The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

Most will know that St Andrews is the patron saint of Scotland and that the 30th November is St Andrews Day, celebrated across the world.

Now when the Israelites were taken by the Babylonians into exile, they observed all the traditions and law by which they have always lived, they became more Jewish than the Jews back home (no Israel at that time). The same can be said of Scottish migrants across the world, they, we are told, are more Sottish than the Scots back home. And why St Andrews day is celebrated in foreign lands more than it is at home, (although this is changing with the upsurge for independence in Scotland).

Now whether by default of design (I suspect the latter) Nicola Sturgeon will give her keynote speech to the party faithful on Monday, which just happens to be St Andrews Day. Everything that happens in Scottish politics from now on will be seem through the prism of 2021 Holyrood elections. If the polls are to be believed then the SNP will be assured of another term in office, but we have been here before if a week is a long time in politics what is five months?

Today in the post I received a nice card from Oor Nicola (I must be on a computer somewhere as a likely tap) it was headed Holyrood 2021 Election Campaign Fund, St Andrew’s Appeal, pulling at the old heartstrings there Nicola. Still, the lass does take a nice photo.

After 2014 referendum and following the Brexit vote, where two-thirds of Scots voted to stay in the EU (and was told in the referendum that a yes vote would see you kicked out of the EU), many Scots felt they had not been listened too and worse still totally ignored. The ranks of the SNP swelled and became the party of choice for people of independent mind.

Six years on and now faith in the SNP to deliver on independence is waning, Nicola still insists that if they win big time in the 2021 election, then the people will have spoken, therefore Boris Johnston can not ignore the wishes of a sovereign nation and refusing to grant a Section 30 order for Scotland to hold a referendum on independence that both parties are bound by. No matter her faith in the law and fair play, Johnston is never going to give Scotland the opportunity to hold another referendum, the last one was too damn close for comfort, if given another it would be game over for the Union and Boris is determined not to go down in history as the PM that brought an end to the Union.

In her speech to conference on Monday, I’m sure Oor Nicola will try to assure the faithful that Boris can not withhold his consent, that plan A is working and there is no need for a plan B. A referendum within the lifetime of the next parliament is assured BUT only if you vote us in for a further term in office, (stop laughing at the back). I remember vividly Nicola Sturgeon being interviewed at the Edinburgh Book Festival, she told the listeners “My job is to make sure that my party remains in office”.

I think many SNP members see your job as securing independence.

So what alternative is there to the SNP delivering on independence for the Scottish people? Not much in 2021, but…………..

An idea has taken hold in the land, by using Scotland’s voting system, to secure a majority of pro-independent parties in Scotland with the SNP the main party but a strong opposition of pro-independent MSP (members of the Scottish parliament) holding them to account and pressing them on their promises to deliver a referendum on independence, rather than simply kicking the can down the road and keeping them in power for a further term.

Scotland’s voting system is in two parts the first part is straight forward enough, Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies, you vote on the first paper for the person, you wish to represent you at Holyrood, the one with the most votes win. First past the post, but this may not be the majority (combined vote) votes overall, so they came up with the Additional Member System, based on the German mixed-member the proportional system, designed to be more proportional. The idea is that the overall number of MSPs elected for each party is roughly proportional to their electoral support, (but don’t suggest they use the same system at Westminster).

So now we have two votes the constituency vote First Past the Post, and the list vote used to elect 56 additional members that will complete the makeup of the parliament at Holyrood.

In 2016, the SNP won 59 of the 73 First Past the Post seats and just four list seats, although many voted SNP on both constituency and list papers leading to the claim that voting twice for the same party is a wasted second vote. The argument is that the list vote hindered the party obtaining more seats as they have won the majority of First Past the Post votes. This has led to many voters who desperately wish independence to look at the creation of pro-independence parties in the build-up to the 2021 election.

Why is there such interest in the use of the regional vote? Many are discussing the idea of voting for the SNP but using their list vote to provide a pro-independence majority at Holyrood, arguing that this would put independence at the heart of Scottish politics, others believe that it could hinder the independence campaigning message. However, the folks up yonder are not daft and if they see a way to secure an overwhelming majority pro-independence of MSP at Holyrood they will go for it, but not to the SNP’s liking.

This is not a new idea to try and use the list system to promote a message. At the start of the Scottish Parliament, Labour considered running Co-operative Party candidates on the list to be able to win seats that they did not gain due to its First Past the Post successes.

So what are the experts to said on the subject of splitting the vote? Professor John Curtice,

“look, if the polls are right at the moment you don’t need a clever wheeze, you’re going to get a whopping majority anyway, so why risk it?”

And Dr Thomas Lundberg also had thoughts on the matter,

“I’ve read about the interest in ‘gaming’ the system, with a new pro-independence party standing only on a regional basis. There is, of course, the danger that the constituency vote is not what people expect and the regional seats are needed”

But if the list vote delivers big time will it matter that the SNP win less seats than they may have, so long is there is a big majority pro-independent MSP in charge?

You take your money and make your choice, however the Holyrood elections pan out in May 2021, this will be the strangest and the most important elections ever fought in Scotland. Our ‘Get Out of Jail card ‘independence’ or will Boris put a stick in the spokes of Scotland’s ambitions to become once more an independent nation?

Friday once more end of a week and almost the end of another month, and thankfully we are still dodging the undertaker.

I don’t know about you but I’m sick to the back teeth with the news these days, and the television in general, I can count on one hand the amount of programmes I have watched over the week.

Coronavirus still dominates all of our lives and television screens, you would think they would have run out of things to say about it by now, but no another expert or politician, pops up to put in his/her pennyworth, yet at the end of the day it all boils down to what the World Health Organisation said at the start, Test, Trace, Isolate. What part of that message do we not understand?

Coronavirus has certainly shone a light on what is wrong with the way we are governed, all that talk about trying to balance the infection (keeping people safe) and as normal a life as possible. Sorry folks it does not work like that, you fight the virus or you let it run rampant and then you die, it’s that simply.

I still can not understand why they are talking about relaxing the rules at Christmas. This is a recipe for disaster, I believe when we see the death toll rise in January we will realise just how stupid that decision was. Christmas is important, families coming together, but only if that coming together for Christmas celebrations not for a funeral. Would it not be better to cancel Christmas and think of the future when this virus will come under control, and we have an effective jab, then we can all come together as a family, and have that big party in the home or even a picnic by the sea or down the park.

There has also been a lot of talk about mental illness caused by isolation. When you fist retire from a life of work, it is a bit like a holiday, then reality kicks in. You miss the routine of going to work. You miss your workmates, you miss the disposable income, and if you are not careful, too much idle hours will lead you into depression. A working life is not just about making money.

When out cycling one day, I came across a garden that was simply pristine, vegetable row upon row, like soldier on parade. I asked the gardener, who looked to me at that time to be around 100 years old, If he had someone in to help, for a lot of hard work had certainly gone into that garden.

“No” he told me “All my own work”

He then went on to tell me he was a retired G.P (general practitioner),

“I’ll let you into a wee secret, if you stop working you die”

I really believe in that philosophy, we should have more classes for people coming up to retirement, teaching them how to use their time constructively and stay healthy, mental and physically. We need to spend money on facilities for then to pursue their hobbies or learn new skills, such as The Men’s Shed, but properly funded by the state, it should be part of the education system. An active life in the company of your peers is still the best recipe for longevity and a healthy lifestyle.

Looks like you need to get the hover out Hamilton

However we should not be waiting until we retire to fine the elixir of life, a healthy people are people that have well paid jobs, a home they can call their own, (be that rented with life long tenancy, council houses were the answer in my day, they could be again). When people tell you that decent wages can not be afforded, for it would make goods unprofitable. Ask yourself, what does poor mental and physical health cost the country? How much is councils paying out to private ‘buy to let’ landlords in Housing Benefit for sub standard housing? And not forgetting if money is given to working families they will spend it, improving the lot of all, money was made round to go around not, given to companies (Quantitative Easing) to buy back their shares, making a failing company look profitable and enhance the C.Os bonus or accumulate money in some offshore bank account.

Coronavirus has shown many in the UK that we are poorly governed, the system is broken. We know that Scotland will soon become an independent country once more. I do not think that things will change much at all across the four parts of the United Kingdom, deals will be done, on trade, travel, defence and a whole host of other things, (it will not be separation as the Unionists try to paint it) the difference will be that it will be the people of Scotland making those choices, when they sit around the table to negotiate deals with other countries.

Already we see how Scotland is drifting away from England and much more towards a Scandinavian way of doing things, (maybe we are returning to our roots). I am convinced that there is enough smart people in Scotland to run our affairs, so long as we learn the lessons of failed systems, such as ruled by king and queens, with all their hangers on, or presidential governments, no we only need our wee parliament, to decide direction of travel, as it was once said, “keep the arses of those in power as close to the toe of your boot as possible”.

Once more we have come to the end of more blethers, I am still pedalling my bike, and still playing around with bits of wood. The old table tops are not much cop (poor quality) for anything that you would want in your home, although when I see some of the junk that is produces on these television shows, that turn ‘trash into cash’ and sell it online, the money they get for such goods makes you wonder, just how many mugs there must be out there. Keep safe and keep turning the pedal

I was watching Shawshank Redemption it is summer and the roof of the licence plate factory needs re-tarring. The warden asks for volunteers. Red (played brilliantly by Morgan Freeman). He is telling us that May is a mighty fine time to be on outside work detail – more than one hundred men volunteered for the job – and wouldn’t you know it, some gays I know were chosen – I received my 10% of course.

Earlier in the month I had been listening to Boris Johnston the Prime Minister, he was going on about how we would grow our way out of the financial hole we are in by spending on big infrastructure programmes, We would not only rebuild the economy but help solve global warming.

Of course Johnston, like all his Tory pals, is a big believer in capitalism, the money will be borrowed from investment bankers, such as J.P. Morgan and other Wall Street bankers. And wouldn’t you know it, the contracts will go to some fellows I know, and of course, I will get his 10%.

These investments bankers will run the show, having the wind turbines built and installed and it will be they that choose the contractors that will make and install them on their behalf. Oh, I almost forgot to mention they will source them from Twain, well labour is cheap out there but it is really all about, economy of scale, all way above taxpayers pay grade. Simply put, it makes sense not to have them built in the UK yards, we have to remember, this is taxpayers money, we must spend it wisely.

The taxpayer will pay for all of this, with interest, but will not own one nut or bolt of anything constructed, no they will be owned and run by private companies who will collect their profits through the private energy companies, (Stolen from the UK public and sold off by Thatcher) and it is they that will be selling us the ever so green energy they produce, at a price.

Well what’s so wrong about that, it is how the free trade system works and how we Tories stay in power, where do you think they get all of our funding from? Well it cost a lot of money to hire the advertising men to think up good slogans for the side of a big red bus and television advertising does not come cheap, some call it propaganda, we call it getting our message across. You would not believe how easy it is to persuade those gelable plebs to keep voting for us. And in return we look after our own, well, that’s only fair.

Oh, it is all above board, voted for in the Commons by YOUR MPs at Westminster, (who know the score) well, they are kept in the loop. When you are dependent on a fickle voter for your job, you have to, as the old adage goes, “Make hay whilst the sun shines” build up a nice wee nest egg for that time when those fickle voters kicked you out of office. The trick is, get them to like you, tell them what they want to hear, and yes it is OK to lie, you are a politician, after all, it is expected of you. “And with a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck” you will stay in post until it is time for that big golden handshake and a nice wee pension, or the top prize a seat in the Lords.

Sadly for the People of the UK, there is no difference between the parties, Tory, Labour, Lib/Dem they are all part of the Westminster system now. Following on from the 2014 referendum we had the rise of the SNP but like Tony Blair before her Nicola Sturgeon soon found out that populist parties will not be tolerated by Westminster, you play the game or you die, and why the SNP went cold on a second referendum. SNP MPs are being seduced by Westminster too, much as Scottish Labour did in the past. What is not to like about our democracy.

Now I have never been fond of Trump, but he did try when it office to turn things around like telling the people of America that he would bring the troops home, something that the majority of Americas want. That was never going to work, too many in congress are in congress because they were funded by the arms trade and gun lobby and still receiving their brown envelops. I even heard It said that Trump by wanting to pull troops out of Afghanistan was intent on starting a war. Not sure how that works. And have you noticed that it is not enough that Trump has lost, he has to be shown to have lost. Like the UK, America will not tolerate a populist party in government.

Think back to Culloden and what happened after the battle, the English built Edinburgh New Town, which says it all “We Won”.

Take the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles, the English and French did not simply accept the German’s surrender, and let us all go home, no they had to show the Germans they had lost, and ‘We Won’. This was repeated at the end of the Second World War and the tradition is still carried on to this day.

In 2014 the people of Scotland voted to stay in the Union, the next day Cameron came out of number 10 and told Scotland that their MP would from this day forth become second class MP, he announced ‘English Votes for English Laws’ We Won.

All the promises about respecting the Scottish parliament, more powers, the big “We love you and want you to stay” and “Vote Yes and you will be kicked out of the EU” that went well. It is all about saying “We Won”. I hate to think what ‘We Won’ victory speech Johnston’s will give to Scotland when we leave the EU at the end of December.       

Don’t know what happened to the wind that was supposed to blow at storm force today, then again this is maybe the calm before that storm. I was over at Tayport, the air was cold, the sun a low glare. There were lots on cyclist out in small groups all seemed to be club riders rather than leisure cyclists.

I was hurrying back for La Boheme from Sidney Harbour. La Boheme is so well known it needs no introduction from me. La Boheme, the opera is very light with many great arias such as ‘Che gelida manina’ (your tiny hand is frozen) and ‘Mi chiamano Mimi’ (my name is Mimi) and how she is happy in her little white flat, for she is blessed with the first rays of the sun and the first kiss of spring. Puccini is a master at such arias. however, the course of true love never runs smoothly and just when Mini and Marcello seem to be hitting it off along comes Musetta, Marcello’s ex-lover, ops. I must say Mimi has a great pair of lungs for someone dying of consumption. The opera was in a modern setting with burnt-out cars and prostitutes on the streets. Now I have been down the Latin Quarter in Paris and I never saw any burnt-out cars or indeed girls with cutty sarks plying their trade. Anyway, that was my morning taken care off.

I had been offered a buggy for the wheels, however when I picked it up it looked in remarkable good condition, so if I can get it going I would prefer it was used for the purpose it was intended. There are a few in City Park that are finding it difficult to get around, so maybe it could become the camp bike.

Monday

I was over at Dundee this morning it was cold but calm first thing alas that was not the picture later in the morning, a very strong and very cold wind coming from the south-west, brrrrrrrrr. Crossing the bridge the tide, although almost full, was still coming in against a river that was in spate, choppy waters indeed.

On my return, I asked the manager about having the electric scooter for the use of anyone who needed it in the building, nay chance. You need a safety certificate, insurance, a dedicated place to store it and written authority from Viewpoint., hoops and more hoops to jump through, ho-hum. Looks like I will be building a chassis and body,, maybe some sort of Jeep for it to become an electric toy car, decisions, decisions.

First I need to finish the bogie. (anyone knows how you enter the Red Bull, Soapbox Race?)

My heating has been off since Friday, it was not so bad at first, the building acts like a big storage heater, however as time went by it was on with a woolly jumper, then the bathroom turned into an icebox. Thankfully the man arrived just before one o’clock and minutes after I arrive home from Aldi. I heard a lot of banging on valves and he bled the radiators, T-shirt weather once more indoors.  

Willpower to get me out of a warm bed – Wind that keeps on giving – Wood shavings, the start of a new project. Sadly the coffee morning and craft sale has been cancelled this year because of coronavirus, so I do not think any of this stuff will sell, (all money made goes to H.E.D). I believe the girls are planning something in the spring and after we have had our jabs.

The weekend once more, where did it all go? The wind here is still very strong but it keeps the rain away, so all good. I only went as far as Pitscottie, and yes I had remembered to pull on my woolly hat. I have just had a news flash from Elie weather, wind speed for tomorrow, 47mph, Looks as it we will have to head for the woods once more for a bit of shelter.

To the woods -I cant my mother won’t let me – how old is your mother? 21, – Bring your mother too, to the woods.

The watery sun remained low in the sky and without giving off much heat, still, it was pleasant enough and I was out. At Pitscottie I said enough is enough and scooted back home driven on by a stiffening wind, well, this morning I had other things on my mind.

Yesterday evening I had gone along to the old kitchen and dragged two more tabletops into the workshop. What to make with these? My problem is they are all warped so not a lot of good for furnisher, out with the pencil and paper and scribbled away. I came up with an idea, a toy for even bigger boys than the little cart. Once marked-out I was surprised how little wood it had actually taken, then again I did have some cutting in the scrap box that would make the backbox. My band saw does not make much noise and I only needed a couple of cuts for the backbox, so I cut the timber off-cuts, planed then up, and glued and screwed them, pleased with that, a starter for ten tomorrow.

Returning home this morning I spread my dust sheet on the grass outside the window, set up my cutting table and clamped my marked out tabletop to it. It only took minutes to cut and sand the base and about half an hour to clean up and return everything to the workshop, ho-hum.

What do you think it is? I’ll give you a clue, it will require wheels.   

 The weather has dominated my thinking this week, yesterday, for instance, was frozen lug weather and I was pleased to have my woolly hat firmly stretched down over them. This morning it looks like the wind has blown itself out but overcast, but that’s fine. I can not do much about the weather except accept, the good news is, it makes spring all the more pleasant when it arrives at the end of a hard winter.

