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JY and I have just returned from a three-week vacation to Scotland. First 10 days or so were spent in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Greenock, Inverness visiting family and some site-seeing; last 10 days on a golf trip with 48 other people (38 golfers who play an annual tournament usually in California and 12 wives/girl friends). The golf trip began in St Andrews, then traveled to Dornoch, then south to No Berwick, then home.
We had an amazing run of luck with both the weather (warm! sunny!) and transportation (planes, trains, automobiles and buses) until our return home. A delay in Edinburgh resulted in a missed connection, which resulted in an unplanned night in the biggest, most generic, bordering-on-creepy hotel near Heathrow in London. We arrived at LAX a day late without two pieces of luggage, which will hopefully arrive within the next day or two. Heathrow, thanks to staff shortages, seems to be a huge choke point for international travel; many in our group were missing luggage (and tragically, some golf clubs) upon their arrival in Scotland.
Needless to say, lots and lots of eating out. In anywhere but the largest of cities (Glasgow, Edinburgh), restaurants were largely confused and a little startled when we showed up hungry and desiring to eat.
In the most hilarious of examples, JY and a friend and I wandered up to a restaurant above a pub in Dornoch. The place was maybe 20% full. “Do you have reservations??” was the immediate demand. Upon hearing “um … no” while we looked around, the greeter pointed at us in an accusatory manner, then informed us “We can seat all three of you. But only two can order food”. I demurred, whereupon we were grudgingly seated, and I happily drank my dinner.
In many, many places when six or eight of us showed up, regardless of the hour, we were given an appraising glance, then told they were done taking orders for the night.
We visited a lovely small restaurant twice in St Andrews. The waiter was friendly; when we were settling the bill JY inquired about tipping: Cash? Credit card? Should we? The waiter explained that cash was divided between everyone on the same day; credit card tips were divided up at month’s end.
So … Cash is best? we inquired.
He sort of sniffed and informed us that in Scotland, unlike the US, waitstaff was paid a living wage and tipping was appreciated, but not expected. (This was the umpteenth restaurant we had visited that had signs begging patrons to be patient as they were understaffed, a huge “help wanted” sign on the front window, and the waiter beginning the ordering process by informing us of what was NOT available, as opposed to the night’s specials). So JY sort of sniffed, looked around and said “You might be paying a living wage, but you ain’t paying people enough to show up”.
On our second visit to the same restaurant, we showed up at 8:30 pm with the waiter informing us that we would have shepherd’s pie, or we would have nothing. He was only slightly nicer than my mother, with her standard “take it or leave it” nightly dinner choice.
St Andrew’s is a lovely seaside town visited almost exclusively by wealthy golfers. Anyone foolish/wealthy enough to spend the money to visit and golf there would happily pay more for some dinner.
Everywhere we stayed, toilet paper was treated as though it was 2020. I had to resort to stealing some from a public bathroom in Dornoch. And really, the only reason you would steal any is if you were desperate or had furniture that required refinishing.
We engaged in many conversations throughout our journey; mostly Brexit was blamed for staff and food shortages (no mention of toilet paper). Though a few people mentioned that since Covid a lot of people who used to fill “casual labor” jobs seemed to have simply disappeared. (Not just the obvious foreign workers, local students, etc. also) I assume that there is still enough government money being distributed to cause people to not actually work, but I never got a straight answer. When I questioned my relatives (all of whom are retired) the only answer I got was a long list of their pensions (actual amounts were not discussed, but the attitude was superior and that I would be jealous to hear it). When inquiries about such matters were made in past years, the only answers I got was their six weeks of vacation per year, where they just went on holiday and where they were going.
Brexit is the standard excuse for just about everything; we were rolling our eyes by the second week whenever we heard it.
On our last trip to Scotland five years ago, JY’s attitude was “is this any way to run a country?” This year our impression was, “No.”
It was a wonderful trip, and as mentioned we were blessed with glorious weather (a first). We enjoyed just about everyone we met and interacted with. And JY played some bucket list links courses. But after a lifetime of traveling to Scotland, my feeling is that its best years are long since in the rearview mirror. While Brexit has presented challenges, and Covid could not have been planned for, there was no apparent motivation to figure out workarounds or solutions. The problems were discussed as set in stone and unsolvable. A sort of victim attitude, if you will. Resignation.
I’ll leave you with my favorite story. We stopped at an M & S (Marks and Spencer is now known by its initials) for provisions on our way to Inverness. (Where we stayed in a home built in 1600 or so, overlooking Culloden). On the way to the car, JY passed a homeless guy who criticized his beer choice. “Tenants??” the guy said. JY gave the guy a once over, deemed him an expert, asked for a recommendation, and returned to the store for the recommended brand. JY now considers himself an expert; he kept track of every beer he tried and tapped out at 46.
PS edited to add: my actual favorite story. A cousin lamented that porn needed to be outlawed. Because it gave people an unrealistic view of how easy it is to get a plumber. Many, many complaints about the inability to find anyone willing to show up and fix anything.Published in