Storm Ciara threatens the party plans.

The final event in the birthday celebrations was for family. This is no mean feat; between the two of us we have around 54 people in our immediate family. So we often find that restricting these events to family only, works very well. A family party when the family are as plentiful as ours does place a serious amount of pressure on the organisers. You have to tread carefully since you don’t get to refresh the crowd that often obviously, unless there is a new partner (possible with some of the young crowd) or another baby has arrived (and they generally have no idea what’s going on anyway, as long as there is milk).

The party, if left to chance, could prove calamitous since there is a danger of creating a “Groundhog Day” with the same people always in attendance. This means that not all parties are attended and there is a danger that, with no preparation at all, no-one would come; this is social suicide for the family member hosting. It has become vitally important in these circumstances that a big hitter makes a commitment early on, according to Kevin Bridges anyway, and so in our family we have our very own big hitter- Marilyn. No party is complete without our funky, funny, adorable Marilyn. She works shifts so getting her to the party can be critical in terms of the timing of your event. And given the volume of people in the family, there are likely to be a few family parties in a year. No-one should underestimate the challenge of pulling this off as a straightforward gig, complacency is not an option.

Of late there has been a recent trend of fancy dress parties, usually the younger crowd drive this, so it has been 21st birthdays or birthdays at Halloween. eBay and Amazon, thankfully, accommodate such events and have enabled us to get our hands on pretty much any outfit for any occasion at cut price. People arrive in sharply coutured (albeit weird and wonderful) outfits. On the downside however we seem to have lost a bit of the creativity for outfits with the easy to access and disposable outfits, gone are the bunches of grapes from balloons kind of costume. Nevertheless, costume parties are a trend and one that required me to put a little thought into the planning of this party. If it was costume AND Marilyn could come then success was inevitable. Seeing as this was the big 60 birthday extravaganza and this combo was necessary, in addition for success to be ensured it needed to be an untried theme and so the sixties choice evolved.

What I hadn’t planned, given the intricate nature I have explained in pulling this party off, was that behind the scenes my sister and daughter were also planning the event. While well intentioned they have no idea of the nuances of such a big occasion in a family like this, nor the social implications. As a bit of a control freak and as my reputation as a hostess was at stake I didn’t want to renege as much control as they might have liked. I needn’t have worried and couldn’t have been more wrong. I assumed control of the food, (as Gayle says “you’re a feeder”) as my future reputation as a hostess may well hinge on this. Therefore I gained control of the food planning early on. This was a bit of a strategic coup, since once I had control of the food, the organising twosome saw it as a defeat and let me in on their plans. AWESOME as they were.

On the day before the party, a surveillance team were deployed to ensure I was not around. Conveniently celebrating a birthday with my friend ( after all other people were also having birthdays) I was out sufficiently long enough for three Gazebo’s and 1800 lights, bunting, chairs, tables, a juke box and cocktail bar all to appear on my patio area. I was actually moved, it looked stunning and my only regret is not taking pictures of all the hard work that went into this. It looked so inviting, so colourful and bright. I began to feel excitement stirring in my veins. Storm Ciara had other ideas. The lion’s wee brother dropped off a bright orange 60’s TV and we had other props that were strategically placed for optimal experience after all many would not recall the 60’s.

On Saturday morning the double-glazing in our bedroom had worked its magic and drowned out the fiercest of winds and rain overnight. But imagine my horror when I looked out to see half of the gazebo’s missing and brightly coloured bunting, napkins and cups scattered around the shrubs at the edge of the garden. Once outside it was worse, the sandbags holding the gazebo’s in place, were futile in the clutches of Ciara’s gusting winds, they jostled about like chicks looking to hide inside their mother’s wing. I raked around the street and surrounding woodland and recovered some of the missing gazebo, then I started to look at ways to ensure we didn’t lose any more. The weather forecast was not promising and drastic action was needed.

A bright spark led me to Hobby Craft where I bought 6 meters of Velcro, hoping this would ensure the flapping side panels resisted the winds and were kept in situ. That made little impact, I gathered large stones, boxes of tiles from the garage, concrete slabs, to no avail nothing could hold the three gazebo’s in place. Ciara was relentless and wining this battle – perhaps if I had invited her she might have given up just a little more. After 2 hours of battering against the elements and 20 minutes before my make-up appointment. I gave in and summoned the construction team back to remove them. Defeated I felt the party might be a disaster after all.

