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  • Writer's pictureKate Clarke

Dunblane, The Alan Water, Tom Thumb Drops, Square Pies.

Updated: Nov 14, 2022

We used to go to Dunblane every year to see Terry's mum, Florrie.

I'm fond of that little town. It has a soft character and charm about its beautifully tended public spaces, its sweetly planted front gardens and its slow-moving old ladies and gents. I'm pretty sure we passed by the same old ladies and gents on its short high street every time we visited. I was always surprised that we didn't see Alistair Sim, dressed like a tweedy 1930's country doctor, leaving one of the bigger houses.

Dunblane is a tiny place and we would be there for a week or so. Terry mum was as quiet and reflective as a nun at that point and it wasn't always easy to pass the day, but there were many moments of bright affection and understanding between them, particularly when they talked of Lyndhurst Road, Terry's childhood home. Their accents were identical - both with the curled, countrified 'r's of Berkshire. She was delighted he was still close to Terry Lowney and to Trevor, from that neighbourhood. She had a soft spot for Terry Lowney.

We didn't know anyone there so we would tend to pinball from the cathedral to the tiny museum, and the banks of the Alan Water, with its fast, foamy flow, the colour of coca cola, its dippers in the shadows and its wild raspberries along the banks. Terry stepped carefully across the water once, on flat stones, to scoop a handful of it to drink. This horrified me - "Terry. Nitrates, run-off, Weils disease, cow pee." He got annoyed. "My dad grew up doing this."

The shops in Dunblane never seemed to change - Tom Thumb Drops and Midget Gems down by The Dunblane Hotel, Bennetts the butchers (the best square pies in Scotland) a deli and cafe run by a noisy, handsome family who always remembered us - were they Persian or Turkish?

And a grocers-come-cafe down by the bridge - The Beech Tree. The last time we visited while Florrie was still alive we popped in and out of those last three places - as we always did and Terry talked to the proprietors about his dad, Joe, who had died some years before. He used to cycle to the butchers and the greengrocers for provisions while Florrie stayed home. Terry said she never went into the little town and never saw the Alan Water. But his dad, who was stronger, livelier, more sociable - a character - was there every week, doing the shopping and paying the bills. Did they remember Joe in those shops? Terry wondered. "A small man, great smile, West Irish accent?" he asked. The butcher didn't remember, but he tried hard to - he could see how much Terry hoped he would recall. We spent longer at the greengrocers and Terry painted a fuller picture. "old bike, bicycle clip, white shirt, cuffs rolled up - a working man."

Yes, they did remember. We bought coffee next door and lingered there.

Three smokes.

I understand it now.

One set of neighbours Terry and I had in our little street in Wales has moved on since Terry passed. When a new couple moved in I resented them for many months - not just for the sludgy Metallica he plays in the garage when he's working on goodness-knows-what, but because as far as they are concerned Terry never existed, since they've never seen him. There's just a woman with two handsome dogs who plays twangy old country songs.

I still avoid the pair of them, to be honest.

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