Thursday, 27 January 2022

The Clear Out

We've all been there, right?

You sort through an old box of high school jotters from the attic and have one last nostalgic look at your school days before throwing them out. It feels kind of sad chucking them all in the recycle bin but you just don’t have the space or time to store or peruse them all, and you doubt your family would find them very interesting. Ultimately though you can't shake the feeling you're somehow inhaling the dead skin cells of your old teachers...

But a few things struck me.

1. I never use any of that maths. Algebra, graphs, trigonometry and all that, it turned out, apart from being a stepping stone into university, was a waste of time. Maybe if I’d kept going down the academic road it might have been useful, but the choices I made ultimately lead to an intellectual cultural-de-sac. All those hours spent on French and German. Gone up in smoke. Only my 1st and 2nd Year English jotters filled with stories I saved from the blue bin of doom.

Pythagoras' Theorem has actually helped me to cross parks faster

2. Some of the handouts were still useful even now, such as ‘How to Make electricity’ or ‘What is poison rain?’ or ‘What is a virus?’ And I’ve kept them, along with any decent booklets.

3. I was (was?) quite immature for my age. All through the jotters are doodles and daft jokes and weird concepts. It’s surprising I ever passed anything. I ought to ease up on my own son.

4. Where were the real ‘useful to life’ notes? Like: 

  • Health and Nutrition? 
  • Mental Wellbeing? 
  • Relationships?  
  • How to combat Global Warming? 
  • Self Reliance? 
  • Renewable Energy Generation? 
  • Growing your own Fruit and Vegetables?  
  • The Dangers of Social Media? 
  • Staying Focussed? 
  • Organisation? 
  • Business? 
  • Car Maintenance? 
  • SEO? 
  • How to get More Followers? 
  • How to Create Engaging Posts? 
  • How to Get Rich Making and Playing Video Games? 
But of course half of those were not an issue in the 90s and the other half I wasn’t interested in.

5. I was not bad at doodling but never pursued it. I remember saying to someone when they asked what I wanted to do with my life was to be a cartoonist. Their reply was that it wasn’t a real job and I could do that in my free time. Probably true, but that was the end of my cartooning aspirations. Later I learned that cartoonists can earn up to £200 a day.

6. Where were my old diaries?

From the age of 15 onwards (1991) I kept intermittent diaries, usually the hardback day-to-a-page ones from John Menzies. It was nigh on impossible to write a page every day, and the guilt from having so many blank pages eventually lead me to abandon that format in my later years for regular notebooks without dates. 

Anyway, on New Year’s Eve I would sit down and read through all I’d written that year and enjoy a good old chuckle at my past self’s expense. Now I’m 46 I don’t do that anymore. Who has the time to write a diary these days, let alone sit down and read it again?

No-one. Because life is too fast and furious. We’re rattling around like a steel orbs in a pinball game, bouncing off the internet, the news, social media, websites, people’s expectations, 24/7 business, a constant barrage of advertising and people clamouring to be noticed. Lights flash, bells ding, no-one has time or energy to think. 

The planet that never sleeps.

But what’s going to happen to my diaries when I’m dead and gone? Will my family read them? Will anyone care? Will they just throw them out to be lost forever? My son might read them, but why should I expect him to sit down and plow through 8 or 9 volumes of handwritten stream of consciousness, some of which might not be suitable (let alone legible) for his eyes?

So I’ve come to realise that I need an editor. And a typist. But I can’t afford either.

As usual, it's just me.

So I’ve fished them out and as a side project (as if I don’t have enough side projects already) I may type up any interesting bits and publish them here on my blog.

90s nostalgia and teenage angst. Coming soon.

Saturday, 11 September 2021

A Spot Of Gardening

I hadn't done much in the garden recently, I must confess. The neighbours' incessant noisy dogs barking, angry shouting, loud radio and arguments have pretty much destroyed any enjoyment I'd hoped to get out of the garden. It's gotten to the stage we hardly use the back door any more in order to avoid the commotion. The back garden is in danger of falling into neglect. 