Following the transformational work of Fiona at Fabulous on my ageing and withered skin, I emerged luminous with the Mary Quant look, complete with beauty spot. The strong winds just managing to blow the wrinkles away. I returned home in time to see the gazebo’s, defeated by Ciara, laying desolate on the ground folded up and awaiting the imprisonments of the bags, no longer colourful and inviting but lacklustre and unwelcoming. The patio was remarkably bare.

Unstinted by this setback the organisers had taken over the house which had been transformed with the lights and bunting, the 60’s props and a VW Beetle photo booth erected in the snug. Photographs of me at various stages of life were peppered around the room along with balloons, banners and colourful ribbons. With 560 60’s tunes downloaded, snowballs with maraschino cherries, pork pie, cocktail sticks bearing sausages, cheese and pickles the scene was set for the party to get off the ground. As a final touch, and one of complete self-indulgence, I printed some old pictures with my name below and taped them to the Tennant’s lager cans in a fit of nostalgia, they never had a Tennant Girl with my name before. Now we can get this party started ………………………

Wonderful delights of Scottish January’s

It snowed the day I was born, hardly surprising, the weather in Scotland is predictably poor in January. Nevertheless, it did not deter my plans when I had to select a destination to celebrate my birthday weekend with my friends. Somewhere hot, beach, cocktails, lots of blue skies and dry golf courses. I can hear your brain generating those dreams from here. Nope, my favourite place in the whole world was the only place I wanted to spend my birthday; Kenmore, Perthshire in Scotland. The weather was not a consideration for these plans, you see here in Scotland we are a bit of a unique race, we have innate and eternal positivity when it comes to the weather, this way it has little chance of spoiling things. Generally most Scots are able to adapt their behaviours and clothing to 4 seasons in one day without batting an eyelid. Our weekend bags however, are always large, a bit on the heavy side as we attempt to be prepared for a deluge of rain, a flurry of snowflakes or an arid heat wave (extremely rare). Therefore packing a range of clothing from bikini to polar fleeces is the normal preparatory behaviour of the average Scottish tourist staying local for a holiday or winter break.

So Kenmore, why is this my favourite place in the world? Let me explain its geography and history to give you a bit of context. Kenmore is in the midst of the Perthshire Highlands, surrounded by the Breadalbane Hills and Glen Lyon and on the shores of Loch Tay, everything you’d expect from a perfect Scottish location. 10 miles or so off the A9 with Pitlochry to the North, Aberfeldy to the west, Dunkeld to the south. It’s an area our finest literary minds found enchanting, even Shakespeare.

Kenmore was built as a planned estate village by the Earl of Breadalbane in the 1750’s meaning it’s been there almost as long as the house I live in, we are so connected. Scotland’s oldest inn; the Kenmore Hotel claims it was established in 1572, long before the village appeared. The whole area was also loved and visited by our National Bard; Robert Burns, inspiring many poems about the scenery and location. On the east side of the Kenmore Square is an elaborate stone gateway giving access to Taymouth Castle. Built in the 19th century this beautiful granite and slate Castle has suffered dreadfully from poor or misjudged investments. Each year since 1925 , investors have been trying to make it a hotel, but now nearly 100 years on and several failed attempts, it lies unoccupied with a smattering of works completed by investors who could see the potential but were unable to sell the dream as effectively to the punters.

The River Tay provides some of the best fishing in the area. So it was as a youngster our summer holidays centred around the Rivers Tay or Tummel so that my father could fish for trout or salmon. His younger brother shared his passion and so we took many holidays with his family and other cousins and friends whose first passion was fishing and not holidays, but they tagged along nevertheless. We always stayed in a caravan park on the outskirts of Aberfeldy where we enjoyed terrific holidays as children, free to roam to the park or the pictures or play rounders till the sky turned dark. My poor mother, as a fisherman’s wife, was frequently left with three kids, finding solace in a martini with my aunties and their kids, trying to amuse one another in the tiniest of caravans while the men waded into the water in the hope of catching the big one. We kids, following in our fathers‘ footsteps, often went en masse to fish ourselves with coloured nets on bamboo canes and jelly jars. So intent on catching minnows, our eyes glued to the clear but turbulent waters for the swish of a tiny fishes tail, we hardly paid attention to our compadres or our surroundings. Until the unforgettable day we failed to notice one of our group being tugged away by the dark force of the River Tay’s fierce undercurrent. Later, when it became apparent he hadn’t returned, the force of his mother’s screams that night resonated in our little caravan for the rest of the holiday. We never returned for many years after that.

