Sunday, January 28, 2007

Castle Stop and Charity Shops

Broughty Castle and Ferry

... and some really scary birds

There was a storm last night – it was cold and windy. I found it bracing. It is so windy where I live that the rattling of the windows was almost soothing. It was my favorite kind of night last night – freezing cold outside and warm and snug inside. It made me think of A Wrinkle in Time, when Mrs. Whatsit says, "Wild nights are my glory.” The window is cold and I can feel the cold radiating into the room from the glass. Making the bed is a fairly quick process, as there are no sheets. Shoshana informed me that the French duvet cover idea has become mainstream in the UK – you have a duvet cover and a bottom sheet. Washing a duvet cover seems to be more work than washing a sheet -- it is like stuffing a bed-sized pillow into a bed-sized pillowcase. I would rather just wash the sheets. It took a trip to Scotland to let me know how much I like them. Rowan says that she did not sleep well because of the wind. She looks a little heavy-eyed.

We have the day free in Dundee – tomorrow we are off to Edinburgh. I have left the choice of where to go up to her, and she is dithering. Decisiveness is not her strong suit. I can feel myself getting irritated. At just about the time I am ready to either throttle her or jump on a bus, she decides that we are going to Broughty Ferry. Her four-year old, Lena, reminds me strongly of my iron-willed niece – she has also mastered the ever-so reasonable tone of voice with which she presents her arguments. Which are usually in direct opposition to her mother’s wishes. It is a lot funnier when you are not the one that the four-year-old has on the ropes. After three intelligent, wily children I practically have permanent rope burns on my back. My daughter will some day negotiate world peace -- she can find the flaw in any parental argument.

About mid to late morning, we finally set off. We start out at a brisk pace to the bus station.

I believe that Lena is actually clutching the lamp-post to keep from blowing away. Not really. But it is a funny thought.

I am getting a feel for the neighborhood and think I could get to the bus station by myself. I am now looking the wrong way at the street with no prompting. We pass Lena’s school and I am struck by how small it is and by the fact that there is no playground. There is asphalt, but no grass. Rowan informs me that it was so windy that the Tay Bridge had been closed to high-profile vehicles.

I tell Rowan about going to University where it was so windy that people literally got blown off of their feet – they used to close the campus because of wind. What I am not used to is cold wind. It makes your eyes water and your nose run. I am once again grateful for my beautiful scarf that my daughter knitted me. We discover that Lena has misplaced her scarf and decide to get her one while we are out.

For a Scot, Rowan is remarkably unwilling to use a scarf, gloves, or hat. She looks half-frozen. Lena holds my hand as we walk. She is somewhat interested by the fact that I am from America. I wonder what that means to her. She is a chatterbox, but I am completely used to that, and enjoy it – two out of three of mine only stop talking when they are asleep – and the third sleep-talks. Lena is smart as the dickens and has those flashes of understanding that completely surprise you.

I like listening to Lena -- she still has a toddler-Scottish accent. She is a bright, articulate observer of the world around her. Every so often, she will say something that makes Rowan look at her with a narrowed glance, murmuring darkly about the BBC. Apparently, Lena has picked up an accent from watching children’s shows on TV and Rowan is not pleased to hear her daughter sound English. As we walk along, Lena wants to share something with Shoshana and calls her "Mummy" in what was apparently an upper-class English accent. I can hear Rowan growling under her breath.

We get on the bus to town with a sigh of relief to be out of the wind. We take are going to take a different one to the Ferry.

I want to go upstairs to sit on the upper deck and Rowan looks a little hesitant. I missed going on a double-decker bus in London, and I have no intention of missing this. I head up the stairs and Lena and Rowan follow. We sit up at the very front, and I prop my feet against the rail and sit back to enjoy the view. Rowan and Lena sit across the aisle. Rowan says, in a pleased tone, that it is much nicer than it used to be up top. It used to be where the dodgy characters -- rowdies and smokers -- sat.

We stop at the Overgate Mall and wander around a bit, as we wait for the next bus. We decide to grab something to eat and end up at Spudulike again. I don't mind -- I like baked potatoes, especially those with crispy skins. I think that I might be brave and try something new, but I am not and I don't. I have a plain baked potato with salt, pepper, and butter (my favorite). I order cheese on it, but put it on the side. I don't really want cheese, but I am already feeling like I must look really cheap, because I ask for plain water to drink. Apparently, this is not usually done. But I always just have water with my meals -- even at home. Honest. So I ended up with a pile of cheese. Lena has beans and cheese on her potato. Beans by choice and cheese by edict from her mother.

This is where we went to church yesterday.

All of my pictures sort of suck because I am taking them in the front of a moving bus, but I am going to post them anyway.

As we drive through town, Lena bursts into song, inspired by the trip, I suppose. She sang the whole time we were on the bus.

“The wheels on the bus go round and round …”

This is just a snippet of a counting song – when we were in London, Rowan started singing it when we passed St. Martins. She was surprised that I had never heard the song. There is an older gentleman who comments on the sound track to our bus ride.

"Oranges and Lemons", say the bells of St Clement's
"You owe me five farthings", say the bells of St Martin's
"When will you pay me?" say the bells of Old Bailey
"When I grow rich", say the bells of Shoreditch
"When will that be?" say the bells of Stepney.
"I do not know", says the great bell of Bow.

Lena then launches into Christmas songs. Is there something in the Children's Handbook that says that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has to be repeated over and over? "OOOOHhhhh, Rudolph ..." By now, we are all laughing. She sings on, oblivious, engrossed in the scenery.

I should have got more video ... sigh. It was a great trip.

Everything looks crisp and clean. Rowan says that we are going through a nice part of town, and shows me a house where her family once lived.

Um -- that is not it. I think that is a church ...

We get to the Broughty Ferry stop and get off. It is cold, but the buildings block the wind, somewhat.

History alert!

According to the website, Broughty Castle sits imposingly at the mouth of the Tay. Built in 1496 on a rocky promontory, it has faced many sieges and battles. These have left their scars - marks made by cannon shot are still visible. During the eighteenth century it fell into ruin, to be rebuilt in the 1860s as part of the Crimean War effort.

Note the chimney pots. They are on top of most houses, but Rowan cannot explain what they actually do.

Evidence exists of a human settlement in pre-historic times in the area. Later it was a prosperous fishing and whaling village, before becoming home to jute barons who had their factories in Dundee. It was once knowns as the 'richest square mile in Europe'.

We walk over to the ferry and we are right on the North Sea. It is freezing because the wind is wet -- and blowing really hard. A lady comes up with a bag of bread scraps and dumps it on the ground, and for a moment, it is like we are right in the middle of Hitchcock's "The Birds".

Maybe it is a British thing -- a culturally sanctioned action ...

I always thought the scene where the birds are clustered on her head to be both scary and unhygienic. Yeesh. Pigeons and seagulls. I am not overly fond of seagulls to begin with, and it is like an explosion of hungry, squawking winged vermin that would peck your eyes out as soon as look at you. This seriously freaks me out.

Thankfully, they fly away rather quickly after fighting vociferously over the scraps. The waves wash away the crumbs.

