Decided to opt out of the gym today. I think my body will be better served by RESTING and then we’ll re-assess tomorrow.
Category Archives: Musing
So. Freddie is currently flipping channels while I try to figure out how to make coherent sentences out of the things that are floating around in my brain. In my defense, I have had a WHOLE BUNCH of cough syrup today on top of four or five or six beer DON’T JUDGE ME I’M A PROFESSIONAL so writing this post is more challenging than usual.
Anyway, he has landed on Austin Powers in Goldmember, which is fucking terrible, and because of this I am mad at Beyonce.
Because OH MY GOD I don’t care where you’re from but “goldmember” is not pronounced “goldmimber.” It’s not. I don’t care. Regional dialects be damned OH MY GOD IT’S A SHORT ‘E’ NOT A SHORT ‘I’ AND DON’T MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE.
Now, as a linguist, I am fully aware that language is a fluid medium that grows and changes at a pace that no printed tome can ever hope to keep up with, but MY GOD FOR FUCK’S SAKE at least pronounce things with some idea of what the sounds are. SHEESH.
I love Freecycle. I have given away some of the most amazing things on there – things that I couldn’t even persuade the trash workers to take. I once gave away 40 half-filled cans of paint that had been in my storage shed for an unknown amount of time (it came with the previous house). I didn’t know if the paint was in any way useful, yet someone took it off my hands. I’m pretty sure that lady is a straight-up hoarder, though.
I seem to have run into a problem, however. I have a 19-inch TV that I am trying to get rid of, and nobody on Freecycle seems to want it. This is amazing to me! I was expecting the responses to come thick and fast with “I can come get it now” and I was expecting fistfights over a WORKING TELEVISION. No dice. One guy did express interest, but it turns out the TV is too big for the space he wanted to put it in. Beyond that… tumbleweeds.
Flabbergasted, I am. I mean, I have given away broken glass and rusty tomato cages on Freecycle, and to not be able to give away a functioning TV is blowing my mind.
Could it be possible that people realize the TV is haunted? You see, we got this TV when Freddie’s Nana passed away in 1997, and for quite awhile, we were convinced that Nana lived in the TV. We had it in our bedroom for the longest time, and it wouldn’t turn off all the way all the time. The picture would go away, but the screen wouldn’t turn off. After jokingly suggesting that Nana was in the TV, Freddie said “good night, Nana” and the TV finally turned off.
Maybe nobody wants this TV because Freddie’s Nana is putting it out there that she doesn’t want to leave us. Who knows? All I know is that I have an extra TV that I don’t need and am willing to part with FOR FREE and I can’t seem to do that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my Big Goal and I’ve even come up with a decent timeline. It looks like I should be able to hit it in October/November of 2013. That assumes, of course, that I stick with this HELL YEAH way of going on and actually DO the things that I need to do to get to where I need to be. Ack.
Tools, I got. Time, I got. Ability, I got. It’s the stamina and willpower pieces that need some work. I know that once the willpower is in place, the stamina will happen too but I… just don’t know if I can do it. Argh.
Anyway, I’m being all vague and shit because it’s better for me to do things FOR MYOWNSELF and not because of or for anyone else. This Big Goal is going to be FOR ME, first and foremost, and then it will be a way to say “fuck you” to anyone who ever told me “no.”
Rawr. Venting. Organizing the thoughts. Looking for inspiration.
Writing is difficult for me, even on the best days. It’s funny to me because I write so much crap on Facebook and elsewhere that comes so easily, but when I’m writing for me, it’s hard.
Right now I’m in the “barf it out” stage of something that’s been bouncing around my head for awhile, and while I can write certain things with clarity, there are the in-between bits that have notations like “blahblah describe blahblah” and “put in the part about the thing with the stuff here” and “oh crap, this is going to need to be changed.”
It’s really really difficult for me to stop judging my own writing long enough to get it out on the page, but I’m working on that. It’s true that we must suffer to be beautiful.
Considering the shenanigans that Wednesday night witnessed, a great many of us were up and at ’em early enough on Thursday. Reed greeted me at breakfast with a fresh Bloody Mary, because that guy is a genius. Everyone looked a little rough around the edges except for Michael, who looked like he was rocking the hangover sweats writ large. Poor guy. I am more than a little surprised that I wasn’t hung over at all, despite my Professional Drunk In Public status. I’ve been pro since 1994, and have had less-boozy evenings that resulted in suicidal mornings. There must be something magical about Scotland (duh) that prevents hangovers. I might have to move there.
Anyway, once breakfast was done, we hucked our luggage down to the front door and said our goodbyes. The gang was headed into Tarbert so the GSH boys could visit the office there and the rest of us (Ashley, Jim, Freddie, and I) could do a whirlwind shopping trip at the Harris Tweed Shop (the 2nd one). I struggled mightily, but managed to restrain myself from buying more yarn. I did try, though. I hugged it and everything. It was only when Freddie reminded me that over-weight baggage costs eleventy million dollars to fly nowadays that I reined it in.