6 miles from Aberfeldy is Kenmore, we often piled into the transit van with a picnic. On the small but quaint Loch Tay beach with inflated tire inners to float and swim in Loch Tay, we huddled in blankets as the wind blew and the sun peeked out behind Schehallion long enough to venture into the water. It was a picturesque place, the setting and surrounding scenery breathtaking. The famous Dr Finlay’s Casebook was filmed here. The opening credits focused on the majestic stone gateway leading into the fictional village of “Tannoch Brae”. To me Kenmore seemed a bit of a Scottish Hollywood, not that it was teaming with big stars, but the fact it was on our televisions every week created a mystique and captured the imagination of this 6 year girl who dreamed of being an actress, or even an extra, if I was fortunate enough.

Most of the Square in Kenmore is now property offered for short term rental. More recently three distinct sites in close proximity offer a range of modern or traditional properties with saunas or hot tubs, sleeping up to 12 people making it a favourite destination for holidays and breaks. We always opt for Mains of Taymouth and have stayed there now for over 10 years. We’ve also used Kenmore Lodges on the other side of the road and now the more recent Taymouth Marina has breathed fresh ideas into the holiday experience, enticing a younger generation to the area. Mains of Taymouth is my personal favourite and hence I return there time after time.

It has a small 9 hole golf course and we have enjoyed many a rivalrous game there. And so it was on my birthday weekend, there we were, 8 of us playing a competitive 9 holes with a trophy at stake, our brollies trundling down the fairways swept off by gusting winds, as we huddled under the shelter of the trees from the horizontal sleet and rain, peppered now and again with blue skies, sunshine and stillness at every other hole. After the 9th hole, it was just too much for the birthday girl to continue and so I scurried back to our beautiful house, leaving the career golfers to play on. As I slipped into my swimming suit and slunk into the hot tub with a glass of fizz, oblivious to the driving snow and wind I could not wish to be anywhere else in the world……..Ahhh bliss, for me is Kenmore and the hot tub.

For she’s yer mammy’s mammy

The problem with getting to 60 is that your try to find relatable women to work out how you might behave in this new decade. One woman who’s been the basis for my transformation into a ‘Granny’ is intrinsic to my own experiences of Granny’s in my past. I became a Granny at 50, my mother was 45 when I made her a Grandma so we have experienced, in our family at least, being a Granny at a relatively young age ( speaking contemporarily). But the only actual tangible experience of being a 60 something Granny, the provider of the framework for my future role, is the only one I had, my mum’s mum.

Jemima Henderson Mark was born in 1900, so when I was born she was 60. You can see why I’m drawing these comparisons as I approach the Golden Girls era. Obviously I don’t remember her when I was born, but my earliest memories do start when she was probably around 65years of age. I called her Grandma; I don’t know why that particular name was chosen but that is what she was to me and my sisters. I was not the first grandchild, so perhaps the first two had determined what we would call her. I know that my son named all his grandparents by different names while his words were still forming and the 14 or so grandkids that came after him followed suit. I myself have chosen Gran. I feel this reflects the sophistication of what I am trying to achieve as the older person in my grandchildren’s lives and tones down the ageist commentary that is commonly associated with status and responsibilities. My mother is GG (GreatGran) typically reflecting her personality, but more of that later.

At 60 my Grandma was deaf and wore a hearing aid. None of your minute concealed microscopic ear pieces, oh no this was a full on draw attention to your disability apparatus that, despite being stealthily coloured beige to blend with the skin ( if you were even beige in the first place) and therefore conceal it, was of monstrous proportions. This less than discrete apparatus, (Tena the brand of discrete was yet to be discovered- remember this was the 60’s) was operated through a clip on box designed to be worn on your dress like a brooch, however it measured about 6 inches by 2, and was the size of a small radio. It often dangled down in the creases of her bosom, which was ample and could swallow it up threatening to disappear forever. This box then connected to an ear piece, exactly the same as that used by the NHS today (things haven’t moved on much), by a slim but obvious lengthy wire. I know quite a lot about this hearing aid because it whistled constantly like R2D2 and you could not avoid looking at it as she fumbled with the volume to turn you up and it down. You couldn’t play hide and seek because you would hear it whistling giving away the hidey hole she had managed to squeeze herself into. It was constantly a source of inconvenience for her.

