Monthly Archives: February 2016

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

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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.

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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.