Sunday, 30 December 2007


Woo hoo! I've been tagged by Candace.

Actually, I've now been tagged twice, but as Fisher was the first person who tagged me I just sort of ignored it (also she had scary rules like 'tag 5 people at the end of your blog' and I don't know 5 bloggers to tag. *sniff*. So looonely ...). Anyhoo - Candace wants me to write 7 things about myself, one of which is a lie, so here they are:

1. The sum total of my musical achievements are: Grade 1 piano, grade 1 cello, both with merit.
2. I have a letter from Dame Judi Dench in a wooden box upstairs.
3. I have my Open Water Diver certificate from PADI, but since being knocked unconscious by a truck in Tennessee, I still don't know whether I can dive again. If anyone knows, can they tell me?
4. I came 5th in the UK independant school's championships for javellin, aged 12. Yeah, baby!
5. I like girls. (God help me ... considering number 4, what a walking cliché I am).
6. I have read every single Sweet Valley High book between numbers 1 and 83.
7. I can ride a motorbike and, secretly, I think this is cooler than the fact I drive a Land Rover.

Now, the minute I get more friends, I'm going to tag them.

Oh, yer - you're supposed to guess which one's a lie.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

At Least My Nose Isn't the Only Thing Running

Home! How nice it is. Alas I've picked up an unpleasant sore throat, cough and cold from my family, but considering how fat and lazy I feel after doing no exercise at all for a week and stuffing myself with pizza last night, I refuse to allow myself to skive off. Later today I'll either go to the gym or use the elliptical machine upstairs.

Sister, Islander and the boys will be coming for New Year after all, so it's going to be a full house. Koios and Pro arrive on the 31st as well, and with the 2 collies I'm looking after as well as Baffie and Bridie, it's going to be quite interesting. We have pressies to exchange with Koios and Pro, which might be sensible being kept from Gemmill's sight, lest he think another round of gift giving is in order. I'm also not keen on the idea of giving him the chance to disrupt our roast goose. Koios likes a proper Christmas lunch, which she doesn't really get when down south, so I promised to provide one for her over New Year. I was going to do it for New Year's lunch, but it might be better on New Year's eve - unless they're staying until the 2nd. That would be perfect, as we could then have it for New Year's supper instead.

Should a blog be the place for thinking aloud? Probably not.

I got a great gift from brother and Gaura - a set of exotic spices, which I'm going to build a menu around. Also included was a vanilla ... stalk? Root? What the hell is vanilla? Quick google check ...

Hm. Apparantly it's a lesbian bar in Manchester. Useful to know.

Interesting! It's an orchid! Who'da thunk? The thing I've got is the pod, in which are the little black seeds - so I'm hoping to come up with some interesting ice cream recipes. Vanilla and cardomom? Chilli and vanilla? (Yuk - but it might be interesting, and I bet Fisher would love it). I'll have a good sniff of everything and see what goes. As my old Ma says - cook with your nose. Hey - a piece of poetry! "Always remember to cook with your nose - Have a good sniff and see if it goes."

Ok - I'm back from my exercise now, and feeling very slightly like death warmed up. It's been a beautiful day, so I decided to go for a run up Quarry Road. I took Sally the collie and off we went. God, it was hard! I could only breath through my mouth, which meant regulating my breathing was a bit tricky, and I felt very sick at the end - but that was probably because I did the hills at the end as well as the beginning. Well ... almost all the hills. I walked up the very last bit of the first corner at the end and would have walked up the last one, too, only there was a neighbour walking his dog and he kindly paused to let me past and said:

"You'll have to keep up that pace, now, or my dog will chase yours!"

Bugger. So off I ran, and luckily managed to get up the hill, round the corner and home, before collapsing in a heap of gasping horror.

It was a crap time. 5k in 37 minutes. Still, considering my cold and the fact I've had a week off, I'm not all that disappointed. At least I went! I could easily have talked myself out of it and stayed curled up in front of the Sopranos.

Ah - the Sopranos. I managed to avoid watching them when they were first on, but now Channel 4 is reshowing the whole lot, every weeknight. I must say, it's brilliant stuff; Robert Graves would be proud. And what I like is: I find them all so unbearably revolting that if they all die, slowly and painfully, I'll be perfectly happy. Ok, not the psychiatrist, but everyone else can go to hell as far as I'm concerned. It's emotionally liberating to watch something where the end result can go any way and you'll remain detached. They are truly vile people, living a code of ethics so far outwith the bounds of civilised morality, that if they end up being hoist by their own petard I'll only rejoice. Even the kids are repulsive.

Right, I'm really rambling now. Time to switch off for a while. Man, I'm tired - but my home cure is kicking this cold's arse. For those that don't know, this is my cure for a cold and sore throat:

Hot Toddy:

Lemon juice
honey, to taste (at least 2 tsp)
2 shots rum, or single malt (optional)
Hot water
Sprinkling cinnamon, OR a few cloves.

Take your favourite pain killer with this. Then, after you've drunk the toddy and before the drugs have kicked in, pour youself a shot of the strongest alcohol you can tolerate. Gargle with it for as long as you can tolerate, then either swallow or spit. I'd recommend the latter - especially if you're having booze in your toddy! The alcohol not only numbs your throat, but acts as an antiseptic.

If the pain gets too uncomfortable and you can't take any more pain killers, I recommend fresh orange iced lollies. You can make them easily enough, but the ones from Tesco's are fantastic. If you make them, try adding a bit of honey to the mix as well. Honey is a natural antiseptic, doncha know. But if you can't get hold of iced lollies, just suck on a bit of ice. It'll numb your throat and give you some blessed relief.

So that's that. Hope it helps some time.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Christmas Cheer

Christmas is for the children, I have heard. Well bollocks to that. Christmas is for me me me ... and the children can all feck off.

All right, that's not how this holiday started out, but it's how it's finishing. There's nothing so unattractive as viewing humanity in its rawest form - ie that of children, who have yet to learn the social mores such as saying 'thank you' even if the present they get is utter twong, as far as they're concerned. Couple that with snatching everyone else's presents out of their hand, shouting and demanding to go first, screaming at the first sign of dissent, saying the Christmas lunch you've prepared (with no small effort) looks horrible - and you've got a good idea how close I came to throttling Gemmill today.

Anyway, the children are now being bathed and put to bed. We still have a couple of pressies left to unwrap, and I'm thinking the real business of Christmas can truly begin - sitting down as a family, in the sitting room, reading books and trying hard to ignore everyone. Heh heh. No, we shall consume a few glasses of 'poo, talk as civilised human beings, and count our loot jealously. (As usual, I have by FAR the least of everyone. They all hate me and want me dead.)

So far, the best of my loot has been some bed linen I went to buy with my mother yesterday. Officially it's Fisher's pressie, but seeing as how I'll be sharing it whenever she uses it, I figure it's mine as well! The rest have all been books, I think, which are always sensible. Sister gave me a beautiful edition of the works of Virginia Woolf, of whom I'm a great - if struggling - admirer. I always find her quite slow, but ultimately rewarding.

Anyway, I'm going to sign off right now and be sociable.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Swim n Gym

Went to the gym while Fisher did an 8 miler into Cupar. Swam 500m in 15 minutes, then went to the gym. Ran a mile in 9.58, then did:

3 x 12 reps on the lat pully (the one you pull down to your shoulders - I've learned its name!) on 30kg. I tried it on 35kg and couldn't figure out why it was so impossible. Swimming's funny that way. I think because it's so low impact, you don't realise how much it takes out of you.
3 x 12 on horizontal leg lift, at 100kg. I thought it was really easy, so whacked it up to 12 - but then discovered the seat was set way too far back. Once I adjusted it, I could barely lift the 120kg at all!
3 x 12 on stomach press, setting 6.

Then Fisher appeared, red faced and beaming from a good 8 mile time, and we headed to Tesco for the night's meal before going home.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Weekend of Fun

Now that I'm slightly recovered, I can bear to put fingers to keyboard and relate the fun happenings of the weekend.

Koios and Phid arrived in a burst of bonhomie at around 3.45 on Saturday, bearing port with them. No sooner were we installed in the sitting room with cups of tea than Bridie started going bonkers, clearly detecting the tread of Spartan's foot in the drive. She was quite correct. I rushed to greet them, keen to give Spartan succour after his horrific day shopping in Dundee. He'd sent a text at around 3.30 which I giggled over.

"I've got to read this text from Spartan to you," I said to Fisher, at which she said:

"What does it say? Fucking hell, I hate shopping? Oh, wait, no - it's Spartan. He wouldn't be that rude."

"You're right, he wouldn't," I agreed. "He actually says: 'I hate fucking arsing cocksucking wanking shopping!'"

"Oooh," said a big-eyed Fisher, "you better stick the kettle on!"

Tea. The great healer.

So up Blarney and Spartan rocked, pale and weary after battling the Christmas shoppers in Dundee, and we set about easing their tension by giving Spar his belated birthday presents (a PS2 from me, Pro-Evo Soccer from Fisher) and then playing a rousing game of Buzz! The Big Quiz - which proved a mighty triumph for Holly Cottage. Fisher won the first game, I won the second, and Fisher was very reserved in her celebrations, waiting until we were alone before doing the Holly Cottage Jig of Victory and Smugness. Naked.

Not naked. Just my little joke.

Then came the time for us to separate into two groups - those in need of sorrow-drowning over the footie and those, er, not. Strangely, this meant it ended up being the fellers and me who went out to the pub for food and drinks, while Fisher, Koios, Blarney and Lu stayed in. I have no real idea what escapades they got up to, but Koios said they had a very girly chat about children and stuff while Blarney fell asleep at 12.15, in the manner usually adopted by Koios.