I experienced great sympathy for my Grandma, she seemed so vulnerable, probably due to the hearing aid, and she was so embarrassed about her disability, particularly if it whistled. When she went to Church she wouldn’t wear it because it threatened to squeal and she’d get embarrassed about that. Instead she’d go without the hearing aid and of course not hear a word that was preached, sung or whispered. I also knew she wore bloomers, but not the ‘Gone with the Wind Southern Belle’, style with ribbons and frills. In fact these were pre-Tena brushed cotton and elastic and beige that covered the leg from the hip to the knee. As a youngster I wondered if this was linked to the fact that my grandad had died in 1961 so she lived alone, and perhaps bloomers had sadly replaced the satin knickers that might have been worn if he was still alive. Or perhaps it was because there was no central heating and she just wanted to be warm. What ever the reason these memories were the realities, the very foundation for fearing my impending age.

On the other hand I often went to spend the night with her. I loved that. The big feather quilt puffed in pink satin squares floated on top of the bed, which was a big double. There was a stone water bottle that was filled with boiling water and laid into the bed about half an hour before you were due to bed down. On the fireplace you were guarded through the long chilly night by 2 magnificent Wally Dugs proudly asymmetrical at the fireplace ends, spooking the life out of me in the dark. The sleepover bed was a joy because I had a bedroom all to myself and didn’t need to share the bed with either of my sisters. A sleepover at Grandmas always meant smarties and dumpling with tanners in greaseproof paper and tomato soup for tea. I’d snuggle up along side her on her small two seater sofa and watch TV. In the 60’s that was a small square about 10ins x 10ins screen contained in a walnut cupboard. We watched the Titanic on that set and I broke my heart when it started to sink, going to the back of the TV to try and salvage a lifeboat or two. I remember she was worried that I’d get bad dreams from that experience so she sat beside me on the big comfy bed till I fell asleep.

My Grandma was a member of the Eastern Star, a female version of the masons. She had an orange sash, with brocade and embroidery, laced with golden tassels that swung in time with the music as she marched. I saw her walking with it on once, she wore it with pride and I thought how grand she looked in her smart coat and sash. In Lanarkshire you were generally one thing or the other, Protestant or Catholic. The pathway of my birth took me down the blue route. But she was not a bigot, her heart as big as a lion’s she embraced everyone whatever side they were on. When I was 7 while walking past Carfin Grotto on the way to her house, she took me in to show me Mary and all the other statues and grotto there. I loved that place and begged her to take me on a picnic there the next time I visited, its a memory that stuck with me when as an adult I made the decision to become Catholic. I know she’d have approved.

My Grandma’s brother, James, affectionately known as Shemi, came calling one night I was staying over. I knew when he arrived he’d been drinking, it was probably the half bottle of rum hanging out of his pocket that gave it away. Grandma loved her big brother and welcomed him into the sitting room where she provided a glass for each of them to share the rum. Before long, something I had never seen before was brought out from the depths of the hall cupboard. It was a fiddle and Shemi put on a green velvet coat covered with badges and ribbons and they started to Irish jig. It was a side I had never experienced of my Grandma and what a delight it was to see her so happy and playing her fiddle with such fun in her eyes. Just as well that hearing aid was lying in the bedroom, there were a few notes not quite what they needed to be with all that rum!

She died when I was 10 years old, I was devastated. I never knew pain like that before that moment. The loss was more than I could bear. Not the whistling hearing aid, or the bloomers, her grey wiry hair, her spectacles, the stone hot water bottle or the big comfy bed. The enduring thing I learnt from her was love; relationships and family were all you really need to help you develop your behaviour in this next phase of your life and as the song goes there is no way I’d shove that Granny off the bus. I hope my grandkids spare me that delight now I have my bus pass!

