Thursday, 30 November 2006

Royal Exchange Square In Winter

I am determined that one of year I am going to take a photograph that does this scene justice. I'm not normally a fan of Christmas street lighting, in my opinion most displays end up looking cheap, gaudy and tacky but for the past few years the lighting around Royal Exchange Square in Glasgow has looked impressive. I'm not sure whether its the buildings that lend themselves to being showered in light or if its down to the fact that someone has taken the time to design an imaginative sympathetic display but whatever the reason that it looks so good at this time of the year doesn't really matter. What matter's is that I can't seem to take a decent photograph of it.
Last year my pictures came out all blurry, this year they were a little better but I wasn't able to stand where I wanted to for traffic going back So I couldn't get the full scene shot but I'll get it next year. The pictures might even be better too, next year I'll upgrade my compact camera to an SLR. What is it they say about people who blame their tools?

It's Called -The Law Of Averages

The Law Of Averages dictates that you have good days and bad days. A good day may mean that you aren't involved in any accidents, not even close to being involved in an accident. Such days are good they might even be great but fate likes to even up the score a little bit by throwing a spanner in the works and have days where you have many opportunities to be involved in an accident. Those are the types of day that its probably safer to stay in bed.
It turned out to be one of those days for me today. I knew it from the off. I woke up, it was winter, it was still dark my body was saying "Stay in bed." Of course I ignored it and thought about all that work I couldn't get done if I stayed in bed. So I crawled out of bed and stepped into the shower and promptly slid on excess shower gel and narrowly avoided crashing through the glass screen. Fun! Still alive I dried myself off, got dressed and walked out the door. Only to find myself almost run over by the idiot riding his motorcycle on the pavement. I narrowly avoided getting my feet run over by jumping onto a wall. I never knew I had such dexterity that early in the morning but apparently I do when my toes are at risk. Potential accident number 2 averted it was time to go to work. No sooner had I got in the van and the god of fate was playing his little games again. I got myself strapped into the seat and inched the van out of the tight parking space only to find that I obviously wasn't moving fast enough for Mr Minidriver who was determined to reverse into my space before I had the chance to move out of it.
You would think drivers of Mini's would be sensible when choosing who to have an altercation with - white van drivers wouldn't be my choice if I drove a mini but then I have more common sense than that. Personally I avoid fights that I cannot possibly win but then again I can still be an idiot. Despite managing to avoid 3 accidents I still walked straight into one, literally. Once I got to my destination without any problems I got out the van, opened up the back door, and stepped inside remembering to duck my head underneath the ceiling, only I didn't duck quite low enough. Whack!
It was a little bit painful but I checked my head and it was still attached to my neck and no blood was spilled so I carried on what I was doing. Two minutes later though and my head looked like it was trying to recreate the scene the last time that Mount Etna erupted. Blood was pouring out and using my hand to put weight on the wound didn't seem to be having much effect. Strangely enough at first I was more concerned about how I was going to get my jacket clean, there's nothing like a gaping wound in the head to discover the priorities in life. Although when I looked down on the floor of the van and realised I was standing on a puddle of blood I did take things a little more seriously.
Luckily the rugby club was open so I washed out the wound and waited for the blood to clot and went to the hospital. Where I waited for 4 hours before I was seen, getting the chance to wash the blood off my face probably wasn't so lucky after all. Eventually I got seen by a doctor with an Australian accent who stitched up my wound. Sadly I didn't get a lollipop with my stitches like I did for my last set (I was only 5 then). Instead I got the adult equivalent of the lollipop - a four hour fee for using the car park. Excuse me for not using an ambulance!
It's nice how the government kick you when you are down, free health care but only if you don't use the parking facilities. Of course I shouldn't really have drove to the hospital with a head wound but I wasn't exactly thinking straight at that point.
Anyway the reason I told you this story is so that the next time you think it would be a good idea to stay in bed you can tell yourself its not for laziness but for safety reasons.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

May I Say Something?

Yes Blogger I am talking to YOU.

When I take the time to type a post or a comment I expect it to be published, I do not expect it to disappear into the dark hidden depths of cyberspace never to be seen again because that is just pointless.

Ok I'm done now, carry on!

Saturday, 25 November 2006

When you come to Scotland I’ll make you eat a haggis.

That’s what I said 8 months ago to a few American friends of mine when they first arranged to come over for a visit. It all began harmless enough they were coming here for a visit and being the charming host I was going to forcefeed them haggis and so the banter started. After a couple of weeks one of them was smart enough to do some research and find out what a haggis was, their reaction was too respond with “ No fucking way am I eating a haggis , there is no way I am eating a sheep’s heart, lungs and liver, I don’t care how much onion and oatmeal is mixed in to disguise the taste, boiling all that together inside a sheep’s stomach has got to be the most disgusting thing I’ve heard!”