Across from the shop was a warehouse, and that warehouse was FILLED WITH TWEED. I’m very happy we didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend or I would still be in there. On the back wall, there was a loom like the one we’d seen earlier in the week. It was obviously in use, judging by the TV that sat on the table nearby and the Barbie-style Duchess Catherine doll next to it. I did NOT take a photo of that, but I totally should have.
Across the aisle was an example of an hand loom. It looks very complicated and scary but was really quite a beautiful piece. There were three spinning wheels next to it but I couldn’t get the best photo, unfortunately. I wonder if Freddie would let me get a loom?
On the wall between the two looms was this array of photographs, documenting the tweed process from sheep to store. It used to be done by one person (or family group or similar) and the last known person to do the whole thing herownself, from start to finish was Marion Campbell, who died in 1996. I’m kicking myself now for not picking up a copy of a book that was written about her, because the photos are fascinating.
Oh, you can just see the Duchess Catherine doll in the left-hand side of this photo! HA!
Tweed, from floor to ceiling, in every shade of tan and grey. The dyes are traditionally made from plants and other vegetation on the island, so if you’re kitted out in full tweed, you might as well be wearing camouflage.
We had a flight to catch, so we all got back in the van and went up the hill to the GSH office to pick up the others. Somehow or another, I ended up in the back of the van with Frankie (and Mark, I think), which was a bad idea because we were both a little bit green around the edges when we got to the airport. Luckily, I am cured by terrible coffee, and started feeling better almost instantly once that happened. Just to be safe, I took my Dramamine for the plane ride because the rule is: propellers = nausea.
[side note: Dear Scotland, an Americano is a shit cup of coffee. Get some filters and make me some NORMAL COFFEE next time I’m there. Love, Me]
While we were waiting to board the plane, I was playing with the settings on the camera and got this next shot, upon which I will not comment. [grin]
The island gave us many things over the course of those few days, and I think it was fitting that we were given a rainbow as we got on the plane to leave.
We flew into Glasgow and then piled into various cars and vans (Frankie and I in the middle this time) for the short ride to Edinburgh. I love that city and really need to spend more time there. Two days ten years ago and then less than 24 hours this time is not nearly enough. Our hotel in the city was a basic Holiday Inn (not the Parliament House, which would have been tremendously funny), within walking distance to the Royal Mile, which was our first destination. When we’d landed, the sun was almost out, and while it was a bit sprinkly during the drive over, by the time we were ready to head out into town, it was a full-on downpour. Yay for jackets with hoods!
Our first stop, THANK GOD, was a real, actual, what-I-wanted-in-the-first-place pub. Hooray and Hallelujah, plus it was nice to get out of the rain. The bartender was um, handsome, so I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what I wanted.
I can’t believe this is the best picture I got of Frankie, who is one of the most hilarious people I have ever had the good fortune to meet.
It turned out that the beer I’d ordered (with Freddie and Steve copying me like the good boys they are) didn’t have enough in the cask for three full pints, so Mr. Handsome Bartender did a very neat trick to make it two-and-change. Did I mention the bartender was kind of hot?
Finally, a photo with Jim and Ashley in it. Great people, those two. We had a wonderful time talking and sharing pictures of our kids and all that jazz.
Here’s one of Frankie and Jim talking to Ashley and Freddie. Action photos are my favorite.
It’s true that alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems. The rain was pouring on us as we’d entered the pub, but as we left, the sun was out. Beer cures all, and that’s a fact. We made our way up to the Royal Mile and I got a good shot of it. In my head, the Royal Mile and Diagon Alley look exactly the same.
On our first trip to Edinburgh, we were wandering up the Royal Mile and at one point we’d lost our Freddie. Backtracking to the shop where he’d last been spotted, we found him inside here, talking with the proprietor, who was handing him samples. We were on a tight schedule, so he wasn’t allowed in this time.
At one point, we had stopped to wait while some of our number looked in the shops. We found ourselves standing near the statue of Adam Smith, and I watched as different groups of tourists would come up and get pictures taken in front of the statue, in various strange poses. It seemed like such weird behavior and made me wonder if these people knew that they were making stupid faces in front of the statue of the father of modern economics. I have always tried to avoid stupid vacation photos of that nature (indeed, I have tried to avoid MOST photos of any type) because it’s one thing to look stupid, but it’s quite another to look VERY stupid.
We stopped to wander through St. Giles’ Cathedral, which is completely gorgeous. I’m not a huge fan of religion but I love churches, and this one is just wonderful. The building dates from before 1385, when it was mostly rebuilt following a fire (though some sources claim the four main pillars are 200 years older) and from what I could tell, they built it all at once instead of starting at one end like a lot of cathedrals that date from that time. The late 15th century saw the addition of the crown steeple, which is a prominent feature in the Edinburgh skyline.
Because I should have paid £2 for a “photography permit” and I didn’t, I didn’t use any flash and a lot of my photos aren’t all that great. They wouldn’t have done the place justice anyway because the whole thing is inexpressibly lovely, with different memorials and plaques here and there. The Thistle Chapel is especially amazing.
I’ve never been accused of being straight and narrow, and I think that’s why geometric designs appeal to me so much. Looking upon order and harmony sometimes has a similar effect in my mixed-up brain.
