Before we left for our Christmas visit to Scotland, my youngest daughter Jane took me aside and explained to me that I had let myself go. She was ‘pure affronted’ at the state of me when camping as evidenced on Facebook. The photos! She reminded me of the floaty skirts I used to wear (sometimes) when working at Marr as a teacher. She must have forgotten the time when a new kid asked me if I was Mexican. Presumably he deduced this from my wearing a poncho, trousers and boots. When I wound him up and said that, yes, indeed I was Mexican, he smiled and told me proudly that he had known all along and that his friend stupidly thought I was German. I kept a straight face and smiled with him at his silly friend. Anyway, so I wasn’t always in floaty skirts! Jane thought I should wear those again as well as a bit of eye make-up, even on the campsite because I had started to look a bit, well…, she looked at Karyna who nodded,… like a “dyke’! Her words! I was speechless and responded in a “pot calling kettle” way that might have included two words, one of them being “muncher.” The banter! You know that you have fallen off the maternal pedestal when you are being critiqued by your daughters. Mind you, that tumble happened many moons ago.
When we arrived in Glasgow happiness was all around when Tina and a surprise Paul picked us up with a surprise Christie, Tina’s bosom buddy. The small Yaris was groaning under the weight of 5 adults and luggage but it managed. Safely installed at Larchfield Road, which is the Macduff abode, Tina and Paul also commented on my down-trodden dress sense and my ridiculous sense of colour alignment. I was instructed to buy jeans and coordinate them with white, grey or black. My turquoise shoes are a sight and must be replaced by something black or brown. My purple rucksack is a problem, and, of course, I should wear some eye make-up. When I winced at the criticism, Paul said it was just fun but Tina gave him that look. So, long story short, I am weak and a sucker for my children’s acceptance … I have invested in Gap jeans and have to my pleasant surprise felt rejuvenated. I do have the odd colour mishap and who knows what will happen when we are back travelling in the van?
Winter in Glasgow
One person who couldn’t care less about what I wear is Wee Mum, Lillias. She was so happy to see us both, especially her Roddy. She worries about him and is glad to see him looking well. For the previous few months the laptop she uses for Skype hadn’t worked and she must have missed seeing him, as we did not seeing her. We were in Scotland for a full 5 weeks and lived with her for most of this time, so we had plenty of chances for talks and for just being together which is so lovely. Either Roddy or I cooked which she enjoys. She is actually tickled pink that Roddy cooks and thinks that this is down to me, that I trained him up, which isn’t true but I won’t contradict her. We saw the rest of the family too, Colin & Wibke with Duncan and Catya from Aberdeen, Shiona & Davie with their kids Grant and Corrie who live nearby and Alastair & Malin with Ivar and Ingrid who live in Gothenburg. They all spent Christmas together at Larchfield but I saw them on Boxing Day as I was in Troon for Christmas. As every year so far, I spent the day with my kids and their dad but this year we were at his fiancée Annette’s house with her son and his family. Jane wasn’t able to fly over as she had to work, so the routine has changed. A few years ago Jane and Paul were in Australia whilst Tina was in Troon with her dad, and one year all were in Scotland apart from me. Things are in flux as they are when the kids have grown up so who knows what will happen next year? This year Annette and Alan cooked up a storm while the guests had aperitifs in the greenhouse. Unfortunately for me I caught a cold almost as soon as I hit Scottish soil and it came into full bloom on Christmas day. A chesty cough lasted throughout the trip and has only cleared since inhaling the dry Australian air once more. Emigrate all you asthmatics!
Tina at Christmas
After a cold and rainy Christmas, Troon was sunny and beautiful on Boxing Day when I walked from my Southwoods B&B into town along the beach. I bumped into Helen A. and her sister who were walking off their Boxing Day breakfast. This is one of my favourite things about Troon – meeting people unexpectedly. We were aghast when we saw Boxing Day dippers wading into the freezing Irish sea. Brave people! After lunch with Paul I headed up to Bearsden to join the Macduff clan. The time between Christmas and New Year was mostly spent sleeping to get rid of the cold, chatting with Wee Mum, cooking, baking, shopping and on Hogmanay both Roddy and I headed back down to Party Central – Troon.
We had booked a room in the Anchorage, the oldest hotel in Troon which once featured in Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys. Roddy is a bit of a fan, in fact he loves MP, not his politics but I think he has a mancrush. At odds with my political instincts I fancy him too, don’t you?
