The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

 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.

 I do grieve the passing of the working men’s clubs. They were a very integral part of our society, bringing people together, places for picking up gossip and where important information was shared, they were also the kindergartens for new bands and artists. The banter was very special too. Stories were told that may have been events of the day or a special memory of an absent friend, When the clubs went so did the heart of the community.

One lad, I remember well from those days was an ex-soldier called Dave, he had a heart with a dagger driven thought it tattooed on his upper arm. Dave, you see, had been a member of an elite commando forces during the war, and the teller of the tallest tales you ever did hear.

“Well, you all know I do a bit of fishing”, he began.

“I was fishing this day in a favourite spot of mine, I shan’t tell you where that was, a good fisherman never does, when I heard this voice behind me so I turned around. There was this gentleman half running towards me. He was dressed in plus fours, tweed jacket and had a fore and aft cap on his head. He was in a right old state waving his crummockck in the air and shouting”.

“Hey, you there, I say you there” he was calling from the distance, “you can’t fish here” he told me.

“Well I put my rod down and came over to meet with him, and I told him. Me, fought in two world wars, up to my eyes in muck and bullets and you tell me, I can’t fish here?”

It was then I took out my packet of cigarettes, and as I would for anyone, I shook one from the packet and offered it up to him.

He had stopped his carry on by now and happily took the cigarette from the packet, then he asked,

“Have you always smoked Woodbine cigarettes?”

“Oh yes, a great little cigarette” I told him.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked

“No,” said I, “I don’t believe we have ever met before”

“Well let me introduce myself” and he stuck out his hand for me to take, “I’m W.D. and H.O. Wills” he said.

“And you know what he told me? I can come and fish there anytime I like”.   

 I was sitting at my computer on Wednesday when a message popped up on the screen from Elie weather, to tell me that not only would it be turning colder but the weather would deteriorate over the week, so better get your skates on.

Thursday morning I stuffed the bike in the boot of the Glasgow bus from St Andrews and pressed my bus pass into service, for a trip to Halbeath park and ride.

The sky was overcast but the thin cloud cover seemed high, more unwelcome, was the low bank of fog around Lochore Meadows as we passed.

The air was cold and I was glad of my woolly hat pulled down over my ears as I set off for Hill of Beath then onto Kelty where I joined the B996 for Kinross. By the time I had reached Lochleven’s lochside ‘my tiny hands were frozen’ but no Rodolfo singing ‘Che gelida manina’.

I would have like to go out to the island where Mary, Queen of Scots, was held prisoner but was foiled by coronavirus once more. I chained up my bike at the boathouse and set off along the path for Queen Mary’s Gate,

a family of swans were preening themselves by the jetty where Mary landed.

Mary made a lot of bad choices in her life, mostly in picking husbands. The end came at Carberry Hill, near Musselburgh, east of Edinburgh. Not much of a battle really, the two armies, that of the Confederate Lords and Mary’s troops were about equal in number. Mary was indecisive, neither side really wanted to fight and kill their own countrymen. Mary decided to negotiate with the Confederate Lords rather than risk a battle which would have resulted in significant bloodshed. In the end, all she did was traded her freedom for Bothwell’s.

Mary had expected to be treated with respect by the Confederate Lords, not a hope in hell, Scotland at that time was much like Afghanistan today, a collection of greedy warmongering war-lords. Mary was taken back to Edinburgh where she was greeted by a jeering crowd rather than the cheering crowed that she might have expected.

Mary was a most unlucky queens, married to a week sickly child (king of France) with a built-in, watertight prenuptial agreement. When he died, there was not a lot going for her in France, so she came to Scotland to claim her rightful inheritance as Queen of Scotland. Alas, she was Catholic in a country that had given up the old religion. She also had a strong claim to the English crown, therefore danger from both camps. But what were the Confederate Lords to do with Mary, after all, she was still their queen. Mary was taken to Lochleven, where they shipped her out to a small castle on the island, out of sight and out of mind, and crowned James V1, king of Scotland.

Mary already knew Lochleven castle well, it was here in 1563 she confronted John Knox, hoping to charm him, not a hope. Knox vehemently objected, not only to Mary retaining her Catholic faith, but objected to any female ruler. Knox did not budge one jot from his extreme anti-Catholic and misogynistic views.

If I had reached the island this is what I would have seen.
What I did see, from a long way off.

Mary’s womanly charms may not have made her any inroads with Knox, but she had better luck with young George Douglas, son of her gaoler Sir William Douglas, and young Willie Douglas a relation of Sir William, and in his care, following the death of his parents. They would help in any way they could in adding Mary’s escape.

Mary spend just over a year in captivity in Lochleven Castle, she had already made one failed attempt, disguised as a washerwoman. But her dress could not disguise her beauty, her tall slender form and her French accent. The boatman would not be fooled, she was never going to pass as anyone other than the Queen of Scots.

Opportunity arrived on the 2 May 1568, Lady Douglas, the wife of Sir William, had given birth and the garrison was too preoccupied with celebrating the occasion that they took their eye of guarding Mary. As Sir William was eating and no doubt a little drunk, young Willie Douglas managed to steal the castle keys. Mary changed into old clothes and made her way down to the landing stage via a postern gate. Then together with Willie and a servant woman they made their way by boat across the loch. Meanwhile, one of Mary’s Ladies-in-waiting dressed in Mary’s clothes and making sure she was seen from time to time, and at a safe distance so that it appeared as if Mary was still in the castle. When they reached the shore at what is now Queen Mary’s Gate, George Douglas, was waiting with a party of supporters, they would escort Mary to Niddry Castle, (now a private home), where she spent her first night of freedom. From there she found sanctuary with the Hamilton family, in central Scotland, There support was never freely given, Hamilton wanted to control Scotland by having control over the queen, or by marrying her into their family. (Never trust a Hamilton, that would be my advice).

All that was left for me to do was head back to the park and ride and board my magic (stagecoach) carper for St Andrews, It ain’t half hot in here mum.

I just love this stuff, it is better than any novel of fiction, you could not make this up, no one would believe you. I have already started exploring Mary’s Scotland, with a book by Ian Douglas, of the same name, Exploring Mary’s Scotland.

Most enjoyable day out, sad that there was no ferry to the island, seems daft, I could travel in a bus but not on a boat and I had forgotten just how cold it can get on a bike, wind chill and all that technical stuff. Keep safe and keep peddling.  

P.S. winds picking up to 40 mph (Elie Weather).

When British troops were introduced into one city after another in Northern Ireland, what turned out to be a solution to the problem became a very large part of the problem. Several attempts were made to establish a power-sharing governments, most notably in 1974 following the Sunningdale Agreement, but all were opposed or thwarted, by Republicans and loyalists alike, until 1998 the Belfast – aka Good Friday Agreement: ‘Sunningdale for Slow Learners’ as Seamus Mallon, the inaugural Deputy First Minister of the Legislative Assembly dubbed it.

Thinking of this reminded me of sitting in the classroom with the instructor trying to teach us navigation. As the morning session drew to a close, and lunch break becond the instructor ended his lesson by asking the class,

“If I were to tell you to meet me for lunch at fifty-three degrees, thirty-five minutes north and zero point zero four degrees west, where would I be?”

After a long silence a voice pipped up,

“Eating alone.”

Slow rescue,

The Royal Naval Ancillary Fleet, had two boats stationed at Rosyth Royal Dockyard, their main task was the removal of ammunition from the naval ships before they entered the dockyard for re-fit and the re-storage of them when they departed the dockyard. Other duties included collecting and delivering ammunition from depots in and around The UK. One other important duty was to dispose of obsolete munitions at sea. One such dumping grounds was an area three miles due east of the May Island in the estuary of the River Forth.

Our story finds ‘Enfield’ on such a journey and once on station the crew rigged a set of rollers from the hold, along the deck that continued three feet over the port bow. Boxes of torpedoes were being unloaded and sent along the rollers. The crew waited until the boat rolled to port then they gave the heavy boxes a good push, sending it on its way to Davy Jonha’s Locker. Timed right it would take little effort for them to go cascading over the side.

As one of the boxes was sent on its way, a freak wave caught the box as it entered the water and smashed it against the bow with such force, that the box broke open and the torpedo exploded on impact blowing a gaping hole in the side of the ship, and just on the waterline. Crash mats were quickly dropped over the hole and the force of water entering the ship did the rest forcing the mat tight against the side of the ship and over the hole, this helped reduce the flow enough for the ships pumps not to be overwhelmed.

An SOS was sent from the ship to Rosyth, ‘Eveready’ would steam to their aid. Although ‘Enfield’ was listing badly and down at the head, she made slow passage back up the Forth. As she entered the breakwaters at Rosyth dockyard ‘Eveready’ – now renamed by the crew of ‘Enfield ‘Never-Ready’ coming to their rescue.

There’s a large milky ball in the sky tonight,

Surrounded by a hallow of pure burning light,

Not a whisper of cloud to darken her face,

Only stars in accompaniment,

As she tracks across space.   

I watching ‘The Bridge’ from behind the sofa, into the early hours of Sunday morning. This drama has possibly single-handedly ended tourism to both Sweden and Denmark. Not only the inhabitants of these countries but those working within the police force itself are certainly strange. This is real compulsive viewing, as compulsive as Reacher in a Lee Child book. The main character, (a female detective) makes Spok look postpositively human. What an actor this girl is, to pull this character off so well along with all her idiosyncrasies. And that is possibly why this drama is such a success, the characters are so real and believable, even if they are a bit off the wall. can’t wait until the final episodes next Saturday, then it will be withdrawal symptoms for weeks after that.

A beautiful day, clear blue skies from horizon to horizon, there was a chill in the air, and the winds were light and out of the west. September – October seems to shaping up to their reputation as very settled months, certainly we are blessed today. I set out with the intention of going over to Falkland Palace, a big favourite of Mary (Queen of Scots). First thing I noticed was the amount of traffic out on the roads, thankfully all Sunday drivers so giving cyclist plenty of time and courtesy, and there was a good few of us out today. As I approached Ceres I thought why not go via Scotstarvit Tower,

I did but the door was firmly bolted against me, does not bow well for Falkland Palace.

I dropped down onto the A914 and travelled through Pitlessie, Balmalcolm and Kettlebridge for the Muirhead round-about, then on the A912 for Falkland. As I came upon the Putin Hill road, I decided to head up onto East Lomond once an important Pictish fort and settlement.

The local cycle club use to run the Purin Hill, Hill Climb up here, so I turned off and headed for the top. The object of the exercise was not to break any records but just cycling all the way up without humiliating myself by having to get off and walk, so that was my goal, an achievement in itself, a gold-winning medal effort and no mistake.

Problem one; cars coming down, a constant stream on what is a very narrow road only a car width at best. Problem two; potholes, some that could swallow up my front wheel with room to spare.

You find this all over the country, money is found to construct car parks at places of interest, or natural beauty (East Lomond is both). Pretty information noticeboard erected and picnic area provided.

Then the once beauty spot becomes a victim of its own success, and falls foul of foot and vehicle traffic, (check out Skye). The roads leading there become potholed and all but unable to drive on with anything other than an all terrane vehicle.

Slowly but surely I twiddled my way towards the top. It is not that it is all that steep, it is just that it seems to go on forever, I was staring out the front wheel long before I made the summit. Give that man a coconut, sorry we are out of coconuts, you will have to have a Bounty, hey, you bounty like them. I sat overlooking the Forth Estuary and the lands below, well worth the climb for this view alone, drinking my energy drink and eating my Bounty bar, they are moist and sweet. Just what the doctor ordered.

