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 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 add).
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 mouth.
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.