Monday, 19 December 2011


One of the things that springs to mind when I think about childhood Christmases is the vivid sense of colour associated with them.
There is the red of Santa's tunic, green for the Christmas tree and, of course, what every ten year old's heart yearns for at this time if the year, great expanses of white outside the window - as long as it STAYS safely on the other side of the window.
Some of these colours had a very personal resonance for me. There's red again. Cherry red in fact. The colour of the first, and only, car that I have ever owned. It was a sporty little red pedal powered number that was my pride and joy until I was too big to get into it.
I still get a thrill at the thought of my first, clandestine, sight of it as, on Christmas Eve, my big sister lifted the blanket under which it was hidden in her bedroom. the moment I caught sight of that long, red bonnet I fell in love - truly, madly, deeply. I knew that I would be travelling in style from then on. Admittedly, it would only be up and down the garden path and round my Mother's "Greenie Poles", but a chap has to start somewhere.
There is another colour, though, that resonates even more potently in my memory of those long ago Christmases. One of the decorations that hung on our tree was an odd purple object that looked not unlike a prune. I could never quite work out what it was meant to be but my mother assured me that it was very old and had been bought long before I had arrived on the scene.
I used to watch it, fascinated, as it gleamed under the Christmas Tree Lights. It seemed, somehow, in the unfathomable depth and richness of its colour, to have stored up all the happiness of past festive seasons. I was in awer of this misshapen bauble and I am pretty sure that I did not "ping" it, the way I did the other decorations, for the childish pleasure of seeing it swing back and forth. I didn't want to break it and endanger the continuity the line of Happy Christmases.
Of course, now, all those years later, I realize that those colours only remain so vivid in my mind's eye because of all the things that they were associated with. The colours of those childhood christmases were only given their depth by the efforts made by my parents on behalf of my sisters and I; the presents under the tree, the stockings full of tins of toffee that we occupied ourselves with in the early hours of the morning before we could get to that Christmas Tree. Most of all, I realise now, that it was a stable, loving family life that added, year by year to the bauble's glow.
Inevitably, as time goes by, Christmas loses some of its vividness. We get blase. We grow up? We read cynical, supposedly humorous articles about dreadful office parties, terrible T.V. "Specials" and about how the columnist never wants to clap eyes on another mince pie in his/her life. Ho. Ho. Ho. All very funny - but not very fulfilling.
This Christmas, though, I find myself having much in common with my former self. I am not actually getting ready to climb into my little red racing number but I have much the same sense of excitement as I look forward to my first Christmas at St Paul's Cathedral, Dundee, the Candlelight, friendship and the soul tingling mysteries of this time of year. I have been attending the Cathedral since February and it has turned my life around!
Along with faith, friendship and fellowship are the true colours of Christmas to all of you of all faiths - and none.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


I like my home "town". It suits me very well indeed. I have lived in both of Scotland's biggest cities and in the lovely countryside near to the English border but here, I can honestly say, is the only place where I have been acutely aware of a Sense of Community and so, because I believe good things should be shared, I am inviting you to a little tour of Broughty Ferry.

Up until 1911 Broughty Ferry was a town in its own right then, much to the chagrin of its population, it was incorporated into the nearby city of Dundee.

The main business of the place used to be fishing and in the nineteenth century more than 80 fishing vessels were based here. Even among the humble fishermen there was a hierarchy. Those who fished for salmon further up the River Tay were the Princes of their profession.

There was another hierarchy at work in the Ferry. The poor and the humble, such as the fishermen I have just mentioned, tended to live very close to the shore in cottages or, sometimes, lean to shacks, while a few streets back, lived the middle classes and white collar workers, such as school teachers and shopowners.

Further back, and high up on Reres Hill, lived the rich in their Mansion Houses that looked down condes- endingly on the rest of the community. Some of these houses bore spectacular witness to the wealth of their owners, many of whom were Jute Barons who owned factories in nearby Dundee.

One owner, who owned a particularly beautiful house (its name escapes me) commissioned an ornate painted ceiling from one of the leading FRENCH Artists of the day. After the building was torn down the whole ceiling was moved, lock, stock and barrel, to the store room of a museum in Dundee, where it remains to this day - unseen and unappreciated.

The first railway line in Scotland passed through the Ferry but, long before the railways, there was the Stagecoach and in King Street there is still a reminder of that long lost world. The Eagle Inn which is still operating was a staging post and did a good trade sustaining the weary traveller with food and drink.

Being on the Coast, Broughty Ferry has often been touched by the Shadow of War. Broughty Castle, which stands near the mouth of the River Tay was a military garrisson as far back as the days when Napoleon was Britain's biggest worry and during the second World War anti aircraft batteries were stationed on the beach.

Much further back than that, French troops landed on the beach on their way to help the Scots fight the English in nearby Dundee.

Nowadays, though, apart from the odd "punch up" outside one of the bars at the week-end, its a quiet place. The yachts from the local yacht club are often out on the riover, people walk their dogs along the beach and the remaining houses of those old Jute Barons look benignly on the rest of us.

As I said my home town suits me fine. Basically, everything I want and need is within walking distance. As an added convenience, I live right above one of the oldest pubs in this area. The Occidental Bar is a fine old, traditional Scots bar where you can meet people from all walks of life. it has its very own cast of "characters" and when I want a bit of company I look upon it as an extension of my living room!