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.

Dunblane to York

Took the train to York yesterday. Wee walk down to Dunblane train station for the 1032 then change at Edinburgh Waverley, get a coffee n cake and jump on the 1208 to Penzance. The Penzance thing was a bit surreal as that was news to me: poor sods going all the way didn’t arrive til 2250, almost 11 hours later.

The sun had come out as the train slid past caravan parks near Berwick and we got glimpses of coves and nice views out to sea. At Newcastle we looked down over Tyne with its famous bridge and shiny new Sage arts venue. Onwards through rolling countryside to Darlington and then York for 1430.

It was just a short walk from York station through the city walls to our Travelodge. It was fine although the stairwell leading to the first floor room stank of pish. We headed out soon after, crossed the Micklegate bridge into the heart of old York and wandered through The Shambles and the markets nearby. It was lovely but cold so predictably we were soon snug in the Valhalla pub, followed by an odd haunted pub The Golden Fleece (most haunted pub in Europe?). Both pubs were nicely busy and in our wanders we noticed various stag and hen parties. Sad to say, we also saw several homeless sleeping in shop doorways later on.

In the evening we attended my nephews engagement party in a cafe bar in old York. It was great and the girls had different cocktails and folks were very friendly. Just nice to have a family gathering for a happy celebration really. They make a lovely couple.

This morning I headed out early on my own and wandered along the incredibly old city walls, meeting the odd jogger. York is indeed charming I thought, especially when the sun started to come out. We had breakfast in the hotel and watched out the window at the flow of folk heading into old York. Some families and couples but mostly all male groups heading for a hair of the dog we reckoned. There was a fair amount of noise at 2am last night and sure enough there were some fragile looking specimens at breakfast.

So we wandered across the River Ouse again, looked at the markets, narrow Shambles, impressive Yorkminster and walked along the city walls. There were boats on the river too and I was disappointed not to see signs for “Booze cruise on the Ouse”.

It was much busier today with many tourists and we stopped at an outdoor cafe, sat in the sun looking across the grass to Yorkminster. I reckoned there was a small stag party at the next table however, especially when I heard the classic line “and then he threw the guinea pig out the window”. You don’t hear a guy saying that to his wife do you?

This fresh air and healthy walking couldn’t last though and we were in The White Swan by 2pm.

My nephew and fiancée met up with us and we had a great laugh with food and drink but too soon we had to head for the train, via the market for unfeasibly large white chocolate meringues. On the walk to the train station we spotted several hen and stag parties heading into old York. That would explain the bouncers at virtually every pub I thought.

And so we’re on the train home now, zooming though the dark towards Edinburgh and then Suni Duni. The Shitzu awaits behind our front door, coiled and ready to spring.

International Cultures

Thanks to travelling abroad recently I have noticed many different cultures. Istanbul, Colombia, Sevilla, Moskva, Riga and Napoli all had different cultures thats for sure and that’s what I love about travel, the differences. Closer to home, Harris has its own customs too, the observance of the Sabbath is the obvious one, but its the leaving car keys in the ignition that I really love. That simple act which shows total trust in your fellow islanders. Wouldn’t happen on the mainland though no chance.

Istanbul was an eye opener. We had arrived on a Friday night in June, had a few drinks in the hotel room and headed out. Could we find a pub? There were guys in their 20s sitting in cafes with cups of green tea. We walked to Sultanahmet Square and, because it was Ramadan, found hundreds of families breaking their fast. It was lovely to watch, but not a drop of alcohol to be seen. These Turks are weird I thought but that’s their culture. They in turn must think we’re jaikies. It is a beautiful city and from our hotel dining room we could watch the huge ships sailing up the Bosphorus. The Blue Mosque too is just incredible, almost a religious experience haha.

Colombia on the other hand is chaotic. Friendly folk but alot of poverty, leading to thefts. Again its a different culture where you take any opportunity that presents itself. Thats how my phone got stolen on the busy bus.In Colombia it is the victim who is seen as the mug, who was naive enough to keep his mobile in his back pocket. The thief saw and took his opportunity. But Colombia is beautiful and colourful and I’d go back tomorrow if I could.

