Dunblane the Community

Dunblane : what is it to you? Is it Andy Murray, the tragedy, the hydro, a day out at the Laighills, the golden postbox, the ancient cathedral? Or is it posh new housing that our young families cant afford, overcrowded schools, busy doctors surgery, crap parking and smelly sewage works?

Or to put it another way: are you a tourist, or a local? For me, as pharmacy driver, Dunblane is a great wee community with many characters, bravely fighting their own battles against age and illness. Every day I’m humbled by their strength and their stories which I cant repeat here. They invite me in, confide in me, someone to talk to, here have a sweetie son. They are my old school teachers, the janny, my old schoolmates parents and sadly my old schoolmates too.

We have a laugh together. Well, if you dont laugh you’d cry. They ask me how my sons doing in London- I dont remember telling them that, but they do, they do. I hand them their medicine – “christ I’ll be rattling,son”. One auld dear has been told to give up smoking. I’ve been smoking for 70 years son, am no giein’ it up now.

Took me a long time but I only really appreciated that Dunblane has a great community spirit 4 years ago. Mum had a fall outside Tesco and a kindly person helped her up, took her home (mum refused to go to the doctors). Within an hour of this incident, two neighbours came to the door to tell me what happened and then the doctor phoned to say mum had a badly sprained ankle. The lady who helped mum had phoned the surgery, explained the situation and they had worked out who it was and who to tell. Now that’s a community, looking after the most vulnerable.

I never found out the identity of this good samaritan btw. I owe them one. A big one.

A final funny story : while mum was recovering from sprained ankle, it was difficult to manage her because with her Alzheimer’s she forgot she was injured. Our Amy had an idea. She wrote a note and pinned it to the inside of the front door of mums flat. “Dont go for a walk granny, you’ve sprained your ankle. Doctors orders”.

As I say, if you dont laugh, you wid greet.

Roma to Napoli

Went to Rome Easter 2018 with Sean. We’d visited 12 years earlier when he was only 8 so while I remembered all the sights he couldn’t. We had a great 2 days exploring, walked 26,000 steps each day.

Sunday was the big day though. Napoli v Chievo. Naples: city with crazy fans, Maradona and Vesuvius in the distance. Volatile all three of them. See Naples and die, eh.

We caught the high speed train from Roma and arrived at Piazza Garibaldi. Just over an hour to cover 180 km. Could see snow covered peaks inland on the journey but in Naples it was scorching, 27 degrees and we started walking. Corso Umberto was amazing, an assault to the senses. The noise, the heat, the smells – looking down wee side streets was tempting, tiny restaurants with Neapolitan pizzas and seafood dishes. But we were on a mission: find the Sao Paulo stadium and get tickets. A tall order as we were about to find out.

I had my Argentina top on which attracted many comments. Hey Marayona! Taxis tooting and waving. One guy came up, points at me- Aryentina? Naw, Scozia! His face fell.

Maradona is still a legend here. They would have named the stadium after him but hes no deid yet. Under Italian law, you need to be deid for at least 20 years before you can have a stadium named after you. True story, possibly.

We got to the stadium eventually after getting a bit lost. Everyone was saying no tickets. 30 minutes to kick off, no luck. Huge roars from the stadium made us more desperate to get in. Eventually we were directed to a ticket tout outside a wee shop.

A ticket tout in Naples. And we speak no Italian. What could possibly go wrong?

Passaporto and euros he was saying. Ok, we handed him our passports, he passed them to an old guy who jumped on a moped and fucked off. Sean reacted but I said it’s fine, no problem although I was worried we were being stung. It didn’t help that two young guys came and started arguing with the tout.

A very long ten minutes later, old guy on moped returns with two tickets with our names printed on them. Slick operation. We paid way over the odds but what the fuck eh.

Into the stadium, a massive crumbling bowl of noise and light blue flags and banners and general madness. We were in the enclosure behind the goal but dozens of fans were being helped up into the tier above. They stood on each others shoulders as the fans above grabbed them and hauled them up. It was crazy. A guy was leaning backwards at the front of the top tier, orchestrating the fans singing. His mate was holding his belt to stop him plunging 20m to his death. Fuckin crazy !

