Thursday, December 16, 2010

Da Docent Is In



Census for December 9, 2010
7 Chelonia Mydas basking.
5 Chelonia Mydas Actively feeding in the tide pools.

Interesting turtle fact #1: The green sea turtle, unlike its land based cousins, cannot retract its head inside its shell.

As the sun peeks its head through the palm fronds, Da Docent is open and ready for business. What a great day! Why? Because I am sitting in my brand new Docent Headquarters located smack dab in the middle of Punaluu Beach. To my knowledge, this is the first Docent Headquarters on the south side of the Big Island and, in fact, it is the first Docent Headquarters on the entire Big Island. The new HQ did not cost the taxpayers one red cent as I constructed the HQ from donated or liberated materials. The walls are of a peachy, pastel-colored cloth material, which has been fastened between six large coconut palms. The enclosure has ample space for me to store all my docent supplies. It also includes a break room for me to enjoy my lunch, as well as a place for me to lie down when the stress of the job becomes too much. I have devised a pulley system to display the donated warning flags to make visitors aware of any TPSR violations. The flag system, combined with my whistle, should keep turtle viewing orderly. With a generous contribution from Walmart of Hilo, hundreds of plastic shopping bags liberated while the cashier was counting out my rolls of pennies when I purchased some bungee cords to complete my construction project, I will be able to add a new program to my repertoire. Now, on first warning I will give the offender a shopping bag which they can use to pick up refuse on the beach. When they fill the bag they can have full turtle viewing privileges restored. This will avoid the need for me to drag children back to the parking lot and hopefully avoid contact with camera bags wielded by out of control sightseers. I have also created a wonderful sign identifying Docent Headquarters that I painted on the back of a really unnecessary stop sign that I liberated from Main Street in Pahala.

Punaluu Docent Headquarters
Respect the Honu
(Sea Turtle)

It is any wonder that I am proud as a peacock this fine morning. Sitting in my beach chair, binoculars around my neck and whistle at hand, I survey the Honu. Like my spiritual bruddahs, the Honu, I cannot retract my head to injustice. In a little over a week I have founded the Docent Program, established guidelines and policies, and constructed a Docent Headquarters at NO COST TO THE TAXPAYER. Maybe I will tackle the U.S. Senate when my mission here is complete.

Interesting Turtle Fact #2: Turtles do not reach sexual maturity until they are 25 years old and then mate once every two or three years.

Again I can relate to my spiritual bruddahs, the Honu. Did I mention that my clothes were on the front porch after that incident at Walmart?
Well, no tour buses due for another hour, I think I’ll walk over and talk story with the bruddahs at the end of the beach.

“Howzit, my bruddahs. Check out my new Da Kine Docent Headquarters!”

“Hey wait, bruddahs, we talk story and have some ono grind”

Guess they all had to go to work or something.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brainstorming









Census for December 7, 2010
2 Chelonia Mydas basking.
6 Chelonia Mydas Actively feeding in the tide pools.


Under state law, the penalty for anyone convicted of harassing an endangered Hawaiian sea turtle, including disturbing its nest, on first conviction, is a fine of not less than $250 and not more than $2,000, or by imprisonment of not more than one year, or both. For a second or subsequent offense within 5 years of a previous conviction, a fine of not less than $500 or by imprisonment of not more than one year, or both.

It was well after nightfall when I finally arrived home. The 5-mile walk home was made more difficult by the fact that I had to carry all of my equipment. Up the hill I trudged with backpack, beach chair, binoculars, and the whole 9 yards. Everything made it home except for my TWSC cards and Data Records Book. The TWCS materials were ripped up by the husband of the woman who hit me in the eye with her camera case, which all could have been avoided if her twin 6-year-olds would have just stepped back into the turtle safety zone. Then I would not have had to give the little tykes double yellow cards and physically remove them to the parking lot. Personally, I think the mother’s reaction was a little over the top. I was only running to the parking lot with her children under my arms to protect the sea turtles from her little ones repeatedly getting inside the 15-foot TPSR. I told her and her husband there was no need to be confrontational, but they were too unbalanced to listen to reason.

After a tiring day, it was comforting to see that wifey was considerate enough to put my pillow and blanket out on the couch so that I could get a good night’s sleep. I needed a good rest because I knew tomorrow would be busy now that my TWSC system was ruined and I would have to address all violations the old fashioned way. What did we do before technology? There has to be a way to perform this mission more effectively. Let me sleep on it, as all my best ideas come after a good rest.

The brainstorm hit at 3 a.m. How could I not have thought of it before? The solution … a flag system. I could raise a flag of warning and blow my whistle without coming in camera bag range of the offenders. Brilliant, and I knew just where to get some colored flags. The other day wifey and I were driving up in Woods Valley and drove past a house that had numerous flags right in front of the house. Surely they could spare one or two. Now, Woods Valley is well off the beaten track. We were told it was an area inhabited by old hippies who just wanted to farm and do their own thing. That is exactly what my purpose could use is some of that good old 60’s hippie feeling. Hippie farmers would be happy to donate a few flags to help Mother Nature.


With that, I knew I had to act on this brainstorm or I might forget by the morning. So I quietly slipped out of the house to make a quick drive up to Woods Valley and the flag house.
I found the house with the flags without a problem. There must have been 50 flags draped around the front porch. I’ll just run up grab a couple and get back home in time for breakfast before heading into my office. I walked up the driveway just past the sign that read…



Hare Krishna
Temple of the GlitteringLeftShoe
Hare Rama


I climbed up on the porch and gave a good tug to the first flag. It wouldn’t budge. They were all tied together and on the same line it looked like the week’s laundry was out as well. Just one quick tug and I’ll be on my way. I tugged and tugged and with one last mighty heave the line gave and I tumbled across the porch and fell into a large ceremonial gong. What a racket! I noticed a light had come on in the house and thought it might be a good time for me to be on my way. So I scurried to the car with the flags trailing behind me. By the time I started the car every light in the place was on. I stepped on the gas and headed down the hill back towards Pahala. Mission accomplished, and the turtles will be safer tomorrow. As I began to speed down the hill with my lights off, not wanting to wake any of the locals, I noticed in my rear view mirror that all the gentleman in the house were out waving at me, probably wishing me well.


When I got home I reeled in my new turtle saving equipment. Not only did I get the two flags I needed, but I also had every flag from the porch as well as the items that were on the clothes line. My bad! I had fifty flags that had tags reading Genuine Tibetan Prayer flags and 15 bedsheets of a peachy pastel color. I thought about taking them back, but it was a long drive back up the valley and surely they have more bedsheets. And with the jovial send off they gave I surmised they would not mind a donation to the docent program.

It is shaping up to be another great day in the life of the Senior Docent of Punaluu.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

This is my wife after one day on the job with me

Census for December 5, 2010
2 Chelonia mydas basking

I knew it was going to happen, but was hoping it wouldn’t. I knew my wife was going to want to come to work with me to check up on this “so-called job,” as she calls it. As soon as she said she wanted to come, I knew there was going to be an incident. I knew she wouldn’t understand my position. She works at home all day by herself. She has no idea about the stress in working with the public and at the same time dealing with wild animals. This is not some Disneyland fantasy ride.

It was a nice morning walk across lava fields to the next beach up the coast. I was, as usual, working, looking for turtles and ever vigilant for those that wish to do them harm. She was just walking and enjoying the scenery. She then said she would like to go back to Punaluu to just sit on the beach.

“Are you sure you want to do that dear? You know I am on 24/7.”

“Oh give me a break and just sit on the beach for an hour.”

“If we must.”

All was going well for the first quarter hour. And then a wonderful Chelonia mydas beached itself right at our feet. This beauty had to tip the scales at 400 lbs. This was a large, mature female, probably at least 30 years old. What a specimen! We were both enchanted. But then I noticed a tour bus pulling into the lot about 400 yards away. “Show time,” I uttered, while pulling on my fluorescent green cycling vest.

“What? What the hell are you wearing? Oh please!” she muttered. I think it was disbelief with a dose of exasperation I noted in her tone.

I finished preparing. With the fluorescent green vest I included my whistle, my binoculars, my Field Guide to Turtles and Fishes, my tide book, and my newly made “Turtle Warning System Cards” (TWSC).

The TWSC is my new invention. It was a stroke of genius, if you ask me. Due to the number of European visitors that we have at Punaluu and due to the fact that I only speak English and Hawaiian Pidgeon (more on that shortly), we needed a method to communicate quickly and clearly. With the TWSC, when a person violates Turtle Personal Space Rule (TPSR), I blow my whistle and run down the beach until I am face-to-face with the TPSR violator and then I show them a yellow card and note it in the TWSC Data Records Book. A second violation will result in a red card and banishment back to the tour bus. A person touching a turtle would earn an automatic red card. This would require me to escort them to the bus and report it to the tour director.

