Tuesday, August 23, 2011

giants, zombie vampires, and st. monans

Today's soundtrack:
"If It Feels Good Do It" by Sloan
"Ants" by Egger
"Suburban War" by Arcade Fire

Last Saturday, Miguel and I took advantage of the sunny weather and decided to walk a bit more of the Fife Coastal Path. We headed west, out past Pittenweem and onto St. Monans, which neither of us had visited. I'd spotted the windmill from the Pittenweem pier when Yvon and André were visiting and was itching to see it closer.

The walk out was lovely, although it's more manicured and busy than the Cellardyke-Crail path. Also, no goats. Just before we reached St. Monans, we came upon the windmill..

St. Monans Windmill

.. and these odd sort of mounds which I initially mistook for a deranged putt-and-bounce course.

Salt Pans

These are the foundations of the salt panning buildings. Salt water would be pumped up by the windmill, and then the salt would be processed out in these little factories. These salt pans date to the 1770s and were finally abandoned in the mid-19th century.

Reconstructed salt pan foundation

Abandoned or not, Miguel was still a little concerned that the windmill might a giant, and so did his best Don Quixote in order to keep the windmill in line. He also insisted on calling me Sancho.

Don Quijote y el gigante

Aside from the windmill, I really didn't know anything else about the town. I had a vague idea that the Lady Tower was somewhere nearby (it wasn't), so we decided to walk through the town and have a look about.

St. Monans

The town was empty. It was freaky. You could hear a pin drop. Miguel and I wandered down to the harbour, not daring to speak in more than a whisper. It felt like the village of the damned. Where was everyone? It is tourist season and all. Was everyone in hiding? Had the Zombie Apocalypse already come and gone here? Or were they all vampires? Zombie vampires, perhaps? Clearly that was the only logical explanation.

Soon enough, we reached the edge of town and came across the Auld Kirk, a church which dates back to the 14th century and has the honour of being the Scottish church closest to the sea. It's an oddly-shaped church, as it's missing a nave, but stunning nonetheless. The stone steeple is particularly striking.

Auld Kirk

After a wander around the graveyard, we took the low-tide path out towards Elie, having seen some ruins in the distance that I thought was the Lady Tower (it wasn't).

Auld Kirk from the low-tide path

Auld Kirk and St. Monans

The ruins were not of the Lady Tower (more on that whenever we get around to actually visiting it), but of Newark Castle, which dates from the 16th century and has a rather fascinating history.

Newark Castle

Currently, the castle is in a fairly ruined state, but there are rumours that some sort of restoration-as-stopgap (as in, to stop it from falling into the sea) could be in the works. At the moment, getting too close to the castle is dangerous (although we did it anyway), especially during a gale, as the masonry is crumbling.

Newark Castle

Nearby, as we headed back to St. Monans, we passed a doocot. Doocot is Scots for dovecote, and is a large aviary of sorts that traditionally housed pigeons and doves. This doocot currently houses rubbish.


I'm not sure when it was built, but doocots of all sorts were built up until the 18th century, although the plainness of this particular one probably means it was built much earlier, possibly not long after the castle itself. There's a more ornate doocot on the St. Andrews Road, just outside of Anstruther, complete with stone finials.

As we wandered back into the empty village, we realized where everyone was. There was a wedding at the Auld Kirk! Guests were starting to spill out from the church, complete with old men in kilts. I'm sure this will stop being a novelty at some point. Relieved that the townsfolk were a) zombies, b) vampires, or c) zombie vampires, we continued on and came across the Harbour Howff Cafe, a community-run restaurant where we popped in for a quick lunch.

Refreshed, we decided to head back home. As we passed by the windmill again, I snapped off my favourite photo of the day.

St. Monans Windmill

This was soon followed by my second favourite photo of the day, as this field between Pittenweem and Anstruther Easter reminds me of Saskatoon.

After 6 miles of walking, we sat down on our deck to nurse our sunburns and some beer.


