Thanks KT for letting me play in this wonderful AU.
Cold air from Siberia brought winter earlier, colder and snowier than usual to the United Kingdom. Airports had been closed and travelling had been delayed, shops had been shut, driving slippery and slow with some streets like ice rinks.
The highlands of Scotland were used to more snow and harsher winter weather than the lowland area around Edinburgh, but even so the accumulated snowfall was more than they usually dealt with, so they also had some weather related problems.
Chris, as estate manager, his assistant Buck, and of course JD, the laird himself, had travelled in the estates sturdy Range Rover to all the tenants homes to make sure that everyone was fine, bringing supplies to those who needed them, shoveling walkways and even some roads, and making any minor repairs caused by the weather as needed.
By Christmas the worst was over. JD Dunne had been feeling blue, it being his first Christmas without his mom, but the men of Glenneaval, with the help of Nettie, Casey and Gloria Potter had pulled together to brighten him up. In the end they had managed to cheer the youth up, and the men found that they had all enjoyed Christmas more than they had in years. There was just something about JDs youthful exuberance and innocence that brought out the best in these worldly men.
By December 28th it was pretty much back to business as usual at the estate, although Mrs. Potter was on holiday until January 4th. There was always something to be done around Glenneaval. Various maintenance to keep up, cleaning and other projects, both inside and out. Chores that never got done during the busier warmer months were tackled wholeheartedly in the winter. Even Vin kept closer to the estate and was found inside more often than out.
From the kitchen wing there was a back door leading out to Netties garden and the rear of the estate that was used often. Vin had noticed that the gutter was iced up and he wanted to clear the blockage before the rain that was forecast came and overflowed the guttering. JD often followed Buck around helping him with any tasks, much like an eager puppy, so while Buck was going over some estate plans with Chris, he offered to help Vin. Fortified against the cold with parkas, scarves, hats and gloves they got the tools they needed and leaned a ladder against the wall. The roof above this door was only one storey so it wasnt too high and soon Vin was chipping out ice while JD held the ladder steady. JD gazed across the landscape, once again awestruck by the vastness of the estate and of the changes that had been made in his life within the last year. Remembering how sick his mom was at this time last year, and how uncertain his future had been he found himself, like so often lately, once again lost deep in his own thoughts.
You need any help there? asked Buck coming around the corner from the front of the house.
Huh? responded JD. Startled out of his daydreaming he turned suddenly towards Buck, not only forgetting that he was holding the ladder steady but actually bumping into it causing it to wobble.
Hey! shouted Vin, as the ladder slipped away and he plopped forward onto the edge of the roof, his cheek making contact with the slate shingles, and his hands gripping the gutter edge as his feet lost their purchase on the ladder rung. His tools fell, one of then bouncing off JDs head as the youth madly tried to grab for the toppling ladder. Buck quickly realized what was happening and was alongside JD in a few quick strides of his long legs, and together they managed to right the ladder and put it back into position. Vin took a deep breath and eased his feet back onto the rungs and was back down onto the firm ground in seconds.
Sorry, Vin, I wasnt paying attention, apologized JD.
Its ok, Im fine, Vin said, knowing that JD had been distracted lately, but not sure why. Vin knew JD had been missing his mother before Christmas but hed cheered up and theyd had a happy time. Now he seemed quiet and sort of really thoughtful again.
Taking Vins chin in one hand and tilting it to see a scrape and a rising bruise, and then reaching over and feeling a bump on JDs head Buck said, guess we better let Miss Nettie be the judge of that!
Buck, Im fine, was said in unison to no avail as Buck grabbed both young men by the back of their necks and propelled them through the back door into Netties kitchen, who immediately started fussing over them. They knew they were lucky that Nathan was working at the clinic in town or he would have been fussing over them too. Soon JD was sitting down with an ice pack on his head and Nettie was ignoring Vins protests and applying antiseptic ointment on his freshly cleaned scrape. Nettie made them all a mug of hot cocoa. When JD took his and wandered off to the office to check his email, the other three quietly discussed how they knew something was really bothering JD by how distracted he had become again, with Buck vowing to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible.