I was watchful as the group neared my Chelonia mydas. To break the ice, I would approach the gawkers and engage them in some of the local lingo, Hawaiian Pidgeon.

“Howzit, visitors. Aloha and mahalo, welcome to Da Kine Hawaiian Turtles (the real deal Hawaiian turtles).”

“Who are you?” An impertinent young man accompanied by a 20-something hard-body asked.

“I am da Docent . Da turtles are taking da sleep befo de go for some ono grind (good food). Me and da turtles are ohana (family)."

“Whatever old guy. Do you know how to work a camera? Would you take our picture?” asked the young man.

“Sure thing, kahuna”, I replied. I’ll fix his wagon, this smart-mouthed, flat-bellied youngster. Just because you have a full head of thick luxurious hair you think you can disrespect me and my language, I’ll show you. You know, I may not be Hawaiian, but I did sleep in Pahala last night.

So I framed up their picture and snapped away.
“Let me get another.”
“Just one more, perfect.”

I got 5 good photographs and that wiseass doesn’t have his mug in one of them. Though I did get some good close ups of the more curvaceous parts of his girlfriend’s anatomy. See how that plays back in Peoria, arsehole.

I looked back to make sure my bride was catching my tactful display of people skills. She must have been really proud because her face was all red and she was trying to hide her pride by hiding behind her beach towel.

Well, then it really hit the fan as a elderly couple violated the TPSR. I raced into action. I was a whistle-blowing, binocular-clanking, yellow-card-displaying dervish of a docent. By the time I finished recording the violations in TWSC Data Records Book, I was a nervous wreck. I headed back to our chairs just in time to see my wife burn rubber out of the parking lot.

I knew she wouldn’t understand.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's off to work . . .

Disclaimer. For all you arseholes who commented about the picture…that is not I, the turtle OR the Swedish guy in the banana hammock.

Census for December 2, 2010
7 Chelonia Mydas basking.


Part of the new job requirement coming from the new Senior Docent and Supervisor of Docent Activities is the daily census, which I have posted above. I don’t know if I like this new supervisor and the extra work he is requiring.

The details of my position are still being worked out. Things like salary, benefits, working hours, and uniform allowances have yet to be worked out. But for now I will make do with the following:

Salary. I am a volunteer. I report to work every day on my own without a thought of financial gain. As Julia Butterfly was to the redwoods, so am I to the green sea turtles of Punaluu. This is not a job; this is a search for purpose! You may ask why I have taken on this demanding position without hope of financial reward. My recent motivation is not totally altruistic. It stems from a comment by wife… something to the effect of “What in the hell is it that you do all day?” I forget the exact verbiage, but I did pick up something in the tone that made me think taking on this mission might be wise.

Benefits. Being the giver that I am, I have little regard for any benefits. Much like the old story of the starfish that I have sat through at almost every teacher staff development seminar I have attended, today I made a difference to those 7 Chelonia mydas.

Work Hours. I show up when I want and leave when I want. But, as we all know, as Senior Docent I am really on 24/7. No rest for the weary.

Uniform Allowance. My official uniform is swim trunks and T-shirt. I have to buy my own whistle to alert visitors that they are getting too close to the turtles. The whistle makes me feel like one of those damn basketball officials when I was coaching. “Sir, I am going to have to ask you to step away from the turtle, next warning I‘m going to have to send you back to the tour bus.” I blow the whistle and head off like a Quixotic Barney Fife on a mission to save the world. Maybe that is why Julie won’t come to the beach with me when I’m working.

Must go now. Need to get some sleep. That new Supervisor is making me work on Saturday. That is actually okay, now that have a porpoise (docent joke).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Job??

One of the perils of the job!

Well, you may think I am crazy, and after reading this it may be confirmed, but after a month in Hawaii I have found the need to pursue a higher purpose, or at least some purpose. To that end I have recently accepted a position as Senior Docent at Punuluu Beach Park. I am in charge of supervising Chelonia Mydas, or green sea turtles, with auxiliary responsibilities for spotting Megaptera novaeangilae or humpback whales.

How I came to accept this position is quite a story in itself. I accepted the position from none other than myself, as I created this position. Since I am the only person in this position, I am the longest serving person in this position; therefore, I am the Senior Docent. I didn’t know I would advance so rapidly when I developed this position yesterday, but I have always thought I was upwardly mobile. Currently there is no Junior Docent or even a Supervisor of Docents, so I have been extremely busy. I could move into a management position soon. The brainstorm for this position came from sitting on the beach at Punuluu watching the sea turtles come up to bask on the beach. I could relate to them on a cosmic, mystical level. I, too, would bask on the beach and when I got too warm I would head into the ocean to thermoregulate. I felt they needed an on-shore advocate as I watched, with horror, as too many banana hammock clad tourists would violate their and my personal spaces. That exposes my prejudice, that wearing a banana hammock in public violates everyone’s personal space. So, the turtles needed an advocate and I needed a job, well I didn’t need a job nor did I really want a job, but I needed a purpose and since I came to the beach to bask on a daily basis it was a match made in paradise.

The reason I needed a purpose stems from the fact that nearly everyone I have met here is retired or unemployed. I needed something to set me apart because, as I was both retired and unemployed, I felt I was becoming a statistic. I wasn’t an old fart crawling off the tourist bus to gawk at the black sand beach on my way to tonight’s authentic luau at the Sheraton-Hilton- Four Seasons-Marriot-Hawaiian Holiday Resort. Nor was I in the ranks of the unemployed who occupy the parking lot at the other end of the beach who drink beer, smoke gange, barbecue fish that they take from the ocean, and just hang out. Though I am probably closer to the latter than the former.

The position of Senior Docent and Supervisor of Docent Activity (see? I got a promotion already and only my third day on the job) is a work in progress. I am still working on my job description and list of duties. I haven’t yet scheduled the meeting to review and approve the job description with Senior Management, Labor Union representatives, Community Representatives, and the Budget oversight Committee, and I may just stonewall that meeting and block all progress until my demands for tax breaks for the top 2% of docents are met. But I digress. The job description includes a myriad of activities that I fulfill on a daily basis. I will detail these, but this is not a comprehensive list and my duties change daily depending on the level of need and interests. That is, my needs and my interests.

I answer questions, sometimes politely and other times filled with a full frontal Doddonian retort.
“Yes, the turtles are alive.” What did you think, they were dead and we were just waiting till lunchtime to throw one on the barbie?

“Yes, they move.” Did you think I went out in the water and hauled a 500-pound shell up here for you to photograph?

“Yes, they are asleep.” You would sleep too if you had to watch for 12-foot tiger sharks when you went out at night.

“No, they don’t bite.” They are herbivores and that melon on your shoulders that comes up with these stupid questions might make you a candidate for lunch.

Well, you get the picture.

I have to go to work now. I will continue this later. But, first I must go pack my lunch. Yes, I am a lunch pail toting docent headed to the salt mines for another grind. First, I must check to see that I am prepared with the tools necessary to fulfill my purpose. Beach chair, towel, crossword puzzle book, trashy novel, binoculars, camera, hat , sunscreen, lunch, and more.

It’s tough, but somebody has to do it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hawaii

So, Hawaii has turned out to be a nice fit, even if we made a bit of an error in choosing where to call home base. We like being away from the hustle and bustle of tourists and crowds, but when the nearest real market is an hour away and the closest restaurant 12 miles away, me thinks we got a little carried away in that department. We've set up something for next time right in the middle of the hustle and bustle, will get a feel for that, and then decide what's next. We have decided, though, to make this home base. Yep, we's moving to Hawaii. :-) The weather is perfect, the water temperature is perfect, the availability of fresh food year round is amazing, and the island itself is awesome. From desert lava beds to jungle to lava rolling into the sea, all within 30 miles of each other. Though all but the desert lava beds are 50 miles away from us. ;-) Some bits to accomplish to get us verified as residents, but we've gotta say we're from somewhere, register to vote, have a bank account, pretend we are grownups, and this is it. I even switched jobs so I could have health insurance over here (28 days and counting).

Aloha!

Monday, October 25, 2010


Our house is a two bedroom, two bath little bungalow that is very clean and well kept and has all the things we need. There is an ocean view out the window as well as from the back patio. The highlight is the large backyard. There must be 10 or 12 different fruit trees. Going around the yard there are bananas, avocados, lemons, limes, macadamia nuts, tangerines, guavas, and a couple of ones I have never heard of. A neighbor walked over with a jug of fresh squeezed guava-orange juice that is tasty. The avocado tree is loaded and I asked when we could harvest them. The old Hawaiian guy told me when they fall on the ground they are ripe. Perfect example of Hawaiian philosophy. When you live in paradise food just falls at your feet.