Game starts, typical cautious Italian football. The crowd roar Napoli on but no goals. Still no goals. 15 minutes to go the unthinkable happens. Chievo score a stunning strike at our end of the stadium. I actually hear the ball hit the roof of the net such is the silence. The tiny band of Chievo fans go mental, partially hidden under heavy duty netting to protect them from missiles flung from above.

Napoli come to life but miss chance after chance. The crowd turn on them, deafening whistles and jeers. In the 90th minute a header loops in to the net, the place erupts. And erupts. Unlike say a Rangers goal where the fans cheer then sit back down, here they remain standing and roar Napoli on. 4 minutes injury time and the crowd roar intensifies. You can feel it coming. Corner not cleared, Napoli centre half traps it and curls it into the far corner. Well the place went mental, fuckin mental. Fans running up n down the aisles. I was waiting on someone falling from the top tier!

We never heard the final whistle but the Napoli players came over to celebrate. 5 minutes after full time they’re still doing a lap of honour and no-ones leaving. I shout in Sean’s ear and motion we should go. Its incredible,we are both buzzing to have been part of that.

Back near the train station we get a seafood pizza and a beer, sit outside. Its lovely and warm, the suns going down.The city is vibrant though edgy, so we’re getting the Rome train before dark. Seems wise but…I want to return one day.

Road Trip to Harris

Travelled up last night, through a blizzard at Drumochter, ended up in Dingwall. Today’s ferry was cancelled so I reverted to plan B: drive across to Uig on Skye for the delayed 7pm sailing. Turned out to be the best plan ever.

Today’s trip has been a journey across the last 30 years of my life no joking. Started the drive along to Strathpeffer where there was still snow in the ground. Our kids had collected conkers here one October holiday. Onto Rogie falls: I have a foto of a pregnant Elaine standing on the bridge with Sean in a carry cot. Garve next, we stayed in a stone cottage at Little Garve and went to the hotel where we had to switch on the lights to play pool. It was dead. Then two tour buses arrived and hunners o decrepit folk hobbled thru the door.

My mates got a great story here. A fishin’ tale wi no fishin’, the river was too big. It was huge. They were camping next to the river, went to the bar. Right, be careful lads that rivers dangerous. Two hours later ther half cut, someone runs into the bar – ‘he’s fallen in, hes fallen in!’ They’re all up, run for the door – ‘naw naw , in here’ — points to mens toilet. And there they found him, fallen in the urinal trough, floundering. Stinking too probably.

The road splits here: straight ahead to Ullapool or left on the A832 to Achnasheen. Turned left. Now we’re in the Highlands, snow on the hills, deer by the river in the glen below. The suns dazzling its lovely. Achnasheen is a scattering of houses.. and a railway station. I turned in and theres two deer walking around next to a frozen pond. They’re not shy and only move away when a dog walker appears.

Theres a turn off here for Kinlochewe but I’ve not got the time. Me n Elaine stayed at BnB there in 1995 – it was minus 17 that night. The guy who ran it was strange: he later appeared in the Daily Record for kicking out a gay couple.

I drove on and down through rhodedendron bushes to Strathcarron then followed the winding road til at last I arrived at Plockton. The views across the water were amazing, the low sun lighting up an island and the snow covered peaks beyond. Palm trees! We got the train to Plockton from Lairg in 1998, tiny Sean took a sip of my pint in the Plockton Hotel. 21 years later I had smoked haddock soup instead of lager. Getting auld.

Onwards and over the bridge to Skye. I mind o getting the ferry across. Mind getting soaked taking the tent doon at Sligachan and driving home in ma boxer shorts when the ferry man came roond collecting tickets. Even when the bridge appeared we boycotted it because of the tolls: we would get the tiny ferry at Glenelg.

I drive on through Broadford then up and down past Sconser to Sligachan. We camped there for years, first in the campsite then later between the bridges (and rivers) because it was free. Good times. My mate went fishing the Allt Dearg one time, but they were having no luck. Tried further upstream, no luck.Further on and they came across a guy shagging his girlfriend in the heather. Well he couldnae resist – “Any luck, pal?”

