Burns night and other things.

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A hind spotted on my wander up the hill behind the cottage and an interesting insect in the river ice.

The last weekend went by in a slightly non-descript way due in the main to some paperwork which needed to be done and the rather uninspiring weather. I enjoyed a couple of pints in the Strathardle on Friday night chatting to locals and guests at the bar, this was followed by much the same on Saturday. While in there on Saturday I got talking to a couple of lads with unfeasibly strong liverpudlian accents, their brogue was so rich that I had to translate for the waitress when they were ordering food. They had come up to the area for a weekends skiing at Glenshee together before one of them became a father and the other marked his place as a best friend by going travelling round Nepal and Thailand, making himself unavailable for any best friend baby related assistance for about a year. A bit selfish perhaps, but I could see his point. The pair had arrived after being chucked out of the rather posh Dalmunzie Castle (pronounced Dalmungy, I know your guess is as good as mine) which is in The Spittle of Glenshee. Their removal was based upon a manager’s perception that they smelled rather like they had been smoking skunk cannabis, it was probably just their aftershave or some out of date midge repellent. I did notice however that the dad to be was almost asleep for most of the evening while the other one was rather animated beyond the normal influence of a pint of brown ale. Either way they were happily ensconced in the Strath for the remainder of the weekend.

I have installed an app on my phone which will notify me of any Aurora borealis activity and as yet, the only two notifications I have had have been during a cloudy sky so there is still an unticked Northern lights box on my to do list, but you will be the first to know when it happens!

The social week was started off rather prematurely by the unruly arrival on Monday of Burns night, this is another uniquely Scottish celebration which happens all over the world and once again I was encouraged to celebrate my fondness and appreciation of ‘the bard of Ayreshire’s’ poetry at the Strathardle. Now I know that this blog is beginning to sound like a running advert for the Strathardle but apart from being a fine and friendly place the alternatives in Kirkmichael are not great and there is no bar at all in Enochdhu, my nearest village. So I booked myself in for the Burns supper and cycled to the pub on Monday evening in time for the 7:00 kick off. The event was not particularly busy, partly because January the 25th was a Monday evening and partly because, what with the completion of her year-end accounts and the general running of the Inn, Abbi did not get a chance to advertise the event very widely. In a weird way this made the whole thing better, it was a small, cosy and easy group made up with a few locals, Abbi, Colin and Kailyn their young daughter, Ellice who works in every area around the Inn and Brian, one of the chefs whose birthday it also was, which probably meant his head hurt more than mine did on Tuesday morning. My menu choice was the ever popular ‘Cullen Skink’ a thick and creamy smoked haddock, potato and onion soup made famous by the fishing folk who work from the pretty little harbour at Cullen on the Moray firth and who probably rely on such rich and tasty fare just to keep them from freezing to the deck of a storm bound trawler. My next course was Haggis, neeps and tatties, of course, there is no other choice, unless you include the veggy haggis which was on offer at the Strath’ both are considered acceptable. The haggis has to be piped in (that’s bag pipes, not squeezed in through the corner of a plastic bag like mash in a posh restaurant), it is then addressed (subjected to some poetry) and finally consumed, traditionally there will be also a Selkirk grace recited at some point. Once this course had been consumed we pudding’d on a choice of chocolate mousse or the more traditional ‘Cranachan’ which was my choice of post haggis fattener. Cranachan is a traditional Scottish pudding which is probably best described as a Whisky trifle, apparently it’s also known as Tipsy Laird for reasons which probably need no further explanation. We then all wandered back to the bar for, well some…. research, yes that’s the word, an in depth examination into the produce of some of Scotland’s finest distilleries. The evening was banter filled and fun and when we were all done I walked down to the village, pushing my bike with Ellice and Brian, whereupon I jumped on the trusty ‘Treader Rusticata’ and peddled silently and serenely home.

My next morning was a premature affair, driven by the necessity to get my car to its MOT in Pitlochry on time and the start to the day was marred with slight regret over the previous night’s unbridled social activities. The car passed its test but while waiting for it to do so I spent a rather unhappy hour and a half trudging round Pitlochry in the rain, finally I capitulated to one of the rather expensive cafés and sat with a paper for half an hour or so before walking the couple of miles back to the Garage.

On Tuesday I was invited to visit Dougie’s house (pronounced Doogie), Dougie’s home is like many of the houses round here, it is to be found at the end of a long track which leads up a hill from the main road. His house is much bigger than mine but probably built at about the same time by the Victorians whose fascination for all things Scottish prompted massive development in the form of farms and estates all over Scotland at about the same point in history, therefore they all look rather similar, they have a vernacular in the words of Kevin McLeod. My cottage is described as a traditional one and a half storey cottage and there are literally thousands of them with the same design, footprint and window arrangement around Scotland.

