Riga, Latvia

Still find it strange that I can be walking the dogs in Dunblane one morning and sitting in a Cuban cocktail bar in Riga later the same day. When my folks were my age we went to the Dordogne and it was 2 days and 2 nights travel involving trains, ferries and buses. And even when we eventually arrived we had motion sickness for the next 24 hours ffs. Noo it’s a doddle, like catching a bus. Greta will be ragin’ mind you.

Arrived in Riga at 7pm on a cold dry January night. Got the 22 bus without a ticket then jumped off before we crossed the Daugava river. Thanks for the lift, suckers. I had to walk 3km to my digs but it was a good introduction to Riga old town. Nice cobbled streets and Christmas lights and floodlit buildings.

Next day visited the huge indoor markets in 5 old zeppelin hangers. Theres butcher meats, fresh fish on ice, fruit n veg, cheeses, spices and bakeries. Its busy in a mellow sort of way. Latvians are a quiet people, understandable with their history of invasions by Nazis and Russians. Passed the ruins of a synagogue where 400 Jews were killed in 1941, locked inside whilst the Nazis set fire to it.

Got the train to Jurmala, an old Russian beach resort, 21km of beach on the Baltic. It was a glorious sunny day so I walked along a boardwalk through pine trees down to the beach, where lots of locals were walking. Passed a huge mansion with a perimeter fence, security guard at the gate watched me closely as he let his mafia boss drive out in a shiny limo. Other huge mansions have boarded up windows. Odd.

That night I go out its almost freezing but clear. Riga is two hours ahead so although I think its 8pm, its actually 10pm local time. I take many photographs of the river, canal, cathedral, trams on cobbled streets and Freedom Monument. Its nicely busy but I reckon in summer it be manic.

Today I revisited the market, just for the coffee and lovely cakes, total cost under 2 euros. The locals speak Latvian and I have learned the basics but I overhear much Russian spoken. Then I started to walk to the Daugavas Stadions, past brick built factories and car boot sales, the real Riga : grey January day.

One hour later there it is, the stadium where Scotland won in 1996. I’m well pleased and squeeze through a loosely padlocked gate. Wander onto pitch, take selfies grinning stupidly: this is the spot where John Collins scored a cracker. I recreate the goal: World Cup qualifier, crowd roaring,the silky turn, the strike, turns to the packed main stand to celebrate…. and theres a security guard … motions me off the pitch… “fuck off son ya daft Scottish bastard”. Its a fair cop.

Riga is lovely. Its compact and very flat with lots of history, bars and McDonald’s. Lots of parks too, just a bit grey in January. My Ryanair flight from Embra was £57 return btw.

5 Oct 1996

5 October 1996. That’s the date our lives changed. Why? Coz that’s the day Elaine found out she was pregnant. We’d married in May 1992 but we were a bit skint, living in a tenement in Stirling; plus we wanted to travel, visiting Menorca, Tenerife, Kos and then the west coast of America in ’95.

In late August ’96 we had gone on a camping trip to Arisaig, Eigg and Skye before spending the last 3 nights in a lovely BnB near Elgol, Strathaird House. The lady owner told us the Yellow Room was famous for conception…nudge nudge wink wink say no more aha.

So that Saturday morning, 5 October 1996, when Elaine gave me the news we were ecstatic. From then on it wasn’t just the two of us, we had a tiny third person in our lives.

However, I had a big Scottish Cup tie to play that day. Doune Castle Ams were away to Cambusbarron Rovers and major underdogs. Our manager was ex Cambusbarron and, one year after the film came out, he gave us the Braveheart team talk. Well, we went out there and won 3-2, I remember clearing a shot off the line. I got man of the match so it was a happy bunch that went to The Forresters for post match refreshments. What a day so far!

Scotland were playing a World Cup qualifier and we watched that in the pub as the celebrations began. To add to the mood,Scotland won 2-0 away to Latvia*, the start of the journey towards France ’98.

So it was a happy pub when Elaine came to pick me up. Someone offered to buy Elaine a drink and, upon hearing a diet coke, asked if she was pregnant. We both did a double take! Luckily, our man was very discreet but he was the first person to know (by default).

So that was Saturday 5 October ’96. 8 months later, on 1 June 1997, our Sean was born in Stirling Royal Infirmary (6lbs 3oz), but that’s another story. Sean is now 22 and living in London, England.

* The Latvia v Scotland fixture is the reason I can be so precise about the date.

