The Dance

*This post is a slightly modified version of an essay on T’s blog

On with the dance! let joy be unconfined;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the glowing hours with flying feet.
~George Gordon, Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

This weekend we attended the epic wedding of friend Axel and were the on-the-spot photographers, as our gift to him. It was an epic wedding because a.) it’s Scotland, and people here party like it’s 1999 pretty much every night, b.) Axel is Romanian, and the Romanians party like it’s… 1989 (when Communism fell) as often as possible, and c.) it lasted for two days, and many, many, many sweaty, midge-biting (at the outdoor bbq) hours.

T is an introvert, socially backwards in some ways, and sometimes weirdly shy – so there were parts of the whole thing which made her break out in a sweat, including waltzing into the bride’s dressing room and photographing she and the groom’s sister getting ready (We teased Axel a long time about his imaginary girlfriend, because we’d never met her – so, “Um, yeah, hi. Don’t mind me, I’m just here to photograph you while some random chick puts lipstick on you. Just ignore me, thanks,” was T’s introduction.). D. was the quietest photographer on record, and also was too shy to be as bossy as he needed to be, but with a camera in front of his face, he is fairly impervious, and got some amazing, excellent shots (most of which we cannot share, because they are not ours. But! We will share some innocuous ones soon).

There were moments which were beautifully surreal, which included the sung Greek orthodox service with the cantor and the priest singing lovely duets, and the mystical looking gold-leafed icons, and the marching around the altar three times, and the crowns – the bride and groom are crowned in an orthodox service, which, along with the sugared wafers they got to eat was pretty great. (NB: The sugar represents the sweetness of marriage; some use sugared almonds for this symbolism. The crowns represent their new authority as a couple, since marriage gives them their own wee “kingdom.” The crowns also stand for the crowns of martyrs (!!) as the sacrifices of marriage are many. ::cough::) The cake was adorable – a stack of suitcases for all the bride and groom’s travels over their long distance, Minnesota-Scotland Skype dating; the Romanian gents, resplendent in their kilts, were too cute – they wore them well. But the moments we loved the best were the dancing.

Like many of you reading this blog (Hi, Adventists, Muslim ladies, Pentecostal folks, and Southern Baptists!), we were raised not dancing. The Hobbits, during their Bad Movie Nights, have never yet sat through (okay: suffered through) FOOTLOOSE*, that angsty 80’s dance film, but we’re told our lives run a parallel to the theme – churchy folk Just Didn’t Do That, because dance Led To Lust And Other Things. The only differences we see are a.) we’re not angsty 80’s boys, and b.) we figure we’re too physically awkward to worry about dancing anyway. (True or not, that’s our conclusion, and we’re sticking to it.)

The not dancing, though, takes something away from a person. We’re talking actual dances with steps, not what the “kids” these days call grinding or freak dancing or whatever – please. Real dance. To not dance — as families, as cross-generations, as human people — is to miss a pair of middle-aged women attempting the Virginia Reel and ending up in a breathless giggling tangle – or to miss being the groom quick-stepping his mother around the floor and singing with her some silly ABBA song, and to miss first-date couples and grandparents and shy Scots boys paired with shyer Romanian girls attempting cèilidh dancing for the first time, trying desperately to remember which way to step, hop, clap, and twirl. To not dance would be to miss all the suddenly unselfconsciously delighted Romanians of all ages — resplendent in their kilts, oh, yes — who ran shouting out onto the floor, arms raised, at the first strains of their traditional music. To not dance is perhaps to miss the turning of the world.

It was joy in action, celebration embodied. And we both felt crippled that we couldn’t stand up and join in. (Technically, we could have, but we weren’t really guests. And, T. begs you remember the descriptor “socially backwards and weirdly shy.” Thank you.)

