The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

 The rain that was forecast for yesterday, did not arrive in St Andrews, which is good and bad, good for the tourists, bad for our garden, then again, gardeners like farmers are never happy.

Scotland V England football, after all the hype, ‘guess what?’

We had all the pre-match talk – the game – and then all the post-match talk – and when it was all over – the “Game” was a draw, would you credit that? I did not watch any of it.

The tartan army will head home today, nursing their sore heads, with their empty pockets – and let’s hope that is all they bring home with them. Scotland football supporters must be the most optimistic people in the world.

I was in Paris just after the world rugby cup matches were held there, Scotland had been represented in that competition.

I was dressed for cycle touring in shorts and a bright yellow top, with red rampant lions scattered across its surface. I was carrying my folding bike in a bag over my shoulder, saddlebag in one hand my water bottle in the other as I entered the Metro train. Two teenage lads got on and stood opposite me at the doorway.

One asked

“Unicycle?” I think he thought I was a busker.

“No, bicycle,” I told him in my schoolboy French.

He shook his head – I nodded mine, this was repeated again and again until I finally I unzipped my bag and showed him the folding bicycle.

The lad then asked. – “English?”

I turned my back towards him and showed the words ‘Audax Ecosse’ emblazon across my back.

At this point the young lad snatched the water bottle from my hand, pretended to gulp down its contents, then started to dance around like a lunatic.

The ‘Tartan Army’ had sure left a great impression of native Scots, when they visited Paris.

I am coming to the end of The Black Ship, and yes, they did find in the end and it was authenticated by the finding of the ships bell, inscribed around the bell were the words The – Whydah – Gally – 1716, They had found the only Pirate ship ever discovered in the world.

Now whether Barry Clifford was just that enthusiastic about pirates as he was about pirate ships, or was it simply to pad out the book, I do not know, but the team’s research into the life of pirates was extensive, and made for fascinating reading.

I now know that the Whydah was a slave ship sailing from Africa to the Carolinas with 400 captured slaved chained to the lower decks when it was boarded and taken by the pirate ‘Black Sam Bellamy’ and since it was more to his liking than the one he commanded he put it to the crew and they voted to take the ship as their own.

Freed slaves were given the opportunity to “Sign the Articles” and become pirates themselves, a no brainer since this was the only work an escaped slave could get.

Pirates were a truly democratic society, and clearly not colour prejudice .

Up until reading this book, I knew very little about pirates, and what I did know, was from the American movie industry, mostly a swashbuckling Errol Flynn, the terror of the Spanish Main. It was an eye-opener about their life and travels. We even find pirate ships that were solely manned by Black men. Something United Artists did not mention, well that would have been too sensitive.

We have all heard of “pieces of eight” and that it was a silver coin. But why pieces of eight?

Pieces of Eight

Indian slaves hammered silver ore loose from rock walls, lugged it to the surface from the 900 foot deep mines and ground it into powder, for refining. Mercury was then mixed with the powder to amalgamate with the silver, which was then removed by cooking the amalgam until the mercury boiled off, (Live expectancy in that job must have been very short). It was them cast into discs, bars, or ingots, much of the bullion was converted into coins. Coin-sized slices were chiselled or clipped, these were known as cobs. The cobs were hand-struck between two dies, embossing them with the royal coat of arms on one side and the cross of Spain on the other. Assayer would check the coins for correct weight, clipping off any excess (and I’m sure they were not the only people clipping of parts of the coins) – no two coins were exactly alike. They were struck in denominations of one-half, one, two, four and eight – the largest being known as a “Piece of Eight” (one once). is that not fascinating. As Michael Cane would have said,

“Not many people know that”.

I would like to stop and blether more, but places to go, people to see. I am off to Tayport, meeting up with big brother for a bar lunch, he is off on one of them there bus tours. I think I will press my bus pass into service today, I found cycling home on a full stomach a bit of a pain, last time.

Stay safe.

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