Broddick Post Office: The Isle of Arran, Scotland

Broddick Post Office, Isle of Arran, Scotland. Photo taken September, 2003.

Whenever I get that old travel itch, I scratch it gently by looking at photos of some of our past adventures. We spent two weeks each year, usually in September, on the Isle of Arran in Scotland, from 1998 to 2004. The main town, Broddick, has a pretty little post office. I adore the hanging flowers and the red door.

Highland “Hairy Coos” on Arran

   
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The first time I saw these adorable “hairy coos” in 1998, I just stood and stared with a silly grin. I am 5 feet 4 1/2 inches tall, so you can see these highland cattle are diminutive — just the right size for a small island. They don’t get in a hurry, especially when standing in the middle of the road.

View from Ardrossan to Broddick Ferry

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The view from the Adrossan to Broddick ferry, as the Island of Arran on the west coast of Scotland comes into view. It was our first visit. We would return six more times. I miss it, still.

Most of the stories remain in rough note journal form, although a few did make it into blog posts at Switched At Birth (archived Isle of Arran, Scotland)

Helpful word compost for future narratives.

September, 1998

Monkey Mind

Buck and I bundled up for a woods walk yesterday. Brilliant sunshine, paper cut wind, and temperatures right at freezing in the mid-afternoon. When we lived in the Smoky Mountains near Asheville for a few years, I loved putting on a turtleneck, jeans, two pairs of socks, hiking boots, and a heavy hoodie to go hike the mountains. But now that we're back in flatland Florida, I expect my winters to go a certain way, and found myself kicking a pine cone as we walked down the fire line and muttering:  papaya, avocado, mango, tank top, shorts. 

"What did you say?" Buck said. 

"Papaya, avocado, mango, tank top, shorts, Costa Rica, banana daiquiri." 

"Did you say Costa Rica?"

"Uh huh."

"What about the monkeys?"

"Oh, man, I forgot. So, when do you think the weather's going to warm up?"

Meanwhile, back at the house, I've been writing but not blogging, taking a kick-butt online fiction class, pacing the floor, talking on the phone and reading. Pretty eclectic reading list:

Literary Nonfiction: Learning by Example by Patsy Sims

Anticancer: a New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD

Acedia & Me: a Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris

Hooked: write fiction that grabs readers at page one and never lets them go by Les Edgerton

2010 Writer's Market Deluxe Edition

2010 Guide to Literary Agents

Plot: elements of fiction writing by Ansen Dibell

Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

River Teeth: a Journal of Nonfiction Narrative

Fourth Genre

Ninth Letter (friend Sarah Einstein has a seriously fine story in the Fall/Winter issue called "Mot."  It is courageous and tender. It blew me away.)

Paris Review

All the Lavish in Common by Allan Peterson

Prick of the Spindle: Fiction Open Competition, No. 1, Fall 2009

The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen by Rebecca Katz with Mat Edelson


And I have been missing Scotland, especially the tiny Isle of Arran. I'll leave you with two photos from several years ago. One is Buck and me with our Arran friends, Charles and Lynn Fforde. The other is the tiny, sweet post office in the village of Broddick on Arran.

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The restaurant was Charles and Lynn's venture into restauranteering, and was called The Claddagh.

 Brodick post office
 
The red door, oval sign, and hanging flowers radiate good cheer, and so, on that note, I'll say good night and sweet dreams.






Down The Rabbit Hole

Metatarsalgia is a technical-sounding word for "sore foot."  I have been foot sore and unable to play the piano for more than a month. Ha! That sounds pretty funny; creates an image of me playing the piano with my feet. Didn't know I could do that, did you?  But actually, the right-foot operated sostenuto and sustain pedals have a role in many pieces and even sitting on the bench with a throbbing foot has been uncomfortable.

Until last night.

An early evening rain storm, its glassy sheets of water surrounding the house, created a cocoon of comfort for us, the sound a blessing of white noise. Even the satellite television system was out, reminding us of the joys of human conversation over dinner with no attendant original-thought-killing soundtrack.