Deconstructing the Wardrobe when you are 60

As 60 approaches I am deconstructing my wardrobe. Looking to switch to the M&S Classic range in keeping with my age and infirmity. After all it’s a range I have yet to experience and the thrill is immeasurable. The problem with making space for this new range is I am such a hoarder and have outfits and shoes befitting a much younger woman. The good news is most still fit hence the bulging wardrobes, the bad news means it’s harder to throw away. And I’m moving increasingly in to flatties, hence I cannot justify retaining the 30-40 pairs of 6-7 inch stiletto heels, currently in boxes along the top shelf of my wardrobe, any longer. Apart from the fact I might fall off these heels,Granny’s teetering about on platforms and stilettos is not a look I am keen to develop.

I am including in this deconstruction, my jewellery. If clothes are hard to remove then jewellery, annotated with memories and sentimentality, means it’s unlikely that any of them will make the charity shops. Pride of place is my engagement ring minus the solitaire diamond. And the substitute rings never living up to the symbolism of the lost stone engagement ring but the Lion thought they might help. I can still remember the day I lost it, running a terry nappy under the hot tap to slough away the contents of my baby’s breakfast, the force of that water also carried the diamond with it, deep into the heart of the sewage system, never to be seen again. The deconstruction of this jewellery has resulted in it being strewn across the bedroom furniture for a week now and with each memory I am no closer to getting rid of any of it.

There are 32 pairs of shoes in boxes, this does not include the summer shoes in the storage box in the wardrobe and the winter shoes/boots littering the carpet at the foot of the wardrobe. Trying to look organised but nevertheless cluttering up the limited space and certainly not with the original neighbours. Now there are several reasons for this Imelda Marcos behaviour, none of which is blog worthy but nonetheless needs to be justified. I can hear you draw a sharp intake of breath at the sheer decadence of it, but I can assure you these were, to the last pair, absolutely essentialbuys. The oldest pair I have are 40 years old, bought for £9.99 in a long gone shop in the local Shopping Centre. The interesting thing, and I know the Economist readers among you will find this insight invaluable, you can ( and I have) 50 years later buy shoes for £9.99 from shops in the same Shopping Centre (Quiz, for instance). It is pretty clear to me that manufacturing in this area has not witnessed much in the way of economic growth, therefore I have made a significant contribution through these purchases to the economic development of my country.

Everyone knows that 2 of the three items you wear to a wedding need to match or coordinate. I’m not saying I had new shoes for every wedding, that is silly, but I did need to buy new ones for my children’s weddings. Although I could have gotten away with wellies, since I wore long frocks both times, and no one is likely to recall the shoes in any event. In fact I did wear the same shoes to each of their weddings and not an eyelid was batted. Between 2011 and 2018 I attended 12 weddings. There was an issue in so far as the guests were largely attending the same weddings as me, give or take a few independents and everyone knows women have the memory of an elephant when it comes to remembering what you are wearing. It was a chance I just could not take. The 2 out of 3 matching items rules accounts for at least 8 pairs of the 32 in boxes. And rules are rules.

By far the most extravagant pair of shoes was bought in NYC, on a visit with my daughter who spent most of our time there throwing up. She suffers from Hyperemesis Gravidarum; a condition of pregnancy our future Queen Kate also has apparently, and this awful illness meant most of our sightseeing was limited to toilets and washbasins. Nonetheless we did manage a trip to Bloomingdales where incidentally the toilets and washbasins are far superior to those of similar stores. I was seeking a pair of orange shoes. And after the helpful assistant brought me over 30 pairs. I left with the orange leather Michael Kors sandal, 7 inch stilettos safely in my grasp. I was filled with fear at the price I had paid, actively encouraged by my daughter who was exhausted by all the vomiting and had given up the will to live at the 22nd pair. She was agreeing to anything in the hope of moving onto the next washbasin, after all there were so many to see. After this purchase I was immediately gripped by the fear of bankruptcy which required me to consider how I would explain everything to the Lion. I absolved myself of all responsibility in this purchase convincing myself categorically that the purchase had been essential to my daughter escaping the shop floor and being able to throw up outside the store.

