Saturday, December 23, 2006

Consecutive dry days!

It had to happen eventually - I had two days off in which it didn't rain. Monday this week I woke up to see a clear day as the sun was rising. I had been planning to go across the water to Greenock for shopping but I postponed that trip in favour of a day of walking. I was bouncing around like a dog who knows it's going for a walk as I got ready. I went up a trail behind the Loch Eck caravan park to get onto the forest road - a set of tire tracks running roughly parallel to the road below but up on the mountain. I walked it all the way up to the Whistlefield Inn, and stopped in there for a drink and some potato chips. I've been hearing about the Whistlefield all the time since it's a neighbouring hotel but I'd only seen it from the outside so I was curious to go in. I hung around there a bit and talked to some of the staff and then headed back to the Coylet. On my way back I met a fast-walking elderly local man who kept the conversation going so well that I missed my turn off and had to double back to find the trail back down to the road. It was a very good day of walking - it was incredibly sunny and just a bit chilly.

Here's Loch Eck perfectly reflecting the mountain and the mists when I set out for my walk.
One of the many streams running down the mountain-side along the forest road.

Tuesday I took the ferry across the Clyde to Gourock and walked around there a bit before hopping on the trail to Greenock - along the rail line to Glasgow. Greenock was a big port town at one time and a major shipbuilding area. Lots of stuff was imported from the Americas - it has a Jamaica Street just like Glasgow does, probably oweing to some sugar importing going on. It was also a major export town of Scottish emmigrants heading overseas - a lot of them last set foot in Scotland in Greenock. And Greenock's final claim to fame is that it's the birthplace of James Watt, for whom the unit of power is named. They're very proud of him - there's a college named after Watt in Greenock, and a building to mark his birthplace with a statue of him on it, and a restaurant/bar named for him even. There's even a collection of some of his equipment in the small town museum - I saw his balance and what appeared to be a set of drill bits.

I got myself a pair of hiking sneakers in Greenock to replace my worn out sneakers that I've been wearing. I was also thinking of getting myself some new dress shoes but didn't see any that caught my eye and so figured I'd wait a while since I still had the cheap shoes that I've been wearing for work. Then the next day at work, Sod's Law (mocked by fate, similar to what we call Murphy's Law at home) came into effect and my left dress shoe broke at the ball of my foot when I put it on for work. So I've managed two evening shifts on a squeaking, improperly supported shoe and came into town today to get some shoes. I managed to get some very decent shoes so I'm alright now.

I'm glad Christmas is coming, not only for the day off and the gifts and food and all, but also because once it comes I will no longer have to listen to the Christmas CDs we play in the restaurant and the bar, as well as what the radio plays. Other than the music it doesn't feel very Christmas-y to me, even with the decorations and all, simply because everything is so green around here and it's so warm.

It hasn't been raining much at all this week - miracle of miracles! The weather forecast I read for Christmas Day (in The Scotsman) called for it to be clear and a "bracing" 5 to 7 degrees Celcius. I wouldn't describe those temperatures as bracing, but I've checked with some Scots and they wouldn't either so I don't know what The Scotsman was thinking.

And now for something completely different and slightly amusing to you perhaps. Just to show you the kind of joking that goes on around here, and to show how talented our chef Victor is at not only cooking but artistic stuff as well, here is our kitchen porter, Fraser, dressed up as a space-man by Victor. Fraser had to bear this costume because it often seems that he is on another planet than Earth.
Anyway, happy Christmas to everyone!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Buses, plus-fours, and food

Just in at the Dunoon library again, with a post of assorted thoughts.