That night after a wonderful dinner of lamb chops the men of Glenneaval all sat around the lounge room as usual, most of them sipping on an after dinner drink.
So JD, you going to Inverness with Casey for Hogmanay?
What, JD looked at Vin, confusion showing clearly on his young face.
New Years Eve, its called Hogmanay in Scotland.
No, JD shrugged, shes staying with friends there. Theyre all going to some huge big party thing with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and some other bands playing, names like Blazin Fiddles and the Peatbog Fairies, who Ive never heard of. She said its open-air, but I didnt really believe her.
Its true JD. Inverness and most Scottish towns do hold outdoor events on New Years Eve, explained Chris. Torch parades and huge bonfires. Some of the cities have parties with events that go on for days.
I was in Glasgow last year, said Buck. Twenty-five thousand people outside in George Square until well after midnight, with lots of music and entertainment. When I was a kid Hogmanay was a bigger celebration than Christmas. Of course getting presents always seemed to make Christmas a better deal for kids, but even children stay up late and are outside for the festivities at Hogmanay.
The roots of Hogmanay reach back to the celebration of the winter solstice among the Norse, as well as incorporating customs from the Gaelic or Celtic New Year's celebrations. The Vikings celebrated Yule which is where that word, and Yuletide came from, explained Josiah in that deep rumbling story telling voice of his that had JD on the edge of his seat and the others leaning back to enjoy the tale. There were Norse settlements around here over one thousand years ago. The word Hogmanay itself is probably from the French Homme est ne meaning Man is Born, from the time of the Norman invasion. Theres always been a custom of lighting a candle to light the way of a stranger at this time of year, so youll see candles lit in the windows of most homes and shops in town. And of course the famous song Auld Lang Syne is Scottish. It means old long ago and was actually in print for eighty years before Robert Burns published his version in 1788.
In Scotland Christmas Day wasnt even a holiday until 1958, stated Chris. I remember my dad talking about that.
The Protestant reformation hit Scotland hard. By the end of the 17th century Christmas festivities were banned. Bakers who made Yulebreads were even fined, continued Josiah. With most Scots working at Christmas the winter solstice holiday at New Years was when family and friends gathered for a party. So thats why its still a bigger celebration even today.
One year I was working in Stonehaven, thats south of Aberdeen, said Vin. They have a spectacular fire ceremony with giant fireballs lit and swung around on long metal poles. It takes dozens of men to carry them. It was incredible. It dates back to pre-Christian times and theyre sposed to represent the power of the sun and the fires sposed to eat evil spirits.
Last year even though he was so sick Angus insisted on being in town for the midnight bells even though I said he shouldnt be out in the cold. He said it was tradition and his responsibility as the Laird so we bundled up and met Chris, Josiah and Vin in town about half ten, explained Nathan. Everyone had torches and pipers were playing. Angus really enjoyed himself and was pleased that he was asked to light the big bonfire. Even in small towns Hogmanay is usually a big party, often the biggest event of the year. We even get an extra day off here. Unlike England, in Scotland January 2nd is also a bank holiday.
I was in Edinburgh with Maude last year, stated Ezra. They call it the biggest New Years celebration in the world with five days of events starting with a huge torch parade on the 29th.
Youre going again this year, arent you? asked Chris.
Ezra sighed. Well, yes, Mother has her expectations, especially since the weather prevented us getting together at Christmas. Shes got a couple of big parties planned. Im never sure whether she wants me there to impress me, or whether my presence is to somehow impress her guests. Ill be leaving tomorrow, taking the train and will arrive in time for the torch parade and be there for her big dinner party on the 30th.
Youre going to be gone for New Years? questioned JD.