At Dougie’s I had a coffee and a chat and was shown round his man cave, essentially a converted garage with a full sized billiard table and bar and full of drinking and billiard memorabilia, some fishing equipment and the huge scull and antlers from an Elk which had lived on the Isle of Egg for a while and which developed a fondness for the local hinds with some interesting results, there are now apparently some very big deer on Egg and the surrounding Islands. I had noticed when on the Isle of Jura a few years ago that the red deer were absolutely massive so maybe some of the cross breeds made their way as far as Jura. Dougie also had a superb cast iron barbeque, bricked in and with a five sided wooden shed providing cover over the pit, he had run some copper pipe round the cast iron fire pit container through which water at one time flowed into a swimming pool to provide extra warmth to the water, I thought this a brilliant idea but it did not really work apparently, due to the sheer quantity of water in the inflatable pool, a good effort though. The wood for the shed reportedly came from the dismantled Santa land in Aviemore. Dougie, like many people round here has about 4 jobs and is constantly on the lookout for things he can do, he was in the process of making some deer antler candle sticks while I was there, they looked really good and would I am sure go down well in any boutique in the country. The antlers came free with one of his jobs, he does some stalking for a local estate in his spare time.

While I was in Pitlochry on Monday I decided to do some shopping at the CoOp. (For those of my chums who live abroad a CoOp is a cooperatively owned not for profit grocery shop with outlets all over the country, bizarrely their produce is more expensive than the definitely in it for the profit Lidle, so I am not quite sure what is happening to the excess cash at the CoOp.) The CoOp is where most of my groceries are gathered and the format of the CoOp is basically the same as any other CoOp in the UK Having said that there are one or two Scottish variations when you examine things more closely. The meat counter probably is the biggest giveaway that you are in a shop north of the border. Sausages are called ‘links’ up here, sausage also comes in a format described as ‘square’ which looks a bit like a slice of spam but is apparently sausage meat, there are also a number of puddings available, black obviously but also white and fruit pudding and also haggis which is by proper definition also a pudding. In the CoOp you can but a heart attack inducing selection called a breakfast pack which has pretty much all of the above in a cling film wrapped carton. The cereals section also displays more type and variety of oats than is the norm down south and the drinks shelf has much more Whisky choice than many off licence drink shops in England, so a few pointers to look for if you are blindfolded and taken to a CoOp, you will, with the above information be able to deduce the you are somewhere North of Hadrian’s wall.

During the week I have been watching the very informative “Winterwatch” provided by the BBC, this program at the moment has particular pertinence to me as it is all based in Scotland on a National Trust estate in the Cairngorms with the winter hill sequences being filmed at Glenshee which is as the hooded crow (a Scottish variant) flies, about four or five miles from my cottage, so I am learning about my countryside without having to leave the comfort of the cottage. I have seen some of the animals they have been describing on my wanderings and am particularly taken with the mountain hares which are in abundance on the hills around me, wearing their white winter coats.

Talking of wildlife I have been feeding the birds and am building a catalogue of some of the visitors to the feeders so I am being dragged reluctantly into the gentle world of the twitcher.

This weekend will be the last one to be enhanced by alcohol for 4 weeks, I have decided to take to the wagon for February, I have done this before and I think for me it is quite a good thing to do from time to time, I do get rather bored of orange juice and the like after four weeks though. It does however mean I can drive to the pub.

Storm Gertrude arrived here this morning and did so with some ferocity, I did the usual thing, I got up and riddled the stove and then with the tray of ash, ventured outside to the steel bin where ash goes, the minute I opened the door I was instantly converted from a sort of bland pink colour to a grit blasted grey. Gertrude accelerated the hot ash out of the tray and onto the front of me. Not a good look and I will, in accordance with the Brussels health and safety executive rules wear a snorkel, grinding goggles, welding gloves and a boiler suit next time I attempt something similar.

While writing this note it has become rather dark in my study/sitting room multipurpose space and so I went to switch the light on only to discover that storm Gertrude is currently delivering snow in large quantities. We have been on the edge of the snow line for about a week now and any snow that has arrived overnight tends to melt quite quickly in the morning. Today however the flurries are rather more active and look like they might settle.

 

 

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A new horizon.

Me and the sky

I moved in on Thursday 19th November and as things were still largely in the van I spent my first night in the camper, oh to have a secondary possibility in these things, the camper was plugged in and cosy and I had the satellite dish setup so was able to feel slightly connected to the world in my new away from it all location. Friday was spent finishing off emptying the van and returning it to Perth, a plan which worked well apart from the ¾ hour wait at Perth station for the Pitlochry train which was to take me to the beautiful little Victorian station at, you guessed it, Pitlochry.