A good number of people were climbing up the footpath to where the fort had once been, at the top of East Lomond, (424m above sea level, the A912 is at 50m above sea level) me I had done enough climbing for one day, so just soaked up the day. The hill at this level was covered in heather and just starting to colour up.

If Scotstarvit Tower, was closed Falkland Palace likewise would I’m sure be closed (or possibly only the gardens open to the public). On my return down to the A912 I turned right and not left and headed for home, this time via Cupar and Guardbridge. It was a fine day out, a journey of around 35 miles, in glorious weather, the only complaint, if there was one, was the heavy traffic, bring back the coronavirus lock-down, please.

Whilst in his third year of an apprenticeship a young electrician made a visit to the doctor with a chest complaint. The doctor after examining the lad diagnosed the problem as stemming from damp and dusty conditions, that he was being exposed to down the mine. The young lad went off to the chief electrician and asked if he could be transferred to the main workshop for health reasons, whereupon he was asked to put his request in writing.

He did, and his request was granted, he was transferred to the workshop.

Unfortunately, his condition returned and once again he made an appointment to see the doctor. This time the doctor’s diagnosed the problem as him having an allergy to a substance he used daily in his work.

Again the lads went to the chief electrician requesting that he be exempt from handling such a substance, and again the chief asked for him to put his request in writing. The lad wrote,

“The doctor told me that I should not work with *******” Obviously he meant to write aerosols.

Change is in the air,

If you were to ask me what is the biggest change I have seen in my lifetime, I would have to say women coming to the fore. I don’t know how many of you would have listened to Michelle Obama’s speech from Regina Mundi? Anyone who lived through the 1970s and listening to her speech would, like me have had the hairs on the back of their neck rise, it was both inspiring and inspirational.

I marched on the streets of London against apatite in South Africa and in support of those women who marched on the parliament buildings in Pretoria. There they stood, defiant.

“Hit a woman and you hit a stone” was their war cry.

These words have stuck with me from that day to this.

I thought Michelle Obama would have gone farther in political life, believing she could have been a voice for change, even president. I feel it is such a pity that we can not choose the person, rather than a party leader, that we would want to run our country and not the failed political system we have at present, that puts the power in the hands of a person so few actually voted for. (I believe even Maggie Thatcher only received something like 12% of the total vote, that gave her absolute power, turning her into a duly elected dictator).

In May 2021 Scotland will go to the polls to chose who will govern Scotland and will be asked the question, do you want Scotland to choose its own destiny or have a foreign country (England) making these decisions on your behalf? If Scotland chooses to be governed by people voted into office, and not people they did not vote for, then for the first time since Mary Queen of Scots, will Scotland have a woman as its head. Now there’s a thought.

“You should always keep the backside’s of your politicians as close to the toe of your boot as possible”.  

Painting by Wlodzimierz Kmieck foot and mouth artist.

Autumn is already spilling into early winter, the Holly tree in the garden is festooned with berries, they are now putting on their winter red coats.

The students are back in town, with the cloth hire shops doing a roaring trade, for yesterday evening I saw many in the street, dressed I formal highland dress.

“School days are the best years of our life”

I am not sure how the coronavirus will affect numbers coming to study in Scotland this year, and then of course we have the dreaded Brexit to contend with, putting a lot of foreign students off coming to study at St Andrews.

On board a runaway train going down the track,

A one-way ticket, and no way back.

We have had some very strong winds over the month of August so the miles peddled have been curtailed. However the weatherman tells us that things will improve by next week, I’m certainly looking forward to the still clear frosty mornings.

Autumn is indeed a magical time of the year, for as the days draw in and the nights lengthen we get strange dawns. In the poem Sea Fever, John Masefield, the poet tells us,

And the grey mist on the seas face,

And the grey down breaking.

He is talking about the false dawn, we have all seen it but often overlook its presence, it just happens, nothing to write home to mummy over.

But Maisfield did notice it for if you are at wheel of tiller of you boat you will know that time well, when you see objects but they are difficult to make out.

In The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the poet speaks rather puzzling of ‘Wolf-and-Sheep-While, again he is talking about a false dawn, a time when it is hard to distinguish one from the other.

And in France they say entre chien et loup, (our dog and wolf).

This effect is caused by debris in the atmosphere, in the northern hemisphere we see it after sunset in spring and before dawn in autumn. ‘Red sky in the morning shepherd’s warning’ makes sense if you can not distinguish Wolf from Sheep. Thankfully we simply can just enjoy the majesty of the false dawn in autumn.

Awake! For Morning in the Bowl of Night,

Has flung the stone that puts the stars to Flight,

And Lo! The Hunter of the East has caught,

The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

Soon we will be into November and the American Presidential elections, although from what I can see they never stop campaigning for some office or other in America. I read an article in the Times, way back in 2010, if memory serves, it was about people spending vast fortunes running for various offices. Meg Whitman was running for Governor of California and sunk 120 million dollars of her own money into her campaign, a campaign that cost 145 million dollars. She was unsuccessful. Maybe she would have been better saying to the people of California, “If you vote me into office I will put 120 million dollars into helping solve some of the problems in California”. Would have been a much better (win-win) outcome for both parties concerned.

Just returned from a walk along the West Sands at St Andrews, there was a strong onshore wind against an outgoing tide, turning the waters into a carpet of dancing white horses.

A ball of playful boisterous fur,

The pup runs after a lone seabird,

Kicking up such a joyful din,

Engaged in a game he can not win.

The dog jumps up high into the air,

To catch a gull no longer there,

having floated upon effortless wings,

To land only yards in front of him.

Keep safe and keep those peddles turning.

The Torch’

When I was out in America there was this advert for a torch, but this was no ordinary torch this was a super-duper torch. This torch had been dropped from an aircraft, run over by a truck, and taken to the ocean floor, yet still worked. This torch was indestructible, according to the manufacturers, and to back up their claim it came with a lifetime guarantee. Well not quite, in the small print it read, “The guarantee does not extend to babies under 18 months old”.

Turban Johnny,

Following hard on the heals of depression and two world wars the 1950s was an affluent time for my mother. With her husband home from the sea and in permanent employment in one of Fife’s coalfields, mum for the first time in her married life, had herself a new council house, a steady wage coming in and a disposable income, but, with eight of us still at home, all would need fed and watered there was no rest for mum.

As the girls grew up and went off to work and boyfriends started to come around the house, dress awareness became more important to them. Although none were making great wages as yet, they did want to look their best going out to the dancing.

Door to door salesmen were a common sight around the doors in the 1950s, they sold everything from, vacuum cleaners to encyclopaedias to assurance policies. One salesman, in particular, was a regular at number 48 Wardlaw Way, I never found out his name but dad always called him Turban Johnny. You see Johnny was as a Sekh, very tall, and I suppose he would have been called handsome, by grown-ups, with his neatly kept beard and looking very regal in his blue turban. He came up from Manchester once a month by train and bus to our village, carrying his wares in the biggest suitcase you can imagine. It bulged in every direction and was only prevented from exploding open by two thick leather straps around its girth. His line was ladies clothing. Johnny had arrived at our door just as we were coming in from school on that his first visit, he asked,

“Is mother at home?”, which was his salutation at each and every visit.

Mum invited him in and after showing her a selection of his clothing she suggested he come back when the girls were home from work. Twin sets were very much in vogue at that time, but these were cashmere and very expensive. Not a problem Jonny would offer them credit up to a set amount, they could pay him on each of his visits.

Johnny always managed to arrive when the girls were home, so our living room would them be transformed into an impromptu fashion show, and once the girls had made their choices, the plead would be,

“Can I have it mum?”

That was a signal for Johnny to take out his book and do the sums, the cost against any money still owed, my sisters would wait with bated breath, then the magic words would come,

“Your daughter will look very beautiful in that mother”.

Johnny would become a regular visitor to our house in those years, although he did not always get a sale, for these clothes were special, and not for every day ware, they were looked after, hand washed and laid flat on newspaper to dry, then folded away in tissue paper in a drawer.

At each and every visit his greeting to whoever answered the door would always be,

“Is mother at home?”

One day it was dad who had answered the door to Johnny, and dad being dad called back into the house.

“Maggie, your son’s at the door”. Mother was not amused.   

Christmas, it would seem gets earlier every year. Already the adverts are appearing, telling us about bargains for Christmas, or buy now and delivery guaranteed by Christmas. I have always been against the commercialisation of Christmas. now we have the dumbing down of Christmas. No Christmas decorations in the streets that promote Christmas as a Christian festival, that is somehow, not politically correct, for it is offensive to non-Christians in society. Yet go down to Bradford and you will see Moslem festivals and Hindu festivals taking place, no one seems to object, in fact, they are welcomed in our multicultural society. This wee story came from such thoughts.

The girl sat on a stool her class of wide-eyed children in a semicircle at her feet, she retold the narrative, passed on by countless Sunday school teachers down through the ages, how Mary and Joseph arrived at Bethlehem to find ‘No Vacancy’ signs at every inn. A sigh of disappointment went up from the children as their teacher closed her book and announced the story would have to be continued next week.

Tommy was the first through the door the following Sunday and stood before his teacher, fingers fidgeted nervously. The young girl looked down kindly at the small unkempt lad in front of her, before asking “Yes Tommy?

“Please Miss has that man got a hoose yet?”

A smile broadened across the girls face, “No” she replied “But don’t worry Tommy, it will all turns out well in the end”.

Despite her reassurances Tommy was first to arrive the following Sunday, and the next and the next, only to ask the same question of his teacher.

“Please Miss, has that man got a hoose yet?”

The girl was preparing for the arrival of her class when an excited, breathless Tommy burst in through the door and announced,

“Miss! Miss! That man’s got a hoose”.

“Slow down Tommy”, she implored the breathless boy, words gushing from his mouth like a noisy babbling brook. “Take a breath and tell me once more what you are trying to say?”

“Its one of those wee prefabs down Wardlaw Way Miss, I was passing and saw a big furniture van outside number 17, that’s next door to Mrs O’Rourke, and Mrs O’Rourke, she said to the man in the van, Christ have you come to bide here noo?”

What happened to Christmas?

Look Jean what I bought in the Christmas sale,

This hat with a ‘drop dead gorgeous’ veil.

Oh, Joan! You really have gone quite mad,

Ever since they gave you that new plastic card.

Jean! Why must you be so mean?

Just look outside at the Christmas scene.

Outside the cafe the Salvation Army band played,

Sung carols and the nativity tale relayed.

Jean, would you listen to that din,

Wouldn’t be so bad if they could sing,

Anyway, why do they have to bring religion into everything?

Russia, was an ally of the British during the Second World War. For the duration of the war they would have on loan, two warships form the British navy. In the early 1950s these ships were returned, and made their way up the River Forth, and anchored in the channel, just of Rosyth Royal Dockyard. Jimmy and Laurimer were both now serving with the Royal Naval Ancillary Fleet, and based down at Rosyth Dockyard. Having volunteered themselves for Fire Picket over the weekend the lads had been ferried out to one of the ships now swinging at anchor.

As soon as the barge left on its return for the dockyard the two set to work searching every nook and cranny of the ship. Their search proved fruitless, not even an old pair of boots did they find on board the ship.

“Have you ever seen a ship so devoid of plunder Jimmy, not even an oily rag in the subs store?”

“Aye, your right there Laurimer, all those Ruskies have left us is dust, lets try the bridge, we may have better luck up there”.

Up on the bridge, there was a cupboard with a padlock securing it closed. “This is looking better, hand me that jemmy, Laurimer, ill soon have this open” offered Jimmy, his mood lighter now at the prospect of something worth a few bob in the cupboard.

before either man was able to make a move, there came a loud cough form the companionway, both men turned to be confronted with a young naval officer.

