May 06, 2006

Other: Notes From A Small Island

(With apologies to Bill Bryson)

The first time at a ‘puter since Newcastle-on-Tyne, so the summary is a brief of the days, and limited to what’s in my notebook.

Day One – Dunkeld & Birnam
Old place, this. Parking relies more on tradition than laws do, apparently. Older roads than cars, you see. The same seems to apply to vegetables. There is a ruined church here, which used to be the seat of Christianity in Scotland. I like the way the folks are restoring it – the new pieces are cast in the shape that the originals they are replacing were. You can see what the walls and columns would have looked like, while still seeing the age of the building. It’s about 650 years old or so. Oh, and our 2nd PM (you know, the dull one after Sir John A.) spent much of his childhood here. I can see why he turned out as he did: Dunkeld & Birnam is, well, an intersection on either side of a river and the bridge connecting them.

Day Two – Newcastle-on-Tyne
The trains work quite well, thank you very much. Though you have to buy your tickets on board to get the best price, as the staff there are the best at translating the cryptic (at best) rate system between all the private lines. (Same with buses, by-the-by.) Bits of Jenny’s family live in a phenomenally confusing building, that’s got some lovely design, but it’s easy to get lost. The top floor where we’re staying especially reminds me of a game of MYST.

Day Three – Newcastle-etc.
Got lost in the building, including going up a narrow (maybe two feet wide) staircase that ended in a sliding door, whose handle you could see behind the wall, you just couldn’t reach it.
Out for lunch, where we talked about how Jenny’s parents used to work in pubs, robbing from the customers and employers indiscriminately. The staff tried overcharging us – good luck with that!

Day Four – Dunkeld
One thing noticeable about the buildings here is that nothing we’ve been in has been quite finished correctly: a little too tight for some doors to latch, a carpet not quite fitting the room, etc.
Tried the hiking trails here, which are fantastic; much like home only far more used. Saw what was supposedly the famous “Birnam Wood”: an oak and a sycamore (HUGE things) which may have been the inspiration for the march of MacBeth fame. Nonsense, but a great story.
Speaking of trees, one of the Earls out here was apparently a mad larcher, (and that’s not as dirty as it sounds). It seems that he spent much of his time reforesting bits of Scotland with larches. What people won’t do to get out of the house, eh? At one point he used a cannon to blast seeds onto hillsides. Our companies could learn a thing or two from this: how many volunteers do you think they’d get…?
Drove for the first time today – not as challenging as I had feared. Slightly different perspective, same psychotic maniacs to avoid.
Went to the Famous Grouse distillery and went on a silly A/V tour, but it included nine samples (about 3oz) in fifteen minutes, so the walk home was quite enjoyable.
Had sex a few more times today, but we can’t seem to find our rhythm… the Significant Other suggests that it’s because we’re sharing accommodations, so we’re limited to nice, quiet egalitarian sex, which puts a damper on things. Be glad when we’re at the retreat – we’re in the Servants Quarters in another building from the knitters. Don’t scare the horses…

Day Five – Dalwhinnie
Bussed up to the highlands to Jenny’s current favourite Scotch whisky maker, Dalwhinnie. A 3km hike from the bus stop into typical highland weather: 6 degrees, high wind, snow on the hills, rain spitting down sideways. Ahh, memories of Tofino. Anyhow, marvellous whisky, followed by some surprisingly good food at a small inn. The inn had to be small, as I seriously doubt that the town had more than 200 people in it. More a hamlet, I suppose, and why not? We’ve already had MacBeth… (Sorry.)
Back to Dunkeld, where I realise that boots after a hike aren’t the cleanest things ever. Vacuuming dirtied floors with a sullied conscience.

Day Six – Glasgow
Visited an old friend from Salt Spring, as well as his wife and child (huge, brilliant, and too cute for words, respectively). He installs cable television for a living, and says it’s mostly a snap: there’s no wiring or insulation to worry about when you drill through a 1 metre thick stone wall, you see…
Saw the Burrell Collection today – Hooray for Industrial Plutocrats! The first things you see when you walk in (after the shop) are FOUR Rodin bronzes.
My.
I found out that I think the Ming dynasty is over-rated, artistically speaking, but I quite like the Han (7th century) and a lot of the Song (2nd century) pieces. Go fig.

Day 7 – Edinburgh
Toured the castle today. Hundreds of years to build (and rebuild) and you can see why: this is a building of substance. When the 6th Harry Potter book was released, J.K. Rowling apparently used the Great Hall for a reading to a select audience of kids from around the world. Great setting, but the Hall was redone in the 19th century, with their idea of what it used to look like: not exactly authentic. Well, less blood to clean off the walls that way, I guess. Still used as an infantry barracks, the castle is the high point of town (naturally) with the rest of Old Town falling away from it. The cobblestone streets would be hell to keep a motorcycle upright on in even a light rain.
Wandered through a Gothic cathedral, too. Beautiful stone work & glass. Easy to see why they made such an impression on folks who would never have seen such a tall structure! Especially inside – the vaulted ceilings were taller than anything even in the castle. Both buildings were purpose-built, after all.

Day 8 – Edinburgh
Saw that the Royal Museum of Scotland and the Museum of Scotland were both side by side and free of charge, we made plans to see them. Five hours later, we worked our way (mostly) through the smaller of the two. Looks like the Royal is going to have to wait until next time: “Sir, may I be excused? My brain’s full.”
Found Orkney Fudge for my neighbour: apparently his cousin makes it, but doesn’t believe in free samples for family. Found out that there are as many Scots-Native mixes as there are Metis (French-Natives) in Canada.
Drove a standard – no real change. The pedals are all in the same order, as are the gears, even with the different hand.
Slept in Dunkeld one last time. Apparently, it’s the hot-spot for a bunch of 18-22 year olds to stand on street corners and get drunk. Felt like an anthropologist watching them: yep, looks just as pathetic on this side of the Atlantic.

Well, work begins tonight, and we’re in a bloody mansion. The place has three staircases, two kitchens, a hunting room, kennels… And an obscene number of bathrooms. Ah, the good life!

One thing though – it’s a pay-as-you-go internet connection on DIAL UP! So I won’t be replying to much, hope you understand…

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