bookmark_borderUnder dobbeltdynen i mørket

two single beds photoI Skotland er det naturligt for et par at sove under en dobbeltdyne i en dobbeltseng, og naturligvis i et mørkt rum.

Naturligvis er dobbeltsenge ret normale i Danmark (men en tur gennem Ikea Odense får mig til at tro, de er relativt mindre udbredte end i Skotland), men dobbeltdyner ser ud til at være ret sjældne. Hvorfor dog det? Det er da så dejligt at dele en dyne!

Har det mon noget med det faktum at gøre, at man i Skotland normalt slukker for varmen natten over, hvorimod man i Danmark har opvarmede soveværelser? Det betyder jo, at det kan blive ret koldt i soveværelset om vinteren i Skotland, og så er det jo rart at kunne varme hinanden op.

Og nu vi er ved sengene: Hvorfor er hovedpuderne i Danmark kvadratiske, så de typisk går ned under ryggen, hvis man ligger nær hovedgærdet? Britiske puder er aflange, så de kun støtter hovedet og nakken, hvilket forekommer mig at være mere logisk og behageligt.

I øvrigt mangler mange danske senge også ordentlige hovedgærder, hvilket gør det ubehageligt at sidde op i sengen i længere tid. Er morgenmad på sengen blevet afskaffet?

Heldigvis kan man jo sagtens indrette sig et dejligt skotsk soveværelse i Danmark, med mørklægningsgardiner, kølige temperaturer, store tykke dobbeltdyner, aflange puder og polstrede hovedgærder, så vi skal nok finde os tilrette, men hvorfor er det dog, så mange danskere foretrækker at sove i lyse værelser under enkeltdyner i senge uden hovedgærder, med puder, der går langt ned under ryggen?!?

bookmark_borderCurtains and the real time difference between Scotland and Denmark

clock photoOn paper, the time difference between Scotland and Denmark is one hour, but that’s not what it feels like.

A 9–5 job is called an 8–4 job in Denmark, and schools tend to start a some point between 7.30 and 8.15 depending on the council area, rather than Scotland’s typical 9am.

So I’d say the real time difference is about 2½ hours.

I’ve also noticed that Danes use fewer and thinner curtains than most Scots. Is there a connexion here? Do Danes start the day earlier because the sun wakes them up most of the year? Do Scots sleep in because their thick curtains protect them from the sun? Or is the causality the other way round?

I have plenty of Danish childhood memories of getting up in the middle of the night and walking to school in the dark, and in Scotland you leave work after sunset for many months every year.

I’m not sure what’s best. It feels like Danes love the morning sun, and Scots hate getting up in the dark.

Perhaps we should just start the day when the sun rises throughout the year instead of using midnight as the basis.

bookmark_borderFastern’s E’en and Fastelavn

Today (Sunday 26/02/17) it’s Fastelavn in Denmark. The word comes from Low German vastel-avent, meaning the evening (and by extension the day) before the fast (Lent), which means that it always takes place on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday.

When I was a kid, we dressed up and went guising, and we took turns beating up a barrel containing sweets with a bat. I’m not sure many kids go guising any more, but the barrel smashing (“at slå katten af tønden”) is still very popular.

Interestingly, in Scotland Shrove Tuesday used to be called Fastern’s E’en, which is clearly etymologically the same word as Fastelavn. It was marked in various ways, but eating pancakes doesn’t seem to have been one of them.

In the Borders it was traditional to have a Baw game:

Here are a list of the various traditions I’ve managed to find on Tobar an Dualchais:

  • On Shrove Tuesday they had a big bannock with a ring, a sixpence and/or a button in it.
  • Up till about the First World War, a ba [handball] game used to be played on Fastern’s E’en (Shrove Tuesday). People ate currant dumplings on that day.
  • On Shrove Tuesday children went round the houses for bannocks containing a ring or a button. The one who got a ring would be first married.
  • Fastern’s Een [Shrove Tuesday] was celebrated with the baking of special cakes.
  • In the Melrose marriage ball game, which replaced an earlier Fastern’s Een handball game, the bride kicks off a rugby ball in the square and the young men scramble for it. There has been an attempt to stop the tradition because of the danger from traffic. In the earlier game, there were no teams, just small groups trying to run away with the ball. It had to be hidden (not in a house) for three days in order to win the game.
  • On Shrove Tuesday Mrs Hailstones’ mother, who was English, used to make big pancakes and sugar them and roll them up. Scottish families did not do this, but Mrs Hailstones used to do it for her own children.
  • Shrove Tuesday was the day before Lent started. There used to be a big feast on the evening of shrove Tuesday. It was believed that something bad would happen during Easter if Shrove Tuesday was not properly celebrated.
  • The contributor’s great-grandmother (who lived to be 120) was once without a chicken for Shrove Tuesday. A pigeon came in, and so it was killed instead.
  • On Shrove Tuesday children went round the houses for bannocks containing a ring or a button. The one who got a ring would be first married. A button meant an old maid or a bachelor. They had a half day off school on Shrove Tuesday.
  • On Shrove Tuesday a sheep was killed and there was a feast. A broth was made with barley that had been threshed with a ‘cnotag’, a stone with a hollow in the middle.
  • The contributor explains how a bannock was made with barley meal, butter, eggs and sugar, to celebrate Shrove Tuesday. She has never seen it made, but her father saw it in Barra.

It would be nice to see a revival of some of these traditions!

bookmark_borderWhat happens to grandparents in the Harry Potter universe?

