Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Castles and Abbeys - Scotland in Autumn

 Last week I had to pop up to Angus in Scotland for work. I happened to see that Glamis Castle was nearby so thought I'd take an extra day and look around.

I chose Arbroath as a place to stay pretty much at random. I didn't realise that the lovely ruined Arbroath Abbey was quite so significant in Scottish history.

In 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath was written (probably) by the Abbot of Arbroath Abbey and sent to the Pope to entreat him to recognise Scotland as an independent country. In those days the Pope was the top international authority in the western world.

The declaration includes the moving words, "… it is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for  freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."
 In the 1950s four students stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey (where the English had rather provocatively stored it under the seat of the throne), they brought it to Arbroath Abbey and left it there, wrapped in the Scottish flag.
 The abbot's house is still intact as it had been used as various things over the years including a school and a factory. The fan vaults above are from the undercroft under the house.
 While I was there, a small school group came for a visit. They got dressed in little monk's robes and had a guide in a robe showing them over the place and telling stories. So there were cute mini-monks shadowing me around during my visit, adding to the atmosphere.
 The grounds around the abbey had been the town graveyard for years. Very atmospheric, especially on a grey day.

After a couple of pleasant hours at Arbroath Abbey I took the pretty drive over to Glamis. I was mostly interested in Glamis Castle because I recognised the name from Shakespeare's "Macbeth". However Glamis Castle is nothing like the blasted ruin that I expected from seeing the play. It's been a plush country escape for very rich people for centuries.

The building started in the 1300s as a hunting lodge. The fairytale castle look was achieved in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Most of the outside of the building and grounds have barely changed since then.

The Strathmore family still live part-time in the castle and they also do a roaring trade as a venue for weddings and corporate hospitality.
 The castle is made of the reddish local stone - you can see it's the same stuff as Arbroath Abbey.

 We had an expert and friendly tour guide take us around 10 rooms inside, but photos weren't allowed so I can't show you details.

They were very grand rooms with all sorts of interesting curiosities. One of my favourite things were the embroidered bed hangings that took 14 years for the lady of the house to complete. They were made in the 1600s and are still in pretty good nick today. There was incredible detail and creativity in all the different animals, plants and decorations she embroidered.

 I do have to mention that Glamis Castle is the late Queen Mother's childhood home - there were lots of interesting royal connections and stories.

Beautiful autumn views from the bridge heading into the walled garden.

A touch of autumn colour in the trees. I saw signs warning me to be careful driving because there might be a red squirrel on the road, but of course I saw no sign of squirrels.
 Cute Highland Cows grazing in a field behind the car park.
 Cornflowers outside the walled garden - there were two large banks of mingled cornflowers and dandelions.
The Italian garden - a view from under one of the two aisles of overhanging trees. There were roses in the beds but they weren't at their best in autumn, of course.

They have been working for the past couple of years on restoring the walled garden. It's a huge space - it seemed to cover about an acre. They have planted lots of roses which will make it an ideal wedding venue when they're a bit more mature.

There are three big amazing castles within a short drive around that part of the country (and it's only about an hour and a half north of Edinburgh). I'm definitely going back for another look around as the countryside is stunning and I do love a good castle!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Communal cats

Black cat
 In our small flat, we're not allowed to keep a pet. We love cats, so we make up for our lack of cat by borrowing some of the many neighbourhood moggies.

There are four small black cats locally. This pic is one of the two who are brother and sister. We call them 'The Invisible Tabby' and 'The Invisible Tabby's Brother' because in sunlight they have subtle tabby markings.

Then we have another brother and sister pair - Earl and Assam. They have name tags and we approve of their names (named after types of tea) so they've stayed with their given names.

Earl is quite a lot smaller than Assam. They're both nice-natured animals who like cuddles and bits of string. I suspect they're Burmese.

Ginger cat

This handsome ginger fellow we named 'Weasley' after the red-headed family in the Harry Potter books. We saw him a bit as a kitten but haven't seen him much since then. In fact this might be the only time he's been in. Either he's indoors a lot or just doesn't hang around near our flat.

We call this cat 'Fluffybum' because she's "so fluffy I could die!" and also she seems to suit a silly name.

She's a sweet little thing - very light and tiny under all that fur. She was being badly neglected by her divorcing family and is a bit skittish (though also affectionate and very playful). She has had a happy ending in that another local couple have adopted her. Now she is always beautifully groomed and looking healthy.