It always amazes me how things we learned in school, grown up with and accepted as, well carved in stone, suddenly are no longer true. Scientists, historians, and archaeologists are for ever-changing our understanding of the world in which we live. Up until yesterday I was convinced that the plague in the 17th century was spread by rats, or at least the flees carried by rats. Everyone and my dog knew that. Over the past two evenings, I watched ‘The Great Plague’ on Channel 5 and was told that the plague was in fact spread by humans, or at least by body lice, that lived on human bodies. It was a fascinating insight into that terrible time, although the second part was more or less a recap of what had been said earlier.

The orders put in place to try to contain the disease were not unlike those we use today to combat coronavirus.

Quartering,

However, people were not simply told to go home and self isolate. No, if any household had a victim of the plague the house was locked up with all the members of the family inside, no matter if they were free of the plague or not, and a guard placed on their door.

Social distancing,

People were quick to distance themselves from others, even to walking down the middle of the road so as not to be near the houses. And when people went to buy their food they served themselves and put the coins for the food in a bowl of vinegar, known to have antiseptic qualities.

Clothing,

They were aware that the disease was carried on clothing so the second-hand cloth sellers went out of business. But still, they had not made the connection between, the cloths and body lice.

The wearing of protective clothing and masks

Doctors wore protective clothing in the form of a hooded cloak that went all the way down to the ground, and a beaked mask. So they must have associated the disease with breathing in contaminated air. Also, the cape that they wore were made of waxed cotton, so by accident rather than design, the cloak would act as a barrier stopping the body lice from jumping from the patient to the doctor.

How scary would a visit from the doctor be?

The rich would have changed their shirts every day so we’re less likely to have body lice. The poor on the other hand would not and not only have worn the same shirt for several days, possibly weeks, but they would also have slept in their shirt, a perfect incubator for body lice, and flees.

So what we do today is as important now as it would have been in the mid sixteen hundreds to stop the spread of the disease, wash “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” as your gran would have told you. Social distance, and wear a mask.    

The problem then as it is today was ‘compliance’ most anyone who could (if you had the money) left London for the country, only helping to spread the disease. And unless the people of these islands don’t stay put, coronavirus will spread across our lands, much as it did in the sixteen hundred.

I love social history, as a lad I love stories told by returning soldiers, sailors and airmen from the war. Or how a fisherman told of how he had played a 14 Lbs fish for hours, finally landing it on a 3 Lbs breaking strain line. As you grow older you do tend to sift the grain from the chaff but normally there is a grain of truth in all of these stories.

My sojourning has taken me across these lands and I have seen many old building from before the plague and repairs to these ancient monuments in time following after that time. It is then you come to understand the devastation that the Plague reaped on the craftsmen of the time. They were the poor, the ones that had to stay put and work to keep a roof over their heads and food in their children’s bellies, they were the victims of the plague. Take a look at old churches from the late 17th century, look closely for repairs, these repairs will stick out like a sore thumb. A stonemason’s apprenticeship was a long one, followed by years of learning to become a master stonemason, once these skills were lost it would take decades to retrain new craftsmen.

After Thatcher took a wrecking ball to the heavy industry in Scotland many men that had served in those industries, man and boy, were now middle-aged men and on the scrap heap, our world moves at an even faster pace these days, coronavirus like the plague before it will leave scars. All industries are shedding staff at an alarming rate, how many I wonder will be on the scrap heap after this pandemic?

Monday

Monday turned into a very fine day indeed, oh it was still a bit blowy but very pleasant out, or perhaps it was just that the sun was shining, seems such a long time since we saw the sun.

Washing now done I set out into the wind and with the sun on my back all the way to Ceres, dropped down into Cupar, then climbed back over the hill to Pitscottie and home, it really did feel good to be out and about on such a fine day.

On the way home from my run, I called in at Aldi for salt, olive oil and milk, and came out laden with food is that not always the way, Mrs Hubbard’s cupboard is now full to overflowing. However, I did manage to resist buying Stollen cake, but did pick up some Scottish Dumpling, fried along with an egg, ye canna whack it. Also a ham hough, time to get the soup pot on again, with all this cold, wet weather on the way. I was not thinking when I bought the ham and it turned out to be, too big to go in my biggest pot, so, with my butcher’s hat firmly in place, it was out with the hacksaw, is there no end to this man’s talents, I ask myself.

The weather forecast is very much a mixed bag for the rest of the week. Tuesday warmer, a bit windy, occasional showers coming in on westerly winds, however, it seems as if it will be the best of a bad lot, so I intend getting my bum in gear, check over the bike and put my rain cape in the pannier bag, if you have it with you, it probably won’t be needed, it only rains when you leave it at home, then I will take off tomorrow for Loch Leven.

I intend to drive over to the car park at the south-east corner of the loch and start from there. To this end, I had to clear all the accumulated timber from the back of the van. As I removed it from the van and into the old kitchens, now used as a storeroom, my mind was on what my next project might be. In the past I have, along with my scroll saw, cut out all the animals that make up the Chinese Years, so I thought, a coffee table in pine with the 12 animals as a border. This would be a bit special in a nice contrasting colour and texture of wood, but getting hold of hardwoods is either too expensive or difficult to find in a skip, so may just try dying the animals in wood dye. If I cut the timber thin on the band saw, say 10mm I could cut both together so that one would fit snugly inside the other, (male – female) that would work but a lot of work, and a big challenge however the finished top would be something a bit special, sanded back and finished in clear resin. I will have to keep my eye open for an old piece of furniture made from mahogany or something that would stand out against the light fir.

Tuesday

All dressed up and nowhere to go. I had hoped to take off for Loch Leven today since the BBC weatherman had told us the wind would decrease, sadly this did not happen. Despondency came on opening the blind first thing this morning to see the contents of someone’s bin flying past my window, ho-hum.

I went online to checked out Elie Weather (a station just a few miles from here and pretty accurate when it comes to local weather), Wind speed 17 mph gusting to 41 mph. Overcast for most of the day, 10% chance of sun between 10 am and 11 am. Heavy rain will arrive by 2 O’clock in the afternoon. Well that sort of put the kibosh, on my Loch Leven trip. Oh well, back to the drawing board, literally, since cycling any distance is a no, no for the remainder of the week. Still, we travel hopefully.

Keep well.

P.S. the rain is now with us.

And that is the truth, we evolve, and that goes for everything in life, including music. I liked ABBA from the start and yes, was able to say that out loud. However, it was not until yesterday that I discovered the secret of why I liked them so much. In ABBA there were two girls with outstanding voices and two boys who were cleaver musicians, and when writing their lyrics painted simple pictures, but what was that special ingredient.

The answer came to me whilst listening to a programme on Sky Art, called, California Dreaming, the songs of The Mamas and The Papas. They had two girls with beautiful voices, one Cass Elliot

No one is getting fat, except Momma Cass

she had such a big voice but she also had the ability to not only blend her voice to the other singers but hold it down so she did not swamp, it was that harmony that made them special on stage. However it was in the studio when the magic started to happen, they started to do something new at the time, multi-tracking and even with the limited equipment of the day it made their music very special indeed. And of course although it was a collaboration of talents when it came to writing their music it was John Philips ability to write lyrical, pictures, that appealed. I was amazed by how close ABBA had followed in their footsteps, whether by design or accident, ABBA stands on the shoulders of The Mamas and The Papas, without a doubt, but that does not detract in any way from ABBA’s great talent, hard work and dedication to their music.

I had only discovers Sky Art a week or so back but now I check it out every day to see if there is anything that would interest me. Sunday, it was Bizet’s Carmen from Sydney Opera. The voice of the Ukrainian singer Dmytro Popov was simply outstanding in the part of Don Jose, as was a very young-looking Carmen, Rinat Shaham. Of course, I had to divert my eyes as she alluringly seduced Don Jose, my ‘dicky ticker’ as Monsieur Alfonse (Kenneth Connor) would have said in Hello Hello. Hope they perform ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ (Le Nozze de Figaro) we could all do with a laugh at this time. Or the evergreen ‘Tosca’ for me the best opera ever written and an opera with one of the best aria ever written. Tosca telling us how she has followed ever law of man and God to no avail.

The wind has dropped and the weather seems more settled so as soon as my washing is out of the dryer I will get out for an hour or two. My trip over to Loch Leven could well be imminent.

Thinking of Loch Leven (a bird sanctuary) reminded me of a time when two of my friends went off to shoot geese, but that is for another day. Keep well.     

 A rotten day of weather winds still blowing up into the 40 mph range and spitting rain to boot. So again a short-range flight, although I have to admit to loving the homeward journey divine on by the strong winds, it is a bit like flying.

I have been thinking of a longer trip as soon as the wind abates, and last summer I did a trip to Loch Leven (hoping to journey out to the island and castle where Queen Mary was held) It did not come off, coronavirus, so no boat trip, but I did find out that there is a track that circumference the loch so that will be my next challenge.

We did have a bit of excitement yesterday, a fire engine arrived with a full complement of firemen, but no fire alarm had gone off, stranger and stranger. Turn out that an elderly lady from upstairs was trapped in the lift. They soon had the doors open and consoling and reassured the old dear, but there was no way to get her out. The liftman arrived after a time and changed the fuses and all was well, excitement over.

As I watch the show unfold I was reminded of a film I had seen way back in the 1960s called Sammy Going South” it was about a small boy living in Egypt, his father had been posted there with the RAF. This was at a time of the Suez crises and both his parents had been killed in an air raid. Sammy knows he has an aunt living in South Africa and knows that to get there you go south, so decides to go and stay with his aunt.

The film is very serious at the start, small boy, now an orphan, in a foreign land set off to walk to South Africa. Then the gloom and doom is lifted when Sammy, holding his compass before him, sets off on his adventure, walking alone he starts to sing,

“Oh dear, what can the matter be, two old ladies locked in the lavat’ry”

The audience erupted in laughter. Strange how unrelated events trigger such memories.

What I remember of the film was good, but of course, it would have been very 1960s, so everyone he met was kind and generous and did not try to steal from him, and no human trafficking in this film. Then again maybe The 1960s was like that, but then again, I have always been a glass half full and never without my rose-tinted glasses, kind of a guy.

When I decided that the van needed a service I sent off for a full filter kit. I changed the air, oil and diesel filters, but what was this flat one for? Today I looked up the internet to see if I could find a home for this wayward filter. Seems the Caddy comes with a filter in the heater intake duct. May as well change that too. The van is parked against the wall so I could not gain access by the passenger side, I now found myself lying across the seats, upside down, (and feeling rather sick) fiddling to extract the old filter from the heater under the dashboard. Phew was it dirty, don’t think it has been changed since the van rolled off the assembly line in France. It was a bit of a hassle but another job ticked off the list. Must be cup of tea time? Let’s put on the pan said, Greedy Ann. Keep safe.

Thursday and a bit blowy and cold out but not a bad day. I did not go far, and on my arrival back home, what did I find behind the door? Yes, WHEELS ordered for the wagon. The paint is still a bit wet, and you can have it in any colour so long as it is red, for that is the last of the paint too.

Coming to the end of everything glue, paint, sandpaper, and room for all these stoor collectors. The girls have sold two of the Christmas trees and that is even before they have gone on display with the other goods they have produced for their Christmas sale of work, and all my cheese boards went in an instance (all money made will be going to HED). I think most of them were sold within the block along with a little stool. Had a bit of Oak left over so decided to make another cheese board with it, simple and easy to make, may keep that for myself as a chopping board.

Anyway, I shall not keep you in suspenders (that was deliberate) any longer, I know you have been waiting with bated breath to see the finished wagon, so here it is.  

The mouse is cut freehand with a router

Keep well and keep safe.

Our communal aerial needs re-tuning so no TV all yesterday and today and if that was not bad enough it has never stopped raining, boohoo.

What to do on a wet Wednesday, you paint your wagon, clean the house, dance around to ABBA, and, (inspired by something I read this morning) play with pencil and paper.

The weather is overcast but still and dry so should be able to put in a few miles today, distance does not matter, it is all about getting out in the fresh air.

It has been 14 days since the manager was diagnosed with coronavirus and we are all still here, so that’s good news. As I suspected many went off and had a test, peace of mine, I suppose. It transpires that the manager had been visiting her husband in hospital – he was admitted with coronavirus, this has not gone down well with the girls in here. However, we do know that many in the country are so dependent on the next wage and find themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea when it comes to self isolation and since I do not know all the circumstances I shall not judge.

Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of hours working on my cart here is my progress report.

Monday

threewheelsonmywaggon

Another dreich looking day, but seems to be lifting. Returned from Aldi with pannier bag laden with food, you think they would have come up with a pill that had all the nutrients required and you simply popped one a day – then again it would put an awful lot of people out of work.

Washing out of the machine and into the dryer, a girls work is never done, must be breakfast time by now. So many goodies, decisions, decisions.

Yesterday the morning, like this morning was unbelievably dreich, and as the day progress into the afternoon it turned to heavy rain, so poor was the light that by one o’clock in the afternoon I was putting lights on. Still, it was a good day, pottering in the workshop, cleaning and making the adjusting required on my bike, and generally just chilling out. Does anyone know how to get oil stains out of a carpet? Went right through the dust cover. I know don’t get it on the carpet In the first place.

The big highlight and joy of the day came with the opera Turandot, shown on Sky Arts and being performed at Sidney Harbour. I have seen other opera performances from the harbour and like the Met, not only are the artists outstanding but the scenery is over the top.

In the Sidney Opera House production of Traviata, performed in the harbour, a stage 32 metres by 24 metres was built and secured in place by 16 pylons into the seabed, (no sea creatures, we are assured, were harmed in the production of this opera).

The glittering chandelier that hung over the stage (and performers) weighed in a 3.5 tonnes, and at one point Violetta was inside the chandelier whilst it was swung around like a chair-o-plane at the shows.

It is the only production of Traviata that I know of where the guests arrived by water taxi.    

Of course, we only see those performing on stage, but backstage it is a hive of industry. In this production, there was a chorus of 70 along with 40 musicians in the pit below. Backstage it all happens on cue from four of the coolest stage managers in the business. There are 176 sets of costumes which have taken five cutters and twenty stitchers over eight thousand hours to make. The matador’s outfit was custom-beaded in India; while four people spent six months hand-knotting wigs. Suddenly the cost of my DVD or my ticket to Opera Met at the Byre Theatre, feels like a steal.

When you see some of the stage sets, that are larger than life, from the Met you have to wonder at how fearless the artists must be to perform at such heights and in such precarious positions, and not forgetting they could be in shadow or poor light. When casting around for artists, they will no only be artists at the top of their game, but have a head for heights and not of a nervous indisposition. I believe the health and safety man would have all the artists in harness and the set surrounded by scaffolding if they were ever to use such stage sets here in the UK.

The stage set in today performance was just as fearsome, the tower (reaching up into the heaven and home of the gods), must have been 17 M up to the platform where the leading lady was performing. Not only was she performing from on high but on a platform that moved out into nothingness, brave girl. Most enjoyable and so different from the normal Sunday afternoon television. The big snore.

The not so good news

I was listening to a professor from Bristol University the other day, he was telling us about coronavirus, he said something that makes me sit up, “pay attention at the back there”. He said that at Halls of Residence they could take a sample of wastewater (I presume he meant sewerage) and test it to see if anyone inside had coronavirus.

Now a few months ago I heard another eminently qualifiedly person say that we had polluted the very oceans with antibiotics and that they were now in the food chain, they were finding them in fish. Now I don’t know about you but this all sounds very scary to me. We are peeing in the pan and although the sewerage is treated, in that it is separated and filtered before being passed on back into the streams, rivers and water-table, it is not being treated for virus or antibiotics and possibly all sorts of harmful chemicals now used by man. Once it is in the sea it is there for life, you can’t get it back, we see that with plastic in the few short years we have been producing plastics we have managed to pollute the world’s seas and lands. Plastic that has broken down over decades is now found in the food change, bad enough but is viruses not much more harmful to every living creature on the planet? How stupid are we to ignore such warnings? I ask myself.

My washing will be dry by now so time to stop my blethering and get on with my day, washing out, bike out and hit the road, not literally I hope. Keep well and keep the pedals turning.

Thank Gawd it is all over, that bloody US election of their president, it has been wall to wall coverage on the British media for months, we are all sick to the back teeth with Trump, will this be repeated with Biden? They use to say that when the US sneezed the UK caught a cold, but I’m not so sure that the US carries the same clout around the world as it once did.

If I had to pick between the two candidates I would have picked Biden as the best of the bunch. Biden will take this pandemic more seriously than his predecessor ever did. He said he will rejoin the WHO and start to take climate change, the biggest threat to our world, much more seriously too. He may lift many of these stupid sanctions and tariffs, Trump imposed on countries around the world, including Scotland. And last but by no means least, clips the wings of Boris Johnston over Brexit and how it will play out in Northern Ireland and Johnston’s threat to international law and the peace processes.

Biden at 77 years of age (I believe), is getting on and may not make it thought the next, what will be a tough four years, but we certainly wish him well in his new job, will he stand for a second term? It pleased me that he has a strong young woman by his side who could herself be president. The first woman president may not be that far off. Mostly I like that she does not carry all the baggage that Biden still brings with him from his past. You may remember he was very much a supporter of Margaret Thatcher (the then PM in the UK) over the Falklands War.

