Category Archives: Family


Everyone who knows us will be aware that we have had a veritable social whirl this summer, with two family weddings and a Diamond Wedding for family friends.  I have thought long and hard about putting up pictures of these events, and have decided to refrain.  The main players in these events do not have social media profiles, therefore it’s a point of philosophical debate as to whether I am morally entitled to share  their images.    It’s also really difficult to select just one or two from hundreds.  So, I shall thank Nick and Beki for the wedding in Norfolk and Emma and Thierry for the wedding in Brussels.  Both days were the occasion of much joy, some tears, and the chance to blether, laugh and catch up.   Congratulations also to Eveline and Eddie on a notable anniversary.

Wall sconce, Hotel de Ville, Brussels
Hydrangea, Domaine Al Poudre, Belgium
Oxnead Hall gardens
Allium, Oxnead Hall
Peacock and crow, Prestonfield House


A la recherche…

Family photographs from our paternal line, for which no detail is available, but before saying goodbye to these I thought I would give them a last outing here.

Victoriana 1









Victoriana 2

So long 2018

Despite the obvious, including the most appalling lack of prudent and effective leadership on both sides of the pond, leading to who knows what clusterbourach* in 2019,  we have had some excellent adventures this year.  We have visited places we had never thought to look for previously, as we sought out new horizons, or to be precise, car charging points.   Some, like Coldstream, are a delight, with a beautiful park on the river and a cosy pub with log fires right next door.  (Soft drinks available).   Others may prioritise the functional over the aesthetic, particularly those in multi story car parks, but if they work, and are not already in use, or ICEd***, that’s all that matters, and we can have a blether while we wait. Or not.  Other trips with chums and family have been grand fun, catching up and meeting new folks, and if we happened to go to Africa for the first time then we kept really quiet about it. **

Yesterday my school chums and I ate loads of food then went for a walk.  That’s a good way to end a year.

Aberdour 1
Aberdour 2













*my politics are a mystery, especially to me, but the National reported this, so it gets the credit.   A bourach is a mess, clusterbourach references a much ruder term coined, I think, by the American army.

**that is so far from the truth.

***parking space for EV^ taken up by car using fossil fuel, or Internal Combustion Engine.

^Electric vehicle.  It’s a whole new world.

On the Beach

Yesterday, being Dad’s third anniversary and with the commemorations for the cessation of hostilities in 1918 being very much on our minds,  we did what most families do; got together for a  meal and then went for a walk.

Below, Fiona, Callum, Lily, Les, Ali, Ally and Paul.  Were I more confident with the timer I would have got myself in there too, but my efforts in Durham proved to me that more  work is required in that area.  We had a lovely afternoon and spoke of many things,  like cabbages and kings, ending on an impromptu lecture on meteorites.  Long ago, on a similar visit, Michaela opined “Youse would never get bored here.” She was right.

Aberdour, 10.11.18

November 2018

So. Just home from an all too brief trip to Slaley Hall, for the last time.  Nothing lasts forever and we, as a group, have decided it’s time to move on.  Journeying there for the first time by electric car, we called in at various chargers in the Borders towns.  I was struck by the commemorative work in evidence for the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the official cessation of hostilities for World War 1, although God knows the seeds of World War 2 were being sown, even then.  Anyway, in particular, Coldstream, a town with significant  connections to the armed forces, had poppies everywhere, knitted, sewn, crocheted, fashioned out of metal, and in gardens.  It was significant and notable.

Tonight, listening to a special edition of Antiques Roadshow being broadcast from Etaples, I noted a speech from an unnamed participant,which seemed, to me, to sum up so much of what is happening just now.  Whatever you think of the BBC, they did broadcast this.

“Well, looking back in time, I think these people went through hell with the lid off, and I stand in awe of what they endured, and the price they paid, so that we could live in freedom.  But looking forward, I would wish that every politician would come and visit a place like this so that they can learn what happens when politics fails.”

When politics fails.

Transcription my own.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Wilfred Owen.

One that got away


by Kate Clanchy

I said perhaps Patagonia, and pictured

a peninsula, wide enough

for a couple of ladderback chairs

to wobble on at high tide. I thought


of us in breathless cold, facing

a horizon round as a coin, looped

in a cat’s cradle strung by gulls

from sea to sun. I planned to wait


till the waves had bored themselves

to sleep, till the last clinging barnacles,

growing worried in the hush, had

paddled off in tiny coracles, till


those restless birds, your actor’s hands,

had dropped slack into your lap,

until you’d turned, at last, to me.

When I spoke of Patagonia, I meant


skies all empty aching blue, I meant

years.  I meant all of them with you.


Penguin’s Poems for Love, 2009, selected by Linda Barber.


After a splendid 5th birthday party for Lily, we found ourselves at East Fortune, specifically the Nation Museum of Flight. Displaying our new found tendency to be so far ahead of the curve that we come up behind it again, I proudly and possibly pompously showed my Member’s card, only to be told “It’s Doors Open day, no-one pays”.  This explains the unfeasibly long queue to get in, the extra car parks, the raft of stewards and the crammed café.  Ah well, it meant that the Concorde Experience was also open to all, and if it took 25 minutes to board, what’s that against 3½ hours in Windhoek, plus 50 years to be in with a chance.

