Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Kippers, whisky and hats

July 21st, 2007

A KIPPER for my tea on a summer's evening dislodged a memory that has lain dormant for an age, for kippers and summer holidays are subliminally entwined in my subconscious.

The best kippers I ever tasted were smoked by The Duke, in Ullapool. For seven years, from 1949, the family holidayed there, not quite in Ullapool itself but on Leckmelm Farm some three miles from the village (as it was then). My father parked our caravan beside the pier that served the estate in the old days, nearly at the head of Loch Broom.

“Aha!” I hear you say – “another instance of seeing the past through rose tinted spectacles.” Not a bit of it, I have my sister's recollections to back me up.

Kippers in those days were a proper man's meal. They overflowed the grill pan and overflowed the plate and my mother had problems cooking them on the caravan's small calor gas cooker. No colourative or dye was used in the curing and what came out of the smokehouse was a golden fleshed feast of thick, juicy fish meat that needed no cooking, just heating through.

The Duke was an interesting character. He had been a master tailor in London and had been lucky to be pulled, more dead than alive, out of a building which was bombed in the blitz during the Second World War. He recovered but was left with a withered arm and the doctors advised him to find an activity which would exercise the limb and restore its mobility.

Quite how he landed up in Ullapool from London, with wartime travel restrictions, I never knew. But he got there and, heeding his doctor's advice, took up fishing. Every morning he rowed a dinghy out into Ullapool Bay and threw a handline over the side. He exercised his arm by lifting and dropping the fishing line so that the bait on the hook was in constant motion to attract fish.

I know he recovered enough mobility in the injured arm to lift a glass because, to my mother's constant irritation, my father and he spent many a happy hour in the public bar of the Caledonian Hotel whiling away the whisky. He never left Ullapool, and the rest is kipper lore.

He didn't lose his tailoring skills. He offered to make both Father and Mother  fore and afters, or deerstalker hats. He took two measurements – a piece of string round the head, and another piece of string from ear to ear. The hats were produced in a couple of days, and worn with a fair degree of pride I have to say.

I don't know what happened to my father's hat, but we still have my mother's. It's probably the only hat, remaining in existence, made by The Duke. And there's one other thing, I never knew his real name.




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Written on Saturday, July 21st, 2007 at 12:09 pm for Weekly.