Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Taxing Inheritance

This post is an homage to Pat, sort of. She's always dotting about with her camera and showing us lovely places, and as I actually went out yesterday I thought I'd share my findings like she does. I Saw the polar opposites of Scottish heritage and some pigs.

First up I went to a post-grad symposium at Elshieshields* tower, a beautiful fifteenth century house tucked so expertly away in the countryside, only fourteen miles from here, that after two hours of looking for it I gave up and came home. It took Stevie and his sat-nav to get me there. I've always pooh-poohed sat-nav: 'all one needs is a brain and a map!' but yesterday I was glad of it, the place was well worth changing one's mind for, momentarily. Reverend Dr Ann Shukman (who, incidentally has the best hair) inherited the house from her uncle, the historian Sir Steven Runciman, nine years ago in a state of some disrepair. She has done an amazing job of restoration and now hosts academic and spiritual gatherings there. It is certainly a place for contemplation. I have to admit, though, that the extent of my contemplation was, 'all that dusting!'

Here is a view from the top of the tower, which is part of the main house, onto the cottage in which the symposium was held, and beyond to the less formal, more interesting, gardens:

After Stevie picked me up we went to the port at Annan to get new tires for his car. As he sat in the waiting room I wandered off. It's not that I don't like tire workshops, I do, but I had noticed something more interesting outside. The whole area is near derelict. Opposite the tire place is what was once a huge building but is now a walled meadow. Nature is reclaiming the space. I have to say, I find that quite pleasing. The area hasn't quite been abandoned by humans: a small terrace of houses is being done up, there are still a few businesses in operation, and in the creek was a working fishing boat in good condition. And then there was this one:

Isn't it gorgeous? There is something about the way timbers start to separate, and paint peels like the scabs of old wounds, that is quite beautiful about old abandoned boats. The interiors rusting, the plant-life that has self-seeded, the whisper of a no longer uttered name. And there's the colour. There are lots of little harbours in this area and I spend quite a bit of time wandering round them in the summer; boats still in use are all number of colours: red, orange, yellow, blue, but only abandoned boats are this colour, and they all are. At least it seems that way. This vibrant bruise blue-green, sometimes with a hint of red amongst the peeling layers, is the colour I most come across on boats that have been left to rot. Are people who choose this colour more likely to give up their watery fantasies, is this the colour of boat undercoat, or does all paint become this colour if left to its own devices?

Once the tires were fixed firmly to the wheels of Stevie's car – which I realise now is a very similar colour to the boat – we went to pick Bob up from work. Bob works at Broom Fisheries where he deals with all their website stuff – if you click on the link you'll see his handy-work. He developed the website from scratch and, like an artist, he is still perfecting it. He also deals with customers and suppliers, and collects eggs from the chickens. Carole, his boss, has just taken delivery of four saddleback piglets so I went to say hello. They are the cutest things.

* the house has no website of its own but I thought this was interesting and it shows you a nice picture of it.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

True History

So my family came to stay: two sisters, brother, and their various additions. I didn't get the group photo I wanted, I tried on the evening they arrived but Angela wasn't letting the camera near her after her long sweaty journey, and by the next day we had settled into familiar mode and I forgot about recording.

Apart from my best friend and my son my siblings are the only people I can be entirely myself with, without worrying about causing upset, so it was a welcome relief to spend some time with them; like getting out of the hot, stuffy, polluted city to the mountains or coast, suddenly breathing is easy. Like when we were kids home from school, with the added benefit of being able to cook a decent meal. Actually being with them is a bit like having three mums, I know that as long as I have them I will always have three distinct places of refuge and will never have to go hungry. I put on three pounds during the course of the week.

We mostly just hung about chatting – and eating – though we did have two trips out, one to Edinburgh where we did a tour of the Vaults and then went for dinner; the other to Drumlanrig castle which I hadn't been to for some time but liked so much I went back with Stevie once they had gone.

The Vaults are supposed to be haunted and our tour guide told us all sorts of stories of people who experienced strange happenings during or after visiting them. One of the rooms is considered to be so spooky that most people refuse to enter it. We were told of a woman who suddenly fell to the ground and had to be taken to hospital, a man who discovered scratches all over his body once he got home, and spontaneous mobile phone activity. Our tour guide refused to go near it and only my niece, Lois, her father, Paul, and me were brave – or foolhardy – enough to enter. Later, as we were mooching about looking for a restaurant, a bird we didn't see but which must have been very large and very sick emptied its bowels all over Lois's pale pink mac. Luckily it was machine washable and she was able to wear it again for our visit to the castle later in the week.

Over dinner one night, cooked by my brother Eugene following some of our mother's recipes, Angela told of how her best friend was hijacked by one of her husband's less lovable traits: he had a habit of trimming his toenails in the sitting room – bad enough as far as I'm concerned – and rather than gather up the clippings and put them in the bin he'd just toss them behind him. She was vaguely aware of this but for whatever reason didn't beat him about the head and make him stop. The couch was one of those huge corner things, too heavy for (let's call her) Louise to move, so the vacuum cleaner never got behind it. Then they moved house. The kids were at school, the husband was at work, and Louise was alone with the removal men, cleaning each room as they cleared it. When they moved the couch, there in the corner, was a monumental pile (seven years worth) of (let's call him) Nigel's toenail clippings. The men dropped the couch and everyone stared in horrified disbelief. No doubt in years to come Louise and Nigel's two children will talk over dinner about the day they moved house and mum ripped dad's head off when he got home from work, and wonder.

Paul in the spooky room.

Lois at Drumlanrig in her newly washed pink mac.

It was Angela's birthday on the Tuesday and the kids knocked up this cake for her after breakfast in their bedroom.

They had bought the sponge cake and what they thought was ready rolled but turned out to be ready to roll icing so they had to roll it out with a hairspray can.

Monday, 1 June 2009

I wish I fished

This is definitely a day to go fishing, in all the years I've lived in this town I have never experienced such summer-is-hereness. It's a make the most of it day so that's what I'm doing, I just popped in to show you this: my rather spectacular angelica:

Once the sun remembers where it is and things go back to normal I will regale you with family visit stories; don't let me forget to tell you the pile of toe-nail clippings one.