Summer adventures at the Selkirk Common Riding 2013, part 2

In the summer of 1989 I flew out to California for eight weeks, courtesy of one of my many American cousins, the late Charlotte Anderson. It was my first flight on my own, and my first visit to the United States. What an amazing experience!  I hung out mostly in Healdsburg (about 70 miles north of San Francisco) but we took a number of road trips: down south to Monterey; then on to Disneyland and Universal Studios at Los Angeles; boogie boarding at the beach at San Juan Capistrano; back north and inland to Yosemite National Park; up north as far as Crater Lake and Medford in Oregon where I witnessed the most amazing lightning storm I’ve ever seen. During the two months I went water-skiing, boogie boarding and rode my first (and last) rollercoaster (in the dark!). I also met up with family.


About an hour’s drive north-west of Healdsburg, cradled in Anderson Valley, Mendocino County lies a small town called Boonville, population 715. It has its own folk language called Boontling. It was also home to a good few members of my extended family, also named Anderson. One weekend Charlotte drove me up and dropped me off, I was to meet and hang out with Bruce and Ling, and their two sons Zack (a little older than me) and Ben (a little younger), and another cousin, Jamie (much younger than me).

Left to right: Ben, Jamie, Zack, me.
Left to right: Ben, Jamie, Zack, me.

Bruce ran the local newspaper, The Anderson Valley Advertiser, the AVA. He is still its editor. The newspaper’s motto is “fanning the flames of discontent.” I wouldn’t say they go out of their way to invite controversy, but they don’t exactly shy away from it either.

I love this photograph of me with Bruce, taken—I think—in his office. I was a little intimidated by Bruce at the time, I have to admit. But I sat and listened to him for hours, he was incredibly well read and really interesting.

Bruce Anderson and Gareth J M Saunders, Boonville, 1989.
Bruce Anderson and Gareth J M Saunders, Boonville, 1989.

One morning over breakfast, Bruce came down from his ‘tree-house’ office with a stack of mail that had arrived for the newspaper. Amongst it was a letter from a couple who had passed through Boonville a few weeks before. It transpired that they had recently adopted a baby and when they had stopped to fill up with gas the infant had inadvertently dropped their toy rabbit out of the car. It wasn’t just any rabbit, it was the rabbit, the rabbit of comfort, the rabbit that stopped them crying while they were upset, it was I-WANT-RAAAAAABBIT! There was a letter explaining the torment that this poor family was now experiencing sans rabbit, along with a five dollar bill and a plea to make a few posters, get them photocopied and paste them up around town. Proper wild west stuff with a reward and everything. We joked about the letter over breakfast, and soon after I got packed up, Char came to collect me and I headed back to Healdsburg.

A few days later the post arrived and Char opened her subscription copy of the AVA. A few pages in there was the letter about losing a rabbit. I smiled. I’d read that letter myself. But to be honest, that’s not really what had demanded my attention on that page. It was the 4″ x 6″ photograph of a toy rabbit with a pistol to its head that had caught my eye, with a caption beneath that said something like “Send five more dollars or the rabbit gets it!” Brilliant! Why aren’t more newspapers like that?!

In 2002 and again in 2004 I travelled with Jane to California to stay with Char. We had amazing holidays, and once more Char was adamant that I should get in touch with my generation of the family, and so I did. Our cousin, the novelist, Robert Mailer Anderson very kindly put us up in his guest accommodation both times and we met up with and hung out with Robert and Zack and Jessica, and Wayne and Margaret and a whole host of others. We had such a brilliant time, with such lovely people. And we should have gone back again after that but we moved house, and then the IVF treatment started, and we had children and… well, last month they came over here.

The gathering

I love my American family: they are warm and loving and accepting and never too far from laughter. Before we travelled down to the Scottish Borders I was a little apprehensive that we might be gate-crashing their party, despite what Robert had said to reassure us in an email. I needn’t have worried. We arrived on Friday afternoon, and over the next few days there was a steady trickle of people arriving. Zack, Ben and Robert had been part of the advance party; then Nicola (Robert’s wife) arrived with the children; and shortly after Bruce and Ling arrived with their daughter Jessica, her husband Ryan and two children; and lastly Bruce’s sister Judy turned up with her husband Charlie.


I cycled up the drive, through clouds of midges, from our holiday lodge to ‘the big hoose’ (it was about a ten minutes’ walk) shortly after Nicola arrived with the children. They were running around the grounds playing tig, or whatever young Americans play these days. As I pulled up outside the house I teamed up with Zack and Ben and we laughed and joked until one of the girls, Frances, ran up saying that she had touched something and her hand had come up in a rash.

