Sunday, 31 March 2013

Days of Decadence

Blissful few days of lounging and stuffing our faces. Rustled up breakfast the other day: eggs, bacon, and mushrooms in garlic butter. Then proceeded to roast my first hunk of pork. The crackling was spectacular! Trimmed with roast potatoes, sweet potato, butternut squash (which, incidentally, tastes like cantaloupe melon when raw!), onions and parsnip.

We've been picking over the leftovers ever since, with Martine squishing scraps of meat and cold veg into a bap with gravy. Delightful.

To balance that out, we had her signature salad with sunflower seeds, yeast flakes (it's a French thing - très bon) and beansprouts, topped with pizza.

The drinking has been a little excessive, especially on the red wine front. We were duped (as have been many) by cheap alcohol-free plonk the other day! Sitting in the kitchen, despairing, we were saved when Martine's son, David, came home and forced us all to drink whisky instead. Ah, the Scots!

Linkwood, by the way, is a mighty fine tipple.

We've also been nibbling Easter eggs and Gü hot chocolate soufflé.

My own bottle of birthday brew, which Ruaíri brought with him from Ireland when last I was here, has also taken a supping. T'was full when I left, but it has been shared in good company along my travels.

We've been burning all of this energy off completing the tasks Martine needs to get through before her imminent marriage and departure. This involves shower rails, tenancy agreements, grouting, council tax and Gumtree. Thankfully, mostly in our pyjamas.

For the first time in my entire life, I actually sat and watched the clocks change last night. We were glued to the computer screen, not blinking...

00:59 - 02:00

Just remember: spring forward, fall back.

A life-affirming moment of change, time travelling with a friend.

The future looms and I am setting a new course. Adventures ahoy!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

A World of Possibilities

Duck eggs for breakfast, nomnomnom...

Had a wonderful week house sitting Paul's place whilst he went with Paul #2 and Lindsay to a conference down south.

Paul and Paul returned on Tuesday, as Paul #2 is up looking at house prices. Thinking of a move oop north. Whilst he went off to St. Andrews to do that, I rolled out my newly acquired A1 flipchart pad and started putting Paul #1 through his paces. He already runs a successful database in the UK of prehistoric sites, and we're looking to turn it into something a little bigger. This involves setting up a voluntary organisation. We've completed most of the paperwork and it's now time to crack on with the strategy. This, by the way, is my day job.

Three years begins here...
...and ends here.
If you're thinking that tiled floor looks a little familiar, that's because I'm back in Edinburgh.

Decided to let the blokey blokes get on with it, and go in search of female company. Wanted to spend some quality time with Martine before she gets married. I didn't realise, when I made this decision, that she was in Dublin visiting Ruaíri, so I was able to pick her up from Edinburgh Airport last night. 

We got back - there was little food, but much wine. 

I've just learned that Martine will be moving to Ireland a few days after the wedding, before heading to Laos later in the year. I'm so incredibly glad to be here now. I thought we had more time, so all the time we have is precious. It's going to take some coming to terms with, knowing that I can no longer hop in my car and come to see her, but that I'll need to board an aeroplane. Feels like the end of an era; I've loved Edinburgh so much. I'm trying really hard not to think of it as losing my best mate, but gaining a continent. Can't wait to visit Asia!

So many things to think about at the moment. Really excited about the Scottish Project. It's so nice to be involved in something I'm really interested in, with people I like.

It also raises the question of whether I'd like to stay up here a bit longer. I need to cross the border for a bit after the wedding, just to remind myself what England looks like, but maybe it would be good to be up here a bit more? Maybe it would be too sad with Martine gone? Or maybe it would be easier to get to Dublin from here? Maybe Paul might decide he'd rather keep his books in his spare room instead of me... 

Another close friend just announced she's moving back to Rwanda later this year. It's starting to feel like the great abandonment. Another reason I must return down South, and specifically to London, to conduct the mother of all catch-ups before she leaves. 

Maybe it's a sign that I need to get my own backside in gear and go and have some adventures? 

I remember this from Africa. It's always better to be the person leaving than the one left behind.

Sorry, moment of bottomless self-pity there. Even better to let them go first and have time to set up a spare room for me with tasteful decor and a comfortable mattress ;)

Though, if you thought the price of petrol was expensive, you should check out international flights! Ghastly. 

Anyway, plenty of good things to look forward to: wedding, Scottish Project, road trips, hearing all about friends' adventures. 

I really can't complain.

(P.S. I almost crashed the car twice en route to the airport last night - the moon was HUGE.)

