“Does She Want A Bickie Peg?”

As a very small child….probably around the age of 2 or 3… I remember the phrase ….

“Does she want a Bickiepeg? Does she? ” being a regular taunt thrust “humorously” in my face by my father, JMH.

At the time I usually perceived it as unjust. As something demeaning. A phrase meant to put me firmly in my place as the youngest member of the family. A teasing phrase that implied I was still in babyhood, which I undoubtedly was, and furthermore, one that suggested that my tears of frustration about whatever it was that was being denied to me could be simply satisfied by shoving a Bickiepeg in my mouth.

Me with my mother, Effie at 17 Poplar Avenue in 1959…..obviously no need for a Bickiepeg when this photo was taken!

On the other hand, I do remember almost always having a Bickiepeg fastened by a piece of ribbon to my clothes by a tiny gold safety pin. This was so that the Bickiepeg was instantly available…whenever I needed it’s comfort and perhaps also to stop me swallowing the whole biscuit in one go.

So maybe what I perceived as a teasing statement was perhaps just the sort of question any parent might ask when trying to work out why their baby or toddler is upset.

Mm…..not so convinced about that.

I am sure it was a wind up on my fathers part. Although, I am equally sure that the Bickiepeg had been a solid part of my teething regime.

So what was a Bickiepeg? Well, it was and still is a stick of hardened biscuit with a hole at the top. This is then given as a teething aid to babies and toddlers with a little piece of ribbon threaded through the hole so that it can be attached for safety purposes to the infant’s clothing.

It was invented / created as long ago as 1925 by a Harley Street paediatrician, Dr Harry Campbell. He designed it to strengthen a baby’s jaws and teeth and also to help soothe teething pain.

So it had already been a well established teething aid for over 25 years when I was given it in the late 1950’s.

It is still produced by hand in the Bickiepeg factory in Aberdeenshire and is made from wheat flour and water and baked until it is very hard. With no added sugar it is perfect for babies from 6 months to chew on. It isn’t designed to be eaten, just used to bite down hard on. In fact it should be thrown away once it has been chewed/sucked for 20 minutes as after that time it can start to soften and then the biscuit can start to break up and be a choking hazard for young babies.

Despite my own memories of the teasing I endured, I gave it to my daughter, Laura to help ease her teething pain in the 1980’s. Although, unlike me she has no recollection of using them.

My last memory of them from her baby hood was when I was clearing out our house in Pontefract for our move to Leeds. On a final manic cleaning and vacuuming splurge I espied a slightly used Bickiepeg lurking under the folds of a curtain, firmly wedged in the crack between the edge of the carpet and the skirting board.

Laura at Banks Avenue, Pontefract in 1985/6.

And then a few weeks ago she bought some herself for her own son, Arta . And so the tradition of the Bickie Peg in our family continues for the third generation. I know that mine was the first as my parents couldn’t have been offered it as they had had their baby hoods before it had been invented.

Unsurprisingly, for a boy who must shove everything in his mouth and then proceed to gum whatever it is to death, he seems to love his Bickiepegs.

Arta, aged 6m, with Bickiepeg firmly clamped between his jaws.

Better ensure that he is allowed to enjoy his Bickiepeg without any teasing to detract from his happy chomping!!

A Scottish Holiday Destination …..for 3 generations.

North West Scotland has long been a favourite holiday destination for my whole family.

No wonder it is so battered….what fantastic cycling adventures this 3 shilling map belonging to my parents has seen.

According to family legend it even both predates and coincides with my conception! I was a late, “surprise” baby joining my brother and sister ,who were 9 and 7, following an August family cycle touring holiday of North West Scotland. Allegedly, I was conceived in sight of the island of Iona ….hence my name…. Fiona.

Recently, distant memories of various Scottish holiday adventures were invoked by my son’s announcement that his girlfriend had managed to rent a holiday cottage for them somewhere in the Highlands. They weren’t quite sure where ….somewhere quite isolated …. called Ratagan.

Stunning view from my son’s holiday cottage at Ratagan.

Well, of all the places to randomly pick. How strange that it should be one that I have so many holiday connections with and memories of and indeed of the whole area from there through to Shiel Bridge, Inverinate, Morvich, Glen Affric and beyond.

