IT WAS our 35th anniversary the other day — 35 long years since our eyes first met across an uncrowded room. This has nothing to do with Mrs H, mind you.
It was the anniversary of the day I first met Big Scottish Alan, and in case I had forgotten, he sent me a reminder on Facebook.
He's a thoughtful chap.
It was the autumn of 1978, a grey and overcast Sunday afternoon, when my parents drove me to Totnes railway station and sent me off to make my way in the big wide world. Plymouth, to be precise.
I had all of my best clothes, a Yorkie, my toothbrush and two unread Kurt Vonnegut novels in my Adidas bag. I was due to start work on the training scheme of a well-known national newspaper, and would spend my first day away from home and in the world of work in a bed and breakfast.
I had spent the summer signing on the dole and generally being what my mum's friends called 'one of those punkers'.
We fomented revolution at the Labour Club and handed out Rock Against Racism leaflets to bemused and largely ungrateful Paigntonians.
The consensus was that it was definitely time I got a job.
Fat drops of rain tagged the window of the train as it rolled through the South Hams. The national newspaper paid for a taxi to take me to the B&B, and I unpacked my Adidas bag and surveyed my surroundings.
The national newspaper being a bit careful with its cash, its new recruits were expected to share rooms in the B&B.
It was all quiet in the house, but then a commotion started making its way up the stairs towards me, dropping things, slamming doors and cursing in a language I could not understand.
And then Big Scottish Alan emerged around the door. He swore again, dropped his bags on his bed and stretched out a great shovel of a hand.
"Howsitgaunweeman?" he inquired.
I had no idea what he had said. It could have been anything, but 'OK' seemed to be a suitable generic answer, and it seemed to satisfy my new best friend.
A few minutes later, after stowing our worldly goods in drawers and cupboards, he turned to me again and growled: "Fancyheadinootferaweeswally?"
I gulped again, and wondered what was going on, but he had accompanied the question by moving his hand in a tipping glass motion, the international sign language for "Fancy a pint?", so I quickly nodded and headed out for one of Plymouth's many fine watering holes.
Over the next few weeks I began to understand most of what Big Scottish Alan said to me, to the extent that I could interpret for other people.
He would growl something unintelligible to people, usually followed by a hearty laugh. "What did he say?" they would ask, and I would translate for them.
One of our course tutors was also a Scottish gentleman, and once they engaged one another in conversation there was no earthly point in trying to interpret what they were saying, because it was being said in a language that only other Scottish people would have been able to understand.
After a week in the B&B, we were turned loose into the wild and told we had to fend for ourselves.
Big Scottish Alan and I duly rented a flat somewhere near Mutley Plain. If nothing else, it had the benefit that we now had separate rooms. This was a blessing on a number of levels.
The flat had cable TV, which was an 'ain't that a wonderment' moment at the time, but it didn't have a telephone.
This meant a lengthy walk to the top of a very steep hill if we wanted to use a phone box, but an off-licence on the corner on the way back down meant the journey was never really wasted.
Our diet for those first few weeks consisted mainly of beer, cigarettes, pork scratchings and pizza. Our efforts at cooking were not always successful, and no conversation with Big Scottish Alan in the intervening 35 years has ever been completed without some mention of the day he tried to cook some frozen pizzas by dropping them edge-first into the toaster.
We acquired a new toaster, and he never tried it again.
There, let's draw a line under it here and now, and never speak of it again.
It was going to be a very cold winter that year, and it was a chilly autumn, specially the late night walk out of the back door to the outdoor toilet.
Big Scottish Alan made repeated trips up the steep hill to the phone box to get the latest football scores from his beloved Partick Thistle during evening matches, there being no Teletext, internet, mobile phones or even Radio Five Live back then, but he normally dropped it at the offy on the way back down the hill so it was something of a labour of love.
We acquired a record player and played the Clash and Graham Parker, Al Stewart and the Police constantly.
Friends came to visit us in our chilly hillside flat. Some of them even came back a second time, providing we didn't try to feed them pizza and they didn't have to go outside and use the toilet on a cold night.
I became fluent in East Kilbride football banter and abuse. People at home wondered why on earth I had developed a gallus Caledonian brogue. I became a kind of roving ambassador for Scotland.
And thanks to Big Scottish Alan, I have recently spent long evenings glued to the TV watching Partick Thistle in their so-far unsuccessful bid to set the Scottish Premier league alight.
It's the least I can do after 35 years.