Cauld kail het up

I’m back on a few of my familiar themes here but with the odd wee extra bit included.

1 Of porridges and things

I’ve had some good plates of porridge over the last few months, in London and in Glasgow. Loka, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Gloucester Road, had opened since I was last in London in 2019 and walking past on my first afternoon, I’d spotted porridge on their breakfast menu. It was made with oat milk and came with a banana and peanut butter topping; I had to try that and was back early the next morning to avoid any rush. I needn’t have worried about not getting a table but instead began to be concerned about the place’s future as I was the only customer in a lovely bright room, though with maybe a few too many artificial flower hangings for my liking.

The plate of porridge was substantial, properly made and artfully decorated. I’d checked about any sweeteners (abominations) in advance and had refused honey; instead I got some blueberries and sliced strawberries as well as the advertised banana and peanut butter. I’ve previously criticised farantoosh toppings for porridge but I thoroughly approved of this one. The consistency of the peanut butter intrigued me and I worked out that it must have come from some form of squeezable tube. This has finally appeared in my local supermarket as peanut butter “drizzler” and I’ve been able to recreate the London porridge experience at home.

More traditional was the porridge I had at Moyra Janes in Kildrostan Street Glasgow a few weeks ago with Cousin Mairi and RMF. There was no mucking about with a classic here. Luckily Mairi had refused the honey, which I hadn’t noticed on the menu not having my glasses with me, and we enjoyed it topping-free. I wish more places would include porridge on their breakfast menu but not incompetently make something very nasty from a packet as I experienced many long years ago in an inner-Hebridean hotel that must remain nameless. The lad responsible had either never eaten porridge or had absolutely no shame. I was shocked into silence.

At Peckhams in Hyndland Road Glasgow, it wasn’t porridge I ordered last year but their fine-sounding Bircher muesli with berry compote and toasted seeds. When the waitress approached with her tray, I very nearly waved her away as I could see lettuce leaves on top and assumed she’d brought the wrong order but no, it was my bircher muesli! By now, I was well into my critical career and asked for an explanation: it was just a garnish, the startled lassie said. Everything else on their breakfast menu was savoury so I gathered they were just following orders – but really, was there nobody involved who had some basic culinary sense?

Doing a similar kind of thing is The Grind House in Glasgow’s Darnley Street where their icing sugar shaker wants confiscating. I first experienced their sprinklings when I ordered a scone and thought it was unnecessary but when it appeared next time on a companion’s French toast with bacon and maple syrup, I knew it was a serious problem they had. When the time came for me to order their French toast with caramelised apples and honey, I made sure to refuse both the honey and the sugar dusting as one element of sweetness is quite enough in my opinion for our teeth and the general health of the nation. When accompanied there by The Loon, I am not allowed to stray outwith my own order when making comments or requests after the terrible time when, from the toilet, he heard me cancelling the icing sugar on his choice of breakfast and he emerged with a distinct frown on his face at my affront to the server.

2 That old rapscallion

I don’t know if Nicky Haslam has divided the UK with his latest list of items that he considers “common”, but once again he has left me conflicted. (See Common Sins) What could he possibly have against hydrangeas, blush wine, coriander, craft gins, flavoured tonic waters or sideplates? However, I’m with him all the way when it comes to cushions on beds, the “See it, say it, sorted” slogan, folk saying “Let’s unpack that …” or “Sadly passed …”. Right in the middle of my judgment scale, as it’s a new one on me, is “Hauser & Wirth” which turns out to be “a vibrant program of art exhibitions, events, learning activities and artists’ residences which connect with the local community and landscape” in Bruton, Somerset. According to one review on, the art there while described as challenging, was found to be “ridiculous”: “old undies hanging on washing lines”, “a black tarry mess of mangled gigantic doll parts”, a “screwed-up piece of A4 paper on top of a cardboard box displayed with reverence as a limited edition”. I think Mr Haslam has once again surprised me as I couldn’t thole this kind of stuff myself.

Hauser & Wirth also have quite a number of “international contemporary and modern art” galleries around the world so this might well be some kind of artistic beef he has with them, unless it’s their American spelling of programme – which would be enough for me to condemn them too. Or does he have something against the hospitality side of their business? I see it includes a restaurant in Los Angeles and also The Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar where no doubt they’re cleaning up from the well-heeled monarchy groupies. £504 a night is a current offer.

3 Talking of King Charles

Having stood up for him in The Queen is Dead, I’m now going to praise him for his ban on foie gras being served in any royal residence; he’s described as a “longstanding opponent” of the cruel forcefeeding of geese and ducks to fatten their livers. You could have a look for Sean Coughlan’s article on the BBC website on 18 November – King Charles: Foie gras banned at royal residences. Also to his credit, I understand he’s planning to only allow fake fur at his coronation though it would be a few steps too far for him I suppose to ban the coronation. However, I believe there’s unlikely to be any kind of investiture for the new ‘Prince of Wales’.

4 Back in Edinburgh

It’s a while since I had anything to say about visiting our capital city (See Jaunt to Edinburgh and At the back end), but in late September I went to the City Art Centre to have a look at their Will Maclean exhibition – Points of Departure. I don’t know what Nicky Haslam would have made of it, but I thought it was great and I learned so much about a living Scottish artist of whom I was only vaguely aware.

I’d already spoken to one of the attendants about how the height of some of the exhibits were giving me a sore neck when, on my way downstairs, I happened to look into the narrow space between the sides of one set of steps and the upright glass panels; then after checking all of them, I had to about-turn and go straight back up to find her again. The oose that had gathered in these spaces was absolutely appalling: thick and almost black from what must have been years of neglect. The design of the stairs had clearly contributed to this accumulation as only the very narrowest nozzle could have been fitted to a vacuum to get in there and sook it up. My new friend the attendant was suitably horrified, though she did not agree with my line that the oose had been gathering since the gallery opened there in 1980. We were of one mind however that the designer of the staircase was at fault and he’d obviously never thought about its cleaning. Which reminds me: who goes up to dust those wooden beams high up in the Scottish Parliament debating chamber, and how often is it done? Maybe all planning committees for new or refurbished buildings should include a cleaner to rein in some of the dafter impractical designs.

5 And finally – “The English”

I gave a squeal of surprise and delight when I heard a mention of our old enemy The Countess of Sutherland in episode 5 of this most excellent drama serial which has been described as a “revisionist western”. (See “If I go there will be trouble And if I stay it will be double”, not to mention Highland and Island connections with slavery) The reference came from one of the many villains in the story, the owner of a cable company in Wyoming, boasting of his prowess with a buffalo rifle. He’d set out to slaughter as many as possible in order to starve out the native Americans; bullets weren’t working he said, but he knew that starvation would succeed. He claimed that he’d got his inspiration from the aforementioned countess who’d cleared his family from Scotland in 1819: what he’d learned from “that old bitch” as he called her was that you didn’t win by fighting fair, you needed to burn and starve your enemy.

His family had to start again in the USA and he’d used his fortune from the sale of the buffalo tongues (leaving the rest of their bodies to rot) to build what he called an “Indian school”; “Indians” entered it he said but only “Americans” left it. In spite of his tartan waistcoat and his “slainte mhath”, he said he wasn’t Scottish anymore so the native people had also to lose their identity. This reminded me straightaway of Sir John A Macdonald and what he got up to in Canada – see A mixter-maxter point 4. It’s also a salient reminder of how some of the persecuted can turn into the persecutors.

The young native boy, White Moon, briefly captured by this character and destined to be Americanised is rescued and re-appears at the end of the final episode as one of the stars of a Wild West show which is visiting London. He understands that he is in a “zoo” but believes this is preferable to any life he’d have back in the USA and he proudly recites his lineage, he knows his sloinneadh.

The English was written and directed by Hugo Blick and he consulted Crystal Echo Hawk of IllumiNative to try and get it ‘right’. I think he did an excellent job and I have only two toatie complaints! The buffalo-slaughterer said his family had been cleared from “Strathaven” – I didn’t hear him clearly say the name which was pronounced as three syllables and so checked the subtitles. This might have been an auto-correct on Mr Blick’s computer which stayed in the script, for surely he didn’t really confuse Strathaven in South Lanarkshire, where the old bitch’s remit certainly did not run, with Strathnaver in Sutherland where the folk who rented the land were at the mercy of her and her husband?

And then, right at the end we’re told that Buffalo Bill and his wild west show toured “England and Wales in 1903”. They did, but they were also in Scotland in 1904, presumably as part of the same tour. They had previously performed in Glasgow from October 1891 to February 1892 on a tour which had also taken them to Germany, Belgium, England and Wales. It was during this first visit that the Lakota interpreter, George Crager, sold the famous Ghost Shirt to Kelvingrove Museum – see Bringing them all back home Part 1. For more information, have a look at

Anyway, once the World Cup is over, I’m going to be re-watching this series at least once; it’ll be on the iPlayer for another eleven months so I have lots of time to get to grips with the plot twists, admire the authentic casting and the acting performances, take in the details of the costumes, appreciate the wide (Spanish) skies, flinch anew at the violent assaults, enjoy the wicked getting their comeuppances, greet at the ending, but above all appreciate how far Mr Blick has helped to take the western genre from the lazy stereotypes of my childhood. I thank him for it.


They talk of little else in Tannochbrae

In the summer, anticipating midgie bites in Ardnamurchan (see Three Nights in Purgatory – A West Highland Odyssey) and with itchy insect bites from the garden giving me gyp, I developed a longing for the calamine lotion of my youth. I remembered the summers spent with splotches of pink dried on my arms and legs and the wonderful smell which tempted me to put the bottle to my head. The local Boots had none in stock but I got it in Morrisons. How disappointing it was then that the smell though recognisable was so faint compared with how I’d remembered it – and the lotion itself seemed so much weaker and more watery. Therese Coffey-style, I passed the bottle round the sufferers in our camping group though, along with cotton pads for dabbing, and we felt quite comforted.

Its active ingredients are calamine at 15% and zinc oxide at 5%. The name calamine comes from an ore of zinc lapis calaminaris in Latin but originally from the Greek cadmia. An ointment containing zinc oxide was in use in the first century CE, as noted by the Greek physician Pedianus Dioscorides in his book De materia medica. The pink colour comes from its 0.5% iron oxide though I can’t see that included on the list of ingredients.

As well as cooling sunburn and taking the sting out of insect bites, it’s also recommended for chickenpox, measles and eczema as it reduces inflammation and is antibacterial; as it evaporates, it soothes the itching. You can dab it on the t-zone of your face to reduce oiliness and there are umpteen YouTube videos of lassies extolling its cosmetic uses.

I remember we took great delight in a parody of the song made famous by Calum Kennedy called Cailin Mo Ruinsa but known in English as “Dearest My Own One”. It was written by Donald Ross of Ullapool and you can hear him sing it on YouTube; however there’s a good version there too by Charles Maclean with a photo of Ullapool in snowy-hilled conditions and it has the lyrics in both Gaelic and English. Anyway, the parody song had as its first line: “Calamine lotion is good for the skin”. Luckily, I can’t remember any more of it or who the singer was, but he’d adopted Calum’s unmistakeable singing style.

Compared with the disappointment of the calamine lotion smell, it was with real shock that I recently opened up a tube of modern Germolene to discover it was no longer pink. There’s a pink cross on the box and on the tube but the cream itself is now white, definitely not the “pale pink” described in the enclosed leaflet; on top of that, there’s hardly any smell. What’s going on? When I was a lassie, it came in a tin and it was pink with a strong distinctive smell from oil of wintergreen, I believe.