Another couple of gratuitous pics of Earl. This is last year when she battled and eventually defeated our Christmas tree. There wasn't anything delicate on the tree so we let her get on with it. (In spite of Earl being a male name, we think she's female cos she's so tiny).
grey cat
A slightly younger Earl enjoying some strokes on the windowsill.
Tabby Cat
This cat we call 'Skinnytail'. It's a nasty creature, prone to chasing birds, fighting other cats and attacking the hand that feeds it cat treats.
Norwegian Forest Cat
This one might just be my favourite. We named him 'Cat Treats' because that's what we call to summon him. Also, he's so lovely and smoochy he's a treat for us. He has been known to roll around on the bed and nuzzle my nose with his nose. So sweet!

He's a Norwegian Forest cat with a big ruff and a foofy tail. His owners don't brush him enough so he gets matted fur. We occasionally have a go at snipping out the worst tangles. He's very trusting and quite happy to be groomed.

So, that's most of our neighbourhood cats. We are very lucky that we get visits to cheer us in our catless state.

Friday, 17 October 2014

One pair of pants, three days

One pair of pants, three days

One pair of pants, three days by eleanorbirdy featuring a bateau neck top 

So this week I suddenly found I had to stay away from home for a couple of nights. I commuted for my work on Tuesday morning but the traffic (and weather) was so damn bad that I thought I'd rather stay in the area rather than have to face it again. Of course I hadn't packed, so what to do about clothes for work? 

I happened to be wearing the first outfit on the left - one of those excellent shirts from Oasis as mentioned previously, leopard heels and a gold-toned necklace from Accesorize. I also had on my new pants (or trousers for the English) from Laura Ashley. I have to say that they stood up brilliantly to three days of hard use! 

I popped out to Next UK after work ('cos their shop happened to be on the way to where I was staying) and after a bit of hunting and trying on, I found these two tops. They were both quite cheap and I think I'll get plenty of wear out of them. 

I have been wanting another beige cardigan after I left my old one in Belfast so I was pleased to get this one. It's got a bit of a fabric detail on the lapel which gives it a touch of something more interesting. Also, it's a nice light beige colour. I have to be very careful with beige to get the right tone to suit - yellowy tones look hideous on me!

I also got the dark blue boat-neck top. The picture shows it being rather loose but I sized down to get a snug fit. The colour suits me and I like the buttons at either side of the neck.   

So, with a few toiletries and some cheap underwear, I was set for a couple more days at work. Not the most exciting outfits, but I was pleased with my improvisation.  

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

English things - faff, spiders and paving stones

I've been noticing a few things about living in England recently that I just wouldn't have known about until I moved here. As a public service I'm warning you about them...

Fright wig Rocky Horror
This came up by searching 'faff'?!?
In case you're not sure, to faff basically means 'fuss, flap, bother,' etc. It can be a verb or a noun i.e. "We can't faff around forever" or "There was the usual faff of getting through airport security". You can also be faffing about.

Let me warn you - there is a reason that this is a particularly English word. The flip-side of the beautifully polite and orderly queueing is a notable inefficiency. For example, even large chain cafes tend to have all their staff doing everything at once i.e. making coffee, taking orders, clearing tables (or not clearing them as the case may be). This is vastly slower than the practise in New Zealand of having a dedicated barista and someone else operating the till. I think the general tolerance of crowds and queues leads to less pressure to keep things moving. 

Autumn Spiders
I'm not going to give you a picture of this one! I'm fairly arachnophobic and I've been horrified to discover that it's an actual thing where every autumn large spiders suddenly start coming inside looking for a mate! This never happened in New Zealand (or least spiders came in every so often, but not en masse in one season). So far I've had two in bed at different times, including one crawling through my hair. NOT ON!

English street rain paving letterbox bicycles
Trick paving stones
Here's another good autumn/winter tip - beware of the trick paving stones! English footpaths are covered in all sorts of things from old cobblestones to stone blocks, pavers, concrete or asphalt. If you've got paving underfoot and it's been raining recently, do step carefully. What can happen (and it's happened to me) is that a loose paver gathers a little reservoir of muddy water. When the time is right (i.e. when you step on it), the paver gushes filthy water over your shoes, up your legs and possibly even manages to splash your coat. This will comprehensively ruin your day.

So, just a few handy tips if you're thinking of emigrating or visiting. Are you going to adopt the word 'faff' now? (Try it, it's fun!).

Friday, 10 October 2014

Craving wine for autumn - burgundy, merlot, sangria, claret

Craving wine for autumn

Craving wine for autumn by eleanorbirdy 

The weather has turned and true to form, my mind has wandered to autumn fashion. I'm yearning for all things burgundy, particularly accessories like shoes (shooz!) and a large bag for work. 