Meanwhile, we were dropped at the Dairsie Inn for our food and drink session. We walked through to the restaurant, with its lovely 1970s carpet and a few tables of fellow diners (a family with 6 year old in bright pink coat, an elderly double date, and a quiet, nerdy couple), and Protagoras practically wet his pants.

"There's prawn cocktail on the menu!" he choked.

"Is there?" I laughed. "Is there melon as well?"

The smile faded when I discovered that, yes, there was melon on the menu as well. Seriously. This, as a starter, was pretty damn tame even when melons were hard to come by. Now it's a joke! Like offering a sliced apple for a starter. So, obviously, I had to order it.

Yes - so, it wasn't exactly the rowdy, party-hearty pub suitable for a drinking and shouting session - in fact, it was a one way ticket to 1978 and your grandmother's living room - but did we let that stop us?

We did not!

After a rock and roll dinner of melon starter, and poached salmon main course (for me - the gents had game pie for mains and prawn cocktails) and a couple of pints, we moved through to the 'game' room. It was a 'game' room because there were 3 board games stacked up on a chair - which we studiously ignored. The night wore on, the chat was varied, free-flowing and funny, and, at 11pm the landlady - a deeply miserable looking woman - declared it last orders.

Last orders? At 11pm on a Saturday night?

"We've got a license until 11.30," she lied, blithely, "so you have to be out by 11.20."

Jesus. What a welcoming establishment. I've never known a single place to have a license until 11.30 rather than 12, and to have last orders a full half hour before closing time, when we're the only people in the place, is ridiculous. Still, we had a final round of beer and whisky chasers (ok, I was sensible enough to know that if, on my 4th pint, I started in on the whisky chasers I would not see tomorrow - and would possibly only wake up on January 3rd - so I stuck to beer) and then grabbed a cab.

Back at HC, the laydeez were looking suitably settled in to their wine and chat. I hoiked out the array of whiskies and the fellas got stuck in, while I discreetly and cowardly ... ly sipped yet more beer.

(Oo - another small point about drinking with the gents is how very, very little they need to pee. Uncanny. I felt like a leaky sieve in comparison.)

We didn't really intend to stay separate, but that's what happened. After a bit more chat, the gents and I started playing table football - and then I commented that I actually had Subbuteo in my cupboard. This idea was quickly adopted, the green baize laid out, and the players (one of which was sadly decapitated) laid out in their peculiar 3-4-3 formation. There was the usual debate about rules, followed by the usual argument about whether the pitch needed ironing, which was all settled with the usual statement of:

"Ah, bollocks to it! Let's just play!"

Which we did. Arrow and Pro took the Kop end, Spartan and I were the visitors.

Subbuteo consists of 2 halves of 10 minutes each - a rule which, owing to the 'excitement' of the game, went slightly out of the window. We had one half.

Of two hours.

By the time the clock hit 2.30am my eyes were starting to cross with both tiredness and my state of inebriation, so I declared there be a 3 minute 'extra time' period.

Frantic flicking then ensued, Spartan won the ball and - in some manner of miracle - managed, in the last 30 seconds of this epic battle, to win the game for us! All of which brought the final score to an astonishing ...


Yes, folks, 2 hours of game play brought a single, solitary goal, in the final 30 seconds. Is it any wonder Spar and I clasped one another to our respective bosoms and danced about the kitchen, cheering?

God, it was like watching Spanish football.

So, our victory complete, Spar and I wandered through to watch Match of the Day, while Arrow and Lu bade us farewell and caught a cab home. Pro joined us for the first half hour of the programme, but when he started snoring I woke him and suggested he call it a day. This he did. Spar and I managed to make it to the end of MotD and even drunkenly tally up our Fantasy Footie scores before sleep overcame us, and we stumbled to our respective pits. Fisher was already tucked up by the time I got there, as she had to get up by 9.30 in order to meet her ex-Guardian outside Edinburgh on the morrow. She wasn't asleep, though, and was awake enough to tell me she'd had a lovely evening and that, no, nobody had missed me.

Predictably, my awakening on Sunday morning was somewhat horrific. First of all, I woke when Fisher woke, meaning the full force of my hangover was inflicted upon me when I might, otherwise, have slept through the worst of it. I lay, shivering and wishing, not for the first time, I were of temperate nature, until I hit on the bright idea of sticking Northern Exposure on the DVD and distracting myself with the most irritating hero of all time - the excellent Rob Morrow's Joel Fleischman. I got through 2 episodes before I felt alive enough to wander tentatively downstairs and join my guests - all of whom were looking obnoxiously perky. Especially those whisky-swilling gits, Pro and Spar.

After a bit of wandering around, talking to milling dogs (we have 2 guests at the moment - Jake and Sally, the lovely, utterly soft Border Collies) and swigging of water, I felt recovered enough to cook up some brunch of scrambled eggs, bacon and muffins. We sat, ate, and enjoyed the pleasure of company for which one need make no allowances, and in which everyone is completely at ease.

Brunch completed, we then embarked on a little Sunday Stuff. First, we bowed to Koios's sudden overwhelming urge to play Countdown. My brain was just starting to remember it had a hangover, and add mental arithmetic to the mix and I was soon struggling against a proper mind-buster. Not, I hasten to add, it would have made any difference. I can only ever do the numbers game if I'm alone - and even then, I rarely get it right. I'm the world's biggest mathematical idiot. Usually the letters game sees me through, but not this time! Koios romped to victory by 2 points, leaving a newly returned Fisher to settle for second place and do the Furious Dance of Loss and Shame. Naked.

Not naked. Well ... not very naked.

Next, Spar, Pro and I watched Man U play Liverpool, which - as usual - promised much but presented very little (Man U won 1-0 in a game with moments of excitement and a lot of dull, stop-start stuff). Alas, we lost Spar and Blar after the footie as they had errands to run and a friend to visit in hospital, so we bade them fond farewell and Happy Christmas.

Next up was last week's repeat of the very excellent Cranford, which Hils had missed last Sunday - and we suddenly started feeling rather hungry. Pizza was suggested, pizza cheered, and pizza ordered. Fisher and Koios kindly went out to collect it (we're too rural for a pizza delivery company), while Pro and I watched Arsenal v Chelsea (slightly less dull, but watching the Gooners win anything is a painful experience).

Pizza was the perfect end to the visit, and at around 7, Pro and Koios gathered their bags and headed off into the cold, back to Edinburgh and preparations for work the next day - at least for Koios. Pro is off for the Christmas hols now - although he does have rather a lot of marking to be done.

With the final crunch of gravel, Fisher and I were alone again. We flopped happily on the sofa, most happy with our lot, and managed to stay awake through the final, tear-jerking episode of Cranford. I do believe Judi Dench to be the finest actor alive in the world, but the rest of the Cranford cast was just as impressive. Maybe not the young, romantic leads - but then, nowadays I couldn't give two figs for love stories involving boring, traditional characters. It was much more touching when it was Judi Dench and Michael Gambon kindling the flames of an old romance. Young, pretty people in love are just so insipid.

So that was that. Cranford watched, tears surreptitiously wiped away, all other pottering done, we collapsed into bed with sighs of content. A lovely weekend with lovely friends. What more could we ask for?

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Urghgggghhhhhhhhgggghhhrrrrr ...

Boys ...

drink ...

more ...

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Song 'n' Stuff

A quick update:

I went to the gym and couldn't face running, so did 30 mins on the bike, on hill - which turned out to be 8 miles ... nearly. I ran over in order to complete the distance, but only by about a minute - if that. I did a fast half mile on the treadmill, then weights.

3 x 12 reps on the pully-down thing, 30kg
3 x 12 reps bicep curler, 25kg
3 x 12 reps on the chest pressy thing (where you push out from a sitting position), either 25 or 30kg, can't remember.

To make up for all this nonsense, I then ate a whole 175g bag of Maltesers, and felt sick. Shame, as it rather spoiled Fisher's delicious Teriyaki Chicken. I really must stop doing that. I think having regular meals would help. At the moment I forget to eat, and am then SO hungry at the end of the day I scarf down anything I can get my hands on.

Ok - boring stuff out of the way. On to ... er ... more boring stuff.

Nay! For we went out! Yes indeed, a few nights ago Fisher and I donned our glad rags (more emphasis on the rags than the glad) and headed off to Edinburgh for a wine tasting at Sideways, followed by dinner at Calistoga with The Clan. It was muckle good craic, as they say round these parts. Although, I have to say, the guy giving us the wine tasting was a class 1 knob. He decided, apropos of very little, to display a bizarre desire to spout his disapproval of some Jewish people who phoned up the v posh Witchery restaurant to request Kosher food. The Witchery then had to send out to Glasgow for said Kosher nosh, which seemed to displease this fellow very much. The cheek of it! To request Kosher food! Don't these Jewish folk know they should be grateful just to be allowed to eat in Britain? King John expelled them all, and yet here they are, eating food and behaving as if nothing ever happened!

Ok, he wasn't that bad, but it did take the biscuit when he said:

"It's just my opinion but I think people are stupid like that. I mean, if it's a case of starving or eating non Kosher food, which one will you choose?"

We all stared at our feet, thinking "who said anything about starving? Who, if on borderline starvation, would be eating at the Witchery?"

He then went on to say:

"I don't see, if God exists, which I don't believe he does - " yeah, no shit " - why he'd have a problem with you eating non Kosher if it was a matter of life or death. I mean, unless you believed in some real Old Testament type God, or something."