The waves are splashing realllly close -- they are coming up and over the sidewalk, causing Shoshana concern.

I was not going to post this video, because the quality is very poor. Some, but certainly not all, of the shaky-cam effect is due to almost being blown over. However, I am putting it up because I think that there is merit in listening to it -- even if you get a little woozy watching it. I had not yet gotten the hang of slowing down and shooting more slowly -- sorry!!

Could you hear the wind? That is what a cold wind off the North Sea sounds like ...

I risk getting swept out to sea to get this shot. Rowan is hovering -- alternately exhorting Lena to "Stay away, back" and plucking at my elbow to get me away from the wild waves. Keeping a sharp eye on her daughter, she tells a rather sad story of children and their teacher who got too close to the waves somewhere on a school trip and got swept away. In typical four-year-old-fashion, Lena completely ignores the admonitory aspect of the story and focuses on the gruesome parts, inquiring as to the particulars.

I was walking, looking over my shoulder at the view behind me, and saying something to Shoshana. I turned my head to see where I was going and looked straight into the cold, flat eye of this HUGE white bird. It was almost literally eye-to-eye with me.

It was the size of a pony.

Well, maybe not quite that big. But it was big!

I could not process what I was seeing for a few seconds. Whatever else I was expecting to see, it was not a bunch of swans, sitting in disgruntled heaps on the ground. They are like the Super Big-Gulp of the bird world -- I might go so far as to say that swans are the Super Thirst-Busters of the bird world. They have serious heft to them. I mean -- criminey!

I skittered back and took a picture. We went past them, a bit warily, elaborately casual, as if we were not expecting to be set upon at any moment. One strolled up and looked me up and down, slowly and dismissively. I detected a bit of contempt in the perusal. Swans belong drifting along on a lake on a summer's day, not sitting at the edge of the North Sea in a parking lot. And they know it.

We walk past the castle and then over to the playground. It is good sized, and you can see how in the summer it would be packed with kids. It is deserted today, except for us. Lena is having a blast -- running around, playing on the slide, going through the tunnels. In a very few moments, she is shedding layers, much to Shoshana's chagrin. She exhorts her to keep her hat on. My kids would be looking out at the playground, from the comfort of the heated car and if I forced them out, they would be whimpering within seconds. Lena is made of sterner stuff. I stand there, shivering, wondering how long I can wait before having to throw in the towel. I am grateful when Rowan gives Lena a call, luring her with the promise of a snack and a hot drink. Lena finishes going through a tunnel and down a slide and across a wobbly bridge before arriving, eyes shining, breathless and red-cheeked from the wind. We huddle in the lee of this building to catch our breath before continuing on.

We walk back to town.

This is the view heading away from the water and back toward the trappings of civilization -- like hot chocolate. The green of the grass is intense -- dark and rich. I had the impulse to stroke it, like the nap of velvet, but good sense prevailed. I contented myself with a picture.

One difference between Scotland and the US is that things are smaller -- the shops are crowded close to each other. We go into the first charity shop, which is a pet charity. Rowan is a good thrift store shopper. She does not look over each item, but gives the store a quick perusal, separating the wheat from the chaff. She zooms in on the small finds. I am looking for boots, as I know that a really wet day is going to make me miserable, and a belt. My pants are stretching or I am shrinking, but I am tired of hitching them up. I am also looking for a hat for my daughter -- I think that I looked in every store in Great Britain for a hat for her. Rowan can attest to the fact that I tried.

I ended up with two books, one for each son. I was very happy to get a book on the gruesome aspects of Scottish history for my eldest -- it was the same book that I almost got for him at the British Museum bookstore, for a fraction of the price. Alas, I did not find boots, a belt, or a hat.

We go into the next few shops and Rowan finds a sports type bag to take to Edinburgh with us tomorrow. She has decided that the pull-along that she was using in London was defective -- and that it has wonky wheels waiting to trip the unwary.

We decide that we are hungry and go into a small café that Rowan knows of. It is small and cozy, and the warmth is welcome. There was that moment when you walk into a warm room after being out in the cold and it stings a little. There are various healthy offerings, which disappoint me. I am not looking for healthy in my baked goods. I do like the description of a full breakfast.

Full English – Large (£5.95)
Two pork link sausages, two rashers of bacon, two fried eggs, two bits of toast, black pudding, beans, tomato, mushroom.

How small is a bit of toast? I will refrain from describing what is in black pudding right now. We will talk more about that in Edinburgh.

We make our way to the back of the café and settle down. Lena is having hot chocolate with marshmallows and some kind of brownie/toffee bar, also with marshmallows -- which she methodically picks off, eating them one by one, before eating the cakey part. Rowan has a whole-wheat/bran scone and cappuccino, and I have a cheese scone and tea. Scones there are different from those here. They are soft and not as flaky as a biscuit, almost like a soft cake – not the dense, crumbly, biscuity Starbucks type at all. In the bakery case, there are things that I don’t recognize. There is a stack of large plate-sized pancakes in a covered cake stand. Pancakes. Hmmm. I never thought of eating them any time other than breakfast, and I never thought of eating them cold. Rowan says that this is pretty standard fare.

When my scone comes, it is hot. Clearly this means that I am supposed to put butter and jam on it, which I do. Mmmmm. I might go back to the UK just to have a hot cheese scone with butter and black currant jam again. I feel sorry for Rowan, as my scone is clearly better than hers.

Rowan writes:

Hey - how did you know your scone was better? You are cake-competitive. Just sayin.

There’s a Dundonian expression, "Eh'll scone yer lug" which tough mothers yell at errant offspring. It means, “I'll slap you round the ear”. I wonder if the reference might be that the ear will then resemble a scone. Dunno. It is just a funny expression.

My scone was great, that is how I know it was better than yours. Cheese and jam tops plain wheat any day. Yum...

Hands warm and tummies full, we head back into the cold. It has gotten dark, even though it is not yet evening.

Rowan writes:

After we leave Brambles cafe, we potter along, looking into the brightly-lit little shops. They are mostly unusual - small businesses, as opposed to chain stores, although there are a couple of Scottish franchise shops, the nicest "Mackay's", a fairly sober (anyone can wear it, but it is pricey enough and chambray-tastic enough to please the discerning female buyers of Broughty-type of place.) Broughty Ferry is a well-heeled little suburb. Nice, nice, nice. I would like to live by the sea again.

Even if I never do, it is nice to know that there is a quiet stretch of beach just a short bus-ride away. I have some lovely video clips of Lena in the summer, running with little fey steps in her new swimsuit, laughing in the bubbling waves lapping at the edge of the sand. The sky is a warm hazy blue, and the sea sparkles...the way in which it does on days when you are glad to be alive, when you feel your memory has been gifted to you... remember the diamond-crystal sparkle on that blue blue water when you need a salve for your soul.

(this is a picture of the castle in the summer. I did not take it, I just added it for atmosphere -- to conjure up the summer and all -- bob.)