Friday, 22 March 2013

Cream and Mallows

Okaykaykay, I know I said I wasn't going to post much because I'm so busy sleeping and lounging around in my PJs, but...

Quick post on the nature of happiness.

Kitty had a wee problem with her windscreen sprayers the other day. It's been really cold here recently and the front water hose popped out from the ice. When I went to wash the windscreen, she left a wet patch on the ground. She's an old lady now, it happens.

Decided to take a pootle into Alloa today to get the problem fixed. 

Not only did the lovely man at JK Tyres pop her hose back in, he also oiled her belt to stop it squeaking and charged me a grand total of... nothing.

Slightly amazed, I headed into Alloa to look for stationary. 

I pulled into the local car park, where the parking charges were extortionate. I had to fork out a grand total of... nothing.

Seriously, when was the last time that ever happened? No pay and display, no 'redisents only'. Granted, the car park was fairly full, but that's what happens when you let people park for free, they all go into town to spend their money. Crazy system.

Had the most scrummy tuna melt and hot chocolate (with cream and marshmallows) at D'nisi. It came as a DIY kit with hot milk and a solid lump of incredibly gorgeous, melt-in-the-mouth, chocolate on a stick to stir in. 

Attempting to leave Alloa, I got slightly disoriented, took a wrong turn, took another wrong turn, thought I'd taken a third wrong turn... and found myself on the road home!

It's just been one of those wonderful days. Nothing spectacular happened, no mountains climbed or rivers forded. Yet everything has happened so happily. 

Home now. Full of hot chocolate and mallows.

I think I'm in love with Scotland just a little bit a lot.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

House Sitting

Fire Wot I Made

And so our frolics in the Perthshire hills come to a close. 

So much for peace and relaxation! Between Kilmartin and Fortingall, it's been all go. New friends made, old ones reacquainted. Much love to the animal inhabitants of Stag Cottage: Flambo, Mewla and Pip. Also to the local inhabitants, the deer, who lined the road when we arrived. And congratulations to Paul #1 for delivering his first lamb whilst we were up there! Minor emergency with a hill sheep. I was very impressed. Sheep, less so.


Paul #1 and I came home yesterday. After four nights kipping on the floor in a room with snoring blokes and crazy cats, you'd think I'd be out like a light, but nooo, not me. Had a sudden burst of late-night reading. Then, on four hours sleep, I drove Paul down the road to meet up again with Paul #2 and Lindsay this morning. They're off to an Earth Mysteries conference all the way down south on the English side of the border.

I was given the choice - go and party, or house sit.

I have the whole house to myself for a week! I've been on the road for well over a month now, and tonight is the first night I get to sleep in a proper bed! Not a couch, not a mattress on the floor... a bed

I'm worried I won't remember how it works.

It's also given me time to wash the maggot, which is now draped over the radiator to dry.

Watching the snow fall outside, drinking Hoegaarden from a massive bottle, and sleepily contented. Snuggled up in Paul's jumper. He's the king of knitwear. I remember this jumper from years back (he reckons ten). I've requisitioned it.

So many holes, you don't know what to put your hands through, but doubles up great as a pillow and sure keeps you cosy.

Got the date for Martine & Ruaíri's wedding! Need to be back in Edinburgh for 18th. Can hardly wait. Seems scary real all of a sudden. Happy and excited and giddy about it. 

Heading down to Yorkshire with Paul a few days before, as he's speaking on rock art at another conference. We're also looking to set up a heritage project and need to talk to an old friend about it. Hoping to get back a few days before the wedding to make sure Martine's in a respectably inebriated state.

As well as starting up a project with Paul, I received an awesome e-mail this morning from a friend in Rwanda. I helped set up a charity for Single Parents before I left and it's been through a bit of down-time recently. This friend has now become involved and it looks like everything's about to get going again. She's scarily efficient and enthusiastic, can't help but feel excited about it. 

So many good things going on.

Right. Time to go curl up and get a proper night's sleep. 

This blog is likely to go very quiet for the next few days as I do the reclusive catch-up-on-a-month's-worth-of-sleep, avoid-social-media, get-creative thing. Will report back once there's something to report.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Fortingall Part II

Following on from Fortingall Part I, with the ancient yew tree and the spirit stones, we took a wander across the road into a field. What we found is possibly my favourite discovery so far.

Imagine you look out across a backdrop of snow sugared mountains, and you see this:

So you get a little closer. You're probably thinking burial mound by this point...

And you take a wander up to the top and notice that someone's erected a plaque. That's interesting, you're thinking, not many ancient sites tell you what they are. So you take a step closer...