A question to the Quora website, asks “Why is pink Germolene no longer available in the UK?” and is answered by an Anthony Graham who explains that if you put white phenol ointment in a tin made of steel, the moisture in the ointment will interact with the tin and turn pink; this would cause complaints so to prevent these complaints, “the makers added a colour to mask the effect way back in the dark ages“. Cheeky lad! He went on to say that government advice was to discontinue using phenol in skin products for safety reasons though this seemed to be in high concentrations only; side effects are “discolouration to skin” all the way to “heart problems, lung and kidney damage” so maybe I should stop sniffing the tube.

Germolene was invented in 1925 by Sir William Henry Veno – the cough mixture man. He was born near Castle Douglas in 1866, the son of a gamekeeper, with Varney as his birth surname; he shot himself in 1933 while out shooting rabbits near his home in Cheshire. His product is now made by Bayer who bought it from Smithkline Beecham in 1999.

A question to the site Intelligent Answers on 27 August 2010 was “What have they done to Germolene?” This expat student had asked a visitor to bring some and was shocked to discover “It isn’t pink!” and “The smell is gone!” There were 20,528 readers of this question with 5 pages of responses all the way to 20 March 2015. The final comment includes the following: “if ever there was a test of the efficacy and harmlessness of a medication better than the millions of us who testify that we grew up smothered in the stuff without any side effects I cannot conceive of its form!”

Confusingly, you can still buy pink Germolene online, for example a 50g tube of Germolene Original Pink Antiseptic Ointment is available on ebay for £24.99! Putative buyers are told that they “buy directly from the manufacturer …. Not the standard white antiseptic version you get in the UK, this is the original pink antiseptic ointment”. I couldn’t work out where it was made, even after putting some of the language on the box through a Google search: it came up as “Mixed or Unknown” and suggested Norwegian or Czech or Slovenian.

For further (light) reading about Germolene, see

TCP antiseptic liquid is a product that certainly hasn’t lost its pungent smell, though it’s been manufactured for more than a hundred years. It’s just as strong as I remember it and still hangs around you for hours it seems. Maybe it’s this pungent smell that makes us think it’s doing us good? In addition to soothing bites and stings and fighting infection, it’s recommended for sore throats and mouth ulcers but I don’t think I could put it anywhere near my gob. The company also produce a throat lozenge – but no thank you very much. And nor could I thole a Fisherman’s Friend.

Two other potions I remember from my childhood are iodine and bitter aloes. I was once forced to go to school with a bright purple forehead when my mother had insisted on painting me with iodine as I’d caught ringworm from the cows on holiday. The bitter aloes was dabbed on to my fingernails to try to stop me from biting them. It was only recently that I realised this “aloes” was the same as in aloe vera and it comes from the Arabic alloeh meaning a “shining, bitter substance”. The ancient Egyptians called it “the plant of immortality” and Cleopatra and Nefertiti used it as a cosmetic. Alexander the Great had it used for treating his soldiers’ wounds and its properties were familiar also in Mexico, in India, in China and Japan for thousands of years. The website of the Indian Journal of Dermatology also tells that the first reference in English to the aloe plant was in 1655 when it appeared in John Goodyew’s translation of De materia medica.

Back here in Bonnie Scotland, folk were making use of local plants to counteract the scourge of the midgies. I knew that bog myrtle had a good reputation for this but the times I’d tried it, although it had a satisfyingly medicinal smell, it wasn’t much cope for deterring them. The authors of Flora Celtica agree that while it’s been in fairly widespread use as a midge-repellent, the particular compounds of bog myrtle have not yet been scientifically identified. In the 1990s, Scotia Pharmaceuticals attempted to develop a midge-repellent from bog myrtle but “the project foundered”. Interestingly, the native American Potawatomi people in Wisconsin burned bog myrtle leaves to “produce a repellent smoke”.

Other local plants named in Flora Celtica in their “Repellent Plants” section include elder, feverfew, fleabane, wild garlic, wild mint and herb Robert. Another two of ‘our’ plants burned by native Americans for their repellent smoke were yarrow and rosebay willowherb – this latter one is a bit of a thug if you ask me so maybe it’s time we were burning it too or eating the young leaves.

Oats are recommended for soothing itchy skin by Nichola Fletcher in The Scottish Oats Bible; she says they also “help with babies’ nappy rash” and “can also be used for pets”. For her “Full-strength version”, you’ve to put 2oz (50g) or half a pint (300ml) into your bath and stay in it for 15 minutes. She warns about slipperyness so be careful or you’ll need a treatment for bruises or worse. Her “Everyday version” calls for a handful of rolled oats and some relaxing herbs such as lavender to be tied loosely into a muslin bag or similar, then you fasten the bag over the tap so that the hot water runs through it, give it a final squeeze and soak yourself for at least 10 minutes.

From bites and stings and itchiness, my thoughts turned to dealing with wounds and I remembered how folk used to use spiders’ webs and sphagnum moss to stop the bleeding and promote healing. We know the Ancient Greeks and Romans used the webs after they first irrigated the wound with vinegar and poured honey into it; the webs were used to seal the honey inside. They’re rich in Vitamin K and so help with blood clotting and they’re antiseptic and antifungal. The recommendation today is to remove any trapped flies / other dirt and use only “in dire scenarios” – but who knows when you might find yourself in one of those.

Charles Walker Cathcart who lived from 1853 to 1932 was a surgeon at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary who, during World War I, wrote an account of using sphagnum moss as a wound dressing. He was aware that this plant had been used in Germany from the 1880s and it had highly absorbent and antiseptic qualities. It contained iodine and promoted wound-healing. He had moss collected which was dried in Edinburgh and made into surgical dressings. Moss was then collected in other parts of Britain and Ireland and by 1916, the field dressings carried by soldiers in action contained it so they could seal minor wounds and try to prevent infection. The practice was discontinued after the war as fresh harvesting of moss was felt to be “difficult and undesirable” – as the harvesting of peat is seen to be nowadays. However, at the University of East London they’ve been researching the growing of moss on re-wetted lands as a “sustainable alternative to peat”.

No doubt Dr Finlay and his ilk would be sighing and shaking their heads on reading the above but I like to think that maybe Dr Cameron would acknowledge that some of the old methods still had their uses. And of course it’s all grist for The Loon’s mill and his belief that I’d be much happier living in the 1950s.

The Queen is Dead

This is going to be more stuff about the death of the Queen, as if you haven’t already had enough to be going on with. I don’t think it’ll be either revelatory or revolutionary but the story dominated the UK recently or perhaps it was just the media that went overboard, even before her death was announced. I got fair caught up in the BBC’s coverage of events, having thought on the day of the death that they couldn’t possibly keep it up for 10 days but oh yes, they did. We heard about little else but her seventy years of service and duty and how the whole nation was united in grief and mourning.

There was much emphasis on the Queen’s “love” for Scotland from commentators and ‘experts’ and how this was now being reciprocated. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to convince their audience or each other. Clearly many folk were genuinely grieving and there was much talk of wanting to “pay respects”.

An early media line was that she deliberately ‘chose’ to die at Balmoral. Well, how would we know? She was normally there in August and September but it would be good on a personal level to die at your favourite place. It was obvious for some time she was unwell as she’d rapidly lost a lot of weight but only the “odious” Nicholas Witchell speculated about her having cancer and he got pelters for it. Historian Robert Lacey decided she’d done it to support the Union and this was punted on the day her coffin was moved to Edinburgh. Viewers were given no understanding of the Union of the Crowns happening 104 years before the Union of the Parliaments and therefore many supporters of Scottish independence were ok with King Charles as head of state in Scotland. Huw Edwards also had to be instructed by a historian that the Queen was a descendent of Kings and Queens of Scots.

Where was the famed BBC balance, either on that day or subsequently? Professor Sir Tom Devine was on for a bit speaking sense but he soon disappeared to be replaced by Robert Lacey. Matt Frei of Channel 4 News was standing outside Holyrood Palace speculating wildly: her “passing” (ie her death) in Scotland was “the most important message she could have sent to the Union”. Luckily Angus Robertson was there to explain the difference between the two unions.

That confusion was not just on tv commentary. Jill Stephenson, a very regular Unionist letter-writer to newspapers, was displaying it too when she crowed over Nicola Sturgeon signing an oath to King Charles to “uphold the acts passed in the parliament of both kingdoms for union of the two kingdoms” ie the 1603 Union of the Crowns.

Michael Keating of University of Aberdeen was pointing out the difference between a monarchical union and a political one on Newsnight on 12 September. Also interviewed was Lord George Robertson who said that Charles was in favour of the Union and that he was neutral about the Union! This same Lord Robertson was telling us, straight-faced, that her visit to Dunblane after the school massacre “had a healing effect”. (Did I imagine it or has somebody actually suggested that she could become a saint?)

Flowers soon started appearing at the gates of Balmoral and I wonder why people lay them for somebody they never knew; or do they believe that they did know her? Is this a social media thing with photos being taken of the act? Or has it now become, since the death of Diana, a tradition? I was pleased to hear that Aberdeenshire Council had asked for plastic wrappings to be removed from flowers so they could be easily composted and later on, they’d requested that no flowers be thrown at the hearse. Prince Andrew was prominent in the family group viewing the flowers, trying to ingratiate himself with his prayer-hands gesture and shows of comfort for his daughters. Clearly upset at the death of their grandmother, I wondered if they had chosen to put themselves on public display.

Not long into the BBC coverage on the Sunday, I was shocked at their not knowing what flag was on the coffin or where the cortege was; Martin Geissler was seriously unprepared and so at fault for both of these. They were going on and on about the crowds: how surprising it was that so many people were standing along the roads. The Scots were unionists after all! There were few Union Jacks along the route though and not many in Edinburgh itself compared with the later forest of them in London. Had local people in rural areas come out just to gawp? There would have been a mix of reasons no doubt with “paying respects” high on the list.

It would have been mainly Edinburgh folk lined up on the outskirts I’m sure but how many tourists were among the city-centre crowds? A couple of women in their 50s from Derbyshire were interviewed by a journalist: they’d left home at 10 on the Saturday night and driven to Ballater, arriving at 5am in good time for the Queen’s coffin passing through the town; then they drove to Edinburgh and started queuing there at 7.30 on Monday morning, staying in their spot for 11 hours before heading home. They also intended to go to London for the funeral there the following Monday. Others were reported to have come to Edinburgh from England in order to avoid the queues at the lying-in-state in London.

Not everyone in Edinburgh was starry-eyed: “like a scene out of a Disney movie, a fairy tale” and “out of touch, out of time. It certainly isn’t modern Scotland or modern Europe”.

There were some almost mystifying reasons for being present: “involved in a little bit of history” …… “We are really big royalists” …… “I will remember it until my dying day” …… “We feel so privileged to be allowed to see it and do what we did” ….. “The world will never be the same”. Reading and hearing these, I felt a bit like the Sundance Kid watching the trackers: “Who are these people?”

At the Edinburgh funeral (Was it a funeral?) Nicola Sturgeon read from Ecclesiastes but alas not from the far more poetic Authorised Version. Wonder what would have happened if she’d slipped in an extra line: “a time for subservience and a time for independence”? Karen Matheson singing a psalm in Gaelic accompanied by a harpist was a highlight for this lapsed Presbyterian, though the FPs would not approve of the harp music as not being divinely inspired.

