Crossing the Topiary Chessmen off my Bucket List

The winners of the AUTHOR HUMILIATION CONTEST in the author category will be posted Friday. Meanwhile, enjoy Wendy’s adventures in Scotland!

Digital CameraI hadn’t seen my friend Bun in eight years, since leaving Scotland for the States. We used to run a storytelling club together, and like me she is an avid textile artist.

So when she said she had promised to take her mother on a garden tour Sunday afternoon (the only day I could see her) I–who can’t tell an onion from a lily–said sure, I’d tag along.

“Great!” Bun said. “It’s at Leuchars, Earlshall Castle.”

Could it be…? Leuchars was only a few miles from New Gilston, where Jack and I used to live in Scotland. As a bride my first year there, I’d tried several times to visit a famous garden in Leuchars, listed in the guidebook just before the new owner had shut it up and installed security cameras.

Digital CameraHot diggety! In one of those rare coincidences life sometimes hands out, I not only got to spend a happy hour with my friend Bun, but she led me straight to something I’d wanted to see for more than ten years: the Topiary Chessmen.

Hey, I don’t make comments about what’s on YOUR bucket list.

Digital CameraThe pieces are laid out in mid-play. Allegedly, one king is under some threat; to really appreciate their positioning, you have to view them from the tower window of the castle. As the family weren’t offering that option in their Open Garden for Charity day, Bun and I contented ourselves with running about screaming, “Oh, here’s a knight! This must be the queen! Look, that one’s a Dalek!” and generally acting like school children.

Digital CameraMost of the people attending had come straight from the Church of Scotland’s Sunday Service, and were dressed in expensive shoes, sweater sets, and suits. Bun was wearing a lot of her own handiwork, plus a poncho. I was wearing “tourism casual.” We attracted several stares.

Which made us cut up more. “You will be exterminated!” Bun intoned in front of a Dalek-esque pawn.

Digital Camera Digital CameraA man in a flat cap with tweed patches at his elbow stopped, looked at us, looked at it, and said in a posh English accent, “Blimey! THAT’S what it reminds me of. Ta, ladies!”

Tis true that some of them required more benevolent imagination than others, but I’d been wanting to see these things for ten years. In fact, I suggested a run out in the last week Jack and I lived in Scotland, just to see if perchance we could get into the gardens.

Digital CameraJack does not share my fascination with hegemonic sculpture.

And now I’ve seen them. And Bun and I will remember our day out among the topiary chessmen for a long time. About as long as the owners of the garden remember us racing ’round shrieking in nasal drones, “Exterminate!” and doing mouth music versions of the Dr. Who theme.

Isn’t that what friendship is all about? Silliness, long-lost dreams helped to come true, and a really good cup of tea in the garden?Digital Camera



Ask Me ANYTHING about Law & Order….

scarfWes is our first-call shopsitter. He watches the store at least once a week, so that Jack can pre-record his radio programs in Johnson City (Celtic Clanjamphry, available Sundays at 9 pm on if you’re not within listening distance) or work on home improvements, perhaps even a weekend getaway for us here and there.

Wes and his lovely wife Rachael were the first couple to get married at our bookstore. Valkyttie attended the ceremony, and blessed the union by napping on their marriage certificate during the vow exchange.

They’ve been with the firm practically since the beginning. Wes bottle-fed several of our sick foster kittens, while Alexander, their 22-pound gentle giant, was one of the bookstore’s earliest fur babies.

As Wes won’t take a dime for minding the shop, we have a standing arrangement regarding birthday and Christmas presents. They take what they want from the shelves (including new books, consignment crafts, whatever) and we hand it over with gratitude.

This Christmas sorta snuck up on us all, so it was Dec. 1 before Wes and Rachael came to dinner with a list that ran heavily to handcrafted items. In short order I found myself promising to crochet four spay-and-neuter afghans, three Dr. Who scarves, an American flag quilt, a wreath and a potted houseplant.

scarf2I offered to do five gold rings as well, but no, they were cool. And yes, you can crochet potted houseplants. Check Pinterest.

By Dec. 12, I had congratulated myself on knocking out the afghans while binge-watching Seasons 1-3 of Law and Order on Netflix. On Dec. 16 I was swinging onto the last of the scarves and knew with certainty that assistant DA Claire Kincaid wore only five blouses the whole of seasons 4 and 5. The new Lieutenant had but two work jackets.

A message came from Rachael; nix the crocheted houseplant and do an “elegant” scarf in Christmas colors. That gave me a leap forward. Dec. 20, the night before Jack and I were leaving on our week-long hideaway vacation, I was seven rows from finishing the last flag and really sick of Jack McCoy’s know-it-all attitude.

socksMy own Jack made a heroic trip to Walmart (a place we normally avoid, but desperate times call for desperate measures) at 5 pm on the last shopping Saturday before Christmas, returning ashen-faced with white felt from which he cut a circle of 13 stars–after a steadying whiskey, of course. That took some pressure off. Sunday morning I whipped out the final rows on the final project and slapped a heating pad onto my right shoulder. If anyone at the Christmas service noticed my hunchback ensemble, they didn’t comment.

Because we’d do anything for Wes and Rachael, ¬†who have done so many things for us. Valkyttie doesn’t approve of just anyone, after all.flag