The other shop is "Happit." It is a whimsical word for a chain of shops. Happit means clothed, usually in the sense of warmly so. The most common phrase it is used in is "weel happit" meaning, well wrapped-up. We go in, as it is chilly and rather dark now. We are on the hunt for a scarf and gloves for Lena. They have several choices in lurid tones of pink in a nice fuzzy wool. Lena chooses the one which matches her coat best, even though it is not the most luridly pink. She has a discerning eye for what goes with what. She chooses a very oversized pair of fuzzy gloves which co-ordinate reasonably well, and is very chuffed, though she looks like she's been in some sort of signing argument with a steam-roller. (Think Mickey Mouse hands – Bob)

It is very cold and dark now, and we wait impatiently at the bus stop for the bus back into town. They are fairly frequent, but the cold makes each minute seem like an hour.

Bob says:

A very nice lady chatted to us as we all slowly iced over at the bus stop. In general, I would have to say that people were very kind and very friendly to me, pretty much every where we went. There was a supermarket that had closed down and was being re-opened as a Marks and Spencer right next to the bus station. Lena amused us by generating a number of theories as to why the store had closed down

Rowan writes:

Eventually it arrives, and Lena is chuffed (chuffed = pleased with herself) to sit next to Bob, turning around to flash big grins at her and show off her new gloves. I remember being similarly chuffed with such things as a small child. Accessories were rare and to be prized. Gloves were on strings in those days. I just cannot imagine Lena's response to her groovy fluffy handwear on an actual string. We were much more tolerant...or perhaps just downtrodden.

I am aware that we are needing to get home quickly to relieve my mum of her minding duties, but Lena is very hungry, and we may have to wait another forty minutes to get home. We are trying to be thrifty and avoid paying for taxis. There is a Pizza Hut close by, MacDonalds, (actually, it is McDonalds, just like here in the US, but Shoshana is giving it a Scottish spelling ... funny -- Bob) and KFC. I am hit by a bolt of low blood sugar eatery indecision (decisiveness under the best of circumstances is not her strong suit – did I mention that? -- Bob). I come to a complete halt. We eventually decide on KFC, but it is a bit depressing inside - very brightly lit.

Bob says:

Sorry, but I have to interject here. Shoshana hates pizza. Hard to believe, but it is true. I am not sure how one hates pizza, but she finds it overly cheesy. And she has had pizza with cheddar cheese on it, which is not at all right. The fact that she was actually dithering as to whether we should eat at Pizza Hut tells you about the level of distress that she was experiencing. She also has this odd take on fast-food places. In our family, I admit that we treat going through the drive-thru like an actual meal, but she looks at all fast food eateries with a narrow glance. When we went to the Burger King in Waverly Station in Edinburgh, she pronounced the place grim. I am not sure why she finds plastic molded seats, glaringly bright lights, and primary colors depressing and grim, but she does. There you have it. I found paying twice as much for the same food grim and depressing. And no napkins.

Rowan writes:

I am almost ready to change my mind and try the pizza place, but we need to get fed and on our way. My order is really very nice. Lena has an ice-cream pudding (pudding = dessert -- Ed) with hers, which I am coveting to an almost pathological degree. Have a sneaky gouge out of it when her gaze is temporarily diverted by an extra-long chip. Full and warmed a little, we head for the bus stop. It has been a very nice day, just being blown about and seeing familiar things from Bob's viewpoint. She is a trooper about scalpel-sharp gusts and heavy-leaden skies. Not to mention murderous cobs and pens. (I think those are the ornithological collective nouns for male and female swans.) On getting back, Bob uploads some of her pictures, and chooses a fine view of Broughty Castle in grim winter grumble, set against a splash of thwarted sunset, to front the travel blog. It is moody and heartwarming, as a symbol of historic Scotland in early December.

Cold, bold, and rather old.

Bob says:

We get back and chat to Rowan’s mom for a bit. We have tea and talk a little bit about the church services that we attended and some of the things that we saw in London. Rowan and her mom have the same tilty eyes. After her mom leaves, Rowan gets the kids bathed settled, as much as her son will settle, for the evening. I go into the bedroom to try to figure out how to work a blog. I spend prolly 45 minutes trying to get the photo on the header, and finally have to get remote assistance from my husband. He is very kind to help me, despite the fact that it is like one in the morning. He gets me sorted out.

Rowan and I end up looking over pictures that I took on our family trip up the coast of California. I think that I can justify putting them here. We looked at them in Scotland. Does that qualify for placement here? I vote yes.

She is suitably impressed with the redwoods. She likes trees. Just so you get the scale, that is my thirteen-year -old, not the four-year-old.

California thistles (to the right) are a little different from Scottish ones (to the left).

I am not really even sure that what I took a picture of is a thistle, but I am going to pretend that it is ... It is purple and spiky, and that's good enough for me.

After the house is quiet, Rowan has a chance to go online and check her email while I upload pictures and organize myself. Once again we pack an overnight bag and get ready to depart. We ended staying up way too late, talking, but it was nice. We had one of those philosophical discussions that you end up having at one o'clock in the morning. Rowan finally went to bed, and I had a bit of a chat with my husband before turning in. My bed is nice and warm, despite the lack of top sheet.

Tomorrow, we head to one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sunday Dawns in Dundee

For those who need to orient themselves, this is a map of Scotland.

Dundee is the fourth largest city in Scotland and faces south, perching on the Firth of Tay -- just a hop, skip and a jump from the North Sea. Dundee first became a settlement when the Picts settled the area 3,500 years ago. The city is founded on an extinct volcano.

Dundonians apparently have a distinctive accent, but Rowan says that she sounds more indeterminate Perthshire. I sound just like a Southern Californian, which means that I have no accent at all. Booooring. Sigh.

The Steeple Church and the Overgate Centre

Rowan writes:
I wake at seven, and creep down to get washed and the tea brewing. I am tired. We have schlepped ourselves proud in London, and are needing a few extra hours of catch-up kip. I am chuffed with how we negotiated the city. Not one minute wasted – the spirit of the place has wound its way into my heart – every footfall bringing us closer to catching the plotline and a feel for the narrative. The fine, clean, quirky, intriguing and ever surprising Capital. Okay – we never got to Baker Street, but the pavements we plodded brought discoveries which offered as many mysterious turns and twists as they offered solutions. London is a doozy of a novel – dense and lengthy, but a bleedin’ good read, wherever you open and dip in.

Bob says:
I got up early and had a whispered webcam talk with my family. My husband has been great – getting up in the middle of the night to say hello and to check on me. He leaves Yahoo Messenger on, so that when I sign on it will wake him up. We have tried the webcam on my laptop a number of times. Sam, my youngest, is more interested in watching himself on the webcam – fascinated by his own image on the computer – than in talking to me. I do get some enthusiastic “I love you!”s from him. My oldest son has shaken off teenagemaledom long enough to chat for a bit. My daughter carried on a conversation from her classroom – I could see her while she typed out a conversation to me. I miss them all. Being in a different time zone is almost like being in another world. The webcam has not worked as well as I would like, but it is nice to see my tired husband, and to chat to him for a little bit before coming out in the morning.

