Lockdown May 2020

So life under lockdown continues in Dunblane and if anything, I’m delivering more prescriptions than ever as people are reluctant to collect from the pharmacy. Don’t blame them. However, as I am full time now I am taking it all in my stride. Its become the ‘new normal’.

The number of prescriptions would have freaked me out just 6 months ago but now it all goes in the van. In fact , at the start of May I used it as a challenge and counted the deliveries as I went. The number rose from the 70s to the 80s per day and it became a running joke with the pharmacist as I chased the fabled 100.

The weather in May has helped its been lovely. So many folks were out sunbathing that most afternoons I started going round to the back gardens rather than chap the front door. In the sheltered housing at Hanover Court they all sit out in the courtyard in the middle. “Ah here he is…its the roadrunner!” Been called worse haha. “Is the bar open yet?” I shout back.

The auld yins have been great I get all the comments. “Thats you got a job for life now, son”. In another sheltered housing block that I frequent alot, its “you should get a season ticket here, son”. Another old boy, when I ask how hes doing, he pauses, thinks and says “well am still fuckin’ here!”. See, you cannae argue wi that logic.

However, its not all banter and sadly we lost two old dears. One was deputy headmistress at Dunblane Primary School when I was there in the 70s. She was lovely then and she was lovely when I reintroduced myself 18 months ago. Actually I didn’t need to – she somehow knew who I was and asked after my mum. Her and mum were the same age she told me. Her funeral was today. Sadly I only saw the hearse as it passed the foot of the Old Doune Road but there were still plenty mourners outside her house when I drove past*.

The other lady was a character and kept the pharmacy staff on their toes. She died in the house she was born in I was told. The morning of the funeral I witnessed a procession that I have never seen before (only ever seen a similar occasion on Harris once). She left her home on her final journey with a lone piper leading the way followed by the hearse. Both sides of the street were lined with friends. They must have been well over a hundred and not a dry eye to be found. It must have been a comfort to the family to see such a turnout.

A final tale : the day after the Clap for Binmen/Posties etc I was stuck behind a bin lorry in Well Place. Ach well they do a great job I’m thinking, they deserve our respect. Just then the bin lorry swallowed the bin and the wee guy jumps in after it, his mate shouting and running aboot like a daftie – it wiz like Laurel n Hardy!

And did I achieve the fabled 100? Thursday 21 May 2020 was the day and 106 deliveries was the number. I even told the wee auld biddy in Springbank Cresent that she was number 100. She looked at me doubtfully. “Ach well” she said “you’ll sleep tonight son”.

And I did.

PS Dunblane Health Centre really is in Well Place.

*For the record, under lockdown in Scotland only immediate family are allowed to attend the actual funeral. As a result friends would line the pavements near the home of the deceased and pay their respects as the hearse drove past. It feels to me like stepping back in time.

Interrail 1988: Paris to Athens

In June 1988, I had finished my final exams at Glasgow College and was offski. Overnight bus Dunblane to London, train to Dover then hovercraft to Calais and viola, je suis en France. Haud me back!

Got a bus (not train) to Paris by mistake but I remember being in awe at the sights. I bought a baguette and walked for miles on a hot sunny day. For a 20 year old from Dunblane it was amazing. The Eiffel Tower and later watching the sunset looking down the Champs Elysees to the Arch de Triomphe. My diary notes I then caught the 2310 overnight train to Amsterdam : the first use of my Interrail card.

It was a crazy start to my tour of Europe and 24 hours after leaving Dunblane, I was whizzing through French, then Belgian, countryside towards Amsterdam. I met Swedes and Canadians on the train,too excited to sleep, Brussels at 0400, then into sunny Amsterdam very early. We ate salami pieces beside a canal then did the first Heineken tour of the day. Again I was in awe. Amsterdam was beautiful although busy. I also got a close cropped haircut to celebrate my freedom then walked around the city, looking out for trams. I got a train to Haarlem too for some strange reason.

Overnight train again, this time to Basel. I had a couchette to myself but slept badly. Trains have a romantic image but when the loudspeakers announce your trains arrival at each station in the middle of the night and the guard is shouting at folk to hurry up…well, not so romantic!

Arrived Basel at 0700 then caught train to Luzern and climbed onto the city walls then had lunch by the river. Onto Zurich then, on a beautiful day, got the train to Chur then St Moritz through stunning Alpine scenery. I walked up into the mountains and took photos in the snow. St Moritz was/is? a famous ski resort but it was dead in the middle of June.

Couldn’t find a pub for the football and watched Holland beat England 3-1 in a shop window (Van Basten 3). Had beer in railway station bar and slept in a phone box it wiz freezin’. Looking back, St Moritz is 6000 feet above sea level so was going to be a tad chilly. Caught the 0600 train to Sargans (on border with Liechtenstein) on a cloudless morning and had breakfast on the platform surrounded by amazing scenery. Onto Bregenz and finally, finally I stayed in a hostel. After one night on a bus, two on a train and one in a phone box I was going to sleep in a bed!

Next day, after 8 hours sleep (noted in my diary) I took the train to a rainy Innsbruck where I stocked up for my marathon trip to Athens. I then started the 2000km journey with the train across the Austrian/Yugoslavia border to Ljubljana (now capital of Slovenia). Ljubljana station was mobbed with young Yugoslavs going to serve their one year national service in the army. They were all drinking outside the two bars on the platform. When they found out I was Scottish we had good craic.

A train came in around 2300 but it was so busy we never got on. More drink and merriment. We crammed onto a train at 0045 and the party continued on board with my new pal,a huge guy who looked like Mick Jagger, shouting ‘Slovenia’ out the window. He told me he considered himself more Italian than Yugoslav and resented the national service duty. Almost exactly three years later,on 25 June 1991, Slovenia declared independence.

The train continued through Yugoslavia all night and all the next day, going via Belgrade where I managed to squeeze into a 6 seat compartment. Onwards into the night through Macedonia then into Greece and Thessaloniki. I remember seeing fireflies out the window in the trees it was magical. Almost 48 hours after leaving Innsbruck, we arrived in Athens early in the morning. It was a helluva journey and many folks seem to have had money/luggage stolen or been fined by the guards for some obscure reason.

And that, incredibly, was my first week of Interrailing around Europe. A very hot and dusty Athens awaited !

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.