Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Why ?


Great excitement ( by local standards ) over the resignation of Scotlands First Minister. The BBC news broadcast refers to the small pro-independence Alba Party ( which has played a walk on part in his downfall ) as the Al-a-buh Party. This unusual three syllable pronunciation  has got agitated retirees up and down the country firing off e-mails of complaint.  This morning we discover that the BBC is right. Some Celtic languages feature what is known as an epenthetic vowel which is the insertion of a vowel between two consonants in speech when it is not written. That's how the Irish name Colm is pronounced Collum,  why the Scots say 'fillum' for film and why you pronounce Alba as Al-a-buh.

On the beach hundreds, possibly thousands of these things littering the sand. We have no idea what they are but think they're either a variety of seaweed or exoskeletons for some sort of mollusc.

The exodus from town has picked up. Far fewer students to be seen. By this time next week 10,000 will have gone leaving the 16,000 townsfolk to wonder what's happened. On one of the small streets we have to detour round a bright yellow sofa that's going into storage. Brown cardboard boxes are stacked up outside front doors.

The storage vans now a feature of the townscape. In our day such things didn't exist. At the end of every every term ( as they were in pre-semester days ) you packed up your things and went home. One learnt to travel 'minimally'. Looking back I'm reminded this was a skill set 'The Font' never acquired. 

It is now seagull mating season. As we drink our morning espressos we can count no less than twelve of them doing ungodly things on the roof of the church. Mating seagulls are not noted for their reserve.

Bemusing sight of the day . A car with a lock on the door. Why ?

Monday, April 29, 2024

Precautionary foresight.


The sun is out and the sky is blue. It's also the final week of exams so at least a third of the towns  population won't be enjoying the glorious weather. Three deer stand and watch us walk along the farm track to the shore. It's taken a year and a a half but they seem to have understood that we're harmless and well meaning neighbours. What is even more of  a surprise is that the barley that was sown ten days ago is starting to sprout. The fields already covered in a light stubble of green. The sun is turbocharging growth.

'The Scores ' is St Andrews best address and Scotlands most expensive street. A developer has bought a ramshackle old hotel at the 'unfashionable' end and is turning it into six 'luxury' apartments. The demand from Americans who want to spend four or five months here as their European bolt hole remains strong. The roof is now off and a metal brace has been constructed to hold the walls in place. The streets other residents won't be at all happy with the noise and the dust. Not happy at all. A man in a British racing green coloured Bentley mutters under his breath as he has to navigate past a fork lift truck that the builders have unhelpfully left parked on the street corner. The Bentley carries its distinction well. It has none of the ostentatious vulgarity of a Rolls Royce.

There's going to be a funeral at the little Episcopal church near the castle. The vicar scurries into the vestry and emerges with half a dozen traffic cones. The sun brings out the day trippers who have  a habit of parking where they shouldn't. The vicar has learnt that when it comes to hearses and parking a little precautionary foresight goes a long way.

The cafe owner stops for a wee chat. The Scottish government is facing a vote of no confidence and there are rumours that the First Minister will resign rather than face the ignomy of losing the vote. The cafe owner has found a farmer that grows exotic tomatoes. She gives us a small punnet.

The poor woman at the hardware store has the Sisyphean task of dealing with the pink plastic garden buckets. She drags them out every morning and drags them back in every night. They never seem to sell. However, they do bring a rather jaunty Parisian feel to an otherwise dull street corner.

Another quiet morning when it would seem that nothing is happening but look more closely and the wee town is enjoying the sunshine and springing into life.

Next generation home care ? It can also mix a cool Martini  :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AePEcHIIk9s

Not sure whether this is good or bad view of St Andrews :https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/a10274881/st-andrews-scotland/

Bizarre fact of the day :https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00148-024-00989-x

Sunday, April 28, 2024

One for the raven.


' One for the raven, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow'. The farmer uses this old truism to  calculate how much seed to sow. Three quarters of what he puts down is either eaten by the birds or blown away by the gales. This morning there must be the better part of two hundred crows happily hoovering up what he planted yesterday.

The exodus of students - or at least those who've already finished their exams - starting in earnest.  It's barely six and a team from the storage company are already collecting boxes from the student flats down by the cathedral. One more week of exams and then the academic year is over. By this time next week the storage people will be working 24/7. This is also the start of the ' I'll phone you every day' season when the restaurants are full of soon to be separated young couples having 'serious' conversations.  A residue of party goers will stay on until mid-May. They are the heavy partying ' I'd love to come home but I really must finish my course work ' crowd.

