Travel Tales: Bag Pipe

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Scotland1ScotlandThis episode is part of a series of Travel Tales, about Jason’s backpacking trip across Europe in 1995.

Bag Pipe

The final country on my grand tour of Europe was Scotland. Although it’s part of the United Kingdom, it was made very clear to me during my time in Scotland, that the UK was really four countries – the others being England, Wales, and Northern Ireland – bound by a (disputed) allegiance to the Crown.

My visit to Aberdeen was a family obligation. My father’s cousin had settled there with her husband, who taught at the University (“one of the oldest in the English-speaking world”). As soon as my family knew that I’d be traveling to Europe, it was decided that I would spend some time with the McCousins, whom I had first – and last – seen when I was six years old.

Aberdeen1I wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but didn’t dare argue about it. I figured I’d put Scotland at the end of my itinerary, then “run out of time”, so I’d need to skip it to catch my scheduled flight out of London. But instead I found myself running out of money. So I decided to take advantage of the hospitality of relatives for my last week in Europe.

I’d called ahead to tell them what train I’d be arriving on, and “Aunt Irene” promised that her son Ian would pick me up at the station. I wasn’t sure how I was going to recognize him… until I got off the train, and there was a not-even-remotely-Indian teenager wearing an improvised turban – like Hadji from a certain animated TV series – with a sheet of paper that read “J. Quest”. I’ve always hated Jonny Quest jokes, but I broke out laughing the instant I got it.

As I said, Ian looked nothing like Hadji, but he was adorable. The Scottish accent was seriously endearing. He’d just finished school and was starting at the university in the autumn. And he was totally gay. Not campy, swishy, obviously gay… but anyone with a working gaydar could pick it up. So as he drove me to their house in Old Aberdeen (where the main university campus was located), and I told him about my trip, I started dropping hints about my sexual adventures and the gender of the males involved.

“Did you visit Amsterdam?” he interrupted. “Is it as amazingly gay as they say? Did you get to any good clubs, or… like… ”

I told him that I’d been to Exit and Melkweg, which impressed him. I told him about my night at the Hotel Kabul. “No way!” I told briefly him about the backroom at the Cockring. “No fecking way!” I almost told him about the Boy Bar… but decided against it.

By the time we got to their house, Ian and I were like… well, family. He introduced me to the rest of the clan – his parents, his younger sister, and wee Fergus the baby – like he was introducing one of his mates from school. “You don’t mind sleeping with Ian?” asked “Uncle John”. Ian positively blushed.

“Not at all,” I managed with a straight face.

The room turned out to have a single bed… with a cot next to it for me. Which was fine. I mean, sure: Ian was totally fuck-worthy, but I wasn’t going to jump his bones. Unless I was absolutely sure he wanted them jumped.

I caught him checking me out as I got undressed and slipped under the sheets. OK, so he probably did. But not the first night.

Scotland-CruickshankThe next morning at breakfast, Ian volunteered to be my guide to the city and show me around, which his mother so-innocently thought was a lovely idea. We took a walking tour of the university, and some of the surrounding area. He showed me the drab residence halls where he’d be staying when classes started at the end of September, the nearby botanical garden, and so on.

“So, do your parents know?” I asked as we sat on a bench in the park.

“I think my mum’s figured it out. Dad’s pretty clueless though.” He blushed again. “He actually thinks I’m taking the train all the way down to Edinburgh on weekends to meet burds! Y’know: lassies… girls!” He threw his hands up in dismay at how dense a man would have to be to think that.

“Don’t they have y’know clubs where you can meet lads here in Aberdeen?”

“Aye, but I don’t want to chance running into anyone I know.”

“You realize that doesn’t make any sense?”

He shrugged.

With the profoundly greater wisdom of my two additional years, I reassured him, “No, I get it. And I didn’t tell my father until I’d moved out. Easier that way.” I put my hand on his shoulder, and he immediately looked around in a panic to see if anyone was looking. I put the hand back in my lap.

Scotland-TheMacharIan phoned home to let his family know we’d be having our “tea” at the pub. (That’s the evening meal… not to be confused with that tea-and-crumpets nonsense that Americans think is a stable of British society.) Tucked away among the university buildings was an inconspicuous place called the St. Machar Bar. In addition to its convenient location, one of it key attractions was its cheap food, such as a cheese sandwiches on thick slices of bread for under £1, which hit the spot nicely with an inexpensive pint or three of McEwan’s Export. With most classes out of session for the summer, the Machar was pretty quiet, giving us enough privacy to talk.

“So… any particular bloke in your life?” I inquired.

