Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Talking to myself

It happens more and more as I get older. I don't know whether it is increasing age or living alone that brings it on, or a combination of both, but I do it all the time at home. It's nice to have the sound of a voice, and sometimes I need to encourage, or possibly discourage myself in what I am doing, or even ask myself what the hell it is I think I am doing!

On the whole I try not to do it when out and about, but the habit is so ingrained by now that it just breaks out from time to time. This evening, as I took my constitutional round the block, I noticed ahead of me a young couple standing beside a shiny black open-top sportscar. Next moment I noticed a tiny blond girl-child sitting behind the wheel."Oh!" I say, as my thoughts push my mouth open "there's a small per......." - but at the first sound of my voice the young man's head has come up and he is looking at me enquiringly.

"Sorry" I say "I was talking to myself. I was going to say 'there is a small person driving a big car'", and I smile in what I hope is a disarming manner. "Hmm - trying to" comes the response from the young man, who has fortunately not taken my remarks amiss.

So all in all quite a pleasant exchange, but supposing I had been passing disagreeable comment on someone? It could have turned nasty! I really must watch myself.

I found this illustration on a fascinating website called - you really should visit it, especially if you are a lover of words. With great difficulty and some guessing web searches, I managed to decipher the name under the cat's paw, so that I could give them a plug. So I hope they don't mind my using the picture.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Writing under pressure

Ten years ago, at one of our Growing Old Disgracefully gatherings, we did a writing workshop. We were asked - or rather challenged - to write a poem to someone we know well, and to liken that person to:

a colour
a kind of weather
a time of day or year
a sound
a form of transport
a kitchen implement
something eatable
an animal
a speed
We were given about 15 minutes to complete the task. In such circumstances one can hardly help but write from the heart. This was my poem. I seem to have cheated slightly on the last line.

You are my brown earth and my green growth,
You are my light and warmth and the breeze that blows.
You are my springtime and my renewal,
You are birdsong and the chime of bells.
You are the wheels that change my horizons,
You are my top gear, my accelerator.
You are the knife that cuts out waste.
You are my bread and my wine.
You are my best friend and companion.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Holiday over

So what other delights came my way during my northerly tour?

Firstly ~ daffodils :: drifts and swathes and gusts of daffodils everywhere - hardly a stretch of road without them it seemed, in gardens, in fields and on roadsides. My Australian family were particularly delighted with these.

Secondly ~ lambs :: I had not seen any before we left, but they seemed to be in almost every field as we drove, some appearing to have dropped to earth the moment before we passed. Strangely though, by the time we had crossed the Scottish border there were no more. However, by the time we left ten days later Deeside had its own crop of new lambs too.

Thirdly ~ my very first red squirrel, with its cute little tufty ears, feeding outside the window of my daughter-in-law's parents' house. Very difficult to get a shot from inside the house, but I didn't dare even approach the window, in case I startled him. It seems that deer come too to their garden, which is set into the edge of the forest, but sadly I did not see one. Nor did we ever manage to see any real highland cattle, with their shaggy coats, short legs and long horns.

Birds ~ I saw my first oystercatcher too, described from a distance by a friend of my son's who knew no better, as "that big bird with a carrot in its mouth"! Also plenty of buzzards, but no eagles, and only a stuffed capercaillie at the Balmoral Castle museum.

That seems to lead by a natural progression to ...

Food ~ I tried three types of game that I had never eaten before:
  • Roast pheasant, cooked by my son's mother-in-law, which was absolutely scrumptions;
  • Scottish Wood Pigeon en croute which I didn't like at all (very gamey), and passed over to my son to finish; and

  • Loin of Glen Muick Venison, which I found passable, but wouldn't order again.

The last two were ordered at a posh hotel when we went out to dinner one night. I deliberately took a risk, as I felt I should try something both new and local. I'm glad I did, just to be able to say so, but if I ever go there again I shall go for the halibut or the pork! It was all very elegantly cooked and served, and at the start of the meal we were presented with complimentary portions of thick mushroom soup, served in individual mini soup tureens, with a flaky pastry lid over the top. Now that I did like, as well as the Vanilla Pannacotta with cherries soaked in kirsch to finish.