Friday, August 19, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
"DaDaDa" by J.J. Ipsen
"Fragile Bird" by City and Colour
"Happy New Year" by We Are The City

In the midst of packing and preparing to move to Scotland, I started knitting Herbivore. I figured it would be a quick, mindless knit. The twisted stitch patterns should have been a clue. A few days before our flight, with emotions very high, I was 1/3 into the pattern and realized I'd missed twisting a stitch. Tinking wasn't an option (beer may have been a factor) so I frogged it and put the whole project in an extended time-out.

And that's how I flew across the Atlantic with nothing on my needles. Longest flight ever.

After arriving and settling in Cellardyke, I went through the few skeins I'd brought in my luggage (the rest of my stash didn't arrive for another 2 months) and decided that perhaps Herbivore had learned its lesson.

Incredibly, when the stress of moving, packing, and traveling to a new country is removed, the pattern was surprisingly simple and a relatively mindless knit. But even after I'd cast off, I didn't run downstairs to block it out. It wasn't because it didn't turn out lovely, because the colour was the perfect choice for the pattern and the stitch definition is gorgeous; I was hesitant because I now associated this shawl with my last days in Canada. It became something of a link to our Calgarian friends, Tim Hortons, and silverfish the size of a small country. So the shawl stayed in the "to be blocked" pile for nearly 2 months until it was impossible to ignore.

After a few days on the blocking mats (with the humidity, everything takes longer to block here than in Calgary), my Herbivore was finished. And it's beautiful.

Stephen West's "Herbivore". Used Wollmeise 100% Merino Superwash in "Fliederbusch" on US 6/4mm needles. Details on Ravelry.

Still, when I slipped the last of the lace blocking wires out, I was sad. It's a beautiful piece with a lovely drape, and I can't wait to take it out for a bike ride this afternoon, but just for those few moments after the wires came out, I was sad. Not upset or homesick. Just a little sad. All the events surrounding this shawl had been emotionally heightened (to an almost ridiculous degree) that finally finishing it presents me with a mild catharsis and a new sort of lightness*.

Yeah, I live in Scotland now.

*could be the morning's coffee.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
"Fragile Bird" by City and Colour
"Barnes' Yard" by The Rural Alberta Advantage

So the other night, Miguel comes bounding in, tossed me a sweater and insisted we go up to the garden. I can't say I blamed him.

Lovely sunsets weren't something I used to associate with Scotland. Rain, thistles, Nessy, but a summer sunset? Miguel is convinced that the Isle of May (the island in the distance) moves on a semi-regular basis. It doesn't help that, from a certain angle, the Isle of May resembles a giant whale.

On the way back down to the house, we came across a new neighbour.

I'm not sure if it was a common frog or toad, but it was big. Well, bigger than the cute little frogs we used to come across as kids. Either way, I think we should give him a name. And that dove that's cooing atop the chimney right now. At least the frog/toad is quieter.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
Doctor Who Season 3

The other year, the fine folks at Fence Records organized Haarfest (in addition to Homegame and Away Game). This year, it's a four-day extravaganza. Each day begins with coffee at the Hew Scott Hall, followed by (uncooperative weather depending) touring around the East Neuk, and culminating in a 3-4 hour long concert at the Cellardyke Town Hall. We decided to hit the first night, which featured Jonnie Common, Geese, Dan Lyth, and King Creosote, so after a quick dinner and pint over at the Bank we walked over to the Cellardyke Town Hall.

The original hall was built in the 17th century, but this building only dates back to 1881 or so. Inside, there are old elementary school class photos, ship blueprints, and a replica of the German bomb that fell on Rodger Street during the war. This was a community fiercely proud of its heritage.

First up was Jonnie Common, who performed his show solo. His usual partner-in-crime was poorly in Glasgow.

Next was Geese. When they first walked up, I turned to Miguel and said "oh good! Fiddles!" and expected, well, fiddling.

This was not the case. Instead, they played and looped their runs, over and over, with the drummer going absolutely nuts at the same time. It was Alfred Hitchcock's violins meet a drumbeat.

Then, Dan Lyth and his harem of beautiful women were up. After the avant-garde Geese, this was decidedly more mellow indie-pop. Their set was fantastic, even if they are from West Fife, and I scored their new single afterwards.

