The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Friday, April 30, 2010

WARNING! This blog post is ridiculously long!

 ...and probably boring to anyone other than myself and (maybe) a few others. But, in truth, I write for myself and not to please anyone else.


It's been almost 5 months since I've posted anything! I really didn't mean to let it go on this long but I guess it's kind of like a downward spiral. I keep thinking I'm going to get around to it but something always seems to come up that makes me postpone the effort yet again....and again....and (sigh!) again.  I just read Nik's blog. She also has not been very bloggy since the first of the year (better than me though, at least she's put up a few quick blurbs and some videos!) but she just posted a wonderful long entry. She is such an amazing writer. Her entries are always so entertaining and just so full of her personality! So, feeling very guilty of the inexcusable crime of blog abuse, I decided to just pop in and console my little friend with a few quick words. But, hey, now that I'm here!

OK, so I guess a little (cough, cough) catch-up is called for....

December
I survived my first semester of college quite nicely. Four classes and four B's. Two of those were just one percentage point shy of an A. The day after I finished my last final exam in Dec. I jumped on a plane to Germany to spend Christmas with Nikki and Shauna at Nik's place. It was just starting to snow here as I was leaving and I remember thinking, "Dang, it's snowing and I'm gonna miss it. It'll probably all be gone by the time I get home!" HA! Little did I know! But more on that later.

One would think that it would be just a quick jaunt to get from Scotland to Germany. Given the size of the planet we live on, they are relatively close to one another. But such is not the case. I can actually fly to the East Coast in the time it takes to get to my daughter's place across just across the English Channel (or 'the Anglo-French Pond' as the EU wants to rename it!).  My choices were to fly from Inverness to Birmingham (with a long layover) and then on to Frankfurt or take the train from here to Edinburgh and then fly from there to Frankfurt. Given the lightening snail speed of the British rail system that works out to six of one or half a dozen of the other. With flight delays and the layover, It took me eight hours to get to from Inverness to Frankfurt! From there I took the train to Mannheim and then a quick taxi ride across the bridge to Ludwigshafen. Waiting for me in a warm, snuggly, Christmassy decorated apt on Brunksta├če were Nikki, Bert, Shauna and Steve! S&S had arrived that day from Zuerich, where Shauna had been working for the last couple of weeks. They greeted me with hugs all around, a nice hot mug of Gluewein, and lots of chatter that took the girls and me well into the night. The next morning Steve set off for his grandparents house in Karlsruhe and Bert for his mom's place down south near the Bodensee. The girls and I spent several lovely days doing nothing. Well, they would have been lovelier if I hadn't come down with a massive cold! But my girls tucked me in on the couch, made me chicken soup and generally pampered me to no end. We watched movies, made more Gluewein, listened to Christmas music and admired Nikki's cutely decorated little potted tree.

Fortunately, I felt much better by the time we packed our overnight bags to make the trip to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Sara, Jared and the boys in Berglengenfeld. We ended up being delayed in Stuttgart but instead of grumbling about it we took the opportunity to spend a few leisurely hours meandering through the gynormous Stuttgart Christmas market. I haven't been there in years and it was just as festive and wondrous as I remembered. It was late by the time we got to Sara's but, true to form we ended staying up until the wee hours of the morning chattering away. The girls and I camped out in Sara's living room and the next morning poor Sara did her best to keep Julius and Augie entertained and occupied in the kitchen so we could sleep a little longer. May I say here that Sara has the cutest little boys ever! They are bright, rambunctious, entertaining and just plain adorable! It was fun to spend Christmas morning with little ones again. Everything they did was just that much cuter and funnier than their last antic. I like Jared very much and it was wonderful to spend a few days with Sara again. I remember when the girls were all in high school and college together. And the Christmas Day, just before she left to join the Army, that Sara spent snuggled on my couch because she was sick. She's always been special to us and it was wonderful to see her and Jared and the boys again. We returned to Ludwigshafen all fuzzy inside and looking forward to spending another few days together before, once more, having to say good-bye.
 It's always hard to say good-bye to my little chickens. Life has led us to far flung destinations with me in Scotland, Nikki in Germany and Shauna and Michael in Seattle and none of us would change the course of our lives but I miss having them all close. When they could just pop over to my house for a Sunday afternoon or when my phone would ring and the happy voice on the other end would say, "Hi Mom. Are you off work yet? We're having some friends over for dinner. Wanna come?" I miss those days but now I get to enjoy watching their individual lives unfold and see what they each do with their many talents. All in all, though, we don't spend too much time apart before we all feel the need to reconnect again in the same location.

January
I came home to Inverness to a winter wonderland! More snow than anyone had seen around here in 25 years! Did you see the NASA photo taken from space? It was titled 'Frozen Britain' and frozen we were. At first I loved it but the snow just hung on and hung on and hung on. Now, if you live somewhere where you expect a snowy winter then you're probably prepared for it but such is not the case in Inverness. The Council (kind of like the county authorities) didn't have enough snowplows to keep the roads clear or enough sand to put down or the resources to clear the sidewalks. So major roadways were closed for days at a time, driving was hazardous at best and it was impossible to even walk on the sidewalks (except in the middle of town) because they were covered in snow and ice. I rely on the bus and it's arrival became very sporadic and unpredictable. One day I waited for almost an hour and finally gave up and called a taxi. Liz, the dispatcher, told me it would be 2 hours before she would have a car free! I would have just walked (it's about a mile and a half from my house to the town center) but since the sidewalks were unusable I would have had to walk in the street. Not a good idea!