I shit thee not, readers. He actually said this, with a proper scoff in his voice. When we pointed out, not unreasonably, that Jewish people ... er ... like, did believe in a 'real Old Testament type God' he attempted to back track, failed and, upon realising that we were all getting distinctly uncomfortable, said defiantly:

"Oh, are my views too strident for you?"

I think Barry managed to switch the topic of conversation admirably at this point, which was exceedingly good of him because I was a hair's breadth away from saying:

"Not too strident. Just pig ignorant - and quite offensive."

This would not have been a good idea. Luckily, danger was averted, we returned to swilling Californian vino (the best of the bunch being a St Francis Cabernet Sauv - who'd a thunk it? I generally dislike cabernet) and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We then went next door for nosh at Calistoga (food good, options limited), gave Wheeler his birthday pressies, and all was most convivial.

Aside from this sojourn, I've been extraordinarily lazy this week. I've been revisiting Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within on PS2, and it's such a beautiful, atmospheric and thoroughly engrossing game! A real work of art - although I have to say, the fighting is extremely frustrating. There are just too many combinations to learn, so you end up button mashing - which I hate. On the whole, though, it's one of the best games ever made. Not quite as good as God of War, but right up there.

The other thing I've done is write a song - and embark on the next volume of Las Amazonicas. For those reading who don't know, Las Amazonicas is a book what I writted, with all my pals taking the lead roles. It's set in the 16th century, on the high seas - because it was written for Koios's Christmas present a few years ago, and that's the sort of thing she likes. Considering I know bog-all about 16th century sea-faring, it was a bit of a challenge (although not really. I just made it up). This volume continues the adventures of the all-woman crew of dastardly pirates. Considering I've been writing it for only a few hours, and have nearly 40 pages, it could turn out to be rather ... ah ... epic. Also, I had one - just one - idea to work into the plot. Alas, as usual, my friends turn out to have minds of their own, so I find the crew of Las Amazonicas quite on the other side of the world to where I wish them to be, embroiled in quite a different adventure.

So, yes. It's going to be a long 'un.

Lastly, I wrote a song. The tune is rubbish. I'm not happy with it at all, so I'm going to start again tomorrow. The lyrics are ok, though - but I can't think of a decent title. Therefore I'm going to write them down here, and hope one of you three readers can come up with something marvellous. I'm next to useless at naming things.

Here it is:

As Yet Untitled Song

The world's a broken playground
A carnival of dreams
With a troupe of strutting players
Painted fools behind the scenes
We all want the limelight
Solo dance across the floor
But we scratch amongst the chorus
Hungry wolves with blunted claws

Every part we play is minor
Even presidents and kings
And our dreams are just a footnote
In the grandest scheme of things

We want to leave our mark here
When the darkness takes the light
But like children clutching inkwells
We've the tools but cannot write
We're a cast with no direction
With an audience of ghosts
And the stories we're declaming
A compendium of boasts


Take me to the river
Wash me clean and make me whole
For this theatre of shadows
Leaves a stain upon my soul
Let me see the final curtain
In the footlights, not the lists
With no shame in my performace
No regret for lines I've missed

Yes, I know some of it doesn't quite scan - but that's the beauty of music: you can let the tune bear the rhythm, and as long as your words aren't too squashed it works fine. (Yes, I'm also aware than 'kings' and 'things' is bollocks, but sod off. I've never been a particularly good poet, so leave me alone.)

Tomorrow, dogs arrive - as do Kois and Pro and Blarney and Spartan, for a weekend's chilling. I'm taking the fellas out for supper with my winnings from the Croatia game (and the extra winnings for me being a clever sausage and putting a fiver on Capello to become next England manager. Damn me for not making it a tenner!) so we can have a jolly good moan about our lot. Those not interested in the footie are remaining at home to - I dunno - crochet or something. I'm v much looking forward to it!

Will let you know how it goes.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Bugger ...

Oh well. Never mind Ricky, it sounds like you were punching above your weight, and put in a good showing. Stick to Light Welter, I reckon.

I imagine Las Vegas now looks like Brighton after a 25,000 strong stag party just hit it. Poor America. Oh the joys of Brits abroad. I was especially proud of how they boo'd the national anthem, just as they do at International football matches. When is someone going to mention how revolting this is? Thank you Scotland for starting that little habit.


I'm not usually a big boxing fan, but even I've got myself caught up in this one.

Get in there Ricky! Go on my son! And ... er ... other suitably primal exclamations of encouragement.

Jesus, boys - not in front of the kids! They might catch The Gayness.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

A Weekend in York

Ahh ... how nice to be back home again. It's one of the nicest parts of going away - returning to all the cosiness of your own nest, checking out all the things you've recorded on Sky+, watching the dogs dance in circles at the sight of their familiar territory ... I love it.

I also love going away, and this trip was a chance to catch up with Brother and Gaura, who are in the throes of buying a country retreat in Staffordshire. My brother seems the only member of our family determined to remain a Sassenach, despite the call of his blood which sings to a hefty Scots tune. Still - the other half is just as strong, belting out Hearts of Oak and the like - and it's funny he's ended up in Staffordshire, where all my mother's maternal side hale from. He didn't know that's where they were from, just as I didn't know about Pitlochry and Perthshire before falling in love with the region (and NOT living there, thanks to Fisher and her Fishy devotion to the dang coast. Must remember to ditch her before the nedding this July), which reaffirms my slight suspicion that affinity to certain landscapes are genetic.

Before our York trip, Fisher had a craft fair in Auld Reekie which turned a very fine profit. She was well looked after by Koios and Pro, who allowed her the use of their spare room, while I twiddled my thumbs at home and was kept awake by lonely pooches. Bloody Bridie! As usual, it takes me a while to get used to sleeping alone - a heavy irony as I'd always sworn I'd never get used to sleeping with someone - so I didn't fall asleep until 3.45am, despite Dotton Adebayo being more than ordinarily dull on Radio 5's Up All Night. At 4.15am I was woken by Bridie whining in her crate. As she's just been shaved, I thought she must be cold so I put her jumper on (god help me, I never thought I'd own a dog that wore clothes) and went blearily back to bed. She then woke me at 6am, 7.45 (when I got up and let her out, only to have her run to the bottom of the garden and shout at the top of her lungs, showing no interest in peeing), and 8.15 when I finally gave up and recognised I wasn't going to get any more sleep. Baffie, of course, was dead to the world throughout all this, curled up at the bottom of the bed under the duvet, snoring fit to bust - so at least one of the family was well rested.

I spent the day watching the footie on the telly, willing myself to take a nap but failing, willing myself to get up and do something active and failing, willing myself to eat something substantial rather than the packet of chocolate biscuits and microwave popcorn I was eyeing and - naturally - failing. By the time it was turn-in time again, I'd realised that, without Fisher around, I would quickly turn into this:

Me, Fisherless, Watching Spurs
Actually, I can see some good points ...

No! Begone, couch potato bliss! I've eaten far too much already this December, and with a calendar full of dinners out and celebrations until well after Crimbo, I really have to exercise just a little self-control - without becoming boring about it.

Where was I? Oh yes - just about to turn in after a day on the sofa watching footie.

Luckily, it was Bridie's turn on the bed that night, so after wrapping Baffie so tightly in my Dad's old jumper she could barely move, I went to sleep in about 5 seconds flat. Joy!

Sunday saw me watch more footie, then head into Edinburgh with the dogs in order to catch Spurs play Birmingham, at home, on Pro's Sky Sports. We lost, 2-3, conceding - again - in the final minutes, and proving our defence is a degenerate bunch of shit bags who need a good caning. Dawson is a competent defender who did very well for us last season, but this season he hasn't won a single header and is poorly assisted by new signing Kaboul, who's a fucking liability! He gave away a needless penalty in the first half before being subbed at half time and replaced by Lee. Wanker. Couple a disasterous defensive display with Robbie Keane getting sent off for a yellow card offence and we were truly up the brown creek, sans paddle.

Ah well. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, as our supposedly culturally dead cousins across La Manche would say. (Yes - what's that all about, Time Magazine? If France is culturally dead I'm a mathematician. The fact French authors don't make it in a wider world has more to do with the English speaking world's reluctance to enter the multi-lingual fray than anything else. I mean, for crying out loud! US publishers even insist on translating English into American English before publishing UK authors. How the hell would they cope with French? And the UK isn't any better. The number of linguists we have in this country is just embarrassingly bad, considering our proximity to the continent. At least the US has distance to excuse it. We practically share a border with France, but how many people in the UK speak French? C'est effroyable! Or should that be il est effroyable? Dammit!!)

Lawks, how I do wander off the mark.

Sunday night saw Fisher, Koios, Pro and me pop round to see Chopper in her new and very cosy flat, which she'd managed to make a home in 15 hours. Astonishing. We had mulled wine and too much cheese before heading off for a vegetarian meal at David Bann. Pro had been told he couldn't complain or make jokes or he'd be forced to go to see Enchanted with Koios. He lasted until he sat down, sniffed loudly and said:

"I smell hippies!"

Considering one of the hippies was a skinhead with prominent tattoos, I thought he was quite bold. Still, he is 6' 11", so he was probably safe enough.

It was nice to broaden the old culinary horizons, but I can't say I'll be in a hurry to reurn. For veggie haut cuisine it was remarkably uninspired. There were a great many curries, and if it wasn't curried it was in tart form. I had a chickpea cake type thing with curried sauce and cauliflower, which was pleasant but a little stodgy and, in the end, tasted entirely of curry. Obviously. But it was fine, and I was delighted to have tried it - not to mention the company being, as usual excellent.

