Sunday, December 02, 2007

Walking the West Highland Way - Episode 3: A Lonely Struggle

Many years ago when I was a lot younger and more gullible, my brother and I walked the length (or most of it) of Loch Ness together. Having stayed at the Station Hotel in Inverness the night before, we walked the eight miles to the Loch where we collapsed in a pub at Dores having staggered there under the crushing weight of our rucksacks. There's only so many Mars Bars and cans of Coke a man can carry. A couple or so years before this moment, my brother had bought me a book for Christmas called "The Great Orm of Loch Ness" by F.W.Holiday. This was a serious book about the Loch Ness Monster. I read it. I became entranced by it. I became so entranced by it I felt I had to go and see for myself. After a quick visit to London and buying myself a two-man tent complete with ground sheet and fly sheet at a cost of £24, plus a rucksack, boots, sleeping bag and all the other paraphernalia a yet to be hardened highland hiker like myself would need, I waved goodbye to Mum and Dad and set off on a night sleeper to Haggisland. My brother was so impressed by the photo of the monster I brought back with me, he too decided he too had to see for himself. He wasn't in any way put off by the fact that my photo of Nessie looked suspiciously like an out of focus branch floating in the water. Come to think of it - that’s exactly what it was - and photographed in the shallows of Dores where the pair of us were now parking our arses and downing a pint of finest Scottish ale - maybe.

From Dores we walked up the loch to Foyers. We walked up the loch to Foyers. We strained up the loch to Foyers. We staggered up the loch to Foyers. We crawled into the welcoming doorway of the Foyers Hotel on our hands and knees howling at the moon and foaming at the mouth after a day's torture. The Lady of the hotel - our "Hostess" - remarked to us how beautiful the loch and the surrounding countryside was. This was completely lost on my brother who snapped back that it was bloody boring - or words to that effect. She, being put out and somewhat fazed at his unexpected retort suggested that it wasn't really possible - implying there was something wrong with his judgement - to not appreciate how wonderful the countryside was. This only served to make my brother even more aggressively argumentative to administer the opposite view. Anyway, what - you may wonder am I trying to say in all this? Well, it is this: if you have just been staggering under the weight of a 60Ib rucksack for a whole day, feeling blisters forming on your feet, yours limbs aching to the point of disintegration, the cheeks of your arse rubbed raw by their own rhythmic and sweaty embrace, feeling filthy with dried and re-dried sweat, hungry, thirsty and generally losing the will to live, and if the countryside never seems to change from one end of the loch to the other as in this case, the supposed beauty of this countryside falls on the shallow ground of the demented soul. One could even go on to say that under such circumstances it doesn’t matter whether you are walking through the parted waters of the Red Sea, passing by the Fountains of Paradise, or walking the most spectacular part of the Grand Canyon - its all going to seem bloody boring because all you actually crave and cry out for is to be lying on a bed in a comfortable hotel with someone pouring ice cold beer down your throat while nubile nymphs massage the parts of your body that Heineken cannot reach.

There is a direct parallel here with our second and third days of walking the West Highland Way. You see, despite walking a whole day beside the "Bonny" banks of this heaving body of water called Loch Lomond, the scenery didn't seem to change at all. If it did, it was pretty much lost on us as we were all feeling too knackered to care. Your whole body and soul just seems to cry out to get to the next point where you can finally slip into unconscious oblivion.

After we left the the Inversnaid Bunkhouse, we benefited from "gravity assist" mode as we walked back down the steep hill towards the loch to rejoin the "Way" where we left off the night before after passing the snotty Inversnaid Hotel. I felt it would only be a short walk (I hadn't studied the map properly) before we broke free of the loch and into more interesting countryside. How wrong I was. It just seemed to go on and on and on. Suddenly, we struck out into open countryside with much greenery, hills around, inviting slopes and a feeling of uplifted hope. This was all quickly dashed, when it became apparent that we weren't getting away from the loch that easily, and we were beside it again, and I was starting to feel a numbness of the soul.

Finally, after passing a ferry crossing to Ardlui, we walked through Ardleish and struck out into the countryside north of the loch, with the hillock of Cnap Mor looming ahead to our left. Fortunately, there was lot of vegetative cover if one wanted to take a pee - in case you were wondering! There are a lot of people who walk the Way, and if caught out in the open with "no place to hide", especially if you are a bit desperate, it can get a bit awkward. Even worse if you are a woman. For the purposes of the walk, I was glad I wasn't (a woman that is - although it would be nice to get low car insurance from "Sheila's Wheels").

Trekking ever onwards and northwards, we found ourselves walking along beside the River Falloch with steep slopes of highland mountains to our right. Across the river, we could see the traffic and hear the thundering, droning lorries as they travelled along the A82, the route I usually take to Fort William. Trudging on, we came into Glen Falloch with the hills reaching steeply upwards to either side. Presently, we crossed the busy A82 before striking out along an old military road, now a rubbly track. There must be hundreds of such tracks netted out across Scotland, as we seemed to spend a fair amount of our time on such "highways".

Psychologically, getting to Crianlarich was an important milestone. This particular day of walking was for us the longest, and looking at the map (when we did), everything looked as if it would be plain sailing - or hiking- after reaching this point. Before getting thus far, we came out of the open countryside into dense woodland.

As we walked along, we spotted a man with a Grecian style beard sitting like a little leprechaun on a rock in front of us. We had met this man before at the bunk house. He was carrying a small pack and sported a West Highland Way guide book in his hand. We chatted. He told us walking long trails was his hobby. We later learned that he was a University Lecturer in some very dry subject, political economics or something very like it. Also, his wife's hobby, he told us, was extreme sports. This conjured up an image of him toddling along through forests with his rucksack, while his wife was base jumping off some distant skyscraper or cliff. Whatever she did, it was clear that the pair of them complimented each other at least in their spare time activities. He also seemed to have some magical powers, because we kept catching him up from time to time - he was always ahead of us - and yet we always seemed to be yomping on as fast as we reasonably could and he always seemed to be strolling along with no hurry at all. Either that, or I was so addled with the strain of it all that I was hallucinating.

We came to a sharp fork in the path. To our right it was sign-posted Crianlarich, and to our left it was sign-posted Tyndrum. As Tydrum was where we wanted to go, it seemed a good idea at this stage to take the left hand turn. Our leprechaun friend turned right and headed into Crianlarich where he was bedding down for the night.

Ahead of us lay miles of forest trail. I was suffering a lot with my ankle which was one mass of seething pain. I was also tired. I decided I wasn't going to try walking at anybody else's pace, just my own. Consequently, a gap opened up between myself and my compatriots. The gap got wider. The gap got so wide, I lost sight of them. Was I bovvered?? Trudging ever onwards and cursing every step, I continued through the mocking woodland until the track took me back to the A82 which I crossed and headed out into open countryside crossing the River Fillan and out into Kirkton Farm.

I started to see signs for Wigwams. Was I imagining it? This was supposed to be Scotland, after all, not Cheyenne country. As it happened, I discovered that Kirkton farm is, apart from being a farm, home to Strathfillan Wigwam Village, a holiday centre for people who like staying in small pointy wooden cabins. My heart leaped with joy, not because I was thinking of booking a wooden Wigwam for the night, but at the prospect of there being a cafe where I could lay in a bath of goat's milk while someone gently pours banana milk shake down my parched throat. I also figured that my fellow sufferers would naturally be taking a break at the supposed oasis awaiting my arrival so we could all continue on together like a happy band of brothers. Alas and alacrity - this was not to be. After walking what seemed interminable miles I finally staggered across the camp shop. It was a very small affair with a few chairs outside. I bought myself a can of something cold and wet and a choc bar and sat outside. Apart from the shop assistant, I was completely alone. My compatriots had to have passed this way but had not thought of stopping to wait for me. The idea of regrouping was obviously lost on them, so after consuming my refreshments I arose up from the seat, stiff and aching, my horse-fly bitten and swollen ankle now one mass of throbbing aggravation, and leaned forward across the tarmac to continue my journey to Tyndrum.

