Sunday, April 21, 2024

The calm before the storm .


Saturday. Our usual postman is away in Dominica with his girlfriend. The stand in delivers four magazines. The New Yorker, The LRB, The NYRB and The Economist. Seems magazines are like buses - they all show up at once. It's the St Andrews film festival. 'The Font' goes into town for the first showing of a movie about an island. It turns out to be about the death of a fisherman on a Sabbath observing island ... on the Sabbath. This I'm told, on 'The Fonts' return , was 'very interesting'. 'The Font' doesn't stay for the question and answer session afterwards on Hebridean rites of death and passage. Tickets are bought for  the screening of a Latvian Soviet realist cartoon about a man and his dog . It remains to be seen whether this will appear as interesting when the screening date rolls around.

Left alone I pick up the New Yorker. The New Yorker comes, without fail, once a week. I usually glance at the cover and put it in the soon to be forgotten ' read later' pile. Why we subscribe , and have done so for years and years , is something of a mystery. Somehow, the magazine has survived  unchallenged the annual ' Do you read it ? I don't ' culling of subscriptions. 

The magazine falls open at an article on flying cars. This is not a subject that figures on the list of things I wish I knew more about but the language is  welcoming and the technical details are addressed with a 'who'd have believed it ?' openness that brings you along rather than shuts you out. The inventor of this particular make of flying car is described as 'tall, restless and rangy'. He says 'there are two things that will put us out of business - running out of money and killing people in our planes'. Guess he's right on that.

Back here in town things are quiet. Exams start tomorrow morning so there's a calm before the storm feel to the place. We pass intent looking 21 year olds doing last minute revision at the tables outside Starbucks.  Biochemists and Applied Mathematicians are scheduled to be the first exam takers and the first to spin the wheel in the grand lottery of life. At least they'll get things over and done with quickly. Pity the poor social anthropologists who have to wait until mid May to be tested. An exceedingly pretty young lady stops and gives a serious young man an affectionate kiss. She wishes him well.  I'm guessing he ( and she ) have spent some time at university studying  'ancilliary ' subjects. " You'll be fine " she says as they part. We opted to settle down in a university town to keep us young. It's certainly kept us chuckling. We can afford to be cheerful - our exam taking days are a distant memory.

Bees again :

Saturday, April 20, 2024

A 9/10 croissant .

Some 'red squirrel' wall art in a Glasgow car park.

A quick Google search shows there are a total of 185,000 students in Glasgow. This number seems improbably high so I check it again. Having three major universities goes a long way to explaining why the town is full of bars and eateries.

The students  seem to be getting up at about the same time as we're thinking of heading home for the night.

After some half hearted overnight drizzle the new day dawns sunny and warm. Glasgow has some of the worlds  best Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Much has been torn down but enough grandeur survives to give a hint of what the place was like when it was known as ' the second city ' of empire.

The coffee bar to the side of Queen Street Station  has an electronic departure board  inside. We allow ourselves three minutes to get from table to train ( although you could do it in under a minute ) .  The cafe  also serves good coffee and makes a croissant that could almost be French in its quality. At seven am we are the first and only customers but shall return again to savour the croissants. They get a 9/10.

The train back from Glasgow is on time and comfortable. As our train  arrives in Dundee the connecting express to Leuchars glides in on the adjacent platform. You couldn't time it better if you tried. The journey takes exactly two hours door to door . The next time we go we'll stay in the Dakota and try to get a table at The Gannet.

Back here on the coast the sun is out and the wind is almost, but not quite, balmy. We speak to Cabbages owner. She hasn't , despite her families 'it'll be good for you' prompting,  got round to accepting that a move into a home would be a good idea. We'll stay in touch. Some decisions shouldn't be rushed. We, and Cabbage, can wait.

This clip is remarkable for the fact that the actors who play the audience don't laugh once :

Friday, April 19, 2024

Dinner in Glasgow.


In the car park at the local station a van belonging to a company that does outdoor adventures. Angus is interested to see that axe throwing is one of the options.

Including a change in Dundee it takes exactly two hours, door to door, to get to Glasgow by train . We stay in a hotel a three minute walk from the station.

The hotel has many design features but not ones that have necessarily been fully  thought through. Putting the bath in a ground floor window is one of them.  The bedroom walls are painted a very dark grey. This Venice Beach feature works in sunny climes. It works less well in northerly latitudes where the layered clouds block out the light.