The town of Pahala has seen better days. It looks like many small Central Valley towns that progress left behind, not always a bad thing. There is a post office and a store, but not much else. There are usually a group of old timers hanging out by the post office "talking story", waiting for the fruit to drop at their feet.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Yes, here we are in Hawaii. Found Costco, found the beach, found the farmers market, found the ER, got Stan a bike, I got a work desk. On we go.

I've always liked birdwatching, nothing serious, but I do love the wee things. There are some very pretty ones that perch on my tree during my work day and it's been fun figuring out what they are. Yellow-billed cardinal, Japanese white eye, saffron finch, just the ones I've figured out so far. And we thought Kauai had a lot of chickens, but the roosters here in Pahala are plentiful. Beautiful things, mostly in cages, crowing far enough away to be a pleasant sound, albeit 24-hours a day. We had been pondering what they were for and had decided they must be show birds, they are so pretty. But my mind kept niggling on the fact that they were all roosters. All roosters. Surely not . . . After talking to a local the other night, surely yes. Cockfighting is alive and well somewhere around Pahala.

If I had thought Scotland was a different culture and that my height and shoe size made me stick out like a sore thumb, this is a very different culture and I think will take a little longer to settle into than Scotland.

And by the way, who said roosters say cockadoodledoo? They are very clearly saying happybirthdaytoyou, 24-hours a day.


Aloha!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Aloha


Settling in on the Big Island. You don't realize how rural and isolated it is here until you have to drive 50 miles to go to a decent grocery store. We took a drive to the grocery store yesterday when Julie got off work. You drive from sea level up to 4,000 feet and then back down again, through Volcano National Park, to Hilo to get to Foodland & More. Be sure to gas up while there. From our side going up is like driving through the deserts of Arizona (except for the view of the ocean) but once you crest the summit and head down the other side it is like a tropical rain forest complete with the rain. It rains from 3,500 feet down to about 1,000. I have never seen flora change so quickly. Amazingly beautiful on both sides, one in it's lushness, the other in it's starkness.

So we did our shop at Foodland & More and ventured over to the farmers' stands next door and picked up some local bananas, sweet potatoes, mangoes, onions, tomatoes and pineapple. As we were loading (?) our car a gentleman walks up and said his car ran out of gas could we help him out and buy some weed. That's right Maui Wowie, Big Island Green, Kona Kush. "Check it out brah, right here, good stuff, help a brah out". Ahh Foodland & MORE.

Coming next the House, the Beach and the Golf.

Mahalo

Sunday, October 3, 2010

I Have an Announcement to Make


We interrupt this normally somewhat amusing blog with the following announcement. Given a choice between living where there are more sheep than people or living where there are more cars than people, give me the sheep. I will admit to almost swooning in the produce section of Albertsons, but beyond that, I find no charm here in Orange County. None. Zippo. Nada. Can't be done. I will even take the UK Laundry Beast over this form of madness.

That's all.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Time For This One to Come Home


So, now comes the end of our first gypsy adventure. It has been too great for words, though we've tried. The temperatures are going down, the pound is going up. Though I love it here dearly, it's too cold for my liking, so on we go. We are coming up on our 180 days so it's on we go, cold or not.

Today was my last day of working from Scotland. Truly truly, the internet is an amazing thing to have allowed me to do what I've done (not to mention my serious luck at finding a job that would let me do it). Forty hours a week is forty hours a week, but with my weekends in Scotland, it was hard to complain.

I had my last tango with The Beast today, six hours for two loads and half of it is still lying around drying. I will not miss that, but I think that's the only thing I won't miss.

The people of Dornoch could not have been more welcoming, and we've made friends that I believe will last a lifetime. The visual joy that has been part of living here I've tried to catch in photographs, but don't think I got close. We've come as near to living simply as we have ever managed, for all that we have said we were going to try doing that everywhere we've gone. The beauty of a landscape preserved, and appreciated with such enthusiasm, is something I will miss as we head back to the concrete mass that is Orange County. And I've proven to myself that I can travel about with my various missing parts and be just like anyone else. Almost. Touch wood.

So, I'll pack up my computer and my clothes, and hope that I manage to pack enough of what I've gained here to last me until the next time I come back. See you in April.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

As the season in Dornoch winds down I have had the good fortune to play some other courses. In the last week I have played three totally different golf courses that all offer a unique perspective on Scottish golf. Last Monday I played in a Senior Open at Ullapool Golf Club. Last Sunday I was on the Royal Dornoch team that played a match at Boat of Garten Golf Club. Lastly, I was a member of the Royal Dornoch Seniors who played a match at Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh. These were three vastly different clubs and three different experiences, but all contribute to that wonderful thing that is Scottish Golf.

Ullapool Golf Club is a nine-hole course on the west coast of Scotland and is a new club, only about 15 years old. The village of Ullapool was without a golf club and the nearest club was 45 miles away. The villagers applied for a lottery grant to build a golf course. Probably a wise move to keep Scottish golfers off the road. The course was built very much as a city project, no big name designer, no elaborate clubhouse, no buggies, and no pro shop. It operates some of the time with an honesty box for your green fees. The members did and still do lots of the work on the club. It has a greens keeping staff of one. With all that being said, you would expect some cow pasture...wrong. The greens were smooth and fast and the fairways well manicured. The course had three really good holes. The 2nd hole is a beautiful par 3 of 180 yards. The tee is perched atop a hill with views up and down Loch Broom. The tee shot had to carry a finger of Loch Broom to reach the green that was protected by bunkers right and the loch on the left. The hole was also protected by a 20 mile per hour cross wind. A 3 is well earned. The 3rd hole is a fun short par 4 that has the loch down the left hand side for the entire length of the hole and a bank of gorse protecting the right. The green is set between the bank of gorse and the loch and offered great views out to the Western Isles. The 4th hole is a postcard pretty par 3 from an elevated tee playing down 160 yards to a three-tiered green with the loch protecting the left side and back of the green. The rest of the golf was challenging and good fun, just not as scenic. The golf at Ullapool will not be confused with championship golf, but there must be hundreds of these courses throughout Scotland, places that provide recreation and a sense of community to the village and I am sure I will return.

Boat of Garten Golf Club is one of the finest inland courses in Scotland. It was designed by James Braid and though not long, it will test your game. The fairways run up and down hills covered with white birch trees. If you don't drive the ball straight you will be in for a very long day. The greens offer just enough challenge to keep you on your toes without being silly. The club is located in the village and is a centerpiece for village life. I played as part of match between our two clubs. We took a coach down from Dornoch and upon arrival the club Captain greeted us. Coffee and bacon rolls were provided and friendships were made and renewed. We then played the traditional Scottish club match, better ball of partners. After the match we changed into jacket and tie for cocktail hours (the reason we took a coach) and then a proper dinner. There are hundreds of these inter-club matches throughout Scotland every year. The total cost of this full day including coach, lunch, golf, and dinner with wine the grand sum of 10 pounds. I love Scottish golf.

My next journey took me to Edinburgh and the oldest organized golf club in the world, The Royal Burgess Golfing Society of Edinburgh founded in 1735, 41 years before the United States became a country. This all-mens club is located only 10 minutes from the city center and, as the Brits might say, is quite posh. The golf course, another James Braid design, is immaculately maintained with huge, fast greens. The entire grounds was like being in an arboretum, hundreds of wonderful trees. Azaleas and rhododendrens were everywhere. The grounds were so well kept you almost did not want to ruin it by golfing...almost. The clubhouse was fantastic. The hallways were lined with golf paintings and cabinets filled with historic golf memorabelia. The locker room maybe the largest in Scotland and the showers were like standing under a car wash, delightful. This was a two-day match. When we arrived we were treated to lunch (soup and sandwiches) and then golf. After golf, showers and change into coat and tie for cocktails, dinner (soup, roast lamb, and creme brulee, cheese and coffee), and more cocktails in the members bar. We then were housed by the members. The next day we had our match and a huge carvery lunch. The total cost of this junket - 25 pounds. Rightly or wrongly, the members are quite proud of their all-male status. A member was relating to me a story about how the wives of two members were waiting on the upstairs balcony of the clubhouse for their husbands to finish golf when down below on the 18th green a member missed a short put and let forth with some unsavory language. The wives were quite offended and demanded that their husbands write a formal letter of complaint to the management committee, which they did. The management committee considered the formal complaint and issued the decision that women were furthermore banned from being on the balcony.

Golf in Scotland comes in all shapes, sizes and forms, but is a distinct and important part of their culture.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The First of the Lasts


I had my last massage yesterday. One of the nice things I do for myself, if I'm going to sit at a keyboard all day, is to get an upper back massage. I've managed it about every three weeks since we've been here with a wonderful woman named Claire. She's a local gal and even she says this summer has been dreadful. As you may well guess, I am looking forward to my last tango with The Beast, but that's not for a while yet. And may well be another story. But I digress. I had been expecting this first of the lasts to be difficult, a feeling of the beginning of the end. Surprisingly, it wasn't. We hugged and smiled and said we'd see each other in April.