The memory furthest back is of me aged 7 walking beside, or more often trailing behind, my father as he pushed the tandem, on which we rode, up and over the steep and winding Mam Ratagan pass. We, my mother, sister, brother and friend Ronnie Rocket were heading towards our bed for the night at the Youth Hostel at Ratagan.

My parents loved Scotland and as avid cyclists spent their annual 3 week holiday touring its wonders. Initially starting off in Galloway in the early 1950’s and then moving further north with each expedition until they reached the Orkney Islands in the 60’s and then finally the Outer Hebrides in the late 70’s / early 80’s.

My mother and father on their last Scotland trip to the Outer Hebrides.

The holiday where we stayed at Ratagan was particularly memorable as it also involved a trek to the Youth Hostel at Glen Affric.

I say trek as there was and I believe it still is the case, no road through Glen Affric, only pathways and deer stalker tracks. Now, that isn’t so bad if you are walking but dragging bikes which included a tandem along these byways and across fords is a specific challenge. I clearly remember one moment when Ronnie Rocket’s bike got stuck in a particularly bad patch of mud! So bad, that he could walk away from his bike and it remained upright and he needed help from both Robert and our father to drag it clear.

The original “Half-inch” map used by our parents for our cycle tour around Wester Ross in 1964. The youth hostels at Ratagan and Glen Affric are circled

Glen Affric was a huge adventure. The hostel, called Alltbeithe, was extremely basic. Just a tin shack really. It was built in 1870 as a deerstalkers hut. Its water was piped directly from the stream with no filtration. I think it did have a petrol run generator though for the electric lights. The mens washroom was simply the stream outside. While the ladies dormitory was a shed at the back. I remember using our bike lights to find our way to bed from the main hut through pitch black darkness at night. I also remember the time that some highland cattle actually wandered into the dormitory and had to be shoed away.

The warden reckoned that I was the youngest person to have visited the hostel….and that we were the only family mad enough to have arrived by bike.

Outside Glen Affric hostel. My mother Effie, sister Susan, the warden complete with axe, brother Robert with me sitting on the back of the tandem and lastly Ronnie Rocket. Photograph courtesy of JMH….our father.

The weather while we were there took a turn for the worse and our parents, following advice from the warden, decided that we needed to stay there till it cleared up as the return journey with the tandem would be too difficult and the fords were running too high.

The only problem was that we were close to running out of food.

So it was decided that me, my mother and sister would remain at the hostel while my brother, father and Ronnie would make the difficult journey out through the other end of Glen Affric to Inverness to buy bread and other basic food stuffs. Ronnie, who appeared to live solely on Mr Kipling cakes was desperate to replenish his diminished store!

So the male members of our party left to go over the tops with their bikes to Inverness. Leaving me, Susan and our mother to be looked after and fed by the warden until the others returned a few days later.

And feed us he most certainly did! He fished for fresh trout in the river close to the hostel, cleaned and gutted them and then pan fried them for us. Making for a very memorable meal.

Having such wonderful memories of our family holidays my brother, sister and I continued to holiday in the North West Highlands with our friends, partners and eventually our own children for the rest of our lives

About 18 years after my first visit I returned to Mam Ratagan in an Oxford college Geology department minibus. This time with my brother, his wife and a few other friends. We we staying in a holiday cottage on the other side of Loch Duich at Inverinate. Highlights of our week included climbing The Saddle of The Five Sisters, visiting the brochs of Glen Elg, attempting one very wet and dreary day to reach the Falls of Glomach and visits to Plockton, Camusunary on Skye and Diabeg above Torridon.

This summer, my son made up for our failure to reach the Falls of Glomach all those years ago. Whereas we had been stumbling and sliding through horizontal, torrential rain he had a gloriously sunny day…..and acquired sunburnt knees!

Falls of Glomach…with a drop of 370 feet they are among the tallest and most remote waterfalls in Britain.

Happy Days and wonderful memories for all of us!!!

Headingley Street Art

Our walks around Headingley during lockdown have allowed me to appreciate the work of local artists which add more colour and fun to the urban landscape.

This huge billboard of thanks to NHS staff and other frontline workers appeared overnight at Hyde Park corner.

Some are far more professional others. But they all add interest to the area. Some seem to follow a theme while others are completely random. Almost all have an element of fun.

Adding cartoon features to trees and street furniture seems to be a universal, basic artistic expression.