In the lobby of a nearby ( and very trendy hotel ) a dog sculpture that elicits an ' We need one of these ' from both of us. When we're next in Glasgow we shall stay here.

We've come to try out an Indian restaurant. 'The Font' chooses wisely and is impressed . Angus orders at random and thinks the food is on the right side of 'good'.

Glasgow is a town of large , now redundant, office buildings. These are being converted into retail/residential use. As a consequence property rental prices are extremely competitive. In the restaurant we're visiting there's a huge amount of space between the tables. In Edinburgh they'd be cramming them in to cover their costs.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Dignified .

 Sunrise seen from the garden 'cabin'. The larks are out in force this morning.

Judging from the number of sheep asleep in the cauliflower fields we can assume that they now feel completely at home here.

A few 'wild things' in the herd have found  a gap in the stone wall and are heading off to the shore. There may be seaweed for breakfast.

In town a brief shower sends us running to the shelter of  the cloisters where we get caught up with the university mace bearers emerging from the chapel. The university great and the good follow on behind. Deans and vice-principals and professors in all their grandeur.

One of the mace bearers tells us there's been a service of 'gratitude' for the families of those who have gifted their bodies to the medical school.

Attendance is presumably 'recommended' for the Med students but their numbers are so great hundreds of them have had to watch the service streamed live into a lecture hall. Some students wear suits and black ties, others wear gowns, some wear both. Each of the bereaved families is escorted across the Quad by a soon to be graduate. A chance to tell them again how important this decision was. We are struck by the dignified gentility of the occasion. You'd expect the university to do this sort of thing well but what stands out is the response of the students.  What twenty year old wears a tie on a weekday morning or would break off from revision to attend a memorial service ? We are again left with the ever growing  belief that  coming generations will handle the world with greater kindness than ours has managed.

As we head off two groups of teenagers on an 'acclimatization' trip appear outside the lecture halls. Probably a hundred or so in total. They're heading off to hear a talk on ' A day in the life of a St Andrews student '. I wonder what they make of the scene in front of them?

This evening we plan to take the train over to Glasgow to try out a new Indian restaurant. I'm not sure about the hotel we're staying in . It has a line on its website informing us that " Calls to the front desk will be charged at 14 p per minute. Calls from mobile phones may be more expensive ".  I presume this is to make you book on line although the logic behind this seems self defeating.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024


The farmer tells us that what we thought were Siskins are actually Yellowhammers. These are much rarer and are on the 'red' endangered list. The High Court judge , who has heard about their arrival , wanders down the track with his labrador to see if he can catch a glimpse of them. He brings with him the sad news that Squirrelpox has now appeared north of the Central Lowlands: . The first confirmed victim has been reported in Dunfermline - thirty miles away. This does not auger well for our local red squirrel population. 

The sunshine has brought  out the students. They sit outside the coffee shops enjoying the warmth and sun bathing to top up on vitamin D levels after the long winter. A slow but steady stream head off to the library for the early am pre-exam opening.

The four American golfers we saw yesterday are also up and about.  They're in town looking to find somewhere for breakfast. Let's hope they've moved their rental car from its pay by the hour parking spot. Ryland continues to lead the way.

This morning Angus accompanies 'The Font' to the farm shop where he finds they have caviar flavoured crisps. Is there anything else as decadent ?

They also have 'fresh' chocolates. This terminology could be a variety of interpretations but Angus takes  it to mean that they should be bought and eaten asap. 'The Font' prosaically points out that all chocolates are, at some stage in their lives, 'fresh'. Each packet has a hand written use by date on it. How artisanal is that ? 2 packets are purchased.

The sheep are firmly established in the cauliflower field. They seem very content with their sea view and ample supply of cauliflower stalks.

22% say they go to church but only 5% do :

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Sprucing up.

The garden busy with new arrivals pausing on their way north. Two Siskins on the bird feeder this morning. They look exotic out here on this northerly peninsula. The chaffinches have had a good year for breeding. 'The Font' counts 23 of them on the lawn in the warmth of the sun. They're certainly more numerous than the greenfinches and goldfinches who seem to have struggled in the damp conditions.