With one down, and all the other lasts coming up in the next couple of weeks, I am approaching them with high hopes that they will be met with this same aplomb and none of the melancholy that I was expecting, with anticipation for the next time around and high hopes of maintaining the peace of mind and sense of balance I've found in my time here. I can't say that chucking it all and abandoning family (as has been implied by those who shall remain nameless) and friends for a not so foreign land is for everyone, but coming on the heels of the year we had before we got here, it was exactly the thing I needed. There has definitely been an element of putting my head in the sand, especially in regard to the political scene at home, but it all went on without me whether I was paying attention or not. I've survived the hole in my heart that having my kids so far away created, and they survived us being gone. I've survived six months of golf stories and we are, if anything, better friends than we were before. So next time you think about chucking it all for the simple life, go ahead and do it. It's brilliant.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Buses, and crowds, and noise, oh my!


Edinburgh. At the time of both the Tattoo and The Fringe, and we had tickets. Two Highland Hermits head for the Big City. The train down was thoroughly enjoyable, even if riding backwards did something to someone's sense of direction (not mine, for once). Checked in at the guest house, took a nap (as all over 50s should aspire to do when planning on staying up till 2 in the morning), and off we go. Down the street, past scaffolding, strip bars, and take aways. Hmmmm. Around the corner and there's the Edinburgh I know and love. Castle on the hilltop, flags flying in the wind. The Tattoo is an experience, rather military for my taste, but it is the Military Tattoo, after all. Stayed up late with friends in a bar that made me so very glad I'm not 25 any longer. It's way too much work to be that cool.

Two more days of wandering the city, watching some very fringe Fringe performers, two more good shows, good food, forgetable food, good pubs, and two, count them, two Starbucks frappucinos. A good time was had by all. Time to leave came on Tuesday morning and I was more than ready to catch a cab to the train station and depart for the Highlands. Not quite with my tail between my legs, but having proved to myself once again that I am not a city girl. Thank goodness.

Friday, August 27, 2010


After almost five months in the same clothes, I needed some retail therapy and handily a Himalayan Fair Trade group has taken over the Social Club for two weeks. I bought three new pairs of pants, all of which have to be washed in cold water and hung dry.

Laundry day arrived today. Perhaps I've mentioned the laundry Beast before? The lowest setting on the thing is 30 degrees Celsius, which is something like 85 degrees, and not what I consider cold water. Plus, when I wash things on that setting, they are hot to the touch when it's through with them, so I know it's hotter than 85. I have spent more time that I care to admit sitting on the floor in the kitchen with the instruction manual in my lap, so don't suggest I read the directions.

The only cold water setting is for wool. So, okay, I'll wash them on the wool setting. An hour later, I'm not kidding, it beeps and I go to take them out to hang them dry. They are soaking wet. It has completely gone through its cycle, and they are basically as wet as when you hand wash something and let the water out of the sink but don't squish out the clothes. This rings a bell as something I may have tried when we first got here. Sigh. I don't dare set the thing to rinse and drain, as it will rinse in the 30 degree (plus) water. There's a drain and spin setting, apparently my best option, so I go for it. The Beast proceeded to violently spin off and on for 15 minutes, literally rattling the dishes, but I can now hang the pants dry.

I am getting very melancholy about leaving Dornoch, but I am kicking up my heels at the thought of a washer and dryer that are, for one thing, two separate machines, can do a load of laundry in under 3-1/2 hours, and do not make me tear my hair out.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What Did He Say?


My hearing has almost adjusted to Scottish/English accents. I am able to identify some accents and dialects. But, there are times in which I am sure they can't even understand each other. A case in point happened just the other day.

Julie and I strolled down to the Eagle for a pint and G and T (with ice and lime and squooshy tonic). We got our order and took a seat at the bar and began chatting with this fellow from Glasgow, who was up to play in a golf event. He had a menu and was obviously intending to have a meal. The gals behind the bar were scurrying about and looking much busier than the small crowd would require. Jackie, the manager, came and asked if he would like to go to the dining room for his meal.

He replied, "That would be grreeat" in that wonderful Glaswegian brogue. Jackie, in her proper Yorkshire accent, said, "Will the rest of your party be joining you directly?" "Rest of me party? It's just meself for a meal." Jackie, with a look of shock, says "What about the party of eighteen? I've just called in extra staff." "Nope, just me," the Galswegian replied.

The bartender who took the resevation said, "Sir, you asked me about a table for eighteen for dinner and I repeated it and you said that's right," with a look of exasperation. The man shook his head in bewilderment. We began talking and the Galswegian tells me, "I couldn't figure what all the bother was about, I just asked if could get a table for eating dinner."

It took this American to translate for them, with a bit of pantomime thrown in as the Glaswegian was not understanding my accent, a table for eating or a table for eighteen.

So I won't feel so bad saying pardon, or could you repeat that, or Huh?
They can't even understand themselves!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Say it ain't so!


We had friends in this weekend and rented a car. Likely our last car rental during our time here. There is a part of the drive, the bit north of Inverness to Dornoch, that has always felt like we are almost home. Silly, that, I know, but there it is. We took our friends down to Inverness and did the Loch Ness cruise to Urquhart Castle. On the way home, when we hit that part of the drive, it dawned on me that was the last time I'd see that bit of the drive until next year. This can't be! Six weeks from tomorrow we leave our sweet little town. I've no desire to stay here through a winter, so it's not that I want to stay. But I don't want to leave. I don't want to leave Barry and Isabel and Lukacz and Lesley, the wonderful ladies at the bowls whose names I have finally sorted out, and Margaret next door, whose warm welcomes and cooking I will miss immensely. The peace that I have found here has been good for me, body and soul. Even the thought of a real hamburger and a Chai creme frapuccino is doing little to quell the melancholy. Thoughts of warm sand and swimming in warm water do help, I must admit. And, I guess, the sooner we leave the sooner we come back. If the six months away fly like the six months here have flown, I will be back on the road north again and happy to be coming home.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Time and Time


When we first got here, the trees were bare, the daffodils were poking through the ground, and there was the smell of coal fires in the air. Then came the bluebells, the fluorescent yellow of the gorse, and the foxgloves. Now it's the rosebay willowherb (I had to look that one up, but it's one of my favorites). Too soon it's going to be the heather on the hillsides, which is going to mean fall is coming. There has still been the smell of coal fires in the air on any given day. The baby sheep that dotted the hillsides when we first arrived are gone, for the most part. Likely went for a last ride in the Livestock Lounge. =:-O The days are going by far too quickly. I kind of like telling time by flower rather than month.

Along the lines of the odd things I find interesting has been the time difference. I've been on a rather schizophrenic schedule, having to keep my work computer on Arizona time (I have the greatest job in the world, by the way), but living my life on Scotland time, so the fact of the roundness of the Earth plays with my mind every day. I start work at 8:30 in the morning, 12:30 in the morning in Arizona. I've got half my work day done and they aren't even awake yet. I'm going to bed and they're just back from lunch. The planet we are on, for as small as the internet and email and whatnot have made it, is .... There isn't a word for it when I let myself ponder the size of it. And without a sound, a few weeks ago it started tilting, telling the rosebay willowherb it was its turn, the heather to gear up for its turn, and the trees to get ready for a long winter snooze. On we go.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Wild Ride in a Stolen Car


The friend of a friend of a cyber pal said I should meet up with this bloke for some golf. Being the golf whore I am and knowing he had a car, I arranged a round with this American fellow whose name shall be withheld in case the authorities read this. Would that make me an accomplice?

We arranged to play at Golspie, my other club. Two other chaps joined us to make a four ball. Mr. X arranged to pick us up in front of the house at 9:00 a.m for the 15 minute drive up to Golspie. We were waiting... and waiting. He drives up at 9:20 in a huge white people mover van. We loaded up and off we went. I rode shotgun while my two mates climbed in the back. Mr. X takes off, one hand on the wheel, one hand holding a steaming cup of coffee, one hand adjusting the radio, and one hand emphasizing points as he talked. Well, it seemed like he had four hands.

I asked him, "Why did you rent such a large vehicle." He replied, "We needed it because we are traveling with my wife, kids, and mother and father in-law. But there is more room now that we left mom in Dublin."

"You left Mom in Dublin, where did you get the van?"

"I picked it up in Dublin," he replied as he took a sip of coffee and passed a tractor and Vauxhall as we neared a curve.

"But Dublin is in another country. They allowed you to take the car on the ferry across to Troon?"

"No, they said I couldn't bring it to Scotland, but I did anyway," he replied as we tailgated a delivery van before passing it on the bridge across Loch Fleet.

