Saturday, December 31, 2022

Immutable routines.


New Years Eve. The dawn washing over the Old Course. The lights are on in the red sandstone apartment block owned by America's King of sanitary fittings. Donald Trump repeatedly tried to buy the building but couldn't get a mortgage from the Bank of Scotland. The new extension to the old Marine Hotel is also aglow. The town, which has been eerily quiet, is filling up and springing back into life. Students are returning. Golfers are arriving. There is laughter in the streets. Parking spaces are hard to find. The book store is packed. If you can't be in the Highlands for Hogmanay then this isn't such a bad alternative. Tonight there will be firework displays and 'gala dinners' where grandparents can focus on family and leave the heavy lifting of Hogmanay preparation to hotel staff.

The whisky shop in town has been doing a roaring trade ahead of the great night. The shopkeepers now segueing on from 'Merry Christmas' to wishing their customers ' Health and happiness and a Guid New Year '. 

Down on the beach Sophie is surprised to find that there are lots of early rising holiday makers out for a brisk walk. The family diva charges off to scatter the oystercatchers and greet her new friend the ageing black labrador.  She also stares at passing couples in the belief  that some of them must surely have Jaffa Cakes. The family diva shoulders her disappointment over the lack of Jaffa Cakes with quiet(ish) dignity. 

We stop off for a coffee and a shared pain au raisin. Angus gets the 'raisin', Sophie gets the 'pain'. The location of our daily outing may change but Sophie's routines are immutable. Then we wander over the road to the cinema to see what's coming on in the New Year .

By the time we make it back to the wee cottage the wind has picked up. Sophie drinks from a puddle and maintains a watchful eye on twenty geese in the field by the sea. The geese have been there for the last three days. I thought they might be migrating south but it's more likely that they've come down from northern Sweden and are now staying to enjoy the relative warmth of the Scottish coast.

And so as 2022 drifts to its freedom testing end a simple wish from all of us at the wee cottage to all of you  -  May 2023 be the brightest portion of your life.  

And here, once again, is  Auld Lang Syne as it should be sung  :   . Happy New Year !

Friday, December 30, 2022

The year drawing on.


Last night five planets and the moon were visible from the garden. We stand by the corn field with a glass of champagne and watch them. Venus and Saturn down on the horizon, Jupiter like a small diamond next to the moon. Mercury and Mars overhead.  'The Font'  was given a small, light pocket telescope for Christmas. Great for tracking out the ships in the North Sea. This was just fine for picking out Neptune and Uranus. Any passing villagers will think we're batty.

A dark suited Manhattanite tells me that America has 24 square feet of retail space per head of the population. The highest number of shopping Malls in the world. By comparison the UK has 4.6 and China  2.8. On line shopping and the slowdown in the economy are  reducing that US figure ... fast. 

40 mph winds and snow and sleet forecast for later today. We manage a quarter of an hour on the beach before the weather turns for the worse and the snow starts. It goes without saying that Sophie thinks this weather is wonderful. The family diva gives me her 'What's the matter with you ?' look as she strides off down the deserted sand. The usual early rising dog owners have all sensibly decided to stay at home in the warm. A couple of jets fly off to intercept some Russian bombers coming down over the top of Norway. The sound of their engines mixing with the storm.

Although it's barely light and extremely cold there are a couple of dozen golfers outside the R&A waiting to tee off. They are of the hearty  'I've paid all this money to get here so I'm going to get two rounds in no matter what ' type. The ground keepers joke with the Americans among them them , ' You'll be enjoying this mild Scottish weather rather than the cold you've got back at home'. The responses are jocular but unprintable.

As compensation for the short walk Sophie is taken to the bacon roll cafe. We are the first, and indeed the only, customers.

Heading back to the car we pass one of those shops that sells sensible products to local farmers. In the window an alarming mannequin catches my eye. Angus cannot for the life of him think who in this northern Presbyterian town would ever wear a yellow hat. Certainly not a local farmer. The jacket, shirt and tie combination is also on the 'improbable' side of fashionable.

Year drawing on music :

Don't have much idea about chess but this guy seems uber smart :

Thursday, December 29, 2022



Hogmanay preparations continue. The sporrans, which usually hide somewhere inaccessible, are found. The 'best' sporran is brushed and the silver , which had started to tarnish in the move from France, polished.

