Fairmilehead Parish Church
A, 1 Frogston Rd West
For those of you who weren’t there, you missed a treat. For a start, Edinburgh is one of the friendliest of cities, and it’s always a joy to go there. Secondly, and most importantly, 30th March was the occasion of the first Scottish Shell Show. It was well worth the trip, and I’m sure everybody else who journeyed north of the border felt the same.
I arrived the day before, having travelled up from Oxford by train, and I checked into Sandeman House, a B&B recommended by the show’s organisers because it was a short bus-ride from the venue. My hosts, Joyce and Neil Sandeman (and their tail-wagging dog Macintosh), were as welcoming as it’s possible to be, and when I saw the crisp Persil-white bed-linen in my room I knew I was in for a pampering two-night stay. Up at the crack of dawn, and at 7.00am prompt there was proper porridge for breakfast (it had taken an hour to cook), and a huge choice of other fare that would have done any five-star hotel proud.
As I was going to sell copies of my book at the show, I had taken a table, to be shared with Peter Dance and his books. I wanted to be there early to set up my stall, so full of sustaining breakfast, I caught a nearby bus headed directly to the venue. No sooner had I bought my ticket than I heard a cheerful “Ingrid, hello!”, and there on the same bus was Tom Walker, all the way from Reading, surrounded by his luggage, and looking remarkably fresh bearing in mind it was still pretty early on a windy Edinburgh morning.
The show organisers, Gavin Thompson and Brian Hammond, greeted us warmly as we arrived at Fairmilehead Church Hall, and it was immediately obvious that this was a terrific venue for the show. Light, spacious and warm, the hall was set up with the exhibiting tables spread generously around, already covered with white cloths, and there were plenty of tables and chairs at one end for time out with a snack and a drink.
Collectors and dealers were unpacking and getting set up, so I joined the crowd and set up my wares, with a lovely cup of tea provided by the kitchen staff, who were also doing a roaring trade with bacon sandwiches for all those who hadn’t started the day with slow-cooked porridge. Mind you, I had my eye on the biggest, lightest home-baked cream-filled sponge cake I’d ever seen, and promised myself a slice later on, provided there was some left for elevenses.
The day unfolded, and there was a lot to see and talk about. It was a real pleasure to meet new faces, as well as re-connect with old friends. New friends included the organisers Gavin Thompson and Brian and Edna Hammond, Thora Fettes from Orkney, David McKay from Buckie, Nigel and Margie Trewin from Aberdeen, Richard Leslie from Gullane, John Avery, Rob Law, and a number of others. Our dealer friends were there, including loyal supporters Alistair Moncur, and Rika and Fernand De Donder who had driven all the way up from Belgium.
There were some choice exhibits to drool over, and I spent every penny (and a bit more!) of my limited budget on new acquisitions, many of which I thought were very keenly priced. I can’t go any further without a special mention of two of the exhibits. Brian Hammond’s Seba-esque display was breathtaking in its precision and detail, a joy to behold. And Thora Fettes’s antique printers’ cases filled with skilfully arranged Orkney shells also stopped everyone in their tracks. These were two examples of shell artistry of a very high standard, and their creators should be congratulated on some extremely fine and yes, beautiful work.
In the afternoon, after we had all enjoyed the delicious, fresh snack lunches prepared by the catering staff, we were treated to a true high-spot; a unique chance to hear a talk given by Peter Dance (I use the word ‘unique’ because I gather he is not going to give this talk again, at least not in the UK.) Just about everybody at the show poured into a side-room set up with chairs, and Peter’s talk, entitled “My Journey Through the Shell World”, gave us a rare insight into his personal and professional involvement with shells over the years. We have all got reason to acknowledge the significant contribution he has made, and continues to make, in the field of conchology, but it was a delight to hear about the man himself.
And so the show finally wound up, with a sense of satisfaction all round, but the day wasn’t over yet. I returned to my B&B with a bag full of shells, (and a bottle of Scottish Raspberry Wine I won in the show’s raffle), and after a short rest, I joined about a dozen others at Howie’s, a restaurant in the centre of Edinburgh where we had a terrific post-show dinner. A good Scottish menu, and if you’ve never eaten Cullen Skink, you must make the journey north of the border for that alone. Without question, it’s the best fish soup ever to be tasted.
So thank you Gavin and Brian, and all who made the show the success it was. We all had a great time, and we look forward to the next. Oh, and I got my slice of sponge cake. It was the last piece.
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