The reason for holidays

We’re having a few days away, trying, unsuccessfully, to get a little pre-Summer sun. The concept of  Holidays obviously derived from the phrase Holy Days, when labourers, apprentices, servants, etc would be released from their work, to travel home to the bosoms of their families, for a few days.

I wouldn’t imagine that they could contemplate being away from work for perhaps two weeks as we often have now, or what we do with our free time.

Looking back as a child,  I remember the summer hols especially,  being free from school clothes, and playing in the countryside where we lived, or walking out to our grandparents, who had a small Irish farm-holding near Lisburn.

I never remember being bored, as we had cows to chase, trees to climb, streams to cross, knees to graze, tents to sleep in, tomatoes to water, lettuces to gather, a black labrador to entertain, water to drink from a well, frogs to catch and return to a damp area, cricket and football to play with neighbouring school pals, as well as the children’s television programmes on the black and white TV.

No, life was busy, but we always looked-forward to the  trip on the train to the beaches of Bangor and Newcastle, for a day. It might have been on the organised Sunday School picnic, or just with the family. Mum always had a long flowing skirt, white sandals, and a cardigan (which she had probably knitted herself) ‘….in case it gets windy’. She carried a leather, or wicker, bag, containing the waterproofs,  towels, sandwiches,  and all the other essentials for a 1950’s day at the sea. Dad was photographed in a suit, and tie.

Staying at a boarding house, for a week (we always went to the same one in Newcastle, County Down) meant suitcases and games to keep us amused if the weather was bad, and the fact that it was at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne meant that there was always an element of risk of rain or cloud. Whatever happened we generally had a good time.

Into teenhood, and brother and I did Youth Hostelling around the Mournes. Carrying everything in our ruck-sacks, we endured rain and wind, unheated primitive premises, self-cooked food, basic sleeping conditions, but again we had good times.

Proper holidays were out of the questions during my late teens, due to father’s on-going health problems, but brief trips to Ireland, from Scotland (where I now lived) allowed me to keep in contact with friends and relations. But they were exactly that….not really ‘me-time’.

Marriage and then later, holidays with our children, meant that we started doing what had happened to us as children. Buckets and spades, hotels near a beach, in the South of England and the far North of Scotland, ice cream, wet swim suits, sand in the shoes and in the car, in-laws, etc were all part of very-happy times. Pleased to say that we were always proud of how our son and daughter behaved in public, and with other children. In comparison, scenes of screaming, ill-disciplined children would grate on the ear and must have caused embarrassment to many a parent.

As they grew to teenage-hood, and we took them abroad, they would meet with other children, and entertain themselves, with only the occasional return for some money. Again there were no problems, and cans of coke, and chattering with their new friends, allowed Lady and me to blether with other similar parents, with similar children. We began to feel independent adults again!

The time came when they organised their own holidays, and we did our own thing. We still had our own business, so breaks were fitted-in with the requirements of our staff and their school children. They were therefore limited, so we chose carefully, going on cruises, and to places we had dreamed-off, as we fortunately had more disposable income.

Then came retirement, in 2011, and the extra available time allowed longer and more distant times away from home. Also the knowledge that we did not have to go back to work, makes a big difference. We have spoken-to, and become friends with, people from other countries, stayed in the house of a Nethetlands family and they have stayed with us. This has given us a much-wider breadth of vision about life and politics from a European perspective.

We are quite happy, now, to sit in the bar in the evening, and chatter with complete strangers in a foreign language. So our holidays have changed from going to see things and places, to giving us the chance to meet new people……..

Our holidays, and what we expect to get from them,  have changed dramatically, but it is still nice to go away, and return home, in equal measure….however, the connection with different people and different cultures still holds the greatest attraction for me.

What about you?

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The People Who Never Sang….



I think that I first became really interested in ‘singing’ when I was ‘just a wee boy’ in a Junior Choir at our church in Northern Ireland. I came from a family steeped in amateur music. My Mother ALWAYS sang, my Father sang in choirs in church and also in male voices, as well as conducting; cousins, and uncles were singers and an aunt was a piano teacher.

So it was probably not surprising that I would sing in choirs and also learn the piano and organ (reasonably successfully), and the clarinet (unsuccessfully). Junior and senior  church choirs, playing the organ at services, and choral and instrumental composing meant that I was in the thick of what was the great interest of my family, and this was no doubt a large part of their legacy to me.

