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 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.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Proper Championship course

After a couple of weeks playing The Struie course, the 2nd course at Royal Dornoch, I was treated to 3 consecutive days on the Championship course. We played from the Championship tees under early season tournament conditions. The best way I can think of to describe it would be like going from driving my Volvo station wagon to getting behind the wheel of a Formula I race car. You suddenly realize that you do not have the skill or training to be where you are. Though the length is a stretch, it is not that daunting. It is the shots around the greens that really make me feel inept. Short shots up 6 foot (or more) shaved slopes turned me into a quivering mass of protoplasm. I have never felt more unskilled on a golf course, and this was after a couple of weeks of play and some practice. Putting, which is usually something I can do with some level of skill, was so difficult. Huge greens combined with rolls and pitches resembling waves on the ocean left me totally foxed. In the tournament I posted a pair of 90's, and this is with three consecutive sand saves on the back 9 (I know people who have played with me will find this as hard to believe as I did).

One of the highlights of my trip so far was after the 3rd time getting up and down from a really tough lie in a deep and evil sand pit my playing companion, James, said "Stan, you are a great bunker player." Take that Timmy Pierce and Darin, who know better.

I am reminded of when I went to Hawaii to surf after high school. I was fit and relatively competent in the Southern California waves. I paddled out at a spot called Yokahama Bay on a pretty big day. After watching a couple of waves I realized I was in over my head and meekly paddled in, discretion is the better part of valor. That is how I felt when I meekly turned in my scorecards realizing that I am not very good. Oh well, I'll be back at it this week after a couple of trips to the practice ground.


Perils of small town living

They have "bank holidays" over here. I'm none too sure what they are, other than the obvious. I need to investigate. That said, when a bank holiday falls on the Monday after a golf tournament and a motorcycle group visiting the area, the ATMs apparently run out of money. Oh wait, I said ATMs? It's ATM. There's not even a hole in the wall that you find in some towns. This is a wee tidbit we had no idea to prepare for. Yesterday, Sunday, I went to make a withdrawal and the ATM said No Service Available for Withdrawals. What? No money? Surely someone will come and restock the thing for Monday. Nope. It's a bank holiday and that's just what it means. No drama, really, just another adventure on the learning curve for us.