When Buck and Maggie drifted to the bedroom, he with a book and she to snore on her bedside mat, I noticed the piano light was on, sat down and began to play. IMG_0478

I started with a piece already on the stand. It was Brahms, Der Gang zum Liebchen (The Watchful Lover), surely one of the most lovely, haunting melodies ever written. From there, I picked up what was closest: Jacques Brel's "If You Go Away," and Randy Newman's bluesy "Louisiana."

Darkness was complete in the room, except for the circle of light within which I sat. An old John Denver songbook peeked out from the pile. I pulled it out and started with the first one, then just kept on going. When I got to the softly rolling "Back Home Again," an unexpected surge of memories swamped my small tidal pool of song, and suddenly I was back in Scotland, our first trip to the Isle of Arran. The year was 1998.

IMG_0491 Buck spent the week stalking red stags on Goatfell Mountain and its environs, while I explored the island on foot and by bus once I learned the schedules and became halfway confident in which coin was a ten pence, twenty pence or pound.

I remember waiting for a bus one rainy day in a high wind, swaddled in my green rain suit, hanging on to a light post for fear of blowing down the narrow road like some out of place tumbleweed.

At week's end, the guides, ghillies and other guests gathered for a party at Sannox House with many rounds of drinks, toasts and music. Some German fellows drank dark beer and shots of Jagermeister and later on scotch whiskey. One of the ghillies was a tall Englishman, Neil Fox, who told us he had once played guitar with Eric Clapton's band. Neil had brought along his karaoke machine and guitar. He knew most every song ever written by John Denver, plus all the words to every verse, and was thrilled to have two Americans in the house who were familiar with Denver. After a wee dram or two, we were induced to sing along. Before the night was out, we danced with abandon, oblivious to the two younger German guys snapping photos. IMG_0461

When Neil played "Back Home Again," Buck and his guide and good friend, Alan Ross, wrapped their arms about each other's shoulders and sang along, jocular at the beginning, but earnest and nearly sober at the end, singing Denver's timeless tale of love for home and family.

". . . and oh, the time that I can lay this tired old body down and feel your fingers feather soft upon me. . ."

On a later visit, a small group of us ended the evening standing in a small circle, glasses raised, as Alan's wife, Farquhar, sang The Flower of Scotland a capella in her clear, beautiful voice. It sounds ancient, with it's surprising atonal shifts, but was actually written in 1967 by Roy Williamson of the folk group, The Corries. My own nostalgia for that moment surprises me, and I suddenly long to be back on Arran.

Music opens the door to memory, puts me in direct and immediate connection with emotion, and down the rabbit hole I go!

IMG_0514                                    Holy Isle, seen from Lamlash, Isle of Arran, Scotland

Never To Late To Have a Happy Childhood

Lemon Tree is an itty bitty store tucked into a corner of the Balmichael Visitor’s Center on the String Road between Machrie and Broddick on the Isle of Arran, Scotland. It is stuffed to the gills with unique toys, bodacious parasols, cuckoo clocks with an attitude, handmade dolls — and purses. Handbags made for children that make everyone smile. When we were on Arran in September, I bought several for some of my favorite little girls. One of them looks like a sheep (or maybe the horse in Toy Story). It has wobbly feet and brings instant smiles. Another has the face of a little blond-haired girl with corn cob curls and it is bursting with personality.

But I saved the best one for myself. Well, that is, I bought it for someone else. But I think I’ll keep it for awhile because I like it so much. A long while.

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Kate Spade eat your heart out.

 

Meals from Creelers Seafood, Isle of Arran, Scotland

One month ago today Buck and I were on the Isle of Arran on the west coast of Scotland. One month ago today Hurricane Ivan came ashore in Pensacola and coastal Alabama.

That night, we had dinner guests at The Kennels, the self-catering home we rented during our stay. I prepared fresh salmon fillets, broiled with a mayonnaise, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, horseradish and fresh dill topping, served with a Greek style salad (mixed greens, tomatoes, feta cheese, kalamata olives in an olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano dressing). I marinated some fresh raspberries in port and we spooned them over Arran Dairy vanilla ice cream for dessert, along with port in a glass and espresso.