Dog walkers already out and about in the village. It's getting light at a little after five and family companions are keen to get their day started. Give it another three or four weeks and, for all intents and purposes, it won't get dark. The farmer is already hard at work planting potatoes. Worm hunting seagulls and crows wheel around his tractor. Nothing like a bit of deep ploughing to bring out the choicest worms.

A different kind of visitor in the field at the end of the track . Fifty sheep making short work of the cauliflowers. They seem completely unperturbed by our arrival. Can there be anything in nature as happy as a sheep in a cauliflower field ? They shred the green leaves with an efficiency matched only by their enthusiasm.

A few of the more adventurous members of the flock have wandered off and are eating the reeds down by the fish pond. A heron watches them warily.

In readiness for the arrival of the summer visitors the expensive golfing stores facing the 18th green  have redone their window displays. The mannequins have large labels saying 'New Seasons Fashions '. To an untrained eye the fashions don't seem to have changed since the 1950's. Pastel Polo shirts are still the thing in golfing circles. 

Local golfers the first to tee off this morning. You know the locals by the fact they wear bobble hats. Foreign visitors sport baseball caps which are not as warm and are prone to blowing off in the coastal gusts. The locals also have a more relaxed 'mix and match' approach to fairway fashion than foreign visitors who tend to be colour coordinated.

The Ladies Golf Union have new  faux lead garden troughs in their front garden. A sign that at this end of town there is a general pre-summer sprucing up going on. Quarter of a mile down the road things are quieter in Quad although the library a block away is already busy. Exams that once seemed so distant start next week. 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Ryland knows the way.

We've now finished watching Ripley on Netflix ( the cast devoid of emotion but the black and white screen shots sumptuous in a 1980's Chanel 5 advert sort of way ). There's nothing else that piques our interest so we go to the cinema where there's a choice between a demonic nun movie, something to do with super heroes and 'Civil War'. The few students queueing for ice creams seem keen on the demonic nun option . We show our age and opt for 'Civil War' as being more palatable than a night in a haunted house with a vampiric wimple wearer or a group of folks in leotards battllng alien monsters. Our seats are upstairs but we're directed downstairs due to a leak in the balcony ceiling. "It's the wet weather we've been having "says the lady at the ticket counter as if rain is something unusual in these parts. The place smells slightly damp. Tiger Woods and Justin Timberlake can't start updating the place soon enough as far as we're concerned. Sunday evening ahead of exams is clearly not peak cinema going time. We reckon there are twelve customers - in total. At £9 per ticket that's not going to cover the staffs wages. 

Be warned - the soundtrack to 'Civil War' is very loud - as in very loud.

Monday morning. A group of four American golfers have parked outside the Medieval History department. They're talking loudly and we can hear them from the other side of the road. I'm guessing they've flown in overnight,  hired a Mercedes at the airport and driven up. The Mercedes is smaller than they thought it would be and extracting themselves, their clubs and their baggage - while dealing with jet lag -  is not a simple process. Having the steering wheel on the wrong side doesn't help. They get in each others way. The alpha male amongst them is called Ryland. He claims to have been to St Andrews before but his ' I know the way to the club house. Follow me ! ' would be more convincing if he was heading towards the golf course rather than away from it. Ryland is also of the opinion that as it's an electric vehicle you don't need to pay for parking. He's in for a surprise. We both wonder if Ryland is a popular name in America.

The good little Italian coffee shop closed at this time of the morning. We go to Starbucks instead. It's warm enough to sit outside without having to wear a hat and quilted jacket .

I make a note of a lecture on Thursday evening.

The gutters on a  house down by the harbour are alive with noisy sparrows and gulls.

Back at the parking lot we find a well behaved dog sitting watching his mistress feed breakfast to a set of lively two year old twins. The tailgate of their car is up and they're sitting in a line swinging their legs and watching the oyster catchers. The twins are messy and enthusiastic eaters. What doesn't go in their mouths is picked up off the grass by the dog. The dog seems to think this is a pretty good deal. When breakfast is finished the twins, mother and family pooch go for a stroll along the waters edge. The twins are attracted to the water like moths to a flame. I'd reckon mother will be frazzled by noon.

So starts a Monday morning when the sun, is at last, making its presence known.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Tableau vivant.

