Moskva. I’m finally here this is it. Got off the train at Belorusskaya station fine but finding my digs took an hour. The Hotel Versali turned out to be a flat in a tenement in Moscow. Take your shoes off please. They’ve a thing about shoes in Russia.

Am shattered but it’s still only 8pm. It’s dark and cold outside but no wind. I walk down Tverskaya towards the Kremlin. Through the eyes of a child. Cant believe I’m here. Theres a shop full of people, its amazing, vaulted ceilings and chandeliers. This can’t be Moscow?

Moscow is cold. Spies , cold war, dodgy characters. Eh naw , they’re like you and me. Families walking around. On towards the Kremlin it’s like a wedding cake. Amazing. I walk on and on, the Kremlin by my side, all floodlit n turrets n onion domes, just amazing. And then theres the river, the Moskva. “Follow the Moskva, down to Gorky Park”, I whistle the song.

Turning a corner and theres St Basils cathedral. Fuckin hell its beautiful, like a Disney castle but this is no mock castle. This is history. This is Red Square too. I walk across the shiny cobblestones. I have a wee moment to myself, a wee tear- can’t believe I’m here. Haha am standing in Red Square, crying. Theres no tanks, no soldiers- it’s a buzzing market, a celebration of harvest time. The BBC never portrayed it like this. Bastards. Lied to me for years, my entire childhood.. because Russians are like me and you. Theres laughter, young couples taking selfies ffs. They’re like you and me.

And the smells! Theres paella in a huge wok, burgers, kebabs, honey, pumpkins, hot teas. I have a spiced sea buckweed and honey tea its lovely. I’ve calmed doon now. Take a wee video, send it home. ” that’s not real, must be photoshopped” comes a reply. Its fuckin real alright, it’s just beautiful I want to shout.

Ploschad Krasny means Beautiful Square , but that doesn’t fit the BBC narrative eh. Red Square is better, more sinister, communist. Bastards. I never paid my license, I was a rebel, breaking the law- then Elaine paid it without me knowing. Some rebel haha.

After an hour I wander back to my digs. Every corner brings a lovely building, floodlit and reflected in the wet shiny cobblestones. One in particular is sensational. I take its photo several times and then its doors open and people stream out, down the steps. Theres greatcoats, women in knee high boots, Russian hats, laughter. Jesus Christ, its it’s the Bolshoi ballet… the bolshoi fuckin ballet. I’m dreaming…must be. Another wee tear down my cheek. Mum would have loved this, loved this.

I try to sneak in for a nosey, but a huge guard mutters something menacing in Russian. Hands up, I retreat sheepishly. Worth a try eh.

It’s a long walk back to my digs, I climb the worn steps of the tenement close. It could be Glasgow, not Moscow. Yes that’s exactly it, similar vibe. Red Square for George Square, the Moskva for the Clyde.

They’re just like us, just like us.

Tattie Howking

Its Baltic. I scrape the ice off the pharmacy van, ready for a shift. Suns just coming up, dazzling. Check: juice, apple, headtorch all there. Short days in Scotland in late November, dark by 4. An I’ll be on til 5 at least.

Turns out a glorious day, everyone loves a sunny day, wants a blether. “Stay warm” I tell the auld yins. The chat turns to the past, something I’ve noticed over the past year as pharmacy driver: “cant remember what I had for breakfast, son, but ask me about my childhood…”. Today its tattie howking.

October school holidays were for tattie howking. Kids would lift the potatoes from the farmers field. “Aye son, they had a Clydesdale horse and cart and we used to fight over who would go in the cart”. Hard work, sore back. I worked at Hillside Farm in Dunblane, now converted into luxury housing.

The auld dear continues “I mind the farmers wife would walk down the hill with a tea urn in one haun, pieces in the other”. She says the family was Bryce and it was near the old station?

Later on, theres an old boy, hauf blind. Hes watching the racing, won 2 out of 3 he says. Started work in 1946. I try to compute that. 1946!” Stay warm, I tell him, its gona be minus 5 tonight. ” Thanks, son”.