The avocado seems to be doing well
Nevertheless, my son and I stuck a bunch of potatoes in the new plot in the spring and since then I've been weeding a bit and watering over the dry months, but other than that it's just been a case of crossing my fingers and hoping for a big yield. Since this is the first weekend I've had off in what seems like forever, I thought I'd spend a bit of time going round the garden and seeing what's to be seen.

Space for Plot 3 on right before plum tree
When we moved in I instantly envisioned three strips of arable plots for crop rotation: brassicas, legumes and root vegetables. I dug up the second plot last summer (if I remember rightly. It's all been a bit of a blur since Covid reared its ugly head) and the plan should have been to dig up the third and final one this summer, but to be honest my spirit was not in it. Plus I was beginning to realise - more land needs more water. And more work. So I really need to get another water butt as well as get off my own.

Anyway, it's not too late. Maybe I can do some tomorrow morning. (Yeah right.)

This morning's fruit harvest
The great things about growing your own veg, even as a beginner, are: exercise, fresh air, cheap organic food, better for the environment, low carbon footprint. It's also educational for the kids. "Look, remember the potatoes I made you plant against your will and you complained about being dragged away from your screens for five minutes three months ago?" "Nope." "Well, look at this." "That's great, Dad. Big wow. Potatoes. Dude, I'm 12 years old, did you care about potatoes when you were 12?" "No, I was spending all my time watching TV and throwing cake ingredients at neighbours' windows." "Riiight."

Hopefully get a few more mini toms before the frost sets in
First I poked my head in the greenhouse, after using a stick to de-spider-web the place of course. Nothing better than getting a cobweb, several dead flies, spider exoskeletons and arachnid babies in your hair just after a shower. I plucked a napping snail off the inside of a pane and cast it onto the front lawn, where it tumbled to a halt near the hedge, no doubt thinking to itself, "WTF!" or whatever the snail equivalent is. Then I talked to the tomato plants. I apologised for ignoring them, I said thank you for their fruit. I asked them how their day was. The usual. They didn't respond but I like to think they appreciated it. 

The Monster Beetroot may soon get up and walk by itself
The beetroot was doing well. Not sure whether to dig it up now or leave it a bit longer. I imagine it might rot if I leave it in too long.

The strawberry
Then I examined the strawberry plant. Interesting thing about that is, last year it was overcome by grass until I left it for dead for several months. The grass died out but the strawberry survived. Now it has its pot pretty much to itself. Maybe I should rehome it.

I looked at one end of the potato plot. Gathered three containers : one for weeds, dead plant stems and mouldy spuds destined for the compost; one for plastic or other inorganic matter that somehow found itself into the previous compost and therefore soil, destined for the rubbish bin, and a third for potatoes, destined for the kitchen. Got a spade and steeled myself for some hard, back-breaking, physical labour.

About 40 minutes later and some minor back pains I had half a sack of spuds and 1/6 of the plots had been turned over. Looked pretty good. Very satisfying. Didn't want to stop because the sight of potatoes popping up just by turning over the soil is always very rewarding. Food from the ground. Hooda thunk?

5.1 kg
The compost went into the compost, the rubbish went into the rubbish, the spuds went into the kitchen. I went for a lie down. 

Job done.

Brenda The Carrot

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Heart Of Scotland 4 : Aberfeldy & Dun Coillich

Woke up at around 6:30am and decided to try my hand with the volcano kettle. Unfortunately we were only allowed to make a fire in the fire pit at the corner of the campsite near the river, which made lighting with the zippo problematic. Also, the sticks we'd harvested from the bush near our house turned out to be not very flammable. Experimented with building a small fire with kettle on it first, which didn't work, then starting the fire first and putting the kettle on top, which burnt my hands, before trying to light a fire outside the fire pit, which someone else had done on the sand, which didn't work either. Luckily, however, between the three ways the water had, although not boiled, gotten hot enough to make coffee.

We had a nice breakfast and I began to feel better after my volcanic failure. Used the gas stove to heat more water for tea. Ahh, technology!

At some point we realised our son had left his walking boots outside the car in the car park back in Callander 50 miles away. Wonderful. No doubt because he'd been so absorbed by the crappy blue cap gun and its crappy silencer. I'd toyed with the idea of driving  back to see if they were still there (50% chance of that, I reckoned) but in the end decided the two hour round-trip, cost of fuel, wear and tear on the car etc. all probably accumulated to about the same cost of a new pair of boots. So we decided to drive in to Aberfeldy for some new ones instead.

