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09 September, 2012

Scotland - My Very First Exposure!

                 What could possibly happen between arriving in Scotland at Prestwick airport and traveling to Dunoon?  It was just a short pleasant drive or was it?  You won't believe what happened to me!!

The beautiful Holy Loch in Scotland - no "Nessie" here.  Only MY heart!
             Landing in Scotland from the States seemed an exciting adventure.  As it turned out, LIVING there was to be my biggest one.   It all began at the Prestwick Airport and continued on the trip to Dunoon in County Argyll.   My sailor husband Tom, was stationed near Dunoon, at Sandbank with the US Navy, on the USS Simon Lake, a submarine tender.  It was late September 1966.

            Tom was making the long trip to Prestwick in an old Austin-Healy he’d purchased from another sailor.  I had been on a plane for 16 straight hours.   As soon as I disembarked, I needed to pee!  While waiting for him to arrive, I went to the toilet (loo) in the airport.  

              That was my first mistake.  They did NOT have "toilet paper!"  They had what looked and FELT like the thin bakery sheets with which you pick your donut out of the display case.  They were even in the same kind of dispenser.  Those sheets were waxy, thin and stiff!  Arrrrgh!  This was NOT starting well...

           In great dismay, I sucked it up, made do and left in a hurry.  I couldn’t wait to get to our “home” in Dunoon, to REAL toilet tissue! (Fat, fluffy sheets, rolled on a cardboard tube.)  What else would shock me this day?   If I’d only known I would have gotten right back on that plane!

            After a hearty welcome at the airport when Tom arrived, we loaded my luggage in the car trunk (boot), and started for Dunoon.   The sweet Scotland air was crisp and cool.  I breathed deeply, feeling relieved he was there to help me get used to things.   

          He apologized as our old Austin-Healy lurched and chugged along.  (It only had 2 of 4 gears and reverse.)  He’d bought it for $100 off a "guy" he knew.  Yeah, that "guy" had sure seen HIM coming.   As we struggled to climb hills and maneuver in traffic with only two gears, I chuckled.
          Another of Tom’s wacky business deals and not a good one, either.    “What the heck”, I said, “The sun is shining and I am in SCOTLAND!”  I was filled with optimism.  The lush green beauty of the countryside along the road lulled me into a sense of peace, safety.

           As we drove the winding road from Prestwick Airport, I was amazed by what I saw.  Small cottages with thatched roofs, and farms with rock walls, instead of wooden fences.  Row houses, all mashed together in a line, each with a  small back yard, looking like nothing I'd ever imagined.  

           Old churches, quaint hotels, older buildings with European architecture, things of great beauty dotted the landscape.   Rosy-faced Scots smiling and waving.  Purple heather covering the gentle hillsides of the highlands.  It was just gorgeous!

           As we drove I encountered something very strange and confusing.  At most congested intersections in the towns was something called a Roundabout.  (It took Utah over 40 years to get one of these!)  This was the most frightening and strange thing.  Drivers in Scotland did not drive straight through busy intersections or simply turn left or right.  No, they had to make it difficult!

           At these roundabouts, cars were entering from streets adjoining and traffic was going in a CIRCLE!  Everybody was driving around this huge, two (sometimes 3) lane circle!  When your car reached your destination street on your left, (sometimes right) you exited the circle onto it!  Talk about weird!    How were you supposed to know which way to go?  My head began smoking...

Okay, you tell me which way to go!!
            About driving in Scotland...  They drive on the wrong side of the road over there, on the LEFT SIDE! 

            I had noticed something was wacky when I got into the Austin-Healy the first time.  Tom was sitting behind the steering wheel – on the RIGHT hand side, normally the passenger side of the car in the States!  Uh, oh.  This was going to be a big problem for me.  How on earth would I learn to operate a car from THAT side?

           My mind buzzed wildly.   And, how on earth was I ever going to remember to drive on the LEFT instead of the right side of the road?   (Well, I didn’t always!)  That caused panic in me, and terror in other drivers.   Imagine their reactions to see me barreling down the WRONG SIDE of the road straight at them!  

           Yes, Scots CAN jump five feet straight UP!  Boy, did I get to see that!

           Once, later on,  a local man, who was a bit drunk, stepped out of a pub (a bar) door built into the curved wall of the little village of Kilmun.    I almost wiped him right off the doorstep, driving on the RIGHT SIDE of the road!  You should have seen the look on his face as he flattened himself like a tick against that doorway.  He sure wasn’t expecting a car from that direction, on that side of the road!   

           I think he spun around after that and wobbled back inside for another drink…  Poor guy, I think I added TEN years onto his age that day!

           After we negotiated the traffic roundabouts in a few towns, (and I had stopped hyperventilating) we began to drive in fairly uninhabited areas of the countryside.  Just as I began to relax and enjoy the gorgeous scenery around me, another unique Scottish land feature popped right up in front of us!

           Coming around a curve on a hill of trees, we were suddenly faced with a terror right smack in the middle of the road!   Yeah,  a FLOCK OF SHEEP, just standing there, not even moving off the road.   I couldn't believe it.

           Tom LAID on the horn and slammed on the brakes, fast.  The sheep did NOT move, despite his wild honking horn!  Neither did the shepherd, who stood there, just glowering at us.  This was totally unheard of in my world:

          In the first place (#1) in the States there would NEVER be sheep on a road.  Sheep belonged in a pasture, a fenced pasture!

          Number 2, (yes, #2!) they would have parted like the waters of the RED sea before Moses, in fear with a car honking at them!  

           The sheer fright of possibly being hit by a car would have scattered them like leaves in a wind IF THEY WERE IN THE US!  I've seen lost sheep jump six feet in the air over a fence to get away from a CAR!  Not so here… The sheep, bleating loudly,  SLOWLY began to move.  Just like THEY had a right to be there!

