Another action-packed year has been duly consigned to the family history, and I am pleased to report – in this, our twenty-somethingth annual Christmas epistle – that all five of us are still (just about) standing. Two thousand and seventeen was the year that saw all five of us – plus the daughterly duo’s brave boyfriends – head en masse for a ‘cinq-jour séjour’ (apologies to any native French readers) in the excellent and enticingly named “Villa Lavande” in southern France. This trip will no doubt one day be immortalised by the ghost of Enid Blyton as part of a hybrid adventure series entitled “Seven Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road”, but that is another story. It was also, sadly, the year that our unfortunate feline, Chuck the cat, proved that he shared his mistress’s lack of mathematical prowess by miscalculating how many of his nine lives he had left (none, it transpired). And finally, it was the year that Yours Truly formalised her tutoring activities and launched a new business, The Learning Cauldron, on April Fool’s Day...
When not pontificating about the finer points of poetry and prose or assuming the guise of grammar guru for my expanding band of avid academics, I now find my life being governed by my faithful companion and friend, the Fitbit. For any of you not familiar with these devilishly addictive little devices, they are essentially a smart watch that warns you that you have either been shockingly inactive (the perils of prolonged periods of proofreading) or impressively athletic (rarely, in my case). Mark you, having contemplated my retirement from the hallowed green Astroturf at the end of last season, I eventually decided that there was a little life left in this old hockey dog yet, and elected to stay on for another year. There are, according to my fellow team members, occasional moments when I become a little ‘excitable’ – such as the time when, having been belted in the foot by a particularly pernicious opponent, I yelled “You’re dead” in a moderately aggressive fashion at the offender – who promptly removed herself to the other side of the pitch for the rest of the game. In addition to my genteel hockey activities, regular bouts of badminton, weekly Zumba sessions (I still head in the opposite direction from everyone else during most routines…) and the occasional scoot around a squash court all conspire to ensure my Fitbit is still speaking to me at the end of each week.
HunterGatherer’s exercise quotient since last Christmas has been mainly achieved through his customary forays across the fields of Scotland à la recherche de multifarious soil samples. During his leisure time, he merely switches agricultural soil for the horticultural variety, as he has been going potty in the garden… I should explain here that this turn of phrase is no reflection on the gardener’s intellectual faculties, but rather an allusion to the burgeoning collection of giant red plastic tubs that he is amassing. The said pots have proved to be the ultimate weapon in his war against his arch nemesis – the chickweed that had previously laid siege to his beloved polytunnel and veggie plots.
His lapidary interests remain 'rock' solid (see what I did there?), and this year's finds have included a rather attractive chunk of Scottish amethyst. His wife and daughters are still fervently hoping he’ll stumble across a seam of gold, though Yours Truly suspects there’s more chance of him finding some at the end of a rainbow!
Son&Heir (22) currently enjoys one of the best workplace views in the country as he plies his barista skills at Kinross’s lochside venue, The Boathouse. When not there, he is to be found wielding weights at the local gym and is currently channelling his mental and physical energies into becoming a fully qualified personal trainer before moving south next year. Yours Truly hadn’t quite appreciated how much theory was involved in this until she’d to print off the 267-page course manual for him the other night! Here’s hoping that amongst all those words of physical wisdom there’s a unit on how to transform the body of a 54-year-old into that of a 30-year-old before the resumption of the hockey season in February…
Although we rarely see our daughterly duo in person, social media and Facetime occasionally allow us a vague insight into their London lives, and – as ever – any lacunae in information can be readily compensated for by liberal use of poetic licence by Yours Truly.
This autumn, DD1 (26) had to decide into which branch of commercial law she wished to qualify, and – as any self-respecting first-born child would do – she opted for ‘competition’. More than this about her work, I cannot tell you, as for reasons of confidentiality, she is unable to share anything of her professional life without having to kill us afterwards. Fortunately, having had sight of the density and dullness of the legal literature she was revising for her exams a couple of years back, her father and mother are – in all honesty – rather relieved not to be privy to the inner workings of English corporate law...
We are, however, wondering why our considerable investment in her education has resulted in a lawyer who doesn’t ‘do’ Scottish law and is thus of no use whatsoever to her poor parents! Actually, that is possibly slightly unfair, as she’s currently working in Berlin for six months, which allowed her fond parentals a welcome low-cost pre-Christmas winter break in mid-December – although Yours Truly’s sheep-covered Christmas jumper attracted the attention of airport security, evidently marking her out as a baaad(!) character, and she was promptly marched off to have her luggage and trousers drug-tested.
Ironically, DD1 had been far more concerned about the attire that her father might arrive in, judging by this Facebook message received prior to our visit: “Please tell dad to bring boots for dinner that aren’t from a hiking shop. And does he have any clothes that aren’t hiking-esque?” Her angst may have been prompted by HunterGatherer’s behaviour on the beach in France, where he stood bewildered in his full-length trousers, long sleeves and ear-flapped hat, beholding an entire beach bedecked with bikini'd and bikini-less bodies. By the end of the afternoon, however, he had taken the very daring step of rolling up his sleeves and even... his trouser legs.
Hot on the heels of insulting aging rock stars in 2016, DD2 (24) continues her precarious path to musical supervisorial (yes, it is a word) supremacy in London, and this year was caught pondering aloud in the office how interesting it was that quite so many of the songs in the Take That ‘Wonderland’ show she was working on had been written by some unknown guy called Robert Williams… She also managed to engage a certain well-known actor in conversation for 30 minutes in the office before casually asking him, “So what do you do?” Fortunately, the said thespian had a sense of humour and merely responded, “Do you watch TV?” When not listening to music and watching films all day (and getting paid to do so… call that work?!), DD2 hares around a hockey pitch in her usual inimitable fashion and apparently has moments of ‘excitability’ (can’t think where she gets that from…).
So the time approaches for New Year’s resolutions to be made (then promptly broken), all that remains is for me to wish all of you a very happy Christmas and a ‘merry’ New Year when it comes.
Hope 2018 brings you and yours good health and lots of wonderful memories!
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".