Sunday, 26 July 2009

Tour d'ecosse - Stage 8, The Homecoming, Tomintoul to Edinburgh

It is the final day, and many miles to go, and a story of carnage lies ahead, so read on in anticipation.

As expected I awoke to precipitation. Tho
ugh to be fair Scotland would not be as lush and beautiful if it were not for the odd deluge. And on the upside at least it keeps the midges at bay.

The route takes me over the hills and past the Lecht ski centre, and as I approach I
enter blanket cloud and visibility drops to 20 metres until I'm over the pass. From here it's longer than I remember it being to Ballater, and as I enter the outskirts the rain goes off and the sun shines as if to welcome me to Royal Deeside. There is a choice to be made at this point whether to take the 'A' road toward Aberdeen or the 'B' on the south shore. The choice however is easy, knowing that the 'B' road will have less traffic. Surprisingly it is a quick road and lined with native woods, and I reach the turnoff for Stonehaven in good time.

12 miles later I'm entering Stonehaven and make my way down toward the town centre. I approach a T-junction at the bottom of Slug Road and negotiate past a small car parked way too close to the junction. As I do so I cross the long white line road marking, and the combination of very wet conditions, heavy bike, steep descent and front brake applied, creates disaster. The front wheel skids due to no grip on the white line and 300 kilos of bike, with me underneath, meets tarmac and slides downhill to a sickening sound of expensive chrome on stone. We both come to a stop inches from the junction with the main road, and within seconds people are around pulling me from under the bike. This was however a walking-pace crash but the damage to the bike is shocking. Lights, brake pedal, footboards, exhausts, tank, mirror, all damaged badly. The engine roll bar is bent out of shape but it is this piece of kit and my Kevlar gear that allowed me to walk away without a scratch.

I wait for two and a half hours for the RAC and while I'm waiting a local biker called Alan appears with sweet tea and a sausage sandwich. I'm moved. My faith in humanity is restored.

The RAC mechanic takes his large hammer to the bike, which is quite comical in ways given how much I look after the bike normally, and manages to get things bent into a driveable position. By 2pm I'm on the road again, albeit a little less glamorously. My knee and ankle are
hurting and I think I've probably pulled some ligaments somewhere. That was a 5mph accident. I try not to think about ten times that speed!

I wish to digress a moment; white lines. In fact all white
roads markings. They are lethal to a motorbike. Every motorcyclist I know, including instructors, say avoid them at all costs. So why hasn't some bright spark come up with a material less dangerous? And why do they place them exactly where a bike needs to go, like on a bend for example!? They do the same with large metal gratings, equally as dangerous and a little harder to spot. Add to that the gravel that gathers on country roads at junctions or in the centre of the road on a corner, and we have the third hazard. There is zero grip on any of these things. Motorcycles account for 5% of road traffic, yet 25% of all traffic fatalities. I'd like to know the percentage related to dangerous markings on the road and why nothing has been done. Or could it be that just like out-of-town shopping developments the world worships the car.

I pay a brief visit to Dunnottar Castle, which some say is the prettiest castle in all of Scotland. It is a ruin set upon a great defensive spit of land poking into the sea. A settlement has existed on the site from as early as 5000BC. The curent castle started off as a site for an early christian church in the 5th century and was gradually added to over the centuries, with the current chapel being built in the 16th century.

From here I head toward Montrose then west to Brechin an
d on to visit two friends, Sheila and Dougie, near Letham. They have a fabulous wee cottage in the middle of farm countryside, with a garden big enough to hold a game of shinty on. I'm feeling pretty rough at this point, and though I'd originally said I'd visit for lunch, because of the accident it has now gone 4pm. I do feel guilty turning down their offer, but my apetite has gone. I did however manage to force myself to eat two chocolate eclairs!

I had originally intended to scurry about little back
roads in Fife on the way home, but instead, after getting across the Tay bridge, I head down the main 'A' roads and then the motorway to Edinburgh. This was the first time in a week I had been on such a fast road, and though I was at the speed limit I seemed to be the only one, with drivers flying past at speeds that should be reserved for salt flats!