Before I had much time to think I quickly said “Och I don’t know who is been telling you that story but that’s a tale we tell foreigners so that we get the haggis all to ourselves. The haggis is a rare animal that only lives in the remotest quietest glens of Scotland
. We don’t know why it only lives here. In fact we don’t know much about it at all other than it tastes quite delicious. But even though it does taste rather good we as Scots do feel kind of responsible for its survival and we don’t want it to go the same way as the dodo bird. So we created the myth that the haggis was made up of sheep’s parts that no-one in the right mind would want to eat. This does two things, firstly it allows us as Scots to hunt and enjoy the taste of haggis on the 8 permitted weeks of the year that we are allowed to do so without threatening to wipe out the species, secondly it allows the haggis to breed and do whatever it does the rest of the year without interference.
You see in this country we don’t mind taking money from people who want to go looking for the Loch Ness Monster because quite frankly if you are stupid enough to believe in Nessie then you don’t deserve to have money in your back pocket. Thousands of tourists come over every year just for the sole purpose of Nessie spotting, you have no idea how many stupid people there are in this world. But that did teach us one thing. If it ever got out that haggis was a rare breed of animal found nowhere else but Scotland we’d have thousands of people coming over every year trying to spot a haggis and some of those people would bring guns and go haggis trophy hunting and very likely the haggis would go the same way as the Tasmanian Tiger. Or some of them would end up being caught, caged and sent to zoos all over the world and there wouldn’t be enough of them left in the wild to successfully breed. For whatever reason the haggis has made its home in
Scotland, maybe it likes the rain, the air, the mountains or the heather or the man eating midge. Whatever the reason it doesn’t really matter, what matters is it seems to like it here and nowhere else, it might not even be able to survive anywhere else so the people of Scotland are very proud of the haggis and act like its guardian. We even have a special day to celebrate this guardianship, it’s a bit like thanksgiving really only we don’t eat turkey, we hunt haggis and kill one, only one, we take it home and on the 25th of January we have a big family get together, with traditional music and dance and at the end of the night we recite a poem written by Robert Burns ‘Address to a Haggis’ before we sit down and eat it. It’s a respect thing, it’s a bit like saying ‘Thank you Lord for this wonderful meal…’, only different”

Now I’m normally quick witted but I even surprised myself at how quick I came up with that reply. By the time I was done speaking they didn’t know what to believe anymore, I was quite proud of myself actually but I still knew there was enough doubt in their minds to not quite believe me but I kept it up for another two weeks that they were going to eat haggis when they got here when one of them went “Can we go haggis hunting first? That sounds like so much fun.” At first I tried to put them off by saying “I can’t. I wish I could but in this country you can’t even go salmon fishing without a special permit, for haggis hunting the rules are even more strict you need a licence that proves that you are Scottish and that you respect and care for the animal and will only shoot what you can eat and no more.”

And so it began, hook, line and sinker I was drawing them in to believing the story of the haggis and the hunt. The more I said it wasn’t possible for them to go haggis hunting the more interested they were. Funny how the mind works. Eventually after some persistence on their part I came up with the solution and told them of a remote place that I knew where haggis bred in small numbers and where we might not get caught hunting them illegally without permits but they’d have to “promise to not tell a soul, you have to keep the secret of the haggis if you can promise this then I will take you all to a kilt hire shop and get you dressed up and looking the part, then later I’ll take you to a clay pigeon range to practice your aim. And if your shot is expert enough we will go haggis hunting and anything we shoot we’ll take home with us and eat that night. But we’ll only do that if you promise to keep the secret of the haggis and your aim is good enough, we want to kill the haggis dead on impact not watch it suffer in agony because of a bad shot, that would be cruel.”

It’s probably been 6 months that I have kept this promised haggis hunt going and last night we were talking about the trip and they got excited about December the 2nd, the big day, the haggis hunt day. They arrive at the end of next week. I’m almost tempted to take them to the kilt hire shop, discreetly slip a £20 note to the shop owner so as to encourage him to tell a few haggis hunting tales whilst I arrange for the clay pigeon shoot lesson and transport to a remote mountain range but then again if I get them drunk on whisky and there are no haggis to hunt I might be taking my life in my own hands. Ah decisions, decisions, when to come clean.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

So What Do You Look For?