The next few days were hard work lugging furniture up the stairs and some of the cottage furniture down stairs to be stored elsewhere due to being surplus to requirement and frankly not very nice, there was a dressing table type of thing which I imagined Charlotte Bronte using to powder her demeanour and jot down some character observations, all very period just not very nice it was covered in some sort of stripy curtains. Any way furniture was lugged and all on my tod which was frankly hard work and resulted in the sort of bruising an accident with a bus might attract.

Well, all of that is largely behind me there is a dwindling supply of boxes in the big shed and ever decreasing space in the cottage, I had no idea that I had accrued / inherited / bought and been given so much stuff and in hindsight the van must have been well over weight so I was very lucky I did not get stopped on the drive up, I did think the tyres looked a bit flat and stopped off at a garage and gave them the maximum air pressure the tyres would allow which gave the visual impression of a light van.

I am still unpacking but restrict myself to a couple of boxes a day to give me some time for exploration.

The Sunday before last was my birthday, I had pretty much forgotten about it as is usual and when leaving the pub on Saturday night the very nice landlady asked me if I would be in for a Sunday lunch, why not I thought. Anyway when picking up the keys the kind Ann (my landlady) happened to mention that the Yale lock on the inner door has a habit of being left off the catch and catching people out who then find themselves locked out of the cottage. Not a mistake I was going to make especially having been warned, anyway on Saturday night after the pub I remembered it was my birthday and decided to celebrate with a whiskey, this was in essence to celebrate the fact that most of the hard work had been done, the birthday thing was rather secondary. So glass in hand I noticed the moon was shining bright and decided to take a turn round the garden and look at the moonlit views and yes you guessed it I managed to forget the Yale lock advice and locked myself out of the cottage. Fortunately I was wearing a head torch and had left my toolbox in one of the sheds, so was able to scrape the putty from round a pane of the kitchen window and remove the pane without breaking it, put my hand inside to remove the rolling pin which was propping up the upper sash window and undo the window lock slide the sash down and clamber inelegantly through the rather tight gap. I was able to find some screws and temporarily replace the glass to keep the weather out. Oh well, I now check the lock regularly and have hidden a spare key in the garden.

 

I bought a rather large amount of frozen stuff in the village shop on the Saturday and when I got home discovered that my fridge did not have a freezer, this was not a huge problem as the garden was about the same temperature as the average freezer so I put the stuff in a pressure cooker and left it on top of the generator oil tank. On Sunday evening I went to the pub which is great by the way for the Sunday roast I had said I would be in for and while at the bar regaled Abby the landlady with my locking out story, she then announced that she knew it was my birthday because my friends from the Horse and Groom, my Sussex haunt had rung her and put some money behind the bar for me, all a bit underhand, but very kind and lovely all the same. My roast came out with a birthday candle in one of the roast potatoes and the whole pub sang ‘Happy Birthday’, very embarrassing, when arriving at new places I have a policy of staying a little under the radar until I know the lie of the land and the birthday roast pretty much blew my cover, all rather nice though.

On Monday my first trip to Blairgowrie was to look for a laundrette (I have a washing machine but no means of drying clothes yet) and obtain putty for the birthday celebration and a fridge with a freezer compartment as I think there will be days when I am stuck up here when the weather arrives.

 

Well there has been lugging of boxes and rearranging of furniture, I have cleaned out two sheds and worked out how the stove operates and where to put the ashes from the fire, I have walked the nearby hills in search of a phone signal, largely to no avail and have cleaned out my father’s old study desk which is now rather overwhelming my new sitting room / study. Last Saturday some snow arrived which was fun and we must have had more overnight because on Sunday morning there was about eight inches of pure white snow on the lawn. I took some pictures then went for Sunday lunch at the pub, there were some big fluffy flakes coming down but nothing serious, the situation in the village however did not reflect the situation up the glen and while I was away we must have had quite a dump, coming back would have been pretty iffy had the estate not run the snow plough up the track to my cottage. Coming up the track was wild the temperature had dropped quite severely and the wind was whipping snow into small drifts. I think I got back just in time. I stoked up the stove and settled in front of the TV to watch some old recordings I have as I do not have an aerial yet. I watched cold comfort farm which was hilarious and slightly pertinent with the wind whistling outside. Sunday was a wild night and we had quite a lot more snow with some heavy drifting, Monday morning I did the usual thing chuck on some fluffy warm trousers and a fleece and clear the ashes from the stove and bring it back up to temperature having turned it down over night and once out of bed I was treated to the most beautiful morning, the sun was out and the sky blue the snow glistened in heaps about the place and before fiddling with the stove I grabbed a camera and went for a yomp up the track, I just could not help myself, the scenery here is breath taking but the sunny morning light on the snow and the hills was completely enchanting. I tended to the stove and then breakfasted, bathed (no shower unfortunately) and got dressed and took the camera out again, I just could not resist it, the light here is incredible, I don’t know if it the lack of pollution or what but is has real clarity. I put the snow tyres on my mud bike that I had bought after a cold spell in Sussex and had never really used and then went to play. Its frankly hard work cycling in snow, anything over about 5 inches and you will get worn out pretty quickly, the tyres however work quite well once the snow plough has been through, they came through again this afternoon and went further up the glen. I unpacked a few more boxes from the shed and found that a rodent, I think probably quite a big one had taken a shine to my lifejacket I am not convinced it would inflate now so it has been put to rest, luckily it was pretty old and in need of replacement so ne real harm done and I have rearranged things in the shed hopefully keeping things which might be seen as edible by rodents out of nibbling reach. I went and took some more pictures and then went for a small walk down to the bridge after the plough had been through and regretted not bringing my camera as the sun which was by then getting low on the horizon was casting the most incredible light on the hills and causing reflections in the river and on the snow. I keep thinking I am so lucky to be able to live here it is a miraculous place, the only noise is the occasional tractor or land rover passing up or down the glen, I have heard a pair of jet aircraft from the RAF hurtling along the glen once but by the time I heard them they were gone. This is a very different place to Sussex on many levels and I am enjoying it. It will be better when I have a phone, the internet and a TV signal as I am feeling a bit too disconnected but so far it is all rather lovely.

