Friday, October 31, 2014

Tam o' Shanter and the Brig o' Doon

And roars out, "Weel done, Cutty-sark!"
And in an instant all was dark:
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.

For your Halloween reading pleasure, here is one of Scotland's national epic poems. Written in 1790 by Scotland's preeminent poet, Robert Burns, Tam o' Shanter tells the story of a drunk farmer, Tam, who stumbles upon a ruined church where witches and warlocks are dancing to bagpipe tunes played by the Devil. Watching them dance, Tam becomes enamored with Nannie, a witch wearing only a short chemise: a "cutty-sark," i.e., a short undershirt. He drunkenly calls out to her, whereupon everything stops for a moment in stunned silence. Then the "hellish legion" chases Tam.

Galloping away on Meg, his trusty horse, Tam escapes the horde by crossing the midpoint of the auld bridge over the River Doon — because, as everyone knows, witches and warlocks and the Devil can't cross the middle of running water. Nannie narrowly misses Tam, yanking off poor Meg's tail just as they cross the bridge.

Brig o' Doon, the bridge over River Doon
The auld Brig o' Doon in Alloway, Scotland. First built in the late 1400s or early 1500s, the bridge has been repaired many times.
Burns' father's grave in auld Alloway kirk graveyard
The tombstone of Burns' father.
The poem is written in a mixture of Scots and English. Though Tam o' Shanter is not Burns' most famous or popular poem — an honor which goes to Auld Lang Syne — it generally is considered among his best work. He admitted to working on the poem more than almost any of his other works. Burns set Tam o' Shanter in his hometown of Alloway in southwestern Scotland. The ruined church the auld Alloway Kirk is real, and was a ruin even in Burns' day. His father, who died six years before Tam o' Shanter was written, was buried in its graveyard. The bridge over the River Doon is real, too. The witches and warlocks are real . . . well, vividly imagined.

Filled with bawdy humor and macabre detail, Tam o' Shanter is a Gothic masterpiece that has captivated other artists for more than two centuries. From personal experience, I recommend reading the poem while savoring a dram, or two or three, of whisky.

Tam o' Shanter (Original)

When chapmen billies leave the street,
And drouthy neibors, neibors meet,
As market days are wearing late,
An' folk begin to tak the gate,
While we sit bousing at the nappy,
And getting fou and unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps, and styles,
That lie between us and our hame,
Where sits our sulky sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

This truth fand honest Tam o' Shanter,
As he frae Ayr ae night did canter,
(Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses
For honest men and bonie lasses.)

O Tam! had'st thou but been sae wise,
As ta'en thy ain wife Kate's advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was nae sober;
That ilka melder, wi' the miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That every naig was ca'd a shoe on,
The smith and thee gat roaring fou on;
That at the Lord's house, even on Sunday,
Thou drank wi' Kirkton Jean till Monday.
She prophesied that late or soon,
Thou would be found deep drown'd in Doon;
Or catch'd wi' warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway's auld haunted kirk.

Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet,
To think how mony counsels sweet,
How mony lengthen'd, sage advices,
The husband frae the wife despises!

But to our tale: Ae market-night,
Tam had got planted unco right;
Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely,
Wi' reaming swats, that drank divinely
And at his elbow, Souter Johnny,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony;
Tam lo'ed him like a vera brither--
They had been fou for weeks thegither.
The night drave on wi' sangs and clatter
And ay the ale was growing better:
The landlady and Tam grew gracious,
wi' favours secret, sweet and precious
The Souter tauld his queerest stories;
The landlord's laugh was ready chorus:
The storm without might rair and rustle,
Tam did na mind the storm a whistle.

Care, mad to see a man sae happy,
E'en drown'd himsel' amang the nappy!
As bees flee hame wi' lades o' treasure,
The minutes wing'd their way wi' pleasure:
Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious,
O'er a' the ills o' life victorious!

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You sieze the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white -- then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow's lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm. --
Nae man can tether time or tide,
The hour approaches Tam maun ride;
That hour, o' night's black arch the key-stane,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
And sic a night he taks the road in
As ne'er poor sinner was abroad in.

The wind blew as 'twad blawn its last;
The rattling showers rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow'd;
Loud, deep, and lang, the thunder bellow'd:
That night, a child might understand,
The Deil had business on his hand.

Weel mounted on his gray mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit on thro' dub and mire,
Despisin' wind and rain and fire;
Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet;
Whiles crooning o'er some auld Scots sonnet;
Whiles glowring round wi' prudent cares,
Lest bogles catch him unawares:
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry.

By this time he was cross the ford,
Whare, in the snaw, the chapman smoor'd;
And past the birks and meikle stane,
Whare drunken Chairlie brak 's neck-bane;
And thro' the whins, and by the cairn,
Whare hunters fand the murder'd bairn;
And near the thorn, aboon the well,
Whare Mungo's mither hang'd hersel'.
Before him Doon pours all his floods;
The doubling storm roars thro' the woods;
The lightnings flash from pole to pole;
Near and more near the thunders roll:
When, glimmering thro' the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seem'd in a bleeze,
Thro' ilka bore the beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.

The old Alloway church
The auld Alloway Kirk was likely built in the 1500s, and was a ruin well before Robert Burns was born in the 1700s.
Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi' tippeny, we fear nae evil;
Wi' usquabae, we'll face the devil!
The swats sae ream'd in Tammie's noddle,
Fair play, he car'd na deils a boddle.
But Maggie stood, right sair astonish'd,
Till, by the heel and hand admonish'd,
She ventured forward on the light;
And, vow! Tam saw an unco sight!

