Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A small story.

This morning, running errands in the village which is two villages along, I saw a pair of household names. Rather oddly, this part of Scotland quite often does have a household name roaming about in the wild. We could not be further from Claridge’s or The Groucho, and there are parts of the county where 1979 went to die, but still, sometimes a titanically famous person appears. In the village two villages along, people still remember when Robin Williams and Steve Martin bought some socks in the country store.

I did that thing you do. I did the understanding-the-nature-of-fame face. This is something I developed from long years of walking past celebrated actors coming out of looping studios in Soho. My theory went: if you should happen to catch their eye, you give a blinding but slightly innocent smile. The smile says: I know you are very famous, but I’m not going to make a thing of it. I’m just going to give you the lovely, merry grin that any nice person in the street would get. (I admit, I am slightly alone in this. It is not very British to smile at strangers in the street, but I do it all the time, and I get varying reactions, from simple friendliness to outright fear.) The smile also says: I am not going to invade your privacy, or shout your most famous line at you, or ask you for your autograph. It says: I loved your last film (or book or play or equivalent), but I’m going to let you go about your business as if you were an ordinary person, although I know you are not.

I’ve only broken this not-speaking rule once. I was at university, and the cast of White Mischief had arrived to shoot the courtroom scenes in the town hall. I was very poncy in those days, and it was high summer, and I used to waft around wearing a Panama hat. I thought it was the last word in chic. It was the eighties and I was eighteen; what can I tell you? Walking across the sloping cobbles of Oriel Square, I saw Ray McAnnally coming towards me. I broke out a blazing smile. He was one of the actors I adored the most at the time. As he reached me, he smiled back, rather quizzically, with a mischievous gleam in his dear old eye, and said: ‘I like your hat.’

I practically fell over.

‘I like your acting,’ I yelled, giddy with delight. I was in a hazy trance of pleasure for the rest of the day.

Anyway, there I was this morning, in the village with the two household names. I passed them on the street; they looked very nice and very happy and very normal. How lovely, I thought, that they can come to dear old Scotland and be left alone to take their ease. Nobody bothered them; nobody much even looked.

Ten minutes later, I was in a small shop. The car was parked just outside. I suddenly heard a volley of barking as Stanley the Dog took exception to a passing Westie.

Stanley,’ I called out, running to the motor to settle him. ‘Leave the small dogs alone.’

I walked back into the shop to pay for my things. ‘Sorry about that,’ I said to the man behind the counter. I turned, to find myself face to face with one of the household names. I did the nuanced nature-of-fame smile, with a little bit of welcome to my neighbourhood thrown in. I got a charming smile back, with, I suspected, a tiny trace of dog understanding; just a glimmer, but I was certain it was there. At that moment, I almost broke all the rules, and had to restrain myself from offering an introduction to my handsome canine.  

I went back home, rather foolishly bathed in reflected glory. I was idiotically pleased to have given the household name a welcoming smile, and I was glad I had been given such a good one in return. I was a perfect ambassadress for my locality, spreading good cheer.

Then I saw my reflection in the looking glass. I had a long brown smear all the way across my forehead.

Oh, no, I thought. The household name smile was not one of delight, but pity.

The HN must have thought I was one of those special people, some kind of community project, allowed out for a little shopping experiment. I had been feeding Red the Mare before I went on my errands. Her delicious daily breakfast is a sort of earthy mash; I usually mix it with my hands. Clearly, I had pushed my hair out of my eyes and left the tell-tale smear behind. So now, I thought, the household name will go back home and think not of the friendliness of the Scottish peoples, but of the most peculiar females one may encounter in small country shops.

And that, my darlings, is why I don’t get out much. Really, I’m not sure I am safe to leave the house.


Today’s pictures:

The leaves are really turning now:

24 Sept 1

And falling too:

24 Sept 2

24 Sept 2-001

I love sage:

24 Sept 3

The last leaves clinging to the little fruit tree:

24 Sept 4

One of my favourite of the HorseBack horses, who was working well this morning:

24 Sept 10

My perfect dozy girl:

24 Sept 10-001


24 Sept 11

I really should have introduced him to the Household Name. How could anyone resist Stan the Man?

We haven’t had a recipe in forever. So here is a little tangy salad of my own invention. Finely dice some cucumber and tomatoes. The dicing is important. Equally finely chop some parsley. This is a faux tabbouleh, without the bulgur wheat, so I think quite a lot of parsley. Chop some good black olives. Dress with a lot of good olive oil, more lemon juice than you might think, and a good dose of sea salt:

24 Sept 15

And eat it looking at a hill:

24 Sept 20

Only joking. The hill is optional.


  1. I love it I LOVE it!! That would be me- if I ever got out!! You do tell a good story well!!

  2. What an absolutely marvelous story - I'm still grinning from ear to ear. Yes, you should have introduced Stanley - he is a one-off, and I think, so are you. :-)

  3. Priceless. The other thing I find myself nearly doing to a Household Name should I see one, is to tell them who they are. An invaluable service don't you think? I nearly told Michael Palin that he was carrying the bag that he carries on all his travels. I had to be restrained from asking Alan Titchmarsh why he was coming out of an art dealer's showroom when he really belonged in a garden.

  4. I can see HN's smile in my mind's eye. It said "This is a horsewoman." He also knew you belonged to Stanley. HN had quite a satisfactory morning, too.

  5. Love this! HN struck it lucky - a true Scottish mad woman. :-)

    Gorgeous pics of Red beauty, handsome boy and delicious recipe.

  6. HA! That's awesome. I'm sure it wasn't pity - just amusement perhaps. Although maybe it was actually a bit rude for them not to point it out to you? After all, you gave them the courtesy of the knowing smile. :-)

  7. Firstly, I am a terrible commenter, as I usually never stray from the confines of Feedly, which if I am honest is just rude. For that I heartily apologise.

    I am reminded of the time I once went to meet a new bank manager to discuss financing a project I was working on. Leaving the house before dawn it wasn't until I was sat in their office that I realised I had on a pair of trousers from a dark grey suit and the jacket from a blue suit.

    I know I said this before via Twitter, but I do enjoy your writing.

  8. I laughed out loud. Great story.



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