“Ah, that must be a stinging nettle,” I explained.

“A what?”

I hunted the nearby border beneath the dining room and quickly found one.

“One of these,” I explained. “They sting, so stay away from them. However, if you do get stung look for a docken leaf.”

Again I hunted amongst the foliage beneath the dining room window and tore one off.

“Place this on your hand, on the sting. It will soothe it and cool it down,” I explained, suddenly feeling like some kind of mediaeval wizard or the monk Cadfael.

“Wow! That’s cool,” said Ben. “One plant that’s an antidote to another plant.”

Selkirk Common Riding

Each morning we met around the (tremendously long) breakfast table and ate together and laughed and shared stories. Each evening we did the same over dinner. Robert, who was fulfilling his duties as the 2013 Selkirk Colonial Society Standard Bearer joined us when he could—boy! that was one full schedule he had, packed with late night after late night. It was lovely to catch up with him when I could, and I was disappointed that I had to leave one morning when he and Bruce had just got their teeth into a really meaty conversation about American politics. I was back in Boonville in ’89. I wanted to hear more, but family duties were calling.

Of course, what we were all there for was to support Robert at the Common Riding. On Wednesday evening I travelled into Selkirk for the Colonial Bussin’ concert, where Nicola bussed the flag (put ribbons on it) in a very graceful way (as they kept remind us) and Robert received his standard bearer’s sash and flag for the Common Riding on Friday morning.

Selkirk Colonial Society Bussin' Concert 2013
Nicola tying ribbons onto the flag at the Selkirk Colonial Society Bussin’ Concert 2013

After the concert I got to attend the Colonial dinner, something that I’d seen my Mum and Dad go out to for years as I was growing up. Finally I was allowed to go, and I’m so glad that I did. What fun Zack and Ben and Frances and I had sitting at the top end of a table that extended about three-quarters of the way down the Lesser Victoria Hall. We sat beneath a California flag that Charlotte had donated a few years before she died. She would have been so proud of us all being together.

My Mum surprised me at one point by going forward to present a gift to Nicola, from a former Lady Busser to the current one. I leaned in to Frances and said, “That’s my Mum and your Mum!” She smiled. I was so proud of my Mum that evening, and so proud to be a part of this family. I wish my Dad could have seen it all too. He’d have been in his element.

There was a lot of singing that evening, which took me a bit by surprise. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I like singing. I was in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain for about eight years, but it was like hanging out at the Prancing Pony inn with a bunch of hobbits and dwarves! More singing! More drinking! More singing! But it was brilliant. At one point, near the end, Robert got up with Frances and they sang a fabulous, eerie, gothic American ballad, something that they sometimes sing at bedtime. It went down a storm.

Robert and Frances wow the gathering with a gothic American ballad
Robert and Frances wow the Colonial dinner with a gothic American ballad

Then on Friday morning we got up at pointlessly-early o’clock and did the Selkirk Common Riding. Reuben and Joshua were incredible. For about five hours, Reuben walked pretty much the whole way round, Joshua got carried for a bit of it, Jane about broke her back carrying Isaac in a sling the whole way. I was so proud of them all.

Robert did everyone proud casting the Colonial flag in the Selkirk Market Place at the conclusion of the festival.

Robert Mailer Anderson casting the Selkirk Colonial Society flag, June 2013
Robert Mailer Anderson casting the Selkirk Colonial Society flag, June 2013(Photo: Eddie Saunders)

The following day the wider family gathered at Hoscote House for a buffet meal. What was rather fun was that Judy and I worked on a copy of the family tree so we could all identify where we sat on it, and we could see graphically how we were all related to one another.

Buffet meal in the dining room at Hoscote House
Buffet meal in the dining room at Hoscote House

Then we gathered for the obligatory family photo on the steps of the house and then we all went our separate ways.

Almost everyone gathered on the steps at Hoscote House.
Almost everyone gathered on the steps at Hoscote House.

I was sad to leave. I miss not having so many people around the breakfast table. I miss the jokes and nonsense conversations, I miss finding out more about these amazing people with whom I’ve spent less than a month of my life in their company but who have accepted me as one of their own, and who I regard as close to me as my nuclear family. I guess I miss them because I love them. And surely that’s a good thing in a family, even one as wide and extended and scattered and… odd as this one.

Summer adventures at the Selkirk Common Riding 2013, part 1

Our Citroën Grand C4 Picasso parked at Hoscote House, ready for adventure.
Our Citroën Grand C4 Picasso parked at Hoscote House, ready for adventure.

