Dumbarton Castle Wedding

Today is our 28th wedding anniversary. We got married on 23 May 1992 at Dumbarton Castle. Elaine had lived in Oxhill Road, Dumbarton for years before going to Stirling Uni where we first met (actually we first met in the DH or Dunblane Hotel).

We got engaged in September 1990 when I proposed to Elaine in the Lake District and had moved into a 2nd floor flat together in Cowane Street, Stirling in 1991. Elaine was working for Stirling Womens Aid at the time and I was working in Alloa as a QS.

Neither of us were religious but we still wanted an historic place for the wedding. Someone knew the keeper of the castle if I remember correctly so it was perfect. If the weather was poor we would be wed in the governor’s house otherwise it was outside in the terraced garden, overlooking the Clyde.

May 1992 was a scorcher, but there were thunderstorms during the week leading up to the wedding. The day itself dawned breezy with hazy sunshine which was fine. The wedding photos show ourselves, both sets of parents ,Elaines gran and papa, bridesmaids and best man all looking magnificently windswept.

The entrance to the castle is up stone steps and through an archway.The guests had their photos taken at the foot of the steps and then walked up through the archway where a glass of bubbly awaited in the governors house.

The ceremony was held outside in a natural area surrounded by ancient stone walls/rock face. The breeze was causing amusement and at the altar dresses,kilts and veils were held down with trembling hands. Above us towered Dumbarton Castle and below was the Clyde: it was a perfect setting. Rev Ian Miller conducted the service impeccably and that was it, we were married!

I later found out Elaines lateness was not only due to tradition but also due to her dad. Sandy had their driver stop the car at a crossroads near the castle and told Elaine they could still turn back. Luckily Elaine said drive on!

We had the reception at the Cladhan Hotel (now the Abbotsford) and it was a lovely afternoon and evening. The first dance was hilarious as myself and Elaine were carefully trying not to stand on toes, then Scott and Diane joined in going at 100 mile an hour, zooming around us on the dancefloor. The first dance was “Could I have this dance (for the rest of my life)”.

I was summoned through to the lounge at one point and told by some senior members of the Watson clan that I’d better look after my new wife. Failure to do so would have unpleasant consequences. Then we all had a dram!

We left around midnight in a taxi and spent the night at the brand new Lodge on the Loch (on Loch Lomond). We even had a sauna in the suite and a great view onto the loch. We had a second night there before getting the sleeper to London then off to honeymoon in Egypt with a cruise on the Nile then a Red Sea safari.

And that was our wedding. The End.

PS I’d better get Elaine breakfast in bed today haha.

Oor Andy

We first became aware of Andy Murray when we were camping at Ballater in 2005. We had popped into the Balmoral Bar early evening and were chatting to some locals. Someone had asked if we were from Dunblane. Yes we replied, expecting the usual sympathetic comment that goes with our hometown. Instead he pointed at the TV, ‘That guys fae Dunblane’.

And there he was. Andy Murray. A big skinny guy not just from Scotland but from Dunblane, playing at Wimbledon. And winning. He was actually winning. We all watched, rooting for this guy we’d never heard of. But he was ours now. Oor Andy.

We had to leave the bar to go for a meal and sadly when we returned later, we found out he’d lost. We were scunnered. When we left he was on fire and 2 sets up but he had lost. ‘Aye his fitness let him down’ explained an unfeasibly fat guy at the bar.

And with that withering criticism, Scotland became a nation of tennis experts. Years later, in the Dunblane Hotel public bar, we crammed in as Andy lost the first set of a Wimbledon semi final. ‘Ach he’ll be fine’ explained a pot bellied pig next to me, ‘as long as he wins the next frame’. The television crew positioned in the corner of the pub missed a trick there – they should have interviewed that guy.

Another time, Andy was playing a crucial Wimbledon match. Fuck it was tense he was a baw hair away fae going oot. I retreated to the kitchen to do the dishes. My wife was up off her seat ‘c’mon Andy!’ alternating wi ‘for fucks sake Andy’ and finally just a wailing sort of ‘awww come on!’ I crept back thru to watch. And then finally…finally he won. Oooft we were shattered. Elaine turns to me and says ‘is this what its like when you watch Scotland?’ Speechless, I nodded.It was a rare moment between us.

