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Shauna Reid

Welcome, weary traveller! I'm Shauna Reid, an Australian writer who moved to Scotland twelve years ago in pursuit of adventure and kilts

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Everyday Life: April 2015

08/May/2015

Fuck yeah, spring!

The Mothership was still in town for the first half of April and seemed to be digging the Highland life. She was inspired to borrow my library card and revisit the Outlander series of books. I remember her devouring them in the 90s, while I was busy sneaking off with her Danielle Steeles and Flowers In The Attic.

Various touristy websites claim that Clava Cairns, the prehistoric burial cairns just outside Inverness, were the inspiration for the Craigh na Dun stone circle in the book…

Clava Cairns

… although Diana Gabaldon says on her website she’d never been to Scotland before writing it. It’s a beautiful and tranquil place, regardless. The river nearby felt straight out of a romantic saga.

Near Clava Cairns

Gareth and I had previously visited Clava Cairns in 2006, when he likes to remind me I let rip with a big fart in front of an elderly tourist and completely ruined the serenity. I can’t remember the details but there must’ve been an earlier Full Scottish Breakfast to blame.

Clava Cairns

All that history put Mum and I in the mood to check out the Outlander TV series. I was set to cringe, expecting tartan Jock McSporran cliches, but got reeled right in. When it comes down to it, I love a rollicking good story. A smart, feisty heroine with an outstanding complexion and aspirational curls helps too. Oh alright, a bloke prone to shedding his shirt is also useful.

As well as Outlander immersion, there were more pub trips, a high tea and lots of walking and talking, trying to cram in years of everyday contact into a short visit. Plus rainbows.

Mothership snaps the rainbow

Mum also did a day trip to Skye… hairy coos ahoy!

Highland cows on Skye

We did a quick jaunt south to Fife to hang out with the in-laws.

Snow on the A9

On Mum’s last night we went back to Hootananny as she’d become a fan of the lamb stovies and Black Isle Porter. I still love watching Gareth nervously watching people drink the beer he’s brewed.

Night at the pub

Speaking of beer, Marks & Spencer have managed to turn Marmite into an artisan product. As one married to a brewer, the term “brewer’s paste” pure gives me the boak.

Brewer's Paste... ew

Once The Mothership departed the rest of April was happily busy with new clients, getting hooked on this baked oatmeal (works well without the sugar; not that sugar is a crime), rediscovering MotoGP (it’s stopped being boring!), becoming a devoted fan of Nosy Miss Cookie the highly judgemental cat on Instagram, and my first bike ride in years… ow ow ow my nethers!

For the last eighteen months I’ve taken many walks along the Caledonian Canal, but only in one direction. Total derr moment to realise if you go the other way you get the gorgeous sight of River Ness on the left and Caledonian Canal on the right.

River Ness meets Caledonian Canal

Meanwhile in the flat, the amaryllis was back in action – four flowers this year!

Amaryllis in bloom

The pollen count of this post is off the charts.

Daffs on the Ness

The ethics of a guest cat

01/May/2015

It was Mumsnet that gave me the guilts. As much as my cat-owning friends said it was common for moggies to adopt second homes, we had mixed feelings. One afternoon Neighbour Cat was yet again snoozing on the living room rug, fluffy belly-up like a sheep about to be shorn.

“Do you think this is right?” Gareth said, “She comes over here an awful lot.”

“I know! We better throw her out. Do you want to do it?”

“Well, she is asleep. It would be rude to disturb her.”

“Yeah, she should finish her five-hour power nap, right?”

While we waited we told Google neighbour’s cat keeps coming over, and it sent us to various discussion threads on Mumsnet, Netmums and similar, each full of outraged cat owners whose traitorous beasts had been hanging out next door.

Dignity. Always dignity.

Dignity. Always dignity.

One neighbour had bought a visiting cat a sparkling new collar.

Another had bought the cat a new collar and its own cat bed.

Another said their neighbour smoked and would douse the moggie with stinky perfume to try and disguise the smell!

AIBU? cried the wounded owners. Which I now know means, Am I Being Unreasonable?