George VI isn’t buried here, but there is a memorial to him in the Thistle Chapel. I love these kinds of things, because the churches here don’t tend to do them. I think it makes the building even more interesting, as a way of saying “HEY. HISTORY HAPPENED HERE. LOTS OF IT.”
According to the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, over 3800 people were accused of witchcraft during the years between 1563 and 1736. Apparently, it has been extremely difficult to come up with any kind of reasonable number of people who were actually executed, but on the wall of the Tartan Weaving Mill, there is a small fountain with a plaque below, commemorating the site where “many witches were burned at the stake.”
“This Fountain, designed by John Duncan, RSA is near the site on which many witches were burned at the stake. The wicked head and serene head signify that some used their exceptional knowledge for evil purposes while others were misunderstood and wished their kind nothing but good. The serpent has the dual significance of evil and wisdom. The Foxglove spray further emphasises the dual purpose of many common objects.”
[Insert obligatory William Wallace/”Braveheart” reference here]
To my sadness, we were unable to get into the Castle. It was closed for the day by the time we made our way up there, which is a huge bummer because I wanted to get a photo of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce guarding the front door and maybe visit the Mons Meg and see the view Firth of Forth and pay my respects to St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, dating from the early 12th century). It was one of the highlights of our trip there in 2001 and it would have been nice to refresh those memories. Alas, we were too late.
Instead, we walked around, did some window shopping, and took photos of random things.
Stopped at another pub, obviously.
Calton Hill, home of St. Andrews House, which is the headquarters of the Scottish government. The Hill features prominently in a surprising number of paintings and photographs, and it’s easy to see why.
After all the wandering around, we went to dinner at The Dome, which was very fancy and nice. The original building on that site was built in 1775 and was the Physicans’ Hall. It was purchased in 1843 by the Commercial Bank of Scotland and promptly demolished. The building as it stands today was begun in 1844 and the caduceus stained-glass windows (added in 1930) are a nod to the original purpose of the site. The room was beautifully laid out, and our meal was great, but by then, I was just so over food. Everything was starting to be too much. But I rallied and had sticky toffee pudding for dessert so all is right with the world. I keep thinking I have to try my hand at making it, but then I realize that I would weigh 400 pounds if I were successful. So I shall save that particular dessert for my UK jaunts.
After dinner, we went on a tour of the supposedly haunted underground vaults. That started with a museum of sorts that featured various instruments of torture. It’s amazing the sorts of things humans invent in order to do damage to fellow humans. The vaults themselves were fairly interesting – I’m always amazed that cities are just built on top of people sometimes. I’m sure the tour was utterly fascinating, but as I can’t hear in the dark, I was left to watch the others. The vaults share a wall with a pub, and the band in there was playing “Tribute” by Tenacious D which made me laugh and took me completely out of the moment. Oh well. I got a huge laugh at one point because I could see Steve standing next to Frankie and, ever so sneakily, Steve was inching his way behind Frankie in order to scare him. I watched the whole thing happen and nearly fell over trying to stifle a laugh.
After the tour, we got to go to “Edinburgh’s Most Haunted Pub” (mmhmm, sure) for whisky and shortbread. I don’t know about haunted, exactly, but the ladies’ room was something out of Trainspotting and the jukebox was terrible, so close enough I suppose. Freddie and Reed went downstairs to explore a bit and found more instruments of torture on the walls. I was pouting (a little) because I was tired and not getting nearly enough attention (it’s a sickness), but I rallied and we closed out the night in a different pub, laughing our fool heads off.
I got this photo on Monday in an email from Reed:
The next morning, we were up and on our way to the airport by 9AM. After we checked in and all that, we went off in search of breakfast and I wound up sitting next to these gentlemen, who pretty much sum up Scotland.
When anyone asks “how was your trip?” My answer is always the same. “It was astounding.” Just really, really, really amazing on all levels. Every other vacation I take is going to be ruined when compared to this one, because I really could not have asked for a better place to stay or a better group of people to stay there with. Any other words I try to use to describe the thing are just not even close to being enough.
Wednesday was our last full day at the castle, and it was BY FAR, my favorite day of them all.
I have to talk about breakfast because there was bacon involved. I am only a little bit sad that I never took pictures of the food, but it just didn’t seem like a good idea. I’m ill-mannered enough as it is, you see. But breakfast – I suppose if I had access to Scottish/English bacon of the sort I enjoyed at the castle, I would eat breakfast for every meal. American-style bacon is great, don’t get me wrong, but in the steel cage match of cured pork products, American bacon goes down like Apollo Creed against Ivan Drago. There were eggs, bacon, smoked fish, bacon, more eggs, bacon, tomatoes, bacon, mushrooms, bacon, bacon, and bacon. Breakfast was awesome, is what I’m trying to say. I might not have mentioned that there was bacon there.
Breakfast was a great time to decide what everyone was planning to do that day. Ashley (the other woman in our group and I am surprised that I don’t have more photos of her) was so enamored by the previous day’s hunting adventure that she decided to go out again. She turned into a bloodthirsty warrior goddess once she was handed a gun. The rest of us decided to go out and shoot clay pigeons.