"So we are riding in a stolen car?"

"Well er..."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

One of the things I was thinking when I started this thing, this blog, was to help any fellow travelers with some do's and don'ts. Part of the packing process was going through my bathroom stuff, weeding out what I could surely buy over here and what maybe I would want to double up on just in case. I did pretty good on the doubling up on. They don't carry my favorite face goop. Haven't seen Dr. Pepper chapstick. Good call. They do carry Pantene, Secret, and Crest. Good call. In going through my things, I knew I could get Band-Aids and a thermometer, so those are carefully packed away in a box in storage in San Clemente. Bad call.

The thing is, when you need those things, I have learned, you need them now. Not later on when you can pick them up at the store. Cut your finger? You need a Band-Aid. Have a fever? You need a thermometer. New shoes give you blisters on your Achilles? You need Band-Aids.

So, tomorrow, when town opens back up (this being Sunday and Dornoch basically shuts down on Sunday), I'll be picking up Band-Aids and a thermometer, probably a good way to ensure that I won't be needing them any time soon. But if you should come visiting and find yourself in need, we'll be happy to share.

Monday, July 5, 2010

An Anniversary Redux


Hi ya. The 4th of July marked two anniversaries of sorts. It was the halfway point of our time in Dornoch for this year. It is also the 32nd anniversary of the day Julie and I met. So thank you, my love, on both counts. The joy you have brought is properly boundless.

To celebrate we went to our favorite restaurant in town, The Sutherland House. It is our favorite for a couple of reasons. First, it is approximately 40 feet from our front door. No parking hassles. No mad dashes to make our reservation (booking) on time. Total commute time door to door is 30 seconds. Secondly, they have Tennants 80 Schilling on tap, Julie's favorite beer. They are the only place in town that carries it. We have scoured the Highlands and have only found it it a couple of places. The also serve Tennants Ice Cold, my lager of choice, and enough single malts to keep me busy. Did I mention it is only a 30 second walk home? Thirdly, the food has been outstanding. They have a haggis starter that is fantastic. A layer of haggis topped by a layer of finely mashed neeps (turnips) topped with a layer of mashed tatties and the bottom of the plate is covered with a drizzling of cream. Really nice! My favoriete main is the Glenmorangie Chicken. A chicken breast wrapped in bacon, broiled and topped with a light whiskey sauce. It comes with veg and mashed potatoes and new potatoes. Go figure. Lastly, we love the Sutherland House becasue of Margaret, the owner. When we arrive, whether just for a beer or dinner, we get welcomed like long lost friends. Hugs all around and "Julie and Stan, come sit and tell me what you've been up to." When Margaret heard Julie's tales of doing laundry, the dryer cycle sounds a bit like a 747 taking off, only louder, and it shakes most violently, she insisted that we use her clothes line. "Just come in the back yard, everything is there." So on laundry day, if the weather is not properly foul, I trundle over and hang our laundry in Margaret's back yard. I love my clothes hang dried.

Last night at The Sutherland House we met up with two retired principals and two opthamolgists from North Carolina. I heard them debating on whether to try the haggis. I couldn't let it pass after one gent turned his nose up and said he could never eat that, much like my daughter did when she was 3. He sounded like he was being asked to eat fecal material. I walked over and tried to set them straight. They ordered some haggis to share. Julie and I had finished dinner, so we HAD to order the sticky toffee pudding and wait to see how the boys got on with their haggis.

We got to talking. They were on the typical American golf tour, "If this is Tuesday this must be Carnoustie." They were on the fifth day and sixth golf course and having a good time. Dornoch was their favorite course so far. We told them our story and they were so envious. A couple of them saying "I wish I could get my wife to do that, but that would never happen." And one of them actually proposed to Julie!

Well, I thank my lucky stars every day and, touch wood, I hope the next half of our stay is as good as the first.

Oh, they loved the haggis.

Halfway?

So, yesterday was a lot of things. It was the 4th of July. It was our anniversary. We met on the beach in San Clemente 32 years ago. And it marked the halfway point in our adventure. I just don't see how that can be. In some ways, the day we boarded to plane to come over seems ages ago, but the time we have spent here in Dornoch has flown by. It has, as I think both of us hoped, but dared not believe it would, become home. We are comfortable. We are happy. We are sleeping well. One of us has hay fever. We have gotten to know people. We see people on the street, at the market, in the little stores, and say hi. Or hiya. We even have a few folks we hug when we see them. I can't come up with a word that describes what a joy life in this tiny little town has been. I just hope the next half goes a bit slower.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Brora Golf Club


Brora is only eighteen miles north of Dornoch but playing golf there is like stepping back in time. Brora is a fun wee course with free-roaming sheep and cattle all about assisting the green keepers. Electric fences are used to keep them off the greens. The rough is light, the holes fairly short which would allows most to score at their handicap. The par 3’s are excellent with each playing in a different direction. You will probably have quite a good score going through the first 14 holes, but the last four will test your game. The 17th and 18th are particularly challenging. The 17th may be one of the finest par 4’s in Scotland. It plays 460 yards from an elevated tee directly toward the lighthouse on Tarbet Ness and directly into the prevailing wind. The fairway is rippled and there are a couple of huge mounds of rough in the center, making players choose a route. It takes two good swats to get near the green that is protected by gathering pot bunkers. A truly great and challenging hole. The finisher is a 200 yard par 3 that plays uphill and into the wind. The front of the green is protected by a deep swale which repels the poorly struck shot. It was quite gratifying for me to make my par in front of the gaze of the members from their seats in the clubhouse. As Pacific Grove is to Pebble Beach, so Brora is to Royal Dornoch, fun and a worthy inclusion in any golf trip.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Transformation?

I've been wondering if at my ripe old age something would start to change after living here long enough. I knew better than to expect to gain a Scottish accent, I've known enough people that have lived here for longer than we plan to and have not picked anything up. Despite that, the internal conversations in my head have a strong Scottish flavor. I do find myself phrasing questions in a slightly different manner, and there is an odd lilt I hear coming out on occasion. We have both picked up the some local phrases, Stan moreso than I. He's very good at cheers, where I still say thank you. Just get on with it has become a favorite for both of us. And I find myself ending phone calls with bye now.

I never, ever, would have expected what happened the other night, though. I have mentioned the combo washer/dryer. I am still mystified when the thing runs water into itself at the beginning of the drying cycle. And then 20 minutes in spins so hard (harder than during the wash cycle) that it knocks dishes into the sink and I'm certain every unit in the building violently shakes for 30 seconds or so. And if things get too dry, and this is a big if, they look as though they were crushed. The horrifying incident I am referring to occurred when I took the sheets and pillowcases out of the dryer. The dreaded too dry. The pillowcases were crinkled worse than anything I've ever pulled out of a tightly packed suitcase. The sheets were an equal mess, only bigger. I sat downstairs staring at my bedding, knowing what was coming, but trying to reason my way out of it. Here it comes . . . .

I ironed my pillowcases. This? This is the bit of Scottishness I have absorbed? I very quickly put the sheets on the bed and covered them with the duvet before this could get completely out of control. I shudder to think what might be in store for me next time I wash the bedding.

Bye now.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Orkney Magic

Four days off. For the non-retired, that's quite a treat. We had decided to spend the Summer Solstice on Orkney, so with another rental car we were off again. Our first night was at a B&B somewhere between Mey and Gills Bay. A wonderful place run by a couple from Edinburgh who had chucked it all and were running an eco friendly B&B in the middle of nowhere, Creag na Mara. We were hoping they would offer us permanent jobs, but no luck. Dinner that night at the Castle Hotel in Mey was made memorable by the wee man behind the bar. Lucky Charms, anyone?

All our B&Bs, by the way, did have us fill out papers and did have keys. Order was restored to my world.

The ferry crossing was smooth, but it was ice cold and windy outside. I had to buy a hat as soon as we got to Kirkwall. Anyone who knows me knows I don't do hats readily, but it was wet and cold and rainy. Despite this, my radar unerringly zoomed in on Sheila Fleet's shop. Three times total. In two days.


I have long wanted to go to Orkney with Stan. It's hard to put my finger on, and though I quite doubt I could live there long term, there is just something about it that draws me back and I wanted to share that with him. Whatever it is that I so love about Scotland, multiply that several times and you have the people and landscape in Orkney. We did the stone sites, which we had all to ourselves, the Pagans having done their thing long before at sunrise and the buses not having arrived yet. Without going all woohooey on you, there is something magical and mystical and utterly awesome about those stones. I guess to some they are just rocks, but not me. The rest of the island is just as amazing, iron age villages, the Italian Chapel, and the rolling hills melting into the shore. And, of course, the ever present sheep. And did I mention Sheila Fleet?

