Gambetta & Crary: On the Road, UK (8 May, 2002)

When you last heard from us we were on the way to calendar, via a quick stop at PC world to pick up some adaptors to attempt to connect us with, well… with the world. Mind you, that’s not an unmitigated blessing, that getting connected. Northern Scotland is a place where I want to feel that I’ve gone ‘way far away. It’s a lot of trouble to fly across oceans and continents, so it’s a shame to go to all that trouble, and then feel like where you’ve gone isn’t very far away from anything. Once in Dublin on a rare night off, I picked my tired frame up and walked across the city looking for a pub where there was supposed to be a session. When I got there, I opened the door to find, not Irish music, but a busload of gum-chewing twang-talking fellow Americans. That’s OK for at home, but I had to get the hell outta’ there, found a Pub with eight Irish guys watching a football match who kindly invited me to ante up a quid for the pool, whereupon I did the ungracious thing and won the pool. But at least it was an out-there place to be, and a couple of pints helped blot out the effect of the world shrinking when a chunk of America shows up on a bus a little too close for comfort.

 

All of which is by way of saying that we’re back on line and in touch with you, our readers, but in touch also the tacky stuff that comes unbidden to one’s e-mail box. Still, Scotland by car, even with incoming e-messages, is quite an out-there experience, beautiful, wild, unpredictable, more stunning than its travel literature. On previous trips to Scotland, we often blew in on the train or an airplane, played the gig, and had to blow out again. But this time, by car we really got a sense of Scotland as a country, not just a region of something else. Of course, we already knew that, but this time it sunk in more.

 

Our Scottish friends are smart, musical, worldly, ironic, outspoken, and very subtle, and they carry around this sort of northern Celtic perspective that’s a standard deviation’r two aside from the grand mean. By god, I love talking to these people.

Oh, and another thing about Scottish folks: they like to put you through little tests to find out if you’re what people back in Kansas would have called “regular folks.” Whenever I passed one of these, I really enjoyed feeling a little in the club. However, I actually did flunk one Scottish test… didn’t much like haggis. It (or is it “they?”) never quite connected with me. And now I’m really confused…is there one haggi and several haggis? Or is it one haggis and several haggises? Or, as they say back home about fruitcakes, is there maybe only one haggis which gets passed around a lot because nobody ever actually eats one? Nope, flunked that one.

 

Anyway, I passed the firewater test, having no problem enjoying the fiery, peat-smoked beverage they call the “wee drop,” a euphemism derived, I’m told, from what “we do” when “we overindulge.” Meanwhile, moments at the bar notwithstanding, we needed to get to Callander for a concert for the Scottish Bluegrass folks, who received us rousingly, and let us get away with being, sort-of bluegrass-minus-four, not a real bluegrass band, fitted with guitars-only. It was to be, unfortunately, our last stop in Scotland, but the Bluegrassies gave us a great evening to send us on our way.

 

Leaving Scotland was, actually, a bit of a bummer, but we consoled ourselves with a couple of days’ visit to old friends John and Carole Atkins who saw to it that we were not denied multiple pints of Batham’s and a major fix of Balti, all in proper West Midlands fashion. The remainder of the scepter’d isle lay before us and we put the ol’ Vauxhall on the road, swerved to avoid a bunch of clearly disoriented motorists who were driving on the left, for pete’s sake, and pointed the Gambetta/Crary enterprise for points south and west.