Despite their vintage status, the personal stories attached to each item and their enduring importance to the history and insight of fashion choices of the 20th century woman, most of these wonderful clothes, shoes and jewellery are going to end up in some charity shop at best or some clothes bin at worst. And it is that thought that is shouting at me to keep it for another 10 years at least. By the time I am 70 it should be much easier to throw it away since I won’t remember why I had it in the first place. There; decision made I am off to tidy up and put it all back in the drawer, boxes and wardrobe……………. and the Classic range can wait.

2020 vision in January.

Let’s face it January is not a great month; most folk are skint, blue Monday is slap bang in the middle of it confirming, if not in scientific terms, what we all know from experience – it’s depressing. And now, the only thing left that offered any escape from these doldrums, the only thing making the long dark winter nights bearable after two weeks of hard partying and twinkly lights, the glass of wine has finally been banished from January by the fun police.

Hoovering up any leftover joy from December, you cannot escape their piousness; whether they have you in the grip of the inevitable but now highly respected January diet, the fun police, have sucked what little joy left in the month by introducing Dry January ! What does all this dictatorship, now assimilated into every day living as the cultural expectation and social norms of the proletariat, actually mean for those of us trying to have a birthday this month? Never mind that it is a whopper of a birthday!

Having a birthday in January has never been the most fabulous timing of the year. Before we were forced, en masse, to alter our lifestyles this month because we were “christmas obese” or “liver conscious”, it was always a hard up month anyway. For some of us this usually impacts on presents. Most of my family ( I mean the Lion) had no money in January having maxed out the credit cards for Christmas. This inevitably leads to them giving you left over at best or at worst unwanted christmas presents. Embarrassing of course if it was you who bought it for them in the first place! I mean I’m not the kind of person who looks for presents anyway, nor am I concerned at the use of the last of the christmas wrapping to cover it. I am after all as environmentally conscientious as the next person and would never advocate buying birthday paper when there’s plenty good christmas wrapping left over.

However socks are a bit of a give away, and chocolate liqueurs are just too obvious. Of course there are always the sales, where you can buy the most expensive gifts at knock down prices, (yes still waiting for that one). But honestly I could live with all of that, I really could, except that now any celebration is likely to be tainted as everyone is on a diet or abstaining from alcohol.🥺 So I’m likely to be the only one dancing on the table at the end of the night with an increasing large part of the buffet stuck to my stilettos.

January birthdays can suck. But this one more than all the others. When I got my driving licence in 1978, I was 18 and I scoffed, with all the mindless wisdom of a teenager, at the date of expiry in February 2020. It was meaningless. I laughed effusively at the very idea I might be sixty one day. I mean you do when you’re 18, don’t you? You just cannot imagine that anything will change from that moment, you’re invincible and for ever young. And yet somehow, despite the fact I was born in the worst month for birthdays (unofficially of course) I’ve managed to negotiate, quite successfully, 42 January birthdays since that driving test only to find myself looking at that date on the driving licence renewal letter and wondering what the hell just happened.

So here I am making dry January as sopping wet as I can, maintaining the twinkling lights by partying and ensuring the buffet laden stilettos dance on the table as often and as hard as possible. 60, is the new 40 I heard someone kindly say when I allowed myself to display disgust at my impending old age. But it is not really. I’m 60, eligible for a bus pass, retired, a grandmother, going grey, blind and turning the music down it doesn’t get much worse age wise than that. Yet strangely enough life has prepared me for this moment. I’m realising that it doesn’t really matter about presents, not a jot about the wrapping paper, its the friends hard up or otherwise, the family dieting or abstaining, that make it special. I’m planning on making 2020 a blast, after all I’ve been practising for it long enough. Follow me to see what happens as the big birthday grips me by the throat…….. and I fight back. 🥂

Nashville Skyline and Hatch Prints. Chapter 11 Book of the Lion

If I wanted to write a country song, for sure I’d have oodles of material for it. Being in the home of Country Music did not inspire me however, for we were too hung up on being safe and feeling well. The trip out with our transatlantic relations, albeit through marriage, however did much to raise the spirits. We learned that our American Superhero worked in the superhero styled AT&T building which has featured in all of the batman films. It stands erect against the Nashville skyline with its two masts and sculptured architecture creating the appearance of the Batman mask. In the dark it glows, effusing a neon aura between its masts drawing you into a mysterious pathway of superhero actions. You half expect the riddler to suddenly beam across the sky and the bat-mobile to hurtle toward him from the landing strip. It is a fascinating building, if only for the hours of endless imaginings on what might occur if you stare at it long enough.