Although sometimes the trees try to fight back….this street sign has been all but totally enveloped by the tree!!

Not entirely art….but this impromptu brick flower bed at a bus stop on Headingley Lane certainly adds a spot of joy!

Other spots of joy scattered through the local streets of Headingley and Meanwood are provided by the Little Free Libraries. These were the brainchild of our friend Carrie Franklin and were lovingly decorated by local artists. Here are a couple of fabulous examples.

Perhaps not the usual idea of art…but this amusingly depicts complex lockdown moods…..social isolation alongside a longing for freedom.

The Bat House

And finally we come to The Bat House. The Bat House, nestling in an ordinary residential street of semi detached houses, has a special place in our family history.

Most Saturday evenings, when our children were small and Gary still actually played 11 aside football, we would give a lift home to one of the other Old Mods players. This was the ineffable Jem Dobbs. Jem would always insist that we take a small diversion past a house known locally as The Bat House.

This house was dedicated to the original Batman programme and was decorated inside and out with Batman paraphernalia. Every week Jem insisted on driving past to show the house to our young son, Jamie….forgetting that we had done exactly the self same thing the previous Saturday.

Sadly, The Bat House is no longer painted a lurid black and purple but the entrance to its cellar still has the bat emblem over the doorway.

So many things in Headingley have changed during our 30 year tenure but the area remains as lively, bright, informative and entertaining as ever. Thank Goodness!

It has certainly brightened our lockdown exercise!

Walking around Headingley ……under Lockdown

Woodhouse Ridge at the bottom by  the beck

We always felt lucky in that although we live close to the busy city centre of Leeds there were green spaces close at hand to walk through.

One of the open spaces on The Ridge

Indeed Gary’s dad had always insisted that Leeds was one of if not the greenest cities in Europe. I am not sure how accurate that claim is but if you look at a map of Leeds it certainly does have lots of green spaces.

Hard to believe that this view of Meanwood Beck is in the heart of the city!

Just a 2 minutes walk from our house takes us to the wonderful wooded area of Woodhouse Ridge, known locally as simply The Ridge.

This forms a part of the Meanwood Valley Trail and joins up with The Dale’s Way long distance footpath. A variety of trails meander through this native woodland which follows the path of Meanwood Beck and offers enticing views of Meanwood Valley below and Sugar Hill opposite.

At the bottom of our street with the view over Meanwood Valley . The  start of The Ridge path is just to the right.
Socially isolated folk on the Ridge looking out over Meanwood Valley

For over 30 years we have wandered through this tiny woodland. Usually heading for The Chemic Tavern in Woodhouse. A firm family tradition is to walk through the wood and then back through the ginnels every Christmas Day before our late afternoon Christmas dinner.

Sadly, and of course, The Chemic has been shut throughout the lockdown but Arkwrights …the fish and chip shop next door has remained open for take aways and we hope to stop off there one day for a treat!

The longest of the ginnels we walk through as we return from The Ridge through the back streets of Hyde Park

Although The Ridge has always been a popular place as it is so accessible and offers a more pleasant walk to the University and the city centre than the main road, there has been a noticable increase in the numbers of people resorting there for their daily exercise. Although, having said that most of my photos are empty of folk!

A view of one of the many exits off The Ridge via a ginnel leading to Cumberland Road.

The three main pathways are wide and firm enough for prams and pushchairs and so it is popular with families. Cyclists use this route too and we are often carefully overtaken both by fully lycra’d up and helmeted experts and also more casual….often aged plodders.

Spring flowers and wild garlic.

We feel so lucky to have this beautiful area so close to home and have become more aware of its special attractions each time we walk through.

The base of the old Victorian bandstand…is a much used meeting place for local folk.

Just off The Ridge by The City of Leeds high school a wonderful and very innovative permaculture garden has been developed on waste land by volunteers.

View of the roof turfed permaculture pavilion
Inside the permaculture garden with a view from the pavilion.

Sometimes on our circular walk home we call in at another hidden gem which is stowed away amongst the back streets of Hyde Park…Dagmar Wood.

The stage at Dagmar

This outdoor garden, a former sandstone quarry, has more recently been custom adapted for outdoor theatre and hosts Shakespearean plays at the height of midsummer .

It is a wonderful oasis of calm close to one of the busiest and most polluted roads in Britain.

