Monday, June 29, 2009

Blessing Blackburn ~ Installment 2

"Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys." (Exodus 40:36)

Note: To see the slide show with larger photos at your own pace, click on the image and you will be linked to the source.

Saturday, 6/27/09
3:45 pm in Armadale, near Blackburn, West Lothian

David arrived at the Happy Valley Hotel promptly at 10:00, and we were still asleep. How horrifying to check the local time on my cell phone, to discover that it was almost 11:00! Showering quickly, I ran to my handy travel hair dryer, plugged it into the adaptor, turned the little screw to 220 and was amazed at the cyclonic hot winds that soon rendered the hair dryer useless. Have you ever wondered what would happen if you plugged an American appliance into a foreign outlet, even with an adapter? Wonder no more. The travel dryer is the only electrical appliance that didn’t survive our Atlantic crossing. Thank the Lord for the cordless butane curling iron that had made it through security. I needn’t have worried much about the hair, because out in the umbrella-proof Scotland mist the styling soon reverted to that of the long-haired sheep pixeling the green pastures around Blackburn.

After breakfast at the café in the little mall, we bought some items at the co-op grocery store and established that Susan, indeed, shopped there regularly. We asked if there were other business areas in town, and the cashier generously listed several locations that we didn’t understand. We decided to go to Finlaystone on our own tomorrow, and on our way out of the Happy Valley in search of an internet connection, we found David in the pub and profusely apologized (he had already wisely assumed jet lag).

Recalling the librarian’s instructions from yesterday, we walked Susan-like to the bus stop and immediately caught a very modern little bus full of well-dressed ladies on their way to the next village, Whitburn. They all said the library in Whitburn (which we knew had wi-fi) was closed until Monday, but anyway we would enjoy Gala Day in the village! After allowing the bus driver to fish through my coin purse for the proper fare, we arrived ten minutes later in a literal business district festooned with banners and Scottish flags. We noticed the Lothian office of the Scottish Parliament, near the library with its large internet hotspot banner in the window. It had closed about an hour earlier, but we saw a computer shop across the street and went in to ask for an internet connection. The owner kindly referred us to the internet café in Bathgate on Bridge Street (I think), just a short bus ride away. We walked to the bus stop again, jumped on the Bathgate-bound bus, paid all by ourselves, drove off on the road lined with sheep-filled pastures, and determined that the driver had never heard of Bridge Street. But at the next stop a guy and four little kids boarded and, hearing of our plight, insisted that there was an internet café in Armadale! It’s a good thing this collection of villages is rather compact! At Armadale, the gentleman explained the route in language that was completely understandable twenty percent of the time, and then just led us all the way to the internet café at Computer Solutions. That phrase translated well enough. It turns out that our rescuer and his brothers had sung with “our lassie” at the Happy Valley and other places, and he was thrilled at her success.

Here at the internet café, with its Dell computers, my own Dell laptop is now connected by wi-fi and I hope to file my blog post within minutes. I didn’t ask about the hourly rate, because at this point I don’t care how much it costs. Del gave the manager a button with Pebbles’ picture on it, and he said his own cat had been named Pebbles. Alas, he is not a Susan fan, but he is forgiven! Soon we shall return to the Happy Valley in Blackburn, glad for our unplanned bus tour of the collection of villages. We hope to keep you posted sometime tomorrow, during or after our bus trip to Del’s castle west of Glasgow! (He’s a part-owner of Dell computers, you know.)

Sunday, 6/28/09
10:36 am on the train to Glasgow

On the way home to Blackburn from Armadale, we learned that buses require exact fare. We had jumped on the bus with our twenty-pound note, only to jump back off in search of change for the fare that was less than five pounds. But this gave us an opportunity to buy some more Smarties and some cookies in a small grocery store, and to meet a young lassie at the bus stop while we were waiting again. She was from another village, and wanted to visit New York! Then she told us that she had gone with a man for five years, and he had left her, and then another man for several months, and he had left her. She wondered if there was anyone who would not leave her. I quietly said one sentence, “Honestly, you need Jesus – He will love you and never leave you.” After chatting for a while longer, she decided the bus she wanted was at another stop, so off she went down the street. When our bus arrived, there she was on the bus! I gave her my card, with a blog address,, and she took it appreciatively.

