Ye Wee Blogger

What a Hell of a State We're in

Ye Wee Blogger

What a Hell of a State We're in

Back to Blair

  Tay­side, SCO

Blair­gowrie in Perth­shire – as a kid, I called it home. I lived there for about ten years full time and maybe five or six more part-time. But, even now more than half a cen­tury later, I answer with its name when asked, Where are you from?”

My last vis­it had been for just a couple of days in 2009 with Kar­en. For three or four dec­ades before that, a few infre­quent short vis­its for funer­als and the like. So I didn’t know quite what to expect in 2019.

From Many Directions

I flew dir­ect from Dulles to Edin­burgh overnight in the last week of July. The flight was unre­mark­able. My daugh­ter Lindsay’s flight from Luton had arrived minutes earli­er, so she was at the inter­na­tion­al gate to meet me. It was the first time I had seen her in per­son since Maine 2017.

The plan was to pick up the rent­al and meet up just out­side Blair with my oth­er daugh­ter, Vic­tor­ia, and her boy, Will. They were fly­ing into Glas­gow from Southend.

Rendevous at An Old Haunt

The RV was the Meikleour Arms. It’s in the vil­lage of the same name four miles to the south of Blair­gowrie. An hour’s drive from the air­port for us and ninety minutes for the oth­er two. I hadn’t seen either of them in per­son since 2013.

The Meikleour Arms
Beau­ti­ful bar, Great selec­tion of beers & Dog Friendly too!

We enjoyed a reunion lunch out­side in the garden. When I was a cal­low youth, the pub was decrep­it but fun. And, it was a Mecca for under­age drink­ers. One got fueled up there before arriv­ing at the Sat­urday Night Dance in the Vil­lage Hall up the road. Clos­ing time was a ran­dom event. So, it was mar­vel­lous to see the place trans­formed and in such splen­did form almost sixty years later. Check it out if you are ever up that way.

Find­ing some­place to stay

Blair always gets a fair share of tour­ists in the Sum­mer. So, once we had decided to go, we had to move quickly to find some­place good to stay. We needed four bed­rooms and a bunch of bath­rooms to fit us all in com­fort­ably. We looked through the list­ings in VRBO and Airb­nb. I was pleas­antly sur­prised at the enorm­ous vari­ety and often sheer ori­gin­al­ity of them.

  Fun Rent­als we Considered

Any­way, in the end, we settled for some­thing pro­sa­ic and prac­tic­al. We ren­ted a hol­i­day house in the Altamount Park devel­op­ment in Blair.

Altamount Park

A bed­room and ensuite each made for hap­pi­er co-exist­ence. Also, it was con­veni­ently close to the loc­al Tesco and an excel­lent Fish and Chip shop. So it was a safe choice.

What Was Up – Berry Pick­ing Of Course!

The soft fruit pick­ing sea­son was in full swing in Blair while we were there. These days they grow rasp­ber­ries, straw­ber­ries, goose­ber­ries, blue­ber­ries, red cur­rants, and cher­ries. In our day (the 50’s), it was almost exclus­ively the first two. Today, the land giv­en over to soft fruit pro­duc­tion is only twenty per cent of what it was back then. But they make extens­ive use of poly­tun­nels now. So, yield and qual­ity are much high­er. The grow­ing sea­son now lasts from July through October.

Berry pick­ing has drawn cas­u­al work­ers to the region for well over a cen­tury. We encountered lots of East Europeans. Poles and Czechs mostly, I thought, but some from the Balt­ic States too. My imme­di­ate assump­tion was that they were there to help with the ber­ries. But an old friend set me straight; they were straight EU immig­rants settled in Blair for the long term. I had been away for too long and was hope­lessly out of touch. I was to learn that most pick­ers are Romas from Romania. The heat in the poly­tun­nels is too much for the locals.

Dun­dee Visits

July 2019 Visit

Dur­ing our stay in Blair, it seemed apt to make a trip to Dun­dee for old times’ sake and see how the old girl was doing. The City fea­tured large in my kid­hood and bey­ond. I remain attached to it.

  Grow­ing up with Dundee

It was impossible not to be aware that the City is labelled as the drug death cap­it­al of Europe.’ Recently, from the Sunday Times

The £80 mil­lion V&A museum on Dundee’s water­front pro­jects an image the travel guides love: a rough dia­mond of a city on the brink of a new age of prosper­ity. A few hun­dred yards away, how­ever, the pic­ture is alto­geth­er different.

It’s a bleak winter even­ing in the drug death cap­it­al of Europe. Out­side the Wellgate shop­ping centre an end­less parade of deal­ers trade val­lies” — the leth­al street vali­um that’s rife in the city. Dis­carded needles, a little met­al cook­er and a lit­ter of plastic bags, the detrit­us of class-A drugs, lit­ter a nearby lane close to the city chambers …

We didn’t dwell on the dark­er aspects of the City. On a busy morn­ing, we took in the Law, the V&A (Dun­dee), and Dis­cov­ery Point. All three were full of vis­it­ors but still excit­ing and worth visiting.