 

Well it is now the 8th of December and in that time BT have completely failed to even supply a telephone system for one reason or another, either way I am now getting a bit bored of being glued to the house in case a promised engineer does or doesn’t arrive. The good news in this scenario is that things have been done around the place, I stacked some logs and kindling which had been sort of dumped at the entrance of the big shed and once that was cleared I stacked what appeared to be a cottage roofs worth of slates which were also dumped in a pile on the shed floor. Just clearing these two obstacles has opened the place up dramatically so I spent the next day clearing the shed of what appeared to be a previous incarnation of a shed which had been nibbled by rats and was a rotting pile of old planks. A fire was had and quite a big one I can still feel the intense heat on my cheeks as I stacked and poked it on a freezing day. That final act has opened the shed completely and what I could not burn is now stacked in old fertiliser and cattle feed bags ready for the bin, I intend to drop a couple off each week so as not to overwhelm our domestic garbage arrangements. Whilst clearing out the shed I found some old door fittings and bolts which I have repurposed onto the doors of the other sheds which were in need of such things. I now have three cleared sheds, they still need a bit of a brush down and clean but at least I can walk round them without tripping over rubbish or rotting woodwork.

Yesterday an improvement was made but at some cost, I rang an aerial company to see if they could fit a TV aerial so I have some entertainment (loosely speaking) and after a false start last Friday when he did not turn up, this is apparently the norm round here, he arrived yesterday after some mild cadgeolling on my part and after we both did some wandering around and engaged in chatter about the availability of a signal I now have a satellite dish and receiver which does give me a wide range of viewing rubbish, I had no idea that crafting (cutting paper and sticking it to cards) was that popular outside the nations primary schools. The quality of the TV picture is actually brilliant and watching a nature program filmed in High definition last night, I was astounded by the detail. The downside was that I could probably have set up the whole thing myself and saved my self quite a bit of cash. The dish its self is mounted on a gate post at the back of the cottage which was my idea as it does not appear as an unsightly blob on the front wall of the cottage and it is low enough for me to dust the snow off when such an event needs to be undertaken.

Today’s technical advance hopefully will be the arrival of BT to connect me to the world, even if they just connect the phone so I don’t have to do a 12 mile round trip to ring them to find out what is going on. The time however is 1:15 and they gave me an appointment time of 8:00 to 1:00pm so it’s not looking good and this afternoon will probably see a trip to the shop for a coffee, check my e-mail and a long wait while attempting to glean some information, probably false from the BT call centre.

While the Satellite engineer was working his magic I decided to busy myself with the solid fuel stove, every time I go near it to add more fuel or empty the ashes I more or less get gassed by a nauseous cloud derived from the partial inefficient burning of smokeless fuel. Even the satellite engineer started coughing while I was giving the system some intense investigation and during this I discovered that the exhaust gas flue was more or less blocked by piles or ash and what looked a bit like a starlings nest or maybe be blackbird, definitely too big for a wren, anyway, so once all of this obstruction was removed the Sat chap and I rediscovered what fresh air was like and the stove now gets red hot which was not a possibility beforehand. The cottage was so hot that I had to remove most of the duvets stacked on my bed before I cooled down sufficiently for sleep to be a possibility. Another positive outcome of this new found stove efficiency was that the water for my bath this morning was steaming hot without recourse to the immersion heater which I had been using beforehand to get the water up to a reasonable temperature.