So I'm typing this up at home, with my own bed beckoning tonight. Tomorrow I will need to sort out the repairs to Trigger. I'm sure we all feel that tinge of sadness w
hen we return from holiday to the normality of day to day life, but tonight I feel sad. I have had quite an adventure, seen Scotland in all it's glory, good and bad moods, met friends old and some new. The only disappointment was not having longer. I thought before setting out that some of my days were a little too short, but actually they turned out to be perfect. What I would say however is that I'd like to line up most car drivers of the week and give them a communal kick up the arse. They drive too fast with no consideration for anyone else, and on single-track roads do not know the meaning of passing places. However, they matter not to me. I was out there, like a dog with his head out of the car window. I breathed the myriad of smells and felt the rush of the wind as I journeyed along some of the worlds greatest coastline. Thank you for coming along and sharing it with me. Let's do it again some time.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Tour d'ecosse - stage 7, Carbisdale Castle to Tomintoul

I'm surprised to see overcast and heavy skies first thing, given the forecast was for a glorious day. I do a final wee tour of the castle and it's grounds before packing the bike and heading out by 9.30.

Today's route took me south east, at one point past an enormous field of lavender, the smell of which was intoxicating. And so to Tain, then alongside the Dornoch Firth to catch the cute little two-car ferry to Cromarty, the Cromarty Rose.
It's most definitely passed its best. Like the Glenachulish though, great to see it still doing its job.

Cromarty is a nice little village, but I just pass through on my way to Fortrose. I take the road down to Rosemarkie campsite then along and out to Chanonry Point to see if I can spot any dolphins. The beach is very busy with people hopeful of seeing the same as me, but sadly there are no dolphins in sight. I do however spot a seal feeding and capture a bit on film. After an hour or so I take myself for a very nice lunch at the Crofters Bistro just along from the campsite. As I'm sat there enjoying my homemade burger and fries I spot dolphins jumping way off in the distance, the splash they make on entering the water again very distinctive. However, they are way off toward the far side and the people on the beach will have no better view than me. The sun has broken through and the rest of the day there is blue sky and light winds.

Lunch over it's time to head for Tomintoul. Unfortunately this involves joining the hideous A9 at Inverness, but thankfully only for 7 miles or so as I turn off to enjoy a quiet back road for a while. Eventually I arrive in Aviemore, and stocked up with provisions I drive 1 mile out on the ski road to
Rothiemurcus Centre, where I have been many times, and enjoy a large cappuccino and scone.

I take various, virtually unused, roads to reach Tomintoul via Nethy Bridge, with one road so little used there's grass growing down the centre! Barely a cars width, the worst happens; a car comes in the opposite direction! We negotiate each other with care and I'm on my way once again. The final stretch has some great hairpin bends reminiscent of the Bealach Na Ba, and before long I pull into the quiet little village of Tomintoul at 6.30.

The hostel warden tells me their water is contaminated so looks like I'll need to top up my fluid levels at the pub tonight!

I went in search of internet access and first enquiry was at the Clockhouse Restaurant on the corner of the square. I asked if they had a public bar which was met with; "what, you're not going to eat?" I pursued my line of inquiry rather foolishly asking as to whether they had WiFi access or not. I was looked up and down before she screwed up her nose and firmly said no. So, not one to be bullied, I asked if she could help me and point me in the direction of where I might find WiFi. She waved her hand in a dismissive way saying, "there's one of those pubs across the way, but I'm sure I wouldn't know". So if you're ever in Tomintoul and would like to experience a female Basil Fawlty, head to the Clockhouse. Eventually I am successful at the Gordon Hotel, but at a price; for non residents, even though it's a public bar, I am charged £5, and that's with my own computer!

I'm beginning to feel I've entered a strange village and all eyes are upon me. If I hear there's a wicker-man burning tonight I'm out of here!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Tour d'ecosse - stage 6, Achmelvich to Carbisdale Castle

Is that rain? Surely not!?

My friend Trish left before me in her car heading for Durness on the north coast, while I sat it out until 10.30. Finally it looked like the rain was going off.

I took the narrow curvy road that hugs the coastline, and
though slow was of great enjoyment, passing small coves and sandy beaches that had been transplanted here from somewhere far more exotic. This could not be Scotland surely?

The road went on like this for 25 miles before joining the main 'A' road north. The sun broke through, Dire Straights was playing on the ipod, life was good.

The bike rumbled into Durness and I turned left to the day's mission, which was to visit Cocoa Mountain. If there is a chocolate heaven then this is it on earth. I had what could be described as the worlds best hot chocolate with marshmallows, and a croissant drizzled in white chocolate and caramel. If I had been of the opposite sex I would say at this moment the feeling must be close to that of a multiple orgasm.

