Lord Armadoodle’s Memoirs:
Me, Maureen and the pubic portcullis
I remember much of my youth with a sense of embarrassment tinged with a nostalgic glow for a time when life was all about possibilities and prospects. Alas, no longer. But there are occasions when, despite my status as a senior judge in the Scottish Supreme Court, the events of the distant past are brought to life again, often in startlingly vivid form. The other night, at a meeting of a private dining club for senior lawyers in Edinburgh, I had one of my more exciting flashbacks.
After the dinner, then the speeches, we, the members of the Select Society of North Britain, push back our chairs and refill our glasses, mine with vintage port. Everyone gets up and moves around. The room has two large sofas on either side of the stately Adam fireplace. I plump down in one of them and signal to Maureen who sat opposite me at dinner. I have an important case on my hands and I have some points of law I want to ask her opinion about—at least that is my excuse.
As she stretches out in the generous depth of the settee, a glass of cognac in her hand, the quiet murmur of friendly conversation round about us seems to fade and the years roll away. She looks at me over her glass and smiles. Without saying a word, we sit for a minute or two together gazing into the glowing heap of low-carbon, greenhouse-friendly coal in the grate.
Questions of law forgotten, my mind arches back to the occasion, forty years ago, when she and I enjoyed a night of passion in the heather. In those days Maureen not only had the flaming temper she is famous for in the Court of Session today, but flaming red hair too. Now it is more the colour of lime marmalade. But it is still thick and bushy and, as the shampoo advertisements might say, full of body—as indeed is Maureen herself. In fact it is that very quality of bushiness and bodiness which led to our little venereal extravagation on the lumpy turf between two gorse bushes and some old heather.
The facts of the case are as follows. Sometime in my second year at the University, I was driven by the tedium of the Roman Law of Obligations to spend an evening drinking in the Couthie Bar in Nicolson Street with my slightly naff half-friend Andy McNeil. He was a lightly socialist wimp who in later years rose to high eminence in the Justice Department. This the branch of the Scottish civil service which specialises in tormenting judges by trying to deprive them of their independence in the name of “openness”, “transparency” and “accountability”.
Maureen was a fresher then and both Andy and I were mature second-year admirers of her evident female charms. Which law student wasn’t? She had a restless, demonstrative, arm-waving manner which was carelessly tactile and on occasions almost erotic. She could gesticulate, reticulate and articulate all at the same time. Nobody was going to deprive her of her independence, whether she became a judge, or merely—as in fact happened—a very highly paid advocate who made it her business in life to entertain judges by the way she tormented her advocate opponents in court. But then as now, Maureen never seemed to have a steady boyfriend, which both encouraged and puzzled Andy and me. Was there something wrong with her that we did not know about? After about five pints of filthy beer that fateful undergraduate night, Andy thought he had come up with the only solution that seemed to fit the few facts we had at our disposal.
Maureen had, he announced triumphantly just as Last Orders were being called, a problem with her pubic hair. Andy had noticed, he said with the farcical assurance of inexperience that was later to carry him to success in his civil service career, that women with her type of thick, curly, “Irishish” hair on their heads, and “half a gorse bush under each arm”, had pubic hair that was so dense as to be “almost impenetrable”. I did not believe he had ever been in a position to test such a theory, but I did not want to offend the matey convention of late-night blether by cross-examining him. His argument was that Maureen’s physical and emotional restlessness sprang from an advanced case of sexual frustration due to the fact that so many men were put off by the difficulties they encountered in what he primly called the “après-date department”.
“Let me put it like this, John,” he said, leaning tipsily over towards me and putting the arm of his sports jacket in a pool of spilled beer on the bar counter, “Many’s the fine man who has galloped up to the castle gate and found they could not get their lusty steed past the portcullis.”
“Portcullis or barbed wire entanglement?” I said with drunken vacuity. “Think the Somme and Vimy Ridge.”
“No, not Vimy Ridge, John. Mons Pubis,” said Andy roaring with laughter.
The joke escaped me, so I said, “But still, she’s a vimmy girl, you have to admit.”
“That’s why they all become nuns,” Andy said mysteriously. It must have been the drink thinking, I concluded.
“All who? Why?”
“All those Irish girls with thick red hair and a vimmy way about them, John. It’s not because they believe in God, it is because sex with men has so many practical problems.”