Clearing his throat lightly, he said in his clear educated voice,

“Those who steel from the Navy are bloody roughs, those that don’t, are bloody fools”

and with that he vanished almost as quickly and silently as he had appeared.

The padlock was jimmied off the locker but just like the rest of the ship, there was no booty to be had.

Members of the Royal Navy were able to buy duty free cigarettes, commonly know as ‘Ticklers’. These cigarettes came in round tins of fifty and clearly marked ‘Not For Resale’ however they were freely bartered around the dockyard. The practice was illegal, but the dockyard police as a rule turned a bind eye, well, many were themselves complicit in the practice. There was however one policeman, John Brown, these were contraband and low betide anyone caught with ticklers in their possession.

Enfield was one of two boats used to discharge and reload ships with ammunition, from naval ships before and after refit at the dockyard. The crew of Enfield were sitting around the mess table chewing the fat when the alarm was raised, “Brown on board”. All headed off to their respective quarters to hide any contraband that may have been left in plane sight.

Big John entered the mess, and cast a keen eyes around its small, bare confines. Jimmy looked up from a paper, that he appeared to be deeply engrossed in only seconds before, he greeted Brown with a nod, neither man said a word. The policeman move out through the mess and into the sleeping quarters. Nothing to be found, he left. As the boys settled back around the mess table, Jimmy lifted his cap from the table and asked “Anyone for a fag?” there under his cap was an unopened tin of 50 ticklers.

One day whilst pottering around the deck of my old Folkboat, a boat I had bought a few years off retirement, and spent nearly two years renovating. I had managed to change one or two planks, sister a few ribs, re-corking and make her shipshape and seaworthy once more. The intention had been to move to France and live onboard. From there I planned, over time, travelling across the canals of Europe all the way to the Black Sea, for this I would have to find a like-minded crew member along the way.

It was then I was approached by Fred for the first time. Fred then told me he had purchased one of the boats for sale in the marina. There were always boats for sale around the marina, and had even managed to negotiate to keep the mooring it was on, so few would have even realised that it had in fact changed hands.

Fred had purchased the yacht as a retirement present to himself and wanted to know how to lower the mast to fix a problem he was having with the wind direction and speed indicator attached at the masthead.

“Why lower the mast?” I asked, “I have a roll-up ladder that fits in the mast’s sail grove, you simply haul it up on the mainsail halyard, tether the foot and climb on up, it’s there if you wish to borrow it”.

Fred was not keen on climbing the mast so I went along and we soon had the wayward instrument firmly reattached. He then asked if I would mind accompanying him out, on what would be a maiden voyage for him as the skipper of his new charge, made sense, you really needed at least one another crew member to take lines as you passed through the locks.

“Great, I would love too”, since it was a smart 27 footer with all the toys onboard, more a case of hold me back.

I notice that although Fred managed the boat well under power, navigating the harbour and locks with ease, possibly much better than I could have, once the sails were set he had no idea what was going on. That first trip was a short four hours trip, ‘in and out’ on the same tide and once made fast we retired to my boat, Maggie. I lit the stove and we sat and blethered, whilst lubricating our throats, first with a pot of tea, then a glasses or possibly three of the water of life. Somewhere in the conversation, we arranged a weekend sail over to Bridlington. Now since we were both recently retired it made sense to take one boat and share the expenses. I would phone ahead and book us into the sailing club for the following Friday night, the club’s accommodation although basic, charging a very basic tariff, three-pound per night, great value, a hot shower always appreciated at the end of a trick. Fred would buy the provisions and diesel; I would pay the harbour dues and our fee at the clubhouse in Bridlington, a rather wayward tricycle and I headed for home.

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With an early tide and a fair wind we were soon rounding the Chequers Buoy and out of the estuary and into Bridlington Bay. On leaving the river the boat danced a lively tune of North Sea swell and as the wind picked up our mast bent as the sails strained in the strengthening wind and the standing rigging sang a melancholy song, we would make good passage for Bridlington.

Fred spent the hours down in the cabin frequently sticking his head out of the companionway to ask if I wanted another cuppa, chicken sandwich, or was I ready for another bacon roll? The boat well-founded had all the modern equipment on board, I loved all the electronic gadgets and the one I wish I had on Maggie, was the one that gave relative wind so you could make the best of it. Happy as Larry I sat at the tiller the boat tooting along at a cracking pace, spray flying from her bow.

We managed Bridlington with enough water to enter the harbour and tied up for the night.

Being a Friday the club bar was doing good business. We found ourself in the company of a small mixed group, who had taken up residence in the far corner. I was in good voice and gave them my rendering of ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, then to get everyone singing ‘The Wild Rover’ and that great anthem form Alabama. ‘We Shall Overcome’.

Norma, was pitit with bottle-blond hair, cut close to her head. she flirted with me in her tomboy playful way, that was very infectious and flattering to me.

“Crab-apple” I told her.

“What! What was that you just said?”

“Crab-apple, you washed your hair tonight and you used crab-apple shampoo, am I right?”

She did not answer but leaned over a little closer than she really needed too, and pretended to sniff. “Lifebuoy”, you smell nice too” she teased

“We are only here for the one night” I come back at her.

“I’m drinking as fast as I can” she replied, pretending to be coy.

“Will you be staying on board tonight?” she whispered, taking a liberty and nibbled my ear lobe as she did so.

“Oh no, I’m far to scared of the dark – now if I had company….”

“But I’m a good girl” she returns, again putting on that shy face that made her even more attractive.

The incoming tide slapped ourhull, rocking me awake, and as the tide lifted and righted the boat from the mud of the harbour, I tried to come to terms with the strange surroundings. My head fuzzy, my eyes still heavy from lack of sleep, it was then she moved and I heard her whispered,

“I told you I was good”.

Breakfast, was much later and a sombre affair, with heads still suffering Friday night’s jollities. Fred came on board around 10 am and made ready for our departure and clearly had no desire to take the tiller, so we travelled our homeward leg with me once more at the helm and Fred on galley duties.

The passage back across Bridlington Bay was against a foul tide and unhelpful wind, I had been on autopilot for the last two hours and the buoy that marked the Canada wreck was a welcome sight. When we once more entered the Humber River, east of the Binks and west of the Chequer Buoy, it was already dark, but the wind was much more favourable. I set the boat on a course just outside of the shipping lane’s marker buoys, and asked Fred to take the tiller; I was going below to put my head down for half an hour and asked him to wake me when we made the fort. “Just follow the buoys,” I said as I pointed out the a buoy over the bow and a more distant one over the stern, “If you loose sight of the buoy just keep her heading west, you will soon pick up the next one, but don’t stray into the shipping lane” I warned before disappearing below.

I was asleep before my head hit the bench cushion. I woke with the boat rocking violently and the sails flapping. On coming up on deck, the land had vanished from sight and glancing at the compass it was clear that we were far out in the estuary and heading, for as far as I could make out, Holland. Instead of holding the boat on course Fred had simply let the boat take control, whatever way the wind wanted to take her. I furled the headsail and started the engine and set us back on a westerly course before handed back the tiller, we would motor sail the rest of the way in. I curled up on the cockpit bench for the rest of our journey and dozed to the steady beat of our boat’s engine. The lines of a long-forgotten poem came into my head,

What know you of harbours,

Who sail not on the sea.

We did many more trips under sail in Fred’s boat, and for all the miles and hours at sea Ted never understood the principle of sailing. I would sit by him and tell him what was going on but Fred was always keen to disappear below deck and leave me with the helm, not that I was complaining. 

Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.  

 

Knoydart, is a peninsular on the west coast of Scotland and east of Skye, separated from the island by the sound you can not hear, the Sound of Sleat. Knoydart is very remote but such a magical place, you really have to take time out in the long summer days to do it justice. The first time we visited it was winter and the days were short. We had organised a drop-off by landrover at Arnisdale, were we had arranged for a retired shepherd to take us in his small open boat to the other side of Loch Hourn. During our time away he would spend his time visiting with the folks at the Glen Arnisdale estate. The first time we visited the estate boasted a young unmarried gamekeeper. A forester, his wife and two children, and since there was no school a retired school teacher lived in a car-a-van in their garden. On the second visit, the young gamekeeper had taken a wife. Our over ambitious route that day would take us first up Ladhar Bheinn then on to Luinne Bheinn, but as the old shepherd was concerned about crossing the loch in darkness we only climbed Ladhar Bheinn, even then it was getting dark when we hit the shore, where the boat awaited our coming.

We crossed the loch without incident, arriving outside the shepherd’s cottage, he and his wife lived in one of the houses strung out in a row along the shore. His wife welcomed us in to the snug and warmth of her home, a big fire was burning in the grate and after tea and fresh-baked scones and fruit cake, my eyes were closing, the heat was getting to me it would not have taken much for me to drop off to sleep in the big armchair.

There were televisions in Scotland at that time but here in the highland getting any kind of signal was near impossible, so the radio was their ear on the world. I was asked where I was from and when I said Dunfermline, the old boy was able to tell me the name of every member of the Pars (Dunfermline Athletic) football team and certainly knew more about the outside world news than I did. Then he asked,

“Will any of you lads be going near a big town, you see I need a new valve for my radio, I’m lost without it?”.

“Are you sure that it is a valve?” I asked.

“Oh, yes” he assure me “They all light up but that one”.

I checked the radio over for him and jotted down the chassis number, when I returned to Kinloss I went to the stores and asked for two of each valve for that chassis packaged them up and sent them off to Arnisdale. When we were leaving we tried to press money into the old boy’s hand, but he would not hear of it, so instead, we left him with a five-gallon jerry can of petrol and a used 150-foot climbing rope for his boat, his face light up as if we had just told him he had won the football pools.

We did very little, in climbing terms, but that was an unforgettable day, a trip that will live with me for the rest of my life.  

Crossed wires.

I was chatting with a lad the other day and discovered he had been an apprentice electrician in the colliery in the early 1960s, and this was his story. The colliery manager lived in a company house and his wife wanted a pair of wall lights installed at their home. The chief electrician gave the job to the two newly qualified apprentices.

“We were not all that happy about being chosen for the manager’s wife had the reputation of being a bit bossy”, he told me.

Arriving in good time we soon had the lights installed and before heading back to work, we reported back to the manager’s wife, asking if that was all she wanted us to do?

Inspecting our work she seemed pleased enough with the work, even offered us an apple each by way of reward, which we both refused.

“You have done such a sterling job she insisted, I feel I should give you something, what about a half?”

Well, that’s more like it, a wee glass of whiskey would work wonders, almost in unison we accepted her kind offer. Off she went into the kitchen and returned, not with two glasses of Single Malt Whiskey, but a plate with an apple, now sliced into two equal halves.

Window, window shining bright,

In the early morning light,

Cygnet’s sails once white as snow,

Now billow red in the morning glow,

Off we fly, wild and free,

On tireless wind, on endless seas.

A ministers sage advice.

It was always customary for the minister to give advice to newlyweds at the wedding breakfast. I’m sure we have all heard most of this wise advice over the years. This one came to me as I sat chapping away on my keyboard.

The minister advised a young couple, to never let the sunset on their wrath, and never let a dispute get out of hand. Better if one or even both go off for a long walk and when things have cooled down even the insurmountable will know a solution. A cool head, he assured them, will always find a compromise.

It was many years later that the minister met up with the husband again, he had returned to the village to visit with his elderly mother. On recognizing him, the minister had asked how married life was suiting them both.

“Very well, thank you minister” he replied “we have had a very enjoyable, open-air life”.

The pony that could count.

In 1842 an Act of Parliament was passed which prohibited the employment of females underground. The same legislation also made it unlawful for boys under the age of ten to be given work down a coal mine. As a consequence of that Act, pit ponies began to be used on a much larger scale to transport the coal from the workings to the pit bottom. These ponies soon became “Pit Wise” and had an acute awareness of the operations they were involved in, this led to many a humorous story.