After a few stop-offs for some picture postcard photographs, I traveled about a mile down the road to Smoo Cave.
A natural phenomenon where the river had broken through the surface and dropped with immense force into the cave far below. It was at this point that I became grateful for the amount of precipitation
over the last 5 days as the thunderous noise of the water as it entered the cave was deafening. A large cloud of very fine water particles rose into the air, and through another opening a shaft of sunlight streamed in, illuminating the tiny droplets. Somewhere a chorus of angels sang an aria to complete the scene.

20 or so miles east I arrived in Tongue and thankfully the fuel station was open as Trigger was running on fumes. Another 10 miles on I reached the junction that now turned me south for the first time in 5 days, and I opened the throttle to cruise down the single-track road across Strathnaver, the area of the worst Highland clearances. Halfway I passed a small white church with a red tin roof
that belonged more in the prairies of Oklahoma than the Highlands of Scotland. As I thundered south I was aware of how desolate and empty the area was, and for 30 miles I only met one or two other vehicles in either direction.

By 7pm I was pulling into Bonar Bridge, and supplies bought, took the turn off for SYHA's flagship hostel, Carbisdale Castle. It is quite something as hostels go, resplendent with a grand hall filled with white marble statues, original woodwork and sweeping staircase. I would say the only down side was that because of it's size it was incredibly busy, and it lacked some of the charm and familiarity of hostels. Even some of the family and minibus groups were more akin to hotel goers as opposed to hostels. My observations told me their behaviour and demands of the staff were equally so.

Tonight I have a twinge of sadness. For the last 4 days I have been spoiled for scenery, with views to the Atlantic that took my breath away, following roads that I have never been on before. I found it hard to believe that it had taken me this long in life to see these wonders. The changeable weather only added to the atmosphere at times, but now I sense that I am approaching areas and roads not unknown, and I know that gradually I will return to the busy world, single-track roads now far behind me, a distant fond memory.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Tour d'ecosse - stage 5, Gairloch to Achmelvich

By 9am the rain has set in and the view to Torridon has vanished. This is the sort of rain that has animals lining up in pairs!
By 11am I'm on the road again but only for a short distance to Poolewe, and tea and cake at the Bridge Cottage coffee shop.
From here the road is a complete joy! Long fast straights and sweeping corners. I have some music from Slumdog Millionaire paying in my helmet when the sun comes out, the road dries up and it's hard to know where machine stops and I begin. This is the moment. This is why I bought the bike.
Forty miles after Poolewe is Corrieshalloch Gorge. It had been recommend as a must see. All I can really say is wow! There is a small suspension bridge going over the gorge which had a worrying sign saying only six people at a time on the bridge! It is truly spectacular and so deep it surprises me that some enterprising New Zealander hasn't set up a bungie jump!
The last 12 miles to Ullapool pass quickly along the tree lined road, with shafts of sunlight streaming through the trees in a pattern like that of light through venetian blinds. It is the ride of deep joy.

I've no sooner sat down in the Friggate cafe in Ullapool for pea and ham soup when my friend Trish rings. She's also just arrived in Ullapool! Brilliant timing.
After some lunch we head out, me on my machine and Trish in her open top Mazda, and reach the single-track road turnoff, signposted for Achiltibuie  and Lochinver. The road twists and winds its way along the coast with spectacular views to Stac Polaidh, and further on the mighty mountain of Suilven.
The youth hostel is just three miles beyond Lochinver and the setting is idyllic. Settled in, and after a walk along the white sands of the bay looking out over the still turquoise waters, we head back in Lochinver for a meal to celebrate Trish's birthday.
It has been a perfect day, and the first day that I had a grin on my face through the absolute joy of riding the bike through some of the worlds most beautiful scenery. The weather, though overcast most of the day, has been kind, and the evening is still and beautiful.
Tomorrow is the longest journey, north to Durness, turning east to Tongue and then turning south to start the journey toward home. Tomorrow night I will be staying at the SYHA flagship hostel of Carbisdale castle.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Tour d'ecosse - stage 4, Applecross to Gairloch

A nice long lie-in this morning, followed by a bacon and egg breakfast courtesy of Moira and Willie, with a little help from Lotte the mad spaniel pup!

Though overcast it's very calm and perfect for the drive over the famous Bealach Na Ba.

After refueling at the "community filling station" I head off up the climb to the pass. This section on the way out, though steep is not too twisty and I reach the summit in a short while, stopping at the viewpoint for the necesary photos.

The descent down the other side is spectacular. I had been told it was steep and with tight hairpin bends, bit I was still taken by surprise. It starts twisting immediately, and though the hairpins are concentrated at the top it takes a while to balance the bike slowly through the corners. I felt like I was on a set for a new James Bond movie!

