The Fair Maid of Perth, Scotland

 

Perth city at Christmas.

 

Needing a break from the relentless beauty of Edinburgh, last week I took a few days away to visit pretty Perth, Scotland. The Scottish Landlaird and I weary of each other’s company, turning a wee snippy and unpleasant left together too long; it’s not a bad thing separating us by a few hundred miles every day or so few weeks. It can get unpleasant. He’s been a bachelor for decades, and I’m the American interloper. What was it Ben Franklin said?: “Fish and visitors stink in three days.” For the record, it’s been almost three months. It’s past rancid to skeletal, friends.

Plus, I’d never been to Perth. And it’s all decorated for Christmas:

 

Off the High Street, Perth

 

Nae Day Sae Dark (No Day So Dark) by David Annand

 

Why Perth? Why not. It’s less than two hours from Edinburgh by train, so not too expensive transportation-wise. And, nicknamed the “Gateway to the Highlands” translates into this is where the rolling foothills start.  I’d note the four days I stayed were too many from a tourist point of view, if you don’t have a car to roam the area. Since I needed time away, the excess wasn’t as big a nuisance; for the casual visitor, one or two days would be more than sufficient.

The old section of the city is charming – lots of churches and restaurants and shops – but most sites of interest are walk bys. You take a gander, take a photo, off you go. If you have a car, there are several castles and pretty little villages warranting another day or two using Perth as a hub. On foot, not so much.

While I’m thinking of it, I’ll recommend Cafe Biba (22 King Edward Street) for its tasty hamburgers. Tired of British fare, I popped in for lunch one day to treat myself. They put some sort of herbs in the meat, plus the cheddar cheese is glorious. Then, Murray’s Bakers (114 South Street) makes a mean apple crumble. They’re also award-winning, and the prices are surprisingly cheap. One apple crumble lasted me three days, all for under £2. For Americans, that’s about $3.50 or so.

Not shabby.

 

High Street, Perth

 

If I’d arrived a day earlier I could have been there for the lighting of the holiday decorations, as well as the gin and chocolate fair and peak of the Christmas market. Arriving Sunday afternoon was cheaper, but I was tired and didn’t feel like battling whatever was left of the crowds milling around the pop up shops still open. Surprisingly, the majority of the market pulled up stakes early. In most cities the Christmas markets are there for the duration. Not so Perth. By Monday there was a chocolate stall, a couple food stalls, and three or four other specialty places for jewelry and other gifts. Not much choice.

The weather was abysmal in November, not that I should have expected otherwise. The day before I left was so rainy I spent most of it in the Airbnb apartment (right on the Tay River, overlooking Greyfriars Church Yard – BLISS), in the afternoon walking around the Perth Museum & Art Gallery. Plenty of paintings and sculptures there, plus local and natural history. A nice diversion. It’s also free, though nice people give a donation.

 

I regret to say I burst out laughing seeing this.

 

And of course I shopped. Taking a break from the rain, I fortuitously ran into a convenient Waterstones, where I finally broke down and bought this book I’d been looking at a while:

 

 

We know I can’t abide book orphans, so I also bought this, mentioned in the book above:

 

No court will convict me.

 

A wool shop may have been involved in one excursion, along with a miscellany of holiday shopping. As the landlaird’s daughter is cooking for Boxing Day, to which I’m invited, I found some gin and liquor-filled chocolates as a hostess gift. Other bits and bobs, as well, for various naughty and nice people on my list.

The mental break was necessary, and Perth did its job. I didn’t schedule myself, didn’t hurry anywhere, and slept ridiculously late. While I got some reading done, unfortunately I did no writing, which had been on the original itinerary. I brought with me the leather journal I had custom made when I turned 50, not a mark yet in it, figuring at this point of my life I have a whole lot to say. I’ll get to it. I just didn’t in Perth. As for the Landlaird? It was time enough to reset the friendship, at least for a while.

This week I’m headed to London for a day, to meet up with friends. In a week and a half or so a long journey down to Penzance, in beautiful Cornwall. I’m looking forward to it immensely, never having been to that area. I expect the four days allotted may be too short.