As a bonus, Sir Thomas John Wood­ward OBE (Tom Jones to you!) was set to per­form in an open-air arena oppos­ite the V&A that even­ing. As we gathered ourselves to get into the museum, the man him­self moun­ted the stage to make his sound checks. We couldn’t see him, but we could hear him. So could the sev­er­al hun­dred Dun­do­ni­ans and oth­ers in the square. After the oblig­at­ory Can you hear me,” he belted out a couple of lines of Deli­l­ah,’ and the sev­er­al hun­dred of us joined in as one – great fun, and it left every­one wreathed in big grins.

The City was hec­tic on that beau­ti­ful sunny day. So, we escaped up the coast to Carnoustie for a spot of lunch. It was peace­ful there and a good move on our part.

More than a Drive Home

I had ren­ted a BMW Series 5 on arrival at Edin­burgh only because that was avail­able in the class I had spe­cified. I had nev­er been in a Beem­er before, let alone driv­en one. How­ever, it wasn’t too much of a chore to get accus­tomed to the con­trols and the handling.

We cer­tainly enjoyed driv­ing it back to Blair from Carnoustie on a suc­ces­sion of quiet coun­try roads through Strath­more farm­land, avoid­ing Dun­dee altogether.

The Day-Trip to Dun­dee & Carnoustie with a smarter return back to Blair (top of the loop on the map)

Noth­ing more sig­ni­fic­ant than a ham­let lies along the way, and there is very little traffic. I had used the route in the old days but had to juggle using a map with over­tak­ing slow-mov­ing farm vehicles in the nar­row wind­ing roads. I had already left Blair by the time I owned my first car so had nev­er learned the route by heart.

But, the BMW was out­stand­ing. The car ate up the rur­al way back to Blair. The GPS was top-notch, and passing the occa­sion­al slower-mov­ing vehicle ahead of us on the nar­row back roads was a breeze. I was impressed, and this was to have a consequence.

A Cel­eb­ra­tion

We cel­eb­rated Vic’s birth­day with Sunday lunch at anoth­er former haunt. We used to go for a beer to the Kin­loch House Hotel fifty plus years ago. It was always a pleas­ant place, and we would be on our best beha­viour. The exter­i­or still looks the same, but it is much changed inside. It’s posh in a gen­teel way now. It was lovely to see it all.

Kin­loch House Hotel Din­ing Room

Birth­day Girl, her boy Will and a pyrotechnic.

Lunch was splen­did. Everything is sourced loc­ally, smoked had­dock from Arbroath, beef and lamb from nearby farms, and veget­ables from the hotel’s kit­chen garden out­back. Ser­vice was ter­rif­ic, attent­ive, but not intrus­ive. All sev­en of us enjoyed it enorm­ously. Set­tling the mod­er­ate bill did noth­ing to dimin­ish that either. It was a good deal all around.

My cous­in Colin and me. We were born 10 days apart in the same nurs­ing home. Maybe, the same bed!

Some Faux Pas and Some Regrets

I ven­tured out towards Kirk­mi­chael up the Glen one even­ing. The aim was to catch some good images in a good sun­set. As the sun sank, it presen­ted lots of oppor­tun­it­ies. But I couldn’t find any place to pull over. I had for­got­ten how nar­row the coun­try roads are around Blair­gowrie. And that they are mostly bound by dry stone dykes that pre­vent pulling over. By sun­down, I had man­aged to take a few half-hearted shots of a farm from a hur­ried vant­age point. A little dis­ap­poin­ted, I turned and headed back down the Glen in the dark to Blair. I had driv­en about sev­en miles when a startled motor­ist com­ing the oth­er way let me know I was on the wrong side of the road. Oops!

I met up with old friends for a beer in the Angus Hotel. I hadn’t seen them for forty years, so there was a lot to catch­ing up to do. Two beers into it, we were driv­en out by a band start­ing up and drown­ing con­ver­sa­tion. Tesco was still open, and just around the corner, we decided to buy some beer and take it back to the house in Altamount. As I was brows­ing through the many brands, I couldn’t remem­ber if Scot­tish beer was drink­able at room tem­per­at­ure. I felt like an aged nit­wit hav­ing to ask my friend if it was.

The best part of being back in Blair was, without a doubt, meet­ing up with old friends. I wish that I had man­aged to do it earli­er in the piece and more often. I was pleased to see old haunts like the Meikleour Arms and Kin­loch House doing so well. Also, sad to see oth­ers that I haven’t men­tioned, stuck in a time warp of mediocrity.