Ive already informed her that I will be leaving the morning of the 31st. Ezra smiled his gold tooth grin. I will be back here in time to spend the evening with you, JD, and any other of you gentlemen who might be here.
JD beamed. His wide smile lit up his youthful face, and he actually seemed to bounce in place. What about the rest of you guys?
Netties making her special traditional venison stew for dinner and shes already made the Black Bun cake so Ill definitely be here, stated Vin as the rest of the men nodded.
Alright! exclaimed JD. Sounds like fun, so whats Black Bun?
Its a real rich heavy dark cake made with lots of fruit, nuts, spices and lots of whiskey and baked in a cake tin lined with a rich shortbread like pastry, explained Vin. Its also called Twelfth Night Cake, and it really really is so good. Of course its served warm with whiskey on top.
Now Im really looking forward to New Years Eve or I guess I should say Hogmanay, announced JD.
I was asked to do first footing in lots of the town homes last year and Angus insisted I go in first when we got home, said Nathan. JD, you and Buck are going to be real popular for that this year.
Whats first footing? asked JD.
First footing, the first foot in the house after midnight New Years Eve is still fairly common in Scotland. Its considered good luck for the first foot to enter a house after midnight to be a dark haired man, probably a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble, explained Josiah. Especially lucky if that person is a stranger, and you should bring a small gift usually its a piece of coal or shortbread, whisky or some black bun.
Well JD, I guess youll be the most popular, laughed Buck, wiggling his eyebrows, seeings how Ive already been in most of the houses around here.
Everyone laughed at the ladies mans comment. The men were all pleased to see JD once again his enthusiastic animated self, and the rest of the evening was spent in enjoyable conversation mostly about previous New Years Eves.
The next day Buck found JD in the office in front of his computer staring off into space, once again lost in his thoughts.
Hey Kid, whats got you thinking so hard?
Oh, hey Buck. JD sighed and quickly rubbed his eyes. I was just thinking about my mom and New Years, and Im just really missing her.
Buck pulled a chair next to JDs and put his arm over his shoulder. Yeah, kid, I still miss my mom too, especially certain times of the year and shes been gone for twenty years. Want to talk about it?
We never made any resolutions, but every year since I can remember we would say what we wished for the New Year to bring, JD explained. Last year I wished for my mom to get better, and she wished that I would get to go to University. Well, her wish is going to come true.
I thought it was what you wanted too?
Yeah, I did. I just wish she could see her dream come true.
Buck hugged JD, then pulled back and looked at him. Do you still want to go to University? You dont have to, you know.
Yeah, I do, its just, so much has changed this year, you know? You and the guys. Ive been learning so much just working with all of you and I really like it here.
Buck glanced at the monitor to see what JD had been looking at. Oh, so youve been browsing at the programs at the University of Edinburgh?
Yeah, the estate management and computing courses really do look good. Its just that Edinburgh is so far away and I dont know anybody there. Heck, Ive never even been to that part of Scotland yet.
Dont worry. Well go down once the weathers warmer and check it all out. A lady friend of mine has a cousin who rents out furnished flats to students there. Well get you a good one. Some are shared with other students; we could get you into one of those so youll get to know some people right away.
I guess thatll be okay, said JD not sounding too enthusiastic.
You could always wait another year, suggested Buck.
No, I want to get started learning stuff so I can help out here more.
You already do a lot around here. I really appreciate you being my little assistant when Im working on repairs around the estate, teased Buck.
JD smiled up at Buck, Thanks, but Ive got to get started on my university education. I know my mom would be proud of me.
Buck smiled back, Hell Kid, you know were all proud of you. Hey, you dont have to go to Edinburgh you know. Stirlings closer and Ive heard its got some good programs. Actually you could check out UHI in Inverness, thats the closest. Google University of the Highlands and Islands. Its got its own degree programs, or some people take some courses there and then transfer them to another university like Stirling or Edinburgh. You could always start part-time and only be gone a couple days a week. Im sure its even got some of those online courses. You could probably start one of those quite soon if you wanted.