That was at the Darroch Learg Hotel and Restaurant in Ballater. For more ordinary meals with the children as well, we went twice to The Potarch Hotel (more like an Inn) at Banchory. Here everybody could be served rather more quickly, and eat generously and appropriately, and those young enough to be energised by a big meal could go outside afterwards to play on a massive expanse of green field beside the River Dee.

We also went to a delightful farm shop and tearoom at Finzean, off the road from Aboyne to Banchory. Lots of freezers filled not only with farm grown fruit and veg, but also pies and cakes and other goodies. Upstairs in the restaurant were mixed salad platters with various meats and fish, soups and sandwiches. And every spare corner stuffed with attractive books, toys, household goods and accessories. Very difficult to walk away without a shopping bag filled with something. This review is worth reading if you have a chance to go there.

Then there was my favourite bolt-hole right in the middle of Aboyne: the Coffee House and Emporium at The Sign of The Black Faced Sheep. They serve the most delicious cakes, a good variety of drinks, and mixed salad platters that are to die for. I went back there many times, with the whole family and on my own, and even brought one of their salad platters back to the b&b when I wanted a restful day. Strangely enough, although their emporium was stuffed with attractive goods, they didn't actually have any cards or other souvenirs of black faced sheep. This was a pity, as my Australian family were particularly looking for something of the sort to take home to a friend in Sydney.
And finally, the air ~ clean and fresh, blowing in off the North Sea, decidedly brisk when the sun was not warming us, but giving such a clarity to every prospect, from the village green nearby to the forests all around and the distant snowy peaks.
[Pictures from the web]

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Holiday journal : 10-20 April - Castles of Royal Deeside

We visited two castles in the ten days I was on Deeside, and I almost made it to a third.

Balmoral Castle

Here you can only go in to the old ballroom, where there is an exhibition, but there are extensive grounds to be visited, including The Queen's kitchen gardens in season, and more exhibitions in the stabling behind the gatehouse, not to mention a substantial cafe and gift shop. The Queen also has her own letterbox on the estate. The public car parks are a long walk away, but all the oldies piled into one car and got permission to drive up much closer to the castle before disembarking.

The gatehouse and the castle

Crathes Castle

It is worth following the link in the title to see pictures of the inside of this ancient castle, built in the last half of the 1500s. It has a worn circular stone staircase giving access to the upper rooms and I began to make my way rather nervously up these. My son's strong arm seemed to have disappeared at this point but the first staircase had a rather thin metail handrail so I managed. The staircase to the next floor had only a rope hold, and when I found that the one above that had no rail at all I got discouraged. Even then I was grateful to pass my heavy handbag to one of the guides, who bravely offered to preceed me down the stairs again, to give me confidence. I was really sorry to miss the top floor.

There was an Easter treasure hunt on offer for the children. They were given a sheet of paper and had to find one item in each room. If they came back with them all ticked off, they got a chocolate egg - which of course they all did (with the help of their parents). They then ran around letting off steam in the gardens, before we made for the inevitable cafe and gift shop.

The castle, and a fine specimen of
Prunus Lusitanicus, or Portuguese Laurel

More garden scenes

The entrance gate for this castle is right on the main road through the village of Aboyne, just opposite the cafe we visited frequently. That is why I decided to look for it when I found myself alone that morning. But it was not a short walk by any means: after I had followed the long drive for 20 minutes the fairytale castle had come into view, but I reckoned there was still at least 10 minutes' walking to do. I had to walk back again to the village, get some lunch then walk back to my b&b, so I decided to settle for some photographs of the castle and then withdraw. But I did not feel I had missed anything, as the castle is not open to the publicanyway, and the walk through the wooded estate on a warm sunny morning was a delight in itself.