YANBU! came the replies! You Are Not Being Unreasonable! It was highly illegal. Highly immoral. The neighbours were “batshit cat thieves”. They should be reported to the RSPCA. They should be reported to the police!

Were we batshit cat thieves? This came not long after I’d read Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat, which for some reason had jumped out at me at the bookshop:

“A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another.

One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again.

New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife…”

The woman in this novel not only fashioned a bed out of a cardboard box for Chibi the Neighbour Cat, she would regularly fry her up a mackerel and cut it into little pieces and leave it out in a special dish.

“We’re not that bad!” I said to Gareth. There are no box beds nor mackerels round here. We’re basically being used for a quiet place to sleep. She’s still mostly indifferent to us, zipping back out the window as soon as she hears the tyres of her owner’s car crunching on the gravel driveway.

But my guilt came from feeling so emotionally attached to a strangers’ cat. I have no interest in any other cats, I’m just besotted with this one. Yes, our poky wee bathroom is damp and dark so the window does need to be opened a lot to prevent mould… but really, all day, in the dead of winter? Deep down I knew that every time I heard the plip-plop of paws leaping from window ledge to bathtub to bathroom floor, my sad and lonely freelancer’s heart skipped a happy beat.

So I decided to come clean with Neighbour Cat’s owner. It was time to put an end to this cat borrowing, as much as it pained me to do so. I met her in the car park one morning.

“Hi! Umm… have you got a minute to chat?”

“Oh!” she said, “Is it my cat again? Has she been bothering you?!”

“No! Not at all. It’s just that she comes in almost every day, and I thought you should know where she was. And also to assure you we’re not cat-nappers! She just comes in through the bathroom window and finds somewhere for a snooze.”

“She really is a sweet cat.”

“Sure is,” I said casually, though inside I was screaming SHE IS THE GREATEST!

“Well… just chuck her out if she starts to annoy you!”

“Will do!”

So far she hasn’t annoyed me, and she still chucks herself out when ready.

Neighbour cat exits

Exit


NB: The comment form is not working properly for everyone the moment, my apologies. In the meantime we can chat on Facebook if you like!

Spring has sprung

Friday night frights

24/Apr/2015

It’s Friday night and there’s 47 minutes until my Scary Blog Deadline. The post I’ve been working on today won’t come together in time so I’ll blurt an old fashioned update.

I keep thinking of the lovely Jen’s comment on the Phoning It In post asking if there was any reluctance to blog stemming from unpleasant comments received in the weight loss blog days. I replied that while that does cross my mind sometimes, it’s mostly my being disorganised or knackered from work-related computering. But thinking deeper on it, I reckon there’s a bit of a stage fright.

I don’t know why but ever since Wally’s demise I’m full of big emotions all the bloody time. It’s either intense, frilly, full-o-the-joys thoughts or black humour morbid kind of thoughts. I shuffle paragraphs around in my head and by the time I open up WordPress I get all tongue tied. Will keep working on that.

Gareth is away at a work thing tonight so I’ve had a highly productive on my lonesome. As well as the blog post faffing I’ve:

  • mucked around with one of those “airbrush your face” iPhone apps, where they smooth your cheeks and douse you in sparkly Bratz doll eyeshadow. But technology could do nowt for my dark circles, inherited from my Mum’s side. They make the brunettes look brooding and mysterious but on ol’ ginger locks here it just looks like I’ve been in a brawl.
  • ran Gareth’s face through the same app; even more fun.
  • read six posts on the rather addictive My Morning Routines blog. Summarise: the key to world domination is to get up early and don’t check your email until you’ve done a thing that really means something to you.
  • enjoyed a brief visit by a certain fluffy creature who snoozed on Gareth’s backpack. I took a photo to send to Gareth but it couldn’t be delivered as his phone has buckled under the weight of fluffy creature updates and cannae take nae more.

Orkney

19/Apr/2015

We whisked The Mothership away to Orkney for a few days, because as you may recall she loves, “The history, Shauna, THE HISTORY!”. These islands, ten miles off the north coast of Scotland, have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years. First by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes… then by the Picts… then invaded and annexed by Norway in 875… then re-annexed to the Scottish Crown in 1472.