Castle Menzies

Stopped at Castle Menzies for coffee and carrot cake. If my second name had been Menzies we may have even forked out the twenty odd quid to go round the museum. (Actually on second thoughts I'd probably have felt we should have gotten in for free!) Saw a stallion urinating in a field round the back. That was a first. No idea if he was Italian so don't ask.

Aberfeldy Cinema Cafe Bar
Aberfeldy, described (perhaps a little unfairly) in the Lonely Planet Guide To Scotland as "a shabby town and rough after dark", seemed fine to me. We parked behind Tesco and walked up to the centre where we saw a nice cinema/cafe/bar and had lunch in the Fountain. (There I killed a wasp with said Lonely Planet and put another outside by trapping it within two coke glasses, elevating myself to undisputed wasp-exiting legend in the eyes of staff and customers both). I had lasagne, my wife had a baked potato, and our son had an enormous cheese burger and chips which I helped him finish (Delicious. The clever lad had even had the forethought to put a few chips in the burger). 

There was a guy outside at a table who was the spitting image of Eric Clapton and I was tempted to go out and ask for his autograph (even if it was "To Chris, all the best, Dave").

Made our way up the road apiece to a shop called Munros which had some good walking boots and a face scarf for our boy, 4 replacement Maglight bulbs (which I'd been searching for for about twenty years), and a bunch of other great stuff. Very helpful staff too. 

Made sure to get the hell out before sunset.

Climbing Dun Coillich

After stocking up on supplies we drove back to the campsite, and I decided I was going to climb the hill at the back called Dun Coillich (572m - known as a Marilyn on Our son said he'd join me.

We drove up the 500 yards to the car park (as per the campsite owner's advice) only to find a message on my phone from wifey asking us to bring the cool box back to the campsite to put the recently purchased perishables into. So we drove back to the campsite, off-loaded said cool box, and returned to the car park (I got the turning right this time) and at last set off.

Our route up Dun Coillich.
Note Geographical Centre Of Scotland nearby

The way was marked with green and white markers which helped greatly. (If only life was thus signposted. "Fame and Stardom 50yds on left") They were painted stakes stuck in the ground every 20 yards or so. We were to follow green & white until roughly between the two hills, and there was to be another path branching off to the right that would hopefully take us up to the peak. I was wearing my blue shorts, waterproof jacket and JCB work boots. Son was in new boots, black trousers and black jacket. I thought to take the umbrella just in case. Turned out good we did as it f*&^ing p*^&(*ed down.

I was a little concerned about ticks and checked and rubbed my legs continuously. My son and I took turns taking point and pushing on through the ferns, nettles and showers as best we could. It wasn't long before our feet were thoroughly soaked, and the hill didn't seem to be getting any closer, although the views of the campsite below were definitely getting better and further away. My son kept voicing his concerns and I did my best to encourage him and press onwards and upwards. It helped to focus on our feet and not fret about the immensity of the task ahead.

Whose idea was this again?

At last we came to the turn off - white dots on green. We turned right at a red marker and followed the new ones up between two more peaks, unsure which one we'd be scaling. It got pretty steep and we decided to just keep our heads down and rest at every marker. After the steep bit it levelled out again and a little later we came to a solitary, final marker in the mist, but no cairn. And it didn't feel like we'd reached the top. Felt more like we were in a saddle. But no more markers. On a hunch we headed up the right hand slope, doubling back southwards, just tramping over the shallow heather/gorse/bracken, slightly ascending and looking back now and then to keep the final marker in our sights.

The cairn! Damn, forgot to bring a rock. Back to the bottom!

We made it! After about a hundred yards we reached the top, and simultaneously found the cairn, saw a cloudy, mist-laden panoramic view, and were blasted in the face by quasi-sleet being blown hard at a 30º angle. We only paused at the top to take a couple of out-of-focus selfies, partake in one or two well-earned high fives and catch our breath before withdrawing to the lee-side of our approach and back to the relative safety of the final marker.

