May 14, 2012

What is the difference ......?

Classic joke: what is the difference between an American and a Brit? The American thinks 100 years is a long time, and the Brit thinks 100 miles is a long way to travel. This was a good enough joke for the Best Man's speech at the wedding, but it is absolutely the truth.

The first time we drove from England to Scotland, we were amazed to see the signs on the motorway (Highway) headed: To the North, as if in warning against polar bears, or maybe barbarian hordes. In the western States at least, it might conjure up visions of an arctic journey by dogsled, perhaps to the Klondike gold fields, or even across ice floes to the North Pole.

In England, though, it just means 'to Scotland', and driving via the A1, it is just over 375 miles from London to the Scottish border. For us, it's a drive to Seattle, which we do without much fanfare. I guess the Scots were the barbarian horde, once upon a time. But in a country as small as England, Scotland or most places in western Europe, (especially back more than 100 years!) it is a journey of some note.

So we American tourists blithely drive all over the countryside to look at old buildings, or in some cases, old trees.

I love the classic stone buildings I see around the Scottish Borders. I don't know enough about architecture to say how old they are, but the ones I am drawn to are 19th century and older. Beautifully cut local stone buildings with a distinctive chimney style and, astonishingly to those of us who live in a colder winter climate, plumbing pipes attached to the outsides of buildings! No doubt many are from their
Victorian mill town heydays, and while we drool over the look of such historic buildings, surely the residents of many tiny, drafty, not to mention damp dwellings would trade them for a boring new house with all mod cons including insulation.


  1. I think the plumbing's on the outside because it was installed about a century after the houses were built. Drilling through stone to install plumbing - not so much. I stayed in a house in Edinburgh where they WERE putting it inside, and those stone walls were stuffed with stone rubble. It was a bitch of a job. At that time (1975-ish) there were still people living in those old stone buildings who were without plumbing (at least for baths). The public baths were available for their use. - Kimberley

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  3. Exactly! We had dinner at a friend's home in the oldest part of Peebles a few years ago, and were admiring recent renovations she had made. She said the most difficult thing to change was anything to do with the actual structure of the building, since the stone walls were, literally, 3 feet thick. Built during the 1600's when Scottish reivers and marauding English soldiers made stout dwellings a necessity, in these gentler times that fortress mentality makes updating expensive and time-consuming.

    Not only that, the doorframes are very low, under 6 feet. Our friend's 6'7" boyfriend was forever bashing his head. Even those of us of normal height had to duck.

    I'm sure you're right about the plumbing; my point of astonishment comes when trying to imagine such an arrangement in a climate such as ours.