Actually, something rather chastening occurred during our visit to Chopper's. We were sitting in the sitting room listening to an older couple (in their late 50s? Early 60s?) talk about the most boring party they'd ever been to, from which they'd just come. It was at Age Concern. I remembered my own, recent, night out at Cupar's Age Concern with slight foreboding. The wifie of this couple - the husband of which was a minister - then said it was mind-numbingly dull because all the elderly folks talked about was meals they'd had out in the past, what they'd had, and how much - or little - they'd enjoyed it. Dull indeed, we agreed, exchanging guilty glances with one another. After all, who but the dullest of dullards would spend an entire evening speaking of food?

If you're going to do it, you ought to make an entire weekend of it - like us.

And, frankly, they're right. It is dull. I find myself to be increasingly boring, driving myself to distraction with the putrid anecdotes I attempt to spin. My own eyes glaze over at the sound of my voice. And yet, I think, at one point, I was a relatively amusing companion. What has happened? Is it age? Are my witty brain cells all fleeing the mothership like rats from a doomed vessel? Or is it just that my life is so unbearably mundane I actually have no anecdotes to impart?

This is serious stuff, and needs exploration. Some day.

Meanwhile, back to recent events. Do I still have your attention? Hello?


Oh well. Struggle onwards, as Boris Johnson would say.

After a pleasant eve with K and P, we slept well and departed for York at the crack of noon the next day. It was a long and, at times, frustrating drive - but we broke it up with a visit to a craft place in the Borders, where we bought Brother some birthday presents, and arrived in York at around 6ish. We were staying in the York Hotel du Vin, which had only opened a week earlier and still had painters around - but was lovely anyway. Not a patch on the one in Glasgow, but very nice.

We met up with Brother & Gaura in the bar, where we chugged a bottle of very pleasant champagne (forgotten the name) then went through for a long, chatty, boozy supper. We ended up in the library drinking digestifs and playing contract whist.

Oh God. I am so old. And it's mental, too - not just a frivolous physical statement of time. Tomorrow I will wake up and, after my bowl of porridge, kick off my slippers and be incredibly youthful and vigorous.

Jeeze. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

After a good-ish sleep on a comfortable bed, we faced York with enthusiasm. It's a beautiful town, and Fisher had given a good account of the Yorvik Centre which I was keen to see, as well as the Minster. We walked from our hotel to the medieval centre and headed into the Yorvik Centre, where we paid our £8 (!) and descended the steps. We stood beneath a sign that said: "Please wait here for transport back in time" or some such crap. We duly waited, until a door hissed open, revealing a time machine, inside which was a Viking. Sort of. He saw 4 adults, no children, and gave an audible gulp. We soon learned why. Instead of clocking that we weren't going to be particularly impressed by his Pantomime Viking ("Yarr, I don't know why I was put in charge of this machine - 'tis all magic to me! Yarr - is it the red or green button? Yarr ... etc ...") and dropping the act to its bare bones, he gave the full spiel a half-hearted and very embarrassed go, leaving all parties uncomfortable and desirous of finding a hole in which to hide.

After watching a brief video taking us back in time through York, we emerged underground, in a cavern that smelled very peculiarly of something either burnt or burning. A female Viking awaited to show us onto our next ride - which would take us round the excavated site, which has been 'developed' into a supposed kiddie heaven of waxworks, reconstructed huts and patronising voice-overs. I mentioned the burning smell, only to be reprimanded by the female Viking who said: "That's my home you're talking about!"

"And you're not concerned your home is clearly on fire?" I muttered under my breath, but before I could suggest someone actually check the presence of a raging inferno on the premesis, our carousel arrived and I clambered on.

Round we went. It was pretty dire. Brother entertained himself by listening to the voice over in Spanish, but the rest of us put up with being told "look, o-look, there is a hut made of something called 'wattle' and 'daub'. 'Wattle' and 'daub' is where ..." at which I threw off the restraining metal arm and flung myself onto the tracks in front, to be run over veeeeery slowly by a very patronising carousel.

Or so I contemplated. Fisher was dying of embarrassment for having recommended Yorvik - or so I surmise from the way she's denied all responsibility ever since.

The thing that pisses me off is: here's a fabulous site of historical interest, excavated with loving care - and turned into a kiddie playground. I have absolutely no problem with encouraging children to explore history, but do you have to do it to the detriment of serious adult visitors? It would have been nice to glean some academic learning from the experience - but even though we opted for the adult voice-over, rather than the children's option, we were treated to 'the idiot's guide to Viking York'.

Still, it was good for a larf, and seeing Fisher in a Viking mask almost made it £8 worth of larf.

£7.50 worth of Larf
After Yorvik we headed for a tea room in The Shambles, which are really lovely mediaeval streets. Quaffing copious amounts of Orange Pekoe was restorative, and we pottered off to The Minster.

Now that really is worth a dekko. The first builing on the site was a Roman fort, at which Constantine was made Emperor owing to the death of his father. An Anglo-Saxon church then took over the site, replaced by a Norman cathedral after William I's harrying of the north between 1069-70. It took the Normans only 20 years to build their austere, workmanlike cathedral - probably because they realised quelling the local hotheads with work was more effective than beating their heads in.

The current minster was built between c.a 1230 and 1472. During the 1960s they discivered the continuing additions had put enormous strain on the original foundations, particularly on the four balusters holding up the central tower, and the tower was in immediate danger of falling down. They raised around £2m and it was saved, so York Minster continues to impress today.

It really is divine, in all senses of the word. It's hard to get an overall picture of it, because it's in the city centre and the surrounding buildings prevent a complete view - but its size is the least of its charms. The Gothic style is always so awe-inspiring, and inside there are so many features to admire - not least the famous Rose Window (not as impressive as the one in Notre Dame, but still mighty fine). I'm particularly fond of the statues of all the kings, up until Henry VI, and of some of the commemorative statues. Check out my flickr site for more pics of York if you're interested.

We explored the minster fully before heading out and getting something to eat at Betty's famous tea room. It was a bit of a wait, but worth it in the end for its old fashioned charms. You can well imagine people drinking tea, eating finger sandwiches and scones, at Betty's in the 1900s. We then split up for a while, before heading back to the hotel to walk the pooches. We made our way back fine but Bro and Gau got hopelessly lost and walked for miles before finding their way back. We sensibly decided to get a cab when we headed out for supper - which we had at a place called Melton's Too, and were uninspired.

Next day, we spent the morning drinking more tea, buying me some shooooooooes, ambling the Shambles, and deciding we'd seen enough of York. Bro and Gaura were meeting the owners of their prospective house that evening and their thoughts were clearly elsewhere, so we headed our separate ways. The drive was much smoother this way as we avoided Newcastle, and arrived in Edinburgh in good time to have a meal with Koios (who'd come down with a filthy cold), Pro, Chopper and Blarney. Finally, we dropped in to say hello to Spartan, berated him for not having birthday plans, then went home.

And here we are, home hale, hearty and whole - at least until Saturday when Fisher goes off to ply Lucklaw Silver's trade in Glasgow. Fingers crossed for another lucrative fair. She deserves it after all the finger-skinningly hard work she's put in (link to her website at the top of this page, for new visitors to the site. Hello to both of you, by the way!)

Friday, 30 November 2007


Yes folks! In some manner of miracle I've actually gone for a run, followed by a cycle only 2 days later. It looks like my triathlon training may be back, and back with a vengeance!

If, by 'vengeance' you actually mean 'whimper.'

Cor luvva duck but it was hard work. First of all, I felt awful today - so when Fisher came bouncing down the stairs in her running kit, all ready for her long run which I'd said I'd cycle with her, I said I just couldn't face it.

Then, 5 minutes later I decided I could, and put on my tracksuit.

Then I couldn't face it again, had a mini-strop and went and played PS2 instead. God of War 2 rocks! Fisher headed out into the dreich Scottish weather, I merrily maimed and murdered some beasties, and then I had a sudden rush of blood to the head.

"Are you a woman or a wuss!?" I demanded. I gave myself no reply, but the die was cast. I stomped down into the garage to get my bike out before I could change my mind - and discovered the front tyre was flat as a proverbial pancake. I then attempted to pump it up for 10 minutes without loosening the valve, so exhausted myself before I'd even begun, while the tyre remained flaccid as an empty bladder.

Muppetry aside, I managed to get myself on the poxy contraption and headed off after Fisher. Naturally, she'd chosen to go up Quarry Road and off towards the Craigsanquhar, which meant a hideous, hideous hill. There is nothing more exhausting than riding up a hill on a bike. I was gasping for breath to such an extent that I literally couldn't open my throat enough, and started making alarming snoring sounds. The woman walking her dog down the hill thought this most amusing. Although she was too civilised to laugh in my face, I heard her cackling from around the corner. Downhill-walking old crone.

Just over two miles into the ride, I met Fisher coming back the other way and followed her back home. I attempted to cycle up our hill, but faiiiiiiled and had to get off and push. When I actually dismounted I thought my knees were about to crumble beneath my bulk. Most chastening. Anyway, to make up for this final mini-failure I completed God of War 2. Such a beautiful game. Sadistic and bloodthirsty - but beautiful.

Tonight I'm off to the tennis social - briefly - before driving Fisher in to Edinburgh for her craft fair. Her jewellery is going great guns at the moment and she's run off her feet. I hope the fair is a success. We could do with a little extra mullah coming in!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


Yes folks, it's some kind of miracle! I managed to quell my soul-sucking reluctance and accompany Fisher on a run at Tentsmuir with the pooches. It was cold, so I donned trackie bums, my vest top that I have to wear under my bra (get blisters from the straps otherwise), a running t-shirt, and my running jacket.

I then stepped out of the house and found it much milder than anticipated - but did I amend my wardrobe?


I therefore started shedding clothing like a washing machine with its door open after about 5 minutes of my run, having to leave my jacket hanging on a fence post and picking it up on the way back.

But! Without even trying, I managed to complete my fastest ever 5k. 33mins 55seconds. Yes yes, I know there are three legged pigs who can run faster, but I was dead, dead chuffed. I was also utterly knackered all the way round because I'd eaten only 2 bits of toast, some 4 hours previously. Goober.

We then went ot Tesco and picked up the weekly shop before returning home and getting ready to go out for a home-cooked meal with Fonda, who's just got her dining room up and running and wanted to show it off. It's lovely - wooden floors, white walls, a Mediterranean feel - even in the depths of a Scottish winter. She cooked us lamb and cous-cous (she put baby tomatoes, pre-roasted in balsamic vinegar, in the cous-cous which were delicious and which Fisher, cous-cous Queen of our house, is now going to adopt. If she can be arsed) followed by Apple Pie and cream from M&S. We chatted over coffee and biscuits, discussing her boyfriend (whom she never fails but to paint as a complete twong, but I'm sure isn't) who then telephoned, on cue. Fonda said she was busy, so she'd call him later. "Yes, really!" she replied to his disbelief, and put the phone down. Ten seconds later, he rang again.

"You never asked," we heard Fonda say, and correctly interpreted this as a resonse to "you didn't tell me why you're busy!"

Granted, if I phoned Fisher only to be told she was busy, I'd want to know what she was up to, in an interested sort of way. In fact, if she said: "I'm busy right now, can I can I call you back?" I'm pretty sure I'd say: "Sure. What are you up to?" And if, for some reason, I didn't ask straight away I think I could contain myself and wait until she called me back to find out. Not Fonda's fella. He had to know then and there, to the extent of calling her back, further interrupting proceedings. Couple that with Fonda telling us that, when she'd asked what he was doing for Christmas, he claimed he would "decide on Christmas Eve."

Sounds like a selfish, self-centred arse to me. Who actually thinks they can just descend on a family Christmas at the last minute? Someone who's never cooked a Christmas meal, or done anything to prepare for Christmas, or any social gathering that involves feeding, housing and entertaining a large number of people, that's for sure.

Still, Fonda keeps bemoaning the fact she always says the wrong things about him, and I'm trying very hard to reserve judgement until I actually meet him. I'm sure he's a great guy. Fonda's certainly happier since they got back together, so that's good.

Aaanyhoo - enough judgement and crabbishness! I've done far too much looking down the old nose in the past few days, and it makes me feel all curled up inside. Life is good! Next week we go down to York to enjoy a hotel break with Brother and Gaura and belatedly celebrate his birthday. The tennis social is this Friday, and Sunday night we're going out for a meal with Koios and Pro before the trip to York, where I plan on discussing New Year plans. And Christmas is so close! Holy crap ona stick! I must book our Malta flights.

I'm off to do that now.

Urg. Flights.

No! Life is GOOD! Hurrah for flights. Hurrah for Christmas, family and pals. Hurrah, I tell you!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Descent of the Spawn ... again

This weekend has been pretty chaotic, as is always the case when the Spawn comes to town. It's also be terrific fun to see everyone, especially as my mother had flown over from Malta to help out with Wrecker and his burns.

First and foremost, I was dead chuffed to see Wrecker striding up and down the corridor, his usual boisterous self, and although his appetite was a little 'off' he was otherwise in great humour. Gemmill was delighted to be at HC, and the first thing he did was subtly angle for his 'surprise.' He went straight to his bed, where I usually hide a present, and was obviously deeply disappointed not to find anything. In actual fact, I had hidden a PS2 game there, but it obviously didn't register. Anyway, when I told Sister it was there, she asked if we couldn't take it out, as he children were becoming far too used to gifts! So Fisher whisked it away while Gemmill asked if he'd got a 'different bed' this time (translation: "I say, there's appears to be no gift in the bed in my room, ergo I must be sleeping in a different bed this time, where there is surely a big fat present awaiting me.") and demanded to know: "What is there to do here?" I'd clean forgotten to bring any of the toys up from the garage, so it did look dauntingly un-child-friendly. However, the PS2 game was a real hit - Buzz's Junior Monster Rumble - and he whiled away a happy half hour or so before his supper, thrashing his mother, Granu and Auntie Fisher.

Once the kiddies wre in bed, we adults sat down to game pie and a hearty chat, which lasted well into the night. Sister remarked it was the first time in weeks she'd actually relaxed, and considering the strain she's been under, I'm not surprised. She's been relying on the hospitality of her sister-in-law, with whom she's not always on ideal terms, and it all became just a little too much. When she and Ma had to leave the kitchen in a tip because they were running late, The Sister In Law came back from work, unexpectedly, for lunch and found it covered in sugar puffs and breakfast debris. Granted, this is annoying - but The Sister In Law was, and I quote, "beyond devastated." Nor did she mellow in any way when given flowers by way of apology. Instead, she decided it "wasn't working out" so Sister told her they were moving.

If my kitchen had been left like a bomb site, I would have been a bit cheesed, for sure. In fact, my kitchen has, in the past, been left a tip. But I know dealing with two boys of strong personality, neither of whom are easily persuaded into doing that which they do not wish to do, is incredibly difficult. The Sister In Law deals with her children by organising their lives to the extent they literally only see them for about two hours a day. But rather than vanish down a line of disapproval in the way people raise their children, I'll just reserve my disapproval for the fact that The Sister in Law did little to make Sister feel comfortable and, after pretty much booting her out, had the audacity to say, upon farewell:

"Let us know if there's anything we can do to help!"

I said Sister should have turned round and asked to stay for another two weeks.

Aanyway, I wasn't there and have only Sister's spleen venting upon which to go, which isn't entirely fair. After all, The Sister In Law did let her stay for 2 weeks - and that length of time is guaranteed to put everyone on nerves' edge.

Next day, we went into Dundee to satisfy Gemmill's need to see the robot at Sensation, and Sister's desire for lunch at the DCA. Lunch proved to be a mistake. They're always pretty slow, but this time they took an hour to bring us our food. Astonishingly, the boys didn't run ragged and eventually we managed to get food down us and move on to other things.

That evening, Fisher and I were promised to a charity quiz, run by the ex-president of my tennis club who is a bit of a control freak and is NEVER WRONG. On the other hand, she proved a brilliant quiz maker. We rocked up to Age Concern in Cupar (God help me, but that did my ego no good. "How did you spend your Saturday night?" "I had a kickin' time at the Age Concern." I am, officially, mentally ancient) and discovered tables full of keen quiz goers - and the pamphlet of paper provided for our answers.

It was like War and Peace!

We were in for a long night.

Well - long it certainly was, taking some 3 1/2 hours, but it was also entertaining, with rounds like: "Guess what's in the bag" where you had to identify several plastic baggies of ordinary hoursehold powders. Lu and I volunteered to be indentifiers and got 9/10. The one we failed on was ground almonds. I thought it was polenta. I got lightly ribbed over this by Tom, who was there with Debbie. "Polenta? Who d'you think set up this quiz? Heston Blumenthal?"

Obviously a pie man.

The slightly unbelievable result of this epic quiz night was that we four walked away the winners, despite a 20 question round on Scottish football anthems and their corresponding competitions, which was a complete disaster. We won four bottles: one of Glenfiddich, one of red wine (Hardy's), on of Irn Bru, and, even more oddly, one of orange barley water. Fantastic!

Next day, we met up with Arrow and Lu again for Sunday lunch. I roasted a couple of guinea fowl with rosemary, garlic, pancetta and butter under the skin, and they turned out well. We then played a little Monster Rumble with Gemmill, took a walk up the hill to let Gemmill hunt the geocache, and returned to HC to flop. Or so I fondly imagined!

I wanted to play a grown up game or chat with Arrow and Lu while the kiddies watched TV, but Lu and Arrow were happier watching Pepper Pig, so I went through to do some work in my study. After 5 minutes, I was interrupted by Fisher who had just been alerted by my mother to the fact that Ma's flight was not, as thought, at 9.30pm tomorrow night but instead at 9.30am tomorrow.

Mild panic ensued. Flights to London had to be booked, then from Malta to London - but the Malta Airways desk was, of course, shut until 8am on Monday and we didn't want to book online if it was possible to transfer her ticket for £30. As we all rushed around like headless chickens, discussing alternatives (taxi to Glasgow that night/ stay 'til Thursday when another flight leaves from Glasgow/ flights from London on Monday/ flights on Tuesday and stay with Brother and Gaura etc) Lu and Arrow remained watching Pepper Pig, oblivious. I'm delighted to know how easily they can be entertained.

Aside from the flight nonsense, it was my ideal Sunday! A housefull, a Sunday roast, a walk, then flop. Ok - the flop didn't quite work out as I expected, but it was pretty perfect otherwise.

Next day we were up by 7.45 to see off Ma and Sister & Sons, who managed to leave the house only 20 minutes or so late. Some kind of record! Ma managed to get her flight sorted and it much relieved our minds. We waved them off fondly, then returned to a house that seemed to echo with emptiness. Still, it was rather nice to slope about in a dressing gown for the rest of the morning before the cleaners arrived (then left again because they couldn't do the full amount of time and Fisher threw a minor wobbly and demanded they come back when a complete clean could be achieved).