All that means HISTORY GALORE, with some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. We started with the Ring of Brodgar, thought to be erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC. Turns out The Mothership is a big fan of a good stone circle. If the gale force winds had not blown her back towards the car, I think she would have pottered round there all day.

Ring of Brodgar

By the way, here’s a map for context if you like that sort of thing. I do! Whenever someone writes about their travels I have to look it up on Google Maps so I can picture the journey. In this case, picture a very choppy ferry crossing, Mum chattering merrily with Gareth and myself a wussy shade of green.

Road to Orkney

Tangent: whenever I watch historical documentaries and they show pictures of old maps, I always think about the ye olde explorers toiling away at them. Then I wonder if the first folks that flew into space looked back down at the earth and thought, Hey shit, it looks just like the maps! And then I say this out loud to Gareth and he says, “Yeah!” and I realise I’ve expressed that same thought every time we’ve watched a documentary for the past ten years and I need to get some new material.

Anyway, back to the Ring of Brodgar. The stones have been up there for thousands of years so they weren’t ruffled by the weather, but Gareth was forced to retract hands and retreat into the hood of his jacket.

orkney-brodgar-gareth2

I will keep this one in case he ever needs a cover for a prog rock album.

orkney-brodgar-gareth

Another day, this time with blue skies. The pile of big rocks on the left is one of the Churchill Barriers, four causeways built in the 1940s as naval defences to protect Scapa Flow, but now serve as road links.

orkney-causeway

We also went to the beautiful Italian Chapel. It was built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war, who were housed on the island while working on the construction of the Churchill Barriers. From the Wikipedia:

“The chapel was constructed from limited materials by the prisoners. Two Nissen huts were joined end-to-end. The corrugated interior was then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from concrete left over from work on the barriers. Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, a prisoner from Moena.[4] He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the entire interior. They created a facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church. The light holders were made out of corned beef tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete.”

orkney-chapel

orkney-chapel-inside

orkney-chapel-inside2
Next stop was Skara Brae, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a stone-built Neolithic settlement consisting of eight clustered houses, and was occupied from roughly 3200 – 2500 BC. Older than the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge, as the little stone plaques remind you as you walk down to the site. Being a sketchy-weathered and non-touristy time of year there were no other visitors that morning, just a wind-battered guide roaming round. I nearly did a runner back to the shop for a cuppa, because I feel awkward in such situations. I always overcompensate for the lack of crowds and go, “REEEEALLYYYY that’s so INTEResting!” then buy a souvenir that I immediately regret. But this guide was brilliant and really brought it all to life.

orkney-skara-brae

orkney-skara-brae3

orkney-skara-brae2

Aside from all the history, there were walks, tea breaks and sampling of local ales.

orkney-coast

orkney-peggy

Then back on the ferry then home again, where Neighbour Cat pounced on the unpacked suitcase.

orkney-alfie

Everyday Life: March 2015

03/Apr/2015

March kicked off with a night on Skye for our wedding anniversary. It poured the whole time, but that added a nice brooding atmosphere.

Rain at Glen Sheil

The best reason for a sneaky night away? B&B breakfast!

Skye Brekkie

I went to see the Scottish Ballet’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire. I loved it so so much!

Streetcar Named Desire - Scottish Ballet

I wish I had smart ballet-criticky ways of expressing this goodness. It was moody and sexy with a clever, elegant set and perfect music. I was completely engrossed from start to finish. Except for the scene where Blanche kisses the paperboy. Instantly the voice of Apu popped into my head, singing I am just a simple paperboy from The Simpsons episode and I nearly lost it.

The Mothership arrived later in month and we quickly got into a routine of morning walks. We strolled past the new skatepark with its resident Loch Ness Monster.

In Portlandia they put a bird on it; here in Inverness they put a Nessie on it.

Put a Nessie on it

Epic hopscotch.

Hopscotch

March had all kinds of weather. Flooding…

Flooded Ness River

Snow…

Last snow

… which made Neighbour Cat’s comings and goings less subtle.

Alfie's path

Then finally, some sunshine!