While I understand the need for the stag hunting and the culling of the herd and all that, I’m just not sure that I could shoot an actual living animal. But I will aim and fire at clay all day long because it’s fun to shoot things! THINGS, NOT ANIMALS. Ahem.
So after breakfast, we trooped over to the Picnic Room to make lunches and then to the Luggage Room to get wellies. It turns out that Ashley was wearing the one pair of wellies that would have fit me – all the rest were too small or waaaaay too big. Thus, no wellies for me. My hiking boots are waterproof but if I were to sink into the bog at any point, I would be fucked. Didn’t matter, because I am an occasional badass, so after a safety briefing and the signing of releases, we piled into the van to go shoot.
We actually had a “Trap Club” in middle school and I went out with the boys a few times, but that was 25 years ago and I hadn’t held a gun since. Turns out it doesn’t take much to remember what to do.
Apparently, I am a magnet for shotgun shells because no matter where I stood behind the shooter, whenever the gun was broken, the shells would fly out and land at my feet. I moved around, I moved back, didn’t matter. Shotgun shells like me, it seems.
It had been chilly and wet all morning, and then it started to rain on us. Even though I was supposed to be wearing the safety goggles, I had to abandon them because I couldn’t see out of them at all and I felt a lot safer when I could see what I was shooting at. It turns out that was the right decision because we all shot a few to warm up and I didn’t hit a damn thing. Then we decided to have a competition.
Best of 10, and whoever won got a bottle of the house whisky. We ended with Frankie, Steve, and Jim (how do I not have that many photos of Ashley and Jim?) tied at 5. Jim was our eventual winner, and he shoots lefty so he was the only person who did not hit me with spent shells. I managed to hit 2 (even though Innes let me shoot at 18 or something instead of 10 because I’m a lady and I’m cute). I’m not going to say how many Freddie managed to hit, but that number rhymes with “hero.” [grin]
Once the shooting was done, we went back to the castle for a change of clothes because we were all dripping. I’m not sure what the other people did that afternoon, but Reed, Freddie, Steve, and I hopped in the car and went off in search of a pub or an adventure and we found both. We went first to Tarbert, the nearest thing to a town, and after a couple of laps around the main drag, we asked someone and were directed to the “pub.”
I put that in quotes because I’ve been in a number of UK pubs (that number stands at about 38, which is impressive considering the total time I’ve spent in the country is just over two weeks. Do the math) and this wasn’t one. It was a stylish hotel-style bar and while it was nice enough, it wasn’t what we wanted. We had a pint each anyway, then left to walk around the town a bit. Steve, being English, requires regular infusions of fish & chips or he has to renounce his citizenship or something.
I wasn’t hungry, so I didn’t get any and while the boys were eating (standing in an alleyway with trash cans to avoid the wind, ew), I went into the shop opposite. You’d think that a place calling itself “The Harris Tweed Shop” would have more than this place did, but you’d be wrong. It was just a small shop with lots of weird things and a small-ish selection of tweed items. The boys joined me eventually (with their greasy fingers) and Freddie found a very nice jacket that he ended up getting. Reed bought a scarf (I think) and I got the coolest bag in the world – it’s made to look like a kilt and it’s an orange/grey tartan that clashes magnificently with every other article of clothing I own.
At one point, Freddie tried on what he thought was a hat (it is similar in shape to the knit wool caps he wears all winter) and it sent Steve into hysterics because what Freddie took to be a hat was actually a tea cozy. SO MUCH LAUGHING, and for the rest of the day, anytime anyone said “tea cozy” we’d all be off our heads again. Steve tried on every hat in the store and didn’t like any of them, so we decided to try our luck at the other Harris Tweed store.
This one was a little more what I had in mind, since it was ALL TWEED ALL THE TIME and the selection of items was mind-boggling. I made a complete spectacle of myself when I rounded a corner and saw a bin… full… of… YARN. OH MY GOD THE YARN. Of course I bought some. And Steve tried on every hat in this store but found one he liked, so we were able to get out of there eventually. There’s this stereotype about how women shop, but let me tell you – these boys shop like girls. It was pretty hilarious.
Once we’d been Tweeded-out, the gang decided to follow the road down the western coast to a place called Rodel which had a hotel with a pub. We had high hopes but (despite the amazing rainbow), those hopes were dashed when we arrived to find another clean, well-lit hotel bar. Is it too much to ask for a dirty, crusty old pub full of old fishermen? Apparently, yes.
The road to Rodel was one of the twistest, turniest roads I have ever been on, and that includes that insane road I drove on in Idaho between Wallace and Murray. That one is still the SCARIEST but that might be because I was driving. The road on the Isle of Harris is twisty and full of blind curves and since it’s only one lane, you have to sort of slow down or stop at the apex of a curve to ensure that nobody is coming up the opposite direction.
It was interesting to me to note that the weather almost went unnoticed. It rained a little, the sun came out for a bit, it rained some more, the wind blew, and it all seemed normal. It all was normal. If the weather did that here at home, people would be freaking out about it.