Click to expand

Coming down we were rewarded every few yards with what seemed like a different photo opportunity, and there was a lot of fishing in the pouch for the camera to snap a great view. It had taken us about an hour to get to the top and we took our way down slowly and carefully.

This, however, did not prevent me from twisting my left ankle badly and taking a tumble, ending up with a few spikes from some thistle or other in my palm, but otherwise unscathed. Fortunately this happened near the foot of the hill. Turns out my JCB steel-toe capped workbooks were not suitable for hillwalking after all.

These boots were not made for walking
Glad also it was me and not my son, because that would have put him off hill-walking for life and completely negated the whole point of the character-building exercise.

We got back to the car and my ankle felt fine. Very glad of the walking stick I'd bought on instinct in Callander. Poured water out of our boots. Dried off as best we could. Note to self: Have dry shoes, socks and a towel in the car next time you go hiking in Scotland.

The descent also took about an hour, meaning a round trip of two hours up and down. Would have been 1:45 without tumble and selfies.

Really glad of the automatic Toyota as we drove down the hill back to the campsite (no need to use left foot on clutch).

Anyway, it was a great experience and I hope my son will carry it on in the future.

We treated ourselves to a hot chocolate as a reward

Friday, 6 August 2021

Heart Of Scotland 3 : Glengoulandie

We packed up, checked out and assured the nice Chinese man at reception that everything had been perfect even though it would have been more beneficial for him to know that it wasn't perfect for the simple reasons that:

1) I had no bedside table until we bought the camping one

2) there were no biscuits with the tea and coffee

3) breakfast had not been included (even though I hadn't paid for or ordered any)

Map of Callander (click to enlarge) 

   My wife wanted to stroll around town again so we did that and stopped at our usual place for coffee and danish. The young woman who was assisting the boss quipped some very funny one-liners in a kind of laid-back, stoner style which made me want to sign her up immediately for a podcast. Instead, we ordered our brunch, including among other things a gluten-free muffin for my intolerant wife. She opened the wrapping and then decided to read the ingredients. Turned out the muffin had gluten coming out of its ears. It had gluten up the wazoo. It had more gluten than you could shake a stick at. It was basically a wheat muffin. She was not impressed. I was charged with returning the product and informing the owner of the extent of its glutenness maximus. The owner was mortified, very apologetic and grateful we had pointed it out as her child was also gluten intolerant and appreciated how bad a situation it could have become. They gave us a refund and our son a free apple & cinnamon bun that was so delicious he ended up eating half the wrapper. Luckily it had no nuts in it because that would have been ... ironic.

   After getting a new fishing reel and a cheap, crappy, blue cap gun with no caps included (I had not been privy to this transaction) for our son, I wanted to at least do one of the walks in the booklets I'd procured from the tourist info. So we set off, with our car and roof-box all fully packed and ready to go, in search of Bracklinn Falls. We drove up to the woods, changed into our walking boots, and set off.

Bracklinn Falls
   It was a pleasant stroll and a good choice for a small family training for the Munros I thought. We were to go along, over a bridge, up the other side, over another bridge and back down to the car park. Sadly though, our walk was cut short as the first bridge near the falls was shut for maintenance, so we had no choice but to retrace our steps (deja vu, I know). 
A nice bridge, but alas currently not functional

   We got into the car, changed our shoes (while my son complained about the crappiness of the crappy silencer on his crappy blue cap gun that had no caps) and headed to Tesco's for supplies before setting off on the next leg of our four-legged journey, along the top of Loch Tay to Glengoulandie campsite.

   On the way I tried to progress our son's musical education with a listen to 'Hour Of The Bewilderbeast' by Badly Drawn Boy, but to my dismay he fell asleep almost instantly. At least he didn't throw up.

Map to Glen Goulandie Campsite
   I had hoped to stop somewhere on the north bank of Loch Tay to spark up the volcano kettle but unfortunately the road was too high for access, so we had no choice to drive on. I took a turn prematurely (Ooh, Matron) and we had a moment of disorientation (at one point there were three cars pausing at an intersection probably all thinking the same thing - where the fuck are we?) before realising we could just continue parallel to the road we'd been on towards Coshieville, hang a left, and push on through the driving rain up the 1.5 track road to the campsite. Our son was no help, snoring as he was in the passenger seat, blissfully unaware of either Badly Drawn Boy or our moment of being lost.
No idea what this is

   Our son came to just as we pulled into the campsite, we checked in (very nice couple) and succeeded in getting the big green tent up in between showers. What hassle that was! All the doors and windows had been left open and the guy ropes were all loose and tying the thing up. The beast was half inside-out. We'd put in the groundsheet too early and the straps which were now over the groundsheet should have been under it. It was like trying to put a lime-green, screaming toddler octopus into a car seat.

