Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cemeteries, castles and cows' stomachs

Munching in front of a Monument again: this time it's Edinburgh Castle.  Yes, I've used shortbread but, true-to-my-nature, it has a thick layer of chocolate on the top.

After all, why not pop over there on a cheap flight for a few days during Sapphire's half-term break. And don't get me started on why kids need a week off after only six weeks of school and then a pupil-free day the following Monday...  Love Chunks was left at work (with a couple of days to go skiing too, so don't feel too sorry for him).

The above photo was taken by a rather hungover young gentleman who was heading home to bed after a big Saturday night out just as we were heading up to the castle for an early Sunday morning start.

Sapphire beside a tiny window inside the St Margaret's chapel in the rocky grounds of Edinburgh castle. It's the oldest still-standing building there dating back to the 11th century.  It was surprising to discover that the castle is still used for army training and large areas were blocked off. A few Chinese tourists didn't read the 'Private Residence - No Entry' signs and opened the front door and wandered inside a rather lovely looking terraced house, no doubt surprising (or annoying) the occupants.

My observation to Sapph: "It must be terrific to live in such historical buildings and locations, but - whatever you do - always remember to have clothes on when you fling open your window or need to dash outside to whip a dry towel off the clothesline."

It was hurtful to receive only a eye roll for my sharing of wisdom.

Greyfriars church, in the heart of the Old Town at the base of the castle, was a spot that was regularly dug up by body snatchers keen to earn eight quid (half a years' wage) for each fresh(ish) one found.  Therefore, grim-looking headstones such as this one (see the two coffin and shovel icons left and right between the skull and crossbones?) were designed to warn potential carcass criminals to bog off and try somewhere else. Richer graves even had locked gates to prevent being disturbed whilst poorer-but-determined families sometimes forced a relative to sit on a new grave for at least a fortnight. After that, the bone burglars knew that the contents inside would be too decayed to interest the nearby medical school.

With an atmospherically gloomy day to help us, we tried (in vain) to find the Thomas Riddle gravestone that JK Rowling borrowed for her books.  We did, however, see a few other key character names amongst the tombs - McGonagal etc, and had lunch at the cafe she still credits for being kind enough to let her nurse a cup of coffee all day to stay warm and write the first Harry Potter.

The waiting staff there were keeping sharp eyes on any lingerers though, having suffered through a few other billionaire-wannabes trying to get a sniff of the inspiration JK found in their cafe.  The cappuccino cake was nice though, and Sapph thought her lamb and mint pie was pretty decent too.


Great achievement - Encyclopaedia Brittanica - but a very, very unfortunate name.  William Smellie......  In Australia, the cheaper and local version was 'Funk and Wagnalls.'  Adverts at the time would feature a kid asking something improbable like, 'Where do sesame seeds come from?' and a voice-over would gleefully say, "Look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls!"  Best not to say that phrase too fast or with a mouth full of toffee.

A unicorn, resting a hoof on the Scottish coat of arms whilst also holding up the St Andrews flag along the Royal Mile.  It's tempting to now write, 'your argument is invalid' ala the popular meme or 'enough said' but he sits proudly at the top of a small stone tower used to make (yell, presumably) announcements to the local populace.  

On the ground were wooden doors that were used to punish shop lifters caught red-handed at the nearby market. If captured, the thief had their ear nailed to the door and had a terrible choice to make:
A) To remain there for twenty four hours without touching their ear and endure the encouraged likelihood of locals kicking, spitting or emptying their night jars on you as well as enduring hunger, cold and wet pants; or
B) Leave the post at any time within that twenty four hours by tearing your ear off the nail.

Unfortunately the first case would undoubtedly cause you to perish in the night or endure a terrible, deathly infection and the second resulted in a missing chunk of ear that instantly identified you as a thief and therefore likely to be refused jobs, food or even permission to live in the town.  I wonder if that's where the term 'ear marked' comes from?

Bobby the dog was owned by a local policeman, John Grey, and always accompanied him on his rounds in the very dodgy areas of Edinburgh.  Several years later, John contracted TB and died and Bobby stayed by his grave, living for at least a decade afterwards.  He became rather famous and was looked after by the Greyfriars rector and locals, who regularly left him food and treats.  It is now a tradition to leave sticks for him to chase at his grave.

What I forgot to take photographs of:

  • Sapphire trying and enjoying Haggis.
  • "Aye, but ye canna go roond that whey," said the taxi driver and Sapphire whispering, "Can you actually understand what he's saying, Mum?"
  • Bag pipe players. EVERYWHERE. In fact, the above pictures are rare for NOT containing any of them, but their strangled beagle sounds were always heard.
  • Our deliciously hearty English full cooked breakfast but with Scottish extras of haggis and oatcake. Sapphire was primed to tell the waitress that she wanted a 'full English breakfast' but came out with, "I want the FULL SAUSAGE."  I'm still wondering if I'm a suitable role model because we laughed and joked about it for the rest of the trip.
  • Nits. Again.  "No, I don't want to do it monkey style," said my younger Foghorn Leghorn when I suggested a quick check.  More immature giggling ensued; mostly from me.
  • Me and cider. Local brews and a gorgeous strawberry one from Sweden. Why hasn't it travelled across the channel to mainland Europe...?
  • Cadbury Creme eggs all over the place and for half the price they'd be in Australia.
  • A tray of beef lasagne abandoned in the crisp packet aisle in Sainsburys.  Obviously bought out of habit before the brain started to ask, "But is it really beef, or is Phar Lap's descendent in there too?"

...and heading back to our cosy room to flop on the bed, enjoy a cup of tea and read all the broadsheet weekend newspapers with my darling travel companion.  


FruitCake said...

You've done it again! Mentioned nits! I shall have to locate and take each of the three brands of anti-histamines in the house so I can stop scratching long enough to sleep. Sharing may be caring but really, we don't know each other that well!

But, lots of interesting tidbits, thanks!

And as for Sapph's reference to wanting the full sausage... if she starts talking about shaking the sauce bottle, be afraid. Be very afraid!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Kath:
What a wonderful time you both obviously had in Edinburgh. Such a marvellous city and so much of interest to see.

Some time ago we wrote a post about St Margaret's Chapel since our tiny Anglican church here in Budapest is named after her. Small world.

And, although it always sounds somewhat morbid when recounting to others, we do enjoy looking around cemeteries. Clearly you do too. There is often such a wealth of historical interest contained there that one cannot help but be carried away by it all. We have loved the titbits that you unearthed!

Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

We went to Bath this weekend (I'm about to write a post on it) - but we ALMOST went to Edinburgh instead. We decided the weather might be a bit rough so we opted to go down south instead.

We will be going later in the year though for sure.

Haggis? YEEUCHH! That is something the Scots can keep.

Apart from that - it's a lovely place.

Och aye the noo!




MedicatedMoo said...

Sorry Fruitcake, but they seem to not want to leave us for long. My head has been itching like crazy but hasn't contracted it this time, but I keep asking Love Chunks to check just in case....

Jane and Lance, I love a good old cemetery and am often surprised at how gravestones were written. That and a good antiques shop (some of which we also visited whilst in Edinburgh). I'll go and look for your post on the Budapest version of St Margaret - can you remember roughly when you wrote it?

PlasMan, Edinburgh TOO COLD? Bah humbug - it was pleasantly warm compared to Geneve! Although I can't really fault your choice of Bath....

Hannah said...

Sapphire is getting more gorgeous (and hilarious, intentional or no) by the day.

I'd like a full sausage too, thanks.

ropcorn said...

I love those old, spooky castles! Makes me want to visit Great Britain even more!

Pandora Behr said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip - bar the nits. Somewhere I'd love to go back to. I only made Edinburgh once, but loved it - what I could do with a bit more time and money. (By the way, did you make the Roslyn Chapel? A must go when in and around Edinburgh. Amazing.

V envious.

MedicatedMoo said...

She is, Hannah, she really is. Teenage travails are happening and still to happen but she's terrific to hang out with.

Do it, Ropcorn. The UK isn't so far away from Sweden, is it?

Thanks Pandora. Didn't do Roslyn (so to speak) but checked out Giles instead. Sapph is reaching the 'seen one cathedral, seen 'em all' stage so one a trip is about the max.

Anonymous said...

No matter how much you learnt about Edinburgh before visiting, I doubt you would learn about the dog at the grave. Such colour can only be found by visiting. We hope to be there for a day or so next year.

Alexia said...

Hi Kath

I'm so jealous - I have been wanting to visit Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland for years. I'll do it, too! it's my Scottish blood calling...
What? how can you not like bagpipes? they give me goosebumps every time.

You and Sapphire obviously have a fantastic relationship, teenage travails or not. My daughter had horses and we spent many hours together, driving all over the countryside to showjumping and eventing stuff. I used to moan that I didn't have a weekend for myself for about 10 years, but boy, do I treasure those memories now!

Elephant's Child said...

I do love travelling with you and your family. Nits or not. Haggis? Eeeeuw. And, as I have said in the past, Sapph is looking more and more like you. Lucky young woman that she is.

MedicatedMoo said...

Andrew, you'll love the place. Easy to walk around, loads of atmosphere, pubs-a-plenty and history bursting from every seam....

Alexia, I do like bagpipes actually (*cringes in anticipation of the scorn about to be heaped upon her by others*) but when there's a keen busker on every corner it can test even those of us with generations of Scottish blood in our veins.

You're so kind, E-Child! The approach to eating haggis is that it's really just an 'Honest Sausage' in that it doesn't cover up its origins or ingredients. The second tip is to NOT EAT the covering, just the peppery mincey stuff inside. Stodgy and filling stuff, made for long winters....

River said...

