Battle of the Bands

October 28, 2011

As I may have mentioned before, there’s a fairly large English contingent within the village choir, amounting to about half its members. In order to make a feature of this, the choirmistress had the idea of some sort of sing off between the two groups, with the English half singing an English song and the Scottish half a Scottish one. I think she had the idea of a medley of music from two distinct, yet complementary folk traditions, bouncing off each other in an exciting and engaging way. The only problem was that, on the English side – philistines that we are – we none of us knew any English folk songs while on the Scottish side they knew some lovely ones but Scottish songs do tend towards the gloomy being mostly about exile, loss and longing with a side order of the odd light massacre. As we were all in the mood for something a little more upbeat and a little less wistful, the search for suitable songs got widened somewhat and, musically speaking, possibly went a little bit downhill.

Which is why the highlight of the next village music evening is likely to be the great musical showdown between ‘My old Man’s a Dustman’ and ‘Donald where’s your troosers’.

I for one cannot wait.

You Know you’ve Lived Here too Long When…

October 4, 2011

(no 1 in an occasional series)

… you get chatting at random to the stranger who sits next to you on a bench and she turns out to be the mother-in-law of someone you know. As with Ireland, the whole ‘six degrees of separation’ thing doesn’t really apply round here. In its place, I reckon we now know the six people who, one way or another, connect us to the whole of Bigtownshire.

And yes, London readers, I am aware that I lost you at ‘get chatting to’.

Pipe Down

September 12, 2011

On a flying visit to Edinburgh today I noticed that Paris’s Post-it wars seem to have spread across the channel. Picked out in bright yellow squares in an office window on Princes Street – right above the corner where the mendicant piper (as Huttonian always used to call him) plys his trade – were the despairing words

Oi! Piper! Shhhh!*

The piper, of course, wasn’t taking a blind bit of notice. When your instrument doubles as a weapon of war, it takes more than stationery to stop you…

* Picture, you say? Well I tried to take a picture on my phone and it didn’t really come out and I assumed it would be on flickr somewhere already but I couldn’t find it. So you’ll just have to believe me…

Business Opportunity

May 27, 2011

Can’t write much because I’m busy busy at the moment (put it this way – if you really want to retreat to the country for a quiet life, don’t go starting a cycling campaign and if you must start a cycling campaign don’t decide to go for a funding proposal three days before the deadline…), and also I’m being a bit discreet here, but it has come to my attention that with large numbers of townies moving to rural areas and taking up chicken keeping, and with chickens being on the whole somewhat prone to going wrong, and yet also being – when it comes right down to it – quite difficult to actually kill humanely especially if you’ve led a sheltered life up until now, that there is a gap in the market for some sort of Chicken Dignitas clinic.

And that’s all I’m saying

Sit Down and Be Counted

March 27, 2011

We waited until today to fill in our census forms, mainly because it seemed somehow to be tempting fate to be counting the household before they’d hatched, as it were (it’s bad enough, frankly, doing it today but I think we’re likely to both survive until the evening and it’s even more unlikely we’ll get any overnight guests). So over our morning coffee we had a pleasant enough half-hour going through the questions. I’m afraid we didn’t obliterate the bar codes or fill ourselves in as Jedi knights or do anything else to annoy the powers that be – at heart I’m a fairly law abiding person and I think on the whole a census is a good thing, whoever’s actually running it. I missed out last time around because we were living in Swaziland, and the times before that I think I’ve managed to be missed more often than I’ve been counted. It’s lucky I’m not planning on having any ancestors as I’m not leaving much of a paper trail for them to follow…

Because we’re in Scotland, we’re doing the Scottish Census (in fact, if all you follow is the Scottish news you might be hard pressed to discover that the census was also happening in other parts of the UK). It being Scotland, which does not in any way have a chip on its shoulder about anything, many of the choices seemed designed largely to put the English in their place. As someone born into the C of E, my religion, had I chosen to fill it in, would have been a write-in answer – maybe I should have gone for Jedi Knight or even Great Good God of Cycling after all – and under ethnic group the tick boxes included White Scottish, Irish, Gypsy, even Polish, but the English were going to have to lump themselves in with the Welsh as ‘Other British’.  Take that, English oppressors!