Warning: Both male and female chickens check these toilets

   The shop only sold coffee, snacks and other essentials, so we had to depend on what we'd purchased from Tesco for the night and breakfast tomorrow. We dined in the tent at the table, played some cards and D & D and went to bed when the light failed badly enough for us to not be able to read the monster character cards. I didn't sleep that great, but if I'd known how bad it was going to be the next night I would have appreciated it more.

A view of Glengoulandie Campsite. Deer abound
   The soporific sounds of raindrops on tent carried us off on a one-way ticket to airbed unconsciousness. 

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Heart Of Scotland 2 : Beinn Dearg

Woke up still a bit painful behind the eyes and almost threw up attempting to look at myself in the mirror. Now I know how other people feel. (Having to look at my face, I mean, not their own). 

After nursing a gentle breakfast of croissants, fruit and coffee, though, I began to come around while watching Nightmare Kitchens USA with Gordon Ramsay, which was a lot of fun (I mean he was on TV, not we were sharing a room). I used to work as a waiter and kitchen porter so I can totally understand where he's coming from a lot of the time. It's very satisfying seeing him butt heads with people who think they're king of the castle.

A beautiful big church dominates Callander square

After breakfast, it being a much cooler, cloudier, breezier day, we strolled down the north side of the street and popped in and out of occasional stores that piqued our interest. In the hope of musically educating our son during car journeys I bought a couple of CDs (Finley Quaye ("It's great when we're together..." A Scottish musician!) and Badly Drawn Boy). A cup of coffee and apricot danish which we (I) enjoyed while sitting outside near the church went down well and put paid to my headache. The Main Street was so busy with caravans and motorhomes it seemed that Callander was just a place to pause in transit - or just drive through - on the way to and from other spots for most people.

Some nice architecture in town

We continued our stroll and bought the last camping table in Regatta for £25 (which would turn out to be invaluable), an ornate walking stick for £30 in the fishing/camping shop (to fight off wolves and bears while climbing Munros), and a Dungeons and Dragons starter pack for £25 in the games shop. "I haven't tried this one yet," said the shop assistant, "but I want to." "Something to play with the kids," I said, and then worried it sounded like I thought role playing games were not a dignified way for adults to spend their time, "And myself of course!"

Don't forget to hashtag Hashtag
We came home, had a very nice lunch, and my son and I played the first half of D & D and killed a few monsters using too many dice with too many sides, before going out to attempt to climb a nearby hill called Beinn Dearg (427m). 

I was beginning to realise that a Munro was out of the question for my family to do together, so a touch of training was in order. I scanned the walkhighlands website for nearby hills under 2000 feet, and Beinn Dearg came up.

The path to Beinn Dearg never did run smooth
 Only trouble was, there was no route to the top according to Walkhighlands. There was a path halfway up and then Google just drew a rather optimistic 'as the crow flies' blue dotted curve to the summit. On closer inspection there seemed to be a line through the trees I thought we could follow. So we set off in the car around 3pm. There must be a way, I thought, if there's a will.
A mountain to the north, viewed from Beinn Dearg, capped with cloud

The drive southwest from Callander was pleasant enough, and it was easy to find the car park next to the loch (we could have used the volcano kettle on the shore but alas no coffee, milk, tea or sugar! (note to self : keep stuff together!))

The views along Loch Venachar from Beinn Dearg were well worth it

We walked up a zigzag forestry commission road which allowed for some great views up and down the loch, but after 45 minutes' climb it just stopped at a viewpoint, and the trees uphill seemed impenetrable. Insects were also beginning to devour my wife. Turned out there was neither a will nor a way, so we retraced our steps. Failed to reach top but good starter hike for us all. Total walk round trip: 90 mins. Then back to town.

