The wee house in Scotland. The doorbell rings. 'The Font' opens it expecting to find the gardeners. They've been asked to lop off the tree branch that's nearly touching the telephone wires. Instead there's a group of a dozen or so strangers. A woman steps forward. '' It's my mothers 90th birthday. We've brought her into to town for lunch at Forgan's. She was born here and we wondered if she could just take a wee peek through the door ".
So it is that 'The Font' can be found sitting in the drawing room talking to a tiny white haired grandmother and her offspring. It's the same room the old lady was delivered in - although on May 30th 1928 it was the kitchen. This had been the family home for generations. Her father was a fisherman as was her grandfather and great grandfather and his father before him. Before that who knows ? Two uncles who had been brought up in the house were killed in the First War; one at Jutland the other torpedoed in a battle cruiser in the icy waters off Lewis. Her father was the youngest and only surviving son.
After the war the grandparents, her father and mother and their seven children all lived here. The family used the wide pavement at the front of the house to dry and repair the fishing nets. '' It was grand sitting there in the summer ". She remembers her grandmother wouldn't let her grandfather smoke indoors so he would go outside into the back garden and sit on a pile of cannon balls for his evening pipe. The cannon balls ( which are long gone ) she thought had been fired by the French at the nearby castle in the 16th century wars of religion. The stone owl with the glass bead eyes was a feature in the garden even then - " I think it was uncle Wullies. He's the one who died at Jutland. I'm told he went to Edinburgh once and brought it back with him ".
The top floor, which now houses the master bedroom and bathroom was in those days a large high loft where fish could be dried. A cousin - Jock Hutchinson - who lived a few doors down, went to America was naturalized and became the first American citizen to win the British Golf Open in 1921. She remembers him coming back to visit in the 1930's. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jock_Hutchison
'The Font' looks for the house deeds that have been left - by the previous owner - in the kitchen drawer. The documents for the sale of the house in 1948 are brought out. The old lady tries to read them but her eyesight isn't up to it. A great grandson does the honours. '' He's going to the university in Glasgow next year " she says with evident pride. At the end he hands her the document. She holds it up to her face, traces her fathers signature with her index finger and says '' He was such a beautiful man ".
The Scots are deemed to be an unemotional race .... by those that don't know them.
This blog is for those things that are too unimportant to be recorded. This chance encounter that links long gone great events and the lives of ordinary people will make it into the family diary. A kind of Celtic farewell and welcome to the wee house rolled into one?
It's stormy and sultry. The poor garden flattened by the rain. Thunder, lightning and two lively but housebound PONs do not make for a relaxed start to the day.
Bob has discovered that by lying half in, half out of the front door he can stop his sister from coming inside. This brotherly obstructionism generates a maelstrom of irritation on Sophie's part. Bob considers the resulting ear splitting cacophony of complaint to be great fun. Definitely a routine that he intends to repeat. He feigns clinical deafness.
The bakers display heavily biased towards oversized macaroons.
Men in dark suits on the phone early to talk about the Italian crisis. Does it mean the end of the EU ?: No. Does it mean the end of the Euro ? : No. Does it make negotiating Brexit easier for the UK ? : No. Bob and Sophie turn on their backs and snore gently which is, in it's way, a valid take on events.
Rameau is one of our favourite composers. This modern French take on the Ballet Les Indes Galantes is - very French and on rewatching is cleverly structured. The video clip passes the 'it made me smile' test : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9h9HP-VOJv4
'The Font' spends the night at a hotel near Edinburgh airport. Handy for an early morning trip to Marks and Spencers and close to the motorway that heads North. '' It looks so much nicer than the hotels at the terminal " I'm told .
The last flight is late; the aircraft parked at a distant stand usually reserved for Spanish charter flights. Buses to the terminal take an eternity to arrive. The rental car counter manned by a young lady talking to her boyfriend whilst painting her nails. Renting cars the least of her concerns. 'The Font' discovers the hotel is situated in a triangular no mans land between the motorway, the railroad and the ring road. There is no apparent means of getting to it. The rental Vauxhall Mokka X infotainment system is non-functioning and will only flash on the screen a message saying " Right rear tyre needs inflating ".
After twenty minutes spent driving round in the dark Angus is called and instructed to Google directions. This logical step is made more difficult by imprecision as to 'The Fonts' exact location. There are conversations of the '' I'm in a business park ". ' Which business park ? There must be a sign you can see ? ' variety. After an increasingly fractious hour an unlit entry road is found and hotel and guest are united by a patient navigator.
A Herbal Life sales conference has taken the place over. You know its a Herbal Life sales conference because everyone is wearing T-shirts that say so. The receptionist expresses surprise at 'The Fonts' arrival. Producing the printed reservation confirmation does little to dispel the surprise. The Night Duty manager is called. '' We weren't expecting anyone this late". It seems anything after eleven pm in Scotland is a time when good God fearing folk should be at home reading the Bible to their bairns. A room is eventually found. It is on the mezzanine by the lift and has both a double bed and an enormous sofa bed that's made up, has sharp metal corners and requires careful navigating round to get to the door.