It also meant we didn’t get the comedy question 17, ‘this question is intentionally left blank’ because it isn’t blank up here. Instead, we had to answer how well we spoke, read, wrote or understood Scots, English and Gaelic. I haven’t a word of Gaelic – it’s not spoken around here and never really has been – but having lived up hear for a few years and been schooled in Scotland, I’ve come across enough Scots to feel that I probably understood it, at least when it’s being spoken. For anyone similarly puzzled, there’s the Aye Can website offering samples of spoken and written Scots arranged by region so you can see if you can understand them (which unfortunately I only came across after we’d filled in the form. Still it turned out I could). In fact, even if you’re not filling in the Scottish Census, you might want to have a visit anyway – there are some charming clips of voices which are well worth a listen in their own right. Come back and tell me how you did.


Naked Aggression

March 9, 2011

I am grateful – I think – to those on Twitter who have helpfully pointed me towards the story Bigtown’s very own naked driver who has been making a nuisance of himself – and risking a really nasty case of frostbite in the current weather – by driving around in nothing but a pair of socks and then getting out of his car a strategic intervals, including at the appropriately named ‘Maidenbower Path’, so people can see him (this raises the question as to whether he’d actually be committing an offence if he stayed in his car. I think as the law stands, even in Scotland, if you have to actually make an effort to see the nakedness in question in order to be offended by it, then it’s not indecent exposure). Presumably the whole thing – along the lines of the World Naked Bike Ride – is some sort of a protest intended to raise awareness of the vulnerability of the poor beleaguered motorist as the War against him gets into full swing. Or perhaps, having filled his tank recently, he can no longer afford clothes.

Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – I’m in Duns at the moment so can’t go and seek out this brave protester to find out for myself. He’s described as being middle-aged and having ‘a small pot-belly’, or in other words, looking like approximately half of all men in Bigtown.* This would make him a prime candidate for ditching the car, getting a bike and adopting that slightly more acceptable form of indecent exposure, skin-tight lycra. If he chooses one of the paler team kits and a damp day, it would be hard to see the difference and it wouldn’t even be illegal…

*Presumably if he had a large pot belly that would cover his credentials, as it were, making it okay

I Can See Clearly Now…

March 3, 2011

… and it’s not just because the rain has gone (or ‘Lorraine’ depending on which version of the lyrics you prefer). Well, I can’t quite see more clearly yet, but I shall soon because I’ve been down to the opticians where I was pleasantly surprised to discover that everyone is entitled to a free eye test on the NHS in Scotland (of course this was somewhat outweighed by the cost of having the lenses in my glasses replaced – did you know it was possible to spend almost 500 quid if you go for the super thin ones? I turned that one down and went for the next price point down but even so, it cost How Much!? and then some). Every time I go to the opticians, which isn’t as often as I ought, they’ve added a new elaboration to the eye test – this time it was the world’s dullest computer game, pressing a button in response to little flashes of light, and they never even told me my score – but mainly I spend the entire appointment trying to fight my growing paranoia that the entire eye test is an elaborate send up to see whether people will pretend to notice a difference between two identical pieces of glass if someone in a white coat asks them to. I really must stop reading about psychology experiments on line.