Rowan very kindly gives me a cup of tea before I nip into the bathroom to wash up. The bathroom is small, and you have to step up into the tub. Growing up in a large family has made me a quick washer. I notice once again how long it takes for my hair to dry. At home, my rather long hair would be almost completely within a very few minutes.

Rowan writes:
Okay, so we are home, and a little tired, but happy to get going and explore Dundee a little. It is a dull day, hinting at rain. We are going to church this morning, and rush about getting ready. We have slept in a little, so are glad to discover that the service starts at eleven, rather than half-past ten, as we’d previously thought. I am all techy-glowy, having checked the service times on my phone’s internet browser.*

*this from the woman who once asked me, in genuinely puzzled tones, where the delete key was on her keyboard.

We had given the choice of church much consideration, and swapped information online. We decided on the Steeple Church in the centre of town, as I’d always felt very inclined to peep in there, and had a sense that it would suit me, and that I would feel at home. I was always way to shy to actually act on the wish, to follow in the slipstream of the pull it exacted upon me. Bob had sent me a site which had reviewed the sermon one Sunday, and had given a glowing report of the Minister’s enthusiastic delivery and thought-provoking, insightful message. “That’ll dae me”, I thought.

Bob says:

One thing that I wanted to do while in Scotland was to go to a local church on Sunday morning. I admit that, as a person who attends a non-denominational church, the idea of attending a service in a long-established church intrigues me. I like the sound of the Church of Scotland. It sounds substantial. Shoshana seemed interested in attending services. When I first decided to go to the UK, I started looking for a church to attend. Please don’t think that I am that diligent at home, because I am not. I admit to more than a little curiosity about going to church in Europe. I have a stereotyped vision of Europe as rather … um … secular. I wonder if I will feel at home or if there will be a sense of constraint. I wonder if I lift my hands in church that I will be deemed as extreme as if I was handling snakes here in the US. I was delighted to find a Calvary Chapel in Edinburgh and one in Stirling and I downloaded podcasts from both. The pastor in Stirling has a great accent – I can barely understand him, sometimes. We will not be able to get to Stirling, but Shoshana says that there is a nice church in town, one that she has wanted to go into many times. Curious, I ask her why she hasn’t – she seems to think that one cannot just go into a church from off the street. As a good researcher, I investigate the church online. It looks good.

We have cereal and toast for breakfast and get ready to go. Rowan’s mom has very kindly offered to watch the kids and give us time to go to church. I am wearing my long denim skirt, t-shirt and sweater, and hope that it is not too casual. We get to the town square and alight. It takes us some time to figure out what door to go into. The building is used by two different churches. This is the front.

We go around to the back and slip in just before the service starts. It was a small church, and people clearly knew each other – people stood around in little friendly clumps, talking. I am struck by the bright airy interior. The winter sunlight streams in, and the combination of the wood pews and the whitewashed walls feels like the old adobe churches in New Mexico.

There are children scattered throughout the church – they are dismissed later for children's services. There is a little boy in front of me who is engrossed in an elaborate game with a Power Ranger. There is a small girl to the left, coloring in her coloring book. Three pews up, there is a young couple with a toddler. The children are well-behaved, and quiet enough, but kid-quiet, not adult-quiet. No one seems to mind, and I relax a little more. At one point, the toddler was making a substantial amount of noise, and the strongest reaction was smiling glances. It makes me feel at home. I like seeing children in church.

The worship is a bit reserved – I did not know the songs, and I had hoped for more Christmas Carols -- but I am always hoping for more Christmas Carols. The service opens up with the message that it is the first day of Advent and a little bubble of joy wells up in me. The older children sat at the front of the church as the student minister talked about Christmas and the signs that tell us that Christmas is coming. The children enthusiastically answered questions and an Advent Candle was kindled. The student minister gave the sermon, and I liked it a lot – it was about John the Baptist, signs, and making straight crooked paths. It was thought provoking – the notion that the Spirit makes straight the crooked paths within the life of the believer. I am aware of Rowan sitting next to me, sitting a little stiffly and anxiously.

It was a little cold in the building, not freezing, but cool. About a third of the way through the service, I realize that the red pipes under the pews are warm. I am grateful for the fact that I am wearing a long skirt and toast my toes with the radiant heat. My feet and legs are in a warm tent. I think that this is very cool. I highly recommend listening to a thought-provoking sermon in a lovely church that is bright with clear winter sunlight, warming your cold feet on a warm pipe.

History Alert!
For those who are interested in such things, here is a little history about the church -- any inaccuracies are mine.

St. Mary's Tower is the oldest surviving building in Dundee and has been used as a watch-tower and prison. David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of the Scottish King William (The Lion), had joined the Third Crusade to the Holy Land. On his return journey, his ship was overtaken by a raging storm, and David prayed to Heaven for deliverance. As the tempest abated, he vowed to build a Church in gratitude for his safe home-coming and in honour of the Virgin Mary. He landed on the north bank of the Tay and called the place Donum Dei (God's Gift), that name later became Dundee. (Other folks say that the name "Dundee" was adopted from the Gaelic Dùn Dèagh, meaning "Fort on the Tay".)

In the year 1190 a magnificent Church was dedicated to the Virgin Mary who thereafter became the patron saint of the town. In 1303, Dundee was attacked by the English, and the army led by Edward I (The Hammer) torched the Church, and all the town records which had been taken there for safety were carried off or destroyed. The church has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. St. Mary's Tower is the only part of the fifteenth-century building which stands today, and is known to present-day Dundonians as "The Old Steeple".
In 1547 an English force captured Dundee, fortified the Tower and used the Church for stables. In the middle of the 17th century, Dundee was besieged again, this time by the English General Monk. Being a well-fortified and thriving Royalist stronghold, Dundee withstood the siege for six weeks until the garrison and many innocent citizens were betrayed and massacred, and the Governor was ignominiously beheaded after three days heroic defence of the Great Tower of St. Mary. Periodic excavations in Nethergate unearth human skeletons and bones, probably victims of Monk's massacre.

Rowan writes:

The Steeple Church has a very long and impressive history, dating back to the twelfth century. Part of the original building still stands. We slip inside, and are warmly greeted and given the bulletin, and we take a pew. The student Minister is giving the sermon today. He speaks well, and spends time talking to the group of young people at the front. He asks the teenagers what sort of indications are there that Christmas is coming, and a smart lad retorts (hand up politely) that the most common one is all the Christmassy stuff coming into the supermarket in September. There is a ripple of gentle laughter from the other members of the congregation.

The interior of the church is fairly austere, with a red and gold banner each side of the pulpit, a small macramé hanging in stripes of vibrant pinks and reds, and a simple wooden cross the only decoration. In front of the left side of the church, is a bold golden eagle, supporting a large book, which I assume is a Bible. The walls are white, and the windows huge open arches, reaching high into the roof-space, letting light flood into the church. The glass is plain, but the atmosphere is one of great peace and rest.

