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.

 

 

 

 

 

Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill

 

If I am asked for advice I always say, “Don’t give up the day job”, no matter what it is, because however well your first book did, however large a sum of money you may have made, one swallow does not make a summer or one successful book a long and lucrative career.

-Susan Hill, Jacob’s Room is Full of Books

 

I’m struggling to get caught up sharing thoughts on the books I’ve read in Scotland, as well as those I’ve bought and will have to ship back to the States. Because failed relationship.

Anyhoo, it’s been difficult not buying more, but I need to show restraint on all but those books difficult to find in the States. I cannot pass up select vintage Penguins, for instance, nor the occasional work by more obscure British authors I know would be more expensive there.

At least, those are my excuses. No bibliophile would bat an eye.

Jacob’s Room is Full of Books I purchased in hardcover, an irresistible volume written by a writer I respect who cherishes books, liberally peppered with anecdotes about other writers she’s known and lots of digressions into things like the weather. I’d expected more focus on Hill’s personal favorites, reminiscences about what she’s read; in reality it’s less that and more a delightfully eccentric, jumbled diary of sorts. It’s a memoir of scattered memories. If you sat down to a meal with Susan Hill, this is the conversation you’d love to have.

Writing a book like this is on my mind, relating specific books to specific stages of my life and discussing my personal iconic writers. Just as everyone’s story is distinct, mine diverges sharply from Susan Hill’s. Though nowhere near as extensively, I’ve met and rubbed elbows with writers of staggering reputation, insinuating myself into their circles, buttonholing them at events, contacting them for interviews unfazed by prizes as the majority of writers I’ve worked with have been gracious, refreshingly humble. A nobody in the literary world, my accomplishments haven’t so much fallen into my lap as been forcefully pulled. Fast talking – or typing – and sharp elbows go a very long way toward competing with writers who have more talent but less assertiveness.

Ultimately, you make your own luck.

Hill’s book introduced me to several writers I’d never heard of, like Duncan Fallowell:

 

“the author of How to Disappear and other brilliant, eccentric, quirky books by a man who Has Adventures. Duncan has adventures because he goes about looking for them – admirable trait, though one which I have never shared.”

  • Susan Hill, Jacob’s Room is Full of Books

 

Hill may not have ventured far, but I certainly have. Sitting here in Scotland, for the second time having left my American life behind for the sake of trying a relationship that’s twice failed, a roamer afflicted by wanderlust several times traveling to Europe alone, I’m clearly not of her disposition. Rather the opposite, though if you’d have told me I’d be this way as a reticent child I’d have thought you crazy. My days of traveling extensively outside the country, barring unforeseen incidents (and dear god I’ve had my share of those), are likely to be eclipsed by roaming my own country once I’ve returned home. But I never expect I’ll lose that passion.

Handily, Susan Hill has included a bibliographical list of books mentioned in Jacob’s Room is Full of Books. I’d say helpfully, but it’s also dangerous as I’ve decided I need several of them, Duncan Fallowell’s travel writing included. I suspect his style is closer to my own writing, being less sweet of nature and more inclined toward snark. I’m not a mincer of words. His example may help show me the path, giving me a few ideas. Another necessary book in the Amazon cart.

I recommend Hill’s book. Some have said it drops too many names, but good lord what has she been doing all her life but consorting with fellow writers? And, while it may not be devoted solely to books, there’s enough to have satisfied me. Once you’ve finished that, she published a prior book that’s much the same, Howards End is on the Landing. They make a great pairing.

More books to go before I’ve caught up, then I’ll do my best to stumble through a year-end wrap up. No surprise I have trips both booked and in consideration before I leave the UK. The next is a one day trip to London next week to meet up with friends, then a December jaunt to Penzance for a week’s holiday spent on the most westerly tip of England. As it’s off-season – way, way off-season – it will be freezing and empty.

Are there any bookshops is my first question. If so, no promises I’ll bring back more souvenirs. I’ve just returned from pretty Perth, and will put up photos soon. No bookshops of note there save Waterstones. Not that I don’t love it, but secondhand shops reign supreme.

Back to planning the remainder of my stay. Too early to worry overly much about what I’ll do when I return. Don’t let the present be ruined by difficulties that can be saved for a later date, that’s my motto. Meantime, allons-y!