Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hurricane Sandy

No doubt you will all know about the recent events happening in America on the eastern seaboard with Hurricane Sandy. Astonishing images seeing the streets of New York City under water, like scenes from the fictional film, The Day After Tomorrow.

We think of flooding on this scale of only affecting places such as Bangladesh, not a cosmopolitan metropolis like New York. However, they are better equipped to deal with such a disaster, but it still devastates lives. In July 2011 I witnessed first hand the results of major flooding when passing through Minot in North Dakota. On that occasion 12,000 people were displaced.

My heart goes out to the people affected, and to my friends who live and work in that area.

But, I was somewhat dismayed and angry when today, after signing out of Hotmail, reading on the MSN homepage, negative comments about the American people. Stupid comments, like they brought it on themselves, and, serves them right as they are a nation who don't care about anyone. These are obviously posts by people who have never set foot in America.

After my own experience and time over there I can truly say I have a greater understanding of the American people. A more generous and caring people toward strangers I have never met. They are not judgemental in any way and are first to offer help, then figure out how to make things work, unlike some people in my own country, I'm sad to say.

If I could I'd emigrate!

We spend too much time criticising and sneering at the success of others in this country, and for some reason develop a dislike of people based purely on they being more successful than ourselves. That said I am pleased to have a large circle of friends that do not think this way, and are they themselves very supportive and caring.

In June this year I had the privilege to work closely with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his visit to Scotland. I recall something he said; "we are here in this life to help others. If you cannot do this for whatever reason, then don't hurt anyone".

I wonder how the people that wrote the cutting comments about the American people would fare if they were the victims of such a disaster. The way our climate is chainging radically it may not be too long until we find out.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Beach home

I've been very lucky to have lived in a nice little apartment just yards from a mile-long beach and the sea for the past 23 years. I've seen many things and people come and go in all that time, but the beach has remained just as it was . . . almost.

Very recently my friend Pauline returned to Scotland. For 14 years this area was her home and it still held its magic for her after a two year absence.

It was because of her love of the area that I "saw" Portobello again. Every day for 23 years I had stepped out of the apartment on my way somewhere, and most of the time would walk along the promenade with the golden sands of the beach and the sea beyond off to my right. But after 23 years you start to almost not notice it.

Occasionally a storm will kick up, creating breaking waves seven or eight feet high, and you notice it on those days. I have a window seat that I can sit and watch the waves crashing in, roaring as they do so.

Over the past 12 months the beach has changed in shape. Mistakenly two years ago the city council decided to redistribute the sand over the whole length as it had been tossed around and scattered during a particularly violent storm in 2009. The end result of the councils work however only made things worse. The beach now has very strange tidal flows, and in some places the erosion has increased. You would think by now we would know you can't tame the sea or mess with mother nature.

I actually quite like the new look of the beach. Just this morning as I wandered along I could see that the high tide hadn't come all the way up the beach, and had left behind a straggled line of drift wood and seaweed marking its furthest advance, creating a wild look. Hard to believe its all on the edge of the capital city of Scotland.

Long may my friend visit and remind me of the joys of this almost wild place.

I'm very lucky to live here. My beach home.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Sustainable travel

Well, in my opinion climate change is a definite. Just this past week we have had everything from warm and glorious blue-sky days, to dark, windy and constant rainfall weather systems, with literally just hours apart.  It really is just a case of opening the curtains and looking outside for the forecast.

Monday was a fantastic day. It was pretty cold first thing but there wasn't a breath of wind. Taking advantage of the good weather I set off at 9.30am on my bicycle to tick off five chores I had to do that day. The route took me all over my home city of Edinburgh, at one point up a rather steep mile-long hill on the south side of the city. I attended a hospital appointment, picked up theatre tickets, dropped an item off at a friends, attended a meeting (after a Starbucks refreshment on the way!) and helped a friend out at this house. It was very satisfying to do all these things over the course of the day using my bicycle, powered by my own energy.

Tuesday looked like another great day, so I set off on my bicycle for my usual one-hour circuit in the morning in glorious blue skies with not a breath of wind. Twenty minutes later I was furiously pedalling home trying to stay ahead of an ominous black cloud. I didn't make it and arrived home freezing cold and soaked through.

Wednesday. Now we were thrown into an Indian-style monsoon! Waves were pounding the beach nearby and the rain was dense and heavy, not letting up all day. I was out in it several times during the day, wrapped up in waterproofs head to toe, but it still got through.

An Australian couple stopped me at one point to ask directions to an outdoor store where they could buy camping gas, and for directions to get out of the city to go north into the highlands. They were camping. Then they asked when I thought the rain would go off. I couldn't resist and replied, what month is this?

Scotland has always had a mixed bag of weather, with rarely two days the same, but this year has been more varied than usual and the weather systems have definitely been stronger and wilder.