Around the corner from the Rodel Hotel and Disappointing Pub was St Clement’s Church. It’s a 15-century church built probably around 1520 by the MacLeod clan. It fell into disrepair after the Protestant Reformation and spent a great deal of time disintegrating (including a period of time when it was used as a cowshed) until it was restored by the Countess of Dunmore, Catherine Herbert in 1873.
It sometimes feels a bit strange to go into an old church because there is a lingering sense of everything that happened there. The feeling is doubly strong in buildings that predate the Reformation as this one obviously does. It’s more than twice as old as the United States which should stop being so astonishing to me, but it never does.
Via a set of extremely narrow stairs, it was possible to go up into the second level of the tower. Something about it weirded me out so I didn’t spend much time up there and instead took more pictures downstairs. These are grave slabs but it’s unclear if they were brought in from the churchyard or if they had once marked tombs inside the church.
The 8th, 9th, and 10th chiefs of the MacLeod clan are entombed in St. Clements. I’m not sure which of the chiefs this one is (I think it’s the 10th chief, John MacLeod) but these wall tombs are among the best examples of medieval tombs in all of Scotland. I’m sure it helps that this is one of the most remote places on the planet, and you’d really have to have a serious grudge against the MacLeods to go all the way out there to vandalize the place.
A 1549 history of the Western Isles claims that St. Clement’s isn’t the first church to be built on this site, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that this is true. This same book also claims that the church is part of a monastery, but there is no indication of that, either. The info points in the church weren’t super-detailed, but Wikipedia and other sources all agree on these points. Still, the tower is lovely, and there’s a restful feeling to the place.
There were a few crypts in the churchyard, most of them overgrown with the text of the memorial markers all but worn away. The gravestones that were still intact were mostly made of granite and dated from the late 1870s when the church had been restored and presumably put back in service. It feels a little strange to be walking over graves but there’s nothing else for it in churches like this.
The sun came out again and gave us another rainbow as we left the church. Instead of going back the way we’d come, we went onward and took the road up the west coast of the island. Some of the prettiest bits were fenced in so only the sheep could enjoy the view, but we found a place where we could go out on the rocks and watch the waves crash.
I picked my dainty way out there to join him (mindful of the fact that if I were to twist my ankle I’d be worse than fucked until we got home) and Steve offered to take a picture of Freddie and me together. After his own self-portrait, of course. I didn’t know he’d done it until later, and we laughed about that as we’d been laughing about pretty much everything all day long.
Freddie and I are literally on the rocks here. Haha, geddit?
Every time, I was surprised at how incredibly blue the water was. I’m sure a little bit of sleuthing would give me a good explanation for it, but I’m willing to bet that it’s that blue because that’s what color it’s supposed to be, and because it’s not full of pollution and greasy New Yorkers like the ocean on the Jersey shore.
All in all, it was one of the best afternoons I’ve had doing anything, anywhere, ever.
We made it back to the castle in time for tea, then it was time to get ready for the final dinner. I didn’t have nearly enough time to dry my hair, so apologies must be made. Because the universe is tricky, my dress was being all gappy in the front, which sucked balls because the damn thing fit in the store when I tried it on with that exact same bra. In a fit of organization, I’d completely cleaned out my toiletry bag o’tricks before we left, and divested myself of my legendary safety pin collection, so there wasn’t an obvious solution to my problem.
However, as with most things in life, I solved this problem with a little help from my friends. I had my JGz button pinned to my little purse, and I used that to MacGuyver the shit out of my dress and bra and it looked just fine. We then made our way downstairs for pre-dinner drinks with the rest of the gang.
Innes was in full kilt, and he said it was the tartan of the Isle of Harris. The examples I’m finding online don’t jibe exactly with what he’s got there, though. The whole outfit was just freaking gorgeous.
This is one of the only times we got a shot of the whole group. I wish we had gotten one on the first day to compare to this one, but aren’t we all adorable in our fancy gear?
I rarely consent to being photographed, but here I am chatting away with Reed and Mrs. Hall. I am still mad at my hair because it looked SO MUCH BETTER the previous night. Ugh, shut up, hair.
The procession into dinner had bagpipes as the soundtrack. I know some people really hate the sound of the pipes, but I love them. I always have. I’d love to learn to play bagpipes at some point, because why not?
There are few things in life I love more than a well-dressed man. Here are two exceedingly fine examples.
Michael is another one of the men who was on the trip with us. I only have a few pictures of him because he spent all of his available time fishing. He looks good in a kilt, though.
Because it was our last night there, everyone was hanging out, playing snooker, drinking, chatting up a storm, and just having a good time. It was nearly impossible to get a really good shot of anyone at the snooker table because the lamp hanging above it was just enormous and fairly low.
Rachael is the daughter of the house, and she is a delight. She’s very into the hunting and fishing that goes on and is pretty good at both of them. She seemed very down-to-earth and genuine and I had a great time talking with her. We have exactly the same name (with the exception of that extra letter “a” that she has), which was a cute coincidence.
I did say I have a weakness for well-dressed men, so there are quite a few photos of this nature. There would have been MORE but I was doing the creepy paparazzo thing as it was and I didn’t want people to start running away in earnest.
This one was taken fairly late in the evening, obviously.