In retrospect, the events in Edinburgh were plain and restrained compared with what came later in London. The comments also cranked up a gear: “Timeless ….. pageantry ….. something has touched them …. not all monarchists ….. symbol of continuity”. A woman living in Switzerland told a journalist: “Just feel I have to go to London and get in amongst it … being in the experience with other human beings. I can’t explain it: it’s a gut, powerful, intuitive experience”. Another standing outside Buckingham Palace said: “I just felt I had to come. I don’t know why”. There were reports of rainbows appearing in the sky and almost unbelievably, photos in the Daily Mail etc of clouds considered to be shaped like the Queen. What were these journalists thinking writing such stories or the editors who sent them out?

The ceremonies, the traditions, the pageantry involved standing and waiting for hours at a time and it was no wonder that some of the guards and soldiers ended up keeling over. I spotted Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross in Westminster Hall, solemnly waiting for the coffin to arrive for the lying-in-state. This was the site of William Wallace’s trial for treason and I wonder how Douglas Ross would have reacted if the First Minister had suddenly bellowed “FREEDOM”. Very briefly, a tv camera caught Anas Sarwar and Alex Cole Hamilton smirking in the back row.

While nothing much else was happening, the media focus turned to The Queue. Professor Stephen Reicher of St Andrews University had an excellent analysis in The Guardian on the Thursday This was the first I’d heard of “eventism” but it explained a lot: “eventies” and “scenesters” were out in force amongst those with genuine feelings of sadness.

When it came to the televised funeral, my motivation was gawping. Who would be there and what would folk be wearing? Would Liz Truss finally have the hat / hair situation sorted out? Were folk allowed to get up and go to a toilet in the hours of waiting? How on earth were all the arrivals co-ordinated? I was pleased to see that the Bidens, after the insistence on their travelling by car, had to wait at the door as they’d arrived late but I noted that they were not attacked for holding hands. Were Sarah Brown’s heels too high and what was Cherie Blair whispering to Gordon?

Outside, the pipe band struck up Chi mi na mor bheanna, known in English as The mist-covered mountains of home. The song was written by Iain Cameron of Glencoe about 1856 and although Anne Lorne Gillies says it “belongs to a small but happy genre which we might call ‘going home’ songs”, the tune was played at the funerals of John F Kennedy and of Joe Strummer. At the end of the Queen’s service, a lone piper played Sleep, Dearie, Sleep but I felt it lacked gravitas. Why not something like MacCrimmon’s Lament? Or The Lament for the Children whose 16 minutes would have sorted out the men from the boys?

When first I saw the flowers on the coffin, I had a small moment of shock: they were non-traditional. I then had my nose against the screen trying to identify them and when I realised they were garden flowers, I knew that Charles had had a hand in them. I thought the colours and the freeform shape were just lovely and I hope this further encourages the recent trend for sustainable flowers to mark the events of life. (See also I would have given you flowers)

The ecclesiastical processions, the robes and accoutrements set my Presbyterian teeth on edge and so did the reading out of every word from a pre-printed script. Some of it was just nonsensical: “her long life has reached its final day” when she’d been dead for ten days. Then a BBC commentator remarked as the cortege passed Buckingham Palace: “her last glimpse of that famous balcony”. No, it wasn’t!

The sheer waste involved in the flowers thrown into the road was described as “offering floral tributes”; crowds at Hyde Park Corner were called “20, 30, 40, 50 deep” when quite clearly 20 was about the maximum. The priority for so many of the onlookers was to record the event, not just to experience it. The Queen herself had said that she “used to be greeted by a sea of faces but was now greeted by a sea of phones”; how right she was about that.

Journalist Kevin McKenna called the BBC coverage “lickspittle and asinine”, “maudlin, sentimental infantilism”, “forelock-tugging drivel”. Gaun yersel, Kevin!

I can’t say I cared for many of the Queen’s attitudes – she was “greatly distressed” at the thought of an end to the Union. There was the stage-management of her comment about needing to think very carefully about the future, made outside Balmoral in September 2014 – who exactly was the woman she said it to? Newspapers were tipped off in advance as she did what she saw as her duty to the nation; then David Cameron revealed that she’d “purred down the phone” when he told her the negative result. Was she not listening to the wireless that morning like the rest of us?

She was not in favour of devolution either: in her Silver Jubilee speech in 1977, she said, “I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. There were some suggestions that was written by Buckingham Palace staff and not by then-PM James Callaghan. Neil Ascherson, who knows a thing or two, pointed out in the Sunday National very recently that the coronation oath actually involves a promise to “govern the peoples of the United Kingdom according to their respective laws and customs”.

On 11 November 1988 at a dinner in Westminster, she “expressed her concern at the result” of the by-election the previous day in Glasgow Govan when Jim Sillars won for the SNP. Her “alarm” was reported on 20 November in the Sunday Express, with Neil Kinnock being fingered for the leak. In 2016, the Sun reported that she had told a government minister she was a supporter of the Leave campaign.

But we were continually told she “never put a foot wrong”. How about getting exemptions from Equal Opportunities legislation for Royal Household staff? Or not paying tax until 1992 and ensuring that Charles would pay no inheritance tax on the multi millions he would get from her after her death? Or getting her land in Scotland exempted from the Heat Networks Bill whereby pipelines for heating had to use renewable energy rather than fossil fuels? In all, she got “advanced access” to 67 Holyrood bills so that her lawyers could lobby for changes to any legislation affecting her powers or property or personal interests. (I shall not bring up her Nazi salute at Balmoral in 1933 as she was a young girl in that photo and under her mother’s influence – but you can see it online in a Daily Mirror article of 18 July 2015).

She was reported as having given her support for the military attack on the Suez Canal in 1956. How many Egyptians died as a result? What did she have to say about the bloody events in Kenya or Cyprus or Malaya or Aden as these countries sought their independence? She turned a blind eye to Operation Legacy in the 1950s, 60s, 70s in which governments and MI5 “hid, burnt or dumped” files from ex-colonies. For more information on this, look up Pallavi Pundir’s article on on 9 September.

And Sean Clerkin (of all people) in a letter to The National on 12 September said she “never got involved in the world of politics”!!!

Jason Burke reported in The Observer on 11 September that her 1961 dance with Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana was “credited with stalling both Nkrumah’s tilt towards the USSR and his country’s departure from the Commonwealth”. He also reminds us that she would not become Head of State in Rhodesia after its UDI and that she was not pleased with Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to impose sanctions on South Africa in the 1980s. I’ve read elsewhere about her sympathy for the miners’ wives during the strike and her distress at the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ as she watched it on television with the rest of us.

I remember defending her in the days after Diana died when she was being pilloried for not making a display of emotion, for keeping quiet when all around had lost their reason. The words “You leave the Queen alone” came out of my mouth three times that week. I remember speaking to a local shopkeeper as he was pulling down his shutters to close up for the funeral not because he wanted to, but for fear of what might happen if he didn’t.

Poor Charles though. I feel sorry for him after his loveless childhood and his long, long wait for the throne, his fat fingers and his feuding sons. His mother could have abdicated 10 or more years ago to give him some kind of chance to be a king – and that’s a republican talking. He was ahead of the game on organic farming and other environmental issues; he loves his garden; he’s done a good job with his Prince’s Trust and with his rescue of Dumfries House. I hope he’s happy in his marriage with Camilla and that she’s ever ready with the gin bottle for him.

He does not have sorrows to seek with regard to his accession. The issue of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, currently in the Queen Mother’s crown, has re-surfaced; it’s now worth more than £300 million and is claimed by India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Was it a gift to Queen Victoria or was it looted by the East India Company? The historian William Dalrymple is on the case: Maharaja Duleep Singh surrendered it under the Treaty of Lahore at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars in Panjab in 1849 – he was 10 years old at the time and was forced into waiving his rights to the diamond.

In 1905, the diamond known as the Great Star of Africa was mined in South Africa; the original diamond was reputed to be the same size as a human heart and was cut into 9 stones. The largest one – Cullinan 1 – was given to Edward VII in 1907 and mounted on top of the Sceptre in 1910. Some South African politicians have described it as “stolen” and they want it back. The Second Star, also known as Cullinan 11, is in the Imperial State Crown. For more information, have a read of “Why is the world fighting over Queen Elizabeth’s royal jewels?” by Atalia Nyx Chua on

As well as inheriting the stooshies about the diamonds, he’s got the First Nations Leadership Council in Canada, where he’s now Head of State, calling on him to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. It was made up in 1452 in order to justify stealing land from the indigenous peoples of North America and was used by both Britain and France to justify their actions there. He’s also being called on to apologise for what the Anglican churches did while running schools in Canada for First Nations children; the Pope recently apologised for the actions of the Catholic Church there. (See also A mixter-maxter)

Closer to home, he’s got a head of steam building up in Wales after his gifting of the title Prince of Wales to Prince William. More power to Michael Sheen’s elbow is what I say. Interestingly, Sky News is reporting today that there are no plans for an investiture ceremony to take place. Maybe he could drag his feet on a coronation too.

Demands for reparations from ex-colonies will continue and more Commonwealth countries will likely become republics so he and Camilla will be sitting through quite a few flag-lowering ceremonies. Wonder if there’ll be one in Edinburgh too.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll be thinking that I’ve got a bit of a nerve to criticise the BBC for going on a bit. And you’d be right.

Three Nights in Purgatory – A West Highland Odyssey

Earlier this month I spent three long nights in a tent in Ardnamurchan on a family trip, having initially refused to go camping “at my age”. I’d got out of such a situation last summer and I tried to put them off again by saying that the only one still speaking to me at the end of this endeavour would be the dog. As it turned out, he responded to my departure on the morning of day four with complete indifference as he was having a bit of a lie down at the time.

I set off most reluctantly the morning after the raucous Peat and Diesel concert at Kelvingrove Bandstand where I’d had to be abstemious as I had a half-packed car with me. As well as a great time the night before, those lads had given me a headful of songs which I sang to get me round all those Loch Lomond bends. My own music was silent as I was trying and failing to charge my phone from the car and I had no young person there to keep me right. I had to message my wee sister for advice at the first stop.

That first stop was at one of my favourites – the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. The Romanian lads that we’d seen in May were still working there; they’d been reluctant then to tell us where they were from, initially just saying “Eastern Europe” – a sad indictment of our supposed Scottish welcome. I had coffee plus an orange juice, with the major concession of one piece of ice as it was a hot day, then departed grateful again that they’d come here and were keeping the hotel open.

I was twice in their toilet thankfully as beyond the lovely Rannoch Moor, the road was closed in Glencoe after an accident. I sat in a long queue of traffic thinking I was going to be stuck for hours. There were folk walking down for a look and some were expressing appreciation for the scenic surroundings of their predicament but there was nothing else to do but wait. At one point, we moved about a hundred yards and then stopped again. I was remembering how not that far away on the moor Alan Breck Stewart and David Balfour had been forced to lie on top of a rock in the baking sun, hiding from the Redcoats. Did Robert Louis describe his characters as feeling like “scones on a girdle”? I must have another read of Kidnapped. Anyway, I was very thankful for the wee bit of shelter I got from the car and I could open the door occasionally to get more fresh air in.

Suddenly, tourists out on the road started running back to their cars and we were off again; for me it was over the Ballachulish Bridge and on to the Corran Ferry for the first time. It was also my first time in Ardnamurchan, the Promontory of the seadogs (otters) in Gaelic, which I knew vaguely was the most westerly part of the mainland but I hadn’t appreciated what that would mean in terms of the long and winding road to Kilchoan and my ‘bed’.