My grandfather once told me that when he had worked alongside ponies down the pit, he knew of a pony that could count. At the Dip Five Foot section a pony stood patiently waiting while the handler coupled the 24 tubs together to form a ‘Race’. He then attached the pony’s harness to the race and instructed the pony, “Walk On”. The pony made no attempt to move and no amount of coaxing, cajoling or threats made the slightest bit of a difference. The opinion of the men was that either the pony was sick and the vet should be called, or that the pony was having an off day. It was then that Willie noticed that the race was made up of 25 and not 24 tubs and after uncoupling the last one from the line the pony, without further instruction, set off along the roadway.

I’m a cock-eyed optimist, as the lyrics say.

I am not a particularly religious person, but I loved the stories at our Sunday School and later in life became a uniformed salvationist. I no longer attend any church, however, the old adage tells us, you can take a man out of the army but not the army out of the man. If I were ever tempted to join a church group again I believe it would be the Quakers.

Coming from a nautical family, and having lived much of my life never more than a stone throw from the sea, it was inevitable when I first came to read the bible for myself I would choose nautical stories. Johanna, a whale of a story. Noah and his ark, and the greatest mariner of them all Paul.

Johanna

Johanna swallowed by a big fish.

We all know the story, Johanna was sent by God to Nineveh, the capital of modern-day Syria, once there he would go to the king and pass on Gods message. If the people did not turn away from their wickedness then they would be wiped from the face of the earth, plain, simple, unequivocal. Now it turned out that Johanna didn’t like the Syrians very much, and would have been happy to see them wiped from off the face of the earth. So, rather than go to Nineveh, he boarded a boat for Australia. Well, Spain actually, but in those days Spain would have seemed as far away as Australia is for us today, the other side of the world.

Noah

Noah built an ark

Now if anyone had asked me to come on board a craft that had no means of propulsion, so even if it did have a rudder or wheel, with no steerage way, no coarse could be set. This boat would have been at the mercy of wind and tide, adrift, a disaster waiting to happen. Then when told of the cargo, all those creepy crawlies and wild animals, no wonder the people laughed at him.

Paul

Paul well he was just a saint.

Paul found himself on board a large cargo ship, a coaster of its day. It had sailed first from Greece with around 150 passengers on board, then on to Alexandra to load with grain, destined for Italy. Caught out in a squall, there was little the captain could do but run with the wind. However, as they nearing the island of Malta, and the sailors looked over the bow of their ship and saw the land rushing towards them at a great rate of knots, alarm bells rang out amongst the crew. They had taken it upon themselves to climb into the tender and leave the ship and her passengers to the mercy of the wind and sea. Cometh the hour cometh the man, out of this chaos Paul tells the centurion that he had spoken with God, and that he was told that not a hair on anyone head would be spared, bold words from a man reputed to be as bald as a coot. Under Paul’s leadership and the authority of the centurion, they put sea anchors over the side, this had the effect of slowing the ship enough for it to make a controlled crash landing onto a sandy beach, whereupon the inhabitants of Malta came to their aid.

Summing up

Johanna

Johanna did finally go to Nineveh, God had chosen well, for he persuaded the whole of the Syrian nation to mend their ways. (I have always had this strange image of people and animals all walking around dressed in sackcloth), Johanna, working hand in hand with God had, saved a nation.

Noah

Noah in his turn, working hand in hand with God had saved all the creatures of the world, including man. (Maybe not one of your better ideas God).

St Paul

Paul working hand in hand with god, saved the ship, her crew and passengers, but his story did not end there. Paul was a small pebble cast into the pool of humanity. Those ripples have spread and spread down through the ages and still lap at our feet today. Paul still saves lives.

The Moral

Working hand and hand, we can achieve great things, even miracles, in our own world. Sadly working hand in hand is far removed from the reality we see in the world today, lessons of the prophets go unlearned.

The foreign policies of America and Britain have been a disaster, and have only worsened over the past 20 years, killing millions, displeasing millions more. Then when the homes and infrastructure of these countries are destroyed and the people start to arrive on our doorstep asking for help, we pull up the drawbridge. Those that do make that perilous journey to our shores, well they die of malnutrition alongside their malnourished child in some squalid Glasgow flat, it makes me angry that I am part responsible for their suffering. The Hindu Kush, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq Yemen, Gaza, Egypt, Libya and right across central Africa we hear the same song sung, and as the New Years approaches, Bush, Blair, Trump and the Johnston’s of this world will gather, and with many a whiskey tear, sing out “A man’s a man for a’ that”.

December had been a magical month for us, full of big night skies, clear and starlit, an ever-growing moon pulling the spring tide higher and higher up the beach. However, the crowning glory was the total eclipse of the moon. The conditions were perfect and being the shortest day we did not even have to get up that early. It is hard to describe this phenomenon when the earth’s shadow moves across the face of the moon. Liked dappled sun on a shaded pool our atmosphere played at first on the moon’s face, turning it into a ball of translucent colour before engulfing it completely. As the day breaks the sun bursts into sight, filling the skies in brilliant hues of red and gold, quickly it now tracks westward bathing the seascape in winter colour, merging both heaven and earth, Elie is such a magical place in winter.

Christmas Day

My sister and I sharing it together, I cooked lunch of Christmas fair, with Tim enjoying the change of diet too. Presents exchanged; thankfully no offence was taken as I handed over my present of smelly stuff for Irene to adorn her body with.

Men are from Mars and women from Venus. Presents can sometimes be difficult. Years ago, Dad and I had travelled over to Glasgow on the motorcycle. We visited the Barrows. It was there that we watched an enterprising lad demonstrating the brand new product, a non-stick frying pan to his captivated audience. He was cooking all sorts of food in the magical pan, even without fat, did any food stick to its surface. Wow! Dad was impressed, as I was, and bought one for mum. When we returned home and the pan was offered up as a birthday present, mum was not amused. Alas mum being mum, still managed to burn the food, eggs with crochet edges and beef to sole your boots with. Mum was a past master at weld food, even to the bottom of her new non-stick pan. Father was a martyr to her cooking and single-handed she kept Rennie’s in business throughout the worst of the recession. Sorry a lot of poetic licences there, but the part of buying the pan and mum’s disapproval were real enough.

This story was inspired by a slogan once used by the Salvation Army, and told to me by Captain Yule. My friend on returning from his first trip up to London was beside himself with wonder at all he had seen and told me he had even visited a brothel run by the Salvation Army.

I was down in Soho and went over to where a red lamp was hanging over a door and rang the bell. Well you could have knocked me down with a feather, when a young Salvation Army Officer, in her slinky wee uniform, answered the door.

“Oh! I’m sorry miss, I must have come to the wrong door”. I blurted out, flushed with embarrassment.

“No, no, not at all” the officer assured me, “Come away in. Now before we can proceed, we have to fill in the paperwork” (paperwork and The salvation army is synonymous).

“Can you tell me your name?” She asked.

“Oh, eh, Smith miss, John Smith”

“And are you married or single, John?”

“Oh, married miss”

“Then I’m sorry John, but you see were here for the Needy, not for the Greedy”.

Yes I know it was a rotten joke and an even worse slogan.

Our trip over to see Sleeping Beauty at the Rep in Dundee was a great success. The production was brilliant and the comic timing superb and although we are not supposed to like the wicked witch, we, of course, loved her. A great addition was the use of a harp to accompany the actors. However for me, the favourite was John Buick as Spider King, Glaswegians are such natural comedians.

Television over the festive season, I am total ‘musical-eds out’. Along with some golden oldies like Casablanca, “Here’s looking at you kid”. I even watched the animated version of “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas” You know the temperament and facial expressions of the heroine are those of Kristen Scott Thomas, uncanny.

Irene’s naughty cat perched himself, up on a shelf and out of reach of Tim. From here he stretched out a paw and teased poor Tim, forbidding the old boy from having his after-dinner nap.

Blaise’ will do what cats will do,

Play with ball, play with shoe,

Tear the paper from my wall,

Never come when I call,

But when it’s time for his tea,

It’s he who comes to search for me.

Another year in, and still managing to dodge the undertaker. Old Years Night I spent with my sister, it was Irene’s turn to cook and her meal was a traditional homemade steak pie, potatoes and turnip. I have not made a New Years resolution, seemed little point since I’m a spur of the moment kind of a guy and very content with my lot.

The New Year heralded in a new decade. We stood by the sea wall at North Queensferry and watched the magnificent fireworks display from the Forth Rail Bridge. How hopefully we travelled then. Barely a year on and it has all started to unravel.

Who could ever forget the feeling of disbelief as we watched that loop of film on our television screens as the planes crashed, over and over again, headlong into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, or the stuned look on the face of President GW Bush as his aid whispered the news into his ear?

But saddest of all for the world was when the two cowboys, Bush and Blair, strapping on their six-shooters and wearing tarnished white hats, stepped out into the street to Kick-Ass. And set off a chain of reaction that we still live with to this day. Sow the wind and reap a whirlwind.

 It was a few years ago now that I watched “My family’s crazy gap year” on the television, where Nikki McClement goes off to some of the most remote parts of the world. I was not surprised when she admitted that this made her question her own life back in England, I know that conditioning well.

How I long to be once more alone on my boat sailing over the horizon. I can not begin to describe the joy and wonder one feels sitting at the helm on a moonlit night the skies an endless black velvet veil sprinkled with stars, like a field of shining diamonds. That magical time alone in your own thoughts whilst the boat, driven fast on white wings, white as white can be in the moon’s light, her bow cleaving the water, pushing up a phosphorescence bow-wave as she does so.

My heroes at that time were Bernard Montessori 1925 – 1994, he was a French national born and raised in Vietnam, then part of French Indochina, Montessori was a world renounce ocean voyager and author. From an early age, he had his own boat, but since he was too young to hold the post of captain, he had to employ one. Much of his knowledge and experience he acquired during his time at sea with the fishermen of the Gulf of Siam, Montessori had a very simple outlook on life.

“I dream of the day when a country of the modern world has an intensely simply government and barefoot ministers, I’d ask for citizenship right away. Christ and the Apostles were barefoot vagabonds and I’m sure it helped then work miracles. They were remarkably simple too, just like Buddha and all the saints. And our times have never seen a man as great as Gandhi at the head of a nation.

The automobile manufactures and munitions makers will call it an outrage to freedom and everything we hold sacred when they hear our anthem but our earth would find herself again, and men as well. Just men, with no capital letters. Our nation would not collect gold medals at the Olympics, but the gold medal supermen would listen to our anthem. And they would seek citizenship so as not to be superior any more. Then the manufacturers of cars and oil and supergiant planes and bombs and generals and all-the-rest would gradually begin to feel that the turning had been finally taken. That it is a thousand times truer to have men guided by heart and instinct than the twisted gimmicks of money and politics.”

A very Far Eastern ideology and very much steeped in my hippy past. When I hear songs like “Imagine” by John Lennon, or “A man’s a man for a’ that” by Burns, I hear echoes of Montessori. Yes, I would be asking for citizenship too.

What, Simpson, what’s that they’re singing bellow,

What – repeat, please,

A man’s a man for a’ that’…

There will be none of that Jacobinry on this ship.

Tell them, find better words.

A man

May be king or beggar, Simpson,

It’s better so, every man locked in his place in the great music of society.

It was thus from the beginning of things.

A man’s a man for a’ that

On this ship a man is a sailor

And Simpson, I am the skipper.

By George Mackay Brown

Bernard Montessori, called his boat “Joshua”, after his hero Joshua Slocum, who was the first man ever to sail his boat “Spray”, single-handed around the world.

