January snaw, according to a study by the University of Glasgow, Scots have 421 words and expressions for snow.
Well it’s been a couple of months or so and largely little has happened, I suppose that is pretty normal for the time of year, these are the hibernation months. As Scotland is still in the UK and because the weather is a British fixation, I will start by saying this winter so far has been pretty bizarre. We have had very little snow and what we have had did not stay for long. The weather has been very warm up here, frequently being warmer than the South coast which is not how it should be. We did have one night which dipped down to -6 but in general we have not had that many frosts and the garden is pretty confused. I noticed today that the birds look like they are trying to attract mates and are building nests which is also a little premature. I believe we might have some snow this week but at this time of the year I don’t think it will hang around, Glenshee Ski Centre has not had an easy time of it so far, I think they opened for a week or so before some very mild weather brought the fun on the slopes to a soggy end.
I celebrated Christmas day at the pub which was fun, I joined in with a group of chaps who have houses in the village and with whom entertainment and laughter was had, along with far too much to eat and drink. Most of us went home with a doggy bag containing puddings, sweets and fine cheeses. The cycle trip home was probably a wobbly affair but did me lots of good in the same way as a good walk after the Christmas meal seems to. There is a family who take over the whole Inn for Christmas and they always seem to have a good time, I remembered most of them from last year, they had had a meal in the restaurant together and when they had finished they came through to the bar and started opening presents which had been placed under the tree, my friend Graham and I were sitting at the bar taking in the scene when they brought over presents for us as well, which was a sweet gesture and one I did not expect. Mine was a beautifully wrapped bottle of beer, very appropriate.
I have probably mentioned this before, but the big event in Scotland is Hogmanay and this year rather excelled itself. My friends Kenny and Fiona who live in the village had a pre pub party which I was invited to and which was a very chatty event and one that introduced me to more locals, which was great. Kenny and Fiona also put me up for the night which saved a tricky bike ride home. After the warm up party Kenny, Fiona, the remnants of the party and I went to the pub and saw in the New Year, it was very busy and there may have been some slightly restricted dancing and some of the usual new year exchanges with fellow revellers, after that Kenny, Fiona and I headed back, Kenny mentioned that there was a party going on at Dunc’s so without too much encouragement Kenny and I headed up there. I have no idea what time we left but I did wake up at K and F’s so must have made it back somehow. We had a very late breakfast and Kenny said, “Do you fancy a pint”? “Maybe just the one” I said, which drew a laugh from Fiona, who knew what was likely to happen better than me. We went to the pub and after ‘a few pints’ Kenny announced that there was another party, by this time I was more or less functioning again, so why not, and off we went. This party was also a lively affair and food was taken which probably saved the day, some beer was consumed and maybe even a small whiskey. At some point Kenny decided it would be a good idea to visit the pub again and by this time I was not in a condition to argue, so off we went. I don’t really remember much about it but apparently we had fun. I don’t know where everyone gets the energy from, it took me a couple of days to recover.
Talking of the pub, I was there for Sunday lunch which is something I often do and the place was very quiet due to the village taking it easy after the New year festivities, there had been some snow and everything was peaceful, I was having a relaxed time at the bar with Ian and Michelle, both of whom work at the Inn. We were joined at the bar by four residents who had heard there was snow and had jumped in their cars and driven up from London. They were a group of Sikhs who as the evening wore on became more and more rowdy. One thing led seamlessly to another and I was delivered of another surreal Strathardle evening. We had an impromptu whiskey tasting which frankly got slightly out of hand. Indians, do not as a nation love dogs in the same way as the average Brit, so I spent about 40 minutes introducing one of the bolder Sikhs to ‘Rocky’, Michele’s Rottweiler. It took some doing but we got there in the end and I have an enduring mental image of this chap, who had at this point lost his turban, lying on the floor with his arm cradled round Rocky. The Indians also managed to connect their phones to the bar’s Bluetooth music system and we were treated to some rather Bollywood influenced tunes with the appropriate dancing to match. I found a bit of video of one of them on my phone a couple of days later which confirmed my suspicion that the evening had taken a somewhat bonkers twist.