Yeah. It was that good.

After our friends left for home, we turned on the TV while brushing our teeth and making preparations for sleep. Not to be. Even on this somewhat remote island, our friends (and landlords) had arranged for full satellite tv for us, and so as we clicked on to U.S. stations, we were riveted by the sudden awareness that Hurricane Ivan had neither weakened nor veered off in some other direction, but was about to make a direct hit on our home town.

We stayed up almost all night, watching. We were able to reach one set of our kids before the phone lines and power were zapped.

Ah, well, the rest is history, but I had intended to share a few photos with you from our trip, and just haven’t gotten to it until now.

One afternoon, we visited Creelers Seafood to see what fresh fish or shellfish they might have that I could prepare for our supper. The fish pickings were kind of slim, but I decided to go with a monk fish, a/k/a “poor man’s lobster.” The monk fish is thick, squat and kind of ugly, but the Creeler’s chef came out and, along with the fishmonger, we ended up in a four-way discussion. He showed me how to fillet the whole fish, cut it into small scallops, then saute it quickly with the scallops.

The completed dish was served over garlic mashed potatoes, with a few steamed fine green beans and a Greek-style salad (my obvious favorite and the Arran-made feta is fabulous). Here’s the “beauty shot.”

Click here if you would like to walk through the Brodick Castle Gardens or become acquainted with a very special young boy named Marcus, a native of Arran, or share our walk on the Goatfell Mountain path.

As for tonight, it is a cool, crisp evening in Pensacola with a shining crescent moon. The screened porch and house were “power washed” yesterday, fresh flowers out and the setting perfect for grill smoking a whole chicken.
Now, if I only had some raspberries and vanilla ice cream.

 

It’s the Lives

It’s early morning on the Isle of Arran in Scotland. I am sitting in a celery-colored, velvet wing chair at The Kennels, Buck and my residence for the week. My view into the blue sky outside the large window is partially blocked by a tree whose leaves are bathed in shade on one side and sparkling with morning sun on the other. Janis Joplin is coming straight at me through the laptop’s headset. Her growly, rough, sometimes little girl voice is a reminder from my days at the University of Florida in the early 1970’s. I bought the bargain rack “Greatest Hits” CD to download onto my laptop before we left home. I think George and Ira Gershwin would have been dumbstruck by her keening version of “Summertime.”

I’ve visited Steve, the fishmonger at Creeler’s Restaurant and Smokehouse several times during our visit to pick up some tasty morsel to fix for dinner: salmon twice, scallops and monk fish.

Steve greeted me Wednesday. “Halloo, Beth from Pensacola. Have ya heard how yer fam’ly fared in th’ storm?”  Steve is a solidly built guy, tall, strong with years of running his fishing boat, hand filleting thousands of fish, brining and either hot or cold smoking them for sale on Arran or sending up to their other Creeler’s restaurant in Edinburgh. Standing in the doorway, we talk about Hurricane Ivan, my family’s good fortune in coming through virtually unscathed, and the poor suffering people in Haiti and the horrendous loss of life from Tropical Storm (now Hurricane) Jeanne.

Steve stands with a fillet knife in his hand, contemplatively fingers the point and then wipes it on his apron. A long scar just under one eyebrow pulsates. We pass the time for a few more minutes and agree that trees can be replanted, but “it’s the lives that matter, aye?”

Aye, Steve, so right.

Of Laptops and Lyle Lovett

Wednesday morning, almost 8 o’clock. Dark and cold here in the parlor, where I sit with laptop — makes a great space heater – headset on listening to a music CD I picked up before we left Pensacola and had forgotten about. Oh my, it’s pure fun. Lyle Lovett’s “My Baby Don’t Tolerate.”