Sunshine at last

Neighbour Cat continued her thing for Sleeping On Bags, seen here in hedgehog pose.

Alfie the Hedgehog

Phoning it in

20/Mar/2015

Ducks of Inverness

I remember Jillian Michaels screaming Don’t phone it in! during in her 30 Day Shred DVD, probably as I slumped on the couch pouring water over my head. I haven’t done that DVD in yonks but that phrase stayed with me. Don’t phone it in. Don’t half arse it.

Yet here I am at 11.30pm with my Blogging Pact deadline closing in, the Conservative Party oh so close to collecting £5 from me. I have no excuse, just bloody disorganised. Can I blame The Mothership’s impending arrival? Not really. She is low maintenance these days and no longer says things like, “When was the last time you cleaned underneath the oven?”.

Anyway, I have an action plan for next week. I’m putting down the phone.

By the way, does anyone watch The Americans? I don’t know anyone else who watches it so I’m dying to talk about it. It’s the 1980s, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are KGB agents undercover in the US. There’s gazillions of terrible wigs and Keri Russell is so badass that Felicity is forever banished from my mind.

Here is Neighbour Cat. Her latest thing is dropping by to Sleep On A Bag. A wheelie suitcase, my handbag, my gym bag, and here upon a pile of grocery bags. She just curls up then shall not be moved for three hours.

Alfie kitten

Midnight Brownies

13/Mar/2015

Midnight Brownies - illustration by Claire Roberston, loobylu.com

Tonight I’m going to the lovely Susan’s house for dinner. After faffing around on recipe websites for two hours in search of a gift to bake and take, I’ve circled back to the trusty Midnight Brownies.

Way back in 2000 the brilliant Claire Robertson of Loobylu had a Celebrity Chef feature on her website. Because there were less people online wittering about their lives back then, I managed to squeak in as a “celebrity”!

Over 14 years later I still get search requests for “midnight brownies” on this blog. Claire’s website has gone through evolutions since that time, but I found the page in the good ol’ Wayback Machine. Thanks to Claire for letting me use her original illustrations here!

. . .

This recipe was created out of a desperate need for some sort of chocolate. As university students we’d often be up late writing essays in blind panic or watching crappy TV shows like Renegade or Sunset Beach. Inevitably the chocolate cravings would seize us, and since we were always too poor and lazy to go out and buy some, I used to knock up a batch of sweet and gooey Midnight Brownies. You don’t have to make them at midnight of course, but somehow they always taste better when you’ve whipped them up in a famished frenzy. They’re cheap, easy and scrumptious. Just like your average uni student.

Midnight Brownies - illustration by Claire Roberston, loobylu.com

Ingredients
200 grams butter
½ cup Cadbury’s cocoa powder (nothing else will do)*
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence (the cheap and nasty stuff)**
1 cup of plain flour

* These days I use Green & Blacks because I’m a middle-aged fusspot.
** I use vanilla extract now, see *

Method
1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F. Gently melt the butter and cocoa over low heat on the stove. Add the brown sugar and keep heating gently and stir it til its all one melty chocolatey mess.

2. Remove from heat and stir in the egg and vanilla essence til it all looks smooth and glossy.

3. Gradually add in the flour. Stir it up to buggery and taste numerous times to make sure it’s okay.

4. Taste again, just to be sure.

5. Pour the lot into a tin lined with greaseproof paper. Doesn’t matter what shape the tin it is.

6. Whack it in the oven for about 25 – 30 minutes, depending on how ferocious your oven is. Watch them closely. Sit in front of the oven with rapt attention as if you were watching an episode of Bold and The Beautiful. You do not want burnt brownies.

7. Gather teaspoons and flatmates around pot and scrape up every last drop of batter. Use fingers and/or tongues if you’re bunch of savages (we were).

8. Get too impatient to wait and remove from oven after about 20 minutes. The top of the brownie should be slightly firm but when you poke it with your finger it should still be nice and gooey underneath.

9. Wait about 15 seconds for it to cool then eat. Also works well as a poor-mans mud cake for dessert with some strawberries and cream.

