Winter School 2017

I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to go to summer school this year, and so instead I booked myself for the first time into Winter School.

One of the downsides of summer school for me is the rather spartan conditions in University Hall, so would a fabulous hotel, promising a wee dram by an open fire, in a spectaular setting and with a ball in a real castle, live up to expectations?

Atholl Palace Hotel

This event has been going for 17 years, mostly in Pitlochry, a very picturesque spot in the Highlands.  When people asked me where I was going, I said “stick a pin in the middle of Scotland, you’ll be close”.

Thursday dawned, heralded by chaos in the form of Storm Doris.  There were widespread reports of heavy snowfalls, trees down and power outages.  Oh well, I reasoned, I had all day to get to Pitlochry.  Anticipating some delays along the way, I set off for Lisburn train station (Lift from husband – cost, one kiss).  I bought my single to Sydenham, (cost £4.70) the stop for the airport, and a cup of tea from the stand (it’s gone up to £1.50 since my last time here, I notice).  I spotted my friend Deborah in the waiting room, and she raised one eye at my laden suitcase, and said “I hope you’re not flying anywhere today!”

The train reached Central Station and stopped, rather than continuing on the Bangor line.  Alighting and enquiring, I was told that a tree had fallen on the line, and the next service was probably in an hour.  I decided to cut my losses and get a taxi (cost £8).  But as we pulled onto the Sydenham bypass, traffic was really slow, and a quick consult on Twitter informed me that there was a tree down here as well!  It was just at the footbridge at the top end of Victoria Park, and to give credit, it was removed swiftly and we made the airport in good time.  My luggage weighed 17 kg, and there were no queues at security, though my dodgy trainers did have to go through the scanner twice.

Once airside, I studied the departures board.  Many flights were delayed, diverted or cancelled, but mine remained steadfastly and optimistically “scheduled”.  I decided to settle down with a Bloody Mary, only the bar had no tomato juice!  The horror!

Incredibly, our flight was called for boarding on time, and we pushed back right on schedule.  The flight is very short, and with a following wind took 20 minutes.  The woman beside me in a lovely leopard print coat was interested in my tales of Scottish dancing, and I gave her a leaflet.

After a safe landing, my bag appeared on the carousel very quickly, and as I left the terminal building there was a shuttle bus ready for boarding, including a helpful member of staff who put my case in the rack for me.  A return is £10.

At Glasgow Queen St, I found that the direct train service to Pitlochry wasn’t for another couple of hours.  So I had just about decided to try to find somewhere nearby for a relaxed lunch, but went to double-check the timetables in the travel centre.  The staff assured me there were no storm related delays, and I found that there was indeed a service I could take which only involved a short changeover at Perth.  Return ticket, £30.

The journey to Perth was very comfortable, and there were seats aplenty.  The transfer to another platform was a bit tricky, involving quite a lot of changing levels, and then standing on a rather windswept platform for 20 minutes.  I was glad I had my furry earmuffs and a pair of gloves.  This train was much busier, but I managed to find a little single seat in a corner.  I recognised a few familiar faces among the passengers, and quite a posse of us alighted in the charming little station at Pitlochry.

It was a bit of a struggle manhandling our suitcases over the footbridge – I’m not sure how passengers with mobility problems would cope.  But someone kindly offered me a ride in their taxi, and before long we were sweeping up the imposing drive and checking in at the Atholl Palace Hotel.

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The hotel began life offering hydrotherapy treatments, and has gone through several owners and refurbishments since then.  It still retains a spa, inspired by the lavender beds in the gardens.   My room took a while to locate, and was up a hidden staircase, again with no lift.  The room itself was large and bright, although cold, and with a rather worrying large step into the bathroom.  I unpacked, and hung my clothes in the wardrobe, which was well stocked with hangers, before making my way into town briefly to find a cash machine, admiring the Japanese garden en route.

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I’d originally signed up to go on the theatre tour, and needed cash to pay for that, but as I was looking round all the lovely things to do and see in town, I was happy to allocate my place to someone else when I got back to the registration desk.