Back to Kirkwall to find bright sunshine and plenty of daylight left to sit outside with a pint and worry about getting sunburn at 7:00 in the evening. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Midges


We went to the west coast on our car journey. I put on my shorts and trainers in hopes of seeing the sun. At the very least I would be comfy while driving. The drive was great and there were patches of sun interspersed with patches of cloud and patches of rain. As they say the weather was a bit unsettled. We stopped for a forgettable lunch in Gairloch and then went ot Inverewe Gardens.

Inverewe Gardens is a remarkable place. It is the grounds of an old estate, Mackenzie family I believe. There are plants and trees from everywhere. There are winding paths through the estate that must cover 25 acres. The azaleas were in bloom, as were the rhododendrons. There is a walled garden with roses and thousands of other plants. There was a pond with blooming water lilies. The forest walk had trees found in North America. It had eucalyptus from Australia. There are even palm trees. They say this is where the Atlantic current ends so it has a moderate climate that is conducive to growing a wide variety of species. Really quite brillant!

We paid our fee and set off to tour this beautiful place. As we got just outside I noticed one of the gardeners with a helmet and some kind of net across his face. I figured he must be spraying something. We got out to the garden proper and I was besieged by midges (pronounced Midgeeeees). Midges are like a cross between a mosquito and a pit bull. They are small and don't warn of their attack like mosquitos. They land on your skin and send in armies of things like chiggars to chew up your skin. They are like poison oak with wings. They attacked every area of bare skin they could find. They set on me like, like, like ... Darin on a burrito, or Lacey on a plate of ribs, or Julie on a cheesecake, or Bobby on dinner. They are voracious and did not stop chewing on me until I was screaming surrender and sprinting back to the car. They trailed me. I think they were organizing a mission to pick me up and carry me back to midgeeee headquarters. But I made it to my car. As sson as the door closed they formed up on the wind screen to send me a message. They landed en mass on the wind shield and spelled out...
"You Are In Scotland,
Wear Proper Clothes, You Twit."

My legs maybe scarred for life and the itch is fierce. Oddly enough, they did not like Julie quite so well and she was unscathed. I must be a delicate flower. Next visit to the west, no shorts for me and I will find a full body bubble or I will just stay in the car.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Good Hippie B&B


We drove to the west this weekend past. We had no specific purpose other than to see what we could see. Julie has been over there a couple of times, but it was my first trip. The scenery is spectacular! You get bits and bobs of everything scenic - Sea cliffs, white sandy beaches, stunning vistas of islands, fog shrouded munros, tree filled river valleys, and desolate moors.

Sightseeing in Scotland with Julie is a different kind of trip. It involves stopping for second breakfast, elevensies, first lunch, second lunch, tea. You get the picture. I am not complaining. After many miles of single track roads with passing places, any time to get out of the car is welcome.

As it neared supper time we cruised into Ullapool. Ullapool is a small fishing village that is port for one of the large car ferries that takes folks out to the Hebrides. Being a jumping off point or a land fall point, the main street, all of a half a mile, is lined with B&B's. We parked the Festiva and strolled for a place to stay. We passed a few establishments all looking much the same. White plastered facades fronting the sidewalk with rooms upstairs directly above the street. But, there was one that stood out to Julie. A wood-sided house set back from the street with trees and a rustic looking garden and a vacancy sign. I could sleep anywhere, so I left Julie in charge of finding accommadations that would suit a princess. We rang the bell and after a pause a gray haired, 60'ish woman, who would not have been out of place at the Davis Farmers Market or a Grateful Dead show, answered the door.

The conversation went something like this..
"Do you have any rooms available?"
"We have one."
"Can we see it?"
"You can", opening the door to a nice room with a rustic, wood-canopied bed and two rocking chairs directly in front of the window overlooking the garden and the harbor.
"How much?"
"Sixty pounds."
"Does it include breakfast?"
"It is B&B, not just B. Just B wouldn't do, would it? And it is good breakfast."
"We'll take it."
"Gooood" in a Scottish brogue.
Extended pause.
"Do you want us to sign anything, registration or whatever?"
"No."
"OK, is there a key?"
"No, no keys, no locks."
"Should we pay?"
"You can or you can pay tomorrow."
"OK."
"If you really want to sign something you can sign this," handing over the breakfast menu, which had no place for a signature.

So I settled into the rocker and made cups of tea. This house looked like something I lived in in Arcata in 1975. Rustic and comfy. The lounge was lived in with books with titles like Organic Gardening, Sustainable Planet, and Make Your Own Cloth strewn about. I settled into my book. I felt I should be reading the Collected Works of Emanuel Kant but, alas, it was only a golf book. Oh well, do hippies golf?

Give me crooked teeth and a true heart over the inverse any day of the week.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Night at Carnegie Hall


We have been without car now for seven weeks and for most things our lack of mobility has not been a problem. But, after a while the charms of our little village get a bit confining and we long for freedom. We long for the sights and sounds of the big city, shopping, restaurants and concerts. So we decided to rent a car for the weekend and do some exploring. Yee Haw!

While Julie finished her work week I caught a ride to Inverness. Enterprise Rental Car in the city centre was having a special. I picked up a black Ford Festiva, four door, about the size of VW Bug. Our magic carpet to an Aladdin's Cave of adventure. I headed north. I stopped to top off the tank with petrol. Stopping next to the pump, I looked high and low for the release to the fuel tank, on the dash, under the dash, on the floor. No luck. Consult the manual, no luck. Ask the guy behind me. He takes a look, no luck. Finally I push the little door and say open sesame, the door magically pops open. Score one for Mr. Mechanically Inclined. I top up the half empty tank. A half a tank for 32 pounds sterling. It cost $50 for half a tank of petrol! Maybe this freedom thing isn't such a good idea.

I return to Dornoch. I pack up a picnic lunch and take Julie to Loch Fleet for some lunch hour fresh air and do a bit of twitching (bird watching). There is a nice park bench overlooking the loch with a field of sheep behind adding the sound track. It was a day of some kind of treatment for the flock as the shepherds were spraying something on some of the animals. This caused the entire flock to sing a chorus of complaint in 200 part disharmony. The twitching was great. Oysterchers, a variety ducks, a great blue heron in full breeding plumage and the highlight an osprey circling the loch looking for a mid-day meal. Oh freedom.

Now with a car we have opened up a plethora of dining possibilities. So for dinner we can go out to the big city. Julie finishes her shift and off we go heading to the big city of Brora, population 2,000. Brora is two burgs up the coast and has a new Indian restaurant we have heard about.

We are motoring up the A-9 and Julie, in her best left side driving voice, says "You're driving a little zippy, aren't you?" Which I, in my best right hand side driving mode, returned with a glare and "Would you like to drive?" As we continued north we were then passed by four cars, a motorcycle and two teenagers on bicycles. Yeah, I am just a zippy driver.

We pulled into Indian Ocean and got a table. After studying the menu and trying to decipher the waiter's accent, we had a crunchy appetizer with a spice tray, some King Prawn Korma, Lamb Tikka, Naan Bread and rice. Really good! The joys of the big city!

Now for the highlight of the evening - A concert. We zipped back down the A-9. This time passed by two lorries hauling sheep and three joggers. We headed for the big city of Clashmore, population 40. Clashmore is adjacent to Skibo Castle, the former estate of Andrew Carnegie. Clashmore was probably home to all the folks who worked at the castle. Carnegie left quite a mark on this area of Scotland. The Carnegie Library in Dornoch, Carnegie Lodge and Inn in Tain, the Carnegie Shield, the prize for Dornoch's most well known golf tournament, and Caregie Hall in Clashmore.

Due to my zippy driving, we arrived at Carnegie Hall a bit after the 7:30 start time for an evening of Scottish Folk Music. We paid our 8 pounds and took our seats just as the opening act began. The Dornoch Primary School's folk group, eight kids from 7 to 10 years old playing a fiddle, guitar, accordian, keyboards, drum and penny whistles. Their three song set earned much applause from the packed house of 50. This group ws followed by Dornoch Academy's Ceildh Trailers, an all girl group of high schoolers comprised of four fiddlers, a guitarist and two whistle players. Their set of reels and jigs led into the main event, Malikke.

Malikke is a four person group who was nominated for Scottish folk band of the year last year. Their first set included a couple of ballads and a series of reels. The songs were from the areas of the country in which the members lived. The female singer was from Glasgow so you could almost understand a couple of the lyrics, almost.

Before the final set of the night we had to stop for tea. Tea and cakes served on real china. How civilized. Bet you don't get that at Carnegie Hall in New York.
The final set included some lively reels. I had to hold my Irish lassie down so she wouldn't start dancing a jig in the aisle. The encore inluded all the girls from earlier joining Malikke on stage for a rousing set of Highland reels. Quite fun. The concert ended at 10:00 p.m., just in time to see the sun setting over the rolling farmland to the west, showing off every color of the rainbow. Brillant!
Just another evening in Scotland and a concert at Carnegie Hall.