The painters want a meeting on water resistant paint for the shower rooms. So it is that Sophie starts her day, super early, with a discussion of the benefits and problems of matt versus gloss finishes. The painters haven't brought Jaffa Cakes so her interest in paint finishes soon wanes. After that it's down to the sand to let her hair down. The weather's been good enough to let us do this five straight days in a row. 

The family diva long ago reached that 'testing the boundaries' phase in our relationship. There are times when she opts to suffer from sudden onset deafness and knowingly ignore commands like 'No' or 'Come here'. This morning is one of those mornings. Seeing empty sand as far as the eye can see she heads off, at speed, towards the horizon. Angus follows. We move from one end of the Chariots of Fire beach to the other. The wind is chill ... and strong. It blows in my face as we head down the beach and then, amazingly, manages to blow in my face as we head back up it. Sophie loves it. Her companion less so. Dogs down by the water are ignored. No point in running the risk of getting wet. Dogs on the safety of the dry sand are greeted....enthusiastically

By the time the sun is up so is Sophie's hair.

As we head for a coffee no less than three people stop and ask me what sort of dog she is. The reply is now well practised. "If you mean what sort of breed - she's a Polish Lowland Sheepdog. If you mean what sort of dog she is the answers easy - stubborn ". At the coffee shop there is a sliver of shortbread and a bowl of fresh water. 

On the radio this morning an Australian composers take on an American song :

Forget 98.6; think 97.5. A new take on body temperature :

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Ahead of Hogmanay

A slight problem has us drive down into town while it's still dark. It was only after they closed the front door that the painters remembered that they'd left the keys in the house. An apologetic call - 'Can you come down in the morning and open up for us ?' The painters will, hopefully, be finished today. The cleaning lady is also expected to start work again after the holidays. Later we shall go and pick up the duvets and bed linen from the laundry.

We park the car outside the front door, let the painters in and enjoy a solitary walk all the way from the cathedral, via the university  buildings, down to the beach. Not a soul to be seen.  There are few lights in the windows on the Street that runs outside the 'Wee House'. There was a time when all of the houses would have been full time residences or let out to students. Now, soaring property prices have seen many of them turned into soulless Airbnb's.  The landlords can get as much for a weekend let to golfers or visiting parents as they would get from students for a month. This makes commercial sense but the town centre without students would be a very different and soul less place. 

'50% Off ' signs make their post Christmas appearance in the shop windows. Town was busy this year but perhaps not busy enough for the retailers to clear their stock rooms. Higher taxes, lower growth and surging inflation didn't leave much spare cash in shoppers pockets. 

Sophie is delighted to find herself on the beach again. Four days in a row ! We stop and talk to the grounds men working on the Old Course greens. The grounds men already know Sophie. ... by name. They're busy In the run up to Hogmanay and observe that all the hotels are full . Tee off times booked solid. Bobble hatted American, Japanese and Scandinavians all vying for the slots that are still available. The weakness in Sterling has done wonders for the hospitality business. The hotels are all finding it difficult to get staff.

This may say something about the speed of the London Underground :

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Mea culpa

The Mike Pence 'So help me God' book is finally finished. The prose style - which is of the upset no one variety - did not make for easy reading. Best described as a late and unconvincing 'mea culpa'. Written with an eye on 2024 ? Did you know that there are more Baptists in Ukraine than in any country apart from the US ?

Nippy but dry this morning. Sophie loves a trip to the beach. She skips with delight as she heads over the dunes.  Every morning ( or those days when Scottish weather conditions allow us to see the sky ) dog and human stand by the sea and watch the sun pop its head above the eastern horizon. This far north we have to wait until nearly eight to see this spectacle. In summer , when it struggles to get dark, it all happens a good four hours earlier. For a few seconds the towers of the old town think they're Florence and glow salmon pink and gold in the sun. This always makes me smile. PONettes know every day should start with watching the sunrise - a wee bit of awe and wonder is never out of place in a divas busy life. 

A friendly labradoodle puppy greets Sophie. The puppy is very active - it's so full of energy it's a  constantly moving blur .  Sophie is simply overjoyed to meet another dog . The puppy eventually gets bored and heads off to chase some seagulls. The labradoodles owners ask me if Santa has been good to me this Christmas. This is a bizarre thing to ask but they seem happy to be told that he was. 

Then it's off down the beach, ears flying, to greet a jogger in black and turquoise running outfit. There are moments when Sophie completely forgets Angus is with her. This is one of those moments. Those titanium knees sure can move when they want to.