The Steeple Church is a bowl of light. The space is whitewashed with it. No dark corners, everything bright, white, open, no shade, the whiteness and the plain diamond-paned windows, opening out and letting the light pour in and touch us, sitting on the long pews with their red cushioned seats, touched by the light, sitting quietly, washed by the words of the message and the ebb and flow of the cadence of the hymns. The formality, the rising to sing, and sitting to pray, the informal dress, the open-ness of the message, down-to-earth, real, reaching out to everyone as one – for me – this is wholly for me.

I feel a little shy. I am aware I am sitting rigidly, looking around me, seeing how others are reacting, conducting themselves. I don’t know the words to any of the hymns – they are all different from the ones I used to sing in school assembly, with their rousing choruses and scores which are etched into my memory. I check surreptitiously that I do not have a scarlet letter on my shirt, an “H” for heathen, because I am not one, in my heart. I hope I am not squeaking with newness, when everyone else is comfortably worn-in. I feel a little out of time, as though people may see me as a Rip Van Winkle figure, armed with my repertoire of hymns now infrequently sung, bristling with preconceptions, projecting anxiety and shyness, yet wanting to be here.

Bob says:
Once the service is over, I look around. The woman next to me says hello and seems surprised by my accent. She asks me where I am from and we chat a bit about California. She asks what brings me here, and I say that I am visiting a friend. Shoshana is in the throes of shyness, but makes polite, slightly strangled sounds. We go out to the foyer and look around a little. I start to read some of the flyers on the wall and was greeted by one of the church members who says hello and asks if we live in the area. I say no, and Shoshana takes a deep breath and says that she does live around there, clearly hoping that this will be the end of the conversation.

Again, I am asked what brings me to the area – and in November (!) no less. I say that I am visiting a friend. The woman looks at Rowan in an inquiring way, clearly wanting to know more, but much too polite to pry. I give a much-abbreviated version of how we met. She asks us if we would like a cup of tea and shows us where they are serving tea, coffee, and biscuits. The woman helps us order some tea and leaves us to enjoy it. At our church, we use Styrofoam cups, but there is something charming about the mismatched real cups and saucers that the tea is served in. I liked the fact that there were real spoons rather than plastic ones. We are given tea and Rowan accepts hers with a “Ta”.

The woman serving tea knows Rowan and asks about her son. As they chat, I looked around. I cannot follow the conversation. For a moment, picking out their conversation amidst the accents is more than I can manage. As we walk away, the minister comes up to us and says hello. He asks if we are from around there, and once again, I say that I am from California. The minister has visited California and he talks about the beauty of the coast. I admit that I am surprised by how many people have visited here. I should be tripping over Scots at this rate. Rowan has said that she lives in Dundee, and the pastor starts making gentle inquiries.

He is a little careful with her, trying to welcome her without seeming to be pushy. I like him for it, as he seems genuinely interested in the strangers that have arrived at his door and happy to see us. I step back a little and watch the Scottish social interaction – each trying to put the other at ease. She is trying to say that she has not been there before, but in a way to not make it seem that she has not wanted to visit, and he is trying to make her welcome without being intrusive. It is a lovely, subtle social exchange – very different from the way that two Americans would interact in the same situation.

The Reverend, after listening to a little bit about Shoshana's life, asks gently, if she would like him to come and visit. Given the delicacy of the conversation until now, I am surprised by the straightforward question and intrigued to see what she will say. It is a surprising offer to my American ears. Maybe there are pastors all over the place that offer to come and do a house visit, but it seems very old-fashioned and thoughtful. She takes him up on it. I am in charity with the world.

Rowan writes:

After the service we are offered tea. I recognise the lady serving as someone I have met in her professional capacity. I am pleased to see her, and we chat briefly. The Minister comes over and chats to myself and Bob. The atmosphere of the little gathering is gentle and friendly. Bob asks the Reverend to pray for me. I am glad.

Bob says:

We step out into the cold air and scamper over to the large, modern shopping center that is just a few steps from the ancient church. The mall is much like malls everywhere, but the stores are not familiar. We go to the baked potato café for lunch. There are helpful and informative potato facts posted on the walls. such as the fact that The Potato is the Most Important Source of Vitamin C in the British Diet. I wonder if this is because potatoes are a good source of vitamin C or because Brits aren't eating anything else more healthy on a regular basis. I suspect that it might be the latter.

Rowan writes:

Overlooking the Steeple Church is a glass-fronted shopping-mall, and we head over to my favourite cheap and cheerful café, called, rather inauspiciously, “Spudulike.” It is an iconic haunt of mine, a dieter’s sanctuary, where you can fill up and not feel too guilty. It is all healthy, right? Even the beans they use are Heinz “weight watchers” variety. They are very yummy. I am fairly rigid in my choices, and usually go for cottage cheese with chives, baked beans or chilli. I plump for cottage cheese this time. Bob is a little unsure of the choices, as they are different from what she would expect back home. She orders and we take our blue polystyrene bowls and jolly little sturdy green forks over to one of the round white-topped tables. It is clean and cheerful and no-nonsense.

Bob says:

Most of the potato fillings look … em … gloppy. There is something called chicken tikka masala, which is supposedly one of the most popular dishes in the UK. It looks both gloppy and lumpy, and I pass. I finally decide on a plain potato with cheese and salt and pepper. When we sit down, I surreptitiously remove about a cup and a half of cheese from the top of my potato. I don’t want to appear picky, but that was a lot of cheese. I am generally of the opinion that you can’t have too much cheese, but I may have to revise this premise.

There is nowhere to put the extra cheese, and I end up putting it on the tray, which seems tacky. I am feeling more out of place by the moment. I might as well have Ugly American tattooed on my forehead. I just keep my head down and eat. Rowan and I discuss the service and our perceptions. I like the fact that you can see a 12th century church from the window of a downtown mall. I wonder if the other people in the café appreciate the juxtaposition.

Rowan writes:

Looking out through the roof-height plate glass windows, we are facing the fine and reassuring edifice of the Steeple Church. I am gladdened and uplifted, having enjoyed my visit to church, and enjoying my baked potato in familiar cheerful surroundings with my friend from over the sea, who is making me laugh, quizzing me about the contents of the potato fillings and other aspects of the British diet.

Bob says:

We discuss the finer points of pies and cake versus trifle.

Rowan's eyes light up when she talks about her mom's sherry trifle. I think she is talking about cherry trifle, which sounds okay. She, with a bit of a an eye roll, corrects me. Sherry trifle, Sherry trifle. Trifle sounds gloppy. I know, I know -- sorry.

We look around as we walk toward the exit. We go into a wonderful Christmas store that has fairy lights and a staggering array of really awful tacky items – the spastic, singing, Santas threaten to give Rowan an epileptic seizure. I am not sure how fiber-optic fairies are part of Christmas, but in the UK they are. I am sooo tempted to get a box of Christmas Crackers (not as in saltines). There are some familiar sights – a t-mobile store, for example, and a Starbucks, but mostly things are pleasantly novel.

I am going to note something about prices here. Everything costs double what it would in the US. When I was traveling the conversion rate was about 1.90 dollars to one pound – so something that costs one pound actually costs about two dollars. A shirt that I would expect to see for about ten bucks at home is about ten pounds. Those little chicken sandwiches at KFC that cost 99 cents cost 99 pence. This is true for just about everything. A latte at Starbucks costs about three pound fifty -- almost seven smackers. At first, this really bothered me – I did not like paying twenty dollars for a ten-dollar shirt, but I finally got over it. I am sorry that the Brits are being gouged, though.