Tomorrow we zip off to the west!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Food

The food here in Scotland I think in general gets bad press, in the U.S. anyway. I understand there truly is a place in St. Andrews where you can get a deep fried Mars Bar, but I've never seen it on a menu. Anywhere. And look at our county fairs - deep fried Twinkies abound.

Our first few trips I was not much of one to venture out of my comfort zone. I found steak pies and that was about all I would order. With good reason. A good steak pie is a thing of beauty, the perfect gravy, no mystery bits (I'm big on no mystery bits in my meat, if you hadn't noticed), a hot puffy crust. Yum. Good fish and chips is also something to savor. The often joked about haggis, which runs the gamut from nasty, livery meatloaf to something quite tasty, is also found in abundance. But I think people tend to think that's it. It's not. Cullen skink risotto at The Royal Golf Hotel. Glenmorangie chicken at The Sutherland House. And pretty much anything on the menu the Royal Dornoch Golf Club. I had duck last night (yes, me, duck) and it was delicious. Asparagus with shaved bits of parmesan and a truffle oil drizzle. I don't normally order asparagus, will eat it if it's served. This I will order any time I see it on the menu. My dinner horizons widen just about every time we go out. Though I may never be able to do lamb, those cute wee things bouncing around on the hillsides don't translate to food for me.

So, the stereotypes do exist, and I do confess an extreme fondness for the comfort food of a fruit scone with butter and jam and a pot of tea, but they can do a lot more here than just fry and boil, I'm happy to say.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Julie's Dirty Little Secret


Our flat is located 3 doors down from The Dornoch Inn, one of several pubs in Dornoch. I think every town has it's Dornoch Inn. San Juan Capistrano has the Swallows, San Clemente has Big Helens, Arcata has the Logger. The list goes on. The pub or bar you know is there, but probably would not take a date to. You may slip in for an afternoon pint, but not something you would do on a regular basis. You would also keep both eyes open and a hand on your wallet if you went in anytime after 9:00 p.m. The kind of place you are careful where you sit so as not to take a regulars seat out of fear of a scowl, a snarl or a shiv. The regulars at the Dornoch Inn, (mind you this information comes from uh, um, friends. Yeah that's right friends) would form the cast of characters of a sitcom or movie like Cheers. No, not Cheers, maybe like Pulp Fiction. No, not Pulp Fiction, maybe like Trainspotting. You get the idea. There's Kenny the painter, who has been working since we got here. His ladder is set up daily and he sometimes can be seen dragging a brush about, but more often than not is sitting at the bar with a beer. I think he is paid in pints. Or Jock the bus driver who holds court on the politics of the day, "Bloody Tories, country is going to hell now." Or Jimmy the ?. I don't know what Jimmy does. Frankly Jimmy used to scare me, tough looking bloke, someone you wouldn't want to cross. Until the day we rode the bus with him to the market and saw him, out of the blue, help some elderly lady across the square with her groceries. Since then we always say hi and he always has a good "Hi Ya" in return.

The Dornoch Inn is the kind of place that on a recent Saturday night when I went in, for research purposes only mind you, the pool table was very busy, the dart board had been taken down, I think it was something about sharp projectiles and alcohol. The bar was filled with regulars and the dining room/bingo room dance floor was a jumping. The karaoke machine was humming and the crooners of the night were belting out their greatest hits while standing on the tables and chuggin pints like the bar was running out of lager. And these were the women!

As a side note Darin, my son, Tim Pierce, a friend, and I were asked to leave the Dornoch Inn once. I think it was something about the sun coming up.

But I digress, this was Julie's dirty little secret...

We had been warned about the noise, particularly on Saturday nights. But we really had not noticed much noise at all. Occasionally some last call revelry, but nothing to write home about or call the police about. We have actually been sleeping with the window open at night. It was on such a Saturday night that we received a buzz on the intercom. I got up with a start. What is it? A stabbing, a lovers quarrel or maybe a cat fight :<)? A voice on the intercom, slightly slurred, not shaken, "Would you mind closing your window, we can't hear the bass on the karoke machine because of the bloody racket up there." That's right, little Julie snores like a sailor. The closest description I can come up with is a jet engine warming up on the inhale and a jack hammer on the exhale. Like the old cartoon character VaVoom, the little baby who would blow holes through the sides of mountains with his voice. Ah yes, little Julie.

When you come to visit I will give a guided tour of the Dornoch Inn and forewarned is forearmed. If you come to visit, bring ear plugs.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Highland Fling


For many years, 17 to be exact, we hosted an annual golf tournament/gathering of the clans at our home, The Spring Fling. This was a bit like an annual Woodstock for golfers...3 days of golf, food and drink. This collection of friends, family and neighbors would converge on our house every spring. We lived on a golf course and had plenty of room. There would be bodies on the floor and tents and RV's in the back yard. Thirty to forty golfers assembled for golf and mayhem. Julie, bless her, would serve as cook, cleaner and den mother to this motley crew.

This year we had a Highland Fling. There was a gathering of 12 or so of my golfclubatlas.com cyber pals. This collection of golf junkies converged on Dornoch this past weekend. These boys came from far and wide, from Yorkshire, Fife, London, Australia, San Francisco, New York and South Carolina. Now, when these guys come to golf, they golf with a capital G. I played 103 holes of golf in 4 days and I was not even close to most holes played. These boys golf with vigor, but they also eat and drink with the same passion. Ahhh, kindred spirits. We were happy to host a couple of gents and to have two dinners for the boys at our flat. Golf all day eat drink and jabber all night. Get up, wash, rinse, repeat. Great fun. I can't wait to do it again next year.

I will make a couple of changes though. First, I will not (I say now) make the midnight stop in the Dornoch Inn pub for just one drink. That makes for some very shakey swings the next morning. Second, I will organize a bit more formal competition, this was a bit like cricket, four days of competition with no result, other than sore feet and creaky backs. Lastly, I will organize the food in advance so that I can get in 18 more holes with my GCA cyber pal golf nerds. There is no keener, more fun group of folks with which to golf. Well done lads!

Something I won't change is Julie. She is the best sport! She indulges my golf addiction and has the great ability to sit and listen to the golf stories without glazing over. You are the best, my love. I promise I won't bring home another GCA stray for at least.... a week.

Hot water and other mysteries

Someone needs to explain the UK hot water system to me. Most places we've stayed the showers are independent of the main hot water system, which is quite smart and convenient. So I thought here. But no! And what a way to find out.

Sundays are my bath day. Warm tub soak with a book and a Dr. Pepper by my side. Life is good. Today I needed to color my hair (shhhhh, don't tell). Which means my hair needs to be damp. So, at the end of at least a half an hour soak I dunked and wet my hair. I then thought I'd be clever and get a load of laundry going. Did the much needed work on my hair, which takes about half an hour, then time to rinse and shampoo. Horrors!! My shower is NOT one that is off the main. The water is ice cold. I have color bits on my hair so I have no choice. In I go to an ice cold shower, and you really have to scrub to get hair color out, so it wasn't just some romp through the sprinklers type of thing.

I must be missing some key piece of a puzzle. In a place that I think is so well ahead of us in so many areas, public transportation, free bus pass for pensioners, no mystery bits in their sausages (hear that, Farmer John?), a health care system that seems to take care of everyone, all kinds of things, surely you can do one load of wash and take a bath without running out of hot water for the day? We had already planned on going out to dinner tonight because there isn't hot water to do a sink full of dishes in the evening once I do a load of laundry. I don't know when it heats up again, but I don't think it's until the middle of the night! We have experienced this hot water phenomenon before, but always with a shower that heats its own water, so it isn't just something particular to our flat.

Ahhh, but I need to stop grousing. Looking out my window there are men in kilts (must be a wedding or they got dressed up for church), the sun is out and I'm going for a bike ride. I'd better not work up a sweat and need a shower. That's off limits until tomorrow!!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Golfing With the BOGGS and Lawn Bowling with Basil and Izzy


This week's immersion into British culture begins with my golf days with the BOGGS, British Old Gentleman Golfing Society. After a couple of rounds of golf with Adrian, he asked me if I would like to fill in for a couple of games with a group that he belonged to. "A chap had to drop out of the Highland Tour because he could not get back from Portugal because of the volcano. Quite dreadful, really." Because I am a golf whore and this included rounds at Nairn, a former Walker Cup course, and Royal Dornoch I most certainly accepted.

Adrian added, "Oh Staaan, of course a coat and tie are required for lunch." But of course. You mean we weren't going to have a plate of nachos to go with our beer out of the can? This should be different. Luckily I had packed a coat and tie for the Captain's Gala, but that will be another story.

