Dear Penelope….

Dear Penelope,

Recently I have spent a week staying with my hospitable cousin and his wife in the Scottish Borders, where I was wined, dined and lavishly entertained for almost a week. I now I can’t bear to look at my distended belly in the mirror – which IS worrying – but my real problem is, how do I repay this largesse when my cousin visits ME in Australia? After all, I can’t cook, live in a scraggy paddock in the middle of nowhere, and am extremely boring.

Yours etc, Worried Scrounger, of Buggerate, NSW, Australia

Dear Worried Scrounger, you may as well focus on reducing the belly (Google, I believe, has many useful suggestions), since it’s obvious that you can never match your cousin’s hospitality. Alternatively, apologise and explain that your mansion is closed for renovations and your chef has Covid.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been ‘sampling’ Scotland and the UK. I’ve seen a loch (grey, ruffled), viewed romantic ruins (from outside the safety fence), walked the streets of stipple-housed, flower-bedecked villages (with their quaint handwritten signs addressed to the filthy beast who keeps letting his dog shit on the pavement outside the Queen’s Elbow) and – of course – been to many-spired Edinburgh. I’ve seen the spot where poor Lady Jane Grey got her head cut off (now occupied by a memorial glass cushion). I’ve admired the countryside of Somerset through occasional gaps in the hedge, and been guiltily underwhelmed by Stonehenge.

One of the best things about Scotland is listening to them talk. I can’t understand a word they say but it sounds great. Whisky, I’ve discovered, tastes loathsome but smells kinda nice (like herbal metho). Kilts are strangely magnetic – call it the Outlander effect. Also, Scots size their mountains by name. A Donald is bigger than a Marilyn and a Graham is bigger than a Donald; a Corbett is bigger still, which is ironic (if you remember the two Ronnies). Also, apparently, it costs several thousand pounds to catch a fish in the Tweed and then you just have to chuck it back. Time for a coffee table book called A Hundred Creative Ways to Relieve Rich Twats of their Money.

In Edinburgh, for some reason, they’ve erected a revolting architectural eyesore (the Scottish Parliament Building) right next to the gorgeous medieval Holyrood Palace. Wandering around Westminster in London it seems that this juxtaposition of horrid concrete and glass structures with ancient landmarks is (or was) a bit of a fashion. Personally I think they should have preserved the slums at least, for stockbrokers to work in. In Salisbury Cathedral, tucked under the stained glass windows, there was a display of modern art involving car accidents and other gruesome subjects – appropriate I guess given the churches’ traditional artistic focus on grisly death. I might be tempted to live in some stone-built crooked-streeted English village if it wasn’t so cold – and this is summer! Mind you, they had a heat wave last week, and since England hasn’t needed sprinklers since 1297, all the lawns were yellow.

I’m now in Ireland, land of literary giants – speaking of which, if you’re looking for stuff to read, there’s some interesting titles in this discounted collection (a lot of fantasy, but other genres as well). I thought The Imperial Alchemist and The Kurdish Connection looked interesting.

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