And having taken a deep breath and spent the how much?! on my replacement lenses, I then nipped over to the nearest mobile phone emporium and spent ‘it can’t really be that cheap can it?’ on a not-quite-as-dumb phone to replace my current phone which works perfectly except for most of its numberpad which means I can only use it to ring people I already have in my phone book or who ring me. I quite liked this feature as it saved a lot of time and money but the other half was getting tired of having to text me numbers when I did need to make an unexpected call and more or less insisted. The new phone works perfectly and comes with little earphones and, in a stroke of genius on the bus yesterday, I realised I could tune it to pick up Radio 4.* What bliss! Not only can I sodcast ‘Call You and Yours’ to any annoying teenagers (I wouldn’t really. Well I probably wouldn’t unless they were really annoying) but I can now have Radio 4 playing in my ear more or less constantly including on the bike.

I have to admit to having a slightly unhealthy obsession with Radio 4 and already organise my life to avoid being stuck washing up or driving somewhere during the bits of its schedule I actively dislike. As the phone can also handle podcasts I can now arrange to only listen to those bits of it I like for more or less my entire waking life. I shall go mad, of course, it goes without saying, but I’ll also be awesomely well-informed. And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve got several years worth of  back episodes of ‘In Our Time’ to get through before I die.

*I know, I know, you’ve been able to do this for aaages and the phone you have now also launches space shuttles, but I like to let technology bed down a bit before I adopt it. Five years seems about right.

What’s that Got to do with the Price of Fish?

February 21, 2011

‘Oh look it’s full of lovely Scottish notes,’ I heard a ringing English voice cry as I walked past the bank in Notso Bigtown this afternoon. I don’t know quite what she expected to come out of a Scottish cashpoint – haggis? whisky? English money? – but at least she was happy about it. Usually I end up stuck behind some English visitor in the Notso Bigtown Tesco asking a suddenly sullen checkout girl if their change could be in English notes instead.

Anyway, it’s one more sign, if signs were needed, that spring, summer and prime tourist baiting season is on its way.

In other news, can anyone explain why it’s not possible to buy fish on a Monday? Is this a local thing or the sort of thing that everybody except me knows? I went into the combined greengrocers and fishmongers expecting the woman there to be able to mong me some fish and she just looked at me as if I was the sort of wet-behind-the-ears tourist who could be found exclaiming excitedly at the quaint and charming Scottish money. I keep thinking I’ve got the hang of it here, and then I’m reminded I haven’t.

That’s Pheasant with an ‘H’

February 10, 2011

Questions expecting the answer ‘yes':

‘Would you like a pheasant?’

It’s payback time for all the times we’ve been startled out of our skins by a pheasant launching itself cackling out of the undergrowth right from under our feet – not to mention the emergency stops as one determinedly tries to kill itself under our wheels (bike or car – they’re not fussy). The landlords get pheasants as a reward for allowing the shoot access to their land, and as they had been given three brace of them this time, we were offered one of the spares.

Now a fully-feathered pheasant is a splendid thing, and though I’d like to think that – were I actually starving and had managed to kill one – I could hang, pluck and draw it myself, but realistically that’s not going to happen now, when I am manifestly NOT starving, as evidenced by my incredible shrinking jeans. So we were grateful that the bird in question turned up truly oven-ready: headless and gutless and featherless and looking reassuringly like a small chicken. The only question now is in what form to put it in the oven. The downside of getting them in this state is not knowing how old the bird is (you age a pheasant by looking at its beak – but you knew that, didn’t you?) which means roasting it probably isn’t an option. The landlord recommends casseroling, so at the moment I’m going for this, but if any of you know better, I’m open to persuasion

Revolving Doors

February 7, 2011

You know you’re at a very grand hotel indeed* when it not only has a magnificent brass-and-mahogany revolving door, but a magnificent set of  uniformed flunkies to revolve it for you. Fortunately I had remembered that going up to town requires not just discarding the fleece, but the wellies too, and so they didn’t take one look at me and decide to just keep on revolving it until I was safely deposited back in the street again.

Although to be honest, having sampled Embra’s idea of a February day (east wind, sleet, snow, rain, sometimes all at once), the fleece and the wellies were otherwise sadly missed. And I did rather wonder how they would have reacted had I come on my bike…

*just for coffee, unfortunately, not to stay


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