It's now peak cherry blossom time. Yesterday, a large cruise ship docked in Dundee. Many of the passengers  opted for a shore excursion to the home of golf.  They wandered round the place not quite sure what they were seeing while wishing they'd dressed more warmly. At least the cherry blossom was out to give them a show.

This morning we aren't sure whether the students sprawled on the lawn outside the medical buildings are super early risers or super late clubbers returning home. We'd put money on the latter. A group of lads are playing a game of football on the roped off grass . Every time one of them scores there's a roar that can be heard a mile away. Their enthusiasm makes us chuckle.

Hats off to the university gardeners. The flower beds hitting just the right note at just the right time. The exam takers are probably too busy to notice the  colourful displays all around them.

By the beach a  very tasteful wreath has been placed on the Martys Monument. Orange roses and bluebells. Five hundred years on and old traditions and memories are still - quietly - remembered.

So starts a Sunday morning in a sunny little university town. Things don't appear to be this quiet at US schools. Even my old stomping ground at Emory ( which always seemed rather calm and genteel ) seems to be in the news today - https://twitter.com/RobertMackey/status/1783684235938894086

Here is a very Irish video. Some of the locals accents are similar to Hebridean ones :https://twitter.com/colmflynnire/status/1784276181715456486

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Audience participation.


Friday night. We head off to the theatre to see a Scottish comedian doing a monologue on 'My life with David Bowie'. https://byretheatre.com/shows/jack-docherty-in-david-bowie-and-me-parallel-lives/ This appeals to a wider theatre going demographic  than is usual. Ten minutes before curtain up the place is packed and the queue for the bar zigzags through the foyer and back out towards the courtyard. There is an element of audience 'participation ' to the performance. This highlights the fact that most Scots, but not all, are extremely undemonstrative. Those that aren't can hold their own anywhere.

After the performance we head quickly to the towns one and indeed only cocktail bar for a night cap. The cocktail bar has recently had a makeover. At nine thirty the place is quiet apart from four lads who are determined to forget next weeks chemistry and physics papers. From the rapidity of their ordering it would appear that nothing - and certainly not a lack of revision - is going to stop them enjoying their Friday night. Most of the students won't start appearing until ten thirty or eleven but we have now reached an age where our idea of eleven pm excitement is a cup of Bovril. The cocktail bars makeover has given it a sort of primary coloured stridency. 'The Font' observes that there is ivy growing out of the air conditioning outlets above us. This is presumably intentional. We agree that blue and orange is a 'bold' choice of colour scheme.

Saturday - again - dawns bright and fair. Puppy - who hasn't been seen for a day or two due to a cut in her paw - appears at  the door at first light. She chases off the pigeons who are already hard at work eating what's left of the grass seed that's been put down by the gardeners.

We're in town early. The farm shop is now selling Scottish strawberries which ( although being forced along in a polytunnel) prove to be delicious. We have to get to the shop before they sell out.

Strawberries safely in the back of the car we head off for a long walk on the beach. This morning its completely deserted. Not even the dog owners are out and about yet.

The Gospel Hall is a strange hold out from a previous world. Sometimes a lady in a tweed skirt can be seen standing outside handing out edifying tracts. The last time I came this way she was standing outside and asking passing students if they were  washed in the blood of the lamb. 

A rather jaunty outfit in the kilt makers by the Italian coffee shop. There are at least four kilt makers in town which suggests  that there is a sustainable business model based on selling Highland outfits to visiting golfers. 

Friday, April 26, 2024



The retired farmer who lives in the cottage at the crossroads wanders by to give us his opinion on our recent garden makeover. We've had rowans planted. He approves both of the rowans and the fact they've been well staked up. They've come from a local nursery so ' They'll nae have any problem wi' the wind '. The old fellow has got problems with  his lungs. He's had a wheeze that he can't shake off  and is going for a scan at the large hospital in Dundee To begin with he thought it was the '100 day cold' but now the doctors are rethinking the diagnosis . His daughter caught Covid in Italy at the start of the outbreak in early 2020. That early form of the pandemic was - in his view -  more potent than any of the variants that followed and the cause of his wheeze.  He joins us as we walk down to the shore. Seems that what we thought was an old cow byre is in fact the remains of a life boat station built after a ship ran aground on the rocks in the 1850's with the loss of all on board. 

A burst of cherry blossom adding a touch of colour to one of one of the old buildings down by the cathedral. How many golfers come to town and leave again without discovering there's more to the place than the Old Course ? This morning we seem to have the streets to ourselves. I stop for a wee chat with the man who sleeps in the optometrists shop doorway. He's an old soldier who spends much of his day deep in animated conversation with himself.  This morning he seems cheerful enough and tells me he's just fine. He heads off to Greggs  for a coffee and a bacon roll. 