Thanks to Andy. Oor Andy.

PS Happy 33rd birthday to Andy when it comes on Friday. Guys a legend and we in Dunblane owe him bigly for everything hes done. A further blog may follow….

Wild Camping

With hindsight, writing ‘go wild camping’ on my 2020 New Year Resolutions list was unfortunate. Before lockdown, I was all set for a good spring/early summer of proper wild camping. It’s not only the best time of the year for the weather and but its also before the midges appear. Wee bastards.

I was very lucky last year, wild camping in Glencoe, Glen Creran, Fort Augustus, Lochboisdale and Harris (all before mid June). Admittedly, my definition of ‘wild camping’ involved a hotel/pub within 500m in all these places. This year I was all set for the real thing tho: right into the Rough Bounds of Knoydart, the Letterewe wilderness or the king of campsites, the hills about Brae Tongue (a favourite area for The Summer Walkers, the travellers).

So instead, all I can do is reminisce. In the 70s as weans we would camp in the back garden before moving further afield and camping at Argaty and Sherrifmuir. In truth these first trips were usually freezing experiences. We never had proper sleeping bags or mats to sleep on. One layer below is worth two layers above, I learned years later. Arse.

In the 90s (before children) we went camping round Europe. Memorably in a city park in Amsterdam, polis tried to move us on but we pretended to be asleep. Torrential rain on Krk island in Yugoslavia (now Croatia) was crazy and in Switzerland we awoke to find we had pitched the tent at the bottom of a cliff (a rock climbing class already started). In USA, we camped in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California in freezing temperatures then days later we were too hot in Furnace Creek,Death Valley where we saw a scorpion by torchlight walking back from the restaurant. Coyotes kept us awake all night with their howling. Wee shites.

Later we camped at 8000 feet in Zion National Park and in the campsite restaurant we ordered wine. The waitress was like ‘are you sure, we’re at high altitude here you know’. We replied ‘we’re fae Scotland, bring the swally!’

Sligachan on Skye was always a favourite and one night we staggered out Seamus’s Bar back to the tent by torchlight. It was midge city in the tent and we decided to kill the wee bastards. Elaine was cheerfully spraying the ceiling of the tent when I decided it was better to burn the wee fuckers. The result was a blinding flash as the flame hit the flammable spray. I’d love to have seen it from the outside – you can imagine some random camper walking past and this tent lights up like a beacon – for one second then total darkness. Killed all the midges tho!

Another time we camped between the bridges at Sligachan. Bonfire was lit, bbq eaten, beer and drams drunk. An inquisitive fox wandered in and we sat feeding it leftover sausages.

When the tots arrived we took them camping and introduced them to the beaches and mountains of the west of Scotland. They remember hundreds of tiny frogs at Big Sands, Gairloch and our tent getting blown away at Clachtoll near Lochinver. Too many stories to recount here but I believe its called character building and they now have an understanding of the great outdoors and know not to dry your wet sandals by an open fire.

Actually, reading this blog makes me realise maybe a year off camping is no bad thing haha. Ach well, 2021 hopefully will bring more crazy camping tales.

Lockdown: Spring 2020

Thanks to coronavirus I am now in my 8th week of working full time as pharmacy delivery driver in Dunblane. Having worked part time for 18 months, coronavirus has called my bluff, pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to know my hometown as never before.

I have discovered streets, cul de sacs and farms I never knew existed, big hooses that most people only dream of. I have discovered where half of Dunblane stay, folk I only recognise from the pub. I stand, stare and say: “I know you… but you’re out of context”. In one street I counted five regulars from my local, either in their garden or on the pavement.

Its been a helluva time, very rewarding and humbling yet at the same time scary and tragic. A friend called it bittersweet and I think thats it. Everything is exaggerated: I feel very proud to be a key worker yet at times very scared because of an inconvenient truth. I am the perfect carrier.