Miguel was exhausted by this point and decided to head home, which is really a shame because the last act was King Creosote. African Andy (who, when he's not wailing away on the bongos, works IT up at the university) and Gummi Bako (who could not be persuaded to take off his shirt, no matter how much that one guy in the audience yelled) were playing in the band. They had the best energy of the night. No one - not even the impromptu moshers - had more fun than those guys on stage.

Now, I'm not conversant in King Creosote songs yet, but I recognized a few from the album I do have, as well as that song about clocks in 1984 that he played at the Raise the Roof benefit the other month. The highlight for me was their closing song "Little Man", a song that should only ever be heard in a small hall and with a beer in hand.

There's no way I'm missing Homegame 2012.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
"Supervillan Music" by Chilly Gonzales

The other Saturday, Miguel and I woke up at 6am to catch the early bus down to Edinburgh. The weather was lovely, the city was stunning, and I was sick. Ridiculously sick. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that early mornings + windy bus trips + porridge = roughly a litre and a half. Once we arrived in Edinburgh and I found a toothbrush, things started to look up. Also, I was now looking up rather than the ground between my knees as I sat curled over in embarrassment.

First stop was Princes Street and the Sir Walter Scott Monument. Started in 1832, immediately after his death, and finished in 1840, the monument is impressively Neo-Gothic. It revels in all 61 meters of it's Neo-Gothic design.

We then wandered over to the National Gallery where I spotted some sphinxes. Why travel all the way to sunny Egypt when you can get all the ambiance in Edinburgh?

There's also no need to visit Madrid as every Spaniard is currently walking the Royal Mile.

Miguel, having been to Edinburgh before, planned our route. I asked him why Edinburgh is one of his favourite cities. Apparently, it all comes down to a good park in the middle of the city and a castle on a hill. I suspect Lord of the Rings plays a role as well, as it's all rather epic.

From Princes Street, there's a fantastic view of the Castle.

After Princes Street we walked through the Princes Street Garden, past St. Cuthbert's and it's fantastic graveyard...

... and then onto the incredible cast-iron Ross Fountain.

Crossing over the North Bridge, after a quick visit to David Hume's understated grave, we walked up and down the Royal Mile, dodging tourists and Fringe performers. We spotted John Knox's house (Miguel is rightly concerned)

as well as Moubray House (on the right) where the Act of Union was signed in 1707..

.. and the Mercat Cross where Bonnie Prince Charlie was proclaimed King in 1745..

.. which is right beside the impressive St. Giles Cathedral. The tower is from the 15th century.

In the afternoon, the rain started (predictably) and I was still recovering from the morning's bus ride, so we slowly made our way back to the bus station, stopping to watch the Fringe Festival street performers. On our way, we passed by a bagpiper we'd seen walking up the Royal Mile early that day.

Downtown Edinburgh is filthy with bagpipers this time of year, performing various medleys of Scottish and American folk songs. This fellow, however, was incredible. There was no pandering to tourists and he was clearly one the better pipers I've ever heard. If you're heading to Edinburgh, look for the goat-footed piper of the Royal Mile.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
"La fille dans la vitrine" by Les Brestfeeders

As part of my ongoing Scottish immersion program, I've been trying to learn a bit of Scots. In a larger centre, I doubt I'd bother; however, as we live in a wee town, knowing a little of the local vernacular is important. At the very least, I'll be able to understand our friendly postman.

Today's word is droukit, which means "wet-through, soaked, drenched" (BBC). For example, after cycling to the Co-op and back this afternoon, Kate was drookit.