“Do I sound English to you?” he sneered.

Then he grinned.

“Sorry: Any particular laddie in your life?” I corrected myself.

“Naw.” He took a long drink from his pint. “Pretty hard to fine one here in the arse end of nowhere.”

“Don’t count on that. Grand Rapids – my city in the States – is about the same size as Aberdeen, and way more Christian. And fuck… your university here has gotta be way less prudish than my college back home.”

“So… you got a dude waiting for you back home?”

“I don’t know. Kinda. Not really. I mean… I like him, and we have fun… but… but that’s not the point!”

“Sounds like you have a pretty open relationship?”

“You could say that.”

He emptied his pint glass and looked me in the eye.

I picked up my glass – about 3/4 full – and drank it in one long draft.

The night bus dropped us off a couple blocks from Ian’s house, and he coached me to act sober if his parents were still up when we got there. I’m sure now that they saw through it, but after a few how-was-your-day pleasantries with them, we retired to Ian’s room. He shushed me to be absolutely quiet: the walls were thin.

Our clothes were off within a minute.

Ian was on his back with his legs in the air within 5 minutes.

We were both asleep in Ian’s bed within an hour.



I woke up in the middle of the night, and figured it would be prudent to move to the cot.

The next day we took Ian’s dad’s suggestion – and his car – on a road trip, to Dunnottar Castle, a medieval ruin on the coast, south of Aberdeen.

“So… you’ve been down to Edinburgh more than once or twice,” I observed with a grin.

“You didn’t think you were gonna get to bang a virgin, did you?” he teased.

“Gods, no! I’ve seen my share of virgins, and you weren’t nearly nervous enough to be one!” I thought briefly of Matt, the boy I’d recently deflowered, who I’d left behind for this trip, and was hoping to connect with again when we got back to college in September. “But I wasn’t expecting that bit you did with your tongue!”

“I came up with that myself!” he boasted.

“I may have to borrow it… if you don’t mind!”

“By all means: take it back to America with you! Just make sure you explain to people that you lairned it from a Scotsman!”

We spent the afternoon exploring the ruins of Dunnottar and the nearby cliffs. The place wasn’t very crowded, and the rugged shoreline on which it was built gave us plenty of opportunity to sneak quick kisses on the sly. We found a secluded spot in a nook down by the sea, where Ian gave me blow job. I was going to return the favor, but the tide was coming in, and we retreated to higher ground, holding hands until we got close to the other visitors, and Ian let go.

I understood.

We spent the next few days much like that. We spent more time at the Machar, explored the grounds of the university (as much for Ian’s own orientation as for me to see the sights), drove a bit up around the countryside – “This is nothing compared to the Highlands,” Ian corrected me when I marveled at the beauty of the hills – and took whatever opportunities we could make to fool around… discretely. And at night, we quietly fucked.


On my last day in Aberdeen, Ian drove me to the ScotRail station for my train back to London. After a quick look around to make sure no one was looking, he gave me a quick – but enthusiastic – kiss good-bye. I adjusted my backpack as an excuse to hide the stiffy in my pants. “Doon’t do ennytheng thet I would nae doo,” I advised him in my best Scots accent.

“You’re rubbish at that,” he laughed, then hugged me. He nibbled my ear, then pulled back, nodded with a smile, and turned to walk to his car. I turned and walked into the station.

So, the part of the trip I was least looking forward to, turned out to be one of the parts I look back at with the most fondness. Ian was fun, and I really kinda dug Scotland. Ian and I tried to keep in touch for a little while afterward, but he got caught up in the great adventure of going to university, joining the gay/lesbian student union, coming out, and so on… and I got caught up in… well, that’s the story I’m getting back to after this year-long interlude of “Travel Tales”.

It’s a long train ride from Aberdeen to London, by UK standards. I’d taken pretty much the last train that could get me to my flight on time, so I didn’t have time to do much of anything back in London. I grabbed a quick lamb kebab and chips to eat on the train to the airport.

ConcordeAs my Icelandair plane was taxiing to take off, I caught a glimpse of the Concorde on the runway. It would’ve gotten me home much faster, but that was way out of my price range. Instead I began my transatlantic westward journey at subsonic speed.

We stopped in Reykjavík, and remembering how much I’d loved Iceland – was it only two months before? – I was tempted to get off the plane and stay. But of course I couldn’t. Chasing the sun, we continued westward to New York City, where I transferred to a flight that took me to Detroit and then Grand Rapids, where I was welcomed home by a dozen friends and extended family members. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and I’m glad to have this opportunity to share it with you.