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continuing a travel journal memoir

Wednesday, 11 June 1975 from my travel journal

This morning, we caught the 11 AM train from Edinburgh to Larbert.  We both felt apprehensive about meeting our pen pals, two sisters about our age.  Neither J___ (the older sister)  nor M___ (a year or two younger) are regular writers, and neither of us were sure whether or not they really wanted us to stay with them.  We had decided not to mention the possibility of staying the night—but we would gladly accept any invitation.

on the train

Larbert station

The Larbert station is only a small platform with an office and restroom and a few benches.  Leaving the train, quite burdened with our heavy packs, sleeping bags, and Mary’s suitcase of books which she had brought from university in Israel, we asked a young man if he could direct us to the address, and mentioned J___’s name.  “Ah, J___, I go to school with her,” he exclaimed, and proceeded to give us a set of confusing set of directions, which we remembered long enough to walk a short distance up the road and over the tracks by a bridge with railings painted a pleasant shade of blue.  We turned in what we hoped was the right direction but, after ten minutes of walking, decided we must ask someone else.  With some trepidation, not sure how the inhabitants would react to two raggedy young women with back packs [Mary was surely not raggedy!], we approached a modest looking house and timidly knocked.  While waiting, I examined the wall by the door to see what made the bright sun reflect from it so boldly.  It was covered with what looked like a layer of crushed sea shells.

The woman who came to the door spoke with an accent we would hardly understand.  She cheerfully repeated herself until we were sure how to get to our friends’ parents’ house.  We’d missed the turning and had to recross several streets.  By now, our stomachs were fluttering with nervousness, our backs were aching from our packs and we were gasping in the heat.  We received a good many curious looks.

Most of the houses in Larbert looked alike, square and one storied and on the drab side of pink.  Our friends’ house followed this pattern.  We paused outside the gate, wishing we had been able to call and warn them of our arrival time.  “We can’t very well turn back now,” Mary said bravely and opened the gate, marched up to the door and knocked.  We waited.  I knocked.  “Maybe they’ve gone away on vacation,” Mary lamented.

At that moment, the door opened.  There stood the younger sister, M___; Mary recognized her from a picture.  “You must be our pen pals!”, M___ said with enthusiasm, and added,  “We were out back sunbathing!” Indeed, she wore a bathing suit and her skin had burned a light pink.  We entered and gladly divested ourselves of our luggage.  M___ led us through the tiny dining room and kitchen to the back yard, where J___ and a friend were sunbathing.  No one seemed surprised or dismayed to see us.  (We had written with the approximate date of our arrival.)

We sat down on the blanket and were immediately asked to tell all about the United States.  We thought that was a pretty big order, but we could say that this part of Scotland reminded us of Washington State, except that Scotland is greener—and that life here seems more relaxed than back home.

Before long, Mrs. F___ came home.  She seemed pleased to see us, and we have been invited to spend the rest of the week.  J__ propped up a ladder to the edge of a trap door in the ceiling and climbed to a storage loft to get the “lilos”, or air mattresses.  We’ll sleep on the living room floor.

After high tea, an enormous meal consisting of bits of everything—potato chips (like our French fries, but bigger and indescribably better), different kinds of salads, potato crisps (known to us as chips), toasted egg and tomato sandwiches and other delicacies, and of course, tea, we watched a bit of television.  Mr. F____ sat with us with his glass of whiskey.  Jean had gone to Glasgow for a party.

Mrs. F___ then guided us on a walk around Larbert.  We walked down two streets of pinkish houses, past two telephone booths of different heights, on a path beside a cow pasture and over a swing (suspension) bridge.  The old bridge was full of small boys who delighted in swaying it madly as we crossed.  I paused at the other side and asked Mary to go back on the bridge so I could take a photo.  As Mary climbed the steps, Mrs F___ called to the boys, “Be still now, while this young lady from America crosses!”  I think Mary was embarrassed.

on the swing bridge

As we walked away, the boys called after us, “We love your accents!” and I called back, “And we love yours!”

The rest of our walk took us out to a main road, under an old stone bridge, and back over the bridge by the railroad tracks.  We learned that we had earlier missed a cut through a dirt road that would have taken us right to the house.

Mrs. F___ with M___ drove us to nearby Stirling and Stirling Castle, after which Stirlingshire is named.  The castle was closed, but from the hill on which it is built we had a good view of the rolling green land roundabout.  This is supposed to be the most industrial part of Scotland, but it looks like farm land.  Beef, dairy, and sheep farming.  The countryside is incredibly green, more so than even Washington—bright technicolor green with red cows and white sheep.   Evergreen forests and  castles.

near Larbert

We were shown the university campus outside Stirling, where the elder sister, J__, goes to college.  It is a modern complex on attractive grounds with woods and ponds.  We drove to a nearby mansion, or so we thought, which M___ said is really the small Airthrey Castle.  In the grey evening, we heard someone inside playing a piano.  M___ told us the castle is used for music and science classes.  When we returned to Larbert at 10 o’clock, it was still before sunset.

Tomorrow, Maureen might drive us to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park and some other towns.

Our hosts are a warm and happy family and make us feel quite at home.  Their hospitality is natural and generous.

 Thursday, 12 June 1975, from a letter to my parents

We met our pen pals and are staying with them till Sunday, when we will go north to Inverness.  We’ll leave some of our luggage here and pick it up on the way to Wales.  They and their parents are incredibly hospitable, making us feel at home.  Today, J___ had to work but M___ drove us all around the area, Stirling, Callender, Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Doune Castle.