I'm a private person so I'm not really one for talking about my relationships or my sexual exploits and quite frankly I don't care enough to listen to others when they talk about their own perfect or imperfect relationships. Over the years I have become quite an expert at avoiding being drawn into such conversations. It's always easier to do this when in a group. 'Damn, my cup's empty, anyone want a refill?', works well enough. Of course that excuse doesn't so good if you are only with one person, then they will just follow you bringing the conversation with them. Today though I was with a group of friends so when the conversation turned to something I had no interest in I called upon my one of excuse-to-leave-the-room moments and made my escape, sadly I didn't time my return quite right.
I got back just in time to hear
Ah crap, I've been spotted.
"What do you look for before you ask a girl out?"
Great, I hate these questions.
"What do you mean?"

"You know, do you like blondes or brunettes, short or tall girls, what do you prefer?"

"I don't know, I don't really have a list of conditions."

At this moment I heard an audible gasp in the corner of the room like it was a crime not to have a predefined list of preferences on a sheet of paper somewhere that had to be ticked off before a relationship could even be considered.

"Well how do you know who to go out with then?"

"I don't, but then I don't go into the supermarket only looking for pasta and if the store has no pasta walk straight back out again. I don't always know what I want when I go shopping but I've not starved yet."
I felt sure at this point that the conversation might take a change in direction but alas not quite yet.
"You must know what you want and what you like...."

"Not really. I either like someone or I don't but I don't set conditions, I suppose I've never been out with a black girl or an asian girl but its not because I deliberately rule them out. I don't know many black girls, not many live near me. I did see an attractive Chinese girl the other day but I didn't ask her out, not because she was Chinese but because I don't tend to chat up women when they are busy refueling their car. Perhaps thats me being discriminatory, maybe I'm missing an opportunity, I'm sure a lot of women who refuel their cars are really nice women and some of them might even be single. I’ve never been one for making lists of the do’s and don’ts, yes’s and no’s when looking at the opposite sex. I don’t believe in making lists of requirements, nor do I believe in scoring people off as potential partners because of hair colour, height, physical features or religion. I am very much of the equal opportunities kind of guy mindset. After all I’m no relationship expert I don’t really know who is going to be that perfect woman for me until I meet her. I’m not the perfect man myself so who am I to make a list and rate people accordingly? I've been out with two Scot's, a Kiwi and an Italian, I might have went out with other nationalities if the opportunity arose but it didn't. It's true all my ex's were brunettes or redheaded but I'm not totally against going out with a blonde, its just Michelle Pfeiffer has never phoned. Maybe she doesn't have my number or maybe I just don't tick all the right boxes for her. It's a shame, but I'll survive."

And with that the conversation was changed to how cold it was outside. There is a god!
However during a quiet moment when I brain seemed to have nothing better to do I started thinking maybe I didn't take the conversation serious enough. Maybe I do have a list of of wants, do's and don'ts. Maybe it would be easier to find that perfect person for me if I too had a list, so I went about making my list. It's not a big list but its a start, I might add more later or I might not. But here's what I've got so far....

  1. She Must Know How To Wipe Her Own Arse - If I ever have to wash skid marks out of anyone's panties, they should belong to a child, not an adult. Yes, I can do washing, I’m a modern man, I can even separate the whites from the coloured clothing. Even if my chosen partner insists in doing the washing (I wouldn’t argue with her if she did, there is enough of a lazy caveman in me not to give a damn about doing the washing for myself and quite frankly I could think of more important things to argue about), there will be occasions where I get particularly amorous and try and remove her panties during a spontaneous moment of uncontrolled passion. Discovering that she is unable to manage the simple act of wiping her own bum might lead to a sudden change of heart during a lust filled moment.

  2. On That Note She Must Have Good Hygiene – She must shower or bathe at least once a day. No dodgy body odour. Must brush her teeth at least twice a day. She must never need to be asked to go do this. Oh and no strange fishy smells. I might sound picky but it's a preference. I don't really like to say things like "Has anyone ever told you that you stink!" I probably wouldn't say that to anyone because I don't really like to hurt people but unfortunately I do have a rather expressive face at times. I can't always control it, it has a habit of giving away what I'm thinking. Especially during awkward moments like that.

  3. She Must Not Be A Man Hater If she hates men, I ain’t going to change her nor will I want to. She has to like men. Yet there is a balance to this, she can’t like them so much that I have to worry about her infidelity. Oh and no men beaters need apply, I don’t hit women, but neither am I going to stick around and take a beating. I will just walk away.

  4. I’m Not A DIY Project – By that I mean I don’t expect her to look on me as someone with potential if only I can be shaped in the right way. I am not a piece of wet clay ready to be molded. I am what I am, and on top of that I can be a stubborn little bastard. I am bendable, but only if I want to be, try and change me wholesale though and I will resist.