Warlocks and witches in a dance:
Nae cotillion brent-new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
A winnock-bunker in the east,
There sat auld Nick, in shape o' beast;
A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge:
He scre'd the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a' did dirl.--
Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That shaw'd the dead in their last dresses;
And by some develish cantraip slight,
Each in its cauld hand held a light.
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table,
A murders's banes in gibbet-airns;
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen'd bairns;
A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,
Wi' his last gasp his gab did gape;
Five tomahawks, wi blude red-rusted;
Five scymitars, wi' murder crusted;
A garter, which a babe had strangled;
A knife, a father's throat had mangled,
Whom his ain son o' life bereft,
The gray hairs yet stack to the heft;
Wi' mair o' horrible and awfu',
Which even to name was be unlawfu'.
Three lawyers' tongues, turn'd inside out,
Wi' lies seam'd like a beggar's clout;
Three priests' hearts, rotten, black as muck,
Lay stinking, vile in every neuk.

As Tammie glowr'd, amaz'd, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The piper loud and louder blew;
The dancers quick and quicker flew;
They reel'd, they set, they cross'd, they cleekit,
Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies to the wark,
And linket at it in her sark!

Now Tam, O Tam! had thae been queans,
 A' plump and strapping in their teens,
Their sarks, instead o' creeshie flannen,
Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linnen!
Thir breeks o' mine, my only pair,
That ance were plush, o' gude blue hair,
I wad hae gi'en them off my hurdies,
For ae blink o' the bonie burdies!

But wither'd beldams, auld and droll,
Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,
Louping and flinging on a crummock,
I wonder did na turn thy stomach!

But Tam kend what was what fu' brawlie:
There was ae winsome wench and waulie,
That night enlisted in the core,
Lang after ken'd on Carrick shore;
(For mony a beast to dead she shot,
And perish'd mony a bonie boat,
And shook baith meikle corn and bear,
And kept the country-side in fear.)
Her cutty-sark, o' Paisley harn
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude tho' sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.
Ah! little ken'd thy reverend grannie,
That sark she coft for he wee Nannie,
Wi' twa pund Scots ('twas a' her riches),
Wad ever grac'd a dance of witches!

The Witches Dance in Tam o' Shanter, by J.M. Wright
Illustration in 1842 by J.M. Wright. Scantily clad Nannie dances while the Devil pipes. Tam, astride Meg, peers at the scene.

But here my Muse her wing maun cour;
Sic flights are far beyond her pow'r;
To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
(A souple jade she was, and strang),
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch'd,
And thought his very een enrich'd;
Even Satan glowr'd, and fidg'd fu' fain,
And hotch'd and blew wi' might and main;
Till first ae caper, syne anither,
Tam tint his reason ' thegither,
And roars out, "Weel done, Cutty-sark!"
And in an instant all was dark:
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.

When out the hellish legion salled, by Richard Cockle Lucas
"When out the hellish legion sallied," by Richard Cockle Lucas (19th century).

As bees bizz out wi' angry fyke,
When plundering herds assail their byke;
As open pussie's mortal foes,
When, pop! she starts before their nose;
As eager runs the market-crowd,
When "Catch the thief!" resounds aloud;
So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
Wi' mony an eldritch skriech and hollo.

Ah, Tam! ah, Tam! thou'll get thy fairin'!
In hell they'll roast thee like a herrin'!
In vain thy Kate awaits thy commin'!
Kate soon will be a woefu' woman!
Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane o' the brig;
There at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they dare na cross.
But ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient a tail she had to shake!
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie's mettle!
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain gray tail;
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

Crossing the Brig o' Doon
Tam and Meg raced across this bridge over the River Doon.

No, wha this tale o' truth shall read,
Ilk man and mother's son take heed:
Whene'er to drink you are inclin'd,
Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
Think! ye may buy joys o'er dear:
Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare.
Tam o' Shanter (Translation)

When the peddler people leave the streets,
And thirsty neighbors, neighbors meet;
As market days are wearing late,
And folk begin to take the road home,
While we sit boozing strong ale,
And getting drunk and very happy,
We don’t think of the long Scots miles,
The marshes, waters, steps and stiles,
That lie between us and our home,
Where sits our sulky, sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like a gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath, to keep it warm.

This truth finds honest Tam o' Shanter,
As he from Ayr one night did canter;
(Old Ayr, which never a town surpasses,
For honest men and bonny lasses.)

Oh Tam! had you but been so wise,
As to have taken your own wife Kate's advice!
She told you well you were a waster,
A rambling, blustering, drunken boaster,
That from November until October,
Each market day you were not sober;
During each milling period with the miller,
You sat as long as you had money,
For every horse he put a shoe on,
The blacksmith and you got roaring drunk on;
That at the Lords House, even on Sunday,
You drank with Kirkton Jean till Monday.
She prophesied, that, late or soon,
You would be found deep drowned in Doon,
Or caught by warlocks in the murk,
By Alloway’s old haunted church.

Ah, gentle ladies, it makes me cry,
To think how many counsels sweet,
How much long and wise advice,
The husband from the wife despises!

Tam o' Shanter statute by James Thom
These statues of Tam (left) and Johnny (right) by sculptor James Thom were so popular they went on a tour of Britain in the 1830s, and copies were made for America.
But to our tale: One market night,
Tam was seated just right,
Next to a fireplace, blazing finely,
With creamy ales, that drank divinely;
And at his elbow, Cobbler Johnny,
His ancient, trusted, thirsty crony;
Tam loved him like a very brother,
They had been drunk for weeks together.
The night drove on with songs and clatter,
And every ale was tasting better:
The landlady and Tam grew gracious,
With secret favours, sweet and precious;
The cobbler told his queerest stories;
The landlord’s laugh was ready chorus:
Outside, the storm might roar and rustle,
Tam did not mind the storm a whistle.