A drinks reception took place in the Bow Lounge, which was another chance to get caught up with old friends.  We were assigned tables for dinner that night, and though I didn’t know anyone at my table, we were soon chatting away.  I discovered that one lady was even more of an eclipse chaser than I am, and had visited far flung regions of the world to see the phenomenon. There was dancing down in the Atholl Suite, which is a large circular room, but it’s mostly carpeted with a small wooden floor in the middle.

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This makes dancing on it rather difficult.  A soirée was held in the lounge with some singing and dancing.

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My Friday morning class was back in the same room, with Mary Marshall teaching, and Adam Brady on piano.  Mary reminded me of the character Gretchen Betjamin in The High Life, and she put us through our paces for The Cocked Hat, and finished with a big circle dance, the Dunedin Quadrille (cross right foot over left, and limp to the left for 8 steps….).  There was a TV crew present for some of the morning, so we made sure our steps were neat and our smiles bright.

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I wanted to see a bit of the town, so I headed in for a bit of retail therapy.  The weather was cold, verging on icy, with bitter winds and rain.  So I felt I should have more sturdy footwear, and hunted the charity shops until I found a pair of grey brogues from Hotter.  I tried on a few items of clothing, and was sorely tempted by a lavender tweed jacket reduced from £250 to £99.  I had lunch at Cafe Scozia, where I was the only customer.  I ordered fish and chips, and was served a huge portion, complete with a red onion laden side salad (bleurgh), and garnished with curly parsley, which made me smile.  I felt I maybe should have ordered something more Italian, and saved my fish supper treat for a proper chippie.

Anyway, the waiter was very friendly and chatty, and he recommended that I go and see the new     Pitlochry Dam   Visitors centre, which was a short walk around the corner.

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I loved learning about the construction of the dam, and the explanation of hydro-electric power generation.  And why fish need a ladder.  The views across the water were just beautiful, and I continued my stroll down to the Festival Theatre.  I called in to look around, and found a cream scarf and a turquoise ring in the half price basket.

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Back at the hotel, I was just in time to catch Janet Washington with her beautiful collection of clothing, and I found a blue peachskin skirt with tartan hem down to £40.  For dinner I had a haggis starter, followed by sea bass and a frangipane tart.  Dancing was again in the Atholl Suite, with music provided by Angela Young and Peter Shand on two pianos. The dances were mostly easy enough, but I was struggling to find a willing partner at times, and sat out the Jubilee Jig.  I nipped back to my bedroom to put my feet up and watch The Last Leg, before heading down to the soiree, where I enjoyed a local Eradour whiskey and listened to Angela and Peter who were taking requests and playing songs from the shows.

Saturday morning means parkrun! Sadly there was no such thing nearby, but I decided I would go out running anyway, and see the local Black Spout waterfall.  I met a fellow runner on my way, who turned out to be Alastair Smyth, whose wife had been one of my examiners last year.  He showed me the best way to the waterfall, and revealed that he runs every single day.

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The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and the waterfall itself absolutely magnificent.  I was really struck by the amount of birdsong I could hear, and the carpets of snowdrops under the trees.

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I had definitely earned my breakfast, and tucked into a bowl of porridge supplied by the school’s sponsors, Hamlyns.  Glad of my Hotter shoes, I hot-footed it (geddit?) to this morning’s class, accompanied en route by the couple from Guernsey (hey, isn’t there a parkrun there? I spy a trip coming on).  There was much surface water on the roads, and I ended up being splashed head to toe, sitcom style, by a passing van.  Class was in the leisure Centre with Mervyn, accompanied by Angela.  This was a nice big space, but the floor was rock hard, there was no drinking water, and the toilet was smallest one I have ever been in.  I went back down to the main street for tea and carrot cake, only later discovering that there was tea and biscuits provided up in the Town Hall.  You’d think someone might have mentioned this!

Mervyn was featuring older dances, and I found the Long Chase particularly challenging – it was certainly long.  We also did the Chapman, and the Bramble Bush, and revised polite turns, and changing feet between pas de basque and slip step, which required great concentration.  Angela’s accompanying tunes were from the same era, and I loved the Pachabel’s Canon used for the cool down.

