I had a terrific day out with the Formerly Tropical Godparents. Between 11 and 5.30 we had: brilliant sunshine, rain, snow, more brilliant sunshine, a blizzard, sun … the weather, in short, was cycling dementedly between all available possibilities short of whirling us off to the land of Oz. The trajectory of this expedition was up the Deveron, over the hills and far away to the Spey valley, up the Spey and over the high mountain pass which takes you down towards the coast and the valley of the Findhorn. With all the geans and the larches out, it was absolutely beautiful. The idea was to end up at Auldearn, where there is a splendid salvage/antique centre from which we have bought all kinds of good stuff over the years. We stopped for lunch at Grantown on Spey, which is quite one of the prettiest of Highland towns: looking for somewhere to have something modest but warming, the obvious spot seemed to be the Grant Arms … this came as a bit of a shock. Formerly Tropical Godpapa and I both have clear views about highland hotels. After all that fresh air and weather, they should be faintly and comfortingly reminiscent of a cave. There should be a huge fire, tartan carpet, antlers, and pseudo Landseers, or at the very least, hunting prints. This poor old thing, which had a very promising Victorian exterior, must have been bought by some kind of international chain because the bar was the blandest Style International mind could conceive, wrong for place and climate in all respects. Our soup and sandwich was perfectly nice, but perhaps the most subtle indication of the hotel’s lack of faith in itself was that the Light Bites menu, after Soup and a Sandwich and before Scone, was ‘warm toast with butter and jam’. Warm, that is to say, not hot, a detail which reminds one of Edith Sitwell’s ‘Scotch Hotel’ in Facade. Nothing absolutely wonderful turned up at Auldearn, perhaps fortunately, though Godpapa did find a nice brass letterbox,, and Godmama bought a length of houndstooth tweed: but as always, it is a lovely shop, and it was certainly a grand day out. One of Auldearn’s offerings was an aneroid barometer: this handsome item of Victorian hall furniture was set at ‘Changeable’, and how right it was. The really miraculous aspect of the day, though, was that our various prowlings contrived to take place in sunlight, and whenever it hailed or snowed on us, we were safely ensconced in a nice warm car.