                    Grinning over at me, as we sat there waiting for this motley flock to GET OFF the road, Tom told me that in Scotland, SHEEP had the right of way!   In fact, he informed me, there was a hefty fine if you hit one!   Whhaaat?  

                     He said ALL livestock had the right of way in Scotland, and you’d better not hit any.   My jaw just dropped in disbelief.  

                    What kind of place was this when ANIMALS had the right to the road and CARS did not?   Are the Scots crazy??!!

In Scotland "shepherds" are just called "herds."
                    The shepherd who was walking with a burly staff, moved the sheep across the road at HIS leisure.   (I had seen molasses move faster!)   He continued to scowl at us.  His busy dog was nipping the sheep's heels, working them in orderly fashion to get them off the road.  The shepherd whistled to the dog and it instantly changed directions.  

                    That was impressive - a whistle-commanded dog!!  Finally,after about five minutes, we were able to drive on.   I sighed and thought to myself, "Can this place get any weirder?" (You have to realize I was 21 and dumb as a stick, as all young people that age are.)

                    As we rode on through the beautiful countryside of Scotland, our two lane road narrowed down to one lane.  Strange, I thought.  They must not have traffic here or… we were lost!  Before I could get myself worked up over that, something even more upsetting happened.

          Farther down the winding, hilly road I spotted one of the most shocking things I’d ever seen in my life.   I will never forget it. 

                    Just over a knoll below us was something BIG and dark right in the middle of the narrow road.  In the crisp air of the highlands, heat was rising from whatever it was,  in a pale mist.   I stared at this apparition, squinting ahead to make out what it was.  

                     I figured it was a probably pile of fresh cow POOP or dirty straw that somebody had lost off their truck (lorry) on the road.  Why would a farmer do that, leave his dumped pile of crap/straw on the highway?  Didn’t these people care about other drivers? 

                                        First the sheep, now THIS?

                    Well, when we got almost up to whatever it was, Tom slowed to a stop.  He did NOT try to drive around that dark steaming pile.  In fact, he got out of the car and started WAVING his hands in the air and shouting at it!  (I thought he’d lost his mind.  Shouting at a pile of steaming CRAP?  What on earth had that boy been drinking?)

          Quite unexpectedly, that "pile of crap” MOVED!   That thing swung an ugly head around toward Tom, exposing foot-and-a-half-long horns on each side of its massive head!   Then it GOT UP!  

                          It was the size of our CAR! and PISSED!

           This creature had dirty, straw-matted, stringy, dark hair that hung down to the ground and a massive body like a buffalo!  It was huffing moisture in a cloud of steam out of its nose.   This huge thing looked like what I had imagined a YAK would look like!  I had never seen anything like it in my wildest dreams.  The beast stood, head lowered, and just snorted at us.   
                            I KNOW I swallowed a kidney!

          Tom vaulted back to the safety of our tiny car, slamming the door tight!    We sat there anxiously watching the beast.   My husband honked the horn.  Several times.  My mouth just hung open.

This photo by Graham Turner shows the lethal horns Highland cattle have....
           This thing, (which  I learned later was a HIGHLAND COW), its eyes covered completely by long hair, just stood, blowing mist out of its nostrils, contemplating BUTTING us into the next county!   I was totally petrified, thinking it was going to charge us. 

          Why were there no FENCES to keep that thing in?  Who let it just lie down on the road?  (Oh, right, livestock had the RIGHT of way here!)
Convinced finally that it was time to move off that warm paved road, this monster of a huge highland cow sauntered slowly to one side, ignoring us.  Tom slammed his foot down on the gas pedal and GUNNED the car past it, and kept right on going!    

          Shaken, I embeded my finger nails into my car seat and tried to calm down.  (That was too close for comfort.)  I peppered Tom with questions, to which he had no adequate answers.

           What was next, I wondered?  Rob Roy HURLING himself off a rock onto the car, screaming like a BANSHEE, brandishing a sword?

            I shuddered.  Scotland was a scary place!   I looked back to see the monsterous Highland cow disappear in the distance.  Whew!  (I want you to know here and now, that when I departed Scotland for the States, I took with me, not one but TWO hand-carved sailing ships made of gigantic  Highland Cow HORNS!   And told the story of my first encounter to everybody!)

           The scenery grew more beautiful and pristine as we drove along, hurrying now, on to Dunoon.  Craggy rocks jutted out here and there on the hills.  Green fields hemmed in by low rock walls, began to become common.  Herds of sheep, goats and (normal-looking) cattle grazed tranquilly in pastures on both sides of us. 

                 It was breathtakingly gorgeous in Scotland!!

           Gurgling brooks "sung" as they trickled down slopes beside the road, feeding green shrub and flower-lined banks.  Cute little rock homes dotted the road now and then.   It was like something out of a Jane Austin movie.

            Farther down the road a few miles, Tom suddenly let out a groan.  I looked over at him, and then out the front window.    What I saw took my breath away - a HUGE bus speeding toward us!  (Remember the road had narrowed to ONE lane?)  

            WHERE were we going to pull off to let that huge bus go by?   (In the STATES we always had two lane roads with asphalt or gravel shoulders to pull off on.)  Here, the road edge dropped away steeply down, treacherously! 

                       So, what did my idiot husband do then?  

            Tom jammed his foot on the gas pedal and SPED UP!  I grabbed the door, my heart pounding a wild tatoo on my ribs.  He was racing toward the bus!   Was he trying to kill us both?  I think I collapsed a lung right there inhaling so hard.

          He gripped the wheel, gas pedal to the floor, intent on his apparent "death mission!!"  Just as we topped a small rise in the road, racing toward our deaths, I saw it.  

                         There was a sign: “LAY-BY- ahead.”  