Ooooh, that   Janet Washington!  She entices you in to her shop like a gingerbread house, then plies you with wine, crisps, chocolates and cheesey oatcakes!  I managed to escape having purchased a black T shirt with tartan trim, a blue tartan flower, and magenta silk top to go with the skirt I bought from her   a few years ago.  Oh and a sash in County Fermanagh tartan, having taught her the correct pronunciation.

Staying in town for lunch, I went to the Cafe Biba, a charming little stone single storey building, which to my delight had a selection of mini dishes available for lunch.  I had the Spaghetti Bolognese, which came with a slice of garlic bread and generous helping of cheese.  And a garnish of curly parsley.

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I managed to scrape into the RSCDS shop before they closed, and found a CD with Blue Bonnets on, which I’m planning to teach soon.  And also made it to the final tour of the day of the   Blair Athol distillery, which is right on the doorstep of the hotel.  The name means “Burn of the otter”, but I have yet to discover why there’s only one L when all the other Atholls have two.  The distillery is owned by Bells, and most of the whiskey produced goes to be blended, so I took the opportunity to buy a bottle.

And to join a Friends of the Classic Malts group, where you get a special stamp on a passport at each distillery you visit, earning a special quaich at the end.

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Over dinner of garlic mushrooms, vegetable curry, and cheeseboard, I got chatting to someone who said that what they were looking for from Scottish Dancing was perfection.  I almost did a double take and asked, are you sure you’re in the right place?  I’ve greatly enjoyed watching extracts on You Tube from the display teams at the recent Newcastle festival, and that’s probably as close to perfection as one can get in dance – if one ever reaches it. (What does perfection look like?)  It’s certainly not top of my list of what I want to achieve either teaching or dancing in a class.  I like to get it right, certainly, but the joy of dance goes much further than that, and isn’t dependent on it.   Fun fitness and friendship sums it up better.

By this stage we’d already agreed to dance a strathspey together that evening, and I’m pretty sure my tournee fell short of perfection. Sorry!

During the soiree I felt rather left out.  Winter School has a reputation for being cliquey, and I could see why it had such a name.  I did manage a dance, though my feet were aching and in my Sketchers my footwork wasn’t great.

After breakfast on Sunday, I walked to the town hall, which is quite a trek.  Someone later mentioned a short cut, but in my experience a short cut is “the muddiest distance between two points”.  This at least had a decent wooden floor for dancing, though the pillars in the hall formed local hazards.  Raphaelle was teaching, with Peter on piano, who told us that Scott Skinner (the Strathspey King!) used to see different keys in different colours.  We were put through our paces, and challenged with a dance in 3 bar phrases, which had everyone counting furiously under their breath.  I wasn’t always totally clear about what we were doing.  This is an advanced class, which is a joy to be in, but I could have done with a bit more instruction on eg change of feet.

I had lunch in the  Fern Cottage, and again I was the only customer.  I had the soup and toastie option, which came with the obligatory curly parsley garnish. The leek and potato soup was really good, but note to self – don’t have tomato in a toasty. It makes the bread soggy, gets far too hot, and I hate the feel of cooked tomato skin in my teeth.

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The afternoon began with an entertaining session led by Angela on identifying different music and musicians and the era they came from.  We started by getting into groups and having to identify a selection of tunes, what book they came from, and who was playing.  Again, I was feeling sidelined, as the others in my group didn’t seem to be listening to what I said, and certainly weren’t writing it down. I was however totally entranced by the music of Tom Orr ,  and will definitely be looking out some of his CDs for my collection.

After that we had a gin tasting session led by Eden Mill gin distillers of St Andrews.  I’d bought their “12 gins of Christmas” for my parents, and so I was looking forward to the tasting. The fondness of gin among Scottish dancers is evidenced by the fact that the Co-op, the only supermarket in town, had sold out of tonic.  We tried 5 different gins in total, each with its own garnish and mixer.  I most enjoyed the Oak gin, which was almost on its way to becoming a whiskey, and which I could drink over ice, neat.

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So taken was I with the gin that I completely forgot I’d booked a spa session!  But I managed to re-schedule it for the next day.