It pleases me that at least I'm doing my bit to reduce greenhouse gases by using my bicycle to do most of my journeys in the city. Not to mention the benefits to my weight, fitness and the fortune I must be saving in fuel and parking fees.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Outdoor Cure

A number of years ago I injured my spine and had a very successful, though risky, operation to fix the problem. Occasionally it flares up and hurts like hell, and at the end of last week this is exactly what happened. From previous experience I knew that walking, especially on uneven ground, can help.

It was poor timing because I had been planning to get away into the highlands with my tent for a few days because of the settled beautiful autumn weather. However, all was not lost because just 10 miles from my house is a range of hills called the Pentlands, and so, late morning, I found myself setting off into the regional park.

It was a quick and relatively easy walk to the top of the first hill, Allermuir. It has a trig point at the top and used to have a brass viewpoint indicator, pointing out landmarks near and far, but it has been removed recently for repair by the National Trust for Scotland.

The route up the hill starts at the bottom of Europe's largest artificial ski slope. I hadn't been in this area for over two years and as I walked past the centre was surprised to see it had grown and they have expanded the area. There's a lot of ground damage from the construction but over time I'm sure this will repair. The route then follows what they have named the Capital View Walk. This path had also been upgraded and to me was suitable now for 4-wheel-drive vehicles. The upgrade was unnecessary in my view and has created a scar on the landscape. The path winds it's way round the base of Allermuir and turns south through to the next glen.  I turned off the path earlier and took a more direct route up.

Soon at the top it was time for my favourite pastime: lunch. I shared the top with a number of people out for the day in the hills together with the token cute dog called May.

The views were spectacular on this cloudless day. Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth lay below me to the north, with the view stretching almost 100 miles to the edge of the highlands and the 2883foot high mountain Ben Ledi. To the south west the hills opened up creating a natural glen that contains two of Edinburgh's reservoirs.

Lunch over I set off over the neighbouring hills, and though there was a lot of people out enjoying the day there was enough space to feel I had it all to myself. I turned south down toward Glencorse reservoir then sat for a while, listening to the bird song and watching the world go by. There wasn't a breath of wind and despite it approaching mid October there was enough heat in the sun to sit without a jacket.

Completing a circular route I finished my 4 hour trek in the hills feeling inspired and satisfied. My back pain seemed no better but time would tell.

Two days later things had started to change and my back was feeling a good bit better. I set off on my bicycle to ride a 30mile round trip to my childhood town of Penicuik (penny-cook). I had lived there from age 11 to 15 and the route is fantastic for bicycles as it keeps you off roads for much of the way.

There wasn't a breath of wind as I picked my way along what would be called "rails to trails" in America, passing the remains of old railway stations across old iron bridges and through several tunnels. The sunlight was broken up through the trees on either side, creating dancing patterns on the trail, and the leaves of the trees already fallen scrunched under my tyres.

Just an hour and a half later, I arrived in Penicuik. I took a little tour of the main high street and up to my old high school. Memories of my high school days are not good unfortunately, but I'm happy that I've probably achieved way more than the bullies from those times. I was saddened by the closed down look of the high street, now a pedestrian precinct, and as I sat there in the warm autumn sunshine eating my lunch I could picture myself 35 years ago wandering the street during school lunch break.  Just yards away, now gone sadly, was where a bicycle shop used to be where I bought my first bicycle at age 14. Little did I know then that one day I would cycle across the USA.

With the sun at my back I turned for home. It had been a great run and all the more special as it marked the day one year ago that Pauline and I finally finished our great adventure in America.

Another two days later and my back has all but cured itself thanks to the outdoor therapy.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Now that's a breakfast!

A number of years ago, in more fun times, I was on one of the many hillwalks with my friends Pauline and Andrew, on this occasion in the Cairngorm in the highlands of Scotland.

We had just finished and were heading out of the hills when we popped out of the forest into a settlement called Rothiemurcus and headed straight into a small cafe there called the Ord Ban. Sadly the Ord Ban is no longer, but on that day Andrew and I had the most fabulous treat.

They served up this delicious French toast with smoked bacon and a sweet sauce ladled over it. It was heavenly, and the other day I recreated it as a treat for breakfast.

Here's what you need:
2 think slices of wholemeal bread. The artisan type, not the soft floppy type by Sunblest or the likes.
1 egg. If you can find them, duck eggs are the best.
6 rashers of good quality smoked bacon.
Real maple syrup.

Toast the bread. Beat the egg then coat all sides of the toast in the egg. Fry in olive oil. Grill the bacon until it's how you like it, then stack a plate with the toast, bacon, more toast and the last of the bacon. The finishing touch is to smother it in maple syrup.


It brought back fond memories.

I believe that this dish originated in Canada, which doesn't surprise me given that maple syrup is key to this dish.


As an aside, an alternative venue for breakfast, should you find yourself up near Rothiemurcus in the shadow of the Cairngorm, is Glenmore cafe just five miles up the road. Their bacon rolls are legendary and you get a free show of Scotland's cutest mammal coming down to feed right at the windows of the cafe, the red squirrel.

Hoping to get back there some time soon for the autumn colours in the surrounding forest.

Photo by Gary Lowes