Sunday, December 31, 2023

Into the New Year


The old year is going out in style with blue skies and another stunning sunrise. From the wee house on the coast we can look back down the bay and  see the towers of St Andrews rising from the morning sea mist. The wind has dropped and the ships that had been sheltering in anchorage have headed back into the North Sea.

A bunch of flowers has blown off a memorial bench onto the sand - an unintended but fitting farewell to the passing year.

This morning even the sand is on fire.  Dog owners pause and take pictures. Their dogs are too busy chasing seagulls to notice.

Over the weekend the kilt makers have been open early. Jackets that fitted perfectly last year have become just a wee bit too snug. Tailors are busy letting things out.

Back at the last wee house before Denmark preparations are finished. The kilt is found. Now it's time to have the jacket pressed.

And so when the magic hour comes may all visitors to this blog be thankful for what 2023 has brought and ready for the excitement of 2024. For those who live in well ordered countries may it be a year blessed with health, wealth and happiness. For friends elsewhere may the New Year bring peace and a life free of fear.

And here is music to usher in 2024.  There are those who say Auld Lang Syne is best sung with a Glasgow accent :   but we'll welcome in the New Year with this more sedate local version :

Saturday, December 30, 2023



Cold this morning. The frosted sand firm underfoot. Archie the arthritic labrador is on new hip medication. He wanders up to see me with a ball in his mouth.' Is it alright to throw it ?'  I ask his owner. " Oh yes ! He's rediscovered puppyhood " she replies. He hurtles off down the beach like a young 'un.

With the rain gone and the sun out town has suddenly become full. Hogmanay is a bigger family holiday than Christmas in these parts. By the time the sun is up the post breakfast crowd are out on the beach. Yesterday, we spent twenty minutes driving backwards and forwards looking for a parking space. The shop keepers and cafe owners will be happy .

Even the surf boarding 'academy' is open. I rather admire the registration plate on their old Land Rover. Six hardy folk are getting their wet suits on and ready to test the waters. The owner says they'll be 'busy' with family classes in the afternoon. All I can assume is that moderns wet suits are better at retaining the warmth than they were thirty years ago.

A random purchase in the bookshop. A subject I can say I know nothing about.

On one of the grand houses overlooking the 18th tee of the Old Course a rather fine door lintel.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Down the coast.


With the storm over it was a morning for getting out of the house and heading off down the coast in the car. We're in that period between Christmas and Hogmanay when nothing much happens.  Those folks who have a two week break are now at the stir crazy stage of trying to find things to do. 

I'd reckon half of the houses we pass have fir wreaths on their front doors. An old 17th century stone wall plaque has been recycled and placed on the side of a Victorian apartment building.  Passers by can ponder it's Presbyterian sentiments : ' Gods blessing is my land and rent '. I wonder how many people look up and see it ? 

Around the corner the church gates are open. It no longer has a minister. Not so long ago there were a million Presbyterians; now that number has fallen to 250,000. It will be a shame if the old place is shuttered. What would you do with a medieval barn of a building like that ? The heating costs alone would be enormous.

Next door the old stone house has garlands at every window. It's a very festive sight ... in a restrained sort of way.

Back at 'The last wee house before Denmark' the Christmas tree is suffering from central heating induced wilt. I've forgotten to fill up the water tray. Overnight three more glass baubles have fallen off the sagging branches and broken. The lower ones are now touching the floor. This years tree was not a great success being a spindly seven feet tall with lots of height but no substance.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

The storm arrives.

Storm Gerrit arrives. The weather is beyond awful. Grey skies, winds gusting north of seventy miles per hour and heavy, constant rain. Roads around have been blocked by falling trees or flooding but our drive into town proves to be uneventful. On our way we note that some corrugated metal panels have been torn off the side of a potato barn. There is also a foot of water on the road by the golf club where run off from the fields has pooled. In the bay three ships are sheltering from the storm. We wonder which is the more uncomfortable - being anchored and pounded by the waves or being underway and pounded by the sea ?

The town is , not surprisingly,  completely deserted. Even the intrepid Chinese tourists seem to have opted to stay in the comfort of their hotels. Whether by accident or design the illuminations on the fountain have been left on. This at least brings a touch of colour to an otherwise drab scene. Closer examination shows that the lights that span the road between Costa Coffee and the tourist office have had wind related 'issues'. 

This is the weather to try out the new Under Armor all weather golfing trousers. Angus can report they are  great success and much more comfortable than oilskin over trews. 'The Font ' is less sure and wonders whether the  idea of clothing that can ' go straight from the boardroom to the golf course' will be a big market.

