Tant's Dead

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Updated 26/2/12 - see bottom of post


I heard this morning that one of those distant but ever-present characters that we all have in our lives has died. Tant has passed away at the age of 87. To those of us who knew him, it's amazing that he reached that age, or anything like it: Tant abused his body unlike anyone else I've ever known.


His name wasn't really Tant, but very few people ever called him Angus except ironically. The only explanation I ever heard for the nickname was that it was due to a childhood speech impediment. Certainly he was difficult for strangers to understand or at least comprehend, and conversation with Tant often involved a lot of grunts and whoops.


When we moved to the village in 1965 he was already one of the local worthies and part of the folklore. He had no regular job, but worked around the farms, digging ditches, shifting things from here to there, anything that required a heavy manual effort and not a lot of thought. I worked alongside him a couple of times and he could certainly put in a fair bit of graft for someone built like a withered stick.


What money he could make seemed to go entirely on booze because his local fame came largely from the noises he made rolling home drunk every night. All the way from the bus stop back to his house - a journey that took him much longer at night than in the morning - he'd be whooping merrily away, with a very distinctive cry that seemed to consist of sixteen or seventeen letters "e", bawled out with a rising inflection. That description makes it sound a lot posher than it was in real life.


The reason he'd come home by bus was that he'd been barred from the village pub so had to go to Strathaven. Eventually he was barred from every pub there, too, and I suspect from every other one within at least a five-mile radius. The reasons for the various barrings were probably not as bad as you may suspect.


The best one I heard concerned the old Sun Inn in Strathaven. Tant used to catch moles for a bit of extra cash, and still had a couple of the little black furry corpses about his person in the evening. He also had some fishing line. Tieing a length of line to the nose of one of his moles, he surreptitiously hid it at one side of the room and laid the line across to the other side. At the appropriate moment, when a sufficiently large crowd of customers had assembled, he pulled the line and the little mole was resurrected and achieved a second life of causing trouble, rather more spectacular than its first. Tant was immediately barred but would have had the last laugh as the pub closed a few years ago.

Being barred from every hostelry in the area didn't seem to affect his alcohol intake, and Tant would have been an ideal exemplar of the futility of the SNP's minimum alcohol pricing policy. Only one thing did seem to reduce, indeed halt, his drinking and that was rather surprising.

In the 1970's and 1980's the Salvation Army were active in our area. We'd see them regularly in the village, standing on a street corner with a brass band, singing and preaching. I don't know whether or not someone wanted a challenge, but Tant found himself in a Salvation Army uniform, singing along on Sundays and even on the front cover of the War Cry. He became a sort of poster boy for the powers of salvation. And it worked for a while. He seemed to be very proud of what he had become. He was regularly seen out and about in his SA uniform, he smartened himself up and the drinking stopped.

But eventually it started again, and his life returned to its previous state. And stayed that way until yesterday.


I moved out of the village over 20 years ago but still live nearby. Tant lived in the same council house he always had as long as I knew him. A curiosity rather than a danger, a piece of local colour in an increasingly grey world. He was not one of life's great materialists and was known to give some of his meagre cash to the local church.


Tant, I knew you a long time, but never really knew you at all. I'll miss you. Wherever you end up, just try not to get barred again.

Update 26/2/12

I have been reminded today that Tant wasn't quite as harmless as this post may suggest. His involvement in the SA may have more than a little to do with a criminal charge, and that his membership lapsed shorrtly after the criminal proceedings finished.

However, I would be more than happy to have the same level of attendance at my funeral as he achieved on Friday past.

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