The view from the hotel window at daybreak is of a KFC and a Krispy Kreme Donut outlet. There is blue sky in the distance but despite the strong wind a rain cloud seems to have stationed itself directly over the hotel. 'The Font' decides that it's best to skip the shopping and head off to the wee house as soon as possible.
'You'll be wanting on your way while it's still cool' says the receptionist . In fact the hotel seems to be on red alert ahead of temperatures that may hit the high teens. A notice in the room, written in a non-native form of English interspersed with emojis and a cavalier use of tenses, suggests ways of keeping cool.
A reminder why France can still bring a smile to your lips : https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/28/spider-man-of-paris-to-get-french-citizenship-after-rescuing-child
Strange sultry weather. Thunderstorm after thunderstorm. Last night one of those Mississippi style downpours. This morning at first light the thunder is already rumbling away over the mountains. Black anvil clouds mark the horizon. It looks as if we've got another day of lightning and hail ahead of us.
Bob and Sophie are more or less oblivious to thunder. Sophie doesn't seem to notice it at all. If it gets very loud Bob prudently makes sure he's near 'The Font' to provide moral encouragement.
The cooler temperatures mean we can all head off to the little market town in the car.
Angus notices that Spanish Pata Negra ham is E199.95 a kilo.
Some faux-filet for dinner. The head butcher trims it and then holds out the scraps for the PONs. Raw meat ! What a start to the day.
We are the only customers at the cafe on the square. The townsfolk clearly suffering from Monday morning blues. The young waiter brings the PONs a digestive biscuit to share. This is received with much tail wagging. Parallel lives. We do the chores while Bob and Sophie enjoy the high excitement of the best day ever.
Marie Antoinette's farm outside Paris has been restored. She wanted to live the simple life of a farmer. The farmers wanted the comfort of her life. The two views proved irreconcilable : https://www.vogue.fr/culture/a-voir/diaporama/poussez-les-portes-du-hameau-secret-de-marie-antoinette-a-versailles/50659#la-maison-de-la-reine-et-la-tour-de-tour-de-marlborough_image1
There is a dog in this photograph.
And in this. Camouflaged PON.
To the greengrocers for pineapples. The ones from Reunion are sweet all the way through in a way that pineapples that are shipped to the UK never quite are.
We stop off at the strawberry farm.The farmers wife tells me that they're are only two days of Gariguettes left . After that she'll be switching the pickers over to the Clery's - a variety that has a flavour that is best described as sherbety.
Most of the Ceanothus have stopped flowering. One by the rose border soldiers valiantly on. This morning it is covered in bees. Estimating bee numbers is as difficult as estimating inaugural crowds. I guess there must be a thousand at least on the thing.
The bees make a rich deep buzzing sound that can be heard from inside the house. This is a sound that says all is well with the world. Our bee numbers seem to fluctuate but the 2018 bee population is having a banner year.
The mayor is up early to borrow the step ladder. He's hanging out the flags on the war memorial for yet another holiday. As Angus and the PONs set off along the lane the Old Farmer returns with the Belgian Lady. '' We drove through the night " he informs us. '' With the car windows down " she adds.
In Scotland the painters are supposed to be at work repainting the outside of the wee house. Not as easy as it sounds as they have to show the local authority that the colours they are using match the originals. The head painter phones to say they can only do the facade and not the side '' You've got swallows and wrens nesting in the vennel ''. Any doubt that we've not chosen the right firm of decorators vanishes. The decorators lads are told to put up the scaffolding on the front of the house 'quietly' so they don't disturb the nests.
Just another day full of things too unimportant for a diary but too important to go completely unrecorded. The warp and weft of life.
An interesting comparison : https://twitter.com/ianbremmer/status/998932355527139328
Village movie night was a lively affair. The ladies of the Beautiful Byeways Committee somehow got their timing wrong. Their chocolate mousse was ready before the duck pate five ways. ' Chocolate before duck. How wonderful ' says 'The Font' to Madame Bay as if this culinary iconoclasm is all the rage in Stockholm . Angus can't help but notice that 'The Fonts' plastic plate of chocolate mousse is handed to him. The French farmers and their offspring are of the calorie insensitive ' if its in front of us we'll eat it ' school.
This morning the joiner and his wife sleep in late. So do their two teenage boys. The school bus shows up at 7:40 and waits outside their house to pick the lads up. After two minutes the driver gets impatient and beeps . Faced with no response he does so again - three times. The final beep is a long drawn out affair.
