Things that Change, Things that Last

A month ago I wondered if I was the proverbial frog in the slowly heating water.  Was I oblivious to the worsening coronavirus situation all around me in the UK?

Yup, I was.

The UK now has the dubious distinction of vying with Italy for second-rank for COVID-19 deaths; we are about 400 deaths shy of Italy’s total, 28,710.  Of course, different countries count deaths differently.  The UK just started counting COVID deaths outside of hospitals, so our number jumped.  I don’t know how Italy counts.  Regardless, it isn’t good.

However, it’s not as bad as the US.  Here’s a graph we see on the daily briefing.  It shows the US trajectory going up, up, up.

In two weeks, I’ll return to Oxford, an overcrowded city.  After 10 days I will—probably—fly home.  My flight was cancelled once, although I only found out accidentally.  I’ve rescheduled, but I don’t relish the thought of being on a bus, then at an airport, on a plane, in another airport, another plane, a taxi, then being quarantined for two weeks.

Who knows where that trajectory will have taken the US by then.

Meanwhile, I am safe in Scotland.  Here’s a view of Lynn and Richard’s house from halfway up the hill behind it.

We had great sunny weather for 10 days and now gloom and “Scottish mist” have set in.  Fortunately it’s a large enough house that one never feels claustrophobic.  I can’t imagine how it must feel to be stuck inside an apartment with kids and no garden or even a balcony.  Kudos to the people who are handling that well.

Here’s a little history and tour of the house.

The original structure was probably built in the 17th Century as a defensive outpost to guard the road and collect tolls from people traveling between Huntly and Gartly.  It was built into a geographic bowl, so there is a ditch all the way around.  Think of it as a moat without water.  Any attackers would have had to run down hill, where the occupants would be waiting for them, muskets pointing out of “murder holes.”  Below, the ditch viewed from Richard’s office and the kitchen.

Kirkney Water, a stream, runs around two sides, there is an acre-long wall on another, and in front is a very long lane lined with ancient trees; so no one could “sneak up.”

Whether or not the original structure was incorporated into the house built in 1847 is not known.  All the surrounding land was owned by a branch of the Gordon clan, headed by the 4th Earl of Huntly.  The family lived in the house, where I am sitting now.

There was a game-keeper’s cottage up the hill, a farm, and what are called “steadings” across the road—stables and laundry facilities and so on—all of these are now modern single family homes.

This is the Gordon-tartan-covered door in the front hall.

The Gordon family had to sell the home because the two sisters who lived in it had no heirs to whom they could leave it.  One brother had been killed in WWI.  The other was disinherited for marrying an Irish actress.  The ladies had not been able to find “suitable” husbands; that is, men of their class, since so many men had been killed in war and they lived in such a sparsely-populated area.

Here is the old stove in the kitchen—it’s way too heavy to bother removing.  Next to it is a small stove probably used by servants to prepare smaller meals when the family was away.

Here is the next generation stove, the Aga, used only in winter.  There’s a third generation, too.

These are the bells in the kitchen that would ring when the family wanted to summon a servant.  Disconnected by a family who had four teenage boys!

There’s a dumbwaiter in the corner, and to the right of it, a proving cupboard for breadstuffs.

Here are a few more vignettes from around the house.

Whiskey decanter set.

Reindeer skull hat rack.

Victorian taxidermy.

No Scottish country home is complete without an old dog snoring in the library.  This one’s name is Parker, fondly referred to as Lord Parker.

 

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