By the end of our walk wind, sand and water have combined to give Sophie the California surfer look. Today will be a day for hoovering the dog zone in the back of the car to get rid of a couple of weeks worth of seaweed, twigs and mud. The new car has quickly become one of those lived in 'dog owners' cars.


Monday, December 26, 2022

Boxing Day

Overnight the in box full of New Year greetings from airlines and travel companies thanking us for our past custom and hoping they'll see us again soon. It's clearly the time of year when people make travel plans. The Chairman of a large airline sends me ( and ten million others ) his picture. He's sitting, smiling broadly, in front of a bookcase with half a dozen books in it. Do the half dozen books signify he's smart but in an unthreatening way ? Underneath the picture the message 'It's been an extraordinary year for us. One that wouldn't have been possible without you and your passion for travel and unbridled zest for life'.  Who speaks like that ?

Another trip to the 'Chariots of Fire' beach. Cloudier this morning but there's no wind. Dog and human are making the most of this milder weather. The forecast shows sleet arriving at lunchtime and lasting for the better part of a week.

A woman with five huskies comes jogging along the sand. The five huskies are decidedly proprietorial. Sophie is not made welcome. She turns and looks wistfully as they disappear along the sand. The family diva's promised a compensatory trip to the bacon roll cafe. The good coffee cafe is closed until the start of term time in January.

Then it's home for a restorative snooze.

British cheese has made leaps and bounds in recent years. This Brie is quite outstanding.

The new carpet is 'cheery'. It looks better on the stairs where the stripes run up and down rather than across. 

Outside the cheesemongers this man and his dog. Have you noticed how often dog and owner look alike ? 'The Font' wonders what this truism says about Angus .

Turning to the New Year. A Scots song sung in Dublin :

We dine, virtually , here last night :

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas Day 2022


The coldest Christmas Eve in New York for 116 years. The super smart Los Angeleans, who trade the LNG futures market, say that there's still a lot of frigid air in the Arctic and that another cold snap is expected on January 20th. I can't remember whether that was a forecast for Europe or the US. I shall ask them in the New Year.

Here, it's another mild morning. We head down to the Chariots of Fire beach for half an hours walk as the sun is rising. We see one puppy and a rather aloof black Labrador. Sophie chases ravens. This goes on for some time. No ravens were harmed in the process although they may have been alarmed ... or more probably bemused the sight of a howling PONette in head back, ears flapping, full on hunting mode. Sophie's hunting skills remain enthusiastic but  ... inept.

We finally tire of raven chasing. The family diva thinks today is a good day for rolling on her back in the wet sand and seaweed. This does nothing for her 'look'.... but adds a seaside 'piquancy'  to the back of the car on the way home. Come warmer weather a bath is on the cards.

Our route home takes us through town. A police car and an ambulance are parked, lights flashing, outside the best of the golf hotels. I'm guessing there's been a collision between a flight of stairs and one of last nights inebriated partying guests. The stairs have come out on top. Groups of jet lagged American pilgrim golfers can be seen walking on the Old Course. There are also groups of European tourists wondering what there is to do in St.Andrews on Christmas morning. The answer to that can be summed up in one word - nothing. Best to have a bracing walk by the sea - everything else is closed. 

I suggest Sophie has a paw wash. She ignores me. Soon she's found a quiet spot and is off into a restorative slumber. A busy day of kitchen supervision awaits. As a reward there will be turkey, gravy and potatoes for lunch. There were slivers of marmalade coated ham with her kibbles last night. Life is good.

The 'audience' arrives at the 0:37 mark. Christmas Day song #22 : 

Happy Christmas to one and all from the star of this blog and her humans at the last wee cottage before Denmark. 

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Christmas song #21


The night of the Christmas Carol Service. A gale is blowing in from the sea but it's dry. From the brow of the hill we see the kirk windows aglow, the tree by the porch shimmering with lights. A scene straight from Dickens. The church heating has been turned up to maximum. Soon overcoats are being discarded as the temperature inside rises, then soars, as more and more folk squeeze through the doors. The old building can comfortably hold eighty but tonight its close to double that.  Villagers who have not met us wander over and say 'You must be the new folk '. We are quietly appraised. In laws are politely introduced.  At such communal events are life long impressions made.