The Pabbay Project : 2010

We have a lovely house on the Isle of Harris called Pabbay Cottage. It’s now ten years since we bought the croft which was really a sheep fank. The original house was built in 1830. Our first task was to get it decrofted, this took about 6 months. Finally someone called Hitchcock from Essex signed it off (go figure).

We could then start the work, digging out the inside and stoning up the solum, building up both gable walls in 200mm blockwork. We got a water supply in too, connected to the mains in the Rodel road late one day in February 2010. What a relief to find out the water pressure was fine. Next the huge steel ridge beams went in, supported by a centre post. I’m told it took a huge crane to put it in place. We were the talk of the village!

Summer 2010, a squad of us went up to Harris and between us we laid the drainage and poured the concrete floor slab. I remember seeing the concrete mixer coming past the Clachan and the sudden panic- we need wheelbarrows ! The guy reversed up the steep track, poured the concrete through the window and we ran around wi wheelbarrows, spreading and levelling it. Back breaking stuff and the concrete was starting to harden too but we made it. Next day, the mixer was back but the driver almost ended up in the burn! The whole thing tilted over towards the burn, much shouting, panic ensued but all was good eventually. It was a good feeling getting that work done. Some summer holiday , one day the wind was 63mph!

Late summer the lads put up the scaffolding and did the rafters, it was a work of art. Total perfection. Then the sarking boards, the heavy Spanish slate finish and rooflights and voila, we had weathertight bothy/mini church type building. I remember walking up the track in a gale, opening the makeshift plywood door and when I closed it behind me… total silence. I knew then it was going to be a warm house (the original stone walls were five foot thick, starlings nested in them).

It was a tremendous space, the huge cathedral ceiling, rafters spaced perfectly at 600 mm centres. The stonework too was beautiful , especially in the lower half where I think the cows had rubbed against the stone over the years. There was a fireplace in each gable. It was crying out history, if these walls could talk. And it was so quiet, despite the howling gale outside. I felt a sense of history there and then, the family gathered round the peat fire, sheltered from the winds that came off the mighty Atlantic.

I almost wanted to leave it at that, especially when we got the electricity supply* in. Just leave it as this huge space, a fekkin huge bothy, sunlight streaming in through the rooflights. We could sleep on the floor, sing songs and get fu’ thegither. Man, you could play badminton in that space!

But that was only Phase 1 of ‘Reversing the Clearances’. We had kicked out the sheep and and hoped to bring back the people, in our tiny way. We took an old family home with no roof and grass for a carpet and started the journey towards a new home, complete with water and electricity for the first time.

Next year we would do the internal fit out. We would soon find out, our journey had only just begun.

* the electric supply took months to sort , there was talk of a £5k bill for a new transformer gadget thing and then, bang, it was installed in a day from the pole down below. Simples.

PS Pabbay Cottage is on facebook. You can see photos there.

Doune to Dunblane: Auld railway walk

My fon died in the Moray Park, Doune. Hates the cold, fuck this I’m closing down. You can take this two ways- ‘aw naw ma fons deid how will I cope?’ or ‘I’ll get some peace noo’. I chose peace. Nae point in stressing.

Ma cars in the Doune garage and the dogs have been to the Doune vet (Kuro lost 3 kg!). Job done. Now we’re ready to walk home. Along the old railway line which opened in 1858, closed in 1965, two years before I was born. The old line is now a smooth tarmac footpath, used by cyclists, dog walkers and joggers.

Its a lovely winter’s morning as I wander past the Doune allotments. Reminds me of the Gaelic blessing “May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face”. Theres fresh snow on Ben Ledi though.

Wander on through a railway cutting, the low sun disappears. The Dark Mile (Mile Dorcha) am thinking, shiver. Back out into the sun, sheep in the field to my right, grass bright green (new growth in January?!). The motocross circuit to my left, quiet today but can be very noisy wi the bikes.

Turn round to see Kuro the black lab 100 yards behind. Come on ya fat git ! Ominously, Ben Ledi has disappeared, replaced by a black curtain. Rain incoming from the west maybe but the suns dazzling.

On under two road bridges, the woods blocking the sun now. Theres a shelter in these woods, too big to be a kids ganghut, maybe a homeless persons bed for the night poor soul? The kennels are up on the hill to my left, in the sunshine. The dogs barking puts Shitzu on edge.

At Argaty we leave the railway and walk along the road, over the Ardoch burn. Used to camp there in the summer in the ’70s by the burn. We cross the main road and walk up to join the original Old Doune Road.