From the bottom I turned north once again along the Wester Ross coastal trail, a fast road all the way to Torridon. The views across to Ben Alligan and Liathach were very dramatic, rising from sea level vertical and steep into the sky, the rock faces black in the light from the overcast sky. I stop for cappuccino and scones at the Torridon Inn where I have been many times before with my best friend Pauline.

During my coffee and scone break I uploaded a selection of 20 photographs from the journey so far. If you'd like to see them they are at:

Riding through Torridon at around 3pm I started to become aware that it was getting darker . . . and darker . . . and darker! Yep, you guessed it, how could a day be complete without a soaking?! I had hoped to get a good view of the impressive mountain of Slioch after Torridon, and I'm sure it was there somewhere in the black cloud! Loch Maree was to my right, it's surface boiling with the monsoon downpour.
The road wasn't shedding the water very well and if you've never aquaplaned on a motorcycle before then you've never truly experienced very full underwear! Calvin Kleins as well!

Two miles out from Gairloch it started to clear and by the time I reached its harbour the sun was shining once again. It was a short 3 miles along to Carn Dearg Gairloch SYHA where I pulled in, rather damp, at 4 o'clock. From it's vantage point there were great atmospheric views across to Torridon and Slioch, though I didn't stand and admire the view for too long as it was dinner time for the midge population!

Fed and watered at the hostel I headed back into the village and the Sheiling pub to post this blog.

Tomorrow is to be another mixed bag of weather. I must admit to getting a bit soft these days but I would welcome one rainless day. Someone offered that my mental attitude must be my age, which is the first time something has been connected to my age since my balls dropped!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tour d'ecosse - stage 3, Ratagan to Applecross

A glorious day! Not a breath of wind and the sun is shining. A welcome change. I had my porridge outside the youth hostel with the mountain range of the Five Sisters Of Kintail as my backdrop. A perfect start.

The road from Ratagan over the Mam Ratagan pass is steep and winding and no problem to the monstrous machine I'm sat on. The views back down to Loch Duich were picture postcard stuff.

Before long I was over the pass and decending down into Glenelg and the ferry I had not seen for 40 years.
When I arrived a young collie dog came to greet me as I stood and waited for the Glenachulish to come across the water. There was a tear in my eye as it drew closer, and the sound of it's engine was familiar, as if asking how I was. By sheer luck Peter, who runs the ferry on behalf of the community, turned up on his way across to Skye, and we chatted a while. For just £2 you can join the community that looks after the ferry, so you can guess already what I'll be doing on my return!

I know there were two other ferries from the Ballachulish days, but Peter didn't have any information on them. One of the ferrymen reckoned they had been taken to some fish farms as supply vessels, their turntables having been removed. Further investigation is needed I think.

The trip across was short but thoroughly enjoyable. I watched as she continued to do what she was built to do, her engines powering strongly against the current to take cars and their passengers across safely. I wonder if anyone else appreciates the old girl as much as I do?

The next leg took me onto Skye briefly, before heading back onto the mainland across the Skye Bridge, then turnng north at Kyle of Lochalsh to the pretty little village of Plockton.

The weather has remained glorious and it has been a joy to ride with the visor up. The air is filled with the sweet scent of ferns and heather in blossom, and the rush of the wind brings an added thrill. Now I understand why dogs stick their heads out of car windows on the move!

Next stop was Attadale Gardens, recommended as a must-see by my best friend. And I can see why. What a fabulous place. Scattered among the gardens themselves are various sculptures, my favourite of which has to be the cheetah caught in a high-speed-turn pose. It looked as if at any moment it would spring to life!

Lunch was beef lasagne just a short distance up the road at Carron Restaurant, and if you are ever by this way I can definitely recommend it.

Next stop Applecross, but I decided to go past the first turn off that goes over the Bealach na ba and instead continue north to follow the coast road 24 miles round and approach Applecross from the north. I'd been advised that the Bealach na ba is far more impressive taking it out of Applecross, so that will be tomorrows route.

I reached Applecross at 4pm, just as the first drizzle started, and I was tucked up inside a little cottage with my friends before the heavens opened, being licked all over by their pet puppy springer Spaniel Lotte!

Dinner was haggis starter followed by a local lamb casserole at the Applecross Inn. Great food but to my shock and horror no coffee machine!!

Now, where is that suggestion box?

