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.

’70s Summer Holidays

Growing up in Dunblane in the 1970s our holidays were only ever in the summer. Easter and October school holidays were stay at home : play wi yer pals doon the Lechills or in the school field or in the skinny woods behind Bruce Avenue. October fortnight was tattie howking for many bairns. I went to Hillside Farm one year that was hard work.

My first summer holiday story is one I don’t remember. They say one year, maybe 1972 when I was 4, we were all ready. The car was packed wi deckchairs, beach towels, footballs, clothes and 3 weans and we were off. Maw turned round to look in the back seat and said “wheres Alan?” Car screeches to a halt (I like to think).I was happily sitting on the garden wall at Murdoch Terrace going ladida oh look a butterfly.

Our holidays were always to the beach and always in a caravan. Theres a classic photo somewhere of me on the caravan steps eating my cornflakes. Early 70s I think we went to Stonehaven, Cruden Bay and Banff and Macduff. Don’t remember these really but do recall being stuck in traffic going through Auchterarder and then crawling up the Kinkell Braes behind huge HGVs.

It was exciting living in a caravan, the salt air, new pals wi funny accents, bucket n spade on the beach, fishing nets in the rockpools, gobstoppers n ice lollies. My mums summer holidays had been 4 weeks on Bute at Kilchatten Bay each year so I think we were continuing that tradition just like most Scots.

In ’76 tho, we went to Aviemore it was scorchio and new and exciting, almost like being abroad (apart fae the midges). We were there with our cousins from England, probably like The Broons (seven weans) and I reckon the adults got the caravan and we got the tent. I mind of my dad blowing tobacco smoke from his pipe into the tent to get rid of the midges. Then in ’77 we travelled for 9 hours in a heatwave in the Morris Oxford, legs sticking to the leather seats. Our faraway destination? A caravan on a farm in the Lake District.

That holiday was memorable for many things. I discovered clegs are worse than midges and that I was allergic to horses (rushed to doctors). All the kids played rounders at night and I belted the ball so far it smashed a windae in the farmhouse.”Run!” someone shouted. “To the caravan?” was my reply. I never did get in trouble for that.

In 1978, aged 10, I was at BB camp in Leven then I think we were at Carnoustie in ’79. We never went to the Ayrshire coast coz nana and papa lived in Ardrossan and we visited them on weekends.

So that was my ’70s holidays but in 1980 we broke the tradition and went abroad! The midnight train from Suni Duni (Dunblane) to London, train to Dover, ferry to Calais, overnight train to Brive-la-Gaillarde then bus to St Céré in the Dordogne. Once the ground stopped moving (2 days travelling on trains/ferries/bus) and we acclimatised to the hot weather it was a lovely holiday. We cycled to wee villages nearby and saw Rocamadour, an ancient fortress type town plus caves n shit. There was a thunderstorm most nights too which was exciting. Mum loved seeing the gendarmes with their uniform and guns and we all practiced our bad French and ordered diabolo fraise in the cafés.

As adults we continued the Scottish seaside tradition, staying in cottages. In the 2000s, we took our two to Skye, Barra, Arisaig, Calgary Bay, Dornoch, Tiree and of course Harris. On Harris we couldnt get a cottage for a week and got a decrepit caravan next to Luskentyre beach for £150! What a location but the caravan…. oooft!

Dunblane SC Amateurs :formed 2016

Dunblane SC Amateurs were formed in 2016. Saturday 4 June 2016 to be precise, at the India Gate restaurant. The night was intended to be a reunion of the ’96/97s team, a year after our last match, a 3-2 triumph to win the cup at the Recs, Alloa. It ended up alot more than that.

I had started to help coach the ’97s lads in 2004 and coached them through their primary school years, from fun fours to 7-a-side. Saturday mornings taking a carload of 8 year olds to Sunnyside in Camelon and Park Primary in Alloa. Once the lads reached high school many of them signed for Stirling Albion or Stenhousemuir but most returned within two years.

In August 2012, we took the lads to St Andrews and had a great 2 days which set us up for a tremendous season (under 16s in Forth Valley league). Despite being 11 points behind with 8 games left that season we won all our games in May to set up an amazing finale. First on Sat 1 June 2013, we won the cup final at Alloa on penalties v Cowie after a 0-0 draw. Two days later we travelled to Kilsyth needing one point to win the league. Seafar were the opposition, the team we had trailed by 11 points. We won 5-1 and were presented with the trophy after the final whistle amid jubilant scenes.