Crossing the A82 once more, I continued on my way with the river Fillan flowing to my left and onwards into the forest. I knew that once in the forest, Tyndrum was only short walk. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like that. With the pain in my ankle slowing me down and the overwhelming tiredness I was feeling, every hundred yards of walking felt more like half a mile. I continued on, staring at the very rocky path ahead of me through a red haze when my mobile phone rang. I hadn't been using it to make calls on this leg of the journey because the battery was getting very low, so it seemed best to just have it switched on if anyone wanted to ring me. It was my son. He wanted to know where I was. I said I thought I was probably approaching Tyndrum as I was starting to see buildings and signs of civilization. He asked me to describe what I saw. I described what I saw; he told me where to go - in the sense of directions to the hotel. He told me my brother had only just arrived and he and my nephew had been at the hotel for some time. I followed his directions, and presently crashed into the Tyndrum Lodge Hotel, falling to my knees and kissing the entrance to the doorway as I entered. After a meal, I took a shower, collapsed stark naked onto my back on the bed meaning to rest a few minutes before drying myself ready to get into bed. I never got that far. I awoke the next morning in the same position with the towel draped over me as I left it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Squirty Squirty Sick Sick

No pictures on this one - just words.

I've had the screaming lurgie, the shits, the technicolour yawns. Apparently it's an epidemic at the moment. Our local hospital is on emergency standby - they've had to close down a load of wards. I can't believe people actually go to A&E (the emergency room if your from the USA and reading this) with this affliction.

First my wife had it. I thought I might escape it. I was proudly telling someone at work earlier in the week I couldn't remember the last time I was off sick. The next day I felt slightly fragile when I pulled myself out of bed. I had burnt toast - one slice with margarine and low sugar jam for breakfast. I had a mug of hot sweet tea. I delivered my wife to her place of work and then still feeling slightly grotty delivered myself to mine.

I went to the loo for a number two. I nearly took off like a Saturn 5 rocket. As I walked down the corridor to my office I kind of knew staying at work was not an option. I walked into the main work area and told the girls (all women actually, but I like "girls" - its more casual and I think they like it too) I was going home. They replied that I ought to as I was turning blue. After a quick message to my boss' voice mail, I just about managed to crawl home in my trusty Subaru. I say "just about" because there was a huge great plume of smoke on the horizon which was spreading out over the countryside and into my delicate lungs. I don't know what was burning - but it was terrible. Also, there were traffic jams all over the place, as usual, so I had to divert taking twice as long to get home. Just what you need when you are about to explode!

As soon as I got home I let Sally out into her run to relieve herself (Sally is our lovable Boxer dog), and then went to bed, completed my last will and testament and promptly died. I resurrected shortly after midday to a feeling of nauseating waves going through my abdomen and the knowledge that I had to get my head down the toilet immediately if not sooner. This I did, and with a kind of wailing shouting scream sent jets of what had formerly been my food shooting from both ends - lovely!

I drank lots of water and took no medicines apart from some headache tablets as my eyeballs felt like someone was trying to push them into the back of my head. Apart from coming down - and lying down - in my dressing gown that evening, I had more or less total bed rest until around 9.00 the following morning when I dragged myself out of my coffin, had a shower, got dressed and attempted to do a few things around the house. It was about another 24 hours before I was back to eating anything that resembled a meal.

This morning I thought I would test my recovery by going to the gym. I ran for half an hour on the tread mill, accelerating in stages throughout, until I reached 15 kilometers an hour at the end. I was very happy with this. I now declare myself fully recovered and can't wait to get back to work tomorrow - not.

If you are worried about picking up this sickness, don't be. You only feel as if you are going to die, but probably won't actually die. If you do die, it will probably be because you are a man and as everyone knows men suffer far more than women - whatever the illness. Good luck!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Film Review - Unhistorical Elizabeth.

I went to the cinema the other evening to watch "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." I really like Cate Blanchett; I think she is a great actress. The problem I had was did she realise she was being brought in to star in such a comedic film? I enjoyed the film, but probably for the wrong (or maybe the right) reasons.

First off, I nearly fell out of my seat laughing when they showed what was supposed to be Fotheringhay Castle where Mary Queen of Scots was incarcerated and beheaded. Now I have been to the site of this castle as Fotheringhay is no more than fifteen or so miles up the road from where I live. It seems that since 1685, the countryside immediately to the west of Peterborough has gone through a massive geological transformation which only a collision with an asteroid could have accomplished! What we saw in the film was a very dramatic looking castle set on a loch with mountains in the background. Actually, it looked suspiciously like Eilean Donnan Castle on Loch Duich near the Kyle of Lochalsh - if I'm not mistaken. The actual site of Fotheringhay Castle is atop a mound - the castle is no longer there; only a stone remnant with a plaque on it remains. There are no mountains, no loch - only the gently flowing River Nene to one side which is often populated with people fishing in the season. Although I found this massive inaccuracy amusing, it did rather spoil the film for me in that I knew from that point on the rest of the film was going to be a travesty.

Apart from the Queen herself (Elizabeth I that is), the other main character was Sir Walter Raleigh. His relationship with Elizabeth throughout the film seemed to me far too close, unreal, and made up. Also, he never changed his clothes from the start to the finish of the film, and what role did he really play in defeating the Spanish Armada - if any?

Much was made of the battle with the Armada. Little was made of Sir Francis Drake, apart from him hatching his plan to attack the Spanish galleons with fire ships. Despite the dramatic battle scenes we see in the film, and the overdone but cinematically engaging view of the Armada ablaze while our heroic Queen looked on from a cliff top, the main thing historically, which actually did for the Armada was the rough seas, the winds being in the wrong direction, and the storms which caused much foundering amongst the fleet. The remnants limped around the top of Scotland before heading back towards Spain. When Drake sent in the fire ships, the Armada was anchored - taking shelter - off the French coast. Judging from the view Elizabeth had from her cliff-top, the French coast had suddenly moved an awful lot closer to England as the blazing ships appeared to be only a few hundred yards out to sea! It must have been that pesky asteroid again!

I would say, however in conclusion, that if you like a good costume romp with lots of special effects, then don't be put off from seeing this film. Although a little slow in places, it is quite enjoyable, but don't take it too seriously.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Into the Plateau

Crete is the largest of the Greek islands. This year my wife and I visited it for the first time. I used to think of Crete as being a very boring sun - scorched rocky place where few people in their right minds would want to visit - let alone spend a holiday. If you look at a map of just the outline of Crete, it looks like it should be rocky - it is a rather odd elongated shape with lots of sharp bits jutting off of it. A sea monster would stab itself on it if it got too close. There looks to be much scope for foundered and long-sunken ships. It is apparent that whatever route nature chose to bring to birth this rough honed island - it must have been violent. My negative leanings towards the island changed last year when we vacationed in Rhodes and met people who encouraged us to visit Crete. So we did.

I was stunned by the soaring grandeur of the place. It is a land of high mountains, steep gorges, hair-pin bends, vertigo inducing drops, valleys, canyons, beaches, beautiful towns and villages, friendly people, fantastic weather, ancient ruins, tradition, Greek Orthodoxy and good beer. In other words, I liked it and reprising General Douglas MacArthur - "I shall return" - but for an entirely different reason!

We hired a Jeep committing ourselves to explore deep into the interior and as far away from the tourist infested resorts as possible. We, of course, were not tourists ourselves, but explorers in a strange land! Studying the map, I spotted a winding road pretending to be a snake leading from Malia up into the mountains and finishing at the Lassithi Plateau. This looked like a day's adventure with the promise of "interesting" driving, lots of scenery and a good place to take lots of inspiring photographs. When I travel, I tend to photograph anything in sight that looks in the least bit interesting. Every day in Crete, I found lots of subjects which met this criterion, so my camera was kept busy, and it's going to take an age to sort out all the resulting images.

After driving upwards on the seemingly endless mountain road, becoming more and more mesmerized by the view the higher we got, we stopped off at the Ambelos Pass. The wind was howling around us whipping up dust which stung the eyes. It was reminiscent of the scene in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" where investigators are looking over a squadron of WWII aircraft which turned up in the wind-swept desert having disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. The wind was like that. The reason for stopping was the line of seemingly giant ruined windmills guarding the entrance to the plateau from the slopes above. To a distant eye they formed a "v". In their former lives before becoming ruins, they were used for grinding wheat and barley to feed the villages of Lassithi. In all, there were 26 of them, only today they stand in a variety of stages of ruination. They stand like remnant sentinels at the entrance to the plateau.

Around the corner there were many tourist coaches pulled up at the gift shop and restaurant. Some people, though not many, had ventured up the adjacent slope to explore the ruins. I ventured up myself to satisfy my curious urgings, especially where ruins and echoes of the past are concerned. My wife decided to stay down and looked around the gift shop in my absence. I half ran and jumped up the rocky shale like one half my age and with the agility of a kri kri goat. I came to a desolate spot at the top windmill, above the hubbub of the crowds below with the breeze, tamed by the expanded space of altitude, my whispering companion.

