Sunday, 3 March 2013

Rothesay and Lena Zavaroni

I've been a curious person all my life. Some will of course leap to an interpretation of that statement which reflects on my very questionable character! But I mean that I'm consumed with a wish to see places and find out what they are really like. In this endeavour, I have to bless Google Street View. If time and money are limited, or if extensive travel is daunting or exhausting, then Street View can take you to most places in Europe, America and Australasia.

There are some curious exceptions. When I last looked, there was no Street View in Reykjavik in Iceland. But I was able to drive through Alice Springs in the red heart of Australia; Alliance and Chadron in Nebraska; Prince Rupert in British Columbia; Yarmouth in Nova Scotia, and even tiny cut-off Rigolet in Labrador. Remarkable.

Much closer to home, but still places that are probably too far away or inaccessible for me to ever go there, I've looked around Stornoway on Lewis, Lerwick in Shetland, and Kirkwall in Orkney. It's not hard to get a real 'feel' for a place with Street View, and to decide whether or not you'd like to visit in person. I went so far as to see what Trip Advisor had to say about places to stay and eat in Kirkwall, if I didn't actually take the caravan all the way up there one day, and pitch at the Pickaquoy Leisure Centre caravan site.

Today I visited the Isle of Bute, in the Firth of Clyde, and specifically Rothesay. I hadn't 'gone there' before - perhaps because it was so close to Glasgow, and therefore possibly a bit 'ordinary'. I was wrong. Certainly, the mainland is just across the water, and in the town centre is the spot where a CalMac vehicle and passenger ferry will take you hourly to Wemyss Bay and the electric trains - so that the Big City shops and facilities of Glasgow are only two hours away. In that sense, Rothesay (the only town on Bute) might count as a distant suburb. But really it's in another world, living life at a slower, sunnier, island pace. I thought it was very attractive, very Victorian, a bit like a Scottish island version of Swanage in Dorset, but with a much grander backdrop.

I started my 'tour' just outside Port Bannatyne on the north shore of the large bay on which Rothesay lies, then travelled in along the coast road, through the town centre, and along as far as Craigmore. About three miles of non-stop Victorian villas, the ones with the most spacious grounds being at Craigmore, which seemed to be the posh end. But it was all inviting. No wonder that Rothesay was such a popular place for Glaswegian day trippers in decades gone by! I'd say it was more a residential and care home retreat than a tourist honeypot nowadays, but there were still plenty of holiday folk to be seen in the Street View sequences, and Google clearly caught the place on a warm and blue-sky day. Away from the sea front, the shopping streets were thronged; and I found where Somerfield (now the Co-op?) was: the necessary decent supermarket. I thought what a clean-looking and attractive place it was.

Along the front were neat civic gardens with palm trees in them - testimony to the mild climate - and at the Port Ballantyne end was a pink-painted café offering 'Teas & coffees' and 'Light meals'. It was called Zavaroni's. Of course. There is a strong Italian presence in this part of Scotland, and there were other Italian-sounding shops (such as a newsagents called Toffoletti) further along.

But Zavaroni...I couldn't help recalling poor Lena Zavaroni. This little girl from Rothesay was only ten when her singing and performing abilities were discovered in 1973. She was a hit on Hughie Green's TV talent show Opportunity Knocks! and an immediate chart success with a slightly raucous old-time song that swept the nation. For years afterwards she was up there with the stars. It wasn't at all my kind of music, but while she looked young and cute and full of life she won many hearts, sold many records, and was hot stuff commercially. However, it ended in tragedy. From early on, Lena suffered from a poor self-image, wrongly thinking that her short body was too fat, and she fell victim to a debilitating anorexia nervosa. She died in 1999, following complications from a brain operation at Cardiff, her career by then long over, but not her dreadful illness. Here are three versions of her story and its aftermath:

It's so sad. The lure and destructive pressures of a showbiz career! Not many can survive it. But the victims-to-be still dream, and always will.


  1. I've been to the Isle of Bute, it's a little old-fashioned in places but off the beaten track it has some magical spots.

    I suspect your caravan might not be so easy to accommodate there though.

  2. I love Google Earth and use it a lot when working. I like to see what places look like today. Some hotels and restaurants are still going strong 100 years later.

    The saddest was a super new village hall, villagers all in fancy dress smiling for the photographer. 80 years on it's an unsightly shell on the outskirts of town...

    It's a shame that so many talented child stars finish life unhappy and lost. I didn't realise that Lena Zavaroni had died. She didn't catch on across the Channel it seems.


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