Care, mad to see a man so happy,
Even drowned himself in ale!
As bees fly home with loads of treasure,
The minutes winged their way with pleasure:
Kings may be blessed, but Tam was glorious,
Over all the ills of life victorious!

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow fall on the river,
A moment white -- then melts forever,
Or like the Aurora Borealis rays,
That move before you can point to their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Vanishing amid the storm. --
No man can tether time or tide,
The hour approaches Tam must ride;
That hour, of night’s black arch the key-stone,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
And such a night he takes to the road in
As never a poor sinner had been out in.

The wind blew as if it had blown its last;
The rattling showers rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallowed;
Loud, deep and long the thunder bellowed:
That night, a child might understand,
The Devil had business on his hand.

Well mounted on his grey mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam raced on through mud and mire,
Despising wind and rain and fire;
Whilst holding fast his good blue bonnet,
While crooning over some old Scots sonnet,
Whilst glowering round with prudent care,
Lest ghosts catch him unaware:
Alloway’s Church was drawing near,
Where ghosts and owls nightly cry.

By this time he was across the ford,
Where in the snow the pedlar got smothered;
And past the birch trees and the huge stone,
Where drunken Charlie broke his neck bone;
And thru the thorns, and past the monument,
Where hunters found the murdered child;
And near the thorn, above the well,
Where Mungo’s mother hung herself.
Before him the river Doon pours all his floods;
The doubling storm roars throught the woods;
The lightnings flashes from pole to pole;
Nearer and more near the thunder rolls;
When, glimmering through the groaning trees,
Alloway’s Church seemed in a blaze,
Thru every gap, light beams were glancing,
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.

Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn! {i.e., whisky}
What dangers you can make us scorn!
With ale, we fear no evil;
With whisky, we’ll face the Devil!
The ales so swam in Tam’s head,
Fair play, he didn’t care a farthing for devils.
But Maggie stood, right sore astonished,
Till, by the heel and hand admonished,
She ventured forward on the light;
And, wow! Tam saw an incredible sight!

Interior of the old Alloway Church
Interior of auld Alloway kirk.
Warlocks and witches in a dance:
No cotillion, brand new from France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels.
In a window alcove in the east,
There sat Old Nick, in shape of beast;
A shaggy dog, black, grim, and large,
To give them music was his charge:
He screwed the pipes and made them squeal,
Till roof and rafters all did ring.
Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That showed the dead in their last dresses;
And, by some devilish magic sleight,
Each in its cold hand held a light.
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the holy table,
A murderer’s bones, in gibbet-irons;
Two span-long, small, unchristened babies;
A thief just cut from his hanging rope,
With his last gasp his mouth did gape;
Five tomahawks with blood red-rusted;
Five scimitars with murder crusted;
A garter with which a baby had strangled;
A knife a father’s throat had mangled,
Whom his own son of life bereft,
The grey-hairs yet stuck to the shaft;
With more o' horrible and awful,
Which even to name would be unlawful.
Three Lawyers’ tongues, turned inside out,
Sown with lies like a beggar’s cloth;
Three Priests’ hearts, rotten, black as muck,
Lay stinking, vile, in every nook.

As Thomas glowered, amazed, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious;
The piper loud and louder blew,
The dancers quick and quicker flew,
They reeled, they set, they cross'd, they linked,
Till every witch sweated and smelled,
And cast her ragged clothes to the floor,
And danced deftly at it in her underskirts!

Now Tam, O Tam! had these been young girls,
All plump and strapping in their teens!
Their underskirts, instead of greasy flannel,
Been snow-white seventeen hundred linen!
The trousers of mine, my only pair,
That once were plush, of good blue hair,
I would have given them off my buttocks
For one blink of those pretty girls!

But withered hags, old and droll,
Ugly enough to suckle a foal,
Leaping and flinging on a stick,
It's a wonder it didn’t turn your stomach!

But Tam knew what was what well enough:
There was one winsome, jolly wench,
That night enlisted in the core,
Long after known on Carrick shore;
(For many a beast to dead she shot,
And perished many a bonnie boat,
And shook both much corn and barley,
And kept the country-side in fear.)
Her short chemise, o’ Paisley cloth,
That while a young lass she had worn,
In longitude though very limited,
It was her best, and she was proud.
Ah! little knew your reverend grandmother,
That chemise she bought for her little grandaughter,
With two Scots pounds (it was all her riches),
Would ever graced a dance of witches!

Witches and warlocks dance as Tam watches, by John Faed
Illustration in 1892 by John Faed, of Nannie and the other witches and warlocks dancing. The Devil plays the bagpipes. Tam watches from a window. 
But here my tale must stoop and bow,
Such words are far beyond her power;
To sing how Nannie leaped and kicked
(A supple youth she was, and strong),
And how Tam stood like one bewitched,
And thought his very eyes enriched;
Even Satan glowered, and fidgeted full of lust,
And jerked and blew with might and main;
Till first one caper, then another,
Tam lost his reason all together,
And roars out: "Well done, short skirt!"
And in an instant all was dark:
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.

As bees buzz out with angry wrath,
When plundering herds assail their hive;
As a wild hare’s mortal foes,
When, pop! she starts running before their nose;
As eager runs the market-crowd,
When "Catch the thief!" resounds aloud;
So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
With many an unearthly scream and holler.

Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! You'll get what's coming!
In hell they will roast you like a herring!
In vain your Kate awaits your coming!
Kate soon will be a woeful woman!
Now, do your speedy utmost, Meg,
And beat them to the key-stone of the bridge;
There, you may toss your tail at them,
A running stream they dare not cross.
But before the key-stone she could make,
She had to shake a tail at the fiend;
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie pressed,
And flew at Tam with furious aim;
But little knew she Maggie’s mettle!
One spring brought off her master whole,
But left behind her own grey tail:
The witch caught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

Now, whomever this tale of truth shall read,
Each man, and mother’s son, take heed:
Whenever to drink you are inclined,
Or short skirts run in your mind,
Think! you may buy joys over dear:
Remember Tam o’ Shanter’s mare.

Tam o' Shanter, by Robert Burns, written in 1790 and published in 1791

Nannie grabs Meg's tail, engraving by John Faed
An engraving by John Faed of Nannie grabbing poor Meg's tail as Tam and Meg escape across the Brig o' Doon.

Steep incline on the Brig o' Doon
The bridge has a steep incline. This view is from the opposite side of the river.
Incidentally, the 1947 Broadway musical titled Brigadoon (and made into a movie with Gene Kelly in 1954), has nothing to do with Burns' poem, nor the town of Alloway, nor the actual bridge over the River Doon. The musical is set in a fictional Scottish village called "Brigadoon," which magically appears for only one day every one hundred years. It's unclear how the musical's lyricist, Alan Jay Lerner, came up with the name. He might have been borrowing from the Brig o' Doon, made famous by Burns' poem. Or he might have been combining a Celtic word for town, "briga," with the Gaelic word for fort, "dùn." We just don't know.

View of the Brig o' Doon from upstream
A view of Brig o' Doon from upstream.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday Exposure: The ghost piper of Edinburgh Castle

Torches burn at the gatehouse of Edinburgh Castle
Torches blaze in front of the gatehouse of Edinburgh Castle.
It was already disquieting to toil below the castle amidst the dolerite rock where the volcanic plug resisted any repairs, lanterns feebly seeking to dispel the nearby shadows, shuffling under the weight of their tools, the dust puffing into a haze around their calves like the night mists in highland glens far far far away from the constricted wynds and closes of the city with its stench and rats and desperate hunger, where help seldom came and in bygone times buboed plague sufferers despaired as the guards bricked them tightly within their homes, and it was down there the tunnel headed, they had not been searching but only stumbled upon it, the faintest wind emanating an earthy smell, no one had ventured within the passage in living memory as the only footprints were those of the master mason, and he tread only so far as he could still discern the others back at the entry, their voices muffled, and when he could no longer hear them he strode back, twice as quick as he had reconnoitered.

They debated ignoring the tunnel, pretending they had not found it. The steward, however, would inspect their work and know where they had labored, spot the footprints in the tunnel. He would be displeased with their answer.

Tunnel in the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle
A tunnel into darkness within the dungeons below the castle.
That the junior apprentice volunteered made it easier, in the beginning. Made it harder in the end, because they should have done more, someone should have gone with him, he was too ill-equipped too young too foolhardy      too alone. But in the beginning it was easier; he seemed to want to prove his mettle. Perhaps he knew they eventually would have settled on him anyway.

His plan was ingenious, they admitted. He would proceed down the tunnel with a lantern and his bagpipes. It would make a fearsome noise in the narrow passages, an unrelenting drone and skirl. As in war, he would advance with the pipes. Their wail would succor him, he would not be bereft of courage.

As he played, they followed the wail from above ground. A martial air at first. The music pulsed, piercing the ground from below. With their heads cocked and ears attuned, they trailed the piping as he forged on. Out of the gatehouse they followed his music, across the flat esplanade. Less jaunty than before, though still he played. Onto the cobbles of the road as it descended, the sun sunk behind the rooftops, the king's mile a-clatter as merchants shuttered for the day, a horse and cart rumbled past, the piper blew a lament now (or perhaps that was only as they remembered it later), he piped unrelentingly, a burst of skirl through some unseen crack, they were halfway to the palace now, and then the piping  .  .  .  stopped.

They never saw him again.

When, finally, a search party delved into the tunnel to look for him, they returned ashen and empty-handed. The lone piper had vanished. No lantern, no bagpipes. No body.

Soon afterwards, at the steward's instruction, they bricked up the tunnel. He paid them for their work, more than they were owed. Enough to build homes in their highland glens. As for the young apprentice's family, the steward said he would make arrangements, which they did not question. They left the city and, as agreed, did not return.

Yet not all trace of the lone piper was gone. Though centuries have passed, on quiet nights, from beneath the castle and its royal thoroughfare, careful listeners occasionally hear faint melodies floating up from the earth, the remote echoes of a solitary piper.

In the depths he plays on, searching the catacombs, endlessly wandering in the dark.

Haunted Edinburgh Castle sits atop a volcanic plug
In the rock beneath Edinburgh Castle twists a warren of storerooms, dungeons, and tunnels.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Odds and ends

Here are some odds and ends of things I've been up to recently. Nothing worthy of a full post, but a few minor points of interest.

{Ed.'s note: If you multiply zero by eight, you still get zero.}

Well, who's counting?

Jackson at a trig point
Ahh, the accomplishment he must feel when he reaches the trig point.
Hiking:  We try to hike, or at least take a good long country walk, a couple of times a month. I enjoy the cooler weather for hiking. However, now we're entering some of the rainier months of the year, which makes getting out for a hike more of a hassle. It can be a challenge to get a reluctant toddler into rain gear and then into a covered backpack. I try to pick and choose my hiking days carefully.

That said, Jackson's a good hiker. Or, to be more accurate, he's a good rider. He quite enjoys being hefted on my back while I huff and puff up and down the hills. When we get to a flatter section or to the top, he may deign to walk about. Carrying around 40+ pounds (the Little Emperor, his backpack, some snacks/lunch, and a toy or two) is a great way to get some exercise. Or a heart attack.