As Andy and I lurched out into the street at closing time, we decided we had to find out. We walked home with our arms around each other’s shoulders singing an old song that sprang to mind in the circumstances: “She’s got ginger hair/Underneath her underwear.” I couldn’t remember the rest, so we repeated that endlessly. Finally, while standing outside Andy’s front door in Newington, we took a bet on who would be first to establish the facts of this puzzling case.
The result was that a month later I found myself sitting in the Couthie bar one glorious early-summer evening, with exams behind us and my smart Daimler parked outside in the street with the hood down. In those days about the only luxury I could afford was a fancy sports car and I had inherited—in Scotland that means “bought”—from my mad Uncle Alec a Daimler SP250. This was the sharp-finned number, with the pokey little V8 engine, that James Bond drove in the film version of Dr No during the chase round the mountain. Though my father was a judge and pretty well-off, all things considered, his allowance to me was as mean as a Sunday helping of Protestant pottage. I think he imagined that would stiffen my character and keep me away from things like unreliable sports cars and undesirable women.
Luckily a favourite aunt died and left me enough money to scrape together the price Uncle Alec demanded for his second-hand, and half-knackered, motor. Buying it was one of the best things I did in the course of my otherwise not especially distinguished university career. When it was out of the repair shop and running, that little V8 made a gorgeous noise, especially in the echoing glens of the Highlands where I used to take all my “undesirable” girlfriends in those golden days of legal innocence when the sex act in Scotland could be undertaken without reference to the Sex (Scotland) Act—another of Comrade McNeil’s later achievements.
As we sat as the bar, Maureen did her best to make fascinating conversation, but I was distracted, wondering exactly where in the Pentland Hills I might be able to take her for an exploratory “picnic” in the gloaming. I was nervous, not because she intimidated me, but because I actually rather liked her, almost fancied her. I got the impression she rather liked me too. But we were not exactly on “portcullis” terms. So I was keen to get going while there was still some light, otherwise we might never find a suitable spot where I could have decent crack at settling the wager with Andy.
Maureen must have sensed something was up, because she started being extremely nice to me, more so than I would ordinarily have expected. I began to think that maybe the whole idea wasn’t so daft as I had imagined. I might get lucky after all.
The second I mentioned a wee run out into the hills above Bonaly, she was off her bar stool and out towards the car, all legs and arms and genial gesticulations. “Gosh, this is going to be fun!” she said with an excited squeak.
I told her that in the car I had a small flask of 17-year old Ochandaidh—a rarity in those pre-malt-whisky days—which I had liberated from my father’s drinks cabinet. I had even brought along a couple of slightly soggy oatcakes, which we all I could find at short notice, just so that I could tell Andy it was just a picnic if I failed in my secret mission, and a torch in case things developed and it was dark before we had to find our way back to the car.
“That’s wonderful, John!” she said, grinning with what seemed to me like genuine pleasure.
There weren’t all the traffic regulations then that make driving such a bore today. Soon we were out beyond Braid Hills and really motoring, with two pints down and the wind in our hair. It was a warm, clear evening, and the Daimler was pulling like a racehorse. Even with an amateur like me at the wheel, it was a thrilling feeling and I could see it was thrilling Maureen too. So far so good. Eat your heart out Andrew McNeil on the Number 37 bus.
Half an hour later, Maureen and I were lying on one of the rugs I had brought along, and underneath the other one, surrounded by enough waist-high gorse to feel reasonably private. With the action, or attempted action, about to happen I took an extra long look at my companion, lying on her back beside my left elbow. The warm but fading light seemed to make her russet hair glow. I took a deep suck of the whisky and had a thought: actually I really rather like Maureen. This was slightly more than “fancy”. Situation evolving. Emotions sneaking into the picture. Then it occurred to me that I should not really be doing this. Sod Andy and his stupid bet. It is abusive, cheapening, and maybe Maureen and I could get serious and one day and perform the appropriate rituals in a more orderly fashion in more comfortable surroundings.
Frankly, any girl who liked fast driving in those days, when everyone was trying to look cool in bare feet, was welcome in my Daimler—especially if she has a brain in her head, a twinkle in her eye and “a body to boot”, as my Uncle Alec used to say with a mad chuckle. Maureen struck me at that moment as just the right sort of girl. So the idea of trying to satisfy Mr McNeil’s prurient curiosity at the expense of her honour and dignity seemed both sordid and unwise.