As we start to leave the mall, I note that there is an eddy of humanity at the door. People stop to put on their coats and scarves. One thing that I have noticed is that almost every one is wearing a scarf, sometimes even if they do not have a jacket. Children are bundled in multiple layers in their strollers before their parents push them out into the drizzle. The little ones who cannot sit up by themselves are held upright by layers of down padding and water-repellent nylon. They look like little Michelin men.

We walk through the drizzle up to the bus stop.

We pass Desperate Dan on the way.

He is a local celebrity/cartoon character.

Shoshana is dismissive about the New-Agey dragon. She is not sure how it represents Dundee. I think that he is missing a blue marble orb clutched in his claws. The Christmas lights are just being put up at City Hall, but they don't call it City Hall. I forget what they do call it.

This is the view from the bus station. The rain is beading on the plexiglass, and we are perched on metal poles. The cold is seeping into my backside.

Rowan writes:

After lunch, we explore the shopping mall a little, but are aware we have to get back home fairly sharply, and oughtn’t to dawdle too long. The sky is darkening, and it is raining. We nip in and out of a couple of shops, and investigate the Ottakars bookshop, before sidling up to the bus shelter to wait for the bus home. It is a circular bus, which covers a popular route around town. The bus service in Dundee is very good. This bus runs every six minutes for most of the day, from 6.30 till eleven at night. We board, and settle in for the twenty-minute journey, watching the raindrops slither down the outside of the windows, darkened by a thin veil of dried mud thrown up by the wheels.

We relieve mum of her minding duties – she has played a storm, and think about tea, as in tea, our word for dinner. In Scotland, only very posh people, who are really English, say dinner. We say tea, and actually, most of the northern English would too. I am not sure where the dinner/tea boundary lines are drawn.

I am wondering what to cook, and we opt for a frozen lasagne type thing, as it is from Marks and Spencer’s, should be good, and will not take too long to cook. To accompany it, I unearth some chunky pre-chopped roasting vegetables from the freezer. I have stir-fry ones, but somehow, am drawn to the Mediterranean tones of the chunks of turnip and sweet potato and carrot and other goldenly lumps making up the combination. I pour oil into the frying pan – my new “Tefal Hot Spot Wok”, no less, and give myself a quiet little pat on the back for being so organised as to have acquired the appropriate cooking implements, even if they were just hauled out of their packaging the night before. Three bent forks and two twenty-five year old MRSA saucepans were not the boogie. (The amount of penicillium they have nurtured likely redressed the microbe imbalance and kept us alive.) It is good to look at your kitchen once and awhile with the assumed discerning gaze of someone else, and ask yourself whether or not they would mind the ancient Geller-tastic cutlery or mediaeval cookware.

The chicken breasts in mild Korma curry sauce with lemon rice and Peshwari naan worked reasonably well, on our first night. The vegetables, tonight, however, turn into a bit of a disaster. There is waay too much oil in the pan, and the chunks slide about, rather than fizzle and char in an appropriate manner.* They slide in the oily gloop and slop onto the plate. Bob is very understanding, and helps herself to some, along with a wodge of the indeterminate lasagne-esque thing in the foil tray. It is very game of her. I detect only the very faintest of gleams in her eye and the merest hint of a smile. I am up for laughing at my bad cooking, but grateful all the same.

*I unobtrusively patted the vegetables down with a napkin and things went along much less swimmingly after that -- Ed.

After tea, Bob retires to her room to go online, and I get the children organised. We will be taking Lena out and about on Monday, and retire at a reasonable hour.

Bob says:

It has been a pleasant day -- quiet after the rush of London. Rowan gets the kids ready for bed. She is in full-blown negotiations with her four year old daughter regarding getting to sleep. Lena is excited about tomorrow and comes up with ingenious reasons as to why she is a) not in her bed and /or b) not asleep. I enjoy listening to someone else have to deal with a bright, stubborn four year old. Lena is not easily cowed and gives her mom a run for her money. Better her than me. I wonder idly who would prevail in the clash of the titans that would occur if my Sam and Rowan's Lena butted heads.

Rowan's son is still up -- his sleep is pretty disrupted and I can hear her trying to settle him. I stay out of the way so as not to be a distraction and have a quick chat with my husband via Messenger. He is getting the kids ready for church at home, and I am struck by the fact that I have already lived their whole day. It is disorienting.

Tomorrow we visit Broughty Ferry. Did I mention that we are close to the North Sea?

Monday, January 15, 2007

From London to Edinburgh to Dundee

Off on the Right Foot

But off on the Wrong Terminal

Saturday morning dawns a little gray, but not too wet. It is our last day in London. When I turn on the BBC news to see about the weather, it is full of news of the poisoning of a Russian spy in London. Rowan tells me the story about another spy that got poked in the leg with an umbrella and was poisoned.I am glad that we were not on that airline. We scurry about, packing as we get ready. My pants are dry, but I decided to wear my long denim skirt that is a little shorter than my jeans, so that if it starts to rain again I will not get too wet. Skirt and tights and my Converse tennies. I hope that I don't look like a total dork, but part of me would rather look like a dork than be wet.

At breakfast, there are lots of families and we end up perching on the end of a long bench. I worry that I am going to upset the table as I squeeze in. We have a last, nostalgic breakfast downstairs in the dining room. It is busier than it has been since we have been at the Bonnington.

We get a cup of coffee to go at Costas as we walk along, as it is a little cold. I have to say something about most of the coffee that I had in the UK. It was awful. I mean it. Costas looked like a Starbuckian type place, and I am of the opinion that most things are made better with chocolate, so I had a mocha. It was so bad that I had to discreetly toss it. I have seldom met a cup of coffee that I could not force down, but I met it in London.

We finish up breakfast and rush out to the British Museum for a last look before we go to Heathrow Airport. The flight leaves at three thirty and I think that we should be there by two at the latest. The trip takes an hour by Tube, and the plan is to leave by noon just so that we have plenty of time. My husband and I have had to sprint through an airport on more than one occasion, and it is not an experience that I was eager to repeat. For some reason, I was not taking many pictures today. You can tell the good pictures from the website versus my lousy pictures. I only put up pictures of things that we actually saw, though.

We walk over to the museum and get there just as it opens.

We went in the same door as last night and first went into a section on Islam. The tiles are beautiful,
and the edged weapons are scary.

I was reminded of the friezes that I saw last night, where battles were depicted. We see sumptuous, gorgeous carpets, and Rowan is very happy.

She has a good story about Ebay and Persian carpets. I have to get permission before telling it.

We wander past the sarcophagi.

We enter the Great Court. We completely missed this last night. It is brilliantly white and spacious. I don’t even mind the modern architecture.

I go to the info desk to ask about a map, and I am asked by the young woman in charge of maps if we have seen The Reading Room. I tell her that we haven't and she says that we must go and see it.

