Going to Scotland was a magical, often funny adventure. But what a culture shock!
|Overlooking Dunoon, Argyll, Scotland. Photo courtesy of Huntersquay.net. See more photos at http://jane-firthofclyde.blogspot.com/|
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 SCOTLAND: the 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".
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!
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: http://jane-firthofclyde.blogspot.com/ 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.
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!"
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 http://jane-firthofclyde.blogspot.com/ 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!