Jurassic Parrr signMini golf:  Jack had been expressing interest in playing golf -- "I want to whack the ball!" -- so when a Groupon coupon was available for a local mini golf course, we snagged one. He was very excited to golf amidst giant dinosaurs until a few of them became animated, which unsettled him for a bit.

Playing golf with a toddler is not for anyone who expects to actually play golf. Rules do not apply. He hits his ball as often as he likes, up to and including bulldozing it into the hole. He hits your ball. He picks up a ball and drops it in a hazard. Likewise, decorum is verboten. There is no quiet for concentration. You may receive a hug in the middle of putting. If you happen to get hit by an airborne club, that's just funny.

Kate helps Jack on the golf course
Kate helps Jack's technique.
Dinosaurs roam across the landscape
The downed helicopter makes perfect sense here in Jurassic Parrr. About as much as the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
disposable BBQ
(available here)
Grillin':  Last month, we finally got around to buying a grill. Except for a few social events at the homes of some expat neighbors, we didn't grill anything for more than a year. Grilling isn't all that popular here in Scotland. I don't know a single Scottish neighbor, friend, or acquaintance with a grill, though I haven't inquired with all of them, of course. For many Scots, if they want to grill then they might buy a disposable BBQ.

The lack of grills reflects the realities of Scottish weather. But we finally caved and bought one anyway. It's a wee portable Weber model. Which would be perfect for tailgating except, umm, they don't do much tailgating here and if they do it doesn't usually include grills. Chalk up our grill to missing an aspect of the States.

portable Weber grill
Burgers, chicken, steaks, veggies, and salmon all grilled just in the last month.
Beef week:  Do you ever have a week of dinners where you seem to inadvertently create a theme? We recently noticed a "beef week" arise spontaneously. One night, steak; then tacos; Cumberland pie; burgers; spaghetti with a meaty sauce. Throw in a breakfast with leftover steak and eggs. A tasty week! But a bit too much.

Horse races at Hamilton Park:  Without question, a disappointing trip at the end of September. I had never been to a horse race, and this was underwhelming. The grounds are pleasant but boring. The grandstand is utilitarian. No passion or drama amongst the crowd or even the participants.

Hamilton Park race track
The paddock lawn at Hamilton Park Racecourse.
Horse rump clipping pattern
Showing off horse rump clipping patterns in the parade ring.
Horse rump flower clipping pattern
Is it a flower? A man playing bongos?           
Horse rump stars clipping pattern
Clipping patterns are a time-honored tradition.
The race track is not in an oval, but rather in a straight line. It begins far, far, FAR AWAY in the distance. The horses speed down a hill and a while later, gradually, eventually, they gallop by the spectators for the finish. For most of the race, the horses and riders are essentially indistinguishable to the naked eye. There's no excitement and no suspense, because no one can tell what is going on, unless they watch a video screen opposite the track. Most of the spectators paid little attention except for the few seconds when the horses pass.

Hamilton Park race track from the stands
The race begins in the distance, at far right on the hill.
On the rail at Hamilton Park racecourse
I'd much recommend standing at the rail, instead of in the grandstand.
Upcoming trip to Athens:  It's not quite last minute, but we have scheduled a somewhat impromptu trip to Athens in November. Kate has been eager to go somewhere a bit warmer and sunnier. We considered a bunch of options, including a relaxed beach trip, but the narrow window of time she had from work helped dictate when and where we could go reasonably cheaply. Neither of us has been to Greece, so we'll get a taste in a few weeks and then go back for some island hopping on a future trip.

Balance bike:  In the U.S., the sales pitch claims that all the kids in Europe learn to ride a bike by first mastering balance on a bike without pedals, and then adding pedals after they get good at gliding. We live in Europe now, and I've seen precisely one other balance bike. People look at Jackson curiously. Maybe Scotland's behind the times.

Practicing falling off a balance bike
Neither a fall nor a tantrum. Jack was demonstrating what he would do if he fell -- hop up, brush his hands off, and keep riding. His demonstration continued every 20 feet or so.
Anyway, balance bikes are a smart pedagogical approach. It took a little while for Jackson to warm to the idea of a bike, but once he was interested, the balance and gliding came quickly. He speeds right along and can balance for as long as he has enough momentum. We're not in any rush to add pedals; it'll likely be next spring before we try. But I'm fairly confident he could learn right now to pedal without any use of training wheels (called "stabilizers" in the U.K.).

Edinburgh Zoo:   A few weekends ago we spent the day at the Edinburgh Zoo, a lovely (sub)urban
Northern Rockhopper penguin at Edinburgh Zoo
Northern Rockhopper penguin: "Step off, bro."
zoo located in the fringes of the capital. You enter at the base of a hill and can follow a suggested plan weaving through exhibits up the hill and then back down. Although the zoo lacks some animals, such as elephants and giraffes -- Scotland's not the best climate for them -- it has a wealth of many other species, like penguins and primates. In the afternoons of warmer months they have a popular "penguin parade" in which the penguins are allowed, but not forced, to follow their keepers outside their enclosure in a loop through the many onlookers. During our visit only two penguins wanted to participate, but I imagine it's quite a sight when dozens all waddle along.

Giant male panda at Edinburgh Zoo
Sadly, the panda suffered a miscarriage last month.
We have a love/hate relationship with zoos. As a group, zoos do vital conservation and species preservation work, help with the important study of many species, and of course it's great fun to see the animals up close. On the other hand, we struggle seeing so many caged animals, knowing that even heroic efforts by zoologists leave the animals with circumbscribed, duller, unnatural lives. We get joy out of seeing the animals, and feel guilty at the same time.