The reading room is inside of the big, round round building. It is spectacular. Rowan gets all glowy.

Look at the books!

Even the ceiling is gorgeous.

Here is a video that I took.

The lions are cool.

We walk through the museum, looking at some of the exhibits. I am always most interested in the everyday things that people used.

We take a walk through the gift shop and look for souvenirs for our families.

There is a neat book shop and I regretfully do not get a 100 pound book on the history of fashion for my daughter. I do get pens and key rings.

I buy a keyring with a replica of a heavy metal chess piece. The set was found on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. It dates back to 1150 or 1200. I wanted to get my husband a chess set, but they are really heavy. I content myself with the keyring...

... which I have since kiped from him and use on my key ring at work. It has a nice heft and I like the scrolly details on the back. This is the queen from the Lewis chess set.

See the gift shop? You can just make it out at the bottom. It is here that I realize that the British Museum has the Rosetta stone, mostly because I have seen Rosetta stone mugs and mousemats. I just would like to say that again. The British Museum has the Rosetta Stone! Criminey.

This is also just about where I lost Rowan after we split up. She wanted to get a gift for her sister and new niece and I wanted to look around a little more. However, Rowan is hard to keep track of. She is a little drifty.

She had reached her artifact threshold.

Rowan writes:

I can cheerfully point others in the direction of inconceivably vast Phonecian statuaries, and priceless Babylonian friezes, and I genuinely appreciate the wonder and awe engendered by fragments of the Rosetta Stone. It is just that I get hit by this Museum somnolence, which has my blood-sugar drop, and an indolent longing to curl up on a rare Persian rug, roped-off from public access, is at the forefront of my semi-conscious brain. I wander around, trying to look interested, eyelids drooping all the while, while others draw breath and take pictures.* I am wondering how long i need look before I can slope off to the gift shop for a milk chocolate Pharoah. Sigh.

*who could she be talking about?

There needs to be a discreet stack of lurid magazines on the museum rest benches for the likes of me.

It is not that I am a Philistine. I truly appreciate the stuff. I am blaming it on the low lighting and the sense of peace … the quiet footfalls, and the timelessness of the exhibits. Aeons are represented here ... this stuff has slept for generation upon generation. Aphrodite bathing has shivered so long in mid-wash that she is beyond cold, and sleeps her alabaster sleep.

Her headless sisters dance on the parapets of a breathtaking proscenium arch. I can admire and applaud, but i also need to get a coffee and walk at a pace that keeps my blood from pooling at my ankles. But am not a Philistine... :)

The Rosetta Stone

Did I mention that the British Museum has the Rosetta stone? The British Museum has the freaking ROSETTA STONE. Just sayin'.

I know that I have to get a picture, because it will blow my husband's mind. I recall that we have had actual conversations wherein he has waxed rhapsodic about it. I got a picture just for him. I look and we are doing well on time, but we should go. I reluctantly leave after getting him a Rosetta Stone t-shirt.

Rowan writes:

We have spent a long time browsing in the museum, amongst the lovely middle-eastern pottery and painted tiles, and need to grab some souvenirs and get back to the hotel, to pack and make it to the airport in time for our flight.

Across the road from the museum, we spy an interesting souvenir shop, which had been closed the night before. It is painted pillar-box red, and has inviting window displays of just the sort of touristy smashables we are keen to load up with. We hop between the oncoming cars and enter the shop.

It is called “Fancy That of London” and is a bit of an Aladdin’s cave, if your heart-rate rises at the sight of terrifically tacky useless decorative items, emblazoned with the name of an unfamiliar city, as mine does. London! All this kitschy stuff has “London” on it, which kinda renders it cool. Gives it a veneer of London chic. Or so I persuade myself. The stuff in here is cheap and cheerful, and the range of mugs is great. Bob spots a super plastic one with an underground map emblazoned upon it, and scoops it up for her son. I settle on two china ones, with names of underground stations on.

There is every unnecessary object you could would hope not to think of in here…fairies, unicorns, piggy-banks with springs for legs as well as all the familiar London things…”Big Ben” keyrings, Tower of London fridge magnets.

I am very tempted by the Tower Bridge teapot and coffee pots, which are actually not kitschy. ‘They are pure class, so they are’ (assumes a Glaswegian accent.) I want one badly. Nevertheless, I have visions of it smashed to a pulp very quickly, and they are quite expensive. I am content to admire them as a piece of fine art, and leave them in situ.

Bob says:

I was able to get my nieces the fairies that I had been looking for. They have a nice weight to them. I was also able to pick up some items for my team in the hospital.

Rowan writes:

Bob buys items for her folks, and we head off back through the streets to the hotel. On the way, we spot a book-case of second-hand books outside of what must be a - da da duuum (anticipatory drum-roll) second-hand bookshop!! Whoo hoo! We cannot pass this by. In we go, and Bob, with her finely-honed book bargain finding skills, has secured a gem of a volume for only a pound and a book for her friend, Kim, that is very neat. Inside, it is just my kind of shop. Cliffs of books, with unexpected titles and affordable prices pencilled in on the flyleaves. Oooh this shop is fab. And we do not have a second to browse. But browse I do, and Bob has to practically drag me out. She is being very self-disciplined, as she loves such shops as this just as much as I do.

She has, however, been saddled with the responsibility of being the person doing all the major organising, and I have been rather guilty of drifting, and leaving all the serious map-reading, underground-navigating, ticket-keeping, and time-management pretty much entirely up to Bob. She has managed this with great aplomb, but I am dawdling in the shop, and time is marching on. We whisk back to the hotel, and Bob rushes up to pack, whilst I go and buy one last souvenir – a very cute smiley china piggy bank with Tower Bridge painted in livid hues on its belly. It has been calling softly to me, every time I’ve passed the shop, and I can’t go home without it.

Bob says:

I think that letting Rowan loose in a bookstore is asking for trouble. She is worse than I am when it comes to browsing. I was waiting somewhat impatiently at the front of the store and finally went back to find her. She was reading, completely oblivious. I snapped the book from her fingers, reshelved it and hustled her out.

I rush up to the hotel room and have to repack, now that we have souvenirs. It is taking a little more time than I would like and I am beginning to sweat, just a little. Our margin of error is starting to shrink. I meet Rowan out in the hallway and hustle her off. We check out and briskly walk down the street.

Rowan writes:

Bob meets me at the hotel door, two heavy suitcases in tow. She graciously gives me the smaller one, and we set off at a smart pace through the crowds, dashing towards the underground. I am keen to slow down, having abdicated all flight-time-angst, expecting that things will all fall into place, and that we will not be late. Bob is determinedly shepherding me along, and we reach the underground station and hop on the escalator down to the platform. It is very crowded, and, near the bottom, I somehow become caught-up in the wheels of my case, which has a habit of turning over. I feel my balance going, and I fall flat on my face on the platform, feeling very silly. I have a slightly painful wrist, but am not hurt. I have given poor Bob the heebie jeebies, though, as she once saw someone genuinely hurt on an escalator. She kindly helps me up, and we sprint for the train.