Class dismissed.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

louis the lobster

Today's soundtrack:
"Forest, oh Forest, Protect Me" by Banded Stilts
"Supervillian Music" by Chilly Gonzales
"Barnes' Yard" by The Rural Alberta Advantage
"Pale Horse" by The Warped 45s

Once our stuff arrived from Canada, we knew a trip to Ikea wouldn't be far off. 40 bankers' boxes of books and no where to put them. Luckily, our knitterly friends Kristin and Peter needed bookcases as well, so the other week Peter and I rented a van and drove down to Edinburgh. What followed can only be described as the Great Ikea Disaster of 2011. Nothing we needed was in stock. White Billy bookcases? Nada. Bread bin? Zilch. Basic mirror? Not in the colour or size you need. Our great Ikea adventure, which was only supposed to take an hour or so, quickly rounded the corner on four. I could almost hear the evil cackle of some demented warehouse worker who has been secreting everything we'd need away for months, just like those postal workers who, after they die, are discovered to have hidden decades worth of mail in their basements.

After we got home and delivered a bookcase to our neighbours/landlords, I was about ready to collapse on the sofa for the night. Predictably, there was a knock at the door. Norman, our neighbour/landlord, holding a plastic grocery bag. He passes it to me, I look in, and there's a lobster. Moving. Fresh out of his lobster trap.

I guess the look on my face was one of shock and horror because Norman said, reassuringly, "Miguel's Spanish. He'll know what to do with it."

He didn't. Miguel took one look at the lobster and announced that he didn't want to kill it. Eat it, sure. No problem. But under no circumstances was he going to cook it. I threatened to inform the Spanish embassy of his lack of Spanishness regarding seafood, but to no avail. The only way the lobster was going to be dinner was if I cooked it.

Oh, fantastic.

So the lobster spent the night in our fridge and I spent the next afternoon figuring out how to cook this beastie. Norman claimed that if I held the lobster, who I'd named Louis at this point (probably where things began to go wrong), upside down, he'd go to sleep and he'd be easy to pop into the pot.

Alright. Loins girded, I put a pot of salted water to boil; however, after a look at Louis and the size of our Dutch oven, I began to seriously doubt that Louis was going to fit. I'd have to wait for the water to be a full boil, put Louis to sleep, and get him in to the smallish pot as quick as possible.

There was a resounding chorus of "oh God, oh God, this is so gross!" as I reached into the bag and carefully brought Louis out. No binding on Louis' pincers, so I very carefully held him upside down and counted to ten, which was how long Norman said it would take for Louis to conk out. Ten seconds later, he's still squirming about. Maybe he could see the pot of boiling water? The poor thing was moving more now than he did in the fridge, twisting about. Twenty seconds and Louis is not falling asleep. Not even drowsy.

Adrenaline going and my stomach in knots, all I want is for Louis to go to sleep so I can dump him in the pot, but he just won't stop moving. He's got to get into the pot. At a good boil, death would be pretty instant, I think. So I grabbed a wooden spoon (I wasn't sure he'd fit in the pot without encouragement) and moved Louis over the pot.

Not being the least bit sleepy, Louis had stretched himself to his full length, his pincers moving wildly. Oh my giddy aunt, there is just no way I was going to get this thing into the pot without a fight. At this point, I just want the whole thing over. I attempted to put him in headfirst (as per the instructions), but with pincers and tail thrashing about, this is not easy. I wrestle him into the pot, slam on the lid, and breathe.

Silence but for the boiling water, and then..

scratch, scratch, scratch as Louis' pincers and wee legs tap and scrape the inside of the pot.

This goes on for a minute. I'm ready to go headfirst into the toilet. Am now convinced Louis is never going to die but will instead return to the sea and recruit fellow lobster to come and attack the house. I have visions of being slowly boiled to death in a giant caldron.

And then it all stops. Miguel lifts the lid and notes with surprise that Louis' black shell has turned red (what kind of Spaniard is he, I ask you). Ten minutes later, we lift Louis out of the pot and Miguel begins tearing him apart. Claws first, then tail.

I tried a bit, but as I've never really been a big fan of seafood (aside from fish. It's a texture thing) I left the majority of Louis for Miguel, who'd gleefully announced that he'd never eaten anything so fresh. "Thirty minutes ago," he said, "and he was moving around our fridge."

And that's when I lost my appetite completely.

Conclusion: I apparently make a fantastic lobster. You'll never be able to try my lobster yourself, however, because there's no chance I'm ever doing that again.