Do I have room to complain, though? I don’t think so. No. I don’t think so at all.

 

River Tay, Perth. My last evening.

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Scotland: Excursions to Haddington, East Lothian and Dean Village, Edinburgh

 

Haddington, East Lothian

 

Life’s been challenging for Chris and me this past week. Outside forces have been exerting a lot of negative energy, leaving us two anxiety-ridden insomniacs walking around like yawning zombies. The onset of autumn hasn’t helped. Shortening days coupled with cold winds and driving rain don’t improve the mood.

But then it’s Scotland, not Fiji. Get. Real.

I’ve been struggling with the excruciating SCOTUS hearings and subsequent confirmation of the Dishonourable Brett Kavanaugh – revealing so much misogyny and perversion entrenched in our justice system it staggers. I’ve insisted “this is not my country” whenever there’s been a racist or misogynistic event. Two years on, I may have to rethink that.

The mid-term elections on 6 November will be pivotal. If the country comes out against the Trump administration, hope lives. If not, the fight continues. It will swing back. The problem is rectifying the damage done will take a very long time, healing the rift between left and right the biggest hurdle.

We are a nation divided, indignation fueled by fury.

We took full advantage when the weather cooperated with brilliant sunshine last Tuesday. Yes! Sunshine in Scotland! Chris suggested a side-trip to the village of Haddington, East Lothian. Just twenty minutes-ish outside Edinburgh, it’s a pretty little place to spend an afternoon – longer if you search out all the historical sites.

For Chris, who’s powered by music, it has a used record shop. For both of us, used books and other fun things from a myriad of charity shops then a quick bite at a quaint little café called Diggory’s. If you happen by make sure you mention my name. They’ll have no idea why, but my ears will burn and I’ll know you care.

Try the paninis!

 

Clock tower, Haddington

 

Jane Bailie Welsh Carlyle

I didn’t read about the history of Haddington until I got home that evening. Turns out it has a lot. Walking in the main shopping area, I saw a plaque commemorating native daughter Jane Welsh Carlyle, woman of letters and wife of writer Thomas Carlyle, but didn’t follow through tracking down her birthplace. We both had plans later in Edinburgh so didn’t have the whole day, but her house was right there on the high street.

ARGH.

 

I’ve not read Jane Carlyle’s famous  letters, but was force-marched through an excerpt of Thomas’s excrutiating famous Sartor Resartus as an English literature undergrad. Virginia Woolf was a big fan of hers, and I’m a big fan of Woolf. She admired Carlyle because the woman pulled no punches:

I do think there is much truth in the Young German idea that marriage is a shockingly immoral institution, as well as what we have long known it for – an extremely disagreeable one.

Jane Welsh Carlyle, not particularly fond of Thomas

Haddington’s also where John Knox – minister and leader of Scotland’s reformation – and misogynist extraordinaire – was from. A ruined castle and churches, medieval bridge and connection to Mary, Queen of Scots are a few other things we missed. But then it was a let’s get the hell out of here and forget our worries for a while outing.

Chris’s cappuccino – much prettier than my Diet Coke

It was off to Edinburgh after lunch, for me pretty Dean Village. It took some doing finding an access point, since a lot of it’s pedestrian only. Poor Chris found a good spot to dump me through a lot of trial and error. Walking there is a lot different than driving, and he’d never driven. He’s a good egg.

Until the 19th century a separate village within Edinburgh, for 800 years a mill town, it’s now a staggeringly expensive, trendy place to live. Easy to see why:

 

Dean Village on the Leith

 

Still a few roses in bloom.

 

 

Have I made you sick with jealous loathing yet? If not, here you go!:

Dean Village is filled with wanderers, locals and bloody tourists. Chris dropped me  around 4 or so when it was largely deserted, so I had a relaxing meander until it got too dark for decent photography. My one regret is I didn’t make it to the cemetery before it closed. I won’t talk about the why until I’ve been there. It has to do with artsy, literature-related stuff and this post isn’t about that.

