Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Trip to the Regular

Yesterday was a beautiful day here. The sky was blue and it was almost too warm (for the natives, that is); I reveled in the warmth to wear a pair of sandals and eat ice cream. Today was greyish and cool. As the day wore on it went from cool to downright cold. The air can get a bite to it even though the temperature is still relatively mild.

To compound the spirit-draining effect of the weather, the day was spent in paperwork. Having worked for a pharmaceutical company in their computer validation documentation, I thought I knew paperwork. The volume and complexity of the paperwork associated with farming still leaves me reeling. Imagine having three sets of directions for more or less the same thing using different words for the same thing and none of the words making much sense and those that do contradict the others. A grey day and paperwork had only one possible antidote: a trip to Halladale Inn.

Halladale Inn is about 6 miles away to the west in Melvich, which is in Sutherland--the county adjacent to Caithness. Traditionally, the boundary between the two has been marked by the split stone---a boulder by the side of the road supposedly split in twa when a demon lashed it with its tail. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The actual border is a bit one way or the other of the stone, but the geology marks the difference dramatically between Caithness and Sutherland. Caithness has rolling hills and arable land and pastures; Sutherland has open moors and bogs and wetlands. The difference is dramatic. Each has a beauty of its own and they share the ragged sedimentary rocks of the coastline.

Halladale Inn, our regular pub, serves meals any time of the day; in contrast with our local pub, Forss House, which serves only dinners and Sunday lunch--in season. Halladale Inn serves macaroni and cheese and has a pool table and a juke box; Forss House has a quiet bar adjacent to the dining room. Halladale has a pub dog, Tim. Forss House is too upscale for dogs. Forss House caters to business people and fishermen. They have a stuffed salmon over the mantelpiece. I don't recall anything remarkable at all over the mantelpiece at Halladale, but the fire is always warm.

The company at Forss House can be quite good. We often go there for wine and conversation with the manager and whichever guests are staying at the hotel, but tonight was a night for macaroni and cheese and talking to Tim, the pub dog. Although I am mostly a cat person, I appreciate the unique contributions of dogs, and Tim is always good at what dogs do best--making you feel better. Tim is too old to be more than casually welcoming. He looks up, gives a desultory wag of the tail, and then gets on with his business. That is normally enough to raise my spirits and set me up for the macaroni and cheese.

Tonight we had an extra added bonus--Floyd (after Pink Floyd), the young pup, was also in residence. Floyd provided the other favorite dog act--the ability to reduce me to hysterics by the serious look on his face while holding a ragged toy in his mouth. The juxtaposition of the noble animal look with the ridiculous trophy gets me every time. If I could have taken Floyd outside and played fetch, my spirits would have been lifted in an instant.

Instead I talk with the co-owner about Floyd. It turns out that he has a pedigree and was born at Balmoral Estate (the queen's home away from home in Scotland). I am not too impressed but I make polite comments about his pedigree and comment on how shiny his coat is. The owner tells me with a little smile that Floyd likes hanging out with the sheep. "Oh," I say, "lanolin," knowing all the while that dogs roll in the things people usually try to avoid. Her look says it all, and I am happy because thinking of Floyd rolling in sheep manure is somehow almost as good as playing fetch.


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