Hugh Blair was a man with a secret. None of his friends or family had inkling that he had what some would call a dark secret that if he had his way would never see the light of day. There were other things about his family that he hoped would also never surface but underneath them was the one that played on his mind more frequently in recent years.
His wife Isla, to whom he had been married to for some 20 years, had no idea that her husband held something he considered quite shocking very close to his chest. She thought that Shug (people in Scotland called Hugh are nicknamed Shug) was a fairly successful businessman, loving husband and attentive father to their lovely twin daughters Heather and Janice.
No wife could have been prouder of her husband when Shug took their daughters shopping for clothes. She thought that as he was the owner of a Traditional Scottish clothing shop he had an eye for clothes of both sexes. The girls loved it and thought it very cool that their Father knew what was in and what was out in teenage fashions. This was something that their mother was most certainly in the dark about.
Some of their more envious friends thought it a bit strange even veering towards the “Dirty Old Man” end of weird that a Father took such an active interest in his Daughters apparel.
Edinburgh in late August can be a pretty hectic place. The Festival and Fringe are in full swing and the place is packed with tourists. Apart from Christmas, this was Shug's busiest time of the year. Lots of people with sometimes tenuous Scottish links came into his shop to get fully kitted in formal highland dress. Shug had long given up caring about the validity of the links but saw it a good business. The days were long and Shug was always glad to get home to the riverside in Crammond. Isla was of good Morningside stock and she felt it was a big step down for her to live on the very western edge of the city rather than close to her friends and relatives in Morningside. The only other drawback to the house in Crammond was that it is close to the flight path to the city airport but Shug had persuaded her that it was worth it for the peace and quiet (planes apart) the place gave them after all the hustle and bustle of the city.
Every working day, Shug would take the corporation bus from near their home into the West End. From there he would walk to his shop along Princes Street looking at the varied fashions on show in the different shop windows. Forsythe’s was always good for a good five minutes of scrutiny. Their chief dresser was very creative and their displays very interesting.
He would then turn south and walk over the bridges above Princess St Railway station and gaze at the daily headlines in the Scotsman Offices before turning into the Royal Mile and walking up towards the castle past the Tron Kirk. This was the place where all those years ago he had proposed to Isla while they were gathered with thousands of others waiting for the new year to start with the tolling of the bells at the Kirk. He remarked that Hogmanay was very different now with everything organised as it was. He certainly preferred it like it used to be when people gathered at the Tron to hear the new year bells and pass around a drink or two before dispersing by foot to parties in all sections of the city. Now it was nothing more than a cash generator for the City Council.
Regular as clockwork, at five minutes to nine precisely, Shug would unlock the front door to this shop and declare the daydreaming part of the day over for the moment. By the time he got the float for the till out of the safe it would be exactly 09:00 and his assistant “wee Jimmy James” would be wheezing his way up the hill. A veteran smoker of at least 40 a day Bronchitis was a regular cause for him to be off on the winter. Jimmy was an excellent tailor but sometimes a bit gruff with customers. Jimmy would come in putting his latest Fag out as he came through the door. He would go into the back of the shop and put the kettle on for the first of many cups of tea for the day. From his cavernous coat, a pint of milk and a battered Daily Record would magically appear. As the kettle boiled, Shug would be making sure that everything was set for the day’s business.
One of the perks of owning a clothing shop was that copies of magazines such as Vogue, Harpers and Elle were always around. They were primarily women’s magazines but they sometimes did features on men’s clothes and in these days, women would be often wearing very androgynous clothes or indeed, real men’s clothes. The first hour of the day was always pretty quiet and this gave Shug the chance to catch up on any internet orders and other dull boring business things while Jimmy read his Daily Record from back to front. Jimmy was a Hibs supporter while Shug was a Hearts fan. Whenever there was an Edinburgh derby, the air would be a bit cold between them for a few days afterwards but it would be soon forgotten and their orderly life would continue as normal.
With the orders sorted out, Shug took the opportunity to open the latest edition of Elle. Some of the Paris designers had made some half-hearted attempt at using Tartan in their latest ranges. The only one who understood the fabric was Jean-Paul Gautier. Some of their efforts were laughable but a few of the formal dresses caught his eye as he wondered what he would look like while wearing them. Shug was a closet Transvestite.