Who could forget that shop where we bought the fudge?
What was it called again?
Went back to the hotel after waiting 50 mins for our order to be made up at the Chinese Village restaurant (I was about to walk out before ordering (as I'm sure Gordon Ramsay would have done) but we were assured it was worth the wait by a couple who left, and it was. To be fair, everywhere in Callander seemed to be short-staffed, probably due to the change in lockdown restrictions. We got prawn fried rice, sweet & sour chicken and I had a kind of sweet garlic and honey chicken strips thing with boiled rice and a side order of prawn crackers. It was delicious and we stuffed our faces with plenty to spare. They'd even given us an extra order of fried rice, either by mistake or by way of apology. Very kind!

This could be Rotterdam.

After finishing our game of D & D, our son was out like a light and we all followed suit.

Next - Part 3 : Glengoulandie

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Heart Of Scotland 1 : Callander

I had the vague notion of wanting to do some hiking this trip, possibly an easier Munro or two (Scottish mountain over 3000 feet), so I researched the route using a combination of for the hotels, walk for the Munros, and and Google for the campsites. The plan was to alternate between two nights in a B&B and two nights at a campsite : total 8 nights.

Ben Vorlich (985m) was supposedly a good one for beginners, and seemed within easy reach of Callander.

Our Intended Route
Before leaving, I spent the morning searching high and low for the fishing reel for our son's rod and tidying up the (blisteringly hot) shed, but to no avail. (Note to self: keep all your stuff together) In the end we had lunch at home (onigiri rice balls) and set out for Callander at around 2:30pm.

The Dreadnought Hotel

We checked in to the Dreadnought (£161 for two nights, room for three), put the bags in the room, and then went to reacquaint ourselves with the town. We bought fish and chips which we ate near the grassy knoll at the river, followed by the mother and father of all ice cream cones (mine was choc chip in a chocolate-dipped cone costing £5.50!)

Shops have amusing names in Callander

After strolling along the river to a play park and across the street, a woman stopped us to expound the faults of the mini golf course next to the hotel, slamming it repeatedly and mercilessly, recommending the one instead near the river, saying it was, 'much better.' We thanked her for her advice, but it was all moot anyway as they were both closed. 

On The Grassy Knoll - a Bon Motte (The Hill Of St Kessog)

We bought some breakfast supplies in Tesco (the hotel booking was room only) where my wife met the 'crazy golf lady' again who set forth the pros and cons of various shelf items in the supermarket. 

By the time we got back to the hotel and upstairs I had developed the mother, father and great grand parent of all head-aches. I lay on the bed feeling terrible while my wife and son watched TV and enjoyed their first night on holiday. I realised later that the headache was probably due to the heat of working in the shed earlier and dehydration, coupled with a sugar rush. The salty fish supper probably hadn't helped much either.

What a way to start the trip!

Next - Part 2 : Beinn Dearg

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Rename Sunday Earthday

On Sundays we used to rest. Nap. Potter around. Remember? Spend time with family. Because nothing was open. Perhaps the reason for this has changed, as beliefs change, but the effect was kind to the planet. And us. It gave the planet one day to breathe. And us a chance to relax.

As you may have heard, 97% of peer-reviewed scientists who studied climate change "endorsed the consensus that humans are causing global warming."

This is a problem for us on Earth, but not so much for the sun.

The sun can look after itself. We need to protect the earth. For this reason I propose we change the name of Sunday to Earthday, and on this day

  • close shops and businesses
  • limit non essential travel
  • pedestrianise suitable roads
  • encourage cycling, skating and other non fossil-fuel burning activities
  • encourage local protests, demonstrations, talks in aid of the earth
  • encourage meetings in local parks or halls for music, storytelling, poetry
  • discourage non-renewable energy use
  • plant trees locally
  • celebrate our planet

Knowing our current situation is unsustainable, we should and eventually must change our ways as a tribe, country, people, species. It's that simple.

Better late than never. But what if late is too late? Imagine the good it could do.

Add your support to this cause by signing the petitionThis petition is to the People Of The World. This means you. Because we don't need to ask anyone's permission to rename Sunday Earthday. New words are added to the dictionary every year. Because language changes. So we can just start doing it. 

Image credit