The yellow coat

The yellow coat

Michael Jackson enjoys a Glenkinchie or two and celebrates the unbuttoning of Edinburgh
Michael Jackson

16 November 2001

Publication: Issue 19

The King leaned back and stroked Lucille until her growls of pleasure could be heard from the highest parapet of Edinburgh Castle.B.B. King, his guitar Lucille, and the brassiest of blues bands, were performing in Princes Street Gardens at the invitation of Glenkinchie, the Edinburgh Malt. I raised my glass in a toast to sexy, musical, whisky. The first time I came to Edinburgh, there was no “official” bottling of Glenkinchie, but there was music and I hoped there might be sex. I was still in my teens. The summer of ‘61 was gloriously sunny and my days were free. I worked at night, on a newspaper.People seemed shocked that I lived in Leith, the dock area, among wine warehouses and whisky blenders. It wasn’t respectable in those days. Was the widow Mrs McDuff, my landlady, respectable? Her round face must have looked impertinently provocative until it was
gradually disarmed by her good relationship with the local liquor store. Her buxom figure was never quite contained by the paisley-pattern housecoat in which she lived. Tennessee Williams would have liked her. I did, too.When I got home from my night shift at 2.30 or 3.00 in the morning, she would still be up, having a Bell’s with a couple of her other nocturnal lodgers. I would join them, but just for one. Six hours’ sleep and I could rise while there were still eggs, potato cakes and black pudding to line my stomach. Before noon, I was with two buddies from the paper, in the hidden pubs of Rose Street, which lurks behind the respectable facades of Princes Street. When the pubs shut in the afternoons, there were young women sunbathing in Princes Street Gardens. We would take a bottle or two, but any entertaining was discreet. Booze in the Gardens was not respectable. Blues on the sabbath would have been unimaginable ...My imagination was troubling me. I couldn’t seem to lose my virginity. On my night off, I would go to a pub that had live music. The resident chanteuse seemed to like a syrupy ballad called Lassie wi' the Yellow Coatie. As she sang it, she would smile toward a young woman who always wore primrose. I wonder now whether they were lesbians, but that was not respectable, and therefore secret. I offered the prim rose a drink and discovered she had an even lesser-known vice. She took me to a pub where I could buy her a Glenfarclas, another that had Glenfiddich and a third harbouring Glenmorangie. Next day, my colleagues were enthralled as I lyingly told them that I had not only unbuttoned the Yellow Coatie but traversed the primrose path. As the day cooled, we were due at work. We tried to look sober. Appearances were what counted. We fancied ourselves as hard-drinking-newsmen. I started keeping a bottle of Glen Grant in my desk, to sustain us when we were detained by late-breaking news. When six men died from home-made alcohol, and others went blind or mad, we were re-making the front page well into the
small hours. Mrs McDuff waited, with a wee deoch an dorius. The other lodgers were asleep. She decided I was weary and needed assisting to my bedroom. She was having particular difficulty with her housecoat. Helping her with the paisley garment distracted me from yellow coaties for the rest of my life. Until last year, in Paris, at the annual festival of whisky and song. Suddenly, I heard that ballad once more. Can virginity, once lost, be found again? Had some official from Edinburgh’s Department of Respectable Behaviour come to return my lost innocence, like a bailiff serving a writ? Mercifully not. Same song, different singer: Norma Munro. The ballad is no longer syrupy, but as fresh as the breeze on Bowmore harbour. It blows me away. Lassie wi' the Yellow Coatie is on Norma Munro’s new CD A Song in the Air and she will be appearing at this year’s Whisky et Chanson, in Paris, on the 16th and 17th November.

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