Thursday, September 3, 2009

Blessing Blackburn ~ The Sequel ~ Installment 2

"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)

Thursday, 9/3/09
3:05 pm in Blackburn, Scotland

The days have flown by since I last posted! It was with fond memories of little Blackburn that I went from international bank to international bank in gargantuan Brooklyn, unable to exchange dollars for pounds without waiting a few days for my small order to be filled. How simple the exchange had been in Blackburn, with the option of either the counter at the post office or the ATM near the door. Still, I decided not to risk everything on availability of funds in Blackburn, so I made plans to exchange at JFK enough funds for my room and a few meals and bus rides, and the rest as needed in Blackburn.

Packing was so simple! Laptop (check), purse (check) and canvas bag smaller than a cat carrier (check) were all that I needed! My dear immigrant “mamochka” Gulia had provided something special for Marie and me (more on that later), and even the three extra items for my twin fit into my bag. The heaviest load between the two of us would be the 11 copies of Harper’s Bazaar, weighing a total of 22 pounds, which Marie had purchased as gifts for people in Blackburn.

On the first day of September, Del drove me the 15 miles from our home in Brooklyn to JFK Airport in Queens (all within a small section of New York City), and with a hug and a kiss and a prayer dropped me off at one of the Delta terminals. I had gotten my boarding pass online the night before, expecting to check my one little bag. When I got to the counter, the lady smiled warmly and asked if that was all?! Then she said that I would probably be able to take all three items as carry-on luggage because they were so small, even though only two items were normally allowed – and if security said no, then she would have my tag ready. I quickly passed through security, and soon received a call from Marie saying she had landed and was already at Gate 3! She also had managed to fly with only carry-on items, so as we met again for the first time in 3 years, we had no concerns about our luggage parting with such sweet sorrow.

Marie and I are the co-oldest of 5 children (she was born first by 25 minutes). Our younger brothers and sister are not the Susafans that we are, but we’re sure they will really enjoy her CD for Christmas! Since birth, in addition to our formal names, Marie and I have been called Bear and Bird. It’s not quite Ant and Dec, but then again neither is it Susan and Elaine! Marie was happy to show me her carefully-packed ton of Harper’s Bazaars featuring Susan, as well as her socks, part of the Pebbles Boyle Fall Collection. There was no wi-fi in our area of the terminal at JFK, so our first post en route would have to wait.

Our overnight flight directly to Edinburgh (pronounced Edinburuh by the locals) was supposed to take 7.5 hours, but literal hurricane-strength tailwinds propelled us to a smooth landing that was almost 1.5 hours early! While waiting for a ride from Hugh, our generous YouTube Susan’s Pub friend, Marie and I found some delicious coffee at Edinburgh Airport – but again no wi-fi in areas that we could access. So my pre-paid 30 minutes of T-Mobile wi-fi, left over from our June trip, would have to wait.

Hugh picked us up exactly as scheduled, appalled that he was so late! No problem! It’s good to learn to be content in any situation. On the way to Blackburn, Hugh drove us through West Lothian’s latest big town, Livingston, which has rapidly grown in size and stature during the past few decades. We walked through a gorgeous new mall with many different fashionable stores, and I thought about the possibility that Susan in the past had probably traveled by bus to shop here, but with limited resources. Who could ever have guessed that she would be featured in America’s legendary fashion magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and be credited with an increase of some 2,000,000 views of their September online edition?

The ride from Livingston to Blackburn took only about 10 minutes by way of the old highway that becomes Main Street when it passes east-to-west through Blackburn. It is a rather busy road for traffic between the several villages along the route. But stopping in Blackburn seems inconvenient, because there is little or no parking available near the few businesses located on that stretch of road. Our Blackburn lodging, the charming Burnview Bed and Breakfast, is located on Main Street. We met delightful Shirley, dropped off our luggage, then backtracked on Main Street to its intersection with Blackburn-Bathgate Road. This main north-south street in Blackburn is also busy with substantial traffic that just passes through. In one sense, Blackburn is active; but in another sense, the bustle belongs to someone else and the residents just go on with life in their small village with its hundreds of years of ups and downs.

Hugh immediately drove us to see Susan’s house, near his own childhood home. No traffic, no gawkers besides us, no reporters, no TV cameras (until tomorrow, for a short while!). On the same day that pre-sales of Susan’s late-November-scheduled debut CD were zooming overnight to first place among all albums currently being sold in the United States, the street where she has lived since birth was peaceful under the rain-laden clouds of Scotland. First on Susan’s summer shopping list was the home her family had rented for almost 50 years. It looks as though she is now able to scrape together enough cash to buy it! She’s among millions of friends, is she not?

Hugh dropped us off at the small mall, and we headed first for the Blackburn Connected library inside. The librarian cheerfully assigned computers 6 and 7 to us, and we briefly signed in to update fellow Susafans at and the main YouTube site, Susan’s Pub, at Then we went hunting for a special picture frame that Marie will blog about later. The many frames in two little stores were not exactly what we needed, but the clerks were very patient and helpful. Returning briefly to the library, Marie found the address of a frame shop in Bathgate. We bought some healthy edibles at the Scotmid cooperative grocery in the small mall, briefly stopped by the Happy Valley for a photo op and lemonade in Susan’s seat, and then hopped on the bus to Bathgate, only a mile or two away.