This was a spot which had been encroached upon by twentieth century technology, there being microwave receiving and transmitting masts with supporting cables and power lines fanning and criss-crossing like the creation of a spider on a bad night. On the ground amongst the rocks, there lay strewn about many modules of redundant electronic hardware. Clearly, it was easier for the visiting technicians to litter the landscape with this high tech junk than to take it away and recycle it.

I surveyed the scene. Looking south I observed the road which spat out its final bends before leveling out into a circular route around the Plateau. The Plateau stretched out ahead of me, enticing in its appeal, and home to 16 villages - its fertile flat landscape a direct contrast to the surrounding barren mountains. But for the moment, it was time to stand in wonder, like Moses on the mountain top peering over into the Promised Land. After a little while, responding to my innate yearnings to take photographs, I explored each windmill in turn as I made my way back to the windy base of the path where my wife was patiently waiting for me. We drove into the Plateau.

We chose to travel anti-clockwise around the plateau, though that is irrelevant as either direction brings you back to the same spot. The plateau is some 860 meters above sea level, though you wouldn't know it, but for the dramatic journey up to it. Years ago there were around 10,000 windmills spread across the plain pumping up water to irrigate the farmland. We never saw one windmill, only the odd one which had been deliberately constructed near various tavernas, their purpose not to pump water, but to attract the tourists and boost the local income. The locals use diesel powered pumps today instead of windmills. Windmills look a lot nicer - but then that’s progress! We passed through a number of villages. They were all unspoiled and traditional rural Greek. Compared to ourselves and our lifestyle, there seemed to be a lot of poverty; we seemed to be stuck in a kind of time warp. In one of the villages I parked up and got out to take some photographs of the local architecture when I spotted an old lady in black, a widow - on a donkey. I snatched the camera to my eye - but deleted the resulting shot - out of focus - snatch shots are always hit and miss, and I missed on this one! The people of the plain have suffered a lot historically. Over the past few hundred years, Lassithi has suffered under two foreign invasions, first from the Venetians from the 13th to the 17th centuries. That was bad enough, but paled into insignificance compared to the utter savagery and brutality they endured under the Turkish occupation during the 19th century. The plateau was unprotected as the resistance fighters were fighting elsewhere on the island. When the Turkish army set foot in the plateau they utterly destroyed and massacred everyone - women, children, cripples and of course, the men. Cutting off the heads from the corpses they constructed a pyramid from them in one of the villages. No doubt they thought they had done a good day's work.

The plain itself had a hypnotic effect upon me. Having just driven through such rugged and steep terrain, the sheer billiard table flatness of the landscape inexorably drew my attention - though not too much, as I didn't want to crash the car! I was particularly interested in visiting the Dictean Cave. This is a cave in the side of the Dikte Mountain above the village of Psychro. According to tradition and legend, it was in this cave that Rea gave birth to Zeus, father of the Gods and men. There are various myths about Zeus, and one asserts that he lived as a man and died, and was buried in Crete. This was anathema and blasphemy to many in the ancient world and this version of the story of Zeus caused much indignation against the Cretans. A Cretan philosopher called Epimenedes lived around 600BC. He wrote a poem in honour of Zeus in which he states:

"They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being."

I have to admit, the last 2 lines of this stanza have definite biblical overtones. Talking of the Bible, in the Apostle Paul's letter to Titus, who he left to lead and nurture the church in Crete, he quoted Epimenedes thus:

"Even one of their own prophets has said, "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons." This testimony is true. Therefore, rebuke them sharply…….."

In Paul's case, he was not concerned about the memory of Zeus, but rather a contamination by the "circumcision party" (don't ask!) of the gospel message he was trying to promote. I find it interesting that he should actually quote Epimenedes as the ancient philosopher's concern was for Zeus - whom to Paul would have in any case been a complete falsehood. The parallel here is of course, that they were both trying to protect what they saw as a divine truth and Paul quotes him, in my opinion, because it was convenient to help make his case.

Staying with Epimenedes for a moment, we are presented with a problem of logic. This is because he himself was a Cretan. Therefore, if he states "All Cretans are liars" - and he himself was a Cretan, then the converse must be true in that all Cretans must tell the truth! This is what has become known as the "Epimenedes Paradox." Paul either ignored this, or it had never occurred to him! As for Epimenedes himself, all his writings have disappeared. We only have glimpses of his writings through the writings of others. It's a shame he didn't have the Internet!

We drove into Psychro village and spotted the sign up to the cave. We turned up the steep track until we came to a dead end in the form of a car park with the local tavernas off to one side. Guess what! The cave was shut so we never got to see it! ("I shall return")……… There was no notice at the bottom of the road to warn you that it was shut on this particular day. The logic I guess was that the locals wanted all the tourists to go piling up there and drown their sorrows or comfort-eat when they discovered that the cave was shut. We comfort - ate a couple of really nice, big ice-creams - lovely!

It was easy to find the right turning to leave the plain. The give away was the sighting of the V-shaped pass and it's sentinel windmills. I shall return.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Creative stirrings

Back in 1970, I was living in Singapore. I was then, and still am a very keen photographer - in fact I can't stop doing it! It was here that I bought myself a Pentax Spotmatic, a through-the-lens-metering 35 mm single lens reflex camera. A friend of mine - Gary - had just bought himself an all black model. I tried to buy one but was unfortunate as they'd sold out, so I bought a standard chrome version. Shade aside, it performed the same, and Gary and I had many happy excursions looking for things upon which to exercise our creative photographic urgings.

One of the things I love about the medium is that it is very individual to the person doing it. This is because we are all different and see things in our own unique way. It’s a bit like modern art. I might see something in an avant-garde picture which fires me, but not you. How often have you looked at a picture or image of some sort and thought "that's a load of crap" while others have stood by, entranced by the very thing you find a complete turn off. Sometimes it helps a person's appreciation of an image to know something about it - how it came to be taken, its history, the photographer's intentions. Photographs are human creations. They come from the mind of the photographer. Yes, the subject has to be there in front of the camera to be photographed, but it is the way - the approach- the photographer takes in making the image which makes the final result so unique - so much a part of the photographer's psyche, which is often lost on the second-party beholder. I am being somewhat of a purist here, in that I am talking about photography as a creative, rather than a recording, or snapshot medium. When we go on holiday and take photographs of the kids on the beach, that’s what I mean by a recording medium - it's simply that - a record, snapshot, of the kids at that moment - or the hotel we stayed in - or the pub we drank in etc…. When a photographer is using a camera creatively, he (or she) is trying to view things in a more thoughtful way. He will look at the subject from different angles with a certain "feeling" in mind he is trying to capture. The photographer may spend, therefore, a seemingly large amount of time just peering through the viewfinder from many different angles and perspectives until he finds the framing which comes closest to what he is trying to capture. He might, and probably will, take several different shots from slightly differing views in order to compare the results later at leisure before making the final selection. I am both a creative and snapshot photographer. Both have value and neither is to be decried.

On a certain day in 1970, in Singapore, Gary and I were out looking for subjects to photograph. We made our way down a narrow road, crowded in and darkened by shading palm trees. The road was trying to be a track, and nearly succeeding. We didn't know where it was leading us. To us it was totally unexplored territory. Presently we came out into a very large, wide expanse of agricultural land. It was land in waiting for the farmer to decide what to do with it. It was in a kind of limbo. It wasn't sure what to do with itself or what it wanted to be. There was lots of grassy and pointy starburst like plants eking an existence in the heated landscape. Most of it, however, was lightly tilled, and stretching off from its edge to the far horizon, with just the odd far off hill peering over the distant enclosing fauna as if to remind us that there was more to this land than the flat expanse framing us. I was feeling quite entranced by the place. It was lonely. I like lonely places. There was only Gary and myself around. No one else existed. The place had a bit of a dream like quality about it. I knew I wanted to come away with a memorable photo which enshrined some of my feeling and innermost impression of the nature of the place. I spotted, lying in the soil, an old piece of iron-work, probably part of the sub frame of a long dead vehicle.

It lay like a rusting skeleton, with elements of stag beetle about it. It reared up out of the ground looking as if it had been there since the land was created. It was part of the landscape and belonged to it. Its functioning days were over - but not quite. It had found a new function in that it gave me a sense of focus to capture something of this silent, lonely landscape. I walked around it considering how I should - if I should - make use of it. Eventually I was drawn to a wide angle view looking along the structure into the surrounding countryside. I noticed that nearby there was an abandoned agricultural tilling wheel, or some such implement in the near distance. I felt it important to include this in the frame as an indicator of the past - and probable future use - of the land. I framed this within an aperture of the metal structure. It is small and does not immediately reveal itself, but lurks surreptitiously to reward the enquiring eye. The frame points out to a frozen timelessness which could go on into a distant future unchanging like lunar soil, defying the intuition which knows better.