Dagmar Wood

Spring is always a very special time on The Ridge, especially once the bluebells are flowering.

And of course there is always the wildlife. Wild pigeons coo lovingly, blackbirds, robins and even little Jenny Wrens can be heard strutting their stuff. Ducks with their ducklings can be espied on the tumbling waters of the Beck.

And finally, there are always the horses…which are usually pleading for a carrot or two as we pass by.

Yes we are very lucky and my heart goes out to all those other townies and city dwellers not so fortunate. Especially those families trapped in high rise flats with no outdoor spaces close by.

How about you, where do you take your daily lockdown dose of exercise and escape?

A Sad Adieu to Raasay and a Dangerous Sister

A well wrapped up Sue, at the war memorial on Raasay.

Time has sped past since we entered the land of lockdown and our last trip away to visit my Dangerous Sister, Granny Sue on Raasay. As mentioned previously we had to overcome so many obstacles including floods and breakdowns that we did wonder if the Gods were telling us to stay at home. With hindsight I am so pleased that we pressed on. We treasure our memorable 5 days spent with her which most probably will have been the last for a very long time due to the current restrictions.

The lamp!

Sue was obviously pleased to see us and delighted that we had managed to stash her lamp in the Van’s bathroom and that it had survived the 450 mile journey unscathed. As you can see from the photograph this wasn’t just a table lamp but a huge 5 foot piece of rather delicate equipment! It did look rather beautiful though in pride of place beside her new fireplace and stove.

As ever, the weather for those 5 days was not great. In fact it rained just about all day every day. But that didn’t stop us having at least a little walk most days.

The view from the war memorial.
Snow topped Cuiillins on Skye from Raasay

The best day, weatherwise was the day before we left. We walked up to the old ironstone mine workings, crossed the Inverarish burn by the waterfall and then along the track known as the Burma road before dropping back down to Inverarish passing the Old Manse on the way.

View from The Burma Road
Me, on the rather boggy Burma Road.
Inverarish burn

Sue also took us to a spoil heap where a large amount of beautifully preserved fossils had been inadvertently unearthed.

Our final stop off was at the Old Manse , a magnificent building and now a rather grand holiday home, where we bumped into one of Sue’s friends and neighbours, Lynne Rowe.

The Old Manse ….with lots of car parking space

Lynne was rather distracted by how Raasay House and Outdoor Centre which she had helped develop and rebuild and was the director of would cope if the country was placed in lockdown and how all the permanent staff could be paid and looked after. Lynne had seen Raasay House through many different phases including a complete rebuild after it was gutted by fire. Clearly, the impact of the virus was beginning to have an adverse impact on businesses in the Highlands even though the lockdown had yet to be announced.

Raasay House today
Raasay House just after the fire

Each day we saw the terrible and frightening news of the virus’s impact upon countries like Italy. No decision had been taken yet in the UK to meet the challenge that the virus would make in our health service once it became widespread here but the government began its daily update whilst we were still on the island.

Our pregnant daughter was beginning to be worried that if a lockdown came we could be stranded far away from her. So we decided to cut our holiday short and return home as quickly as we could.

As we considered our options around our imminent departure, to our great dismay, we saw that 2 of the new tyres on our van looked rather flat. We had had all the tyres replaced the day before we left Leeds at a cost of over £550! We thought that if we could get them pumped up we could probably make it to the nearest garage on Skye at Broadford. A mere 20 minute ferry ride and then a 15 mile drive away! What a disastrous venture this trip was turning out to be!

However, we were just about to experience the friendliness and community spirit that Sue had spoken of so often.

A very definitely flat looking tyre.

As I despondently trudged back to Sue’s house I bumped into David her neighbour, Lynne Rowe’s son in law, who also works at Raasay House as an Outdoor Activities instructor. I explained our predicament and he unsuccessfully tried to find a tyre inflator in his shed to lend to us.

But that wasn’t the end of the story as he immediately rang Neil the island’s postman and asked if we could borrow his electric inflator.

It was Neil’s day off, nonetheless he still very kindly drove to our van and attached his pump to the apparently flat tyre.

The tyre turned out to be not so flat after all. It seemed that all the tyres had been under inflated by the mechanics at the garage by about 15psi. This has happened before as some mechanics don’t realise that as a motorhome the tyres need to be at a higher pressure as they are carrying a heavier load. So after a few whizzes with his inflator the tyres were up to a more comfortable pressure of 75 psi.