A quick detour into chapel. There's usually one of the organ scholars busy rehearsing for a concert or the Sunday service. 

We warm up and enjoy the music. For a moment or two the altar is dappled with the sun streaming through the stained glass windows. As we leave a group of a dozen youngsters run by , clearing their heads before heading off to the exam halls.

On our way home we pass some students wheeling one of the carriages from the procession back to the barn where it will remain safely in storage until next year. The days are getting longer now . Much longer. Soon we'll be at the time of year when there's never ending light.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Lifes attributes,


A beautiful morning. Blue skies have got the students out. The grass on the Quad already filling up with early risers sipping their pre-exam Americanos. The grass is roped off in a half hearted attempt to keep people off it. GLWT !

Give it an hour or two and the pavement bars will be overflowing with youngsters either celebrating the end of exams or doing their best to forget what lies ahead. When you're nineteen there's a lot of lessons to be learnt about mastering the balance between confidence and self doubt. Those that choose not to be politicians will manage just fine.

A very large seagull eyes the al fresco breakfast crowd at the bar near the kirk. The gulls are in nest building mode. Give it a month and the sound of hungry chicks will be interrupting the town folks sleep patterns. Another four months and it will be two full years since we left France. Perhaps the biggest lesson in life the students have yet to understand is that time speeds by the older you get.

Angus buys some grouting. He's surprised to find a 330g tube costs £8.99. How can something so mundane be so expensive ?  This thought reminds me that my transition into my father is now complete. 

Outside the hardware store a variety of plastic animals ( hedgehogs, puppies and rabbits ) have been set out on a garden bench. They mutely seem to be enjoying the sun. An array of bright pink and purple buckets make a startling street art installation.

A variety of motorized wheelchairs attract the attention of the coffee drinkers at the cafe on the beach.

So begins an almost summery day in a small town where a lot is happening very quietly.

The door is open in chapel and the choir are singing these words by Dylan Thomas. I'd not heard the piece before. It is apparently from Under Milk Wood  and manages to be both charming and humorous :https://youtu.be/49znUV3fSCM

Culture clash :https://restofworld.org/2024/tsmc-arizona-expansion/

Our egg timer has never had this problem :https://www.sciencealert.com/physicists-can-finally-explain-how-sand-in-an-hourglass-can-suddenly-stop-flowing

Oh dear. Not what chocolate lovers want to hear  :https://www.uta.edu/news/world-chocolate-supply-threatened-by-devastating-virus

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Buying coffee as theatre

Now exams are underway the rain has stopped and the weather is on the bright and sunny side. The temperatures are forecast to get into double digits today and may reach 13 degrees on Friday.

Down on the beach someone has built a 'fort' out of stones and old tree trunks. It must have taken hours to collect the stones, build the walls and balance the beams. I shall ask the farmers wife who was responsible although our betting is that the 'New Age' couple from Hampshire with their three children are behind it. They're renting a cottage in the village while she does a post grad degree. He spends a lot of time on the beach with the children. 

'Puppy' finds us. She forgives us for the fact that we set off on our walk without her.

In town we see the first storage van collecting students belongings. What a brilliant business idea - buy a warehouse, get students to pack their belongings in cardboard boxes, collect them, store them and charge a fortune for doing so. Do the same in reverse come September. 

Some lucky souls have finished their exams and are heading home. May, June, July, August and half of September aren't bad as a summer vacation. Italian tourists have started to arrive. They're dressed as if going to the Arctic. They sport the European hats, boots, scarves and padded jackets look.  Eight of them are standing outside the coffee shop discussing their order. They're doing this in what can best be described as a 'animated' manner. No sooner has the order been placed - six espressos and two Americanos -  than one of them decides she wants a cup of tea. This change causes the others to gesticulate and embark on a fresh bout of arm waving. When her drink does arrive it has a tea bag in it. We watch in silent amazement as she attempts to scoop it out - first with her fingers, then with a pen and finally with her sunglasses - and then find somewhere to put it. New levels of theatricality arise when it's discovered the tea bag is hot. 

Two American girls in trouser suits at a neighbouring table discuss their summer plans. One of them is unsure whether or not it's a good idea to invite 'Humphrey' to their lake house. 'Humphrey' is her English boyfriend and she's not entirely sure her father is ready to meet him - or indeed any - boyfriend. The mothers likely reaction is not discussed so is presumably a non-issue.  'Humphrey', we agree,  is the sort of old fashioned male name that you're more likely find in a town like this. 