Downtown Nashville was murky and threadbare, reminiscent of days gone by when vinyl ruled and Johnny Cash or Hank Williams wandered drunkenly between the numerous bars and hostelries on the street. There are a few shops selling cowboy boots or hats but not much else for shopping divas. To be honest this is a city where Music dominates the landscape and if its shopping you’re looking for I’d recommend you go somewhere else. However Hatch Prints, over 100years in business, who make the legendary screen printed posters that heralded the appearance of our jakey friends at either the Grande Ole Opry or Legends in the 1950’s and 60’s, remained largely unchanged by time or artists and offered a music lovers paradise.

Cats roam freely within the store, but I had little awareness of this on my first visit. It was dark on the inside, with an inky aroma floating in the air, much of which had settled on the large pane glass windows making it difficult to look in or see out. It was a massive store, barren of interior furnishings aside from several large screen printing machines, bottles of ink and little wooden pigeon holes. These held a host of posters in a variety of sizes and shapes, rolled up and luring you enticingly to unravel the contents. Easy pigeon hole listed the contents alphabetically to ease finding something that might appeal to the music loving buyer.

Some of the most popular prints adorned the brick faced walls but these did not guarantee your purchase and a rotation system meant that when it’s gone it’s not likely to make a reappearance until some uncertain and undisclosed date in the future. Some of the material was completed with a single colour, while others merged a combination of two screen print paints creating a vibrant contrast between the pictures and words. After a leisurely period of unadulterated browsing, I noticed the cats and had to make a swift exit, leaving the Lion to show me a range of purchasing possibilities through the ink-laden windows. I settled on a Patsy Cline, my heroine and Hank Williams, a favourite of the Lion, was chosen in the absence of availability of Johnny Cash.

We spent a memorable evening in the Wild Horse Saloon with the Miss Teenage America entrants, all of whom could line dance in organised and practised fashion. Country Music in the UK was still stuck in the 1950’s it had not yet appealed to a younger generation and most had never heard of the Dixie Chicks, Kelsey Ballerina or Carry Underwood. They don’t know what they were missing and certainly would have been shocked at the level of engagement by young people with this dreaded genre of music if we had tried to introduced it! The Wild Horse Saloon lived up to its reputation, loud music, modern country and even a rendition of Rod Stewart’s Baby Jane by the resident band to the delight of the pageant girls. It was a colourful spectacular with all of the pageant girls more glorious and beautiful than the last, their skinny frames enveloped by broad ribbons proudly announcing the state they were representing. We know a pageant girl, or I should say a few of them now, and wonder if any of them represented their state in their teenage years and we bumped into them, literally.

Eating in Nashville, and probably in the rest of the USA, was a functional rather than culinary delight in 2003. Most of the eateries were chain, fast food establishments selling hamburgers, fries and salad. Over the years this has changed significantly but back when we first visited the food and choices were limited and mostly awful. So it was a great delight to have the opportunity to dine with the superhero and his family in a restaurant they highly favoured, just a little out of town. Our American Superhero provided us with the transport once more, and we were joined by his family travelling in a separate vehicle, at one of their favourite restaurants. Their children were a mixture of cute and handsome. Their two all American boys, with short neat haircuts, matching casual open necked shirts and chinos were polite and mannerly. They were obviously accustomed to eating out, but not meeting many strange people from Scotland, despite their Gran, Grandpa and Aunty living there. Their baby sister, now a divinely beautiful young woman, was just as beautiful and cute back then. She was dressed in a simple but expensive white cotton dress that showed just a hint of matching drawers. I judged this choice had been easily impacted by the fact her mother had been dressing boys for the past 7 years.

The restaurant was busy, although only 6pm families were comfortably seated, surrounding our party seated conspicuously at a central table, ignorant to the fact we had not met before but bound together in this meal by rather unconventional circumstances. The waiters poured us water and handed around the menus. I was salivating as I opened it and pursued the contents containing what was only the upmarket range of fast food hamburgers, fries and salad………..

Nashville and the American Superhero. Chapter 10 Book of the Lion.

