... 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.