...and realise what you're standing on top of.

Carm na Marbh

Here lie Victims of the Great Plague of the 14th Centuary.
Taken here on a Sledge, drawn by a White Horse,
led by an old Woman.

Follow the link above to read more about it. I think something's missing, though. Is that honestly supposed to be a literal descriptive? It reads more like a riddle. My original question to Paul #1 was 'why would you tell someone that?' If it were a standard death rite, why say it? Everyone would know that's how you transport the dead. And why wouldn't you name the woman if she were that important? I wonder how the passage translates into Gaelic? Perhaps one too many Forensic Linguistic lectures, but there feels to be something altogether folkloric behind that.

From there, we wandered down the road to the Fortingall Circle. A complex of three sets of standing stones. It was bitterly cold and snowing, but we had a wonderful time exploring.

We warmed ourselves up with soup and smoked salmon bagels in Aberfeldy. Apparently, Feldy is the name of the water sprite, as aber and inver are Gaelic for 'river mouth'.

On the way home, we swung past Croft Moraig stone circle, which is a gorgeous wee thing perched by the roadside. Triple circle?


Also found Shrek Lichen. Seriously, how much does this look like Shrek's ears?

Stopped off at the pub on the way home for a pint of Black Stout. Watched the snow come down from the comfort and warmth of The Bridge of Lochay, which has carvings of green men above the inner bar.

Comfort & Warmth

Fortingall Part I

Took Paul and Paul to Fortingall today. Its claim to fame is that it's the birthplace of Pontius Pilate!

Hand on heart. I was fairly amazed to hear that. I just love the name, sounds so Lord of the Rings: Helm's Deep and Fortingall.

En route, we stopped at a very old stone - which has got a name, on a map, which I will need to look up later (I'll replace this lame sentence with it soon). The legend is that you mustn't touch or harm the stone, otherwise you're cursed. But check this out, it's incredible...

Percy Posing

Protective spirit stones, taken from the river and found all over the place.

First stop, the famous Yew Tree.

This is all part of the same tree.
The centre has crumbled away.
The Fortingall Yew is an ancient tree in its own walled enclosure within the village churchyard. Its age is estimated to be between 2000 and 5000 years, and it may be the oldest living tree - perhaps even the oldest living thing - in Europe. Place-name and archaeological evidence hint at an Iron Age cult centre at Fortingall, which may have had this tree as its focus. The site was Christianised during the Dark Ages, perhaps because it was already a sacred place.

(click to enlarge)

As every sensible village child knows, the Yew is the most poisonous tree in the British Isles. Imagine our faces when Paul #2 regaled us with stories of the time he ate the berries! Apparently they're perfectly edible, so long as you take the black seed out, which is highly, highly toxic. He said it tasted like a bitter strawberry.

I do not recommend you try that, or any other part of the tree. Interesting to know, though.

Moving swiftly on...

Also in the church yard we found the following:

Font carved from an old boulder.

Peculiar cross stone.

Cup and ring stone, for offerings?


A gravestone that appears to be a
recycled standing stone.

Gaelic: In Our Memory Forever

Old bell-cote dated 1768

Ornate archway.

(click to enlarge)

This last one fascinates me. It's a fairly modern Celtic cross carving, however one side appears to be Celtic knotwork, and the other side is carved with saints. Rather a nod to both sides of the coin.

There were also spirit stones protecting the main gate, and another by an enclave and in front of someone's house.

I'd never seen these before, but they were everywhere. They remind me of the Psychedelic Stone, in that they're wavy like the waters they were pulled from.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Kilmartin Part III

Following on from the adventures of Kilmartin...more pictures.

We headed over the road from Temple Wood to the Nether Largie stones.

Panoramic, Nether Largie (click to enlarge)

Cup & Ring Markings
Finally, we wandered up the road to the ancient burial tombs. I didn't like those so much to begin with but, by the end, I really warmed to them.

(click to enlarge)
Panoramic from top of cairn (click to enlarge)

I think it originally gave me the heebies because the rubble and the skylight feels a bit like Auschwitz. The outside tombs were really lovely.


Spot Percy Rabbit?

Comfy in Here
There are standing stones all over this area of the country. We even found one by the side of the road on the way home.

And alpacas...

Did you know that people who are allergic to sheep's wool can wear alpaca because there's no lanolin in it? Interesting fact.

Was a long drive back along winding roads, through blizzards, in the dark. Certainly worth the drive, though. May pop back some day to see the rest.