Worth a second glance

My friend Ann loves browing in charity shops.Recently she was walking up Arbroath High Street, and passing OXFAM,  when she spotted the face of Mr William Gladstone, a Victorian Prime Minister, resplendently glowering out from a china plate. It brought back memories of Ann’s childhood home and a similar plate on the sitting room wall.

Mr. Gladstone was carefully taken out of the window. The price tag said £2.00. The assistant smiled helpfully adding, “He’s a bit expensive but if you like him I wonder if you’d be interested in Mrs. Gladstone ? We left her in the back store room!” I’m delighted to report that Mr. and Mrs. G have been happily re-united for the princely sum of four pounds and hang  side by side with a view of the North Sea.

I’ve discovered you have to be quick and decisive in local charity shops. Last month I sspotted a beautiful big copper kettle for seven pounds. I hesitated, after all my ordinary electric kettle is going strong and it only needs plugging in. This copper one would require a lot of elbow grease and maintenance. However, overnight I reflected on beautiful it looked and warmed to the idea of it in my kitchen- even if I needed to polish it regularly.  when I went back the following day it had already gone to another hearth in Arbroath.

My daughter on the other hand was much more decisive. Doodling around the charity shops in St Andrews she found a solid silver tureen ladle with a 1906 hallmark for £6.00. She sensibly bought it immediately and  Cambridge family meals now have a special splendor.

Recently I was searching for a cummerbund for my grandson who was about to step out in his great grandfather’s dinner jacket. A casual enquiry at the local Heart Foundation resulted in an invitation into their storeroom where boxes of labeled and tidied articles were waiting for focused shoppers. Out of the first box tumbled an incredible range of neckwear; funereal black ties, exotic night-club dazzlers; thin shoe-lace styles, kipper ties, and a psychedelic selection from the 60’s. The next box was overflowing with bow ties: ones that clipped, others that hooked and a few classic ones that need an extra helping hand to tie manually  Finally, success, a scarlet cummerbund surfaced and is currently being worn  with a vintage dinner jacket.

It’s the stories behind these objects that fascinate me. I wonder where Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone were living before they were dropped into Arbroath’s High Street?  What amazing parties have the cummerbunds  attended?

This week I’m off to the monthly auction at Taylor’s auction house in Montrose. On my first visit, a couple of years back, I watched open mouthed as assistants manhandled magnificent stags heads off the walls. The bidder was ecstatic. Where were they bound for?  A restaurant? A banker’s Scottish pile?  America?

Other eccentricities for auction have included Polynesian figures, swords, antique pistols, bagpipes, Russian great coats  and bottles of very old whisky. it’s amazing what some people collect.  I feel another blog coming on.





Geordie’s Pond

Scotland and fishing. Synonymous words indeed.

My teenage grandson Stan, a keen fisherman, had come to stay. He was booked for local North Sea fishing trips but this year had his eye on more than mackerel and cod. He wanted to learn to fly-fish and was dreaming of carp, bream, roach, rudd, perch, brown trout and salmon. This challenge required careful thinking and planning. I’ve flown kites, ridden horses, cycled, and scuba dived but I’ve never fished in my life. Think lochs. Think salmon. Think boats. Think reels. Think licences. Think rivers and rights. Think big money.

So where to dip our novice rods? – The Kingdom of Fife, Tayside or Perth? Applehill, Butterstone, Frandy or Orchill?  Sound local knowledge came from Arbroaths’ fishing tackle shop – Geordie’s Pond in Angus.

Think inexpensive. Think small stocked ponds. Think skylarks, and warblers. Think bragging and laughter. Think huge skies. Think fish. At £7 a day we were spoiled for choice.

We hatched a plan and on day two, with a packed lunch and plenty of sun tan lotion, we drove along the winding coastal road, past the turn off for the old fishing village of Auchmithie and along towards Lunan Bay. As we rounded a corner ‘Smiley Fish’ road-signs and arrows indicated we were close to our destination and fulfilling Stan’s ambition.

Our first glimpse of Janet was of an older woman skillfully whip-cracking her line backwards and forwards into the deep blue pond. She had poise and confidence. She claimed she’d recently returned from Tasmania where she’d won the silver medal at the Commonwealth fly-fish and was delighted at the prospect of sharing her joy of fly-fishing with an enthusiastic teenager.

Before I knew it I found a rod placed in my hand and I was part of the action. We began in a nearby field casting the lines without hooks. The tic-toc action of moving the rod rhythmically backward and forwards was mesmeric, and challenging. Too far back and the line hooked in the hawthorn. Mayhem! Too much effort and it landed in a heap at your feet.  chaos! Carefully cast and with the right rhythm it landed straight ahead. Success!