We were very grateful to Neil for his help and offered to buy him a bottle of whisky as a thank you. Surprisingly, for a Scotsman he wasn’t a whiskey drinker and happily accepted a bottle of vodka instead!

The following day dawned bright and sunny, the best day of the lot. At about 12:00 we said our sad goodbyes to Sue and set off for the 12:30 ferry This should allow us to get a few miles under our belt before we stopped for the night. We hoped to get as far as Killin.

But our travel related trials and tribulations were far from over. It is just a 5 minute drive along a narrow road from Sue’s house to the ferry port with no passing or turning places for large vehicles like our van.We thought 30 minutes was a more than long enough safety margin for catching the ferry.

Surprise! Surprise! There in front of us blocking the road was a cherry picker with a workman atop mending the school road sign!

No way could we squeeze through the gap or turn round.However, luckily for us the workmen were kindly gents! They brought the cherry picker down, decamped the van removing various clamps and restraints and moved the whole lot into the entrance to the Raasay Community centre a few yards ahead.

We made it to the ferry with plenty of time and were first in the queue with a lovely view of Skye.

We were full of mixed emotions. We were sad to be leaving Sue alone and Raasay behind but were anxious about the spread of the coronavirus and were concerned about what form any sanctions or restrictions the government might make. Plus, we also knew that our daughter wanted us safely home.

Overall it was definitely time to head for home….

And that is exactly what we did!

A Last Hurrah to Raasay…part 4

So ….as you may have already guessed….I suffered no ill consequences from my encounter with the puking lady. Although, I did secretly worry for several days!

Our first view of snow capped mountains just outside Callander

Our journey north from thereon was quiet and uneventful. Although, as yet the country was not in lockdown the roads were quiet and unusually we saw hardly any other motorhomers.

Unusually quiet road in Glencoe.

It was still comparatively early in the year so campsites that were open were far and few between. Gary identified a relatively new one at Fort Augustus that would only mean a short deviation from our usual route. So we headed there for our final stop over en route.

Waterfall at Glencoe

As ever, as we drove further north deeper and higher into the Scottish highlands we began to feel that sense of elation and joy which the Scottish mountain landscape engenders. However, this time it was muted by our growing concern about the news coming from Italy about the impact of the coronavirus.

We arrived at Fort Augustus in the late afternoon. The campsite, which was just one part of the Loch Ness Highland resort, was easy to find and was well signed. It was a much larger and far more commercial site than we usually choose but there were only three or four other outfits camping and the site was very quiet. As the toilet facilities, were also for the use of the glamping pods which surrounded the camping ground I would think they might be somewhat overstretched at the height of the season

Loch Ness Highland Resort

Another bonus was that the campsite was only a very short walk from the centre of Fort Augustus. It was over 30 years since we had last been there…with Nanny and Grandad…Gary’s mum and dad. It seemed much smaller than I remembered and much much quieter for a Saturday night than we expected.

The Lock Inn, Fort Augustus

We had a couple of drinks in the Lock Inn which was quite busy and had several groups coming in for food which did look lovely, but we had food waiting to be cooked back at the van.

We had decided that we wanted to catch the 1: 30 ferry the next day from Sconser to Raasay and so had ….for us …an early start and left by about 10 o clock the next morning and soon were whizzing our way towards Skye and Raasay and the dangerous Auntie Sue.

Kyleakin, Skye from Kyle of Lochalsh

The weather had not been great for most of our journey either drizzle or overcast but as we reached the Kyle of Lochalsh the sun burst out to greet our entrance to the wonderful island of Skye.

Kyle of Lochalsh hotel with Skye in the background. This was where I used to get the ferry before the bridge was built.

On the road from Fort Augustus it had seemed touch and go as to whether we would make it in time to Sconser. If we missed that ferry we would have to kick our heels to the next and last one at 5:30. But we did it and with about 30 minutes to spare.

Unusually the ferry was already loading as we pulled up. This was because there was a large LPG tanker on the ferry and it took the ferry men quite sometime to firmly lash it to the deck. It was a good job we were early as the ferry was a much smaller one than is usually used for the Sconser Raasay crossing and there was only just enough space for us and one or two cars behind the tanker.

