The True Cross
I had an uncle called Casimir who we called Charlie. There’s nothing unusual in that, all Scots have an Uncle Casimir. They are the ones who travelled and never married. Royal or Merchant Navy or sometimes with a remnant of the Imperial Service. They fetch up in rural pubs on Sunday afternoons wearing Harris jackets and cravats. Railway administrators, state veterinary people, public health types inspecting the sewers in old Kowloon. It’s their natural element.
Anyway, one April, a good few years ago now, it also being Easter Sunday, he and I were driving up to Culloden with our broom and our palms and it was getting darker by the minute but nothing would do but we must go past our turnoff and drive into Inverness to see some acquaintance of his before we went up to the grave. I like to think now that I kept any impatience to myself, but I was younger then so I probably moped, at any rate he must of noticed because he chivvied me up explaining that it was a short errand and we should have the other business of the day done in plenty time for a drink and steak pie in the pub later.
“I just want to drop in and see Jack. He’s retired now. It won’t take a minute.”
My academic year had finished at Easter and I had invited myself for a long weekend with my uncle before leaving for France with some college people for a month or two of lotus eating. At that point, those were the full extent of my plans.
On the outskirts of Inverness we pulled in to the drive of a substantial Victorian villa but rather than stop, my uncle followed the gravel driveway round the side of the house to the rear, pulling up close to the back door. He had switched off the engine and was out at the tailgate of the car rummaging in the back while I was still putting my jacket on. By the time I reached the door of the house, he had joined me with a Campbell’s Mushroom Soup box under his arm. He gave the softest of knocks on the door and walked straight in calling hello as he went.
I should explain that my uncle was an old fashioned man of the country. On my way up on the Friday night, I had collected his stores from the village shop. In the age of the supermarket carrier bag, I found a strange pleasure that here in his village, groceries were still packed loose in cardboard boxes. It was one of these boxes that he now put on the kitchen worktop just as Jack came through the other door.