Tuesday, 20 May 2014

The Dundee FC's triumph is a stroll in the park but not for a lachrymose Arab taxi driver

My wife and I were up in Dundee recently to go to Dens Park to watch the famous eleven defeat Dumbarton in front of almost 11,000 fans and so win the Scottish Football League Championship and gain promotion to the Scottish Premier League.

The match went well. We defeated Dumbarton 2-1. Before the game, following a stramash about which seats we could and could not sit in, we were eventually located in the section of the main stand near to where the Dumbarton supporters were gallantly and sometimes quite effectively singing for their team. As most readers will know goals from Christian Nade and Peter Macdonald put us 2-0 up by half-time and even when Dumbarton scored from a penalty mid-way through the second half to make the score 2-1,  I had no worries. We'd win the league even if the match was a draw because our goal difference was 8 better than Hamilton's.  So when the final whistle blew I felt the joy of our winning both the match and the league but in truth it was no more than I had anticipated. I had never countenanced us being defeated. If we had been all would have been lost.

It was a happy ending and Paul Hartley and his team had triumphed  We watched the after-match celebrations. The man on the loudspeaker told the more enthusiastic members of the crowd that they could not go for a stroll in the park. I have to report they ignored him and did go walking in the park. After several more frantic beseechings from the man on the loudspeaker, they returned to their homes in the stands to watch the trophy presentation.  Under a shower of ticker tape, on the stage which had been rapidly assembled in the centre circle, the Dundee players were presented with their medals. Gavin Rae stepped up to receive the gleaming championship cup and a great roar rose from the crowd as he held the  trophy aloft and the team all began to bounce up and down in unison which now seems to be something that is programmed into all modern football players who win trophies. This was a a signal for those exuberant fans to take another promenade on the park despite more threats from the man on the public address system who implied that Armageddon would unfold before our very eyes -  to the extent that the players' lap of honour would have to be cancelled  - if the more enthusiastic members of our flock did not retreat from their happy pastures. Give the man on the tannoy his due, within a minute the excitable but happy lambs had returned to the safety of their folds and the lap of honour took place.

On leaving the ground, we looked for a taxi but none was to be found and my wife's mini iPad which she'd used to take photies of the celebratory scenes was useless for contacting a cab and I, with my usual efficiency, had left my mobile 'phone behind at our hotel. A kind man overhearing our anxious discussion about our lack of a telephone, called a taxi company for us. A few minutes later we were pleased when a cab arrived for us at the junction of Tannadice Street and Arklay Street. We told the pilot we were going to the Queens Hotel. He nodded and we hopped in. The driver, who was listening to an English Premier League match on his radio, seemed miserable almost to the point that you would guess he was crabbit.  I decided there and then he was an Arab. Who else could look so unhappy immediately after a Dundee victory ?  If indeed he was an Arab, then sadly  -  and there's only a wee touch of disingenuousness in my sadness  -   a couple of weeks later he'd have a greater reason to feel as scunnered as he seemed by Dundee winning the championship.  It was a shame about United's defeat in the cup final.

"Well, ye've done it." he said lugubriously. I could see it was hurting him to say it.

"Och," I said, "it was a walk in the park,"  -  there's that walk in the park again  -   "easy-peasy even if we'd drawn we'd have been up. Our goal difference was a way better than Hamilton's."

Dundee supporters take an after match stroll in the park

"Naw, ye widna  ha'e won," said the cab driver bitterly. Was that a hint of a tear in his eye I could see?  He continued,  "Hamilton beat Morton 10-2 and they'd have gone up if ye'd drawn. The goal difference was the same, the points wid've  been the same so they'd ha'e won the league because they'd scored mair goals than youse."

I couldn't take in what he said for a few seconds. All through the match I'd been in blithe ignorance of the farce going on at Hamilton.  Nobody near us in the crowd had seemed aware of it either and yet most of them, unlike me, had their mobile 'phones with them. I'm sure they would have been texting friends or keeping up with live text commentary of the Hamilton-Morton match.  Perhaps, like me they had taken Dundee's triumph as a given, or they had known and my antennae hadn't picked it up. In any case I was surprised to find that rather than being relieved not to have known how perilous Dundee's situation was, I resented not having experienced the heart-wrenching and excruciating tension that many of the spectators, I later learnt,  had experienced.  Calm, it appears, is less attractive to me than the tempest. It's a funny thing the human mind, well, the one I've got seems to be.