I drove on up the glen and down Glen Varragill into Portree. I drive down to the pier, boats bobbing, lights reflected in the water (its now 4pm and dark). Into Harry’s Bar where the locals are dramming, arguing whether its prawns or langoustines then debating the best way to prepare scallops and chorizo.

In summer 2005, I took Sean and Amy camping to Sligachan but lost the St Andrew’s cross thing for the apex of the tent. Disaster. Portree was mobbed, BnBs all full. If in doubt try a pub. I went to Harry’s Bar, kids left outside on pier and whos there but Kenny Wallace from Dunblane. He let us stay in a spare room at his works digs thank fuck. Saved me a 5 hour drive home thru the night.

Anyway enough memories, I’ve just arrived at Tarbert on Harris. Goin to drive off the ferry into the night and visit some old friends and have some good craic.

Sláinte mhath!

Parklife

It’s dark. December night in Dunblane but I’d better get them out. Pull my boots on and Shitzu goes mental, jumps off couch and starts doing a wee dance. Jaiket on and shes jumping up at me. Calm doon ya wee dick. Right Kuro, you coming ? Slowly , almost painfully, Kuro gets out her bed. Ok da, I’m coming.

Open door, Shitzu shoots oot. Cat! She shoots across the road. Shitzu ffs! I run across street… u seen Shitzu I ask ma neebor who putting the bins out. Shes zooming about their garden, cats on her tiny mind. I turn round, Kuro is standing un the middle of the road. Kuro ffs, get aff the road.

Head on up to the park, Shitzu miles ahead buzzing, Kuro miles behind trundling. At the park Shitzu freezes – a black labradoodle! She crouches then runs towards it but it’s all good, they sniff then the labradoodle walks away. That’s the signal. Shitzu, emboldened, chases after it barking – aye fuck off and dont come back. Labradoodle turns round, eh? Shitzu shites it , turns and scuttles back to hide behind me. Meanwhile, Kuro has finally arrived,spots the stranger,runs up barking- feed me feed me. Poor guy hes got Kuro barking at him and Shitzu barking at his dog. I wave an apology.

We head home but theres Ruby the golden lab and her owner. More barking from my two. Onwards down the hill but theres Luna at the window barking. Shitzu runs across the street and barks up at the window. Caroline opens the door to say hello and its total mayhem. Dogs gu leor!

Finally we head home, the final 50 yards but Shitzu spots a cat under a car and a mad cartoonlike chase ensues. Shitzu ffs! Neighbours curtains twitching. Finally I order Shitzu into the house…but wheres Kuro? Standing in the middle of the road, spotlit, a car sits impatiently behind her. Kuro come here ffs! I wave apologies to the driver who ignores me. Up yours ya grumpy git.

And…we’re home. Kuro lumbers across the threshold and Shitzu launches herself at her. Poor Kuro.

What a pair. Young and old. Little and large.Black and white. Yin and yang.

I slump onto the couch. Next time, I say to Elaine, you’re taking them out.

But we both know that’s a lie.

Dunblane Primary 1975

I started Primary 4 in August 1975 I think. I mind o my teacher catching me reading the ‘wee red book’. Thought I was in trouble but she just laughed and said her husband read it in bed every night! Great teacher.

By 1975, we were allowed to play in the school field instead of just on the grass verge on Murdoch Terrace, using lampposts and trees as goalposts. We played ‘kerby’ too, for hours , glaring at passing cars that dared stop our game.

The school field seemed huge after our confinement, real goalposts too. Every night after tea we would gather and if they had a ball, the first two to arrive would play ‘Barry’. That’s where you try to rebound the ball offof the crossbar. First to ten. More lads arrived and we start a game of ‘world cup willie’. More lads, one wi a decent football, a Tango! Let’s start a game!

Two captains do tic tac to decide the teams. They face off and slowly walk towards each other, one foot heel to toe in front of the other. When they meet, the winner is the one whos toe is on top of the others. “I’ll take Donny” the first pick to the winner. The selection goes on until painfully we’re left with the fat guy and the specky guy. It’s a painful process. Harsh on the weakest. They were then inevitably stuck in goals- “get in goals, Specky and don’t make a spectacle of yourself!”

See, I told you. We werenae very PC in 1975.