By the time we've finished our morning walk the Chinese tourists have emerged for their hotels. They happily take photos, oblivious to the rain. Angus would like to know what the tourists eat for breakfast. Local hotels seem to be believers that a mix of sausage, egg and tattie scones is the only acceptable start to the day. Croissants might be found in the more upmarket establishments but are deemed too exotic for most tastes.  I'm guessing  Congee or steamed buns are unknown. 

Odd that France doesn't come in the top 10 :

Change for the sake of change? :

Wednesday, December 27, 2023


The six am weather forecast (  broadcast from London ) seems to think the extremely warm weather over Christmas has been a good thing. Angus isn't so sure. He quietly wonders what the summer is going to be like if the winter is this warm. Perhaps England will be the new south of France ? I guess that would give Scotland weather like the Pas-de-Calais. Let's hope climate change doesn't bring anymore of the storms we saw in October.

From 'The Fonts' cabin the view is of the moon  setting into the waters of the bay. The snow on the hill tops on the far side of the estuary glows. It's as bright as a northern day which is surprising as the Met Office has issued a yellow rain warning.  We watch seven deer wander down to the waters edge. In France some of the local vineyard owners would swear blind that their crop was heavier and the wine better in seasons when the overnight skies were clear and the grapes caressed by lunar light. 

On our way into town the cathedral ruins loom out of the half darkness. What a sight it must have been when the central tower and roof were still in place.

Some mornings are dark, some mornings are grey. This morning is proving to be  golden. There's already a large crowd of folks waiting for the Old Course to open up. In fact the crowd is so large we wonder if play is free over the Christmas period. 

The beach is home to twenty or so dog walkers. Local mutts seem to have been the proud recipients of flashing dog collars as Christmas presents. I'd first seen them a few days ago - now they seem to have become a universal canine accessory. They are decidedly practical in the short days and long nights of the Scottish winter.

Home, where we sit out in the breakfast room and watch the finches squabble over the bird feeder. There's a new brand of  'Robin friendly' bird feed that includes insects in the mix. The birds love it. Our consumption of bird food has doubled. This year 'The Font' has discovered a maker of candles that measure the hour. One white band burns every sixty minutes. It seems to work. If nothing else the candles soon warm up the air.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

The Boxing Day mystery


Boxing Day. The big hotels full, the town quiet. It may not have been a white Christmas but the weather was warm ( 10 degrees which is balmy by Scottish standards ) and generally well behaved. Down on the beach a half dozen dog owners greet us. One of them asks us to warn any one with their dog off the leash that she's seen a seal pup on the dunes below the sheep pen. 

There's a German motorhome parked by the medieval gate that leads from the harbour to the cathedral. The side door is open and three identical toddlers can be seen sitting at a table eating breakfast. I guess if you have triplets then putting them in a motorhome and driving to a quiet place with a beach, where they can run themselves ragged,  makes a lot of sense. 

On the cliff top by the  castle there's a dozen Chinese girls watching two more Chinese girls doing laps in the salt water pool below. They shout encouragement , take photos and laugh. The mystery of why there should be so many Mandarin speaking tourists in a small Scottish seaside town in the depths of winter remains an unanswered mystery. We are coming round to the view that the new Netflix series of The Crown must have a strong Chinese following.

Two seagulls standing on the grass by the car. They're tapping on the ground with their feet to attract worms. They are completely unconcerned by our presence. The  local seagulls literally rule the roost.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas. Waxwings, clouds and ( possibly ) an Archbishop.

A Merry Christmas to one and all from the last wee house before Denmark.

A family of waxwings feasting happily - and noisily -  on the rowan tree at the end of the garden. Most trees can't survive in this wind battered spot but the rowan clings on and offers up a mass of bright red berries for passing birds. What lively and exotic creatures the waxwings are. There's something about their tufts that makes them comical. They are rare , but welcome, visitors to our garden.

Above the beach nacreous clouds. Like the waxwings another unexpected Christmas day gift. They form in polar air at 100,000 feet. Sometimes, just sometimes, the rays of the rising sun catch them and they give a display of colour that puts rainbows to shame. When we lived  further up the coast I saw them once in twenty years.  Now  I've glimpsed them three times in the last two weeks - but never with the intensity and spread of this mornings display.

The lens in the i-Phone struggles to capture this remarkable  sight. I'm not sure what sort of camera lens could. For a full five minutes they glow in the sky like heavenly mother of pearl.