The Falklands War had nothing to do with the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands and everything to do with Thatcher’s little war to win back her waning power at home. On this Remembrance Sunday let us not forget the loss of life on both sides, of every conflict, not only British forces. Argentine too lost many young men in that war and in particular the unnecessary sinking of the Belgrano, a ship that was sailing away from the Falklands, so no danger to the Royal Naval vessels in the area and let us not forget the innocent bystanders, in all wars.

Biden has always been very much Wall Street rather than Main Street, we can only hope that he is mellowing in his old age. What the world needs more than anything else in an American president is one that will start to beat swords, if not into ploughshares, possibly into wind turbines, and move America away from global warming fuels and capitalism to industrial growth, the way to grow your economy and have a happy and healthy nation is to give them well-paid work, not austerity with one per cent of the population holding ninety-five per cent of the world’s wealth, with food stamps to the rest. Corporations that have more wealth than the economy of a small nation, and use that power to influence and change policy away from people power to corporate power, serving their own ends. A president that once and for all take on the gun lobby in America and stop the slaughter on their streets and in their schools. He has a big job ahead of him but cometh the hour, cometh the man, let us pray that Biden is that man.     

Today was a bit special, certainly the wind turbines around Fife were not earning their keep, ideally standing silently, like sleeping soldiers, awaiting the call too battle, against a wind that will surely come. I took the A915 on the most pleasant of cycling days. Climbing up out of St Andrews onto what would have been moorland when the young James, the future king of Scotland, made this journey all those years ago in a vain hope of escaping to France and out of the clutches of his uncle. Skirting Largo Law, and on into Upper Largo. Here I would part company with my young prince, he would to Lower Largo go and passage across the Forth, me to Lundin Links.

Over the years I have seen the top of the tower at Lundin Wood, I thought it was about time to pay it a visit. Like the A915 the road into the tower was newly repaired, not the smooth black-top as the A915 but the pot holes had all been expertly filled with hardcore and rolled flat.

The house, incorporating the tower had been extensively modernized and looking pristine, the lady of the house did ask why I was taking pictures.

“Travel snaps” I assure her, “Just out for a day on my bike”.

She said, “I will let you off this time”.

The area had all the trapping of what would have been once a great estate. Iron fencing along each side of the drive,

much of this was installed during the depression, giving employment to men during that time and subsidised by the government. If you go hillwalking you are sure to come across the remains of fencing installed along bounders, with no real purpose other than keeping men out of the poor house. They would live in the hills, building big fires to keep then warm throughout the night. Sounds rough but I suppose no worse than life in the city during such times.

As you approach on your right a large field contained within a wall must once have been the walled garden that served the castle and in the field above this was what appears to be a mock chapel dovecote. I have seen a similar one at Kelly Castle. I looked up Largo Tower in G.A.G.Peterkin’s book that lists Scottish dovecotes and there is one listed for Largo Tower (not Lundin Tower) that states, doocot in top storey of defence tower; conical slated roof deteriorating. clearly not Lundin doocot. However many ornamental dovecots were built in the 19th century purely for that, decoration, a garden ornament on a grand scale, a status symbol.

This certainly is the best time to visit such building, old dovecots, standing stones and ruined castles, for the harvest is in and the stubble fields still to be ploughed, so access is assured.  

Rather than retrace my wheel tracks to the A915 I followed the path that led into Lundin Wood, getting better at this off-road riding, but not much. It was only a short distance to a farm road down into Silverburn and the main road for Leven.

I wanted to visit the Motte at Kennoway, and with a good cycle path all along the main road I was soon passing the whisky bottling plant and out to the roundabout at Durie Vale, and quite by accident onto the cycle track that followed the old dismantled railway track to the foot of the Motte, Kennoway’s best-kept secrets.

Most everywhere you go in Scotland you will see signs telling you that this, that or the other was funded by the local council in conjunction with EU funding, all be it that we are content with Shallot’s, the Westminster Treasury, that takes its whack before passing on what they deem we are worthy of. The top of the mound is all but impossible to reach, it’s steep, it’s muddy and completely overgrown, I literally had to pull myself up with the low hanging branches. There is little to see on top other than, it is flat and less dense, but I am pleased to be here, another ticked off my list. I will try to find out more about in on the internet.

Homeward bound. I continued on the A916 into Kennoway and all the way to Craigrothie where I took the B939 for Ceres, down into Pitscottie and home. Without a doubt the best day’s ride this week. The highlight was coming over the top at Wester Newburn and looking down on Largo Bay, and the Forth. It sparked like quicksilver in the morning sun, the Forth never fails to impress.

The bike (and I) are still holding together but it needs a service now, cables stretching so that the changed don’t always index, or will take it upon itself to change gear, without a by your leave. Well, it possibly knows better what gear is best, than the silly old bugger riding it.

I am still amazed the endurance of the battery, even over some tough terrain and seeing the Wattage used well into three figures, it still has plenty in reserve when I return home, where it is plugged it into the mains and by morning it is ready for a new day, that’s what I need, plugged into the mains and an overnight recharge.

Thursday

loved my ride today, I deliberately stayed away from the main roads where possible, heading out of St Andrews on the road up past the Grange Farm. At the Gilmerton crossroad I turned right and joined the A915 then at the crossroads turned onto the B940 and carried on this road until I reached Lochty then right again for Carnbee. The day was cold, the skies clear with only a low watery sun to brighten my day. Still it was swell, riding on roads totally devoid of traffic. This is fun. I followed the road all the way down to join the B9171 and at the cross roads it was ‘make your mind up time’, I carried straight on for Crail and joined the A917 for Kingsbarns and St Andrews, although this is an A road it is less used than the B9131 out of Anstruther for St Andrews and the A917 is much less of a climb.

The sun was well past its meridian by the time I returned home, a quick cuppa and out with the tools. All the hard work was done yesterday so it did not take me long to cut up the board. Just when you have it sussed it all goes wrong. The tabletops were badly warped across their width, but once cut this seems less of a problem. Alas, the floor section needed some bearers to hold it flat, even with glue, screws and clamps it was reluctant to lay flat, ho-hum. More screws more bearers, more frustration, I had run out of clamps. It will be tomorrow before I know if all my endeavours have brought me victory or – don’t want to contemplate the alternative. Word of warning, don’t get glue on your trousers, it sticks like the proverbial to a hairy blanket.

Still some other bits and pieces to work on so I shan’t weary for something to do.

Does not look much for over two hours of work, still, that is not the object of the exercise. Building a chassis tomorrow.

Strange I thought with all that fresh air I would be ready for my dinner, but I don’t feel that hungry, or at least, not for dinner, more something nice, but I don’t know what, ho-hum. Keep well and keep safe.

 Wednesday

the weather has improved dramatically with the strong winds abating, so I was once more out on my bike. Nowhere in particular but being out is a blessing long hours indoors can be a drag in these short autumn days. Dark when you wake up dark by four in the afternoon, no wonder we Scots are a dour race of people.

Home from today’s run and out to the van and dragged two more tabletops out and set about dismantling the runners ready for sanding, I am finding it easier to do the whole top rather the sum of the parts that make up a particular project, lessons learned.

The thick coat of old varnish is a bugger to get off, even with the big 6-inch sander and I have managed to go through four sanding discs, even with 80 grit the discs clogged up fair fast, still more fun and games.

Spent a pleasant evening yesterday with my sketchbook and pencil, deciding what to make with the now transformed timber. In the end, I settled on a toy. Kids love anything with wheels that they can pull around. With all this wood I could make it big, for older children, who love to help their parents in the garden, by digging holes in mums prise flower beds, filling their carts with soil and transporting it off to build a castle on the front lawn, or someplace just as inappropriate.

So an articulated sort of cart come hay wain. This is my artist’s impression but of course, it will look nothing like that when finished, they never do they evolve as they go.

I will mark out the boards this evening and if the weather play’s ball tomorrow and after my run I will start cutting out, once assembled I will put it in the common room for anyone with a great-grandchild, needing a toy for Christmas. If no one wants it then the Men’s Shed can put it on their web site and made a couple of bob for their kitty. I hear through the grapevine that they are looking at a piece of ground at Pipeline but of course, it will take money, still, there are enough clever clogs and in the know people down there to sent begging letters to the likes of the National Lottery. Then again with this virus doing the rounds all the charities are suffering cash flow, so not so easy these days.

7 am strip bed and head for the laundry, stuff the machine and set it to work, is there no end to this man’s talents?

The weather, cold but dry, so it was outside with the two Christmas trees, I can make as much noise as I like out here, so nailed the spines on the back of the two trees. Back indoors, made four feet to make them free standing, another find job.

Make breakfast, Ding-Dong – doorbell, it was the postman with the filters I had ordered to service the van. Off to the filling station to buy 5 L oil, did you see the price of this stuff, ho-hum.

Clothes out of the washing machine and into the drier, it’s all go today.

Drained oil, changed fuel filter, air filter, then oil filter, you need to give time for the oil to drain. Re-cycling centre closed today, thankfully I had planned ahead and kept all those old 1 L milk bottles for the wast oil. These single-use gloves are a godsend. Wash-a-handy-time, coronavirus and all that, and you would not wish to get all those nice clean clothes dirty, would you?

Clothes out of drier.

With bathroom cleaner and a loo brush I set about cleaning the engine down, good job.

May as well wash the van, since I am out here, all that sticky stuff from the tree is a bugger to get off the roof. Van washed and rinsed, stepladder returned to the storeroom, another fine job.

Make a cup of tea and a sandwich of potato crisps, they’re gid tell yer ma’.

Hover out and clean up workshop, may as well do the rest of the house. Clean bathroom including the floor, I love the smell of that spray cleaner, my wee flat now looking fair braw.

Make the bed, I do love freshly laundered sheets.

3 pm settled down in front of the television, with a cup of tea to find out what is going on in the world.

4 pm wake up, that’s something new, is this part of growing old? Ouch, ma’ tea’s cold.

Already dark O’clock, where did the day go?

Peel the potatoes and put them on for dinner, mince and tatties again today, that mince, on special offer, was a good buy.

Keep well and safe.  

Sunday and another day of wind and rain, October has become a bit of a pain. The morning did not start off well, I switched on the news only to hear that chinless wonder Gove, (a man the Irish would call, “A stranger to the truth”) there he was telling the gullible that, the catastrophic mess, in the way they have handled coronavirus, is all part of some great plan is there anyone out there that can stand to listening to this man for more than 10 seconds without boaking? Boris is fine he has a ‘get out of jail card’ he will ask the MPs it the Commons to vote for his plan, sharing the blame. You could not make it up folks.

The good news, Christmas has been cancelled, hip, hip hooray, no Santa Bloody Clause.

My Christmas message.

The adobe shed,

Her only shelter,

A young girl,

Her hours of labour spent.

And on that very special night,

Three wise men to Palatine, came,

Guided there by a comet’s light,

Illuminating below a wondrousness sight.

Angels of the heavenly host,

Proclaim, tiding of great joy,

“It’s a boy”, who will carry all our hopes,

Of Peace, for all the world’s folks.

That was then,

Now is now,

The marketing men,

Have slain the sacred cow.

No longer are wide eyed children told,

The Christmas story of promised joy,

Christ’s precious gift now behold,

For a “Made in China” plastic toy.

The cradle of this once great hope,

They fight and squabble over every stone,

Promised joy, now a schism,

Annexe lands and an open prison.

I went over to the supermarket first thing this morning, for a paper and picked up some mince for the dinner, (and a 6 pack of crisps, naughty boy). So for today a walk down to the harbour, paper to read, then back to Christmas trees ‘Mark 2’ I think they look better tapered. No green paint but then again they are spruce, which in a way is in line with the Christmas tree concept.

Keep safe and well.

 Friday, the wind was blowing up a bit, but I had seen enough of sawdust for a while so I took off to Guess where?

The climb up today was not a problem I am learning the ropes with this e-bike. Leaving the bike at the bottom of the farm track,

the gate was padlocked against me, so I was not a surprise on reaching the top of the track to find these ponies. Well, some Numpty would come along and leave a gate open into a field, stands to reason, sod’s law.

It was a bit of a scramble up some treacherous VS (very severe) wet grass, not recommended for anyone under 7 or over 70 years of age.

The picture clearly shows the outer line of the Broach and it’s big, I stepped out nearly 30 feet.

The door and the lintel is also clear enough to make out and positioned away from the prevailing winds, which up here today was a bit wild, then again there is nothing to stop them from here all the way to Ben Lomond.

If getting up was bad enough, getting down for me these days would be no better, so I looked for an alternative route. I followed a less steep path down, and here I met another group of ponies, fenced off from the others.

Back at the road, and since I had made the effort to get up here, to the top of the world, I pressed on to Peat Inn, then onto the road for Crail, with the wind now on my back I was flying along at 40 kph until I reached the B9131, where I turned left for St Andrews.

Not a great distance in the grand scheme of things, but it was good to get out of the house for a bit and gulp down some fresh air, for it the weatherman is right, I will be locked indoors tomorrow.

That was the good news, the bad news, the manager who is periodical on-site at City Park, having just returned from holiday, spent 4 hours on-site on Tuesday 26th October has now tested positive for Covid 19. I suppose it was inevitable that this would happen, someone from outside would bring it to our door. The housing association have tried to assure us and that Jane’s office will be deep cleaned. I have a feeling that most of my neighbours will be wanting tests done despite Viewpoint’s reassurances. The incubation period, I believe, is somewhere between 2 to 14 days so a few anxious days ahead for many of my neighbours. For me, spilt milk, no point worrying over it.   

 Woke up this morning with Christmas trees on my mind. The weather seemed to be holding so it was outside with my bench, two salvaged table tops and a rip-snorter saw I was now able to start cutting the tops into 2-inch strips then, the chop saw to cut the ends at 45% halfway through, sod’s law, the rain came on, fine constant drizzle, the worst kind. Still, I got the job done, but no Santa’s little helpers to clean up after me, so I tided up the lawn and dumped all the cuttings.

Back indoors, I managed to paint the centrepiece, it now looks like this,

“Hush, hush, whisper who dares, Christopher Robin is saying his prayers”. More stoor collectors around the house.

The Christmas tree, I decided to put it on a hinged leg so that it can be folded flat for storage after Christmas. The designed allows for them to be made any height, however, much higher and I think I will have to taper it more like a real tree. I though around three feet high would be fine for indoors. When the first one is finished I will take it down to the St Andrews brewery, and offer it to them as a thank you for the timber.

Well it is finished and here is the result.

Sadly mileage this week has been dismal, just over 50 miles total, bad weather, my excuse, as for the weekend, it is forecast to be storms, wind speeds of 45 mph try pedalling against that, and not to be outdone heavy rain. They tell us that the weather is due to improve on Monday with high pressure in command, we travel hopefully.

City Park is very quiet, everyone keeping their head below the parapet, you would not blame them when you see how quickly coronavirus is spreading in the country. Clearly tinkering at the edges is not the way forward, they should have followed the WHO instructions from the start Test, Trace, Isolate. England is still struggling with the concept, the main reason seems to be they have contracted the testing and tracing out to a private company, that have no experience in this field, might have been better putting the money into the NHS, then what do I know? The devolved governments are starting to understand the folly of depending on the Lighthouse testing facilities and are now developing their own systems, sadly too late for too many. I never leave my flat without my mask on (even within the building) and use the hand gel machine every time I pass it, I need coronavirus like I need a hole in my head.  

“The sun is out, the skies are blue, there’s not a cloud to spoil the view” but unlike the lyrics, ‘raining in my heart’ it’s time to dust off the bike. Keep well and safe.

 I had taken my tricycle on today’s shopping trip to Aldi so I went via the viaduct cycle path, this would save my legs on the hilly bit. Looking down off the embankment I spotted a skip in the industrial estate with what looked like large pieces of timber, hold me back. Shopping done I headed for the little industrial estate and round the back of the St Andrews brewing company, I found the skip with the wood I had seen earlier. It was in fact smashed up tables, the tops still intact but rather warped from being out in the elements for a long period of time.

As I nosed in the skip the back door opened and a big lad stepped out, I already knew what his name would be – Sir, and in an Irish brogue, asked,

“Can I be of assistance?”

I told him that I was interested in the wood in the skip, sure you can have it if it of any use to you, he even offered to take it out and stack it to one side for me, but I said I could manage but thanks anyway. You meet the nicest people in St Andrews.

When I returned with the van I was surprised at just how many table tops there were, must be at least a dozen. They will take a bit of work to dismantle and cut up, but that all adds to the fun. What to make with them? I had been looking for some timber for garden Christmas decorations, these table tops would be ideal for Christmas trees, (have already cut some templates just to see how it would work out, seen under the table ornament.) or even a nativity scene, but first I must finish my table decoration, Christopher Robin, (saying his prayers). It is cut from coloured Perspex, the base is part of an old drawer front, the stars are candle holders.

Yes, I know it doesn’t look much at the moment, but then again, only fools and children see jobs half-finished, once the protective cover has been removed and the base painted it will look fine.

The nuns of Brussels were renowned for their delicate lacework, for each one they finished they introduce a flaw, for only God is perfect. That is my excuse too.        

 Monday once more, my allotted time in the laundry so, a chance to catch up on my blog whilst the washing machine does all the work.

My bicycle originally had combination trigger-changers and brakes. However when I converted it to an e-bike I had to use trigger-changers that were separate from the brake levers, since the brake levers, that came with the kit, had electric cables attached, that in turn connected to the controller, so when you operate the brake the motor would cuts-out, which made a lot of sense.