Raasay and our journeys end was finally in sight.

The view of Raasay from Sconser.

A last Hurrah to Raasay BC part 3

Now in the third week of extreme social distancing our last trip away in the Van seems a million years ago!

Parked up at Metal Bridge

I am not sure if looking back at it is helpful or if it brings more to the fore the adventures we are missing.

As we retired a few years ago from our teaching posts we thought we were used to staying at home. But in actual fact we didn’t spend as much time alone together in the marital home as we thought.

Friends and family who know us and our history well have kindly enquired how we are managing in solitary confinement, caught together like rats in a trap! Suffice to say that although I keep the frying pan close to hand….I haven’t felt the need to use it ….yet!

So back to our last adventure.

Our first stop over on the Friday evening was a place we had driven past on many other occasions always intending to “give it a try” sometime. The Metal Bridge Inn near Gretna Green just off the M6.

This is a well known motorhome stopover and the pub provides about a dozen marked out pitches in a car park at the back of the pub. There is access to clean water and also large tanks to empty all types of waste water. Even better, access to the pub’s toilets is available from when they open their doors at about 7am until they close late at night.

When we arrived at about 4:30 there was only one other motorhome in the car park , although by the time we went to bed there was total of 6…and this on a cold night in early March. At the height of holidays I would imagine that the pace is crammed. We opted to park facing the riverside…with a view not only of the river banks but also the traffic speeding passed on the M6.

View from the van in our parking spot

Inside the pub was warm and cosy and surprisingly, extremely popular on a freezing March evening. People were even waiting outside for it to open up when we arrived before 5.

Part of the deal when parking up overnight for free in a pub’s car park is to have a meal and drinks in the pub. So we duly went in and happily complied with the unwritten rules. Gary was a tadge disappointed that the there was no hand pulled beer on offer but nonetheless enjoyed a couple of bottles from Scottish breweries that he likes….and later the several, inevitable glasses of red wine.

We sat in the conservatory looking out on the river and enjoyed a very pleasant meal in the busy pub. It looked as if many folk had come in for the meal deal which seemed excellent value…2 courses for £7.50.

We were just musing about whether to have a pudding or not when I went to the ladies. I was washing my hands…very carefully of course….when the door burst open ….Another lady customer appeared in a great rush and  some distress. Before she could make it through the doorway and in to one of the toilet cubicles she directed a stream of projectile vomit right at me. Leaving me cowering in the corner before this most unexpected onslaught.

Ignoring my baser instincts of cowardice to head for the hills, I dutifully enquired of the poor woman, as she continued to puke into the toilet, if I could help in any way. Thankfully, she spluttered a negative. Unconvinced, I asked if I could let anyone know of her predicament…her friends or family…or …given the dire state of the entrance to the bathroom the pub management? Again her answer was a no thanks…she would clean it all up herself and not to trouble anyone.

Still unconvinced, I left the Ladies and headed for the bar. The whole area of the toilets would need a thorough deep clean….and any unsuspecting female could easily step right into the unholy mess and then tramp it through the whole pub!

At the bar I approached the very young waitress who had served us earlier that evening. Trying to minimise the vomiting lady’s discomfiture I discreetly murmured the whole sorry tale to her. Shock, dismay and very definitely fear instantly registered on her pretty face. Realising that something was up her manager bellowed across the pub asking what was wrong. There then followed a bellowing farce between the two of them before he finally got the message and she was dispatched to clear up the mess and check on the possibly still puking lady.

For myself, I glanced around looking for the spare seat from which the puker had hailed. Was she with her partner, family or friends. No, I couldn’t see a vacant chair. So I returned to Gary and told him the sorry tale.

Gary was horrified. I was worried that she might be really very poorly….he was sure that it would be alcohol related….even though it was only about 9 o’clock. Pudding was definitely no longer an option. I just wanted to get back to the safety of the van as fast as possible. So we agreed to finish our drinks, pay up and go.

Then I saw her return to the very table next to us. This was a party of 4 middle aged couples out for a meal together. I watched her take her seat and wondered what she would say to her partner and friends.

To my amazement….she said absolutely nothing and carried on eating her meal, laughing and joking as if nothing unusual had occurred!

Perhaps Gary ‘s analysis was correct. It was alcohol related. Nonetheless I worried for the rest of the night that as I was in her direct line of fire…and ugh splatter… I might become ill.