Monday, 20 July 2009

Tour d'ecosse - stage 2, Oban to Ratagan

I awoke this morning to a down pour. The wind had picked up during the night as well.
After a good breakfast of porridge with honey, I packed then set off for the ferry to Mull. Due to the size of my bike it had to go on last and then be strapped down. Up on deck I watched as Oban started to recede intothe distance and disappear into the dark grey rain clouds, as hue Calmac ferry Isle Of Skye ploughed the straight toward Mull. About half way across the wind dropped and the rain went off, and then to everyone's shock . . . the sun came out!

The run to Tobermory was great, along some single track and two-way roads. I had lunch in the harbour after refuelling then caught the 1pm, tiny, ferry from Tobermory across the sound of Mull to Kilchoan on the Arnamurchan Peninsula.

I've been to Alton Towers many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed being scared on the rides, but nothing prepared me for his crossing. Did someone say swell! Half way across this tiny 8- car ferry started to pitch and roll, ant the engines started to rev, but things seemed fine.
Then I heard it.

Until this point I'd never heard a large motorbike hit a metal deck! The noise was sickening. One of the ships mates rushed up to me and took me down to the car deck. The bike had been tossed over like it weighed nothing more than a push bike! We righted the machine and I had to hold onto it until we docked on the other side. Closer inspection revealed a fair bit of damage, with the front brake lever, right roll-bar and both exhausts taking the brunt of the impact. Not just that but there was a stench of fuel and it wouldn't start. After keeping the returning cars waiting for what seemed an age, she eventually fired ip and we were off again, if not a little bruised.

I had only been going about 10 minutes along the winding single track roads when this 30-something guy in a sports BMW came flying over a blind summit doing god knows what speed, with his blonde girlfriend laughing and smiling in the seat as she possibly thought his penis was in fact bigger than she had imagined. Those that know me will know that I am a reasonably good driver and always drive defensively, and on this occasion it was a life saver. I chose a, thankfully close, passing place while he had no choice but to stick two of his wheels in the verge to get past.

Myself and the bike, which is called Trigger by the way, were certainly starting to bond.

The heavens now opened and the dueluge was so heavy that it was bouncing off the road. I had intended to visit caslt Tioram, but I was concentrating so hard that I missed the turning and ended up at the Corran ferry. However, rather than take the ferry I continued on toward Loch Eil, eventually arriving at the Glenfinnan viaduct and monument by 5pm. I was surprised to see how late it was, so aftr a quick pee stop it was off toward Fort William, where I bought a few provisions and topped up thefuel, then north and the road to the isles.

This route is fast and takes you through some stunning scenery, forest lined roads and views down to beautiful lochs that form part of Glengarry.

From here the road bends gently and sweeps along at a good pace, the machine gliding effortlessly through the corners. Dark clouds were gathering so my trusty steed Trigger and I throttled up and swept past the mountains called the Five Sisters of Kintail, and sped ahead of the rain band to arrive in the picturesque youth hostel Ratagan by 7.30pm.

I'm now fed and watered and sitting soaking in the glorious view of the mountains. The wind has dropped, the sky has cleared, and all is good. The bike alarm has suddenly gone off for no reason, no doubt seeking some attention for all its hard work today, enduring injury and still getting me here safely and quickly.

Tomorrow I will be reunited with the Glenachulish turntable ferry from my youth, over in Glenelg, a mere 10 miles from here. For those who don't know the significance of this ferry in my trip, read an earlier blog below called Over the sea to Skye.

Tomorrow we will make that journey together.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Tour d'ecosse - stage 1, Edinburgh to Oban

So this is it, the blog of my epic motorcycle trip round Scotland from Sunday 19 July to Monday 27 July. I hope you enjoy it.

It's 4.30pm, Sunday 19 July, and I'm sitting in the lounge of the SYHA in Oban, very wet! The journey was sunny and dry from Edinburgh until Tyndrum, but then the heavens opened for the last 40 miles. Though the first part hadn't been without it's adventures.

A good friend, Alastair, had joined me on the ride as far as Calander, where we stopped for cappuccino and scones at The Old Bank coffee shop, which we would both recommend. But our way north was blocked due to a major fire in the main street. Traffic was diverted around along a single track road, which would have been fine, but we accidentaly turned left at the end of the diversion instead of right and found ourselves heading south west to Aberfoyle!

But we were glad we had, for the road, called Dukes Pass, was stunning, and a complete joy on a motorbike, what I will call "road of deep joy", with tight twists and turns all the way, and panoramic views of forested valleys. We doubled back only to find once back at Calander the single track road was also now blocked, due to a bus and lorry having an argument! Alastair had to start his journey back to Edinburgh and I had to find a way north.