Freddie again! I couldn’t get him to stand still long enough to get a really good photo of him, but I did try. And there’s Jim in the background! At one point, Jim wanted to bow out of the snooker so he could go to bed but he ended up winning the game, poor guy. He just wanted to sleep.
On one of the previous days, I had been wearing my Editors t-shirt and Steve recognized it. I knew right then that we would hit it off and get along well. Add to that his English accent, and I’m surprised I managed to refrain from kidnapping him because all I want out of life is an English boy to follow me around and talk at me all day long. Honestly.
After the snooker was over, the last vestiges of the group trickled out and found themselves around the drinks cabinet. Michael pulled out a bottle of something blue, all “What’s this?” That turned out to be my cue to head to bed. I can’t remember the last time I had laughed so much in one day.
This blog was MIA for so long, I am certain I lost even the most dedicated of my readers. That’s okay, since things were getting a little weird for awhile. It’s better now, SO MUCH BETTER, and I am going to try to write something here as often as I can, even if it’s the most boring type of post. I have to write. Have to.
This life of mine seems to be approaching a crossroads. I’ve spent the last five years in service to the kid and the house, not really thinking or having to think about what I want to do. Next year, Jillian will be in school full-time and I will have a lot of open hours with which to do… what? I don’t even know.
Obviously, I need to go back to school but for what? I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. It would make sense to study something that I can use for a job but the prospect of that is so incredibly boring to me that I don’t know if I could stand it. Then again, if I go back to school to study something I’m truly passionate about, there just aren’t jobs of that nature. Ooh, vague. That’s not to say that I don’t have ideas. I have tons of ideas, but I need to figure out where I should aim my focus in order to foster these ideas and maybe even give them life.
So that’s the dilemma. Do I do the practical thing or not? And what IS that practical thing, anyway? I have the ability to do just about anything, which is probably the main part of the problem. Once again, it boils down to me being JUST TOO AWESOME. It’s a curse, I tell you.
Haters will read that and roll their eyes and accuse me of being full of myself, but the ones who get it will understand that when you have too many choices, it can cause paralysis. That’s my situation. I can do anything I choose to do, but what to choose? It’s possibly the most luxurious position to be in, and while I know it inspires envy, it’s a difficult place to be, believe it or not. It would be so much easier if I just had some closed doors.
By the second full day, it looked like weather and jet lag were catching up to me because I was not feeling super-great at breakfast. It didn’t help that the majority of the party were planning to go stalking all day, which would have been interesting to me on a dry day but with the wind the way it was, I knew I would be miserable doing that so I opted to stay in. My knees were giving me trouble just going up and down the stairs because I am a chubby geriatric sort of person who can tell what the weather is going to be based on what body parts ache. So after breakfast, I went back to bed for a few hours and it was the best decision I ever made.
Just across from the Picnic Room is the Luggage Room. It’s filled with things like life vests and Wellington boots and other bits and pieces one might need to add to her outfit if she were planning to go stomp around the hills all day. The hunting party started there, making sure everyone had Wellies and gear enough for their trek. Lunches were also made, and then they all gathered in the Fishing Room for a safety briefing. Or maybe that happened before they all gathered their gear. I don’t know for sure; I was napping.
The Fishing Room has wonderful maps of the estate, showing the various lochs and roads, as well as relief map showing the hills and likely places to find stag. There’s a big table in the middle and smaller tables around the edges, for tying flies and all the other things that go along with fishing and hunting. The photographs around the room show various guests and groups with their trophies, and on one wall is a collection of fish sketches, noting the details of who caught it, where it was caught, and just how big it was.
I went back to bed, snuggling happily under the VERY fluffy down comforter and had myself the best nap I’ve had in decades. I woke up feeling so much better and refreshed. I took my journal and my book down to the Drawing Room and settled in on one of the incredibly comfortable sofas to read and write and look out the window. A few times I caught myself feeling a little guilty because I wasn’t taking full advantage of this amazing castle, but then I realized that being able to sit in a quiet room to read and write at leisure is something I never, ever get to do.
Once in awhile, I would get up to stretch and think “hm, maybe I’ll go for a walk in a bit.” However, the very second I would stand up to go get my shoes, I’d glance out the window to see that it was raining. This happened at least six times, so eventually I gave up and figured that the universe wanted me to have a nice, relaxing day. So that’s what I had. At one point, I moved out of the Drawing Room and into the TV Room, where I found Reed doing exactly what I was doing – precisely nothing. We had a good time flipping channels and wondering what the hunting party was up to.
It turns out, they were up to braving the weather, mostly. After some shooting practice, they set out up the hill. Freddie reported that they didn’t follow any kind of path or do any kind of switchbacks in order to go up, they just clambered up after the ghillie as best they could (My Knees: “Oh, HELL NO”) and tried to keep pace.
From what I heard, the wind was astounding up on the top of the hill. It was amazing enough down at the castle, I can’t imagine what it would have been like without any windbreaks.
Apparently, Steve nearly blew away.
Stalking the deer is an exercise in walking and patience. When they finally did get themselves in a good position to get a shot, Freddie reported that he was all set up, ready to shoot, and the stag… walked away. I’m not sure how excited I would have been had he returned to the castle with a deer head, but it was cute how excited he was.