The benches on the shopping street already occupied by local pensioners enjoying the twin miracle of warmth and sunshine.

So starts a quiet Wednesday morning in a small town coming alive as summer nears.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Enforced jolliness.

The local farmers are up early. By the time we set foot out of the front door there are four tractors working away in  the fields down by the sea. With their red wheel rims and blue metal work they look quite jolly. The six month wet spell seems , finally, to be ending with the sodden ground finally being dried out by the wind. The football pitch sized lake outside 'The Fonts' cabin has all but disappeared.  All of the local farmers seed potatoes used to go to Ireland but thanks to Brexit the Irish can no longer source them from outside the EU. Now the local potatoes all go to the big processing plant in Dundee where they're turned into crisps. The Irish consume 94 kilos of potatoes per head but this year, in the absence of Scottish imports,  they may face a potato shortage. Brexit is the idiocy that keeps on giving.

A long chat with the super smart Los Angelinos. It's 9 pm LA time which is late for them and at 5 am early for me. We talk about Ukraine, Marjorie Taylor Green ( remarkable - perhaps the  politest - word to describe her )  and Trumps court case. One of the Los Angelinos says the ex-Presidents New York  lawyer is very, very good.  The LA folk also tell me  that China is stockpiling everything it can get its hands on - copper, oil and iron ore. This is the behaviour of a country that is about to do something big - they take the view that they're planning a major devaluation. Those Chinese EV's are going to get even cheaper.

Into town for a walk on the beach. Through a doorway we can see the library and its garden - the place already busy with students. I'll wager that most of them have never been up this early in their lives.  There's been no news about yesterdays visit by the Coastguard helicopter so it must have been an exercise.  

Further down the road spear tips are jutting over the wall. 

Who remembers Rupert the Bear ? A Daily Express Annual in a charity shop window for the princely sum of £4. Must be sixty years since I last picked up one of these books. What a simpler world it was then. Todays children would likely find the little Bears amusing 'japes' to be exceedingly dull. 

'The Font' is greatly taken with Booja Booja vegan chocolates. We stop off to buy a couple of boxes.  They're made in the UK so the man in the chocolate shop is sure of a steady supply. By contrast imported chocolate is subject to all sorts of customs delays which he says make his life 'complicated'. He's just taken delivery of a delayed consignment of Lindt Easter bunnies that he's going to have to ship back to the wholesaler. 

Baldwin the magical dog will be appearing at the theatre for one night in the summer. Who could resist ?

The first stage of work on the Royal and Ancient clubhouse is now nearing completion.  There are lights on inside which must surely mean that the decorators are busy updating the interior. It needs it.

Despite a sudden shower a small crowd of students are congregating outside the exam halls in readiness for the start of exams. There is an enforced jolliness to them of ' the condemned man whistled on his way to the guillotine ' variety.

Monday, April 22, 2024

The helicopter.

Monday morning. We have visitors at the front door. They know not to bark but the occasional short sharp 'yap' alerts us to their presence.

The two sisters lead us down to the shore. They chase hare - ineptly. The third, and eldest, doesn't join us. She's at an age where she prefers to stay near the warmth of the farmers AGA.

In the garden shop four new notices have been put up on the wall in the lobby. They list what teenagers can't buy.  Presumably all these notices are indicative of some sort of police crackdown. Who knew that you had to be 18 to buy an axe ?

There's a large Coastguard helicopter busy flying low along the shore. It passes us heading towards the leisure centre and the harbour. Five minutes later it passes us going in the opposite direction. Few students hoping for a lie in are going to be able to ignore its bone jingling hrrump hrrump hrrump noise.

The helicopter stops and hovers over the skerries on the far side of the castle. It must stay like this for a full ten minutes. Eider ducks and Fulmers scatter under the down wash of the rotor blades. The helicopters presence acts as a damper on  our walk.  Has a surf boarder misread the strength of the tides ? Has someone slipped from the cliff top ? Today , 'The Font' observes, is the first full day of exams.

The golf course busy.  Caddies in their blue gilets out providing stroke by stroke advice to visiting players.

So starts a Monday morning in a small university town far up on the North Sea coast. On our way back to the car we see what appears to be the new fast Anstruther life boat coming at high speed into the bay. Let's hope that's good news. By this time tonight we'll know what the story is.

This mornings radio music :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuQdFsb2ybI

Londons newest hotel starting at £2050 a night :https://www.the-emory.co.uk/

Something all Celts understand :https://www.irishcentral.com/culture/ali-dunworth-funeral-pints