In wandering around the bits of the estate which are reasonably close to the cottage, I have noticed that there is evidence of historic human habitation. Some of the visible remains of previous buildings are square and are therefore probably more likely to have been cleared settlements or old shielings (Scottish farm buildings), some however are round which indicate a much earlier Iron Age origin. On the Ordnance survey map there are hut circles shown near Loch Crannach on the estate and there is even a stone circle nearby. Bizarrely the square building remains do not seem to get a mention on the map, this may be due to the fact that my map is 1:50,000 rather than the better 1:25,000 which has more detail. I have tried to do some Google research on this topic but any searches have not really returned much relevant information. There was apparently a battle in 903AD near the estate at Tulloch, the battle was fought between the Danes and the Picts, a punch up which according to the-glens.org.uk website, the Picts won. Near to the location of the battle a rather up market six meter long grave can be found with a two meter high standing stone at the head and a smaller stone marking the foot of the grave. There is some speculation that the grave owner was possibly a Pictish prince “Ard-fhuil” (‘of noble blood’) who probably gave his name to Strathardle. The area before the battle was apparently known as “Strath na muc riabach”, the meaning of which was is reported to be the ‘strath of the brindled sow’. I am not surprised they felt the need to rename the area, I have been here for about three months and I have not seen a single brindled sow in all the time.
Last Wednesday I went to the Doctor in Pitlochry. After moving in to the cottage my elbow has been quite painful, I think this may have been something to do with lugging heavy boxes and furniture up the stairs on my own. The pain comes and goes and I think the cold might have some impact on it. Anyway it seems, following the sort of in-depth surgical analysis that the NHS allocated ten minutes of chatting to an unfamiliar doctor can afford, that I have ‘Tennis elbow’! What, where has that come from all of a sudden? I have certainly not been filling in my spare time with lengthy games of tennis. I haven’t played tennis since I was fifteen and at School in Edinburgh. Perhaps, while asleep, I spend every restless night relentlessly serving for an imaginary grand slam championship. Who knows, the human body apparently moves in mysterious ways. I have wondered whether tennis elbow is a side effect of too much Popcorn. The only reason I mention this is that I have discovered microwave popcorn, a fluffy, salty and somewhat tasteless snack which for some inexplicable reason I have found rather irresistible recently. I don’t know why, perhaps it’s something to do with being off the booze. In the interest of science I will report whether this salty indulgence returns to the darker recesses of the snack cupboard on the first of March, by which date I will be back on the sauce.
Last Thursday I ticked off another of the jobs on the cottage ‘to do’ list. The estate joiner had fitted some kitchen cabinets and a work top to the cottage cheffing area, some of which are frankly less than plumb. I have a kitchen cabinet that rather humorously has a perfectly level, square, door fitted over a rather un-level, un-square, rather rhomboid cabinet carcass. The door serves to emphasise the lack of the use of a set square in the installation of the cupboard. Anyway, there is also a very narrow opening to a corner cupboard by the cooker, which did not even have the door fitted. This is because with the cooker in place the cupboard door, if fitted would not have opened. So I have been thinking about this dilemma for a while, do I fit the door and forgo the use of the cupboard, or do I fit a curtain, or maybe just do without. Too many options, finally, after much mulling, I fitted the door on magnetic catches which means the door shuts and opens albeit in a pull the thing off sort of way, but at least it looks right, so function and aesthetics all bundled into one rather unorthodox solution.