So we bid each other farewell and headed off on our respective journeys. I decided to go back over Dukes Pass via Aberfoyle again, rather than wait for the road to open, a detour of 25 miles, making a total of 50 added to my journey having just done it once already.

But this proved to be the right choice.

Once I emerged 50 minutes later at Kilmahog on the other side of Calander, all the roads were still blocked! But this also had another joyous outcome becasue as a result for the next 20 miles to Lochearnhead I had the entire road all to myself! Not one other vehicle in sight. Fab.

By Tyndrum I was ready for a break and late lunch. Not just that but due to my jacket being zipped onto the trousers, to make it a one piece for safety, the trousers had slowly ridden up, cutting the circulation to my jewels and forcing my new Calvin Kleins into the old Kyber Pass, a bit of readjustment was needed!

So, Oban fish and chips tonight, a good nights rest, then the Calmac ferry to Mull tomorrow morning.

I'll speak to you again tomorrow evening from Ratagan.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Public Enemies the movie

Though set in the stylish 30's, and with a well chosen soundtrack, this film didn't really have much depth.  In typical Michael Mann fashion he spent the budget on making everyone look cool in their great suits and hats.  History tells us that Dillinger (Johnny Depp) quite fancied himself as the public's hero, and I got the feeling that Depp actually looked like he was having a lot of fun playing the part.  Billie (Marion Cottilard), Dillingers "girl", most probably knew John better than he did himself, and this was well done in the film.  However, I felt that important points, like the formation of the FBI at the time and how the Dillinger problem played a part in that, the emergence of organised crime country-wide becoming fed up with him, and the likes of the nutter Baby-Face Nelson doing his Bugsy Malone bit, were almost like an afterthought for the script writer and director, dropped in occasionally as if remembering to give us a snippet of information from history.  Dillinger was the last of his kind and this important fact was barely in the background. On the trail of Dillinger is Special Agent Purvis, played by Christian Bale. I would have probably bought his character more had it been played by someone else, but typically Bale's face has only one expression, that of a botox treatment gone badly wrong.

All this said and I did enjoy the movie I must say.  The sets looked great, complete with a vast array of 30's cars, and the soundtrack was a definite hit.  I was also interested to see how it would look, as it was shot on Sony High Definition digital cameras instead of film.  As with all digital, lacking in a wide range of contrast shades as it does, a lot of scenes were very stark and bright, almost burnt out, and the pin sharp quality of Hi-Def makes it feel a little less like a movie.  The colour was graded to give that 30's feel, which is more easily achieved in digital, but I kept feeling it was because they were trying to hide the fact it was digital video.  Film is not dead by any means,  and as a film maker myself I have to agree with the likes of Speilberg and Cameron; shoot on film then edit digitally.

On the whole Public Enemies is an enjoyable two hours of entertainment.  It looks good but lacks depth, is disjointed in places and we learn nothing new. 7 out of 10.

There were a number of trailers before the film, and I have to say that I doubt I'll be going to the cinema over the summer!  Thankfully I managed to avoid having a frontal lobotomy in my earlier years and subsequently now enjoy films with a little more to say than the likes of "GI Joe - Rise Of The Cobra" and "Final Destination - Death Trip 3D".  I can't say I'll even spend my money on the new Tarrantino film "Inglorious Basterds" starring Brad Pitt.  Hollywood really needs to wake up to the fact that audiences are more intelligent these days and start to release more quality and less trash movies.  Yes they make good profit from the trashy movies from those audiences who have had a frontal lobotomy, but how about spending that money on something of higher value.   They also have a growing tendency to remake movies of yesteryear, and I am dismayed to see that "The Taking Of Pelham 123" is to be released shortly, showing a distinct lack of original material.

If it's original material they're looking for, with good structure, strong storyline and a topical subject, then they should give me a call.  That said though they probably couldn't afford me.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Over the sea to Skye

I live in Edinburgh.  I haven't always lived there though.  For virtually all my childhood years my father was constantly moving job.  Many times I would be in a place for less than a school term.  My education suffered as a result, naturally, but my biggest loss was constantly saying goodbye to my friends.  Sadly, I have no childhood friends in my address book now.

Around 1970 my father used to be the gardner for Commander Clark, a retired naval officer who had served during the second world war, and who's estate was behind the Ballachulish Hotel, not far from Glencoe.  I recall he used to have a ship's bell on his lawn, and I would dare to sneak across his lawns at every opportunity to ring it and then run away.  How very brave I was.

