There's a part of me, the guy part, that likes to pretend I'm unimpressed by most of what I see. Grandeur and the epic recognised as though it were merely average and ordinary, given a cursory glance with a cynical eye. It's stupid, really. And I'm not very good at it. I'm an eager and excitable person. Attempts at aloofness, cynicism and world-weariness collapse in the face of wonder, excitement, and boyish enthusiasm.
Last night, some dear friends and I attended a champagne tasting at Broomhall, seat of the Earl of Elgin, direct descendent of Robert the Bruce. The guy part of me assumed control of my expectations - another big country house in Fife. Whoop-dee-doo.
It was stunning. The guy part of me received a severe beating from the rest of me, jaw scraping the floor at the scale and beauty of the place, stuffed full of the most remarkable artefacts. The historian in me, the one I try to forget, leapt to attention, noting the portraits, the remarkable marble, the statues, the framed letters, the centuries of family, national and world history that permeated every corner of the house. So I was in a bit of a daze, trying to drink it all in while trying to drink champagne. My critical faculties were smothered by a barely concealed grin. It wasn't awe at the opulence, or a material need for my own mammoth pile, but curiosity and delight at so many treasures under one roof. An ancient printing of the music "Cockles & Mussels" or "Molly Malone" lay discarded next to a piano sat in the corner of the tasting room - classic, intricate typesetting with an abundance of Victorian swirls and flourishes. Letters from Winston Churchill to the current Earl's great-grandfather were on display, the legendary wit in its original ink.
So I wandered through these enormous rooms, past marble busts, statues, tapestries, great curtains cut from rich cloth that laid out would cover a tennis court, and drank champagne, and ate. I didn't mingle too much, sticking to the group as much as possible. Not to be antisocial, but my buzz was a personal one. The Petes and Kirsty cover the diplomacy thing a bit better than I do. I got the sense that everyone felt a bit like they were through the looking glass, gazing about in wonder. The Earl himself looked delighted with things, a proper raconteur, as much a part of the house as any of its artefacts, answering questions with glee.
We got back to Naughton and it felt no smaller. Every bit as grand as before. The world needed put to rights though, and so we ploughed on til past 4, sketching the future and drinking more wine. We have something wonderful and don't know what to do with it yet.
The morning came unwelcome at first. Tea with toast and marmite served as a restorative. Kirsty, Pete C and myself pried the sleep from our eyes while Pete W was already at work, James had already walked the dog, and Annie had already remarked on how clean the kitchen was, even though I was there.
I got back home and went for a run, a hangover cure if ever there was one. I received an email from one of my most cynical and critical friends, who poured over the first 119 pages of the book and heaped more praise on it than I could have imagined. It's not quite complete vindication (there were some important criticisms as well as praise), but fairly close. Complete vindication comes with the first printing. Which is far more real to me now that it was this morning. I'm still through the looking glass, staring at all the fineries, but they're not curtains or statues or portaits: they're possibilities and opportunities.