What do you do with the trigger changers and brake combo? Well, you turn to your tricycle. My tricycle is a bit of a bitsa, starting off in the 1960s as a road bike, I then converted it to a tricycle by brazing on a Higgins rear axle. Later I changed the front forks for ones from off a mountain-bike so that I could upgrade to a disc brake, (wider that the original road forks). Now it was time to change to trigger changes, but again these could not be accommodated on to drop handlebars, a butterfly bar was my choice. I like butterfly handlebars you can still, move your hands around the bars, for it can be very tiresome on long runs holding the same hand position, as on a straight bar, anyway as you grow older the bottom part of the drop bars is seldom used.

Nothing is that simple of course, not everything is interchangeable on bikes. My handlebars were old school so it took a bit of hunting and waiting for the new butterfly bars that were the right diameter to arrive. Now fitted along with the trigger changers and brake combo, no problem, however, the inner and outer cable, not only had different nipples but were too short so new inner and outer cables were ordered, that was Sunday, and according to Amazon they will be here today, and you wonder why High Street stores are closing.

I have never been a stick in the mud when it comes to upgrades, we evolve or die. If you still want to ride that Barn Gate or Curly framed bike, that you rode back in 1950 fine but riding a loaded tricycle with two calliper brakes bearing on the front wheel rim alone, in modern traffic or downhill and in the wet I can assure you, is twitchy bum time.

If you have never ridden a tricycle then you letting the best thing in life pass you bye.

They make brilliant touring bikes that will carry a good load, and since it is spread over a vast area of tarmac, you will hardly notice that it is there. You can roll up at traffic lights, or halt signs and if you have to stop, simply pull on the brakes and stop. Out in the country, you have time to look around you without having to worry unduly about anything, other than just sit up and enjoy the scenery. OK it will take some practice, you can’t lean a tricycle into a corner you have to steer it around the corner and move your weight to compensate, or the tricycle will flip over.

This is a little extreme

But I’m trying to teach gran to suck eggs, you will all remember the skint knees when you rode your first tricycle, at around five years of age, tricycles have not changed much, they just got bigger.

And some take it very seriously indeed.

I was attracted to tricycles many years ago, it was at the York Rally. I was coming up the hill, and there was a lad coming down towards me, he was riding a conventional tricycle. He was brilliant, weaving in and out of the cats-eyes, at breakneck speed, first hanging off one side of the tricycle then the other,

“What a poser” I though, “Must get one of those”.

I am hoping that ridding my e-bike (which I still pedal) I will build up the stamina to ride my tricycle for many years to come, for I have never lost the thrill of having only ‘three wheels on my wagon’.

Keep the pedals turning and stay safe.

 When planning a long ridge walk, you will normally factor in escape routes off the mountain for emergencies, such as a change in the weather and the weather can be so different when you reach heights of over three thousand feet, than it was when you set out from the base camp. Weather can and does catch you out.

Today the forecast was rubbish but I felt I should at least make the effort or be trapped indoors for the day. I set out early for Cupar but by the time I reached Strathkinness the wind was fierce, and by Knock Hill horizontal rain had been added, time to find an escape route. Dairsie and home, at a great rate of knots, cold and wet but happy that I had been out, if only for wee while.

“Happiness is not a gift, it must be worked at”

The Dalai Lama.

Thinking of high winds, there was a time when a large contingency of Americans was stationed in Scotland at Faslane on the Gare Loch, and this brought about many stories from local girls they had dated when on R&R in Glasgow.

“Jessie, what was that big Yank like you was oot wi yesterday?”

“Oh, it was great, he was telling me about all the big winds they have in Texas, and how they near blow a man’s hoose doon. Well, I telt him that we have some big winds here ta’ and how most of them come fae Texas”.

“And whit did you do Jessie, did he take you anywhere nice?”

“Aye, we went ta’ this posh restaurant and I had Shrimp Cocktails”

“And whit did you have ta’ eat Jessie?”

“Shrimp Cocktails, Jessie. The kind you eat wi a fork”.

“Oh, is that right Jessie.

“I asked him about his house in Texas and he told me that their ranch was so big if you went up into the mountains and looked out to the horizon, you could just about see the end of it”

“And whit did you say ta’ that Jessie?”

“Well I telt him Annie, if I sit in the back green, I can see the moon”.

“O’, right enough Jessie”.

Another week in and how have I found the e-bike, was it a good or bad idea. I would have to say it is a success. My millage has improved at least two-fold, even with the weather as bad as it has been, so getting me out of the house and into the fresh air, 100% successful. I was simply struggling on the hills and into headwinds and would have soon given up on cycling all together so again 100%. If I had known what I know now, I would have chosen a bottom bracket motor. and if the cost was an issue and I still went for the wheel kit, I would mount the heavy battery over the front wheel (on a carrier there) so that the weight was better distributed. I really think it will come into its own when the better weather comes along. And moving the Battery could still be an option.  

 2008

The UK Risk Register of Civil, Emergencies lists epidemics and pandemics as likely threats to the UK.

2010

The Strategic Defence and Security Review lists epidemic, pandemics and climate change among the greatest threats to the UK – Before concentrating on preparations for war.

2015

The Strategic Defence and Security Review (again) lists epidemics and climate change among the greatest threats to the UK – Before (again) equating “security” with preparations for war.

2017

The UK Risk Register of Civil Emergencies warns of a “high probability” of a major epidemic. It says the MoD is involved in preparing for this possibility.

2018

The UK government’s National Security Capability Review states that major outbreaks of disease are among the most likely threats to people in the UK.

2019

Following the general election, the Queen’s Speech promises an increase in “defence” spending.

2020

The Covid 19 pandemic reaches the UK. Several ministers say that it was impossible to see it coming.

The NHS struggles to cope with insufficient Personal Protective Equipment.

British ministers confirm that they will go ahead with plans to spend £10.4 Billion on new fighter jets. (Merry Christmas US Arms manufactures, remember to hand out the brown envelops along with the New Year bottles).  

Keep the peddles turning keep safe.  

 On opening my e-mails this morning, I had a request, I was being asked to look into my memory banks and tell what I remember of my sister as part of her Eulogy. This was very strange, for my sister had been given her death sentence six months ago, cancer of the spine, and what with not being able to visit, due to coronavirus, I had not come to terms with her illness or her approaching demise. Now for the first time, I was being asked to think about my sister and in the past tenace.

Life is much the same for man and chimpanzee a one-way ticket with no guarantee.

I really believe we have to have a serious talk about when we are pronounced dead. At present we are deemed to die when the brain dies (brain dead), but when did my sister really die? Was it six months past, or only last weekend?

In the film “The Horse Whisperer” Robert Redford playing alongside Kristin Scott Thomas, in this acclaimed film and novel. Redford plays the part of this rugged down-to-earth rancher not only has he an extraordinary give with horses but people too. In the scene in his kitchen, he tells the young girl about a boy he knew. A good boy, a strong boy, he dived into the creek one day and hit a rock, snapped his neck and was paralysed from that day forward. He was trying to tell the girl that the accident and the death of her friend had nothing to do with her, she did everything right, it was just an accident. He went on to say, I called in on that boy from time to time, but he was not there, he had gone someplace else, he was lost to us.

When did the boy die?

I am pretty philosophical about death, I certainly do not fear death, neither do I court it. What I do fear is being artificially kept alive, with machines, and/or boxes of pills taken each and every day, or worst still have no control over my life, held in suspended animation until the morphine wears off, then only pain, until the dosing pump kicks in once more.

I am seriously thinking of having a tattoo over my heart to say Do Not Resuscitate. God forbid, that I end up in a vegetated state after suffering a stroke.

I have had three sisters, all die within six months of having been diagnosed with cancer, all in the way I have described above. We really must have a serious talk about euthanasia in the country. The chose when we actually died should rest with us as much with us as the politicians and the doctors.

Death is our only assurance in life, let it come when the quality of our life is at an end, not when the brain dies and after prolonged intervention by doctors and medicine. Life must always be for living.

Sorry folks, but it has been one of those days. Keep well and keep dodging the undertaker.

Today the weather was not of its best, rather dreich and with a leaden sky hanging over St Andrews. My first journey today had to be Aldi, restock Mrs Hubbard’s cupboards, so it was Soda Farls, for breakfast (not unlike Scottish Soda Scone). I acquired a taste for them in Northern Ireland at that time they would have been fried in the pan along with eggs and bacon, now I simply sliced then down the middle and popped the two halves into the toaster. Tonight it will be mince and tatties for dinner, it’s gid tell yer ma’.

I spent a lot of time in Northern Ireland during 1960, always staying at the Stella Mara in Belfast city centre. The Friday night dance was a good place to pick up girls, but of course the girl could only leave the hall when old hawk-eye, the priests, had first given his blessing, however, he knew us well so never refused.

We were living at the Stella Mara, at a time when there was a bread strike on. Seated in the dining room, in came the old breakfast cook, I’m sure he was well past retirement, breakfast was always a big fried-up, no cereals were offered.

“Bread or toast?” asked the cook

I had toast Benny chose bread, we were both well into our breakfast when Benny, on turning over what remained of his bread, was less than amused to find big patches of mould. Well Benny went berserk, then again, Benny had always been a bit of a drama queen, he called the cook through from the kitchen and on showing him the bread spouted his disapproval, to which the old cook, in the broadest of Belfast accents told him,

“Sure it’s not so good for you if it is too fresh”

laughter broke out in the dining room and in the end, even Benny had to accept the situation and laugh along with us.

“Will there be anything else” asked the cook, then without waiting for an answer disappeared back into his kitchen.

Taking the road

I set off in search of Forgan Church, somewhere off the road from St Michael’s to Tayport. When I was doing research into churches, some now ruinous but had a bit of history behind them, I came across Forgan Church. There are two, the one that replaced the original, has now been turned into the home and offices of an architect, using much of the dressed stone from the original, yes, recycling has been going on since man put one stone on top of another.

Once off the main Dundee road life took on a new meaning, quiet roads once more, but there was an ice coldness in the wind. I had a rough idea where the church was and spend a lot of time going up farm tracks and minor roads, but alas no church, if this is the offices of an architect, potential customers better have satellite navigation in their car or his kids will be going hungry to bed.

Still, the day was not a total loss, for I cycled on into Tayport and as is my habit ended up down at the harbour.

There were a lot more boats in the water than last time I visited, some making ready to sail, or possibly just making do and mend.

There’s a gey wheen boats at the harbour mou’,
And eh! dae ya see the cruisers?
The cinnamon drop I was sookin’ the noo
Has tummelt an’ stuck tae ma troosers.

Boy in the Train by M C Smith.

Certainly, it was a better day for sailing than cycling with a rising wind.

As ever I got myself lost coming out from the harbour, I should really go back the way out the way I came in. Thankfully a car came out in front of me and since I suspected he would know his way out of the housing scheme I followed on behind and thankfully I was proven right.

Off home, back into the maelstrom of the A919 and A91, not so far to go, not a Thursday’s child then. Keep the peddles turning and stay safe.

The day was just about perfect for a longer trip and the one I had in mine was Norman’s Law, this is the highest hill in a range of hills that overlooks the southern shore of the River Tay, located approximately five miles northeast of Newburgh, so a fair way out.

First into Cupar but rather than my normal route out of town I decided to try the road up past the hospital, I had a bad feeling about this, as soon as I read the sign that said ‘Not Suitability for Heavy Verticals’. The road from here is very undulating yet very pleasant to travel, today, complete devoid of traffic. At the A92 I turned left and then right for Luthrie where I took a picture of the church with its crowned belfry.

On to Brunton and the road for Fliskmitlan. I came across a lay-by and an information sign for the Fife Coastal Path. I found the farm track a few yards further on and left the bike there, shanks pony would take me from here on in.

The wide hardcore road was easy to follow, upwards. At the junction was a notice pointing right but said turn left. From here a forest of mature Sikri’s Spruce, with their silver-tipped branches stretching out towards me, and slopping away to my right. The path, steeper now, but still good and today running with water so a bit soft underfoot in places. I did see the track of a mountain bike, certainly, a cyclist hoodwinked by the sign that said Coastal Path. Then again whoever had the idea to call this a Coastal Path definitely had a sense of humour, I could see them now, sitting in his little room, somewhere in the bowels of Fife Council Offices teetering away to themselves, cyclist he, he, he.

As you reach the false summit there is a style in the fence and a trodden path into a grassy field, it is only that but clear enough to follow, but beware, the skittery coos don’t differentiate between field and path. At the far end of the field another style, and a steep climb to the summit of Norman’s Law.

Boy is it beautiful up here, “I can see for miles and miles” (forgotten the name of the band).

With magnificent views in all directions, this rocky hilltop was well chosen for a defended prehistoric settlement. Even today there are clear traces of fortifications around the summit, believed to have once been a Pictish stronghold. A wall totally encircles the whole of the summit area,

with an outer line of defence the terraces to the south. There is a much smaller fortification that occupies only the summit.

I have visited many Forts, Castles and Motes on my travels all over Fife, and when you think of the number of man-hours and sheer effort it must have taken to build these structures, to defend against, not wild animals, but men, it makes you wonder as to the makeup of we humans. Since the beginning of time, we have wasted so much of our lives and precious resources fighting and defending ourselves from one another, and there seems no end to it. Although today is is more about defending the arms trade, and the vast fortunes that flows from it, than the country.

Did you know that the American taxpayer (and UK taxpayer) spend $70,000 firing a missile from a $28,000,000 drone, at a cost of $3,624 per hour to keep in the air, all to kill people in the Middle East living on less that $1 per day. Makes you think, how far we have travelled and learned nothing.

From here I dropped down to the real coastal path, the road that runs alongside the river all the way into Newburgh, then home on main roads, via Cupar. 

I could have eaten a scabby horse on my return, but alas it was Mrs Hubbard’s, cupboard today. I found an onion, and once finely chopped was fried in Olive Oil, then dumped into a bowl, added to this, leftover mash potatoes, from yesterdays meal, finally the last remaining egg. All ingredients now mixed together, it was back into the pan. Forget all those Micheline stars, choose hunger’s good kitchen every time. another good day, keep well, you hear. 

I

It had rained heavily during the night, and the morning started off rather dreich so it was around 11 O’clock before I made any attempt to leave the house, by then the cloud was breaking up and a watery sun had made its appearance.

Out of the car-park and into Argyle Street, the B939. Leaving town, I moved onto the unclassified road for Strathkinness, and made the long climb up onto Knock Hill, and then went whizzing off down the other side for Kemback. The large sycamore, on sentry duty at the entrance to the small car-park before the bridge, over the Eden, shone bright, red and gold, in the low morning sunlight, the Eden river was in full spate and clouded with soil carried along in its waters.

In the field, I was now passing, there was an old ewe, and I heard something that reminded me of a story that had been going around the family for years.

My sister had came running into the house, clearly upset about something, then it came out, an old man had been following her home. Dad listened to her story, and then asked,

“How do you know it was an old man that was following you?”

“I heard him coughing behind me, it was loud, just like grandad coughing” she remembered.

“And where was this?” he continued “better still” he went on “show me”.

Dad put his coat on, then his bonnet, and beckoned my sister to follow him out the door. Retracing her steps she lead dad back to where the old man had been following her, and sure enough they heard coughing coming from the other side of the hedge, but not an old man but an old ewe, indeed sounding very human.

Anyone who has lived in the country or gone hillwalking will have heard sheep coughing, and when still at school, our science teacher brought in a sheep heart to dissect. He told us that the heart (and many other organs) from sheep are of comparable size to those of humans. So I was not surprised when the story of the old man following my sister home, turned out to be an old sheep, with a touch of bronchitis.

On up the Dura Den following the coarse of the Ceres Burn, then halfway along you come to the waterfall. It was working overtime, shooting off the rock and out into mid air before falling away. I stopped off at Pitscottie to check the rear tyre for softness, but it was fine, so a mouthful of water and on to the cross road where I turned right for Ceres. Through the village and on into Bridgend before dropping down into Cupar. There is a green lane that runs from Bridgend all the way down to the cemetery in Cupar. I don’t know if it is ridable, may try it when the ground is a bit dryer.

There was a coldness coming into the air as I left Cupar on the A91 which I stayed on all the way home, bikes go well on smooth tarmac. After Guardbridge I found a few puddle to play in, I just love to see the spray arching off my front tyre, a treat for every small boys. Mum would have said “Simple things amuse simple mind” but I see it more like “Suffer the children to come unto me” it is not about being childish but about seeing life through the eyes of a child once more, not complicated, but simple and unbelievably beautiful. Well, that’s my excuse.

Not a long run today but enough is as good as a feast they say, keep the peddles turning.

The story today was the wind, it was cold and it was fierce, my Achilles Heel these days will always be strong headwinds, much more so than hills, or rain, so I am grateful for all the help I can get.

I headed out to Guardbridge then Leuchars, passing through the village and onto the single-track road that will take you out as far as Tentsmuir Sands, the idea was to find shelter from the wind amongst the forest there.

I followed the green lane from the road out to Fetterdale then a forest track to Green Scalp – near Tentsmuir Point. Some of these forest tracks are in far better shape than the single-track road out from Leuchars, which makes sense since they are free of motorised traffic, used only by the Forestry commission. In the summer these tracks are well used by cyclists, however today I saw no other until back on the cycle path. My bike is not best suited for such adventures, and my balance not what it once was so gently does it.

It is very quite out here in the depth of the forest, and the smell of pine, fir and spruce intoxicating and a head clearing balm. It is not until you retrace your wheel tracks back to civilisation that you once more encounter the toxic exhaust fumes and appreciate the clean air of the forest. Not a long day, but so enjoyable.