  5. Communication – She must accept that I am a guy. I am just a simple creature, I don’t understand subtlety. My communication skills are limited yet I still find it important to use what little I have in the most efficient manner. For example if I say ‘you look fine’, I mean fine as you would use in the term a fine wine. Fine does not mean you look ok, but could look better. If that’s what I meant to say that’s what I would have said. So saying something like ‘You are a fine figure of a woman Mrs. Macgregor’ would be a compliment and should be taken as such.
    My communication skills are largely direct and blunt, she should realize that really I need to be talked to in a similar manner. Hinting for 3 days that she wants me to take her shopping on Saturday when the football (soccer) is on, won’t really cut it. I just don’t have the ability to hear hints. However telling me direct that we are going shopping on Saturday might be heard. Sure I will be pissed off for 90 minutes, but on occasions that is better than the alternative, ie the 5 day silent treatment wondering what the hell I did wrong now.

And thats where my list ends, well so far, should I continue? What are your must haves?

Monday, 20 November 2006

Describing Who I Am WithThe Help Of Music

Are you a man or a woman?

Man With A Child In His Eyes - Hue & Cry

Describe yourself:

I'll Be Here Awhile - 311
Not A Sinner, Nor A Saint - alcazar
Perfect Gentleman - wyclef jean
Better Of Two Evils - marilyn manson
The Wanderer - U2 & johnny cash
Lazy - X- Press 2
Twisted & Bent - trash can sinatras
Easy To Please - coldplay
A Quiet Man - jim noir
Passenger - Powderfinger
Firestarter - prodigy
Insatiable - Darren Hayes
Wicked Soul - kubb
Freebird - lynyrd Skynyrd

What do people think when they are around you?

Crazy - Gnarls Barkley
Wrapped Up In Books - Belle & Sebastion
The Joker - steve miller band

Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole - Martha Wainwright
Poor Misguided Fool - starsailor

How are you feeling?

The World's Gone Mad - Handsome Boy Modeling School
Slave To The Wage - placebo
Alive N Kicking - simple minds
All Right Now - free
Singing In My Soul - Fly My Pretties

Describe your new relationship with your partner or suitor(s)

What relationship? Its just...

Me, Myself & I - de la soul
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - u2
Someone New - eskobar featuring heather nova
You Don't Have to Be Rich - prince
Talk To Me Like Lovers Do - Eurythmics
Throw Your Arms Around Me - Hunters & Collectors
Tease Me - Chaka Demus
Settle Down - Breaks Co-Op

Where would you like to be right now?

Ocean - cerys matthews
Loch Lomond - runrig
Candy Shop - 50 cent
Christmas & Glasgow - Deacon Blue
Let's Get Out Of This Country - Camera Obscura
The Beautiful Side Of Somewhere - the wallflowers
From The Country To The City - pleasure featuring ed harcourt
Barcelona - Freddie Mercury & Monserrat Caballe
Paradise City - Guns N Roses
Other Side Of The World - KT Tunstall
Trains To Brazil - Guillemots

How is your life?

Nobody Said It Was Easy - Coldplay
When the Going Gets Tough The Tough Gets Going - Billy Ocean
Everything's Gonna Be Alright - Bob Marley
Don't Worry Be Happy - Bobby Mcferrin

What would you choose if you had only one wish?

C'mon Everybody - Eddie Cochrane
Peace The Fuck Out - travis
Better World A-Comin' - Woody Guthrie

Write a quote or a famous sentence:
When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You) - Louis Armstrong

Screw that I'm not doing any more that could have went on and on and on and on and on and on and..............

Saturday, 18 November 2006

The Road Less Travelled

I’m not much of a driver. I wasn’t one of those people who rushed out to get my drivers license as soon as I possibly could. To be honest I prefer walking or cycling, failing that I will use the train if I am going into the city. City driving frustrates me, far too many bad drivers, one-way street systems and red lights to allow it to be an enjoyable experience. Motorways just bore me.

That said if I want to escape the stress of work for a few hours then there is one type of driving that I enjoy. Those would be Scottish country roads, particularly those less travelled. I particularly like driving on single-track roads of which there are many in Scotland, hidden away off the beaten track. Before I go on perhaps I should explain what single tracks roads are just in case someone who reads this isn’t familiar with them. Single-tracks are roads which have only one lane used by vehicles going in both directions and tend to be found in remote areas, where it is either impractical to go to the expense of building two lanes or where the terrain does not permit the construction of two lanes. The trick to single-track roads is to drive with a combination of consideration and assertiveness. In an ideal world, drivers should adjust their speeds so as to meet at a passing place. That way neither waits for the other, and both proceed at best speed. Not everyone has the common sense to see the logic in such behaviour but I’ll write about that in another post.

Single-track road in Glen Lyon

Anyway now that I’ve explained that back to what I was saying, in order to get a true flavour of great Scottish driving I would suggest that you have to experience at least one single-track road. I have a few favourites that I like to visit on a regular basis. Some near Glen Coe just for the majesty of the Highland Mountains that really are awe inspiring, and then closer to home there is the road to Loch Katrine that never fails to appeal no matter what the season.

Today I just needed to get away from it all, it had been a long hard week and the rain hadn’t made it any easier so I headed out to Perthshire. I deliberately stayed away from the open roads and stuck to the wooded roads, before long I found myself in Crieff which is where I would have liked to have begun this drive. Driving past Drummond Gardens, which is well worth a visit in itself, I headed on through Crieff sticking to the A822 into Glen Quaich at Amulree before eventually reaching Glen Lyon and Ben Lawer.

This particular route took me along some of the most dramatic small roads in central Scotland, predominantly single-track. The kind of driving demanded by single-track roads suit my psyche superbly. Normally I do everything at a 100 mph, I work hard, I work fast, I do it right first time otherwise it just pisses me off, but when I want to get away from it all I like to take in the scenery and forget about work. Therefore I enjoy driving on roads like this, roads that encourage me to move forward carefully, with regard to others at all times, it just helps to clear my mind. Theres no room for road rage, there's no point. In roads such as this you must stop from time to time and take stock, just admire the view, take in the wildlife, allow others to pass and proceed at haste only when you can see your way is clear ahead.

This road takes you quickly into a hidden valley. There are frequent blind summits and two entertaining humpback bridges (the first in particular can be quite startling). The land at times seems almost hostile, a feeling added to by the sight of ruined dwellings long since deserted by crofters forced from the land. The dreaded hairpins appear in the distance, a slow and low-gear approach gets you round in one piece. You climb towards the rounded tops of hills, scoured by glacial erosion into volcanic-shaped craters and rock-strewn lunar landscapes and finally reach a plateau where, as you can pause in the layby, you find acres and acres of silence.

The road soon moves abruptly downhill and the small town of Kenmore, a veritable city after the bleakness of the past 10 miles, sweeps into view on the far side of the shimmering Loch Tay. Here you can visit the Crannog, a reproduction of a 2600-year-old dwelling constructed using information collected during underwater archaeological surveys the pure loch water having preserved things so completely that even traces of butter on a dish have been identified. Nobody is entirely sure of why these crannogs were built on the water to protect from the numerous wild animals perhaps, to enable heavy goods to be transported by canoe, or maybe just to evade the midges which hover close to the shoreline and for some reason won't venture the few feet across the bridge. On this occasion rather than pick the knowledge of the locals I decided to drive on.


Next stop on the route is the charming village of Fortingall, a few minutes north of Kenmore. Here the architectural styles jump forward a couple of thousand years to the arts and crafts movement of the late 1800s (though, curiously, the roofs are also thatched). The sight of this cluster of exquisite thatched cottages is quite startling in this Highland setting. Driving slowly past the buildings it is easy to spot the arts and crafts motifs that appear in later work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (whose work you’d find in Glasgow): the small square windows, the creation of patterns using straight lines and organic floral details. The inhabitants are clearly proud of this architectural heritage and have preserved the houses superbly. My favourite detail is to be found on the gateposts. Rather than ostentatious lions, each post displays a pile of flat stones gathered from the river.

At the far end of the village, next to the church, is the thing that most people associate with this part of the world the ancient yew tree. It is thought to be 5000 years old and the oldest living thing in Europe and perhaps the world. This mighty tree was recorded in 1771 by traveller and naturalist Thomas Pennant as having a girth of 56 1/2ft. Sadly the original massive trunk has been destroyed to a third of its size, probably by memento hunters and local Beltane fire-starters but the mighty yew is still an inspiring sight. Perhaps because of this tree, the location has been a site of sacred ritual for at least 2000 years.

On the hill behind this the Romans built a fort. It is rumoured that Pontius Pilate was born here but such a claim seems a bit extreme when you consider this area would have been at the very edge of the Roman empire and the dates of which they were here and Pontius was born are not certain to match up. The Romans withdrew from the fort and retired further south after just a few decades deciding that the local tribes were too troublesome for any apparent gain in the land. Nonetheless you can tell the historical importance of this area just by looking at the gravestones, some of them date back to about the fourth century. One of the gravestones has a Templar Knights cross on it (maybe someone should tell Dan Brown to help him with his next conspiracy book) while another is made from a Celtic standing stone, highly unusual for a Christian burial ground. Anyway I moved on when a coachload arrived to snap yet more pictures of the old tree.

Next Glen Lyon beckoned. The start of the glen is a sunny birch tunnel close to the Birks of Aberfeldy, and the sight of white-silver bark struck by the early afternoon sun is wondrous. The glen snakes westwards and reveals the mountains beyond in Scotland's longest and possibly loneliest glen. Once through Invervar you come to the thriving Bridge of Balgie post office and tea room. I could have been forgiven for believing I had stumbled on a birthday party here in the middle of nowhere as it was busy with walkers, drivers, birdwatchers and, presumably, the odd person posting a letter. Apparently it is always as busy as this in summer, as it is the last possible place to buy refreshments at least for a few lonely miles, but this was November so I’ll be damned if I could explain why it was still busy this late in the year.

Birks of Aberfeldy

At this point, I left the glen road to head to my final destination: Ben Lawers. This final stretch of road feels as though it could be in the furthest reaches of the Highlands. Yet here you are only a few minutes' drive from commuterland. The magnificent 4000ft or so giant that must be tackled towers ahead. From the excellent Ben Lawers visitor centre a short nature walk of about 20 minutes has been waymarked. This place has an extraordinary array of wildlife and wild habitats and the plan is to keep it that way. I took in both the nature walk and the walk to the summit of Ben Lawer in less than a couple of hours. After taking my time getting here I was back to my usual 100 mph walking speed. I can't help but walk fast, but damn was I breathing hard by the time I got to the top. The problem is from the car park what appears to be peak of Ben Lawers looks very manageable. The only trouble being is that it isn't the peak at all. Once you get to that ridge you discover theres another, and then another one beyond that and then yet another. By the time you get to the top of the mountain you've expended more energy than you had initially expected, and doing it as fast as I did isn't advisable.

However enough of my bitching if you ever get the pleasure of taking this drive and walk I would encourage you to sit in the warmth of the sun in the long reedy grass drinking in the view below before returning to the car park, but that might mean going in summer, today though nice was a little on the cold side. Anyway from there you can watch as the sunlight flickers on the surface of the mighty Loch Tay. If you are lucky to have a day like today the sky will be pure blue allowing the daylight to dance on the summits of Ben More and the Tarmachan Ridge.

Loch Tay

Friday, 17 November 2006

Oye!!! What Happened To My Post?

I went to all the trouble of writing a post (big hardship) yesterday and it's not on here! I even responded to two comments too, which is something I have to admit I am guilty of of not doing often enough, and those responses haven't been added to either! Well as a result I'm feeling a little bit petty tonight (it's my blog, I'm allowed) - may a gull fly over whoever is responsible. Posted by Picasa

