I meant to write about this on Monday, rather than prattling on about dead people. (I sometimes re-read my posts and even I’m perplexed. But I leave them there as testament to my incoherence.) It was the mention of problems on the M74(M) at Ecclefechan that sparked the memory.
Many years ago six of us went to Edinburgh for New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t the greatest success because of the booze, for which I blame a harmless-looking woman I met in Boot’s. I was into homebrew at the time and planned on fermenting some wine to take with us on the trip. The trouble was, I’d left it quite late and had to plump for one of those ‘gallon in a month’ jobbies they sold in a tin as a concentrate.
I stood there wondering which to buy when the woman next to me said, “Not much ummph in them.” I agreed. “You could put some vodka in to pep it up,” she suggested. And like an idiot I thought this was a good idea.
To cut a long story short, I ended up taking a demijohn of red wine pepped up with the most part of a bottle of vodka of which we partook in spades. The problem was it tasted like pop, in fact I could lay claim to producing the first super-strong alcopop. The result though was that the night passed in a bubble-hiccoughing haze and left six sore heads in the morning.
Which brings me back to where I started. We were driving home on New Year’s Day the worse for wear and by the time we reached the Borders all were gagging for coffee, tea, fizzy water, anything to ease our heads and rehydrate the rattling brain cells. So we pulled into Ecclefechan.
It was a ghost town. We cruised its main street slowly and all we saw was a single dog with that expression that they have that says, “Feed me!” In the mind’s eye there was tumbleweed rolling across our path and a coyote’s cry in the distance. (Bear in mind that this was a vodka and homemade wine induced wilderness — these binge drinkers today haven’t got a clue.)
Then this yellowish building appeared on the left with the word ‘hotel’ in its title. They must sell coffee there we reasoned, so in we pulled and entered, pale and wan, to find that this was where the entire population of the village was ensconced, and had been for at least 48 hours.
We approached the packed bar with Nescafé in mind to be met by some large Scot whose immediate reaction was to order a half-bottle of whisky for us to ‘tek a dram’ each. Well it would have been rude to refuse. Then we returned the favour
We spent the afternoon there. My cousin decided to take on the locals at arm-wrestling, and they were big blokes, but he did well and so it was decided that he had to take on the village champion.
A pair of double doors opened and there was an eclipse moment as the biggest man I’d ever seen entered. My cousin gulped and asked if he was the champion. “Nay,” said the ogre, a thumb over his shoulder, “my brother is,” and an even bigger bloke followed him into the room. (I swear his shoulders touched either side of the double-doorway.) Needless to say, cousin’s good run ended shortly after.
The defining moment though was my wonderment as to how the place got its name. “Ecclefechan?” said the man. “Why it’s named after the Fechan Burn.” You had to be there.
Interesting Ecclefechan fact: Thomas Carlyle was born there.