New Years Eve … and a goose

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23.20 on a New Years Eve – the phone rings. It’s the next door cottage neighbour and his close pal, the two of them talkative beyond measure, a former publican, and a management consultant, happily reunited for the evening, and whilst now feasibly heading towards their dotage, still a pair of too busy schoolboys at heart. “Shall we come round?” A loud knock on the door follows. Already happily drunk, our unexpected musketeers arrive, beneath an ice cold clear sky of stars, Orion’s belt twinkling above. Living room warm, Christmas tree busily covered with decorations and baubles, the marzipaned and iced cake, a prize from the end of term school fair, makes a welcome appearance; to RuralDad’s delight, so does an 18 year old Talisker, from a worn gardening jacket pocket.

Rather later on, well into the new year, a now very dear elderly neighbour decides its time for home. Society accepts, with some sense of foreboding, that the occasional teenager will grace a casualty department door in the early hours of a new year, rather the worse for the demon drink; near 80 year olds are another matter. Our once-soldier, gnarled, still strong as an ox, and weighty, stands, wobbles, and with a cheerful grin, falls flat on his face. Head seemingly still okay, we realise, as I rescue my slipper from under his thigh with a too firm prod, and resultant moan, its the wobbly hip that is the potential issue. Torches in hand, arms around shoulder and back, RuralDad half carries half drags the once welcome visitor home, avoids fumbling for keys in sticky pockets, and pushes the home comer up his stairs, and on to his bed. When feet are raised, said neighbour falls backwards, to be enveloped by his duvet. As an ear is kept cocked for thuds and bumps, all stays well. Within minutes, a deep snore resonates though the old cottage and when checked upon by torchlight beam, a long balding head can be seen half emerging from the duvet cover. Dogs guard either side of their master, eyes twinkling, noses kept low, paws, RuralDad suspects, over their ears.

RuralDad relaxes in his neighbour’s parlour, toes towards a roaring fire, still in good company, with much to discuss, and hears how his now remaining pal of the evening, himself a late emerging author, is due to be translated into Chinese; In contrast, RuralDad sighs to himself, if one reader finds RuralDad’s budding Blog, it will seem a miracle. 4am new years day, Orion twinkles still, did an owl hoot?, as RuralDad plods a higgledy piggledy happy way home across the frozen muddy farmyard. The gift of too many Speyside and Hebridean single malts to taste, may not have been quite what the Doctor would have ordered, but they seemed a worthy challenge, a positive omen, and a good way to toast the future. What though will the new year bring?

A New Year, a new start – roast goose from the farmyard for dinner to celebrate – many hours preparation, 3 large jars of white, firm, surely healthy fat (for the tatties) a side product, back aching. If the cold chill of a now long wet winter remains, the prospect of smothering RuralDads torso in goose fat to survive becomes a distinct possibility.

A too sore head, still making its presence known late on January 1st, delays the much awaited? launch of ‘North by Southwest: A British journey’. The goose too was roasted a day late; budding cooks, trying to help SHE, should realise a goose takes some 4 hours to cook alone; getting Delia out of her stocking at 15.00 was, in hindsight, a little too laid back an approach. Was said goose wild? – it may well have been livid, if still plodding around the yard, reflecting on its fate. Too many whiskies have led to a perhaps daft decision – the webablog goes formally live. ‘Slainte’ – good health world.

Possible Vindolanda writing tablets relating to late Roman Christmastide

Finding words for the annual Christmas letter, brings thoughts of possible family news.  Perhaps the first Vindolanda wooden writing tablets, relating to late Roman Christmastide, may be unearthed from anaerobic middens alongside Hadrian’s Wall ?

(re-deciphered Tablets 291, 344):

“Clausia Santavera, to his Lepidina, greetings. On the 25th December, Sister, for the day of celebration of Christmastide, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, or call, as you make the day more enjoyable for me today by your fine words of news. If you give presents, I wish for … (?). I shall expect your joyful letter too by return, sister. Such words bring great cheer. The de[e?]r, yon babes, [s?]elves do well. Farewell, sister, dearest soul, as hope I to prosper, and Hail to all this Christmastide”.