Not to change the subject, but…
All the best country houses have resident ghosts, and Amhuinnsuidhe Castle is no exception. The rumor is that Lady Sophie Scott (whose remains lie with those of her husband in the cairn up the hill from the castle) still checks in from time to time. Over the years, various guests have reported feeling chills and seeing reflections of things that aren’t there in windows and mirrors.
At dinner that evening, I finally managed to get up and get some photos of that magnificent dining room. The following is a shot of the tapestry above the fireplace.
Occasionally, ghosts (or whatever you wish to believe they are) can be caught in photographs. They tend to show up as smears of light or bluish orbs, and are usually explained away by skeptics as smudges or dust on the camera lens. I grew up in a house that had at least three ghosts (so I’m in no way a skeptic), and I am certain that this is Lady Sophie. I took the photo below about three seconds after the other one – the hair on my arms was standing straight up, and my ears started ringing. Do with that what you will, but if it were dust on the lens, it would have shown up again, don’t you think?
My journal is utterly hysterical on the subject of meals. I had originally planned to transcribe it verbatim, but after reading it over, I decided against that because I tend to ramble and repeat myself a lot (not that I’m not doing that here). The first night, I described dinner in detail, discussing how amazing the meal was. Each meal was more amazing than the next, and by the time I got to the third dinner, the journal simply says “Dinner = OMG.” After dinner, drinks were happening and at least one necessary bottle needed to be replaced (I don’t even remember what), so Mrs. Hall invited Steve and me to join her on a trip to the wine cellar. I certainly don’t need to be asked twice, so away we went.
I don’t know that I could ever be a wine collector. I’m an enthusiastic wine drinker, for sure, but to collect it? That’s just not my thing. I am, however, quite impressed with the collections of people who do it, because they do end up with some rare and interesting bottles. Mr. Hall has been collecting wine for about 40 years, and he’s got quite an array. His personal collection was housed on the top shelves of the cellar, so I didn’t get a chance to really peek at the labels. I’m sure Mrs. Hall would have produced a ladder out of thin air if I had asked, though. That lady is magic.
Because the castle is also one of the Hall family’s homes, they have their own private kitchen and sitting room off to the one side. Mrs. Hall graciously allowed Steve and me to go in and look around and I have to say, it’s pretty much the best kitchen I have ever seen. I think the entirety of the downstairs of my house would fit in there comfortably. The room was beautifully laid out, painted a cheerful yellow, and featured a tiled backsplash that was just… right. There’s not really any other way to put it. That room is a wonderful example of harmony, and it reflects the personalities of its owners in that it is warm and welcoming and completely comfortable.
Yes, of course there was snooker after dinner. It became something of a joke whenever Frankie would play, because he would inevitably end up wanting to go to bed but still be in the game. At one point, he was begging people to let him lose.
Each day after breakfast, there would be a most amazing spread of sandwich materials in the Picnic Room. If we were going out for the day, we’d stop in there and pack up a lunch then head out. The second day, the weather was absolutely nuts, so instead of going out to hunt or fish, most of us decided to go visit a crofter and see how the Harris Tweed is manufactured.
This golden eagle presides over the Picnic Room, along with his friend the stag and more than a few racks of antlers. Another feature of the Picnic Room was the drying closet. This was essentially three or four racks that slid out of the wall and you’d put your wet gear there after coming in from stalking or fishing. Genius, and oh-so-necessary, because the wind and the rain were fairly constant and immense at times.
If you know anything about certain segments of fashionable clothing, you are aware of the Harris Tweed. It has been called “The Champagne of Fabrics” and is the only fabric in the world governed by its own Act of Parliament. Dan Brown name-checks it in The Da Vinci Code (and his other books featuring Robert Langdon) as the jacket of choice for his main character. Jasper Fforde (one of my favorite authors) even has a character named Harris Tweed who appears in the Thursday Next series. If you haven’t read them, you really should.
The tweed is hand-woven by individual artisans, and traditionally uses colors and dyes sourced from the island. It’s gorgeous, surprisingly soft, versatile, and incredibly durable. The Wikipedia entry is fairly detailed and mentions one Mr. Donald John Mackay, pictured below.
Donald John welcomed 8 or so of us into his tiny (roughly 8 feet by 12 feet) crofter’s hut and we all braved amazingly strong wind and rain to get there (Innes drove us) and huddle around his loom. He showed us the threads and explained his process, then wove a few inches to show us how it’s done. It was utterly fascinating to a fiber nerd such as myself and I honestly could have sat and watched him all day long. He said it takes about a full day to set up the loom (something like 696 individually hand-tied knots) and then about a week to weave 90 meters or so. The amount of skill and care that goes into his work is really astounding.
The other half of the crofter’s hut was a combination shop/storeroom (again, maybe 8 by 12 feet), and since this is about as close to ‘buying locally’ as I am ever likely to get when it comes to cloth, of course we all bought some. I mean, I literally bought this cloth from the hands that made it. Apparently, it’s 4 meters for a man’s jacket and 3 meters for trousers. Almost all the boys bought enough for a jacket, and in a weird (but not at all surprising) twist, they all bought the same pattern. Thus the Tweed Army was born. When everyone gets around to having their jackets made, we’re going to have a dinner and take hilarious pictures.
