It’s not very often I take an opportunity with an hour and a half to pass in Stornoway on a Saturday afternoon, on my own. When I’m with my wife we usually definitely have to stop at Kopi Java for an iced tea, a drink that’s not really for me, though do usually build up a thirst with the stress of finding a spot to park the car. A take away coffee which is something I very rarely do, I have this fear of walking along the street with any hot liquid and truth be told for it to be consumed in the car for the fear of spillages. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of places doing some descent brews in the town, take away or sit in there is certainly some money to be made from this. From good coffee shops, service stations and deli’s that are in the town offering a pretty descent brew and perhaps a home baked good of some sort, and I wondered if any one actually makes sandwiches to take to work for there lunch any more or any form of items that can be put into a Tupperware box.
I was helping out a friend this day it town, but I had to run a few errands which included getting a few messages. Now there is a phrase that probably not many would often use or stumble across, messages, how did that ever start to relate to shopping? Anyways, I had some time to kill and was in no rush. It’s that kind of time where you notice things that you perhaps don’t normally notice, when I am used to driving around the town or the the rare time I get the bus over and notice thing like fields, new builds and people. What I did notice was the shops that have closed down, the ones that I can recall, and the ones where flats now stand, with one of the last blows to the town with the closing of Murdo Macleans.
I went for a quick coffee at the Blue Lobster and kept thinking about the shops that were and used to be. I ordered a black coffee and you can guess what was asked next. I looked at there selection of baking which all looked very nice, but what caught my eye was the spiced orange cake that they had. It looked a descent size, a nice big rectangular, not slice, as that word does not give it justice and just a sounds rather flat and disrespectful of this cake. It was tasty and moist, the frosting was plentiful. The orange curd was very nice, fresh and complimented the cake if I’m honest a bit more spice would have been better in the sponge but still a very nice sponge, a good size and very reasonable with a damn good cup of coffee, you know the kind of cup that in your mind, you say it to yourself but accidentally say it out loud.
As I sat pondering about our old town it took me back to when we were actually allowed over to town on our own on a Saturday, D.A, Mark and myself. It must have been when we went onto 1st year and we were each armed with at least £10 each, which probably equates to £1.50 in today’s money. This was big times, there was Woolworths, and we all know what a magical place this was, even if it was a rainy day you could go in and flick through the C.Ds until something caught your eye. Many a good listen for me were discovered in that store like Simon and Garfunkel and MeatLoaf, it was also a very good base to cover all corners at Christmas time when it came to presents. James Mackenzies was another one, owned then by Nasir who still carried the original name. I recall at Christmas time in Hugh Mathesons how they used to have the shop layed out, the display of hampers that they used to have but more importantly to me was there sausage rolls that they had, which when they came out of the oven they were glazed with a good quality dark marmalade. Even today I take that thought and apply it to sausages that have been cooked well, with an even browning and finished of with a good quality marmalade. Now the coffee pot was a good place to go before the bus, an Italian family run business for years, where in the early years from research, offered not only fantastic home baking but good quality ice cream and was a communal hub for many with Peter Scaramuchies ‘glowing’ smile. Murdo Macleans was one of the last shops that I was suited and booted by two nice ladies and made sure that the fit was spot on, there was a little alteration to be made on the hem of the trousers and was happy to pay just a little extra for this, all of this and a good laugh along with it, now that’s customer service that I will miss.
D.D Morrison was also one that I would be sent to for that rare watch battery replacement and also where I took my first guitar lesson when the guitar was my new go to hobby after so long asking my parents, received for my birthday one year and that was it, I started my lessons on a Saturday that week and that was the first and last guitar lesson that I would partake in, I think I just lost interest or realised it was not for me, at that time I probably had more of an attention span than I do now, OK just a little more now.
As the years past I would still be sent to the likes of Kenny Froigans or the green chemist as some know it as to get some tonic wine for gran and not the tonic wine which is very associated with mebans, this one was for medicinal purposes, allegedly, but never the less still had an alcohol content . This would be purchased innocently up to the age of 18 when I would eventually be asked for I.D, ooops.
So what has the town got to offer us today? There certainly seems to be a buzz on a good day like today. It’s nice to see people around the town, going into the likes of Mackays, popping into Argos as one does and see them struggle across the town centre to where ever they are parked with a flat pack chest of drawers, the tea breakers carrying there tea/coffee trays back to there vans or offices from the shops, the strugglers carrying the frozen from Iceland to where ever they are parked, the occasional bodies popping in for a quick pint before the bus or for a quick smoke if they get caught in a bit of a conversational round in McNeils (other pubs are available) failing that there are multiple houses of worship to frequent. The bookies that was, now has the for sale sign up, giving way to all the online betting firms. The queue that is out W.J door is a good sight to see and the butchers there offer just a damn decent service as do the others in the town, what divides them by some are the people’s choice of Marag, which gives all the butchers a good stream of clientele, along with all their other quality products.
It’s good to be able to take a walk through the town, OK some parts I did drive to the outskirts, to the crofters for that spade handle purchase, and I’m determined to burn out the last handle that I snapped from the last spade, but still bought a new spade just in case (see previous blogs on making do and mend) then onto Autoparts for my usual dash wipes, alloy cleaner and general catch up with familiar siarachs and niseachs and any other county that serves on the tills there which make the experience of going around the town very personal.
Obviously the internet plays a big part in modern day life or I wouldn’t be getting the reach I would like even for this blog with out the Internet. But we do need to create the correct balance if we want to see our little cosmopolitan high street to survive. I can research most things online, but a lot of people now shop online, do there messages online and communicate online. Isn’t it nice to peruse around the town even at Christmas times and see what can be purchased locally or made locally and supporting small businesses locally, with out the fear of ordering online and missing Christmas altogether and landing in the new year with apologies written on the tag that comes with the present. Is it not nice to know that a shop owner who is paying the rates etc appreciates every customer that walks in the door to purchase there goods. Is it not nice to try a pair of jeans on at the time or any type of clothing, rather than having some kind of crap fashion parade at home, realise that skinnier than skinny jeans are obviously made for 0.5% of the planets population, but ordered four sizes in than style to see which would be best resulting in said garments being sent back which would be all of them. Is not nice perhaps to see the landlords taking the initiative to perhaps help the little artisan shops, small shoe shop, bric a brac stores, food stall or any one with a spark of an idea and any chance of survival to revitalise our town, and keep our sense of community thriving.
Now, my mind is back in the room of the Blue Lobster, out of nowhere I get this waft of what seemed like cheap perfume, now we were not the first three lads to be given the chance to go in town on a Saturday, obviously the girls were given the chance as well and with that the bus journey home came with the putret waft of at least three different flavours of impulse, I mean flavours because you could actually taste them, even the Pobble had his breaking point.
I’ve just realised my spiced orange cake has been devoured, washed down with a fairly descent cup of coffee, it was time to pay my very fair bill and make my way back through our little town that is Stornoway and realising that an hour and a half to myself, is not just to myself but one of the precious moments of time, talking to people, catching up with people, all of us keeping our communities going, with time that is so rapidly passing and a places that are being lost with time.