          A "Lay-by" is a pull off spot on the side of a one lane road.  Seconds before the bus should have demolished our tiny car, Tom whipped us over onto the flat Lay-By area on the side of the road!  He screeched to a halt.  The huge bus roared past us, rocking our car like a tornado rocks a leaf!  It had never even slowed down!  I gasped for air. 

          Then, I realized my hands were still gripping the seat, my knuckles white.   Prying them off, I breathed in.  Would this wild ride ever end?

          Well, the drive on to Dunoon was uneventful after that.  Thank heavens! 

         We passed some more thatched huts, this time with oiled paper windows instead of glass.  Humble little farms with rock walls instead of wood fences, dotted the road as we passed along.  I never saw a single chicken along the way.  Curious.

          I gawked out my window at heavily garbed men with beards, farming or walking alongside pony carts.  Everybody seemed to have a dog.  Some folks stood talking to others, and looking very strange to me.  They had funny hats, wore long coats, vests or sweaters, pants tucked into high boots. Some carried staffs.  

          Most stared at me, staring out the window at them.  Chunky women in scarves, heavy socks, and coats over dresses, hung wash on clotheslines in their yards.  A few smiled at me.  My too-white staring face must have shocked them silly.

          There were not many trees on the slopes of the purple heather-kissed hills around us.   Wood must be a precious commodity here, I thought to myself.  Homes were clustered together between long open spaces.  Flocks of sheep grazed everywhere.   

           A few small gardens were here and there, between buildings, and behind rock walls or chicken-wire fences.  It was like time had stood still here, even though it was 1966.  I felt I was in another older era.  It  really did remind me of Jane Austin's books.

          There were NO big truck farms like in the States, NO massive cattle ranches along our drive.   NO freeways, NO heavy traffic or congested four-lane roads.  NO sprawling urban ranch houses, NO high electrical towers, and NO skyscrapers.  It was idyllic!   I only saw lots of dogs, cats, cattle and a few pigs.  

          No herds of normal sized horses, either!   I only saw shaggy ponies.  They were working ponies, often pulling carts. 

                 Andy Blackwood's Dunoon Argyll FB site photo of a road into Dunoon

                             We finally arrived in Dunoon. 

            This quaint town was a shining pearl on the Firth of Clyde, nestled in the gentle hills around the Holy Loch.   The Loch itself was deep and very blue.   Like a hand with fingers spread wide, the long Firth of Clyde extended itself far inland from the Atlantic Ocean.   Each “finger” of that hand was a loch or cove surrounded by mountains.  The Clyde had many “fingers."  

            The wrist of this watery “hand” crooked itself toward Glasgow.  Around a bend in the Firth of Clyde was the Holy Loch “finger,” and my Dunoon.  It reached out and welcomed me, beckoned me toward it.

           The roads near town were lined with the common low rock walls I'd seen before.  They lined the Loch side of the road, I guessed, to stop the water in a storm.   Dunoon was a small, bustling town.  I saw lots of sailors in uniform along the streets.  Many taxis, too.  (In fact Dunoon had more taxis at one time than any city in Europe!)  

          The quaint old buildings were tall and very narrow, as were the streets.   We passed by two beautiful churches, very old and stately, the fingers of their spires pointing heaven ward.

                                    This old castle is now a museum with gardens.

           A majestic, giant castle sat on a hill above the town, which was nestled below.  One cobbled street in the town snaked sharply up and around a low hill.  I wondered how our car would drive up that.  Surely this town was built long before cars existed.  When only people on foot or carts traveled them, I imagined.

           Downtown there were some curved-walled shops.  One I noticed with the name “Bell” above the door.  (It is still there today!)  Almost none of the shops were made of wood, only stone or brick.  Many streets had worn cobble stones, with narrow sidewalks, added as almost an afterthought.        
                                             How curious. 

                   Bell's, with its curved front, was a favorite store of mine in Dunoon!
Jane Thomas's photo.

 Thanks to for this gorgeous photo of a church in Dunoon.

            I fell instantly in love with Dunoon.  I couldn't have dreamed up a more charming and beautiful place!
 "Highland Mary", or Mary Campbell, Rabbie Burn's sweetheart has a statue overlooking the Loch. Thanks to for this photo.

This old Argyll Hotel is still there today.  I remember it fondly.

           The tall, majestic hewn-rock Argyll Hotel presided over a cut stone promenade with benches, shrubs and flower beds.  We stopped and walked around a few minutes,  tired, still unnerved from my perilous ride, I asked to go on "home."  Where was "home?"  It had been Charleston, South Carolina, thousands of miles away....

          We drove past the Dunoon Pier, with its orange-roofed white buildings, perched serenely on the shore of the loch.  We went by some really old buildings, with delicately carved details.   The town looked as it must have for over a hundred years.  Maybe two hundred!  

          The heart-tug of Dunoon was timeless.  I imagine it still is today.  And I still wish I were there now.

                    The 100-year old Dunoon Pier and the statue of Mary Campbell.

 One of the hilly downtown roads in Dunoon.

                      The locals that time of the year, were bundled in sweaters and hats, or scarves, boots and jackets over skirts or heavy pants.  Although the temperature here was about 45 degrees, they dressed as if it were the Arctic.  I was starting to feel the chill myself.

            Not a single sweater was in my luggage.  Uh, oh.  From hot, humid Charleston, South Carolina, in the States, I'd come totally unprepared to endure the brisk fresh air of Dunoon.

           There were few cars or trucks, but plenty of taxis in the town.  The air was fresh, clean and sweet here.  I knew I would LOVE Scotland if it were all like this. Despite my upsetting ride from the airport, I was liking it here.

          Tom drove us on to our new “home.”   He drove way past the town, to the outskirts.   Then he pulled the car into an area on a wide, deep beach, right on the Firth of Clyde itself.  You could see ships passing by on their way up the Firth to Glasgow or out toward the Atlantic.  There were dozens of mobile homes, (or Caravans) dotting the beach, just inside a rock wall. 

                              What?  A mobile home park on a BEACH!?

                        Another great photo of Dunoon from Hunter's

           We found our way to a tiny blue trailer sitting close among a row of others.  It didn’t look very nice, and neither did any of the other ones.  Was this a “ghetto” of caravans, a Scottish equivalent of a dumpy US trailer park?  Yep, it sure was.  But it was "home."  For now. 

                                      I sighed heavily. 

                    Tom frowned at me, at the look on my face.  It was not a happy face.

            Inside our trailer, I gazed around. There was a hard-looking bed that folded down out of one wall in the living room!  It was supported, when down flat, by the two benches along the wall, (where you sat to eat at another fold-down apparatus, a tiny dining table).  The tiny compact kitchen was in a narrow hall, by the only door into the trailer. (caravan)

            This sat across from the even smaller bathroom or “loo”.  In there was only a toilet, a microscopic-sized sink and a very tiny bathtub.  No shower.   (NO SHOWER!??)  The tub was so narrow and short, I wondered if my lardy big butt would even fit inside it.   

          Well, at least I had my favorite thing - my fluffy American toilet paper...  Some things feel like "home."

          In the back of the trailer (caravan) was a "proper" bedroom.  However,  it was filled with Tom’s Triumph motorcycle, his tools, cardboard boxes and a number of his things.  NO bed, NO mattress.  My heart sunk.  His "man cave", in other words!    I was not thrilled.  There was a small closet, if you could call it that, for hanging clothes.   

           Knowing Tom, I was afraid to even open it.  This was all very disappointing.  My face mirrored it.

          Then I discovered there was NO refrigerator in the kitchen!  (How did they keep their food cold?)  A propane oven and two burners completed my meager cooking facilities.  This was like going camping, not living full time.  Two small under-counter cabinets held mismatched dishes and chipped tea cups. 

           One drawer below the tiny kitchen counter held eating and cooking tools, and knives.  Dented, used pots were in a drawer under the small oven.

           That was it.  My new “home” in Scotland?   Pretty sparsely furnished and very cramped.  Not at all what I expected.   At least Scotland was nice, this, not so much....

          This was going to be a BIG adjustment from our huge colonial style apartment in Charleston, South Carolina.  Still, as a newlywed, I was happy to be with Tom after four months apart.  I had stayed behind in Charleston to continue working to save money for my flight over.  

           Tom, as an enlisted man.  So, he didn’t rank having his family moved to Scotland.  We were on our own here, on his poor wages and my meager savings.  We had no family, and little money in a strange land, THOUSANDS of miles from my mountain home and the beaches of the Carolinas.

                             Blackwood's photo of a nice beach on the Clyde.

            I washed up a bit, changed my travel-worn clothes.  We walked out to the beach beyond the caravan park, together, holding hands.  The Clyde sparkled and rippled blue-green in the sunlight.   The flat, shell-strewn beach smelled salty, like the ocean.  Tiny waves lapped peacefully at our feet. Cool air fanned my face and hair, coming in off the Clyde.  It was silent, serene, and gorgeous. 

            I should have been the happiest new bride in the world.  

                       Instead I just wanted to CRY.

            Homesickness suddenly slammed into me, bringing a wave of sweet pain.  Excited to be here, but missing my parents and friends in North Carolina, I stood gazing outward.  All around me was the charm and strangeness of being in a foreign country.  What had I gotten myself into, I wondered?  

           Tom squeezed my hand sympathetically, looking over at me intently.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  I choked them back.   I was HERE now.   I planned to make the BEST of it, no matter what.

           My Scotland adventure had just begun, not so happily at "my very first exposure."


           This continues on in my post “Bonnie Scotland.”  I wrote it before I wrote this one.  Memories take twisting paths.  Sometimes the telling of them has to follow on unwilling heels. 

           Many thanks to Andy Blackwood's Facebook “Dunoon Argyll Scotland” page for photos used here:

          Also, appreciation to Hunters Quay for their photos of the town.

        Many more thanks to my new friend Jane Thomas of Neath, Wales, a Greenock born Scot, for her photos of Dunoon and around:

08 September, 2012

Bonnie Scotland

          Going to Scotland was a magical, often funny adventure.  But what a culture shock!

Overlooking Dunoon, Argyll, Scotland.  Photo courtesy of  See more photos at

              There is a place that draws me back to the misty moors, the purple heather,  the craggy but warm-hearted people, the deep blue lochs; to the sweetness of what is SCOTLANDthe town of DUNOON, in Argyll, near the Firth of Clyde. I left my heart there over 40 years ago.

             Nestled along the shores of the crystal blue Holy Loch, surrounded by gently rolling, green mountains, caressed by the cool highland breezes, Dunoon lay as it always had, for three centuries or maybe more.   It was not a spectacular place, a bustling big place, but it was old, priceless, and timeless.  I found myself there one crisp September day, in the late 1960s, stepping out of our antique Austin-Healy car. Our pathetic, broken-down, cheap, two-of-four gears car.

               So commenced the first of many months of happy times, in "Bonny Scotland".  

Thanks to Hunter's Quay Stores, you can see the Holy Lock and the beautiful highlands.

               I found myself there as a newlywed "Yank", an American bride of a sailor from Ohio.  He was Tom Brown, from Youngstown, my first of what would be, over time, four husbands.  We'd been married in my hometown, Asheville, North Carolina in May.  We had met, courted and had lived in Charleston, South Carolina, US, for a year.  From that bustling port, home of one of the most historic and beautiful cities on the East Coast, I had now arrived in a place that Time had forgotten: The Holy Loch off the Firth of Clyde.  It was breathtaking!

           I apologize to my UK readers if I don't have my facts, names, spelling, or histories straight.  None of the photographs of Dunoon, Kilmun, Greenock, Glasgow or me, survived the last 40+ years.  What's displayed here are on loan from friends, and Hunters Quay Stores.  All I have are MY memories.  They are flawed, I am sure.   What does survive are my inexhaustible, indelible recollections of one of the best, happiest and most unique experiences of being a "Yank" in Scotland.   A "Yank in Queen Liz's Court" to make a bad pun. (Very bad....)

             My husband, Tom, was eager for me to "taste" Scotland.  I was famished.  Stomach-meeting-your-backbone hungry.  Peanuts and pop on the plane after a grueling 16-hour flight over the Atlantic from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, did not a happy Melinda make.   I could have eaten anything that moved.  After our drive through the scenic highlands (another adventure post later on) from Prestwick Airport, we stopped at a little shop in Dunoon that served a "Scottish classic."   He said it was "Fish and Chips!"  He assured me I would come to love it.   Instead, I was shocked.  Mortified.  Stunned. Completely confused, ravenous.

              A smiling, cherry-cheeked Scot in a slightly stained white apron, a thick sweater, and corduroy slacks, handed me hot, crusty-fried fish fillets and thick, steaming, fried potato chunks wrapped in NEWSPAPER!    

            Speaking unintelligible words to my ears, he motioned toward shelves on the shop walls that held strange-looking bottles. The man's brogue (or Scottish accent) was quaint, fascinating and totally meaningless to me.  Then.   

                 As I was looking down at the fried fish wrapped in OLD used, newspapers,  holding a WARM Coca-Cola in a glass bottle,  I thought to myself: "No seating? WARM pop? No Ketchup?  They serve their FOOD in old newspapers?      Uh, oh.  This wasn't going to be pretty."  

                When I'd picked my bottom jaw up off the floor, I opened my big mouth to ask for Ketchup.  Both the owner and another customer, a local, stopped everything.  They just stared at me.  I don't know whether it was my Southern "drawl" Yankee accent or the look on my unhappy face that caused them to do that.     

               Again, in answer to my Ketchup query, some garbled words came back in thick accent from the still-smiling owner.   Then, I heard my husband's warm assurances - "it was SAFE to eat out of used newspapers, and NO, they don't put Ketchup on their "fries" or "chips".  

                 The Health Department in the States would have had a cow.   (Today they serve them in tissue liners, or wax boxes, so don't worry.)   So, it was I  began my adventure in Scotland.

          Well, despite my trepidations, those "Fish and Chips" were mouth-wateringly delicious!  Soon, I was hooked on them.   I learned to sprinkle malt vinegar on them, as all the locals did, and to LOVE it that way.  Forget Ketchup!   The "chips" (or as we "Yanks" say, "steak fries") tasted strongly of fish, and indeed, they had been deep fried in the same oil;  nobody minded the flavor it seemed.  

         Today, I would hawk up my left kidney for another cone of Fish and Chips, old newspaper and all!

         What made the tender, crisp fish fillets taste so great was that they were dipped and battered in a flour mixture that contained parsley, salt and STOUT.  (No, not a stout, fat guy.)  Guinness Stout.   Dark, strong, luscious, foaming,  local Scottish ale.  Beer, if you will.  It contained more iron than a blacksmith's forge.  It was so dense you couldn't see through the mug, and it knocked the socks off newbies, like me.  Yum!  Have a "pint-uh", they'd say. I soon adored it.

         In those days they fed stout, Guinness Dark, in particular, to new moms in the hospital, after giving birth.  Those lucky Scot moms got to "lie about", in bed, being waited on for TWO whole weeks after giving birth, drinking stout.  Yes!  That was back in those days.  Never mind they might have been breast-feeding.  I guess that's why Scots are feisty, plucky devils.  It was all the stout their moms imbibed!

                  And NO stout for YOU today in the US, ma'am, no Sir!  No lying around being waited on hand and foot for two weeks. (My solution after my last child, my third son, was to send baby home WITH DAD, while I stayed "a-bed" for three days in the hospital, resting up to face the horde at home!)  That's a great "birth control" incentive, let me tell you!   (The poor man crawled, red-eyed bleary back to the hospital after the second day, begging me to come home to take care of the kids!)  Ah, those were indeed the good old days in Scotland. 

                                              That was BEFORE kids.

The sub shown here is in the Los Alamos floating dock which wasn't there in my day
The Simon Lake has a full berth on this day, years after I left the area.

Simon Lake had another ship alongside in this shot, not my photo as are none of these. Dougie MacDonald provided them.
                  My next adventure in Scotland was a tour of Dunoon. 

             The picturesque town perched on the broad sandy shores of the Holy Loch, where the USS Simon Lake, ole' # 33, a submarine tender was anchored;  the US Navy was there to service the Polaris Fleet of the North Atlantic allies.  We got Russian subs in there, and who knows what other nation's submarines.  They came to be refitted, repaired, fueled, or whatever.  I never knew exactly.   It was secret.

            The sailors would trade 79 cent Smirnoff's Vodka, other cheap liquor, and even cheaper cigarettes with them, which they'd  procured from the Navy base exchange store.  The American sailors swapped these for the Russian sailors' heavy, all wool, high-necked, waterproof "Sea Sweaters".  You could sink a boat with one of those cream-colored knitted beauties!

            My husband traded for one and brought it proudly home; a small horse weighed less.  It repelled water, salt, and me.  We never got the stink of sweat out it.  However, it was smokin' warm!

            Leave it to a sailor to break the law by trading booze meant for only their consumption to a foreign national. The Russians would have had to pay ten times that price on shore at local stores, and they could get more sweaters, but those goodies were invaluable to them.  

           One strange rule over there in Scotland, that the Navy had, was not to bring any US pennies into the country!  It seems, if filed a bit, the US Penny would suffice for a ten pence piece, worth about 11 or 12 cents in British currency back then.  With that, you could fool vending machines into coughing up their wares.  So, NO pennies!  Upon penalty of deportation.  Most of us behaved.

         Learning the currency was not fun.  But we all were supposed to.  I actually never mastered it.   You could NOT use American dollars in Dunoon.  Seems the sailors aboard the first US Navy sub tender there, the USS Proteus, in 1961 had tried to pass off Monopoly money on the locals (so the rumor went).   Egads!

          Yeah, I bet that went over big when the merchants tried to deposit those!    Few merchants would accept our US money after that.   I didn't blame them.  What a debacle.  Shame on us.  But that was sailors for you.  Sneaky turds, if they could be.  Well, some of them.  Others were supposed to be gentlemen, although I never met one. (Smirk.)

          One of the travesties of the times was the fluctuation in currency values.  It happened that Americans would deposit their dollars in Scottish banks and get pounds, shillings, and the various coins out  in exchange, or they would save money in accounts there.  Then, when the British Pound Sterling devalued, we all lost money in the exchange back to dollars later on.  Banks shut down to the public on "banking day" to re-value the currency, and that seemed to happen often.

          Oh, well, I arrived poor. I left the same.  My husband was an enlisted man, in Interior Communications.  He was an E-3, and was responsible for the phone lines.   The enlisted men didn't make much money in those days.   I am so glad I got to experience Scotland.  At least now I know what the song means when it says, "Sing a song of thruppence".  (Three pennies, correct me dear Scots, if I am wrong?)  Hey, correct me on anything I say!

Jane Thomas' photo of Bells in Dunoon.

           Dunoon was a quaint town, very old churches, old Gothic buildings, curving-around-the corner shops, a few winding streets, all narrow, with tea shops.   All of the town was gorgeous and reeking of the days of "Rabbie Burns" (Robert), the Poet Laureate of Scotland. 

          (My thanks to Jane Thomas for this photo of Bells in Dunoon downtown. Check out her amazing blog with more gorgeous photos:  From that page, you can link to more of her wonderful, extraordinary blogs!)

          I still remember one of Rabbie Burn's poems and how to recite it.

       "O' wud tha' Gawd th' geeft wud gie' us, ta' see irselves a' ithers see us"! = "Oh, would that God the gift would give us, to see ourselves as others see us." 
              Indeed, we all should want that.  It would sure have cured a bad case of being an ass.  Wise man that Rabbie Burns.  Too bad he was long gone and dead when the sailors got there. They could have saved themselves being big asses.
            Scots were/are intelligent, quick to catch on, even sometimes profound.     Some of them are MY ancestors.    (Grin.)

            Every Scot there in Dunoon was dressed warmly in layers, heavy cable-knit sweaters, thick socks, woolen pants, or skirts, and heavy shoes, ALL year around.  If it got above seventy degrees there, people passed out from heat stroke.  No kidding!  

            The Scots had rosy cheeks and noses, pale, creamy, white skin, with red or light-colored hair.  Blue or green eyes were very common.  The women in Scotland that I saw were beautiful, even if some were a bit stocky.  The men were mostly short, some stocky, but very handsome and could be flirtatious.  Friendly they all were, amazingly since the sailors were always causing trouble. That would be my husband and his buddies. Yeah, his "mates."

          Every afternoon, for two hours, all the shops and banks would shut down.  People flocked to the Tea Rooms.  Inside, among cozy, linen-draped, round tables would be scattered the locals and Americans, sipping "white" or "black" tea.  (That meant, with or without cream.)  Dishes of Demerara sugar, (large golden crystals of sugar) in cut glass bowls, sat on each table.  

         In the center was a tall,  fancy, tiered dish of petit fours, French confections, with hard frosting, decorations of piped flowers or leaves, and each was filled with delicate cake and jam centers.  My mouth was usually open, jamming pastries in.  My butt was usually getting wider, from sitting in those shops.  Ohhhhh my..... Yum.

          Also, there were fruit tarts, open little pies with peach, berry or apricot jams inside. The pastries were all free in those days.  They went with the tea or coffee you ordered.   Have a "Cuppa Char?", they'd say.  (or just a "cuppa".)  Scots, and Englishmen in general, LOVE tea.  I learned to as well. 

         Make mine "white" with lots of sugar. (That was in my pre-Mormon days.)  Earl Grey was the most popular.    Gosh, I miss those Tea Rooms and especially the magnificent pastries!  Sumptuous!  Feed me some pastries for each hip - I need to be well balanced.

       People were so amiable in Scotland.  As soon as they figured out you were an American, a "Yank" (duh, dressed weird, gawking at everything, laughing too loud and being obnoxious) you were mobbed!  Everybody seemed to think we all knew "Jack Kennedy" (President John) or John Wayne,  personally!!  They'd ask about Elvis, the Duke, (John Wayne) and good old "Jack."   Some Americans lied.  I didn't.  I just told them I was Liz Taylor's daughter!   

Another beautiful photo of the Holy Loch in Dunoon.
             Really, I didn't, but many Scots were convinced all Americans knew the Hollywood greats, and the famous political people.  I guess in a country the size of New England, they couldn't fathom our distance - from coast to coast, over 3,000 miles.  Uh, that would be Kilometers there.  Another weird thing about Scotland.  The Metric System.  I figure since I still don't know it, we are pretty pathetic for a colony Great Britain lost.  They are probably relieved!

            Once a I met a butcher in Glasgow, who was striding down the side walk of a busy street with a huge dead porker on his shoulder (like it was a bag of feathers). He stopped and grinned a toothless smile at me.  I was asking for a photo and he enthusiasticly remarked, "We ahhl looove Jahhk!  Dooo ya ken im'?"  (Jack Kennedy, he was asking if I knew him!)  You have to get the accent right.  It was "looove,"  spoken with lips forward, drawn out, not our shallow, back of the mouth "love".   It was magic they way they spoke.  The vocabulary was something else.

          They didn't understand it if we asked for "cookies," then we made a face when we got crackers.  You see, it took me months to figure out that our cookie was a "biscuit" to them.  One of our normal, fluffy "biscuits" was a "scone,"  and our "cracker" was a "cookie."  Potato chips, as we knew them, were "crisps".   And you didn't get the "boot" out of a pub.   "Boot" was the trunk of your car!   But you might get "tossed" on your ear out of a pub.  Yeah, again, that would be MY husband and his mates....

           "Haggis" was GROSS and I wouldn't eat it.  (I don't care what they called it.  It was blood pudding in a sausage casing. Uck!)   I did eat Kidney Pie, once.   It DID have kidneys in it, and steak, plus gravy in a nice pastry crust.  I also learned to love Yorkshire pudding.  Don't know what was in it, but it tasted GREAT!  Fresh chicken was at a premium to buy in Scotland,  or "dear" as they dubbed it, but lamb or beef were cheap. ("Dear", as the locals would say, meant expensive.)

          Add to that, I learned that I loved "Trifle," which was left over cake, fruit and pudding, topped with whipped cream.  I learned to crave cooked tomatoes with breakfast;  I slobbered over "bangers and mash"  (sausages and potatoes).     Liked "Spotted Dick" (it's not as bad as it sounds  - it is a pudding with raisins.)   I loved Pork "Pasties".  Yeah, about them... 

          I stood in line at a soccer or rugby game (can't tell which is which) in Dunoon one pleasant day.  (Around me the locals had been munching on these great-looking, thick, tall, round pastries.)  So, I patiently waited in a very LONG line, for 30 minutes to get up to the vendor.   All the time I imagined devouring a yummy fist-sized pie filled with even yummier apples and sugar.  

        Well, you should have seen my face when I bit into that warm "pastie thingy"  ---- it had PORK inside!  Wow!  Drop my jaw  -- once I recovered my wits, I realized it was not too bad!  Can we say "Hooo-oked!

           I finally got to the point where I could understand what folks were saying to me in Scotland, in their brogue.    It was great without needing my husband, the "translator."  After a while, I caught myself talking just like the Scots, in their lilting manner, using a few of their words like my own.  Contagious, those people, in a wonderful way.

One of the beautiful churches in Dunoon.

         People in Scotland walked to the store to shop or rode a bus.  Few drove a car.  Some just went out to get their "Messages."   I discovered this wasn't necessarily "messages" like something cryptic someone wanted to pass along to you.  It could have been their mail, a newspaper, a magazine,  food or cigarettes  - something to be had at a store.  Mostly, it was a big social occasion.  They'd talk, drink tea and swap news.   Ahhh....  "Messages."

          That was something to watch.  Elderly men and women would toddle, hobble daily outside my windows, over a mile, each way, just up to the store and back.  They never came back until a couple hours had passed.  I wondered for the longest time what was going on.  Was I missing some fun?  No, but I am sure they were having it.

         The bathroom in the UK, in Scotland, was called the "Loo."  Not "john", "pot", "crapper", or the "head."  (The Yank sailors called it that.  Why the Navy calls it the "head" still stumps me.)  Maybe that's because walking through a Navy ship meant you had to step through tall, rectangular-curved doorway openings, called hatches ....and promptly whacked your noggin' on the upper metal plates!  Or you tripped over the bottom ledge, then did a face plant?    (Yeah, I did that. Not fun.)  Stay off those ships!

           Scots also said things like "Lory" for truck, "petrol" for gas, "bonnet" for car hood.  So, when you went to the (petrol) gas station and the employee asked if you'd "pop your bonnet" (so they could check the fluids and hoses) you were supposed to comprehend.   Imagine MY face when we stopped at a local Petrol station to get a soda, and some Scot asked me that?    Huh?  What?

           Me, wearing a bonnet?  Pop what bonnet?  My head snapped around and back at the nice man.  I got the dumbest expression on my face.  Even more so if they asked if my tire in the "boot" needed air.  Huh?  What boot?  Luckily, my husband returned with the soda, lifted our car hood and sighed... a long sigh, while glaring at me.  Okay....  That was Scotland.  I am sure that guy is still guffawing inside.  

         Don't get me going on the price of "petrol" or gas in those days.  It was outrageous!  At the base gas station we paid about 25 cents a gallon.  We could AFFORD to buy local cars and drive everywhere just to sight-see.   The Americans could buy their food, clothing, necessities, gas, booze and do laundry, cheaply, at the base there.  The locals couldn't get on base to do that and that was hard for me.  They lived poor and we lived like kings, by comparison to them.  Or queens.   That'd be me.  I didn't appreciate what I had back then.

        The locals of Dunoon had to pay about $1.25 a gallon for Petrol back in 1996!   At that time, the price was outrageously high for the economy.   Unbelievable, and especially in a time where the average worker earned about $25 - $35 a week!  People had it so hard in those days.    I heard on today's news that the UK pays about $10 or more a gallon now.   Oh you fellow Americans, STOP whining!  It could be worse.  Heck, it's going to get worse.  Four dollars a gallon: whine.  Ten dollars a gallon and an old nag will be looking good to me!

          I learned to dress like the Scots, in layers, a sweater, wool slacks, warm socks and a wool scarf;  I  got used to going to bed in a long flannel night gown with socks on, seeing my breath on the frosty 30 degree night air. That would be in my bedroom!  I'd be shivering in my covers until my body warmed up.  We had off-peak hour electric heaters.  They warmed huge bricks under a metal housing and stored, then radiated the heat to warm us.  No storm windows were in the brand new house we eventually rented, no screens either.  No storm windows?  In a cold, wet climate?  Whhhaaaat?  Why not?