And it just so happens that Joshua Slocum was the other of my heroes. Slocum’s book of that adventure is both entertaining and humorous, after catching, cooking and eating a turtle, he tells us that the crew were happy with the cook, which of course were one in the same. And fun and game as he outfoxed the North African pirates. If you love good sea yarn this is one you should not overlook.

Spray

The days grow shorter now, however, our Tim is keen to be up and out no matter the light and I find myself begin roused when all around is telling me to go back to sleep. He is, however, a persistent soul and will paw, paw, paw at me till I show some resemblance of life. Pretending to be asleep will only increase his endeavours not to fail in his duty as my self appointed alarm clock. A sharp word and turning over whilst drawing the covers over one’s head will send Tim to lie by my feet, alas this little victory will be short-lived for Tim will groom and fidget there indefinitely, I may have won a small victory but Tim has won the day.

It is still dark as I drag a weary body into the land of the living and we head for the shore, yet even before we arrive my spirits are lifted by the sheer emptiness of this beautiful place. No matter that the sea roars noisily onto the rocks or whispers up the shingle of the beach, its majesty never fails to lift my spirit.

By the time of our return the sun has already sent magical rays across the open waters, exploding onto the land, a million colours, a trillion hues, such light as only the soft autumn morning light can produce, colours once hidden in the brightness of the summers sun now bursts forth on every rock, blade of grass and gable wall, setting fire to the windows of the little cottages strung out along the bay. At such a time I wish I had the talent of an artist to capture such beauty or the elegance of a poet to tell of such wonders. For our little bay has all the colour of an impressionists canvas, only now, in real-time.

One Autumn Morning,

I awake to the bawl,

Of the wood pigeon’s ceaseless call,

As night falls into day,

Tim now wide awake,

Though a bleary eye I still do shake,

We head down onto the shore.

The wind blows strong from south and east,

White-capped waves an endless feast,

Break hard upon the shore,

Crows along the water line,

With their strong beaks the seaweed mine,

To dine on natures fare.

Leaves fall fast from the sycamore trees,

Lie deep now, high as wee Tim’s Knees,

I can’t resist, in them to play,

Kicking the leaves in a boyish shuffling way,

Squadron’s of geese do fly,

Black lines across a pale morning sky,

Onto the Tay’s sweet waters, nearby.  

 I was clearing out the ‘Glory Hole’ this morning and came across some of my old diaries, one dated August 2011, and inside I found a picture of my little bilge keel Leisure Craft, with Captain Tim in charge. I wish I still had her, I’m sure I could still sail that simple little craft single-handed since she was just a dingy with a lid. The picture is poor quality since I had to scan it from off the paper.

“All boats have an Inviable Box”.

“Have you ever wondered why during a storm at sea, some sailors come home unscathed whilst others caught out in the same storm perish?” My father had once asked me.

On every boat ever built there is a box into which we put credits, but don’t look for that box, you will never find it, you see it is inviable, and the credits found in the box can only be acquired by good seamanship. Every time we check the boat over before we put to sea, the standing or running rigging. When we tighten a turnbuckle, check the freshwater levels. Dip the diesel tank, change the oil and fuel filter. Come up on deck some cold wet night and check the running lights, or one hundred and one other little jobs around the boat, you will put credits into that inviable box.

Then when things start to go wrong, caught out in a storm, or we find ourselves in unfamiliar waters, we can cash in those credits. However it the box is empty and devoid of credits we will perish, for the sea gives no credit.

I will always remembered and heed that advice from my father. Today readying those old diaries and thinking of that sage advice, maybe dad’s wise words were not just about a life at sea, but also a euphemism for life itself.

Question: How do you start a firefly race?

Answer: Ready – Steady – Glow.  

 An autumn day by the sea.

I love autumn with passion. Really I should hate it since I never was a big fan of school, well at least not until I was old enough to go to the secondary school. Despite such gloomy memories living once more in the country and by the sea, the changing seasons once more I see, and autumn for me is the most dramatic of the four. The long hot summer days have given way to clean crisp air, when corn and barley fall to the harvesters blade and the land once more is turned by the ceaseless plough and trees put on their stupendous display.

I have seen Elie Bay,

A resplendent, sobering sight,

Bathed in the light of the morning star,

Heaven’s golden delight.

And early walks today along the shore, showed the extent of the damaged reaped but the high spring tide drove on by gale-force winds. Seaweed and driftwood strewn along its length, smashed lobster pots adorned the sands. I collected a variety of fenders, Tim a cricket ball and several golf balls all adding to his growing beachcombing collection. There was also a surfboard along with a plastic dinghy, however, he would have great difficulty dragging them home with him, hopefuly.

Now, I think it’s fair to say, it really rained a lot today,

Another day of drizzly rain,

But here in Elie we never complain,

For it drives those pesky tourists hame,

Oh! the phone.

The wind blows galeforce along the bay, white caped waves festoon the waters and row upon row of white horses gallop forward to the shore. They break in an exhilarating way dashing the rocks and re-sculpting the sand and dunes. Young men clad in black wet suits cling feverishly to an air-born colourful sail, they skim the waves in their high octane ways, dancing unrehearsed in sea and air, across the boiling water of the bay they fly, how I envy them their youth.

When Mum lived in a cottage down by the shore at the Wemyss, she told me that in autumn and during the high spring tides, the sea would come over the garden wall and flood the cabbages.

I had crossed over to the west coast of the US and was heading for Seattle. Not realizing how close Vancouver was to the US border, in fact since my America trip, came about as an opportunity rather than any grand plan, on a whim, most of the time I was ‘lost in America’, so decide to take a look across the border. I still find it surprising how easy it was at that time to travel around North America, no planning, no visa, no questions asked, no one seemed to take any notice of a lad on a bike, how simple life was then. Sitting in the cafe with the local rag open at the adverts, I read that someone was looking for a caretaker for a marina, possibly a stipulation of the insurance company. “I could do that,” I said to myself. It had been a long trip practical without a break and I felt the need to settle for a while, also the weather was changing, winter was on its way.

The marina turned out to be on the Fraser River delta, and rather down at heel. I had a small flat above the workshop that overlooked the many sloughs and islands. When the fog swept in and Grey Heron croaked through the gloom or the Greek in his little blue and white gillnetter sailed up the river, with its one lung engine phut, phuting and Greek music spilling out over the water it was a magical place.

The flat had a sisal carpet on the floor which was a breading ground for fleas brought in by the owner of the flat, a scruffy dog that made in clear from the start that I was the lodger. Rising in the morning and depositing bare feet and legs onto the carpet caused the fleas to leap on board, but only as high as ones knees, I guess they were afraid of heights. A little old Volkswagen was part of the marina’s equipment, and at my disposal. This also turned out to be a flea infested bug and when I gave hitch-hikers a lift it came with a pre-empted flea warning. When I first moved in I did try and eradicate the little blighter’s but my efforts proved futile and in the end we just had to accept the reality of life, they were here to stay.

The leaves fall in the slightest breeze,

Jack Frost, the morning air will tease,

Winter is now on its way,

Still it may kill off the fleas.

The idyllic life came to an abrupt end when the marina was sold on to a consortium that turned it into a timeshare yacht paradise for like-minded yuppies. Anyway, the worst of the weather was over and spring was not far off, and my feet were already starting to itch. With the place tidied up and a few yachts alongside the flat was turned into a glitzy office. Unfortunately, the bugs continued to make the place their home, much I was told (I kept in touch with a friend that I acquired during my stay) to the discomfort of their glamorous secretaries. That’s poetic justice at its best.

It was April and very warm, as I remember. I made my way over the Tay Bridge, the rivers waters today truly were indeed silvery. I was in no hurry to go anywhere so parked up at the old harbour of Broughty Ferry, alongside two other motorhomes, I really think the councils around Scotland are missing a trick by not creating proper stopover for motorhomes as you see in almost every city and small town in Europe. Simple parking spaces, (motorhomes only, no other vehicle not even caravans) some villages will only have two or three spaces, all with a plug-in for electricity and water. You can only stay for three nights maximum and not set up anything outside the vehicle, picnic tables awning and the like. These are a blessing for local businesses, shops, restaurants, bringing in much-needed tourist euros, but alas town planners in Scotland are still using clay tablets.

I visited the castle and museum just across the harbour from where I was parked, I needed to see it having just finished the trilogy by Nigel Tranter, The Master of Gray, (Lord and Master the Courtesan Past Master) and like the 16th-century story, that uses the castle as a backdrop, there is a lot to take in, one visit is not really enough.

I love the little town of Broughty Ferry, possibly the shops that do it for me, many still individuals and not chain stores, as if this is just how it has been for the past 100 years, shops handed down generation to generation.

Early morning mist hung around for a while, so I headed over to Wetherspoon’s for a coffee and the use of their five-star toilet. I cycled off towards Monifieth and then B961 to visit the Souterrain Ardestie at Mains of Ardestic, then on to Carlungie Souterrain just over the busy A92 at Newbigging.

These are Iron Age earth houses or souterrains as they are sometimes called, and found along much of eastern Scotland. Carlugie is around 40m long and one of the most complex you will find in Scotland. It was discovered in 1949, quite by accident while ploughing and excavated during the following two years, revealing about eight stone dwellings. I believe they are also found in Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany.

The weather was still holding and it was a pleasant, run over to Monikie Reserve, for a picnic lunch, before returning by Barry Mill.

This site has seen several mills over the years going back at least to 1539. The one present on this site was commercially operated until 1984, then refurbished and ran by a trust, now listed ‘category A’ watermill. Saved from closure in 2009 by local support and the securing of external funding, and now operated under the stewardship of the National Trust for Scotland.

The mill comprises of three stories, meal floor, a milling floor and a bin floor at the top.

I just loved my trip to Barry Mill, not only very educational but the mill’s tranquil setting, alongside the Barry Burn, makes it a bit special.

Back along the A930 and my temporary home on wheels, proving you really do not have to travel far from home to enjoy some beautiful cycling country. A visit to Wetherspoon for a burger and a pint, it’s gid tell yir ma’.

Next morning all packed, I travelled up the coast to the Victoria Park, Arbroath, (if you do not know the name of a park, call it Victoria, 99% of the time you will be right).

The seafront is perfect for the camp-a-van man to spend a night of three, And you will need them all, for there is much to see. Here again, the bike was pressed into service.

In the town centre, you can get your smokies, or if you prefer great fish and chips, to eat in or best whilst sitting by the Harbour.

A visit to the Lighthouse Museum is recommended to learn how the Bell Rock Lighthouse was constructed on a slither of treacherous rock only viable at low tide. Then for me, the crowning glory, the ruins of the Abbey, so synonymous with the Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland’s contract that makes its people sovereign and not king or queen.

Back to the van and put the dinner on. I sat out on the rear step of my van, listening to the sea beating rhythmically against the seawall, just feet below me, as the sunset over my shoulder, some times life is just this good.

The A92 whisked me into Montrose, I parked down by the dock gates and walked up to the High Street to buy milk and morning rolls.

I had no intention of doing anything strenuous today, the adrenalin of the first few days was wearing off.

I cycled out to the airfield museum, I had read a poster that said they were holding an open day. An old Meteor (meat-box), was sitting as I entered the gates, these were the aircraft that flew from RAF Laarbruch (in Germany) on aerial reconnaissance when I was serving there, funny they seem to have shrunk. There was much to see around the old hanger and wooden building, these would have served as offices in their time. One I remember laid out as a typical home of the 1940s – I did ask if they had asked permission from mum before taking all of her furnishers.

Home and I put Le nozze di Figaro on the DVD player, but mostly just listening to the music, going over the past days, and how far I had come in such a short distance.