A white-faced saki in Edinburgh Zoo
A white-faced saki from the Amazon.
It's tempting to overwhelm you with animal photos. I also contemplated a full post on the zoo, but I think we'd need to visit several times before I had a really good sense of the entire complex. So, here's a few more photos (I can't resist) and perhaps a fuller post in the future.

A wallaby at Edinburgh Zoo
A worriedly impterturbable wallaby in a trance.
Grooming mommy's bugs
Grooming mommy for bugs.
Eating mommy's bugs
A breakdancing Gelado baboon
This Gelada baboon was repeatedly practicing headstands. Or breakdancing.
Doune Castle
Doune Castle, of Monty Python and Outlander fame.
Touristing:  As a lover of history and antiquities, I'm always in tourist mode here in Scotland. There are hundreds of sites within just a couple of hours' drive. I constantly remind myself that Jackson's job is to play and socialize and learn and grow, which means I can't always gallivant him around the country. Every couple of weeks, however, I take us somewhere to be tourists. Can't help it.

Nave of Dunblane Cathedral
Nave of Dunblane Cathedral (not to be confused with Dunkeld Cathedral).
What's the right balance? Dunno. He loves rambling around ruins. Museums often don't do much for him unless they're directed toward kids, though he's delighted to amuse himself with an iPad. He does seem to have the seeds of appreciation for grand vistas, striking buildings, colorful art, and so on. I like to believe he's occasionally being enriched by his tourist experiences, though really, how much do you remember from when you're three? Ultimately, he's a toddler and needs to be a kid, not a tag-along adult. So I do less touristing than I want, but far more than I could ever dream if I wasn't an expat.

Ruins of Crossraguel Abbey
The ruins of Crossraguel Abbey.
Trip to the States:  For the first time since we moved to Scotland, we'll be returning to the United States for a visit. It'll total three weeks in December and January. We'll make a first stop in New York City to see some good friends; head to North Carolina to visit with colleagues, friends, and my family; and then head to Colorado for a visit with Kate's family.

I don't miss living in the U.S. But I do deeply miss many people in the States. By the time of our return in December, it will have been roughly 18 months since we'll have been Stateside. I'm curious to see how we adjust.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Exposure: The devil plays cards at Glamis Castle

Haunted Glamis Castle
Glamis Castle teems with eerie tales.
In a land of haunted castles, Glamis Castle is reputedly Scotland's most mysterious and haunted of all. The tales are manifold. One narrative tells of a vampiric curse on the family. Other stories recount a menagerie of ghosts haunting the castle and its grounds, from the White Lady to a ghost in armor to a Grey Lady to a little servant boy. Supposedly, numerous children, oblivious to the ghostly reports associated with the castle, have awakened in the middle of the night to find a shadowy figure standing above them, who disappears when they scream. Older accounts declare that crowds of people, a hundred strong, all witnessed a ghost pass by. Even Queen Elizabeth II's mother, who was born and raised at Glamis Castle, claimed to have seen a ghost.

Further stories tell of secret rooms, where enemies of the Earl were bricked up and left to die; or where piles of bones were found by a stonemason, who had to be given a sum of money and sent out of the country; or where a deformed heir was kept out of sight while his younger brother became the next Earl. Dinner party guests have set about the house trying to locate the hidden room(s), hanging white napkins from every available window, only to go outside and find windows that had no napkins hanging from them.

One story tells of an Earl who loved to play cards, and the infernal guest who played with him:

There is a secret room in Glamis Castle, as everybody knows; a room no mortal eye may behold, and the locality of which is known only to the possessor of the Castle, his heir and his factor. This room is believed to have been the scene of a hideous gambling affair, and the hero of it was an Earl of Strathmore, said by William Howitt, in his account of Glamis, to have been "Earl Beardie," whose portrait is at Abbottsford. Whoever the nobleman was his name has been corrupted into that of "Earl Patie," by the Forfarshire peasantry, who, we are informed by Mr. Hugh Maclauchlan, tell the following story of his misdeeds.

"Many, many years ago, when gentlemen got regularly drunk at dinner-time, and had to be carried to bed by their servants, there reigned supreme at Glamis one Patie, known to fame as the wild Earl of Strathmore. Earl Patie was notoriously good at all the vices, but his favourite vice was that of gambling. He would play Lord's Day or week day, whatever day it was; and if he could find no one else to humour him in his fancy, he would hob and nob with the humblest menial within the castle walls.

"It happened once, on a dark and stormy November night, that Earl Patie had been wearied by his forced inactivity from horse and hound — for it was the Lord's Day, and that means complete abstinence from all worldly pursuits in bonnie Scotland — and, at last, with oaths and curses, he called for a pack of cards, and comforted himself with the anticipation of a pleasant game. The ladies were at their devotions, so he called the servants to him, one by one; but never since the days of the feast in the New Testament were so many excuses invented to cover disinclination. Of all those who had humoured him so often, not one could be found, from the steward to the scullion, to take a hand with the wicked Earl. In desperation the chaplain was attacked; but he, too, proved temptation proof, and strengthened the rebellion among the menials by branding the pack of cards as 'devil's bricks,' and hurling terrible anathemas at the head of any wight who should venture on so terrible a desecration of the Sabbath. For a time there was dire confusion and alarm in the Castle; and at last Earl Patie, swearing tremendously, and consigning everybody around him to an unmentionable locality, seized a pack of cards and went growling away up the old oak stairs to his chamber, saying he would play with the 'devil himself,' sooner than be thwarted in his desire.