After searching in vain through the open but deserted Strontian Hotel for a toilet / afternoon tea, I spotted the Sunart Cafe in Strontian village centre. Maybe it was fairly basic but an oasis for me after I’d decided not to stop at Ardgour. I got Earl Grey tea plus a roll and butter which the laddie didn’t know what to charge me for; I told him he could charge me what he liked as I was so grateful to get anything at all. This fair amused a young couple who were the only other customers.

I remembered what my Gaelic teacher had said about Strontium being a bit of Gaelic on the periodic table; the mineral was first investigated in 1787 by Adair Crawford from Edinburgh after it was found in a local lead mine. David Dorward gives Sron t-sithean (Promontory / Point of the fairy hills) as the Gaelic name for Strontian but for George Mackay it’s Sron teine (Promontory / Point of the beacon).

I arrived at the campsite sweating and almost incoherent, after taking the best part of two hours to drive the final 31 miles, 19 of them on a single-track road with a scary hurl round the back of Ben Hiant thrown in at the end. (It was only on the return journey that I was able to appreciate the fine views of Eigg and of the Cuillins to the north.) I had a vague sense of satisfaction that I’d made it unscathed but then looked with dismay at the bag containing my tent – my only home for three nights. However the others pitched in quite literally and I soon had the contents of the car scattered in untidy heaps about my premises; this led to many subsequent periods of rummaging and much zipping and unzipping of my sleeping compartment.

The others were seasoned camping-lovers who were exceptionally well-organised and I did enjoy just sitting and watching them in action. My wee sister produced a full meal on night one; next morning my brother-in-law handed me a mug of coffee with frothed milk! I’d just brought coffee bags. Cousin Mairi made porridge each morning and drank coffee from a cafetiere; she also made toast over the flame of her stove and slathered it with homemade damson jam and I was the beneficiary of one of these slices. She even washed up her pot the morning she was leaving at 8am; I’d have taken it home dirty and dealt with it later.

There were only two toilets and two showers for folk from 30 pitches so queues had to be anticipated and that was no fun at all. We were near the bottom of a slope so my blow-up bed slid down the tent through the night and my pan of boiling water kept slipping off my stove though there was no leg-scalding incident and nor did my gas canister explode at any point. There were midgies galore though we all had brought head nets. On the second evening, I was cutting up veg in a smirr with clouds of the wee beasties dancing round me and there was no song in my heart at that point.

On the first night I had no sleep at all, just Peat and Diesel choruses going round in my head on a loop; on night two I got a few hours but was awake before dawn. On my last night, at 2am I climbed the wet grassy slope to the toilet by the light of a full moon shining on the Sound of Mull taking an admittedly appreciative look round at the grey shapes of the hills on my way back to the tent where I longed for sleep.

The days were infinitely preferable. We visited the West Ardnamurchan Community Garden which was set up in 2010 to provide local food and reduce food miles. It was an impressive space, tended by some volunteers and a young couple who were living there off-grid. From their unstaffed shop with a tin for change, we got kale in a biodegradable plastic bag and mushrooms in a paper bag which formed part of a mixture-of-mercies evening meal. The number of midgies in the mix was unknown.

From there it was on to Ardnamurchan Lighthouse where we explored each according to our interests. It was designed by Alan Stevenson, an uncle of Robert Louis, and the area around it has been in community ownership since 2020. For more information, have a look at

I appreciated the stunning views out to Coll and over to Eigg, plus the wide paths and all the picnic benches so convenient for taking rest and awaiting the rest of the party. However, the highlight for me was the Stables Coffee Shop which I awarded 10 out of 10 for its good coffee, pots of hot water provided unasked with the tea, the range of snaisters, its excellent selection of Scottish books – Sorley Maclean’s poetry and Seal Morning for example, Scottish music playing rather than some bland pop, cards of local scenes, tasteful souvenirs and absolutely no tartan trock. (See Tartan Trock) The floor was still cobbled and the stour was authentic.

An old iron range in one of the two seating areas in the minimally refurbished Stables Coffee Shop, Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

Cousin Mairi and I ordered scones and we were offered cream with them which we declined with a shriek of horror and demanded butter instead. Our host said they got a lot of “visitors” who wanted cream and I advised telling such folk in future that they were in Ardnamurchan and not St Ives. That got just the ghost of a smile and I appreciated the fact that he was a wee tait on the taciturn side and not fawning over us. In retrospect, I think he was just a bit quick to bung the scones into his microwave for a short burst and I wondered if that had been to freshen them up. Therefore the final mark is 9.5 but maybe I’m being a bit harsh?

From there we drove back several miles and took the road to Sanna where we got to the beach after a walk over the machair; the harebells I noticed had very short stems, adapted to the western winds I suppose. I’d anticipated a long lie down on my picnic rug but the dog kept coming over to check if I was ok and then he howled piteously while his owners went for a swim. While they were struggling back into their clothes, a lad coming over the rocks saw more than he bargained for and I’ll remember for a long time the look of dismay on his face at what he was stumbling into. Soon afterwards rain and mist and the tide came in so it was back to the campsite for us.

Next day our excursion was on the ferry to Tobermory, Mary’s Well in Gaelic, through a morning mist and the dog not quite sure what to make of the foghorn. There was a nice young local lad collecting the fares and I noticed there was a lassie working on the boat too.

The Tobermory Bakery might have fine products but the staff were a bit on the sour side and its sit-in coffee was served in paper cups. There were notices up about it being in the running for Bakery of the Year and Cafe of the Year but they’d need to be a bit more pleasant when the judges come round. By way of contrast, An Tobar Cafe and Gallery in an old school building up the hill had a pleasant and helpful mannie serving, a good selection of drinks and an interesting exhibition on the effect of noise on marine life called On Sonorous Seas.

We ate lunch back on the main street in the Gallery Restaurant which was a converted church, likely ex-Church of Scotland or maybe Episcopalian as it had a round stained glass window. When I went in to ask for a table, I was ignored for several minutes though that was not a lack of staff issue; I think they’re quite newly open so I might forgive them. We eventually got in and had fishcakes, fish and chips and mussels all of which were good but there was then a very long wait for two ice cream portions which came with mint garnishes and an apology but with no explanation for the delay. I approved of course of their fresh flowers on the table but we had a yellow carnation stuck in with a red rose. When I voiced this criticism, I was told off by my sister for being picky. Me?

Doing the journey next day in reverse, I returned to the Sunart Cafe which I’d expected to be hoaching as there was a local agricultural show going on in the jam-packed village but again there was only one other table occupied so I was lucky. I stopped briefly at the Ballachulish Visitors Centre for a toilet before threading my way through the mass of crazily-parked cars and meandering tourists in Glencoe.

The final stop was back at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel where I was speaking to the Austrian receptionist; she said they just couldn’t get any local staff to work there and I expressed my appreciation that she and her colleagues had come to Scotland to help us out. Sitting in the bar, I noticed that the lads there were starting to turn folk away and I asked a woman from the second group this happened to what the reason given was as there were unoccupied tables. She said they were told there would be a 45-minute wait for food and as they were going on to Skye, they couldn’t afford the time; she was disappointed but appreciated the fact that the staff had been honest with them. I suggested they try Glencoe or Ballachulish, and hoped that as foreign visitors they’d get some kind of positive experience on their holiday here in Scotland.

Zara Aleena

Zara Aleena was 35 and at the beginning of this month, she died in Ilford, West London after being attacked by a stranger as she walked home in the early hours of the morning. She was only ten minutes away from home when she was dragged into a driveway, robbed, assaulted and beaten. She was pronounced dead a couple of hours after she was found and a 29 year old man has been arrested for her murder. I don’t care if this post has not much of a Scottish connection but I do care very much about Zara’s death – yet another young woman attacked and killed by a stranger when they were out on a street.

A day or so after the death, her aunt Farah Naz gave an interview to Sky News. She explained how Zara “never saw herself as less than a man”; she believed she was “as equal, as strong, as powerful, as capable” and she had “never assumed that a man would see her as less than equal”. She outlined and paid tribute to her niece’s many positive qualities: she’d been fearless, a force to be reckoned with, modest about while also proud of her achievements, she was insightful, empathic and had strong community values. What struck a chord with me was the value she said that Zara had put on her independence and her strong belief that women should be able to walk the streets and feel safe.

This is what I believed in when I was young and I believe in it now. As a student in the west end and then a worker in the southside of Glasgow, I left places when I wanted to; when I felt that overwhelming desire to get home, I didn’t care how far I had to walk if I knew that my bed was waiting at the end of it. I wasn’t scared to be out alone at night – I felt sorry for those who were – and I only came to grief once.

Zara had been well aware of the recent murders of young women in London but had believed that she’d be safe because she was in her local community where everybody knew her. Her friend said she had decided to walk home because it was close by and because “nothing like that has ever happened here”. Her aunt spoke of how Zara had lived in four different houses and from the age of three when she was out playing on her tricycle, she was constantly being greeted by neighbours who knew her name.

She had a dreadful death, attacked at about 2.20am on what looks like a typical suburban street and was found not long after, barely alive; an ambulance arrived at 2.44am. I wondered if she’d been able to scream for help and if so, had anybody paid attention? One local resident on MailOnline was reported as saying: “My daughter said she heard a woman screaming at about 2am. There were a couple of screams but that was it (my italics). We live on a fairly busy road and there’s often people shouting at all times of day.” Another report said: “… her screams waking up nearby residents who frantically dialled 999”. Well, good as far as it goes but did any of them go outside to see what was happening with a view to, intervening?

I’ve been enraged about so-called bystander apathy since I read many, many years ago an article in a Reader’s Digest about a woman beaten and killed over the course of about half an hour outside a New York apartment block. Numerous folk had heard the screams but not one of them had done anything about it.

To give him his due for once, Andrew Marr spoke out vociferously on his LBC show on 1 July (clip now on YouTube) about what he called an “epidemic of male violence against women in London”; he said that Zara Aleena had “walked everywhere …. put her party shoes in a bag and donned her trainers … believed that a woman should be able to walk home”. He followed that up with an angry tirade against policing in London – or the lack of it.

There’s another clip on news sites of a police spokesman reading out a lengthy statement, including a line about woman not having to change their behaviour at any hour of the day or night – so maybe they’ve moved on just a tetch from their old victim-blaming stances.

Deniz Ugur of End Violence Against Women Coalition is quoted as challenging the criticism of Zara which had appeared: “Zara had every right to be safe walking home. We all have the right to be free from violence and the threat of it in every part of our lives, whether that’s in our homes, workplaces or out in public. No woman is ever responsible for their own abuse or assaults against them. What women are doing or wearing or where they choose to be is absolutely irrelevant … another form of victim blaming.” You can read more in Faima Bakar’s excellent HuffPost UK article here

I’ve always thought that the more of us out on the streets there are the better it will be for everybody but we all need to look out for each other and be willing to get involved. I remember in 2008 the murder of Moira Jones in Queens Park in Glasgow, after being abducted from a nearby street. She and her killer were picked up on a CCTV camera from a passing bus but was any passenger looking out of the window, paying attention to what was going on? Even worse for her family to bear was the evidence of a woman who lived opposite the park hearing a loud scream, plus that of two different couples who heard screaming and crying from the park. Her mother wrote: “It was so hard to learn this, to know that Moira was screaming for help and in pain, but it was even more hellish to know that her screams were heard, understood and ignored.” (BBC News website, 30 August 2020 “The diary of my daughter’s murder: ‘We were in hell on earth'” by Paul O’Hare. Read this and weep.)