And thats scary. Last Tuesday, traditionally my quiet day, I counted my deliveries. There were seventy. For the record, I personally am not scared of meeting the virus as I think I will cope physically but it scares the hell out of me that I could carry it. My ‘service users’ are in their 80s mostly.

But its my work. I cannot not do it. Besides over the last 18 months these folks have become like a second family to me. Heres my recent rollercoaster :

Two weeks ago I was delivering to a lovely old lady. She’s hard of hearing so I was glad to see a car outside and the front door open. Visitors I thought, good. A man ages with me came to the door. He looked shocked to see me. “Shes not here” he said, “shes not here anymore”. I knew immediately. I’m stood there like a guilty schoolboy, clutching the prescription and mumbling apologies. She had passed away the night before and nobody had informed us. That poor guy. As I drove away my eyes well up. Keep the heid, I tell myself, get a grip it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine.

Then last week late one afternoon I was working my way back to Dunblane, up and down several farm tracks, dodging the wee lambs. I had a blether with a women who was worried about the old yins in a local sheltered housing scheme. Suddenly her face brightened. “Do you want to see a foal?” she asked. Into the barn and there was a beautiful foal, steady on its feet too. How old? Born yesterday. I couldn’t believe it. This time I drove away big smiles.

Also last week I learned a friend had passed away. I delivered to him maybe once a week and although I could see he was suffering he would also have a joke and a laugh, mostly at himself. He saved the day one time years ago when he gave us the spare room in his works digs in Portree. We were stuck with no accomodation so I did what any self respecting Scot would do – I went to the pub (Harrys Bar by the harbour) and there he was. He asked me immediately whats wrong and sorted me out there and then. I can’t remember but I hope I bought him a drink at least.

And finally, on Friday there I’m delivering to an old friend of my mums. Theres balloons and banners outside. The carers are there and family too, wee kids and dogs in the car park. How old is she? Eighty five just a youngster haha. A piper starts up Scotland the Brave then Happy Birthday and we all sing along. I got something in my eye at that point. Mum would have loved this I’m thinking. Big round of applause and she’s giving us the royal wave, her carers either side of her. What carers eh! Absolute stars.

So there you have it. My work these days. Laughter and tears. Life and death. Bittersweet indeed.

And the crazy thing is I’ve not got a scooby when I can get off this rollercoaster.

Interrail 1988: The Dream

In early 1988 I was studying hard in my final year at Glasgow College. Throughout these months I kept a copy of the ‘Europe by Train’ at my side. That book took me places beyond words. Whenever revision got too stressful, I would read and dream about visiting these faraway places. Athens, Rome, Stockholm, Venice, Paris and Amsterdam were all exotic to a lad who had only ever been to France before. And then there were places that I knew I had to visit : Assisi, Wengen, Florence, Ljubljana,Pompeii and Patras. Magical names I dreamed of visiting.

At college I had struggled in third year, so much so a lecturer told me I was the last person he would bet on to pass their final exams. Whether he was a master of reverse psychology, or just a prick, I’ll never know but it had an effect. I was going to prove him wrong.

So I worked hard that final year whilst planning my trip. The interrail pass (£140) was for one month and covered all of Europe plus Morocco for some reason. In 1988 the Iron Curtain was still up : Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia still existed and Germany was divided (the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989).

My book also discouraged travel to the likes of Prague, Budapest and Warsaw , describing them as dull. I know, sounds incredible. It did say they were very cheap but under communism there was little for the tourist. Perhaps they were correct. I never went in ’88 but have visited these great cities since.

Then there were all the different currencies : I got deutschmarks, francs, guilders, drachmas and lira for the countries I knew I would definitely visit. No Euro in those days. No cash machines either, I had travellers cheques.

My plan was Paris, Amsterdam, doon to Switzerland to see The Alps, onto Yugoslavia, doon to Athens, Corfu then hop across to Italy. After that who knows – Barcelona or Scandinavia?