I was so busy during the semester that I really didn't have the time to get out and explore much. There are so many places I want to go and so much I want to see. So I was really looking forward to the Christmas break when I would have to the time to go exploring. Well, that didn't pan out at all. It was just too damn cold and snow covered to play tourist! So I spent most of my time tucked up at home with the occasional (well, a little more than occasional, if I'm being honest!) trip to the pub with friends.

I was home for New Year or 'Hogmanay' as it's called here. The celebration spills over from New Year's Eve into the next day and businesses are all closed for several days. On New Year's Eve the band (Schiehallion) was playing at MacNabb's so that's where we all headed for our night of celebration. It was loads of fun and we all stumbled home full of drink and good cheer. One thing I really like about this culture is that drinking and driving is VERY frowned upon. You just don't do it! So the taxi companies do a very brisk business when the pubs all close. They also jack up their prices during the holiday! On New Years Day we (about 10-12 of us) had a full day of celebrating planned which included several different locations. The individual taxi fares would have been ridiculous so we pooled our money and rented a passenger van for the day. Dougie volunteered to forgo the drinking and play taxi driver. He started making the rounds about 11:30am and eventually had us all delivered to Donny and Margaret's house for an afternoon party to get the day going. How Donny and Margaret managed to put it all together after the previous night, I have no idea, but we had a really fun time. Lots of food and, of course, plenty of drink! We danced in the living room and sang along (very loudly) with the music. Laura decided to take the stage and was side-splittingly funny singing into a candlestick while reeling off one-liners at all of us. About 3:30 Dougie started his first of two runs to get us all to the Glen where the band plays every New Year's Day at 4pm. The place was jammed and you would've thought it was 10 at night instead of 4 in the afternoon. A continuation of the night before! They played until 7pm at which time Dougie ferried everyone to yet another party, this time at Cath and Gringo's (yes, a Scotsman whose nickname is Gringo!).  More food, more music, dancing and, of course, more alcohol! By about 10:30 some people were ready to call it a night but Hazel and I decided to continue our celebration at the Gellions, and once again, Dougie shuttled everyone to their preferred destinations. The Gellions was hopping that night and Hazel and I had a great time. We don't live far from one another so we shared a taxi home. The next day Dougie said, "You took a taxi? Why didn't you call me? I still had the van." I said, "Because I wasn't going to get you out of bed to come get us at 1 in the morning!" "Well, that's what we got the van for" says he. Needless to say, I had a very good first Hogmanay in Scotland!

January 25th is the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, 'Scotland's National Bard' and every year Burns enthusiasts celebrate with what is known as a Burns Supper. There are Burns Suppers all over the world (yes, even in the States) but nowhere are they as prevalent or as authentic, for that matter, as they are right here in Scotland. I attended my first Supper this year with Dougie and Sheena and about 60-70 other people. The entertainment, before and after dinner, was all traditional, as you would expect. Singers (both in English and in Gaelic) and pipers and Highland dancers. The traditional meal at a Burns Supper is haggis, neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes). Just before the food is served the haggis is 'piped in'. It's a great fanfare; the piper playing as he enters the room and makes his way to the front followed by someone carrying in the honored haggis. The haggis is presented to the Master of Ceremony, at the head table, who then reads Burns' poem Address To A Haggis. The representative haggis is then whisked back to the kitchen and the plates of yummy Scottish goodness are brought out and served. Now I know that haggis doesn't 'sound' very appetizing when you describe it but don't make a judgment until you've tried it. It really is very good. As with any food I've had haggis that was just so so and I've had haggis that was really good. The haggis that night was the best I've ever had! Along with the neeps and tatties it was wonderful. The perfect meal for a cold winter night. I could have eaten a whole 'nother serving of everything!

February
Classes started back up on the 5th of Feb. We were still in the midst of our deep freeze but it was time to come out of hibernation and get back into the swing of things. I have 4 classes again this semester. Scottish History 1603-20th century (a continuation of last semester's 1066-1603 class), Intro to Skills for History (kind of a beginning research class), Politics of the British Isles (I figured if I'm going to live here then I should know something about the political system), and an awful class called Research Methods I. I, along with several other people, thought it would be another class about doing research for *history*. Wrong! It's a psychology class (!), all about social psychology research. I am absolutely  not interested. I've taken psychology classes before that were very interesting but this is not a general psych class. It's about dissecting the research. Ugh! I'm just gritting my teeth to get through it.