Next day, I cycled around Montrose Bay crossing at Bridge of Dun, on into Barnhead and out to the lighthouse at the point, then back into town. I always visit the library, there the notices tell you all you need to know about what is going on during your visit and yes, there was a notice that took my eye.

A talk by a local historian on the architecture of Montrose, I had already seen some beautiful building including an arts and craft house down by the academy, this may be worth a visit tomorrow afternoon. It was well attended, mostly, OAP, free tea and sandwiches always brings them in. “How many people will it take to get the projector to work?” well I counted five. The show was mostly slides of buildings in and around Montrose, of every shape and size, seems this was a prosperous area at one time, reflected in some magnificent architecture.

Packed up and off the next day I travelled up the A937 to Laurencekirk then making my way inland to Fettercarin and onto the B974 for Banchory in Royal Deeside. I loved this road, up and down what are really the foothills of the Cairngorm Mountains and on into Banchory.

I parked at the falls at Feugh Bridge and cycled in to town, not an exiting town to visit, I think they may have a demographic problem here. Picked up some food at the local Co-op I headed back to the car park, made a pot of tea and moved quickly on, first Aboyne then a beautiful run along the valley to Ballater, where you get our first real look at the Cairngorm Mountains.

I turned off at Bridge of Gairn and up Glen Gairn for Gairnshiel Lodge, difficult enough today but much more so in the winter. I’m sure, you will have heard on the news from time to time, how the road from Cock Bridge to Tomintoul is closed to traffic due to heavy snowfalls, well this is where I was heading. There is still an old-style AA box (it could well be an ‘A’ listed building by now) at the junction of the road off to Gairnshiel Lodge and the A939 Tornahaish road, the one I would be taking. Just passed the junction I pulled into a lay-by, for a bite to eat.

It was such a lovely day, and not a soul in sight, I felt as if I could have been the only person left on the planet, after the past few days, this was sheer bliss.

Now high up in the wilderness I pulled over for the night, on the only little flat spot for miles around and with the only tree I had seen that had not been planted by man. The wind had been rising from around 7 o’clock that evening, a front coming our way. It was about 4 am when I was rudely awakened by the violent rocking of the van. The only way the van would fit on the level ground was to reverse it in off the road, now sitting broadside to the prevailing wind it was taking a battering. I popped out of bed and put on the kettle, quickly scurrying back under the duvet until it was singing long and loud. I sat there, duvet up to my chin and a large mug of tea in hand, watching the dawn break over the mountains. First the outline of the ridge, then snowfields came into focus before the whole panorama was exposed. I could easily have been on the moon so deselect was my surroundings. Like Jesus before me, we go into the wilderness to find our soul. I hastily packed up and headed for the hills, literally,

The Lecht, another mighty climb. Just outside Tomintoul, I found a picnic point so I pulled in and made myself at home, bath time, change of clothing and a hot meal with the little wood-burning stove doing a sterling job. My next stop would be Inverness.

Inverness is a city I love and from the various posters around town there will be plenty to entertain me over my stay here. I had parked up out at the mouth of the river on the opposite side to the dock.

It would be quiet out here. Although I enjoyed driving the van, by the time I had reached my destination at Inverness I was pooped. I climbed into my bunk at around 8 o’clock that evening, with the intention of reading a book, next thing I remember was being wakened by bright early morning sunshine streaming in through the van window, I had managed to sleep right around the clock.

I had been to Inverness a good few time over the years, normally I would press my bus pass into service and stay at the Youth Hostel just outside the city centre. At Wetherspoon’s I went onto the internet and found that there was a bus running down to Fort William, it would get there in time to catch the connecting bus down to Oban, same on the return trip, one bus would wait for the other. Sounds like a plan. I hot-footed it around to the bus station in time to see my preferred bus pull into the traffic, ho-hum. I found a bus going more or less on a circuit of the ‘Black Isle’ so the day was wiled away on a magical mystery tour, I needed time away.

I had now spent three days in Inverness, time to move on. Again the weather could not be better, a fine day to see Loch Ness in all its glory. I was getting the decks squared away, everything in it’s place a place for everything, just like being on my boat. Storage space is always at a premium on sailing boats, so you find a place for everything, and always put it back there when you have finished with it, that way you know were to find the thing in an emergency, not that there was going to be an emergency of that calibre in a camper van, but a good habit to get into.

The waters of Loch Ness was like a mirror, Achnabat inverted in her waters. I stopped off at Urquhart Bay, by the old castle ruin, it was a bit early for a stop, but I was in no hurry to go anywhere. Then Fort Augustus, where I parked the van and cycle along the length of the Caledonian Canal as far as Bridge of Oich and back, no boats going through the canal today. Lunch, then cross to the south shore of Loch lochy, all a-board for Fort William.

I did stop at Fort William, but by then I was wearing for home and I picked up the pace from there on in. The pap of Glen Coe, pulled us into the glen the Three Sister standing tall on our port quarter. It’s a fair climb up the Coe, but nothing like over the Lecht and Tomintoul, which the old lass had handled with ease. These roads now so familiar to me and I was soon bowling along for Crianlarich, Loch Earn, Crieff, Perth, Dundee and on into St Andrews.

Next day, going to the shops for milk and bread was as much as I felt like doing, these trips really take it out of me now, I need rest days more often, I simply do not bounce back as I once did. I have all I need at home and more, I know that still, I will always need this time away, just as I need oxygen. I had to give up my boat simply because it became too much for me to sail single-handed. The time may come when I will have to give up on driving, hopefully, that time will be a long time in coming, still, I have my bus pass.

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

Some other places visited along the way

  

Beach at Montrose
Pepperpott Castle
Lighthouse out on the point at Montrose
Aberlemno Stones

I was working away with dad in the workshop and criticizing someone, can even remember who or why, but it was not long before my dad said, “I have too many faults to go looking for them in others”. I’m not sure I even understood what he was trying to teach me, but I still, remember that truth.

Now I take people as they come, I may not like their dress, their politics, or their beliefs, I may even tell them I disagree with them, but will always respect their right to hold such idiosyncratic view or beliefs. Actually, when I think about it, that is what I love most about meeting new people, their differences, it’s that endearing quality that attracts me to them in the first place. Life would be very boring and dull if we were all clones.

Gordon was a lad from Inverness, we had met up in my early RAF days. Gordon had been posted to Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis, and during his time there he had found time, outside his RAF duties, to court, marry and become a father. It was at this point that we once more bumped into one another, I had been sent to Stornoway on maintenance work. We made a date to meet up that night in a local hotel and have a pint or two, for old times sake.

Gordon had brought along his wife, and in her turn, Marie had brought along her life long girlfriend. When we were kicked out at 10 that evening (closing time in Scotland then) and since I had transport we decided to travel up the coast, to a popular sandy beach called Bail’ Ur Tholastaidh, thankfully not so popular at this time of night. I would be travelling back the following day, but did promise Gordon, I would come back up for the weekend of their child’s christening, the fact that I had promised another certain lady that, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back” was incidental.

Saturday, and the eve of the christening, we again spend time together in the hotel lounge and Gordon’s wife got the wink from her friend and told Gordon, “We have to get back home, we have a lot to do before tomorrow”.

Bail’ Ur Tholastaidh seemed the obvious place to take Peggy, and there we sat together telling stories in the light of the fire we had set on the beach, the waters of Caolas Nan Eilean our living backdrop.

Next, morning when I looked out at the car, it was covered from bumper to bumper with sand. It had been fun, taking it in turn, to roar around on the sands with only the headlights to guide us. Now a complete valet service was required. I filled a bucket with dish washing up liquid and water, found a sponge and was about to disappear out the front door when I was stopped by Marie’s grandmother and asked where I was going with the bucket of water.

“To wash the car” I said as if it was obvious to anyone what I was doing.

It was all too obvious to gran, and why she had stopped me. The church we would attend later that morning was the Wee Free, and no I would not be breaking the Sabbath, by washing a car on Sunday, more so in plain sight of the whole town.

I drove off down to a loch outside Stornoway, there are plenty to choose from, and with water from the loch gave the car a good going over, what the eye doesn’t see.

I needed to be down at Tarbert early next morning to catch the ferry to Uig then from there a long drive down to Kyleakin and catch a ferry over to Kyle of Lochalsh and onto the mainland. Now when a certain young lass and I, had only one thought in mind the night before, and that was rampaging around the sands of Bail’ Ur Tholastaidh, in my car, with little thought given to the petrol gauge, I was not surprised to learn I did not even have enough petrol to get me to Tarbert far less a filling station on the mainland.

There was only one petrol pump in Stornoway, and being Sunday it was of course closed. I went down to the owner home and told my story and that I would need petrol if I was to catch the boat in the morning. He looked up and down the street, then pushed open the big door to his garage, no locks necessary, and asked me to reverse my car in and up to the petrol pump by the wall, he then closed the door behind us.

“How much petrol would you be needing?” He asked in that beautiful west highland lilt.

“I though 5 gallons would be enough” I replied.

“Five gallons, where would you be going with all that petrol?” he asked.

“Kinloss” I said, “But if I can even get enough to take me to the mainland, I’m sure I can find a petrol station open there”.

He cranked away at the pump for a while and put the filler cap back on the car, “That will get you to the mainland” he assured me.

“Thanks” I said, “And how much will that be?”

“Ouch! You can pay me the next time you are in Stornoway” he said, dismissing it out of hand, even although I had just told him I was going back to the other side of Scotland. When I returned to the house I told them what had happened, they seemed not at all surprised at my story. The owner had done a good turn on a Sunday, but would not take any reward for that good deed, being Sunday. I asked Gordon to pay the man the next day and let me know how much it was.

“I have the winning lottery ticket right here”.

I had to steal that brilliant line, delivered by the late great Robin Williams in ‘Good Will Hunting’.

 It was early May, I was crossing the Forth Road Bridge, looking over at its new neighbour The Queensferry Crossing. What a beautiful bridge this is, slender and minimalist, you have to wonder how it will ever carry the weight of thousands of cars, and lorries ever day, I hope the designer chappy had new batteries in his calculator. Gleaming bright in the early morning sun, outshining the old road bridge that it will replace.

Arriving on the Edinburgh by-pass at around 10 am in the morning I managed to get into the wrong lane. With cars and lories flying past on both sides, I just kept on going and ended up in Wester Hails then Colinton before finding myself back on the by-pass. From here I found, the road down to Pebbles and then on into Innerleithen, this was a well- trodden path for me, and would be my stopover for the night.

I cycled over to my friend’s home, alas Willy was nowhere to be seen. Next day I visited St Ronan’s Wells, plural for there are three of them, all sporting from the slopes of Lee Pen.

These wells were a big attraction in the 19th Century, said to cure all ills. The Wellhouse was constructed in 1820 by the then Earl of Traquair for the comfort and as a retreat for visitors to the spa. It was rebuilt and extended in 1896, showing the popularity of the wells, to accommodate indoor bathing facilities and a bottling plant. The visitor centre is managed by the curator and staff of Museums and is an important venue for part of the annual Cleikum Ceremonies.

They can no longer sell St Ronan’s bottled water from the well, the name St Ronan’s is covered by copywriter, when the council sold the franchise to some Johnny Come Lately in 1960, who later absconded, the name went with him.

The festival of St Ronan’s Cleikum is held in the town each year, normally around July. Children parade through the village carrying flowers and then in the evening, the beating the retreat, this is followed by a torchlight procession, where an effigy of the De’il, to depict the ridding of the town of all evil by St Ronan’s.

