August 31, 2010 by jessperriam
I was walking from the lounge room to the dorm when I saw a rather lonely looking man sitting by himself in an empty dining room, nursing a whiskey.
He was a portrait of loneliness to the point of wishing your retinas could double as a DSLR so you could capture the moment without being intrusive.
I did whatever you do when someone is on their own, you say hello. It’s polite.
And just when I thought I couldn’t meet any more intruiging, delightful people over the past three months, Glasgow threw up a surprise. The most delightful surprise of all.
His name was Gauhl. Brian Gauhl.
“Gauhl is spelled G-A-U-H-L, it’s an anagram of laugh,” he explained.
“That’s all you can really hope to do in life,” I replied.
Brian Gauhl is quite possibly the oldest person I’ve encountered over my many, many nights in hostels. He’s 72.
He was in Glasgow retracing his steps. He was born and raised in the Glaswegian tenetments. He wanted to see how the city and other parts of Scotland had changed over the decades.
“I have all these stupid, silly stories that make me laugh, but nobody else seems to think they’re any good.”
The journalist in me leapt to the defence of his stories, his precious, precious stories.
“No stories should go to waste, think of the starving brains in America (or Britain or Australia)!” I thought to myself.
What was intended to be a polite hello followed by a surrender to my Edinburgh Fringe induced fatigue turned into an hour or two hour long journey through Brian’s life.
“My father died when I was very young and my mother remarried a man who worked at the Glasgow Zoo, he was a gardener,” he began.
“One day a tigress was on the loose and she attacked one of the zookeepers, so my stepfather ran over and hit the tigress on the head with a shovel!”
Gold. Absolute gold. And Gauhl thought he had silly stories…
He was busting for a cigarette (lifelong habit, no incentive to give it up), but we kept talking.
“I’m going to church tomorrow,” he announced.
“But tomorrow’s Saturday,” I said, mildly confused.
He explained how his parents were staunch Seventh Day Adventists and how he was dragged along to church every Saturday. He also explained lying to his friends about where he was every Saturday morning. It seems in the Glasgow of Gauhl’s childhood, you didn’t need to give your peers another reason to bully you.
He also described how this dragging along to church influenced him to run away from home to eventually the Merchant Navy. Essentially the man has been on a magical mystery tour of the globe, most of it not through his own choosing, but he was happy enough to be a captive audience to it all.
As a result he has all these ‘silly stories’. Except I don’t find them silly at all. Not one bit.
He was going back to his old church to see whether it had changed.
“Tell me what happens when we bump into each other again,” I said, genuinely interested in the outcome.
Sunday morning, I was bleary eyed, having breakfast and Gauhl ambled past.
“So how was church?” I asked with a smile on my face.
“It was nice… One woman recognised me.”
“Yes, she pointed at me and said, ‘You’re Brian Gauhl.'”
We had a laugh, you have to when you meet a man whose surname is an anagram of laugh.