I processed the film in Ilford ID -11 developer at a higher temperature than the standard 20 degrees centigrade, due to the fact that tap water flowed out of the faucet at a considerably higher temperature. The development time was adjusted downwards accordingly. I liked the final image, but felt it lacked impact as a small print. I blew it up to twenty inches by sixteen and printed it on Kodak Bromesco paper. Bromesco had a certain magical quality about it. I particularly delighted in the way when it was in the developer the image had a slightly lack-lustre appearance, but once the print was placed under the fix, a sort of "fog" seemed to clear from the surface of the image and the photograph sprang to life, like some life-giving force had suddenly been injected into it. I liked the final result and I displayed it on the wall above my bed, along with other images. I still like it, and it still speaks to me. I do sometimes wander if the land on the image has changed much. My suspicion is that it is now all built upon with high-rise flats which have been built since that day in 1970, to house the ever burgeoning population of Singapore which has multiplied itself many times over since the years I lived there. Everything changes, and surely must - but the spirit of the image lingers on.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


I was deeply shocked and troubled by the death of Colin McRae. More than that, I felt a sense of emptiness, as if a sudden dark void had entered somewhere in the depths of my being.

I have never met Colin. I have never seen Colin except on TV. I am someone who while not a fan of rallying, likes rallying. Motor sport to me has always been something pretty boring. That ceased to be the case when my youngest son encouraged me to watch some of the World Rally Championships on the box. I found it both exciting and thrilling. Colin could easily have been one who drove in endless circuits around a Grand Prix track. Instead he chose the varied challenge of hairpin bends on mountain roads, forest roads, driving through snow and ice, taking off and flying from the crests of hills, crashing off sharp bends, rolling over and over, smashing up cars in a gladiatorial struggle to be at the top of the podium, showing no fear but only a steel determination to win through. He was - and is a hero.

It is because of Colin that I drive a Subaru. Let me explain. I used to drive a Rover. That in itself is a good enough reason to change to a Subaru! However, that is not how it came about. My Rover had served me well for some years but was now giving me more trouble than it was worth. On the day I bought the Subaru, I hadn't planned to buy a car - let alone even look at a new car. I took my wife and my youngest son ten pin bowling in St Neots. It's what I do. I bowl. After bowling, we were at a bit of a loose end and it seemed too early to go home. There was a Rover garage nearby and so we found ourselves looking at cars. The bloke in the garage was trying to flog me a series 2 1.4 litre and I wasn't terribly impressed. My son suggested we take a ride out to Marshals in Cambridge, near the airport and look at cars there, so that is what we did. While I was looking at used Rovers, my son and wife were not looking at Rovers. They were looking at an Impreza. It wasn't a turbo model, but an Impreza nonetheless. Encouraged by my son, I took it for a test drive, liked it and bought it. Since then, I have moved onto a moody black Subaru Turbo Forester which is a real mean machine. I love it.

My son would not have pushed me in the Subaru direction were it not for his devotion to Colin who did a lot to enhance Subaru in the public eye by winning the World Championship in one. After that he went on to drive for Ford, but never became as indelibly linked with a brand as he did with Subaru.

My son wants to be a rally driver. He has entered competitions to win a rallying scholarship, and did well to get near the final stages. He is an excellent driver and frightens the living crap out of me when he takes me out for spins around the country lanes of Scotland where he now lives. He covets the dream of being a rally driver himself. I believe he will. He has fleetingly met Colin when he was helping out at a rally and was asked to take something to Colin who was sat in his car at the time. It was a moment he will never forget.

So here's to Colin. An inspiration, role model, sportsman, brave, fearless, determined, champion, hero, "Flower of Scotland". May his memory live for ever.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Devil Rides In

A long time ago in a land far far away, I lived as one who was deeply religious. On Sunday mornings I went to the C of E Church. In the afternoon I went to a Gospel meeting. In the evening I went to the Free Church service. After that, I went to the prayer meeting. That was only the Sunday! During the week, I went to a different Bible study or prayer meeting just about every night apart from Saturdays; there were no meetings on Saturdays. I would read the Bible on the beach and in bed. I read it on the loo - you can’t beat a good holy shit! I read it from cover to cover and committed much of it to memory. I have very interesting conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses!

In addition to all this, I listened to preaching tapes featuring people like Willie Mullen who was an Irish fire and brimstone preacher who hated Roman Catholicism because it was of the Devil. He wanted to dance on the grave of the Roman Catholic Church. I particularly liked listening to David Pawson who preached in a much more reasoned and controlled sort of way. As far as I am aware, he is still around and I’ve seen him on television over the past year or so. I actually got to meet him about three years ago when I saw him preach at the local Community Church. It felt weird to actually shake his hand, as he was to me a bit of an enigmatic figure who I kind of worshipped from afar a long time ago. But not any more. I don’t believe a word of it now; it was all a fantasy - I just didn’t realise it at the time, and I hadn’t thought it through in a logical, rational, reasoned, objective way. This was during my time in Cyprus. It was against this background and state of mind that I had a friend called Sid who came to stay with my wife and I for a few days one summer.

To say Sid was a convinced and enthusiastic Born-Again Christian is an understatement. He believed it all - hook, line and sinker! He was in the army, in the Royal Green Jackets. I believe they were called “Green Jackets” because they wore green jackets, as against red, blue or even yellow! Anyway, Sid was keen on the “Gifts of the Spirit”. These are “supernatural” gifts bestowed upon believers by the Holy Spirit which include such items as prophesy, knowledge, healing etc. St Paul writes about them in his letters to the Corinthians. If you are a Biblical illiterate, these letters are found in the New Testament. The “gift” Sid displayed in abundance at prayer meetings and Bible Studies was “Speaking in Tongues” which is speaking in a divinely bestowed language unknown and not understood to the speaker. It was insisted by some that one should not speak in tongues at a meeting unless there was another person present who had the gift of translation to inform everyone present of what had been said. This is interesting in itself, because I went to many meetings where various “gifted” people spoke in tongues, but no one ever asked beforehand if anyone present had the gift of translation! Even so, invariably there always seemed to be someone amongst us so gifted (not me, it was all Double Dutch as far as I was concerned) who would offer an English version of what had been said. I suspect that in actual fact, no one actually did know what had been said, and that when a translation was offered it was done so on the basis of gut feeling rather than knowledge. Very often, someone would speak in “tongues” and only say one or two “words”, often repeated over and over again. The trouble was, that when the translation came, it was more often than not longer and more detailed than the original “tongues” would have suggested it should be. Also, the message tended to be so general, that anyone could take it in pretty much whichever way they wanted. Never once did any translation come up with the winner of the next day’s 4.30 race at York or Cheltenham - or any other race or sporting event for that matter. Oh well, they do say God moves in mysterious ways! Anyway, Sid was of this ilk.

Unfortunately, being a Christian didn’t seem to make Sid very joyful. He always seemed to be sensing and seeing evil everywhere around him . Wherever we went, he was appalled by the “worldliness” of everyone around; everything was dark and bound for Hell and destruction. The Devil lurked on every corner, waiting to jump out and ensnare you. The spiritual world is a very dangerous place! Sid even saw evil in our personal possessions, and offered to rid me and my wife of most of our record collection. Obviously, Chris Barbour and Acker Bilk were satanically inspired and should be consigned to the fires of Hell before they dragged us down with them. Mind you, I’m not sure what The Seekers had done to deserve such a fate! Was “Morning Town Ride” really so evil? You see, evil is insidious - it gets everywhere, and is everywhere. Be careful that the next Mars Bar you eat doesn’t cause you to stumble - you don’t want to get thrown into Hell for the sin of gluttony! I’m not sure if “obesity” is a sin, though we are entreated in the Bible that the body is “the temple of the Holy Spirit”, so I suppose anything which you do to pollute or harm it must be sinful. All joy and purpose was to be found in the Bible. Forget hobbies, holidays, ambition etc - these are all worldly and sinful and the Devil takes delight in all who fall to their enchantments!

