It's impossible for a woman go away and not return with some new clothes and accessories! Buying them is all part of the holiday. And it may even be driven by genuine need (well, sometimes!).
While in Scotland I bought a souvenir whisky glass, two pairs of leisure pants, some casual shoes, a Philips Ladyshave electric razor, one or two books, and a set of melamine dinner plates. And with money I had left over - because I was very good, and stayed within my holiday budget - I bought a new handbag yesterday, which I count as a 'holiday' purchase. And indeed it would have been very nice to have it while actually away.
So this post, the first in a little while, is mostly about what I brought back from what I consider to be the best holiday I've ever yet had on my own. But I promise to digress a bit too.
It's also the first of a series of posts about where I went, and the things I saw, or the things I experienced. But not necessarily in a straightforward, chronological sequence - which might get boring, no matter how attractive the accompanying photos might be. The aim will be to link the place or experience or happening with a wider, ongoing topic of more general interest. First, though, let's present my trophies!
I set off from Sussex, tucked away right down there in the south-east of England, on 27th May. By 1st June I'd reached southern Aberdeenshire - pitching the caravan at Stonehaven, a likeable town on the coast south of the big city of Aberdeen. Here's a view of Stonehaven from near its hilltop war memorial:
It's a holiday place in its own right, but just as much a commuter town for go-ahead, ever-expanding and ever-developing Aberdeen. To be honest, Stonehaven hasn't got the wonderful collection of local shops and services that any of the dozens of commuter towns around a typical big English city would have. And some of its local shops make dubious claims to fame - this fish-and-chip shop for instance, which says it's the birthplace of the Deep Fried Mars Bar:
That's not something I'd be especially proud of, and it's a delicacy I certainly wouldn't want to try. Still, on the whole Stonehaven presents a pleasant, honest, cheerful face to the world. I found a brilliant butchers shop (Charles McHardy Butchers) from where I bought half a dozen delicious sausages, and a sausagemeat-in-pastry roly-poly that baked up beautifully back at the caravan. Here's shots of both, which if nothing else demonstrate that I do make good use of both the caravan's freezer and the caravan's gas oven:
Stonehaven also had a good shoe shop, a branch of D E Shoes. I went in there looking for an inexpensive but comfortable pair of lightweight casual shoes suitable for wearing all day. In particular, they would have to be good for tramping the granite streets of the Granite City (i.e. Aberdeen) for hours on end, and yet still leave me begging for further walking in the evening. Thus I discovered the range of walking-shoes made by Skechers. I tried on this black pair, and was so wowed with how light and comfortable they were that I rejected all the others I'd considered, and bought them. Even though they cost a purse-busting £60.
When I was little, and at junior school, kids wore this kind of fabric-and-rubber shoe all the time. We called them 'daps'. This is the modern high-tech version for discerning (and aerobic) adults. I settled for black because it would go with everything, but they did the shoe in other colours like blue, pink, orange and lime green. I'll be on the lookout in Brighton for another pair in one of those colours. They are heavenly to wear.
I was at Stonehaven for three nights. The Caravan Club Site there was just off the road that ran behind the beach, and you could hardly have been closer to the sea. You were certainly within earshot. The Club had taken the site over from the local council and completely redeveloped it, so that nothing on it was more than three years old. It was state-of-the-art so far as Club sites went, the general standard being impeccable. I hadn't stayed on such a spanking-new site since pitching with M--- on the municipal site at Bluff at the southern end of South Island in New Zealand in 2007. Here's a shot showing Stonehaven's sand-and-rock beach generally, although the main subject in the foreground is an artwork, presumably official - a trawler welded together from bits of tinplate and odds and ends:
Fishing is a constant theme in these parts, although nowadays water-based leisure and (of course) oil predominate. Aberdeen is the premier (indeed world-class) oil-platform servicing port in Scotland, and it was there that my next purchases came from.
Aberdeen has three major shopping centres. The newest (Union Square) is next to the station. I first had a good look at the station. It had been modernised and was very bright and pleasant, although a bit over-large for the city's present needs, Aberdeen having lost most of the lines that fifty years ago radiated out into the hinterland, such as the Deeside line to Banchory and Ballater, and the lines to coastal towns like Peterhead and Fraserburgh. So fewer platforms and a smaller station could have been justified. But no doubt city pride and city money saved the station just as it was, and I have to admit it's an impressive place to be, even if most of the time it looks rather empty:
Anyway, those two pairs of leisure pants. In the Union Square Shopping Centre was a big branch of Fat Face, one of my favourite shops. I spent an hour there trying various things on. Three lovely young girls assisted me. One bore a striking resemblance to Jerry Hall, the famous Texan model who had a fling with Brian Ferry in the late 1970s, then married Mick Jagger (and stayed married to him for a long time until Mr Jagger did naughty things with a Brazilian nymphette). Here's a poster image of Jerry Hall in the late 1990s (advertising, as it happens, fabric softener tablets):
I told the girl who Jerry Hall was, and she could see that it was all a compliment, but unfortunately I did not have that picture on my phone to show her. (It's there now)
But the main lady acting as almost my personal shopper was from Knaresborough in Yorkshire and named Sarah. She gave me invaluable input on the pants. I hadn't bought this type of garment for some time, and I was doubtful about whether they really suited me. But she convinced me that they looked great, and weren't just an inadequate disguise for my midriff bloat. I asked her what she was doing so far north from Yorkshire. I should have easily guessed: her husband had a shore job in the oil industry, and they had come north into Scotland for the great money on offer. They lived in Stonehaven. She loved the life up in Aberdeenshire, and it wasn't simply the clean air, and having all the conveniences of a vigorous city on her doorstep.