The castle drive and the castle

Aspects of the castle grounds


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Holiday journal : 11 April - Glen Tanar Estate

On the first day after our arrival we - and that is three grandparents, two and a half couples, five children and a baby - took a picnic to this lovely private estate not far from Aboyne. After eating we set off to walk across the fields to a small chapel just seen in the distance. This is the Chapel of St Lesmo, who lived in 731.

The Chapel, which is tiny, was built in 1872 with a thatched roof and stained-glass windows, and the spaces between the stones of which the walls are built are dotted with small pebbles (a technique known locally as "cherry-cocking"). Inside, the rafters are fashioned from whole trees and the joists are made from curiously twisted branches of locally grown Scotch Fir. The altar steps are of Glen Tanar granite, a soft but rich coloured granite, as is the floor of the passage. Later, deer antlers were hung from the roof and the seats have deerskin coverings.

It is very popular for weddings, particularly as receptions can be held in the main house. Indeed, a wedding was just finishing as we arrived there, and we were allowed to go inside and look round, before the doors were locked again.

Afterwards we left the fields, and walked slowly back along the bank of the stream, one baby in a push chair, other children being carried by now, and Granny Judith leaning heavily on the arm of her son. (This has been a special pleasure for me, that during this trip I had many opportunities for leaning on the arm of my son. At home my life is arranged so that I don't often need such support!)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Holiday journal : 10-20 April - B&B in Aboyne

Tigh na Geald - or House on the Hill - is a traditional Victorian house overlooking the village green in the centre of Aboyne on Royal Deeside. The front porch is supported by Scots pine trunks roughly trimmed of their branches, a traditional way of building in Scotland I am told, and the inside of the house is richly and solidly finished with doors, window frames, banister rails, and kitchen units also in pine. The views from the rooms are across the green of Aboyne.

I had a double room to myself and a most luxurious en suite bathroom with a dressing table and an armchair in it. I was warmly welcomed and looked after with great care. I was even given the freedom of the kitchen and my hostess's laptop, so that I could check my emails while there.

The house is only 10 minutes' walk from the centre of the village, so on the days when the younger members of the family were being too energetic for me, I could make off on my own to have coffee, shop, have lunch, shop some more, and take pictures of Aboyne.

The Church and the Old Station

The War Memorial Building and the Memorial Window

Lamp standard and Red Squirrel (my first!)

Eilidh, my landlady's cat

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Holiday journal : 10 April - Journey's end

We are in Scotland at last. I have only been here twice before. Once in 1963, with three small children, to attend the wedding of a friend; and once in 2002 when our Growing Old Disgracefully Annual Gathering was held in Glasgow University. On neither occasion did I depart from the event I was attending to do any sightseeing. Sadly the day was dull and damp - (don't the Scots call that a 'soft' day?), and although we drove to the foot of Edinburgh Castle, I could not get a decent photo, nor yet at The Forth Bridges. Here are a couple,though, just to show I was there, however briefly.

Edinburgh Castle

The Forth Railway Bridge

After a nod in the direction of these two famous landmarks, we set forth for Falkirk and its famous Wheel, a rotating boat lift which connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal on two different levels. The sun was struggling to come out, and we spent a happy time there marvelling at this miracle of engineering, and having lunch in the visitors' cafe.

The wheel in mid swing

The boat emerges.

Then it was time to head for Aboyne in Royal Deeside, the home of my daughter-in-law's parents, and also of her sister's family. We took country roads again, avoiding Aberdeen, and arrived in the late afternoon. I opted for a quiet evening in my b&b, recovering from the journey, and would join the full company on the following day. We stopped at the Co-op and bought some sandwiches for my supper, and then I was driven to Tigh na Geald, and delivered into the care of a very charming landlady.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Holiday journal : 9 April - Heading for Scotland

So, leaving Ric at work on his Granny props, we set off northwards again, with no fixed plan as to where we might spend the night. We would see where we got to. Ric had shown Matthew a route that would take us across the Yorkshire Dales on an unfenced road, via Wharfedale and Langstrothdale. We were blessed with a brilliantly sunny day and the scenery was quite spectacular. I kept wanting to stop and take pictures, but on consideration decided that I wouldn't know where to start or finish, as the 360 degree view was equally stunning in all parts. So I just enjoyed.