Kuro is now way behind, sniffing at a gate to a field. “Mon Kuro, ya nosey bastard!” I shout. The wind catches my words, flings them away towards Dunblane. I have an image of someone walking out of Dunblane Tesco and hearing a ghostly voice in the wind .. ” ya nosey bastart!” Looks around, startled, shakes head, walks on.

Walk past a pink harled Greenyards Cottage and then the farm, three horses feeding on some hay. Kuro was born here. I took her back years later to meet her maw, thinking animal instinct would kick in but there was nothing, fuck all. They just looked at each other. Meh.Burst ma bubble.

The rain had arrived by now, liquid gold in the low sun. A huge double rainbow appeared to the north, black sky behind. Rainbow weather, minds me of Harris. Shitzu was looking droont but Kuro was in her element, walking through the puddles. Almost home noo, Shitzu, I say.

A final tale of the walk from Doune to Dunblane. An auld boy, let’s call him Jackie,had left the pub one night and was walking home to Dunblane in the face of a gale. At Argaty he stopped to light a fag but the wind was too strong. He turned round, using his body to shield the match and lit his cigarette. Triumphant, he marched on…back to Doune!

Dunblane High School :1979

I first attended Dunblane High School in August 1979 I think. It was a fairly new school, built in 1973 mebbes. My eldest brother used to go the McLaren High in Callander- catch the bus each morning (or accidently miss it, oh dear). Weird to think Dunblane with no high school eh.

I would walk from Murdoch Terrace up the steps, along the newly built Wallace Road, past the building site that is now Buchan Drive. Stopped to pee in a half built hoose haha.

It was a new school, it was a huge school. Well it was for a very small 11 year old anyway. All thae corridors, a technical block, games hall, home economics block, a library !

It was a revelation, especially the carpets. Let me explain: if you rubbed your shoes (new shoes obv) on them quickly, this enabled you to give the guy in front of you an electric shock. It could give quite a sair jolt likes, I mind o someone ripping their fingernail off.

And teachers, hunners o’ teachers. History, geography, physics, maths, PE, french, german, chemistry oooft. For weeks it was “aye I’ve got Mr whatshisface for physics, y’ken..the boring guy”.

My card was marked fae Day One. Let’s just say my elder siblings had gained a reputation so when each teacher heard my name it was ‘aw naw, no another Campbell’. Said with dark sarcasm as referred to by Pink Floyd in late 1979 (Another Brick in the Wall). That was a challenge to me : ‘I’ll show youse’. Also, what nobody knows to this day (they will now) is that my mum threatened to send me to Dollar Academy if I didn’t ‘stick in’. I was mortified. Posh kids go to Dollar ffs. So I had two motivations to do well at school.

French was great. My big brother had a foreign exchange with a french guy from La Rochelle the year before so I had picked up some words from him: mostly merde, merde and merde admittedly. So I had a head start there. Though the teacher was hard, her favourite phrase ‘I’ll have your guts for garters’.

Home economics was a shock. Cooking and baking stuff ! The highlight, the fabled lesson everyone wanted was the one where we made tablet. Yaaas!

And then there was PE. Great, we’ll get fitba’ am thinking. Eh naw ! We got rugby and hockey mainly, some basketball but nae football. Football was even banned at lunchtime. It was a shite state of affairs. Fair play the school produced some notable rugby players but I never understood why football was shunned.Still rankles (We did enter a football tournament in 3rd year maybe – got to the final too so we had a potentially good side but it was our first and last competition).

A final tale, not from ’79 but years later when the school was about to be demolished. On the gable of the games hall someone had written in huge letters “R….. is a fat bastard”. Those who were there in ’79 will understand.

St Andrews: Doon Memory Lane

Visited St Andrew’s today and it was amazing. The place was hoaching wi tourists and the winter afternoon sunlight made it just beautiful. And it brought back many memories, because like many Scots, I’ve been coming to St Andrews on days trips since forever. We walked onto the Old Course (the Home of Golf) at the 17th road hole then took photos at the 700 year old Swilken Bridge. Well, an Italian tourist took our photos. He looked frozen the puir wee soul.

In 1984 I was at The Open to watch Seve lift the claret jug. I stood in the huge crowds at the 17th green, looking down the 18th to see Seve hole that winning putt. From 400 yards away I saw the famous fist pumping celebration, a full second later the roar from the stands hit me. History right there.

Today it’s just tourists, couples mostly, walking across the fairway. We walk down the 18th, Elaine glancing over her shoulders for golfers teeing aff. Rusacks hotel on our right, stayed there with dad in 1981 mebbes it was, went round old course in 80, birdied the 18th. Did it 3 years before Seve managed it!

