Ye Wee Blogger

What a Hell of a State We're in

Ye Wee Blogger

What a Hell of a State We're in


render($konfigs); ?>

  Perthshire & Angus

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?" Ma gave me 'Blair' as a middle name lest I forget where I was 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 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.

  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. They grow raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries, red currants, and cherries. Back in the '50s, 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 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. We took in the Law, the V&A (Dundee), and Discovery Point on a busy morning. 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 more imaginative 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 used the route in the old days but juggled using a map to overtake slow-moving farm vehicles in the narrow winding roads. When I got my first car, I had already left Blair, so I 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 I are next to each other at the lunch table. We were born 10 days apart in the same nursing home. Som say, 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 bound mainly 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 catch 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. While 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 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 well. I am also sad to see others 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.