Tori flew into Edinburgh at midday, we hired a car, and set off for her grandfather’s home on the Black Isle. When living in Edinburgh, Tori had spent almost every weekend with her grandfather on his island off the coast of Kiltoch. He lives in an inhabitable wing of Craig Dhui castle and he owns the distillery which makes Lochkiltoch whisky.
Tori’s husband, Ricardo, ended up driving. Tori was in the front, giving directions – Ricardo had not previously been to the Black Isle. James and I were in the back. We had not seen Tori for several months, and there was a certain note of hopeless formality to our first meeting. We exchanged various bits of unimportant and uninteresting news. In the car, however, the months seemed to fall away and Tori became herself again.
“How is Ricardo’s English coming along?” I asked her.
“Give us some inglesia, Ricardo” Tori requested mischievously.
Ricardo coughed and gargled and performed a trill little scale, like a tenor warming up his voice. “I went to the dentist yesterday to have my teeth taken out,” he announced finally. “It was curious. Very curious.”
“Ah… err… is there any more?”
“No… I mean… can you say anything else?”
“He’s just reciting words like a parrot,” I protested to Tori. “You need to teach him some grammar. How long has he been learning English?”
“After three months I had read most of the Lake Poets.”
“Yes but we can’t all be as splendid as yourself Zbigniew. It’s not good for Ricardo to spend all his time with his nose in a book.”
“I can gather what has happened. He’s too lazy to learn English and so you’re instead hoovering up his own obsolete language, like the good little wifey.”
“That’s not true. Actually, we just don’t speak to each other.”
James piped up. “My head is clear. Can I do some more practice please?”
“What is he practising?”
Tori smiled. “I’ll show you. Can you pour please, Zbigniew?” She handed me a glass and a bottle of Lochkiltoch – her grandfather presents her with one every Christmas. I poured out a glass. “Now James, when my grandfather offers you a glass of his whisky, you should sip it and then savour the taste. Like this.”
Tori sipped from the glass and paused for a moment of reflection. James eyed the glass uncertainly.
“Now your turn.”
James gulped from the glass.
“Good…” Tori murmured encouragingly.
Suddenly James was squealing like a pig. His eyes filling with water, he keeled over and kicked frantically until the taste was out of his mouth.
“No!” Tori scolded.
“It’s awful! Jesus Christ!”
“This whisky is the pride of my family.”
“You need to learn some manners,” I told James. “Were you brought up by chimpanzees? When you’re in this grandfather’s house, you should drink his whisky like a man.”
“We’re doing this again. Pour out another glass Zbigniew.”
“I’ll try again,” James promised. “I’ll crack it this time.”
I offered him the glass.
James took the glass and sipped smartly from it. His face impassive, he slowly and very carefully turned to us and nodded, as if appreciatively. “My! What a fine malt!” he said unhappily.
Tori clapped and laughed. “Better!”
“Passable,” I admitted.
“That tasted even worse than the last one,” James complained. “It’s still burning in my throat.”
“It wasn’t whisky,” I said. “It was this car shampoo.” I waved the bottle at him.
“Zbigniew!” Tori screamed. “Have you lost your fucking mind?”
“Stop the car! I’m going to be sick! I’m going to be sick!” James yelled, hammering on the door. Ricardo pulled over and James dived out of the car.
An hour later, we had parked beside the quay at Kiltoch and Tori’s grandfather had dispatched a manservant in a boat to collect us. The sea was rough and we had dressed in yellow cagoules and Wellington boots. The sea occasionally swelled with colossal, unnerving power beneath our boat, but Tori and her manservant appeared unconcerned. The Black Isle loomed ahead of us…
[To be continued].