When we reached the highest point however, which I think was probably Wether Fell, the grandeur of the surrounding peaks was so compelling that I had to ask Matthew to stop. I got out of the car and stood, turning full circle, breathing in the cool pure air as it blew about my head, and feeling so uplifted that tears came into my eyes. I think for the first time I really appreciated why my late husband was so great a lover of mountains, and I felt close to him again. Later I discovered that Ric had driven him along that very route, the last time that Michael visted with him.

From there we came down into Hawes where we stopped for lunch. Afterwards we wandered round a bit and were seduced by a Rock and Gem Shop, where various purchases of polished stones and marble eggs were made. Then we found a book sale going on in one of the public buildings, and by one of those serendipitous chances that so astonish us, my daughter-in-law found an old, large-scale map of Aboyne on Deeside, which is exactly where we were heading to visit her parents. She bought it for her father.

We took off again, and as we left Hawes I noticed that the signposts were giving distances in both miles and furlongs, which I have never seen before. We crossed Swaledale by the Buttertubs Pass, and rolled down into Thwaite, and on to Kirkby Stephen. Here a comfort stop was called for, and after attending to this we took a look at the Parish Church, known as the Cathedral of the Dales. (Apparently the only parish church in Cumbria which is bigger is that of Kendal). The church grounds are closely hedged in by houses, and to our astonishment, as we walked in this sort of cloister, we spotted a most unusual sight. Two brightly coloured macaws were sitting on a roof top, and another on a second roof. I have marked with white asterisks the places where they were, in the aerial picture below (taken by Simon Ledingham).

One other interesting observation about this church: the church nameboard states that it is home to both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic congregations of Kirkby Stephen, and each congregation has its own named pastor. This I have never come across before.

After that my memory of our route is hazy, but we managed somehow to make it to Edinburgh in the early evening, and still without motorways, I think. The decision had been made that we would treat ourselves to a comfortable hotel for this one night, and we drove into the centre of the city, eyeing one or two posh hotels as we went, and found somewhere we could park. Then, with the help of a printed guide, my son started to ring hotels. The first one did not have room and he next tried the Caledonian Hilton, but that was going to cost £147 for my single room, and £240 something for a family room. We declined - we didn't need to be that comfortable.

We remembered a reasonably nice one we had passed, but had to drive back to it as we didn't remember the name. Here my single room would only cost £80, and my son decided to treat me if I thought it was too much, as we wanted to get settled and find some supper. I have never paid so much for bed and breakfast in my life, but I couldn't deny that the room was worth it, especially as I had a double bed to myself. I did wonder in passing if I was paying extra for the third pillow on my bed, and spent a little time speculating as to what sort of ménage they might book in for a bed with three pillows. The hotel was called The Bruntsfield, and is a Best Western Hotel.

We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and my grandson ordered burger and chips for the second time that day, though I don't think he was aware of it. In the morning, Matthew insisted on going out onto the patio for his breakfast, in the fresh air, although the french window were not open, and the staff clearly were not intending to serve out there. They put up with it though - people generally do what Matthew wants them to, because he never doubts that they will! The rest of us stayed indoors and pretended not to know him.

New Act on Segway Scooters

Pictures are coming in as I write of a new 'electroglide' act by the group Larkin' About, whom I have shown previously on my blog performing as Gliding Angels. When we left Ric to continue on our travels, he was busy making props for the act for the Falkirk Festival in Scotland on 2nd and 3rd May. The new Act is called ''Go Granny Go!" - a touch of ageist stereotyping there, I fear, but I have to forgive them for it.

Those who know me may detect a family likeness in Ric's profile here, aided by the addition of a wig and glasses.