The next season was barren and in our final season we merged with the ’96s. In the league, we chased Sauchie Juniors all the way, beating them on their own patch but we finished 2nd. We did however win 2 cups and in our final ever match in May 2015 we came from 0-2 to win the cup v Riverside. It was a great way to finish youth football.

So, our reunion was intended to be just that, a reunion. However after a few beers and chatting to the lads it was obvious most of them had fallen out the game. We asked the lads on the night if they would be interested in starting an amateur team. The reply was a resounding yes.

We were admitted to the Stirling and District League and after some friendly matches we played our first competitive match on Saturday 13 August 2016. Our opponents were Laurieston Lions who had recently achieved notoriety in the Daily Record for losing 37-0. We were 1 down in 30 seconds, a bad start to our journey to say the least. We recovered to win 14-1.

That first season was a big learning curve as we had an average age of 19 whilst our opponents were all hardened amateurs. One match in particular our lads had a quiet laugh at the opposing centre forward: he was a big lad. Well, the big lad scored a hat trick as we couldn’t handle him. Another lesson.

In our first season (2016/17), we finished fourth in the league but our journey as an amateur team had begun. More was to come in 2017/18 (to be continued)….

Dunblane Bypass

The Dunblane bypass was opened in 1991. Hard to imagine Dunblane without it now but long ago all the traffic heading up and down the A9 would thunder through Dunblane.

There were fatalities in Dunblane, perhaps that brought it to a head. There were protests too. I recently met a lady who had protested. “I lay down in front of a truck” she said, her face beaming with the recollection “it was on the STV news”. I was well impressed and told her so. “Well, I was alot younger then” she added.

I looked it up. In the ’70s they wanted to make the Perth Road a dual carriageway, knocking down houses to enable this I assume. Sounds crazy but there was alot less traffic in them days. Dunblane would have been split in two. There was a flyover proposed from the golf course down to the High Street. Now that would have been mental, you have to be impressed by the planner who dreamt that one up : southbound cars fleeing off the slip road, over the dual carriageway and zooming doon to the High Street, pedestrians running for their lives.

In hindsight, maybe it was the ’60s, because that idea could only have been born with the aid of recreational drugs.

So the western bypass was really the only sensible solution although the other idea was a bypass to the east. No idea how that worked – cut across the golf course, Glen Road, behind the hydro ?

I remember going for a jog along the bypass before it opened. That was a bit surreal, jogging along an empty motorway type road. Dont try it now, folks.

My uncle was up from London one time and he made a prediction. Once the bypass is complete, he said, they will build houses on all the land between Dunblane and the bypass. Well, in the 29 years since they have built the Calas, Montgomery Cresent, Clement Loan, a new Dunblane High School/Maurice Wynd, Balmyle Grove, Daniel Avenue/Lawder Place ,extended Grant Drive and now Victoria Park. Spot on with that prediction, eh! (not even mentioned the proposed Hillside Farm development).

So, as a result of the bypass, Dunblane is a better place but is its head getting too big for its body?


My gran was born in 1897. My mothers mother, her name was Anne Hall. I know this because my niece has done research into our family tree. I also know because at Dunblane Primary School in the 1970s my teacher asked us to bring in something Victorian. I went home, told my mum and she laughed and said “take your gran in”. True story.

In the 1970s gran lived in Roman Way in Dunblane. If I was sick I would stay at grans and later my dad would bring me a comic or marbles when he came to collect me.

Gran had a colour TV. It was tiny…but it was colour! That’s why, on 12 October 1977, we went to grans for the crucial Wales v Scotland world cup qualifier. I was only 9 years old so I must have been allowed to stay up late as we qualified for Argentina ’78. In hindsight, poor my gran : 80 year old and we gatecrashed her hoose for the football because she had a colour TV!

Sadly, in later years gran had Alzheimer’s disease and I remember her phoning us to say she had set the table, dinner was ready and where were we ? Very upsetting. She died in 1986, aged 89.

Born 7 May 1897, gran was brought up in Halfway House, Paisley Road, Glasgow. She went to Cardonald Primary School. She was one of ten children according to the 1901 census. She was engaged at a young age I was told, but tragically her fiancé died in WW1. She then married James Dyce in 1927, gave birth to 3 girls (including my mum) and a boy. Her first born girl, named Winnifred, died at the age of two however. In WW2, they were all evacuated to a wee village called Terregles near Dumfries and attended the school there.

It still amazes me that if some German (I assume) had not shot (again I assume) my grans fiancé in WW1 then none of us would be here.

Sobering thought, eh.

PS This blog is for Kim, who has done alot of research on our family history, climbing the family tree!

PPS This is also for Sean and Amy, so youse know your family history thru my blethers.

