussion. My ears are as ever active. They are highly developed censors and what they are hearing is alarming. I listen. I take as much information in without exaggerating any detail in my mind. A third man arrives. They call him Cody. He's in it too it seem. I sip a little more juice. I take the clarinet apart. I run the brushes through each interlocking section, taking care to also dry the moisture from the exposed end. I grease the corks. I reassemble the instrument. I dry the mouthpiece and suck the French dry reed. I do all of this without thinking. The instrument never sounds right without this ritual. Meanwhile I am listening intensely to the whispering voices.
'Ready for more Danny?'
'Give me a minute Pete, just a minute.'
But I hear feet moving behind me. Nothing comes from their voices. Their encounter is over.
'You need a loo break?'
'No Pete. Come hear, give us your ear.'
'Eh, a secret?
I lower my voice.
'Have the men behind me gone?'
'There's no one there, Danny.'
'But there was. Didn't you notice them?'
'It's crowded as always on a Friday night. I don't know half of them.'
'But you didn't see anyone standing behind me during the break?'
'Think Pete. Can you remember anyone?
'What's the matter Danny. What happened?
'I'll tell you later. Let's play.'
I pick up the clarinet and sound a long 'A' note. I hear the instruments tuning up. Then after all are happy, the drum hits four beats. Honey on the Vine has begun. Alex sings close to the microphone.
We play a few more upbeat classics before Mark announces the last tune of the night. He asks that any couple in the mood can cling together and smooch to Softly as I leave You, the Matt Monroe sixties hit. I guess there must be a few couples taking up the challenge as I hear movement on the floor. We end with what has become our Theme Tune, the 1913 Berlin composition At The Devil's Ball. This is one which Pete sings well and Alex lets fly with a superb sax solo. Mark rounds it off with a flurry of manic activity hitting cymbals and top hat at the same time. One final colossal thud brings another Friday night at the Farmer's Loft to an end.
I pack up my clarinet and wait till Wilf disassembles his drum kit. He packs it in the car. Mark comes back for me.
'What time is it Mark?'
'Half past midnight.'
'Can we make a call on the way home?'
'Nope. Need to speak to the Police.'
'Can't it wait till tomorrow? They'll be busy on a Friday night.'
'It can't wait Mark.'
‘I think so.'
'You had better be.'
They arrive at Dumfries Police station shortly after half past midnight. Mark takes Danny by the arm into the reception area and sits him down. He goes to the counter and explains that I need to speak to a detective.
A few minutes later I am led into a reception room and given a seat at a desk. Sergeant Bruce introduces himself and asks me what’s on my mind. His voice echoes around the room. It has no comfort zone.
I tell him where we have been all night adding that I do not drink to give my story greater credence. At the interval I explained that I was left seated alone by the instruments when I became aware of a couple of men who were speaking in lowered voices standing a little behind me.
‘I got this hunch that things were not quite right. There
were no seats there and they seemed to ignore me as my back was facing them. It was their whispering which attracted me at first, seemed unnatural’.
'Go on. What did you hear?' asked Sergeant Bruce.
'Well, it was about a meeting at the Beattock turn off on
the M74. Then a third man arrived. They called him Cody.'
Sergeant Bruce took notes of all that was being said.
'Did they say when this was planned for?' 'Tomorrow night.'
'What were they talking about?'
'Sounded like drugs coming up for collection. All I can say
is that it was very suspicious. I only got one name – Cody. I don't know who the others were but one had a local accent, the other seemed to be a Liverpudlian.'
'Good on your accents are you Danny?' asked the relaxed sergeant.
'Better than most I suspect. Want to put me to the test?'
'No. I'll take your word. If you remember anything else, give me a ring.'
'Have I wasted your time Sergeant?'
'Definitely not. I'll put this to the local cops in Beattock and the Drugs Squad. They might have more intelligence about Cody. You did the right thing Danny. I've got your number so I can give you a call if we get any more leads.'
'Well, that puts my mind at ease.'
Mark is waiting in reception for me. He gets up to take my arm.
'Well, that was not long.'
'No sir, but useful information. Danny was acting responsibly. I wish more would come forward with their gut feelings. We rely on all sorts of information’.
'So not wasting your time?' asks Mark
'Definitely not. Now off home you two and sleep soundly.
Mark drops me off. There is dog shit on the pavement. He guides me away from it. I reach the gate.
‘Wait a minute Danny. I’d better clear this dog shit or your foot is bound to find it tomorrow.’
I laugh. There is no humour in the situation but it shows how much Mark cares. He gathers the mess in a plastic bag, twists it to make a knot and puts it in the bin.
“Ok let’s get you home.”
'I'll be round by mid-day. Gi’d night Danny.'
'Thanks Mark, go an' get your beauty sleep.'
'You saying I need some?' Mark laughs.
I hear him drive off. It's been another good Friday night.