Sunday evening was the celilidh.  I was planning to read a poem that my best friend had sent me for my birthday last year.  I’d attempted to find where it came from, and had asked several people who might have recognised it for a summer school in the past. It was well received, and Maureen Haynes was able to tell us who had written it.  Though she confided in me later that she was a bit puzzled as to how I’d got it, as she thought she had the only copy in existence.

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After a bit of a Google, I was able to find it in an archive of poems by Pat Batt which had been published in the London RSCDS branch newsletter, the Reel.  And what a useful archive that will be, I’ll never be short of a poem to recite at a ceilidh ever again!  My party skirt was admired – I always say it’s got a bit of everything in it, from tartan, to Celtic swirls, to little Dutch girl hearts.  And glitter.

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On Monday we were back on the carpet of the Atholl Suite, with Johann teaching us, and Luke accompanying.  I liked some of the work we did on posture and balance, but I felt there could have been more rotation of couples.  In a particular 3 couple formation we spent quite a bit of time on, there was a set of four, so two poor sods had spent quite some time standing doing nothing.  For Unit 4 I’ve been working on my observation skills, and seeing if there are things I could learn and copy, or avoid.

I knew we were having an early dinner, so I didn’t bother with lunch.  I had my spa treatment, and went to the   Thistle Shoesshop, where I treated myself to a gorgeous pair of bronze shoes, with insoles.

I tried them out during the walkthrough of the ball dances in the afternoon, which was a useful reminder of Alltshellach and its scary tournee.

I did some first stage packing, and changed into my grey ball gown ready for dinner at 5.  We piled into 3 busloads ready for the journey to     Blair Castle.  I was intrigued to learn that previous owners had included the designers of the Forth Rail Bridge, and the Jubilee tube line.

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The hall was very imposing, and everyone was busy taking photographs of themselves next to the portraits or the fireplaces.  People had warned me that space on the floor might be at a premium, especially with 160 people on the course, so I was prepared for tightly spaced sets. The “big bad tournee”, as Raphaelle described it,  was hard to do with enough swish and swoop, likewise the diamond poussette when everyone is dancing.  I again struggled to find a partner for some dances: I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong, standing in the wrong place, or people just don’t want to dance with me!  However, I only sat out one dance, the Eightsome Reel, which is a bit boisterous for a ball, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it.

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No tea or coffee, just water and juice available, which I think speeded proceedings up.   The band were terrific, and really gave the evening an extra-special zing.  At the final dance, the Reel of the 51st, my feet were complaining, and I was tempted to sit it out.  But Adam Brady asked me to dance, and as the devisor of tonight’s programme, and someone whose neat footwork I have often admired, I couldn’t refuse. The 160 hands round and back at the end were a rather special sight.

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On the bus back I was starting to nod off, and when I went to my room to take off my ball gown and rub down my feet, I decided that I had had quite enough for one day, and went straight to bed.

Tuesday was threatened by Storm Ewan, but I managed a final run up to the waterfall, which included hearing a woodpecker for the first time.  After breakfast, I completed my final packing and began much goodbying.  The train to Glasgow was on time –  I noticed that although there were lots of empty seats, passengers needed a bit of prompting to move their bags or scoot over. Smooth transit to the airport, and I was relieved that my case, with its extra bottles of whiskey and gin, weighed in at 19.5kg.  I had packed the grey Hotters near the top,  ready to ditch them if required.

No security issues, and I opted for lunch at the Caledonia, with its lovely views over the runway to the snow-topped mountains beyond.  I saw a few V-shaped skeins of geese (I presume?), wasn’t sure if they would be migrating at this time of year, or if they were just on their regular commute.  I only later discovered that there’s an airport lounge;  I like to try these out, so I don’t know what its price was or what facilities or views they had.  Maybe it needs more advertising earlier in the passenger’s footway.

The plane was on time –  I was sitting in the wrong seat, but the gentleman whose seat I took didn’t mind, and my baggage made it successfully with only minor losses ( my yellow beads had come unstrung and my silver scarf ring was a little bent out of shape.  But the booze survived!)