We'd planned on doing some exercise, but lack of sleep quashed that idea and instead we had a lazy day. I helped in the jewellery workshop, putting the hooks on earrings (very proud) then played a lot of God of War 2 (not very proud at all), and before you knew it, it was time for supper. Amazing how a day doing nothing can speed by.

So that was that for the Visiting Spawn. Terrific stuff. I love, love, love a busy weekend.

Thursday, 22 November 2007


I've just had a mini trantrum and had to come and sit down for while. I've been clipping Bridie, who hates it. She started trembling as I washed and shampoo'd her, increased the shaking to a positive vibration during her hair-drying session, and hasn't stopped throughout the clipping. It breaks your heart, especially when she leans against you and whines, as if to say "oh why, why are you doing this to me? Don't you LOVE me any more?"


I managed to do most of her, but I have a slight problem in that when the hair gets in my face it actually hurts. It's not just an aggravating tickle, it's so excrutiatingly acute it's almost like my face is on fire. I don't understand why Fisher doesn't seem to suffer in the same way - or anyone else for that matter. Fisher is now finishing off Bridie, after I swore violently and stormed inside, scrubbing my face with hands which, it turns out, were covered in teeny tiny hairs. Great.

Ok, after my little sit down I went back and clipped half of Baffie before having to run inside and have a shower. My face is now red and blotchy. I have the same reaction to grass. Is this an allergy, or just sensitive skin? Hmm. Also hate my own hair in my face, and flies or sundry flying insects buzzing around the region have been known to drive me to the brink of insanity. Just ask Phid, who remarked, after out Hadrian's Wall walk and with typical Phid sensitivity, I thought: "Yes, you did seem inordinately bothered by the flies. I mean, there were just as many buzzing around me ... and I didn't make such a god-awful whinging fuss!"

Ok, she didn't say the last bit, but it was practiaclly hanging in the air like a frozen turd from a cow's arse.

AN-yway, Bridie is now sleek and pepper black, with little sprinkles of salt. Fisher is just finishing off Baff so she gleams like a gilded lily, and we have 2 black poodles lolling about the house as well. Thank God poodles don't moult.

Im listening to The Clientele as I type. Jolly good. Very mellow. Me likee.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

England Out

Hey ho, that's England out of Euro 2008 then, and no less than they deserve. I have to say, I think I've pretty much stopped caring about Internationals. It's either that or feel sick with sadness for a week after a poor result.

Anyway - I won £65 quid on the game, so all in all England did me a favour.

Now, I'd better hop off and put it on Spurs to get relegated.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007


After the filth of yesterday, with its driving rain, windswept beach upon which we walked 3 rather dubious pooches and I mentally ranted and railed at Fisher (I'd suggested a nice woodland walk, only to be shouted down), and general lack of vigour, it was nice to get out and about today. After all, aside from the crazy walk, the only thing I did on Monday was play endless games of Civilization III. I think it was somewhat alarming for our Eastern European cleaners to hear me screeching "Fuck you, you war-mongering German arse-bandits!" as Bismark once again attacked a weakened city.

Still, I now have a 24 city strong nation, and am kicking ARSE (bandits).

So today - it being a Tuesday and therefore Fisher's Day - we went climbing. Without an instructor there, we found ourselves much less inclined to drive ourselves up walls with the vim and vigour of previous occasions. Also, the fact we were now relying on each other and each other alone, put a little psychological block in Fisher's mind. While I have complete faith in her abilities, she is simply not as secure under my aegis. You can see her lack of confidence in me in other walks of life, too - like when I offer to load the dishwasher and she gets a slightly panic-stricken look in her eye because she doesn't think I do it as well as her.

Hey ho.

Anyway, we spent a happy 2 hours clambering at a leisurely pace up and down walls, getting extremely frustrated because we couldn't actually complete a '3', let alone a '4'. To make myself feel better, I got Fisher to time me up the final wall - a '3' we'd done several times before with ease.

It took me 58 seconds.

That's crap!

Never mind - we can only get better. There's no such thing as worse than us at climbing.

My arms now ache and it's fecking cold in here, so I'm off to build a pathetic fire because I can't swing an axe to chop more logs, so will be using the drabs from yesterday.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Good News!

I got a phone call an hour ago from Islander, saying that Wrecker had been for his last general anaesthetic, where the doctors check the progress of his wounds - and it's excellent news. Everyone is amazed at how well he's healed; there will be no need for a skin graft, and fingers crossed he'll be out on Monday! Ma is flying out that day, so Islander is going back home to work while Sister continues with Ma and the boys, staying with her sister and brother-in-law.

A relief! I didn't realise just how concerned I was until I heard that news. I know now that it's been swilling about in the back of my mind pretty permanently. Every time the phone rings I got a nasty little flash of what if ...

So, that news has cheered me up immensely.

As for the second day in Gemmill's company - it was as hectic as the first. We took him to the Science Museum, which is terrific for kiddies and adults alike, and he spent several happy hours there. He was a little more bolshy than the previous day, as we knew he would be, as the novelty of Auntie Fun had worn off. Actually, his devotion to his Auntie Fisher is now in full swing. He's always at pains to show how good she is at things: she gives the best swing-arounds (where he gets swung round by the arms), is the best at running, feeding squirrels, and is the first person he runs to when frightened. If I'm Auntie Fun then she's Auntie Cuddles. He doesn't want to compete with her - he wants to take care of her and make sure her feelings aren't hurt. Mine, on the other hand, are designed to be crushed by the full weight of his competitive spirit. Superb stuff.

After the Science Museum, where we also grabbed lunch, we asked him what he would like to do next. The answer was swift in coming: back to the 'garden' please. Delighted, we took him off to this free attraction and spent a couple more hours revisiting the exotic plants and playing in the play park.

Back at the hospital, Wrecker was looking cheerful, as was Islander whose turn it was for a good night's sleep while Sister took the night shift. We promised to bring her some room service from the Hotel du Vin, and left her to it.

Back at the hotel, we availed ourselves of their gym - which is crap, but who cares? At least they have one - and then took Sister her grilled chicken sandwich, some crisps and a bottle of lemonade. It turned out to be far from exciting, but the box they put it in was very elegant, so that was something.

On our return, we flopped gleefully on the four poster, ordered up some Buccleuch Burgers from room service, and whiled away the astonishingly long wait watching TV.

Room service proved rather ordinary, which is a shame, but no real complaints. Their chips were gorgeous, and we were hungry enough not to care about the boring state of the burger. I imagine the kitchens are too busy concentrating on the magic performed in the Bistro to be overly concerned with room service.

Next day, we took Gemmill and Sister back to - you've guessed it - the Botanic Gardens. Sister then had to return to the hospital because Islander had to go to the airport and deal with the people going to China in his stead, so we played in the playpark until lunch time. Dragging Gemmill away from the roundabout, where he and a little girl were trying very hard to kill themselves by flinging themselves off it while it was still spinning, was quite a challenge. He didn't want lunch, so promises of food - even ice cream! - did no good. Eventually he came because I made him, and then coaxed him away from a tantrum by suggesting we hunt squirrels.

When we eventually got him out of the park, we searched out an Italian place off Byers Road where they had a very child friendly - if deserted - atmosphere. We let him choose lunch (pizza - good man!) and had a very pleasant time helping him write his name, draw pictures and generally be extremely good company. Then it was back to the hospital to drop him off, bid farewell to Sister and Wrecker, and head on home.

This brings me pretty much up to date, save to mention Lu's birthday meal at the Craigsanquhar, which was very chilled, and going for a 4 mile run today. I've discovered I've put on 1/2 a stone since my lightest, so it's back to the grindstone in that respect. Hey ho. Still - I'd rather live beyond 40, if you don't mind, so I'll forego the odd bag of Maltesers.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Back from Wrecker's Bedside ...

Ahhh ... that's better!

There's really nothing more depressing than a hospital - and a children's hospital specialising in burns is particularly foul - so, while the trip was actually very far from painful, Fisher and I are both very glad to be back.

Having said that, I'm afraid a large portion of this blog is going to be devoted to the find of the century, where I had something akin to a 'St Paul on the road to Damascus' moment and was both humbled and inspired. But more of that later.

We arrived at Yorkhill Hospital to see Wrecker drowsily lying in his cot, having his toe held by Islander (something he finds soothing), swathed in bandages. However, he was pink of cheek and calm, seemingly undistressed - which was a relief. As our presence was requested ostensibly to take care or Gemmill, I greeted him by standing in front of the TV and giving hurrah. At which the little foulness shouted: "No!" and struck out at me, furious I would obstruct his viewing pleasure. Not to be thwarted, I decided suitable treatment was to pick him up and drag him into the corridor, threatening dire retribution including throwing him down the stairs. This he thought great fun, and order was restored.

We duly took Gemmill off for a day's entertainment, starting with the Kelvingrove Museum, which cunningly manages to imply a massive dinosaur skeleton on display by showing a close-up picture of its head on its pamphlet. Naturally Gemmill was desperate to see it, so when it turned out to be a small dinosaur - not even as big as a veloceraptor - he was most put out. Luckily he was interested enough in all the other stuffed and fossilised things, including a
stagonolepis fossil which I, too, thought very cool.

We managed to pass several hours here, although I think we were pushing it a bit by the end. He was only mildly interested in the armour displays, and instead of looking, told me a convoluted story about Father Christmas and a dragon, which was rather good until the bloody Power Rangers turned up in it. I hate those things. However, he was quite taken with a hollowed out log canoe and some furs, both used by Scotland's earliest people.