The bus went through Bathgate village, which is the biggest that we saw yesterday (Blackburn is the smallest). At one of the bus stops, who should board but our friend the pool player from the Happy Valley. Especially when I see people “coincidentally” more than once, I know that God wants me to pray for them. Jock is his name. He asked if we would be in the pub in the evening, and if perhaps we could play some pool again. I apologized for beating him, and said he was really a very good player and I just had some good breaks that time. Later we happened to see him at the small mall on our way to buy fish and chips for dinner. Back at the pub, Del gave him a new knit cap with a USA emblem – exactly the style and color Jock always wears – that Del had happened to pack just in case. Jock had prepared a CD for us, with all of Susan’s main pre-tour videos, so it was a nice exchange.

After eating our fish and chips seated in the small mall, called The Mill Centre, we thought it would be interesting to try to trace Susan’s route back home. She would have taken a much more direct route, whereas we took a number of wrong turns. Once I casually asked a young lady where a particular street was. She gave me directions and said, “You’ll find Susan’s house there.” How could she possibly have known? The camera? The accent? Del finally gave up the search when it seemed we were close to the Happy Valley, and he went home. I retraced some steps and realized we had passed Susan’s house without noticing because we were looking on the wrong side of the street. But that is the story of our lives in Scotland!

Susan’s house is special because it is hers. Taking a few photos, I tried to imagine living in one home in one village for 48 years, walking the same roads, seeing the same people, knowing every life story. There is a pleasant security in that anchor. After my own parents passed away 13 and 25 years ago, and Del’s long before, none of our widely-scattered siblings have all gathered for, say, Thanksgiving or Christmas in one traditional place with a matriarch as we had before. Independence has its limitations.

Next I decided to trace Susan’s route from her home to the Happy Valley Hotel for lemonade and karaoke. It would have been a brief straight walk with one little turn and then a diagonal across a small park. But on the way, near the school, a group of young girls stopped me and began asking all kinds of questions. They wanted a photo, and they wanted to hear my American accent because they had never met an American before. They all loved Susan and tried in various ways to sing I Dreamed A Dream. One girl had already seen us on the bus earlier, and her dad already knew about us from the Happy Valley. The girls noticed my Susan lapel button and asked if I had more. Yes, yes, I said I would go back to my room and bring them some buttons. Then they asked me to sing a song. In real life, because of my calling, I usually sing in Russian and always about Biblical themes. So I sang The Lord’s Prayer in English, and asked if they knew the words. Most could recite the words, and I showed them in my compact Bible where Jesus had spoken them. Then they asked me to sing the same song in Russian. When some boys came over, they asked me to sing it again in English. They said I sounded like Susan. No way, I said! The boys asked for another song, and in Hebrew and Russian I sang a version of Psalm 23 and read the text in English, “The Lord is my Shepherd…” Finally, I broke away and went back to my room and got enough buttons for everyone. By then, more kids had arrived, and I went back and forth to get a few more buttons for them all. Bless their hearts, the next generation of Blackburn villagers!

Returning to the Happy Valley for the evening, I fell asleep for a few minutes that turned into a few hours, after which I prepared our photos just in case Finlaystone has a wi-fi connection. Here’s hoping!

Monday, 6/29/09
1:30 pm in Blackburn

Yesterday’s trip to Finlaystone, west of Glasgow, was delightful and mostly trouble-free. We caught a sleek double-decker bus to Bathgate, instructed by a young lady at the bus stop that our best option was to take a train to Glasgow by way of Edinburgh. But at the Bathgate train station we discovered that their trains were not running on Sunday. A man who happened to be there said we should take a taxi to Linlithgow to catch the Glasgow-bound train. A taxi driver happened to be parked nearby, and he drove us through green meadows to the modern station in larger Linlithgow, the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots. The train was wonderfully modern and upholstered, smooth and quiet on the tracks. How totally different from the subway trains in New York City! Many of the seats had tables, just right for a laptop!