So how does a West Lothian lad come to be in Nashville Tennessee? Irrespective of the story we were so glad that he was there. Our sister-in-law’s big brother had many years earlier gone to St Andrew’s University and met a girl from the other side of the world. I don’t know much about their love story, but I do know that it was about love and he followed her there, they married and had three beautiful children. Had we never landed in the hospital in Atlanta, we might never have met them. And that would have been sad. Instead it was this American Superhero who offered us a warm hand of friendship that was made all the more meaningful because it was from family, something we so badly needed at this time of crisis, even when your family links are as tenuous as this.

It’s not even that we were in as much need as we had been when the crisis was at its height; when we were alone and isolated in Atlanta, or vulnerable on the Greyhound bus. It was because we were miles away from home, that the Lion was not out of the woods yet and there was an inherent need for tactile family connections. We were with a crowd of holiday hungry tourists, hell bent on fun and frolics that our unfortunate turn of events had disabled us from being able to take part. We had talked about and longed for a trip to Nashville, because we love our country music, finally we had arrived in our most wished for location and all we really wanted was a little bit of home. Isn’t life funny.

We checked in to downtown Nashville to our hotel with the other guests, a quick resume of what was important and what our trip entailed with the tour guide and we were able to head off to explore on our own.

Nashville is synonymous with country music every street, every hostelry is linked to its musical history, The Ryman Auditorium was the original Grand Ole Opry which offered us the imagined experience of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton all standing on that centre stage gazing out on the church like pews to audiences hungry for something different. The gospel songs that so underpinned their religious life were at the heart of this music which, with that all important influence, not only sated but justified their satanic lust for entertainment. Me and the Lion sat on the pews staring at the stage, the two of us alone with our memories, sitting in silence but filled with loud imagined performances of those famous names that had filled our early lives. Memories of the Lion’s Da in the kitchen mending and making to ‘Cold Cold Heart’, or my Mum and Dad’s parties and their radiogram loaded with well thumbed vinyl albums blasted out at parties, enticing a sing-a-long to ‘ You’re my Best Friend’ by Don Williams or DIVORCE by Tammy Wynette.

The Lion told me when he was little and living in Glasgow, family parties were common and since they were the only ones with a radiogram it was hoisted precariously down the close, balanced evenly on the babies pram and guided, wobbling across Glasgow to bring Country Greats to the rest of the family and be shared by those not able to afford a music player. But country music had changed and we now had our own favourites among the legends and we headed to Legends and the Stage to hear new country from Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Terri Clarke and Toby Keith. We were in music heaven and this was also complete with the four hours we spent in the Country Music Hall of Fame. A veritable trip down memory lane peppered with auditory treats when we opened a gold disc that stirred our hearts and minds to days gone by. We loved it, it was our dream venue what was not to like? In fact we loved it so much we have now been to Nashville five times and had a real life country star living in our home ( a blog for another day).

On day one of our two day stay in Nashville we were contacted by our American Superhero at the hotel. A message left at the desk suggested he would pick us up that evening to meet his family for dinner. The Lion was still struggling with intermittent pain, but like me equally excited to be linked with family to home. We waited in our lobby for someone we had never met before, not knowing what to expect, or what they might look like. About 6 o’clock we ventured outside to wait when a blue corvette pulled up alongside our hotel, we were seated near the door taking in the evening sunshine and eyed this beautiful car with envy. A lone man slid out of the low slung seat with all the style of a man confident with his life and location. He walked toward the hotel. Whether it was intuition or just simply the timing I was drawn to him and called out his name. He stopped, turning toward us with a smile exactly the same as his sisters and I knew he was our man. The Lion eased himself up from the chair as we ventured toward this family stranger so glad to have someone in common with him that we both loved and that had brought us together.

After our celebratory introductions he beckoned toward his beautiful car, roofless there was clearly no other way to travel in such glorious sunshine. But I noticed very subtly the Lion hesitated as the journey flashed before him and he contemplated how he might go about getting into such a low lying vehicle with his sore back. This seemed lost on our host, and reaffirmed that unless you have lived it and its happening to you its not really going to penetrate the conscious activity of others. It was not lost on me and I looked at the Lion sympathetically hoping he wouldn’t make a fuss and be able to make it into this fabulous carriage without upsetting our Hero, despite his back limiting injury…………………………….