These people gave evidence at the trial and how I wish that we had in Scotland a law such as they have in France where if you know of any serious criminal offence which could still be prevented but you don’t inform the authorities, then you can be fined and imprisoned. At the very least, I hope they’ve never slept since.

Just a few days ago came a ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority on a Samsung advert which showed a young woman out running at 2am; it was judged to be neither harmful nor irresponsible. I was glad cause I thought the advert was positive. You can see it for example at . Although Samsung ‘won’, they’re no longer going to show the ad in the UK which I’m sorry about.

An organisation called Reclaim These Streets had complained about the advert which confused me no end: just how do you reclaim streets by biding at home, hiding under the blankets? I wanted to try to understand their position and found that Anna Birley, a co-founder, had told ITV News: “I think that women should be able to go running regardless of what time of day or night it is. But the reality is that’s not the case, women don’t feel – and too often aren’t – safe out after dark.” She added that the “culture of misogyny needs to be tackled but adverts such as Samsung’s will not help to do so.” No, still don’t get it.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 1 in 2 women feel unsafe walking alone after dark either in a quiet street near their home or in a busy public place. How many of these women know that it’s men aged 16 to 24 who are much more likely to be attacked when they’re out and about? And that female victims are mainly assaulted by folk known to them?

Nothing will be of any comfort to the family and friends of Zara Aleena. But for the rest of us, let’s get out there or stay out there, watch out for one another and if we see bad things happening, have the courage to intervene. Let’s teach our young girls – and our boys – to scream and shout and to respond to each other’s calls or signals for help. Let’s build a better society in which we take responsibility for our own safety and that of the people nearby so that the streets belong to us all.

A Perverse Pleasure or “… the horrid islands of Harris”

The following advice to the traveller comes from The Light of Navigation, produced in Amsterdam in 1612; it was a guide for sailors to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles and is quoted in Dennis Rixson’s The Hebridean Traveller (Birlinn, 2004):

He that falleth upon anie of these Ilands must looke well to him self, for the most part of them are inhabited by wilde and cruell men“.

In the 21st century, Stewart Bremner at has produced calendars and cards which glory in online negative reviews of Scotland. I’m putting together here a historical version of that in which I take some iconic images of Scotland and delight in the memoirs of the travellers who found them wanting.

A recent review of Stac Pollaidh

What did visitors have to say in the past about our bens and glens?

Photo by Kieren Ridley on

” … those Highlands appear to me … wanting ornament, and destitute of cultivation ” so wrote Richard Franck in his Northern Memoirs of 1656 / 57 (quoted in Rixson 2004).

Edmund Burt revealed in his Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland, written in the late 1720s, that he was not impressed either, even by our bonnie purple heather:

” … the mountains … the whole of a dismal gloomy brown, drawing upon a dirty purple and most of all disagreeable when the heath is in bloom

and he details ” … their stupendous bulk, frightful irregularity, and horrid gloom ” (both in Rixson 2004)

In A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, 1772 (quoted in Rixson 2004), T Pennant singles out Suilven in particular but at least he tries to spell it correctly:

” … among these aspiring heaps of barrenness, the sugar-loaf hill of Suil-bhein made a conspicuous figure: at their feet, the blackness of the moors by no means assisted to cheer our ideas.”

He was no more impressed by a view on Skye:

The prospect to the west was that of desolation itself; a savage series of rude mountains, discoloured, black and red, as if by the rage of fire.”

The French geologist, Barthelemy Faujas de Saint-Fond, made an attempt to climb Ben More on Mull but found that:

Almost impenetrable heather, above a soil saturated with water, covers the lower ground, the middle and the summit of the mountain.”

and he concluded:

Upon the whole, the mountain of Ben More, notwithstanding its height, and a kind of resemblance which it has at a distance to Mount Vesuvius, does not repay the trouble of ascending it.”

He was writing in his A journey through England and Scotland to the Hebrides in 1784 (from Rixson 2004) and I’ve quoted from him a couple of times before (see for example “Brother, let us breakfast in Scotland …” ). I’ve got quite fond of him.

( You can read Volume 1 of his book online at It was published in London in 1799 and has been digitized by Google from a book in the library of The University of Michigan. )

The skirl of the pipes did nothing for him either. The poor French man was deaved by a piper outside his window while staying at an inn near Oban where his bed “was hard, but clean“. (see Rixson 2004)

Photo by Kres Thomas on

He described the music in the most unflattering terms:

Will it be believed that music of a kind new to me, but very terrible to my ears, disturbed the repose I so much needed? …… On the day of our arrival, this man came before our lodging, walking to and fro with equal steps, and a bold and martial expression of face, deafening us with perpetual repetitions of the most unharmonious sounds, without any air or meaning.”

On the other hand, you won’t be surprised to read that our weather has also made an impression on visitors. John Taylor, author of The Pennyles Pilgrimage, 1618, wrote:

The next day I travelled over an exceeding high mountaine …. where I found the valley very warme before I went up it; but when I came to the top of it, my teeth beganne to dance in my head with cold …”. To make things worse “a most familiar mist embraced me round, that I could not see thrice my length any way“; this mist penetrated his clothing and succeeded in “wetting me to the skinne“. (quote from Rixson 2004)

Edmund Burt, in his Letters of 1737, noted the rain:

At Fort William …. I have heard the people talk as familiarly of a shower (as they call it) of nine or ten weeks, as they would do of anything else that was not out of the ordinary course.” (Rixson 2004)

Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on

I’m giving the last word on Scottish weather to my old friend Monsieur Faujas de Saint Fond with a quote about Mull which I’ve used in a previous post: ” …. where it rains for eight months of the year, and where the sea, always in motion, seems to be in perpetual convulsions.” (Rixson 2004)

To my delight, visitors in Scotland have long been commenting on our food and here are two quotes from Lucy Bethia Walford – both of them recycled ( see Oats: still supporting the people and Give me the making of the scones of a nation * ) I’m not apologising for using them again.

Lucy lived from 1845 till 1915 and her recollections of a disappointing meal in the “little peat-reeking parlour” of a “solitary inn” are quoted in A Scottish Feast edited by H Whyte and C Brown:

” … and the oatcakes, hard as flint, dry, tasteless, and white as a dusty road in a March east wind

Then the scones. They were damp, flabby, and tough beyond power of thought to conceive: teeth could not rend them.”

The English writer Sydney Smith spent five years in Edinburgh from 1798 where he studied moral philosophy, medicine and chemistry. He was instrumental in setting up the Edinburgh Review and had wanted to use as its motto: ‘We cultivate literature on a little oatmeal’; unfortunately he was dissuaded from this. Anyway, he’s quoted in F Marian McNeill’s A Scots Kitchen reminiscing about his Edinburgh years:

When shall I see Scotland again? Never shall I forget the happy days I spent there amid odious smells, barbarous sounds, bad suppers, excellent hearts, and the most enlightened and cultivated understandings.”

F M McNeill, in one of her fascinating introductory chapters in The Scots Kitchen, quotes Dorothy Wordsworth describing a Scottish meal in 1803:

” … some sorry soup made of barley and water, for it had no other taste ….. a shoulder of mutton so hard that it was impossible to chew the little flesh that may be scraped off the bones “

McNeill also has a Joseph Taylor commenting on a hospitality experience in Moffat in 1705. He

met with good wine, and some mutton pretty well dressed, but looking into our beds, found there was no lying in them.”

Transport for visitors, especially in the Highlands, was a big issue. Rixson (2004) quotes from Edmund Burt in 1737 who was working on the new roads for General Wade; he was a bit scathing of the existing network:

The old ways (for roads I shall not call them) consisting chiefly of stony moors, bogs, rugged, rapid fords, declivity of hills, entangling woods, and giddy precipices “

There the rocks project over the lake (Loch Oich), and the path was so rugged and narrrow that the Highlanders were obliged, for their safety, to hold by the rocks and shrubs as they passed, with the prospect of death beneath them …… This was not the only dangerous part, but for three miles together … it was nowhere safe, and in many places more difficult, and as dangerous, as at the entrance; for the rocks were so steep and uneven, that the passenger was obliged to creep on his hands and knees. “

J Knox, author of A Tour through the Highlands of Scotland, 1786, planned to walk from Loch Broom to Durness and then on to Caithness:

Many persons had painted in strong colours, the difficulty of performing this journey at any season of the year, and much more so in October. They represented the country from Assynt to Caithness as one continued wild or desart, composed of almost impenetrable swamps and ridges of mountains, where I would find few inhabitants, no seats of gentlemen, no roads, inns, or conveniences of any kind … ” (Rixson 2004)

This photo was taken on a road in Ross & Cromarty about 1860 and is captioned “The Minister pays for his ponies”. No photographer is named for it though. Found in A Taste of Scotland in Food and in Pictures, Theodora Fitzgibbon 1970

Some travellers also had harsh words for the ferries. John MacCulloch who published The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland in 1824 hoped to travel over the sea to Skye and was directed to Arisaig to get a ferry. Things did not go smoothly for him though:

The Arasaik road had been made on account of the ferry, or the ferry on account of the road; and though a carriage ferry, and a horse ferry, there was no boat that could hold a carriage, and no horse had ever dared to cross. Furthermore, the ferry-boat, if there really was one, was two miles from Arasaik, somewhere, among some rocks; and there was no road to it, nor any pier. Lastly, I at length found a ferry-boat, a mile from the sea, as fit to carry a camelopardalis as a horse, and a ferry-boat man who could not speak English.” (Rixson 2004)

John MacCulloch was not the only traveller to come across a language barrier. Thomas Kirk wrote in 1679:

The Lowland language may be well enough understood by an English man, but the Highlanders have a peculiar lingue to themselves, which they call Erst, unknown to most of the Lowland men, except only in those places that border on them, where they can speak both. Yet these people are so currish, that if a stranger enquire the way in English, they will certainly answer in Erst, and find no other language than what is enforc’d from them with a cudgel. ” (Rixson 2004)

Here, finally, I can find no humour in the situation.

“Ever-returning Spring”

“I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.” Walt Whitman wrote When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloom’d in April 1865, mourning the death of President Lincoln.

What I lament now at the end of springtime is the shortness of the flowering bulb season and I dead-headed each daffodil with a small sliver of dismay for I wondered how many more years I’d be around to enjoy them. I know fine well that May is here with all its blossom, and the columbines and foxgloves are getting ready to flower so I try not to wallow in my momentary melancholy. Spring will be “ever-returning” whether I’m here to see it or not.

Almost as soon as I pack away the Christmas decorations, I’m out in the garden looking for snowdrop leaves pushing through the ground, and then for their white tips lightening the darkness and encouraging me to go on through January. The early bumble bees come to them looking for food and as well as enjoying your own flowers, visiting any site that’s part of the Scottish Snowdrop Festival will feed your soul.

It was dry bulbs I first planted and I had to be patient as they took years to flower; then I tried splitting a clump just after they flowered and replanting (having watched my guru Monty Don do it) but neither half of the original clump has flourished so far. The other advice is to wait until the leaves have dried up, showing that the bulbs are dormant, before moving half of them. Increasing my snowdrop numbers is my small gesture to the future.

When buying, it’s better to buy ‘in the green’ and do it from legitimate businesses. Unfortunately it’s not illegal to dig them up from the wild, but you need to have the landowner’s permission to do this. Unscrupulous traders and criminal gangs have been taking advantage for far too long: see

Every spring I look out for the primroses on the banks of the birch woods along the road to Oykel Bridge, trusting that they will continue to flower there quietly and will long, long outlive me. In episode 3 of the current season of Gardeners World, Monty Don speaks of his love for the common primrose – primula vulgaris – as it’s “just beautiful, delicate and simple” and “full of hope”.