Another dog’s tale

Having lived through two world wars and a couple of decades of depression, dad was very much a ‘make do and mend’ kind of a guy. The problem was that in today’s world of ‘throw-away’ it would often cost him more in materials to try and fix whatever it was that was broken than to buy a new one, however this did not stop him from trying.

Dad was in need of some special glue for his latest project, so he and Sandy went off up the town, down the High Street into Bridge Street and the Halford shop. Sandy sat patiently at the door, paying special attention to each and everyone that came from the shop awaiting his signal to fall in at heel behind dad.

At home dad disappeared into his shed with the glue to fix his latest project. It would have been an hour or so later that mum called him from the back door,

“Your teas on the table”

Dad came in and sat down at the kitchen table,

“Where’s Sandy?” mum asked

“Help ma Boab, I left him up the toon!” he exclaimed

Off he went hot-footing it up to Bridge Street to find Sandy still there outside Halford’s shop awaiting his return. Both man and dog pleased to see one another.

All’s well, that ends well.

 If you have been following my blog you will know that a few weeks ago I converted one of my bikes, by adding an electric motor rear wheel, and all the trials and tribulations that entailed. I have been out most days, and covered a few hundred miles, on the bike since its conversion and, feel now I can give a summary of how it feels to ride.

When I was considering an electric motor for my bike, I did a lot of research on the internet, but since most of this information is supplied by companies trying to sell you something, you will possibly, like me, end up more confused than you were at the start.

The big question?

Bottom bracket torque sensor

‘Torque’ of a ‘Cadence’ sensor, (although you can now get e-bikes that come with both and a high price tag). Most kits come with a cadence sensor that is a ring that is slipped over the crankshaft at the bottom bracket. The cadence sensor detects if you are pedalling and if you are will tell the controller, (supplied with the motor) what power to transfer to the motor, (up to the limit you have set on your display) the one I have happens to have 5 settings. Along with this, there is a trigger or throttle control, this overrides the sensor and you are now riding an electric motorcycle, and depleting the battery at a fast rate of knots. You will of course still have the choice of gear already on the bike, I have found that I have never used my small front ring or granny gear since fitting the motor, mostly I will be on the middle ring and middle cog or above.

A torque sensor, on the other hand, detects how hard you are pedalling, and you have to supply around one-quarter of the power all the time, if you stop pedalling, the motor takes a break too. The controller will pass this information onto the motor, and in turn, will give you a range from economic about 50% power to 300% full power. The advantage with this system is that it rides more like a bike, but with a bit of assistance, (dependent on your input).

Sum up,

With the cadence sensor you only need to pretend to be pedalling to get full power, you can simply use the throttle. With the torque sensor, you are always helping. Even at the 300% level, you are still providing one-quarter of the power yourself.

Since I have never ridden a bike with a torque sensor I can not tell you which is best, but if you are still fairly fit and still a strong cyclist I would prefer the torque sensor bike. It would feel more like riding an ordinary bike since the motor delivers its power through your own effort at the peddles, and you will not have to fiddle with touch screens and triggers, and of course a fully charged battery would take you much further.

The cadence sensor bikes can be used at all levels, switch off the motor and you have a very heavy to push bike. Set the amount of help you wish on the screen, zilch to five and off you go, when you find a hill and the effort is becoming a strain, pull the trigger for more power, woosh off you go.

The only bike I have found that has both are the SmartMotion Pace/Catalyst which allows you to select which mode to ride. But torque sensors are very complicated, which is reflected in the price, and the main reason I suspect why all kits come with a cadence sensor, then again, if you need an e-bike conversion it is possible because, like me, you still love to cycle but are finding peddling up hills and into strong headwinds, to say the least, tiring.

Keep well and keep pedalling.

With their golden wedding anniversary well past, the routine at home never changed much. Dad would go off in the morning and collect his papers, and on his return, and to mum’s despair would read every column inch and give a running commentary from cover to cover of each and every one of three newspapers he had purchased. Then there was the morning news programme, on the television. Following close on its heels by the afternoon news, the early evening news, evening news and the late evening news, every snippet would have to be commented on. Mum had become anaesthetised to this constant barrage and mostly was able to simply switch off. Dad’s annoyance however spilt over into mums favourite television programme, Coronation Street, this was the last straw, she needed to get dad out of the house and out from under her feet, dad become the proud owner of a dog and dogs needed to be walked.

Big Sandy was the most beautiful Shetland Collie you ever did see, he was an elderly gentleman, alas his owner could no longer look after him anymore and Sandy was put up for adoption by a local dog charity.

Sandy was no bother he came into the house, and without a by your leave, stretched out at dad’s feet and all the way across the front of the fireplace. Even when it was too hot and the hair on his coat was starting to singe, he would not move, only lie and whimper at the discomfort of the fire, until forcefully pulled away from the heat.

“You will never find a better watchdog than Sandy” Dad would say, “He will happily lie and watch the fire all day”.

As the clock neared the magic hour for Coronation Street to make an appearance on the television, mum would said,

“Is it not about the time you took that dog for a walk?”

“Oh, it must be Coronation Street time again son, let’s go,”

On went the jacket and bonnet and off they went, dog faithfully following at the master’s heel, never a lead between them. When they came to a road that had to be crossed sandy just plunked himself down until dad gave him the node and both would swiftly move across the road to the other side.

When I visited there would be dad, fast asleep in the big chair by the fireside, Sandy stretched full length at his feet and across the front of the fire, both snoring softly in unison. Not my appearance in the house or soft conversation with my warm-hearted mum disturbed either man or dog, they snored on in their own little dream worlds. However as soon as the opening bars of Coronation Street filled the room, Sandy was instantly alert and soon had dad roused unceremoniously from his catnap.

“What, what! O’ Coronation Street………………”

The morning started a bit dreich and cold but I was keen to be on the road. First the B939 as far as the Strathkinness crossroads, where I turned left and light pedalled my way up to 159m what a treat. I caught up with a group of roadies just before the junction with the B940 at Peat Inn, whizzing past them on the hill, its all about momentum, if you can keep it high you are halfway up the next rise before the motor kicks in.

At the summit just above Largoward, you see the River Forth, for the first time, I never tire of this view. Then a long drop down into Kilconquhar with its beautiful old church,

here I stopped for a while, it is so peaceful down by the loch, the village that time forgot. Off to catch the A914 into Elie. This village will always be a bit special for me, I have an infinity with Elie, for it was here that I first came to live on returning to Scotland on my retirement. Tim (my little Yorkshire Terrier) and I spent some very pleasant days down on the beach, and long walks along the Coastal Path. Happy times they were too. My idyllic life came to an end when I lost balance of my motorcycle (whilst stationary) it fell over with my leg trapped under it, and somehow I managed to break my leg in three places. I could not believe my leg would break that easily. It was then that I realised that Elie was not a good place to stay when you get old and I was heading that way. If I were no longer able to get about for shopping, which would mean a bus trip into Leven, so decided to move to St Andrews. As luck would have it I found a flat at City Park (Sheltered accommodation).

Visiting the harbour at Elie,

and there I found my old sailing friend working on his boat,

I chastened him, (in fun) over the state of the hull and rigging. We blethered a while, over a cup of coffee, and I scoffed most of his custard creams. I promised to return in the spring when the boats went back in the water and crew for him, (if I still remember what bits of string to pull). He said he would like that. I asked why the boats had been out of the water all summer, surly out in the Forth would be one of the most coronavirus free zones you could ever find in Scotland? He said it was down to the Lifeboat, if anyone were in trouble and had to call on their services, the boat and all the equipment on board, including the lifeboat men’s clothing would have to be disinfected. Seemed a bit overkill to me, turn a hose on the boat and the men, I’m sure coronavirus does not thrive well if dosed with seawater. Anyway how likely is it that the lifeboat would be called out to experienced yachtsmen?

The halyard of the adjacent boat had started to chatter on the mast in an annoying fashion, the wind was rising, time to head for home.

I set off along the coast road for St Monans turning off for Abercrombie, hoping to find some shelter from the now strong, biting cold, headwinds, it is amazing just how good hawthorn hedges are at filtering the wind. I carried on into Newton of Balcormo, past Kellie Castle and out onto the B9131 for St Andrews. I was hoping for a bit of a respite, on turning onto this road but alas the headwind now buffeted me from the side, (I wonder if a sail is legal on a bike?) Again when you crest the hill at Balmungo road end, the views down over St Andrews and St Andrews Bay are spectacular. But still, I had to keep peddles turning, honking downhill so strong was the wind up here on the ridge.

We get requests

I sometimes mention my workshop in my tales. People are curious, to the size of my workshop and what tools I have. Well, my workshop is really my bedroom.

I do all the forward planning here, (and sometimes get it right). Once marked up, all the cutting with machinery is done on the grass, outside the window, then brought indoors for assembly. During the winter months, I normally make small pieces that can be cut on the band-saw or scroll saw, I use coloured Perspex a lot (scroll work is very therapeutic). And when the mode takes me I do a bit of drawing or painting, (this is a very loose term for what I produce).

My philosophy for life.

I was cycling through Auchtermuchty, many moons ago, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon as I remember, I had stopped off at a row of cottages, placing my bike against a garden wall, I was now enjoying a sandwich and a drink from my water bottle. Why had this garden so attracted me? Well, simply because it was different. All the cottages in the row had flowers beds, in their front gardens. This one, however, had vegetables, row upon row of them, all spaced out like soldiers on parade. All equally spaced one from the other and all rows likewise. As I stood there in admiration of the garden an old man, well he would have looked very old to me at that time, seemed to appear from nowhere. Surprised at his presence and not sure what to say, I simply told him,

“I was just admiring your garden, do you have someone in to help you keep is so immaculate?” I asked, well as I said he did look very old.

“Oh no, all my own work” he assured.

He then went on to tell me he was a retired GP (General Practitioner) and added,

“I’ll let you into a wee secret, if you stop working, you die”.

I have always remembered that, and from that time to this, I have pledged never to stop working, or cycling, or ………….. and hopefully I will keep dodging the undertaker. Keep well.       

 

Friday, once more and very autumnal. The week was marred by rain and high winds but we ‘Endeavour to Perceiver’. Today (Friday) was the best day of the week so I ticked another destination from my bucket list, Cameron Reservoir.

The journey started outside my door on the A915, at more or less sea level and climbed all the way up to 158m Cameron Reservoir, about three miles distance. Turning off the main road you find yourself on a potholed farm track, but with a bit of ducking and diving, it is manageable.

I called in a the little Cameron Church, with a manicured car park, it was so quiet and peaceful here I spent some time daydreaming as I walked around the church and its small neat cemetery. Then on to Cameron Reservoir itself.

The road from here is a green lane, with a hardcore base so easy enough to ride.

I met with an elderly couple out for a stroll and with the rather expensive binoculars hanging around the old boy’s neck, I take it they were bird watchers. With a courteous greeting in the passing, I pressed on. There is not a lot to see along the north side of the water, for it is heavily wooded with mature and coppice. But I did not weary for I am not a green lane rider and I all my attention was devoted to not falling off my bike.

At the eastern end of the reservoir is an embankment now for the first time you get a clear view all the way down to the head and dam of the reservoir.

You now have a choice of following the path out to Blackwalls, there to pick up the unclassified road back into Denhead and then in St Andrews. I chose to traverse along the south side of the waters. This was really a footpath very muddy and difficult (and exhausting) to ride, I gave up after only a few hundred yards and walked to the junction for Cairnhill, here the road is better and take you over the dam proper. It was here at the small car park that I came across the two walkers taking off their walking boots and enjoying a cup of tea from a flask, I think they have done this sort of thing before.

Back on the A915 and downhill all the way home, weeeeeeeeeeeee I saw 46 kph coming up on the screen, this is fun. Not a long day but it was good to be out in the countryside, close to nature and a bit of exercise thrown in, so yes, another good day awheel. Keep safe.

Sunday, the morning was fine, windless but cold, certainly a good day for a bike run, but remembering the flat tyre from yesterday, the tricycle would again have to be pressed into service. I had earlier checked on my e-mails and found one from Amazon to tell me that my puncture protection strip had been dispatched, brilliant.

I went out to the van and brought the bike into the living room and after removing the flat-screen digital readout on the handlebars was able to upend the bike and set about the tyre. Strangely enough there was still air in the tyre. I say strange, for the tyre was definitely flat and since I had real difficulty unscrewing the high pressure valve core to blow up the tyre that did not seem to be the problem.

I had no difficulty at removing one side of the tyre from the wheel and then removing the tube. After inflating the inner tube I run around with washing up liquid to look for leaks, none were found. Checking inside the tyre, nothing there either, even the valve showed no sign of leaks (the only cargo a boat hates to carry). Still, better to be safe than sorry I will fit the puncture-proof inner lining inside the tyre before reassembling, if for the confidence factor if nothing else.

The tricycle felt very light after the e-bike but needed all its granny gears on the hills. Maybe I should consider a front wheel conversion kit for tricycle since I already have a battery, which is the expensive part. The battery pack could be interchangeable between the two, (if the company would be willing to sell me a replacement locking base) I don’t see why not.

I did not go far today, it really was cold out, but warm enough in my workshop, so that is where I spent some time on my return. I still had to find a way to hitch of the trailer to both e-bike and tricycle, thankfully it was an easy job. The hitch came in two parts,

The seat bracket would be fitted to the seat post of the tricycle,

The other half of the hitch to the trailer.

I made up a little wooden block from hardwood that would be bolted onto the rear of the bicycle’s rear carrier frame, (there was already a plate welded in place to take a lamp so no problem there).

The rear light will be fixed to this bracket too, it really was that easy. Don’t you just love those days when everything goes right. Keep well and safe.

Yesterday, (Saturday) the weather was a bit iffy, but I was keen to try out the e-bike in earnest. I stayed on the main road (the A91) out of St Andrews, much to the annoyance of impatient motorists, who hooted on their horns and pointed to the cycle track, sorry folks but the cycle-path is less than two meters wide, social distancing and all that, anyway, I have as much right to this road as you.

Guardbridge, Leuchars then St Michaels where I turned off for Tayport. There I joined the coastal road into Newport-on-Tay. The sun had come out to welcome me into Newport-on-Tay, and the first real climb of the day up into the little village of Wormit. From here I did intend to head back to St Michael’s via Links Wood, but I remembered the struggle I had climbing the steep hill after visiting Balmerino Abbey, some months back. I was down to walking pace and winding backwards and forwards across the road to keep any kind of momentum, just the hill to test out this little baby.

Up until this point I have been stotting along in the high teens, and on downhill sections, even if only a slight incline, would see the numbers on the screen rise into the 30kph. I simply did not have the hang of this motor yet, rather than pottering along at an easy pace, the pedals were so light that I could not help myself, and continued to go faster and faster. Years had disappeared, my legs felt young again. The momentum I was building up on the flat was carrying me up the next hill, so rather than change down I pressed a little harder, much like the old days when I would climb onto the pedals and honk up a hill. I never once dropped into the lower front ring and most of my time was spent in the 6 or 7 rear cogs.

I hit the hill just as you pass the sign for Balmerino Abbey, the road rises up in front of you like a wall, all the way up to just below North Hill at 123m, and all within 2.5 miles. I dropped down onto the middle ring and dropped a couple of cogs at the rear, pulled the trigger, now with my legs spinning like a hamster in a wheel, we shot up the hill at 12kph all the way to the top. It was here that I joined the A92 and with beautiful smooth blacktop and a downhill incline the screen was now showing in the low 40kph, at these speeds I really should be wearing my cycling helmet, possibly my motorcycle helmet. I turned up onto the A913 for Cupar, the best of the day was now over and dark clouds were assembling, time I was heading for home.

I stayed on the A91 all the way out of Cupar, the long slow climb out of the town into Dairsie was a breeze. As I neared St Andrews I had a puncture, and of course, it had to be in the rear wheel. What a disaster. As luck would have it I was able to blow enough air into the tyre to get me home. Removing the rear wheel would be a big job, having to cut cable ties then wrestling the wheel out would be bad enough but getting it back again with all those spacers to contend with, a nightmare scenario. I went online and ordered a roll of puncture protection tape for the inside of the tyre, I do not wish to be doing kerbside repairs, more so in the dark and winter rain. I’m sure I can remove the tyre and tube, with the wheel still in situ, bit fiddly I grant you, but the alternative is not worth thinking about.

The battery icon on the screen had not moved from ‘battery full’ and most of the day the Watt reading remained at zero, only when I pulled the trigger to climb steep hills or long inclines did I see this rise, sometimes close too 290W, this is one powerful motor. Back home, I removed the battery before tucking the bike in the back of the van and plugged the battery into the charger when back in the flat, within 30 minutes it was showing a green light – ‘full charge’. The bumf that came with the kit said you can travel up to 40 miles on one charge, from today’s performance, I believe this to be no exaggeration, and if you are willing to put in a bit of effort and stick to around 10 mph, many more miles I’m sure.

Home and feeling good. On with the kettle and fill the pan with cold mash potatoes from yesterday’s meal. Wash up the dishes as the kettle come to the boil and relax with my first pot of tea, it really does not get much better than this folks. Keep well, keep safe.         

I was lucky to find some 25mm aluminium, square hollow section, and was able to welded it up into a chassis.

Then the base came into my possession part of an old shop sign, 100% waterproof and with a bit of butt jointing I had enough for the base.

Surfing the internet, I found a heavy duty basket about the right size and about half the cost of buying enough material to make one, although I had to travel to get it. This was attached to the floor of the trailer with J bolts, making it east to remove, if required.