But first I had to sit my final exams so lets get back to revising (whilst listening to Housemartins and Freddie Mercury).

to be continued……

Writing a Journal/ Blogging

I enjoy writing. It relaxes me and gives me a focus. If its a blog about todays events then its a great way to reflect on that day. If its about a holiday long ago then its fascinating doing research on it and allows you to see things differently. It gives you perspective. You should try it. Yes, you, sitting there with a glaikit look on your face.

I started the blog by talking about people who should have written a book but never did. And that’s a shame because the stories are lost. Even if they had written wee stories, what an insight into their lives we could have had. All that’s left is the oral tradition and lets face it, thats a dying art. So, in doing a series of blogs, I’m writing wee stories and who knows, maybe one day, compiling a book.

Imagine you could get a glimpse of your gran or papas life when they were 52 years old. What would they have written about?

My gran (mums mum) was born in 1897, so was my age in 1949. Imagine her stories post war in Kilsyth having moved from Glasgow. My mum would have been 18, Uncle Ian 14, both still at home. Was there still rationing then? Was the new NHS founded by then? All strangely relevant in the current (COVID-19) situation. More importantly, did my gran give my mum a clip round the ear that she later perfected with us?

My papa (dads dad) was a postman in the Gorbals. Born later, he would be my age in the late ’50s. Again, what stories! The Gorbals in the ’50s must have been ‘character building’. Would it have been tales of a violent neighbourhood or was it a great community where they looked after each other? I think the family ran a creamery but thats about all I know.

So, hopefully my clan will continue and,one day in the future, read my blogs and go “wow that COVID in 2020 was a bastard,eh!” And who knows, it may help them understand where they got their travel bug* /anxiety*/intelligence (or lack thereof)*/ football* / alcoholic* genes from.

*delete as appropriate.

Italia ’90

I have a strange time travel habit which lets me become the same age as my children. Basically if I go back 30 years, I become the same age as Sean and Amy (they were born 6 months before, and after, my 30th birthday you see). So if I go back 30 years I become , like them, 22-ish.

So, 30 years ago we were off to Italy to support Scotland in our 5th consecutive World Cup finals. A gang of 5, we flew from Glasgow to Rimini on the Adriatic coast. I remember one of us forgot their passport and their mum had to drive to the airport to prevent a disaster.

We had deliberately missed our first match v Costa Rica, confident we would qualify for the next round. We lost 1-0. So in a way, our decision was wise, we told ourselves. Now we just had to beat Sweden and draw with Brazil to qualify. Hmmm.

As young lads we hit the resort of Cattolica with much enthusiasm, and alcohol. I had travelled round Europe the previous two summers so I was, I thought, fairly streetwise. First night we got mongoled, ‘borrowed’ a pedalo and jumped into the Adriatic fully clothed in the dark. Numpties.

The Irish contingent in Rimini put us to shame though, drinking from 8am ( or were they still out from last night?). Our hotel manager soon got used to us though. I still remember him wearily letting us in at 3am each morning, a face that said ‘for fucks sake lads’.

16 June 1990 was the big one: Scotland v Sweden in Genoa. There was an alcohol ban in Genoa so the train from Bologna was a massive party and we arrived in Genoa half cut to discover there were pubs open after all. How we made it to the Stadio Luigi Ferraris I’ll never know. We must have followed the crowd and I remember having water thrown over me from a third floor tenement for doing a pish doon a wee lane.

The atmosphere was incredible just amazing. We scored early at the far end and then scored a penalty late on right in front of us. It was bedlam, tears n snotters and we partied all night, dancing in the fountain, swopping tops with Swedes and suddenly it was 6am and I was at Genoa railway station. It was, apart from beating the Dutch in ’78, our greatest result ever at a World Cup finals and we were there. We were fuckin there! ( Sweden were beaten semi finalists 4 years later btw).

We arrived in Cattolica tired but happy and one of our gang ,who hadn’t travelled,was still in his bed. He was like ‘so…what was the score then?’ We couldn’t believe it.

