Friday, 29 April 2011

Royal Wedding - a nation of shopkeepers

From John Lewis's understated notice inviting us to raise a cheer, to Royal Warrant holders Penhaligons with their English vintage perfumes, Scotland's shop windows have embraced the Royal Wedding.

Scottish souvenir shops are flying the flag.

John Lewis will sell you a Cool Britannia rug.

And of course mugs and plates and tea towels a-plenty in Emma Bridgewater.

In St Andrews, home of the first stirrings of royal romance, every window has a royal theme. Some are refined, such as this antique shop window.

The latest fashion - a wedding cake of cheese, in I. J. Mellis cheesemongers.

I'll leave you with the place where it really all started. Well, one of them. Enjoy the day!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Royal Wedding escape

If you want to escape the Royal Wedding Bank Holiday Weekend, which has now assumed the status of having initial capitals, and the bunting and the crowns (tho I have to confess we had been in this Tesco store in Elgin for an hour before we noticed that it was festooned with Union Jacks...)

You can always turn to Bonnie:

And her retro picnic basket, complete with ... interesting contents. Any suggestions as to what the picnic might consist of?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

St Andrews Open Day

We are on the university trail again, starting with last week's open day at St Andrews. I was exceptionally well-behaved, only taking my camera out at the very end of the day, when the crowds of prospective students and their parents had dispersed and there was less scope for being an embarrassing mum. The weather was not particularly photo-friendly: a typical east coast haar (thick sea fog) in the morning, followed by an afternoon of almost-sunshine. Part of me regretted that it wasn't raining - it's always good to get an early dose of realism about the place in which you might spend 4 years. In the photo above, the spire of St Salvator's Chapel fades into the bright haze. The two red gowned individuals are undergraduate students who have just finished a day of guiding visitors around the university.

You'll see that gown of one the students is slipping off their left shoulder. This is carefully orchestrated. Below, you can see three of the four ways in which the gown is worn. On the left, barely hanging on, is the gown of a fourth year student. In the middle, the gown is slipping off the shoulders slightly - denoting a second year student. On the right, the off the left shoulder look shows that the student is in the Faculty of Arts. A first year student wears the gown high on both shoulders.

One lot of ancient university customs down, three or four more to go on our open day rounds. British students can apply to a maximum of five universities - so far there are four on my daughter's list. Applications open in September for entry the following autumn, so we'll have a summer of touring campuses with historic buildings, state-of-the-art this, that and the other, to say nothing of eye-wateringly tiny hall of residence rooms.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Casting a clout

This Spring is so warm - so unsettlingly warm - that Scots are casting clouts all over the place, despite the old saying, 'Ne'er cast a clout till May be oot'. May isn't out yet, but it might as well be by the balmy temperatures, leafy trees and blossom that's almost overwhelming. These shots were taken a few weeks ago, along part of my walk to work. Now the various 'clouts' are almost hidden by foliage.

First to go were the gloves. I can understand that. My own gloves haven't emerged from the box in the hall for about a month now.

The shot below was taken in a blustery wind, hence the blurring. If I remember, I was also being looked at rather strangely by some passers-by.

Next, even the babies are feeling the heat.

But how do you lose a running shoe sock?

What I would like to know is - is there one person who's made it their mission to hang cast-off clothing on twigs by the side of the path, or is it a general impulse of the Edinburgh population? Does this happen where you live? And what do you find adorning trees or fences?

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Theory test

It was much simpler in my day. You sat your driving test, and at the end, while you were still shaky from the emergency stop and the three-point turn, the examiner asked you a few random questions from the Highway Code.

Now there's a separate theory test, which has to be passed before you can take the practical test. It's a whole industry. The test is divided into a multiple choice section, and a hazard perception section. To prepare you need three books as 'source material', and you can buy a DVD with practice hazard perception tests.
And the test itself costs £35. If you want to see how you'd get on with the hazard perception, there's - what else? - a youtube clip.

My favourite multiple choice question from the practice material is the one that asks what you should do if a shepherd asks you to stop for his flock of sheep. Good to know that driving in Scotland still takes account of country life.

The tests are computer-based, and administered at various centres across the country. My daughter sat her test last week, at the bracing hour of 8.30 a.m., and since it was on my way to work I chummed her as far as the test centre. Rather charmingly for such a high tech enterprise, it's located in a cobbled back street that looks as if a horse-drawn cab might appear at any minute. However the 'to let' sign suggests that it won't be there for much longer.

A section of original pavement has survived towards the top of the hill.

Towards the bottom of the hill there's a section of the original central gutter - much cleaner than it would have been a few hundred years ago.

And the test? She passed - so now it's 'just' the practical part to go. You can start to drive at the age of 17 in the UK, with most people learning on manual vehicles since automatics are still the exception here.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Skywatch Friday - castle beacon

Against a clear Spring sky a brazier on Edinburgh Castle's ramparts waits for fuel. I pass the Castle every day on my way to work, and it's easy to forget that it was built for war.

The stark outline of the brazier brought this home to me as I took these shots.

I haven't visited the Castle since I was 6. Perhaps it's time to scrape together the £14 entry fee. It's an expensive business being a tourist in your own city.

See more skies around the world (free!) at Skywatch Friday.

Friday, 8 April 2011

'Flying' the flag

Inspired by Lily Hydrangea at Long Island Daily Photo, whose Skywatch this week has a home supplies shop proudly flying the American flag. And for Bud from Kansas, a new visitor to my blog and an honorary Scot, and Christine from Aberdeen, currently in the US but still posting glimpses of Aberdonian life in Writing from Scotland.

Displays of the Saltire, the Scottish flag, used to be pretty rare. Now it flies proudly on many buildings, and adorns national life from rugby shirts to taxis. We still don't fly it outside schools, that I'm aware of, nor branches of B&Q and Homebase. You might spot the occasional house with a Saltire on a pole in the garden, but we are nowhere near the domestic pride in their flag that the Scandinavians have. I have memories of travelling through Sweden by train, marvelling at every red-painted house in a forest clearing with its pennant flag fluttering from a flagpole in the garden. Or that classic scene of painted wooden houses on rocky outcrops in the archipelagoes off Stockholm, each with their flag flying from house or flagpole. Yellow house, blue sea and sky, blue and yellow flag. And the same in Finland and Norway.

Still, a flying taxi's not bad.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Strawberries, anyone?

Along the banks of the River Tay, Scotland's strawberry fields are gearing up for an early crop.

This area has always been famed for its soft fruit, but the season now is vastly expanded by the use of polytunnels and horticultural fleece. In my childhood strawberries didn't appear until the end of June. My father always used to visit the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh around the 23rd of June (he was a grain merchant, and this was - and is - the main social gathering of the farming world). He would return with a couple of punnets of precious early strawberries, at least a week before our northern berries in Moray were ripe.

Below, the tunnel doors are closed to increase the heat. I think the plants in these tunnels are growing in raised beds, to make picking easier. Meantime my own plants at the allotment are sitting thinking about putting forth a few new leaves. We'll be having traditionally-timed strawberries in June.


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