I rang Sue the next morning and explained the whole sorry affair. Should we return home or continue with the risk of bringing her some lurgy?

She urged us to continue on our way. I hadn’t become ill yet and we still had a couple more days of travelling before we would reach Raasay. If I did fall ill on the way we could always reassess our options. I should seal all the clothes I had on that evening up in a plastic bag and wash them as soon as I reached her house.

So off we trundled on our way again…

To be continued….

A last Hurrah to Raasay BC . Part 2

In the land Before Coronavirus when folks were free to roam where ere they wished we had planned a trip to visit Sue on Raasay.

But as ever for us things did not run quite as smoothly as we wished. I am never sure when we encounter several obstacles, delays and impediments to our plans whether they should be viewed as a warning from the fates or the powers that be of impending doom if we continue on our chosen path or as a challenge to prove our mettle and our ability to overcome the aforementioned difficulties. In general I feel we tend towards the latter view and commend ourselves upon our resilience! I am sure that others see it more as a measure of our foolishness as we blindly press ahead.

The fates….busy plotting our downfall…

So we planned to leave on Thursday after Gary’s medical appointment. As we were about to complete a round trip of almost a thousand miles we deemed it sensible to bring the Van’s MOT forward and have the engine fully serviced beforehand. The only date the garage could give us was on the Tuesday. Well that seemed to give us a bit of leeway, if even more than a days work emerged from the MOT.

In addition we needed a trip to Autogas near Thirsk, both to have some gas put in the tank but also to check out the size of our tank. We had last had the gas tank checked 6 years ago and in the intervening times regulations had changed such that gas tanks must be replaced every 10 years….well ours must be at least 20 and so a new tank of the right size needed ordering. Autogas could only offer us an appointment on Thursday afternoon. Well that seemed to fit, we could call in on the way to the A66 as we trundled northwards.

In the meantime rumblings about the coronavirus and our governments lack of response to its perceived threat had continued to appear in the media. Should we be travelling at such times? Sue was very keen for us to still visit her. She actually suggested we should go and live with her on Raasay as both Gary and I have the dreaded “underlying health conditions”. However, with Laura due to give birth in early May this could not be countenanced. Her pregnancy also added to our feeling that this visit to Sue was either now or, if not exactly never, then at least not for a very long time due to our forthcoming grandparent duties.

We checked with Sue, as we always do when visiting her, if there was anything she needed us to bring up for her. There usually is. In this case it was a lamp she had left at her daughter’s in Howden …oh and the Britishers predilection for that eternal essential……some toilet rolls!!!

Elsa very kindly diverted to our house one day with Sue’s lamp. Now I had been imagining a sort of table lamp and was a bit non plussed when Elsa said she couldn’t carry it from her car to our house all in one go!!!

Elsa, outside her mum’s house on Raasay

The lamp was in 3 parts. A box about one and a half foot square and two 3 foot long packages carefully wrapped in brown paper and bubble wrap. The mind boggled at what sort of lamp it could be once all 3 came together….where on earth could Sue put it in her tiny house? Never mind where we would stow all 3 packages on our journey in the van. In addition, they all seemed to be delicate in nature. Indeed the stuff in the box already tinkled like broken glass but Elsa was quick to assure me that it had always sounded like that.

So despite our coronavirus concerns we were set to continue with our trip to Raasay complete with the oversized mystery lamp. I managed to stow this encumberance in our Van’s bathroom in such a way that the toilet and sink were still available for use.

Of course things did not go to plan! The MOT and service took far longer than expected so we couldn’t depart until almost Friday lunchtime calling in at Autogas on our way. But at least we had a Van fit for a long journey, including 4 brand new and expensive tyres…..

….To be continued…

A Last Hurrah To Raasay BC.

View from Raasay ferryport towards Skye and the Cuillins.

I hadn’t been to Raasay to visit my beautiful, if slightly deranged and certainly dangerous, big sister for over 18 months.

Sue, enjoying a car journey with Rupert Bear on one of our shopping trips when she lived at Rawcliffe Bridge.

At Christmas and New Year when Sue was being held hostage on Raasay by her cantankerous cat, Mrs. Pussykinookins we had promised to make visiting her in the coming New Year a priority.