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but the public transport buses around here are also used as the school buses. There's a bus that goes into town and gets there for 8:30am that is a school bus, but anyone else can take it as well. Then there's a bus that leaves downtown Dunoon at 3:20pm and stops at Dunoon Grammer School (the secondary school - ages 11 and up) and waits around while all the school kids get on. I generally try to avoid taking that one as I feel weird sitting in amongst all the teenaged, loud, kids. So if I'm in town on a school day and need to go back around that time I catch the 3:50pm bus. It also picks up some school-kids but not so many. However, when one driver in particular is on, the bus always makes a stop at a newsagent in Sandbank so that the kids can get off and buy snacks. I knew I was living in a small, unrushed place when the public bus makes an extra stop for kids to buy treats.

The hotel has some more hunters staying once again. Deer hunting, pheasant hunting, and fishing bring out a lot of our guests. Most come from "down South"; i.e. England. Now, if you are to picture the stereotypical image that most Canadians have of the outdoor sporting Englishman, I think it would probably be the slender man in a wooly sweater, perhaps a tweed coat, but most certainly he would be wearing short pants that I've been calling breeches (from fencing terminology) and long socks. Think Prince Phillip or another prince of choice out in the woods with a gun. Well, believe it or not (and I had trouble believing it), people other than royality still do dress like that to go hunting or fishing. The trousers are called "plus-fours" so I'm told (because they extend about 4 inches below the knee as I've just read online), and they often have little tassle-like things on the hems. I've yet to see anyone under age 40 wear them, or anyone Scottish, but I have seen women wearing them on a few occasions and loads of men. The posh-er the accent, the more likely the person is to wear plus-fours in my experience.

One of the hunters this morning thought I was from Quebec because he said that he could hear French in my accent. I told him that English was my native language as it was of all the people I grew up around but that didn't seem to sway him. A hotel owner up the road did tell me that she could hear similarities between my accent and that of a Quebecer that works for her but she didn't go so far as to say that I sounded French. It puzzles me as I speak French with an English accent so how can I speak English with a Quebec accent?

In my time working at the Coylet, I have been fed 5 meats that I had never consumed before. Those meats would be venison, pheasant, rabbit, duck, and pigeon (yes, you read that correctly - not the street ones, wild ones). The venison I don't find too different than beef - in fact, in effort to use up leftovers one day our chef made us meatballs and pasta in which the meat was venison and pheasant - our manager coined them "game balls". The pheasant I wouldn't really know from chicken if no one told me otherwise, and the pigeon is like a flakier almost nicer-than-chicken version of chicken. The rabbit I don't know if I'm super keen on - it's very strong flavoured, dark and chewy - I don't dislike it but it didn't capture my fancy. Duck, however, I really like.

Then, in addition to the meats, I've had black pudding once or twice, usually a leftover Stornoway black pudding that someone didn't eat at breakfast time. It's actually quite nice for being made of blood - you can certainly see the colour of it but it tastes alright. I couldn't eat a whole plateful of it but one slice, a few inches in diameter, is fine. I had haggis as well last week, which I've had before in PEI and liked then anyway.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Weather, ghosts, and sleepwalking

Another quick update while I have computer access - and I just put up a post from a few days ago that didn't make it the first time. I couldn't check if the post had worked last time either because according to the censoring software at the library my blog is blocked because of "Sex/Acts" content. I don't know what sort of word I used in one of my posts that qualified it for that - "Acts" could incorporate something violent I suppose so maybe when writing about something historic I talked about weapons or wars or something. It annoyed me anyway, and surprised me as I try to keep this blog as a family show.

Really bad weather in the west of Scotland yesterday - loads of rain and high winds. I read in a newspaper (bear in mind it was the Scottish Sun that costs 10 pence and it likes to use CAPITALS and italics just like that on select words and phrases for emphasis) that this is the rainiest fall/winter for at least 30 years and perhaps since records have been kept. Loch Eck has once again overflowed its bank just up the road a bit down by the caravan park and the wind this morning was blowing waves from the loch up on to the road. The loch water level has been going up and down regularly with all these rainy days we've head - the two rivers that connect to it are tidal so when they drain out the loch can then drain pretty quickly itself.

