Possibly the best part of being an American living in Scotland is the chance to meet so many new people. But even for me, this was a new one. Another writer, one I had only “met” online while reviewing her amazing books, said she would be visiting from California. It was so much fun and strange at the same time to spend the day with someone I had only known virtually.
As I was coming through Glasgow’s Botanic Garden after my wonderful day with Jeanne and her husband, I saw a couple feeding the birds and squirrels. Since it was one of the rare occasions when I didn’t have the dog, I stopped to watch and we started to chat. Hamish and Rena Robertson told me that they’d been feeding the squirrels and birds together for over fifty years. Rena confided that they were getting ready to celebrate her 21st birthday. She waited, and when I expressed suitable surprise, she told me that it had been 21 years since her heart bypass. They had been married, she said, 57 years.
“With never one cross word,” Hamish added.
“Not when two cross words would do as well!” Rena agreed.
As I watched the squirrels come up to Hamish and climb up his trousers, the birds who were eating from his hands were not above giving him a peck if they deemed the feed to be coming too slowly. Rena shook her head. “I don’t want to think about what we’ve spent on nuts and bird seed, over the years. Or how often his hands have been pecked.”
“They don’t peck me,” Hamish protested. A bird pecked him. He waved a reddened thumb, thew more nuts to some shy squirrels, and told me he’d always liked animals. During the war, his family had been sent to stay in the country. One day when he was a young boy, he’d been dropped off from school and was waiting for someone to meet him, when a gigantic tiger came around the corner. The tiger was followed by a man that the young Hamish thought was a giant, who was wearing shoes that curved up at the tip and an enormous turban with a jewel. “Be not afraid,” the man told him. So Hamish held perfectly still as the tiger approached and sniffed him, eventually daring to bury his hands in the tiger’s fur.
I also heard about James Swann, a grandfather (of Hamish, I think??) who was so well-known as a railroad engineer that King George requested his services when travelling by train. The Robertsons went on to tell me how proud they were of their teenaged grandson, Kieran Robertson, who is already a successful goth rock musician. I asked what they thought about the goth scene, and Rena assured me that it was very useful having a grandson who had so much experience putting on makeup, because with her eye problems, he would volunteer to come over and put on her makeup for her.
I waved to the Robertsons as I passed them again last week, but since I had the dog this time, we went on to sit at a sunny bench. Two older gentlemen joined me and—after the required discussion of what a fine wee doggie I have—we got down to the other acceptable topic of any Glasgow conversation: the weather. We’d barely had any days where the temps raised over 50-60F/10-15C. In fact, there has been exactly one day where the mercury soared to 70F/21C. One.
“How was yer summer—last Friday, it was?”
“Oh, aye… Last Friday it was taps off fer the lads.”
“And t’neist day it’s back to brass monkeys hoachin fer a wee welder…”
Brass monkey repairs aside, if Glaswegians know anything about warm weather, it’s to take it when you get it. So on Friday last, the lads enthusiastically went taps (shirts) off, exposing disturbingly large areas of very pink skin. Trousers were rolled up to showcase fishbelly pale limbs as everyone stepped outside to enjoy that great day when we had summer in Glasgow.