I’m wearing my Russian hat. Got it in Russia when I was over for the football in October. Rabbit fur, our Shitzu loves it. The auld yins love it. “Love her hat, son” they cry ” ye look like a Russian!” One auld dear (Glesca) is in stitches, she shakes uncontrollably the poor soul but she loves the hat, claps her hauns..” aw you’ve made ma day son”.

It’s good for the soul this job, good for the soul. I deliver to the house next door to where my gran used to live. Shes remembers my gran, my mum too. I tell her we went to grans in 1977 for a Scotland match, the night we qualified for Argentina: a colour television! It was probably 8 inches wide…but colour!

It’s dark and I make my final deliveries. A bar of tablet! Back in the high street pharmacy, I share it out. It’s good, we’ve done our shift and are winding down, clearing up – the weekend ahead.

Ah, the weekend ahead….

PS This is for the girls (and boys) in both pharmacies. They keep me right.

Back to Suni Duni

We moved back up to Suni Duni (Dunblane) in September 1997, after 5 years in a tenement in Cowane Street, Stirling. It was just Elaine, myself and Sean, who was 3 months old.

My folks in Murdoch Terrace were delighted, they loved Sean and fought over who should hold him when we popped round. Sean had been 11 nights in Stirling Royal infirmary in August , giving us a hell of a scare. A wee skelf of a boy in a cot with tubes everywhere: it would break your heart. It was only after he recovered that they told us : it was whooping cough he had survived.

Braemar Avenue for us was a revelation, no people below us complaining about noise, two toilets and our own garden! When I took the dog up the park I could see the stars it was so dark. And so quiet at night,so quiet we couldn’t sleep at first!

Our first venture into the garden was memorable. We decided the silver birch tree should go, got the saw out and it was going fine until it started falling the wrong way. Frantic pulling on the support rope(actually a hosepipe) proved futile and it crashed through the fence into the neighbours garden below. Shite! We all peered down as they all looked up at us aghast. ” Eh, hallo.. we’re.. like..your new neighbours…errr…we’ll pay for the fence”. Its funny 22 years later anyway.

To celebrate Sean’s good health we had a half birthday party on St Andrew’s day and the entire Dumbarton clan came though. We announced Elaine was expecting (gasps… whispers “so soon?”) and her papa said it was the best day ever. I made a wee speech to say Elaine had worked wonders by looking after Sean in the hospital. Eleven sleepless nights. I always remember dad saying ‘hear hear’ at that comment : him and Elaine got on great.

We lost dad the next May, the dreaded phone call too early in the morning to be anything else. The day before, Elaine had gone round with Sean and on a sunny May morning they sat on the front doorstep playing.

Dad had a great dry sense of humour. One time Elaine took Sean round and my mate popped in. He put a hand in to Sean’s pram and with that primal instinct Sean held onto his finger. “He’s got a good grip, he’ll play for Rangers one day”. Well dad wasnt gonnae miss this chance – ” no’ wi a name like that he’ll no’ “. Glasgow humour. Gorbals humour.

Amy was born at home less than three weeks later, in Braemar Avenue. A home birth which went great, Elaine and the midwife together in the downstairs bedroom. I was sent to phone for assistance but I’d no sooner dialed than they she shouted too late, it’s on it’s way. A few minutes later we had a daughter, a wee girl ! I put pink balloons on the lamppost to let the neighbours know : a precursor to Facebook.

Granny was round in a shot, delighted. She’d been looking after Sean. “A boy and now a wee girl : a gentleman’s family” she said. I liked the sound of that. We were a gentleman’s family.

So, life went on. Amy was just what granny needed I reckon and from then on granny was a regular in Braemar Avenue.

Finally, I want to tell you a fact, an indisputable fact (leans over, whispers): My dad would be so proud of both Sean and Amy today.


When you travel to an ‘unusual’ destination, you need to put up with stereotypical comments from friends. Colombia played right into their hands.”Oooft watch you don’t get kidnapped” and “have you no’ seen Narcos?” Yeah yeah.