One night it happened. What happened???? - I hear you asking. Well IT happened, the big IT!!!! The Devil came to our bungalow. It happened like this:
During the time that Sid was staying with us, we were all (the three of us) sat round having breakfast one morning. We preferred breakfast in the morning, it seemed more appropriate than in the evening or the afternoon! However, on this occasion, there was a bit of a strange atmosphere surrounding Sid. He wasn’t smiling much. He wasn’t saying much either. He looked serious. Very serious.
“This looks serious” I thought to myself. I could sense it was serious.
Presently, Sid spoke in a serious tone.
“Did you hear anything last night?”
“No Sid, why - what happened?” I replied in words to that effect.
“The Devil was in the room with me, and I was doing battle with him.” He then proceeded to tell us how the Devil had been accusing him of all sorts of evil transgressions, trying to make him doubt his faith - amongst other no doubt infernal accusations. I can only assume the Devil was standing at the end of his bed. Maybe Sid had eaten one too many Mars Bars and had a case to answer!
“But I didn’t let him get to me”, continued Sid, “I hit him back with Scripture.”
Now, I don’t think this means that he was throwing Bibles at him, but rather quoting Bible verses at him. He went on to relate to us how the Devil could not withstand this onslaught from the Word of God, and had to flee, no doubt taking all his legions of demons with him!

So there we were, my wife and I peacefully asleep in our love nest, completely unaware that the forces of Satan and God were lined up and ranged against each other in our spare room! The forces of Heaven and Hell had honed in on our dwelling. It’s a wonder flashes of lightning weren’t crashing around the house with giant bats flapping around the garden! Maybe, this was what happened, but we were not meant to witness any of it. We had been kept asleep by divine intervention!

Anyway, there is a serious point here. Sid was a member of the British armed forces; a soldier, trained to kill people. But, he lived in this religious fantasy world which affected his judgement on everything. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to suggest that he was dangerous in any physical sort of way - but he could have been. Having people of like-minded beliefs in such pivotal places does little to help one’s confidence. Given that he and millions - yes millions like him believe everything in the Bible, literally and at face value, this can only spell trouble for our society and the world. People who see demons and devils everywhere, and think they have a direct line to God are dangerous. They are not in touch with reality and never stop to think in a reasoned or rational fashion. People like this are more rife than you might realise, and we just want to hope that one of them doesn’t get into government or come to lead our armed forces. It wouldn’t have taken much for Sid to have been tipped over the edge. His irrational zeal controlled his mind and his judgement. Common sense gave way to fantastical dogma and blind faith. We cannot afford to have such people in positions of responsibility where they affect the lives of others. Religion is dangerous - it has passed its sell-by date. Consider what the outcome might be if our Prime Minister or the President of the United States was a Bible believing Christian, longed for the Second Coming, and nursed the apocalyptic belief that this would only happen at the onset of World War Three. Would you really want that person’s finger on the nuclear trigger?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Walking the West Highland Way - Episode 2: A fateful day.

I had a really good night's sleep at the Oak Tree Inn at Balmaha. This is more than can be said for my son who, sharing the room with me, had to endure my snoring. Being a bit of an early bird, and as we decided we wouldn't be taking breakfast until about 9.30, I got up at around 8.00 and went for a walk looking for some good things to photograph. This had the benefit of allowing my son an extra hour of un-snore interrupted sleep.

I photographed chickens. I also photographed the view across the Loch - but mainly chickens. There were lots of chickens scratching and clucking around the waterfront, and as I have never had such a good opportunity to add chickens to my photo library, I dived in with abandon. That is - dived in to taking photographs - not the Loch - anyway the camera would have got wet! I managed to get some real close eye-ball to eye-ball type shots. It occurred to me that when you look close up at a chicken's head, it really is a sight of supreme ugliness. Mind you, they probably feel the same about us. The last time I got this close to a chicken was when I was a child and my Dad kept chickens, as many people did in the 1950's - people were more self-reliant then. I had a love-hate relationship with my Dad's chickens. I used to pull their heads though the wire mesh. Their relationship with me was one of hate. One day I opened up the hatch to their coop and forgot to close it again. The chickens got out, and all the neighbours were co-opted into hunting them down along the road and in their gardens. We had one chicken called "Baldie" because the others used to attack it and peck the feathers off the poor thing's head. Even so, despite the baldness, it still tasted just as good when we ate it!

We set out from the Inn at around 10.20. On the face of it, the walk should have been fairly easy because according to the map we were simply walking north beside the loch until we got to Inversnaid. What we hadn't bargained for were all the very narrow woodland paths, going steeply up and down, some of it right on the edge of steep drops straight into the Loch or rocks or whatever horrors lay below. Although I was feeling good - I had no blisters - my companions were suffering, mainly with blisters. I guess with me being a runner, my feet are that bit tougher and I wore old well fitting foot attire which fitted my feet like gloves. Even so, at the end of each day, one of the chief pleasures was being able to relax and take off my footwear and let the air get to my feet. An irony of this section of the walk was that the "Way" itself was very close to the smooth tarmacked main road which would have been much faster and easier for us to walk on. However, we were determined not to cheat, so we stuck with the "Way" path come what may.

One of the really good things about the West Highland Way is that it is so well way-signed that it is quite possible to walk the entire length of it without referring to a map, although common sense suggests this is not recommended. After walking about five miles, we came to a touristy parking and refreshment area where we took a rest. We got a bit confused as to where the trail continued and asked a local who, pointing us in the direction, commented that you have to work really hard to lose your bearings on the West Highland Way. Obviously, we were working really hard.

Presently, we made our way into the darkest depths of the Rowardennan Forest. I had a feeling that some evil lay ahead, but I could not be sure what it was. It was like some unspoken fear that grips the back of the mind. Things had been going too well for me. I wasn't suffering enough. Suddenly, we came upon a way-post with an evil death-skull on top of it complete with the horns of Satan. This had to be the sign. I knew from this point on, something awful was bound to befall me. I was cursed. It wasn't long before the evil revealed itself……..

We came upon a wayside Inn and took the opportunity to relax and refresh ourselves. We sat outside in the sunshine. As my feet were starting to feel like they were about to fall off it seemed a good idea to remove my boots and socks and let the air bathe my feet. This was a very bad move. As my feet relaxed in the sunshine, the curse manifested itself. I didn't spot it, but a horsefly landed on my left ankle and bit me. I was completely unaware of this, as well as the pain and suffering which I would experience over the rest of the walk as a result. Shortly after we set out up the road, I began to feel a sharp pain at the bottom of my left shin, just above the joint of my foot. The pain got worse. The pain got a lot worse. When we finished that day's walking and I inspected my foot, my whole ankle was swollen up something awful. As well as the pain of walking on it, the swollen area irritated like hell, felt very sore, and hot. This was to remain the case for the rest of the walk, and it took the best part of two weeks and a course of antibiotics before my ankle was anything like normal again.

Eventually, after what seemed an eternity of walking beside the loch which hardly seemed to change its scenic views at all giving rise to a stilted sense of numbing madness, fatigue and exhaustion, we came upon the Inversnaid Hotel. At first we mistook this for the bunkhouse where we were booked into for the night. We quickly realised this was not the case - it was far too grand, and we had about another mile to walk. My brother who was suffering from some pretty horrendous blisters, asked one of a group of residents who were sat outside if there was a chemist around the vicinity where he could get something to treat them. The arrogant old git he spoke to seemed to harbour a contempt for walkers such as ourselves, and appeared to take pleasure in telling him that there were no chemists around and he should have come prepared for such eventualities anyway. As we walked on up the hill, I was comforted by the belief that the old git and his companions would probably all be dead before me! Looking at the Inversnaid Hotel, I got the impression that they didn't welcome walkers anyway. There was a separate entrance for walkers, around the back. No doubt, the hotel still charged the same exorbitant fees despite treating walkers as second class residents!

The hill up to the bunkhouse seemed steep, long and interminable. The only good thing was that it was on good quality road, so there was no uncomfortable rocky track underfoot. Eventually we came to the bunkhouse. It turned out to be a converted church. It was difficult to see where the worshippers would have come from in it's former life, as apart from the hotel and the church itself, there was virtually nothing else around. At least the building was now serving a useful purpose of genuine benefit to people! We were welcomed by an exrtremely attractive long haired blonde Australian girl from Adelaide who was running things, and looked after us for the evening. After we had settled into our rooms, we went into the communal area which was very spacious and comfortable, serving food, hot drinks, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks. I partook of most of this! My son, being a bit of a computer geek, got playing on the computer, and before long was giving our Australian hostess a lesson in the finer, nerdier, aspects of computing. She seemed really interested and continued to bring us food and drink as needed. This whole bunkhouse experience, was like arriving in walker-heaven. I slept well that night - again.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Happy Birthday to me

The other day, I celebrated my birthday for the umpteenth time. My wife gave me some nice presents and also took me out for a meal in the evening. I was so stuffed afterwards I could barely walk home. I didn't bother with breakfast the next morning as it seemed ridiculous to go eating after all the stuff I'd consumed the night before. As I'd also had about three quarters of a bottle of wine (white), I woke up convinced a rat had crawled into my mouth in the night and died! Thankfully, I had the perfect antidote which is plenty of large mugs of of hot sweet tea - lovely!