The following day I was supposed to be beating, I managed to get to the start just in time for the first beat and joined the line driving birds into a wood, as I mentioned before we had some lying snow which prevented me from noticing a small river which within minutes of the start I ended up in, a hangover and soaking from the thighs down was not my preferred start to the day. Any fun had will always be paid for it seems.
I had some very sad news just after New Year, the estate owner rang me to say that John, the estate manager had had a stroke and died rather suddenly. I really had not seen that coming and it came as a bit of a shock. He was something of a character, some people found him rather hard work, you either did things his way or not at all. I got on quite well with him, I had a very strict grandfather which may have prepared me for people like John. His death has left a palpable gap in the fabric of the place somehow.
A couple of weeks ago my car needed an MOT so I booked it in to the garage in Pitlochry and this time decided to catch a bus to somewhere else. I have spent too many days wandering round Pitlochry while the garage attends to my car and was in the mood for adventures in pastures new. Having dropped the car off I made my way to the bus stop just in time to get a bus to Aberfeldy. The journey is about ten miles and to get to Aberfeldy you have to change busses in Ballinluig, which is not as bad as it sounds as the connecting bus is usually either already there or nearby. Having arrived at Aberfeldy I decided to take a wander around the town, Aberfeldy, it turns out is smaller than Pitlochry and I had covered the whole town in about an hour, taking a tour of the centre, some of the Birks of Aberfeldy a walk made popular by Burns and lunch in a rather nice wee café which specialised in very good coffee, very good can usually also be substituted as a definition with the word ‘expensive’ and this was the case in the café. They had three different ways of serving the chosen brew and did seem to take the whole thing very seriously. After lunch I decided to see what was on at the little community cinema. The cinema is a great wee place enthusiastically manned by local volunteers and with a nice foyer and café to enjoy as well. The film that was showing just after lunch was ‘The Assassins creed’, a film I may not have chosen if there was a choice, but I thought not a bad way to kill a few hours, the garage had been in touch and the car had failed the MOT, but they were hopeful that they could get the parts and fix it before the end of the day. Good news but it did mean more time to kill, so The Assassins creed it was. Now I am not a video gaming sort of person which is the background of this film but I thought that should not make any difference to the enjoyment of the film and in I went. There were two other people in the cinema, a couple in their mid-sixties I would guess and that was it. The lights went low and after the mandatory adverts for other cinematic offerings, the film started with a context explaining narrative which rather rapidly became so action filled and fraught that I was pinned to the back of my seat for the next two hours and twenty minutes. It was a full speed and frantic visual and auditory journey which left the two other viewers and myself in a sort of shell shocked torpor after the film had finally gone quiet and the lights had come back on. With glazed eyes the other couple and I left the cinema and burst into the peaceful normality of Aberfeldy high street. I looked for something calmer to do and found myself browsing the walls and shelves of the Aberfeldy watermill, a bookshop and gallery with some nice calming things to look at. After half an hour or so it was time to get the bus so back I went and after waiting for ten minutes for a bus which did not appear, I questioned the driver of a bus that seemed to be sitting at the stop going nowhere. He explained the complexities of the timetable to me and I realised I had another hour to kill. I bought a paper and had a coffee in the cinema café next to the bus stop. I was now panicking slightly as it was looking a bit like I was not going to get back to the garage in time. After a short call to the garage my mind was put to rest, they kindly said they would keep the place open until I arrived, thank heavens! This exceeded the levels of service I had been used to in Sussex. Once on the bus it transpired, that the bus I was on was the school bus and it gradually filled up with what appeared to be junior cast members of The Assassins creed, they had similar noise levels and frantic amounts of energy. It was chaos, I mentioned to the driver when changing busses at Ballinluig that I felt like I had been travelling with a zoo, he responded with the type of weary smile that suggested that enduring this on a twice daily basis was not good for the mind and soul. The second bus dropped me off by the garage despite the fact that the stop is miles up the road, another random act of kindness which did not have to be delivered and I was in the car and up the road for a quiet pint in the Moulin to calm the mind and restore some sense of peace after the day’s rowdy events.
