Now I’ve got the writing ‘bug’ I’d love to be able to regale you with exciting tales of my busy life but it’s hard to wring humor and suspense from that time recently when I moved from my usual seat on the couch to a different seat. So I’m delving into the past for stories I used to enjoy telling. Only you will be able to decide if they’ve stood the test of time…
Here’s a question I’ve been grappling with: How do you write of your love for Scotland without droning on for pages and posting way too many photos? A: It’s a trick question! I will be committing both those sins and more.
The following is drawn from a visit when the children were ‘wee’. You may as well get used to that – it will be peppered throughout! If you are lucky enough (in reverse order of luck) to a) know a Scottish person, b) be related to a Scottish person or c) are a Scottish person you will be familiar with Scottish slang. Hell, even if you watch Outlander you will be able to keep up.
Unless you have never been to Peterhead!
In Peterhead, they speak a dialect with an accent so complicated that it’s virtually indecipherable to the untrained ear. It actually has a name – ‘Doric’. My grandad William Hardie McKenzie was born there in 1891 and married Maggie Jane Davidson there in 1919 but before my dad could claim the honour of becoming a born and bred Scotsman, they moved south to Nottingham in search of that amorphous better life. The audacity! My dad never got over it but his attachment to and love of Peterhead remained strong and true.
When we finally booked a two-week trip to Scotland in 2013 of course Peterhead was on the itinerary. I’m digressing here but SCOTLAND is the world’s most perfect vacation destination. It has history to rival Rome, cosmopolitan European cities, New Zealand vistas, stunning golf courses and beaches and the warmest people anywhere on earth. The weather’s a bit iffy so you’ll need your raincoat and your parka but you can’t have everything.
It cannot be overstated how much I wanted Adam and the kids to instantaneously fall in love with Peterhead. I wanted them to absorb by osmosis not just my forty plus years of adoration, but my dad’s sixty plus years as well. So, one hundred plus years of yearning that they needed to feel, sharpish! So what do you have for us Peterhead? What do you have to help fulfill this promise that I’ve made to my dad and want to keep to my kids? Oh, you have Ron Fraser? Well we’ll have to see about that.
But first, I had a stop to make and another promise to keep. When my dad spoke to me as a child he would say with wonderment that he couldn’t wait to get back to the ‘brijovathayoogie’. I honestly didn’t know what this meant but I knew it was exciting from the way he said it. It took me until adulthood to enquire and realize he was saying ‘bridge over the Ugie’ – a small footbridge that leads over the River Ugie – shorthand for the lovely little unspoiled beach that awaits on the other side.
On arriving in the outskirts of Peterhead, my first order of business was to go to that small unremarkable bridge and let my kids play on that deserted beach. I teared up when I watched them and anyone who saw me would have wondered why there was some nutter bawling in the dunes.
So, I would claim the first part of the operation as a roaring success and now onto Peterhead proper to close the circle. As we drove into town we noticed a figure laying prone on the sidewalk. We pulled up and parked as soon as we could and hurried back to the man as the kids pressed their worried faces against the back window.
Lying on the pavement with his bleeding head in the gutter was an elderly man. Beside him was a white plastic supermarket bag with all of its’ contents spilled including a few oranges. [Side note: why, why in movies when they depict shopping that has fallen out of a bag, why do they always include oranges? I never buy oranges!]
Ok double side note: I know how you all love a bit of movie trivia (oh, that’s just me?), so did you know that oranges were used throughout the Godfather trilogy to signal ‘death in the air’? Yikes. Well we can’t do anything about that now so let’s just re-enter the scene.
By the time we reached Ron Fraser another good Samaritan was standing beside him and he had called for an ambulance. Adam and I knelt down in the street and I slid my knee under his head so it wouldn’t be hanging in the gutter in mid-air. This is not the way I imagined Adam hearing Doric spoken for the first time.
But Ron was in a chatty mood. He told us his name and then explained his predicament – he’d just been to the shops and decided to stop off at the pub on the way back. He then uttered the most unnecessary statement I’ve ever heard – “I shat mahsell”. Sadly, we already knew this from the godawful smell and probably the whole street did too but I just said sympathetically ‘I know’.
After what seemed like twenty minutes but was really about five, an ambulance pulled up and two female EMTs got out. They surveyed the scene and ambled towards us – no rush, no fuss. They didn’t even make eye contact with us, let alone ask for our on the spot reporting. That certainly burst my ‘hero of the moment’ bubble and it was a shame really because I know quite a lot of medical terms from watching ER.
They were in absolutely no hurry whatsoever. They laboriously snapped on their rubber gloves finger by finger, chatting about their lunch, or their evening plans or whatever and then one of them approached Ron, peered down at him with sheer disdain and uttered two words (in Doric) “You again?”
With our work there done, we bid Ron adieu and walked back to the car nervously laughing while I tried to convince Adam that it’s really not always like this. Honestly!
I did actually want to give a couple more bits of color commentary on Peterhead before I leave you to try to illustrate the insular nature of the town. One is from ‘ancient times’, 1958 to be more precise. Below are two photos – clips from the local paper (very likely The Buchan Observer) that showed it must have been a slow news week when my dad’s cousin Betty got married to Tom Buchan!
Now for a minute, if you will, pay close attention to the first clipping. It says eighteen people in three cars. You will be able to see from the photo on the right that, yes, some of them are children, but only one of them is a lap child. The rest are pretty regular sized humans (my mum and dad are top row, 3rd and 4th top from right). And this is for over 450 miles and at least 8 hours. I know for a fact that each one of the three cars would be a jalopy-er version of this:
Really only seating four people comfortably, five at a stretch. Six?! Well I’d rather take the Greyhound Bus from San Antonio to Alburquerque! I also have it on very good authority that on the return journey one of the three cars broke down around Blackpool and had to be abandoned. The occupants of that car had to take the train the rest of the way!
One last thing about Peterhead – during our visit, we noticed a store in the town with a boarded up window daubed with large red painted words. Of course this warranted further investigation. On approaching we could see that words to the effect of ‘GO HOME SATAN’ had been spray-painted on the wood. The store was called Needful Things after the Stephen King novel and it was a kind of ‘goth shop’ selling candles, incense and spooky artifacts. The locals were so freaked out by the unsettling presence of this devil worship in their midst that they kept smashing the windows. The owners told us that they eventually just decided that wood was cheaper than glass so… I realize this anecdote makes my people sound like unwelcoming, narrow-minded nutjobs, but for some reason it endears them to me even more!
And just in case my brother is reading, this is for him. We had a Scotland The What record and Pa used to laugh like a drain at it! Me and brother still quote it regularly – ‘hullo, hullo, hullo, is that you your Majesty’?!