A few seconds later, they were rolling on my primroses

Another plant I saw in Sutherland, though I didn’t need to look out for it as it was smacking us all in the face, was whin; it’s far from delicate but its coconutty-smelling flowers transform an otherwise pretty ugly bush in the early part of the year.

Whin in bloom along the road and hillside at Creich, Sutherland

If the primrose means hope, then the daffodils bring cheer and a mass of them in local parks never fails to lift my spirits. I’ve been noticing for a while that some flowers have been pulled off, but not for taking a bunch home as they’re left scattered about some distance away. Is this the work of young children? What’s the ‘thinking’ behind it? Then I watched in astonishment one day as a woman posed her dog among the daffodils below in order to take a photo. He was rolling in them and she was sprauchling about, trampling even more as she tried to get him to sit still. Nor was she a young influencer-type but “old enough to know better” as we used to say. She got my best frosty face, but I wish now I’d said something.

I never used to care much for tulips but have got fonder of them as I’ve aged. I’ve taken Carol Klein’s advice and planted them in pots for my sitooterie, as well as scattering a few in the border. They’re an ‘alien species’ of course, originating in central Asia and planted in Ottoman gardens by the 14th century; from there they were introduced to Europe, most notably to The Netherlands. This year though, the most arresting images for me were of tulips in Ukraine, standing in bright red ranks in the gardens of shelled and abandoned houses.

As well as the more showy spring flowers, I look out for dandelion and wild garlic which I wrote about last year in Going down to the woods . I’ve had the dandelion leaves and flowers in salads and have been improving my wild garlic pesto, packing in even more leaves to make it a darker colour. I’m mindful though of the warnings of over-picking, having read a couple of articles. The first one was by Steven Morris and was in The Guardian on 24 March, about poor old Cornwall:

Then came one by J P McMahon (fab name) in The Irish Times in which he picks up points from The Guardian article above, warning against “over-picking and careless collection” which is “ruining it for everybody”. Some businesses are uprooting wild garlic from his local woods but he reminds us that no more than a third of the growth should be taken:

I just stuck to my torn-up leaves, Italian hard cheese, pumpkin seeds and olive oil bunged in the blender, though I think I used more leaves this year as it came out darker and stronger-tasting than last year’s timid efforts. I can’t advise on relative quantities but I tip each small blender load into a bigger bowl and than stir it all together, adding more olive oil if it seems too thick. Then it’s into the freezer with it in lidded tubs and I feel quite smug – though that feeling fades when I think of my wee sister’s cupboard of marmalade jars and bottles of elderberry vinegar.

The time of the leaves is nearly over as I visited my woods for a last pick this week; they were starting to wilt and yellow. The flowers were mostly over and turning to seed but I knew the yearly cycle would continue underground, unseen.

I’m giving the last word to Robert Frost because he’s speaking for me, although it’s autumn he’s referencing in his poem Reluctance:

“Ah, when to the heart of man / Was it ever less than a treason

To go with the drift of things / To yield with a grace to reason

And bow and accept the end / Of a love or a season”

Tartan Trock

Both inside and outwith Scotland, tartan is surely one of the main symbols that would be seen as distinctively Scottish and it’s no surprise then that it features strongly when we look at the souvenirs on offer in certain shops. I’m fond of it myself though I wish more folk wore it on casual occasions and there was a bit less of the daft formality of wedding outfits for example. Just what are those laced-up-the-ankle shoes and silver-buttoned kilt jackets that bridegrooms wear about? And I don’t care for that shawl-type thing over one shoulder that Mel Gibson was wearing at the “Braveheart” premiere, which is now becoming all too common. I suppose it’s meant to be a remnant of the feileadh mor that the modern kilt originated from but to me it’s of a piece with the jacket and the shoes. (Don’t get me started on the spelling of the Slanj Kilts business! I know that’s phonetic but it should be written as Slainte, with an accent above the “a”.) I think the kilt on a man looks best with hiking boots and a hairy jersey, or with a tweed jacket for a formal occasion, though I prefer if folk steer clear of Royal Stewart or Black Watch. Wearing it Tartan Army-style with a t-shirt or Scotland top is also acceptable in my sight. Karen Gillan wore her tartan well when she was leading off the recent parade in New York, teaming her kilt with a t-shirt and an aviator-type jacket; she didn’t look as if she was auditioning for a remake of Brigadoon.

Though it’s been put about that the kilt was invented by Sir Walter Scott for the 1822 visit to Scotland of George IV, it has a much longer history. From about the early 16th century it was the feileadh mor or the belted plaid that was worn: a piece of woven cloth like a blanket which was wrapped round the body and belted at the waist with the upper section pinned at the shoulder to keep it secure. The feileadh beag which came a bit later was like the bottom half of the plaid and was more or less the modern kilt.

In 2020, John Purser had two very informative articles in The National about tartan. First of all, his “The chequered history of Scotland’s tartans” was published on 24 April and he followed that up with “Was it really an Englishman who invented the kilt?” on 2 May. In the first article, he went back as far as 500BC on Loch Tay, then on to 200AD in Falkirk so the twill weave was in place long before the Gaels came to Scotland. In the latter article, he refers to poems of Duncan Ban McIntyre and William Ross which celebrated the repeal in 1782 of the Act which had banned traditional Highland dress in 1746 – so much for it all starting in 1822! He also takes aim at Hugh Trevor-Roper and some of his followers for promulgating fictions about Highland Scotland for political reasons. Both articles can also be found on

Purser suggests that the word “tartan” may be from tarsainn, meaning across / over in Gaelic though a word of French origin tiretaine has also been suggested. Teartane and tertane were early 16th century spellings. Anyway, the earliest written record of the word is from the Accounts of the Treasurer of Scotland 1532 / 33: “Ane uthir tartane galcoit (coat) gevin to the king be the Maister Forbes” (from Scots word of the week in The Herald on 9 April).

The second word in my title is very useful if you’re a judgemental person like me and I was previously on about it near the end of Return to Turadh . When pronouncing trock, mind and roll the “r” and extend the “o” (aw) as much as you can to show maximum disapproval. My copy of The Concise Scots Dictionary has it with a variety of spellings and several different definitions but I know and love it as meaning “any worthless or rubbishy goods; insubstantial trash” and found from Shetland to Dumfries.

Is this what we want folk to take home from Scotland in 2022?

I was in Glasgow recently and walked up and down Sauchiehall Street. Oh dear me, what a state it’s in but other folk have written about what’s happened to it and what could or should be done. Several years ago I’d noticed some of these cheap souvenir shops starting to open up and wondered where the stuff was coming from and who was buying it. Edinburgh’s got far, far more of them but also far more tourists.

In The Pound Shop pictured above, there was no information at all on a lot of the labels (Is that legal?) but I found “Made in China” on some of them. If all the items in the picture above are on sale for £1, what must the workers have been paid and what on earth will their conditions be like? How long will it be before 90% of it ends up in landfill or in the ocean? How much carbon was put into the atmosphere in getting it all here? And why do I feel my toes curling just looking at it?

I Heart Glasgow just a few doors further up had some items labelled as designed and distributed in Scotland but made in PRC – People’s Republic of China. Mugs with a picture of the traffic cone on the Duke of Wellington’s napper were “Made in China” – I doubt if the workers there had any time to look at the image and wonder what it was about. There were tartan ties, woven in Scotland, and polyester kilts and waistcoats, glengarry bonnets, Harris Tweed bags, books about clans from Lang Syne publishers. Tartan House of Scotland, Tartan Threads and House of Tweed had their products in the shop but a lot of stuff was marked Awnhill Ltd which is a wholesaler based in Northolt, Middlesex calling itself online the “leading supplier of souvenir stock and bespoke souvenirs to the Tourism industry”.

By way of a diversion for you now and for me on the day, I then spotted a man standing on the steps of a boarded up shop holding up a sign reading “Homemade Pakora £1”, the pakorae were behind him on a chair; his plastic tub was covered with a cloth which he unwrapped reverentially to fulfil my order. I was admiring his gumption, breaking my new two-meals-a-day rule and satisfying my cravings for spice all in a oner. He put 4 / 5 small ones onto a paper soup plate so I had to eat them there and then, although there’s little finer than eating them with a hot cup of tea. I was lucky cause just a few minutes later as I was on my way back down, I saw there were two community wardens or similar talking to him. The conversation looked friendly enough but I guessed they were asking if he had a licence or if his kitchen had passed a Health & Safety Inspection. He got on his mobile phone and handed it to one of them, maybe showing them pictures, but it was obviously no go, so he picked up his chair and set off obediently up the street. I didn’t have time though to check whether he set up round the corner in Cambridge Street.

I was watching this from outside Candy Wars which looked new. It wasn’t in the tartan business, but there was trock galore on the shelves: sugary cereals, fudge-covered pretzels, slushees, rock candy, twinkies, cheetos, hersheys etc etc. We have more than enough sugary rubbish of our own so don’t need to import more from the USA, and nor do I want the usage of “candy” to become widespread here – it does my head in on Duolingo as a translation of suiteas. I was just thinking to myself “Good, it’s empty” when a group of seven teenagers went in.

My last stop in Sauchiehall was at the vast Gifts 4 U. My hackles were up at the spelling before I stepped inside and it was everything I had anticipated. I found red buses with “Scotland” painted on the side. These were made in China but where do we have red buses in Scotland? They’ll be making millions for the London tourist market and doing a few thousand of them in the same factory for offloading here to gullible tourists. I’d seen this bus before in Edinburgh and it’s the item that first put up my blood pressure and started me off on all this ranting. It was gratifyingly quiet in there too and the lassie from the till, either very bored or on watch for shoplifters, came to ask if she could help me. I began a conversation about red buses and Scottish souvenirs being made in China but she started picking up stuff at random to find me things that were not made in China which they did have. Luckily for me, two American women came in and she went to see to them while I went on round with my notebook and my critical attitude.

Harmless fun or worthy of a ban?

However there are a few points of light:

The Mackintosh at the Willow restaurant has a gift shop; it’s quite pricey and maybe not a kick in the pants away from Mockintosh with a few of its offerings but I wasn’t shaking my head with the shame of it all. Before lockdown, I ate a couple of times in the restaurant with first Rama and then My Favourite Niece and they both said they liked the interior. I didn’t manage to get them into the museum bit upstairs though. I went back on my own and enjoyed it, though the entry charges would be very expensive for a family. I nodded approvingly at Kate Cranston’s preference for giving jobs to orphan girls or those from single-parent families. At the end of their training, all the poor lassies had to successfully serve her and her husband in the tearoom before their employment was confirmed. I can imagine the shaking hands and the rattling of crockery on the tray before their ordeal was over.

I headed south to the clydeside collective in St Enoch Centre where I found out they were no longer doing free coats for the needy; I should have asked why. They’ve got a range of the usual stuff: prints, cards, notebooks, jewellery, vegan soaps, handknitted scarves etc which appeared to be Scotland-made though I didn’t check every single one of them. I liked their framed tapestry pictures: “Please don’t do coke in the bathroom”, and one about what women wanting being “fundamental human rights and dresses with pockets”. They had second-hand records, handmade candles in old teacups and saucers, and cakestands made from three mismatched plates and I loved their birds, animals and insects made from old cutlery by the husband of one of the workers. See photo below, though the wee birds are just barely seen inside the glass case.