I was probably about 18 when I was playing regularly at church services , and taking a choir of people old enough to be my parents, and perhaps grandparents! The bravado of youth obviously shaded me from my mistakes, but hopefully I did something right!

After Evensong Lochgilphead

The ‘formal’ Angelus Singers at Lochgilphead…

As you can imagine, many of these choirs required a rigid discipline in attendance and standard of singing to operate well, as we had Church-year timetables, and music, to perform. No good getting the Christmas anthems ready for mid-January!….or having half a choir turn up for the Easter Service!…..or someone hitting a bum note, or a wrong entry!

But there was  a sort of self-selection process going on, where people would not put themselves forward for membership if they felt they had no voice, or a poor one. And it obviously worked well, in that most of the choir-members I met, and dealt-with, had quite reasonable voices.

But, what about the folk who, despite our protests, thought they had a poor voice, or were TOLD by someone that they had a poor voice, or were embarrassed, or did not have the time, or were not tremendously motivated? We obviously never saw them, so there MUST have been a waste of natural talent out there.

Jump forward some decades to Gareth Malone on television, who parachuted-in to various places across the UK to form some type of choir, and obviously left it to underlings to get on with the practices. He would then appear again to conduct some item. It made good television, but not really practical in today’s hectic world!

Meanwhile I had given up full-time organ-playing and was happy to occasionally fill-in, and with there being fewer choirs, that door had been closed. Retirement had come, but I still longed for the heady days of choral music…..but surely that was all history, now, and I had better get used to it……but I was not to reckon on the  U3A, the University of the Third Age, which we only joined a few months ago!

I have blogged about it before, and the great motivation it engenders in people.  Someone had said in passing, in front of a crowded room at our first meeting, that there was a wish for a Singing Group, and that ‘Harry might be happy to start one!’ So there was a challenge! But where to begin?

Now, remember that the age-group range  of the Members probably centres on the early 70’s…..some are in their 90’s! You cannot start analysing and auditioning folk of this age, so the only two criteria would be, could they stand-up (even with help), and breathe?


The interest was amazing! We had 22 with us today at one of the weekly practices, we have 13 pieces on the practice list, and we sing lustily for an hour after some warm-up vocal exercises. Not everyone can come every practice (retirement is busy, you know!) so we are never exactly sure who will be there, but some have been to every practice. No notice is taken of previous experience, musical skills, embarrassment levels, etc, and mistakes are very common. But we are now singing lots of old post-war favourites, and rounds, in parts, and very good they are, too.

I have been given loads of music to look through, by members, so that there is always a new piece every week, of THEIR favourites.

We laugh, we joke, we do little musical tricks, ask them to ‘volunteer’ as  soloists, and have a thoroughly-great relaxing time. Everyone goes away smiling, and making sure they know when the next practice is. And beside all this the voices are really very good!

Personally, I have had a new lease of life, back to helping people find the joy of singing, and this time with no constraints of any kind, on the music, or the musical ability; simply the idea of having fun as a group, and, of course…….they will never be able to say ‘WE NEVER SANG’

P1050874A few of our Singing Group who obviously enjoy themselves in a relaxed atmosphere

(can you spot the 90-year old?)






So what is this U3A?

One of the lovely things about retirement is that you are less restrained by the time restraints of working hours, and you have the opportunity of generally choosing how you will fill the many hours now available.

I have to admit, here, that following our retirement from our business in 2011, my wife and I had totally-different approaches………

….She loved it as she had looked-forward to it for years. She could do all her housework at her leisure and she could encourage me to take her out for coffees, or we could drive further afield, and even abroad…….

….On the other hand, I missed the day-to-day decision-making which I had enjoyed/dreaded in equal measure for nearly 40 years. Demands for lectures, training, and advice, from my professional colleagues, ceased , and there was a feeling of ‘I’m not needed any longer, and all my life-skills are redundant’, so I felt very sorry for myself !

We both needed an aim in life again, and this is where the U3 A came on to the scene. We had known of the Open University, but were not really interested, because of the fact that it is for those who may well live a relatively-solitary life.