I suppose when you reach another year mile-stone on life's arduous journey its probably a good moment to look back over the past year, take stock, see what you have achieved (if anything) and try and reinforce or regain (if you've lost it) a sense of direction for the coming year. So - what have I achieved over the past year??? Not a lot really - it would be easier to list what I haven't achieved! Even so, I think I did pretty well to start this blog and actually keep it going for as long as I have. It's become quite a significant part of my life over the past few months, and I enjoy writing it as well as reading other people's blogs. I think I've got a bit wiser at work as every day is pretty much a learning experience. I've taken a lot of photographs over the past year and added several hundred to my photo library. I've managed to lose just over half a stone off my weight and am determined not to put it back on again. I've been to Rhodes - somewhere I'd never been before and I've been able to donate more to charity - although I'm very pickie about who I give money to! I've also walked the West Highland Way.

Of course, being a year older also means you have that much less to live - not a very pleasant thought, but true nonetheless. I fight against the aging process by watching my diet and keeping myself fit. I also don't smoke, and apart from the odd exception like the other night, drink very little. Of course, I know that time and entropy will have its way eventually and I will have no choice but to succumb to the inevitable. Given this perspective, it makes it all the more important to live your life to the full, as none of us know how many birthdays we will have. Every one could, and one day will, be your last! Such a cheerful soul aren't I?? So what would I like to achieve in the coming years? Well, thinking boldly, I think I would like to go into space. When Richard Branson finally gets Spaceship Two off the runway, I would like to think that I might find the money for a flight. It would be nice to be able to do it without selling the house, or selling my wife into slavery, there's always the premium bonds - but then an awful lot of things would be nice! Another thing I would like to do - and this is a lot more affordable - is a bungee jump. I used to leap out of aeroplanes, and I still crave the occasional adrenaline rush, and this fits the bill very nicely. Also, I would like to travel as much of the world as possible. I love travelling, and it is the perfect activity for one such as myself who takes photographs and (now) writes about his exploits. Of course, travelling a lot is not really terribly politically correct because of global warming. I will now digress for a moment. Sir Patrick Moore, the astronomer, a hero of mine, believes that global warming is not caused by us at all - but by the sun, and only the sun! Apparently, there is global warming occurring on Mars, but there's nobody there creating a "carbon footprint"! I suppose the sun must go through phases and cycles and vary its heat output over time, so maybe he has a point.

One aspect of this last birthday which gave me a warm feeling were the wonderful sentiments I received from my family members. I got a card from my eldest son which said "Happy birthday you old bastard" and my brother emailed me a birthday greeting which said "Happy birthday git". Well, that's it for another year, I'll get back to just growing older.....

Sunday, August 05, 2007

For the Love of Mother

I took my mother for a ride today. I took my mother who carried me in her womb, brought me into the world, cared for me, and looked after me until I was allegedly able to look after myself.

I took my mother for a ride today in her wheelchair. I took my mother who loved and cared so much that she suddenly appeared to me one day on King's Cross Station just in time to hand to me the pair of RAF shoes I had forgotten to pack in my bag before finishing a spell of home leave and returning to camp when I was an airman.

I took my mother for a ride today in her wheelchair in the sunshine who took me regularly to the Co-op on Wood Green High Street to kit me out with new school kit at the beginning of each new school year, and then took me for refreshment afterwards in Lyon's Restaurant which is stuck in my psyche as being staffed mainly by fat, black women.

I took my mother for a ride today in her wheelchair in the sunshine in the park who bought me a comic to read every weekday to look forward to when I came home from school. On Monday she bought me the Topper. On Tuesday she bought me the Beezer. On Wednesday she bought me the Dandy. On Thursday she bought me the Beano. On Friday she bought me the Victor in which I read about Matt Braddock VC and Alf Tupper who was the Tough of the track (or was it the Tuff)? On Saturdays I bought myself the Eagle. Shame about the Eagle. If it was on sale today, I would still buy it.

I took my mother for a ride today in her wheelchair in the sunshine in the park so she could enjoy the sights and sounds of ducks on the pond, the soft warm breeze in her face, the children playing, the young men fishing, the people lying on the sun drenched grass and others conversing happily as they walked in the sunshine.

My mother could not walk in the sunshine. Her legs are far too swollen and painful. Her lungs are unable to oxygenate her body sufficiently to walk a few steps without getting more out of breath than I do after I have completed a six mile run. If she so much as taps her delicate skin against any hard object she bruises like I might bruise if a boxer had punched me hard and ungloved. Her body is in a state of rapid decline and I can only watch, while trying to do small kindnesses to ease her pain and bring some happiness and comfort into the very late Autumn of her life.

I think back over the years to the time when I was a small child. That was well over fifty years ago and the memories are still fresh, like only yesterday. On Sundays she would slave in the kitchen preparing Sunday Lunch - always a full roast, while I would go for a long walk with my father, often to Brookman's Park, and always with Buster the dog. During the week, she would always make sure I was up in time and had a proper breakfast before school. She never had a career. She had a series of smaller jobs which meant she was always home for me when I arrived home. There was no chance I would ever be a latch-key child.

Now the years have flown and the lie of the land has changed beyond recognition. My Dad died in 1999, and since then my brother and I have taken it in turns to visit our mother. In the years since 1999, time has cruelly killed off all her remaining friends except one. Despite her painful infirmities she continues to care about her family as if we were still small children. Her brain is good and sharp. She says what she thinks, and because she has nothing to lose she can laugh at the ironies and injustice's which plague her. She has a keen sense of humour.

We all change. A work colleague remarked to me a few weeks ago that if you grow old, then it is a privilege as many are snuffed out in their youth, let alone their prime. We all think we are immortal. I know I still think and feel as a young man - and then I look in the mirror! Nothing stays the same, and everything gets taken away - eventually. I try to look after what I have got. I fight the ravages of aging by frequent exercise and attention to diet. I see in my mother the root of my own flesh and blood. I revere her spirit and kindly nature. I continue, like my brother, to visit her as long as I have the privilege to experience her living presence. Then, I will weep.....................

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Your Witness

A few days ago as I was going about my morning chores, feeding the dog, feeding the cat, re-roofing the house, writing my latest blockbuster novel, advising J K Rowling on her next book (as you do), my flow was interrupted by the door chimes.

"Who could be knockething at my door" thought I - mistakenly - they were ringing the bell not knocking. Actually, nobody ever knocks at my door; they always ring the bell. Whenever this happens a feeling of trepidation and creeping dread comes over me as very often I open the door to find some itinerant painter and decorator telling me how crap the outside of my house looks and how I should take out a new mortgage to allow him to mess it up even more for me. Or else its some home improvements salesman who "just happens to be in your area" and wants to book an appointment to take up a whole evening trying to sell me a load of wobbly windows I don't want, need and can't afford at a price which is "only available tonight". Yeah right! Actually, I used to be a double-glazing salesman going from door to door. I stuck it four days before returning all the samples and forms etc to the office having sold precisely nothing. It was either that, or die a slow death from slitting my wrists!

I furtively opened the door. A large grinning white man was stood there accompanied by a not so large, but also grinning black woman. They both continued to grin. I stood looking blankly waiting for something to happen. The man held up in front of me a copy of "Awake" magazine, continuing to grin as he did so. The woman grinned in unison. The grinning man asked me if the magazine meant anything to me.

"Yes", I said, "It's a Jehovah's Witness publication".

"That's right" he said and continued to grin at me.

I smiled.

"What about it?" I said.

"What do you think?" he said grinning.

I continued to smile and said, "Well you are talking to an arch-atheist, and seeing as there is no god, you are wasting your time"!

I continued to smile. He continued to grin, but not as much. The woman had a flash moment of consternation, but encouraged by the man's propensity to grin come what may, resumed the grinning posture.

"Well", said the grinning man, "I'll leave you alone then", and started to turn to walk away. I was gob smacked by his tough response to my challenge. As he continued on his way with the grinning black woman in tow, he beckoned back to me saying - with a grin - "Its good to see you can still smile".

