09 September 2006

Earless in Edinburgh

Summer refuses to surrender in Scotland. The days get shorter but they're still filled with glorious sunshine. Hints of autumn creep about - the odd brown leaf, the lingering morning dew - but it's hard to concentrate on those when you need to put on factor 21 to stop from burning.

I found no gift for my mother. I did find a brilliant card though and never has my sock collection been so shiny and new. It was liberating throwing away the odd, holey socks.

The Dean Gallery was brilliant - though confusing. It didn't look like it did eleven years ago. It took me awhile to work out that I'd never been to The Dean Gallery, I'd been to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. In fact, the Dean Gallery wasn't even a gallery eleven years ago. However, they are both beautiful buildings, set on lovely lawns, and they're on the same road, so my confusion is understandable.

There was a Van Gogh exhibition on - a brilliant surprise. Field with Ploughman and Orchard in Blossom (Plum Trees) moved me far more than anything I've set eyes on of late. It's a wonderful exhibition, not just for the paintings, but for a sense of time - it isn't just a study of the man and the art itself but a look at the environment in which they existed. No matter where you are in the UK, make the effort to have a look - it's on until 24 September.

The Dean Gallery

Oh, and top secret project planning went well. So well, in fact, that a couple of new top secret projects were planned. So I don't know how many I have now.

08 September 2006

sock merchants

Off to Edinburgh today - need socks. I feel like Hugh Laurie's Prince Regent in Blackadder the Third: never enough socks. Sadly, there's no machiavellian butler selling them to a Tunisian sock merchant. Life would be more interesting with a machiavellian butler. And there'd be an explanation for my sock woes. As it is, I haven't a clue.

Vital though new socks are, there's other business to sort out in Edinburgh. A top secret meeting to deal with one of my top secret projects. A visit to the Dean Gallery (haven't been in 11 years). Maybe some food and a wander. A glance in the windows of a few estate agents. A glance in the window of a literary agency.

And - ohshitI'veonlyjustrememberedthisrightthissecond - a birthday present for my mother. Bollocks. It's on Sunday. There's no mail on Sunday (except for that dreadful newspaper - ba-dum-tum). Bollocks. And I think they're flying to the States tomorrow. And I haven't a clue what to give her. Socks?


06 September 2006

Sort of like Alice, but with champagne

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.

04 September 2006

earning beer

The seventh time the spaniels ran through the wet cement we tied one to the boat so they would stop. It worked. Those dogs are beginning to annoy me.

Today I earned my keep. Pick-axes, spades, cement-mixers, ball-peen hammers, bricks, gravel and several hours of shoveling, digging, bricking, pouring, smoothing, patting, heaving and swearing led to a new drain in front of the boat shed. It was hard work. I'd feel accomplished if I weren't so exhausted. My beer tasted earned and deserved. So much so that I've poured another.

Tomorrow we're meant to be shovelling aggregate. Aggregate is what gravel's called when it's bigger and there's 10 tonnes of it. I hope it rains.

The path up to the stables in the evening light.

03 September 2006

small escapes

I took a nap this morning and woke to find one of the cats had been sick on the carpet of the tv room. It was not a morning for cleaning up cat vomit. No one told the cats this. So, down on my hands and knees, I scrubbed it all away. A few hours later one of the neighbour's spaniels, soaking and covered in mud, stormed into the kitchen and devoured the cats' dinner. This left the kitchen soaking and covered in mud. As I mopped, it occurred to me that without their dinner the cats would have nothing to vomit up.

Last night saw horse-racing and drinking but almost no sleep and patchy recollections. Today has been an effort in avoiding accomplishment: small escapes from responsibility - friends over for lunch, a nap, tidying - that waste away Sundays and leave pages unwritten. The price is that peculiar hangover anxiety that squeezes your ribs and makes your heart pound, like you've forgotten something terribly important, or missed something wonderful.

Adam's new hair.