The worst part was that I only had a week this time.

Where to Stay in Blair

Find­ing a place to stay in Blair presen­ted some excit­ing pos­sib­il­it­ies. Here are three of many that piqued my interest:

1 – Keath­bank Mill
Keathbank Mill

Keath­bank Mill har­nessed the power of the River Ericht to spin and weave loc­ally grown flax into lin­en. Later in the peri­od, it pro­cessed jute impor­ted from Pakistan. It was one of five mills on the Ericht.

This build­ing used to house mill work­ers and their fam­il­ies. A Great Grand­fath­er of ours and his fam­ily lived in one of them. Now they are upscale apartments.

A pent­house’ apart­ment in Keath­bank Mill seemed just the thing. My Ma’s moth­er was born and grew up in the mill work­ers’ accom­mod­a­tion there. Her fath­er was fore­man, and she worked there spin­ning flax for weav­ing into linen.

I would have loved to stay there. It’s such a good loc­a­tion but not enough beds for all of our party.

2 – Ballin­tu­im Schoolhouse
So well done inside and a big bonny garden.

Or, maybe the old Ballin­tu­im School­house in a ham­let five miles’ up the Glen’ out­side Blair. It is beau­ti­fully repur­posed and a lot of fun, I think. Too bad that it was one bed too few for us.

3 – The Bridge House
It could be straight out of a Dis­ney Movie

Or, The Bridge House, a two bed­roomed apart­ment in a bridge over the River Ardle. It’s near Ballin­tu­im too. An aston­ish­ing place, but sadly not big enough for all of us.

4. – My Old School

We could not con­sider this excel­lent four bed­roomed, two bath­roomed cot­tage in the cen­ter of Blair. They were still con­vert­ing it from the old Vic­tori­an school build­ing that closed for busi­ness dec­ades ago.

I per­formed poorly in here.

It was the annexe that housed the Art Depart­ment of the old High School in the town.


The Berries Back Then

Bad Old Days

Blair’s rela­tion­ship with it’s Berry Pick­ers did not start well. At the start of the 20th Cen­tury, Trav­el­ling Folk and those from the tene­ments of Glas­gow and oth­er Scot­tish cit­ies were invited in to do the work. But, the farm­ers made no arrange­ments to accom­mod­ate them dur­ing the six to eight week long harvest. 

Trav­el­ling folk came to Blair for the picking

An art­icle in the 3rd of May 1904 edi­tion of the Dun­dee Cour­i­er explains the prob­lem and the ini­ti­at­ive taken by a loc­al farm­ing com­pany to rem­edy matters:


The recent con­tro­versy over the dis­grace­ful scenes asso­ci­ated with the Blair­gowrie berry-pick­ers is likely to involve improve­ments of decidedly rad­ic­al nature in the con­di­tions under which the berry-pick­ers carry out their labours. The fact that din­ing-rooms, toi­let facil­it­ies, magazines, and, to crown it all, a piano are to be at the ser­vice of the Blair berry-pick­ers should attract work­ers high­er in the social scale than the scum hitherto asso­ci­ated with such work. 


In the cur­rent num­ber of Organ­ised Help, the organ of the Glas­gow Char­ity Organ­isa­tion Soci­ety, an art­icle appears in which it stated that an applic­a­tion reached the Scot­tish Women’s Trades Coun­cil from a large firm of fruit grow­ers in Blair­gowrie ask­ing help secur­ing a hun­dred respect­able girls and women to take part in the rasp­berry har­vest there. Being a sea­son­al trade requir­ing only unskilled labour, the Blair­gowrie centre had formed a sort of Mecca for the tramps from all parts of Scot­land. This annu­al influx of vag­rants was accom­pan­ied by deplor­able res­ults. The tramps of both sexes had arrived year after year and had squat­ted promis­cu­ously in the sheds, stables, and even hen-houses on the fields of their respect­ive employ­ers, and had man­aged to suc­cess­fully defy loc­al opin­ion, the san­it­ary inspect­or (Mr George Mack­ay), and the most ele­ment­ary laws, both of san­it­a­tion and decency. 