A helpful gent carried my case over the footbridge at Sydenham, where I had a bit of a wait in the wind and cold for the rain, and was met at the station by my husband.

Would I go again?  I’m not sure. Here’s why:

  • It’s very expensive – in previous years the 120 places have sold out straight away, so this year they upped that to 160, which also sold out in 24 hours.  So next year the price will rise.  I feel this can only deter more young people from attending.
  • The floors are not great for dancing on, and even me, with my sturdy runner’s calves, was finding it tough going.
  • The ball in the castle is lovely, but crowded.
  • Its reputation as cliquey and elitist is probably not undeserved.  I could have done with a “first timers” briefing, and maybe  each class could have had an appointed “care bear” to make sure newbies knew how to get to their class, where coffee was, to make sure they had a partner during the dances, and to perhaps even invite them to a party.  I was aware that there were parties happening, but I received no invites.
  • It attracts those who have grown frustrated with Summer School, especially the lack of proper differentiation between the classes.  To be fair, I’ve only ever heard this from people in the Very Advanced class (or technically advanced high impact or whatever it calls itself).  The names of the classes are confusing to beginners, and when people are making their self-assessment of abilities, I find that they fall into two camps.  There are those who think “Oh I hope my standard is high enough for this class”, and those who think “Oh I hope everyone else in the class is up to my standard”.  Realistically, every class is going to be a mixed ability class to some degree, taking age and injury into account, and there’s always something new to learn.
  •  Besides, there’s any amount of dance weekends in all sorts of places from Skye to Cyprus, from Budapest to Lyon, and I think I would like to try to visit some of those.

RSCDS Summer School 2015

The Summer Schools run at St Andrews by the RSCDS have been going for over 50 years. They attract dancers from all over the world, many of whom return year after year. So they must be doing something right! Now, I may mention a few niggles that I encountered, but the evidence is clear that these are a successful venture, likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

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This was my second time at summer school. Last year I was with a whole bunch of fellow dancers from NI, and it was great to be part of a big group, who all knew their way around. This year I enjoyed a bit more independence, and didn’t feel I had to do something just because it was the tradition. It was a lot quieter, and less lively, but that had its own attractions. I do need a bit of space and peace every now and again!

When booking my flights, I’d found that Glasgow was about half the price of Edinburgh, but it was only when I went to research actual transport options after I had booked my flights that I discovered I had very few options at the times I was travelling on a Sunday. But it was feasible, though there was little margin for error. If I missed one bus, I was stuck.

On the day I left, my super-smart phone alerted me that there was a one hour delay to my flight. I had a minor panic about my onward journey – my original plans had been to catch the X24 which goes directly from Glasgow to St A, and the bus leaving at 17.40 would have me there shortly after 20.00. I did a bit of googling and decided that hiring a car at £80 or taking a taxi for £160 were not really value for money options. There was a later bus at 18.40, and the difference between arriving at 9 pm rather than 8 pm was, frankly, minimal.

At Belfast International I noticed there was an Easyjet flight to Edinburgh leaving at 15.30, and enquired if I could transfer to that. But no, since it was scheduled to depart 5 minutes AFTER my flight, a transfer wasn’t permissible. As it turned out, my flight managed to make up a bit of lost time, only took off 30 mins late, was touching down 20 minutes after that, and most importantly, the luggage was very quickly on the carousel. I was out by the 500 shuttle bus rank at 16.45, (return fare £9), and at Buchanan Street bus depot with plenty of time to spare before catching the 17.40 X24 as planned (£11.10 single). There were plenty of comfy seats, and a few stops along the way, but I had some crisps and chocolate and a kindle, and overall the 2 1/2 hour journey was very pleasant.

University Hall is very close to the bus station, and at least this route avoids any of the tedious and wind-blasted hanging about at Leuchars junction. A 10 minute walk took me to the halls of residence, and I got to the evening reception in time for a glass of wine, the end of the introductory remarks, and some dancing.