Bob says:

I had a total case of the screaming willies when poor Rowan was tackled by her suitcase. The only reason that I was not a gibbering mess was that I did not have time to melt down. It was a total miracle that she was not seriously hurt. I was behind her and saw her going down, and then struggling back to her feet. I had visions of the people behind us grinding us under the gaping maw of the escalator, as it was packed. Visions of the headline “Tube Tragedy” floated before my eyes. We managed to get up and off of the bloody thing, without being on the bottom of a massive escalator-dogpile. (The memory is giving me the creepy-crawlies.) After we stopped shaking, she asked if I was going to tell anyone about her tumble. I see that she told the story first, in a pre-emptive strike.

Rowan writes:

The journey seems to take forever, and Bob is becoming concerned about the time. We rush into the Heathrow station, and get on what appears to be the correct terminal train, but is actually not.

Bob says:

If Rowan is brave enough to tell you about her near death experience on the escalator, then I am brave enough to tell you that it was all my fault that we got off on the wrong terminal. Our airlines, British Midway, was not marked, and I kept chanting "Terminal One, Terminal One, Terminal One". However, just before Terminal Two, I checked for my passport and could not find it. I totally panicked, having visions of being barred from the flight. I found it, in the super-safe place that I had put it in. But I got distracted and got off on Terminal Two. By the time I realized what had happened, we had no choice but to schlep to Terminal One. I kid you not, it was like four miles through echoing tunnels, trying to follow signage that was almost as bad as that at Denver International. There is a point at which you cannot walk any faster, and I hit it. Ooooh, I was mad at myself.

Rowan writes:

The signposting is confusing. Although we were technically on time, we are told that we may be too late and have to go get in line to see if we can get on the flight. We wait in line for ten minutes or so before the man behind the counter speaks to us. He looks at his watch and tells us we are five minutes late for the flight closing. We were actually in time for the flight! We had cut things very fine, but we had been officially within the time limit. Bob has a long and polite discussion with the lady at the check-in desk, and another official, who I do not see, as I am waiting behind the barrier, eating the remains of the Thai chilli crisps from the night before and abdicating all negotiating responsibilities. Eventually, we are forced to take a later flight. We have four hours to kill in Heathrow till the next flight, so go and track down something to eat.

There are several cafes in Heathrow, all attempting to look authentically somewhere else. There is a French patisserie café and an Italian café and an olde Englishe traditional pubbe, complete with four-foot plasma-screen television, loudly blaring out ye olde game of boring soccer. The pub atmosphere is appropriately dingy, and there is only one empty table, next to a bucket which is catching drips coming through from the roof. The carpet smells slightly stale, as the drip has clearly gone undiscovered for some time. In spite of these deleterious features (well, unless you like loud tv football) it is quite a passable eatery. The food is acceptable, the service fairly friendly, and there is a nice screen up behind us showing all the flight departures and destinations. Bob investigates the sachets of brown sauce and salad cream, and we settle in and plan out next moves.

Bob says:

We had a very nice lunch. As usual, there are no napkins, and I have to go to the counter and ask. While waiting, I go over to investigate the condiment packets. Not only is there ketchup, but there are other interesting offerings. I take a sampling and go back to get the cultural low-down. Salad cream sounds interesting, and brown sauce sounds … um … unappetizing. Rowan says that brown sauce and salad cream are staples in the British array of chip-sauces. Salad cream tastes kind of like Miracle Whip, and I pass on it. Brown sauce is more interesting – fruity. Rowan says that it has tamarind in it. It is a little vinegary, kind of like A1 sauce but sweeter.

In some way, this was a nice break. We have been so busy seeing things that we have not really had time to just talk. We divested ourselves of all of our layers and settled back for a long chat. I think we were laughing more than anyone else in the pub, despite the fact that we were probably being poisoned by toxic black mold or something.

Rowan writes:

Lunch over, we head off to look at hats and scarves, and generally potter, until it is time for the flight. This seems fairly problem-free (I am less afraid this time) but as we come into Edinburgh, the plane banks steeply, then seems to plummet for a second or two, and warning signs come on ---

Bob says:

-- I get to tell this story. We were sitting quietly on the plane, talking. I was looking a little enviously at the man in front of me. He had what looked like a great trashy newspaper and I wanted it. The flight to Edinburgh is brief. You know how, when you are getting close to your destination that you can feel the plane descending? Well, we went over the Firth of Forth, coming into Edinburgh, and I could feel the plane start to descend. After a couple of minutes, I can hear one of the engines start to make a funny noise. The plane accelerates sharply, and begins to climb. The warning exit lights come on and the plane takes a nose dive. I am not joking. A bona-fide nose dive. I am not the most experienced traveller, but I had never felt anything like this. We were pushed back into our seats and the ride got really rough. I was reminding myself that our seat cushions were flotation devices and that we could land with only one engine. I think that I said, “Oh, this is not good.” Rowan looked at me, a little scared. I felt bad about scaring her, but I felt worse about the fact that we were about to crash. I knew that my husband would take good care of my kids, but I felt bad for leaving Rowan’s children motherless. Needless to say, I was praying up a storm.

Okay – Rowan can finish.

Rowan writes:

All is well though, and we make it out of the terminal, on to the airport bus and out into the bright lights of Princes Street, the skyline bright from the glow of Christmas lights.

We nip into the Marks and Spencer’s food hall and get sandwiches.

Bob says:

Marks and Spencer’s is neat. There all kinds of sandwiches that I have never heard of, things with duck meat and watercress. My choices include Aromatic Duck, British Ham and Cheddar, Chicken and Sweetcorn, Poached Salmon, Prawn Mayonnaise, Red Salmon and Cucumber, Roast Beef and Horseradish, Sausage and Ketchup, and Turkey, Bacon, and Stuffing. I have Tuna Mayonnaise with Sweetcorn. I think that Rowan has a cheese sandwich. Yum.
There are rows of chips that I do not recognize and drinks that sound appealingly foreign. We figure out what platform we are leaving from and get on the train. It is packed with people. As usual, I am asked where I am from, as I apparently have an accent. I enjoy the sound of Scots voices after being in London. Near the end of our trip, a group of drunken, rowdy young men board the train. Rowan gives me one of her expressive eye rolls. She is not amused by their antics. I think they are funnier than I would if I was in California.

Rowan writes:

We have had a long day, and are glad to board the train back to Dundee. En route, we are entertained by a couple of tiddly women sitting next to us, who have been to an office party. They are interested in chatting, and discuss the merits of possessing various different accents. Bob refutes their claims that their Scots accents are heavy and unappealing. They get off at Kirkcaldy, and we have more elbow room to break out our filled-rolls, crisps and drinks. Dundee hoves on the horizon. We have made it back.

Bob says:

We catch a cab back to Rowan’s house and let ourselves in. Rowan turned off the boiler before she left and is having trouble getting it back on. It is FREEEEZING. You know the kind of cold where you are making little grunts of distress because you are shivering so hard and your teeth are not chattering, but are clacking together? We were doing that. She manages to get it going, just before I am ready to call the local hotel. The house warms up really fast, and we go to bed.