English 102 in the undergrad years gave us William Carlos Williams’ The Dance, and T. recalls first looking up the painting. We still laugh at the words to the poem — Williams was so right about the round butts and heavy shanks — and this weekend we remembered again the circular phrases that remind us of the dances – running along, laughing, stepping and trying to keep up with the crazyfast Romanian circles, or the amusingly named “Dashing White Sergeant” or “Strip the Willow” or “The Pride of Erin Waltz” in the cèilidh – all stumbles and laughter, wild twirling and fumbles — learning grace with a slow, slow, quick, quick step. The laughing, the joy, the freely swinging hips, the stomping feet — all of those images swirled through our heads. So, these are our fantastic memories of someone else’s celebration – and a reminder to learn to uncripple ourselves and join the dance, metaphorically and literally.

The Dance

~ by William Carlos Williams~
In Breughel’s great picture, The Kermess,
the dancers go round, they go round and
around, the squeal and the blare and the
tweedle of bagpipes, a bugle and fiddles
tipping their bellies, (round as the thick-
sided glasses whose wash they impound)
their hips and their bellies off balance
to turn them. Kicking and rolling about
the Fair Grounds, swinging their butts, those
shanks must be sound to bear up under such
rollicking measures, prance as they dance
in Breughel’s great picture, The Kermess

* Okay, here’s the scoop on Footloose, which we know is deeply unfair to hate without ever having seen. It’s T’s fault, totally, and let us tell you why: A#1 Reason She Hasn’t Seen It:) the music. Okay. It’s fun, catchy, whatever. But. T. had this Eeeeevil Aerobics teacher, pre-Zumba days, when people still did plain old aerobics. She made T. do this… well, it can only be called a chicken dance thing — complete with rapid, full-extension can-can kicks, arm flailing, and side hops — to the title song to this film.

A lot of hate going on, after that. A lot of hate…

Titbit or Tidbit?

Banana, Peanut Butter, Raisin, Apple

What does one eat when in a hurry? Why, a banana with peanut butter and raisins, and a sliced apple! This has to be one of our favorite snacks / afternoon meals, and has seen us through times of feeling particularly uncreative. Yes – even people who supposedly blog about food feel uncreative. Hence the current obsession with “wraps.” They’re easy, they can be held in one hand whilst using the other hand on the mouse (shameful, eating at the computer), and they take absolutely zero mental capacity: slather some hummus onto a tortilla, throw in some cucumber slices, some feta, and a veggie sausage, then … wrap. Done, takes 10 minutes to make enough for two or three people, and has the bonus aspect of being quite tasty.

Now, for today’s question: titbit or tidbit? We’ve seen it repeatedly, over here, as “titbit” … which not only seems like a misspelling, but somehow very, very wrong. We realized, though, that the word “tit” is just the name of a bird. So, a titbit would be a small bite of something tasty? Sure. Go ahead and think that, if it helps.

The draft thesis was submitted for end of year review and was apparently well received. We’ll see what comes back in writing, of course; and, of course, the school year has ended, so that written critique of the thesis is a bit long in coming. In any event, though, things are still on schedule for submission of the draft which is for the viva sometime in the next month or so, with the hopes that we can have the viva before September. That would get us free of Glasgow before it starts to really get nasty around here. Woo hoo!

Things are looking better on the health front, with all labs coming back fairly normal, and with my energy starting to come back. Who knows, perhaps we’ll even make it to our pool again some day. Thank you to all of you who have supported us both through this.


Writing with the Gardeners

Meet the Stump Grinder. It is LOUD. It is loud despite listening to music with in-ear, noise-cancelling headphones.

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I have 48 hours to finish up whatever I can of the draft PhD thesis for submittal on Friday. Gardeners? You’re SO not helping.

They’ve begun with the lawn-mowers now. It’s after 6 p.m. We like our garden, true … but can’t the maintenance wait a couple of days?


In the ‘Hood

A surprising development is taking place in a nearby park. You may remember the site of this development from previous pictures… because it was once a vacant lot full of soggy couches and stained mattresses, all things which were burned in a huge bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night … but now is the site of a playground. A positive step, right?

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The playground has a gravel undersurface, covered by a waterproof barrier, a felt liner, and then …sand.


