Blog from the North – July / August 2015

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

Whilst tidying Iain’s study – a task more suited to a modern-day Hercules – I happened upon a copy of the John O’Groat Journal from August 3rd 1962.  And spent a whole morning reading it. Just the front page was fascinating.  The Picture House in Thurso was showing “The Young Ones” with Cliff Richard, whereas the Wick Pavilion had Frank Sinatra in “Sergeants 3”.  If these didn’t float your boat, then what about the Electric Bingo Stall and Amusement Arcade being set up by Bill Spencer at the Thurso Riverside?  The Dentist gave notice of his holidays and the “Gent’s Hairdresser” – Mrs. H. Bannerman – declared herself open for business that week.

“From Our Old Files” – a feature that still continues today – in 1862 “Mr. Alexander Sutherland had reared in the garden at Bilbster a cucumber measuring 20 inches in length and  8 and a quarter inches in circumference”.

Amongst the news items it was reported that thirty home-sick Tristan da Cunans who came to Britain after a volcanic eruption ravaged their island in 1961 wrote to  a welfare officer in Capetown asking for help to return home.  Iain and I were both in Southampton at that time and we remember these poor souls being brought to what had been a series of camps for oil workers at Fawley.  The camps were clean, minimal and no doubt unfriendly and I daresay the natives were a bit the same.  And the climate must have been very different from what they knew.  Volcanos would be preferable, it seemed.

I mention Iain and I having been in Southampton in 1962 because it is where we met and where in November of that year we became engaged to be married.  That was also the year of the first Gathering of Clan Gunn, well reported in the “Groat” that I found..  There is a large picture of Banniskirk House, home of Iain’s uncle, Dr. William Gunn and a splendid portrait of the “exiles” who had returned – 80 strong – to celebrate the first Gathering of its kind for 100 years.  Iain, looking remarkably boyish, is in the front row with many members of his family and the clan family.  The Gathering happened at the end of July, before Iain and I had met and so my first Gathering was three years later with a wedding ring and a small son.

That same small son and his wife were instrumental in putting together the programme for the International Gathering held in Caithness in late July of this year. Everyone, including their children and those of Helen our daughter, really rolled up their sleeves and helped in so many ways, which made Iain’s and my job (tweaking things at the Caithness end) much easier.  It was so heartwarming to see that they could enjoy themselves at what was quite an adult event.  Bodes well for the future, we hope.

Caithness is basking in blissful sunshine at the moment, having had an horrendous torrent of rain, thunder and lightning last night.  Dunbeath Gardens were open on Sunday to the public and 1,000 people went there.  Several charities are benefiting from the visits.

Iain and I were delighted to meet. Bruce Keddie and his wife Caroline at the Clan Centre a couple of days ago.  Bruce, from New Zealand, is one of the Christchurch Pipe Band and taking part in the Edinburgh Tattoo.  He had been really anxious to visit his family homeland which his forebears left 150 years ago and so had been given a couple of days off by the Parade Commander.  It’s a tough life performing at the Tattoo – every night from 9 p.m. and then back to the barracks at about midnight, twice on Saturdays.  The soldiers all live together in the student accommodation at Pollock Halls, but the wives have to fend for themselves, so Caroline and three others had taken an apartment in Edinburgh and were really enjoying themselves.  Bruce’s dream had been to play the pipes at the Clan Centre and Iain and I were treated to a most splendid recital – he is a great piper – ending, poignantly, with “Going Home” which is also known at part of the New World Symphony by Dvorack.

Today, down at the harbour in Lybster, we met another man fulfilling a long-held wish;  a windsurfer who is circumnavigating the British Isles in aid of cancer research.  He set off from Clacton in Essex two and a half months ago and hopes to be back home (going down the East coast) in another month or so.  What a brave, fit man.  He has a website called Windsurfer round Britain and if anyone wants to donate, it’s through that.  We watched him take off from the harbour when the wind was right and it is hard work, I tell you.  Apparently he had always wanted to do this, so really is living the dream.  Too many people don’t, he believes.  We certainly had a friend who  said one would always regret not having done something.  I’m sure that’s right.

I am about to regret losing the Most Northerly Lemon – but to a good cause;  a really excellent glass of gin and tonic with some friends from afar..  Cheers!

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