Today is 12/12 and todays cottage improvement was fixing the overflow in the kitchen sink and in passing discovered that the waterproof seal round the sink drain, was not, as it were or wasn’t, whichever or indeed whatever the case maybe. Sorry just had an ‘eats shoots and leaves’ moment. The good news is that the stuff underneath the sink no longer gets wet every time I wash up. While in the process of this improvement I discovered that the mice had run amuck in the cupboard last night, I know it was last night because there was mouse poo in the frying pan I cooked last night’s salmon in. This is the first evidence of mice apart from the couple I saw when I first moved in, one of which I murdered with a poker, the other appeared to run away and had until this morning, shown no sign of wanting to come back. I know you will think that if I have seen a mouse then there are by definition mice in the cottage, but honestly until recently I really don’t think there were. On the first sighting I bought a couple of traps and baited them with peanut butter (according to local knowledge, the best bait) and left them against the wall as directed by the instructions and in 10 days caught nothing therefore I don’t think they were there, unless of course the mice up this glen hate peanut butter, or perhaps they are more fussy than that, they might just not like crunchy, perhaps if I had used smooth peanut butter things may have been very different. Needless to say the traps are primed and armed, one with crunchy peanut butter and the other with blackberry jelly and are strategically placed in the now clean cupboard under the sink. Tomorrows job is to fit a shelf in the cupboard so that my pots and pans are above ground and therefore probably mouse level, it will also double the storage capacity of the cupboard, a win-win outcome, hopefully. Unless you are a mouse!

Tonight being Saturday I am going to visit the pub, the temperature is about 1C so I have put together a fashionable and cosy cycling collection. I am going to take my mud bike which has been converted to my ice bike. I have tested them on the track this afternoon which is a skating rink, it was ploughed yesterday and is now just solid ice. The tyres worked really well, they have studs which dig into the ice and the bike feels quite safe until you try and get off when your foot needs placing with great care. So hopefully that will go well, I did not go out last night because of the snow and am now beginning to feel a little cabin fever coming on. At least I can watch the TV or listen to the radio now if the meteorological conditions prevent socialising.

Before leaving for my epic bike ride I heard a noise which was definitely in the mechanical auditory spectrum from under the sink and on closer inspection, I had caught my first mouse in the new traps, it was peanut butter that was the bait de jour so they obviously don’t mind crunchy, well at least not in the short term.

The pub was pretty full there were a group of shooters who were in residence and who had taken over the dining room, there was a birthday party in another room and the bar was quite full of casual drop ins like me. I got chatting to a chap called Mike who spends the week in Edinburgh and the weekends in his cottage up here, quite a good combination I thought although the drive up and down is somewhat marred at the moment by the lack of a functioning Forth road bridge. He was a nice guy and after we discussed the lack of comms in my glen he promised to pop up on Sunday to see if his Vodaphone could get any sort of signal, Vodaphone is considered one of the better mobile services in these parts apparently. After my earlier success with the mouse traps I had a look under the sink and hurrah, another had been lured to a premature death by the irresistible force of peanut butter. Traps reset, happy days.

 

The next day I got out of bed at about 10 am which is a little earlier than usual but I could not remember when Mike said he was coming round, so after breakfast I waited, attending to a bit of housekeeping and after more waiting I noticed that the light was rather good outside so I gathered a camera and went for a modest walk, on returning to the cottage I discovered Mike had arrived (of course) so we repaired to my dining room for tea and to feast on the shortbread he had brought round, shortbread is apparently the traditional Scottish tea time gift, note to self, (must get in some shortbread). I think the locals are all keen to explore up the glen as they are not really allowed to drive up here without a reason. I met another couple in the pub when I dropped in for the now mandatory Sunday lunch who were keen to visit so my hideaway is beginning to look more social that a cottage in the village rather ironically. Mikes visit proved that even Vodaphone cannot provide a signal up at the cottage.

Monday was spent waiting with less that baited breath for a promised BT engineer, who in the end did not turn up. Firstly I find it pretty poor that they give you a time of between 8 and 1pm during which they may make an appearance at any moment, so you are sitting there listening for any slight noise which might herald a distant van, for 5 hours. Secondly when they don’t turn up the whole procedure has to be rebooked for another day and any chance of a successful connection falls away for at least another few days. Secondly when they arrived the first time why did they not do all the work required in the first visit? This will hopefully be the third visit and the fifth promised visit, so it’s turning into a bit of a chore. When I rang today to see what had gone wrong the girl raised a fault without me asking for one and credited my account by £10 so 10 hours of hanging around is payable at £1 per hour, at least I now know my worth.