I bought 3 meters of a captivating purple tweed, but I am not yet 100% sure what I’m going to do with it. I may have a skirt made, or I might do a shawl/wrap with 2 meters and I had an inspiration for the remaining meter, but I am loath to actually cut into the fabric myself. It would make me sad if I messed it up. We shall see what I end up doing with it.
Once the tweed is woven, it is picked up by the Harris Tweed Authority for finishing and inspection to ensure it meets standards. Not just any tweed gets to be Harris Tweed, you see. If the roll meets specifications and standards, it is stamped with the Orb, which is one of the most recognized trademarks in fashion. British designer Vivienne Westwood’s brand logo is very similar to the Orb, which makes sense because she is a big fan of the Harris Tweed.
Even Nike got in on the act at one point. They released a series of throwback sneakers made with Harris Tweed woven by none other than Donald John Mackay. A quick Google search tells me that various Harris Tweed Nikes are going for at least $80 on Ebay, if you want some.
Once everyone was satisfied with the miles of tweed they’d purchased, we left Donald John to his loom and headed back toward the castle. We’d decided earlier to have lunch at “The Hut” which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a hut alongside a road that leads to three different lochs for fishing and more than a few different areas for stalking. I believe the hut predates the castle itself, and it’s nothing more than a rough stone building with a roof on it. There’s a small stove inside and a table with benches but as far as comfort goes, that’s about it.
The road, if it can rightly be called that, was a one-lane, bumpy affair. In fact, the big van we’d been riding around it couldn’t handle the terrain so we had to switch to the vehicles that could handle it, namely a Mazda something-or-other and a Range Rover. We bumped and squelched our way along the road for a good ten minutes before coming in sight of the hut. Later, we looked at a map of the estate and the road goes on a fair way farther, each mile bumpier and squelchier than the last.
You know this is my kind of trip when “packing a lunch” includes at least four bottles of wine. Mr. Hall appeared later on, carrying what looked like a fat briefcase but opened up to reveal two bottles of whisky and four glasses inside. That man is pretty much a walking party, it seems.
It’s evident that this is very much a man’s sort of estate, because restroom facilities were non-existent out there. I think so, anyway. I didn’t get a chance to ask anyone who might know.
After lunch, we all piled back in the vans and went back to the castle. Mr. Hall then gave us a most amazing tour of the castle, including lots of historical details and tidbits. It was built in 1865 for the 7th Earl of Dunmore, who owned the island at the time. The estate has kept records of the hunting and fishing done there, and some of the older Game Books were on display for us to look at. They kept records of who went out in the hunting party, who the ghillie was, what they hunted and what they managed to kill, along with notes such as “David’s first time stalking” or “Elizabeth’s first stag.” One of my favorite notes was from a day when they’d killed 6 stags and a number of birds – the note simply says “Shot at anything that moved.”
The estate used to house a great number of dogs used in stalking the deer. This is one of the photos in the albums kept by Lady Sophie Scott, who was a resident of the castle around the turn of the 20th century. She was an avid sportswoman and photographer, and her albums give us a very intimate look into her life and loves.
This is my favorite of all the photos in Lady Sophie’s albums, and I don’t think it’s even from Amhuinnsuidhe. I just thought it was cute, with the caption “Chat!” That is precisely how I would have captioned it.
This is a display case in the Snooker Room (yes, we spent a great deal of time in there). The plaque inside reads “Weapons Taken From A Warrior In The Sudan” but unfortunately it’s not dated.
This one is also from The Sudan, but specifically says that these articles were taken from a “dervish.”
The castle understandably requires a great deal of provisions to keep itself going. The nearest town is at least a half-hour away by car NOW, so imagine 150 years ago. The Order Book was a listing of all the things that were ordered by the castle, and gives a really interesting look at the things they needed through the years. The years between 1914 and 1918 are missing, presumably because Great Britain was enmeshed in World War I and needed all her men at the front, not rushing off to their country estates to shoot stag.
This is an okay shot of the Drawing Room. Every day around 4, tea would be served. People would wander in from their various pursuits to have tea and chat. It was one of the few times each day that anyone really contacted the outside world. Some of the men were working here and there throughout the day, but teatime was really the only time someone would pull up Yahoo News or similar on the iPad and see what was going on, check baseball scores, etc. It’s a cozy room with comfy furniture, and I spent quite a few happy hours in there just reading and being quiet, which is something I never ever get to do at home. The light was fantastic and it had amazing views of the sea.
Again with the snooker. I am sorely tempted to jettison my dining room set and put in a pool table, but Freddie is against this plan. It was mostly the men who were playing, because I am actually terrible at it. I made a couple of really spectacular shots, though. One of them was even the shot I meant to make in the first place. Mostly, I watched and heckled and chatted with whomever else wasn’t playing. I wish these photos were bigger because there is nothing I love more in this life than hanging out with good-looking, well-dressed men, and I got to do that EVERY NIGHT. Alas, WordPress gives me “medium” and “freaking humungous” as photo sizes. Oh well.