Portrait of the artist as Augusta Longbottom, a character from the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling.
We were all (re-)watching the Harry Potter films over the holidays, and at some point I suddenly noticed something I’d never paid attention to before: There are very few old people, and in particular almost no grandparents in the wizard world.

The old people we see are mainly school teachers (like Dumbledore and McGonagall) or authors like Bathilda Bagshot, and they’re all single. The only prominent grandparent I can think of is Neville Longbottom’s grandmother (and she’s of course a widow).

At the same time, it’s clearly the case that wizards and witches have children at a very young age, typically starting in their early twenties. In other words, the grandparents that are missing aren’t old at all (they should be in their late fifties or early sixties when their grandchildren go off to Hogwarts for the first time).

So what’s happening? Here are some possibilities:

  • Perhaps magical abilities wear out the body quickly. That would be biologically plausible, but it doesn’t explain why unmarried wizards and witches can live for a long time, perhaps longer than muggles.
  • Maybe older ones get clumsy and die due to magical accidents (a bit like the way Luna’s mum died). Again, it doesn’t explain why the ones who remain single can live so long.
  • Another possibility is that it’s the magical equivalent of a midlife crisis that kills them, either by making them kill each other or by committing suicide. But again, why should this only affect married couples?
  • Perhaps the children murder their parents a few years after having their own. I’ve no idea why they would do this, but it would explain why the childless ones survive.
  • An intriguing possibility would be some sort of slow-acting magical STD that kills people around 30 years after having sex for the first time. Again, this would fit a lot of facts, but perhaps not how Neville Longbottom’s granny managed to survive.
  • Finally, it could be that there is some sort of magical retirement home that is so wonderful that nobody who goes there ever wants to come back. Perhaps the children need to pay for it, which is why the ones without children cannot go.

I’m not really sure which option I prefer, and it is of course much more likely that Rowling just thought that grandparents would be an irrelevance to the story.

bookmark_borderThe traditional East Asian seasons work really well in Scotland

Just to escape from all the Brexit madness, I read a couple of Wikipedia articles about the traditional East Asian calendars that divide the year into 24 solar terms instead of 12 months.

The solar terms are defined in terms of celestial longitude, and the same is true for the four seasons:

  • Spring (315°–44°): 4th February–4th May
  • Summer (45°–134°): 5th May–6th August
  • Autumn (135°–224°): 7th August–6th November
  • Winter (225°–314°): 7th November–3rd February

(The dates are approximations – they can vary by a day. And I haven’t really sussed why the four seasons aren’t exactly the same length.)

The funny thing is that these seasons seem to work much better than the traditional ones in Scotland. Phyllis and I have often said to each other that spring seems to start around our birthdays (4th and 8th of February), and my mum’s birthday (5th of May) is often the first warm day with green leaves on trees. Also, this year – without having read the Wikipedia article – I posted this on Facebook on the 7th of August: “Here in Scotland, hairst is in the air the day. Haste ye back, summer!”

It’ll be interesting to see whether winter starts on the 7th of November this year!

bookmark_borderI am a man and I’m wearing a hat

My old friend Kakha from Georgia was visiting us last week, and at one point I asked him whether Rabbie Burns was well-kent in Georgia.

“Absolutely, we love the song about the man and his hat,” replied Kakha.

“The man and his hat?!?”

“Yes, you know: კაცი ვარ და ქუდი მხურავს (‘I am a man and I’m wearing a hat’),” said Kakha. He started to sing: “კაცი ვარ და ქუდი მხურავს // ქედს არ ვუხრი არავის. // არც არავის ვემონები // არც ვბატონობ არავის.” (“Ḳaci var da kudi mxuravs // keds ar vuxri aravis. // Arc aravis vemonebi // arc vbaṭonob aravis.”)

I managed to find a YouTube clip of Georgians singing this:

At first I couldn’t find any poem by Burns that matched the lyrics, but the line “არც ვბატონობ არავის” (“and I don’t rule over anybody”) gave me a clue. It must be “I hae a wife o’ my ain“:

I Hae a wife of my ain, 
I’ll partake wi’ naebody; 
I’ll take Cuckold frae nane, 
I’ll gie Cuckold to naebody. 

I hae a penny to spend, 
There — thanks to naebody! 
I hae naething to lend, 
I'll borrow frae naebody. 

I am naebody’s lord, 
I’ll be slave to naebody; 
I hae a gude braid sword, 
I’ll tak dunts frae naebody. 

I’ll be merry and free, 
I’ll be sad for naebody; 
Naebody cares for me, 
I care for naebody. 

Georgians love this song — they feel it describes them. It’ll never cease to amaze me how Burns was able to write songs that reach out to people from all countries at all times.

bookmark_borderOh that she were…

A banana and a medlar.
A banana and a medlar.
When I last blogged about the medlar, we hadn’t had any fruit in our garden yet.

This year, however, our tree is full of beautiful bletting (i.e., rotting) fruit. We need some more frost to speed up the process, but that has been promised for next week, so I’m really looking forward to feast on rotten open-arse fruits soon.

I would have loved to plant a poperin pear tree next to it (cf. the famous lines in Romeo and Juliett: “O Romeo, that she were, O that she were // An open-arse and thou a poperin pear!”), but as far as I know, that specific cultivar has disappeared.

Its cultural role as the phallic fruit par excellence has been taken over by the banana, of course, but I’m not sure it’s as easy to grow medlars and bananas side by side.