Pretty much a perfect day, overall. Stress? What stress. For a few hours it was possible to forget all about it.

 

Daily Scotland: Accent(uate) the positive.

 

Where’s the damn escalator.

 

Assimilation into Scottish life and culture has been hampered by the obviousness of my American accent. It’s not obnoxiously regional (sorry, fellow countrymen), more News Anchor American.

Still.

American.

I hope it’s my imagination all noise around me stops when I open my mouth, like a space alien has just spoken, causing jaws to drop in disbelief and eyes to search for the nearest exit. I have the Celtic red hair going on, and attempt to keep my style of dress out of Hawaiian shirt and white sneakers territory, so possibly it’s just unexpected. I’m not pushy, don’t feel a sense of entitlement, say “sorry” even when it’s inappropriately ingratiating. My natural personality inclines toward British.

It’s that damned, glaring accent. I’ll never shed it.

The reaction’s been pleasant, though a bit surprised, when I speak to strangers. Nothing rude or prejudicial, though God who could blame them, especially these days.

I AM SO SORRY, WORLD.

My irritating habit of deferral toward Chris was a big part of last year’s dismal relationship failure.  Planning what to do, where and what to eat, how to spend time, etc., the vast majority was left to him. I took his lead, trailing behind like a puppy.

You never get to know a wishy-washy person who doesn’t speak up. Relationships kind of thrive on things like sharing and expressing interest. He genuinely wanted to get to know me better, to learn my likes and dislikes, share interests.

Who knew?

This year, I’m making a point of modifying that. His busyness with classes and my new-found book group buddies alleviate some of it, broadening our horizons and giving me more confidence. I’ve graduated from puppy to female dog, letting myself have actual preferences. For tonight, I’ve scheduled us for a pub trivia contest at a pretty little place in Edinburgh. Both of us tapping away in the office last evening, I asked if he was interested. Trying not to appear too surprised lest he scare me off, his answer was happily casual. Yes, he said, inside thinking OH MY GOD, THANK YOU, SHE DOES HAVE A PERSONALITY.

What keeps us coming back to each other if we have had such difficulties. I hear you asking that. What we have in common are the big things, mostly sharing political and tolerance philosophy; foul mouths; a passion for literature and lifetime learning. I think he’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve known, and he thinks I am.

What keeps any relationship together?

No, really. I NEED TO KNOW.

 

 

Meanwhile, when I’m not watching weirdly fascinating British game shows (future post in the pipeline), I’m setting about the process of setting up a freelance editing business. It’s going to take forever. It wants to take forever, but I can’t let it.

M-O-N-E-Y, friends. It helps you buy stuff. I like stuff. Especially food, clothing and shelter. In that order.

I’ve been watching videos about how to set up websites, how to go rogue wild freelance. Driving myself crazy over-thinking. I need to set achievable goals, realize things will change and evolve, that my first website will be complete shit.

Life’s a learning process. You go forward, you screw up, blah blah blah, motivational quote so sweet it gives you cavities. Complicating it all, I’m an American living in the UK.

Have you heard my accent?

 

 

Still having trouble posting decent photos, sorry. Taking Chris up on his offer of borrowing his DSLR will improve things. Then I can upload higher-quality stuff: NOW WITH REAL PIXELS! As of now, all pics come from my camera. They have that distinct not great quality that’s pretty not ideal. I’m a better photographer than that.

I swear.

Goddamnit.

 

 

Daily Scotland: Settling In

 

The familiarity gained from last year’s three-month stay in Scotland’s shortened the re-acquaintance process with life here. It already feels familiar walking to the market to pick up simple things like milk and bread. There’s a small shop, a mini-mart we’d call it in the States, five minutes away. The nearest supermarket’s further than I can walk. A taxi would add a lot to the cost of buying just a few items, but there’s the British equivalent of Walmart anchoring the local mall. In that mall is, among other things, a Waterstones. I can take a taxi there when I have a longer list of needs than just vanilla and cake pans.