Now, not being engineers or park designers, we may not have the right of it, but it seems a mistake to cover an entire playground in sand. It just rains here SO MUCH. We’re afraid the park builders have condemned the neighborhood park to damp, sandy sadness, rather than leaving it as it was: a happy, frolicksome place for the burning of mattresses, rubbish, and whatever else came to hand.

Not to mention the …cats.

We hope they rethink this, and that the park is not going to be the grand kitty-litter palace it looks like it’s turning out to be. (Point of interest: T. played in a sand-filled park like this when she was a child. Her favorite pasttime was sifting through the sand and picking out the cigarette butts. Great game, eh, and it would really work well in Glasgow! C’mon! Everybody play!)

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Meanwhile, a little closer to home, there’s Lights! Camera! and indeed, Action! Yes, our wee street and crescent are in the middle of a film or TV show — we have no idea which. By nine a.m., the end of the road was filled with trailers and guys on cherry pickers with big HD cameras. T. did not recognize the camera as an HD, she was just peeved that a man seemed to be filming the house. So, she took a picture of HIM. Then she worried he’d taken a picture of her taking a picture of him…

The big lights went up with their diffusers, and apparently all kinds of drama went on. T… didn’t notice, as she was on her computer, and not hanging about windows all day. It took D. coming from work and saying, “Hey, look out the window!” for her to realize the film crew was still there.

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We have gained a greater appreciation of the rigors of being filmed. For one thing, it rained all day, and was windy, which would have made things uncomfortable the guys on the camera lifts. D., who actually walked home from work past the site, reports that he saw scaffolding inside holding more cameras, and someone painting a wall — the fumes from the light and heat must have been intense. And those lights are painfully bright – we had to close the kitchen blinds because every time we turned that direction, our eyes were automatically drawn — and then we were blinded. They were apparently filming daylight in the flat, and we had to laugh — when it is EVER that bright in Glasgow? Maybe the show is set in Australia. Hrm.

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They packed up around eight and stood around in the street for awhile afterward, but we still have no better idea of who they were or what the show might be. Suppose we could have asked. Maybe tomorrow, if they show up again.

Meanwhile, all’s quiet in the ‘hood. Except for the car alarms, the feral children shouting in the park, and the man in the slouch hat walking his ferret… Can you believe nobody’s filming?

-D & T

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Entertaining Angels

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Okay, maybe not angels — there were a few too many low-voiced snarky remarks (which, in public, provoked silent laughter and tears of mirth) and stuck-out tongues for that. But, we were well-entertained last week nonetheless with our guests, whom we’ll call D’Nic & McFlea – previously known as The Littles.

On one hand, once you’ve seen one stately home or castle, you’ve pretty much seen them all. (Yes, SOMEBODY is jaded from having lived in a castle-on-every-third-hill country for almost four years.) On the other — there’s nothing like showing off those castles and stately homes to someone new all over again. And it’s a lot of fun being the tour guides to someone’s first time international flight, first castle, and first time in Scotland. We have played midwife to the birth of a new identity for D’Nic & McFlea, that of traveler. We hope our tourists have developed a love for the wider world that sticks with them, and changes their thinking about who they are, and how far that they can go.

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One of McFlea’s funnier repeated comments was, “I expected it –” whatever “it” might have been — “to taste/look/smell/be like the ones at home!” Surprise! Scotland is a whole ‘nother country. It’s amazing how you can know something in your head, but not have it sink in, until you get where you’re going.

At this time, we’d like to give a big shout out to Northern California, especially the SF Bay Area, for taking the Scottish weather for a few days. Thanks Cali! Your days of wild rain, water spouts, high winds and sheer misery enabled us to have a lovely week of mild Spring weather, with temps in the low fifties, light morning fog and clouds. NC, should you feel a need to trade again, let us know! We’re open!