Monday, 13 November 2006

I Went On A Shooting Spree Yesterday

Deer stalking is fun! I must have shot about a dozen or so, possibly more. But don't worry no deer were harmed in any way, it was strictly a shooting by camera adventure.
I spent most of the afternoon shooting hinds and juvenile males from a distance of about 30 metres or so which normally I would be perfectly happy with but if I had a camera with a decent sized zoom I could have had some great group shots. Instead I had to get in close to the animals to get any shots at all, which on a blustery day like yesterday is not so easy to do. Luckily I had a Ghillie to guide me, without his knowledge and help I probably wouldn't have got within 100 metres of them. On my own they probably wouldn't have heard me coming (I'm quite a quiet person honest) or seen me coming (I can be surprisingly inconspicuous when it suits me) but they would have smelt me before I even saw them. And it's not because I stink, honest I do wash daily, its just deer have a very powerful sense of smell and I had no real clue how to stalk deer before yesterday.
Although I go out on the Scottish wilderness as often as I can and consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to the countryside without expert stalking help I would have struggled. I knew before we started that you had to travel downwind but with the wind being so strong and the direction that it was blowing constantly changing I wouldn't have known how to stay downwind. If I had been on my own I would probably have got frustrated by the weather sabotaging my every attempt to stay downwind that I would probably have tried the direct approach by just walking straight towards them and would never have gotten even remotely close. Just as well Guides who stalk deer for a living are much more skilled and patient than I am.
The most surprising thing of the day was for me was what I enjoyed the most. It wasn't enjoying the deer in their own environment, after all Deer aren't all that rare in Scotland, there's around 300,000 of them of them living here. I can walk a couple of miles down the road and come across one if I'm quiet enough. It wasn't even being in the Highlands, gorgeous stunning awe inspiring landscape that it is. The best part of the day was just spending some time with the guide whose knowledge of the landscape and the animals within you just cannot buy. Well I suppose technically I was buying it, but shhh - don't be putting facts into this story. It's the intimate knowledge that the guide had of each animal's character and the stories that he whispered in my ear throughout the afternoon that made me forget that the rain was off and on all day and that I was as a consequence soaked to the skin. I didn't care that I was wet, I didn't even care that I hadn't been able to make this trip 3 weeks ago, when it was in the middle of the rutting season when I really wanted to go but due to work commitments couldn't. Ok so it might have been a bit more impressive watching the bravado of the Stags competing for the attention of the hinds in the hope of getting a years worth of sex in the space of a couple of weeks, but then again that might have just reminded me of my own unimpressive sex life and I probably don't need to do that to myself. The knowledge and the passion that the guide had for the work that he did was addictive, the more he told me the more I wanted to know, and the more I knew the more carried away I got.
But even the experts can get it wrong sometimes. All afternoon we had only come across one Stag and he was so far away that I wasn't able to get a decent picture, with the distance being out of reach of the zoom he was so camouflaged with the environment that he just blended into the landscape behind. That should have been my best opportunity to get the stag money shot if we had gotten close enough because after rutting season the Stags and all chance of sex has gone they are no longer interested in hanging around with other deer. So for about, I don't know, maybe about 2 hours we focused our efforts getting close to a group of hinds and young males and for another hour I listened intently as the guide told me, in his in his light-Highland accented whisper, the different characters of each animal when a faint a noise behind made me look round. And there was this impressive looking stag staring back at me.
The first thing I noticed was the antlers and how sharp they looked. The second thing was the distance between us, there was only about 5 metres between me and those antlers. Excitement was soon replaced by a 'what the hell do I do now' moment. For a while man and beast, that's me and big boy with sharp antlers, had a moment where we stared poker-faced at one another not sure which one us was going to move first. At this point I realised that the stag's approach to us must have gone unnoticed by the guide who was at this point lying on the Heather next to me but facing the other direction. I had enough wits about me to realise that I didn't want to spook the Stag by making too much noise. Spooking it could go one of two ways, it could run away or it could see me as a threat and decide to deal with the threat, me, head on. I knew what way I preferred but I wasn't taking any chances. So in an effort to try and get the guide's attention without making too much noise or strange movements I tried to make some obvious, but quiet, guttural noises in my throat. Unfortunately I think at this point my guide must have thought that I was just a typical city person who couldn't stay quiet for more than 3 hours at time without getting restless.
Realising this approach wasn't working, I tried the barely audible whisper
"5 o'clock, Stag, 5 metres ...... if that .... what ... the .... hell ... I ... do???? "
The instant reply came back "Don't stare!"
"Bugger! Too late!"
"Ok keep you eye on him, but tilt your head so you aren't looking straight on."
And just at that moment the Stag scattered. I tried to get a shot off before he disappeared but in all the excitement I'd left the camera running and with the cold and the wet to contend with the batteries didn't have enough juice. I was clumsily fumbling about in my jacket pocket for the spare batteries when the guide pointed out the reasoning for the Stag running away, a Golden Eagle flying high above us. I've never had the pleasure of watching a Golden Eagle in the wild before and in all honesty I didn't really expect to see one yesterday. It was a spectacular sight. However I am just ever so slightly gutted. By the time I got the spare batteries in the camera the right way round both the Stag and the Golden Eagle were out of sight. But damn what a day! Who knew a cold, wet, dreich, wintry day could be so much fun....
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Sunday, 12 November 2006

Digging Into Your Family's History Should Come With A Warning

It seems more and more people are interested in finding out where they came from and so is allowing people to have a free look at the passenger lists of the ships which took Scottish emigrants to the Americas. The Mitchell Library in Glasgow also allows people to have a look at the Poor Law records which detail the poverty and suffering of those that came before us. But anyone with a romantic notion of their ancestral past should think carefully before investing time and energy researching their family history.
It might be my sick sense of humour but as well as being slightly disturbed at the image I couldn't help but laugh when I read the story of the Australian who researched the details of his ancestor's transportation to the colonies. He assumed his forefather had been on the prison ship for rebelling against the famine and the Crown by stealing corn to put food on the table so that his family may survive to see the next morning. Imagine his surprise when he discovered the documentation showing the reason for the one-way trip to Botany Bay was for his carnal knowledge of horses. And to think that Australians like to make fun of the Kiwis for sheep shagging. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, 11 November 2006

For Those That Made The Sacrifice Then And Those Who Will In The Future

How do you do, Private William McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the great fallen in 1916,
I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or young Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

Did you leave a young wife or a sweetheart behind
In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
Though I know that you died back in 1916,
In that faithful heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Enclosed and forever behind a glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

The sun shines bright on the green fields of France;
The warm summer breeze makes the red poppies dance.
The trenches are scattered long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, there's no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses are mute where they stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation that were butchered and damned.

