Fond memories of kind Queen Mother

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 April, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 April, 2002, 12:00am

It was a typical late autumn day in Caithness.

The sun was shining fit to split the trees - if there had been any around to split. In the north of Scotland, there is hardly a day without sunshine and never one without wind. Not the best kind of conditions to green up an almost barren land.

To brighten up my old aunt's garden and help fend off the chill winds, my son and I had brought a couple of holly tree windbreakers from the Isle of Skye to plant out front.

As I laboured to strip the hessian off the tree roots and the boy dug furiously into the hardened soil, a voice suddenly, sweetly said, 'And what are you doing, young man?'

I didn't bother to look up but my son, quick as a flash replied, 'Planting my auntie's holly tree, missus.'

The Queen Mum, on an informal visit to the hamlet of Haster, by Wick, said, 'I hope it takes, because even at the Castle of Mey we have to fight to keep the soil on the ground.'

'I've got two trees, missus. Would you like one?' said the boy.

'Well, that's very kind of you. Yes, I will. That will give us two chances for one of them to survive, won't it.'

The former Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, of impeccable Scottish ancestry, turned gracefully to my aunt in the front garden and said, 'And you will need protection for your peonies all along the front row. I suggest a privet hedge.'

'Yes, ma'am. But I rarely get down to Inverness these days,' said Aunt Jenny, a decade younger than her royal visitor. A few more pleasantries and the Queen Mother drove off with her devoted chauffeur in her black Rolls Royce - with Iain's tree sticking out of the boot.

Three weeks later, Aunt Jenny was thrilled when the chauffeur turned up with a full privet hedge that would stretch for metres, stuffed into cardboard Dubonnet, Gilbey's gin and HP sauce boxes.

'A gift for you ma'am, from my ma'am,' the driver said.




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