"Yes", I said, "and I'll be smiling for a long time to come". Continuing to smile, I closed the door.

Later that morning, I drove down the street with my wife on our way to the garden centre. There on the pavement by the side of the road was a large huddle of Jehovah's Witnesses. I recognised the people who had come to my door. There were several similarly sized black women, and a couple of white men. I might have imagined it, but they all appeared to be grinning!

Just to finish, many years ago, a neighbour of mine had a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses come to her door. "Blood transfusions", she shouted, and then slammed the door.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Walking the West Highland Way - Episode 1: First Steps

Arriving at Milngavi Travel Inn I was very much relieved and grateful when the friendly and attractive girl at the reception desk said it would be alright for me to leave my car in the hotel car park for the duration of the walk. This had been one of my chief concerns and worries. I was terrified I was going to have to leave the car in some exposed and hazardous spot and find it with no wheels or burnt out or not even there any more but for a pile of broken glass on my return. Overjoyed by the receptionist's cooperation I once more felt life was worth living again and my mind was able to look forward to starting the heroic walk the next morning, after hopefully, a good night's sleep. I was sharing a room with my brother. On any future trip of this ilk, I will not be sharing a room with anyone. The reason for this is because I snore, and I snore loudly (so I am told). Shortly after I had drifted off into La La Land the raised voice of my brother invaded my soul telling me to wake up because I was snoring! I wanted to thump him. What the hell was I supposed to do! He wanted to share with me - I didn't ask him. I then laid there trying to monitor my breathing as to whether I might be snoring or not! This does not help one get a good nights sleep, but eventually I snapped back into consciousness and it was time for breakfast. My brother declined to share a room with me for the remainder of the trip apart from a bunkhouse at Kinlochleven where all four of us were crammed into one room - wonderful.

Anyway, that's the snoring bit out of the way, now on with the walk. We set out from the start point in Milngavi shopping centre at eighteen minutes past ten. We had only been walking for about ten minutes or so, when my brother, who is five years older than me - and I'm no spring chicken - was hanging back from me, my eldest son and my nephew and chatting to two attractive girls who had themselves only just started the walk. I did wonder to myself how much time he planned to ingratiate himself upon them, but they seemed happy enough with his company. Eventually, he separated from them and we were walking together again. Anyway, later that day we chanced to meet them again at a wayside inn where we stopped for refreshment. They were instrumental in pointing out to us that before we reached our goal for that day, we would have to walk up and over the dreaded Conic Hill before arriving at our hotel in Balmaha. None of us had really researched the walk as much as common sense might have suggested and so the news came as a shocking surprise to us all. I got out my map, put on my reading specs and had a look. Yes - no mistake - there it was waiting to torture us in our final staggerings of agonised exhaustion into the Promised Land of Balmaha! We seemed to walk a long way before sighting Loch Lomond. Actually we did walk a long way before sighting Loch Lomond! The long way seemed even longer by the fact that we were weighed down by full rucksacks. Now I should say at this point that it is a very long time since I last walked with a full rucksack. There is a service provided by a company called Travel Lite which takes your rucksack on to the next point for you - at a price - of course! However, we had decided we would have no truck with such a wimpish cop out - apart from the fact we didn't camp at all - we all hate camping!

As me and my nephew were walking through a small village with a bridge over a river - my brother and eldest son had gone on ahead, no togetherness here; forget "always go at the pace of the slowest member", we espied a vision from heaven in the form of an incredibly attractive girl carrying a seriously enormous rucksack with tent and all! We got chatting to her - as you do - and it transpired she was Swiss and was not only walking the West Highland Way - alone - but was aiming to reach the very north of Scotland before she was due to return home in about three weeks time. Unfortunately, at the pace she was walking under the weight of her baggage, it was self evident she was not going to make it to the next pub, let alone the north of Scotland. Realizing that if we stayed chatting to her we too wouldn't make it to the next pub - and that would be unthinkable - we bade our farewells and struck out to catch up with our compatriots unaware that we would meet this heavenly vision in a quite unexpected place a few days later.

We had walked many miles from our start point in Milngavie, and the strain was starting to tell. I started to pine for a nice cup of tea, an armchair and a pair of slippers, but instead I had a seemingly endless route march into the evening with no immediate end in sight. On top of this, the weather was starting to get threatening with dark menacing clouds creeping forwards from the horizon. The next part of the walk involved walking through a forest, before striking onwards and upwards to Conic Hill. We presently came upon some stark warning signs informing us we were not to follow the path into the forest because of logging operations and we might get run down by some hairy arsed logging lorry driver. My brother, not being one to snap to attention in the face of authority, let alone straighten his tie, suggested we should ignore the detour and continue on regardless. After all, it was Sunday, and the chances of finding anyone working was pretty slim. We boldly went into the unknown, our ultimate fate a mystery.
As we walked forward it was as if some dark force was leading us on, like a malevolent presence beckoning us forward through the stupor of our exhaustion, with only our grim determination to see us through to the end! After several hundred yards we saw logs - lots of them- and large areas of forest laid waste as if by some unseen demonic presence. It was clear we had better watch our backs. Presently, we thought we could hear- no- not hear - but feel a vibration in the ground working its way up through our feet and blurring our vision. We began to dream dreams and see visions of dark shadowy creatures peering out at us through the ensuing gloom. Their eyes like glowing red coals and searing into the heart of our very being. The vibrations grew more intense and came with a rhythmic pulsation like something out of an episode of Quatermass. Turning a corner, we came upon a group of shiny metallic disc shaped objects hovering just a couple of feet above the ground. We thought we could hear people crying...... or was it screaming......??
Finally, we rejoined the track at the end of the diversion, and struck out into more open countryside where we glimpsed our first sighting of Loch Lomond. As we came upon Conic Hill, so did the cloud, and finally the rain. I realized that although I was wearing waterproofs, it was now time to change out of my trainers and into boots. It was essential that whatever else we might do, we must not get our feet wet as that could spell disater. My compatriots went on ahead so I struggled on alone, my heart sinking when I came across the first very steep climb to get altitude up the hill. Stumbling onwards, and cursing every step - it was now evening - I came upon my nephew who had held back and waited for me. I was grateful for the company. Eventually, we reached the highest point of the track and had a glorious view of Balmaha where we were headed. I took several photographs. The sun had broken through the clouds aiming beams of light over the Loch.
Next came the worst bit - the descent. Walking steep downhill over rugged stones in the wet when you want to collapse into a heap is not to be recomended. It does your knees and ankles in. However, not wishing to spend the night up the mount - I decided to suffer the dark descent. Reaching the bottom, we found ourselves in a car park with a visitor centre and lots of touristy signs. We walked forwards, unsure of how far we needed to go to find our hotel. After a few short yards - there it was - just the other side of the road from the car park. I collapsed on my bed happy that at last I could finally relax and shed the aches and pains of the day. Only another 76 miles or so to go!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Council of despair

The biggest mistake we humans make is bothering to get up in the morning. The world would be a much better place if we all died and there was no more humanity to pollute this planet. If we want to "save the planet" as everyone seems to be on about at the moment, the best way to do it is for us all to commit mass suicide. When I stop and look around me at the way people conduct their lives I despair. I also acknowledge that I am far from perfect myself. Take the floods the country is suffering from at the moment. We find people afraid to leave their flooded homes for fear of looters. We find people actually vandalizing water bowsers. These people should all be shot on sight. They are nothing but rodents, except for one thing - they give rodents a bad name.
If you go on holiday, you have to go through a load of extra security at the airport because of religion obsessed nutters who want to blow you into a thousand pieces. We have gangs of idiotic youths wearing hoods when it isn't even cold going around beating people up. We have a predominance of one particular group who think it good to carry guns and use them on each other. The list of evils is endless. If you have a happy contented life you are very lucky and probably oblivious to the crap that is going on around you.
If you look around the world and see the atrocities people inflict upon one another - all for, in their own minds, very good and laudable reasons. People are starving in Zimbabwe and North Korea while their leaders get fat. People are murdered because they change from one religion to another, while others are murdered in "honour killings" - almost always women.
Mankind is not made in the image of god because, clearly, there is no god. If he were, then god would be self evidently evil. Mankind is to this planet what a weeping sore is to a leper's back. So lets all do the best thing we can to save the planet from any more of this rubbish, and lets all just drop dead! I'll follow you......