As the last of the sunlight faded and we were enveloped in the heather-scented twilight, I remember giving her a kiss which I tried to calibrate as half-chaste and half-potentially-unchaste. By that I mean, I wanted her to understand that I would have liked all this to continue, but that, contrary to what any ordinarily dirty-minded undergraduate might have thought, I had not brought her up here to take advantage of her physical sociability. The idea was sort of to say, thank you for coming out like this; it was great fun; and can we see each other again sometime soon, perhaps for something a bit more romantic than lying on an unfurnished hillside in the gathering darkness?
I must have got it all wrong because Maureen responded rather peculiarly, or at least unexpectedly—which in those days seemed like the same thing to me.
“Is that all?” she said, looking at me with surprise.
“What do you mean?” I said, probably looking even more surprised.
“Well, wasn’t there something you were going to ask me?”
I had just seen a film in which an Irish girl in World War II had refused to go to bed with an American airman stationed in her “bally” in County Londonderry until he asked her to marry her. Oh my God, I thought, this is getting a bit heavy. I mean, Maureen’s sort of Irish, isn’t she? And maybe I will ask her to marry me, maybe, one day, but not just quite yet. These are big decisions. They shouldn’t be rushed. One is, after all, a potential future lawyer, isn’t one? And so is she, of course. But could she be the type who turns vim into vitriol and holds a man fast in legal handcuffs if she gets a whiff of a potentially profitable Breach of Promise action? Careful, John! Ga’ canny!
“Well, I’d like to,” I said, trying not to sound too hesitant while still answering the question. “I might well do so one day, probably in the not too distant future, but perhaps we ought to get to know each other a bit better, which I’d very much like to do. So how about dinner sometime soon?”
“That’s not the question I was expecting, John, not at all.”
“Are you disappointed?”
“In a way, yes.”
“Well, how about tomorrow night?”
“Yes. I know a wonderful new place in Stockbridge-”
She cut me off, saying, “Do I have a man of honour on my hands, or do I have a wimp.”
“A man of honour entirely,” I said. But I was puzzled. “But why do you ask that?”
Maureen looked at me in a way I had not been looked at before. I did not know what to make of it. Had I got the whole thing hopelessly wrong? Was this another catastrophically cack-handed undergraduate blunder? Or did she want me to rip her knickers off then and there, and horse up to the portcullis with no further ado? I felt I had completely lost my socio-erotic bearings.
“Can I ask you something,” she said with what might have been a hint of annoyance in her voice.
“Of course, please do.”
“Do you want, as it were—and I am not calling you vulgar, at least not in the ordinary sense—but do you not want to get inside my pants?”
“Whaaaat!” I dropped the whisky flask. Fumbling round to pick it up to stop its precious contents spilling onto the rug gave me just the two seconds I needed to recompose myself. But still I did not know what to say. “No” would be an insult to her undoubted attractiveness, and “Yes” was exactly what respect seemed to demand I did not say. To say, “Yes and no, Maureen,” would have sounded flippant, indecisive and logically absurd since the two answers were incompatible.
Being one of nature’s players, Maureen understood my dilemma and came to my rescue by putting her arms round my neck and pulling me down towards her. Then she started whispering in my ear.
“I had a drink last night with that numpty friend of yours Andrew McNeil—at his invitation I hasten to add, and it’ll be the last occasion on which I accept. As we were leaving the pub, he told me that the reason you had asked me out for tonight was because you wanted to find out what colour my public hair was, whether it was ginger or not. I gather that is an issue of great interest to men who like red-haired girls. I don’t mind, John, because I like you—I really do—and I’ll happily tell you what you want to know. I’d only like to know if that is true. Is that why you asked me out, why you brought me up here? And if so, why leave it till it’s dark and you can’t see?”
I was lost for words. Once again she gallantly rode to my rescue.
“Are you nervous?” she said gently and caressingly into my ear. “By which I mean, is that just a torch you’ve got in your pocket there, or are you going to give me the real Errol Flynn?”
I pulled back just far enough that I could look her in the eye. “Maureen, I think you are a very beautiful woman, and I would like to you to be quite clear that I honestly never had any intention of using this occasion to try to find out the colour of your public hair.”