At Queens Station in Glasgow, our mission was to find a bus to Langbank, the village near which Finlaystone castle is located. Why Finlaystone? It is the home of George MacMillan, chief of the Scottish clan to which thousands worldwide belong – including Del (spelled with a Mc). There were as many different transport instructions as there were people to ask. We waited unsuccessfully for the right bus from Queens Station, and finally acted on one man’s advice to walk to Central Station several blocks away. Glasgow is big and impressive and busy, and I thought of Susan in January coming here alone by bus from her little village, finding her way to the audition in an imposing auditorium, sitting and waiting for hours for her big break, entering the stage before a skeptical crowd, confiding her dream to mockers, and within a few glorious moments becoming the new Queen of Scotland and eventually the planet! God bless her!

At Central Station, at last we asked the person who gave us just the information we needed – a helpful policeman in his office. He found a detailed map, made copies and told us exactly which train to take to the station nearest to Finlaystone. He walked us to the right platform, and within a few minutes, we were on our way to Langbank, from which we then walked more than two miles past the village and through the grounds to the castle.

Finlaystone was built about 600 years ago, and has been the home of three families. It is said that the famous reformer John Knox gave communion to one of the families in 1556, under a yew tree that still exists on the vast, beautifully landscaped grounds. The public is welcome to tour the lovely and varied gardens, and by appointment the castle, which is now occupied by three generations of the MacMillan family. Del and I did not make it into the castle, but we did receive a twenty-percent McMillan discount at the gift shop and a tour of the private Clan MacMillan room with its interesting displays, artifacts and references. The only disappointment was that there was no wi-fi connection.

Finishing our Finlaystone day, we walked back two miles to the train station, retraced our route in Glasgow from one station to the other, grabbed a Whopper at Burger King, sped back to Linlithgow, asked some nice people to call a taxi, rode directly to Blackburn, and got to the evening service at Blackburn Gospel Hall just in time for the guest preacher to give his message from Psalm 90. His English was so understandable, and he had such a gracious yet forthright manner of speaking life principles from the Bible. Afterward, a lovely couple invited us to their home to eat, along with some other wise and kind people who regularly gather there after church on Sunday nights. We were so happy to visit with these Scots who really have a heart for Blackburn. They all appreciate Susan and were glad to learn that many of us around the world are praying for her and caring about Blackburn. We spoke as volunteer emissaries about the interest of many of Susan’s global fans, to bless Blackburn in ways that will widely benefit the residents of the village. It was very good to have an opportunity to think through the possibilities of a practical and reliable process through which fans around the world could connect to Blackburn community leaders with the same vision. During the next few days, we hope to explore some of those possibilities.

Monday, 6/29/09
4:35 pm in Bathgate

Passing through the pub on our way out, one of the pubsters motioned us over to greet Susan’s brother John. Gentle and trim, he stood up and spoke with us for several minutes. He had recently been interviewed by People magazine, and the reporter had confirmed that Americans love Susan Boyle! John agreed, noting that 95 percent of the fan mail coming to the house is from America. He appreciated the open-hearted frankness of so many. Of course he knows about the many loving fans from around the world, too. He said Susan is singing in Ireland, and the BGT tour and commitment will end on Sunday. We said we hoped she could spend some time resting at home before her next events. John will be here again and will look at the book of Blessing Blackburn greetings from fans.

Jackie was there, and said that she had tried to find Susan’s Pub on YouTube but so far was unable to do so. I wrote out the proper details, and she will try again. In the meantime, we ourselves would try to find a wi-fi connection. Our hope was a bus ride away, and indeed we found an internet café – yes, on Bridge Street in Bathgate.


  1. Leslie,

    I amd soooo jealoussss!!!

    I love you're play by play blog on your Blackburn visit. I knew you would soak it all in. It sounds so very wholesome and grassroots.

    I can't wait to visit the village that produced a citizen like Susan. They are a very dignified, honorable, hardworking, proud people. As well they should be.