The first pair of sand martins appear in the garden. The swallows and swifts can't be far behind.  Summer is on the way. The hares watch us as we follow the farm track down to the shore. The hares think they're invisible but their ears stick out above the top of the long grass. This makes us chuckle. Having been up since three talking  to  the Los Angeleans  and Manhattanites about the drone attack on Israels Nevatim airbase a good chuckle is welcome. 

The students annual historical pageant in town. A couple of hundred people standing in front of the chapel watching horses and carriages getting ready to re-enact 'moments' from Scotlands history. 

There's a wee bit of a mix up with the traffic management and a woman in a black Honda SUV finds herself face to face with a mounted Robert the Bruce. Amid much grumbling ( and some decidedly unlady like expletives ) she does a five point turn and is escorted back through the bollards that have closed off the street. ' Ye should have put them where I could see them ' she tells one of the stewards . This comment raises more questions than it answers. As she goes she lowers her window and gestures impolitely to no one in particular. Robert the Bruce remains stoically silent although the horse chooses this very moment to generate some manure for the university flower beds.

Finally things get under way. Anywhere else the streets would be lined three or four deep with tourists watching this quaint annual ritual. Here it's a decidedly low key affair. April in Scotland is not going to attract the casual visitor. American golfers who venture away from the Old Course are delighted. This is the tartan and history draped Brigadoon country of CNN travel programmes.

The procession is a lengthy one. It takes a full twenty minutes for everyone to pass by. Some of the students stop and have a wee blether with the householders who have come out onto their doorsteps to watch proceedings. The organizers try to chivvy everyone along to stop the procession 'bunching'. They are not entirely successful.

Just as the tail end of the parade passes by the skies open. A red weather cell unloads a concentrated deluge on top of us. It lasts for only four minutes but it scatters the onlookers and drenches the participants.

The youngsters don't seem to be put off by the weather although St.Andrew ( who is barefoot and wearing sack cloth ) looks as though he might have drawn the short straw.

We watch Benjamin Franklin wander by. An American student is carrying a flag with 13 stripes and the Union flag in the corner. Did the 13 colonies have a common flag before the late unpleasantness ? After Culloden many of the Highland rebels were shipped off in chains to the American colonies to get them far away. A generation or so later the children of these rebels proved to be some of the most fervent revolutionaries. A reminder that then , as now, actions have surprising second order consequences.

Mary Queen of Scots asks us if we're enjoying ourselves. 

Choirs sing and we have simple , old fashioned, fun.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Green at the gills.


It rains ( heavily ) overnight but the morning dawns bright and fair. Just the sort of weather that is needed for the plants in the garden. Eight deer are eyeing the new hedge of flowering currants that has been planted to screen the oil tank but they scamper away as we set off down to the shore. On either side of us pheasants, partridge and quail explode out of the long grass. It still comes as a surprise that we are seven minutes from town and yet live in a spot that is so calm and unspoilt. The local wildlife seems to see humans as more of an irritant than a threat. 

The Kitchen Store has a special on butter knives. A pack of 4 for £17.95. I'm not sure we have any butter knives and I can't think of any situation in which we might use 4. 'The Font' thinks that there may be some inherited from a Swedish forbear somewhere in the garage. Neither of us feels sufficiently inspired to go down and look. Perhaps Millennials are becoming more formal in their eating habits ?

The cheese shop already open and busy.

A pop up souvenir shop is ready for the summer influx of visitors and school parties. Highland cattle and ginger bearded men with bagpipes seem to be this years ' must have ' items.

The fancy breakfast place is already filling up with golfers. A large group of Dublin lawyers make Irish accents very audible this morning. They have that enforced enthusiasm of men who wish they'd not had that last drink at one in the morning.

Back at the 'Last wee house before Denmark' the heather in the courtyard is attracting an army of bumble bees. 'The Font' who has been on a bee and butterfly conservation course at the Botanical Gardens ( £15 and bring your own packed lunch ) informs me that Scotland has more than 30 varieties of bumble bee. They survive the cold northerly winters by 'squatting' in field mouse burrows. From the number of people who attended the course it can safely be said that St Andrews is a town that takes the well being of its bees very seriously.

Saturday morning radio music :

This has been getting rave reviews. Even the weekend FT ( which isn't big on Scottish culture ) praises it to high heaven. We have booked tickets for its arrival here in two weeks time :

Cheerful evolutionary biology :

The hidden third :