"He had not sat long in the room before a knock came at the door, and a deep voice sounded from the corridor, asking the Earl if he wished a partner. 'Yes,' roared the Earl; 'enter, in the foul fiend's name, whoever you are.' And with that there entered a tall, dark stranger, wholly wrapped up in a cloak, who nodded in a familiar manner to the Earl, and took his seat on a vacant chair on the opposite side of the table. The Earl stared at his strange guest, and doubtless felt a momentary uneasiness as he remembered whom he had invited to play with him; but a look at the cards on the table reassured him, and they commenced the game in real earnest. The stranger, who did not remove his bonnet and cloak, proposed a high stake; and in reply the Earl said, if he were the loser, and had not wherewith to discharge his debt, he would sign a bond for whatever his guest might choose to ask. Fast and furious became the game, loud oaths resounded through the chamber, and the terrified menials crept up the corridor, wondering what brave man dared to bandy words with the wicked Earl, and who was sinful enough to hold his hand at the 'devil's bricks' on the Lord's Day. As they fearfully listened they could hear the fierce utterances of the Earl, and the fiercer and more unearthly utterances of the stranger, whose presence they were quite unable to account for.

"At last the old butler, who had served the family for two generations, ventured close to the chamber-door and peeped through the key-hole; but no sooner had he done so than he fell back and rolled on the floor with a yell of agony that resounded to the remotest part of the Castle. In an instant the door was rudely torn open and the Earl came out with fury in his face, and told them to slay anyone who passed, while he went back to settle with his guest. But his guest was nowhere to be found. They searched the chamber through and through, but in vain. He was gone, and he had taken with him Earl Patie's bond, but what for the confused and startled Earl did not exactly know. Returning by the old butler, Earl Patie found him stunned and bruised, with a yellow circle round the erring eye; and then he told the terror-stricken menials that, as he sat at play, the stranger suddenly threw down his cards and said, with an oath, 'Smite that eye!' whereupon a sheet of flame darted directly to the key-hole, and the mysterious stranger disappeared.

"Earl Patie lived five years before he paid his bond, but afterwards, on every Sabbath evening, the old chamber was filled with strange noises that echoed through the passages, as if the wicked Earl and the dark stranger were again wrangling and swearing over the 'devil's bricks.' For a time the unearthly noises were put up with, but at last the room was built up, and nothing now remains to tell where the chamber was where Earl Patie and his fiery guest played their stormy game of cards." Such is the story, according to local tradition, of the secret room of Glamis Castle.

                   The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain, pp. 462 - 465, by John Henry Ingram,
                   published 1897

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A quick update: this year's Man Booker winner

I was right.

Although this was the first year that American authors were included for consideration to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, last night the judges made damn sure no 'Murican won selected an Australian novel as the winner.

Just as I predicted.

{Ed.'s note: Oooh, tough prediction there. Way to go out on a limb.}

The judges pick their winner on the same day the award is presented. Consequently, over the past few days, there have been news articles, columnists, and past winners all loudly fretting and worrying that, God forbid, an American might win. Headlines on news articles like "Neel Mukherjee tipped to prevent first American win." Columns warning against "creeping Americanisation," and noting that "on the credit side" having only two of the six shortlisted novels by Americans showed the award has not yet been swamped by "a Yankee takeover." Regurgitations of earlier articles in which past winners of the award criticized the opening of the Man Booker to Americans, and then solemnly intoning the past winners "carry considerable literary weight."

These so-called news items were not subtle. They were plainly firing shots across the bow of the judges, warning them against selecting an American winner.

Now, I should be clear, I haven't read a single one of the six shortlisted books. I have no opinion whatsoever on the merits of the various contenders. I am not at all suggesting one of the two American authors should have won. I ain't got no idea who shoulda been the winner, yo'.

I just think it's interesting how desperate -- and let me emphasize DESPERATE -- a segment of the literary world here is to simultaneously fight against the possibility that Americans might begin to dominate the award and, more importantly, fight to ensure the Brits retain their own wildly disproportionate stranglehold on the nominations and winners. Brits have won 29 of the 46 Man Booker prizes, a share that is rather out of scale to their population in relation to their Irish and Commonwealth brethren from India, Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and Nigeria, among others. I'm not going to go back to count all the nominations, but the disproportionate number of Brits in nominations is even more stark.

It's hard enough for some literary Brits to stomach that their colonists have won 17 of the awards. They don't want the Americans to start siphoning away nominations and winners, too.

In the small world of literary fiction, nominations and winners are very, very important for business. For the psyche, and national pride, and personal proclivities, too. But especially for the publishing business.

But enough about all that.

This year's winner was Richard Flanagan, an Australian, for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Both a war story and a love story, the novel is set during World War II and focuses on Japanese captors and their Allied prisoners of war who built the "Death Railway" between Burma and Thailand. As the chair of the judges put it: "The best and worst of judging books is when you come across one that kicks you so hard in the stomach like this that you can't pick up the next one in the pile for a couple of days. That's what happened in the case of this book."

Man Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan
Richard Flanagan holds his winning book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. (Photo by AFP/Getty)
Everything I have read about the novel is full of high praise. I'll try to set aside my 'Murican parochialism (wink wink) and go buy a copy. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday Exposure: Haunted barking within York Minster

York Minster at night
Does a ghostly dog bark within the York Minster?
During our visit to York last spring, I ventured into the crypts below the Minster. It was just before closing time, and I wanted to speed through an historical exhibit while Kate took Jackson outside to play. At one point, I heard the sound of a barking dog. The sound was neither near nor far; it came from some middle distance, but was not particularly distinct. I exchanged glances with a man touring the exhibit with his family. It was an odd sound, but we both shrugged. Probably just a dog that somehow had gotten into the cathedral above.