By this time I was flagging a bit so I went back north, heading for a bus, and diverted into Visit Scotland in Buchanan Street. Here was your ‘better class’ of souvenir: cards, Scottish Fine Soaps, scarves, hats, Heathergems jewellery which is “crafted and designed in Scotland”, Gist Jewellery made in East Ayrshire, Leather Guild products from Helensburgh and others from Pewtermill Crafts which are made in Kilbirnie, Harris Tweed bags, Siabann soaps made in Alloa (who get a big tick from me for their Gaelic name properly-spelled) and other toiletries, Scotland-themed stuff from Julia Gash who’s described as a “British artist”. It was good to see them supporting and promoting smaller but almost entirely local businesses.

I’ve been swithering about including Tartan House of Scotland, also in Buchanan Street. I just had a quick wheech round noting the usual stuff: fudge, rock, Campbells shortbread (new one on me), books about clans and coasters with clan crests, scarves, gloves, tartan rugs etc etc. While there were Awnhill products galore, they also had jewellery “handmade with real flowers” but it was inside a locked cabinet and I didn’t want to raise their hopes of a sale by asking to see it, by way of finding out where it was from.

I’d been in the Skye Candles shop before and it’s already on my ‘Nice List’ so I gave it a by this time. Their base is in Broadford and as well as natural soya wax candles, they sell diffusers, soap, glasses and some toiletries. What I can afford are their car air fresheners and I go for the Juniper one which is a wee bit more authentically Skye than Oriental Lily or Mango or Sandalwood and Patchouli; they should go in for Whin or Dogrose or Seashore or something like that.

Finally I tottered into the Buchanan Galleries, trying to avert my gaze from the shiny pink horror that is the Victoria’s Secret shop (hope it’s first for the bulldozer). Born in Scotland is relatively new upstairs in the Galleries and is bright and airy. This is more like it, I thought. They’ve got Gillian Kyle products – can’t say I care for Tunnock’s teacakes but they feature largely in her work; there’s bags, mugs, coasters in the shop and she has a wider range online where she says that her business is “inspired by all things Scottish – from our native wildlife to Scotland’s favourite brands Tunnock’s and IRN- BRU”. She’s currently got a “Scotland Stands With Ukraine” range online with profits going to the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

This shop also has traditional stuff such as Highland Soaps and the aforementioned Skye Candles which you could take back to your grannie; other products are themed round popular culture such as The Broons and Still Game and there’s Bawbags underwear for men – coorsely but cleverly named. There’s a range of children’s books too. I’m always interested in the food section and wasn’t disappointed: Sarah Gray’s handmade jams from Arbroath, Brodies chocolates and teas, Island Bakery biscuits and Chrystal’s shortbread (which you could easily pass off as homemade if you were that way inclined). I liked the look of but didn’t buy any of their seriously expensive but fabulously flavoured Quirky Chocolate’s Scottish Collection chocolate bars: Cranachan with raspberry oats and whisky, Almond, raisin and orange Dundee cake and Butter tablet. (There’s a lot more flavours on their Edinburgh-based website where they have “sustainability, inclusivity and kindness at our heart” – they’d need to at that price.) What I did buy was a packet of Aberfeldy oatcakes as I thought they looked sufficiently rustic but when I checked later they’ve got wheat flour, palm oil and sugar in them; however, clarted with butter they turned out to be the very dab for a wee snack at 1 am during a night when sleep was evading me. I’m still mourning the loss of Patersons triangle oatcakes as nothing else I’ve found comes close.

The Scottish Design Exchange is just across from Born in Scotland and has been there for a few years now. There are prints, cards, clothing items but also other designer goods at the opposite end of the scale from trock: Christos – NTina, originally from Greece now living in Edinburgh, make delicate flowers and jewellery from brass and copper; Ageloss Glass create “glass with a twist inspired by the Scottish nature and culture” and they incorporate recycled glass, including old Buckfast bottles. I like how there is information on display about the different designers – see example below of a glass maker.

Their warning notice to shoplifters admonishes us : “When you steal from us, you are stealing from Scottish artists and designers……………Do not steal from these talented individuals.” I was tempted to write on a list of alternative sites where shoplifters should fill their boots.

Although thinking I was now heading home, I spotted a new place next door called Stag Gallery & Framers and couldn’t resist going in, not least because it looked restful to the eye. They have pictures by Georgina McMaster, Gerard Burns and Ron Lawson and on the back wall there were long, thin Scottish landscapes which I peered at very closely trying to determine if they were paintings or photographs. I thought maybe it was some new ultra-realistic painting technique, but on asking I was told they were photos and I felt a bit of an eejit.

After all this, I could only hope that visitors on a budget find something that’s at least made in Scotland as the cheap imported stuff comes at a cost to the environment, to our reputation and also surely to our sense of self.

Out on the streets

For a few years now, I’ve been campaigning at a Pensioners for Independence street stall in a douce town, situated in a local authority which had a higher than average No vote in 2014 and one of the highest Remain votes in 2016. We shut down twice during the Covid lockdowns but are back out fortnightly – in all weathers; cold and rain can get us the sympathy vote but the worst combination is wind and rain which play havoc with our leaflets in spite of our plastic cover weighted down with stones.

We get such a range of reactions to our banners and offer of leaflets and I can never predict from folk’s age or appearance whether their response is going to be positive, negative or neutral. Those who don’t express a view will shake their heads or say no thanks to the proffered leaflet but others will simply ignore us – as they have a perfect right to do. The banners which come from Grassroots Oban and Believe in Scotland can be read from across the street and we see some folk slowing down to do so though not everybody reacts.

Supporters, if they don’t stop for a chat, will smile or give us the thumbs-up or even a clenched fist which I take in the spirit of solidarity in which it’s offered. Some say that they’re glad to see us out campaigning, so even if we’re just raising morale a wee bit that’s fine with me. I got a morale boost myself in November when a COP 26 delegate from Brazil stopped at the stall to see what it was about; he understood almost straight away, saying, “You don’t have full control of your country”. And I thought, “If he can see it ……..” Occasionally I’ll be told by somebody that they don’t want a leaflet cause they already agree with us and, thinking of the boxes of the things I’ve got upstairs, I plead with them to take it, saying they can give it to a pal that’s swithering or put it through their neighbour’s letterbox.

Some independence supporters want a referendum right now, or want a UDI; recently, another was concerned about civil unrest if there was just a small majority in favour and in fact he was on the move from Yes to No.

We have some ‘regulars’ who always stop for a blether but far and away the folk with most to say are ex-Labour Party members who’ve seen the light. I now know when a five-minute monologue is coming and as an ex-Labour voter myself, I listen sympathetically. How I wish that the Scottish branch of that party would come to its senses: they could become a real party, maybe even permanently part of a post-independence coalition government, helping to enact the social justice policies they care so passionately about. Changing their rose logo into a sort of thistle is not going to make a huge difference, I don’t think, though I suppose it shows they’re at least thinking about their situation – or should I maybe be saying instead that they think their supporters are easily fooled?

Some of those who’re against us aren’t shy about letting us know. We’ve had a couple of shaven-headed lads in shiny suits (think Ruth Davidson’s “burly men”), who gave off an air of menace from 20 yards, shouting “Defend the union!”. We’ve been told we’re “lying” and also “delusional”, but these were shouted as the blokes ran past so we never found out what they based these charges on. In 2020, a young man came right up to me shouting, “What do you think of Derek McKay?”, as if the cause stood or fell on the actions of one person.

A few weeks ago, one elderly woman threatened to hit Janet with her walking stick when she was offered a leaflet; Janet is made of stern stuff and was neither put out nor put off by this. On the same day, a belligerent man demanded to know if Davie and I were “Republicans”. We both said that we were in favour of a Scottish republic and tried to talk about a post-independence referendum on the monarchy but it turned out he was referring to Irish Republicanism, after he’d taken a quick look at our banner comparing pensions in Scotland with those in independent Ireland and instantly seen red. Far and away the worst experience though, was with a well-dressed man who approached the stall as we were starting to pack up and told us that what Nicola Sturgeon needed was “a bullet right in the middle of her forehead”. Very taken aback, though I know this is par for the course on some online sites, I told him that was an appalling thing to say but he kept going and I had to stop listening and reacting. He then addressed only Davie who told me later he’d moved on to making racist comments.

I’m not that quick-thinking, sometimes coming up with a response hours later. One passing shout from a “Help for Heroes” supporter was “You won’t live to see it” and before this guy got up enough speed, Davie called after him, “But you will”. One woman came over in a great rage, snatching up leaflets and shouting that she wanted “some samples of propaganda” for her daughter’s school project. I should have told her to sit down with a dictionary first – and leave her daughter to do her own project.

Davie is also more patient than I am and says he likes talking to supporters of the Union as he feels he learns a lot from them and his quiet approach can be very calming. By no means though are they all angry, sour or aggressive or have faces like torn scones: some of the “regulars” I mentioned earlier are against independence but are happy to stop for a chat about the weather or to tell us about a cheeky waitress in a local cafe or to comment on the fact that we’re back out on the street undaunted.

Among those who say nothing in response are those whose negative body language is very revealing. There’s the sorrowful shake of the head, but my ‘favourite’ is the full body shudder at the very thought of Scotland becoming independent. It’s these completely closed minds that sadden me. If I saw a No stall, I’d be straight over to see what they had to say.

I’ve learned to try meeting the eyes of as many people as possible when proffering a leaflet because although the dominant person might say “No”, sometimes the other of the pair or another in the group will tentatively put their hand out and I hand it to them with a sense of satisfaction. Though it could be they’re just feeling sorry for me.

A fairly common response here to the offer of a leaflet is “You must be joking” but I had to laugh after getting a “Hell, no”. We can also get mutterings about “the SNP” and in vain do we tell these folk we’re not asking them to vote for a political party but are a group of pensioners, part of the wider Yes movement. The existence of this movement comes as a big surprise to some but the biggest shock of all came to a couple I spoke to on my first outing as a street campaigner who told me they’d never before met somebody who’d voted Yes. They’d started off by asking “Why does Nicola Sturgeon hate the English?” before telling me in detail about a Daily Telegraph article which seemed to be suggesting that she was most ungrateful and should be taken out for dinner, then taken by the hand and asked this! Where do you begin with these folk? I kicked off by saying I found the story slightly sleazy and was gratified to note that the woman started looking a bit uncomfortable, though not her partner – he was mystified.

There is much mis-information out there. We’re told that we “wouldn’t survive without the UK treasury” or that we “get our money from England” or that we’d be “completely impoverished” or we “won’t get any pension if Scotland was independent”. Do any of these folk ever wonder what happens to their taxes and N I contributions? Or how other small European countries manage to survive? Dave McEwan Hill from Yes Cowal had a letter in The National on 15 March about a woman who burst into their Forward Shop waving one of their leaflets and shouting that “Scotland can’t be independent. We get half our money from England”. He went on to say that “she wasn’t for having a debate” and he pointed out that “the independence movement still has some work to do”; he’s got that dead right.

“Do you have a degree in economics?” I was once asked imperiously by a woman who put down her two shopping bags and then told me she had a friend who was an economist and this friend of hers said we wouldn’t survive. Again, this was on one of my early days but I managed to keep the conversation going, resisting the urge to tell her about the degree I did have, and after several minutes we parted on quite friendly terms. I knew I hadn’t changed her mind but after a bad start, we’d managed to have an exchange of views.