Finally when our arms were getting weary we were allowed to graduate to the pond and, with great ceremony, hooks and glittering iridescent flies were attached to the lines. Using the same tic- toc technique we cast and observed the hooks taking the lines down beneath the rippling surface to lure any lurking fish.

The sun shone, clouds spun overhead and skies expanded into infinity.

The whistling, rhythmic sound of lines being cast was spellbinding and exhilarating. The subtle technique of moving the fly to attract the fishes’ attention totally absorbed us.

Local fishermen encouraged us with stories about monsters they’d caught and ones that got away; moorhens came to investigate and the hours slipped by.

Sadly that day the fish weren’t biting but somehow that didn’t matter. It was such a rewarding experience to learn a new skill and enjoy fishing with my grandson.

Janet retreated into her caravan and monitored our progress from a distance.  We never actually saw her ‘silver medal’  and as one fisherman remarked drily “One can never be certain about things that people claim”. However, we still believed we were coached by a winner and the encouragement she gave to two novice fly fishers was outstanding.

As the sun finished its downward descent and the swifts started to gather I asked Stan, “What would you like to do tomorrow?”  He looked at me in utter astonishment. “ Why, fly fish of course” he said and smiled with pure satisfaction.

So, we did.


Charity begins…..

Down by the harbour we have a small Interior Design shop. There are beautiful cushions and throws in heather hues and autumnal colours. I get a real buzz out of mooching around. It doesn’t take much to imagine myself curled up in an armchair in front of a baronial hall log fire under the watchful eye of a portrait of Gladstone.

A short walk away is the High Street and here it’s a completely different ambience. Charity shops are scattered liberally all the way up to the main Square and, with the closure of the lingerie shop, the butcher, the Drop in Cafe and the big Co-op there are more charity off-shoots sprouting in the pedestrian precinct.

From designer chic to outgrown hand me downs, I’ve always believed you can tell a town by its charity shops, volunteers, the range of their goods and the type of customers they attract. In Arbroath there’s massive support for the Heart Foundation, Marie Curie and Cancer Research  and further up the High Street the PDSA have their own loyal, if smaller, following

Charity shopping has become one of my regular outings. There are always unusual articles for sale. This week there’s been an influx of Chinese plates and spice jars; a reflection on the very strong links this area of Scotland had with China, India and the Far East. When the jute trade was at its height, many locals sailed out of Dundee for a very different life. (I’ve heard there’s a graveyard in Calcutta where many local Dundonians are buried and it’s on my list of places to visit when I next go to India.)

As the seasons roll by the merchandise changes.  It’s not predictable and often reflects local house clearances.  Before Christmas there were bone china tea services galore and then a few weeks later there were shelves of of cut glass sherry and whisky tumblers. Mid-Summer brought out Father Christmas suits  – “People like to shop for Christmas things early” said the assistant when I asked why there was a ‘Jolly Christmas’ window complete  Christmas trees and baubles in August!

You have to be quick and decisive in our charity shops. Last month I saw an old copper kettle priced at seven pounds. I hesitated. My all singing electric kettle is going strong and merely needs plugging in. This one would require maintenance and copper needs frequent cleaning. Overnight I thought how beautiful it looked and warmed to the idea of polishing it. But alas when I went back it had already gone to another hearth in Arbroath.

My daughter on the other hand was much more decisive. Doodling around the local charity shops she found a solid silver tureen ladle with a 1906 hallmark for £6.00. She bought it immediately and everyday family meals now have a certain splendor.

I find charity shops allow me an intriguing insight into the lives of the town’s residents, who are moving on in one way or another. There’s a poignancy to see objects that were the pride and joy of old ladies, pieces that were cleaned or polished religiously and kept safely in glass fronted  cabinets, now ending their life languishing in the front window of the Heart Foundation. But then I think how much charities benefit from these donations and how objects are often bought and treasured by people looking for something a little unusual.

My friend Ann was walking past the Oxfam shop when she spotted William Gladstone staring gloomily out of a plate in the window. The Victorian Prime Minister was part of her family tree and here he was, painted on a beautiful china plate,  exactly like the one her family had hanging on their wall when she was a child. The price tag said £2.00. The assistant smiled and said, “it’s a bit expensive but if you really like him I wonder if you’d be interested in Mrs. Gladstone?  She’s in the store room!”

I’m delighted to report that Mr. and Mrs. G have been re-united for the princely sum of four pounds and now hang happily side by side with a view of the North Sea.