“Really? Scout’s honour?”
She laughed. “What’s the difference?”
“A bit more realistic.”
“Realistic, eh! Is that the best I get?”
“Seriously, Maureen, the subject of the colour of your pubic hair has never been discussed between Andy and me. That I promise.”
I thought I ought to say it twice in order to lodge in the jury’s brain, so to speak, the fact that I had not told an untruth—Andy and I had never discussed the colour of the matter under advisement, only its density. We had sung about the colour of a totally different, and unidentified, woman’s pubic hair as we staggered home from the pub, that is true, but we had not discussed Maureen’s. I could say what I had just said without perjuring myself.
“I hope that does not mean you have no interest in me,” Maureen said with a combination of coyness and deep-chested come-and-get-me-ness which would have got even the limpest steed galloping proudly towards her portcullis. “Because I rather fancy you right now,” she added.
That was all I needed. We were off. The earth beneath us may not have moved, but the gorse round about us certainly did. Maureen, when erotically provoked, was a four-limbed gesticulator!
Driving back down into Edinburgh an hour later, with the roof up and the hopelessly inefficient heater going full blast, we were laughing like drains as she sat with her right hand resting on the back of my neck discussing how we were going to pull a fast one on Andy.
I stopped outside her flat, which was also in Newington, not far from Andy’s, and we went over the details of our plan. She told me that after she had slapped his face on the street outside the pub the night before, and told him what she thought of him in, apparently, very colourful language, she had shouted back over her shoulder as she walked away, “You are going to be wrong whatever colour you say, you wimpy little waster. I am no colour at all. I shave! When you’re old enough to shave too, I might let you have a look—if you pay me enough.”
Maureen and I agreed that the likeliest reason for his conduct was that by the time the two of them left the pub he had come to realise that he was never going to get close enough to her that to win the bet, so he decided to make sure I could not win it either. He thought he would spike my guns by telling Maureen that we had made the bet. But he was too embarrassed to describe it accurately, hence the question about colour which sounded a little less prurient. Or perhaps he had been too drunk the night we made the bet and had remembered only the song we sang on the way home. In either case, it was not exactly the way you would have thought one gentleman would behave towards another. But there it was. His assumption presumably was that Maureen would refuse to come out with me after learning what I was supposed to want to find out about her. Andy could then claim victory on an invented revelation about the shaving—which is about the most caddish stratagem imaginable. A brighter soul would have realised that that would have undermined the portcullis argument. But perhaps Andy thought winning the bet was more important than being a successful bar-stool psychologist.
Then a final thought occurred to me in the light of my experiences an hour before. “Why did you tell Andy that you shave?”
“That was just for your benefit, John.”
“How? I’m lost.”
“Well, obviously, if Wee Andy thought his stratagem had worked and you had been too embarrassed to ask me the question you wanted to ask, or you had been a gentleman, as I suspected you might be, and had decided you would not put such a question to a lady, then he might have claimed victory on false pretences by telling you that I shaved.”
“Which, of course, you do not.”
“Which, as you now know, I do not. It would have been the work of moment in some deserted ally to prove him a liar which, to be frank, by that stage I really wanted to do. The embarrassment would have been worth the price of seeing him exposed for what he is.”
I think that was the moment when I realised that I needed a simpler woman to share my life with. Maureen was about the most exciting thing that had come my way since buying the Daimler. But Daimlers do not have such serpentine reasoning processes. They go when you press the accelerator and stop when you press the brake—as a general rule. It was not long after that evening when I met Alice. But that episode deserves a story of its own.
I take a deep swallow of my Full Vintage port and turn round to take another look at this remarkable, and still unmarried, woman. To think that she and I once tacitly explored the idea of an intimate relationship! Then Alice comes to mind, and I need to take another swig of the port. I bury my gaze in the fire again. I think of the open pathways of youth and the closed doors of seniority.
Maureen, who is still a woman with a talent for conversation, and probably much else besides, lifts up her cognac and says to me with an inviting smile, “Well, John, wasn’t there something you were going to ask me?”
For more Armadoodle Stories, see Kindle
May we also recommend The Justice Factory: “Show me the judge and I’ll tell you the law” which is available at www.amazon.co.uk
© Culloden Place Productions, 2014. All rights reserved. The author asserts his moral right.