‘Tight framing of shots,’ 1974

Pictish carved stones, St. Vigeans, Angus, Scotland

Pictish carved stones, St. Vigeans, Angus, Scotland

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.

Categories: humor, travel

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19 replies

  1. you are a local novelty and sensation. if you ever had a hankering to be popular, this is your chance. i love the characters you’re meeting along the way –

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I do feel unusual here – more so than normal, than usual. Whereas in Amsterdam I really felt like a cretin, that’s how we were treated as tourists sometimes – here, celebrity status!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Of all the accents, Scottish is my favorite. I would destroy that tick with a mighty rage, though. Five days indeed. That sumbitch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was just pissed I had to use like 25 cl of Scotch on it, which is roughly a pound or two. And really disgusting, a scene I’d like to forget, but can’t help share, it’s so gross. It is a good accent, it’s beautiful. And fun watching John Cleese do it as the sorcerer, Tim.


  3. Firstly, what a great photo. We have a burial ground near us (now disused) which runs on a slope like that and I’ve always pictured the people at funerals, leaning slightly to one side as the vicar speaks over the grave, the elderly and infirm in danger of rolling down the slope. Imagine trying to bury someone there when the frost’s on the ground …

    Nextly – only stupid English people refuse Scottish notes. I’ve been working in shops for thirty years (good god, have I? Yes, dammit, I have) and I’ve always accepted them.
    There is on occasion – let me try and be polite about this – a tiny, weeny amount of animosity from some Scots towards the English and I hear a wee note of it from the lady you spoke to. There is nothing some Scots would love more than to have border controls at Hadrian’s Wall and stop all the sassenachs from coming in.
    Shame, because I don’t know any English who feel the same way about the Scots.

    Love the fairy house building – not the tick so much, though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a great perspective Lynn, I’m thankful for it. We had a conversation along these lines about people in general yesterday, after I got into a non-verbal dispute with hand gestures and angry faces over the steering wheel, on one of these single lane roadways alongside the Loch Ness, and what we’d call in the States a Mexican Stand-off where the guy in his car insisted I go in reverse whereas I thought he should have pulled off to the side where he could have, and maybe it was our German plates that brought on the angriness or maybe it’s just you have dicks everywhere, regardless of nationality. It was a learning moment for all of us in the car, well facilitated by my even-headed wife, Dawn.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not heard of our Scottish cousins having a problem with the Germans … They can’t forgive the English for the Highland Clearances (a long time ago and best put behind us) and for voting in a Conservative government – again – when there are next to no Scottish Tories (Perfectly understandable and I agree with them wholeheartedly on that score 🙂 )


  4. Loved those old cemeteries and the gorgeous textures of centuries of lichen and the constant buzzing of ghosts.


    • Yes, so much in that texture for sure – can’t really get it with your camera, just have to see it. Glad the midges aren’t ’round you warned me about. Looked them up on Wiki and right-horrifying, they are!


  5. I bought my husband a copy of the commemorative 40th anniversary edition of Holy Grail (it came with little plastic farm animals and its own little plastic catapult) and it arrived this past week and we watched it together the other night. He’s a huge fan, I’m less of one, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on.

    Anyway, I admire your adventurous eating! How brave to order haggis, and taste it, and live to tell the tale.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I admire the film for its silliness and inventiveness. I’m a big fan of Cleese and his wife, Connie Booth – especially in Faulty Towers, that was a favourite of mine growing up in the 70s. I hadn’t watched it for maybe 20 years and found it funny, it was filmed near where we are in Scotland – some of the scenes remind me of the Highlands we drove through late last week. I don’t know if you’ve been here, but the scenery is really beyond words (but fun to try to get there, beyond words). I like the colours of gold, brown, green – and the drama of the moors and rocks, a lot like west coast of Ireland. Thanks for your comments about the haggis too. When I asked the waitress for a recommendation she actually led with that, so I went there.


  6. A tick. Good Lord. That’s not the souvenir you’re looking for, I presume? These travelogues are great. I can’t engage in this type of travel so I have to conduct my trips viscerally through you. If it turns out they’re just a work of fiction and an exercise you’re conducting from the Pacific Northwest, please don’t let on.


    • Would that it were just an exercise, I’d be brilliant, and not spending so much time blogging. Arguably “writing” instead. Ha! Glad you stopped by, you’re always welcome and I’ll fix it for you in a flash Mark. Just cooked some Scottish salmon for my family and it was buttery and like perfect – even ate the skin.


  7. There ought to be some kind of pasty, grainy food called Sammamish, now that you mention it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Being perhaps a bit too realistic and accurate there, should have gone with Seattle. Funny, when I say the name “Sammamish” when saying our billing address. Grainy, chewy texture that one.


  8. Loved the way you express wily eyebrows. So much better than ‘bushy’ or ‘wiry’ as a descriptor.


  9. Address to a Haggis

    Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
    Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
    Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
    Painch, tripe, or thairm:
    Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
    As lang’s my arm.


    – Robbie Burns.


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