After Kelvingrove we headed out in search of a play park, and found one nearby which he spent about half an hour sampling while Fisher and I struggled to think of what to do next. I half heartedly suggested the Botanic Gardens - and miraculously, Gemmill was very keen to see what I could only think to describe as 'a museum of flowers.' So off we tootled.

Unfortunately, the walk proved a hell of a lot longer than I'd anticipated so we recuperated at a café and fed Gemmill a caramel slice and a smoothie, before finishing the trek. The boy is pretty indefatigable! The walk must have been over a mile, but he was still haring around at the end of it.

The Botanic Gardens proved to be a godsend. Gemmill loved the glasshouses, filled with plants, and his prodigious memory stored up all the facts I could muster (which is probably a bad thing, as I know sweet FA about plants and doubtless fed him nothing but misinformation). After at least an hour of exploration we found another play park with a roundabout, which occupied him until darkness fell and it was time to return to Yorkhill. We caught a cab (eventually) and only when we were sitting on its soft seats did Gemmill cheerfully remark that his legs were sore. Considering Fisher's feet were sore too, it's astonishing he wasn't dropping with fatigue - but he still had energy enough to demand a go on the slide outside the hospital when we disembarked.

We delivered Gemmill back to his Mama and Papa, then set about the task of finding ourselves some accommodation. And here, o readers, is where this Glasgow trip changed in nature and became a dichotomy of duty and pleasure.

After trolling up and down Byers and the Great Western Roads, stopping off at the Hilton and waiting 20 minutes to be told there were no rooms (why couldn't they just have a poxy 'no vacancies' sign?), we eventually stopped at a place on the Great Western Road that looked plush and comfy. Fisher went in to make enquiries and came trotting back saying yes, they had rooms, they could 'do' them at a reduced price, and was that ok? Fine by me - so we parked the car, grabbed our skanky hold-alls out the boot and galumphed up the stairs ... where we were were relieved of our bags by a jovial soul in a kilt and invited to have a drink. This we declined, as we actually had to check in, and therefore missed out on the free dram of Glenmorangie each visitor gets on arrival.

We were shown to our reduced rate room, and at the sight of it, something inside me just switched off and all the muscles in my back which, it seems, I'd be holding in a tight little ball of tension, simply relaxed. My soul breathed a great sigh of relief and I gazed in delight at the vast four poster bed, the bathroom with its enormous bath and walk-in shower, and the goodies laid out beside the kettle. Being starving, I immediately wolfed the complimentary 'dunking' biscuit of chocolate chip and a bag of salt and pepper crisps (not complimentary). We changed our clothes, shook off the taint of hospital, and went downstairs to see about supper. The Bistro, the hotel's restaurant, advised booking in order to avoid disppointment, so this we did - getting in at 7.30.

After doing some mundanities like checking email on the free computer access, we made our way to the Bistro. We were supplied with an excellent and generous G&T as we perused the menus. My eye lit on a starter which, at £9, seemed extortionate - considering it was, to all extents and purposes, a soft boiled egg and soldiers. Ok, so it was truffle toast, but even so, I wasn't going to fork out nearly a tenner for a soft boiled bloody egg! I turned away from it, tempted by terrines, veloutés, salads and seafood in equal measure. Fisher decided she wanted the ham hough terrine, so I was foiled in that choice, but my main course was a simple choice. I had to have the hare with turnip 'addressed two ways'. ("Good evening, turnip" and "Hey turnip, what's up?" perhaps? Aha. Ahahahahaha.) Fisher plumped for lobster, obviously, and it only remained for me to choose a starter and we were good to go.

I'd decided on something - I forget what - when my eye lit once more on the soft boiled egg. How can they charge £9 for a soft boiled egg? I marvelled. And so I ordered it, telling the head waiter that I was doing so simply to discover "how the hell you can get away with charging £9 for a boiled egg!" He smiled benignly, telling me I'd made a wise choice, and left us to enjoy our drinks in amongst the plush furnishings, dim lighting and Simon Pegg.

At our table at last, we were first served with an amuse bouche of artichoke velouté, which was a harbinger of things to come. Light, fluffy, melt in the mouth ... utterly divine, with different types of bread to mop up the scraps in a deeply ungenteel fashion. We'd ordered a glass of wine each. Fisher went for a large glass of Chianti - I forget which - but it was crisp, light and fruity. I went for a Pinot Noir, which was stupidly priced even by the glass, but by God it was worth every penny! I had to steel myself not to guzzle its rich, ripe, black berry goodness down in seconds.

On came the starters ... and oh! "Why the hell do you only charge £9 for that boiled egg?" I asked the head waiter, afterwards.

It arrived, lightly fried in something - I still don't know what. It was like a smooth breadcrumb shell - and when I broke into it, the egg flowed gently out like yellow lava. I took a small forkfull, cut a centimetre of truffle toast and combined the two.

Bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. Lightly salty, fragrant from the truffle oil, beautifully warm and moist with egg ...

Without question of a doubt, the finest starter I've ever had the privilege of tasting.

Meanwhile, Fisher was chomping her ham hough terrine with pleasure. We tried each others, and I thought the terrine excellent: flaky meat, shot through with green peppercorns for a slight tartness, and beautifully prepared. My egg won the day, but the terrine was splendid.

Next up was the main course. I'd forgotten to order any side dishes with my hare, and was initially a little vexed at my forgetfulness. The hare came in small cylinders, half brown, half white. The brown half was the hare, soft as butter. The white half was turnip, which had been turned into something rather like panacotta, and provided the subtlest, earthy accompaniment to the hare. The hare itself was perfectly hung for my taste - its gaminess potent but not overpowering, and well balanced by the second turnip, which was fried, or sautéed, and caramelised.

It was to die for. Beside me, Fisher was uttering little moans over her lobster, which I couldn't sample but which she tells me was perfection on a plate - pan fried in butter, with a hot, foamy mayonnaise accompaniment. It literally brought tears to her eyes.

We sat in stunned silence. I kept glazing over. I simply couldn't seem to focus my thoughts on anything but the tastes swirling round my mouth. It was as though I'd stumbled out of Plato's cave and seen the true light. Now I know there are two levels of haut cuisine: that which you find in good restaurants across the globe, and thoroughly enjoy - and that which overwhelms your senses, delighting sight, scent, touch and taste - even sound, if you take into consideration the appreciative noises made by yourself and your dining partner.

The only comparison I have is the first time I read Shakespeare on my own, without being compelled to do so for school. As I sank into the words and found myself absorbed, I suddenly 'got' it. I knew why he was a genius. His characters danced about my mind, his words were like music, and without the ponderous analysis enforced upon him, his plays become what they were always intended to be: pure, engrossing entertainment. You're supposed to be swept up in the story, to give yourself over to it in willing suspension of disbelief, whether it make you laugh, give you hope, or break your heart.

Well, this meal did all those things. I laughed with the sheer pleasure of it, at how blown away we were by it; it broke my heart because I recognised how paltry and amateurish my own efforts at the stove are in comparison; it gave me hope because there's the promise of returning - and of learning to cook in such a fashion myself.

Yes, yes, this is all very overblown and silly, I'm sure - but I really don't care. Life is short, and the pursuit of pleasure is a noble one.

But with the search comes responsibility. If it's in your power, you have to share your good fortune with as many people as possible. Keep it all to yourself and you're nothing more than a fat cat hedonist, indulging in selfish gluttony. If you find something spectacular, it's your duty to let those who'd glean as much pleasure from it as yourself know of its existence, and share in it with you.

But I haven't even finished describing the meal!

Out of a responsibility to the Cheese Board, I ordered cheese for pudding. Fisher went a more traditional route and succumbed to a chocolate platter, which I'll let her describe in her own blog, if she wishes, because I can't really remember it. I was too excited by my cheese!

I go to choose it from a selection, and a French waitress talked me through my choices and advised me to eat them in a certain order. I could go through each and every one, but I won't (I think it would be a bit tedious, even for the most devoted foodie). Suffice it to say, even the cheese was spectacular - and the order they were eaten definitely made a difference.

Christ, I'm getting hungry just thinking about them.

After this feast of delights was done, we retired to the whisky room where over 300 whiskies are on display - including the Edradour Chateau d'Yqueme we have at home courtesy of Arrow. I plumped for port instead, while Fisher had a white sherry, and we slowly digested. Decaf coffee rounded everything off, along with several divine, hand-made petit fours. And once all this was consumed, the vast four poster bed awaited us in all its glory.

Thus ended the finest meal I have ever eaten - and thus ends this part of the blog.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Catch Up

Just a quickie, just because I feel like writing something.

A few days ago, poor little Wrecker upended a full cafetiere of just-boiled coffee onto himself and was flown off the Hebridean Isle and to Glasgow, where he's now in bandages and awaiting a potential skin graft. Understandably, this has rather put our lives on hold as we await a summons to Glasgow for aid. Naturally, this all comes at a time when Islander was due to fly to China - so we're waiting to see whether he needs to postpone the trip or not. While it seems a no-brainer on the surface, it may actually prove more problematic, in the long run, if he does postpone, so it's all up in the air. We were due to go down on Thursday, after Islander left, but if he doesn't go ...

Well, anyway, after dithering and loitering by the phone for several days, wondering whether we shouldn't just up sticks and go anyway, Fisher and I got a call from Sister asking if we couldn't come on down this afternoon. As it happens, we really couldn't. Fisher had shedloads of jewellery to make for a gallery in the Borders, and we had to arrange dogs and stuff. The best we could do was this evening - so we duly begged Lu and Arrow (again! We are so very much in their debt for so many occasions) to play house and dog sitters, to which they readily agreed, bless their cotton, wool, nylon and sundry man-made fibre socks.