There are two ways you can attach the trailer to the bike, (One) at the rear axle – (two) at the seat post, I like the seat post idea for it gives you a handle to push it around with when not on the bike, like a barrow, also there was a lot of fixings and fittings at this point (at the drop outs) on the bike already, mudguards, rear carrier and the axle itself. I also want it to be interchangeable between my bike and my tricycle, and there are no rear drop-outs on a tricycle. One problem I will have to overcome. I had have all this equipment on top of the rear rack, stopped me using the seat post. But I’m sure I can work something out.

I bought a universal joint bracket made to go around the seat post that could be adapted to do the job. Making a handle was a different kettle of fish. If made from metal it would have to be put though rollers, that would mean a visit to a fabricator, the cost of having one made would outweigh the cost of building a DIY trailer, a manufactured trailer from China are very reasonable these days. However I was literally sitting on the answer. I had rescued the chair from a skip, it just so happened to had a lovely curved leg, that flowed into an armrest. Made from wood, so easy to work with, and more importantly, too hand.

Here is how it all ended up, OK a proper manufactured trailer would have looked better, but where is the fun in that? If I don’t count my time it was cheap enough to build since I had the pair of wheels, from some long forgotten project that never made if off the drawing board, and it was good to know I still possess some of my old welding and metalwork skills.

Keep well and safe.

 Friday once more and I feel I should report in but I am sitting here at my computer, as I have on numerous occasions this week, with a head full of emptiness. Most of the week I have been on autopilot, simply gone through the motions, but with no real enthusiasm, I bought a paper on Monday, when I was out, doing a bit of shopping, but on opening it up found nothing to read between its pages. The same old grips, same politicians making the same mistakes, and spending lots of television time or column inches trying to explain themselves and how lessons have been learned, and how we should all move on.

Stop the world, I want to get off.

I mean who would have predicted that enlisting thousands of young male and female students, onto some great new adventure. Billed as the highlight in their young lives. Freeing them from family restrictions. Told to enjoy the experience of Uni, after all, this is your reward for all that hard school time you put in, and how ‘we are only young once’. You gave them (what seemed like) a limitless credit card to life. They get themselves fuelled up on alcohol, again, all part of the Uni experience, isn’t it? Now that all inhibition have been washed away on a river of inebriation, the guard’s dropped and already fuelled up on testosterone, and female hormones. We finally packing them into a central heated incubate, in the middle of a global pandemic. Really who would have predicted an explosion of coronavirus on campus? Not I.

Then we have the Scottish government complaining about what that bad Westminster government is doing and may do in the future to the devolved government at Holyrood. Come on get real, this news is already seven years out of date. Rather than grumbling about it why don’t you do something about it, ‘Bubbling Jocks’ right enough?

Felling better already after that wee moan.

I did go out earlier but only as far as Aldi, although there was a clear blue sky and very watery sun, the wind was cold and cutting, it is certainly time for that extra woolly pully.

Yesterday I tackled the housework, it was time for a new broom, time for a good clear out all that clutter that has gathered over the years, and tackle some of the traffic areas of the carpet with a carpet cleaner. There is something uplifting about a clean and fresh home. Although I said ‘a clear-out’ of all that clutter, in truth, most of those ‘could come in handy’ items did find their way back into the cupboard.

“Attention!” following on from my annual clear out, anyone opening this cupboard door, do so at their own risk.

One of our residents has been showing signs of dementia for some time now, the other day I saw lots of books and DVD “Free to good home” in the common room, and this morning the land-fill bin was full to overflowing with black bags. The rummer that he is being moved to a care home, seems to have born fruit. I had a rake through the DVD and brought some home with me, well afternoon television is the best cure for insomnia known to man.

One of them was Homeland ‘the complete first season’ four discs 12 episodes. I watched all four yesterday. The storyline was brilliant, and the acting superb, the CIA agent, Clair Danes, what an outstanding performance, more so towards the end when she suffers a mental breakdown. The ending did as all good ending should, left you wanting more.

Today (if time permits) I will watch ‘Young at Heart’ Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, this film is up there with ‘Casablanca’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ for me. I’m sure it will find many an outing from my collection. Strang but I seem to be enjoying storylines by Danielle Steel and Barbara Taylor Bradford, much more now, is this something that should bother me? I mean is this something I can expect to happen, much more as I grow into old age? Do all males go through this phase, gravitating towards Venus rather than Mars? Is there a cure for weepiness, whilst watching old films, or can I only continue watching them when alone?

The post just arrived with a package for Powabyke in Bristol with the connection I needed to finish the e-bike. Sods Law you spend days trying to find the part you need, then weeks having it sent from China or America, only to discover once it’s all finished that there was a company in Bristol that had everything you would ever need and you will received it by the return of post, ho-hum.

Also in the post the hitch for my trailer, from Germany no less. So no films this afternoon. I fitted the cable and switched on, wooooopeeee the dashboard lights up. On with the gloves and helmet and out for a wee run, of course, it was the busiest time of the day, all the students coming home and people heading home from work, or shopping trip into town.

The wind was strong out of the West and I was heading into it, but like magic it was if the same wind was out of the east, weeeeeeeeeeee, flying along at 25 kph and the pedalling were so light it was as if I was going downhill. I only went as far as Strathkinness and back, just to try it out. And on the return journey I flicked up through the gears and I was flying along at 35 kph and it seemed as if I wasn’t putting any effort in. I switched off the motor to see how it would perform as a normal cycle. With the wind on my back, not a problem, although it does feel like a bike with loaded panniers, and you have to think ahead more, the brakes are good, disc brakes front and rear, but the bike is a lot heavier and faster. I will have to keep an eye on the pads, in fact, I may order a spare set and keep them in the van.

One other problem, being an old stiffy, I had difficulty swinging my leg high enough to clear the battery, get on. When I was riding a tandem the only way for the captain to get on board was to swing a leg over the handlebars, that was then, this is now. A step-through (ladies bike) would be better if the battery pack has to go on the rear carrier.

During the test run I went over some bad road and suddenly the motor stopped, I played around with the wiring, did the switch on and switch off part nothing, then the penny dropped. I had not locked the battery into place and bouncing over the bad road had caused it to slip back and disconnect itself, lessons learned.

One other test, try the throttle, wow scary man. It will take a bit of getting used to, but so far I’m liking it a lot.

Now that I have my trailer hitch I can finish that wee job and try it on the bike, shopping will never be the same again. What about that big hill up to Aldi, what big hill?

Keep well,      

It rained and rained, and then it rained,

The daily deluge was well maintained,

And when the streets looked more like bogs,

We had a down pore of giant frogs.

The rotten weather had taken me into my workshop and as every small boy knows, once you enter that magical place, time evaporates. I have my nativity stable on the go, I just had to put up some opposition to that Santa (bloody) Clause, this year. The girls don’t start putting up the decorations until December so there is still time. It is rather large so might be better outdoors on the lawn, (at present covered in soggy autumn leaves) if permission can be granted. My neighbour wanted a little cupboard under the sink in her toilet, and the crafty girls wanted a stand, on which their hand made card could be displayed for sale, (all proceeds going to charity), so I have not been wearying.

I had decided to electrify one of my bikes and make a trailer for it so I could use it as a load carrier for shopping and the likes, and to this end I sent off to America for a rear-wheel conversion kit. It may be worth pointing out at this time that I did not spot the little American flag up on the right-hand top corner of my monitor telling me this was Amazon, in America and not Amazon, in the UK, so of course it took three months to get here. But it did finally arrive.

The instructions were simple enough to follow, the graphics were good, easy peasy, then the problems started to mount. The bottom bracket was wrong for the setup, Bafang made a unit that was comparable with their motor, but would it fit the bike? The frame was too small to hold the battery that was supposed to attach where the bottle cage would normally go, making use of the braze-on. The unit that controls all of this, was shown as being fitted behind the down-tube and in front of the rear wheel, well, there was simply not enough room for it there. Last but by no means least, the bike had an 8-speed changer and brake mechanism combined, however now the brake leaver (that came with the kit) was fitted with a safety device so that when the brakes were operated the motor would automatically cut-out, the separate changing mechanism was required. Alas, the only controlled that could be sourced as a separate unit were for 7-speed gears, ho-hum, one gear would have to be blanked off, another compromise.

With the atrocious weather and for all of the above, I have not put in many miles, but if you can’t get out on your bike, there is always your workshop.

I decided to make up a small platform to go on top of the rear carrier and bolt everything too that, and in its turn would be bolted down to the carrier. The material came from an old sign that once graced the Chinese restaurant, now closed, not sure what material it is but I believe it is made from reconstituted plastic, which fits my ethoses.

All went well until I tried to fit my rear pannier bag, ho-hum. This problem was overcome by raising the platform upon two blocks, leftover scraps of Oak from an old bar top from the Rule in South Street, then , of course, the J bolts were too short. Also, the three-pin cable that comes from the bottom bracket, now having to extend all the way up the down-tube was also too short. Drat and double drat. Both have now been ordered online and should be here in a day or two, can wait to see how it rides.

It’s all a bit, Heath Robertson, at present but I want to iron out any wee faults before I think about making a proper box to house all of this, so a work in progress. The trailer was much less of a problem, although I am still working on some way of attaching it to the bike. I may go online and see what those clever Chinese have on offer.

I have thought of an electric bike for a while now, but all the ones I had looked at were £1,000 to £15,000 this seemed like a cheap alternative, dipping my toe in the water first since I already had the bike. With everything else in place I was ready to take the next step. I had my small campervan, it had an electric supply (solar panels) so I have the means of recharging my bike (off-grid) when away on my travels. (Now what if I fitted the solar panels to the trailer – that might work ……………) Keep safe and keep dogging the undertaker.

 Although it rained at the start of the yesterday morning the weather was very quiet, and once the rain passed I was out on my bike for a couple of hours. Today, however, is a different story. The daily deluge is well maintained, and with no sign of stopping anytime soon I skipped my morning peddle. Not to worry, the girls have a couple of wee jobs for me and I have still to finish my Christmas Nativity scene.

This coronavirus has really put a dampener on the year, sadly I see no silver lining after the storm. What will 2021 bring us, I ask myself. Coronavirus 2, Brexit, five million unemployed, riots?

When you have lost everything, your job, your home, because you could not keep up the mortgage payments, or pay the Buy To Let landlord’s rent, you will be out on your ear. It is then you will lose all control over your own life, with nothing to lose, like hundreds of thousands in the same boat, you will take to the streets. Dear o’ dear Walter, you are very depressive today, then again does anyone really see it getting better anytime soon?

The Julian Assange stitch-up has come to an end, all that remains is for the good lady judge (The government’s henchman) to sign his execution warrant, for that is what it will be. Here at St Andrews Castle they have what is called a bottle dungeon. Simply a hole in the rock that leads into a bulb-shaped cave below. There is no sanitation, no water supply, only bare rock. Once you are lowered down (or thrown down) into the dungeon that is it, with no way out you survive as long as you can, physically and mentally, daily putting up with a living hell. This is all Julian Assange can look forward to on reaching America, a life of purgatory.

This trial had nothing to do with justice and everything to do with revenge. Julian’s crime was that he held a mirror up to the face of the American and British people. Showing us that we were no different from any of the other nations around the world that we are so quick to condemn for human right violations and war crimes. Our soldiers too were not averse to commit human rights abuses, and war crimes, with impunity.

Assange exposed the truth to the world by posting graphic images of, human rights violations, carried out, not by the armies of some failed state, but our own. Julian Assange, exposed the myth, by telling the truth as any good investigative journalist would. American and British soldiers were shooting unarmed men and women. Exposing prisoners to untold torturous and abuse, (and it is still going on at Guantanamo). He removed the mask and forced us to look in the mirror, at our own face, and we did not like what we saw.

Julian Assange is being punished for crimes that we the British public were complicit in, and continue to participated in, by turning a blind eye. The public must stand up to this miscarriage of justice. For if we don’t, then we condemn ourselves, whilst trashing any illusion that there is, or ever was, such a thing as British Justice.

Soldier, soldier you frighten me in all your blind brutality,

For behind the soldier’s mask I see,

A man – just like me.

Current UK military expenditure £46.6 billion

After several years of relative austerity, the UK’s military budget is now firmly on the rise, with a 10% real-terms increase since 2015 and more increases promised.

Current Climate Change expenditure £17 billion

By far the biggest threat to our nation (and the world) is not some bogeyman, but climate change. The UK government is so dependent on ‘brown envelopes’ (bungs for procurement contracts) and funds for their campaign chest, from arms traders, that keeps them in power. You will always know where their loyalties lie.

Samuel was the only black man, I had ever seen and as far as I knew the only black man living in Fife at that time. He was well known in the community and to patrons at the local working men’s club. Samuel always had a smile on his face, always ready with a joke or to laugh along with you’re a well-told joke, everyone liked Samuel. well, he was easy to like. Samuel was married, his young wife unlike him was white. Their kids, however, were wild, they would not take a telling from their mother, as for their dad, well he was so laid back he was postpositively horizontal, and would laugh off any of their misdemeanant as,

“They are only boys”.

The family home was one in a row of council houses. Their next-door neighbour, a retired man whose pride and joy was his gardener. The neighbour was exasperated with the kids taking sort cuts through his garden, damaging crops and flowers, that would not have looked out of place in a show tent. Taking on Samuel one day the neighbour told him,

“You’ll have to stop those kids of yours from running through my garden”

To which Samuel replied,

“How do you know there my kids”.

The youth club,

I was a co-founder of a youth club, in the village, we held our club nights every Tuesday and it was on one of those club nights, I was told there was a boy at the door who wanted to speak with me. I went over to the open door and sure enough, there was a little lad of around seven years of age standing directly under the light of the door lamp.

“Yes, can I help you?” I asked

“Can I join the club?” he asked by way of reply

“Do you know anyone here already, pals, schoolfriends …….?” I questioned

“Yes, my big brother comes to the club” he told me

“And who is your big brother?” I asked

This brought on screams of laughter from the other members of the club, who by now had given up on their play and had gathered around the door to curious as to what was going on. What had set them off? Well, the wee boy was black, and there was only one other boy in the village was like himself black, his brother. All I had seen was a wee seven-year-old boy. Until that moment I had no idea I was colour blind.

William’s father had died before he was born, although there were some who would say, he was never there in the first place. Jean had just arrived one day out of the blue, heavy with child and telling everyone how she had lost her husband in the war, but with no Widow’s War Pension being collected at the post office, so the postmistress had said, it was hard to know what to believe, but Jean was a hard enough working lass, so not much was said about it all.

She called her newly born son William, “after his father”, she told folk, well she would have to say something, wouldn’t she? William, she always called him William, although the lads at school called him Bob or more often than not Black Bob, for he always looked a bit like an orphan from the storm, no matter what clothes his exasperated mother put on his back.

Whoever his father was, he must have been big, for William soon outgrow his cloth’s, and was already as big as the teacher and head and shoulders above his classmates, so the Black part of the name was soon dropped.

Bob had one other attribution that would materialize during Physical Training, shorts were mandatory, and Bob’s were always a wee bit jimp at the best of time. It would not take long before the titters would start to go around the gymnasium, whereupon Miss, Nisbet, without having to look over at Bob, would simply say

“Put it away William”,

For it would have snaked its way out from the bottom of his shorts. To which Bob, in his slow country droll, would reply

“A canny help it Miss”.

To help his mother eke out what little money they had, Bob would work up at the farm over the weekends and help out during busy times such as harvest, and as his last term at school grows ever closer, the Truant Officer would never be away from his mother’s door, Bob had given up on school, only making a token appearance when his mother was being threatened with the law.

On leaving school, Bob found work at the local sawmill, He liked the open air, and his size and build had given him a head start, so to speak. The work was not always at the mill, there was planting, first and second thinning and clear-felling to be done, it was good work for a man the likes of Bob, and being piecework he always comes home with a thick wage packet.

Called up for National Service, Bob found himself in the Army, and after his eighteen months, he came out with a wee bit money put by, Bob decided to buy a second-hand Forwarder and succeeded in finding a few contacts with the Forestry Commission. It was not easy but having been discharged from the army did help.

Contract after contract came his way, for Bob was, if nothing else, hard working and very dependable, hail, rain or snow Bob was out there working away. He had a few self-employed men working under him now, the men liked Bob, for he was quick to jump down from his tractor and help anyone out. With a few dependable men around him, he was able to move more freely around the country, keeping the work moving along, this was to endear him to the bosses at the Forestry Commission, well Bob was a likeable lad.

The years had flown in and Bob all too soon found himself married and was now blessed with five kids and another one on the way when disaster struck. Working, clear-felling a wood of mature trees, a lapse of concentration and a log rolled off the stump, his chain saw shot into the air with such speed, catching his leg it snapped it like a dry twig.

The hospital at Perth, soon had him fixed up, and in a plaster cast, he would be off for weeks. His wife was informed, whereupon she phoned the hospital and asked the reception to pass on a message to her husband, that she would make her way down from Inverness to Perth on Saturday. He had asked the nurse to ring her back with the message that she was not to bother coming down, it was not worth it, being pregnant and all, and anyway I will be home in a day or two. 

Ignoring his suggestion to stay home until he was discharged from hospital his wife organised herself and the kids, piled them onto the train and made the long journey down to Perth. A taxi soon had then dropped off at the hospital. Making her way over to the reception she had asked which ward William was in. The nurse informed her that she could not see William, at this time, there is a limit to the amount of people around the bed at one time and at the moment his wife and children were at his bedside. Ops, your sins will find you out.   

