Adelaide, Queen of King William.

After Perth our next stop was Adelaide, the city of churches. Called after King William’s wife, Queen Adelaide, We learned it was noted for its religious tolerance at a time where tolerance was hardly invented. Adelaide had welcomed the Lutheran followers from Germany who were escaping religious persecution in the 1870’s. At a time when benevolence wasn’t high on the agenda in many places, Australian’s in Adelaide were welcoming everyone to join them and live harmoniously. We didn’t get to church in Adelaide and if it is a city with many churches we did not see too many of them. Having said that the liberal feeling here was evident, the welcome and warmth of this quirky city apparent on our three days living here.

Adelaide is a lot different from Perth it is not dominated by Glass and Steel columns and Corporate buildings. It does have a more colonial feel and is the capital of Southern Australia, becoming so when the country was initially divided into South and North. The city itself is contained within 1 square mile, surrounded by trees that are quite distinctive if viewed from the local panoramic viewing station for the city; Mount Lofty. Of course there are suburbs beyond the city boundary that Adelaide incorporates but the city itself is distinctive and contained within that one square mile. The general surveyor in the early 19th century, William Light, was responsible for the development of Adelaide and it was his vision that was responsible for the city layout as it is now. He is buried beneath his theodolite in the central area of the city reflecting his influence and standing. Well William, thank you I thought you did a pretty amazing job.

As with other major cities, there is a Chinatown here, albeit a bit small in size, but providing the city with the must do touristy bit (although I must admit we didn’t do it). Most of the restaurants are on Gouger Street where you can wander among the aromas of fusion spices and Italian garlic, enticed in by flickering candles, white linen silver cutlery and the forlorn empty wine glass, all the while containing the grumbling of a very hungry stomach as you try to agree on where to eat that evening. A vibrant market where fruit, vegetables, wine, cheese and cakes were aplenty, was located on Victoria Square. This is a spot where you can buy most things including fly nets, a must for the outback. They are cheaper here than they were in Perth where we paid almost $11 Australian.

The excellent thing about a lot of cities in Australia is that the trams in the city are free and Adelaide is no different. This is a huge bonus in searing temperatures but the Lion does like to walk so it was highly unlikely that we would even use the tram on any of the trip. Never the less you can take the tram all the way to Glenelg beach or if you prefer you could cycle there, its a short journey outside the city. The free trams are plentiful and easy to identify. There are also lots of places where you might board and disembark as you navigate this tight little city.

Glenelg beach on the city limits, was a vibrant seaside town, with a funfair, big wheel and lots of children. Along the esplanade there was a flume swimming pool and arcade accommodating the number of children visiting so they were at least contained. Volleyball nets lined the beach near the entrance with several young men playing giving the tourist without purpose something to focus on. We took off our shoes and sat on the sand watching over 30 kids of all ages learning to surf. One of the team, obviously with some kind of responsibility, had ‘Age Group Manager’ emblazoned on his back suggesting this was an organised tournament perhaps. Kids as small as 3 were participating. I couldn’t really see this working on Portobello Beach, Edinburgh- the temperature would be an inhibitor for a start. One of our fellow travellers, braved the waves and went in for a swim. We looked on enviously as the warm sea swept its waves over the golden sand and we wished we had brought our swimmies. Actually I wished, the Lion would not contemplate any activity that might involve getting wet. He didn’t even paddle.

After all this we finally checked into our hotel, Peppers, located on Waymouth Street and this, to date had the most comfortable of all the beds. I’m slightly behind in my account of all things Australia so have slept in two other hotels since. Adelaide and can say with some confidence that the Peppers bed was by far the most comfortable to date. We have been living out of suitcases so the wardrobe was defunct for the trip and although the bed was comfy, space was limited with all the bags open and spewing outfits onto the floor as we tried to identify suitable attire for the regular evening stroll.

Adelaide also had a festival fringe going on. Now in its 60th year this was identical in spirit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, in fact many of the acts were advertising the fact that they had been there. Some of the street acts, and notably a Swede, performing juggling and acrobatics, I recall from the High Street in Edinburgh. He was just as pleasing to the crowd here as he was there. The Fringe is free to enter and was teeming with families, friends and participants in full costume wandering aimlessly or with purpose among the lively crowds. The sun was streaming through the leafy glades overarching the grounds as we took in the various street food and free performances.

We watched as young people received a trapeze lesson. I contemplated this for a nano second, that was until I saw that they had to pull their legs up, hang them over the bar and then drop their body and dangle their arms where the more experienced guy would catch them as they swung some 30 feet above ground. The antics of those willing to try it out kept us mesmerised for ages and my initial enthusiasm for trying this out waned as a flurry of participants missed the waiting hands and fell 30 feet into the safety net. Food and drink was on offer everywhere and there were shows for adults and children alike. It was good humoured and fun giving us a warm fuzzy holiday feeling. We left there wandering aimlessly from side street to side street like commandos back to our hotel, dodging buggies and couples unwilling to split the pole. Something to note is that shops don’t open on Sunday, and many restaurants were also closed. So it was good to find some places were open because of the festival.

We only had two full days in Adelaide, but it was a city I felt at home in and welcome. Not as big and bright as Perth, but a warm welcome awaited us and it was certainly a highlight of the tour. But then there were so many of these as we would find as we wandered around Australia.

Perth, the Australian one.

We arrived in the dark of night in Western Australia. The level of excitement at finally getting here was momentous, not dampened in the slightest by the fact that it was at night and we might not actually see anything of the skyline or surrounding landscape. The dimly lit arrival area was host to a plethora of tour operators or drivers waiting a little bit patiently and looking a big bit bored for the passenger arrivals to finally make it out through immigration. Our particular tour guide- the Tigress introduced herself and welcomed us to Australia. I let that welcome sink in for a few minutes, that we were actually here given everything that was going on was truly amazing and I couldn’t help smiling with complete happiness at the reality of this moment. We were directed to a waiting bus and the remaining 17 people who would be joining us. In Singapore we had yet to introduce ourselves widely, so while some faces were familiar we wouldn’t really know anyone until much further on in this tour. In any event those who had also undertaken the tour of New Zealand were joining us in Perth and soon 19 would be 28.

I made a couple of mistakes about Perth, or misplaced assumptions perhaps would be a better way of describing it. I believed Perth was on the southern coast, this particular assumption (despite having a higher Geography I might add) was based on the writing of Perth on the Australian Map, going from left to right, its position was something of a confusion. I thought this positioning of the name placed the location on the south coast, when in actual fact it was on the west. Secondly, I thought it would be a bit of a backwater but once the glimmers of sunrise flickered through the curtains and I looked out on the vista, I realised instantly how wrong I had been. It is a beautiful city, bordered by the river, spotlessly clean, a mixture of old and new and uplifting in every aspect of its being.

The Rough Guide to Australia puts the population of Perth around 1.5 million people. Built along the banks of the Swan River, famous for its black swans and dolphins, early Western Australian settlers arriving here were free, that is they were not criminals, instead these immigrants travelled because they wanted to relocate. The reality of spending 150 days on a boat meant many of these intrepid travellers ditched their hopes of making it to eastern Australia and disembarked in the West as soon as the boat docked here, glad to be free of the confined conditions and squalor.

The large expanse of the Swan River dominates this City, it is perfect for boats, canoeing, fishing and a range of water sports, all of which was regularly going on while we were there. The City, built on a grid system, is easy enough to navigate so a trek around it takes no time really. The newly developed Elizabeth Quay is a popular place for visitors, with play areas for the children and assorted seating, sculptures, cafes and bars for the adults. I loved the design, the views and the welcome of the whole area. The famous Bells of St Martens are housed here, a centre piece of the Quay, that invites you to visit for more information.

We were shown the City by our guide on the bus to help orientate ourselves, then we were driven the short distance to nearby Fremantle. Now this was a hidden gem. Quite hip, a university town, with loads of buildings with iron fret work balconies that reminded me of New Orleans. Beneath were unique little shops, secondhand bookstores and coffee shops. Each one alluring and inviting to everyone, except of course the Lion. Along the front we could take our pick from the coffee shops in Cappuccino Strip and watch the flood of tourists from the nearby Queen Mary swarming the streets and browsing the wares on offer. From Freo, as the locals call it, we boarded the Captain Cook, and headed west back to Perth via the Swan River. No sooner had we moved away from the wharf when two dolphins emerged from the water and tipping their fins playfully in the water. I screeched with delight at their appearance, much to the shock of those seated around me. Seeing these mammals in the wild in the proximity of the boat was truly unexpected, but we were unable to snap them as they caught me off guard. As the boat chugged its way hurriedly back toward Perth I kept my eyes peeled on the River for more Dolphins.

Before Fremantle we stopped momentarily for a paddle in the Indian Ocean at Cottesloe. This small but beautiful sandy beach was littered with families and seniors enjoying the warm weather in the high 30’s. The sea ebbing and flowing on the warm golden sands and me dipping my toes in the Indian Ocean and feeling like I was five years old again. It was idyllic and so far Australia was living up to my expectations.

On our final day in Perth we wandered around the City streets, locating London Court; a shopping precinct with a Tudor facia standing out among the glass and steel of its neighbouring buildings. On exploration this quaint lane was gaily swathed in colourful bunting, covering little shops and coffee houses bringing a little feel of England with a lot of Australia on offer. It was a lovely place to spend an hour or so idling before we set out striding around the grids of Perth looking at the mix of buildings and people before heading back to our hotel. The Tigress had us up early the next morning for the next trip to Adelaide so the cases were packed up, the pictures edited and organised, the family updated and before long we were off on our travels again.

Corona virus- not in my back yard.

In Singapore, Coronavirus was the main topic of concern and just about everyone local acknowledged this by wearing a mask. Whether this was mainly due to the large number of Chinese in the area (somewhat misplaced, but nevertheless that is perception) or not the fact was it was a real and present danger to the people of Singapore at the time of our visit. On our tour some people felt they had to cancel this stopover as the risk, in their opinion, was just too high. It also emerged during our visit that tourism had been hit significantly by the threat of the virus. Those whom we had contact with in Singapore, playing the party line, were at considerable lengths to explain the Government were doing everything in their power to halt the spread into their country. That, at the end of the day, might be futile.

On our arrival into Singapore we were health screened at the Airport. Several university students, presumably having agreed to undertake this onerous role, were masked and seated behind several wires and multiple cameras to initiate mass screening. This involved taking temperature readings. They observed the travellers arriving into the country en masse with microscopic thermometers to identify those individuals with high temperatures while they filtered their way through the airport. Our main purpose as travellers was to move swiftly past this crew without as much as an atichoo or a cough and so continue with our trip.

If you had a cold when you left Scotland (and lets face it who doesn’t) you needed to disguise it. Instead of wiping your mouth after dinner, you had to use the napkin in such a way as to disguise the real reason for its use; to conceal the tissue wiping the stream of snot from your nose. This had to be done surreptitiously in order to disguise the fact you had this common Scottish ailment that might be misconstrued by foreigners. Scotland is after all a world heritage site when it comes to colds, it was one ailment we were well accustomed to but at the moment might be seen by the rest of the world as potentially fatal.

I was also glad I wasn’t in the throes of my usual flush as I sauntered through the airport rather nonchalantly. Trying to disguise my runny nose was bad enough without trying to conceal a sudden rise in my temperature caused by a flush. Otherwise I’d have been swept up, turned around and booted right back to where I came from. The menopause cannot fool thermometers because when it begins it feels like a furnace has started burning in your skull and the only way to release this heat it is through your hair and skin pores. Thus any remote thermometer is likely to identify you sooner rather than later. While this less than welcome intruder is making its mark on your temperature you find yourself praying it will subside soon and no-one will notice it. You could try to conceal it by waiving your passport frantically like a fan to avert the emerging heat and hope that you look as if you are just slightly harassed from finding your luggage. The reality of course is always different; most people notice your flush and then try to avoid looking at you as you disintegrate into a sea of scarlet, all the while trying to maintain a level of cool, that everyone knows is fooling no-one.

Every shop in Singapore had a hand sanitiser, every toilet had a public safety message about the Coronavirus, and making sure you washed your hands was plastered everywhere. Singapore was worried about the spread of this virus even though the corporate messages were clearly meant to reassure you. The mask wearing public took no chances while we tourists, well we worried about it from a distance with ambivalence. No-one else felt the risk was low and were keen to prevent any opportunity to contract the virus or allow it to spread. The world, in Singapore at least, went about its business at this stage not too inhibited by Coronavirus. It was clear that keeping its threat at bay was going to take a lot more work than hand sanitisers and masks. Singapore was sending a message; almost impertinently that the virus was not welcome here, while all the while knowing it was only a matter of time before it arrived.

As we continue on our trip the Coronavirus dominates the headlines. We keep our masks close at hand but have as yet had little cause to use them. Let’s hope that good fortune continues as we venture into the unknown.

Slinging back to Singapore

Singapore was to be the first stop on this epic tour. By epic I mean we are away for five weeks and by any stretch of the imagination, with the Lion loving travelling (NOT), this is no mean feat. I have family here so in advance of our arrival I had made contact in the hope we might meet up. Despite our 18 hour journey he proposed to meet us on the day of our arrival in an Irish pub to watch the Scottish Football. It was such a Singapore thing to do. Least said about that, in travellers terms, the better. The Irish pub was a haven of football fans, suitably attired, singing anthems creating an atmosphere as if we were actually in Paradise. The game being shown that evening required considerable tolerance by my family member since he supported our arch rivals, but nevertheless he demonstrated real restraint. You could say he went well above and beyond what was expected, as we trounced this team and claimed the three points putting us closer to winning the league.

This partisan activity gave our first night in Singapore an air of celebration and left us completely available for the next two days to see and experience the rest of the City. First impressions were that it was a magnificent, austere and bustling city. Singaporeans proudly claim they are the most westernised city in Asia and our guide appeared considerably smug about this fact. It was a spotlessly clean City in every aspect. One of our fellow travellers commented that it was too clean, the Lion was dumfoonert (incredulous) by this statement. How, in his opinion, can anywhere be too clean? This traveller had yet to experience the Lion and all his idiosyncrasies and so had limited insight as to what makes a good holiday, in the Lion’s view. The Lion’s idea of a good holiday would solely be based on his assessment of the cleanliness or otherwise of the City.

It is really difficult with globalisation to articulate what makes one place so really different from another. Globalisation means that there are MacDonald’s in every city, town and village wherever you travel. The giant retail kings and queens can be found in most modern cities across the world. And everywhere has an Irish bar, at least one anyway. Singapore was no different. Its unique selling point, in my view, has to be something about the culture, which on the surface appears western but has subtle but tangible overtones of Chinese, Tamil and Malay, remnants of the early settlers here. This Asian fusion provided us with tourist attractions in Chinatown and Little India which we visited to experience first hand the 4th and 5th generation Chinese and Tamil people’s culture. Religious places of worship to Chinese gods and Tamil deity were colourful and aromatic as the incense and jos sticks permeated the air inviting you inside to experience calm and peaceful prayer. Colourful wreaths with yellow and red flowers heralded a pungent mix of cumin and turmeric in Little India soliciting your taste buds as you wandered through the market stalls.

Chinese dragons and tigers adorn the doorways on the way out of the Temple. The tiger symbolising the elderly and it’s cub, the young person, and how the two must work together to achieve balance through youth and experience. Much to be learned about this symbolism. Entering on the right and leaving the Temple by the left was important for Karma, with the key difference in this Temple that we could keep our shoes on for the visit. In Little India we learned, in days gone by, moneylenders would be found by the riverside offering new business funding to the early settlers. Clad in little more than a loin cloth, the money lenders would purview their investments and hurriedly pull out if they considered the business unviable. Nothing new there then, if you have experience with the banking system we have nowadays.

The Singapore River is beautifully lined on either side with walkways offering a warm evening stroll with a variety of eating places and watering holes along the way. You will find mostly tourists in this area and the prices reflected it at $12 Singapore dollars for a pint and $10 for wine. There are a variety of fusion restaurants as you might expect from a city built around Asian influences, so we had Italian. Now that is a frustration to me since the Lion, another of these idiosyncrasies, rejects spicy food as it might upset his tummy, so Osso Bocco it was for the first night.

A must do visit in Singapore is to Marina Bay Gardens at night. The light show dances and delights the eyes, you feel like you are in the movie Avatar. The beauty of the show enveloped us before we travelled 36 floors up in the lift to the Viewing Platform. This area created in the form of a huge surfboard sits atop this magnificent hotel which hosts a bar, food and swimming pool. Only residents might experience the latter, but the $23 dollar entrance price is deducted from your food and drink bill so it makes for a reasonable trip if you don’t mind the height. At night you get a real sense of the dazzling splendour of Singapore; glistening with lights, the tall buildings peppering the horizon like giant columns, the view allows you to experience this beautiful city from a completely different perspective. On our way up in the lift we met a couple of people from Dundee, of course we did this is a cosmopolitan city. They were experienced travellers now living in Gibraltar and they had been to the city before, filling us with recommendations we were unlikely to ever manage given the short nature of our trip.

After an expensive but much appreciated and must do Singapore Sling, we descended into reality and headed off in the general direction of Raffles. We wanted to experience first hand the most traditional element of any visit to Singapore . We had stopped there on our travels around the city earlier in the day with the guide but wanted an uninhibited experience. Our visit was more out of duty than want if we are honest. So we set off confused by the darkness, down one street, along a tree lined avenue, in the underpass, back onto the river and soon realised we were lost. By 11pm we gave up our quest to be hip tourists at the famous bar which was most likely to be closed anyway (things close about 1030pm there). Instead we found our way back to the river, strolling hand in hand, back to our hotel. Ah well let’s leave that for another night, yeah…………….

An Epic journey

As those of you know and have read earlier blogs, we are not the luckiest travellers in the world. We’ve had dramas, disasters and even missed holidays altogether. You will recall that in September 2018, when I booked the Very Best of Australia Tour with stopovers in Singapore and Bali, I mistakenly booked it for February 2019! It was a cock up before we even got started. Having realised this mistake, I ate humble pie and contacted the tour operator who rebooked the right date for our trip to coincide with my 60th birthday in 2020. I was assured that nothing else could possibly go wrong, right?

The bushfires in Australia had ravaged the country in the summer of 2019/20. Nowhere was safe apparently and the country had suffered horrendous loss of life; people lost homes, wildlife and woodlands were decimated. People were picking through the the ashes trying to salvage what little the fires had left them and we were going there on holiday. It was hard to be ambivalent to their suffering. As the fires continued air quality became an issue and media coverage did little to quell the rising levels of anxiety here in our household. Tennis players participating in the Melbourne Open were complaining bitterly about the air quality there and Melbourne was one of our stopovers. We might not be able to visit any of the places at this rate. We watched with more than a passing interest as the impact of the devastating fires became all too real in every day life in Australia.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office became our new best friends. We favourited them on our browser to assist us getting to the information quickly and efficiently. Our insurance company also suggested that unless the F&C Office stated that it was unsafe to travel, they would not refund the costs if we cancelled. Having paid a telephone number in cash for this trip; the dream holiday was suddenly becoming a nightmare. My antenna was raw monitoring the situation. The news continued to sound concerning, I know we have coped before with such threats and risks, however this was a major set back.

And it was not over. Kangaroo Island, where we were to spend two nights, was removed from the tour itinerary. Anyone who watched the fires on TV could see the horrific impact on wildlife there. Other trips on our tour were also under threat, but daily updates continued to pour oil on troubled waters and as time went on glimmers of hope began to emerge. I turned to prayer, only to hear that Trump had started an offensive in Iraq. The thought of a war in the Middle East filled me with dread as we were passing through Dubai on our travels and might be affected. Those chances increased tenfold when, in apparent retaliation, some angry men shot down a passenger jet (admittedly mistakenly) nevertheless taking out everyone on board. I was weak at the knees, finding solace in my sofa as I watched incredulous, and contemplated the impact of these latest developments. And it was about to get so much worse.

Two weeks before we were about to travel, news of a deadly virus in China was beginning to filter onto our news channels. Wait, we were heading in this direction, with a stopover in Singapore which had close links to China where the virus originated. This was the third calamity to hit the holiday. We watched with horror as the World Health Organisation declared the virus a “global problem” and instigated widespread measures to attempt to constrain the spread of a deadly Coronavirus. Our favourite website was red hot as we searched for guidance and information (again) about whether we should travel. Our cases lay empty, no real packing had even begun with this latest development hanging over us. During all of this, quite innocuously my sister mentioned that there had been a plague of locusts in Africa that had devastated crops, described as giant locusts, the like of which had never been seen before. This piece of information began ringing alarm bells, religious teaching suggested fires, floods, plague, locusts and shooting planes down could mean only one thing; the end of the world, imminent annihilation, the apocalypse was coming. Our holiday was doomed.

Never say we are not positive though for despite these threats, the risks mounting on a daily basis, we started to pack the cases, buy the currency, book the driver and buy the guide books. It is called faith. Looking on the bright side we purchased masks to wear when we arrived in Singapore and ensure we were protected from the virus. A little bit of excitement was beginning to take hold the morning the driver arrived to collect us. We threw the bags (well maybe we dragged them-they were quite heavy) into the boot, sat in the sumptuous leather and breathed a sigh of relief we were on our way. Two miles into the journey an accident on the M8 forced us off the motorway and re-routing our journey added a half hour delay. We breathed a sigh of relief as we rejoined the M8 only to hit a second accident at Charing Cross. A further delay here meant we arrived a little late into Glasgow Airport but we managed to drop our bags without fuss and head to the Emirates lounge for the first champagne of the day. That is when the Lion said “ These accidents they usually come in three’s don’t they?…………….”

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.

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………..

Chattanooga Choo Choo. Chapter 9 Book of the Lion.

Chattanooga gained notoriety following the roaring success of the ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ a song written by Mack Gordon and originally recorded by Glenn Miller in 1941. A film was later made in 1984 but we were neither caring nor interested in the musical history of this City, we simply wanted to catch up with our tour. We had already missed out on our trip to Lookout Mountain and Ruby Falls, but this had little impact on our current state of mind. The fact we were even here was a miracle in itself.

Recently discharged from University Hospital Atlanta, the Lion was still subdued by class A drugs designed primarily to contain his back pain but also stupefying the brain and his senses for the same price. Our Greyhound bus trip had been eventful but finally as the bus lurched into the station at Chattanooga we disembarked safely, intact and none the worse for the encounters or dramas on the way. Our new found friends wished us well, and I hurriedly ushered the Lion off the bus ensuring they remained aboard for their journey to Ohio, hoping they stayed on the right side of the law.

We took a taxi to the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, which was located in the south side of the city trying to take in the sights while making sure the Lion was comfortable. We unloaded our cases, including our newly purchased bag for excess weight, onto the forecourt and surveilled our surroundings. A large train modified into bedrooms, dominated the landscape which, although no one told us, I was pretty sure was the infamous Choo Choo. Beyond this unusual hostelry, about 300 yards across the driveway lay the more conventional entrance to the larger standard traditional hotel,

I did hope we were sleeping in the train as I guided the Lion to the check-in desk, given our luck on the BA flight this was a strong possibility but our luck didn’t last. Having managed to coral the Lion into the reception I sought assistance to collect our baggage, while he clung to the reception counter and steadied himself. The tour guide had left instructions to be contacted as soon as we arrived and he joined us directly, It was like meeting a long lost friend, such had been the extent of our isolation in Atlanta. He hugged us, or at least approached the Lion with that intention before I prevented him from making any physical contact that would set the Lion’s back off again.

We then made our way to our room (not on the train), and flopped onto the bed exhaling an incredible sigh of relief. I was still so uncertain about continuing with the tour, but the Lion again assured me he would be fine. I studied him closely, trying to seek reassurance in his body language but seeing nothing that confirmed what he was saying. I unpacked his medication and our cash, that had made us feel so vulnerable on the bus, glad to have the security of a safe. There were significant volumes of tablets within assorted coloured containers. They had American names but appeared to include diazepam and Tramadol. These, in various permutations, were to be taken daily for the next two weeks. This didn’t bode well for the usual holiday experiences where alcohol might feature on more than the odd occasion.

We had started out on this holiday with friends, although they had continued with their holiday while the Lion was in hospital. I have tried to reconcile their abandonment of us in our hour of need with their need for a holiday. It’s something I continue to find difficult to understand, we could never have left them had the shoe been on the other foot, but then it was a holiday and perhaps I was just being unreasonable. Within the hour they arrived at our door glad we had made it in time to make the next leg of the journey to Nashville, The lion put on his mane, his bravest face and agreed to join them for dinner. I was not entirely sure this was a good idea, but we had to eat and so managed to join them despite being physically and mentally exhausted with our journey to date.

What became evident was that they had absolutely no clue how bad the situation had been, and were trying to make the most of their holiday and who could blame them. We ate and I ordered a glass of wine, I felt entitled given the last few days dramas, and soon that turned into two more. For the first time in 3 days I was able to relax, the Lion appeared to have relaxed but on closer inspection I noticed he was grinding his teeth as he continued to stay seated for longer than he was able to. We made a fast exit from the dining room, or at least as fast as the Lion could go and returned to our room. It would become a familiar pattern throughout this trip. Although it was now apparent that the potential to make the rest of our trip was looking more than hopeful the word holiday didn’t inspire me with any pleasure at all not in this situation. Back in the room I played nurse, (calm down he was ill), settled him in bed and dispensed the evening meds before tucking the Lion into one of the enormous king sized beds in our room.

I finally made it to bed, having tidied the room, arranged our clothes for the next day and re-packed the wardrobe cases ready for the off the next day. As the Lion drifted into his slumber ably assisted by diazepam. I wondered how he would be on the rest of the holiday, given his ongoing pain. He had little option at this stage, we’d made our decision coming here away from Atlanta and the airport. Our music tour of the Deep South was going to be an interesting trip, there was little doubt it would test us and as we now know, the Lion has no recollection of any of it given the meds he was prescribed for that trip.

Tomorrow we would depart for Nashville, and realise a dream we had shared for many years, but first I had to make a final sweep of the room for any small bits of paper that the Lion might be inclined to bend down and pick up……………………………

Deal or no deal. Chapter 8 Book of the Lion

It’s not that I was threatened by the people on the Greyhound bus, it was more feeling vulnerable with $2000 and $100 of class A drugs in my handbag. THAT makes you vulnerable, especially when the Lion was high on what’s ever the discharge meds were. Prescribed class A drugs are usually better quality than street drugs and of course you get more for your money. This made my handbag bulge rather suspiciously and if I had seen it I would have searched me and the bag. The Lion’s grey pallor also did nothing to detract from our possible criminal status and only served to reinforce the appearance of drug dealers on the run.

I didn’t want to draw attention to us unnecessarily, for all of the above reasons. So I leaned against the window, trying to be anonymous and prayed we made it to Chattanooga unscathed. No one gave the Lion this memo however and so the journey began. On the seat directly opposite us was a young American boy, he wore a navy blue matching basketball vest and shorts, with a while number 5 blazoned across his chest. His hair was neatly shaved and he had a diamond earring in his right ear. He also wore brand new white shin length cotton socks and brand new white sneakers and looked askance at this rather odd couple opposite him. Across his lap he had the most enormous boom box that he hugged with the defiant pride that befits a teenager having spent his entire pocket money on a radical purchase. He was a good looking black boy, with a broad smile oozing charm and fun. “Where y’all from?” He asked to no-one in particular and I stared right ahead. The Lion however said “We’re from Scotland”.