Isn't it great to have so many places so close by? Over the border to France, over the channel to England and Scotland. That's something you can't do from Aus.
So how was the haggis? I think it'd be awful, but did Sapphire say it was nice? Tasty? So-so?
I have someone living nearby, not sure exactly where, but I hear him or her practising the bagpipes now and again.

MedicatedMoo said...

River, Sapphire quite liked it - it really tastes like peppery mince but made even heavier by oats being included in the mix. We both agreed that it was not something you'd eat every day as it is a bit too stodgy.

As for the distance to things, you're right: a huge part of moving here was to have access to so many interesting places to visit, esp when cheap rail or flights can also be found.

wilbo43 said...

Edinburgh is a fabulous town. John Grey's little Terrier, Bobby, has a statue at the top of Candlemakers Row, one of the most photographed, and there is even a bar named after him in the Greyfriars Pub opposite, aptly named, 'Bobby's Bar.' Aye!

Imogen said...

Thank you for another wonderful post. I always get so excited when you update your blog.

Why do bagpipe players walk while they play?

To get away from the noise!

(Although, like you, I do like bagpipes!)

Red Nomad OZ said...

Eye-rolling is the new praise. Isn't it??

Jackie K said...

Oh my god, JEALOUS! Sounds wonderful. I loved, loved loved Scotland the one time I visited, especially Edinburgh.
Nits - ugh. We had a bout of them a few weeks ago and it took ages to finally be rid of them. I hadn't realised I was regularly humiliating my kids by checking their heads in public places (I wasn't quite so dense to do it in front of school, other kids, etc, just in shopping centres and the like)- but they very angrily let me know they didn't like being groomed like monkeys either.

nuttynoton said...

On your travels again! You are certainly visiting lots of interesting places. As for bagpipes hate them (my sister in-law and nieces are scottish dancers!) Not that keen on haggis either.
Yes you often need a translator, being related to some scots I have picked up a bit of the accent but still have to translate. Glad you had a good time. It is Amsterdam for us at easter, I am sure you will get there as well

MedicatedMoo said...

Nice one, Imogen!

RedNomadOz, if eye- rolling is the new praise then I'm approaching demi- god status....

Scotland is a beautiful place, JackieK, and Edinburgh has only given Sapphire a very tiny first taste. As for nits, are they getting harder to kill off for good compared to a generation ago?

Amsterdam will most definitely be on our list, Nutty, as friends will be moving near there later this year. As for your unfortunate bagpiping in-laws I hope they don't insist on you attending every

MedicatedMoo said...

Aye Wilbo43, you're spot on. We thought about having lunch in Bobby's pub but JK Rowling's cafe won out.

diane b said...

Sounds like you had a rollicking time away. I remember seeing Bobby's statue. Cadbury eggs are nothing compared to Swiss Chocolate.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I would love to visit Edinburgh Castle someday!!

mm said...

The Elephant House didn't exist when JK Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book. She actually wrote it in Nicholson's cafe, 6a Nicholson St. J.K Rowling wrote parts of the first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, in this first-floor cafe while her baby slept. The cafe has been a Chinese restaurant since April 2003. The website of Buffet King invites diners to experience 'an exquisite window view of Edinburgh - the very same view which J...K Rowling enjoyed'. A commemorative plaque was recently installed outside. I find it a bit annoying that the Elephant House have appropriated this bit of literary history and make money out of something that is not the case.

MedicatedMoo said...

Dianeb, you're absolutely correct in that Swiss chocolate is far better than Cadbury in terms of quality, but the sickly old Creme Egg is still something I look forward to at Easter time. Any time, actually.

Hi Optimistic Existentialist - you should. And everything nearby!

mm - interesting. I assume that JK had a few warm spots she frequented so that no single proprietor got tired of her nursing a single coffee all day....?

Anji said...

It's somewhere I've always wanted to visit so thanks for the guided tour. We always take a walk around the cemetary wherever we go. There is always something to be learned from them

Sapphire has grown up all of a sudden into a very beautiful young lady

MedicatedMoo said...

She is indeed, Anji and I agree re cemeteries - anywhere in Europe they're extremely fascinating, but at least I can read and understand them in the UK.

Lynne said...

Thank you for the travelogue on Edinburgh. Brought back lots of great memories. We were there in 2000 and loved it. Great weather (truly!) and we thought it had an "Adelaide" feel to it.

The Man at the Pub said...

Hi Kath! It's the Man at the Pub! Long time no read..or blog. I got distracted by a few things but I'm thinking about resurrecting my blog... if I could just remember my password. I went to Edinburgh recently too! Looking forward to catching up on all your trademark adventures. Hope all is well in Flemmo :)

MedicatedMoo said...

You're right, Lynne, it does have an Adelaide feel to it - all the stone 19C buildings perhaps? AND the fact that a good percentage of us would have Scots' blood somewhere in our geneaology?

Welcome back, Man at the Pub! We're no longer in Flemmo, but Geneva, Switzerland....!!!!