As I have probably mentioned before, shooting is big business up here and the pub is often host to shooting parties, A few weeks ago there were a group from England who were deer stalking and who were all attired in the ‘de rigour’ uniform of checked shirt, red sleeveless jumper and mole skin trousers of the type always worn by these folk. This group were particularly noisy and I remembered them from a visit last year. I think too much exposure to firearms has left them with impaired hearing so shouting is the only form of communication they can enjoy between each other. In my book of notes, written in a slightly unsteady hand which indicates a post pub observation is the phrase, “projectile disquiet”. It took me a couple of days to decipher the meaning of this until I remembered the shooting party, and “projectile disquiet” just about summed them up. They were so noisy that I had downloaded a decibel reader app on to my phone to discover they were pushing over 95 Db which is the same as a small jet taking off at 300 meters. They calmed down a little once I had pointed this out, which sort of proved they were also rather annoyingly, enjoying the sound of their own company.
I tend to pick up on what people are up to by their Facebook posts, now I am tucked up the glen and I have recently noticed a slight blurring of the traditional pass times of the two sexes. The girls all seem to be doing weights and boxing while the boys are enjoying yoga in the woods and going to mindfulness weekends, what is going on? It has also to be said that these trends don’t seem to have reached Scotland yet. Changes of behaviour do seem to take longer to establish themselves in Scotland, I think this is a good thing as it means any new behaviour has been tried and tested elsewhere before it can make an impact up here. The downside is that positive changes can take some time to arrive.
I encourage wildlife in the garden by feeding the birds and have a few pheasants which drop by from time to time. They tend to get quite tame very quickly if you are feeding them, I have one that has been a regular visitor for about six months, I can distinguish it by its rather oversized (compared to the others) golden cap of feathers on top of its head. It is so tame that when I whistle for them, it comes running up the lawn to greet me and is happy to get to within a few feet of me. I was gazing down the glen the other evening and I noticed something white flash through my field of vision. Initially I was not too sure what I had seen, it looked a bit like a rabbit but we don’t get them at the cottage and then I suddenly realised it was the stoat, they go white in the winter up here to camouflage themselves in the snow. I hadn’t seen it for a while so was quite pleased to get a fleeting glimpse. The next morning I went out to feed the birds and whistled in the pheasants, only one turned up. There was no sign of ‘gold cap’ which was pretty unusual. After feeding the birds I noticed something under a bush in the garden and on closer inspection found the carcass of a pheasant, I could not identify it as gold cap because the head was missing, the carcass had been partially devoured so presumably whatever killed the bird was hungry. I have no doubt that the appearance of the stoat and death of the pheasant are connected. While on the subject of the stoat we had some snow courtesy of storm Doris, snow on the lawn is a great aid to help determine what wildlife is in the area and I founds some tracks which lead across the lawn to the side of the cottage which were from a Pine martin, I haven’t seen one in the raw yet but now have proof they are about. It could also have accounted for the pheasant, as Pine martins are also ruthless killers of anything they can get hold of.
Yesterday I sat in and finished my wood carving, I have been carving a grouse out of a piece of bog oak which came from Islay apparently. I am quite pleased with the outcome, the grain of the oak is lovely and the fact that it is probably a couple of thousand years old just adds to the character of the object. Carving this little bird has taken quite a long time due in the main to all of the distractions and the occasional lack of clemency in the temperature of the shed. I have some more bog oak and a piece of lime which is a classic woodcarver’s material due to the regular and tight grain, but lacks some of the character of grain pattern that other more difficult woods can provide. So I have been doodling and inspiration is yet to pounce.
Tonight is Friday so I will be cycling to the pub for a catch up with the friends, the forecast is for 1 degree centigrade and a ninety percent chance of snow, so the mud bike with the snow tyres will be taken for an outing this evening.
On that chilly note I’m off to check the tyre pressures and find a warm coat. Oh and it’s already snowing I see…
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