Nearly three weeks ago we packed up our car, loaded the children into it, attached my bike to the back of it and drove south in search of fame and fortune. Or Hoscote House at least, and a group of 16 cousins of mine from California who had flown over for the Selkirk Common Riding. It was one of the best holidays we’ve ever had.

The reason for the trip was that my third cousin (my great-grandmother Georgina and his great-grandfather Robert ‘Honolulu Bob’ were brother and sister) novelist, screenwriter and philanthropist Robert Mailer Anderson had been elected Colonial Standard Bearer for the 2013 Selkirk Common Riding, exactly 100 years after Honolulu Bob had held the same office.

Hoscote house

Hoscote House
Hoscote House from the drive

About 18 months ago I emailed Robert and his wife Nicola, who live in San Francisco, and said that we were planning on coming down to the Scottish Borders to support them.

Do you have any ideas at this point where you guys might be staying? We don’t want to gate crash your party but it might be nice to be near, to meet up.

Robert replied a couple of hours later saying

we are renting a manor [Hoscote House] and you are more than welcome to join the family there. Isn’t that what this is all about?

And so we graciously and gratefully accepted Robert and Nicola’s kind offer and on Friday 7 June we rolled up outside Sycamore Lodge and moved in for the week.

Sycamore Lodge, Hoscote Estate
Remarkably the only photo we have of Sycamore Lodge was taken by Reuben as we were leaving on the last day of our holiday.

It was a fabulous wee holiday cottage: three bedrooms, one en suite; a generous family bathroom; an open-plan living room and dining room, with a galley kitchen off it. It was comfortable, and as the week wore on we appreciated the space that we had away from the “big hoose”, particularly when getting the boys down to sleep at night.

The “big hoose” was a ten minutes’ walk up the drive. And boy! was it big. The 16 Californians who flew out to this remote backwater in the Borders of Scotland were accommodated there quite comfortably.

When they could find it, that is. And they weren’t driving in a vague vicinity of the place for two hours, crossing every river they could find. Whether it was at a ford or not. I’ve never seen someone so traumatized about a car journey. And don’t rely on the GPS: it directs you to Martins Bridge (which was being rebuilt):

Martins Bridge, A711 outside Roberton
Martins Bridge, A711 outside Roberton

or across another ford!

Ford near the A7, outside Roberton. Genuinely that is an official way to cross the river.
Ford near the A7, outside Roberton. Genuinely that is an authorised place to cross the river. You can just see the road on the other side of the river.

Built in the 1850s Hoscote House sits in its own 450 acre estate about a 25 minutes’ drive from Selkirk—through umpteen open fields, across many a cattle grid, and after the obligatory stand-off on the road with the local wildlife (I’ve rarely felt as nervous in my car as when I was slowly edging forward towards a young heifer with about twelve cows to my left and a rather concerned-looking bull to my right). But it was a beautiful place to spend ten days (the midges aside), with mostly great weather, and definitely with the most wonderful company.

Our boys met their American cousins for the first time and they all seemed to just click, particularly Reuben (4) with his Californian counterpart Callum (6). It was brilliant, such a joy to witness. They just took themselves off into the trees and bushes on the estate to climb and explore, to build dens and gather sticks. Even the memory of it now brings a tear to my eye. They were in their element, and we were content that they were safe… just as long as they didn’t wander too far into the sheep field on the other side of the drive.

Sheep grazing in the field at Hoscote
Sheep grazing in the field at Hoscote.

Inside the house was generous and homely: two sitting rooms (one decorated entirely with padded tartan walls); an enormous, and always far-too-hot conservatory; a small office with a seating area outside it which became Internet Corner™ as it was the only place in the house you could get a WiFi signal; a billiards room; a huge kitchen, with a to-die-for farmhouse kitchen table; and a dining room that comfortably sat all 21 of us.

The place was grand but not over-the-top, and not uncomfortably posh. It was certainly quirky with an old rifle and two bugles at the front door (perfect for announcing your arrival), and various stuffed-and-mounted animals around the place. A little odd, but rather in keeping with the place.

Bike – bridge and hill

The decision to bring my bike was a last minute one, having only discovered a couple of days before we left that our bike rack did actually fit our car (it was bought many years ago to fit to a rather smaller Vauxhall Astra hatchback). But I’m so glad I did. Each morning, sometime between 05:00 AM and 07:15 AM (depending on when I woke up) I would get up, change into my cycling gear and pedal out into the countryside.