 

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On Monday morning I made my way to the communal kitchen, filled a kettle and switched it on, only to be told off for not just boiling enough water for one cup, as everyone would want freshly boiled water. My logic was that there would be a whole raft of people wanting their morning caffeine fix, and anyway, tea made with a teabag in a cardboard cup with plastic milk from a jigger was hardly going to worry about the freshly boiledness of the water.
There were a LOT of attendees in this, Week 2. It was the designated young persons week, so there were a few family groups, and it was also the musicians course, so the ranks of dancers were supplemented by a dozen or more music students. The result of this was queues. For everything. The queue for meals stretched out the dining room door and down the stairs. The halls for dancing were jam packed, and some of the classes had as many as 50 dancers in them. As there were large contingents of French, Hong Kong Chinese and others not speaking English as a first language, these large classes were rather noisy, with translation and clarifications taking place in small pockets.
I was doing the Dance Achievement Award (DAA). I had assumed that this would be an afternoon activity, but when I checked the class lists I found that it had a dedicated morning session all to itself, and there were a grand total of 7 of us. Our teacher was Elma, own of my own class teachers, and our musician was Frank, who kept us regaled with amusing anecdotes and comments. A local dancer (and former Chairman no less) joined us to complete the set to 8 dancers. We were a cosmopolitan bunch – I was representing Belfast branch, Margaret and Bill came from near Inverness, Matthew hailed from Bath, and the remaining 3 were from Claudine from France, Monika from Vienna and Polly from Hong Kong.

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Our classes were held in the Girl Guide Hall. This was a good 20 minute walk from the halls of residence, but I find a brisk stroll in the morning is healthy, and blows away any cobwebs.  We took our morning coffee around the corner in Holy Trinity, and soaked up a few rays of sunshine when we could.

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I’d first seen step dancing demonstrated at last year’s Thursday night ball, and I was entranced by its elegance and delicacy. I’d hoped my ballet training would make it accessible for me, and so I signed up for the optional afternoon sessions, which took place in the lower hall of Victory Memorial. This has quite a squeaky floor, even though we tried it in different directions to see which was best. The basic steps were OK, but the more complicated trebles and shuffles were rather tricksy, and reminded me a bit of times steps in tap dancing. I know I could do them, if I had the time to repeat them about a hundred times. As it turned out, I wasn’t able to attend any of the other afternoon step classes, so that will have to wait for another year.
Monday night was our first visit to the Younger Hall, which is a lovely space to dance in. The big numbers meant that there was little room for manoeuvre, and any time that casting outside the set was called for, the other dancers had to breathe in to make some space. I did miss there being a large contingent of familiar faces when looking for a partner, but a lovely lady called Margaret, who I later discovered was in charge of International Branch, took me under her wing, and kept me right during Old Nick’s Lumber Room, which had crashed and burned spectacularly the last time I’d done it.
Tuesday afternoon was when the Unit 3 teaching candidates were running through their paces, and I’d signed up to be a volunteer for this. As I’m considering going for teaching certification myself, this was a really useful insight into what is expected of them. There was a certain “script” that each formation and step being taught followed. We were supposed to be needed from 2-4, but as there were so many candidates they asked if we could stay to 4.30. Unfortunately, the shop closes PROMPTLY at 4.30, and I was just too late to hand in the branch order. They took pity on me, however, and agreed that I could submit it the next day.
In the evening, I went to the local St Andrews branch dance, which was taking place in the Boys Brigade Hall. This was a bit more relaxed and informal, and Margaret even gave me a lift in her car.
On Wednesday afternoon I’d hoped to get back to step class, but when we learned that our assessment would be taking place on Thursday afternoon, the others wanted to use that time to go over the dances, and that did seem to be a more beneficial use of resources. Some of my intrepid classmates managed to source a location (the party room), an additional dancer to make up the set, and a very talented musician in the shape of Michael. We even persuaded Elma to come along and supervise. My feet were starting to ache at the end of this, and I was glad I had brought with me many potions and lotions to rub into them. Lemony Flutter from Lush was a godsend.  Others in the class were making good use of Oil of Arnica.

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There was social dancing in the Common Room that night, and some people found the programme a bit tricky. One dance in particular, Tiptoe and Sway, I couldn’t get the hang of at all, especially without a walk-through. But I did enjoy doing Swiss Lassie with Monika – it’s a favourite of some of my fellow Belfast branch dancers, and one I’d done a few times before. Monika was now officially going to be my partner during the assessment, so it was useful to get more practice dancing as a couple.

