As the winter solstice drew (though perhaps “blew” might be more appropriate, given the gale currently howling outside) to a close tonight, Yours Truly realised with not a little concern that the annual epistle was still just a faint twinkle in her keyboard’s eye. Of course, the resultant panic could have induced a severe case of writer’s block, but happily this potentially serious state of affairs was averted by the fortuitous discovery of a box of Cadbury’s chocolates left here earlier this evening by a kind tutee. Suitably fortified, I now feel ready to dish the dirt report on the Sparrowholding entourage’s exploits of the past 12 months.
Perhaps one of the disadvantages of the daughterly duo living in the deep south is that news now tends to be scarce; however, when you’re a writer by profession, lack of facts fortunately presents no impediment when it comes to penning a good tale. DD1 (25) appears to be relishing the cut and thrust of the legal world and has decided – possibly more through necessity than by choice – that sleep is a seriously overrated hobby. Consequently, during the wee sma’ hours she is often to be found shunning the decadent delights of her duvet in favour of marginally less alluring missives and memoranda – apparently sleep deprivation is no problem when you’re powered by Matcha powder. [Note to self: must buy some.] On the rare occasions that she sees London in the daylight, DD1 is an enthusiastic defender at a London Hockey Club, having decided to hang up her rugby kit in case her legal clients were put off by black eyes on a Monday morning.
DD2 (23) moved to the capital last year as well, there to pursue the fascinating profession of film music supervision, and has been cutting her teeth on the music for the Channel 4 series Aliens plus a recent Netflix series called Lovesick (previously charmingly titled Scrotal Recall). This season, she also joined the same hockey club as her big sister and, during one match, took it upon herself to explain the rules of the game to an umpire who seemed not to be familiar with them … [Just as well she knows a good lawyer!] DD2’s current residence is an 11th-floor flat, where she spends her leisure time enjoying breathtaking views of the London skyline while lazing in a hot-tub located on the flat’s rooftop balcony. [Yes, it sucks to be living in London, doesn’t it ... ? We console ourselves by imagining how much pollution she must be inhaling!]
In the spring Son&Heir, who turned 21 in April, ventured to the Jungle camp in Calais as a volunteer putting up tents (only discovering en route home that he’d taken the wrong passport …), and in May he left his job at a trendy Edinburgh vegetarian café to go travelling. [NB: Yours Truly may soon be employed by the UN peace-keeping force after acquiring valuable experience while sharing a dinner table with a stubborn hubby who thinks he hasn’t actually eaten unless red meat was involved and a vehemently vegetarian son.] The wanderer duly set off for South America in May and began by volunteering for a month in an orphanage in Cusco, Peru. Prior to his departure, he perfected his juggling skills – primarily to teach the youngsters at the orphanage, but apparently also so he could create a photo opportunity by perching on a wall on one leg high above Machu Picchu while juggling [Warning: do not try this at home.] Our aspiring clown then headed for Honduras to volunteer at an iguana sanctuary on the tiny island of Utila. Rumours that iguanas have since been spotted juggling mangos in the mangroves have not yet been confirmed.
HunterGatherer still spends much of his working life collecting tonnes of soil from fields all across Scotland and depositing it on our garage floor. He claims that it all goes into sample bags, but as the garage seems permanently carpeted in a deep layer of damp Scottish loam, I remain to be convinced! Having been sadly sidelined from many hockey matches this year by a niggling hamstring injury (MRI pending), he has turned his attentions to less physical pursuits, namely agate spotting and gold panning. So far he’s found an assortment of attractive agates but (quelle surprise!) no glittering gold.
The green Astro-pastures of the hockey pitch are still proving irresistible for Yours Truly – even after her recent relegation to the back of the pitch (just possibly owing to the fact that some of the forwards are virtually young enough to be her grandchildren!). Keen to combat the effects of the highly sedentary writerly lifestyle, she has also added a new physical pursuit to her weekly sporting regime: Zumba. How amazing to discover at the ripe old age of 53 that there is, after all, something at which she is even worse than maths. Her street cred dipped even lower (is that possible?) this year during a visit to Laandon when, on being instructed by a daughter to flash her credit card at the underground barrier, she asked anxiously, “But how will the machine know where I want to get off?”
That brings to a conclusion this rapid overview of the year – which only leaves me, in time-honoured tradition, to send you warm festive greetings for Christmas together with every good wish for health and happiness in the New Year ahead.
Slàinte mhath from all of us to all of you, wherever you may be!
Suddenly our summer (such as it was in Scotland!) is virtually over and on the arable farms here in Kinross-shire the combines have been revving up as farmers hasten to snatch their harvest in between the showers. And as another summer comes to an end, so does another showing season for all the livestock farmers for whom summer weekends mean trekking round Scotland on the showing circuit.
In the 1980s, when Yours Truly used to show Shetland ponies all summer long, the fun and friendly finale of the showing season was always Kinross Agricultural Show, which traditionally takes place on the second Saturday of August. In those halcyon days, the show used to be held in the walled garden of Kinross House – an idyllic setting, with the eponymous Neoclassical country mansion providing an almost surreal backdrop.
However, in life all good things generally come to an end, and several years ago the sale of Kinross House necessitated a move for the local agricultural show. But where on earth (or at least within the bounds of Kinross-shire!) could they hold the show that would ever compete with the previous unique location? The answer lay in an unassuming grass field, right next door to the RSPB’s Vane Farm on the shores of Loch Leven – with the Sleeping Giant (a local hill, so christened because its profile resembles a sleeping giant) as a backdrop and a breathtaking overview of the loch. It was an inspired choice.
When the sun shines, as it did this year, there are few places in Scotland that could rival this stunning rural show setting. For any of you who haven’t been to an agricultural show before, know this: the showing of sheep, cattle, ponies, goats and dogs is taken extremely seriously by those who participate. The exhibitors will have been up since the crack of dawn to make their final preparations before loading their budding animal beauty queens into lorries and horseboxes and making their way from far and near to the showground.
Having had experience of judging classes at local shows in a previous life, I know how precisely how nerve-wracking that particular task is. One thing is a given: there’s usually only going to be one happy person after each class, and that’s the owner of the animal who received the coveted first prize rosette. Everyone else will be muttering under their breaths what a fool the judge was for failing to appreciate the finer merits of their fabulous sheep, cow, goat or horse!
Unsurprisingly, now that I attend shows purely as a spectator rather than as an exhibitor or a judge, the whole occasion is vastly more relaxing. Instead of feverishly polishing ponies or weighing up the respective merits of entrants, I can take time to enjoy these couthy* rural gatherings which are as eclectic as they are entertaining. Here’s a quick photomontage compiled at this year’s show to give you a flavour… Hope to see you there next year!
* For any readers not familiar with this Scottish term, couthy (or couthie) means "warm and friendly".
|Another canapé? Don't mind if I do...|
HunterGatherer and I rounded off our 25th anniversary celebrations in gastronomic heaven on Saturday evening when our lovely bridesmaid G. cooked a fabulous dinner for us and a small group of close friends.
|And there were more! This time smoked salmon and
crème fraîche blinis
From asparagus and parma ham canapés to a molten goat's cheese starter to sumptuous beef bourguignon stew to delicate orange and mascarpone ice cream (served with chocolate torte) or lemon mousse, each dish set our taste buds tingling anew.
|Perfectly cooked goat's cheese for starters|
|HunterGatherer doesn't feel he's had a proper meal
unless he's eaten some beef (which was no bad thing,
as a member of the Quality Meat Scotland
team was in attendance!!)
|Our first ever taste of orange and mascarpone ice cream.
The verdict? Yum!!
|Lemon mousse as well? Rude not to... (though the pedant in
me is reaching out to move that errant raspberry!)
And after all that there was still an appetising cheese platter followed by divine, melt-in-the-mouth tablet (the latter courtesy of our other bridesmaid's kind mum) to come. Suffice to say, we both remained fairly replete for most of Sunday (though we did manage to squeeze in another couple of pieces of leftover tablet!!)...
|There was even some Isle of Mull Cheddar on the plate
(reference to the fact that we originally met on the Isle of Mull)
|The tablet didn't last long ;-)|
It was a happy, hilarious, harmonious evening – and one we'll certainly treasure for a long time to come. As American designer Zac Posen puts it: "Food, friends, family. These are the most important things in life." Add to that good health, and you won't go far wrong.