Both pants are navy blue. One has buff-coloured stars on it, the other a very colourful medley of tropical fruit and flowers. I wore the colourful one a few days later in Huntly, in another part of Aberdeenshire, and it must have seemed very exotic for that small town. In fact a girl on a bike called Shona skidded to a halt by me and told me how summery I looked. I explained to her that I was on holiday, and this was partly why I was dressed for the beach. She was amazed that I lived in Sussex, so many hundreds of miles away to the south.
I am now of course a complete convert to slightly baggy leisure pants. They are so comfortable, and I don't know why I've stuck with leggings for so long. Leggings have their place of course; and three months from now I will be back in them. But just at the moment I want to wear colourful things that go with warm sunny days.
And what better accessory could there be for summer days than a bright red handbag? Yesterday, after a fringe trim at Trevor Sorbie in Brighton, I saw such a bag in the window of Karen Millen nearby. They were having a sale. I didn't hesitate. I took an instant liking to the bag, and badly wanted to examine it. The sale price was a whopping £145. But it was reduced from an even more purse-exploding £230. That wasn't of course Mulberry money, which was a consolation. And it certainly wasn't Prada money (and I should know, having spent £910 on a Prada bag in early 2009). Still, even £145 was enough to make one hesitate. A girl named Danielle was serving me, and we talked about it. I was tempted, but I told her frankly that even though the bag appealed strongly to me, and was a quality creation, and was beautifully finished and stitched, and was well-designed, and above all a wonderful amazing red, I was sticking to my plan, and seeing first what Fat Face up the road had. She said they had just two examples of that bag left: the one in the window, and this one. She could put it by for the next hour...? Thus was the arrangement. I was free to walk away.
But of course I was smitten, and came back after trying more stuff on at Fat Face, but not buying anything. This time, I examined the bag even more thoroughly, and the one from the window, before finally saying yes.
Oh well! There went the money I'd not spent on holiday, that could have been saved instead...
Once home, I unpacked the bag, and transferred purse, phone, camera, spare camera battery, cosmetic bag, tissues and comb to it. All the vital stuff.
As you can see, the bag has plenty of structure - three main compartments, the centre one being large enough for a cardigan or spare pair of shoes, a zip-up compartment (with a buttery-smooth zip) for things that need to be kept out of sight, and two pockets for little items like tickets or a folded-up shopping list. the black interior lining is stout and strong and high-quality. All compartment fastenings are magnetic. It has four metal studs on the bottom side. The leather feels soft and luxurious.
The design is brilliantly simple: there is no bling whatever. Compare it, for instance with these red bags I saw in Florence in 2009:
I mean, these 2009 bags are gorgeous, almost viscerally red, and the finish is superb, but look at the bling! Not so good. Whereas my new Karen Millen is a study in clean design.
Two points must be addressed.
First, the nature of handbags is that they don't like being filled up with heavy things. This bag can't carry the weight that my orange cross-body bag can, such as a bottle of wine. But that's no bad thing. It'll teach me to keep the contents few and lightweight. I can always switch to the orange cross-body bag if it's the more suitable bag for the occasion, or (as I did this morning) take along my Cath Kidston shopping bag to carry larger, awkward items in.
Second, is red too bright a colour? And a rather orangey red at that? Do I want to stand out? Well, there will be outfits it won't look right with; and occasions when 'red' will not do. But then I have two nice black bags for that - the glitzy Prada (if the occasion is posh or important) or the plainer Osprey (for any other time). Or indeed the faithful, commodious and ever-versatile orange cross-body bag, which although now showing signs of wear, is nevertheless building up 'character' in the leather, which has become naturally creased, buffed and darkened through use.
Enough of these possible cavils. I like this bag very much, and it will be invaluable for impersonations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Budget Day. You know, when he holds up the red despatch box for the cameras.
Very similar, really!
I'll cover the rest of my holiday purchases in other posts.