The Anchorage is an original. Rough round the edges, almost a bit sleazy but the bar has atmosphere. The room was large with a four-poster but the interior designer must have had an off day. All a bit clobbered together, pictures weirdly spaced, uncoordinated furniture. It could have been a great room but it had an unloved air about it. Breakfast was equally careless to be honest. The woman who served it told us that MP had not come down for breakfast when he stayed. She seemed miffed at that but I guess MP wasn’t too keen on Frosties.
For many years we have had the Hogmanay tradition of me reading everyone’s stars for the following year and this year was no different, so with a black shawl over my head I conveyed the good and bad news regarding jobs, family and love. Let me know your DoB if you want any advice.
After the meal in the Anchorage, we headed for the Harbour Bar, a favourite of some, mainly ex-pupils from Marr. Why oh why? As soon as we walked in I saw a whole table of them. They in turn looked a mix between smiley and sheepish when they spotted me. No doubt some thought, ”Why is she not in Australia?” A golden moment occurred just after the bells when a former pupil came over. At first I only recognised his face but had no idea who he was. He was very tall and looking confident. He told me his name, JW, and he said that I had made such a difference in his life. I had pushed him on and challenged him and that now he was earning £23,000, working in an engineering company. It took me a while to locate him to be honest but then I remembered. I taught him in S4. J had been very unwilling to work because he felt it was an insult that he was in this class which was small and consisted of students with varying literacy, developmental and social issues. To be honest, he was quite arrogant and made no attempt to work. I spent quite a lot of time supporting him and coaxing him out of his negative attitude. I did give him a hard time, telling him that if he tried and if he showed me that he was too good for this group, then I would back him all the way and try to get him into a “better” class. I kept being on his back but didn’t see much improvement to be honest. If anyone had asked me what I thought J’s opinion of me was now, I would have said that he thought I was a stupid cow of an English teacher who gave him a hard time. His openness and happiness, his confidence and praise was therefore one of those moments a teacher lives for. Mind you, he was pissed – maybe he was just a happy drunk?
Friends. I love my friends and am blessed to have great ones. My Scottish friends are very special to me as we went through so much together. I stayed with Barbara for some of the time. Her house feels like home to me and we consumed many a bottle of wine, talking until the wee small hours. On New Year’s Day we met up at 2pm at the Kiosk on South Beach just like we always did. Many a Sunday afternoon was spent like this, walking the dogs and catching up on each others’ news. Afterwards we went to Linda’s newly decorated house for tea and endless cakes. Roddy was the honorary girl. We also managed to meet up for a dinner at Barbara’s and one at Lido, a local bistro. We have known each other for so long that we talk about pretty much everything. I love my Troon Famous Five. One of the topics we talked about was dying. Not the cheeriest subject but it came up. Parents are all getting old and have different needs – well those of us who still have parents –and we talked about our role in looking after them. I feel that we do have a responsibility to look after them, as they did after us when we were young, even if this means being very hands on. I certainly wiped my mum’s bum and much more than that to be concrete. She died of pancreatic cancer when she was 58 and I was 18 and in my final year at school. It’s all part of loving those close to you, an act of love. A few days later I spoke to Tina about this. She was on the same page as me. She told me she would wipe mine if that was on the cards in the future. Must have done something right in bringing her up! Jane and Paul, you are off the hook! My kids don’t read my blog…
The Clachan Inn in Drymen; Ross Priory; Dundonald Castle
As I am such a lucky person I have found more fabulous friends in Australia and one of them was in Scotland at the same time as us. Angela is originally from Glasgow and was staying in her dad’s house with her husband Damian so we spent some time with both of them too. Just after New Year they drove down to Troon and we gave them a guided tour of the town, including a trip to Dundonald Castle, the view from Dundonald Hill, Royal Troon Golf Club, Millionaire’s row, the beaches, the harbourside dogging location, my wee hoose and the town centre. I almost managed to show them our resident ex-terrorist Mad Dog, John A, whom I saw standing at a corner but Angela and Damian missed him and when we drove back he had disappeared. Various Northern Irish terrorists were relocated to Ayrshire in order to pacify the area. Angela almost died laughing when we told her that his son was called Mad Pup.