I climbed to the top of the Iron Age fort on the most beautiful of mornings, with the hillside glowing golden yellow, with Whin now in full bloom. I returned via the old wool knitting mill that was once the main employer in Innerleithen, now only a shell with boarded-up windows. You can not fail but admire the workmanship that went into this building. The entry gates are a masterclass in hand-wrought ironwork.

I cycled over to Pebbles the following day and stopped in for a pint at the Keys Hotel, I remember when they had live music here, and that distinctive sweet smell of Whackie Bacci as you entered the door. A local schoolteacher once remarked, “When I come down to the Keys it is like walking into my classroom, the same faces greet me”. Yes, Pebbles was a very liberal place to be in the 70s.

Next day I packed and set out along the B709 for St. Mary’s Loch, and parked up in the lay-by above the loch.

The Yarrow Valley stretches from, more or less, coast to coast, the Solway to Selkirk and was inhabited by hunter-gatherers as early as 400 to 600. The Romans had described them as small, heavy in stature with strong limbs, (not unlike the description of the Druids). We were told they were quick to attack anyone who came into their area, but would not fight a pitched battle preferring guerrilla tactics, so not stupid. This whole valley was once covered in dense forest, and we know that Bruce used it to hide his army during their raids over the borders and down into England. It must have been plentiful in wild animals, so plentiful if fact that King James V brought 14 hundred men with him on a hunting trip to Marsh Wood. Just think how many animals they would have had to kill just to feed that many people. The forest was cleared in The 1800s to allow sheep to graze the slopes.

All was quiet in the March Wood,

A mouse found a nut and it was good.

I walked down to the western end of the loch by Tibbie Shiels Inn, a small fleet of mirror dingies had taken to the waters, alas in winds so light they were going nowhere fast. A few had run with the wind-down towards the far end of the loch, they will have a difficult job getting back from there, I thought. Crossing to the path, of sorts, on the south side, I started my circumnavigation, it is about 8 miles around the loch, but I only went as far as Cappercleuch on the north side, pretty much opposite my van, time for lunch.

In the afternoon I cycled over to Meggethead, the Megget Reservoir is new and when it was built it flooded the little village that was once there, in dry summers, they say ruinous buildings appearing from the waters. Tibbie Shiels, was a nice end to what had been the most perfect of days.

I continued down the A708 on a Sunday morning, the road is a magnet for motorcyclists, at the weekends, I can understand the attraction, but at the speed of these modern bikes, on a road that has many false summits, much like a scenic railway, and is not all that wide, ‘scary man’. Cars were parked along the roadside as I neared the Grey Marie’s Tail waterfalls. There is a car-park, and today a long way from being full. Maybe there is a parking charge, and if by the hour, would make a days walk in the hills an expensive day out. Certainly, these low lying hills made for good rambling but can be very boggy in places, watersheds for the many burns that feed into the Tail Burn and Moffat Waters.

I parked in the car-park opposite the filling station in Moffat, a sweet little town nestling in its mountain setting

I bought a tin of Moffat fudge to take back to my sister, who greeted all visitors to her home by putting on the frying pan, no matter you assuring her that you were full to bursting. The evening sun and the B7020 would take me down to Annan, and the Solway.

I did a bit of shopping in Annan then set off along the B725, finding a spot on the Nith Estuary to spend some time exploring these wildfowl wetlands. Cycling down to Caerlaverock Castle

Then up the estuary and into Dumfries the following day was a real treat. There is so much to see in this lovely little town including Burns House and the Burns Centre. Back at the van, I was finding all the travelling starting to take its told on me, I spent the next day busy doing nothing.

Back in Dumfries,

I visited the site of Greyfriars Monastery. Established in the late 13th century and it was here in 1306 that the Bruce, then Lord of Annandale and his rival John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch had a bit of a falling out. Things did not turn out well for Comyn he was stabbed to death by the Bruce. Bruce then gathered his troops and stormed Dumfries Castle, where he was surprised to come across the English justices holding a session. The justices quickly surrendered to Bruce and it was here for the first time Bruce raised Scotland’s Royal standard.

I stuck to the coast road to visit New Abbey (Sweetheart Abbey)

Then followed the A710 into Dalbeattie then onto the A711 calling in at Dundrennan Abbey for a few hours, before making my way into Kirkcudbright, another long day, so did no more exploring.

First Cardoness Castle fell under my wheels, and a few miles on I spotted a sign for Cairnholy Cairns, curiosity raised I turn off the main road onto what turned into to be a very narrow track with passing places. I have no idea what I would have done had I met another vehicle for my van was taking up the full width of the road, and with a big drop on one side, I would not have wished to go over there, forward or in reverse. Thankfully on reaching the top there was a grassy car park so I would be able to turn around for the journey back down the hill.

The cairns are in fact burial chambers, and as I walked up the hill to the first of the two up pops a bobble cap from out of the grave, I near had a heart attack, so unprepared to find someone lying in the grave pit. He was taking pictures of something carved on the stone, which was totally invisible to me. “Is this a grave?” I asked, more for something to say, rather than a direct question. Unfortunately the elderly man in the grave was an eccentric academic and started on his thesis, academic is a language way above my pay grade so I left him in his little world and went off to explore the second chamber, being much more careful this time around.

Creetown, there was a skirmish here with the Scottish forces, led by Edward, Earl of Buchan. Not much to write home to mummy about, as the English army was bearing down on them the Scots cavalry fled for the hills. Thankfully for them, the English were ill-prepared over this terrain, so most escaped. The River Cree was the limit of Edward’s 1300 invasion of Scotland, starved of funds, he headed home.

Wigtown, the Scottish book town was my stopping place for the next few days.

I camped down in the car park that had once been the harbour, now a marsh meadow since the diversion of the River Bladnoch.

Very near to the car park is the Martyr’s Stake where two women were tied to a stake at low tide and drowned when the tide came in, they had dared to be a Daniel, as in the old Salvation Army song goes, preferring to die than relinquish their faith.

Walking up the hill and into town to buy some provisions, with no fridge, this was an almost daily task. I spotted a sign outside the pub that said they not only served John Smith beer (which turned out to be untrue) but that tonight was a live music night.

When I returned a small group of locals, all with dogs of various breeds, and both humans and dogs seemed well acquainted. They were sitting on the grassy bank, I entered the van, along with one of the dogs, made a pot of tea and joined them. This is how I found out all the full story of the martyrs. The talk was about the forthcoming election, One lad was a bit strong on, all these foreigners coming into the country, all religious fanatics and terrorists with their baggy pants, he told us. I thought it strange for he was a well-spoken man, clearly well educated. “Do you know why they wear baggy pants” I asked him. And since there was no reply I went on to tell him. “They believe that the Christ child will be born of man “literally” and if they be the chosen one, they need space for the child to drop into, now anyone who has the slightest idea about the human anatomy will think, well that’s daft for a start, but what do Christians believe, is that any more plausible?” “Foreigners are simply friends we have yet to know” I went on. I’m not sure I changed his mind about anything, but it must have set him thinking. I saw them over the days I spent there and a sort of friendship sprung up amongst us, certainly, the dogs were always pleased to see me, or was it my biscuits?

No one seemed all that keen to open the proceeding that night, and I was just about to take to the stage when a lad who introduced himself as simply John set up his stall. Although not the best guitarist you will ever hear, he made up for that by having a really good voice and used it well, that was his true instrument. When I asked “Do you have any Bogle in that book of yours?” he did and obliged with, ‘Somewhere in America’, ‘Now I’m Easy’ and ‘If Wishes were Fishes’, not the usual standards you get. I was sitting at the bar blethering away to John’s wife, and somehow we touched on boats. It was then that she told me they had a ketch, now we are talking posh. Later, when her husband joined us, she mentioned the fact that I sailed and he suggested I go out with him and his friend on a sailing trip tomorrow, I could hardly contain my excitement. Next morning early, I quickly stowed away and headed on the road for Stranraer.

There is deep water there so no problems with the tide. I knew Stranraer well, we used the Stranraer to Larne ferry a lot in my RAF days. Now that the ferry terminal has moved down the coast to Cairnryan, Stranraer has faded to a backwater and a shadow of its former self, I was physically shocked at its demise. Sadly, for whatever reason, John never showed, I left my e-mail address with the harbour master, a woman as it turned out, who said she would pass on my message, for maybe another day, but I have heard nothing from John since.

I retraced my steps to Glenluce Abbey, founded around 1192 by Cistercian monks, possibly from Dundrennan Abbey.

Cistercian monks lived an austere lifestyle, working themselves into an early grave, work that can still be gleaned from the beautiful architecture they left behind. When much of the rubble was cleared from the ruins of the abbey in 1933, artifices were discovered and are now on display in the visitor centre.

When Robert the Bruce, now King of Scotland, made his final journey to Whithorn, he travelled down the coast resting at several places along the way including Glenluce Abbey. And I was now following in the footsteps of the Bruce. Bruce may have secured independence from England in 1328 but it was at a cost. He was only 54 but his body was racked with a skin disease after a lifetime of harsh living. It was in 1329 he made a last pilgrimage from his home at Cardross to Whithorn to pray at St Ninian’s Shrine.

A pious man who still bore the scars for the murder of John Comyn, and the death of his loved ones. I visited St Ninian’s Chapel and the hermits’ cave along the shore.

Time to head back north, but before leaving this magical land, I spend another day simply doing not very much. I read a bit of Tranter’s Trilogy, ‘The Mater of Gray’ and listened to music or simply wandered the shore. Next day I would be heading for Ayr.

On reaching Ayr I parked up on the promenade and headed for Wetherspoon’s a pub that serves early breakfast and has a five-star toilet, and I was able to go back online from there. As I browsed my e-mails and there were many for I had been out of touch for so long now. After breakfast, I cycled over to the Light House

Then on to the Tam o’ Shanter experience and the Burns national heritage park. By the time I returned to the van, I was feeling my age, this holiday had been, needed and I had seen some beautiful sights and met up with some great people, but it was time for home.

Once I had left Stranraer I felt like I was back in the rat race, I turned off onto the A719 at Turnberry, just to get away from the traffic. I spotted the sign for the Electric Brae, now they say you freewheel up the brae, so to put it to the test. I parked up and set off on my bicycle, it was not that exciting, you did get the feeling you were going uphill by not having to put in much effort, but I think that was more down to the effect of the topography than the hill, sort of an optical illusion, still, you can cross one more thing off that bucket list.

The A 737 whisked me up onto the M8 for the Forth Bridge and home. Again the van never missed a beat, the weather had been perfect. I loved the border country, so tranquil, and the area around Wigtown Bay and Luce Bay. But when you leave Stranraer you leave all that tranquillity behind.

North, South, East or West, Home is still best.

Now I don’t care if you hate Alex Salmond, or that you thing RT (RussianTelevision) is all Russian propaganda, to be avoided at all cost. Today you must watch the Alex Salmond Show on RT (repeated at 14:30 –15:00 and again 19:30 – 20:00). Why? His guests today are Dr Chris Smith – The Naked Scientist and Dr Huge Montgomery, world-renowned scientists and medical doctors, and they will inform you, in a simple easy to understand, all you need to know about coronavirus. Why it is so dangerous. Why some suffer more than others from this virus. How it leaves a footprint that goes on attacking the body long after the virus has gone from the body. And finally “Is there a cure?” you may be surprised at Dr Smiths summing up of the future, this virus is not going away anytime soon.

 October

Another fine day, very autumnal, with skies clear and chilled, then the sun rises, boy, was it beautiful, my kind of day. The leaves that had hung limp on the trees here in town are now torn free in a strong southern wind, now they dance unrehearsed across the lawn, and the holy tree outside my window is massed with bright red berries.

Trees devoid of leaves looking rather forlorn,

Casualties of frost and autumn storm,

But one remains to delight,

Leaved green as emeralds,

Berries red,

Berries bright.

