Saturday, 30 November 2013

A Scottish post

Being St Andrew's Day I thought I would write a post about living in Scotland and the differences that we've experienced between England and its northern neighbour. But before I begin I should say that I'm no cultural expert and do not profess to be very knowledgeable about Scottish history and politics (I could write all I know about the pros and cons of independence on the back of a postage stamp!) 

Patrons & Holidays
(image credit:
This seems a suitable place to start, today being in honour of Scotland's patron saint. Ask the average Scot and they're not too familiar with the saintly Andrew at all other than the obvious connection with the town of St Andrews, now forever synonymous with Prince William and Kate Middleton. Saint Andrew isn't even just the patron saint of Scotland but shares his patronage with a whole host of other countries including Greece, Russia, Romania and - randomly - Barbados.  The fact that some of the poor fellow's relics were sent to 'ends of the earth' (a.k.a Fife) where the town was named after him, and that he was crucified on an x-shaped cross (the inspiration for the Saltire, national flag of Scotland), is really all I know. For the girls, St Andrew's day means only one important thing and that's a day off school on Monday!

That's not the only different holiday in Scotland compared to England. The school year starts mid August, half terms are generally referred to as mid-term and for many schools there is no break at all in the summer term but certain counties have a 'tattie picking' two week holiday at the beginning of October.  New Year is, of course, long associated with Scotland. Hogmany (Scots word for the last day of the year) is widely and loudly celebrated across the nation and the Scots even get an extra day's holiday to nurse their hangovers. I'll write more about this institutional revelry in January if my post-Hogmany head allows me to sit upright to type!
(image credit: visitscotland)
Language & Dialect
There are two expressions I used to find particularly confusing as a Sassenach (English person). Rather than saying that they will 'arrive at' a certain time, the Scots tend to say they'll 'come through at the back of'. I was left wondering whether they would be stopping at all and if the 'back of' an hour meant before or after?! Another odd expression is the word 'outwith'. This seems to be peculiarly Scottish and means 'outside' rather than 'within' but then I'm still not completely sure...

I completed my teacher training in Scotland and found myself wondering who Ken was and why he was so popular until a fellow teacher kindly explained that 'I dinnae ken' meant 'I don't know'!  That was just the start of my misunderstandings and confusions with the Scots language, many terms of which are used throughout Scotland by young and old alike.  I particularly like the fact that there is a plural form of 'you' - 'youse' though I wouldn't dare use it and I love the sound of crabbit (grumpy), sleekit (sly) and glaikat (stupid).  I could 'blether' (chat)  a lot about Scots so will save that perhaps for another post.

Food & Drink
Scottish food does not have the best of reputations (in England anyway) and before we moved here I, unfairly, expected to see deep-fried Mars bars in every chippy and a choice of pie, pie or pie on a menu. I've been pleasantly surprised though by the many restaurants prepared to use traditional ingredients and recipes but with a creative and culinary twist. Wild salmon, Scots beef, lobster, venison, heather honey and fantastic Perthshire raspberries are just a few of the many delicious Scottish foods. I have to admit though that when we first moved here I had to look up Cullen Skink to see what on earth it was. And I still remember H, aged 4,  asking anxiously, 'What is haggis?'. I decided to be honest and explained it was chopped sheep heart and lungs mixed with oatmeal. 'That's alright then,' she said, looking relieved. 'At least it's not meat!' I'm not a vegetarian but my carnivore instincts do not really extend to haggis, and 'neeps and tatties' is a bit too reminiscent of baby food for me. 
Drinks, well, whisky is the obvious one. No one in Scotland ever refers to this as Scotch and note there is no 'e' as in 'whiskey'?  People's hospitality and generosity have meant many a 'wee dram' and most people have a favourite. Mine? Laphroaig, of course - one of Scotland's most medicinal.  I love this description:

'Muscular deep peaty tones, seaweed-led, with a hint of vanilla ice cream and more than a whiff of notes from the First Aid box (TCP, sticking plasters etc). The oak is big with an upsurge of spices developing - cardamon, black pepper and chilli.'

For little Scots there's Irn-Bru, the number one best-selling soft drink in Scotland. Distinctly orange, this fizzy drink is so full of banned e numbers (everywhere but Scotland), sugar and chemicals, that our two girls are only allowed the smallest amount and then only on special occasions (basically when we are enjoying an occasion so much that we don't notice them helping themselves).  The drink is known for its sometimes controversial advertising; my favourite advert was the Snowman parody for which I'll leave you with a festive link.