The game starts,one goal is jumpers for goalposts so theres controversy- “yass, goaaal”…. ” fuck off, never in”…”yass that’s 7-4″…”whit, its 6 all ya cunt”. Its frantic stuff and then disaster, the guy wi the Tango, well his maw appears, time to go home Davy. Theres groans.. mutters.. “fucksake Davy”… but his maw is there and that’s that. We play on with ‘the sponge’, an ancient grey football but because it’s now raining its sodden and heavy. A long ball comes towards me, I head it back. Splat! Fuck am seeing stars. (Nae wonder am a candidate for Alzheimer’s after spending years heiding sodden leather footballs).

And then disaster, my maw is on the grass verge calling me in. I trudge home, jump the fence, can hear the older boys taking the piss quietly so my mum doesn’t hear- “Alan, time for beddiboes”. Cunts. “Aye see youse the morra lads” I say keeping up the bravado.

And I will see them a’ the morra, we will do it all again.

PS Must admit to some artistic license here as the Tango never appeared until the 1978 world cup!

Dunblane BB Camp

Dunblane BBs recently went to Malawi to help build a local school I think it was. What an amazing experience. Different continent, African skies, landscapes , wildlife, new faces, languages, cultures you could only see on tv. What memories.

My first BB camp, in 1978, we went to Leven. Fuckin Leven! I was literally the smallest and youngest boy there, 10 years old. It was a bit daunting, surrounded by teenagers (big lads).

We camped in big tents, six of us, three on each side. Every morning there was a tent inspection, while we stood to attention outside.

There were tales of being blackballed. That’s when a group of lads would get you alone in your tent, pin you down , pull doon yer trousers and out wi the boot polish….. so being the youngest I was shit scared.

I mind of phoning home fae the red call box by the golf course, two bob in the slot…beep beep beep… please come and get me… beep beep beep.. more money in slot…please can you..beep beep beep. Ran out of money. A schoolmate, his folks came and took him home. Lucky bastard you lucky lucky bastard !

I survived the week but not before they all grabbed me and flung me up in the air. Time and again. And then, when I was catapulted miles up, they all stood back. Thud! Lying there, looking up at the clouds, gasping for breath but it’s not there, wonder if I’ve broke anything. Bastards.

I think they call it character building. They accepted me after that coz I never gret… or grassed on them.

Next year,1979, we went to Pitlochry. It was actually really good, we would walk up the river watching the salmon jumping, walk along the huge dam go into town and see the amusements.

I caught a bad cold, I was delirious. Heard the lads talking, officer arrived and gave me medicine. Next morning I was excused inspection- ‘leave him, hes no well’. I was fine within 24 hours and grateful to my tent mates. We were a team now, brothers.

On the last night there were whispers. Deep voices , serious words from another tent. ‘We’ll deal with this in the morning’.

Tent inspection. Officers are very serious, mood sombre. The Captain stands in front of us all, at his feet is a massive carry out. Cans, lots of cans, bottles too. Disappointed in you boys, you’ve let us down, let yourselves down, let the company down, let Dunblane down. God is fuckin ragin’ at you (am paraphrasing here).

And then, I’ll never forget this, he lifted a can, opened it and poured it onto the ground. And another. Another. Then the bottles, glug glug glug. On and on it went. I reckon we stood there for twenty minutes, at attention , while all this alcohol was poured away.

So, on the day Bjorn Borg won Wimbledon for the 4th time in a row, we went home in disgrace. And I’ll bet you, pound to a penny, all the officers and Captain went out and got pished that night.

Moscow Kremlin

I awoke in a windowless cell. Wft? Then I remember I’m staying at Winterfell Hostel or ‘the worst hostel in Moscow’. That’s good news, despite the dragons and Tyrion Lannisters on the walls, the rusting metal staircase and plaster falling off the walls. The bad news is we lost 4-0 to Russia last night. Ah shite it’s coming back to me now.

The Luzhniki Stadium was rocking as Russia ran riot. Unable to watch I left early but unfortunately so did thousands of jubilant Russians. We flowed out the stadium, banks of riot police directing us to the Sportivnaya metro where we poured down the enormous escalator to the famous Moscow metro. I was the lone Scot and I’ll never forget the noise. RoooSeeeAaaah!… RoooSeeeAaah! …. it echoed around the curved marble ceilings, shaking the chandeliers! I sat on a marble bench like Ally MacLeod, head in hands. Different fans came over with words of consolation. Or maybe they were really saying ‘your team is pish, da?’

Fuck it, it’s my last day in Moskva, put your kilt on and get out there. My room was so small I had to open the door to get dressed. I’d saved the Kremlin til last. It was amazing and again destroyed my preconceived ideas of the dour Kremlin, the grey fortress from where spies were dispatched to infiltrate us. It was beautiful churches, golden onion domes towering above, a huge cobbled square and finally stunning gardens, tree lined avenues with autumn colours. A group of Asian tourists, many dressed in red were taking photos, smiling. They nodded at me, noting the kilt. Finally one woman came up ‘can I take your photo?’. That started a queue, I was there for ten minutes,lots of smiles, gestures and laughter. Not the Kremlin I was expecting.

I walk down a cobbled lane through an archway onto Red Square and theres St Basils Cathedral , tourists and locals scattered around. Again people want my photo, a mother asks nicely then pushes her two tots to stand beside me. Offers me cash.

Back at my new hotel and its brilliant. Its opulent but stuck in the 1970s, all beige colours, high ceilings, mahogany panelling and chandeliers. Cocktail bar, pianist playing and even a cigar bar. I took a photo of a long corridor with framed sepia photographs of old Moscow, stuck it on Facebook with a comment about The Shining. The response from home was hilarious. ‘Here’s Johnny!’

My last night, I had to go to the Cigar Bar. Leather chairs, mahogany tables, framed pictures of Fidel and Ché on the wall. A group of four sat at one table, decanter of whisky and four glasses. All smoking cigars. Mafia?

I sat apart from the mafioso with a dram, reflecting on my 8 days in Russia and how friendly they all were, how welcoming. As if to demonstrate this, a mafioso called across ‘you are Scotland yes?’. Da. ‘You want see Moscow, I get you women’. Niet.

‘Ah you Scottish are boring. I prefer the Irish’.

Burst ma bubble!

This blog is for Henry Leask who procured me a ticket for the football. It was amazing, Henry.

Getting Hame (after a night oot)

The front door goes, that’s them home. Phew. Its 2.54am and you’ve hardly slept. Try not too worry about them eh but you do, coz you mind (vaguely) what you were like at that age.

When I was 18/19, we stayed in Murdoch Terrace and we’d come oot the pub glorious and stoat up the road. I mind we did the Grand National one night through the gardens of the big houses on the Doune Road.

I’d arrive home, get the key from under the mat and let myself in. If there was no key I’d try the kitchen window. Clamber up on the coal bunker,force open the hopper window, arm in and down and open the window below, clamber in trying not to break anything in the darkness.

Getting home can be tricky tho. I mind in a taxi from Doune and theres a body lieing in the middle of the road. We got him up, poured him in the car and got him home. Slightly older than me he was , deid noo. Another guy thought it’d be fun to ride the horse that used to be in the field at the Keir roundabout. Broke his erm! My mate once walked through the train tunnel home to Dunblane. True story.

And yet the walk could be great fun. One closing time near Christmas,we spilled out the Railway to find freshly fallen snow it was magical we laughed ourselves silly, threw snowballs, made snow angels.We walked up the middle of the Doune Road singing Caravan of Love by the Housemartins*. Bet the locals loved us that night. But what a night.

Finally, walking up the middle of the road is a Dunblane thing. It used to freak Elaine when we started going out, her being Dumbarton. “You cannae do that”. “How no’, theres nae cars!”.

And I still do it haha !

* Caravan of Love was released Nov ’86 so this was probably just before Christmas ’86.

The Studio

We first heard of the studio from a friend in the Tappit. Tales of walking up on a summer night, cairry oot in Tesco bags, before jamming all evening, laughter between songs. Sounded like travellers around a campfire, songs and stories. The Summer Walkers.

So I booked the studio and took Amy up in January, out in the wilds. It was pitch black getting out the car. Amy didn’t have a scooby. A figure appeared out the darkness.”So you must be Amy”, we shook hands.