On our first morning there I tucked the Orndance Survey map into my fluorescent yellow jacket and headed off into the mist to recce the area. I’ll cycle down to Martins Bridge, I thought to myself, just to see how it looks. It looked about two to three miles away on the map.

It wasn’t. It was nearer seven.

I could just turn around and head back, but where’s the fun in that? So out came the map and I discovered a ford (yes, that ford) with a narrow bridge to the left of it, which was only just wide enough for me to shuffle across.

Rather than riding through the ford, I decided to take the narrow bridge instead.
Rather than riding through the ford, I decided to take the narrow bridge instead.

On the other side was a hill. On the other side of that hill was Hoscote House. The contours of the map promised a climb and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Having left the house just after 05:00 AM, having had no breakfast, thinking that I’d just have a quick cycle around and be back in time for the boys waking up at 6:00 AM, I was still climbing the hill as it was approaching 07:15 AM. I remember thinking to myself, “should I be panicking now?” My main concern was that I couldn’t get in touch with Jane to let her know that I was okay. Although I had my mobile phone there was no signal.

As I climbed, and I have to admit that I got off at one point to push the bike up a particularly steep 200 meters or so, I rose above the mist and emerged into the most beautifully rolling countryside beneath a deep blue sky, scratched at here and there with wispy clouds. In the distance I could see the top of the fog that I’d ridden through and into which I would soon descend.

In the distance, the tops of clouds beneath the hill.
In the distance, the tops of clouds beneath the hill.

The eight mile climb, including through two get-off-and-open-and-close gates, led to a one mile descent. That was fun! Honking at sheep to get off the road, and racing past with a cheery “Thank you”. I rounded a corner having just passed a sign that read “cattle grid” I wondered to myself, “I wonder how far before I get to the…” BRRRRRRRR! as the cattle grid rumbling beneath my wheels provided the answer.

I rolled into the small car park outside our lodge, I dismounted, propped the bike against the wall and wobbled in through the open door. I’d clocked up about 14 miles, the longest cycle I’d enjoyed since before my various back injuries of the last two years. It was great to be back on my bike. And what a return. Over the week, and since, I’ve discovered that it has given me so much confidence in my ability on the bike. I just have to think back to that mammoth, breakfast-less climb and it assures me that I will reach the top of this hill, that I do have the energy to keep going.

Bike – Craik

Over the next few days I went out a further three times. The next trip was out to Craik, a small village in the middle of the Craik Forest and at the end of a dead-end.

After that I turned right into Craik Forest itself. I thought I’d put my mountain bike to the use that it was intended for and for 45 minutes I cycled steadily up a forest track, surrounded by thick woodland, on another glorious morning. It was hard going, but satisfying: ducking beneath overhanging branches, bunny-hopping over fallen trunks, and simply admiring the view. My plan had been to climb the track to a crossroads that I’d seen on the map then turn right and roll down the hill to approach Hoscote from the opposite direction that I’d set off from.

Conscious of the time, and my energy levels, I made a final push towards a clearing that was a few hundred metres ahead. Success! I’d reached the crossroads. Jubilant I turned the corner and … was stopped in my tracks. The path was littered with coniferous trees. Some had grown right on the edges of the track, so that when I started to cycle down it they whipped my legs and made me feel as though I was trying to cycle through a wardrobe or a car wash. And to add to the problem there were very small saplings growing down the middle of the track, between the ruts. The way ahead was impossible.

I turned round and went back down the path I’d come. It took me 45 minutes to climb up, and less than 10 minutes to descend. Mostly screaming like a little girl. “I DON’T LIKE THIS!” I heard myself shout. “I DON’T HAVE MY SPARE GLASSES WITH ME!” But actually, I really did quite enjoy it.

I’m surprised I didn’t wear my brakepads down to the metal. Even with me pulling hard on them I was still reaching 25 mph, with pot holes and branches to negotiate.

I had hoped to cycle to Selkirk one day but I simply ran out of time. So my final outing, the day before the Common Riding, was simply up an enormously steep hill to Roberton, and back down the gentler brae by the Borthwick Water. By that time I’d put in the uphill miles and so when I reached the top rather unexpectedly I said out loud, “Oh! Is that it?!”

Next time: Meeting American family, and the Selkirk Common Riding.

“Talking faith” article by my Mum in local newspaper


Every week my Mum faithfully sends me the local newspaper, the Selkirk Weekend Advertiser.

This week, on page two, was a short “Talking faith” article by “A member of St John’s” (the Scottish Episcopal Church in Selkirk). That member was my Mum, and her thought for the day ‘column’ was inspired by two of my beautiful children, Reuben and Joshua.

