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Scotland The Varied

I was having a coffee with my buddy Denis at the Stewart Tower Dairy Farm a few weeks back. Stewart Tower is located off the A9 between Perth and Dunkeld, not far from Ardoch and Airntully. The place is supposed to have some of the best ice cream in Scotland, but we weren’t having any that day as it was blowing a gale. “Blowing a gale” might be putting it kindly – it was the sort of weather that results in lost toupees being found six towns over. On the way in to the place we happened upon an older woman who’d recovered an earring she’d dropped just outside the entrance. “Ach, I wis a’feard I’d lost it,” she told us, before launching in to a five-minute story about how she received the gift as a child from a kindly aunty. I didn’t follow most of it, as I was too busy concentrating on how she was staying afoot amid the hurricane force winds. They’re a hearty people, the Scottish.

Denis guided me to the farm shortly after I and the parents arrived in Scotland, as practice for my driving the rental car. I got used to it in fairly short order, despite the misplaced steering wheel and wrong-lane oncoming traffic. That stuff is all do or die straight out of the barrel; it’s the four-lane roundabouts and dual to single carriageways that take some getting used to. All considered, I did an admirable job with the carriageway adjustment, avoiding becoming one of the several fatality statistics logged each year. The roundabouts are a bit trickier, and if you find yourself stuck in the wrong lane or unsure of your exit, it’s best to resign to surrender and going in circles until the tank empties .. not unlike Charlie on the MTA. For a country not known for its loose grip on their wallet straps and with gas at ten bucks a gallon, you’d think they’d invent a more petrol-friendly exiting system. But it’s when you’re on foot in Scotland that things get even more interesting.

Denis is fond of quoting my use of the word “scary” to describe some of the goings-on around the High Street in Perth after the sun sets. It was with some curiosity and apprehension that I observed the cavorting packs of under-aged Scottish youths, shit-faced and obnoxiously loud to a lad and lass, when I lived there for a short while in 2004. I’d seen plenty of drunken scenes in America, but something about the red-faced, street-urinating males and puking, fifteen year-old girls dressed like tarted-up Halloween prostitutes separated these kids from the pack. Yeah, they drink plenty in Scotland – but they also seem to handle it poorly, if that’s the word for it. There’s something disturbingly provincial about the whole scene.

It was a Sunday night during this last trip that we exited Denis’s flat by St John’s Kirk, me grasping Mom’s hand to better sturdy her on the cobblestone and Dad and Denis to our left. The only notable activity was a wedding party breaking up at the Ring O’ Bells pub, rapidly receding to the background behind us. “You see, Rick,” Denis noted, “not much gallivanting going on tonight ..” With that a group of three young guys emerged, staggering from the pub and bellowing off-key Scottish football songs. “OY!” one of them yelled loudly, spotting us on a direct line about two blocks away. “YE AULD BASTARDS!!” He proceeded to pull his pants and underwear down to his ankles, his unit tucked away above knobby knees and between pale white legs. “LOOKIT! I’m a WOMAN!!” His mates laughed uproariously and offered a hearty back-slap as they helped him right his trousers.

A few nights later I stole away with Denis for a brief respite from chauffeuring the parents and to take in some post-dinner music at the Taybank pub in Dunkeld. A casual group of pluckers and strummers with acoustic instruments played a variety of traditional Scottish and American folk tunes – some Johnny Cash songs among them. I helped a guy with a guitar find his place again with Shel Silverstein’s lyrics to A Boy Named Sue. A stunningly beautiful young girl with nut-brown hair and perfect skin suited for a face soap advert pulled a graceful bow over fiddle strings. A stone’s throw outside, the River Tay ran deep and black in the night, a full Scottish moon reflecting shards of glittering white upon its surface. So yeah, there’s that stuff too ..

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