They got to know Tina and Paul when we met them for lunch. Another day Damian drove us all to Loch Lomond. We visited Ross Priory in Gartocharn, where Roddy and I got married three and a half years ago and had a walk through the gardens to the Moongate. Despite the drizzle, Ross Priory standing proudly on the shores of the Loch, with its gothic columns, was a magnificent sight. We went to the Drover’s Inn at Inverarnan for a traditional lunch (which means it included chips, whiskey and beer) and afternoon tea at the ancient Clachan Inn in Drymen. It rained all day but we loved it all.
The Hunt for The Kelpies was a motif of this trip. Three times I tried to get to them. Roddy and I made the first attempt using public transport on a dreich day in January. The train smoothly took us to Falkirk but the bus to Helix Park just didn’t materialise so we watched the rain and some junkies for long enough until we decided to give up. The second attempt was to be incorporated into our canal walk. Roddy suggested walking from his mum’s house in Bearsden to Edinburgh along the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Kelpies were supposed to be on the way. Unfortunately we were on the WRONG canal! The Kelpies are beyond the Union canal. Bad planning I guess. The third time almost eluded me too. Tina and I had planned to drive there when I stayed with her. When she didn’t emerge from her bed until after midday I thought it would never happen. Eventually, though, we set off at 3pm – remember it gets dark at 3.30pm in Scotland in winter. As it turned out, the sun came out before sunset after having been hidden behind clouds all day and we had the most magical time there. Tina was ‘over’ the ‘horses’ quite quickly but I was enchanted and took photos from every angle. The Kelpies are metal statues, of horses’ heads. I found them mesmerising. It is astounding that art can have such a profound emotional impact on the onlooker. The Kelpies represent both the mystical kelpies which are shape-shifting water spirits that mostly take on the shape of horses but also the heavy horses that were used to tow canal boats on the Union and Forth and Clyde canals. Burke and Hare came to mind, that pair who unearthed bodies from graveyards and later on killed people in order to supply scientists at the University of Edinburgh with corpses to examine and experiment on. I believe penicillin was discovered that way. Burke and Hare transported their goods on canal boats on those very waterways. Creeeeepy yet fascinating.
I stayed at Tina’s flat for two nights. She has many of my items from Barassie Street, such as two sofas, my bed, kitchen equipment, my Hifi tower and a box of vinyl – it’s like a timewarp! I met some of Tina’s new Irish friends, and some of her old friends, was introduced to Derry Girls, baked a cake, made a kilo of pizza dough and carbonara. It felt close and comfy.
On a sunny day in January Anne J picked me up from Barbara’s house in Troon. We drove to Ardrossan to catch the Arran ferry for a day of shenanigans with the two Claires and Fiona, all former colleagues and friends for life from Marr College. Arran is becoming a tradition for us, it seems; we went there for a whole weekend after I left Marr, staying in the Big Wooden House. This time, after a walk, we took over Fiddler’s pub for a late lunch, apparently making a nuisance of ourselves. We found out later that a woman secretly took a photo of us. The cheek! She found us to be quite boisterous and heard Marr College mentioned. Her ears pricked up as she was the piano teacher of a certain Maths teacher who later on told us that she showed him the photo and asked him if he knew us. I guess he had a chuckle to himself. We were so well behaved! She should have been there the last time we took over Fiddler’s – she might have had a story then!
Marr friends on Arran
As mentioned earlier, Roddy suggested a four day walk along the canal from Glasgow to Edinburgh – as you do in the middle of winter in Scotland. Only a few days before we set off, they pulled someone out of the canal at Maryhill so I kept looking for dead bodies. My friends were slightly surprised at our venture but the walk was remarkably tranquil. Even in the middle of Glasgow, the canal felt quite rural and calm. Winter had transformed the canal into a winter wonderland. Ducks, swans and geese stood on the ice; the pluckier ones trying to peck holes through the barrier to their slimy fare. We saw foxes and deer while walking through the Central Belt. Walking gives you a great understanding of the scale of any place, which is one of the things we like about it. We were lucky with the weather on day one and two when it was sunny and cold. The remaining two days were not such a hit but, hey, it’s winter. Our stages were as follows: Bearsden to Kilsyth where we stayed in The Boathouse; Kilsyth to Falkirk where we survived a truly weird B&B; Falkirk to Linlithgow and a night in The Star and Garter; Linlithgow to Edinburgh and two nights in da, da, dah the Travelodge. In Falkirk I finally met Karen Annie Smith who is a personified example of my and Roddy’s serendipitous overlaps. She is a McDuff and Roddy has known of her for decades. As a Macduff genealogist he discovered Karen and found that their ancestors come from the same wee bit of Perthshire. I, on the other hand, walked into the main office at Shenton College in Perth, Australia in December 2015 and met Lesley McDuff. I had all my teaching paperwork in order and was looking for supply/relief work. Shenton was my first attempt and Lesley’s nametag made me feel hopeful. Turns out, Karen is her husband’s cousin and a thoroughly lovely person to boot.