We repeated our trek across Italy for the Brazil fixture but the magic was gone and we lost 1-0 in the rain in Turin. Even the Brazilian samba dancers looked bored. So ended our World Cup dream. There were no tears even. We lost to Brazil, no disgrace but no glory.

And that was my summer holiday as a 22 year old. Elaine meanwhile was in USA working all summer and on her return we got engaged. We married two years later at Dumbarton Castle.

Is there a moral to your inane ramblings, I hear you ask? Well, I’ve not been to a World Cup since so I’m very glad I did. I suppose I’m saying that once this sad time in our history is over, we should sieze the day and follow our dreams (even though with Scotland they will end in tears and tragedy its worth it for the journey).

And, in the words of Del Amitri, its better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

Ciao baby !

Coping with COVID: Protect and Survive

The last three weeks have been a blur. Working as a pharmacy delivery driver during a global pandemic is not good for your nerves. I can only equate each day to playing in a cup final : you prepare for it as best you can, there’s nerves, tension, heightened senses, you don’t quite know what to expect but you give it 100%. At the final whistle you trudge off the pitch, socks at the ankles, and slump down in the changing room, completely drained. (RCT readers, substitute cup final for performing a show🙂)

Not the best analogy, I know. Cup finals produce a winner and a loser, but instead at the final whistle I feel neither victorious nor defeated, just tired, very tired. The next day brings another cup final, then another. In the words of a song I’ve been listening to recently, “I’m feeling slowly overwhelmed”.

How do I cope, I’m thinking. I’m a burst baw every night. I’ve missed the last two “Clap the NHS” Thursday nights coz I’m away to bed early. My emotions are all over the shop too. The other day I was given free sandwiches at the petrol station. That small act of kindness nearly had me in tears. That and all the rainbows in the windows and messages of support from the public.

How do you cope? I messaged a nurse friend at the end of another frantic day. It was a cry for help. How do you wind down at the end of the day ? Her reply surprised me, for two reasons. Firstly I felt guilty because I knew her instructions were spot on, yet I hadn’t been following them. Secondly, I didn’t think they answered my question. (I was wrong, they did)

The answer ? Go home, take your shoes off at the door, take all clothing off/put in washing machine, get in shower and wash and scrub til you feel clean. It sounded very clinical and didn’t address the emotional side, or so I thought.

So I followed the instructions as I knew they made sense. What I didn’t appreciate was the emotional side of shedding my dirty (infected?) clothes and therefore protecting my family. I didn’t appreciate the ritual of washing away the day, washing away the germs, washing away the stress. After that, I put on fresh clothes, safe in the knowledge that no spooky virus has followed me home. I felt relaxed. For the first time in weeks, I felt relaxed.

And heres the bottom line. We’re all scared, we can’t control this virus and we’re scared. But we can take control of our own wee environment, we can protect our loved ones. And in that simple ritual, which I will perform daily until this is over, I have created a barrier between my clan and this spooky virus.

PS To clarify, I don’t consider myself anywhere near on a par with a nurse. I’m more a water carrier and its the nurses who are in the front line.

Dunblane amidst COVID

As pharmacy driver, I’ve just spent a crazy few days delivering meds in Dunblane. Never seen anything like it, queues outside both pharmacies, only 3 people in shop at a time and yet, being Dunblane, not a swear word was heard. The queueing folk waited patiently, standing aside to let me through.

Inside the shop the staff are brilliant, they have a system and wade their way through mountains of prescriptions with a quiet determination. I load up the van in front of my queuing audience and I’m off.

The auld yins I deliver to are concerned but theres certainly no panic. Some open their doors nervously and an arm appears. Others, more relaxed, still want a blether but I keep my distance. As the day goes on I change my technique. I chap the door loudly, place meds on the doorstep and retreat to the van. The front door opens and I gie them a friendly wave and jump back in the van. I think this is the best approach (or retreat).

One woman opened her front door as I walked up her drive and, pointing to her doorstep, asked me to leave the meds there. She apologised but said her daughter in England had phoned, said it was crazy down there and told her not to go near a soul. Fair enough I thought and thats when I decided on the ‘chap door run’ approach.