To be sure I never did find out if he was an Arab (though that "youse" said a lot) but we were grateful to our lachrymose cab driver for driving us through the traffic and crowds after the match.  He didn't need to come to our rescue and we didn't see any other taxis about. He dropped us off outside the Queens Hotel and we paid him our fare together with a healthy monetary consideration in gratitude for the trouble he had taken on our behalf. He thanked us and though I think he tried to, he just couldn't seem to raise a smile.

Just to let you know, for the time being I'm putting aside my paranoid thoughts about how the result between Accies and Morton came about. I am as genuinely sorry for Dundee United as I am pleased for St. Johnstone. I am ecstatic about Dundee's  ascension. In another sense it was a personal triumph for me. It was the first time after many years of trying that I had persuaded my wife to go through the portal of Dens Park. I used to think she was a secret Norwich City fan with a touch of Watford in there as well but I have been instructed after writing this to make it clear that she supports Watford and Torquay United. Still,  she said she liked her visit and, at the end, there she was singing with the best of them, "Nini mini mini mini ninina, Dundee's going up, going up, Dundee's going up!"

In Dundee, the term Arab describes players and supporters of Dundee United Football Club. This came about in the 1970s when the pitch at Tannadice where Dundee United plays was invariably a mud bath to the extent that large areas of it had to be covered in sand to make the ground playable. At one local derby Dundee FC supporters described United's pitch as looking like a desert and so called those associated with Dundee United "Arabs." The United supporters took this name up and a number of them will be seen at matches wearing various kinds of headgear associated with Arabs.
That's my version of the myth and I'm sticking with it until history can  absolutely demonstrate it to have been otherwise.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Let them eat cake : the Queens Hotel, Dundee, and Frank Sinatra, 1953

Recently we flew up on a Saturday morning from Exeter to Dundee to go to Dens Park to watch the famous eleven defeat Dumbarton 2-1 and so win the Scottish Professional Football League Championship and gain promotion to the Scottish Premier League. To give ourselves time for any possible post-match  celebration we had arranged to stay overnight at the Queens Hotel, an elegant Victorian establishment which first opened its doors to guests in 1885.

An interesting, but not elegant part of Victorian Dundee

The match score tells you there was a happy ending at Dens Park. Paul Hartley and his team triumphed.  We enjoyed the after-match celebrations at the ground and then took a taxi back to the Nethergate and the Queens Hotel where later in the evening we were to dine with two friends, a couple, who live just outside Dundee.  During what was an excellent meal,  I talked - which I almost incessantly do  -  about my childhood memories of Dundee. I paused briefly to catch my breath, and one of our friends swiftly breached this momentary gap in my lengthy blethering, to inform us that for all the years she had lived in and around Dundee she had never set foot in the Queen's Hotel and yet in the early 1950s her mother had worked as a chambermaid there. Her mother had told her stories about many of the famous show business people who stayed at the Queens in those days. It was a convenient resting place for them because it was situated close to the Palace Theatre and was not so far away from the Caird Hall. Our friend's mother had said that one of the occasions which remained clearly in her memory was the time Frank Sinatra and his then wife Ava Gardner had stayed at the Queens when he was appearing at the Caird Hall. 1953 was  a time when the singer's star was temporarily on the wane. Young fans had fallen in love with newer, younger crooners and the ticket sales for the show were poor. When the show started less than 500 people occupied an auditorium built to accommodate well over 2000 souls. Apparently Sinatra was not best pleased with this and felt  his show had suffered from poor pre-publicity and he vowed never to return to Dundee. He kept his promise.

Ava and Frank bided here in Victorian elegance

As for the poor pre-publicity well certainly I was unaware that Frank Sinatra was in Dundee on July 7th, 1953 but at the time I was 7 going on 8 and was much more interested in following the Ashes test cricket series on the nine inch Bush television which my father had bought us in May so that we and everyone else in the street  could watch the coronation. In fact I didn't get interested in music until we were hit by  Rock n' Roll  in 1956 when allegedly, well, according to my Mummy at least, the Teddy Boys were planning to rip up the seats in the Astoria Picture House in Lochee where "Rock Around the Clock" was about to show. I was already well over 10 years old and certainly I did not understand why I was not allowed to go and see "Rock Around the Clock."