Happy Saint Andrew's Day One and All

Show and Tell

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Moving Story

We have moved a lot. Twenty years ago we started our married life in a basement flat at the back of Shepherd's Bush or what the estate agent euphemistically called, 'A garden flat in West Kensington Village'. Since then, we've moved a total of eight times, twice travelling up and down the length of the country, before settling in our current corner of the Scottish Borders.  

Every house and area we've lived in has had something special  - the beams and leaded-light windows of a chocolate-box cottage in a Hertfordshire village, watching clouds of starlings in aerial display across the misty Somerset levels, looking down across the industrial landscape of Bradford from the top floor of a modern townhouse and seeing it lit and transformed with amazing firework displays every Eid and Diwali.  The Little House, however, is my favourite. It's not a pretty house, in fact it looks quite austere, sitting up on the headland facing the North Sea with its brown slurry of harling to protect against all the worst that the Scottish weather might bring. But it is a magical house.  In the summer sun it glows a warm amber and the overgrown garden is a tangle of surprising hues; all manner of plants and flowers are determined to peek through the mass of branches. In autumn the golden hay bales look like they might just roll down the hill any moment to splash into the aqua waves. And in winter, the log burner radiates heat through the whole house while the snow lies undisturbed on the surrounding fields. 

From the front door each and every way leads to a different walk. One track leads down and through the smugglers tunnel to the Cove with its tiny harbour, looking pretty much the same as it has done for the last hundred years. Another track leads along the clifftop, sea holly and hawthorn lining the path,  fishing boats criss-crossing the choppy waters below, swallows sweeping the sky. My favourite route is along the tractor-worn track and towards the small patch of woodland beyond. My favourite because this walk often affords you a close-up view of deer grazing and once, a bold and beautiful hare still as a sculpture on the path for a clear and perfect moment.

I am savouring each and every last minute we have in this house because by January we have to leave it.  As much as I like to think of it as mine, it is not. It is just leased to us and we do not own it. Although we were assured that we could live here for many years, as it turns out, things change (quickly in this case) and our landlords need it back...soon. How I wish that we could buy it. How I hope that we can find somewhere else not too far away to move to. I wish that we could stay and I hope the girls can forgive us if we have to move them away from their schools and their friends. 

In a small rural community there is little choice in housing options when you rent and we couldn't believe our luck when we were offered this place with its beautiful views and spectacular sunsets. And we are lucky. Just one look at the news is a stark reminder of just how lucky we really are.  I'm just praying that the luck continues and we find somewhere else. Somewhere near this place we love so much. Somewhere we can call home.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

All Hallows

The 1st of November brought some bad news to the Little House and caused such upset that I had no inspiration for a post for a while and all was quiet on the blog front. I'll write a little more about it in a later post once I've processed it all but, in the meantime, I thought I would focus on warmer, happier things and to me autumn has more than its fair share of these.  I know many people do not like Halloween and all it represents but I like to think of it as a time for fun and games and a little merriment before the last autumn month and the gloominess that seems to set in late November. Like Guy Fawkes night, it's also a chance to get together with friends and enjoy the warmth of good food and good company. Here's a little round-up of our evening.

In Scotland we call Trick or Treating 'guising' instead after the tradition of disguising yourself by dressing up and visiting neighbours to tell a joke, recite a poem or sing a song.

 I much prefer the idea of earning your treats with a bit of entertainment rather than just expecting to be given something under threats! Here's one of the girls' best jokes (yes they really were that bad):

Q  'What do you get when you cross a deer and a ghost?'
A  'Bamboo!'

Perhaps inspired by her recent trip to see The Lion King, H donned ears and a tail and with a little creative face paint was quite the pantomine tiger.

 S, who is currently consumed by The Hunger Games series, decided to be its heroine.  Fortunately, her big sister has perfected the 'Katniss braid' and was able to do her hair and, with wooden bow and arrow, she looked the part though I'm not sure the many retired folk in our village would have had any idea of who she was meant to be - Pocahontas maybe?!

Halloween would not be complete without  'dookin' for apples (removing an apple floating in a basin of water without using your hands, either spearing it with a fork held in your teeth or by biting it).  

We now have a whole box of Halloween decorations to keep the Christmas boxes company and every year I have to try and de-tangle the various decorations from witch wigs and fake cobwebs. Our collection includes three rubber rats with red eyes. They always end up on the dining table  - a delightful addition to the fruit bowl!

Rats and fake bats and fake cobwebs are all very well but the centrepiece has to be the craved pumpkins:

And always, every year, one decoration gets forgotten and so it was that a few days later when everything (or so I thought) had been packed away I spied a little glow-in-the-dark skeleton hanging nonchalantly on the corner of the TV. I think I might just leave him there till Christmas!

I'm linking this post up with Clarina's Contemplations and her Savouring the Season blog hop: