New York is heaving with visitors at the moment. The students have left and have been replaced by summer school students and the first wave of the summer tourists. A couple of days ago, the weather was sunny and people were dressed accordingly – colours had replaced the NYC working woman’s all black uniform, and it was all rather lovely. This last couple of days have been less summery but the temperatures are due to rise again tomorrow.
Our family summer holidays were always spent in Scotland. Grandma and Papa wanted to go home, and they wanted to see their families. So every summer until 1972 (when Gran and Pop moved to Northallerton), the car was packed and we drove up. There were no radios in cars then, the roads were slow, and the journey was long. It was the only time we were officially allowed to chew gum. And chew we did as we tried to look at registrations and every year we would try to spot all the year identifiers issued up to then. Each year Papa warned us as we drove north that the first letter (A, of course) had been issued mainly in the south and that we’d been jolly lucky to see one. Every year we found one and duly considered ourselves exceedingly fortunate. As a result of this game I am still more likely to notice a registration plate than notice even the colour of a car.
I can just remember having to time the trip to catch the car ferry from Queensferry to Fife. Papa didn’t want to get there too late and so get caught with the people commuting from Edinburgh. I remember very clearly being poked in the arm by Grandma and told to look up. Above me was the almost completed Forth Road Bridge. “Next time, we come up, we’ll be going over the bridge”, I was told. I have never lost the excitement of going over that bridge. When there was still a toll (2/6d), Papa tried very hard not to actually stop the car when he was paying the toll. Generally he succeeded.
I don’t remember Gran and Pop’s first home, Craiglyn, where Uncle Johnnie, Grandma, Vi, Suzy, Alastair, Kenneth and Alan were born. Kenneth and Alan are two of my cousins. Gran and Pop sold it when they returned from New Zealand in 1961 after being away for a year. Craiglyn and its gardens had become too much for Pop. I do remember the first trip to 24 Spencer Place, their new home. I loved visiting that house. The back garden had a lawn, and then sloped sharply downwards to the Dysart road. Alan and I made dens down there and spent ages playing amongst the trees. We even created a burglar trap which I’m sure would have been hugely successful if any burglar had decided to climb the slope by that route.
Alan and I in the garden of 24 Spencer Place, before we were old enough to build traps for burglars
Spencer Place was very near to the Ravenscraig Park, and Grandma used to wake up early, wake me up and we would walk through the park, past the mynah bird who yelled “aye” in a broad Fife accent or whistled the opening notes to Laurel and Hardy, and onto the beach. It wasn’t a beautiful beach, but there was a lot of sea coal which is great for skimming. Skimming stones is one of those pastimes which is absolutely absorbing and, even if you’re not that good, you might be, and so you continue. Back to Spencer Place and breakfast. Afternoons, if the weather was good, were spent on nicer beaches, generally Lower Largo where the main dangers were the cold of the sea (and no it doesn’t get warmer when you get your shoulders under the water), and the rocks which I always seemed to tread on.
Playing on the beach at St Andrews
But what I most looked forward to when staying with Gran and Pop was Gran’s baking. Gran baked the best gingerbread I have ever tasted. It was a moist, dark, rich cake which really was neither a cake nor gingerbread, but it was so delicious. I have a passion for ginger in all its forms – fresh, powdered, preserved, pickled – it doesn’t matter to me. My mouth is watering at the thought of a slab of Gran’s gingerbread spread with unsalted butter. After Gran died, we all wanted the gingerbread recipe from her recipe book. You have no idea how sad we were to discover that she used cups mixed with imperial measures. No-one knew which cup she had used. My cousin, Carole, thinks that she has worked it out, but I haven’t tasted her gingerbread yet. So you might have an idea of how delighted I was to find in Edinburgh a recipe for gingerbread written in Gran’s handwriting, and totally in imperial – no untraceable cups! So here it is. I haven’t converted to metric. Gran used lard, according to this recipe, but I will probably substitute butter.
- 6 ozs plain flour
- 2 ozs sugar
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1 level tsp baking soda
- 2 tbp treacle *
- 2 eggs
- 2 ozs lard
- fruit and nuts
Melt treacle and lard slowly. Sieve dry ingredients and beat eggs. Stir eggs and treacle into dry mixture. Bake in greased and lined tin in moderate oven** for 1-1.25 hours.
* Treacle = Black treacle in England or molasses
** A moderate oven is 180-190 C / 350-375 F