The frame shop was closed on Wednesdays. But we were glad to spot a café with free wi-fi and made a mental note to return as needed. We ate our fruit and veggie snacks seated on a sunny bench in Bathgate’s pretty town square, then waited for a Blackburn-bound bus. After a few minutes, we realized that the various buses to various destinations had various bus stops all adjacent to one another. So, like bees in search of perfect pollen, we bumbled along from one stop to the next, looking for something that said Blackburn. Sure enough, a bus finally stopped and we boarded, followed by a nice fellow that we had seen earlier at the Happy Valley. He sat directly in front of us, and then another man boarded the bus, recognized his friend, and sat down right beside him. It was John Boyle, Susan’s brother! Amazing! We were in shock! The two men were chatting away, and we didn’t want to interrupt their conversation, so we didn’t bother him. Here’s hoping we will see him again during our time in Blackburn!

Back in the village, we enjoyed the blue sky and fluffy white clouds as we walked from the bus stop to Susan’s church. The doors were open, but no one was there. A printed sheet listed the weekly schedule and who would be conducting certain activities. We wondered how often Susan had sat in the choir loft at the back of the sanctuary.

A brief walk away was the small mall, where we promptly ran into Alison, the tirelessly devoted and savvy leader of the Blackburn Community Council, with whom Del and I had spoken back in early July. Blessing Blackburn options are still in the consideration phase, and of course we all want to be sensitive and patient. Alison mentioned that she had read my blog, and filled us in on some of the latest Blackburn news. I asked how they felt about tourists visiting Blackburn. She noted that things had quieted down considerably since the initial deluge of reporters and camera crews. The disruptions to the community had come largely from journalists, photographers and TV trucks vying for stories, but now the flow was much more pleasant and manageable. She mentioned the Japanese TV crew that would be here on Friday. We noted that they had contacted us, too, when they found out from the fan site about our return trip to Blackburn. They had politely asked if they could come along with us on a little informal tour of significant Susan spots in Blackburn, and we agreed! Japan Broadcasting Corporation is the main public television channel in Japan, and they are producing for October airing a prime-time nationwide program about the Susan Boyle phenomenon that has also swept Japan! My blog has links to some of the news articles about the Japanese documentary, which will also be covered on Friday by STV – Scottish Television.

Busy Alison chatted with us for about 15 minutes, then ran off to her next mission. Marie and I still had some time to kill before the official check-in of 4:00 pm at our home away from home, so after catching a few jet-lagged winks seated on a bench near the small mall, we walked to the Burnview Bed and Breakfast on the banks of the Almond River, met Shirley’s friendly husband Colin, and settled into the cozy Twin Room overlooking the Almond and a green hillside of grazing cows. Rest and relaxation at the bed and breakfast! And, oh, what joy fills my soul! The Burnview has free wi-fi for its guests!

After a few hours, we walked through light rain to THE fish and chips shop at the back of the small mall, and ordered Susan’s favorite. There is no seating inside, and the mall was closed, so we walked across the parking lot to a bus stop and perched on the rail eating our delicacies. Following our brief but memorable feast, we walked to the Happy Valley Pub and had a long and interesting conversation with the owner, a feisty and straightforward woman of Italian and French descent, who was born and raised in the Blackburn area. Delizia is a hard-working, can-do person with a heart for people in trouble. She also affirmed that the frame shop in Bathgate was just the place to find what we needed!

Returning to the Burnview, we discovered that Hugh had thoughtfully stopped by with an umbrella! Bless his heart – more of that wonderful Scottish hospitality! Marie and I soon forgot that we were tired and began to work on our blog entries – I on my Dell and she on her Mac. Dell, Mac – there’s something about that name – well, of course! My dear husband, Del McMillan, is holding down the fort in Brooklyn, checking in now and then by single-digit cell dial, and waiting along with everyone else for photos and blog entries!


  1. Thank you, Leslie, for sharing such beautiful pictures with us while you're in Blackburn; also, for writing such a wonderfully interesting blog. They make me feel as if I've been visiting Blackburn right along with you and Marie. Hope you find the frame you're looking for. Sharing your love for Susan in this way is most thoughtful and appreciated! Have a wonderful time!
    Sherry in Tx (mystslaw7)
    PS I don't know what the 'comment as' means so I just selected 'anonymous' :)

  2. Leslie,
    Thank you for taking us along again on your trip to Blackburn. Reading your blog makes me feel like I'm right there with you. How did you sit still and stay quiet when Susan's brother sat down right in front of you?

  3. Oh,I loved reading this! I enjoyed the pictures too.You and your sister are so pretty! Looking forward to more reports!

  4. Leslie,
    This is great! It is like being there with you.We can't wait until the next installment.