I didn't give it any more thought until a week ago, when I started looking around for a few ghostly tales. York has a reputation as one of the most haunted places in the U.K., so I figured it would be a good place to search. And I came across this:

          A story about the building of York Minster recounts a stonemason who worked at the site with his dog.
          Some other masons didn't like the dog and its owner. One evening, they captured the dog and bricked it
          up within the walls. The dog barked frantically. Alone and in the dark, the dog bayed into the night. His
          master did not find him.

          To this day the dog howls for his master, who never comes.

As I left the Minster a little while later, I asked a guard at the desk about hearing a dog. He gave me an odd look but didn't respond. I'm not saying I believe the ghost dog story, but  .  .  .

Friday, October 10, 2014

My failed visit to Dunkeld Cathedral

Dunkeld Cathedral
Dunkeld Cathedral is partially in use and partially a ruin.
Sometimes, my blogging plans fail.

For example, I have visited some historic sites and found them so underwhelming that I won't bore myself, much less anyone else, by writing about them. Or we'll attend a cultural event which, for one reason or another, I couldn't capture well with a camera and/or don't have enough personal insight to add anything here. Or I'll begin writing about a topic only to realize that to address it properly -- whether it's a tourist attraction, the particular challenges of expat life, a Scottish tradition, etc. -- I should wait until I have more experience or knowledge about it.

And then there was my recent visit to Dunkeld Cathedral.

Which was closed for repairs.


Ongoing repairs at Dunkeld Cathedral prevents access
Ongoing repairs block entry into the cathedral ruins. No timeline for completion has been made public.
Although the ruins are closed to the public for now, another part of the cathedral has been restored and is used as a Church of Scotland parish church. That section has some interesting stuff. But rather than write about only a part of the cathedral, I'll check on it next spring and see if I can finish my visit before writing a post.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a lovely picnic spot, Dunkeld Cathedral sits on the banks of the River Tay.

Dunkeld Bridge over the River Tay
Dunkeld Bridge spans the River Tay.
This glamorous life (ahem) as a blogger has its travails, you see. It's not all bling and babes and bodacious adventures. In case you were thinking otherwise.

Dunkeld Cathedral through the trees
The view from the river bank is lovely.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Countryfile photo competition winner is . . .

Last month, I wrote a post about the BBC's Countryfile photo competition. It's an annual affair, with tens of thousands of submissions for spots in the program's charity calendar.

Somehow, inexplicably, regrettably, unfathomably, I didn't win. I wasn't included among the final twelve. Quelle horreur!!!

This past Sunday, the show announced its two winners. One winning photograph was chosen by popular voting. That winner gets the cover of the calendar, as well as £1,000 to spend on photographic equipment. The second winner is the choice of the judges, who receives £500 to spend on photographic equipment. Although it didn't happen this year, the same photograph could win both the judges' choice and the popular vote.

The 2014 popular vote winner is David Smith, a bricklayer who describes himself as a photography "hobbyist." (As a beginning hobbyist, there's hope for me in the future.) Smith took his photo on a pig farm in Norfolk. Although the Countryfile show did not disclose the number of votes, it did say that Smith's photo was the clear winner in the popular voting.

BBC Countryfile competition winner 2014, "Piglets on Parade"
"Piglets on Parade" was the winner of the popular vote.
The 2014 judges' choice is a photo by Susie Mulholland, from Somerset. I think that's her name. It was hard to understand the name as announced on the show, and so far I haven't been able to find any further information regarding the winners or other contestants. Her photo of cows reflected in water was my favorite of the twelve finalists, and I cast my vote for it.

BBC Countryfile photo competition judges' choice winner 2014, "Curious Cattle"
The judges picked "Curious Cattle" as their favorite. Me, too.
FYI, the image quality of these online photos is low. The real photos in the calendar will be much better quality -- they look stunning on television. My assumption is that the image quality of the online photos has purposefully been kept poor so that no one can use the photos commercially.

Proceeds of the calendar sales go to charity, the BBC Children in Need. Last year they sold more than 300,000 calendars and raised £1,452,219, the highest amount ever. At current exchange rates, that's $2,336,548.

If you want to buy the 2015 calendar -- and I hope you will -- it costs £9.50. That includes delivery in the U.K; delivery outside the U.K. costs only £2.75 per calendar, which is darn cheap. At least £4.00 of every calendar sold will go to the charity. You can purchase the calendar at:

For the next few weeks, the Countryfile show with an interview of winner David Smith is available on the BBC's web site. The segment about the calendar starts at the 41st minute, if you want to skip ahead.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Monday Exposure: Old Man of Storr and the faerie king

Old Man of Storr viewed from the south, Isle of Skye
The Old Man of Storr stands on his ridge line.

The faerie king turned them to stone, so the legend goes.

Oft would the man and his wife scale the vertiginous slope. They sought the view from the ridge: down the rugged mountain and across the blue sea. Young, middle aged, old -- they made the trek together.

As they aged, she found it harder to make the climb.

He didn't want to go without her. She could not disappoint him. They hiked and she despaired. When she could go no further, the faerie king arrived. Saw the love between them.

The faerie said he would help them. If only they accepted his aid, he'd ensure they would always be able to gaze upon the view. They knew they should not trust him. But without help, they would never be together at the ridge.

And so they accepted. At the ridge, they turned to gaze across the sea. Then the faerie king cackled and turned them to stone.

For centuries, they stood on the ridge. One day, long ago, she toppled and crumbled, shattering into thousands of pieces along the slope. The old man gazes on, solitary and mourning.

Old Man of Storr with the remains of his wife
The Old Man of Storr stands hobbled, the remains of his wife at his side.