          Considering everyone customarily opened those windows daily in the 40 to 60 degree fresh air, and hung their blankets out to freshen them up, it made sense.  No bugs ever intruded.  The only bugs I ever experienced in Scotland were "midges."  Biting, stinging, clouds of nasty things they were!  Never near our homes, though.  Idyllic!  We had a great rented house.

           Our "fridge" in our home was a screen-on-one-side, multi-shelf closet in the kitchen.   It had screen-covered holes cut in the wall to let in the cool air from outside.    Scots called this a "Larder."  Nobody I knew even owned an electric refrigerator!  It was cold enough in that house that I could congeal jello on the toilet seat lid in the small second bathroom or "loo!" 

Another old wonderful church in Dunoon.

        Nothing in my larder ever spoiled, because I learned to shop frequently. Or, shall I say, leave a basket with a note in the area between my front outside door, and the inside locking door to our house.  More on that in another post.  "Shopping" was a hoot.  You will soon learn why the basket was there.

          A coal fireplace in our living room kept the whole place warm.  We had a tub of coal chunks that sat next to the fire, to feed it.  Above the fireplace, in the attic was a huge water tank that the fireplace would heat for taking baths,or doing dishes. There was a meter in the bathroom to plug shillings into just in case there was not enough hot water. 

           The bath tub in our spacious bathroom would have held five sailors! But it held just me and Tom when it was bath time.  You couldn't afford separate baths in those days.  Nice if you loved your husband.  Not fun if he was being a butt and hogging the tub. You also did NOT turn up any heat to get warm while drying off. That's because there was nothing to turn up!  It was goose bump city!

          Scotland's cold, always-changing climate won my heart. (To this day, I can't stand central heating and get a "power surge" in a normally cool room.  "Power surge" means an overheated woman!  Some say, "My inner child playing with matches!"   I could sure have used one of those on cold days in Scotland.   I learned to enjoy the briskness and freshness of the Loch air.

             Loved to be cold over there.    Drives husband number four crazy even today.  (I still sleep in below-60 degree temps even in winter!)   I run two air conditioners full blast all Summer.  That would be Winter through next Winter.  Cold, all the time, that's how I like it!  Thanks, Scotland.  You ruined me.  I love it!

             In the early mornings, it would be foggy in Scotland, on the Holy Loch. You could not see the USS Simon Lake from my house windows when it was foggy.  In good weather I could see most things from the small hill my rented house perched on.  From there it overlooked the Holy Loch and the ships.  

            When the fog rolled in, the fog horns would blare their sad-sounding warnings, eerily,  the echo rolling across the swirling mist, every few minutes.  I loved that sound and still long to hear it today.  It was music to my ears and I miss it.

           Then about ten o'clock, the rain would start.  Scotland has gentle rains, though it could blow a gale in the winter. (Once storms blew the Simon Lake off its sea anchor and flooded the beaches. Another time the ship had to move out to sea to avoid capsizing in storm gales.)   After the rain stopped, every afternoon the bright sun and clear blue skies would make their appearances.  Every day it seemed to me it was like that.  I loved it!

          Maybe my memories are faded, incorrect, but that is MY Scotland.  You can have yours.

         Scotland was magical.  I adored it.  It was as though time stopped still.  

          We never heard any news of the States, the goings on there, on the "telly" or TV.  So, instead of me, as I am these days, glued to the Satellite TV for the rumors of wars in the Middle East, I could relax, enjoy every slow, beautiful day there.  TV there was uncensored, too, quite a culture shock to me. I am talking the full Monty in ads and programs.  Whew!  My eyes burned.  Saw way more than I wanted to.  Movies, were the same.  The European-UK versions caused chin burn.   We are prudes over here, I guess. And here I thought the British were the prudes. 

          I loved the British soap operas, the humor, the look into simple lives in the UK.  I loved the ads for Cadbury's Black Magic Chocolates.  My mouth waters just thinking about them.  They have the BEST chocolate in the world over there in the UK!  So I am told, they have the best SCOTCH liquor.  It's the water.  Has to be.  Nowhere else in the world did the air smell so fresh, or the water taste so untainted, clean, so sweet.  

          Yes, Scotland was a magical fairy land and so were the people.  It stole my heart entirely.  I would sell a grandkid to go back and live there now.  Maybe two!

           I spent two glorious, adventure-filled years in Dunoon and Kilmun. Got kicked off a ferry.  Lost my knitting to the tinkers, rode a Vespa Scooter all over with a Yorkie in a purse around my neck.  Almost got thrown in jail (gaol, thank you in Scot verbage) for a stupid mutt my husband brought home. (That's another post: "Brutus: More Trooble in Scotland")

          Went to the Isle of Mann Tourist Trophy, almost lost my drawers, (funny story there) was the only woman on a scooter there....  Smuggled my pet Guinea Pig into a movie, almost got arrested for other escapades, and sure laughed a lot.  Scotland was an unending parade of adventures for me.  In it, I marched to a bagpiper's haunting notes.  And I never peeked up those kilts!
           Join me for my next adventure in Scotland, in Dunoon, and about.   By the way, I owe Jane Thomas and Dougie MacDonald for these photos (of the Navy ships), and Hunter's Quay Stores.  Dougie is a new Scot friend of mine.    I can also thank Carole McLean for cluing me in on him, a Scotswoman herself, who lives in Dunoon, like Dougie.   How I envy them.  Maggs and Andy Blackwood of Dunoon also provided some of these photos.

         Jane was born in Greenock, where I used to shop.  She's a great new Scot friend, too.  What would I do without them?  Right... nothing.  I'd have no decent photos of the ships or Dunoon.     Thanks, guys!    

           Cheery-Bye  Everyone!  (Well, that's what the Dunoon locals said, back in the day!)