The teenage boys and their parents are apparently oblivious to the noise. The same cannot be said for the eight ponies in the field behind the barn. Alarmed by the honking they congregate by the gate which swings open. Ponies spill out onto the lane. Four head off across the village green to the churchyard where they shelter amongst the gravestones. Two charge up and down the lane. Two others explore the track that leads to the electricity substation. Angus corrals the two by the substation.
The man with anger management issues turns on the flashing warning lights on his Nissan Qashqai. This distracts the two ponies on the lane who are shepherded back towards the farmyard. Amidst much arm waving and whistling the mayor and the retired farmer with the red bulbous nose get two ponies out from the gravestones. Two, free spirited ponies, remain deaf to the mayors blandishments. Later they are seen walking slowly along the lane grazing on the wild flowers on the verges.
The alien triffid like flowers that have made an appearance on the lawn are doing well. Loic is due here later this morning. I shall make sure his half hour on the tractor ( the high point of his week ) is conducted well away from the orchids.
It goes without saying that the PONs have followed developments with keen interest. The phones are ringing early today. Men in dark suits wanting to know if todays speech to the midshipmen at Annapolis will be 'bellicose'.
Two interesting articles this morning. The first on articial intelligence ( the video is amusing and worth watching ) : https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611146/the-us-military-is-funding-an-effort-to-catch-deepfakes-and-other-ai-trickery/
And the second an interesting National Academy of Sciences analysis of voting : http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/04/18/1718155115
Lights on. Front door open. Within seconds the angelic duo are out and hurtling round the garden . PON rule #5 : Life must be lived at high speed.
Satisfied that the garden is free of C-A-T-S Bob and Sophie return to The Rickety Old Farmhouse to inform their owners that it's time to head off to the waterfall. To get the message across Sophie employs PON ESP. Bob utilizes a more vocal approach.
Sophie refuses the bowl of fresh water in the hallway. However, she will happily - and at length - drink from the pool of water in the drainage ditch on the lane. This has a thin but alluring rainbow film of scum ( diesel ? ) on its surface. At the crossroads the three of us sit on the drainage ditch and watch the storm clouds build up over the high Pyrenees. The apple orchard on the side of the hill, has been covered with netting to stop the flocks of finches from eating the fruit.
Much activity in the village hall. Tonight is movie night . The first of the year. Madame Bay and the ladies of the Beautiful Bye ways Committee are preparing duck pate five ways . The mayor and the retired farmer with the red bulbous nose are checking on the projector - a large 'vintage' piece of equipment that requires much careful threading of reels and spools. The Old Farmer and the Belgian Lady will not be at the movie. They have decided to head to the coast at Perpignan. '' I'll only be gone 48 hours. 72 at the most " says our neighbour breezily. He informs us that Perpignan train station is decorated with murals by Salvador Dali. '' Perfect weather for seeing them ". With that he, and she, are gone.
This is a rather charming tradition that was started by the Queen Mother : https://twitter.com/wabbey/status/998231942091984896
School holidays. This morning there's no rush of late running parents taking toddlers to school. We do however wave at the young garagiste in his go faster Citroen and the farmer in the Toyota with the hyper-active Westie.
Furnishing a house on line has been a nightmare. The transition from bricks to clicks a problem for some retailers. John Lewis and Case Furniture were wonderful. Heals and Debenhams on the far side of nightmarish. Today Angus starts to go after the money that should have been paid back when items were returned or not delivered.
The first call is to a firm that he's spoken to 27 times over six months. '' We can only process the credit card charges after you've returned the items in question " says a young man using a stilted form of formulaic English. Angus points out that the items were returned on April 26th '' Do you have proof of that ? " comes the reply. Thankfully Angus does. After being put on hold for ten minutes the young man comes back to say he's '' Mega sorry about the delay ". I don't think I've ever heard anyone use that phrase before. Guess it's the inverse of being '' super excited ".
The frogs in the village pond now in full song. Angus and the PONs watch as they leap off the lily's into the water. Sophie finds the splosh sound they make intriguing. She is 'encouraged' along before the possibility of going after them enters her head.
Last night a huge thunderstorm overhead. The security lights forever coming on. We wonder whether this is due to a change in air pressure or more prosaically and more probably because the whole house shakes. Sophie sleeps through it all. When the power fails Bob opts to get close to 'The Font'. He adopts a male " I'm not worried but I thought you might be " attitude. This morning he sleeps on the door step with his nose out.
A special in the supermarket. Buy two bars of rhubarb and quinoa milk chocolate and get a third bar free. Why am I not surprised ?
One of the art work that's been bought for the wee house in Scotland is a print of Hercules the bear on Loch Sunart at night. I'd assumed it was a figment of the artists imagination but is based on a true story. http://www.scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/who-remembers-hercules-bear-bid-6508312
Even more amazingly we discover the artist was trained by a woman we know and who once was a neighbour. Now, that's a small world or as 'The Font' points out it might equally show how small a place Scotland is .