He longed to be able to wear lovely dresses with high heels and have shoulder length hair and … well everything else that went to make a woman beautiful. All he could do was wear a kilt on a daily basis, hot or cold, winter or summer this was his business dress. It was fitting for an owner of a traditional Scottish menswear outfitter so no one gave it a passing thought but to Shug, the kilt was a skirt in disguise.
This day started out as many others had. Around 10:00 the first customer game through the door to Shug’s emporium. This was an American who had ordered some week previously, “the Works”, a full tartan dress outfit ordered over the internet to be collected during the festival. The problem had been that he did not measure himself properly so there were a number of alterations that were needed before he could be sent home to Rural USA. Jimmy had completed the last of them the previous evening and he was due in for the final fitting today. These orders didn’t come cheap so Shug was determined to make the customer happy in the hope that he’d get some referrals from the client’s friends in America.
Shug had not been slow to recognise the possibilities of the internet to his business and by now, nearly 40% of it was done that way especially with customers in the USA and Japan. Shug had gotten into the habit of connecting to the business site each morning and checking the orders. If things were slack, he would divert to some of the many places of the net where similarly like-minded people as himself would hang out.
Sometimes the stories that were posted brought a small tear to his eyes until he reminded himself that it was fiction he was reading not real life. The very thought of being exposed and held up to ridicule as portrayed in many tales gave him the willies and he would not return to the sites for several days. Today, he was reading the latest instalment of a serial written by one of his favourite authors, Angharad, when he was disturbed by Jimmy announcing the arrival of the American for his fitting.
Over time, Shug had created a presence on the internet and had made some comments of the stories that amused him the most. He had a Yahoo email address registered in the name of his female alter-ego Fiona. He had even corresponded with some other like-minded people. He had even contemplated visiting someone not that far from Edinburgh in Haddington who, provided faculties for him to dress as a woman even if it was for just a few hours. So far, he had not taken the plunge so he was still technically a closet Transvestite.
Shug left the PC connected to the internet and went to assist the awkward American Tourist with his fitting. Jimmy made himself scarce as he did so. Neither of them noticed the arrival of his wife, Isla at the shop.
Isla was on her way to a Women’s Coffee Morning and had realised that he needed some information on the former lairds of Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. As she was passing through the city centre, she decided to use the Internet Connection that Shug had in his office even though she had walked right past the City Library where there was ample free access to the internet as well as plenty of books on the subject but, once Isla had got an idea into her head, there was no shifting it.
As she came into the shop she saw that Shug was busy so she headed directly into his office. The next thing that Shug knew was the loud shout that emanated from the rear of the shop.
“Hugh Blair! Get yourself in here this instant!” cried Isla.
Shug went a deep shade of red verging on purple.
Isla only called him by his first name when he was in for a total lambasting. He instantly realised the reason for her cry.
He called over Jimmy to assist the American with the final part of the fitting and as
quickly as possible excused himself and made his way to the rear of his shop to face his wife.
It had taken all of 5 seconds for Isla to see the type of web sites that Shug had been visiting earlier that morning. Right in front of her was a story about a man who had been “caught with consequences” and forced to work for his wife as a virtual slave. She was horrified. It clearly offended all the morals that had been brainwashed into her during her prim Morningside upbringing.
Shug entered his office.
“Yes, my dear,” he said putting a slightly strained version of “I’m happy to see you my dearest”.
“Don’t Yes my dear me. You… You… You pervert you. Shut that door and explain what all this filth is all about. Do it this instant or you will be hearing from my brother before the day is out. Got that?”
Shug mentally shivered at the mention of Kenneth, her brother. He was a hot shot solicitor who specialised in messy divorces often ending up in the High Court where he played things out just like the greatest Shakespearian actors.
One of the things that Shug had always feared was being caught. He had his actions all worked out in the event of that happening. He shrugged his shoulders and put into action a plan that he had hoped would never been needed.
“If you get your good for nothing brother Kenny involved then you will never be able to show your face in Morningside ever again. What will you’re so called Coffee Morning friends say when your sordid affair with the Deputy Procurator Fiscal becomes public knowledge. Oh, I forgot, Alison is your best friend and his wife, isn’t she? I’m sure that she will not be friendly for much longer. I’m sure that she will have more friends in the ‘Morningside’ set than you. So, let’s sit down and sort this out in a friendly and civil manner?”