The choir - nine freshly permed Scottish ladies and five gentlemen - take their places by the altar. The gentlemen are of the ' beige car coat and driving gloves' generation. All are enthusiastic in a low key Scottish way that hints that they may go wild and have a second mince pie when they get home. 'The Font' notes that the choir ladies are wearing two piece suits. Three of them ( in a gesture of festive madness ?) wear coloured stockings. 

The front pews fill early. Children fidget. Toddlers are held, squirming and complaining, on grandmothers knees. The mundane magic of Christmas. Teenagers, dragged from friends and big city lights, look around for someone their own age to commiserate with. Two babies cry and are carried to the back of the church by their mothers. Heads turn amid judgemental whispering of the ' I wouldn't go outside in the cold air with a child on a night like this' variety. The organist starts his  'introit'. The organ pipes, which have been frozen solid for much of the last fortnight, are caught by surprise. They wheeze, asthmatically, into life.

The Minister, a man of advancing if not advanced years, stands and tells us how wonderful it is to see so many old faces being joined by so many new ones. He ensures Good King Wenceslas, Hark the Herald Angels and O Little Town of Bethlehem are all sung lustily. He and the choir maintain one tempo, the congregation a variety of others. A soloist gives us Away in a Manger in a declamatory Edwardian style. Her accompanist does her best, and largely succeeds, in  keeping abreast with the changes in pace. The Minister says a few words about peace and hope and light. He may have said more but the heat and the orderliness of his voice has had a soporific effect on this member of the congregation. The Wexford Carol played - beautifully -  on the cello by a girl studying in Glasgow.  A brass plate is passed down the pew under the watchful eye of an unsmiling bushy eyebrowed man wearing a knitted green and red  sweater with the logo ' I Christmas harder than you' embroidered in large yellow letters across it. Angus is not quite sure about the propriety of this. It sounds ever so slightly passive aggressive.

Then it's almost time to go. The lights are dimmed. We all stand.  The choir mistress, a long retired village school teacher ( the sort who wanted the best for every one of her charges and is still treated with a respect bordering on deference by the middle aged farmers she once taught ), turns to offer 'just a few words at this special time of the year'.  She then goes on along the lines of 'I first voted Unionist in 1970. John Gilmour was our Member of Parliament then -  a wonderful man with wonderful ways. The first time we'd had a Unionist MP in what had been a National Liberal seat. Well I've voted for the Unionists ever since but what these people in London are doing to the nurses is sinful'. There is a slight but discernible intake of breath from her ( and the congregation ) before she carries on in a louder voice ' Completely sinful ! '. There is another pause before her voice rises to a shout  ' We must pay the nurses. They are Gods angels. Tonight of all nights we should remember that '. She turns, lifts her arms and we're off into the first verse of Silent Night. I guess politics and the Nativity have always mixed.  Then it was a census, now it's a government that's run out of ideas. Memories here last for generations.

So passes our first, ever so slightly 'batty' village carol service. We are going to be quite at home here.

The white St.Joseph has arrived but the cases of red have gone missing. A bottle provides a suitably festive way of warming up after the walk across the fields home.

Modern and calming. Christmas song #21:

Friday, December 23, 2022

Christmas song #20


A hearty ' Good Morning' to one and all from Sophie who has woken with a spring in her step. Life for a family diva is wonderful... simply wonderful.

This morning Sophie is modelling her 'Country PON' look.

Yesterday saw a start of day funeral for an old  village lady. Held early so the farmers can pay their respects, have a wee dram and still get to do the bulk of a days work . 100% turnout plus every tradesman who's ever worked on her cottage and the nurse and the ambulance drivers. The male mourners in white shirt, suit and black tie. The women in black hat and coat. I thought the French were formal about funerals but small Celtic communities excel. The weather bright, mild and sunny. Not what you'd expect a few days before Christmas. At the end the Minister stands by the grave , looks upwards and says 'So she passed over and the trumpets sounded for her on the other side'. At this exact moment a rainbow stretches across the eastern sky . The timing is remarkable. The minister will be conducting the village carol service tonight. Attendance will also be high. 

The carpet fitters show up again. They should be finished by later this morning. They have pre-cut the carpet into sections so that it can be laid quickly.

The Christmas pudding and mince pies are delivered - they're only a day late. FedEx are entrusted with the turkey which is on its way and is scheduled to arrive at lunchtime. The St.Joseph from Guigal has cleared customs but neither the vintner nor the shippers seem to know where it now is. 