A 1953 App for cricket and coronations

And another thing, now that I come to think of it, my Mummy and Daddy did a very good number on my sister and me over evening television programmes. Everyday the television service closed down at about 6 o'clock after Andy Pandy and Muffin the Mule and all that stuff had been shown. I mind it stayed on until 6.30 pm when the cricket was on which was lucky for me because Daddy did not come home from work until about that time. I think  Mummy let me watch the cricket not only because Daddy hadn't got home yet but also because it kept me quiet.

Well, to get back to that number that was done on us over the TV, when the television service closed down in the late afternoon, our parents successfully conned us into believing that  television broadcasts were off the air until the following afternoon's children's programmes started again.  After a few months I became suspicious about this not only because I had not experienced any other aspect of life which was so loaded in favour of us children but also because I thought I could hear talking and singing in the living room and it wasn't Mummy and Daddy and it didn't sound like the radio.  So one night at about 8 o'clock I decided to do something about it and went downstairs into the living room intending to say I had a headache. I caught them at it. Yes, there they were in the dark watching the TV.

 I said "I thought there was no TV at night."

"Well it just started the night,"  my Mummy replied.

"And it's on too late for you to watch. It doesn't start until half past seven," my Daddy said as a reinforcement. Actually I thought that was fair enough but why had they kept it a secret ?  At that time I sometimes wondered about parents. I continue to do so.

Anyway at about the beginning of 1955 things got better. I was in bed one February night and heard crowd noises and the voice of a commentator coming from the living room. The crowd sounded just like those I heard at Dens Park. So I quickly developed a sore throat and went downstairs for comfort. When I entered the living room which my parents always kept dark when the TV was on at night so it was just like the pictures,  I saw there was a football match on the TV.  I asked if I could watch it. My Daddy was about to say, "No !" when my Mummy intervened and said "Och, Chic, let him watch it you know he's football mad." He relented and I watched the match sitting on the floor. It was from Brockville Park which was the only stadium  in Scotland with floodlights. Falkirk was playing the Army, whose side had a lot of professional football players who were doing their national service. Once the match was over and I was told to go to bed, I did so immediately for I hoped it was the start of a good thing.

And it was. I was still not allowed to watch TV on ordinary nights but if there was football on I could stay up and watch. This was a favour not afforded to my younger sister. I don't how she felt about that. I guess I just thought it was fair enough because I was older than her by a year and I didn't think she was interested in football.

 I watched some great matches including a series of floodlit friendlies between Wolverhampton Wanderers (who were the English league champions at the time) and Moscow Dynamo and  Moscow Spartak as well as the Hungarian team, Honved, that had Ferencz Puskas in it. He was one of the Mighty Magyars (not to be confused with the Maryhill Magyars) of the Hungarian national team. These matches were big news, coming, as they did, before European club competitions had really got underway. International travel was still a minority experience, and though my Daddy had been abroad on business a number of times, I had not, so teams from as far away as Moscow and Budapest seemed excitingly exotic.

These peregrinations have taken me away from the story told by our friend's mother who had also related to her daughter that while most of the show business guests would, at the end of their stay, leave a significant monetary consideration to be shared among the Queen's Hotel staff,  Frank Sinatra left them a small, round, and undoubtably delicious, Dundee Cake to share because he "was sure they would really like it."  Well I've been brought up to believe that as far as gifts are concerned, "It's the thought that counts."

I did it my way

I don't know if the hotel staff saw it this way. Was a gift of a Dundee  confectionery icon an exercise of unmitigated altruism ? or an expression of downright meanness ? or even an act of ignorant naivety on a Marie Antoinette scale? We may never know, but we can be sure "ol' blues eyes" did it his way.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Seldom Spotted Edinburgh Tram captured in its nesting place in St Andrews Square, May 2nd, 2014

Tram twitchers throughout the world have been anticipating  this sighting for eons. A seldom spotted Edinburgh tram was glimpsed in St Andrew's Square Edinburgh today.  Yes just 58 years since the Dundee tram migrated never it seems to return, a living breathing Edinburgh tram, long thought extinct, has now returned to its ancestral breeding grounds. Their human piloting systems are not quite integrated but as soon as they are acclimatised to their Edinburgh grooves, they'll be flying everywhere.

There it is : but not without its down side

Of course not even a miraculous and epoch-making happening like this comes without problems. That usually much loved creature the commonly spotted Auld Reekie Taxi Driver will have to find something new to squawk about.

And what about our Dundee trams ?

Incubating in a Machinassic Park ?

 Is there a chance that a colony of them may be hiding in some uncharted foreign part,  preparing for its return ?