Whisky Galore: Two Friends Walk and Roll into a Distillery

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by John Connor |

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If I was writing fiction about two disabled people going on a road trip, I’d be pleased to create a character like Nigel. He’s stroppy, Northern (from the perspective of the U.K. there isn’t a direct U.S. analogy – think deep south– but really cold and more booze!) and energetic. If he was a dog he’d be a small scrappy one, taking on all comers and nipping strangers’ ankles.

When Nigel was struck down by a massive sclerosis, I was the able-bodied one. The idea of us drinking malt whisky was beyond fantasy, especially as Nigel could no longer eat or drink. His swallow response had been destroyed. From now on all food and drink went via a tube into his stomach.

Barrels of Fun: Laphroaig Distillery Islay. Nigel, left, and me.

But he rallied, and as a family they decided Nigel would eat along with everyone else. This turned him into something of a magician. We’ve had many meals, and I haven’t really noticed him spitting his chewed food back into the empty plastic bottles that contained the liquid that actually feeds him. Very Zen. When he goes on holiday he has to take shed loads of the stuff.

Then I got MS, and somewhere along the way my walking ability became worse than his. My upside was that I could eat/drink, and didn’t suffer excruciating dizziness. The dizziness is so bad that if given the choice, Nigel would rather be rid of that over getting back his capacity to swallow!

We hit a balance, which is rare indeed for us of the sclerosis ilk. We could get to the pub together. Once ensconced, all was normal – except Nigel tasted his beer, spat it into his plunger and then pumped it into his stomach.

His stoicism aided me when I got ill; he’d endured, and so would I.

Both of us always liked whisky, but found ourselves gravitating from any old blends, to the rarer areas of the connoisseur. (If you can no longer do everything, do what you can with excellence.) And the dram that moved both of us was Laphroaig, from the Isle of Islay off the west coast of Scotland. Its heavy peat smell is medicinal (during prohibition, it even managed to get imported as a “Medicinal spirit”). My wife can’t stand the odor. To me it’s the fresh iodine of salty spray wafted direct from an 18th century Atlantic crossing.

Why not visit?

We’re disabled….

A still life

Nigel’s legs worked, so he could drive a rental car once there, and best of all, we found a bed and breakfast right next to the Bruichladdich Distillery. We were in some sort of heaven. Islay turned out to be beautiful enough to visit in its own right. Only some 500 miles from London, yet an unspoiled fantasy world of lochs, bracken and variegations of moss that look brushed on by one of the great impressionists. A 10-hour drive and ferry, or a plane to Glasgow and then a bouncy light aircraft to get onto the Island (as we did) proves enough protection.

Distillation may have begun on Islay as long ago as the 14th century. As nearly all distilleries were built during, or before the 19th century, there is obviously restricted disabled access. We didn’t even make it as a minority in those days! But look at the benefits; more time spent in the modern tasting rooms.

Luckily for me, Laphroaig did its best, and I was able to get round much of the distillery. Although, by the end my wheelchair and I felt that we’d been through some sort of tank battle.

Bruichladdich, our distillery neighbor, proved impossible for us to investigate. However, we got extra large drams of the whiskies they supplied during the tour, and a personal lecture about them. Very nice.

Bruichladdich Tasting Samples

After consuming most of them, I was more than happy. I rolled off to the disabled toilets. On my way back I had to maneuver through a group of Germans. As this is the only language I have any knowledge of whatsoever (my mother is Austrian) and I was in that happy mood, I said “Guten Tag.” I haltingly chatted with a couple of guys, who were from east Germany, and they’d come all the way to Islay to do the same as us.

I was finishing the superb tasting whiskies; my mood continued to be definitely happy.

Then several of the Germans, as they were leaving, veered in my direction and tapped me on the head.

It took several beats for it to register. They’d touched the cripple for luck.

Nigel dryly pointed out, “You, mate, have just been the victim of a pat and run!”


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Anthony Anderson avatar

Anthony Anderson

Fascinating, inspiring and hilarious. That's made my day.


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