Recently I was looking for a cummerbund for my grandson who is about to step out in his great grandfather’s dinner jacket. A casual enquiry at the Heart Foundation resulted in an invitation into their back room where boxes of labeled and tidied articles were waiting for focused shoppers. Out of the first box tumbled a vast array of neckwear; funereal black ties, exotic night-club dazzlers; thin shoe-lace styles, kipper ties, and a psychedelic selection from the 60’s. The next box had dozens of bow ties: bow ties that clipped, bow ties that hooked and those devious ones men or their wives tied manually. Finally, success, a scarlet cummerbund surfaced and is currently being worn in the Home Counties with a vintage dinner jacket companion

It’s the stories behind these objects that fascinate me. Where have they been in the past and where do they go?

Let’s look afresh at our High street  and encourage those loyal volunteers and the enthusiastic shoppers. They are keeping our streets alive and until we find other ways to revitalise and reinvent shopping patterns let’s give our favourite charities our full support.








The recent storms reminded me of one of my early experiences here in Arbroath,  so I decided to share it today…..


The storm had been brewing all day and as night fell it raged unforgivingly.

Experienced locals had retreated into their houses, battened down the hatches and were having an early Tea before watching something on the telly. I’d watched the sea from the safety of my study window; seen the mountainous waves advancing; surveyed the awesome avalanches of water breaking over the harbour walls; observed the skies deepening with a crimson fury as the sun descended. As darkness arrived and the wind howled even louder I could resist no longer. It was time to experience this storm at first hand. Pulling on my waterproofs I headed into the black wild night.

I was sucked out of my blue front door by the ferocity of the gales on the Shore Head. I battled along the cobbled quayside, keeping an eye out for loose flapping ropes, and avoiding the lobster pots piled high for the winter along the edge of the quay. The yachts, tethered to floating marina berths, bucked and kicked like young colts, the percussive clink of their masts barely audible above the shrieks of the wind. I turned sharply at the end of the quay. The lights of the Harbour Design Shop were still on. I love this place and enjoy browsing and getting my fix of designer goodies. Tonight it was a port in a storm. I fought my way in and like a bedraggled water spaniel, shook the rain off.

A young man, perched on a tall ladder in the corner, was stretching forward and hanging trinkets on a display. As I stepped forward to admire his handiwork a deafening alarm went off in his pocket. Simultaneously a klaxon almost ripped my eardrums apart. I started back with shock as the young man leapt from his ladder, threw open the door and raced into the howling gale leaving me bemused.

Curiosity overcame me and I moved towards the open door. There was no sign of the man. Outside, the sky was pitch black. The Klaxon continued to shriek and strobes of light were sweeping over the quayside. As a townie my first reaction was that it was a bomb scare. The beams of light were heading towards the harbour; cars, vans and four wheel drives all screeched into the car park, men leaped out and raced towards the noise of the Klaxon – the Lifeboat Station!

Most men wore jeans or work clothes. Many, like the young man on the ladder, were without a coat. They had stopped whatever they were doing and come from all over the town. This was an emergency call out. A vessel was in distress at sea.

Lights were going on in the lifeboat station; men were grabbing their jackets, boots and helmets.   In the darkness the sea continued to crash onto the harbour wall. Quietly and efficiently the lifeboat house door slid open and the lifeboat was launched down the slipway into a hostile sea.

What courage.

I recognised some of the men. I’d seen them around the town with their wives and children; some of them had businesses – the painter and decorator, the fish seller, the local builder, and the young guys who enjoy the music in the pub next door.

As I watched the boat head into the darkness my heart was in my mouth. It was terrifying to stand on the quayside and see the lifeboat disappear from sight as huge waves crashed over it. What it was like for the men on the lifeboat didn’t bear thinking about.

I retreated to the safety of my cottage, which had been the home of fisher folk over the last two hundred years. That night I identified closely with the fear and worry families must have gone through on similar wild nights when their husbands, fathers and sons were caught in storms at sea. My maternal grandfather was an Icelandic trawler skipper and I suddenly felt a deep affinity with this powerful sea.

The lifeboat returned safely later having successfully fulfilled its rescue mission. It hasn’t always been so. Many families still have the memory of October 1953 when the Robert Lindsay lifeboat overturned on its way back into the harbour and six of the crewmen were drowned. The sea is powerful and unforgiving at times. The courage of the lifeboat crew is awesome.

As I sat by my fire I felt a pride in the town where I’ve begun to put down roots. I live in a town with individuals who care about others and have such selfless and generous values. For them it was just another day.



and ….. in calmer seas the Arbroath lifeboat comes home.DSC04785


If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the sauna

On a cold Scottish day a good hot sauna is bliss. Think pine cabin. Think heat. Think water sizzling on the red-hot coals. Think limbs getting rid of toxins. Think relaxation.

But that’s not all. Think gossip. Think indiscretion. Think secrets.

There’s something about the dim light of a sauna that makes people think they’re invisible and no one can hear their conversation.

