Of all the places in Stirlingshire that family friends could move to in 2012 they chose the village of Thornhill. This was near where Morag came from. Here I was forty years later being invited to visit my friends in that place. Memories of that Saturday night came flooding back as I drove to their cottage. As they did so I could hear the distant voice of Cat Stevens in my head singing Morning Has Broken – an apt soundtrack. Coincidentally, the visit happened to be on a Saturday. My friends knew the story and the village’s association with it but it did not stop me repeating it once more – to their delight I hasten to add – at the dinner table that evening. They could not believe that I had once been so shy. When I left their home later that night I noticed that it was near to the time I had left the dance – or rather blown my chance. All that I needed to bring the memory to life as I headed back was the sound of Cat Stevens singing that song. Alas none of the Best of… CDs in the glove compartment contained it so I had to make do with the distant sound of his voice once more. It wasn’t so much Morning Has Broken as I drove through the darkness but rather the sky – it poured all the way.
A habit when I return to Scotland is to attend church but instead of the usual one I went to the Church of Scotland. It was purely for nostalgic reasons – besides worship of course; I had not been to a service there for over forty years. I wanted to sit in the balcony pew where my younger brother and I used sit during our Sunday school days back in the mid – 60s. Thankfully nothing had changed; the pew was just as I remembered it – hard and uncomfortable. However on this occasion I never noticed.
The service that I chanced to participate in that morning was a christening. The church was quite full. The opening hymn was the normal one of praise followed by a coming together prayer offered by the minister in down to earth albeit reverent language. The christening of the baby then followed, which is always a touching spectacle. After the parents and their newly sprinkled child returned to their seats the minister then announced the next hymn.
My face beamed with a broad smile as I stood along with the rest of the congregation singing with gusto. As I did so I thought how sensitive and perhaps humourous God was. I now knew why there was no CD in the car containing that song. Instead of listening to its heavenly strains God had had it in mind for me to sing it at church the next morning instead. Thoughts of that Saturday night joined me as I sang turning it into a fond rather than regrettable memory. After all that is all that it was now. Beyond a memory lies a new day.
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new
The night flew by too quick. The DJ suddenly announced the last record, the slow number, which signalled to us would be Heathcliffes to move in for our Cathy, as it were. The song was Cat Stevens’ rendering of Morning Has Broken. I was no Heathcliffe, Will Hay, yes, but no Heathcliffe. Morag, nonetheless was certainly a Cathy worth moving in for. We had been getting along just fine by the time the record was announced. I groaned at the thought of having to move in and go through this date asking ritual. Groan or not it was a tradition. I duly wrapped my arms around Morag’s waist while she draped her arms over my shoulders. We then slowly danced or rather moved cheek to cheek.
I could feel she was nervous as I was as we held each other close and shuffled round and round on the spot. All night we had been sort of dancing while at the same time shouting sweet talk in each other’s ear above the raucous beat. Now in full mooching embrace there was no loud beat but the hymnal sound of Cat Stevens’s singing. Chat up phrases raced through my mind jostling for position while my mouth waited impatiently for the one that succeeded: ‘Can I take you home?’ ‘Do you fancy a walk round Stirling next week?’ ‘Can we meet again?’ ‘I would like very much to see you again.’ The jostling was still going on when the song ended. I loosened my hold, stepped back and sheepishly looked at Morag. The only word that managed to prise apart my hesitant lips was a stammered ‘Thanks.’ Morag stood there stunned; the look of disappointment in her eyes said it all; I felt totally inadequate. Meantime the DJ wished us all a good night and a safe journey home. I awkwardly wished Morag likewise and turned to look for my pal. As ever he had succeeded not only in securing a date with his dance partner but also in offering her a lift home in my car with me driving. Cupid once more.
Morning broke by the time I reached my own home. The sound of a blackbird could be heard in the garden hedge announcing its claim to the territory. Meanwhile this tired and beleaguered blackbird could only lay claim to his bed. That was one Saturday night back in 72. Forty three years later a visit to the village in early March revived a surprising detail of that night so long ago.
Part 3 to follow.
The following is a message I wrote to Samantha who at the young age of 39 years mercifully and peacefully fell asleep on Tuesday evening having endured much suffering.
‘I will always treasure and be forever thankful for those two lovely days I spent with you at Cornhill. Among the many things we talked about was one of your ambitions. This was triggered by a hesitancy I was nurturing at the time.
I said that I had been in two minds about going on holiday to a shore-line cottage at Gairloch this summer. Your eyes lit up. With an infectious smile you said that it had been one of your ambitions to go to that beauty spot to do some whale watching. The excited look on your face removed my hesitancy instantly. I slapped my thigh and said: ‘That’s it; I’m going and you’re coming too.’ You were so excited about the prospect that you posted an article about Gairloch cruises on your page that same day (March 7th). Alas, life has intervened and spared you further physical suffering. Be this as it may, this does not change the arrangement. With your spirit now totally free from pain you will be alongside us on that boat as we scan the waters for those mighty, bellowing sea creatures that you longed to see. In the meantime, hen, rest peacefully.
Your loving Uncle David xxx’
An abiding memory of mine has been the young farmers’ dance that I attended one Saturday night back in 1972.
These dances were held either in a barn, a town hall or more select venue. On this occasion the dance was held in the latter specifically the Trossachs Hotel by Loch Achray. The music provided either by a fiddle, ceilidh or rock band or simply by a DJ. On this occasion it was provided by the latter.
At the time I was a shy 17 year old who found it very hard to approach a girl for a dance never mind chat her up. I was as sophisticated as the dopey half of Laurel and Hardy. When the sensual opening riff of the first rock record called us out to the dance floor I spotted a girl about my age standing alone. My instincts told me that she was as shy as me though not dopey a feeling that gave me the confidence to ask her to dance. Imagine my delight when my instincts were confirmed and she accepted. From the moment of that riff we danced and chatted all night, neither of us attempting to leave the floor in between records. There was obvious chemistry between us – we were both shy, liked the same music, fashions – she was dressed elegantly in the Laura Ashley style; me less so but smart casual in black blazer, checked shirt, Levis and Doc Marten boots – films and so on. She told me that she lived on a farm in a village near Stirling. I was floating on air. The night flew by all too quick. Before we knew it the DJ announced the last record, the slow song, which signalled to us lads that it was now or never where asking our partner for a date was concerned. The song was Cat Stevens’ delicious rendering of Morning Has Broken.