We wanted something with people-contact, in the same kind of situation as us, and somehow we heard of a U3A meeting for old codgers at our local Golf Club (simply used as a suitable meeting place, so no golf clubs required!). We went along and immediately found ourselves amidst over 50 laughing, happy retired folk, who welcomed us with metaphorically-open arms. And it has been like this ever since.

U3A (University of the Third Age) is a long-established international group of self-organised, self-funded, self-motivated local groups who decide what activities they wish to have, and then one of the members takes responsibility for organising each activity. We have about 20 different activities including walking, table tennis, men’s lunch, speakers, poetry, travel, local history, Spanish, Singing Group…….the list goes on and on.

Now, from having empty days in  our calendar, we have to juggle our time to get even the mundane things of life done!

So if you are retired, and want to fill your later years to the full, why not Google  ‘U3A’ and then just go along……you know it makes sense…..


……..another 25 things you might not need to know about me

A while ago I did some self -analysis, and this is just the first follow-up…….

51 We are now retired but I took a long time to get used to it

52 We now have a lovely daughter-in-law

53 We seem to be as busy as when we were working

54 The weeds in my garden seem to be as prolific as before, even although I do some weeding every day

55 I still can’t do the Rubik’s Cube

56 I rarely get a chance to have an afternoon nap.

57 I have kept a daily diary since 1958

58 Jobs DO expand to fill the time available

59 My hair now looks less like my father’s…..

60 …….and more like my grandfather’s

61 I am more tired than I was when younger….yet I sleep less

62 Lady of the House and I have both had our 70th birthdays, but neither looks our age

63 Am confirmed in my belief that Nationalism and Patriotism have no place in today’s civilised world

64 Enjoy having young people around; it makes me feel very wise

65 Enjoy having much older folk around; it makes me feel youthful

66 Enjoy having people the same age around; it allows me to see if they have mellowed better than me

67 I am beginning to forget how to tie a tie

68 I am not interested in installing Windows 10…..Windows 8.1 is confusing enough

69 I am now reading some of the books I got as presents over the years

70 I now have more ‘old togs’ than ‘good clothes’, which is fine

71 I enjoy the old comedy sitcoms and panel game-shows much better than the modern foul-mouthed ones

72 Love our Quirky Nissan Juke

73 Use my tablet computer more than my laptop, except when doing lots of typing

74 When younger, Could never imagine what 70 would be like… I can’t imaging what 80 will be like…..hopefully

75 Still enjoy a good blether and a laugh with friends….the best tonic you can have




To the Beautiful north of Scotland…Brodie Castle

One thing I love about being away on holiday is the variety of breakfasts available. I like to serve myself and can try things for the first time. Having said that, I had a Full Scottish Breakfast every day! Presumably every British area has its version….but it is still probably based on egg, bacon, sausage, beans, black pudding, fried bread/hash etc,…… good healthy stuff! Much toast and coffee and I’m set-up for the day. The Kingsmills Hotel was our place of repose for the night, and next morning dawned with a blue sky, and you can see Lady of the House waiting patiently, and wrapped-up, for our SAM_0379friends to collect us for the day.

For those of you who don’t know the area, Inverness and north can be windy. When preparing for our trip, I looked at videos I had made over the years, and speech was often drowned by the wind. So that it makes the use of a even a modern video camera very difficult. So it was to be my still camera only.

We, and our local friends  have been members of the National Trust for Scotland for many years, and we make use of the facilities as much as poss. There is a variety of outdoor-nature-historic,-gardens to see but the further you go from areas of population, the options decrease.


However, Brodie Castle is one of these places where you can spend equal time inside and out. We were blessed with bright, cold blue skies, and the extensive grounds were chosen for exploration while the weather held-up. Long wide avenues, tree-lined tracks, a well-populated duck- (and swan-) pond and a private family graveyard would give us plenty to see. Last time we were here was in 1996 and we met Ninian the 25th Brodie of Brodie, but he now passed away.

The castle itself was built in 1567, but the family presence there goes back to the granting of the lands around the castle stands in, during 1160, by King Malcolm IV.

SAM_0392But first of all we had to fortify ourselves against the bitter winds, and this was achieved by repairing to the warmth of the little tearoom in the castle. This is one thing which the National Trust for Scotland does well……they have volunteers who serve in the tearooms, and use local baking and cooking where possible.