 

Today is 23/12 and I am beginning to lose the will to live waiting for BT to install my Broadband, there has been all sorts of work going on but none of it satisfactory and it seems when they start to do something and then find a problem which is another teams responsibility they all go home and another visit is organised with the respective team, each time this happens days get lost while I am given a date for the next job which is usually four of five days later which is why I am having this rant 21 days after everything should have been working. To give them some due, I am sure this job has been a nightmare and when or rather if my broadband arrives I will be very surprised and very happy depending of course on the outcome.

Well now I have got that off my chest, what have I been doing with myself while waiting for engineers I hear you ask? Well, I have a list of ‘things done’ sitting on my desk and they number 27, so quite a lot. Some big and some small, the routine chores have been omitted but those bigger jobs have listed amongst them:-

  • Glued down lifting wallpaper on stair well
  • Fitted strike plate for door catch to shed
  • Sealed windows from drafts with bubble wrap
  • Rewired kitchen light which was at best intermittent
  • Fitted magnetic catch to guest room wardrobe
  • Fixed kitchen sink overflow
  • Fixed assorted leaks under kitchen sink
  • Plumbed in hot water supply to washing machine, I wondered why my clothes came out so cold
  • Fixed leak in washing machine drain and cleaned out filter (disgusting build-up of stuff from game keepers pockets possibly including a deceased but favourite ferret)
  • Taken up curtains in master bed room, I am particularly proud of this one, as I have trespassed across the traditional male chore boundary and the results are, well, Ok
  • Tightened up cold tap in kitchen so the whole thing no longer rotates when trying to turn it on and off
  • Bought and fitted lampshade in sitting room
  • Fitted shelf under kitchen sink (finally)

So there you see I have been quite busy, or quite bored depending on your interpretation.

 

One job I did yesterday which was not mentioned because it is in the routine camp was to clean my pub bike, this is a job I used to do every couple of weeks or so while living in Sussex, but here it seems it is a job which probably needs doing after each ride, the roads are regularly salted up here which means if the bicycle has not been daubed with grease or coated in something rustproof it will dissolve. The chain had rusted into a sort of stiff dead snake with rigor mortis and had distributed rusty coloured muck over everything around it while dying, so it all got a good clean and a heavy oiling, let’s see how long that lasts! I will report back after Xmas eve which is the next likely use of the pub bike or treader rusticata as I call the trusty old thing. Normally I would go for a pint this evening as it is Wednesday but I have noticed that Wednesdays are rather quiet and while I like Ian the barman it is a long way to cycle through the salt to see just him, as Thursday night (tomorrow) is Xmas eve I am sure it will be more social so have opted to do that instead. So I will turn up the heat put on my comfy fleece trousers and slump in front of a telly which seems to have been stuck in some sort of Santa based drug induced dream land recently. I hope there may be a stray episode of ‘The great British bake off’ or ‘Countdown’ or some such fluff to keep me from going to bed when it gets dark, which is about 16:00 hours currently. The good news is that the days are now getting longer, allegedly.

I am booked into the pub for Xmas day and the kind folks from the lovely Strathardle Inn are collecting me from the bottom of the track so I should arrive in a relatively pristine condition, to maintain this look some care will have to be taken getting to the bottom of the track and I haven’t ruled out the uses of wellies and overalls. The first mess to navigate is my drive, which since BT and their Open reach cousins have been rallying on it in their vans, now resembles the Somme, I am lucky if I don’t have muddy daubes reaching up to my knees by the time I get to the gate, the next area of difficulty is getting into the pickup which is by design quite high and therefore offers scope for dragging a clean trouser over the muddy entry step while getting in. The third mud zone, in fact it’s worse than mud, it is technically more a slurry, is the gate on the track that I have to open and close behind me each time I go anywhere. They have just moved some lovely Galloway cattle into the area on my side of the gate and it seems the cattle don’t like it because they have been churning up the mud around the gate and engaging in what I believe is called a mucky protest on the track. The overall result is that I have to wade through some farm yard manure on one side of the gate. So yes, my Xmas attire will probably start off in a washed and ironed boiler suite and I will unwrap myself like a self-opening present as the afternoon progresses, particularly as I will be sitting in someone else’s car, a kind and charitable person who I hope will provide me with a return journey.