In Linlithgow we met Bill and Marie Davidson, née Blair, Blair being Roddy’s mother’s line. We had a meal and a long chat. I have met so many lovely people through Roddy. Additionally we visited Linlithgow Palace where Mary, Queen of Scots was born. This is a fascinating place. I hadn’t expected to be taken in by this town but its medieval centre is beautiful. History is alive and well in that Palace. Roddy experienced the vertiginous pinched-ball-feeling looking down to the plebs from the North Tower, as did I feel the equivalent fanny-freeze. I have to admit that we took the train to Edinburgh on the last day because the weather was rubbish and we ‘didn’t feel it’. Instead, we walked down the Royal Mile to visit the Scottish Parliament, watching it in session. Unfortunately it wasn’t First Minster’s Questions, which is scheduled for Thursdays. I would have loved to see Nicola in action! Next time.
I did, however, see the three Forth bridges. On the day that we met Roddy’s cousin Roni and her daughter Caitlin for lunch, I decided to undertake a solo trip via train to North Queensferry. I then walked back to South Queensferry via the 1964 Forth Road Bridge which was closed to all traffic bar buses. The new bridge, the Queensferry Crossing lacked impact due to the filigran nature of its cables, which rendered it almost invisible. I do believe, though, that it comes to life at night when it’s all lit up. Next time, again. The Forth Rail bridge, as ever, aroused engineering passions. If you have never seen it, go! I had the opportunity to traverse it twice as I took the train again the next day to see Paul in Dundee while Roddy travelled back to Glasgow.
The Hawes Inn where we had our lunchtime rendezvous with Roni and Caitlin.
I’m happy to report that Paul is doing very well. Since I was in Dundee last July he has moved to another flat above a pub called The George Orwell 1984. He and his flatmates Jonas and Loukia now allow themselves a few hours of central heating each day and have wedged old jumpers in the sash window frames in order to minimise the drafts. I took him and Loukia for a hot dinner with beer and we went to a second hand dealer where he bought a £6 rug to put under his desk to help keep his feet warm. One day he will earn megacash from his computer games and live in a warm country, or else, luxuriate in a super insulated mansion in Scotland, wearing nothing but a man bun, thinking back to his humble beginnings.
The house that Paul lives in.
We had other adventures and meals with friends, such as our daytrip with Alina and Colin to Carronbridge and Fintry, an evening with Robin Blair in Edinburgh, a catch up with my old friend Pauline in the Westend and I met the latest Marr baby, courtesy of Gillian and Neil. I saw a bit of my best ever neighbours, Angela and Des who are like family, and Shiona and Davie who are family.
I finish off with the most unusual event of the trip, a night out with Roddy and his brother Colin. We met up with a friend they had both known from long-haired, purple-hazed Uni days, Kate R, a most interesting person. Now this sounds like I make this up but it’s absolutely true: she works as a dog companion for two Arabian princesses from a renowned family. The dogs are called Ego, Versailles and Vegas. The girls, who are in their early twenties, study at university and live in a townhouse in the Westend of Glasgow. The agent who lets the house to them is the fiancé of Caitriona Balfe who plays Claire in Outlander. She lives round the corner. The princesses’ street will be closed in March to be used to represent Boston in the filming of the next season of Outlander. We went to meet Kate at the house and met both girls, plus the dogs. The girls are bubbly and lovely, wear western designer clothes, which they pass on to Kate once they are done wearing them – after a week or so – and love the freedom available to them in Glasgow. They are, however, very well behaved, don’t drink or succumb to other Western vices. Kate doesn’t have to walk the dogs as they have a dog walker. She feeds them, gives them their medication and spends time with them, entertains them. There is also a dog psychologist. Kate found the job on Gumtree. Surreal!
To finish off, a few photos of the magnificent St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh where Roddy’s parents got married in June 1952.