You can also see videos of the act on my Video Blog here.

Holiday journal : 8 April - Our last night

Ric had fed us on a superb fish pie on the night we arrived, and my daughter-in-law Elizabeth had cookd fresh tuna steaks for us on the second night. After our visit to The Mill, we gathered with some of Ric's friends for dinner at the Rim Nam Thai Restaurant in Hebden Bridge. It is built in an old warehouse right on the edge of the canal, a superb setting, as it has big french windows at one end giving onto the towpath. I failed to get pictures of the building, but here is one taken from just outside as dusk fell, and another taken a little later.

It was a very comfortable place to eat, bright and cheerful, with staff helpful and accommodating to the requirements of children. We had a very nice evening there.

I also managed to catch a couple of Muscovy ducks settling down for the night.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Holiday journal : 8 April - At the Mill

Ric is a street theatre performer, working sometimes on his own and sometimes in a group. For this he needs to have rehearsal space, and he has rented the whole first floor of a disused mill near his home. He also makes the space available to other performing groups, and this is apparently much appreciated: one member of this group came up to be introduced, and asked "Are you Ric's Mum?" "Yes" I said. He waited a couple of beats then said "Thankyou!" in a heartfelt manner. Now isn't that a pretty compliment, to me and my son? Ric took us along to watch another group rehearsing.

Gracie and Satya are working with hoops

Jago is using glo-hoops to create this effect

My grandson seems to be heading for a career as a Charlie Chaplin imitator!


Enlarge the picture to see what is hanging on the telephone wires in the main square of Hebden Bridge!


I have been confusing my readers over the dates of my holiday, because I made an error in the first 'holiday journal' post. My Australian family arrived at the beginning of APRIL, not May, and this is now all in the past. I have altered my headings (for the second time!) to try to make this clearer. Sorry!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Holiday journal : 6-9 April - Staying with Ric

After we had dug ourselves out of the crack in the road map, we made good progress and arrived eventually at Pecket Well, Hebden Bridge. Ric recently bought his first house here, although he has been living in rented accommodation just down the road for a number of years. He lives in one of a small terrace of houses built of stone, with their backs up against the road, and facing down the valley to Hebden Bridge. To get to their front doors you have to go down a few steps at one or other end of the terrace, and along a paved path giving access to their front doors. Their sheds, patios, and gardens all fall away down the hill on the other side of the path. This is the view from his front door.

The access to Ric's house caused me considerable problems, as the flags are uneven, and the steps of different heights, and all get slippery in the rain. I had to rely heavily on Ric's arm to get to his house, and even with it I slipped on one occasion. Being a circus performer who is used to supporting people in acrobatics, he managed to hold me (all 11 stone I'm ashamed to say) so that I did not actually land on my butt, until I told him to let me down gently for the last 2 or 3 inches, and take the weight off his arm.
I wasn't able to get pictures of the outside of the house, as the terrace is on a bend, and the pavements are minimal at that point. It would have been too risky to stand in the road. Parking is on the side of the road opposite the house, and we drew up behind Ric's large blue van.
Although it has the appearance of a small house, it actually has three stories, and is much more roomy. The front door opens into the sitting room, which opens into the kitchen. The stairs go up from the sitting room to the first floor where there is a bathroom and a big bedroom which Ric uses as a work room. Some of you might remember my picture of his last workroom; this one being bigger contains, in addition to the sewing machine, a Black and Decker workbench, his computer and a sofa bed. If he didn't have to eat, and go out to do the gigs by which he earns his living, I reckon he could live in the one room.

On the second floor there is a large attic bedroom, with a smaller room off - ideal for the visiting Australian family. I was offered the sofa bed in the workroom, but as I find them uncomfortably low to get out of, I opted for a b&b in The Robin Hood Inn 50 yards down the road. Here I had a comfortable bed, but found myself in danger of stunning myself against the heavy beam which ran across the room at forehead height. However, I devised a warning system for myself by tucking two white hankies into a long groove running the length of the beam.