'The Font' thinks the air in the stratosphere must be really cold for the clouds to be visible like this. I'm guessing we're talking a multiple of polar cold at those altitudes. As we watch three large aircraft heading towards  Paris or Frankfurt weave their vapour trails in the sky. It's not often you see aircraft heading south. They've probably been diverted due to turbulence over Iceland or Ireland.

We walk back from the beach to the car cutting up the street with a cluster of Bed and breakfasts . These are popular with golfers on a budget. Many are closed but others have their lights glowing and garlands festooning their front doors. 

Slowly but surely these small hotels are being replaced by large 'golfer friendly' rental homes that go for £5k or £6k a week. Maybe double that in summer. That pretty much guarantees a healthy yield after costs . It may also explain why the family owned properties are being replaced by AirBnB's. With a weekly rental all you need is a ( charged for ) deep clean in between tenants.

One of those men with a clerical voice straight out of central casting  on the car radio this morning. I think he might have been the Archbishop of Canterbury. He's talking about one of the oldest English carols ( and a song that was considered racy by the Pilgrim Fathers ). The Archbishop  ( or whoever it was ) reminds us a  baby born in a stables can change the world. This, he says,  is the truly earth shattering  thing about Christmas. He also thinks the verse of the carol " Fear not  said he for mighty dread  had seized their troubled mind. Glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind " could have been written for our times  :

And here's the full story of the Longfellow poem from last week :

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas Eve


The local hotels don't seem to be attracting the expected pre-Christmas rush of guests . In fact, with the exception of ever more Chinese visitors, the place remains resolutely quiet . Perhaps there will be a sudden rush of incomers today ?  They will be needed to fill all the Christmas Eve gala dinners being advertised by the 5 star palaces that overlook the Old Course.

We ventured to the supermarket yesterday. It was Bedlam. The car park , which is never full, was packed solid by the eight am opening time. Today will be a day of walks before the village carol service this evening. This will be followed by mince pies, a recital, and 'refreshments' in the village hall. This can all be seen as a dry run for next weeks all important Hogmanay celebrations. All the village dogs will be in attendance so it will be an 'informal' affair.

Christmas Eve music. You can't get much grander than this :

And here's a Christmas poem celebrating its 200th anniversary :

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Christmas song #17 and a light maze.

With the turkey and lobster delivered we have time to think about winter solstice celebrations. In town there's a light maze which advertises itself with the jaunty  line ' Walk a patch of light on the longest night '. Who could resist ? Old traditions run deep here. 


The Christmas rush hasn't started yet although I'm betting the hotels will soon begin filling up with Edinburgh and London families wanting to get away for the long weekend. What better place to spend Christmas than a town with a long safe beach where toddlers can exhaust themselves and bars aplenty where father can stop off for a restorative tipple while walking the dog ?  Yesterday 'The Font' discovered that the supermarket was pure bedlam with folks doing last minute shopping. The aisles around the fresh flower counter were particularly wild . I'm told the shelf stripping determination of the customers was akin to the manic scenes you see in B list movies when zombies appear in the parking lot. 

We thought the light maze might be a forest of burning torches. Instead it's a sea of fairy lights set into the ground. Young families love it as do a group of ladies in fluffy woolen hats who are walking backwards and forwards chanting. We might have found it more ethereal if it hadn't been for a biting easterly wind rolling in straight from the sea.

By the time we've wandered the maze and headed back towards the car  the town has become even quieter.

To avoid hypothermia we stop off at a bar and sit at a table outside under a well placed electric heater. There's time for us to have a drink and take in the decorations on the main shopping street . We'd expected the wine by the glass to be dire but the white is drinkable and the red the acceptable side of  'cheeky'.  The local roofing firm is having a Christmas party for its staff in Nandos. Half an hour later the plumbers staff also start to show up for their annual bash. Nandos is going to be humming. We now know all these people by name having used their services on not one  but two houses. There is much shaking of hands and the polite trilling of  'Have a Merry Christmas' . 

After all this excitement we would make a night of it and  go to the cinema but the offerings seem to be targeted at a pre-teen audience. 

