Pipemen I Have Known #14

During my early smoking days I was strictly a one-pipe man, reasoning
that technique rather than length or bowl size was the key to
satisfaction. But gradually as I gained experience I began to feel a
little inadequate, a little under-endowed in the briar department, a
bit Churchwarden-challenged as it were. Nothing wrong with being a
single-piper of course and I never felt belittled when engaging in
intercourse with better-equipped brethren of the briar. Pipemen form a
broad church and embrace junior members with open arms whether or not
they can see the distinctive bulge in the trouser pocket of a
multi-piper. But the time came when my eye began to wander and I found
myself increasingly attracted to the vaguely thrilling but often
unhygienic world of the estate pipe, and I hankered after the
experience of "slipping a dead man's stem between my lips", as
Mrs. Woodley refers to it in her robust joshing way, leaning heavily on
cheap sexual innuendo (her stock-in-trade rather than mine I hasten to

So, on hearing that a car boot sale in Stenhousemuir often featured a
man selling second-hand pipes, feeling very guilty I embarked on the
number 11 'bus at 13:00 hours on a wet Sunday afternoon with the
intention of being unfaithful to my first sweetheart. The sale was in
full swing when I arrived with tables groaning under the weight of
unlikely combinations such as batteries and hair shampoo jostling
together with tables selling batteries and hair shampoo separately.
Eventually the table of Brer Pipeman hove into view, with dozens of
pipes on display. "Good morning Tam !" said the stallholder as I
inspected his wares, demonstrating both a pleasant good nature and
extreme inaccuracy on all counts. He was a rum old cove of about 70
Summers, pallid of face and with copious amounts of snowy white hair
improbably arranged in dreadlocks and sporting a woman's fur coat,
possibly mink, which occasionally swung open to reveal full
battledress. "Lang may yer lum reek !" I replied, slipping into the
vernacular. "Respect grindsman - kiss me teet !" he countered
unexpectedly in Jamaican patois.

I poked uncertainly amongst the begrimed wares on his table and
eventually an odd looking little pipe with a bright yellow bowl and a
black stem took my eye. "Ah" the ancient tradesman opined
"That's a little beauty - I got it from the auction of the Laird
of Largs' estate after his death by bird strike .... I also picked
up a zinc umbrella stand in the shape of an elephant's arse and a
bookcase made of dried meat" he added thoughtfully. I did not pursue
the latter points but eventually made an offer for the pipe. "I'll
give you five pounds for it", I ventured. "I'll nae accept a
penny under four poond fufty !" he said, offended. I inferred we had
a deal.

When I got the pipe home I lovingly unwrapped it from the brown paper
bag in which he had packed it where it had taken the place of a hastily
finished Ginster's steak and kidney pie. Intimate contact with the
rich meat juices and flakes of delicious puff pastry had made the bowl
shine like burnished gold. As I turned it in my hand I noticed small
black nodules in the base of the bowl which I could not dislodge with
any amount of probing. Reasoning that they were carbon residues which
would soon burn away I filled the bowl with Kendal Cream and fired her
up. At first nothing seemed amiss but things quickly took a dramatic
turn for the worse.

It started with a slight light-headedness and a prismatic blurring of
the vision. The walls of my lounge room seemed to have been set
a-quiver and were audibly buzzing. Instead of delivering the light
classical music of BBC Radio 2 my trusty wireless was instead emitting
a glowing cascade of sparkling crystal hailstones intertwined with
silken threads in all the colours of the rainbow (plus a few more). I
arose uncertainly and left the house thinking to get some fresh air
but, in my bemused state, I was still puffing feverishly on the Laird
of Larg's pipe. Out in the street things were worse. Tyre marks on
the road became flowing streams of molten black lava. A discarded tin
can became an ice goblet filled with daisies. The sky itself took on
the texture and colours of The MacDonald tartan (Hunting Ancient). I
seemed to be progressing down the street without recourse to my legs. A
minute seemed to pass but looking at my watch I saw it was approaching
midnight. The pipe, long-since extinguished, was still clamped in my

I walked on and eventually passed the shopfront of a local undertaker.
Glancing in through the window I saw a sight so bizarre that it stopped
me dead in my tracks. There in the shop was the undertaker, dressed in
a black tail-coat and top hat. Atop the hat sat a small monkey holding
a cigarette in a long ivory holder in one hand while in the other he
daintily held a pair of gold pinz-nez glasses to his eyes. He seemed to
be quizzically surveying me. He gestured languidly towards me and drew
on the cigarette. At that point I realised I must be hallucinating and
snapped back to the dark frigid reality of a Falkirk night. Stunned,
but vaguely refreshed, I made my way home.

With the pipe consigned to the back of a drawer that would have been
the end of the matter but for an incident some months later. On my way
home late at night after a lively evening with a couple of fellow
amphibian fanciers I happened to pass the same undertaker's shop and
glanced in. It was empty, but just for the merest split-second, barely
registering on the conscious level, over in a distant dark corner
amongst the granite gravestones and marble urns, I seemed to see the
quick sweep of a small hairy arm and the quicksilver glitter of gold.

Many thanks,

Ted Woodley

Abide a wee wi' Ted here: