Melbourne- another city new friends

The trip from Adelaide to Melbourne was by air and took around 1 hour, the shortest transfer yet. Moving around Australia with a relatively large number of people on the trip is made all the easier with a tigeress in charge. Every detail of the journey is explicitly planned with no margin for error such is the confidence of our tigress in her mission. And we are truly grateful. I cannot be easy manoeuvring 28 grown ups in and out of hotels, onto buses and into airports with the minimal of fuss and precision timing. Our Tigress is experienced and it shows. She has perfected the snarl of a mother herding her cubs who means business at the first baring of her teeth and they respond as they know what’s good for them. We have quickly recognised leadership when we see it and acquiesce to her demands with all the respect her position commands.

Our first stop in Melbourne, a city where the tigress now lives, was to commemorate the war dead at the Anzac shrine. An imposing building holding the respect of a nation for its fallen soldiers, particularly at Gallipoli. Many were lost that day. It is a moving place, emotion screams at you from the walls in silent passage as you move through the various exhibits, uniforms, pictures and stories. The most moving of all is within the shrine where a pyramidic structure in the roof topped off with a window allows the sunlight to stream through and move across the words at the 11th hour of the day. To accommodate the visitor needs, beyond that the rest of the time, a light is shone instead every half hour. So it was that we were assembled ready for the last post playing as the light moved across the inscription hovering over the word love.

Following this visit we moved on to see the newly erected Formula 1 track and even got the opportunity to drive around it. Not being a petrol head I didn’t get off to view the starting grid, but found the experience worthwhile all the same. It was then the intention to move us around the City had it not been for Shimon Perez we may well have achieved it. The federal police stopped us at the bridge over the Yarra next to the Rod Laver stadium for almost 20 minutes as the convoy carrying Mr Perez to its final destination had its own tour of the city. Hum drum as it was this caught even the tigress out as she had not really considered this might happen. The city tour abandoned we were despatched to our hotel to get on with the washing.

We wandered around the banks of the Yarra river the next day, having been recommended a bar floating on a pontoon on the river we climbed underneath the bridge just in time to escape the deluge of rain. Laughing at our good fortune the wind turned suddenly blowing the rain straight at us and we got soaked. Unperturbed by this “shower” we considered it safe to continue our walk along the river banks only to be caught once again. We huddled under a tree as the rain stoated (great Scottish word) off the sandy gravel, my feet turned golden not with the sun but the mud we were swilling about in. After 20 minutes we had reached the point of making a run for it, through the puddles and dodging trams and cars back to the hotel drookit (another great word) from all the rain. Somehow the weather from Scotland had sneaked here with us in our case. We experience a lot of rain in Scotland hence the great range of descriptors we have to cover our weather.

On the last night in Melbourne we stopped at the bar before heading out for a sedate evening meal, early night, limited alcohol, scratch that we never made it. Almost the last men standing we joined a few of our fellow travellers who had the same idea, in the bar. This being a Wednesday the hotel puts on bar nibbles and so it was that samosas, arancini, potato wedges and chicken pies were being shared around and this seemed to satisfy the immediate hunger. Thrown together through fate we were now a few days into the trip and names and faces were becoming familiar. Conversations were friendly and upbeat, people were breathing new life into old tales as we established links and experiences that signalled shared opinions and values secreted within the stories that were being regaled. Wine and beer fuelled the chatter which was cheerful and effusive. A new respect and early friendships were beginning to emerge as information flowed and was digested saved to the memory of a truly wonderful holiday and lovely night.

Melbourne was more about people for me, the city itself was not the main attraction of my visit. Meeting new friends and old family was the key to making this stop extremely memorable. I know we have never fought in a war but in Melbourne we have a shrine to our memories.

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.

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…………….

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!

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………..