The Estate Ewes are getting close to lambing and running up to this busy time of the year the shepherds and farm workers have been corralling the sheep into groups presumably arranged by their ‘due to lamb by’ date. So in order to enclose and contain the sheep new gates have been setup closing off parts of the track up to the cottage. On Saturday to put out the rubbish, I went through five gates just to get to the public road where the bins are. This is a nuisance especially in bad weather as I drive up to a gate, park, get out of the truck, open the gate get back in to the truck, drive forward, park, get out of the truck, close the gate behind me, get back in to the truck and proceed down the track to the next gate where the whole boring process is repeated. I of course, have then to do the whole thing in reverse returning back up the track. So five gates equals in and out of the truck ten times, then ten more times coming back. So it took me about an hour just to dump the rubbish, it’s like a pickup based aerobics class. Very dull and to make it duller some of these gates are nothing more that sheep hurdles tied loosely to each other, which once untied, tend to throw themselves on to the track. The hurdle nearest me was such a nuisance, especially with my newly diagnosed tennis elbow that I tied it top and bottom to its adjacent post, allowing it to swing, which has enhanced the whole experience beyond measure. The estates sheep were, when I went through the farm the other day, emerging one by one from the side of a farm building, as the track was blocked with a temporary hurdle fence, I parked up and wandered into the shed to see what was going on. They were processing the sheep through sort of small, sheep’s length, fenced in area with a gate at either end, Known to those that know these things as a sheep crush. This crush had been fitted with some high end electronic wizardry, which it turned out was essentially an ultrasound pregnancy tester. So they were doing pregnancy testing on an industrial scale, jolly clever stuff. I don’t quite know what they would have done in days of yore. Stick them in a field I suppose and see what happens. I did, perhaps rather contentiously think they could have used something similar to the sheep crush pregnancy test on the young girls in Shepton Mallet in Somerset, who leave school at 15 in their droves and then engage in a life of pregnancy and handouts as part of their life enhancing long term strategy.
On Friday I decided to go to Perth and visit B+Q. The purpose of this visit was to get something which I could use to carve, grind or file a piece of quartz crystal that I found on what I euphemistically call ‘my beach’, the small gravel sand bank alongside the river at the bottom of the garden. I have tackled this lump of rock, firstly with a grinder, this just did not seem to touch the ‘diamond tough’ quartz, I then bought a chisel bit to go in my SDS hammer drill. The chisel seemed to work well until I noticed that it was being worn away very quickly, the end of the chisel was vanishing before my very, ‘protection spectacled’ eyes. So this stone it seems, is pretty tough. While at B+Q I bought some heavy duty stone cutting disks, which I have subsequently proved don’t seem to scratch the surface and a flappy abrasive thing which works quite well for about two minutes, by which time it needs replacing. So, I am essentially back to square one. I am now looking at Tungsten carbide tipped comb chisels with replacement tips on E-bay. Sorry to drag your mood down with all of this grinding nonsense. I will let you know when I have cracked it, or if indeed, it has cracked me. On the way home I had noticed on a previous Perth trip, the presence of a blacksmith in a place called Bankfoot. Another thing on my ‘to do’ list and which I may have mentioned before, is the popularity in Scotland of nailing your camper or caravan to the garden to prevent the pride and joy being blown into the next county. Well discussion of this with the estate manager had left me feeling slightly insecure and in need of some sizable tent pegs to fasten the camper down with. So I popped into the blacksmith on my way home on Friday to discuss the possibility of getting some steel pegs made up. Half an hour later I found myself the proud possessor of 4 huge meter long pegs with nice rounded tent peg type ends to stop the chain hopping off and sharpened to a point at the other end to assist with getting them through the permafrost and into the lawn. All for the marvellous price of £10. Yes £10, that’s £2.50 each, very good value for money I thought and a very nice chap to boot. I will definitely be back when I can think of something else metallic he might be able to help me with. I have already checked with the farm manager that there is nothing which might be damaged under the camper, a water pipe or something similar. I can just imagine the mirth with which I would be greeted, on reporting to John, the rather serious estate manager, that I had driven a long spike through the septic tank.
I have mentioned in previous posts the red legged partridges, well, the weather recently has been quite warm and bright, interspersed with falls of snow which usually fall at night and have been laying to a depth of a couple of centimeters. This fresh snow provides a canvas for me to look at the footprints of the various animals which roam around the cottage and to help me get a bit of a feel as to their movements. The prints left by the pair of partridges are very individual and bless them it looks like they do everything together, like a slightly neurotic married couple. I can tell by observing the prints that the two birds have a very regular route which they take round the garden and along the edge of the surrounding fields every day. They are like a couple of fat policemen doing their rounds with their thumbs tucked into their waist coats. The same daily routine, stopping every now and then to inspect a hedge or peck at the ground for the dropped corn beneath the bird feeder. There is also evidence of mice, I can see where they seem to come and go into little holes which appear to lead into the foundations of the cottage. I am sure these holes do not actually lead inside the cottage because I have not caught a mouse for a couple of weeks now, perhaps because I have pushed appropriately sized pebbles into some of these little holes.
