A Scottish Summer in ’69

By Natalie Lange

Sitting in her comfortable living room with a cup of black tea in her hand, Amy is surrounded by her playful grandchildren. While listening to their vivid stories, her thoughts trail off to times long gone when she herself was young.

It was the small hours of the morning on another warm summer day in 1969, a 14-year-old girl was the first one to arise in a little family house in the seaside town of Great Yarmouth. She tiptoed around the house, quickly grabbing a few belongings – clothes, money, a map, a YHA document, and a radio, before silently leaving her home. Nobody heard her leave.

Three days later, accompanied by her school friend Sophie, she found herself in the beautifully scenic Portknockie, a coastal village in the northern regions of Scotland.  Amy was 580 miles from her parents and her seven siblings back in Great Yarmouth. Portknockie, a village with just a few small shops and only one school, was a sleepy and serene settlement, where the street lights were turned off during the night and covered the town in darkness.  

“Everything in Portknockie was so different and peaceful compared to Great Yarmouth, which was a thriving town flooded with visitors back in 1969”, says Amy trailing off.

But why and how did these two 14-year-old girls escape to this cliff-top village, midway between Aberdeen and Inverness?

“I remember being furious with my parents for not letting me attend a Monkees concert in Wembley. Consumed by my anger I decided to go on holiday without asking for permission. I just ran off on an adventure with my friend the next morning”, says Amy.

“It was a foolish thing to do, but I was so upset with my parents, that I just ran away”, she remembers.

The teenagers decided to hitchhike their way to Scotland. “We were both excited as neither of us had hitchhiked before”, says Amy. The girls who were conscious of their safety decided they would hitchhike to the next city first. Thinking they would be safe as a pair, the girls made the decision to only accept rides from solo travelers. “It was the safest thing to do”, recalls Amy. Hitchhiking was a common phenomenon back in 1969, but perhaps not for young teenagers.

The girls arrived safe and sound in Lincoln, 130 miles from Great Yarmouth. After checking into a hostel, Amy contacted her parents and told them she was safe, but that she wasn’t coming home.

The next morning the girls accepted a ride from a middle-aged man in a red van. After some time, the man put his arm around Amy and touched her ear. “I was so frightened I could not move”, says Amy. The girls quickly asked the man to pull over. “While we were getting out of the van the man tried to pull me back inside, Sophie immediately grabbed my arm, pulling with all her might to free me from the man’s clutches”.

Reflecting on that exact moment, Amy remembers how desperate she was to escape. Sophie managed to pull her friend free and the two girls scrambled down the road and flagged down the first car they could see, with the man in the red van, watching all the while.

To their relief, a small car carrying two men, quickly pulled over and rescued the two girls who were visibly distressed and in shock.

The two kind men took the girls to Melrose and treated them to some lunch in a local tavern. The girls in desperate need of a plan decided they would continue to Portknockie in Scotland where Amy’s aunt lived.

It was 7 pm when the two girls arrived on the porch of Aunt Ina’s cottage.

Ina was shocked to find her niece and young friend Sophie on her doorstep.

“It was brave hitchhiking all the way to Scotland” admits Ina, shaking her head in disbelief “but at the same time a very foolish thing to do”. Once the girls were fed and bathed, Ina wrote a letter to her sister, Amy’s mother, to inform her that the girls had been located and were with her in Portknockie.

A young Amy wasn’t fazed by the chilling incident that took place in the red van and spent six weeks exploring Scotland with Sophie and her relatives before returning home in October of 1969.

Amy wasn’t keen to go back to school and didn’t have interest in her studies. “It was then that I decided that I don’t like the establishment and I became a bit of a rebel”, says Amy.

Fifty years on, Amy has a family of her own. Looking back, she admits that she can only imagine how her parents must have felt when they learned that their 14-year-old daughter was missing and had hitchhiked all the way to northern Scotland.

Amy, now 63, runs her own business and is devoted to her family. Every Friday she creates happy memories with her ten grandchildren, who fill her cosy little home in Great Yarmouth with laughter and joy.


 

Pepernoten

The Cookie that Divides the Nation

By Frank Verschuren

 

It is the end of summer, which means Dutch people are soaking up the last rays of sun embroiled in an annual divisive debate: is it moral to sell pepernoten already?

Excited customers scour De Pepernotenfabriek in droves, sampling pepernoten in a wide range of flavours – from ‘Bailey’s’ to ‘Tajine’ – as though it were the very first time a shop like this ever opened in Groningen.

That is the perk of a seasonal store: every year brings a new grand opening – a sense of novel yet familiar festive tingles for customers with a nostalgic bone.

One spicy, gingerbread-like whiff of a fresh batch of pepernoten and any Dutchman, old or new, hears the Sinterklaas songs swell from memories of winter’s past – along with visions of  snow gracing the windows of warm, cozy rooms filled with family and friends.

A pepernoot is so much more than a simple cookie.

“When I eat my first pepernoot of the year, I feel like I’m 10 years old again, snuggled by the fireplace with my Sinterklaas gifts,” says Janiev Azulai (26), as he reaches for a bag of chocolate-covered pepernoten, “It’s like winter in a bag.”

While many customers of the Pepernotenfabriek would agree with this sentiment, one look outside the store is enough to break the nostalgic spell cast by even the most fragrant pepernoot.

It is a blazing September day. People wear shorts and sunglasses, and shirtless students cycle to the nearby lake – beach towels tucked under their arms.

Should pepernoten be sold this early?

While some, like Janiev Azulai, could eat pepernoten all year round, others believe that companies selling pepernoten in the summer are eroding a Dutch tradition by stretching the window for seasonal products far beyond their moment, all in the name of profit.

“I’ll wait until December to eat my first pepernoot,” says Niels Boon (21), regarding the bustle at the Pepernotenfabriek with a look of disgust.

Can an outside perspective help to breach the stalemate?

Yunji Sun, an international student from China, can relate to the woes of the pepernoot-traditionalists.

In China, she explains, a popular snack called mooncake is eaten only during the annual mid-autumn festival.

“You could eat mooncake outside of the festivities,” she says, “But it would simply feel wrong.”

After trying her first pepernoot, however, she does not get what all the fuss is about anyway.

“They taste rather plain to me.”