Quietly recovering after a gym session and a dozen lengths in the swimming pool, my body is ready to lie down in the heat and relax. But, these days, my mind is alert and ready because my local sauna reverberates with local gossip. I never know what’s in store – the inane, the profane or the insane.

The men start with football and pointless replays of alleged ‘fouls’ and penalties. Gossip soon takes over with details of footballers’ misdemeanors, local government scandals, politicians’ activities, fraud, extra marital affairs, not to mention the intimate details of individuals’ medical conditions. I lie transfixed. Occasionally a party of right wing infiltrators will rant about overseas aid, immigrants or ‘benefit scroungers’ and I sweat profusely. Eye contact with other sane and level-headed sauna users is reassuring – I’m fascinated by the indiscretion of some conversations and horrified by others.

I’ve begun to reflect on saunas of the world, sauna ‘types’ and sauna etiquette. The joy of saunas on mountain tops after hiking and skiing; the bliss of rolling in virgin snow to cool down; saunas by lakes; ice cold plunge pools; saunas in the moonlight; and hot tubs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

By comparison this Scottish sauna could appear quite tame, if it weren’t for the local ‘Rules’ and the cabin entertainment

  • It’s unisex
  • Swimming togs are kept on at all times.

The occupants are a mixed bunch:

  • Sauna Enthusiasts. We embrace the joy of a well-designed pine cabin with an efficient heating system.
  • Sauna ‘wimps’, who survive for two or three minutes before rushing out red-faced and gasping for air.
  • ‘Hot Air Wafters’, who appear indecisive about leaving. In order to have the last word in a conversation they frequently stand by the half-open door (lowering the temperature several degrees). I lie on the top shelf, my blood pressure rising in direct proportion to the drop in temperature.
  • This week a 20 stone, heavily tattooed, Italian man amazed us all by pouring a bucket of water onto the coals and then sitting on the bottom bench and pouring another bucket of water over his head. He then stood up and became a ‘Door Wafter’. Then after a few minutes of indecision he waddled off and collapsed on a sun lounger.
  • Bottom Shelfers. Today there was a women’s brigade who preferred to ‘glow’ rather than sweat. The temperature was very low so I asked if anyone would mind if I put more water on the coals. One of the bouffant haired “glowers” immediately responded, “No. I certainly don’t want any water putting on. I don’t like hot saunas.”

I almost told her that if she didn’t like the heat she should get out of the sauna but I was feeling too relaxed after my first swim of the year. So I lay back and listened to more raunchy gossip and tales from the sauna.

The Spirit of Burn’s Night

This week I looked back and thought about my first experience of Burn’s Night in Scotland.  I was new to Arbroath and was invited by neighbours to join the festivities in one of the local church halls.

We gathered in the early evening and sat on hard stackable chairs at trestle tables. I remember thinking this would be a very authentic Burns experience.

Suddenly the chatter in the room was silenced by the penetrating wail of bagpipes. It was as if a reluctant sacrificial animal was being dragged screaming from its lair. The volume of the pipes increased and our haggis, (a seemingly wee timorous beastie )  held aloft on a silver platter, was ceremoniously carried around the room. Displayed in all its glory it appeared ready and waiting for the congregation to worship.

An upstanding chieftain of the town stepped forward, addressed the haggis respectfully and, with one spectacular thrust, plunged his dagger deep into its heart. The deed was done. The haggis was carried away and the revelry began.

Double doors leading from the kitchen were thrown wide open. A small army of elderly ladies, wearing their Sunday best pleated tartan skirts and hand knitted jumpers tottered out carrying trays of plates piled high with haggis and dollops of neaps and tatties.

A plate was set down with enthusiastic firmness before each guest, knives and forks were lifted and the beastie was devoured.

There was poetry and then we lifted our plastic glasses for the toast to Burns. As the orange juice drained down my throat I smiled with bemusement and enjoyed the curious spirit of the evening.

There was a beautiful interlude of Celtic singing of such haunting quality I was moved to tears. I recognised the soloist as the young nurse from my local doctor’s practice. This was a truly local community Burn’s Night.

The mood changed and an accordion and fiddler began the first chords of a Scottish reel. The room was filled with latent energy; sedate upright people surreptitiously tapped their feet, pensioners nodded their heads in delight, kilts swayed rhythmically on chairs and a troupe of young girls danced enthusiastically.

I enjoyed the fellowship of the celebration and this feeling of community but, there was one thing missing. I left quietly and headed down the High Street for the Commercial Inn.

“I need a whisky “ I said to the land lady. “I’ve just been celebrating my first Burn’s Night and it was ‘Dry’” She looked at me with incredulity and poured me a generous double. I’ve enjoyed many Burn’s Night since but I always look back with great affection to the spirit of that first one.