Stirling

Stirling, from the castle

a bridge in Stirling

Old Stirling Bridge

Callender, perhaps

near Callender, says my photo caption from back then

Doune Castle

by Doune Castle

[This photo of boys wading in the river, with their shoes in the foreground, is one of my favourites from the trip.]

People really do say “Cheerio”, “Aye”, and “Smashing”.  High tea is like dinner but with more small helpings of different dishes.

It does not get dark here till about 11:30 at night; the sun sets at 10:45.  The town of Larbert is not commercial or industrial except for a couple of foundries outside the town.

from a letter to my boyfriend, from Larbert

Last night we went pub crawling—6 of them!  Mary drank ginger beer and lime.  I tried out half pints of different Scottish and Irish drinks.  I did not feel affected, but later, at the house, J’s boyfriend passed out on the floor and did not leave till 8 in the morning.  M’s friend Martin was in quite the same condition.  Another lad named David went outside and sat on a wall before walking his girlfriend home and passing out into the rosebushes.

Drinking seems to be the main occupation here. The pubs were mostly standing room only, especially the noisier ones.  To my surprise, I enjoyed the evening and so did Mary.  We learned a lot about Scottish culture!  [I was surprised because I didn’t get out much at home and was still too young to go to bars in Seattle.]

The first pub was folky and not so crowded.  The second was packed and had a DJ and music to shout over.  In the third, a quiet nightclubby place, I had to go to the loo, where I found a tall woman appearing to be strangling a smaller woman who was wearing a light blue pantsuit.  I stepped into one of the stalls and wondered what to do.  The toilet seat and floor were covered with vomit.  Out again I went to find the blue-suited woman lying on the floor in a pile of sick.  Her acquaintance was washing her hands in the sink and looking unconcerned.  I hurried to the bar and told a bar man, “There’s a woman lying on the floor in the loo who seems very sick, can you do something?”  Three bouncers were sent in and the woman dragged outside.  The tall woman followed.  As we left, I saw them and two others sitting on a wall, with the “blue” one bent over and the others supporting her.  I guess the strangling had been a friendly gesture to stop her from yorking.  I hoped the fresh air would do her good.  I think her friends would have let her lie there rather than suffer the ignominy of being dragged outside.

The fourth pub was very loud with a green spotlight on the DJ.  The fifth was loud and crowded with a small dance floor with what seemed like 500 people on it.  J was dismayed to realize that I wasn’t going to flirt with boys.  She’d already told me she didn’t believe in “women’s lib” because she “likes to be protected”, and that all feminists are “unattractive bra burners who don’t want boyfriends”.  Her boyfriend, Chris, describes himself as a left wing socialist while J describes herself as conservative who doesn’t think women should have equal rights.  I had brushed off a man who kept grabbing my arm in a demanding way.  J said I should have just laughed and chatted with him, while Chris said I had every right to assert myself.  J said, “In Scotland, any boy who fancies a girl will come up and put his arm around her and grin and say ‘How are ye?'”.  I asked what if a woman put her arm around a man in the same fashion, and J said “He’d try to take her outside!”

The next stop was a quiet place with few people.  I’d had a lager and lime before, had found Guiness too bitter, and this time I had a ginger beer and lime (non alcoholic and delicious). The pubs close at ten.  J said everyone drinks as much as they can before then, and then drinks more at home.  Chris said the rushed drinking because of early closing time is why there are so many alcoholics. In the corridor, a short young man with long, limp straight hair, told Mary he liked her “pleets” (plaits, or braids) and that he was almost “kilt” (killed) and that “me bum’s out the window!”

Later, in a café, two men sat down with us while J and Chris were ordering and asked us if we had hash.  We told them we were from Kansas and they believed us.

We took a taxi home.

Friday, we went to Edinburgh again to visit the castle. A military fellow kept showing us out of the building even though we had paid admission. On the bus, the conductor recited the Robert Louis Stevenson poem about the lamplighter.  It was thrilling to hear it in a Scottish accent.

Comparing London to Edinburgh: London has more parks and more free toilets! More of the Edinburgh parks seem to be private. In general, I miss plain fruit juice, public drinking fountains, and ice water in cafés.

[I have a sad memory of our social faux pas from that part of the trip.  While in Edinburgh, we wanted to get a present for our hosts in Larbert, so, of course, we bought a book, our favourite thing.  For some reason, we thought that a big picture book of Scotland would be the perfect gift. That evening, when we presented to to the family, one of them looked askance at it and said to us, “Why did not you get us something useful, like a cutting board? Why do we need a book of pictures, when we live here?”  We were mortified, and if we had been a little smarter, we might have realized we were wearing out our welcome.]

Saturday, we climbed the Wallace monument, miles up a spiral staircase, on a hill, open on top, strong wind, terrifying to me.  Wind in the arrow slots made scary noises.  On the third level was an empty display stand with the inscription, “The sword that seemed fit for an archangel to wield was light in his terrible hand.”  Wallace was a Scottish nationalist who fought the English in the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1267.  The sword had been stolen and had since been recovered and was in the police station.

Wallace Monument

in the Wallace Monument

Sunday, Chris and J took us to Glasgow, to the barrows, an indoor junk and antique market and outdoor goods market with an auctioneer.

Glasgow (because of the Donovan song, I took photos of #12 buses everywhere I could)

It is beyond me why I took no photos of the market in Glasgow! Economizing on film…saving it for Skye and Wales, I suppose.

In the evening, Mary and I took a long walk, and on Monday we will leave on a train to Aviemore.

[Mary and I took a lot of walks.  I was smitten with the gates and the stiles that gave access over fences, because public footpaths are so well protected in the UK.  I think that the stiles below were on paths around Larbert.]

From my scrapbook:

 

 

 

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