“A friend of mine He said to me A skinny girl Is misery I shook my head Because I knew he couldn’t be right That’s when I thought back to just last night

When I got home
It was maybe a little late
There was n’er a crumb
On n’er a plate
There was no martini
Nor glass of grape
And it was then I sought to contemplate

Some things. . .
My baby don’t tolerate, no
My baby don’t tolerate, no
My baby don’t tolerate from me

I said, “Hello Honey,”
She said, “What could you possibly
Have been doing until
Half-past-then?”

And not being completely insensitive
I could tell my ship had run aground
Because when I puckered up
You know she puckered down

Some things. . .
My baby don’t tolerate, no
My baby don’t tolerate, no
My baby don’t tolerate from me

Now a smaller more ordinary man
Might not appreciate the guidance
Of a good woman
Who truly loves him
He might drift and despair
During the ignorant, dumb misdoings
Of his dirty, daily existence

But that’s not me
No, yes sir’ree
I’m proof that true love will
Set you free

Some things. . . .
My baby don’t tolerate, no
My baby don’t tolerate, no
My baby don’t tolerate from me”

Lyle Lovett

 

We’re staying in a fantastic house called The Kennels. Back in the day, it was home to the keeper of Brodick Castle’s dogs and horses. The house itself has been upgraded, as a brochure might say, to a “very high standard.” It’s great, especially the huge bathtub. I’ve practically transformed myself into a prune with all the soaking. The tub is quite a bit longer than my 5 feet 4 ¼ inches, so I do have to stay awake. Either that or stay afloat.

The stables are unused now, but the original stalls and fittings are intact. Bags of coal for the fireplace are kept in one. A circular brass piece must be pushed until there is an audible click, then the original door swings open into a soft black quiet space, a couple of old horseshoes hanging on a post and a pile of ancient roof slates in one corner.

The low wall bordering the back gravel yard for the enclave of house and outbuildings is broken by stone steps leading to a grassy area which disappears into a woodsy path through the forest. Irresistible. A wild-growing hydrangea, ferns and ripe blackberries lead us for a few steps and then, like a light switch, the dense tree canopy plunges us into the darkness of a mature forest.

Buck’s natural compass tells him this is a shortcut to the Goatfell Mountain footpath. I’ve been his walking companion too many years now to doubt it. He knows things. Shoot. I can get lost driving to Tallahassee – and have. Buck, however, is an orienteering master. So I relax and enjoy the magical feeling woods, so soft beneath my feet, inhaling deeply. Oxygen therapy, mingled with healing herbs.

Shortly we emerge onto the Goatfell Mountain footpath. It’s a good rocky gravel path, noisy with the sounds of rushing streams and the ever-present wind. Lime green moss has covered many of the trees in this section of the path, and crimson mushrooms shaped like racket balls nestle at bracken’s edge. Hobbity, this place is!

We’re due at some friends’ home for an early dinner, and the the trek to Goatfell’s peak and back takes several more hours than we have on this day, so we go as far as the midpoint waterfall, then head back down, taking a detour around some other paths circumnavigating the castle. We stop for a late lunch of cheese on a whole meal bun at a bench overlooking the Firth of Clyde. We can see the large Caledonian MacBrayne ferry arriving from Ardrossan on the mainland. It is the island’s lifeline.

By the time we make it back to The Kennels, several hours and about eight miles have gone by, and there’s just time for another great soak and to dress for dinner.

I’m about to go into the kitchen and fix some extra-strength French press coffee and start to work on a cooking project for dinner with friends. Last year I brought over chile peppers and seasonings to make Machaca, a spicy beef dish, great with black beans, sour cream, guacamole, and corn bread. An encore was requested. The beef has been in a marinade of lime juice, pressed garlic, Worcestershire, Tabasco, chipoltle chile powder, and toasted cumin seeds since yesterday. This morning I’ll sear the meat, then add tomatoes, lots more garlic, jalapenos, onions and other good stuff, and just raise the roof

While that’s going on, I plan to wrap up in my shawl and read all day. Me and Lyle Lovett. I think we’ll invite Santana (the Shaman album), too. It’s got the right seasoning for today.

I’m sitting here laughing out loud. Feeling warm and bright. Thanks, Lyle.