So, I’m sitting in a holding cell in Aeropuerto Internacional El Dorado, Bogotá. The Colombian customs officer is looking across the table at me. He’s no happy. “Hotel?” I’ve been travelling 24 hours solid, am no needing this. They won’t let me enter Colombia unless I can tell them where I’m staying. Finally I get wifi and show him an email on my fon. He’s still no happy. Getting up he motions me to follow him, back through to the passport desk. Gives my passport to the woman on the desk then walks away. She sighs and stamps my passport, hands it to me, motions…go on fuck off. Welcome to Colombia.

I’m too tired so it’s just relief that I’m feeling and then, there’s my Sean… a sight for sore eyes. Big hugs then were in a taxi heading into Bogotá, Sean speaking fluent Spanish to the driver. I’m impressed. I look out the window – love a new city but this is huge , a bit scary. I can see the lights of the shanty towns high above the city. Sean and the driver are now arguing in Spanish, I’m very impressed.

Next morning am up at 0700 local time but my body says its 1300. Sean’s sound asleep so I head out, the start of a tradition of two breakfasts every morning. Coffee and arepas are very filling and 3000 pesos – that’s about 60p ya dancer! Bogota takes your breath away, literally. Its 8361 feet above sea level. Climbing some stairs and I’m breathing deeply, not unpleasant but a strange feeling.

We get the TransMilenio into the old town, La Candeleria. I’m looking over a sea of heads. Colombians are short arses, Sean. I am a giant haha. We both get strange looks, being gringos. Sean tells me when he first arrived, he tried to look busy, walk fast like he had a purpose. You dont open up a map in Bogotá and start pointing at the architecture- you become a target.

We get the funicular up Monserrate, a 10,150 foot high peak above Bogotá. The views are sensational, 10.8 million people living in the sprawling mass of a city below. Given the cheapness, we treat ourselves to a meal in the clifftop restaurant, like a scene from a movie.

It’s a long way from Suni Duni, eh.

PS This blog is for Sean, without whom I’d never have travelled to South America. True story. And for Nahora, who looked after him.

Harris : Follow your Dreams

We first visited Harris in the summer of 1991. It wasn’t very summery but we fell in love with it. Got a B n B in Tarbert and an introduction to the Hearachs. “Can we get a double room for tonight?”. “Well let’s see” said the old lady (cailleach)” we have a double room and a twin room… but the twin is taken…so you can have a double room” she concluded. Now she could have said yes, but theres not a word for yes in the Gaelic.

You could never book a room on Harris like that now, especially in summer. Its hoaching. Tourists and campervans everywhere. My mate used to go camping to Arisaig but then it got busy. Camping on Skye, at Sligachan between the bridges : too busy. Now he goes to Harris…and complains it’s too busy. ” You’ll be going to St Kilda next” I say. He doesn’t appreciate my offbeat sense of humour. Smart arse.

My mates to blame though, for our Harris adventure. He gave me the estate agents brief, a croft for sale, well a sheep fank really. We walked up the track to view it that day in July 2009 and six sheep ran out the door. It was crazy really. Why did you do it, people asked initially. Well, Elaine never said no, was my reply. She never said no.

Two months later and we’ve bought the croft but we’re keeping quiet. Alot of money for a ruin. Are we mad? Its possible, I mutter to myself in a dark moment.

Off to Dunkeld for a “fishing” weekend and, in the pub my father in law comes out with it. “Yes that was daft…but not as daft as paying £##$ for a ruin on a fuckin island in the middle of nowhere”. Ah shite I’ve been rumbled. And then the grilling starts, they’re like a tag team. “So theres no water supply?” … “eh not yet”…. “and theres no electricity”….” em not yet”…”how you going to get there it’s almost in Iceland!”…

But as the beers went down the mood mellowed. “So you can walk to the pub?”…”yes”…”and the fishings good”…”definately”. I seized the initiative : with wifi nowheres really remote anymore, the ferries are very good, the locals are brilliant you’ll love the craic. I was on fire! “Kings may be blest” to quote Burns “but Tam was glorious, o’er all the ills of life victorious”. By closing time I had, in my addled mind, won them over. Eric leaned over “follow your dreams son”. I really appreciated that.