That Bloody Cat alias Mrs Pussikinookins, the cat who wouldn’t die, snoozing in front of Sue’s wonderfully warm, Raasay stove.

Mrs Pussikinoookins otherwise known by her family and friends as “That Bloody Cat” or “The Cat Who Wouldnt Die” has been holding Sue hostage on Raasay ever since the vet diagnosed her with a terminal illness and only a few weeks left to live………. 3 years ago.

A younger and healthier Mrs Pussikinookins when she lived at Rawcliffe Bridge.

The poor animal is also suffering from a type of dementia which includes screaming, vocal anxiety whenever she isn’t safely ensconced on her owners lap and a form of extreme, revenge bowel evacuation. Consequently, Sue feels unable to visit her friends and close family in Gateshead and Yorkshire even though she has had diverse offers by friends on Raasay to feed the cat so she could escape its tyranny.

Sue cooking bacon for folks attending a willow weaving craft day in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Expecting kind friends to not only visit and feed the cat twice a day but also play hunt the cat poo game and then assiduously clean it up seemed above and beyond the call of duty.

Mrs Pussikins was a stray when she kindly decided to adopt Sue over 15 years ago. In the intervening years she has lived with Sue in 4 different houses and locations. Without a doubt a very strong and loyal bond has been forged between them. She appears to be very distressed when Sue is not around and equally Sue would be devastated if she died whilst Sue was away. So as far as Sue was concerned she couldn’t leave Raasay as she couldn’t abandon “That Bloody Cat”.

Sue and Elsa, her eldest daughter at Calum’s Road on Raasay

Now, Sue has made many good and wonderful friends on Raasay who all enjoy her company and support her, but she still misses her family and friends from south of the border. And we most definitely miss her and all her eccentricities!!!

Sue at Portmeirion Botanic garden trying out a different mode of travel.

So our promise that we would visit was quite important to both her and us. Initially, we hoped to go up in January but it is a long way….about 450 miles….and it takes us 2 or 3 days of travelling in our van so we needed to put a good chunk of time aside to be able to make the journey and spend a fair bit of time with Sue.

January came and went. We identified 10 days in February but on chatting to Sue it seemed possible that she and her youngest daughter were hoping to meet up then.

Definitely missing her mum is Rachael, Sue’s youngest daughter. Here she is with Georgia, one of Sue’s granddaughters and her partner, Ben.

Finally, we agreed a date in early March and arranged such things as the Van’s MOT around the proposed date. Everything was set for a trip to Scotland and Raasay! And boy were we ready for it!

Ruins of Brochel Castle on Raasay.

To be continued……..

Flashback on Mothering Sunday

A very young Allan Moran with his mum and dad and his older sister, Brenda.

Remember I said that Allan Moran’s family history was complicated?

As we move further back in time with these photographs more of that history is revealed.

I only know these stories from Joan’s point of view and then she only told me what she wanted to.  As I was merely in my teens and early twenties I didn’t feel able to ask her too many questions about her past.

When Joan and Jim met and fell in love sometime in the early 1950’s she was already married with three young children. Those children were the twins, Trevor and Johnnie and Brenda.

The marriage was undoubtedly an unhappy and troubled one. I always suspected some form of domestic violence but I don’t have any real evidence for that.

Whatever the case Joan ran away or as she said eloped with Jim to Gretna Green. I think she asked Brenda if she wanted to go with her but Brenda felt she had to stay to look after her younger brothers and her dad. Looking at the photograph above I realise how young Brenda must have been when her mother ran away.

Brenda, herself told me that she understood why her mother left her dad as life with him was very difficult. However, she could never understand how her mum could leave behind her children and I also think she could never really forgive her.

The twins whom Joan had abandoned were estranged from her when I first started going out with Allan. Brenda did manage to reconnect Joan with Johnnie eventually but I remember that their relationship was always a little sticky.

Trevor on the other hand still lived with his father and refused to have anything to do with Joan and I think maintained this stance throughout her life. Although, I think I did see him at her funeral. How sad is that!

When they eloped, Jim and Joan had a sort of marriage ceremony at the Blacksmiths shop in Gretna Green and then they went and lived in Glasgow. It was in Glasgow that Allan was born and they lived there for the first few years of his life.

This picture dates from that time. I think that Brenda did come and stay with them for a time but felt she had to go back to look after her brothers.