On a happier note, Nikki came for a visit during Feb! She arrived on a Thurs evening and stayed until Monday morning. We had such a good time! I took her to class with me on Friday morning. It was fun to introduce her around and have her sit in on one of my classes. That happened to be the day that I was scheduled to give a presentation on the Glencoe Massacre. Nothing like having your child watch you give a presentation! After class we went shopping in town, then decided to go for my favorite walk, along the river and over to the islands. Two small heavily wooded islands in the middle of the River Ness that are linked to each other and the bank on either side by narrow pedestrian bridges. I really didn't want to haul our bags along on the walk so as we were passing the Glen I suggested we pop in and just leave them with Marion behind the bar. Nikki wasn't to sure about that but I insisted and, of course, Marion was more than happy to stow them in the back for us. We picked them up on our way back by and then stopped at the Gellions for a cup of coffee and some chit chat with whoever happened to be in before walking the rest of the way home from town. We had every intention of going out later that night but never quite got around to it. We ended up lolling around on the bed reading (Nik read and I listened) Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, which Nikki had bought that afternoon while we were in town. If you have read Eat, Pray, Love then I can tell you that this one is just as funny and insightful. If you haven't read Eat, Pray, Love then get your ass down to the nearest bookstore ASAP! So we never made it to the pub that night but it was so nice to just be together reading and laughing (and eating).  On Saturday we slept late and then headed into town at 4pm to meet 'the girls' at MacCallum's. We met my friend Rossie on the bus and he regaled us with the story of his long ago adventures in Germany following friends of his who were in a band and on tour there. He has such a great sense of humor that he could make reading the dictionary entertaining. At the pub I introduced Nik and we ordered our pints. Joe Foy sings at MacCallum's from 3-6 on Saturday afternoons (mostly mainstream pop music that is familiar to everyone). One of his standards is Mustang Sally so when he called out my name over the mic and said that he needed his "bitches" I grabbed Nikki and headed over, explaining to her that usually Laura and I are the "bitches" but that since Laura was in the hospital that week she (Nikki) was being drafted. By that time we were standing, one on either side of Joe, and my lovely daughter who is always game for fun throws her fists in the air and whoops, "Woo-Hoo! Bitches!". So we danced next to Joe and leaned in to sing "Riiide, Sallyyy, Ride" at the appropriate times.  At 6 when Joe was finished, as is our custom, we all trooped over to the Gellions to stomp and sing along with the best traditional music in town. Schiehallion has added Sean, the drummer, since Nikki was here last so I introduced her to him as well as reintroducing her to Kenny, Stuart and Craig. Poor girl, she had so many names and faces swimming in her head by the end of the evening I'm surprised she remembered who *she* was! It was funny to hear several people say, "Oh, I met you when you was here in December". They were remembering Shauna and, well...they do look an awful lot alike! A bunch of us bounced back to MacCallum's at 8 to hear Andy and then back to the Gellions once more about 9:30 to hear some really good classic stuff from the 60's and 70's.  Nik and I fell into a taxi about 1am for the road home.  Sunday was a repeat walk, fish and chips for dinner and back to the Gellions to hear the guys again at 5:30. We eventually bounced over to the Glen for a pint, back to the Gellions to hear Andy and then on to Johnny Fox's for the late night fun. Nik was one tired puppy by the time her taxi showed up at my door the next morning to take her to the train station.
So now both of the girls have been here and have gotten a pretty good dose of the pub life in Inverness, which I'm *pretty* sure they both enjoyed! Maybe next time we'll branch out a little and do something a little healthier like hiking!

March
...came and went.


April (whew!)
The 16th of April was the 264th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden. If you are not familiar with the battle I posted a blog entry about it a couple of years ago on the anniversary and then reposted the same entry last year. This year instead of just blogging about it from far away I was privileged to attend the 'Lament for Culloden' presented by A Circle of Gentlemen. The name comes from a poem by Robert Burns and is a ceremony held each year to commemorate the battle, the Jacobite cause it represented, and the far reaching repercussions of the loss of the battle. I went with Kenny and another friend of mine, Marie. Kenny graciously donates his time and talent to the Lament each year. The Lament begins with a very solemn commemorative ceremony at the memorial on the battlefield, which includes speeches, piping and the laying of wreaths. Many of those involved dress accordingly in kilt and plaid of the period and carry replicas of the flags that were carried into battle that day by the Jacobite troops. Following the battlefield ceremony there is a luncheon at Culloden House, which was used by Bonnie Prince Charlie as his headquarters before the battle. Before the luncheon Kenny provides the musical entertainment in one of the smaller more intimate lounges in the hotel (although in a more appropriately subdued manner than is his usual). In the dining room, there were speeches and presentations, before and after the meal along with more music including a haunting song titled
The Ghosts of Culloden  Another woman sang a beautiful song in Gaelic, which I don't understand but could still appreciate and, of course,  Kenny sang King Fareweel The video is from last year's Lament. The battle of Culloden was a watershed in Scottish history and being the history geek that I am, it was a very moving experience for me to attend my first Lament for Culloden.

This has definitely morphed into a mammoth post! I think I wrote in a previous post that I was going to try to blog more often so my posts weren't so long. Well...we've just seen how *that's* worked out for me! But at least I'm up to date now. If you've read this entire entry...Wow! I hope I haven't just killed you with the minutia of my life but as I said before I really write for myself and if anyone else is interested they are always welcome to drop in and have a 'wee keek'!