There is a sign, on the banks of the Tay river, – in the grounds of Dunkeld House, in Perthshire, in bonny Scotland – asking visitors not to throw anything in the river because it may “upset” the salmon. Reading the sign, I am prone to wonder what the salmon thought, when mum’s friend Audrey, waded out into the river at low tide on Sunday 23 April 2011, and cast mum’s ashes out into the flow, whilst giving a hearty rendition of the Vera Lynn wartime classic “We’ll Meet Again.”
I often imagine some pensioner, opening up a tin of “John West “salmon for their Sunday tea, and finding bits of my incinerated mother, mixed in with the prime pink salmon flesh. As we all know from the adverts “John West only selects the best”, so I daresay they take only prime Scottish wild salmon, and why wouldn’t they take my mum as well?
Dunkeld house –was built as a summer residence by George Murray, the 6th Duke of Atholl. It is also home to the Beatrix Potter memorial, as she, who unleashed Peter Rabbit on the Victorian world, spent much time writing here.
Mum was never a great fan of Beatrix Potter – she hated all those “classics” where animals were portrayed with human traits. When we were kids Beatrix Potter was banned from the house. As a girl, mum loathed Disney – Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and other humanimals of the Disney ilk. When her dad, (my grandfather) would bring home Disney comics, my mum would (so she told me) sit in her bedroom and systematically rip them to pieces.
Of course if mum went to Dunkeld House, it was not for Ms Potter, but for the copious and delicious cream teas.
At this juncture I have to say that, as with many former stately homes, Dunkeld House is now a hotel. It is part of the Hilton chain.
On mum’s summer trips to see her cousin in Dundee, a drive out to Dunkeld house for a mammoth cream tea was a tradition. Scones and sandwiches apart, mum also loved the grounds. It only seemed right and proper to scatter mum somewhere that she liked – the beautiful banks of the Tay at Dunkeld, as opposed to the memorial garden at Beckenham Crematorium.
Mum and I used to have good old chats about “life’s last great journey”, (mum’s expression to avoid the D word”)
Burial was never a serious option.
“Ooh no. I don’t want to be buried, especially round here. I don’t really know anyone. I don’t fancy winding up in a cramped council cemetery with loads of people I don’t know. Anyway, the local cemetery’s so noisy now that they’ve built the tramline next door. I’d never get any peace.”
Spending eternity next to a tramline. If you have the choice to do different.
“I want cremating.” She announced. “I don’t care where you cremate me.”
I said I’d take mum to Corsica and scatter her. She’d always loved our holidays there. After a couple of days in the Corsican sun and fresh air, my “infirm” and “one lunged mum” would be striding around without her walking sticks. Besides she liked the idea of going to Corsica, because not many Brits went there and this made it “exclusive”
“I’m off to see my son at his villa.” She once told a fellow passenger on the London to Calvi flight. (For villa, read cramped self catering flat.)
“No, Corsica’s nice for a holiday, but I wouldn’t want to live there. You must feel awfully cut off in winter living on an island.”
“I’ll scatter you in a vineyard”
Mum toys with the idea.
“Nice, but it’s not home. I want to go home. ”
Home is (or was) Scotland – Glasgow to be precise. Mum said she was a Kelvinside girl – at least she could do the “pan loaf” accent.
“How do you fancy being scattered off a Clyde steamer?” I ask in enthusiastic tones, rather proud of this brainwave
“Not sure if they have Clyde Steamers anymore,” says mum, “but you can take a sail down the Clyde and scatter me as you go.”
Then mum had second thoughts. She hadn’t been back to Glasgow since the nineteen seventies.
“Scatter me somewhere in Scotland that feels like home. Scatter me somewhere that I’ve been happy. Dunkeld’s nice. My cousin jean scatters all her family up around the abbey, so I won’t be alone.”
And so, we are off on our travels to mum’s final resting place.