Walk past the 18th green, up the steps and past the Royal and Ancient clubhouse(posh gits). In 1990 when Elaine was working at the Craws Nest in Anstruther, 4 of us visited St Andrews,played putting next to the 18th. Cider had been taken and as we all ran down a steep grassy embankment to reach the putting green, Elaine fell and, we later discovered, broke her arm. But cider is a wonderful thing. The putting was a laugh until Scotty missed a tiddler, blamed his putter and skelped the ball off the wee starters hut. Well the guy was oot like a shot, raging. We ran away laughing, across the 18th green, jumped the fence and up into toon. Yes, we ran across the sacred 18th green, where Seve holed that putt, where Jack Nicklaus won in ’78.

The Americans must think its incredible how the locals can walk their dog across the Old Course. Cars can drive across the 18th fairway. I imagine in the US, their courses are very private. No dogs that’s for sure. So for Americans it must be very odd. I love it tho – we’ve no airs or graces. So you’ve paid £195 to play the Old Course? Well just wait til I scoop ma dugs shite up before you tee off, eh! Oh and watch out for steaming youths running across the 18th green.

We wander across to look along the beach where they filmed Chariots of Fire. Its hoaching with tourists and locals despite the cold wind. We took the lads here in 2012: they were u15s then. We got red polo shirts especially and I can still see them, a mile away on this beach playing beach volleyball, a tiny swarm of red ants. Dont think they went in the sea tho, the North Sea is Baltic ! Throughout my childhood all visits to St Andrews involved paddling but no swimming. No chance!

It’s getting dark as we walk back down the 18th fairway, the sky turning pink over the buildings that surround the 18th green. A final look back at the famous view and it’s in the car, get the heating on am freezing!

PS In researching this blog, I was amazed to discover that the day before Seve won the open on 22 July 1984, I was at Status Quos ‘final farewell’ gig at Milton Keynes Bowl. I got the overnight train back up to Scotland then got train and bus to St Andrews. That would kill me nowadays!


Back in the 80’s as a teenager, Ne’erday meant several things. Firstly, it meant a hangover (I’ve never touched Bicardi since…in fact, what happened to Bicardi?). Secondly it meant find a bar in Dunblane : this involved gatecrashing either the golf club or hydro. Thirdly, it meant the Old Firm fixture.

On 1 January 1987, I was asked with drive my mates Ford Sierra to Ibrox. Not sure why this happened because it was myself who had got us the tickets from Chris Woods, the Gers keeper who stayed in the Glen Road at the time. Chris had come along for a photo op when our pub team, Westlands Hotel, had got new all blue strips. That marked us out for special treatment that season , esp when we played Broons Bar haha.

Anyway, we thanked Chris with a half bottle of grouse. I’m sure, as Rangers new £600,000 signing, he appreciated that. So off to Ibrox we went in the pouring rain. Rangers had not conceded a goal in 8 games and we were confident, all the betting was 2-0, 3-0 or 4-0 Gers. Sure enough, it was a party afternoon with Rangers winning 2-0, my main memory being McCoist scoring from 6 yards out after Celtics keeper dropped a cross. Typical vulture.

I remember driving home on the motorway, tooting the horn, cars passing fags and cans of lager to each other through the windows. Lads all singing party songs, half bottle in the back. Finally, the golf club, dump the car, finally get a drink myself. My passengers were all mongoled by then.

The next year, 1988 was not so good. Lost 2-0 at the old Celtic Park. What a dump it was. Celtic fans threw bananas at Rangers new black signing, Mark Walters. The game had to be stopped to clear the pitch. The Rangers fans sang, through some perverse loyalty to their new player, “I’d rather be a darkie than a tim”. I mean ffs – “I’d rather be a darkie than a Tim!” It was perhaps the darkest day in Scottish football but the SFA did fuck all and the press gave it little coverage. Things have moved on since then thankfully.

That day we ended up at Dunblane Hydro, fuck knows how they let us in. We tried to blend in by having a peanut throwing fight and the final straw was when Scotty arrived, sporting two black eyes from an altercation on Hogmanay. The famous words “Gentlemen, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave” and we were oot on our arse.

So today, for old times sake, I reckon we should head up to Dunblane Hydro.. but maybe no peanuts haha.

"Ah'm aff it"

“Ah’m aff it” is perhaps Scotlands most seldom used phrase. In England or USA, they say “I’m on the wagon”, but in Scotland its “ah’m aff it”. It is a well intentioned, bold move against the bombardment that is the Scottish drink culture. For “ah’m aff it” means “I am abstaining from consuming alcoholic beverages for the foreseeable (undefined) future” and in Scotland this is akin to wearing an England strip to the pub during the world cup.