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Ah, tourism: curious food (some of us are still bewildered at the scoop of shredded cheese-mayonnaise… stuff that was plopped next to our baked potatoes on Monday), naff – or tasty, depending on who you are – orange drinks (“It’s Made in Scotland from Girders”™), and fast-talking guides. McFlea was fun to watch as she peered intently at the castle tour guides. She has informed us that a Scottish burr is completely understandable if one simply watches the speaker’s mouth. Lip-reading! Who’d have thought! We did not try out her newly learned skills on any taxi drivers or random Glaswegians, as we’re not sure that it would have held up satisfactorily (and what happens if people mumble?). Still, we were pleased that she understood a lot more than any of our previous guests. It might be something to do with age, in some cases – ::cough:: – and the fact that others who visited were also polyglots who were accustomed to letting unknown languages simply flow past them like music. Either way, impressive work, McFlea! (Surprisingly, D’Nic even understood more than we expected, but he just shrugged when we asked him how. He’s got SKILZ, man. Mad skilz.)

D’Nic is one of those …um, quiet types, who apparently has a lot of amusing thoughts on his own and doesn’t say them – until later. He kept us smiling, and one night did a dreadfully accurate impersonation of a shopkeeper who kept calling T. “madam,” much to T’s disgust. With his teensy phone camera – on which he managed to take a number of surprisingly good photographs – he was always wandering off, engaged in capturing the memories. He enjoyed the castles well enough, but he really enjoyed the food — although where he puts it all, truly, no one knows — and getting active.

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On our last day, we went out to Braehead to visit Xscape, which is the teen wonderland of the area. It’s a huge indoor mall thing with laser tag, rock walls, video games, an indoor snow ski facility, and tons of junk food restaurants and a few stores. Of course, we only booked the day to go because it was clouding up, and we thought it would rain. Wouldn’t you know it, we had a gloriously gorgeous, sunny day that we spend indoors instead of cycling around Great Cumbrae and bugging our friend Axel. Oh, well, it was still great fun to watch the duo take their 90 minute ski lesson, watch D’Nic swarm up the climbing walls, and take a death-defying 18 meter/50 foot leap from the ceiling – complete with manly scream – and observe them shooting up aliens or whatever in the laser tag room. A good time was definitely had by all, and we can see the draw of Xscape for kids – and older “kids” – sick of the long, dark, inactive days of winter. The place is all neon and 90’s pop music and bright, flashing lights. Definitely fun once in awhile.

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They were with us and gone so quickly that we’re mainly left with the memory – like the aftertaste of a really good bite of food. It’s difficult for us to visit home – we go back and try to fit visiting around people’s work schedules, their children, and their other responsibilities. We flit around like nervous hummingbirds, finding it hard to settle in guest beds and are relegated to …visitors, where once we were family. It’s a strange and uncomfortable place to be at times. We find that having people visit US means that we actually see them and get time to interact, play board games, slouch around and watch dumb movies, and generally do all of those mundane activities that are not an event, but … make up a life. This was such a successful visit that we can’t wait to organize the paperwork and marshal the funds to do it again.

…of course, in a different house next time, and in a different country.

And now, the Serious Time sets in. D’s required to turn in a full-draft of his dissertation by 15th of June at the latest; he’s going to make every effort to turn in by the first deadline of May 30 6th (arrrgh, one month!). That means a bit of structured time during the week and on the weekends – we have to set aside play time and social time and work time. T. hopes to finish re-revising her science fiction attempt by the end of April, so that she can turn it in to a freelance editor she’s engaged in May, and then she, too, has to settle in for a long bout of revision for her book due on in Spring 2012, as well as finishing up another project she’s hoping to turn in to her editor by October (fingers crossed).

In the midst of all of this is the inevitable job-hunting and collecting boxes to pack and move…


The sun has remembered to shine again, the nights are warmer, the birds are raucous, and there’s every chance that we have, once again, survived the Big Cold Dark, thank God.

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It might even be safe to say Happy Spring.

Until the next snow, then.

Ice Cream? Really?

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“Yes, that IS an Ice Cream van you hear.”

It snowed in Glasgow today.

And … a half-hour later, it came by again.

Either something is 1) very wrong with the ice-cream van drivers, 2) very wrong with Glaswegians, or 3) the ice cream vans are selling something other than ice cream.

