Saturday 30 May 2020

The Scottish Summer

Scottish summer often begins in May, goes somewhere else in June, and returns for a few days in July. English theatre critics come to the Edinburgh Festival in August, bringing miserable weather with them, which they then write about as if Edinburgh were always like that. It isn't.

For the past two days, we've enjoyed warm, sunny, almost cloudless weather. On Thursday, we clipped the beech hedges and the rose bushes. I sowed a new drill of lettuce. I spent the entire afternoon in the garden, and when the sun moved to the west, we put out our folding chairs on the two landings of our staircase. At 8 PM the neighbours began to applaud the NHS and from the street behind our gardens, a bagpipe began to play. Bagpipers are a national treasure as it is, and this one was very good. He (or she) played a medley of tunes, and when he (or she) finished the clapping echoed off the walls of the houses.  The applause for the piper was even  heartier than the applause for the NHS.

The gardens of the houses on our street are dotted with inflatable pools, trampolines, tents. In the evenings we smell barbecues and bonfires. On Thursday evening we had a little bonfire ourself, burning sticks of dead applewood in the outside grill. The barbecue came with the house, and we've never used it before. The neighbourhood has been transformed over the past two months into a peopled place. Before it seemed more of a down-at-heels bedroom community from which people escape to central Edinburgh for jobs or recreation. The local cathedral was the shopping mall.

But yesterday morning I felt very depressed by the lack of Catholic friends arounds. We haven't seen Catholic friends in weeks. Most of all, I would like to visit another Scottish-Canadian couple, located near Dundee, but we don't quite have the neck to travel 50 miles by train. We are now permitted by civil authority to visit friends outdoors in groups of numbering no more than six, but only within five miles of our homes.

The cure for depression was not merely to sow more radishes but to go for a long walk in the countryside, and so we did, taking a route I couldn't remember taking before. We followed our usual river path to a village, followed a country road, and found an old railway route which is now a bicycle path. I wore a hat, but Benedict Ambrose elected to get sunburnt.

The afternoon sun was fierce--as it often is here in late May--and I tired out much more quickly than usual. All the same, I enjoyed it all very much and made tentative suggestions for future, even longer ways.  It would be interesting and satisfying to walk along the John Muir Way to Dunbar, for example, or to follow the entire John Muir Way across Scotland. B.A. is unsure he is strong enough yet to do that, but I am sure he could work his way up to that.

It occurred to me that our ancestors would find think walking across Scotland just for the sake of it, not to go to a market or emigrant ship, impractical and even sinful. However, modern British literature, not ending with Tolkien and Lewis, teems with celebrations of the British countryside and the joy of leaving the urban world and its discontents behind on foot.

American ancestress
Biologists make much of the fact that for most of our existence, the human race lived outdoors. On a cellular level, we are all supposed to be outdoors most of the time, and whoever B.A.'s and my earliest ancestors were, their descendants were shaped by northern coasts and countryside. Even my most eastern ancestors (that we know of) lived north of the 52rd parallel; I wonder if the Thirteen Colonies were a shock to the systems of my earliest American ancestors.

Shocker! Just found out from the internet that my Wisconsin-born great-grandfather worked for Allan Pinkerton, the detective. Goodness me. There's something for future biographical sketches.

Update: I meant to write about the most Sustainable BLT ever. This amazing sandwich was created on Thursday afternoon from Scottish organic bread, Scottish free-range bacon, English tomatoes (grown in Kent), and lettuce from our garden. Mine had a homemade aioli dressing made from locally grown garlic, a free range local egg, and olive oil from ---well--"European Union origin." I don't mean this to be virtue-signalling; this is localism-signalling. It was the most delicious BLT ever, too.

Gardening update: Picked the last of the first sowing of radishes and some lettuce. Sowed another row and a half of radishes. "Gin and tonic botanicals" pots not doing at all well in the windowsill.  Watched an interesting "market gardening video" about growing micro greens in a backyard in Kelowna, BC.

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