During my school summer holidays I would help out on the turntable ferries that plowed the short distance across Loch Leven, to save people having to go the long way round through Kinlochleven, to cross to the other side on their way to or from Fort William.  Leather satchel strapped to my waist, I would collect the fares from the waiting cars, then get my reward backwards and forwards on the ferries.  Nothing lasts though, and now the ferries have long since been replaced with a mechano-style hideous bridge, and Commander Clark's estate has long since sunk into disrepair.

The cars would await their turn to cross, which was never too long as there were always two ferries going back and forth.  One of them that made the crossing was called the Glenachulish.  Another was called the Ballachulish, and there was a third, but I cannot remember its name.

During a recent TV series starring Monty Hall, living in a croft at Applecross, during one of the episodes I virtually leapt from my seat.  He was taking his Landrover onto a turntable ferry at Glenelg, to make the short crossing to Skye.  The name of that turntable ferry?  The Glenchulish!

On Sunday 19 July I am leaving Edinburgh on a motorcycle tour of the west coast of Scotland, and on Tuesday 21 July I intend to drive to Glenelg and take that same ferry, and once more enjoy a trip on the Glenachulish.  I may have to pay this time of course.

It is my intention to film most of my trip and edit the footage on my return, and I am hopeful of interviewing the current owners of the Glenachulish.  This is, however, part of a bigger, longer term plan.  I am on a quest to find out what happened to the other two ferries.

I will of course be blogging as I go, so you should be able to follow my journey if you want to know what happens.  Whether or not you'll see a photograph of me with a leather satchel collecting fares though, remains to be seen.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


It's a popular subject just now.  Not the credit crunch or Michael Jackson.  No, the subject I'm talking about is the Moon.

Selene is the Greek goddess of the Moon, and was also the name adopted by Japan for a moon-probe launched in 2007, which relayed the first high definition photographs back to Earth (just Google; Japan, Selene, moon probe).

When Neil Armstrong first set foot onto the surface on 20 July 1969 I was only six years old, but my parents insisted in getting me out of bed to watch.  Apparently after the event I rubbed my eyes and asked to go back to bed!

On the Isle of Lewis there is a set of standing stones dating back five thousand years called the Stones of Callanish, and it is widely accepted that they are an ancient lunar calendar.  To think that man would have looked to the heavens at the Moon all that time ago, not knowing that one day we would walk on its surface!  Many cultures have worshiped the moon around the world over the centuries, and little do many of us realise that without it, life on earth would not exist.  With the world in trouble over it's climate this is another reminder of just how delicate the balance is for life to exist at all.

I was very lucky in March 2006 to be in Turkey to witness a total solar eclipse.  At the moment the moon passed across the sun, and its shadow raced across the sea to where I was standing like a dark tidal wave from the underworld, my breath was taken away.  To say I had tears in my eyes is only a fraction of the emotion I felt.  The statistics of the moon are surprising as well; the moon is four hundred times closer to us than the sun and is a 400th the size of the sun.  Any closer or further away and life would be very different indeed.  These two facts combine to make the solar eclipse the spectacular event that it is.  Only at that exact moment did I realise what this must have meant to civilisations in ancient times.  It truly had the feeling of the end of the world.

Just one hundred years ago we were still earth bound.  Now we have aircraft that can take us to the other side of the world in less than a day, spacecraft that can leave the planet altogether, and a space station that goes round the earth in ninety four minutes!

And we take it for granted!  We're not impressed anymore.  I find this amazing.  The same happened during the Apollo programme.  The public grew bored of the project, until, that is, the 13 April 1970 when James Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13, said those immortal words; "Houston, we have a problem".  The public then took an interest again.  The same could be said about the shuttle.  Until the disaster of Challenger and more recently,  Columbia, the press had relegated the news of the shuttle missions to a match-box-size article.

But I continue to be amazed, and that talk continues of not just going to the moon, but now establishing a base there and eventually going to Mars.  What an amazing species we are.

And yet, we continue to kill each other, to find importance in the most trivial of things, and to consume at an ever increasing rate.  Yes, we really are a remarkable species.

I am proud of our achievements of course, and the beauty of the images from space.  But I don't need them to show me just how beautiful this planet of ours is.  Every day, rain or shine, I see the beauty in our surroundings, I hear the bird song and marvel at the lush growth of nature everywhere.  All this without any intervention by man.  And it will be here long after we've gone.

We'll continue to explore, be that Mars or the cosmos at large.  But one thing will remain constant.  This is our only home. 