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Common Sense

I got this sent to me in an email today. I don't know where it originated from, and I must assume there are no copyright issues. Anyway, its so very, very true and is a sad reflection on the state we have got ourselves into. Come the revolution.......................

For those of you who may have missed this announcement in your local newspaper...
Obituary of the late Mr. Common Sense Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: Knowing when to come in out of the rain; Why the early bird gets the worm; Life isn't always fair; and Maybe it was my fault. Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge). His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition. Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer Calpol, sun lotion or a band-aid to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion. Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault. Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement. Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by his 3 stepbrothers; I Know My Rights, Someone Else Is To Blame, and I'm A Victim. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Film Review - Children of Men

Last night I watched "Children of Men" on DVD, not that the mode of viewing makes any particular difference. I'm not going to go into the detail of the story as I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it. However, the main premise of the film is that all of a sudden, all women, all over the world suddenly became infertile and unable to have babies. In the film its 18 years (or was it 17 - never mind - whats a year between friends?) and society all over the world has caved in on itself and disintegrated. There are gangs of ravaging morons roaming the streets, terrorism an everyday thing for just about everyone, and illegal immigrants are fair game and rounded up by the "authorities" and put into cages for deportation or whatever.
Now - I have a problem with all this. OK, crime, racism, terrorism and the like is of course a big problem in the world and society alike, but what I cannot understand is why on earth a lack of babies should exacerbate the problem to such extremes. The film also seems to miss out on the fact that if everything really was as bad as this then there wouldn't be many people around anyway as there would be no food getting to the supermarkets, no work would be done, no basic necessities of life available, the upshot being that everyone would either die of starvation, lack of medical attention, or just murdered in the street. This is a very dark and disturbing film, but my main criticism is that the scenario is just untenable and has not been properly thought through. However, I am not saying this is entirely a bad film. Films are by their very nature escapist and cinematically I found it quite entertaining (and dark). There is a lot of very clever filming where the camera stays on the subject with continuous action going on for several minutes without any cut to another camera. There is also a quite amazing piece of filming where the camera is in a car with the subjects while it is moving along and being attacked by marauding hordes outside. The camera view moves from the front of the car to the back, moving around to all sorts of seemingly impossible viewing angles. There is a bonus section on the DVD which shows how this and other parts of the film were achieved, and makes very interesting viewing in itself. I give Children of Men three out of ten for plot, and seven out of ten for entertainment value.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Justice of God

I have just been away on holiday walking the 95 miles of the West Highland Way. While staying at the Travel Inn at Fort William, I had a read of the inevitable Gideon's Bible. I noted from Deuteronomy that if a husband is unhappy with his wife and she is found NOT to be a virgin when they married, then she is to be taken to the gate of the city and stoned to death. Of course, there is no such punishment- or any punishment at all for that matter - for the man who took her virginity. What a kind, fair and just god this is who puts these laws into the hearts of the sons of men! I was reading a while ago that a woman was stoned to death for some sexual "crime" in Nigeria after being found guilty under Islamic Shariah law. This is a very caring and humane kind of execution where the victim (almost always a woman) is buried in the ground up to the neck so that all the stones are hurled directly at her head. In fact, Islam as practiced in Iran, Nigeria and anywhere else the fanatics get their way is almost identical to ancient Judaism. If you care to read in the Old Testament about all the god-given laws (not JUST the 10 Commandments) you will see that they are not only evil, but favour men and victimise women. This is always the way with religion. It was invented and formulated by men for men to exercise power over women. That is why you only see men worshipping in Mosques and women did not worship in the Jewish temple either. In Christian churches it is the tradition for women to wear hats in church. This goes back to the apostle Paul's ruling that women should have their heads covered during worship. This was to signify that the husband is the head of the wife. The man, of course, does not wear a hat or covering because this signifies that Christ (God) is the head of the man! Notice the pecking order????? Oh, and just for good measure, Paul forbade that women should have authority over men. There's a surprise! And this is only the tip of the iceberg...........

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Religious extremists are often referred to as fundamentalists. Now please forgive me if I am wrong, but I always thought that a fundamentalist was one who attached himself to the fundamentals of a particular belief. Now the fundamentals of a belief are the bedrock, core beliefs on which the religion as a whole is founded. So, a fundamentalist Christian will believe in original sin and so will believe that the story of the fall of man in the garden of Eden is factually true. This means that everything else in the Bible is true, otherwise the core beliefs upon which the sacrifice of Christ depends fall apart and you are left with a watered down faith which means little or nothing at all. Because it is all true, then it must all be incorporated into one's life and the way one interprets the world. Therefore, evolution cannot be true because the Bible clearly states that the Earth was created by God in 6 days and rested on the seventh, in the year 4004 BC (as calculated from scripture by Bishop Ussher). This gives fundamentalists the god given right to pour scorn upon the findings of modern scientific research which has a tendency to disagree with the creationist view - unless the evidence is there to support it. Fundamentalists don't need evidence to believe anything; they don't need it because they have the word of god, (even though the word of god is different from one faith to another - they can't all be right) so it is perfectly correct for them to try and foist their unreasonable and unreasoning beliefs upon anyone who doesn't see things the way they do. They have god on their side, so they cannot possibly be wrong. So, apart from denying children access to scientific truth, they also condemn gays, women who have had an abortion, etc etc. Catholic dogma denies people the right to contraceptives while poor overcrowded Catholics live in disease ridden squalor in South America and other outposts around the world. There are far too many people in the world, but because all human life is utterly sacred (according to religious dogma), the population is set to keep growing exponentially - that's if the Catholics get their way. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Leaving aside Christianity and looking elsewhere, we have religious fundamentalists thinking its OK to fly crowded passenger jets into crowded skyscrapers, carry out suicide bombings in crowded restaurants frequented by young people, blow up Mosques and people while they are in the peaceful act of worship. The list is endless - and terrifying. The problem is this - if adherence to the fundamentals of a faith causes people to find justification in committing such atrocities, what does this tell you about the religion itself? Think on.....

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Smoked out

Thank goodness the smoking ban is almost upon us. This is the best bit of legislation we've had in this country for ages. As you may have guessed, I don't smoke. That has not always been the case. However, as an ex and now non-smoker, I find smoking more repulsive than ever. My mother was a heavy smoker. She stopped several years ago because if she'd carried on it would have killed her. She can hardly breathe now. Just getting up from a chair makes her more out of breath than I get after running several miles. My father-in-law was a heavy smoker. He died of lung cancer in a follow-through from throat cancer. As an ex-smoker, I know how compulsive and addictive it can be. Because of this, I cannot blame people who find it hard to give up, although in my own case I managed to stop by simply not buying any more. Society is very contradictory in its approach to smoking. I walked into my local Tesco's today to see prominently displayed on the counter packs of giving up smoking kits - which was good. The only trouble was that cigarettes were being sold from the shelves behind. So what's your message Tesco's? - do you want people to stop or not!! Seems a bit like the Salvation Army selling beer to me. I travel to Scotland two or three times a year. Since they've had the smoking ban, going into a busy pub has been a much more pleasurable experience, to say nothing of not leaving with my clothes stinking of smoke any more. I have a bee in my bonnet about people who smoke in cars. I find it utterly ridiculous that I could be fined for eating an apple or taking a drink while I am driving, but it is perfectly OK to drive around with a red hot tipped tube in your hand venting smoke all over the car. If you accidentally drop it you could easily have a panic situation and loose control of the car, let alone the distraction of lighting up while you are supposed to be concentrating on your driving. The law is an ass! Another concern is the increase in the number of butts we are likley to find littering our streets as everyone who wants to smoke will have to go outside. Of course, they won't use the bins. Smokers don't because they don't see dropping a tab end on the street and stepping on it as littering - which, of course, it is. I hate litter. I love Singapore, however. My wife and I had a holiday in Singapore three years ago. It was so clean. There were very strict anti littering laws as well as anti smoking laws (not to mention anti-chewing gum laws!) which were all rigorously enforced. Harsh punishment awaits anyone who litters or smokes in the wrong place in Singapore. This country, by comparison, is a filthy tip and it makes me sick. We need much tougher laws and more rigorous law enforcement to purify our society. I am sick of politically correct do-gooders who think we should treat everyone with kid gloves and try and understand the criminals. What the criminals need to understand is that we as a society have had enough and want to see these scum bags locked up for a term which means what it says - no early release. Perhaps its also time we brought back the death penalty, especially where terrorism is concerned. There - see what you've done! I started talking about smoking and ended up with the death sentence. Come to think of it, aren't smokers sentencing themselves to death anyway???