This is dedicated to my Elaine, who never said no.

Seo mo bhean,Elaine!

Following Bill the Pill

I’ve been doing the pharmacy delivery driver for over a year now. I’m getting to know the auld yins and they’re getting to know me. It’s a hard act following in the footsteps of “Bill the Pill” as they call him but just the other day an auld dear in Dunblane said she recognised my knock. I never knew I had a knock! Small things, eh.

I was working at home for about 5 years, its mindnumbing looking at drawings and measuring drains. 5 years doon the drain mair like.Wish I realised sooner. So the pharmacy job was crazy : meeting and greeting maybe 80 different folks each day. It was a blur. This guy needs to sign for his CDs (controlled drugs), never leave meds in the van overnight, dont post his blister pack or his dug will eat them, never gie meds to a friendly neighbour (could be a stalker), at number 5 just chap the window and go right in, you have to put her meds in that security box as shes got Dementia.

Dementia with a capital D. Maybe one day I’ll tackle that subject … you’ll need your hankies tho. So, back in the van and I’m panicking- hunners of packages to deliver, a mountain piled up in the passenger seat – where the hells Bishops Gardens ffs – 52 years in Dunblane and I dont fuckin know !! Frantically text Hutchy the post he keeps me right.St Blanes Road is behind the polis station btw.

First day on my own I had my lunch at 3.30pm in Braco, sweat lashing off me. Can of Barr Bru and bag of crisps from the wee shop. I’m better now, take your time , do this side of Dunblane first then over to Newton. Get the sheltered houses done before 11am or the service button no work.

The people make it worthwhile. “Just you go into the kitchen son..the first drawer and theres some tablet for you”..”here, take some treacle toffees”… “there ye go son, some chocolates”. I should be the size ae a hoose! So if I go into the high street pharmacy at 4.30pm and theres a pile of packages including one up Sherrifmuir I dont hesitate. Theres no better feeling than an auld dear saying “ooh that was quick I only put that in yesterday” or maybe “thanks son, I’ll be able to sleep tonight”. So, my Christmas present was a head torch.

I know Dunblane well now and most of the characters. I wave to John the lollipop man, Eric the taxi, the lads in John Hills, Rosemary in her new shop , the postmen/women and of course Bill the Pill. Bet he could tell me some stories. Oh and avoid the school at lunchtime when the pupils pour out the doors and flow down the Old Doune Road to Tesco.

A final tale ( and a strong language warning – shocking eh) : theres an old boy in Suni Duni.. tiny but what a character, swears like a trooper. He told me a shocking tale of how he woke up and thought rigor mortis had set in, thought he was deid. Managed to get to the docs who gave him tablets. Next day hes fit as a fiddle (he does a wee jig on the doorstep to demonstrate this). Am laughing now and he leans over and I know I’m going to receive a pearl of wisdom. “And you know what son” he says ” I dont give a monkeys fuckin’ dick what pills they gie me….as long as they work!”.

I’m not quite sure the moral of these inane ramblings but hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing !

PS I never even mentioned the Russian hat!

Football Family

Saturdays are football. Simple. Before the female half of you switch off….wait a minute please. It’s about community , team spirit, looking after your teammate. Elaine’s choir I would imagine is similar in a gentler fashion, especially on show night. Theres nerves but you get out there and put on a performance, give it your all. You can’t let your teammates down.

So Saturday we were at home. Round to DHS with footballs, meet the gang. The banters good “were you oot last night?”…”fuck off”… ” few goals today, big man?”… “aye, if selected”. Love that bit of modesty “if selected..”. Humble. We try to stay humble, sweep the sheds after the game- leave the dressing room as we find it.