Christmas music #17. Dame Kiri had a most remarkable voice . Quite possibly one of the top 3 Christmas  recordings ever :

Intriguing that Utah and Montana should be top in social mobility :

Cheating on Wordle :

Friday, December 22, 2023

Christmas music #16

The final preparations for Christmas. Today we're expecting the farmers brother to deliver the Turkey and the fisherman to drop off the promised lobster and langoustines. 'The Fonts' desk top and laptop both gave up the ghost earlier in the week ( what are the chances of that ?)  A replacement desk top got here in 18 hours and the laptop in 24. That's pretty miraculous service at this time of the year. Today is also the day when the postman and the dustbin men get their Christmas boxes. We're not sure if this is still a Scottish tradition but we're old fashioned enough to stick with it. Anyone who's willing to come along our unpaved road in the winter is worth thanking. On our way out of the door we meet the farmers wife heading down to the shore.  'Puppy' was due at the vets today for 'that' operation. The vets down with a bad bout of Covid so the procedure has had to be postponed until after the New Year. Our young cleaning lady also has Covid so we're hoping this is just one of those pre-holiday 'blips'.

This is the third day in a row when Chinese visitors can be seen around the tourist sights. Perhaps the town has been featured on TikTok ? What else can explain the large number of Mandarin speakers wandering around at the crack of December ? There again in this pre-Christmas lull even a couple of bus loads of tourists stands out.

Down by the harbour a group of a dozen Chinese ladies are watching a black Labrador playing with his frisbee on the beach. The ladies are all wearing identical clear plastic rain wear even though its not raining. This is not as odd as it sounds as wind is  blowing at a robust 70 miles per hour. The Chinese ladies seem unperturbed by the weather and clap every time the Labrador retrieves the frisbee. if I didn't know better I'd say the dog was showing off for his enthusiastic audience. 

At the pier the yellow mechanical digger is piling large pieces of stone into the gap created by the October storms. One man operates the digger. Two men watch him. This is an oversight to work ratio that seems to apply to all public works projects. It was as true in France and Italy as it is here. 

Christmas almost upon us. We pick up Brussel Spouts from the farm shop. 'Picked this very morning' says the lady behind the counter. The use of the word 'very ' in the sentence is strangely archaic.

We also pick up a couple of boxes of Clementines. Neither of us is that keen on Clementines but they are an integral part of a Scottish Christmas. Amid the darkness of the shortest day they're a reminder of sunshine and warmth.

Sung as it should be sung. Christmas music #17 from Germany :

If I understand this correctly AI is pushing the boundaries of research into new or replacement antibiotics . Even if its only a first step that would be huge in addressing antibiotic resistance :

How long do chocolates last on a hospital ward ? :

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The Earl and Christmas music #15.


We go to a fancy drinks party. We know its fancy because the invite says ' lounge suit '. What a very Edwardian term. Angus doesn't want to go but he's told he has to enter into the spirit of the season.  'You don't want to appear standoffish'. Angus would quite happily settle for being standoffish rather than go driving out into the country on a dark winters night.  A discussion ensues as to whether 'lounge suit' means wearing a neck tie. In London ties have all but disappeared but these are more conservative parts. A tie is chosen. The venue is a rambling tower house located in a remote spot accessed by heavily potholed single track roads. Street lighting is lacking. At the front door a tall middle aged man in a white shirt and multi-coloured bow tie glumly offers me a glass of champagne. He's presumably the party organizer . While waiting for 'The Font' I make polite small talk along the lines of 'This must be your busiest time of the year ' . "No. Not really " he replies. After a few more inconsequential exchanges about the weather, the distance of the car park from the house and a generic ' Will you be going home for Christmas ?' the man in the bow tie disappears. When 'The Font' arrives I discover I've been talking to our host - one of Scotlands wealthiest Earls . 'The conversation doesn't sound as though it was too taxing' says 'The Font' delphically.

There are plates of boiled potatoes and sliced meats for guests to nibble on. This is interesting but impractical finger food.

A calm morning down on the waters edge. The lobster fishermen were out in force yesterday. All their boats were plying the waters by the deep rock pools offshore. We're now expecting our lobsters to be dropped off sometime tomorrow. The local farmers brother will also deliver a turkey.

Work on the repairs to the pier continue ... slowly. More fencing has gone up. The yellow mechanical digger reappears.

Malteaser cake alongside Coffee and Walnut in the window of the Kate meets William cafe. Despite the unearthly hour there's already a group of Chinese tourists waiting for breakfast. Angus rather likes the sound of Malteaser cake. Perhaps there will be detour here later in the day ? Why there should be so many Chinese tourists in town is a seasonal mystery. What sort of tour operator would bring visitors to Scotland in December ? How do they manage to get here while it's still dark? 

And something modern and seasonal from Brazil. Not quite sure what's going on here but there's lots of activity, an enthusiastic choir, a hyper active angel , grannies with i-Phones and a very attentive Joseph. The sudden appearance of the baby is indeed miraculous. What's not to like ? :

Claremonts review of the best books of the year ;

This is, apparently, quite brilliant :