That expensive fluffy clutch bag is just for fun. I'd never spend that much on something so frivolous (but I do think it's pretty!).

I already have a pair of garnet earrings, some tear-shaped drops in silver. I also have a burgundy cotton cardigan, a burgundy three-quarter sleeve top and some excellent wine-coloured nail polishes. I think I'd wear some burgandy shoes as a bit of an accent with other colours especially dark blue, grey and black and white patterns.  I'd have to avoid green or I'd start to feel like a Christmas decoration gone wrong.

With bags, I tend to buy one or two a year and use them every day until they fall apart or I get sick of them. My current bag is jade green slouchy leather. I'd like something a bit more structured and large enough to carry a small laptop or tablet. (I need to buy the small laptop or tablet too... Maybe for Christmas?!)

Are you getting on board with the wine-themed trend this season? Or are you going into spring and thinking about pastels? Or are you just not that fussed about colour trends?

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Age cannot wither her?

Women, aging, Cleopatra, actress, Shakespeare
A couple of comments on my last post got me thinking... First of the wonderful Duchesse  (go and see her blog, it's a delight) commented that,

"You may not be as pretty as in your 20s but I'll bet you are a more fascinating woman!" 

And a friend commented on Facebook: 

" I would agree that everyone gets more interesting as they age, as long as they take pains to keep their habits and activities fresh and out of a rut. I'd say you are accomplishing this nicely!"

Women, aging, Cleopatra, actress, Shakespeare
Excellent words of wisdom! I'll be mulling over this 'facinating woman' idea for some time to come, I think. Trying it on, tweaking it about, seeing if it fits and how I can style it. 

I just tried searching the phrase 'facinating woman' and came up with a lot of traditional American homemaker stuff. Ick. Not my idea of fascinating. I'm more in tune with my friend's comment about becoming more interesting as we age by making sure we keep learning and growing. 

The Shakespeare quote alluded to in the title is "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety". My overriding philosophy since moving to England has been 'Try something new'. I wouldn't claim (or want) infinite variety but I have loved stepping out of the old ruts of who I think I am and what I think I do. My younger self wouldn't recognise me in some aspects these days. 

I do recommend a seismic change every so often. I transformed myself around age 15 when I found a group of friends who hadn't known me since I was a baby. Being a new context allowed me to work out who I really was, instead of being stuck with the old expectations and patterns. Now with this move I've been freer to do that again. 

So what? Well, I guess I'll keep working on this fascinating thing and see where that takes me. What do you think - do people get more interesting as they age?
Women, aging, Cleopatra, art, painting
Obvious symbolism with the snake!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Reassess your level of awesomeness

The phrase 'reassess your level of awesomeness' popped up in a blog, article or comment somewhere in the last week and it's kind of stuck in my head.

I've always been ridiculously confident in my level of awesomeness in areas where I've chosen to engage. I do/ did have a trend of  not getting involved in something unless I thought I could easily succeed. My favourite ever school report comment was for Physical Education. It went something like "Eleanorjane needs to learn that cynicism is no substitute for effort". Teachers can't get away with writing stuff like that these days and the world is a poorer place for it!

I have (very sadly and slowly) realised that I'm probably never going to turn heads with my looks again. I was never a 10 in terms of looks, but I did enjoy dressing up and feeling pretty in my teens and 20s. I can still dress up, but I'll never be as pretty as I was...

Anyway, I've had a few experiences lately that I have caused me to reassess my level of awesomeness in a couple of other areas.

Firstly, singing. There's a local group that meets every couple of weeks to jam. We get a set list and I do a bit of practise to make sure that I have some idea of how the songs go. I was excited about last week because one of the songs was 'Rolling in the Deep' by Adele. I had a bit of a practise and even recorded myself to make sure I didn't sound too 'classical'. I thought I had it sorted. On the day though, I got flustered, started off wrong and it was just horrible. Something that should be been a showpiece was so painful that everyone quickly decided that the song was off the set-list for good. I did fine on the other songs, but this really knocked my confidence.

Next, work. We had a big meeting. I was there as one of a panel with a few other folks. When speaking to the whole group, I was interrupted and my comments clearly didn't go down well. In contrast, an amazing senior woman had them sitting in the palm of her hand. I was in awe of how diplomatically she phrased things, how she made small concessions seem like big concessions and managed the whole thing. I wasn't the only one who was impressed as the room went quiet whenever she opened her mouth. I know it's not fair to compare myself to someone with 20 years more experience than me, but still...

So, I'm a bit down tonight. Maybe this dose of humility will be good for me. Or maybe I'll bounce back to my normal optimistic self. We'll see.