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.

Ghost of Christmas Past

December 27th, 2008

“THAT'S WHAT I came for”, came the happy response from one youngster. I was dressed in my wellie boots, a long red robe and red cape fringed with white, and nylon whiskers. I'd been ambushed into being Santa Clause for the children's Christmas party up Glen Esk. It wasn't me the young man was looking forward to but the present I'd promised was in the sack over my shoulder.

“Is this Brechin High School?” €¦”Noooo, Glen Esk.” “What was that – Fettercairn?” “Noooo €¦ €¦!” You know how it goes. A lot of silly questions, and the kids think you're an old fraud anyway. Just get the presents handed out. That's what they came for, especially the young man at the back.

Glen Esk is most unusual in present-day Scotland. It has a flourishing school, and four churches still in use albeit part-time. An active Masonic Lodge where the party was being held, which is very much a focal point for the glen and used throughout the year by other organisations. An equally enthusiastic WRI, and of course the Retreat Museum which provides another focal point for glen life.

Many of the Glenners leave the glen each day to work but there's a significant amount of employment in the glen itself. While most other Scottish glens have shrinking populations and dwindling job opportunities, comparatively speaking Glen Esk flourishes – and long may it be so. I must have handed out presents to around two dozen young people some of whom, hopefully, will choose to live and work in the glen when their time comes, and it will continue to be a living place.

The last time I had undertaken such duties was about 1968 or 1969 when I was a beardless young man. I was not long back in Montrose after university and had joined my father's solicitor practise. One of my appointments was as Clerk and Treasurer of Dorward House, the old people's home in the town (a very different establishment today from what it was then). I was hijacked into being Santa before I could think to say no.

There I was, the youngest person in the place, handing out presents to people old enough to be my grandparents. I finished that assignment a wiser young man than I had started. I remember clearly the response of two of the lady residents who came up to receive a present from me, and as I handed it over they curtsied.

They had grown up in an age when young girls went into “service” in the “big hoose” and this was the response expected to be given and received. I still recall my sense of confusion that these ladies, having worked all their lives and doubtless brought up families too, should have been so conditioned by their background and upbringing.

It wouldn't happen now – Ho, Ho, No!