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the sound the death march as they lowered you down?
Did the band play The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

I can't help but wonder, young Willie McBride,
Do those who lie here really know why they died?
Did they believe when they answered the call,
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?
The suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, and the dying, it was all done in vain,
For young Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

This song was written after after the writer visited a military cemetery in France. It does a fine job of illustrating the meaningless absurdity of war. The First World War was the last real trench war and in France and Belgium battles could last weeks or months without any progress.
A researcher from a Belgium war museum has delved in a stack of burial records to find the real Willy McBride. Among the 1,700,000 names he found ten William Willy McBride's, but only one died in 1916 at the age of 19.
During the First World War No Man's Land was clearly defined by the trenches. Sometimes the contending parties where so close to each other that they could overhear the conversation of their opponents and many men, unaware of the nearness of the enemy snipers, died on their first day in the trenches.
In contrast with what the term might suggest No Man's Land was by no means abandoned. Under the cover of darkness the parties continuously repaired or extend the barbed wire fencing and carried out reconnaissance missions. Consequently artillery shelling of No Man's Land was common. Those who got injured often had to suffer a whole day before being rescued, while corpses were seldom salvaged.

The Last Post and The Flowers of the Forest are compositions associated with the final farewell.
In wars of a previous age bugles and drums marked the phases of a soldier's day, which started with the wakeup call Reveille. At the end of the day officers, accompanied by bugle players and drummers, made a round along the posts. The start of this round was announced by The First Post and the end by The Last Post, therewith signalling that all sentry posts were manned and that it was safe for off-duty soldiers to go to sleep. In the course of time The Last Post was incorporated into funeral and memorial services as a final farewell and symbolises that the duty of the fallen is over and that they can rest in peace.
The Flowers of the Forest is a poem written in the mid-1750's. It refers to the Battle of Flodden, which took place in 1513 between the Scots and the English. The outcome was disastrous for the Scots as it is estimated that about 10,000, including King James IV of Scotland, were killed. The Flowers of the Forest, traditionally played on a bagpipe, has become a lament for lost relatives, whereas the bugle call The Last Post is a final salute for fallen fellow soldiers.
Sadly just as they did then, men are still making that same sacrifice today.

Sunday, 5 November 2006

Ignorance is Bliss?

I don't want to read the paper. I'm sick of the bad news. Last week a young man got a a 6 inch scar in his face from a knife just for the crime of walking home. I'm sick and tired of reading about shit like that. I'd like to pretend that there is a reason for it that I cannot comprehend. I'd like to just ignore it.

I don't want to watch the news on the TV. When I do, I should cry. But I've become cold. I long ago switched myself off. When a man buys a gun and goes crazy in a school I no longer feel. I don't know their families. I don't ask them how they're doing. They're on the other side of the world but I don't want to think about it because it hit's too close to the bone.

I can turn off the TV, put aside the paper and go about my day. But just because you don't see it

It doesn't mean its gone away.

If you're not pissed off at the world then you're just not paying attention.

Every day there's something. Loser men beating their wives. North Koreans starving whilst their egotistical leader blackmails the superpowers with weapons he cannot afford to use. People judging their neighbours for practising a religion they've not taken the time to understand.

We switch ourselves off. We listen to the music on the radio, or watch some sport while a mother in Iraq mourns the loss of her son. We eat too much and throw the rest away while a million starve in East Africa. We drive our big cars, while the ice caps melt and deny that anything we can do will make a difference anyway.

Why don't I cry? Why am I not angry enough to make a difference? Where is the shame......

Saturday, 4 November 2006

I Am No Longer Part Of The Young Generation

I might look young for my age, I might even feel young but today I realised I am kidding myself. I can no longer consider myself young. This epiphany happened with an email. An email that was written in text speak, well that's what I assumed anyway. It might as well have been written in Polish. In fact Polish would have been better. I could have sat a Pole on my seat, after all there is enough of them in Scotland looking for work, and had them decipher for me but with no Poles in sight this email had me stumped from beginning to end.
There seemed to be words missing, whole sentences even. The words that were visible seemed to be mispelt, I tried to put them back together again and still it made no sense. All things considered text speak should be my language of choice because I am the world's worst typist, I make typing errors all the time and rarely if ever check because I'm too lazy to do so and even when I do make corrections I do something silly like delete a word accidentally, so a whole sentence can mean something totally different from what I intended. With this in mind I should be able to empathise with the text writer but even then I still couldn't translate the email. I started to think maybe its not text speak at all, maybe its code! Maybe, just maybe, its deliberately mispelt, maybe if I use a mirror I can read it. So I got out the old mirror I used for putting my contact lenses in and smacked it against the screen and then tried reading the message from left to right, right to left, from below and from above but still it made as much sense as before. Which was not at all.
In the end I had to delete the message for the crime of not making feel old but for making me feel stupid. No email, no evidence. And no pulling out my hair trying to decipher the damn thing.