It turns out that the BOGGS are a group of well heeled gents who roam around the country playing arranged matches with local clubs. These are guys whose houses have names, like the Smithingtons of Manse Upon Tyne or Nigel Haddington of View O'er the Cotswalds or Gavin of Rolls Royce in the Garage.

I turned up at Nairn and went inside, coat and tie are not required for coffee and bacon rolls before golf. I sat down with a coffee and listened to Lord and Lady Haversham speak of the skiing in France versus the skiing in Italy. I discreetly did not chime in about the inner tubing at Big Bear.

After my bacon roll with brown sauce I went to the first tee to meet my partner. I was paired with Roderick the III of Yorkshire Upon Pudding. We were playing foursomes, which meant you basically hit every other shot. "Staaaan, you take the odds and I'll take the evens," said Roderick as he marched off down the first fairway. This game was a bit like speed golf and leap frog. You whacked the ball and then went ahead to where your partner's shot would end up and then to the green where the 2nd putt was usually conceded and the next tee ball was in the air before the flag stick was put back in the hole. We buzzed around the course in less than 3 hours. I kept wondering what was the hurry?

The hurry was to get back inside to take a proper shower and don coat and tie for cocktail hours, (plural intended) and a massive lunch. Note the two British multi use adjectives, proper and massive. At this time everyone had donned their club tie and notes were compared. "Oh nice tie, James, is that Royal Liverpool and St. Annes? And yours Gavin, is that is Royal Birkdale and Ainsley of Southport? Stan, I don't recognize yours." My reply, "Oh that is Jerry Garcia of Haight and Ashbury." We had a beer and relived the round, it happened so fast that I don't remember much, due to the speed of the golf or the speed with which the lager was being consumed. "Gavin, you hit a massive shot on #3, well done old boy" or "Nigel that was a proper pitch shot you played into the 14th, jolly good chap." After a cocktail or three, a proper hostess escorted us the 10 feet to the tables where we would dine. When we were seated the waitress brought out the wines (again plural intended). Great, red wine at 12:30 before lunch. Being the conversationalsit I am I thought I would join in some pre lunch chatting. Where can I fit in? To my left, "Reginald, did you see the cricket yesterday, Cambridge was 248 with 6 overs before tea." Nah. To my right, "Well Colin old boy, I can't support the Tories, Labor is rubbish, I may just cast my ballot for the Lib Dems." Try again. Across from me, "Wilson, I just bought Lady Boggleton a new JagUar and I find it far superior to the Bentley." Did anybody watch the Giants game last night? Lincecum was nails. Oh well, where is that red wine?

Now this is when I felt like I got transported into a British movie from the 50's. The speeches. It is not a proper golf outing unless massive speeches are delivered. The home team's captain thanked us for coming and for the competition and gave a brief explanation of the history of Nairn Golf Club, staring with the founding in 1702 by Lord Cumberbun and ending with the vote last week that allowed women and dogs equal rights on the golf course and in the clubhouse, which caused massive resignations. Dogs have had clubhouse privileges for years! Whew! Now is it time to eat? No! The Captain of the BOGGS had the floor. Lt Col Percival Reginald Smythe IV, retired, of Cashmere Upon Tweed, raised his glass of red wine and said, "Would the BOGGS all rise and salute our hosts?" Then the Vice Captain began a rousing, I kid you not, Hip Hip Hooray, Hip Hip Hooray, Hip Hip Hooray. Where am I, an extra in Bridge Over the River Kwai?

Percy went on to detail the matches. Evidently Percy's partner, Lord Ascot Instead of Tie, had a dreadful day. After his 6th foozle in a row he moaned to Percy, "I am so dreadful I feel I should walk into the ocean and drown myself." Percy replied, "That is all well and good, Lord Ascot, but do you think you could keep your head down long enough to do a proper job." Which brought a clamor of table pounding and Hear! Hear!

At this time I happened to look up and survey the scene. Thirty two men sitting around the table and I wondered, why do these guys all have caterpillars stuck to their foreheads? Then I realized it was their eyebrows and with each Hear! Hear! the caterpillars danced. The Dance of the Caterpillars, one would think that with all the sheep around one guy would have used the shears to help him see what he was doing. But no, it must be like medals on a South American dicatator, the more the better.

Percy continued, "Without further ado it is now time for lunch." Hear! Hear! I have already had time to get drunk, have a hangover and get drunk again with a nap in between. Sorry Percy. Percy said, "We will got to the carvery in this order, Earls and Lords first, Sirs and MBE's next and Americans last." I walked to the buffet line and selected my Sirloin of Beef, Yorkshire pudding, neeps and tatties. Then a proper waitress carried my plate back the 10 feet to my chair. I told her right here, here. Which set of another chorus of Hear! Hear! and more table pounding and caterpillar dancing. I thought I had a seat in the House of Commons. Great, lunch at last and then I can go home and have a proper nap. No! It was time for dessert and more speeches. Another short nap and finally the day came to an end. We had 3 hours of golf and 4 hours of lunch. Now that is proper golf!

I rushed home from my golf game today because we were invited to The Bowls. Lawn Bowling, that is, white slacks and shirts, tea in the middle, unbalanced balls and you don't even get to knock anything over. Well, I met Barry golfing and as he is President of the Bowls this year, he invited Julie and I to play. We paid our 2 pounds and got the proper equipment, white deck shoes, lovely, and 4 balls. Where are the holes for my fingers? We were then placed on teams. In the interest of marital harmony Julie was on one team and I on another. I was paired with Basil, Margaret and Bradford. Julie played with Barry, Izzy and Jimmy. It is always fun to be the youngest in the crowd. By a long way, said Julie. Here we go.

I bowled with Izzy as my direct opponnet. Izzy is about 4'8" and weighs in at maybe 90 pounds. I am going to kick her ass. Bowling is a bit like golf in that everyone has a unique approach. Izzy winds up like Satchell Page and it takes all of her 90 pounds to propel the ball to the other end of the lawn. She lets fly with one and rolls it up quite snug against the jack. Oh the object is to get your balls as close to the jack, the white ball, the more balls close to the jack the more points. My turn. I let one go. I don't come near. In fact it was almost off the lawn. Izzy goes again, full wind up and a follow thru that almost sends her to the ground and another ball that curves gently around a cozies up to the jack. "Nice bowl Izzy" sings the chorus. I can do this. I take my time. I smoothly release one and it rolls the wrong way halfway to the jack. I'll get the hang of it. To make a short story even shorter, I did not get the hang of it. In fact, I was shite. But surely, I will be better than Julie!

Julie's turn. She rolls the ball and the ball curves around and narrowly misses being a "toucher." A scoring bowl. "Nice bowl Julie," sings the chorus. "Julie, you are a natural," says Izzy in that wonderful sing song Scottish accent. After 8 ends, we stop for tea and cake. The bowlers rave about Julie's skills. Julie picked up the game quickly and with every ball her team mates said "good bowl." I haven't heard "good bowl" so much since 1973 at Humboldt State.

And me. "Staan, could you wash up after tea." Surely, I can do this. I mean look at Basil. He is 85, if he's a day. He can't bend over to pick up the balls so he has a little scooper that picks up his balls for him. He is giving me tips. "Staan, try rooowlling it wid yor crancach like thees." What the hell did he say?

In the end Julie and Izzy kicked my ass. But with all the properness of the Scots Barry said, "Staaan you came in 2nd, not a close 2nd but 2nd none the less." There are only 2 teams. Julie is invited back to bowl next week. They said I could come and help serve the tea. We'll be back next week. After bowls we'll have fish and chips supper. I know I can do that.


Monday, May 10, 2010

What's missing

So, it's been a month and I've been wondering what I miss. Aside from family, of course. I miss real Dr. Pepper. Oh boy, do I miss real Dr. Pepper. I miss a real clothes dryer. At this point I would be ecstatic with a clothesline in a yard. A line strung from here to there in the house. Something. An In and Out cheeseburger, though I didn't have one during our entire time in San Clemente (see below). And I do miss daytime temperatures higher than 50 degrees, but that will solve itself soon enough.

It's interesting that there's more I don't miss than I do. I don't miss having a car, especially with the price of gas up here in the Highlands; it's 1 pound 28 pence per liter, which converts to a little over $7.50 per US gallon at today's exchange rate. I don't miss crowds. I don't miss gazillions of people everywhere all the time. A lot of what I don't miss comes from having lived the last few months before we left in Orange County, land of 8-lane wide freeways and way too much cosmetic surgery. Probably had we come here from Davis my slant would be a little different. ;-) I don't miss the faster pace of life. I don't miss infantile political bickering. They just had an election here and from what we watched, it seemed that everyone was fairly adult about the whole thing. Though politicians are politicians, we did notice, and I'm sure the local folks have an entirely different slant on that.