Some passers-by will say they “like being British” or they “like things the way they are” or once, that the independence movement was “just populism”. We’ve had a few folk recently worried about Putin invading us on Independence Day plus 1, and just a couple of days ago, one bloke was insisting that we wouldn’t be allowed into NATO if we gave up those nuclear weapons at Faslane. I thought later of telling him to look at a map and see what a strategic position we occupied in north west Europe which was why NATO would want us, if we wanted to be in.

“But I’m English”, responded one woman who’d never heard of English Scots for Yes and nor did she want to. This was unlike one couple who were on the second day of their move to Scotland; both were independence-supporting and took the cards though they declined the offer of badges as they “hadn’t met their neighbours yet”. Their support put them in a minority: according to a recent survey by the universities of Edinburgh and Essex, 72% of English-born voters in Scotland are for No. We regularly get English supporters at the stall, though there’s no denying there’s much missionary work to be done.

A few of our leaflets etc

Some folk on the Yes side need to get out from behind their laptops and off that social media and become much more aware of the range of views we get on the streets. Nothing is certain. There are many folk still to be persuaded out there. And it can be good fun.

Passing on

Recipe book belonging to Maureen Flood on display in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, summer 2019. The blank notebook was given to her when she married in 1967 and became “a record of her life in cooking”; recipes were “clipped from magazines, copied down from the radio or swapped with friends.” (With thanks again to My Favourite Niece for technical assistance)

When I saw that recipe book, I was instantly put in mind of my mother’s collection which also contained a mix of handwritten and stuck in recipes. She got married in 1953 but I don’t know when she started keeping her notes. The navy blue covered book is now with my sister but alas, there is no written recipe for the coconut cake which was one of our childhood favourites – a pastry case covered in a layer of jam, then topped with a mix I’m guessing of desiccated coconut, sugar and eggs, baked in a round flan tin. Thursday was baking day and we’d come home from school to find nearly every kitchen surface covered with cooling snaisters. (This will be the basis of my belief that it’s sinful to put on the oven for only one thing – see Common Sins. )

Maw Broon’s Cookbook, published in 2007 by Waverley Books in association with DC Thomson & Co, is a commercial version and I have to say I think it’s been very well put together. It purports to be a collection of recipes and household hints which Maw Broon’s mother passed down to her and now she’s passing it on to her daughter in law, Maggie. For authenticity, there are some food-stained pages and others with drawings and scribbles by the bairns.

A typical page

On 29 January, I saw in The Herald an article by Sandra Dick on a similar theme: Just like granny used to make it … forgotten recipes inspire TV chef. Gregor MacLeod found his granny’s recipe book when he moved into her old house on Lewis and was clearing her belongings prior to reviving her B & B business. He decided to cook his way through her book, trying to use the same ingredients and learning to appreciate her attempts at a zero waste approach; it turned into “an emotional as well as culinary journey”. BBC Alba is currently showing Cidsin Granaidh Chalanais which follows Mr MacLeod on this ‘journey’ and I’m going to get on to iPlayer just as soon as I finish this post.

Photos accompanying Sandra Dick’s article in The Herald, Saturday 29 January 2022

I heard him on the wireless on Thursday (17 Feb), on Mornings with Stephen Jardine on Radio Scotland. It starts about 75 minutes into the programme if you want to listen on BBC Sounds, lasting about 7 minutes. As a child, Gregor enjoyed watching his granny make pancakes and he now uses her griddle. The recipes are in a stained jotter in which she started writing in1946 when working as a cook / childminder in Glasgow. There are five shortbread recipes; however his favourites are her Special Fruit Cake, her Oatcakes and her Carrageen Pudding which he says is a “showstopper” when turned out of a fancy mould. Harder for him to stomach are Ceann Cropaig (stuffed fish heads) and her Sheep’s Head which was singed (creating a horrific smell) and then boiled, though he said his father used to enjoy the tongue. This was nose to tail eating before we ever heard of Fergus Henderson.

Lady Grisell Baillie, whom I promised to research after seeing the quantities in her shortbread recipe (see Most melancholy night), was another of the Waste Not, Want Not brigade. In her household book, she provided advice on “How to use a Whole Sheep or Lamb” all the way to “Any bits not otherwise wanted are very welcome additions to the scraps set aside for the keeper’s dogs”, as quoted by Annette Hope in A Caledonian Feast.

Grisell comes from Griselda, an Old German name which has Zelda as another variant. I’ve seen Lady Baillie’s first name spelled three different ways but will stick to the one. She was born Grisell Home (or Hume) on Christmas Day 1665 in Berwickshire, a daughter of Sir Patrick Home who was at different times Lord Polwarth and 1st Earl of Marchmont. Her mother was Grisell Kerr and having presumably been named after her mother, she passed the name on to two of her daughters. Her father was a supporter of the Covenanters; he was proscribed after the Restoration and had to go into hiding in the vault of a church near his home. Only his wife and young Grisell knew about this and the girl took food to his hiding place at night; she had to sneak it off the dinner table onto her lap without the servants or her younger siblings noticing. They did notice however that she seemed to have a huge appetite, seeming one evening to put away most of a sheep’s head – a favourite dish of her father. (See The Scots Kitchen) The heavy wooden lantern which she used to guide her to the church can be seen now in the Museum of Scotland.

Sir Patrick escaped to the Netherlands and came back with William of Orange in 1688. He was a member of the old Scottish Parliament and voted for the Union in 1707, “not above the suspicion of having received a reward for so doing”, according to Wikipedia. In 1692, Grisell married George Baillie whom she’d known since they were both 12 years of age. She’d turned down the chance to be a ‘maid of honour’ to Queen Mary and also what had been seen as a more “advantageous match”. Her husband had been in exile with her father and also became a member of the Scottish Parliament; in 1696, he’d invested £1,000 in the Darien scheme. He too voted in favour of union with England so Grisell is connected to Burns’s “parcel o rogues” twice over. George Baillie became the MP for Berwickshire in the new Union Parliament in London, a job he kept for 26 years and they divided their time between London and Mellerstain House, near Kelso.

It’s not Grisell’s politics that concern me here though, but her meticulous household record keeping which has been a great legacy to the Scottish nation. She began on her marriage in 1692 and kept full details of household accounts, records, recipes, prices, menus of dishes as well as family information until just before she died. They have been an excellent primary source for historians on what the family and their servants were eating, what they were buying and how much they were spending. In 1911, the Scottish History Society published The Household Book of Lady Grisell Baillie edited by Robert Scott-Moncrieff, some 400 pages just covering the years 1692 – 1718.

The level of detail is fascinating. In 1709, she was paying £1 for six dozen lemons and 2 dozen oranges, as quoted by Annette Hope in A Caledonian Feast. She occasionally bought “taiblet for the bairns” (See The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill) and olive oil – which I had assumed was a 20th century introduction to Scotland. At “super” with the Duke of Montrose in 1715, they ate among other dishes “Scots collips wi marrow and black pudins about them”; elsewhere in The Scots Kitchen we learn that “a little py of cocks’ combs” and “a salver wi jellies and sillie bubess” were on Lady Baillie’s table and at “Christenmas” 1715, they had both “plum potage” and “plum puden”. Annette Hope lists some dishes from another dinner with the Duke and Duchess of Montrose in 1717 which surprised me: “sparagass, garlic sauce, pistoches, limon puden, oranges”. We should bear in mind this was upper class eating, but I hope the servants had access at least to the leftovers.

The language she used is also of interest. On 20 November 1722, there’s the first written use in Scotland of the word “Ashiet” for a big serving plate; in 1725 they were spelled “ashets”. Other French influences are seen in her various spellings for fricassees – “friassy”, “friasy” and “friascy” – and also in her “bisket”, “ragows” and “canelle”, French for cinnamon. (See A Caledonian Feast)

In 1732, she itemised her spending in Naples which she visited with her husband, two daughters and her granddaughter “Grisie” as they sought in vain a cure for her son in law who was ill with tuberculosis. On one day in May that year, she bought items including hankies, fans, aprons, a “tortoyshel” comb, yellow “stokins” and yellow shoes (these last two for Grisie?) but she also paid for “Copiing musick” and binding music books, listing all the prices in both ducats and £ s d.

Several portraits of her can still be seen. On Wikipedia, there’s a black and white engraving from 1717 by G J Stodart in which she’s wearing quite a plain frock and has her hair in long plaits. Underneath it says “after Maria Verelst portrait” and on the Gazetteer for Scotland site, there’s a very similar painting with Grisell wearing navy blue and in the same pose beside a red curtain so I’m assuming that’s the Verelst one.

If you go to , you’ll see a 1717 portrait by William Aikman which is on the front cover of a biography called Lady Grisell Baillie – Mistress of Mellerstain, written by Lesley Abernethy and published in 2020. She looks kind of fierce there and I wouldn’t like to have been a kitchen maid confessing to burning a batch of her shortbread. Finally, I saw online a third portrait, this one by John Scougal in which she’s in much finer clothes, looking kind of haughty and with her hair piled very high. It’s marked “Paxton House” which is in Berwickshire and whose last “laird” was one John David Home Robertson, ex Labour MP and MSP for the Berwick and East Lothian areas.

Lady Baillie had a second career as a songwriter and underneath her portrait on the above site, there’s a 1725 one of her daughter Lady Grisell Murray by the same Maria Verelst. Lady Murray’s holding an open book of music and it was this daughter who had copies of her mother’s songs. She also wrote memoirs of both her parents, though these weren’t published till 1809 and then 1822, quite a while after her death in 1759. (I’m starting to get very interested in this daughter who married Sir Alexander Murray of Stanhope in 1710 at age 18, left him four years later and returned to her parents ….. but I better stick to my main subject!)

Unfortunately, only two of Grisell Baillie’s songs survive: Werena my heart licht I wad dee and The ewe-buchtin’s bonnie. The former was included in Collection of the Best Scotch Songs, 1725, and also in Volume 4 of Allan Ramsey’s Tea-Table Miscellany (1724 – 1737).

According to Lady Baillie’s entry on the Poetry Foundation site, her “verses bear mournful witness to suffering” and it was assumed this was connected to her father’s troubled life story. To me, this is just havers – but have a look at them for yourself:

Both seem to be tales of young love gone wrong. The former is the song of a woman whose love is thwarted by the man’s mother and sister because of class differences and jealousy of her good looks, though I have to say her “bonnie young Johnnie” seems a bit fushionless to me. I needed my Scots dictionary to get the full meaning but I’m sure you’ll get the gist if you persevere. In the latter, “buchtin” was the time in the evening when the ewes were milked; it’s also mentioned in Burns’ The Lea Rig, but normally spelled “bughtin” there. (Some shockingly bad spellings / mistakes if these titles appear on several online sites, including “ewe butchin’s” which made me momentarily think of slaughter, though there’d be nothing “bonnie” about that!)

I was pleased that her Scots skills had not been lost to her in spite of her background and the language upheaval of her times. She began to remind me of a later poet Violet Jacob, born Violet Augusta Mary Frederica Kennedy-Erskine in 1863 at the House of Dun in Angus, who also put Scots words into the mouths of working class folk in her poems and songs, winning high praise from Hugh MacDiarmid for doing so.

Lady Baillie, keeping her household accounts until the end, died in London in 1746. (I wonder how she felt about her near miss with the Jacobite army ?) She was buried a few weeks later back in Mellerstain, on what would have been her 81st birthday. According to it’s “one of Scotland’s finest stately homes” and the gardens there are normally open to the public. Maybe I should make a visit come the summer time and walk in her footsteps.