The trays I deliver go thru the letterbox so no change there, except for a few whom I normally pop in and hand deliver and say hello. This has stopped. Feeling guilty about this, I made up a sign in thick felt tip pen which says ‘Stay Safe’ with a wee loveheart below. I chap the window, gie them a wave and hold up my sign.

I have wiped down the inside of the van too (practical) and also gave it a wash (cosmetic but reassuring for customers). I have a bottle of hand gel in the van which I apply frequently.

On Friday (20 March) there were more requests for deliveries from people ‘self isolating’. This is good as it shows the message is getting through. One guy had just returned from Spain so I did my ‘chap door run’ there! He was very grateful. Another woman opened her window and asked me to leave the meds on the doorstep. She pulled a face – ‘we’re not great’ she added.

I’ve not got a scooby what next week will bring but its a worry. On a lighter note, I’m on Day 104 of being alcohol free and today I briefly thought that as a front line worker in a global pandemic I could be excused for having a swally… but I resisted and choose chocolate instead!

Go on, its better to laugh than greet.

Stay safe! ❤

Pabbay 2012: The Final Countdown

In late 2011 we had taken our first ever booking for Pabbay Cottage on Harris. The 5th of May 2012 was the deadline and it was going to be a manic few months getting it all ready.

The joiners were fitting the doors and fixing skirtings, the Chinese floor tiles had to be laid throughout the ground floor (60m2) and the sparky was fitting lights and sockets. We did most of the decoration ourselves.

One day in April was very rewarding: me and the sparky were working off the scaffold in the ‘big room’. The scaffold was essential for the work: it was like the elephant in the room. John Alex was fitting the big ‘disco lights’ whilst I was painting the ceiling 4.5m above the floor. We had the football on the radio so it must have been a Saturday afternoon. Once we were both finished the lads dismantled the scaffold, stacking it up outside. Finally, it was removed. We walked back in the front door and wow… the big room was, well it was huge and very impressive now that the lights were up and decoration complete. I was very happy that day.

There was a story behind the scaffold that I think I can now reveal. A contractor had recently done a runner with someones money, literally got a ferry and adios suckers! He was in such a rush he left his scaffolding on a building in Stornoway. Well, our lads weren’t going to miss this opportunity. They donned hi-viz jackets (theres a first) and dismantled the scaffold. The locals were just happy to see the scaffold gone so nobody was asking questions. So somebodys loss was our gain.

The stonemasons returned and working tirelessly and meticulously. They had to infill an old doorway, finish the stonework around the main entrance and also around the eaves. In the evenings they liked a dram and told stories. They also did the front steps without prompting and they are a work of art, manys the time I’ve sat on thae steps eating breakfast and looking across the glen. Tapadh leat, Murdo and Freddy.

At Easter time we gave it the final push with the kitchen being fitted, curtains hung, beds/sofa/tables and chairs delivered. Elaine and a friend went up and worked non-stop for a week. They were knackered by the end and even walked out of the Anchorage one evening with a takeaway pizza without paying (Sally saw the funny side).

One night Elaine was sleeping when there was a chap at the bedroom door. It was wee Freddy the stonemason, back fae the pub. “See that wine on the kitchen table, is it ok if I finish it?” Elaine agreed that was acceptable and off he went only to return a minute later. “Can you come through and sit with me?” He was a happy drunk and just wanted company. Great guy.

The final week was just mayhem, a total blur and on the final Friday night we were pointing the slate floor then sealing it well past midnight. The wrapping was taken off the sofas and they were carried in at 2am. A dram before bed, shattered. We were up and away before 10am next day, leaving a welcome pack and card for our first ever guest (complete with apology as woodburner flue was not installed: please don’t light a fire!).

And that was it. 5th of May 2012 was achieved thanks to some great people, locals and tradesmen alike. Tapadh leat a h-uile duine !

Afterthought :- It would be fitting if we re-open as a holiday house on Wednesday 5 May 2021. Watch this space.