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Thursday was the day of the assessment, and we were all a little nervous. We’d decided the day before that the examiners wouldn’t want to sit with their backs to the door, so we’d had to swap around the “top of the room”. Most of Thursday morning was spent aligning the tables and chairs for them to sit at, and then working out where the sets should start and finish, by means of lining up with fire extinguishers and bins, counting tiles on the floor, and panels in the roof. I think perhaps that next year I shall make sure to pack a divining rod and a tape measure!
During the assessment I know I could have danced better – I didn’t phrase my Rondel terribly well, and I was so busy concentrating on keeping my thumbs down that I nearly went into a pousette instead of an allemande! But there were no big disasters.

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I managed to make it just in time to the talk on using social media. I was instrumental in setting up the Belfast branch Facebook page, and am a reasonably competent Twitterer (Tweetheart?). There were some useful tips, such as bearing in mind what time it is in the States when making postings. But I was getting frustrated by the actualities: the reception in St Andrews is patchy, and I kept trying to tweet and facebook pictures with the summeschool2015 hashtag, but being unable to upload them. My other quibble was that the hashtag was not unique, as there are summer schools happening in all sorts disciplines and locations!
On Thursday evenings there is another dance in the Younger Hall. But you need to get a ticket. I’d completely missed this fact, and by the time I realised it, they were sold out. At least, that’s what I heard, though someone else told me that there were in fact some available. It does seem a bit daft – why can we dance in this venue on Monday and Saturday night, but need a ticket for Thursdays? Forking out another tenner on top of the already pricey fee for the week seems unnecessary and mean. There are various demonstration teams performing at this event, including Step and Highland. I can’t put my finger on why I feel a bit uncomfortable about dancers being in more than one dem team – of course it’s right and proper that the best dancers are used to show off their skills, but I’d like to think everyone got a fair chance. It must make scheduling rehearsal times a nightmare.
Anyway. I hadn’t got a ticket and so I resigned myself to a more relaxed evening’s dancing in the Common Room. This turned out to be most enjoyable – all the dances were walked through, including that pesky Tiptoe and Sway (I think I’ve got it now!), there was room to manoeuvre, and I was dancing with a different bunch of people than I normally would. As an added bonus to round the evening off, I went outside and in the crystal clear skies I got to see the most glorious diamond-bright pass of the Space Station. I waved them night-night and went to bed in good form.
On Friday morning our class could relax a bit more, swap around partners, and we got to try some of the dances out of the new book. Between Friday and Saturday I’d done Ruby Rant, Neil M Grant, Miss Eleanor, Rundumadum, and First Rain of Spring. Frank introduced us to “smeddum” a Scottish word meaning urge or drive, and we listened and danced to older strathspey tunes compared with the newer more lyrical airs. We were saying goodbye to Irene, so I gave out present to her, Elma and Frank, including some cards where everyone had written some funny memories and quotes, and even some illustrations.

 

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Friday night was the ceilidh. I’d toyed with the idea of writing one of me pomes, especially since “Week 2” rhymes with “queue”, but decided I’d rather keep schtum in case anyone thought I was criticising. The entertainment was fun, I shared some sweeties with my classmates and new friends, and led a party of interested ones in another ISS sighting, before going to a lively party hosted by Chester branch.

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Saturday morning means parkrun, and I’d persuaded Claudine’s husband to give me a lift up the road to Craigtoun. It was a bright sunny day, and I managed to run the course (which seems to be all uphill!) a minute faster than last year, so I got a very welcome and rare PB.

 

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After the last session of our class, where I was nearly in tears saying goodbye, we’ve all become such good friends, I took a relaxed walk through the town. One of my favourite things to do in a seaside resort is find the best ice-cream shop, try an unusual flavour and eat it while looking out to sea. The queue outside Janetta’s stretched down the street, but I had time to wait in it. I was almost deafened by an extremely loud family behind me, I had to put my fingers in my ears to try to turn the volume down. My cinnamon-walnut and chocolate peanut butter combination was delicious, well worth the wait, and I wandered down to East Strand to enjoy the view.