10. Next day, heat piece of brownie for 20 seconds in microwave and serve with glass of cold milk for delicious but nutritionally unsound breakfast.

Everyday Life: February 2015

06/Mar/2015

Another month, another snowy jaunt down the A9…

Snow on the A9

I was also back in London to hang out with some our lovely Up & Running Alumni members to celebrate the book coming out, including a DIY 5K that began in front of Buckingham Palace (Rhi and I had planned the route at Christmas).

Buckingham Palace meetup for Up & Running

Julia left Jennie and I in charge of her son Evan for a couple of hours. First act of child minding: “Climb up on that lion, kid!”

Evan in Trafalgar Square

Now here’s the Neighbour Cat photo of the month.

Alfie does the Thriller dance

I like to think she was dreaming of being a dancer in the Thriller video…

Thriller dance

There were glimmers of sunshine amongst the grim and grey. This was from a walk on the Black Isle, not far from the brewery.

Horse on the Black Isle

I loved the second paragraph of this unsubscribe email. When I’m looking for airport parking I’m looking for the bargain of a lifetime!

Unsubscribe

The lovely in-laws Mary and David came up for a visit. I took them to the Botanic Gardens to contemplate the cactii, which I like to do when it’s maximum miserable outside.

The cactus room at Inverness Botanic Garden

ORRIGHT LADS? HOW’S IT GOIN’?

Friendly flower

I’m sorry this is such an uninspired update! Aside from London, February was a real zombie of a month. I’ll make a better effort to open my eyes in March!

River Ness at sunset

10 years a sham

03/Mar/2015

It’s ten years today since Gareth and I got married in Las Vegas. So much has changed. Back then we had to take selfies with our ARMS. No selfie sticks, kids. Times were tough.

10 years

One of the reasons I was excited to get hitched was because I was marrying into a Nokia 6230. This state of the art phone had a coloured screen and could take 640 x 480 pixel photos! And you could send photographs by email!

I had the bright idea of “live blogging” the day via a convoluted process of sending pictures to my Flickr account, which in turn zapped them to the blog by way of a bunch of embedded code. Except I forgot to email the establishing shot of us standing in front of the Graceland Wedding Chapel so nobody realised we were in Las Vegas and I got some concerned emails, “Why is Gareth playing slot machines on your wedding day!?”.

Nokia

I was a terrified, jet lagged mess the day before. We had to go down town to get a marriage licence from the court house, where dudes wandered round in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs like on Law & Order. I launched into a panicky ramble, How the hell did we get here? What the hell are we doing? This is a huge mistake! Gareth did so well to almost disguise his Hmmm you could be right there face.

But after the ridiculous ceremony, then the second ridiculous ceremony with bonus Elvis after they forgot to film the first one, then the Pharaoh’s Pheast buffet at the Luxor, then the Tom Jones concert, it all felt good and right.

There were a lot of Sham Wedding/Only Did It For The Visa jokes at the time, but it did feel unreal and shambolic. It’s hard to take things seriously with a picture of Elvis on the marriage certificate. It’s only with the testing events of the last few years that the solemnity of those vows kicked in. I’m so glad that such a ridiculous start has evolved into something strong. Well. It’s still pretty ridiculous, too.

Thanks G. You still RAWK!

 

Up & Running March 5K winners

26/Feb/2015

Thanks for all your four-legged giveaway comments!

If you missed out but would like to join our only live 5K Course for 2015, you can use the code MARCH2015 at checkout for 20% off until the course starts on Monday 9 March.

This discount can also be used on our other self-paced courses – 10K, Half Marathon and the Up & Moving walking course.

Here are the lucky winners as decided by the Random Number Generator:

  • Cazz – who loves mysterious wild wolves
  • Desiree – adores an elephant
  • Clementine – is an alpaca fan
  • Meg J – is on Team Cat
  • Nicole – loves orcas and also Brutus, her Dogue de Bordeaux.
  • Eloise – is also on Team Cat but is a recent convert to Team Monkey!

I’ve emailed you with the details so please get in touch ASAP to claim your prize. Thanks again for taking part, folks!

All aboard for the Up & Running 5K

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