One firm of fruit grow­ers, Messrs Keay and Hodge, had determ­ined to make a stand against the employ­ment of tramps on their own farms, and to do what they could estab­lish a bet­ter stand­ard of con­di­tions ’ the industry. The first step taken was to provide com­fort­able accom­mod­a­tion suit­able for work­ers of a respect­able class. Build­ings were erec­ted on the farm of West­fields, a little way out from Blair­gowrie, and money and care were gen­er­ously expen­ded in mak­ing these healthy and com­fort­able and attract­ive. The build­ing included a din­ing hall well lighted and vent­il­ated and cap­able of hold­ing over one hun­dred per­sons. The din­ing-room, being also sup­plied with a piano, magazines, &c, served as a recre­ation  room, in which were held lan­tern enter­tain­ments and con­certs dur­ing the work­ers’ sojourn in Blairgowrie 


Above the din­ing-room was the largest dorm­it­ory, with 32 iron beds, and giv­ing each per­son con­sid­er­ably over the 200 cubic feet of air required the san­it­ary bye-laws of the burgh. Sev­er­al smal­ler dorm­it­or­ies accom­mod­ated from twelve to six­teen per­sons. In all ample pro­vi­sions were made for light­ing and vent­il­a­tion. Suit­able and adequate san­it­ary accom­mod­a­tion was provided out­side. There was also a large wash-house; with sev­en­teen set-in basins, each with a tow­el-rack, brush, comb, and mir­ror. The firm provid­ing all little neces­sar­ies down to the soap and shoe-black­ing. A stove, bath, and boil­ers for wash­ing clothes were also set aside for the work­ers’ use. A sep­ar­ate cot­tage accom­mod­ated the man­ager and wife, and anoth­er had a room in reserve to be used as an isol­a­tion ward in case of sick­ness, while the ser­vices of a doc­tor spe­cially retained for the work­ers’ needs. The terms offered by the firm were that work­ers would be engaged for at least one month, and that lodging, ser­vice, and com­fort­able board would be provided for at a charge of 6 s a week – a sum which, of course, covered only the actu­al out­lay  for food. The fruit was picked at 12 d per pound, at which rate it had been pos­sible work­ers in pre­vi­ous years (with con­di­tions of weath­er and crops) to earn from 3s to 5s day.

A typ­ic­al poster of the time seek­ing to enlist a respect­able girls and women to take part in the rasp­berry harvest’
Not so bad Days

Pick­ers as I remem­ber them. Lovely people!

We had a couple of rasp­berry fields and a loy­al band of pick­ers. They were mostly loc­als but often some incomers each year too. 

My friend Pat sits midst her fam­ily mem­bers as they take a break. They picked for the Co-Op.

We picked along with the gang as young teen­agers and could earn any­thing from 10/- more than £1 a day. Much depended on the weath­er and the state of the crop. Mostly, we picked into small buck­ets called lug­gies” attached around our waists with coarse twine. We decan­ted full lug­gies into a full-sized pail we placed stra­tegic­ally up the dreel’. Once the pail and last lug­gie were full, it was a trudge down to the weigh sta­tion where your ber­ries were weighed and poured into wooden bar­rels. We were paid by the pound. 1¾d was a typ­ic­al rate but it could go as high as 2½d later in the season.

This is all that’s left of our weigh sta­tion and load­ing dock at our former Rasp­berry field in Rat­tray. It was con­veni­ently at the top of the Loon Braes.

We were per­mit­ted to frit­ter away some of our earn­ings on sweets, trips to the pic­tures and so on. The great­er bal­ance was saved up for the post berry sea­son trip to Dun­dee to stock up on items of school uni­form and oth­er clothes.

Dundee – When I was Wee

Back in the Day

Scotland’s fourth-largest city was an hour away on the bus. Of the reg­u­lar trips to Dun­dee every year, the most pur­pose­ful was at the end of the berry-pick­ing-sea­son.  Once there, the Ma would march us to Draf­fens, a vast depart­ment store on the corner of White­hall Street and the Nethergate.

A frag­ment of Draf­fens’ storefront.

It was straight up to the third floor to get kit­ted out for the com­ing school year: Grey socks, grey shirts, grey pullovers, and grey flan­nel shorts. Maybe a new blue blazer for me, my young­er broth­er qual­i­fy­ing for the hand-me-down. In truth, all these items were avail­able at the Co-op back in Blair. But, Ma’s sis­ter-in-law Jean’s sis­ter Cath was Head Buy­er at Draf­fens, and there might have been a dis­count involved.
After the pro­cure­ment phase was com­plete, it was into the lift and up to the top floor to Draf­fens’ res­taur­ant for lunch. Breaded had­dock, chips, and beans for me, fol­lowed by apple pie. After lunch, a detour to Wool­worths in Mur­ray­g­ate on the way back to the bus station.

Dun­dee Wool­worths. Tram­lines ran midst the cobbles.

We were afforded any­thing we wanted there, as long as it was under £1.

I always liked being in Dun­dee and kept up reg­u­lar social vis­its through the 60s. There was still lots to do. I went to con­certs in the Caird Hall: Ella Fitzger­ald, Ack­er Bilk and his Jazz­men, Dave Brubeck Quin­tet, and Peter, Paul and Mary. I watched the Har­lem Globe­trot­ters per­form at the Ice Rink.  In later life, whenev­er an oppor­tun­ity presen­ted itself, I organ­ized trips to the area on any pretext.