    Give Jackie my regards. I'd love to talk to her. She strikes me as a very down to earth no nonsense person. So very NY.

    Her brother John who is older was the one very critical of the show not protecting Susan from the tabloids. He had said he appreciates all Simon had done and would like to thank him in person, but, he was very angry at the show.

    Her brother Gerry, who seems to be closer to Susan since he's 53 and closer to Susan's age, was the one giving the TV interviews and speaking for her while she wasn't well and seemed a lot more upbeat about the media and the show. So very much like Susan who refuses to see herself as a victim, which she has been, and seems to be more or a forward thinker, than, one who let's the past paralyze her.

    I think he lives in East Lothian. He was the one Susan went to visit by bus, telling him about the audtion and stating she though she did well, then, went home, had fish and chips and went to bed.

    What an unassuming woman. Gotta love her.

    Love and prayers, for you and Del and wishingyou success in your purpose there.

    I will send Jackie a PM on your yt account.

    God Bless.

  2. Oh, Leslie,---this report is the next best thing to walking with you and Del through your many adventures in Scotland! How I would love to see what you're seeing and hear all the many voices of the people you meet! Thank you, thank you for taking the time/making the effort to keep us informed of all you experience there. It's SO very much appreciated! I've read and re-read every word----and long for the details of the next installment! Stay well and continue to enjoy your trip! (WAMcKinley)

  3. Leslie, I am living this great journey of yorus through you. I come everyday to see if there are updates. Love everything you have written and everything you have done. Can hardly wait for pictures.

  4. Thanks so much for posting these stories about your adventures.

    It sounds like your journey's have been quite fruitful so far.

    Best wishes to both of you.

    Regards; Terry (PolarBear597)

    - Check your messages on YT. BST has changed the profile to just allow friends to post.

  5. This is a great read.You are a wonderful writer,I feel like I've been there too.How nice to get to meet Susan's brother and her friends!
    I keep thinking about those yummy fish and chips,I'm from Maine ,so I know ,you know ,I know all about good fish!Just curious,do they eat it with tartar sauce if not ,what do they put on it,anything?

  6. Wonder Twin Power! Thanks so much for the story and pictures. GBY-DC-ARILY.

  7. Hi Leslie,
    Thank you very much for this wonderful block and the beautiful pictures, your doing a great job.
    It looks like your having a very good time.Thanks for shearing.
    See you back soon , Take care and come home safely.

  8. Re : Patricia's Art

    I am from the village next to Blackburn and in reply to your querie about fish and tartar sauce I can tell you that we eat it with a special 'chippy' sauce which is brown sauce mixed with vinegar ... Tasty !!!

  9. I am enjoying reading your account of your time in Scotland.

    I have a Dell. Actually we have 3 Dell computers. 2 desk and mine is a laptop. It makes it a lot harder when you're in places where there is no wifi doesn't it?

    It's neat how God has used you to touch people's lives.

    The scottish accent is difficult to understand, I have difficulty when listening to Susan, but I find it delightful. It has so much color.

    Blessings to you, Lisa Kuechler (calicoskittens)

  10. I was amused about the comment re the girl at the bus stop. Sounds to me like she was uncomfortable with the religious bent of the conversation and walked up to the next bus stop to avoid it. Scottish people don't go in much for public discussions about their religious beliefs.

  11. Hi, Anonymous July 12! I wish you had been there! After the one comment about Jesus, the girl still kept talking and talking with us, doing most of the talking in fact. She was so happy to speak with Americans, asking all about New York, wanting to visit, asking if we could understand all of her words, noting that she could understand everything that we said, happy to receive a Susan button. After tens of minutes waiting for the bus, she called her friend because the bus was later than she expected, the friend was waiting, and she thought she might be at the wrong stop (we were not in her home village). After debating for a while about maybe missing the correct bus when it came, she finally decided to try another stop around the corner on a different street. But then, when our bus came, there she was on the same bus and we shared a quiet laugh and wave. All completely friendly, as were all of our conversations in Scotland! Guess you just had to be there!