Hampden in the ’80s

Hampden is iconic. Though I never saw a match with crowds of over 100,000 I did witness some amazing Scotland matches in the 1980s, all whilst standing on the terracing in the Rangers end. No seats in those days, just folk packed in behind the goals. Stories tell of drunken folk pishing down the back of your legs but I must have been lucky because that never happened to me. Unless I was the drunk….?

My first Hampden experience however was not a Scotland game, it was the 1981 league cup final. I remember being disappointed the stadium was smaller than I imagined. I’d been at Ibrox in ’78 to watch Stirling Albion and it was huge, a massive bowl. So Hampden seemed small in comparison.

That day in November ’81, Rangers scored twice in the last few minutes to beat Dundee United 2-1. I remember the stoor (dust cloud) drifting down the pitch from the Rangers end (we were in the north enclosure) following both goals. The terracing was blaes and timber you see. The crowd was 53,777.

I was back in ’84 for a World Cup qualifier v Spain, beaten European finalists. We were stuck in traffic at Stepps when the Scotland team bus passed us with a police escort. Crazy. That night in November 74,299 fans crammed into the ancient stadium. Kenny Dalglish scored an amazing goal to clinch a 3-1 win. I lost my mate for five minutes after that goal. The crowd would all surge forward, you had to be careful not to fall down or you would be trampled but folk always helped you back up after. I remember leaving the stadium that night was scary, such was the crush of bodies. You were literally swept along, feet off the ground.

I was back the following May, in ’85 to see Scotland beat England 1-0. A Richard Gough header in the pouring rain was enough. Only 66,439 at this one, maybe segregation was needed for some strange unknown reason? The atmosphere was incredible though, very hostile towards the English fans who, in the ’80s had a terrible reputation.

My final classic match was in March ’89 when we beat France 2-0. France had finished 3rd in the Mexico ’86 World Cup but we won easily. 65,204 fans watched in pouring rain that night as Mo Johnston scored both goals. Good times tho we got totally soaked getting back to the car that night.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, in ’86 I watched Stirling Albion lose 1-0 to Queens Park in a near empty stadium, a surreal experience. The same day Rangers drew 4-4 with Celtic at Ibrox (only 41,000 at that).

I feel lucky to have caught the end of an era, both in footballing terms and old fashioned (decrepit) stadiums. I saw Dalglish, Cooper, Miller, Strachan and Souness all play. Scottish international football has never since reached the levels of ’80s and Hampden was made an all seater stadium in the late ’90s so we’ll never see these crowds again in our national stadium.

I’m going to Hampden this week for a league meeting, train from Central to Mount Florida. Hopefully it’ll be quieter than those crazy nights in the ’80s.

Family Traditions

Our family is odd. We have strange code words only we can decipher, family traditions only we can understand. Maybe we’re not odd, maybe every family has the same (but different) quirks ?

For example, mum used to chap our door and walk in, shouting “Yoohoo!”. A stranger may think this is odd but I now do this regularly when delivering medicines to auld yins. They should recognize my knock by now but the “Yoohoo!” is hopefully reassuring.

Another phrase is “right, that’s me”(abbreviated from “right, that’s me away”). Our Amy shouts this on her way out the door. Again a stranger would be like wtf? That’s you what..?

Once our English cousins were up. Mum asked them if they wanted a piece. “A piece of what?” was the reply. That was more a cultural thing tho, not a family quirk.

We have a family whistle too. Stole the idea offof my mate. He was at a Rangers game away to Partick once. Packed stadium, stood on the terracing. Did his family whistle and within a minute 2 cousins arrived to greet him. So we have developed a wee curlew type whistle which we use if we’re separated, usually in busy railway stations, Christmas market in George Square but most often in Dunblane Tesco. So if you hear a weird curlew whistle in Tesco it’s just us.

We have odd words too, like cockney slang without the rhyme. If the tv is too loud (like blaring), we say its Tony Blair. We had been saying that for years since the tots were born(1997/98). Then one day, a tiny Sean came running into the kitchen shouting “Theres a guy on TV called Tony Blair !” Come to think of it, that may have sparked his interest in politics.

Another one is “I’m away to see Tom Kite”, usually mumbled as one leaves the room. That’s self explanatory. There is one saying that we dont understand though, dont know the origins. One day, when it was pouring, Elaine said “its a sin for a worm”. I thought this was hilarious, concern for worms getting droont in the rain. Puir wee worms. Who knows where that came fae as Elaine’s family are mystified too.

Anyway, hope your family has odd phrases/habits and were not total freaks. It keeps us different in a weird sort of way!