“… all the more .. such letters.. the strain – pour them down the drain (?). As befits an honest man, I implore your majesty not to allow me, an innocent man, to have to receive such drivel (?) I was unable to complain to the prefect because he was detained by ill-health, too having received Christmastide writings so very long. I have complained in vain to the beneficiarius and the rest of the centurions. Accordingly (?) I implore your mercifulness not to allow me, an innocent man, as to whose good faith you may inquire, to receive such news of family this month as if I had committed some crime. Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it infamy(?) A curse on writers such..”

If so, little changes?     With best wishes for Christmas.  Rural Dad

A Grand idea for a grand tour

A chance encounter, as will happen, led in part to the ‘grand idea’.

Edinburgh, the weekend of the Scotland–Ireland rugby international, offers an even more than usually exuberant, noisy and colourful scene. In the Grassmarket, long a cosmopolitan haunt of visitors and locals alike, the atmosphere was boisterous. Groups of emerald green and navy blue clad supporters raucously jostled into, simultaneously popped out of, and packed within the too crowded bars, pubs and clubs. Deciding against forcing our way through the scrum, our small group of 20 and 30 somethings, then in the city to study, voted for a quieter night.

Heading back up steep narrow alleyways of the Old Town, beneath towering brooding sandstone tenements, a cold wind hit hard. Close by, in the National Museum, Viking chessmen, Norse kings, queens, bishops, knight, and beserkers, carved long ago from walrus tusk, later to be discovered on the Isle of Lewis, slumbered the night away, indifferent to the long winter evening we mere mortals were suffering outside.

Warmth and noise engulfed all, as our refugee revellers finally clambered through the swinging door of another city institution, the Pear Tree. Glasses steaming up instantly, part blind, and rummaging for a hankie to wipe the mist from near frozen lenses, I sensed the amused looks of fellow drinkers, and half grinned back. With its leather sofas, expansive bar, and sheltered summer vine clad courtyard, the pub was the sort of haunt that you imagined English gals would have come to, in years past, after archaeology lectures, to drink, smoke Gauloise, describe love and life, and look so beautiful.

Here too it was busy. Another party of Irish rugby fans soon started to take a too keen interest in our group, making repeated sideways glances our way. My turn to buy the drinks, I squeezed a way through to the bar, and whilst waiting for the order, watched as Ireland’s table parted, to push a somewhat hesitant lad my way. Was it ‘Finn McCool’ who was beating a slow path towards me? I scratched self consciously at what had now become an irritating attempt at a beard, grown in a vain attempt to impress a too pretty post grad. My Irishman arrived. For a brief moment I wondered whether the bar was about to kick off in style. Eyes met; he hesitated:

“Well?” my unexpected new friend finally said, then, all in a rush, enquired “are yer really Bill Bryson then?” finding myself smiling, I placed an arm on his shoulder, and replied …

The ‘grand idea’ hit home slowly. Well – why not! – why not at least consider an adventure, mull the idea over, formulate a plan, challenge myself to go for it. The expedition in mind, for life, a spiritual ‘British Journey’, following in the footsteps of Defoe, Priestly, Morton, Theroux, even Bill Bryson no less. To discover, travel slowly through, absorb, better understand, and record a personal view of rural Britain today, ‘North by South West’, from the Shetlands to the Scillies. Could I describe, photograph, and explain the effect of the land on man, of man on the landscape and nature, and how society and economies have adapted to changes in place over time? Linked emotionally, now I know genetically too, to ‘my’ Viking chessmen, could I not too part travel their long journey, from fjord to island to mainland to capitals, by slow higgledy piggledy lane, and experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of near on a thousand years of history and change within our Isles? Why not even slowly web-a-blog reflections on the ongoing ‘journey’.