It’s like I’m caught on flypaper, trying to leave the Scottish bar: they’re on to me, an American tourist here for a week, all of them asking questions.
It starts with the old guy and his dog who’s sniffing my grocery tote — he apologises for the dog, says he never does that — I say, it’s my dog he smells on the bag — what kind? — I say it’s like a German or Belgian shepherd breed, but he looks confused — I explain the dog’s from the States — he asks about quarantine — I say Germany — he says whereabouts, and after some time of just sitting there in silence: are you ex-Forces, then? That would make sense.
And now another, who’s overheard the conversation and piggybacks onto the old guy, she asks if I’m looking for something good to eat and smiles, and her friend, both of them asking my name — and another five minutes and a drink, and I’d be here all night, then sleeping on their sofas, sleeping with their daughters, their daughter’s mothers, girlfriends, aunts.
When I tell them where we’re going, the towns, they repeat the names but say it differently than me each time — even ‘Oban’ I can’t get right — they just shift the emphasis to the right, to the end, roll up some phlegm, launch it.
“Are you suggesting coconuts are migratory, then?”
We learn Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed in Scotland — all the castle scenes, at Doune Castle. Wikipedia reports the producers were given permission to film at a number of castles throughout Scotland but had permission revoked at the last minute, and needed to depict Doune as several different places, ‘relying on tight framing of shots to maintain the illusion.’
Dawn talks to a woman at the tourist office about the fact they don’t accept Scottish pounds in England. And here, when we withdraw our bills from the ATM they have pictures of the queen and look legitimate, but apparently not so when you cross the border south.
And the woman says she likes to go into England, slap her pounds down on the counter and say that’s legal tender — and she does it, she says, because she’s always up for a good fight and just likes saying the words legal tender.
‘Fundamentally Can’t Take It’
Even with Rock the Casbah coming on at the bar it’s not a lively crowd. When the songs change over, there’s a brief nod of recognition from the bunch, and then they go back to their chats. The old man who offered me a sandwich is collapsed in on himself in the corner, occasionally stirs as if shaken — and if owls had eyebrows they’d look like his, spry, wily.
We motivate for a Sunday drive south along the River Ness, to where it joins the Loch Ness, and leads to a town called Dores, and beyond, the Foyers, recommended by a cashier in the Tesco who wrote it on my hand.
There are no plans or expectations other than to eat, really. We walk to the Foyers, which means ‘Falls,’ along a footpath leading down through the forest, toward the sound of the Falls like the ocean, surrounded by autumn leaves, the scent of pine needles, a crisp, blue sky.
I take Charlotte aside and tell her about a day like this when I was around her age, a place called Bake Oven Knob in Pennsylvania where I went hiking once with my mom and dad, and thought I’d always remember that day, and hope she’ll remember this one.
We build a small house for the squirrels or the faeries with tree bark, some pieces of wood as furniture for them to sit on, leaves and pine needles to make it look nice, and lean it against a tree, take a picture, leave.
Five Leaves Left
Haggis doesn’t present well on the plate but tastes better than I thought, with low expectations, really just wanting to say I tried it.
When it comes, it’s in a pile with a grainy texture that looks like things I’ve cleaned off the floor in our old house, in Sammamish, but I get some of it on my fork with the clapshot and dip it into the whisky cream sauce and I’m surprised how satisfying sheep’s pluck can be — and then how much my stomach sounds like there’s a sheep inside it, in the morning.
We finish with Sticky Toffee Pudding, a Highland Mess, and walk back to our flat to watch the rest of The Holy Grail, picking up with the Temptation of Sir Galahad the Chaste, at Anthrax Castle.
I discover a tick engorged in the underside of my hamstring, in the fleshy part behind my knee, it moves when I pick at it, and Dawn uses makeshift tweezers and some of my Scotch to clean it off. We reckon it’s been there since Arbroath, four or five days now.