Ref arrives… good banter..before we shout at him for 90 minutes. Goalies are mental, but referees are off the scale. Holytown lads come out early, some big lads spilling onto our astroturf pitch. Streetwise lads fae Motherwell- it may get tasty today.

Game starts on a dreich November day. The ref had mentioned floodlights would be good. Text to Hutchy and 5 minutes later the floodlights are on. Hes a good lad. Half an hour in and I head off to get the pies – 20 steak/macaroni pies fae John hills. As am driving away we score… I toot the horn… Holytown coach looks round…ragin’. Haha get it roond ye. Football changes a person – I’m quite shy.. but once the whistle goes..

Dunblane high street is busy..I cannae get parked but luckily John is ready with the pies. I’m blocking the street but Johns on it…20 hot pies in the window… car behind is tooting but it’s just Fraser Mackay winding me up.

Back at astro its half time. 1 nil up. The pie sales are slow…the dreich weather means a low crowd. The young crew come over – “two steak pies”… dive in lads.

We win 4-1, but only after they equalised and we miss a penalty. It’s never easy. Every team is the same.

Amateur football, eh. I read an article about Andy Murray that made me change my view on amateur football. He went to the Olympics, it said, and treated it as an amateur. I’m reading this thinking “what, he got pished on the flight over?”. But no, he paid for his flights and his digs. An amateur, the article said , is someone who pursues a sport for the love of it and not for financial gain. And that’s us..that’s us! We’re Amateurs and proud if it.

Back to john hills for 40 steak/macaroni pies. The craic is great, they’re just finishing up after a busy day, wiping the counters, counting the takings. We always get a family steak pie for our man of the match and a foto too. “This is Neil..the main man ..fuckin hattrick the day…” “No way , he looks 12 year old”.

Onto The Tappit. Its packed, the pies go doon a storm. The Holytown lads are in good form despite the result. A cheer goes up..someone’s coupons up. “Get the fuckin drinks in, big man!”.

Aye, Saturdays are good (when you win). Saturdays are good.

Brussels to Moskva

Brussels airport and I’m looking up a the departure board. Moscow 0925. This is it !I’d got the 0605 from Edinburgh earlier – never slept, never do with an early rise. I should be a burst baw but Im buzzin’.

Theres Scotland fans milling about. Part of me is reassured : well at least I’m no’ the only crazy bastard going to Russia. Part of me is annoyed – “fuck off , this is ma adventure beyond the iron curtain, the former Soviet Union – no’ wanting some pished guy fae Arbroath spoiling it”.

And then we’re in the sky. Good seat in the aisle, stretch ma legs…but wait a minute…window seat over there. That’ll do me.

Love a window seat. Elaine doesn’t get it , just doesnae fuckin’ get it.

Me – look look theres the Danube, E – (looks out) Meh , Me – oooh oooh the Alps! (points finger) E – (doesn’t look out) Meh Me – look, a UFO with Bon Jovi on it E – Meh…wait..WHAT!?

So, I’m looking at the landscape far below trying to work it out. An hour gone…probably near Berlin. Two hours now…must be on the Polish/Belarus border. Three hours…this is defo Russia…we’re nearly there…we’re nearly there! Moscow ! You’re really going to Moscow! (whistles ‘Wind of Change’ by Scorpions).

The upside of solo travel is you can do what you want, when you want. The downside is no-ones got your back, nobody saying ‘right , have you got your ticket?’ So, Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow – I’m on my own and mild panic sets in.

Passport, visa, mobile, tickets all present and correct – ah shite do you remember the time at Bogota airport when they detained you coz you’d no proof of your hotel reservation? ..please let me thru please let me thru…is the visa correct…better double check…fuck whats Russian for thank you again? Spasibo thats it. Dont smile at the Russian customs officer dont fuckin smile!

And then, I’m thru ! Spasibo spasibo ! I could greet. I’m at Sheremetyevo airport railway station waiting for the Aerorexpress to Belorusskaya station in Moskva, Russia. Grinning like an idiot. I’m here…I’m really here.

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.