On the storm drain Bob and Angus discuss the resurgence of populism in Italian politics. 'Discuss' is perhaps too strong a word for as soon as the 5 Star Movement is mentioned Bob joins his sister in following an intriguing scent that leads them down to the donkey field.
Back at The Rickety Old Farmhouse the hair around Bobs eyes and muzzle is cut. He is delighted with the outcome. Angus quietly gives thanks that dogs don't know about mirrors. Bob gives me his " Is I looking very dapper ? " look. Sophie too needs a trim but there is a limit to this dog owners energy levels.
The warm weather has arrived. Warm weather brings with it lizards. Lizards mean that the PONs are forever racing off into the garden in pursuit of things that rustle. What they would ever do if they caught a lizard is a mystery. Sophie would undoubtedly eat it, Bob would try and put as much distance between himself and the scaly thing as soon as possible. The chances of either PONs ever catching a lizard is minimal. Their rhinoceros like hunting technique is ' sub-optimal '.
A National Holiday yesterday in France. Our third this month. A lot of people, including an early rising smattering of pilgrims, are taking the whole week off. Bob stands on his stump seat guarding until the passing pilgrims are safely out of the village. Humans may think each day has a humdrum regularity. The PONs know better - high adventure lurks just around the corner.
After the pilgrims have gone there's time for a chance to run round the garden, chase lizards, bark at squirrels and then settle down for a long nap in the shade. The two collar doves nesting in the barn remain a source of canine irritation.
There is a research centre near here that experiments on beagles. A group of foreign ladies are trying to close it. More power to them. This form of testing is - barbarism : https://theintercept.com/2018/05/17/inside-the-barbaric-u-s-industry-of-dog-experimentation/
5:58 am. A cold wet nose in my ear indicates that it's time to get up. The cold wet nose is followed by a lick and a snort. When Bob is very happy he snorts. By this indicator today is already a very happy day.
Bob hunts in a rose border for Furry Fox. He buried it there for safety last night. This is the canine equivalent of putting the car keys in an obvious place so that you can grab them as you rush out of the door in the morning.
Sophie wanders over to help him. The lustre of her nose makes it clear she is fine health.
Try as he might Bob can't find where he buried Furry Fox in the rose border. There is much digging and scattering of soil. He remains nonplussed by the disappearance of his furry friend. He puts it down to the malicious influence of C-A-T-S. The fact his sister has already found it and is wandering over the the far side of the orchard with the disheveled toy in her mouth escapes his notice.
Before we can get harnessed up and in the car Sophie stops and stares at a possible mole hole. Staring at a mole hole takes concentration and time. I call her over to the car but this morning she's suffering from clinical deafness.
Wild asparagus in the greengrocers ....
.... and an interesting chocolate concoction in the bakers display cabinet. We're early this morning. The croissants are still in the oven. When they appear Bob and Sophie make it clear that warm croissant crumbs are light years better than cold ones. Bob snorts for a second time.
The PONs days might not be getting more efficient but they seem to be way up there on the 'Run! Don't Walk !!' enthusiasm rankings.
From the BBC's 1943 archives : https://twitter.com/BBCArchive/status/997887608330928128
The Old Farmer is looking tired this morning. He claims not to suffering from pain but then goes on to say he was up half the night with his sore hip. 'The Font' has brought him a five foot wooden staff back from Scotland to help him walk. It has a whistle carved from a deer's antler as a handle. The whistle has a pitch and sound that will rouse the dead. If he falls he can blow it at any time of day or night and the PONs will hear it from across the lane. You can be sure they will then let us know. He finds this gift reassuring.
The ground on the way down to the waterfall is sodden underfoot. It will take a few more weeks of heat to dry it out. The wet weather has brought out an amazing display of wild flowers. Bob and Sophie are too busy hurtling down the hill to notice.
Masses of poppies and the blue flowers that Angus thinks might be wild orchids but must just as easily be weeds.
A morning for talking to Indian men in dark suits about Iran. '' Unilateral withdrawal equals non-compliance with a legally binding UN Security Council resolution " says one. ' This is a rejection of the UN as the guardian of peace and security ' says another huffily. '' Goodness! Isn't the world changing quickly '' thinks Angus.
Angus has tried a new technique on the doors of the book shelves in the dining room. Mix the paint with water and then use a wet brush to apply it. The battleship grey seems several shades less grey than it did before. Angus is unsure whether to paint the side of the shelves the same colour or go brighter or lighter. This is the perfect excuse for inactivity. A yogurt pot on the floor indicates that the family princess has been supervising the painting.
It's the little things in diplomacy that count. On this visit to Russia the German Chancellor gets a handshake and a bouquet of flowers: https://twitter.com/ru_rbc/status/997518533335502850