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Calling God on the big white porcelain telephone

I'm very tired today.  In fact I'd go as far as saying I'm exhausted.  At 3am this morning I was up, out of bed, hand clamped firmly over my mouth, running for the bathroom.  Yep, my stomach muscles were convulsing and I was treated to seeing the previous days consumed items again!

Three years ago I used to run a deli and coffee shop and I knew a thing or two about food poisoning.  For instance, did you know two of the highest risks of food poisoning are left over rice and left over pizza?  For some reason this knowledge deserted me last night and I tucked into cold pizza that had been sitting out in a warm humid atmosphere for three hours!


So, at 3am this morning, and on the hour, every hour 'til 8am, there I was shouting "oh God" and a deep throated "Ralph!" down the big white porcelain telephone!

So today has been a day of quiet, of sipping water gradually and the odd bit of toast.  Your body is an amazing thing, having this ability to rid itself of unwanted items in a quite dramatic fashion.  What a pity it hasn't worked out a path for it to leave your body that doesn't involve a third of it trying to force itself, unsuccessfully, through your nose.

Well hopefully you're not reading this over breakfast.  I for one am looking forward to a good nights sleep tonight and bacon croissants and coffee in the morning.  It may be a while before I enjoy pizza again.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Good friends are like stars; you don't always see them but you know they are there

We all have them.  Some have more than others.  Not to be confused though with the three hundred plus "friends" some have on their Facebook account.  I mean real friends.  Those who will be there for you no matter what.

I'm lucky.  I have many such friends.  I even share my home with one.  Another saved my life once.  I call on my friends support more than they do on mine, which makes me feel guilty at times.   I can be myself around them.  They'll laugh with me, sometimes at me, cry with me, and I love them for all of those things.

I heard one of ABBA's songs again a few days ago, and the lyrics are quite apt;

You and I can share the silence 

Finding comfort together 

The way old friends do 

And after fights and words of violence 

We make up with each other 

The way old friends do 

Times of joy and times of sorrow 

We will always see it through 

Oh I don't care what comes tomorrow 

We can face it together 

The way old friends do 

Recently, two of my closest friends reached forty.   Over the last six months, in collaboration with many others, I've been putting together a couple of films in celebration of their forty years.  Both films were sprung on them as a surprise and needless to say went down well.

Many of us will often say we don't want any fuss, but in reality, a little fuss is rather nice, and I like nothing better than being a part of making that fuss, especially to people that mean the world to me.

Six years ago I too reached forty, and my friends made a fuss of me, and I loved every minute of it.  When was the last time you made a fuss of a close friend; wrote a letter, not an email, an old fashioned snail-mail letter just to say hi; made a spontaneous phone call to let them know you think of them?

So six years on has my "life begun"?  I think it would be more accurate to say it is starting to come into full bloom.  Yes, I'm doing the mid-life crisis bit, right down to the giant motorcycle (fuel-efficient engine, of course), and I'm getting as much as I can out of life.  I've had my share of health problems, and at times it's been tough, and thanks to my friends I've come through those times positively.  My life would not be as full as it is today without my friends.  So this is a thank you to all of you.

Do I worry about the future?  Not anymore.  We can face it together, the way old friends do.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Free electricity!

Following on from my last post I thought I'd share with you a great product I just bought.

Recently I purchased the new iphone 3GS.  A great gadget.  Lots of fun.  Only one problem; you need to charge it EVERY day.  So you can imagine how that goes against everything I was saying about our contribution to climate change.

I also own an ipod, a compact camera, and several other gadgets that all have rechargeable batteries in them, so the carbon footprint was starting to look bad.  the worst one of all though is the iphone.

So I started a search and found a company called, surprise surprise, Solar Technology (their website is www.  They provide all sorts of solar cells, but they make one called the Freeloader.  Now I've actually tried a few other mobile, pocket size solar chargers, and to be honest they only charged a few things, and not very well.

I decided to stump up the extra money and buy the Freeloader Pro.  At £60 not the cheapest product around, but this was about being environmentally friendly and efficient.

Well, I have to report . . . it's amazing!  Charges very quickly (even on a cloudy day!) and connects to virtually everything.  The cunning part is with the Pro version you get something called the Camcaddy, which allows you to charge virtually any camera battery, even video.  There's even an additional attachment you can buy that will allow you to charge AA and AAA batteries!

I think we should all invest in such a product.  Imagine collectively what that could do toward reducing our energy consumption.

I for one feel quite smug that I now get free electricity, not just at home, but on holiday, camping, hillwalking or biking.  For once a great product that actually works and does what it says on the tin.