The retired couple who live at the crossroads - he has Parkinsons, has a tendency to wander and is forever being retrieved and driven home by passing villagers - have put up their Christmas lights. I shall post a picture when I can. Suffice it to say the lights are 'cheery' and visible from space. They are also ever so slightly 'batty'. 

Slip off your shoes, pour a cup of coffee and turn up the volume.  Christmas song #20. The festive season would not be complete without a trip to the 1950's time warp that is German television. Lots of smiling faces here  :

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Christmas song #19

'Scottish' weather. During our morning walk we go from overcast, to stormy, to bright sunshine and then back to overcast. The background temperature remains at the 'refreshing' end of the scale. Sophie is in her element.

We take a different route today. The farmer has ploughed the potato field down by the Salt Lake. One of the villagers Cocker Spaniels ate some old potatoes that had been thrown to the surface and had to go to the vets for a x-ray. His dog's now fine although the dreaded word 'bloat' was heard. The owner came to our door last night  to warn us of this unexpected  potato danger. We thank him. The camaraderie of dog owners.

The ice cream parlour is open and a solitary figure can be seen outside having a breakfast peach melba. We used to go there ( nearly half a century ago when we were students ) for a 'treat' . We certainly wouldn't go there at this hour of the morning and we most certainly wouldn't have been sitting outside having a peach melba . How tastes change. 

An empty town is wonderful. In term time you would sin to get a parking space near the shops. Now  with the students gone they're ten a penny. The only time it gets busy is around two and again around six thirty when the theatre is putting on Snow White. The pantomime attracts crowds of parents ( and I mean crowds )  desperate to find something to keep their toddlers occupied. I have a feeling some families are repeat visitors.

The electricians fitted the German downlighters . They look better than great. The security light over the door isn't fitted and will have to wait for the New Year. ' Sorry Pal. We've got an emergency call out with a dicky boiler ' they say before driving off. The carpet fitter also arrived. They took up the old carpet and started to put down the new underlay when they noticed that they'd brought the wrong sized 'grippers'. They will return this morning to finish off. 

The Christmas pudding is due to be delivered today and the turkey tomorrow. Some cushions, ordered in Annapolis three days ago, arrive in the morning post. Things from London take a week due to the Christmas 'rush' but they get here across the Atlantic in no time. Go figure.

Christmas song #19. A nun conducts :

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Christmas song #18

Blue sky and a near tropical 9 degrees this morning. All traces of the snow and ice have gone. Wet, gloopy mud has taken their place. Sophie is a firm believer in the health benefits of walking through wet, gloopy, mud. She is, of course, also a believer in the health benefits of walking through snow and belly surfing on ice.

Today the carpet fitter and the electricians are expected. With the better weather there's a chance they'll show up. By Christmas we may have  super jazzy stair coverings and downlighters in the garden. The downlighters come from Germany. The manufacturers manage to make and deliver them on time despite snow and the pre-Christmas chaos. This German efficiency is an annoyingly trite, but true, insight into national stereotypes. 

From France the man with anger management issues calls. He wonders if there might be some way his son could come to Scotland to learn English next summer. 'Perhaps he could work in a hotel ?' he suggests brightly. Anger Management Man then diverts into a lengthy diatribe against the French President. It seems Monsieur Macron had the audacity to go into the dressing room and give the French world cup team a pre-match pep-talk. 'No wonder they lost' he says - although he doesn't say it quite like that.

Down to the wee house in town. On our way we park by the cathedral and walk to the end of the pier to look at the cormorants who look, silently, back at us. The tenants at the house in town left for the States last night. They must have packed suddenly. Piles of trash, bed linen,defrosting freezer food and wet towels everywhere. This is why we usually have the cleaning lady go in first.

The modernist bleached oak kitchen table is looking the worse for wear after someone has put a hot saucepan on it . There's a deep circle burnt into the wood.  A circular plastic coaster has been placed over the mark. Perhaps they thought no one would notice. 'The Font'  speaks to the manufacturers in Copenhagen but there's nothing that can be done. To make a new leaf  would be as expensive as a new table and the colour and grain would be different. Sanding it down or polishing it out won't remove deep burn marks. 

We'll buy a new table. Until now we've had pretty good tenants. There is an unexpected upside. The local painters have had a cancellation and can come in for the next couple of days to paint scuffed and stained walls. Now, that is good luck.