“Just you and me!”, said one of my three-year-old twin grandsons, contentedly trotting off to play tennis with his Mummy.

“Just you and me!” said the other twin going to the shops with his Daddy. They were experiencing individual quality time… attention… being loved. Let’s enjoy ‘just you and me’ quality time with God.

Come to me with your ears open, and you will find life. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised. Isaiah 55:3 NLT

Christmas 2011

Above: Isaac gives a knitted Santa a cuddle a few days before Christmas.

Christmas Eve

“I was very surprised that you agreed to preach at the midnight mass,” said Jane on Christmas Eve, “after you’d said last year that you were going to take a year off this year.”

“Did I say that?” I asked.

Apparently so, but I’m glad that I had forgotten because the midnight service at All Saints’, St Andrews was beautiful. The nave (where the congregation sits) was in darkness, lit by hand-held candles, there was a procession during which the baby Jesus was placed in the crib, which was then blessed. The choir was small but enthusiastic; and daring (In dulce jubilo in German). My sermon was warmly received, with another member of the clergy team saying to me afterwards that he thought that it was “spot on”, which I found encouraging.

I drove back to Anstruther around a quarter past one, glowing and thanking God. While I was waiting for the toast to pop-up at home I tweeted:

Fabulous midnight mass at All Saints, St Andrews. The good news of Jesus preached. Feeling very blessed. Happy Christmas one and all. x

I retired to bed for about four-and-a-half hours.

Christmas Day

The drive to Selkirk wasn’t quite as I had planned; particularly the 30 mph winds. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared while driving. The Forth Road Bridge was closed to high sided vehicles, buses, cars with trailers, caravans, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians: pretty much everybody apart from us. I crept across the almost deserted bridge at 30 mph, driving mostly down the line between the lanes.

Just south of Edinburgh, at Newtongrange we discovered that Isaac had a very dodgy tummy. And that we’d forgotten to pack a change of clothes. He turned up to St John’s in Selkirk wearing his pyjamas: a George Pig (Peppa’s brother) fleecy sleep suit. Very sweet.

Jane stayed at my Mum’s to prepare Christmas lunch while the rest of us (minus Reuben, who wanted to stay with Mummy) went to church.

We had Christmas lunch round a wallpaper-pasting table covered in a table cloth, which was a great idea and fit the space perfectly. Jane’s lunch was cooked to perfection—even the parsnips in honey and mustard which always go wrong for us.

Before and after lunch presents were opened, mostly by Reuben and Joshua regardless of whose name was on the label—they were so excited, it was great. And all too soon we were packing up bags and boxes and loading up the car again for the equally-windy drive back to Fife.

Once back home the boys all transferred effortlessly (and for us thankfully) from the car to their beds. We unpacked the car, reheated some Christmas dinner and crashed out in front of the telly to watch the season finalé of Merlin that we’d recorded from the night before.

Then bed.

Boxing Day

Above: Joshua (left) and Reuben rip open a present on Boxing Day morning.

This was our stay-at-home day, with the majority of Reuben, Joshua and Isaac’s presents still to open. It was nice to stretch out their presents over the last two days rather than overwhelming them with everything all at once.

Jane had picked up a big box of action figures: underwater, mountain, space, etc. which you can see Reuben and Joshua opening in the photograph above. They have loved playing with them all day. At one point they were both lying on top of the dining room table totally engrossed in their play: fabulous!

It was also a tired day, as the busyness of the last few days caught up with us. Jane crashed out on the sofa around mid-day; I went for a sleep mid-afternoon; Reuben fell asleep on the armchair just before dinner.

That said, bedtime still took about three-and-a-half hours. And everybody wanted Mummy to put them to bed.

And to be honest, that’s where I should be now, so I’m going to be uncharacteristically sensible and catch up with as much sleep as I can get. That is, after all, the only thing that I asked for for Christmas: a sleep.

Night, night! And Happy Christmas!

Isaac’s baptism cake


On Sunday morning we set off at 07:35 for Selkirk in the Scottish Borders—where I grew up, and where my Mum and sister still live—to celebrate Isaac’s baptism.

We chose Selkirk because my sister is really unwell and is unable to travel long distances, and so wanting her to be a part of it we travelled to her, to the church of St John the Evangelist where I had been baptised around 14,450 days earlier.

After the baptism the cake appeared: a magnificent Noah’s Ark cake <whisper>from Marks & Spencer</whisper>.

Reuben, Joshua and Isaac were absolute stars the whole day, I was so proud of them all.

A lovely day with friends and family, and many prayers of thanks to God.