-D & T

You thought Winter was over? Hah!

In Scotland, Winter … lasts. Two weeks ago we had sunshine, birds singing, and temperatures approaching 50°F / 10°C. Today? Snow. Snow that’s not melting on impact with the ground. Snow that’s sticking. So much for Spring.

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We hope that it warms up a bit before F & D come to visit … but we’re advising them to pack long underwear and warm clothing. Their “Spring Break” will mean that they’re visiting Winter like they’ve never experienced it, as they’re from California.

-D & T

The Summer Preview

A certain time of winter comes, and the body simply cranks down into Survival Mode. It’s post-holiday, after the New Year celebrations, and once the glitter is gone, and the thrill of the first snowfall, your psyche is just OVER IT. Skin is constantly dry, and one drinks tons of tea, slathers on lotion, and has a rather grim set to the mouth. Add to it wild weather, various illnesses and relapses, bedraggled hems and soaked shoes, and people just get snippy. Extraneous communication ceases, people do what they have to and sleep in the rest of the time.

(… unless they’re in the Bay Area of California, or San Diego. Then, they revel in the sunshine, and plot where they’re going to plant their tomatoes, the fortunate miscreants.) While our friends in the Midwest and the East Coast are still losing the last vestiges of Snopocalypse II, 2011, and Seattle braces for more snow this weekend (!); while many are reeling from the news that three of the next five winters will be just this severe, *thanks to climate change (and if you don’t believe in it, we don’t want to discuss it); while many hack and cough and hunch over their inhalers (looking at you, Mom and Van), we thought it might be time to play a round of Summer Preview. Feast your eyes on D’s photography from years past, and allow the images to jumpstart your brain into seeing a future of beach scenes, seed catalogs, sharpened mower blades, short sleeves, and giving yourself that much-needed leg deforestation (well, not everyone. Just you swimmers.) and pedicure…

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Are you feeling inspired? Perhaps craving grilled vegetables and food on sticks? Salad??? That’s right, drag that ratty fleece blanket a little closer, have another sip of tea, and let your mind go… to somewhere in the world there is a whole color palette that doesn’t begin and end with gray, white, and black. It exists! You will see it again! Honest!

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*You hadn’t heard about this Winter Hinterland thing being the new normal? Meteorologist’s long-term predictions seem to point that direction. If that fills you with horror, you’re not alone. Instead of panicking, there should be something (other than buying a lot of thermals, flannel and Thinsulate™) to do to plan ahead, to enjoy winter more (or at all) and to not let months of your life pass you by as you sleepwalk/whine/sniffle the days away. “Teh Interwebs” offer this advice (well, they actually offer a whole lot more – this is what’s useful and doesn’t reiterate too much what you already know):