JDs fingers flew over the keyboard and soon he had both the uhi.ac.uk and external.stir.ac.uk sites open and was comparing the various programs offered at Stirling and Inverness Universities.
Hey Buck, how come you know all sorts of stuff like this?
JD, you know Ive dated lots of ladies. Women like to talk about themselves, and I like to listen to women talk, and I mean really listen, because if its important to them, its important to me. And thats something important for you to remember, you can really learn a lot if you actually listen to them. You dont learn everything from books or at a university. Good thing you got me around to educate you about the ladies.
JD laughed and elbowed Buck lightly in the stomach.
Look Buck, they both have lots of stuff that interest me. Stirling U. has Accounting, Business Computing, Economics, Environmental Science, Information systems, and Software Engineering. Inverness has Environmental and Rural Studies, with courses in Countryside Management, Environment and Heritage Studies, Gamekeeping with Wildlife Management, Sustainable Forest Development and their Business programs include Administration Information Technology, Adventure Tourism Management, even Golf Management, and they do offer distance courses! He smiled. Thanks Buck. Im glad you suggested this. Im definitely going to look into that option. Hey, I should ask Ezra if he thinks we should open a golf course here, I wonder if that would be a good idea?
Buck smiled as JDs words ran on and warmed his heart. It was great to hear him excited again. Buck really enjoyed having the kid around and was happy that JD was back to his cheerful self and seemed to be looking forward to the New Year, and now, so was he.
A guid New Year to ane an a and mony may ye see
A toast is Slainte Mhath! (pronounced Slanjey-va, meaning "Good Health").
The response is Slainte Mhor! (pronounced Slanjey-voe, meaning "Great Health").
Hogmanay in Scotland
Cut 1 lb lean venison into strips. Cut off the rind from 1 lb streaky bacon. Put 1oz butter into a non-stick pan, and brown the two meats briskly. Add salt & pepper to taste. Slice small 1lb carrots, a stick of celery, 1 large onion and grated peel of one orange. Add to meats. Then put in about 3/4 pint milk, just to cover meat, add a spray of thyme, and cover. Simmer for two hours until venison is tender.
Remove meat & vegetables, thicken juices with a little flour, and then add 2 tablespoons whisky and 1/4 pint cream. Heat gently until thick and smooth. Pour over the meat and vegetables in the dish. Grate a little cheese over, and brown in the oven until it bubbles.
Serve with buttered mashed potatoes and buttered mashed turnips
SCOTTISH BLACK BUN
This cake in a crust is the traditional New Year cake in Scotland, an extremely rich fruit cake named for its dark colour. Every family have their own variations.
First make a 1lb weight of short crust pastry your usual method. Leave to chill.
Take a springform (if possible) cake tin, and line with baking parchment. Set aside.
1 tsp each of cinnamon, ground ginger, 1/4 fresh grated nutmeg, 1/2 tsp white pepper.
Weigh into large bowl 10oz plain flour and 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda, mix well. Add 4oz Demerara sugar, then the spices, and weigh in 1lb currants, 1lb raisins, 4oz broken or flaked almonds, 4oz mixed candied peel.
Mix altogether well.
Add two beaten eggs, 5 tablespoons buttermilk (or milk will do) & two or three tablespoons whisky. Mix to a stiff sticky dough.
Roll out 2/3rds of the pastry and line the caketin with this. Press the fruit mixture into the pastry shell so that it is filled densely. Roll out the rest of the pastry to form a lid, and put on top in the usual way, moistening the edges with water to make then stick.
Take a long skewer, and pierce several times, right through the cake till you feel the tip touch the tin bottom. Brush the lid with a mixture of egg and milk, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 325 Fahrenheit; 170 Centigrade for about three hours. Test with skewer, when it is done, the skewer will not have any cake mix sticking to it.
Serve with coffee, or as the Scots do, with a wee dram of whisky