In preparation for making two pies with apples from the tree directly behind the house, I mistakenly bought “sponge” flour in place of self-rising, to go along with the folly of “caster” sugar in place of regular granulated, for my coffee. Thank God Chris put me in my place as far as caster sugar, since “no restaurant would ever serve caster sugar for my coffee.” As far as I can tell, caster sugar is more coarse than granulated, not so coarse as what we’d call “crystal” sugar, which is decorative. That’s used on top of baked goods to make them look more appealing and fancy, I guess you’d say.

 

We don’t have so many choices for baking ingredients in the States. There’s brown sugar, powdered sugar, granulated, and crystal sugar. As for flour, there’s self-rising, standard flour with no baking powder or baking soda (if you need to add specialized amounts), wheat flour, specialty flours made with other grains for the gluten-intolerant, but as far as I know, that’s it. For sponge cake, we’d use regular self-rising. If it needs a finer texture, we’d run it through a sifter. British bakers, you’re much more sophisticated.

Today I was looking at the flour and sugar I bought to stock the pantry, thinking as long as I had these maybe I should just bake a sponge cake. Exploring the kitchen cabinets for other critical ingredients, I found he had none. Add those to the list for a trip to the shopping mall. Heaven forfend I should have to go shopping, but what does what one must.

 

Lots of excitement two days ago, when the remnants of a hurricane barreled through southern Scotland. Growing up in the Midwest I’ve seen huge thunderstorms, but never an actual hurricane. Fascinating watching detritus hurtle past the windows, like a Scottish-set The Wizard of Oz. I half expected the Wicked Witch of the West to cycle by. I’m glad it came through so early in autumn. The leaves have only just begun changing; I’m crossing my fingers there’s no tree-baring repeat nearer peak color. I’d love to drive up into the Highlands for spectacular photos.

Colors become brilliant in Scotland later than the Midwest – between late October and early November. Colorful leaves are long gone by November in Chicago, and it’s not particularly stunning where I lived. Two charming possibilities in the Highlands are Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. I picked them out while researching hamlets with bookshops. These two fit the bill. Right next to each other in Perthshire, they’re approximately an hour and a half away. Chris mentioned Perthshire as a beauty spot. Cross fingers the weather cooperates.

 

I can’t escape without admitting the number of books I’ve bought so far – in just over two weeks. It’s not staggering – well, maybe to a non-reader – but decent. Charity shops netted me a few finds, but Amazon.co.uk has been no slouch, either. Considering a blog devoted to Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, I found several here and there. Edinburgh is his home town; no worries about finding all the volumes.

I may have picked up a sequel to Cold Comfort Farm I never realized existed, as well as the same Bloomsbury edition of The Brontës Went to Woolworths I used to own, once upon a pre-Scotland purge. Then, there’s Claire Tomalin’s autobiography, a book by an up and coming Edinburgh author named Sam McColl, Alexander McCall Smith’s first book in The Sunday Philosophy Club series, a book about bookshops, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for a book discussion group meeting in Edinburgh. And no, you may not see my Amazon shopping cart.

 

Speaking of the book group, I attended my first meeting last evening at a lovely little cafe called Nom de Plume on Broughton St. in Edinburgh. Jean Brodie provoked a brilliant discussion, and I was very interested in hearing what actual Scots thought about this iconic title written by one of their iconic writers. All sorts of fascinating points were brought up, lots of bits and pieces I’d never have picked up on my own. This is the wonder of book groups.

 

I’m looking forward to the weekend, hoping it brings travel – weather permitting. A Scottish author and friend recommended a couple of abandoned sites I’m keen to see. One’s an old manor, the other a railroad tunnel no longer in use. The manor sounds delightfully creepy, though potentially dangerous. There are beams perilously near falling, and a staircase in the same condition. She warned of drop offs, so if you don’t hear from me again, you’ll know why. It’s Chris’s chance to wander off, whistling innocently.

I’m still working out adding photos without the Windows snipping tool, and I have some lovely ones to show. If I must, I’ll post those separately. If you see photos in this post, I was successful. Yay!

If not, they’re coming. Gives you a reason to keep living.