I believe a long time ago I said that I would write about the ghost stories at the Coylet so here I go. The most famous story is of what's called the Blue Boy. It's supposed to be the ghost of a young boy who died at the inn in the early part of the 1900's - from what I know he lived here because his family ran the inn, and he slept-walked one night out of his room and into the loch and drowned. The story gained some fame after Emma Thompson the actress made a film based on the story called The Blue Boy which was filmed here. The reason the Ghostfinders Scotland were at the Coylet some time ago was to do with that I believe.

The haunting from what I read entailed mostly places feeling cold and doors and objects moving on their own. The room that is supposed to be the haunted one is room 3 which is straight across the hall from my room. I've been told by people of their experiences with seeing people in the night or feeling cold but I've never experienced anything inexplicable while here. Matt, who claims to have had many experiences with ghosts over his lifetime, would tell me that I don't experience anything because I don't have an open mind about supernatural stuff, but if that prevents me from being scared by anything then I'm not going to worry over it. He also tells me that he can sense that there is no ghost at the Coylet any more, but he feels there is one just up the road before the caravan park where the staff caravan is. Again, I've never seen anything.

I did, however, start locking my bedroom door at night a few weeks after I started here because I had begun sleepwalking several times a night every night. I never left my room to my knowledge, but I didn't want to go wandering around the hotel spooking guests and then I heard about the kid drowning in the loch and I figured locking myself in was probably a good idea. I doubt that I would ever make it outside to the loch in fall temperatures without waking up as I usually wake up once I get out of my bed, but it doesn't hurt to be sure. I probably can't manage to turn the key to unlock my door while asleep but I certainly can if I needed to get out in an emergency like a fire so leaving it in the lock keeps me safer on all accounts. My sleepwalking seems to have settled back down to rare occasions now (probably since I got used to my surroundings) so I'm not too bothered about it now at all.

And as one guest who I told about my sleepwalking said, if anyone of the hotel guests does hear anything moving about and thinks it's a ghost it might just very well be me!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Long time passing...

I haven't updated in a while due to lack of computer access. This will probably have to be a short post as well because I'm at the library and the computers are in demand.

Been having some wicked weather lately - heavy rains and wind, with roads flooding alongside lochs. The hotel held a Christmas craft fair on Sunday and attendance was good considering the aforementioned flooding. We've also had problems with the smoke from the fireplaces blowing back down the chimney and into the hotel when the wind gusts the wrong way. On slightly windy days you have to walk around and wipe soot off of tables and chairs every ten to fifteen minutes, and on bad days, like one afternoon when I was working, the fireplace essentially explodes, covering every surface imaginable with a layer of soot and even setting off the fire alarm. We're waiting on getting the appropriate protective top for the chimney; I think they're called cowals.

The Christmas staff party was yesterday and overnight. We (there's now six of us full-time - out front there's Karen the manager, Matt, and me, and then in the kitchen the chef Victor, food-prep guy Pickle, and kitchen porter Fraser, and then one-part time woman out front, Teresa) all went up to Inverary which involves driving up to the top of Loch Fyne, a sea loch west of the Coylet, and then down the other side some distance. At the top of the loch the mountains are more Highland like because they're pretty much treeless, and the tops of them were all covered in snow since they're higher as well.

Inverary itself is the capital of Argyll, although it's much smaller than Dunoon. It's also the seat of clan Campbell of Argyll and the castle is in the area. When we got to town we started off by visiting Inverary Jail with the original buildings from the 1820's and 1840's. As part of the visit there was a history of torture and punishment in Scotland and Victor, who is Spanish and heard people complaining about the Inquisition before, said that the Scots were just as bad as the Spanish and I would agree.

We stayed at the George Hotel overnight, with food and accomodation all paid for by the hotel as our compensation for working over Christmas. It was a good time and then we all headed back today.

Business should be picking up now that we're into December so should be good workwise. We're getting two weeks off at the end of January and I'm trying to decide where I'd like to go for it. I think I've settled on Ireland but not absolutely sure yet.