“Let’s go to the studio”. I had a wee chuckle. This was my surprise for Amy. The studio is hidden, down curved steps we go,watch your head and we’re in. Its tiny and amazing. Guitars hanging on the wall, drumkit, microphone and headphones hanging from the rafters. Rock n roll.

“So what songs have you got, Amy”. Amy’s still taking it all in and I step in, explain it’s a total surprise. A big smile spreads across his face: nice one! I get the guitar out the boot of the car where I had hidden it earlier.

We went back in the summer for a recording session, a lovely evening. Crack open a can, a bottle. Its a great wee studio. Amy’s ready this time and plays beautifully on the keyboard , her voice is lovely. I’ve never heard this song before, but it’s her own and the lyrics well the lyrics are very powerful, emotional stuff about her struggles. When she finishes there is total silence. We sit quietly crying (well, I did anyway). Finally, our man says “that was good…but we’ll try it again just to be sure”. Hes very good with Amy, gently nudges her along.

They put down three tracks that night and by midnight we were all merry. It was all new to me. I cracked open a can at the start of one song and you could hear it on the playback. Sorry about that I mumble. I decide to leave them for a bit, go for a walk, look across Dunblane far below.

The three songs are sent to a man who lives near a castle on an island. More romance to the story. He polishes the jewels and one day we are handed one hundred copies of Amy’s first EP. Alot of work went into that, plus tears and laughter and some new friendships.

Good times, good times.

PS I’ve not named others to keep their privacy, same goes for the location. If I told you I’d have to kill you sorry. But this blog is for them, and for Amy.

Medellín

Medellín was amazing! We flew from Bogota over the mountains. Snow on the mountains, on the equator! Or did I imagine that? Ordered a coffee but had to down it in a one as we were going to land. The flight was that short.

Medellín airport. Bus takes us across beautiful countryside and then, there she is, maybe 3000 feet below. A huge city. I can see a tiny aeroplane going to land at an airport.

It took us half an hour to drive down into Medellín. And when we got there it was chaos. Friendly chaos. We had breakfast (second breakfast) in a bar. As we were finishing, a random stranger comes in, points – ” you gonnae eat that?” I shake my head and he grabs the bread roll. Alot of poverty here.

Obviously he never spoke in a weegie accent. You are totally submersed in Spanish here. Being ignorant, I try to read body language. Stay alert too because you are a potential victim. They’re a friendly people but opportunists. Hence the reason my mobile phone is now in a car boot sale in Bogotá.

We got the monorail to our hotel. Monorail! Like the Simpsons. We sat on the hotel roof that night, sipping whisky bottled in Dumbarton, watching the lightening flickering. It was amazing, lightening all around. As it got dark, all the lights came on in the shanty towns, the barrios. What a view, never forget it.

Next day we had a tour. Barrio 13. Murder capital of the world in the 90’s. Guy was probably a hitman in his youth. The barrio was on a cliff edge, corrugated iron shanty town.

We got a cable car up, Sean laughing at my fear of heights. I got off at the first stop Sean went on. I walked back down steep cobbled streets in the heat. Got an ice cream for like 20p.

We went to Poblado district it was posh. Cocktails n stuff. It was hot and dusty and we’d walked for hours. Found a wee local bar/shop , sat on the pavement with a cool beer. Like £1 for 2 beers am in heaven.

3 days in Medellín was enough it’s hot, dusty and crazy. But we had a great day trip to Guatape. Google it its mental. It’s like Dumbarton rock on drugs. And theres this crazy staircase to the top. I stayed at the bottom, bought Elaine a poncho she never wears. More sign language, the woman tries it on for me, laughing. Sean climbed to the top, gies me the heebies just thinking about it but what memories.

Bus back to Medellín across rolling countryside, sometimes tropical sometimes arid. Guys on motorbikes wearing ponchos. Tiny rustic villages. I’d loved to have stopped off.

So now I want to go back,with Elaine. Chocolate is the answer. Colombian chocolate is amazing and Elaine loves chocolate. Getting a hot chocolate in a cafe is a total ritual. They heat up the milk in a battered silver pot on the hob then pop in lumps of chocolate and stir it with a spurtle. I was mesmerized. It took 5 minutes to perfect, pour it in a mug and oooft, it was the best thing ever.

Ah, Colombia!