On Sunday I decided to do something that I think I may have been subconsciously putting off. I inherited some pictures and paintings from my parents and they had been wrapped up and kept in storage after we sold my mother’s house six years or so ago. The pictures have up until Sunday been sitting under the guest bed, waiting to be unpacked and arranged about the cottage. Paintings and pictures are a bit like smells and music they seem to be invested with emotional content and memories and I think it was the unearthing of these memories that I have been inadvertently delaying. Once out however, they were so out of context that they did not quite have the heavy duty emotional impact that I had been slightly afraid of. After setting these memories about the place the cottage now resembles a small tucked away, rather difficult to find art gallery. After curating the ‘Anderson’ collection at the Creagloisk Tate on Sunday, I did my usual thing and made my way to the pub for Sunday lunch. Recently I have been going to the pub a little earlier as I am still enduring my February prohibition, therefore I tend not to get quite so involved in the early evening bar side banter. I came back at about six on Sunday evening having extricated myself from the members of the Pitcarmick Angling Club who had arrived late in the afternoon. Once home I stoked the stove and settled down in front of the rather sparse entertainments on offer via the TV. By the time early evening arrived I had become rather peckish, so I tucked into some cheese and biscuits. I did not really think much more about this and in due course climbed (in the words of a Sussex chum) the ‘wooden hill to Bedfordshire’. I settled down and slept well. This morning however (Monday morning) I remembered that I had at some point in the night been engaged in a rather vivid dream involving the catching of mice in the traps under the kitchen sink. So, if cheese induces dreams, does cheddar induce a mouse trap related dream? I don’t know, it’s just a thought.
I have been putting off a visit to the ski center at Glenshee, mainly on the basis that last week was half term for the schools and as a result the slopes were very crowded with huge queues of goblins waiting for the lifts. Not my idea of fun frankly, the weather was rather windy and cold as well, which compounded my lack of enthusiasm. Glenshee has had some quite good falls of snow recently so at least that should not be a problem. When the slopes are very busy, I am informed that the snow gets swept off the pistes just by the action of so many people skiing and snowboarding on them, this movement of snow from the pistes has the effect that the slopes become very icy, which unless the edges of you skis are sharpened to perfection, produces conditions which are rather difficult to ski on with any degree of grace or control. The forecast is looking quite good for the coming week, so I might go and brave it when the sun comes out. Ian, a friend and one of the barmen at the Strathardle is also a ski instructor and he has very kindly offered to take some time off when I come up, so he can give me some private instruction. God knows I need it. I am not sure what to wear, probably everything, would be the obvious choice. It often feels colder here than the thermometer would suggest, I am not quite sure why, perhaps it is wet cold, or an unfortunate effect of the often accompanying wind. I don’t know, but I think thermals might be on my appropriate clothing list for Glenshee, or ‘The Shee’ as we locals casually refer to it up here.
Facebook is for me, a thing which is both ‘good and bad’ in equal measure, a digital curate’s egg if you like. It is obviously a good way for me to keep up with friends from all over the world and to be able to enjoy their conversation, entertainment and wisdom and in turn for me to connect from my remote location. I do however, have to ensure that my Facebook filter is securely fitted before immersing myself into the tepid pool of day to day inconsequentiality that Facebook often delivers. I have to maintain a rigid approach to Facebook to avoid being dragged into gossip and discussion which at times verges on the scurrilous. There has, I have noticed recently, been a change in the way people interact on Facebook. One of the things that Facebook provides is a mechanism for people with a heartfelt message, point of view, cause or concern, Facebook can empower these people by offering a very wide public stage. We can, as recipients, accept these offerings in various ways, we can ignore them, we can ‘like’ them, we can ‘share’ them and more recently, I am being beseeched to copy and past these views and comments onto my ‘wall’ or personal space. This is usually delivered with a message telling me “It is not good enough” just to ‘like’. I ‘have to’, I am instructed, copy and paste. Now I am afraid I don’t function well under pressure, if the cause is a good one then it’s profile will be raised organically, that is after all one of the things that Facebook does quite well. If people like it, they will ‘like’ it. There we go, that was this week’s whinge of the week. I feel better now I have got that off my chest.
Perhaps I should have posted that on Facebook!