Isla did not reply. Her mouth had dropped open when her own dark secret had been revealed. But Isla was not one to be pushed around easily. Quickly, she recovered some composure.
“Well. We’ll see about that!” she said putting up a brace face.
Shug noticed that there was some hesitation in her voice.
“Yes, you go think about it,” said Shug. He was actually starting to enjoy the encounter. For once, he was about to get one over on his bossy moaning wife. This was a rare occurrence indeed and should be savoured like a 30-year-old Malt Whisky.
“You just hold that evil tongue of yours for a moment and consider what happened to Miranda McDonald a couple of years ago. Remember what happened when news of her dalliance with a permanent secretary at the Scottish Office became public knowledge?”
Shug paused to let Isla remember.
“Such was the scandal in the Morningside set that she had to leave the City. Not only leave the city but the country as well. She lives in a two bed flat in London now. Here whole family have rejected her as did her friends. Her sons now hate her as they had to leave Fettes and now go to some sordid comprehensive in Islington. Talk about how far the fortunate have fallen. Their futures have been ruined by her lust for a married man. Think about how it will fall for you? I suppose your Cousin Hamish on Tiree would let you stay with him but that wouldn’t last and you know it. You need to be part of a group, a set. You would not survive out there.”
Shug was actually starting to enjoy himself now.
“My perversion as you put it, affects no one but myself. Yours goes right to the heart of the Scottish Law System.”
“Don’t even think that you could ruin me,” Shug continued.
“Much of my business comes from overseas. They don’t care about the sexual preferences of the owner as long at it is legal, and as far as I known President Blair has not made ‘wanting to dress in women’s clothes” illegal. Gordon Broone would probably want to tax it to death first.”
Isla was still in a state of shock but she was able to ask one hesitant question.
“Do you actually dress up?” she eventually asked.
“If you really must know, yes I do. Sometimes when I am working late here. Don’t worry; I would never go out in public ‘dressed up’ as you put it.”
“Just look at me. A former No 8 for Herriots FP, 6ft 5in tall and 20stones on a good day. I would look a complete pratt if I did that. So, my adulterous wife, you can forget that little dream. I am a very, very private transvestite.”
Isla was strangely silent. But, given the shock she had just received, that was probably to be expected. It was not often that Shug got the last word in any conversation with his wife but this was one of them and he was going to enjoy this rare occasion.
“How did you find out about David and me?”
“It was easy. You were so indiscrete” Shug replied grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat.
“You called his mobile from our home phone. This came up on our itemised phone bill. I was intrigued so I called it from a payphone. When I heard that very distinctive voice answering I knew what had gone on. I recognised the voice from oh so many god-awful dinner parties we’d had over the years. Then I realised, that you always managed to sit next to him. Did you have a good time playing footie under the table then?
Then, it was easy to put 2 and 2 together.”
Isla said nothing. Her game was up.
“So, if I keep quiet about your little indiscretion I will continue to indulge myself here in private and we shall also stay married. Ok?”
Silently, Isla nodded her agreement.
She knew that she had lost the mastery of their house.
And, as never before, Shug got the last word in…
“I think you have a coffee morning to attend. Your precious friends will be starting to wonder where you are. Why don’t you run along like a good wife?”
Without a further sound, Isla picked up her things and left the shop.
Shug smiled to himself and began the first day of the rest of his life. He felt 16 years old again.
Notes: (for those readers who are from outwith Scotland”
FP = Former Pupil. There are many rugby clubs in Scotland who draw on former pupils of Public Schools or Colleges for players.
Fettes = Scotland’s best known public school. One former pupil was a certain Anthony Blair.
Morningside = The SNOB part of Edinburgh. Morningsiders consider themselves to be the best of Edinburgh. Property prices match these ideals.
Procurator Fiscal = A Scottish Law officer with far reaching investigative powers. An inquisitive Judge. He can and does ask questions.
Scottish Office = The arm of the British Parliament in Scotland. Largely redundant now that there is a Scottish Parliament.
Tiree = an almost treeless island off the west coast of Scotland. The mere thought of having to live there is
like going the dark side of the moon as far as someone from Morningside is concerned.
Edinburgh Festival and Fringe = The largest Arts event in the world. You have to experience it to understand what it is all about including, the good, the bad and the frankly awful.
This is a very old piece that was written while I was working in Riyadh in 2002 and updated around 2007.
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