So hot chocolate and highly- calorific cake were consumed avidly before we set-out. The gentleman in the picture (I use the word ‘gentleman’ for the sake of retaining his friendship) may well be known to watchers of Grampian Television News, as he provides signing for those with a severe hearing impairment.

The swans and ducks were very friendly – indeed they followed us along the towpath- but it SAM_0407may have been the desire for food! I can imagine both swans and ducks providing food in the early days, but now they are now just for show. Along the side of the pond was a narrow track with trees, whose leaves were turning in colour. I much prefer walking on non-manicured lawns, amongst untrimmed trees, and crunching on the leaves. And this was certainly possible here.

It was a wonderful time, not just because of the natural beauty, but also because there was no wind. We were well-protected amongst the trees, but still left with a ruddy glow to our cheeks.

One relatively-known fact is that Scotland, and especially the north, has superbly beautifulSAM_0425 beaches. You will see some more later, but just along from Brodie is the town of Nairn. famous for oatcakes, and as the holiday home of the singer Harry Lauder, A thriving town, but it was the beach we had come to see.

I think most of us love beaches, either because of childhood memories, the fact that there is a sort of ‘cleansing effect’ from sea-air, or we find some strange affinity with a vista which seems limitless.

So today we had seen three different environments…the castle, purely man-made…the gardens, nature tamed by man, and…..the sea and beach, still largely free from man’s interference, but for how long?

Off tomorrow up the rugged east coast to the most northerly point of Scotland’s mainland………come and join us….


Last year, ‘The Daily Dish’ posted a note about her husband’s facial hair. She obviously was very happy with the ‘teddy bear’ on his face. For those with beards/moustaches/excessive sideburns (remember those?) she did raise the question of why and when we started the process.

In my mind this brought up a different question….is it a negative action (stopping shaving) or a positive action (designing and cultivating some facial architecture) ?

I remember In our final year at High School, in the early ’60’s, the boys all started trying to grow ‘something’. It was all so soft and downy that it could only be seen at close range! Whether it was to impress the girls, who were experimenting with make-up, I don’t know,

The act of allowing a beard and moustache to grow is probably some kind of transition to manhood for boys, but the hacking away at it with a piece of protected metal eventually became a real pain, in more than one sense!

Then came the work in a laboratory, when we all had horn-rimmed glasses, wore white coats, had beards or moustaches, and smoked the pipe. It was in this condition that I courted my wife-to-be. She says that I was clean-shaven when we met, but after 50 years, who am I to argue!

And so it has been all through our married life, …..sideburns, full beard, trimmed short or long, all sorts of variations, until relatively-recently that is. Moustache and sideburns all disappeared, leaving only a small, short, pure white, beard covering my chin.  I imagined that at least our children would have noticed the change, but no word has been forthcoming from that or any other direction, so I can presume that no-one ever really noticed it enough to comment on its demise. So was the changing facial architecture something of interest to society?…….

I don’t think so and frankly, at my age, it doesn’t really matter!

…………but I don’t like designer stubble!

…but who am I really?

We are looking forward to the visit of a couple from the Netherlands. We met on holiday and since they had never been in Scotland, we invited them as guests, so that we could show them round our beautiful country. They have been kept up-to -date with our provisional plans, which include a rather important large birthday party.

They should have no problems handling the English/Scots conversations as they have an excellent knowledge of our language, but I think they were concerned about starting and maintaining a conversation with people about whom little was known. So they asked for some photos and a little background about some of the main participants, including both me and the Lady of the House, so that they did not put their foot into it by saying something wrong (would they understand the phrase ‘putting one’s foot in’, I wonder?).

So what to say? I’ts actually quite difficult in just a few words to sum-up someone you know well, into a matter of a few sentences. Facts on age, jobs, interests, familial relationship etc are useful enough for a passport application, but tells you little about the actual person. So to cut a long story short, it took a while to provide half a dozen brief  synopses of the main participants, without giving-away sensitive information, but still allowing an entry into a discussion at the party.

Worst of all is trying to give a brief, unbiased set of facts about oneself…a sort of miniature autobiography, without appearing to be boastful, and ‘padding’ of one’s intersts. For better or worse, the requested information has been sent.

And to get my own back, I have asked them to do the same for us!