Tag Archives: Bagpipes

Charity shops and second homes

My friend Ann loves Charity shops.Recently she was walking up Arbroath High Street, and passing OXFAM,  when she spotted Mr William Gladstone glowering out from a china plate. Despite the Victorian Prime Minister’s gloom, it brought back memories of Ann’s childhood where her parents had a similar plate hanging on their sitting room wall.

Mr. Gladstone was carried carefully from the window. The price tag said £2.00. The assistant smiled helpfully and said, “He’s a bit expensive but if you like him I wonder if you would be interested in Mrs. Gladstone too? 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 now hang  side by side with a view of the North Sea.

I’ve discovered you have to be quick and decisive if you see something in a charity shop. Last month I saw a beautiful big copper kettle for seven pounds. I hesitated, after all my functional 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 how beautiful it looked and warmed to the idea of polishing it. 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 charity shops in St Andrews she found a solid silver tureen ladle with a 1906 hallmark for £6.00. She bought it immediately and  Cambridge family meals now have a certain 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 a focused shopper. Out of the first box tumbled an enormous 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 bow ties: ones that clipped, bow ties that hooked and those devious ones that always need an extra helping hand to tie. Finally, success, a scarlet cummerbund surfaced and is currently being worn in the Home Counties underneath 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 and bow ties 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. I wondered were they bound for. A restaurant? A banker’s Scottish pile?  America?

Other eccentricities have included Polynesian figures, swords, antique pistols, bagpipes  Russian great coats  and bottles of very old whisky… it’s amazing what comes out of peoples’ houses …. I feel another blog coming on.




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.