Sevilla was a late night arrival but we headed out at 11pm and found restaurants still open and bars mobbed. The locals are still up early but they do have a siesta due to the heat. Have a siesta in Scotland and they call you a lazy bastard.

Moscow is amazing. And immaculate, at least in Red Square/Kremlin area and the famous metro. No litter or graffiti anywhere and wee machines constantly washing down the pavements. I went to a CSKA Moscow game and at half time hundreds of fans put their rubbish in a well positioned wheely bin. Not sure if thats years of communism in action. Moscovites were friendly however, especially when I donned my kilt.

In Riga, capital of Latvia, the locals were so quiet. I had learned basic Latvian but soon discovered there was no need. Nobody spoke. I tried to hand over a 5 euro note in a shop and the woman just pointed at the wee plate on the counter. My change was placed on the plate, not a word spoken. Again, is this a hangover of communism, where anyone who asks too many questions is seen as a subversive and literally sent to Siberia.

Finally, Napoli is brilliant. Chaotic and dirty like Colombia but so vibrant and Italian with a capital I. Hand gestures and shouting and cars tooting and keep a tight haud of your mobile phone! I reckon a Latvian visiting Napoli would freak out. That would be funny to see.

Well thats just my observations during my travels. I hope I’ve not offended too many nationalities with my sweeping generalisations. I did get a glimpse of how others see us recently when I gave a lift to two Brazilians from the Wallace monument to Stirling railway station. “How can you live here?” they asked, “its so cold”.

So, if you get a chance, travel !

Amys First Gig

We went to Amys first official gig on Friday, at the Tron Theatre, a well known Glasgow venue in the Trongate. It was in the Victoria Bar and Amy was on keyboard and performing backing vocals for Constant Follower, a Stirling band. We arrived early and had a few drinks, excited and possibly more nervous than Amy, who (after their soundcheck was finished) walked in all smiles.

Looking back, Amys first keyboard, a Yamaha PSR-275, was a present when she was maybe 12 and just starting at Dunblane High School. She practised on that and taught herself how to play. Later on at High School she performed her own song in the Murray Hall in front of a large audience.

After leaving school Amy continued to play the keyboard and started writing songs. When we realised she was actually quite good we surprised her with a trip one evening to a local recording studio.

That was a year ago now and she has since released an EP with 3 songs. That in itself was a great achievement. Shes never been keen on playing to an audience though, so we were surprised when she accepted the chance for an audition with Constant Follower. That must have gone well as she was invited to rehearse with the band before playing a gig at a tiny venue in Bathgate.

The Purple Orange is like something out of a Tarantino movie. You go up a wee lane, into a guitar shop where the guy takes your money and shows you through the back. You enter a long dark room more like a cavern and the walls are covered with classic albums and posters. The gig went well in front of a sparse audience but it was an ideal introduction for Amy.

The band also went into the recording studio at Hidden Lane in the west end of Glasgow. After what sounded like an productive day, Amy arrived home tired but happy at 9pm clutching a beer bottle. Rock n roll we shouted at her!

So, to the Tron Theatres Victoria Bar and a sell out crowd of 60 people sat in neatly arranged rows. The room has a cathedral ceiling and a nice atmosphere. The Seven Song Club is exactly that, each act to play 7 songs with a time limit of 40 minutes. The two support guitarists are both excellent and then (finally) they’re on, Constant Follower.

The music is lovely and very mellow, Amys voice compliments the lead singers own voice. Each song is warmly received and at the end the audience are all happy. The band carefully pack away their guitars, amps, cables and of course Amys keyboard, all the while chatting to friends and family. Its a nice ritual, a warm down before a few drinks at the bar.

And that was Amys first gig, no mosh pit, no numpties, no bottles launched on stage and we were home just after midnight. If you fancy, the next one is at Creative Stirling in King Street, Stirling on Saturday 21 March. We’ll be there!

PS You’ll find Constant Follower on Facebook.