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I’d missed the daily news updates given at the first session of the morning, so I didn’t find out till the next morning that there was a garden party with cake. Oh well, serve me right for going running instead.
Saturday evening was the last dancing in Younger Hall. I wore my formal tartan skirt that I’d bought last year here at summer school, and everyone was looking their very best. The programme had been well designed, and we’d done all of the dances at some stage throughout the week, so a quick recap was all that was required. Dancing which such a group of experienced dancers is always a real pleasure, and we were even more rewarded by having a 13 piece band from the musicians course on stage. The atmosphere was electric, with dancers showing their appreciation for each dance by drumming their feet on the wooden floor.

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We reprised many of the dances with a “once and to the bottom”, and I thought we’ll never get through the whole programme if we keep this up! But we did. My classmates each sought each other out, and we pencilled in dances that we really wanted to do together. I booked Monika for my branch’s theme tune, City of Belfast, a beautiful dance devised by Lucy Mulholland, and one which I’ve done many many times. The music was excellent, and I almost cried when I identified the strains of Callum’s Road, a tune that means a great deal to me, and one to which I’m devising a dance myself.

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There was a light mizzle outside, so no space station sightings this evening. Luke, a friend who was in my class last year, arrived as he was doing Week 3, and although he wasn’t allowed to dance, we did get a catch up over a drink.
Sunday morning was a reasonably early start. I’d done most of my packing the day before, and after bidding farewell to friends in the dining room, I walked the short distance back to the bus station. This was the journey that had some crucial connections, and the first leg was the 99 Tay service bus to Dundee. This great service goes every 30 minutes, and does a round-the-toon pick up journey before heading north to the Taybridge. So it’s wise to double check whether it’s the 99 A, B, C or D that you’re boarding! A single fare was £4.80, and I sat beside another of the Lyon contingent, who was embarking on a very long and punctuated journey by train, bus and lift back home. This service stops at Leuchars junction, so it is popular with any visitors using the train. It takes half an hour to get to Dundee, which was looking very fine in the Sunday morning light. My bus to Glasgow was due to depart at 10.05, but I felt the 9.30 service from St A didn’t leave me enough of a window should there be delays due to roadworks, or passengers querying the fare, or the wrong kind of mist. So the 9 o’clock bus I’d caught gave me time to get a cup of tea and local delicacy, a Tunnocks teacake in the little café. (As it turned out, the next St A bus WAS late, and arrived with less than a minute before the Glasgow bus departed).
The M9 bus back to Buchanan depot cost £17.10, and took 1 hour 40 minutes. There’s a much better sense of geography when travelling by bus – you get to see place names at junctions and intersections, as well as distance boards so you know how far away you are.

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I made it with no problems onto the 500 shuttle, and arrived at Glasgow airport just as the bag drop desk opened. There was no queue, the security check was short and simple, and I was soon enjoying a Spaghetti Oceana in Frankie & Bennys, which has a lovely view out onto the runway. The boarding process is a necessary evil. It’s good to get the squealing kids out of the way and boarded first, but people seem to like queuing for as long as possible. Me, I prefer to stay seated for as long as possible, especially if there’s assigned seating. I’ve found that using a squishy backpack as my hand luggage is the best option, as it can be shoved under the seat in front, without any elbowing for space in the overhead lockers. It’s the same at the other end, I obey all instruction on seat belts and mobile phones, but I don’t see the point in getting out of my seat and crowding the aisle before the doors have been opened. Baggage reclaim was pretty smooth too, and the only niggly problems were once I’d got outside to meet my husband in the drop-off and pick-up zone. This is always a bit fraught, it’s a badly designed space with a zebra crossing going through the middle of it, and cars wanting to stop in the first available space. Failing that they’ll just stop on double yellow lines or in the middle of the zone. And then there’s always a queue while drivers fish out a pound coin to be released from this hell pit.
But really, it’s a minor inconvenience. Though my husband will be reluctant to be my taxi service at this particular airport in future!

 

Post-script: We all passed, with flying colours!