Paul was absolutely delighted, as was I, to see the iconic Mach 2 signs. International politics meant the demise of this technological marvel, but for a moment we could imagine ourselves hurtling through the skies with barely a quiver in our champagne.

Tail of G-BOAA in hangar
Concorde interior





























Later on, a caption for one of the Red Arrows, housed nearby G-BOAA, brought back memories of a day in 1999 when Rosemary and I, along with her friend Margaret, stood on the Mound in Edinburgh watching the procession to mark the opening of the Scottish Parliament.    I can’t have been the only person who burst in to tears when the Arrows appeared over the Forth, led by Concorde, the former trailing their trade mark coloured plumes.

Concorde in formation flight
1st July 1999













Lastly, in the shop (there’s always a shop) I came across this lovely image.

Hawker Hurricane
Hawker Hurricane credits













Recently I wrote up a page about Mum’s war work.  This is the type of plane she worked on, so here she was, tapping me on the shoulder, via a card made in Norfolk…..

Dye stuff

Fiona and I fell to talking about her Gran, our mum, on Saturday.   She mentioned that she didn’t know much about what Gran did during the war, so I thought I would write down what little I know,  and maybe my sisters can fill in some blanks.

Jean Stephen* was 19 when the war broke out.   She lived in Falkirk, I believe at that time the family was in Forbes Road.

Betty Stephen and Belle Buchan Stephen, Forbes Road 1940s

Having shown keen interest in the sciences at school (not so much the languages, on one occasion asking the adjudicator of a Latin exam if she should translate the French parts too…) she obtained a position in the laboratories of the “dyes” in Grangemouth.  Previously Scottish Dyes, then British Dyestuffs Corporation, the company was bought by ICI in the 1920s.  Mum would only ever buy Dulux paints when we were little.   She was placed with a team of research chemists and wartime projects were given to them   Mum worked on the problem of aircraft tyres bursting into flames on impact.  The received wisdom is that she applied her tried and tested cure for everything – baking soda –  which worked.  The Head of the Lab got the kudos for the solution, but on an open day he apparently took Granda (Mum’s father) aside and told him that Jean had solved the issue.

Mum in Lab 1940s

Other snippets were that the technicians there were keen on photography, some tried various methods to print colour photos, and there is a lovely headshot (below) of mum with an interesting background.  On closer inspection it is revealed to be scrumpled up brown paper.    A couple of the men experimented with ethanol and ended up being very ill.  Not an alcohol substitute, then.  It was also said that the Head of the Lab had already made so much money for the company that he never needed to do anything more, but I am sure that he continued his research.   He did set the entire lab on fire once,  when demonstrating fire drill procedures.  I believe ethanol featured again as he poured an entire bottle of it onto the bench and set it alight.

Hand coloured – ICI staff on roof of lab – Mum 1st left







Like most people during that time, mum also worked with defence agencies, as an ARP warden.  She did call out the Guard one night during thick fog which she mistook for a gas attack.

Tinted locker photo

I think a lot of Mum’s war must have been quite tedious and worrying. I know she knitted a cardigan with one ply wool –  how long must that have taken?  There were trips to London to see sister Betty, and then there’s the story of Mum walking past a phone box in Falkirk where the phone was ringing.  Mum went in and picked up, it was Betty on the other end, so they had a chat and then she went away without thinking about it until  days later when she realised that they had made no arrangement to speak to each other …    Holidays were cycle trips with friends.  She also played hockey for ICI.

16.06.18  Alison has pointed out that Mum’s occupation would be a reserved one, which would account for that fact that she was not in the armed forces.  Betty was a  warrant officer, working in communications,  spending a lot of time in England and latterly abroad.  Older sister Joan was a nurse.  Alison also recalls that Jean and Betty attended college in Glasgow, we both know that she had thoughts of becoming a  doctor at one point and this may have been to obtain further exam passes?

ICI Hockey Team 1940s Mum 3rd from right
















* I don’t use her name as a security password for anything.


A busy and fruitful weekend: Saturday lunch in Cafe Portrait, where we narrowly missed Ali and Les.  Then we strolled along the main streets before heading up to the museum on Chambers Street to view Tim Peake’s landing craft.   Hied off to our café du jour, the Angus Fling, where Paul was able to stave off his hunger with a venison burger, whilst I had a more sedate,  and rather good, scone.  Tripped back down the road to Coda Music, where there was a new CD being launched, by Aidan O’Rourke, of LAU fame.  We enjoyed a short concert, with James Robertson reading his stories and  Kit Downes on the harmonium, plus Aidan on fiddle.  They were all kind enough to sign my CD.

Sunday began with a swim, and a serendipitous trip to Loch Ore meadows, where the cafe was open ridiculously early for a marathon bicycle race. allowing us to sneak a cup of tea and a scrambled egg roll.  A walk round the loch itself was followed by a sail on two fun boats.  “Fun” was maybe not quite the order of the day since there was no wind to propel these sail boats, but we had a good time and the staff at the park could not have been kinder, or more helpful.

We had to wear wetsuits.  No pictures exist of either of us in that garb.  Nor will they.

Tim Peake: Soyuz
Paul with Soyuz
Swans on Loch Ore
Last of the bluebells
Heron at Loch Ore
Pinkfoot Geese at Loch Ore