It has been cold out on the bike this last week or so, but it will get easier as we move deeper into winter, for there is no bad weather only the wrong clothing.

Monday being my allotted time in the laundry, I also get a chance to catch up on my writing, that is, if I ignore all the mess around me, I also get the chance to do a bit of shopping, so to Aldi we will go. This is more or less my routine these days, with dreams of spring and long cycling trips across Europe, once more, beginning to be moving further and further into the future with coronavirus still on the up. By the time I do go, the heading will read, “An Octogenarian on a Bicycle”.

I continue to studying ‘Trump and the Puritans’ I find it fascinating and how the political system in America, although played out differently runs parallel to that at Westminster.

America is a secular society with no official national church, yet the Evangelical Right has developed as a significant force within the Republican Party, more so since the 1970. People like Jerry Falwell told conservative evangelical Christians to get more involved in politics. He also co-founded the Moral Majority movement in 1979. The election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, along with a large number of republicans to Congress, was, at the time, credited partially to the influence of this organisation.

Jerry Falwell and the evangelical religious right opposes homosexuality, and it was Falwell that started that AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is Gods punishment on a society that tolerates homosexuals. He wanted Christian involvement in US politics and his website stated that his goal was to defend traditional family values and battle the liberals who opposed those godly principles. Following on from the 9/11 terrorist attack, Falwell even linked that attack to abortion stating:

The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked – he suggested that God was mad at their behaviour, he went on to attack feminists, and gays, and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle – all of them who have tried to secularise America – I point the finger in their face and say: You helped this happen.

Roberts and Whittock suggested at this being like a taproot all the way back down the ages to the ‘Mayflower’, they called it America’s cultural DNA.

Who was the champion of all of these groups in the run-up to 2016 presidential election against Trump? Yes, none other than Hillary Clinton, she made a rod for her own back, she thought she was the champion of popular opinion, Women’s rights, the Gay Moment, abortion, she was wrong, she hit the wall of the Evangelical Right, that stopped her in her tracks. Trump, on the other hand, he knew on which side his bread was buttered, he did the dance and received the backing of the Evangelical Right.

Joanna Lumley was on the Parkinson’s Show.

He said, “You did not go to acting school, so how did you get a start into television?”

Her answer, “Lied through my teeth, Darling”.

Just seemed seemed appropriate to the conversation about Trump, the only difference, she was a better actor.

Now you can dismiss this as just the rantings of an out of touch lunatic, but when Falwell speaks he speaks with the mega-church in Lynchburg, Virginia, with over 20,000 members, behind him. Has a foothold in Congress and the ear of world leaders, for it is alleged that following the bombing of Iraq’s nuclear plant (Operation Babylon, in June 1981) the first telephone call that the Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, made to the USA in order to explain the reasons for this action, was not to the president (Ronald Reagan) but Jerry Falwell, then you have to take him seriously.

These people are the power behind the throne. Many may remember at that time that Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister, here in the UK, and her back to ‘Family Values’ speeches. Similar rhetoric was echoed by David Cameron when in power. And from Donald Trump – the golden age can be rediscovered -’Make America Great Again’. Today, Boris Johnston, and his Second British Empire, presumably ‘Making Britain Great Again’. They are all marching in close unison to the beat of an old drum.

Trump in the run-up to him winning the White House, told his listeners that, he would pull the troops from Afghanistan, and the Middle East, do deals with Russia and China, Build a Wall (to stop those pesky immigrants coming into our country, stealing your jobs) and make America great again, just what a tired nation, who had seen their factories, jobs and living standards, (the American dream) disappear and desperately wanted change wanted to hear a return to better times. For them Trump may have been blemished goods, much like King Cyrus, Sixth-century King of Persia. Yet he was their unlikely saviours, for he had tapped into American cultural DNA.

Stewart’s take on this,

“Trump supporters are longing, not just for a president, but a king. For them, kings like Cyrus who don’t have to follow rules but ‘are themselves the law, are ideal leaders in paranoid times”.

In the UK, Boris told a tired and angry people, who was to blame for their rotten lives, the EU, and how they could “Take Back Control” stop those pesky immigrants invading, stealing their jobs ………… how similar it all sounds now.

That dream will never be fulfilled, so long as the system of government in the US remains the same, (ditto here too) no president of the US will ever be able to pull troops out of any foreign country, Congress will never allow it, too many Congressmen depend on the arms trade funding to keep them in power, (Here in the UK, there is a revolving door between Westminster and Arms Manufacturers). No president will ever be able to curb the sale of guns to the public and stop the slaughter on the streets of America, for the same reason, the gun lobby is too powerful, and on and on. In America, as it is here in the UK, lobby money keeps them in power and they will never bite the hand that feeds them.

When coronavirus finally made it to the UK, the government put the country into lockdown. Then as it started to hurt the pockets of the people that bankrolled the ones in government, the rhetoric changed, to get The UK back into work and children back into schools. This at a time when coronavirus was still on the rise. And there was you thinking you lived in a democracy, and that your duly elected members spoke out on your behalf, and how it was their job to look after your health, well-being and best interest. Dream on.

If you read the Declaration of Independence you will hear echoes of the Declaration of Arbroath,

‘Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing their Safety and Happiness’.

I see in my Scotland a new generation rising up, they have found a new drum to march in step with, and a beat that suits them better, each day that passes, the sound of that drum grows louder and will soon be heard across the world, invoking the words of the Declaration of Arbroath and of the Declaration of Independence. And the old drum will be heard no more.    

Big John was the centre lathe turner in the workshops and he could make anything you needed on that lathe of his, and since all his height seemed to be in his legs, he was naturally enough called Split Pin.

Both he and his best pall Bob knew one another from school days. Their respective girlfriends had also known one another from their school days, as they had their prospective husbands. In the early years, when still winching, they would make up a foursome to Blackpool at the trade holidays, dancing the nights away at Butlins Holiday Camp.

They even had a double wedding and of course went off to Blackpool on their honeymoon, this time they stayed at a small boarding house, near the city centre. This was replicated each year, even booking their rooms a year in advance on leaving.

At home, the local working men’s club was their haunt, well-kent faces at the weekend, mostly since they were seldom off the dance floor. Waltz, foxtrot, slow or quickstep, they were masters of their art.

Then something strange happened, Split Pin’s wife said

“I don’t want to go to Blackpool this year, I want a quiet holiday, I fancy going to the Western Islands of Scotland”.

“Why?” was John’s response.

“I don’t really know, just that I would like to see the Scottish islands, I suppose I always have”.

So whilst their friends boarded a train for Blackpool, John and his wife boarded a boat for Eilean Bharraigh, in the Western Isles, and a room in a small hotel in Tangasdal.

The white shell beaches of Barra

Three days on,

The Tower Ballroom was packed to overflowing, and as the couples glided their way around in the river of moving bodies, who should Bob spot coming in the door, none other than their old friends Split Pin and his wife Jean.

In the bar over a drink, Split Pin told their sorry tale.

“Make no mistake, it was a beautiful island, and the boat trip out was a bit special, and you could not fault the hotel, the food or the service. We slept like logs that first night, after all that fresh air. Then the next morning after breakfast we walked all the way out to Kiessimul Castle. Home for lunch, again first class, then a long walk along the shore, in the afternoon. You should have seen it, it had a surface covered in small white seashells, deep as a sandy beach. Home dinner and a few drinks before bed. Up next morning, breakfast, walk along the shore, lunch, walk along the shore, dinner. We did not have to say anything, only when we returned to our room we both knew, we had just about all the quite as we could stand. Next morning early, we caught the first boat to the mainland, and here we are, thankfully we managed to get our old room”.

I was listening to Lesley Riddoch, talking about her mother’s visit with her doctor. As is their habit with older people doctors, health visitors and social workers constantly assess us by asking a series of set questions, (I’m practising counting back from 50) Lesley’s mum was no different.

“Do you suffer forgetfulness at any time?”

“Of course I do, I’m 85 years old” she replied.

“Do you know who the prime minister of the country is?” (At that time it was Cameron)

“Yes, its David – Its the name of a regiment, Seaforth or something like that”.

“Do you ever leave your handbag in unusual places?”

“Mostly in the oven,” she said.

It was at this point that the doctor decided to ring Lesley to vouch for her mothers’ sanity. When her mother went on,

“It is the last place that a burglar will look”.   

Afternoon Delight

I, along with three others, were sent down to Bournemouth on a job. Normally we would have been booked into B&B, but since it was the summer season and difficult to get into long term accommodation we were given a bungalow, however, we would have to fend for ourselves. I asked the client if he could give us a young lad as a labourer, not a problem.

We had no real need for a labourer, however, the house was becoming a bit untidy. I send the lad off to the bungalow to do a bit of housework for us. He did not object in the least, in fact, he seemed more than happy to go. No one was more surprised than I when we arrived home, to find the place immaculate and the diner already started. What a treat, with an ineptness in cooking skills, along with no real desire to cook after a days work, more often than not it would be fast food meals, expensive and not very exciting. Our house boy was doing a marvellous job. After that first week, with no complaints on either side of the arrangement, we decided to give him a bit extra money on the shovel for looking after us so well, the joke was that he would make someone a good wife.

The job was going well and a couple of months in and with the footie on television, we decided to have a break, we would go home early, get changed and go off to the pub to see the game on their big screen. Into the van and home. One of the lads on entering his room, found the young lad on his bed, he was not alone, he had his girlfriend with him. They were both naked as jaybirds having afternoon delight. We gave him a bit of stick over that, but they were doing such a good job of looking after us we allowed them to carry on as our housemaids.

Update from City park

With coronavirus on the rise, we are now being asked to wear face masks in the building’s corridors and common rooms, so only in my flat, and thankfully on my bike, can I go without a face mask now. I saw the ambulance in our car park earlier, I hope whoever they came to see did not test positive to coronavirus or even cycling will be out of bounds for me, I will literally be a prisoner in my own flat.

To get me through the shortening days, and colder weather I will go down to the builder supply and pick up a couple of sheets of Sterling board, I want to make a full-size nativity scene for Christmas, get in before the girls start with their ‘bloody Santa Clause’. Either we dispense with Christmas altogether or at least make the decoration resemble the reason for having a Christmas celebration, not some marketing ploy.

How’s that fat old cheery chap,

That takes screaming kids upon his lap,

And promises the little brats,

Presents to pacify them,

He’s a generous chap is old Saint Nick,

But not so hot on arithmetic,

And doesn’t care the selfish prick,

For he doesn’t have to buy them.

How’s the man that parents loth,

Santa, Santa,

Sends credit cards into overload,

It’s Santa bloody Clause.

Lyrics from, Santa bloody Clause – Eric Bogle.   

.

I listened to Martyn Whittoch, being interview on Going Underground, he was being asked about his book ‘Trump and the Puritans – how the evangelical religious right put Donald Trump in the White House’ I found the subject so fascinating that I went straight onto Amazon and ordered a copy.

The book starts with the Puritans that came over on the Mayflower, and how a contract was signed by all (male) members on board the Mayflower, in the setting up of the new colony (the rules and regulation that would govern their behaviour). How this and similar contracts, by similar groups that came after them, settling father up the coast, became the foundations of what is now the Constitution of America. This he tells us in a US phenomena.

“Donald Trump’s success is rooted in peculiarly American experience since a very large and influential part of his support base lies among Christians of the so-called ‘evangelical religious right’”. He goes on “The influence of US evangelical Christians on national politics has never been more pronounced than it is today. From the appointment of Supreme Court judges, to US relations with Israel, from support for the wall to abortion legislation, the power of the extraordinary lobby is seen in the changing politics and policies of the nation. In this, religious faith has an impact that is quite unique to the USA amongst 21st-century Western states; and it stands in comparison with the impact of Islam in other countries. There is something destructive about US culture and politics that set it apart from comparatively developed democratic societies and states”.

Quite a statement to make. Whittoch gives us a good insight into the thinking of the Puritans, the second coming, and since everything was a grand plan of God, how they could accept the wiping out of native Americans, but diseases brought in by immigrants, as simply part of God’s plan, the same with the disastrous foreign policies in the Middle East and beyond.

Why Hillary Clinton shot herself in the foot at the LGBT Gala at Cipriani Club in New York City. Clinton let the cat out of the bag. After praising her warm-up speaker for ‘her advocacy on behalf of the transgender community, particularly transgender women of colour’, she moved on to attack the running-mate of her rival for the presidency, Donald J. Trump.

She went on to make a campaign promises in her Equality Act, end homelessness, take on the gun lobby, end the practice of conversion therapy…………… and after that, her name was chanted loud and clear around the hall. Buoyed by this she said “We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of Deplorable Right?” (the Washington elites, both Republican and Democrat, who served two masters, themselves and Wall Street).

The blue-collar mum’s and dads could sacrifice so that their children would have a better life, no longer applied. The American Dream ended in the ‘Rust Belt’ of the USA, from Pennsylvania, through Ohio and Michigan, to northern Indiana and eastern Illinois and Wisconsin – the abandoned factories spoke eloquently of their experience of America. But not just there but in the Midwest, to emotions were also running high.

There Christian faith in what many still held as a Christian country was being held in contempt. Clinton’s policies explicitly embraced every minority group imaginable but failed to see the ones in front of her face. Unbeknown to Clinton, she had handed the group identifying themselves with Trump a priceless gift, a banner to gather under, giving them the power of identity a badge if you will. Hillary Clinton may have believed that she was on the path to greater moral virtue, leading from the front. Sadly she had run up against the entrenched position that had millennia of history in Judaeo-Christian scripture and tradition behind it: ‘In the image of God he created them; male and female ‘he’ created them.’ To most active defenders of the belief system, it seemed that the liberal secularists had thought that they could overthrow the ancient natural order without looking back. The future belonged to liberal secularism. But now ‘they’, the ones left behind by history, Americans who felt they had had ‘the land of the free and home of the brave’ pulled from under their feet to be replaced by a patriotic an unrecognisable patchwork of banners and loyalties, suddenly had a flag around which they could rally, along with the stars and trips. The unlikely Christian crusader: Donald Trump would carry their banner. Outside Luverne, Alabama was a home-made road sign that read “THANK GOD WE ARE DEPLORABLE”.

Clearly, this is only scratching the surface of what Roberts and Whittock were teaching us, and if I had never started this book I would have been none the wiser why in the world would intelligent people vote in a man like Trump as president of their country? (or Boris Johnston for that matter). I am only at the start of the book so lots still to learn. And not only about America but about how the same rhetoric is now being used here too in the UK by the same people that are the ringmasters of the circus.          

Dad never took to classical music, in the early days of television the BBC would make much of orchestral music, well they had to do something with all those musicians in the BBC Orchestra. Something that seemed synonymous with male classical musicians, they would let their hair grow long, at a time when short back and sides was the order of the day. This led to dad calling classical music, ‘long hair music’.

My day of departure.

I had gone up the town to buy a couple of gas cylinders for my camp stove. Returning along South Street I passed the hairdressers, devoid of costumers, do I have a haircut, the first since the start of lock-down, or do I buy a fiddle? I went for the haircut. All now ready, van packed, I set off in glorious sunshine, I had picked the time of my departure well, I thought.

I filled the tank before crossing the silver Tay for Dundee, then I followed the coast out to Arbroath intending to set up camp on the promenade, there is nothing like the sound of the sea to soothe and calm the spirit, gee it’s busy here today, best move on. I set out for Brechin and then the B966 for Edzell,

The entrance to this little village is a bit special, once through the arch you are into a street twice as wide expected,

However with Edzell Castle nearby this was possible a very important and busy town in its day. And I believe stagecoaches, required a big turning area.

Edzell had other claims to fame, during the First World War an airfield was established then disbanded in 1919. During 1930 it operated as a civilian airfield, then the RAF moved in once more during the Second World War as a serving and maintenance unit. In the late 1950s I remember the airfield as a car racing circuit, and although I did not see it myself, Jim Clark, the future double GP world champion, won here in June 1959.

The Yanks then moved in, 1960 United States Navy established a global High Frequency Direction Finding, (HFDF) network. 3,000 personnel were station at what was called RAF Edzell, this was at the start of the Cold War. The station closed in October 1997. then came the bill, £4 million from the Central Fund over the next three years by Angus and Aberdeenshire Council to support Edzell and strengthen the local economy following the withdrawal of the US Navy.

I joined the B974 at Fettercairn and climbed up onto Cairn o’ Mount for the night. Tonight was a dark moon and the skies up here were magnificent, stars so close I felt I could have easily reached up and touched them. Orion’s belt shone out bright as did the Plough, called the Big Dipper in the US, and I suppose it does look much more like a big ladle than a plough.

All along the horizon to the east, a band of light from the street lights of Stonehaven and the towns and villages all the way up to Aberdeen, although the towns themselves were out of sight, still their light had found me. With clear skies there was no reflection of the cloud, restricting their light to a bangle of shining silver light. Only a few years ago this would have been bright orange, sodium light, streets lamps are mostly Led light now.

The night was warm so I decamped my fold-up camp chair outside the van and enjoyed this spectacular sky, my camp stove brewing up numerous hot cups of tea. This was most reminiscent of my day’s hillwalking in Scotland’s, big mountains, and big skies at night. A camper van pulled up into waste ground behind me and an ever so friendly dog bound up to me, much to the owners panicking calls for her to return, after a sniff around she bounded off home once more. Next day when I was leaving I saw a child buggy outside the van.

Day two,

Banchory to Bridge of Gairn, this is along the valley of the River Don, and today the river was shrouded in the morning mist, as I travelled on to Tornahaish. climbed upwards was like being in an aircraft bursting through the cloud and into the clear cold, empty skies. I stopped to take a picture of my favourite AA Box.