  1. Get Healthy. In warmer, drier weather, getting into the habit of drinking plenty of water, getting at minimum eight hours of sleep, and those minimum thirty minutes a day of sustained exercise will really help you, because you’ll have those same habits come wintertime. Some of you are groaning quietly, but consider that exercise doesn’t have to be something boring. You CAN put on music and dance with your cats for a half hour. (Yes, that will make you the Crazy Cat Person, but who can they tell?) In the winter, good health habits will come back to help you, by giving you more energy and helping keep illness at bay. Eat citrus! Drink tea! Consider taking Vitamin D supplements, along with those Five A Day veg/fruit servings you’ll be eating – this will give you some health insurance that you don’t have to buy — and doesn’t everyone want that?
  2. Get Out. When we moved to Glasgow, our friend India said for us to go outside every single day it wasn’t absolutely pouring, if we could. We didn’t understand what she meant, and tended to stay in when it was foggy or freezing. No more. Getting outside can mean the different between sanity and …well, that other thing. Remember what you knew as a child: walking in the rain – and in the puddles – can be fun. Wind can be bracing (in small doses, with a reasonable windchill). Beach walks — where the sand clings to your shoes and doesn’t involve your legs in a losing battle against mud — are great, too. Snow hikes — wherein you don’t have the whole Little House on the Prairie vibe of Pa getting lost in a blizzard — can be beautiful, as you revel in the silence and the animal tracks. Get outside, even if it’s just a twenty minute walk on your lunch break every day. You don’t appreciate a warm, dry house, a fuzzy blankie, or a cup of tea as much as you do when you’ve been cold and a bit wet.
  3. Stay in the light. Whether this means burning a brightly scented pillar candle in a dark kitchen at oh-dark-early before you go to school or work (avoid those metal wicks; apparently they contain lead), or sitting beneath full-spectrum bulbs (Verilux or Blues Busters are great), which mimic sunlight, give yourself as much light as you can, during regular daylight hours. (Be aware that they can make you stay up too long, and you’ll need to adjust your light input – by turning them off an hour before you want to go to bed) Strings of lights around the floorboards of a house are marvelous – and make it look like you’ll Never Get Over Christmas. (Never mind, we KNOW you actually packed your decorations away on time this year. Sure you did.) We’re bewildered at how many people are fine with sitting in rooms with 40 watt bulbs in this country. Especially as it’s Prime Reading Season in the winter, splurge on a 120 watt and SEE for a change!
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Winter is only a part of the cycle of life and death of the natural world, and fierce and heavy winters will only mean that we’ll enjoy the temperate autumn and summer days that much more. We hope you’ve enjoyed this round of Summer Preview, and that it’s bringing you some anticipation of good things to come. Spring will come again — and so will winter. Next time, hopefully, we’ll be better physically AND mentally prepared!

“May you live ALL the days of your life.” ~ Jonathan Swift

All of these photographs are of flowers at the Glasgow Botanical Garden. It’s a great place to go when the temperatures are down into the low numbers, because it is ALWAYS balmy inside those glass greenhouses. We spend an entire morning there our first February in Scotland, and before the month is out, we hope to do it again!

Free Heatherington; Turing Lecture

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At the beginning of the year, Glasgow University announced that the Heatherington Research Club would be closed, because they’d accumulated £40,000 of debt and didn’t have any way to pay it back. Well, here it is nearly 6 months later, and the postgraduates have rebelled: they broke into the building last week and have occupied it, serving free coffee and tea, and giving the postgraduates a space in which to congregate once more. It was silly of the University to leave the space unused (D. wished that it could have become postgraduate office space, as there is so very little of that on campus). Now, it’s back to being a postgraduate space … without the membership fees.

This evening D. went to a “Turing Lecture” given by Donald E. Knuth. It was deadly dull (one of the questions was on whether P=nP, and Knuth asked whether anybody wanted the problem explained … and a lone hand extended: one of the university faculty. D. and the rest of the audience could have screamed and chased the man out of the room.), but the man is a legend in computer programming circles. D. admits that he’s been away from the computer science people for long enough to feel uncomfortable at the vast amounts of body hair and all-around geekery present. When nerds want to get a book signed, be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

-D & T

Ahh, Customs Declarations

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They’re ubiquitous, when shipping into and out of the European Economic Community: Customs Declarations. They must go on every package we send back to the US, and on everything coming over here. Occasionally something gets stopped by customs (we’re recalling having been told that we must pay £115 for a lens which we owned, but had sent to the factory for repairs – didn’t happen, ’cause we kept the sales receipt). But, most of the time, things don’t get stopped.

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In this case, what didn’t get stopped (and we’re so thankful) was labeled “Syrup” and “Candy.” Umm… really? The cough medicine must be the “syrup” and the Ibuprofen, therefore, is “candy.” Yeah, sure. Also? The dollar value beneath which things don’t routinely get inspected … would be $15 coming this way, and £15 going that way. So, if you ever need to have something slide beneath the radar, well, there you go.

It’s supposed to snow this evening, and D. is off to Southampton for work: a 6:15 a.m. flight down there, to arrive back in Glasgow at something like 9 p.m. Truly a long day, for someone who had been so ill. We’re glad that he’s now almost completely recovered from whatever nasty flu-thing he had, but looking forward to a decent weekend without sickness!

-D & T