A CHANCE visit to the ‘Land Sea People Stories’ exhibition in the museum in North Berwick gave me plenty of food for thought. There was so much to see.

What caught my eye was a piece about an envoy from Italy, dispatched by the church in Rome to visit the court of King James I of Scotland in 1435. King Henry VI of England would not allow him to travel through England and across the Scottish Border. In the end, the envoy was forced to travel by sea and, after a treacherous journey, landed south of Dunbar. He made a pilgrimage to the Marian shrine at St Mary’s Church, Whitekirk, to give thanks for his survival.

I don’t know yet the outcome of his diplomatic mission, but he did go on to become Pope Pius XI, and in his writings, he records his impressions of Scotland: “…utterly unlike the country we inhabit, being rude, uncultivated, and unvisited by the winter sun. The men are short and brave, the women fair, charming and easily won.”

Interestingly, D.H. Lawrence in 1919, on a tour of Italy, almost 500 years later, visiting Picinisco, the village in Frosinone where my father was born, records almost the same observations: “The brigand men are by no means fierce, the women, very handsome, are the fierce half of the breed.” I’ll leave you to make up your own mind on that one but, save to say, the Italian immigration into Scotland has not been unsuccessful.

The other striking display in the museum was of the East Lothian farm workers’ labour markets of the 19th century, where men had to work on a six-monthly basis, rewarded with a six-month’s tenancy in a farm cottage, a share of the harvest and a commitment to provide a woman to supply 21 days of free labour as part of the arrangement. Try that in the job centre these days!

I highly recommend taking those computer-addicted kids hanging around your homes to the great museums in Dunbar, Cockenzie and Musselburgh, as well as North Berwick; there is sure to be something unexpected that will attract their attention.