I turned to look at him in disgust, this was not the plan, but the young boy was hooked, firstly he did not understand the accent and so he grew more intrigued by this older couple sitting opposite. We piqued something in him, obviously and so he asked ” where’s that?” he had of course, as we were to learn like many Americans never travelled out with his own country. The Lion tried to explain the geography, but when your whole world is in one place, it is difficult to transfer the idyllic scenery and awful weather in a meaningful way. Every time the Lion spoke the boy hit the boom box in guffaws of laughter. He was clearly amused by the ‘fairy story’ and daft accent he thought the Lion was telling. So a little upset by this the Lion added he had been in hospital in Atlanta and regaled the story of the past few days. This was also interesting to me, given he had been comatose for the whole time and I thought he’d little recollection of any of it.

Before he could continue the young boy, now inching closer to our side of the seat to get an intimate look at this funny accented couple, declared he had just been released from Atlanta Jail. I drew my bag closer to my chest and thumped the Lion in the ribs at the same time, the lad continued that this incarceration was for stealing a car and crashing it following a police car chase. This was a fairly loud conversation and I was growing increasingly uncomfortable as we were only 10 miles into it. Although everyone would probably have heard this, no-one else looked around. This was clearly not the Edinburgh bus, where the whole bus would have turned to look at who had the audacity and shame to declare they had been recently incarcerated and the actual confidence to openly state this. That is what I love about America, there was his history right there in our face and he had no iota of concern. This says so much positively about social status in America, and I love that equalising confidence at least as it appeared in that moment, however back to our story.

Three seats down, there was a grey curly haired person, wearing a denim jacket facing forward and preventing me from determining their gender. This story had clearly travelled to their ears, he ( because we learned it was a man) placed his arm along the metal railing at the back of the seat and as he turned around we could see diamond earrings in both ears, ( clearly some badge of unity) before saying he too had been in Atlanta Jail and how bad the treatment had been there. ( Had they heard of the Bar-L) The young man reaffirmed this hardship and asked the older man what he’d been in for “dealing narcotics” came his reply and I almost fainted. The handbag was now completely immersed in my stomach as I pulled it tighter and tried to conceal the ‘narcotics’ within.

The conversation switched from all matters relating to Scottish geography to the more familiar territory in Atlanta Jail. The conversation was interesting but it began to develop into background noise as I plotted how we might get off this bus with our drugs and cash intact. The only other passengers were men sporadically spaced out on the remainder of the bus, the large guy occupying the whole seat in front of us was Mexican and a truck driver studying his map planning his next route north. He advised us he’d never heard of Scotland either hence his story was also available to the Lion who was now high on life as well as drugs and chattering unabridged to all in sundry. I remained silent and prayed we arrived soon.

It was now about half an hour into our journey, and the bus was slowly and rather laboriously climbing a rare incline on the interstate. It began to lurch, and stutter, perhaps appalled at the conversation. I looked to the Lion, who knows a thing or two about large vehicles, and he was momentarily distracted from the Jail chat to advise me something was not good with the bus. This funny chugging continued for about another mile or so, when Slim Whitman announced from the cockpit, “Atlanta we have a problem” as the bus limped over to the hard shoulder. We were going nowhere fast. You could not make it up. We sat there lost for words, the panic gaining momentum in my physical response. The Lion was non-plussed but the whole bus was now up off their seats and general mayhem was about to break out. Slim Whitman crunched and pulled at the clutch, the brakes then the steering wheel before he cut the engine and arose from his floating seat. I craned my neck to see what he was attempting next and hoped to god he could fix it.

He opened the door disappearing out alongside the bus while he made a few cursory checks and then got back on board. I realised I wasn’t breathing and took in a sudden gulp of air as Slim announced we had ran out of fuel and he needed to switch tanks. That technical information was lost on me but comforted the Lion as the vehicle sat for a few more moments, made a couple of further lurching noises and then started to roar into life. Within about ten minutes we were on the road again and the bus fell quiet, losing the impetus of great stories as each of us just waited and hoped we would get to our destination………………………………………………………..