 

It is now Boxing day and as a direct result of the only Xmas lunch slot being the early one at the Strathardle I was picked up at a quarter to eleven and having been ferried to the pub had pre-lunch drinks with the folks on my table who were very nice and bizarrely nearly all Andersons and a couple of their friends who weren’t dining who unusually were not Andersons. We then moved in to the dining room for the cold buffet starter which was a cornucopia of delights including smoked salmon, salami, Parma ham, prawns, pate etc. served with what I took by its quality to be homemade bread. It was all very lovely. The main course was a selection of roast meats, turkey, beef and maybe some ham with potatoes, parsnips and of course a traditional sprout or two. The pudding was a chocolate mousse in a glass or the choice I made which was a traditional Scottish Cranachan which is a cream based pudding with raspberries and maybe some honey and biscuit crumbs, there was a cheese board to follow that but my appetite had run out actually before the pudding so I opted to give the cheese a miss. We decamped back to the bar for some post lunch sharpeners and then were given a lift back at about 4:00 o-clock I would have stayed but the lady on my table and a fellow car share person had a damaged knee cap which was giving her some pain. She and her husband run a kennel and one of the dogs ran into her knee and apparently did quite a lot of ligament damage. I was tempted to stay a bit longer and Colin the landlord offered to take me back later but I thought I would not put him out anymore and took a lift with the others. Having been dropped off where I left my car I jumped in and proceeded up the track, all good so far. The track was a bit slippery as it was -1 or so outside so I took it carefully. Up the track I went then round a corner to be met face on by 2 cars I did not recognise, one in the ditch. It turned out that the cars were being driven by a couple of young Japanese men and they had both been stuck at one point but the front one ended up sliding off the road and had a wheel in the ditch. They were apparently looking for their cottage which I was sure was not on our estate and that they had it seemed become very lost. They were supposed to be at the cottage for lunch with their girlfriends, so as it was now about 4:30 they were looking a bit desperate. I had to reverse quite a way back down the road to the Fank, a sort of sheep shed and covered yard, I then turned round and reversed back up to the Japanese guys. Lots of reversing which was dull, especially after Xmas lunch. The last thing I wanted to do was to reverse off the road and get stuck myself. Facing back down the track I looked for some rope I usually keep in the truck and could not find it, I knew I had a subprime bit of rope in the back of the pickup but the tailgate had frozen shut. So after lots of blowing and fiddling I managed to get the tailgate open retrieve the rope and tie it to their car. I selected low 2 ratio (sorry about the overly technical inclusion) and released the clutch, my trusty pickup and the car behind started to move and then ping, the rope gave way. So I reversed back up and reconnected at double thickness and tried again, Success, I managed to get him out of the ditch. When I got out to untie the rope the driver jumped out and gave me a huge hug, I think they were in hindsight probably rather desperate, stuck up a lonely track, in the dark and away from their friends. I assume they made it back, I will probably never know.

I settled down in front of the box with a can of beer but the lunch got the better of me and I went to bed at about 7:30 after pouring away half a can of beer, what a player eh? The good news is that I woke up this morning fresh as a daisy and have achieved a couple of jobs that I have frankly been putting off. Firstly I made a sort of arctic over curtain out of an old duvet, this will hopefully provide super insulation for my bedroom window. The making of this item was not as you might imagine, a tidy process. At the point of no return my dining room resembled the scene of some sort of international pillow fight, or a plucking hall in a turkey factory just before Christmas. There were feathers all over the place and I am sure they will keep turning up for a while to come, I had to empty the vacuum twice before the situation was cleared. But the cover is now made and it looks like it could be quite a good addition to my warmth, comfort and general wellbeing, I just need to think about mounting it on the window. Chore number two for the day was to replace the water tank drain tap in the camper which had broken and which I had organised a replacement for before leaving Sussex. This was another job I have been putting off, so happy days. This evening being Saturday means I will once again make my way to the pub after supper to see what fun is to be had, I am not sure what to expect, it could be very lively or empty, I really don’t know. The pub is very difficult to judge. Supper this evening is going to be the fillet steak I bought in Pitlochry the other day and I have a feeling it is going to be very good. As meals go it is also very easy, it will be served with boiled new potatoes and peas and sweet corn. What’s the betting I find a feather or two on it when it comes out of the pan?

 