Take today for example, the Old Firm clash in Glesca. As I write this, at 10am on a Sunday morning, there will be thousands of fans ‘on it’. By noon the pubs will be rammed, drink flowing, spirits high. By 3pm there will be drunken joy for the victors, anger for the losers, singing in the streets and recriminations. By 6pm, it will be carnage, folk falling over, slurred words, angry exchanges and tragically, a stabbing.

The polis will be hoping for a draw. Some rain too would help dampen the hatred. But it’ll be dry in the pubs. Perhaps dry is the wrong word… but u know what I mean.

I’ve been “aff it” for 20 days now. My works doo followed by the old firm cup final led to a 2 day hangover. So I uttered the famous words…. “Ah’m aff it”.

And it’s been great. I feel better physically, today I’ve been up early getting the dogs out. I feel calmer too, got more time on my hands, read more books, maybe try the guitar again. You need something to replace the alcohol tho, that’s the long term solution. Need a purpose, a belonging. Luckily I have the Amateurs to look after, a focus.

Mentally, you’ve not got that morning after guilt either. When you look at the near empty bottle the next morning and go “shit I drank THAT much!” So slowly, you start to feel good about yourself again. So far, I’ve survived a night out at the Indian, Christmas Day, Boxing Day at the in laws and even Harris … but I’ve still got the big one : Hogmanay!

You don’t really notice the culture of drink until yer “aff it”. Constant advertising, every tv programme (even on Paddington Bear one guy said “I need a drink”), facebook photos, messages from friends with beer/champagne icons. Your friends too are like “what’s wrong, are you ill, is it serious?”

So, today we’re going to go for a wee drive, find a pub and watch the game wi an Irn Bru. And if you see me in the Tappit wi a pint in ma haun at hogmanay, gies a slap!


You’re not Dunblane unless you’ve got a Laighills memory or story. The Laighills (or Lechills) is a large hilly park comprising 2 football pitches(top and bottom), playpark, skatepark and lots of paths through gorse bushes n bracken. It used to be a golf course, must have been a mental wee course! Also had a curling pond roond the back.

Its hemmed in by a loop in the River Allan to the north and west and by the railway to the east. You can only access it by foot via the narrow faery bridge or path from the Cathedral car park from the south or over the railway footbridge from the east (from Ramoyle or Cala’s).

My first ever football match was on the tiny bottom pitch. I got my first pair of boots that morning from Sandy Hunters and on arrival pitchside discovered there were two left boots (probably ironic haha). This was remedied and I scored in a 9-7 win. I was so small they carried me back down the pitch in celebration.

I played on that pitch many times for Dunblane BBs : we wore the Barcelona strip, what a buzz that was. I only recently found out the bottom pitch was built as a hockey pitch around 1960. It had a board around the perimeter. As a football pitch the problem was the river, or rather the ball going in the river. You had to follow the ball downstream and hopefully catch it before it went through the weir. The River Allan has claimed many lives over the years but we were too young to care : footballs were expensive!

The Laighills in the summer holidays was great fun. We built dams in the scouring burn at the entrance, spent hours there. On hot days we all jumped off the rocks in the deep pools across from the old mill. The old mill in the 70s was just that, an old mill. We used to pan in what was left of the windaes haha. Now its luxury flats for auld yins.

The hilly parts of the Laighills were ideal for our Amateur football pre-season training. Clutch had us running up n down the narrow grassy paths, doing piggy backs until someone was sick.

On summer nights the Laighills attracted a different crowd. Squads of teenagers wi cairry oots. Chatting up the girls, full of dutch courage (well, Skol lager n El Dorado more like). The polis would appear, causing widespread panic , it was like a scene from The Keystone Cops, great fun at the time. In hindsight, not so funny drunken kids next to the river but we wiz young and stupit.

Now I walk the dogs there. Its lovely in spring with all the bluebells on show. Kids still play on the swings and go down the slides. The football pitches are maintained but unused and the changing rooms are to be demolished. Maybe we, as a community, can do something about this. The problem is lack of access.

A final true story. Andy Murray, having just returned from a tournament abroad, went on twitter one night inviting questions as he couldn’t sleep. Well, one of our lads (who shall remain nameless) asked him if he’d ever had a drinking session doon the Laighills. He replied he’d sadly never taken part in this tradition, or words to that effect.

It’s never too late, Andy….. just sayin’.