I had spent the morning preparing the van, for my trip, Eva Cassidy for company.

I planed to passing through Cupar then Scotland Wells, before travelled up through Glenfarg and on to Methven.

It was in mid-June when Bruce approached Perth a heavily walled town at that time and challenged Valence, come out and fight or surrender the town. Valence replied that being Sunday lets leave the fighting until tomorrow, Bruce taking him at his word moved to Methven a few miles west of Perth and set up camp. Valence men burst into their camp without warning and it turned into all but a rout Bruce managed to escape with his life but lost many good men. This was a low point for Bruce. There is nothing to see here now but if you listen hard you can still hear echoes of the past. Bruce and those that had survived made their way to Inchaffray where he found sanctuary with Abbot Maurice.

At Gilmerton I headed up into the Sma’ Glen and set up camp in this beautiful glen by the crystal waters of the Almond.

The Sma’ Glen has been used since the earliest days of man’s understanding as a highway linking the highlands with the lowlands, the main road from Inverness to Edinburgh, at that time and used much by drovers to bring their cattle to the markets at Crieff and all places south. They tell of the times when thirty thousand cattle would pass through this glen each year, and how the lowing of the beasts could be heard for miles around, a strong aroma too I wouldn’t wonder. The two large hotels that once serviced the passing trade have been redeveloped one now a modern art gallery. There was an information board in the car park, tells how the inhabitants went off to find a better life, many Scottish historians would take issue with that.

In truth the inhabitants were driven from their ancestral lands by greedy corrupt chieftains who stole the land. This was the time of the Napoleonic wars with food need to feed vast armies, these greedy men could smell profit. The rents they gained from crofters hardly covered their gambling losses, mutton would bring better reward. The time was known as the Highland Clearances but was Ethnic Cleansing by any other name. With many young men seconded into the army, doing their bit for the British Empire, a euphemism for cannon fodder for French guns, and with only old men, women and children remaining it was easy work now to drive them off their crofts and burn them out so they would not be able to return. This was done under the legally under the guise of ‘Estate Improvement’ many given eviction notices only had the Gaelic so would not have been able to read or understand the request and stayed put, this left them open to forceful and harsh eviction.

September, Thursday.

The weather still held and it was a short journey up to Aberfeldy, a beautiful little town on the banks of the River Tay. I parked up alongside the Black Watch Memorial and went for a wander around the town. The old cinema has been converted into a café leisure centre still retaining an auditorium and outside a board announced a film that would be showing that day. Much more interesting, however, was a small notice announcing an open music night.

Back at base, I made lunch then set off to cycle up to the Birks of Aberfeldy, a glen with picnic area and footpaths throughout the wood and following the burn that cascades down a number of falls. I was surprised to see so many folks out, then again, the weather was very pleasant.

The music night was very special; fiddlers and accordion players, like stepping back in time to the Fiddlers Rally days, that once graced our television screens. Then we had folk songs, old favourites such as the Streets of London, a flute solo, vocalists gave us everything from Burns to Dundee folk. One young girl played Beethoven and Brahms on the electronic piano, set to sound like a harpsichord. Most played two or thee instruments and one very dexterity player, the fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and superbly, the banjo. We all joined in singing along to his medley of banjo music including his interpretation of ‘Grandfather’s Clock’. Real talent personified.

Friday and another sort journey up over the hill and down into Tummel Bridge, named after the old Wade Bridge that crosses the river at this point.

I made camp in the Forestry Commission car park and set off for the dam that feeds the hydropower station near to the bridge.

It is an easy climb up the forestry track and onto the metal road that follows the aqueduct carries water from the dam to the turbine hall. The aqueduct snakes it way rather than a straight flow, possibly to stop a surge of water.

Reversing my footsteps at the dam I passed my entry point and followed the aqueduct to its conclusion where it enters huge pipes that carry the water down to the turbine hall. The water in the canal seems genteel enough but when you see it exit at the turbine hall and back into the river you get some idea of the volumes of water involved.

Saturday

I was slow to get moving, after breakfast I started packing my case with bedding and clothes and cleaning up the van for the homeward journey. Travelling over by the Queen’s View

Then Pitlochry where I stopped and cycled up to the fish ladder and theatre, taking time out there for lunch.

 In the stairwell of the theatre hangs a tapestry, it was created by a young lass who lived in Pebbles at the time of its making. She also received a commission for a large tapestry for the Bank of Scotland building in London. Her loom was so large for her home, a small roadman’s cottage just outside Pebbles. I saw her often working away in the old dilapidated water mill, on the other side of Pebbles. A barn of a place, the holes where the windows should have been covered over with polythene sheets. There she sat day after day in the depth of winter, her newborn baby wrapped up in a cot by her side, a suffering artist right enough.

I was privileged to see some of her painting, that would be used in the design of finished tapestries, each one a work of art in its own right. 

Then onto Kindrogan, Bridge of Cally, Blairgowrie, Rattray and on down into Perth. I had chosen to go via Blairgowrie hoping to seen the Beech Hedges moving into autumn colour

But alas I was too early but impressive enough in any season.

The van never missed a beat and I am finding it a pleasure to drive, even the kerbs don’t jump out at my back wheels any more. It was never cold enough to light the stove in earnest but I loved to kindle it at night and lie on my bunk crooning away to myself, as I watched the flames dance their way around bulkhead and cabin roof. There is something magical about a living fire, flames roaring up the lum and wood crackling, with stove pipe glowing cherry red in the darkness. And the smell of hot cast iron, that assaults you’r nostrils and dwells in you’r mind as a life long memory.

Travelling home there was a strong smell of diesel in the cab, I pulled into a lay by and found one of the return pipes from the injectors was spraying diesel everywhere, I tried unsuccessfully to stop it, finally wrapping it in insulation tape but the diesel simply dissolved the glue, still, I did manage to stop much of the flow. Cleaning down the engine and fixing the return pipe, one more job to add to an overgrowing list of to-do jobs. One other modification I have in mind, the small stove is so efficient at burning wood that it would take a full-time stoker along with a small sawmill to keep it going. I found an old paint tin lid and put it over the bars in the bottom of the stove, this helped reduce the airflow and put a heart in the fire, at home, I will make a heavy plate to replace the paint tin lid, but then this is what shakedown runs are about.

Home once more, I switched on the television for the news and I found I was not ready for the world just yet. Afternoon television must be the best cure for insomnia known to man, for I was quickly asleep in the big chair, long before the news was over.

My story started with my little Yorkshire Terrier, ‘Captain Tim’, a name given to him by members of the sailing fraternity since he accompanied me on many a sea voyage. It was the consensus of opinion that he, Tim, was the true skipper on board. I had Captain Tim for seventeen years and I assure you when it was time to put him down, it was like asking me to kill my only child.

That year I was also recovering from a broken leg, having dropped a motorcycle on top of it, and I lost one more sister to cancer, this was not a good time for me. Irene and I lived next door to one another, we were in and out of each other’s homes all the time and I would drive her around for shopping and the likes so that was a big shock. We would go to meetings and conferences together and many a time she would get me out of myself when I was a bit depressed and did not wish to go out.

When I lost Irene, I needed a new outlet, something to get me out of the house and doing something, the van provided that, it is no exaggeration to say that the van became my saviour.

The van, project was started in spring 2016. it started with the purchased of an old (1999), LDV van. Sometime in the past, it had the chassis extended at the rear and a van body attached, converting it to carry a car for autocross. Although a bit Heath Roberson, it was in very good mechanical conditions, since as race transport it would have to be reliable, but came with a good few battle scars, along with a duff exhaust and dodgy wiring, “If it is cheap, then it had to be good”.

The initial idea was to put the bare minimum in the rear and take off, just get away for a while, rambling, with a dry bed at night. The first couple of trips never further than 50 miles just to see how things went. I loved those trips so much, I decided to make it a bit more comfortable and more usable. After getting it through an MOT, renewing the road tax and insurance. This was followed by a lot of skip raking culminating in the finished product you now see.

The van was lined with insulation, and then further lined with a quarter inch plywood, sorry I still think in old money. I did not wish the Swiss sauna look so stuck carpet and coloured cloth over the plywood sheets, as a bonus this acted as further insulation and too my mind looks brilliant. A false ceiling was installed, so I did not have the problem with trying to fit plywood around the tight curvature of the roof to sides and as a bonus left a void for running the cables. The knackered, roll-up rear door was replaced with a double glazed house door, from a skip in Anstruther, changing the old lock, since it did not come with a key, was a challenge, but the internet came to my rescue. Double glazed windows from a skip in St Andrews. There was already a water tank, pump fitted under the floor so just a good clean and a stainless steel sink, from the same skip in St Andrews, replaced the plastic basin and water jerry can. For those times that I might be caught out with all the public loos locked for the night a ‘new to me’, ‘made in Italy’ porta-potty, not too many people can boast that they have an Italian designed toilet in their van. The cooker and grill and oven combo replaced my primus stove. The van’s deep cycle battery was wired up to two solar panels total output 300W and in turn, wired through a 240volt inverter and household consumer box. All cable runs, plugs and sockets were household types, readily available, and found in most renovation job skips. All light are LED with LED downlighters in the ceiling.

I found on the first trips that the bed was too low, getting in and out was an effort, ‘old aged does not come alone’. So I used an old single wardrobe on its back, doors removed and in their place a 6 X 4-foot sheet of 1 inch thick Stirling board. Ikea supplied the base and mattress, bought second hand and is much more comfortable than my bed at home. There is lots of storage below, you might say a wardrobe full, this had been divided into two equal halves, mostly to strengthen the wardrobe, one side holds all my bedding. There was accommodation over the cab if required but I use that for storage too.

I also found that getting towels and clothes dry when caught out in the rain was difficult so bought a small wood burning stove on e-bay. Although tiny it keeps me snug and warm, and only needs to be on for an hour or so to have the place cosy and dry as a bone, I gather pine and fir cones when out walking and a handful was all that was required to have the wee stove glowing cherry red.

The body of the van being fibreglass I had to separate the stove pipe from the fibreglass roof. This was achieved with a balanced flue, salvaged from an industrial heating system. The balanced flue is unobtrusive and works well even on very windy days. That said I did suffer a blowback once when setting a fire on a very stormy day, blowing out the fire and filled the van with smoke and setting the fire alarm to scream its head off, the van smelt like a fire-damaged carpet store for some time after that incident. The secret I learned was to get the stove pipe heated up as quickly as possible and that is where the pine/fir cones come into their own, ever ready to induce to flame.

The outside of the van body was rubbed down, filled, where necessary sanded down and given an undercoat and coat of semi-gloss paint, (years of owning old wooden boats teaches you a lot about paint and vanish). All this was done with a roller and turned out surprisingly well, not at all a Swan Vesta finish. It did look rather plain, well it was a large flat area, so I added some graphic design to break it up, maybe not to everyone’s taste.

I was lucky to find a boatyard willing to allow me to park it out the back and use their electricity and some tools that I did not have, such as a table saw. I did pay storage for the privilege but well worth it for knowing it is safe and secure and will not be vandalised. So now I move onto phase two, taking it on tour.

Before I did I bought a 20” LED TV/DVD player, that would work from 12V or 240 Volts, for those times when you just want to curl up in the bunk and watch Casablanca, one more time, or engross myself in a good book with audio wallpaper in the background and the wee stove doing its stuff as the kettle sings along with Eva Cassidy; yes life is sometimes just that good.

“Tell me Rick, why did you come to Casablanca?” – “I came here for my health, to take the waters” – “But there is no water in Casablanca, it’s a desert” – “Then I must have been misinformed”, yes the old ones are still the best.

Tomorrow – my shakedown trip.