A Visit to the Deacon
A few days ago, my pal John Dahlman, an excellent bassist, was in touch to let me know he was booked to play at the Edinburgh festival “Fringe”, which would entail his being in that fine city for almost two weeks; he was tapping me for interesting hostelries around the town, so I immediately recommended The Deacon Brodie Tavern, just off The Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s signature thoroughfare.
The pub itself was named for a noted character from the city’s past, William “Deacon” Brodie, who led a lurid double life in the 18th. Century, as both a respected artisan, his title of deacon coming from his position as leader of the Wrights trade guild, and also as a master burglar and libertine, whose excesses were the model for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, the author of which actually knew the man in question.
The namesake pub not only has a historic location on the corner of Lawnmarket and Bank Street, where the Mile slopes down to The Mound, but also details the life and times of this famous scoundrel, who got his just desserts at the end of a rope in 1788.
It wasn’t until after I had tipped John to this interesting place that the full memory of my own experience there crept to the front of my memory banks. Like John, I was playing the Festival, back in the Sixties, and so Edinburgh was my bailiwick for a couple of weeks, with my days free for whatever came my way, and my nights devoted to treading the boards.
The lunchtime beverage at The Deacon became a pleasant routine after my first visit there, and I became a bit of a regular, I suppose. One afternoon, I was approached by a very large hirsute Scotsman, whose accent was barely intelligible to me, and certainly difficult to do justice to on the printed page….
“ Ye’ll tak a pint of heavy wi’ me”, he intoned in a peaty burr. This was not phrased as a request, rather a command, and being a son of the Liverpool streets, I immediately knew that demurral would not be a good idea. He ordered up two pints of the local high-octane, offered me a Players Navy Cut ciggie, also high-octane, and settled in for a companionable drink and chat, although most of his chat was well nigh indecipherable, but I kept up with the general drift well enough to keep the flow going. At this early hour the clientele was sparse, and I was schooled enough in the etiquette of the ale-house to know that once you were nailed, you better make the best of it.
Another etiquette point I fully understood was ‘standing your round’, which did not involve running a tab…it was cash on the barrel head. My companion inhaled that first pint in alarmingly short order, so I ordered up, realizing that my own intake needed to accelerate in order to keep up. My sense was that this guy would frown upon any lagging behind, and I didn’t fancy seeing a frown clouding that large forehead, starting to show a sheen of perspiration as he bent to the task at hand. At that hour of the day, with barely a bowl of porridge between me and an empty stomach, the bevy was scoring points, along with the coffin nails. As often happens, he became more understandable to me as the drink took hold, and by pint four we were actually interacting rather well, and once he elicited the fact that rather than being a sassenach, I actually had the Celtic blood in my veins, the whole situation began to lose it’s threat factor, as far as I was concerned. Mind you, I was getting ploughed, aided by the fact that this lad had introduced the wee dram into the equation.
Although I was a relative stripling next to that fella, I already had a degree of experience in the ways of bending the elbow, and realized that at a certain point it’s easier to go with the flow, and pay for it later, rather than fight it. I knew that my chance to get out of Dodge would be coming up around three o’clock, when the obligatory closing time would kick in for a few hours. I could slope off and honor would be satisfied.
As this had started around noon, we were approaching three solid hours of no nonsense drinking as the finger hand on the big old clock behind the bar slowly inched towards the hour. And with that inching, my companion’s consumption was taking on an additional urgency, which necessitated a similar intake increase on my part. When time was called, with the additional grace period to finish, we’d been at it for three and a half hours straight, and when the crisp outside air hit me, I was glad to have his musty bulk to provide a little support. Being a local, he knew where my billet was, and we reeled down the Royal Mile, royally cooked, until he deposited me in front of a disapproving doorman at the hotel. As my stage time wasn’t until half nine or so, I was able to sleep it off, more or less, and I seem to recollect it being a rather good gig that night.
Names were never exchanged that liquid afternoon, which was probably just as well, but the memory prompts me to warn John Dahlman to be wary while visiting Deacon Brodie!