Dropping down to Cock Bridge once more I saw the mist lying in the valley bottom, lifting as Scots mist will, a willow the wisp at the appearance of the sun,

now you see it now you don’t.

It is a 20% climb out of Cock Bridge and all the way up onto the Lecht. The ski slopes were totally devoid of any snow. All the equipment gave an ugliness to the hillside, out of keeping with natures beauty all around.

I pulled into the little car park at the Well of Lecht, there were two camper vans already here, one still shrouded in blackouts. From the other a Shetland Collie announced my coming, barking madly until admonished by his owner.

The lead mine was established near to the Well of Lecht, between 1730 and 1738. The York Mining company established workings here, on land forfeited (Stolen) by the English government following the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. The ore, both ironstone and manganese ore was taken from the mine by packhorse over the hills to Culnakyle (near Nethy Bridge), there it would be smelted using a plentiful supply of timber from of woodland there. In 1840 the Duke of Richmond reopened the mine, purely as a manganese ore mine, this time the ore was sent down to Newcastle for use in the bleaching trade. At its peak, it employed 63 people, closing again in 1847 when cheap imports of manganese were coming in from Russia.

“Far yi fae?” the elderly man asked me from the window of their van.

“St Andrews” I replied, “And no need to ask where you folks are from”.

He told me they never travel far from the door, but like to get out into the country for a bit, I knew exactly what he was saying. His wife appeared from inside and took her seat, we greeted then their goodbyes. I went on to explore on foot, the old mine, lade and the spill heaps.

Tomintoul, Last time I was up this way I had parked up at the dedicated picnic area just outside the village, I was all on my lonesome, and spent time bathing and feasting and just chilling out, today I would have had difficulty finding a place to park, where had all these camper vans come from. Some old but many brand new and belonging to hire companies, according to the lettering on their outside. More worrying was the English registration plated, Oh No! Could this be an English bank holiday.

On now to Grantown-on-Spey, where I picked up the A95 and went zooming off to Dulnain Bridge and from there I was able to cross over and pick up the A9 for Inverness.

Inverness my old hunting grounds, I parked the van out by the estuary and opposite the docks for my stay over. The bike could now be pressed into service really for the first time apart from in Arbroath when I went into town to do a bit of shopping. Inverness was busy, but there is no better way to get around the town than by bike. I was still very unsure about going into a cafe or restaurant, so just bought some vitals for cooking back at the van.

Day Three,

Up with the larks and headed off down to Drumnadrochit stopping off at Urquhart Castle for breakfast,

Time was my friend as I looked out over the still waters of Loch Ness. I continued my travels along the lochside, turning off at Invermoriston onto the A887 for Kintail, where are all these camper vans coming from? I ask not for the first time.

The A887 takes you all the way along the north side of Loch Cluanie, which is in fact a reservoir, I have never seen the water in the loch so low as today. This is a beautiful road with unrestricted views across the waters to Adnach and Sggurr An Lochain then the mighty mountains beyond. On now past the Five Sisters of Kintail, the road was unusually busy, and every place possible to park had parked vehicles on them was it simply the fine weather that had brought them out in their hundreds, all glad like me to be out of the house and FREE?

At Dornie, the car park at Eilean Donan Castle was full to overflowing with cars, camper vans and motorcycles by the dozens, I crossed the river to the centre at Ardeive, and spend some time just enjoying this superb weather, finding a public toilet that was open was a big bonus. A tour bus pulled in whilst I was there and about half a dozen geriatrics stumbled out, coronavirus has certainly affected the bus tour industry hard, but seems to have worked wonders for the camper van hire industry.

I was determinant to visit Kishorn and Bealach Na Ba so pressed on to Rassal Tornapress where I took the single track road for Bealach Na Ba. What a disaster this was, stopping at ever passing place or simply squeezing passed hire camper vans, whose drivers dare not go to close to the edge at passing places, (thinking of their lost deposit, if the van suffered damage). Rows of cars with cycle carriers had been left down at Rassal Tornapress, with their owners intent of climbing the Bealach Na Ba, mostly on road bikes whose gearing was far too high for comfort on such a climb, most were already red-faced and this was only the start.

It may help to understand why my time at Kishorn was so memorable. The country was in a bad way in the 1970s, and just when oil was discovered in The North Sea. What should have been the bonus of a lifetime for the Labour Party and kept them in power for a generation was handed to Thatcher on a plate, with a no-confidence vote. Maggie would make sure not the unions or anyone else would stop her using the power that came from the oil revenue to shape the country to her Tory ideology of a market-led economy and the devil take the hindmost.

I was lured to Kishorn, with an advert in the Construction News, offering tough men, wages of £300.00 per week (equivalent in today’s money to 2,000.00 per week) for a tough job. Yes, that is how bad wages have become, we made more per hour in 1970 than today’s worker ever will, and no matter how bad things were we did not have food banks. I was still only starting into my thirties at the time, hard work not a problem, I headed north.

It was 1975 when the 150-meter wide dry dock was constructed to build the first layer of the Ninian Central platform, a big concrete saucer-shaped of steel reinforcing and concrete. The work would continue around the clock, 24/7 and for 52 weeks a year. I was working a permanent night shift, two weeks on two weeks off, this suited me fine.

Once the saucer was constructed it would be floated out into the deep waters of the loch, for when completed Ninian would weigh in at 600,000 tonnes and would stand 200 metres tall, but as the structure gained in weight and high it sunk below the water, so only a small part was ever above water. I remember when the saucer was about to be floated out, no one believed it would float, but when the gate was opened to the sea it did floated fine, and was towed out to the deep sheltered waters of the loch. Or 16-hour shift would now start and finish with a half-hour ferry ride.

In the picture you will see a collar around the top of the structure being constructed, that was a moving shutter. The shutter moved constantly and once the pore had started it could not be stopped for anything. And there were times when we had to stay on a few extra days at the end of our two weeks stint, for this reason. So many stories can be told during my eight years spent at Kishorn. We worked hard in all conditions and were well paid for that. It has always stuck in my head if you pay people well they will get the job done. Money has always been made round to go round if you give money to workers s/he will spend that money in the economy, and help the country by giving a big bite of their hard-earned cash to the government by way of taxation. A great economy starts with good wages, alas since Maggie Thatcher all that changed to her market-driven economy, trickle-down economy and the Tory ideology of ‘work old horse and you’ll get corn’ but only in the quantity we begrudgingly give you.

I tried to get into the Dry Dock at Kishorn, just for old time sake, but only managed as far as the gatehouse, ho-hum. Still climbing the Bealach Na Ba, I was able to stop and looking down snapped off a couple of pictures of part of a rig being dismantled in the dry dock. My photographs are not the best, my camera does not do long-distance shots.

This was crazy the amount of traffic going up and down this road. At the top, I stopped made lunch and when there was a lull in the traffic made my escape back down to Rassal Tornapress. From here I travelled up Glen Torridon, passing the mighty Beinn Eighe. At Kinlochewe I had intended to head up the beautiful Loch Maree, but nothing could persuade me to spend another minute in this traffic jam, with an ever conceivable place to park, even the smallest car of the van, now taken up by tourists to the area today. Is this the start of England’s most recent invasion of Scotland? I headed East once more and parked up by the Cromarty Firth, I freed myself from the driving seat and prepared food. How to time the perfect boiled eggs, simply put on a Roberta Flack CD and listen to her “killing me softly with his song”. After egg and salad, I headed out on the bike for a bit of exercise, thankful for a bit of peace and quiet.

Homeward Bound

It was looking as if there might a change in the weather but still very warm for the time of the year, very much an Indian Summer. After breakfast I tided up, which is difficult in such a confined space, dismantling the camp bed did help and tucked it away for another day. Made everything secure and hit the A9 for Perth, two hours away. Off at J9 and onto Aberargi and Abernethy and all the way into Cupar and home.

The trip was not the one I had planned, I had not expected the traffic that was on the roads, and still have no idea if it was an English bank holiday or just that so many people having been cooped up for so long, had taken advantage of the fine weather, they like I, just wanted to get away, and now that travelling abroad was a no-no, they had all decided to come to Wester Ross.

I can only imagine how bad it must have been in Skye. Maybe Oor Nicola should reimpose the bridge toll (at around £50) for all but inhabitants and deliveries to the island, it it did not curtail the flow, at least it might pay for the damage the tourists are doing.

The trip was a strain and tiring for me, I pushed on where at another time I would have dilly-dallied, simply because of all the tourists. But for all that, when I returned home, showered, shaved, made myself a proper cooked meal, I felt refreshed. I was now able to catch up with the news, which had not changed much since I went off, other than things are not getting any better.

I think the Tories will hang it all around the neck of Boris Johnston, like an Albatross, and try telling the public it was all the fault of an incompetent leader, but all is now well, ‘Under New Management’ with the band playing ‘Believe it if you like’.

Strange when I lay in bed that first night back it felt like I had just returned from a sea trip, I was still in motion. I slept sound until 10 am the following day and felt so good the next morning, refreshed and reinvigorated. I believe I had been suffering a little from the isolation during the pandemic in that I was frightened to go out of the building, other than on my own with my bike, I have always worn a mask outside the building from the earliest days of lockdown, even if only going up the street to the shops. Shopping was always early before the shop officially opened (Aldi lets us oldies in half an hour before opening time, gives us a chance to wander around, wondering what we came in for). Sadly I see no hope of this pandemic coming under control anytime soon. So many people out in crowded streets, in close proximity to one another, no attempt at social distancing and no mask-wearing in evidence. Someone is going to have to get a grip of the situation or this is going to spread like wildfire once more, the country in lock-down by default.

It’s all the fault of themessempee, the Unionists will cry.

 Seems the long-distance weather forecast was spot on, so I will be leaving for Wester Ross today for a week cycling and sightseeing, therefore I will be off the radar for a few days. I still wish to cycle to Cape Wrath (which is Danish for a turning point, I have been told), but this will be dependent on whether I can get a ferry over the Kyle of Durness, fingers crossed. Still, there is much more to see, up that way, Smoo Caves for one, the first abseil I ever made was here at Smoo Caves, some of the caves have collapsed in on themselves, so you can drop into them from the top, great fun. Then Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro in Scotland, I have walked from Ben Hope to the most southerly Munro, Ben Lomond, lost a good few ponds on that trip, I was so hungry all the way, since I was burning up calories quicker than they could be replaced.

Torridon, Loch Maree and the great Beinn Eighe. Dropping down to the Applecross peninsular, I just have to ride the Bealach Na Ba.

I spend almost eight years up here at Kishorn, in the 1970s we were constructing the Ninian Central Platform, the biggest, movable, floating concrete structure in the world at that time. The conditions at first were harsh, but once the camp was up and ready for us it was the best job in the world. I was working 16-hour permanent night shift on a two-week rotation (some time we worked past that dependent on the pour) but the pay packet made it all worthwhile. I was now able to full-fill a lifetime ambition to buy a brand new BMW R80RT and on my downtime take off for Europe and travel extensively, living it up in B&B no roughing it in those days.

Eilean Donan Castle, Glen Shiel and the Five Sisters of Kintail, it was over a Christmas holidays that myself and two others took on the sisters, we ascended at the hill of the Spanish Mercenaries to reach the ridge and walked west, bad choice it was blowing a gale up there and into our faces. The rain was horizontal at times, I found an old plastic fertilizer sack, cut three holes in it and pulled it over my head and stuck my arms through the other two holes, helping to keep out that lazy wind, you know the one, so lazy that did not bother to go around you.

So many memories I wish to re-kindle over this autumn break, sadly my camera is little use at big landscapes, then no camera will recreate the beauty of the highlands. So that’s it, see you all when I return with stories aplenty to tell. Keep well and keep the peddle turning.     

I listened to Martyn Whittock who has written a book called ‘Trump Puritan’ he was telling us – ‘at first Americans was seen as only supporting Israel, now America see themselves as aligning with destiny by supporting Israel’ and explained to us why Trump is seen, by Americans, as a king from the Old Testament. It is all in their DNA we were told, from the time of the second generation that came to America after those on the Mayflower, 400 years ago, and set up their New Jerusalem. Really interesting thesis, I will get the book and try to understand it more. If I have it right, what Martin was saying, many in America see Trump as their saviour, really. I have said all along don’t write Trump off for a second term.

Been out of the picture for a day or two, all down to me walking the Fife Coastal Path, well a wee bit of it anyway. The Fife Coastal Path, can not be ridden and in places it is not even possible to walk it. When I lived in Elie, Tim and I would walk the path in that area most every day. Either out to St Monance and beyond or west to Lower Largo, then to Upper Largo, where we would catch the bus home. Although these days seem like only yesterday, I am not the man I was 10 years ago, something I found out to my cost on the very first day out.

I caught the X60 to Leven and walked back to Elie (around 10 miles by road) on the first day. X60 back home. Next day Elie to Anstruther (Around 6 miles by road) on my third and last day Anstruther to Crail (10 miles by road) from there the bus home. I did intend to go back down to Crail today and walk into St Andrews (10 miles by road) but my body said enough is enough.

I enjoyed it but it was a gruelling task, however it was for a purpose. When I go off on my next adventure I intend to go walking in the foothills to see some of the beauty of Scotland that can not be seen from the road, this will require a bit of serious walking. It is one thing walking on metaled road and pavement, quite another along heather tracks.

I had even contemplated climbing a Munro, just for old times sake. Getting up there would not be the problem, getting back down again would, my knees take it ill out going downhill these days. No more running off the hills for me.

The weather was good to me little wind, although this is less of a problem when walking, still it is always better to have the wind on your back whatever you are doing. I loved being back down by the shore, I never tire of that. When I reached Kincraig I did intend to traverse the Chain Walk but the tide was coming in fast so it would have been a bit foolhardy. In past blogs, I have spoken much about this coast so no point in repeating myself here. It is not a strenuous walk by any stretch of the imagination for anyone reasonably fit, and for us others, well we just have to take it at our own pace.

My list of things to do before I depart is growing longer, gas for the stove, check over and wash the van, fill up with fuel, water and don’t forget the tyres. Set up the solar panel to re-charge the battery that will power my laptop, DVD player and ………….. the number of things that need to be on charge these days. Strange in the 1940s-1950s poverty was going without meals, patched clothing and having to wear shoes you could feel stones through the soles ……….. (I remember my Roman Catholic friend telling me how, when they were children, they would make a game out of seeing how many people had holes in their shoes, when they knelt to pray). In today’s world poverty is defined as living without a washing machine, television and a mobile phone. “If I give you the sun, would you then want the moon and stars too?”

Late to rise, rushing out the door to catch my bus, with no time to get on the internet first thing this morning.

My menaces has always, and will always be headwinds, the older I get the more troublesome they become, so when the weatherman told us that the winds of the past few days would decrees, no one was happier than I, plans were made.

Earlier today I stowed my bike in the hold of the Glasgow bus and pressed my bus pass into service once more. Less than one hour later I was disembarking in Glenrothes, the start of today’s foray into the Lomond hills. It was an easy ride over to Leslie then onto a little unclassified road that takes you over the bealach between west and east Lomond. The road up is not all that steep and with many false summits you get a chance to draw breath on the little flats as you clime. The day was not the best for sightseeing and since most of those sights will be behind you anyway, you have little option but to just to keep pressing on ever upwards. I stopped half way up to look down onto the Ballo and Holl Reservoirs, before plodding on. As you reach the top of the pass the woodland become thicker an although clear felling has taken place here in the past new self seeded trees have grown up to take their place. As you reach the hollow between the peaks there is a car-park and what looks like toilet block, here numerous signs pointing you onto paths taking you either onto the east or west Lomond Hill. Over the top, now if you are familiar with this road I’m sure it would be a big weeeeeeeeeeeee all the way down, what is a much steeper side of the hill, and all the way into Falkland, but I was devoid of such knowledge and the road was narrow, potholed and dank, so I was taking it carefully today.

Falkland is like no other town in Fife it has that Brig of Done feel about it, its ill-shaped homes spilling out and encroaching at every angle into the narrow streets. All finding their way into the town square, dominated by a church and then the Palace itself. There was a castle here before the palace, that was home to the Mac Duff family, whose head was the Thane, later Earl of Fife. The town and palace are worth spending time exploring, however today the Palace was closed to visitors.

Out of Falkland and on into Freuchie (don’t you just love that name), all I remember about Freuchie is that it had a great cricket team at one time and played for Scotland in some championship or other. I carried on the road to Langdyle, turning left just after the farm and heading along the ridge road for Craigrothie, it is years since I was up this way and I had forgotten how hilly it is. Down into Ceres, Pitscottie and home.

I have always been known as a hill climber and endurance rider rather than a sprinter, but alas I have added a few stone since those days.

I no longer really enjoy driving, it is a convenient way to get from A to B and the van will give me shelter for the night, and that is about it. There is so much I still wish to see, and travelling by bus with the bike in the boot works well for me. However, I can only do so on the big intercity buses the small rural buses are a no-no. Now that coronavirus looks to be with us for a wile, I am seriously looking at a lightweight folding bike that I can easily carry onto bus or train. And one in particular has caught my eye, it is made from carbon fibre and is a true featherweight, and of course, since it is the one that I fancy, very expensive, ho-hum.

My ride today was not all that far in miles but a lot of hard work went into climbing up hills and down dales. This is what makes it so worthwhile for me, awaken that sense of achievement, and like Oliver, will always leave me asking for more. Keep the peddles turning.