The next seasonal event I chose to celebrate at the pub was Hogmanay, an event, which to put it in its correct Scottish perspective has a place in society further up the scale than Christmas, so if I am going to make any effort to integrate with the locals this is an event which could not really be missed. I booked myself into the Strathardle for their New Year’s Eve party and buffet and made my way to the pub on the bicycle, luckily it was not raining but it was in hind sight quite chilly. Once at the pub I obtained a pint and then was shown through to the front lounge where the buffet was being served. There was a similar array of buffet niceties set out to the Xmas meal and so I got stuck in, the bar seating area was full so I sat in the lounge and ate from my lap. This had the benefit of being able to top up with delicious food encouraged by the waitress who was there to help hungry revellers lay down a good base of solid food before the party started, she encouraged me to go for a third helping which I finished and was beginning to feel like I was more or less full when the buffet was cleared away to make room for a huge steak pie and vegetables. Aaah, I thought the menu was just the buffet, no one said this was just a starter. So I made my way through a small helping of pie which was then followed by pudding and cheese. I gave the pudding a miss but with more waitress derived persuasion I managed a sliver of cheese on an oatcake to finish off with. Food done I retired to the bar to take my place on a stool at the end where I could enjoy the banter and fun with other revellers. Colin the landlord setup a huge TV in the bar area which provided us with coverage of the other events taking place around the world and also giving us a countdown to the 12:00 moment where at about a minute to 12:00 we were ushered into the dining room where the band were playing and where earlier in the evening the young girls from the village had been showing off their Scottish country dancing skills all in the proper tartan dress. We all formed circles and holding hands in the traditional cross handed fashion, sang ‘Old Lang Syne’ with a musical accompaniment from the two musicians who had come from Dundee to entertain us all. This led on to some frankly unbridled dancing action which entertained us until all of that exercise on top of too much food and drink sent most of us back to the bar to find a seat and a slightly less frantic environment. The musicians were great and played a good selection of Scottish classics for us to sing along with, they also managed a sort of humorous banter to accompany the introduction of each song, so good and fitting entertainment. I enjoyed the evening for its rather random supply of traditional entertainment and the ability to take part in as much or as little dancing and singing as you felt comfortable or safe with. I can’t quite remember the ride home rather unsurprisingly.

 

20/1/2016

Well about three weeks have passed since my last update and in that time a few things have happened, looking at my notes I have collected a freezer from the friends I met at Christmas, it is small and perfect for me to keep some frozen supplies in case I am snowed in. I have painted the hearth with lino paint which has massively improved the look of the dining room, the concrete paving slabs that made up the hearth had what appeared to be rust stains presumably from a leaking back boiler and there was evidence of oil stains probably from an attempt to light the fire with some oil, I had tried to scrub them clean to no avail. The hearth was a dark and messy eye sore which I am pleased to announce now looks shiny and red and which shows off the matt black stove to its best advantage. The other jobs I have done are bleeding the radiators properly, I have discovered that one of the radiator taps needs to be turned off which helps the water flood more vigorously into the radiator so that it expels the air properly. I also moved the TV satellite dish from the position on the outside of a gate post where the cattle could rub themselves on it to a position on the inside of the gate post where the cows could not hopefully reach. So sundry chores, but the thing which was exercising me more than anything else was the promised provision of broadband and a working phone line. BT were making quite a meal of getting anything working, but the process stretched my patience and went on for nearly two months by which time they had managed to supply a phone line which ticked and clicked to the sound of the electric sheep fences, but which did at least give me a connection to the outside world. After numerous visits by different BT and Openreach engineers it was finally decided that I was too far from the exchange and that they could not supply me with a broadband connection. After they had arrived at that conclusion they cut the phone off the next day despite my asking them to leave the phone connected, that was the final exasperation. So I went to the village shop and googled satellite broadband options and found a supplier called Europasat who after a phone call signed me up to a scheme and within a week an engineer arrived and installed a dish on a post in the lawn behind a plant so as to be less obtrusive and connected my service. I had already been to the EE mobile phone shop in Perth and got a new mobile phone which could do Wifi calling, this is basically a service which if there is no mobile phone signal as is the case at the cottage the phone can send and receive texts and make calls over the Wifi network. Once the satellite broadband was installed I nervously tried the phone by ringing my brother and Bingo, it works. Hoorah! The line has a bit of latency on it which results in a slight delay but the sound is very clear and very functional. So BT have had all of their kit returned and the CEO’s of BT and Openreach will be the recipients of an e-mail explaining the short comings of their respective organisations come Monday morning.

 

Now my days are no longer taken up with chasing BT and waiting for engineers I have been doing some exploration. I took my mountain bike up to ‘Loch Loch’, but did not quite make it, my bike developed a wobble in the bearings of the back wheel so rather than risk complete mechanical failure I turned round about a mile before the loch and returned to the cottage. I have subsequently had it fixed at the rather smart bike shop in Pitlochry so the loch is back on the to-do list. I have also explored up the hills on the other side of the river which rise up from the glen quite steeply. From the top of the hill I noticed the cottage down in the glen which was just a speck in the distance and which looked very remote all on its own in a way that one does not feel while at the cottage.

We have been having a lot of rain, the same weather system that caused severe flooding in Scotland, Cumbria and Yorkshire. Where the cottage is situated the river floods but does not come close to the property. The river Ardle flooded across the road on the way to Kirkmichael and I got chatting to a delivery driver while I was at the village shop who had drowned his van in a huge puddle. The river by me was so full it was roaring, it sounded like someone was testing a jet engine in the garden. At least when it rains the weather is a little warmer but we have had so much rain it is getting rather boring now. Time for some more sun and snow! With all of this warm wet weather the ski resort at Glenshee has closed down the skiing due to the snow having become very wet and melting.