Then we got a call from Sister saying that wee Wrecker has undergone a general anaesthetic to assess his wounds, and been deemed ok enough - so far - to not have a graft. He may need a smaller one than originally thought later in the week, but fingers crossed it's looking pretty good. We're still going down, but have decided it's best to leave tomorrow morning, crack of sparrows, rather than pay for an extra night in town when all we'll do is twiddle our thumbs.

So that's what's happening. Tomorrow we go down to Glasgow to meet up with Islander and Gemmill, in order to take Gemmill to the Kelvingrove Museum and generally entertain him. I don't know how long we're going to be in Glasgow, but we're at Sister's disposal, so until she's fed up with us I suppose.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

CBT Continued

Where was I?

Ah yes - driving in circles and stopping. Well, I got the hang of that pretty quickly so we moved on to doing figures of eight and slalem through cones, which I found very hard! Moving slowly with control is incredibly wobble-making, and I'm pretty sure there were only a few occasions I managed to do it without putting my foot down, and even fewer where I didn't miss out a slalem cone. I was starting to feel a tiny bit like a 'girlie', which irritated me no end - until I realised my partner in motorbike education was having equal trouble, plus he was still struggling to pull out without stalling - so I felt a little better.

Once 'Tache-man was content we'd managed to grasp some semblance of control, we moved on to the gears - building speed, changing up to second and even third if we had time, then down again to stop. I'm afraid I found this incredibly frustrating - partly because my big-toed walking boots were the least tactile things in the world, but mostly because my brain was now starting to overload with information: right hand accelerate, right foot brake, left hand clutch, left foot gears - down for first, gentle tap up for neutral, firm tap up for second, then up for third, fourth and fifth (not that we got anywhere near 4th or 5th) and down again. I found myself slightly flustered by the whole process and wasn't all that comfortable that I'd grasped it properly before we moved on again. This time, Shaz was far ahead of me, changing gears smoothly, coming to a stop ... then stalling as he drew out again! Ha ha ...

Having 'mastered' the gears, we were then giving a brief rundown of the front and back brakes. Unlike on a bicycle you're supposed to use your front brakes a lot, applying them just a fraction of a second before the back brake in order to come to a smooth and efficient stop. We were drilled on this, then sent off in circles in preparation for an emergency stop - which involved braking, then checking over both shoulders before wheeling safely to the side of the 'road'. This I found relatively straightforward, and after a couple of goes I was pretty confident that, if I were to run over any small children, it would be through choice and not lack of ability.

We also practiced applying the brake at the right time in order to come to a stop at the right place, rather than ten feet away from the junction or, worse, ten feet after it and under the wheels of an oncoming HGV.

Next up - indicators and observation. We learned to check our mirrors, over our right shoulders, click the indicator on with our left thumb, do a 'life saver' check over the turning shoulder, and turn, cancelling the indicator. Again, I was pretty comfortable with this, but Shaz kept hitting the poxy horn, making me think he was about to go into the back of me which had my nerves in rags. By this stage I was also starving hungry having not had any breakfast, and my brain was starting to jellify. But we had one more discipline left to learn before stopping for a quick lunch.

Because the training ground is on both a hideously busy road and a hill, we had to learn hill starts. I wasn't particularly worried. When I learned a hill start in a car I got it first time and, to my knowledge, have never stalled on a hill, ever. As I didn't have any real problems pulling out on a bike, I didn't see why I couldn't grasp the hill start with flair and panache.

Poor Shaz, I thought to myself, he's going to have real problems here.

Off we went, with Shaz first up to try the hill start. We found the biting point, and while I waited, Shaz pulled smoothly out and headed off, neat as you like. Superb, I thought, well done Shaz!

Confidently I set off after him - and stalled. I quickly started up again, found the biting point, pulled out - and stalled.

Yes, to my chagrin, the hill start utterly screwed me over. I was embarrassingly bad at it, and a disgrace to my sex. By the time I'd managed it a couple of times I was swearing and spitting into my helmet, frustrated and flustered. I knew that, after lunch, we'd be doing our on-road driving, and it was now looming like a threat rather than a pleasure. Hiccupping on the very first hill and getting hit by some Dundonian wifie in a Volvo seemed a very possibly fate. When we at last broke for lunch I was very uncomfortable, and hoped very much we'd have a bit more practice at it before leaving the centre.

Lunch was a very unpleasant affair. Fisher had sweetly made me a lovely picnic, but I was now too tense to do anything other than wolf my egg sarnie while fetching forgotten cash to actually pay for my lesson. At least the car was warm! I'd not noticed how very cold it was while on the bike, but the moment we stopped I felt the chill to the roots of my boots.

After picking up the cash, I took my apple and coke into the 'office' - which is an old shipping container with a camping loo and a couple of chairs in it. There, waiting to go through Element D (Practical on Road Training) with us, was Crazy H - a chatty, funny, short and stocky Dundonian lassie with plum-coloured hair. Element D is classroom (or 'unheated shipping container') based and lasts about 45 minutes. Half an hour into it, Shaz and I were sitting side by side in identical attitudes of frozen misery - at which Crazy H broke off her morale boosting story of 'How I Got A Metal Pin In My Leg And How It Could Easily Happen To You' to ask if we wouldn't like the heater on.

Into the stunned silence I asked how much longer there was to go, and was told 'about 20 minutes.' As politely as we could, Shaz and I said yes, we would very much like the heater on.

"I wouldae axed sooner, ainly I didnae want yiz fallin' asleep on me," Crazy H laughed, and it was all I could do not to warm myself by leaping for her throat and giving her a good going over.

20 minutes later, only slightly warmed by the ancient gas heater, we were back outside and 'ready' to embark on our On Road Riding - but not before, thank God, we tried some more hill starts. These I managed ok, only stalling once (maybe twice?) but feeling much more confident by the time I actually had to pull out onto the main road of hideous traffic. And when it came to it, I did it without stalling and we were off!

I'd been terrified that we were going to go up and challenge the evil roundabout onto the Kingsway, but luckily Crazy H reassured me we wouldn't. Considering it's a mess of traffic snarling from every direction, with four exits, two lanes - and all perched on a hill I was considerably relieved, and the world seemed immediately rosier.

Instead we took an earlier, much smaller roundabout and went to a quiet-ish residential area. It was just in time for the school run, but on the whole we were undisturbed by much traffic, and were able to practice U-turns, emergency stops, junctions, signalling, observation, pulling in and everything we'd learned on the training ground.

Naturally, it all went out of the window for me the more we did it. I started ok, but soon was getting flustered as junction after junction approached, gear changes were needed, braking applied, signals remembered ... all with the threat of cars sending you to happy hunting grounds. (Crazy H's parting words were "just remember - all drivers are morons!" I had to calm myself down by remembering the words my mother used when she taught me to drive: "Always be vigilant, always be ready for an idiot - but remember, people don't actually want to hit you." I find this better advice than scaring the bejaysus out of you by all but convincing you of imminent death). Anyway, we did loads of junctions because both Shaz and I were shit at them. I'm pretty sure it would be easier if you knew where you were going and could prepare mentally without having to wait for instruction - no matter how efficiently applied. I seem to need a lot of time to think at the moment - something that will change with practice, but is quite nerve wracking at the time.

My clutch and throttle control were a bit suspect, as were Shaz's, but my gear changing was bad and I was quite slow in comparison to Shaz. I I found leading much easier than following, and it was interesting that, when I led, I remembered to switch off signals while Shaz forgot. Then, when Shaz led, I started forgetting. Forgetting signals is an instant test failure, so it was a big deal.

Eventually, 'Tache-man was content enough with our progress to lead us out into suburbia. And this is where the fun really started!

We headed out onto the A92 towards Arbroath, taking in a couple of nasty roundabouts, and I was starting to relax into it and enjoy myself. When we went off onto quieter, country roads and picked up some speed, I actually gave a brief 'woo hooooo!' I gunned the engine and set off to reach 50mph for the first time - and encountered the Biker's Friend: the wind. It buffetted me head on, not only challenging my confidence in my balance but chilling me to the bones of my bones. I dropped back to the 40mph mark where I was less assaulted, but by God it was cold! Nevertheless, it was all starting to become incredibly enjoyable.

We pootled through some suburbs of Dundee in the gathering darkness, and headed into Broughty Ferry to do more junctions. By the time we actually got there it was full-on night driving, and full-on rush hour, so it was definitely good practice! After touring the streets of BF, getting the full Tayside wind broadside and checking out the new High Street (very posh) we headed for home.

I managed to miss the centre's turning first time round, which was a bit embarrassing as I was leading, so took Shaz with me, but second time was a charm - and we were back, alive, well, and with the body temperature of Greenland. As I hopped off my lovely bike, the first thing I noticed was that I was seriously aching, like I'd done a proper workout in the gym, or, more accurately, like I'd gone for a long hack for the first time in years. Then I thought about it, and realised that, yes, on many occasions I'd instinctively gripped the bike's body with my thighs as if it were, indeed, a horse. Aside from this novelty, my hands were aching from holding the handlbars with nervous tension. It felt like I'd been on the climbing wall. My back and shoulders also ached a little, probably both from the riding position and the cold, which reminded me of swimming.

So, in conclsion, riding a motorcycle leaves you feeling like you've ridden a horse to a climbing centre, scaled a couple of walls, then gone for a swim in a glacial lake.

There was just one more thing to do: get assessed. Shaz and I were similar, in that 'Tache-man said we both of us 'struggled' a bit. That's probably fair enough. I wouldn't say I took to it like a duck to water. Still, on the final assessment, there were 19 points of assessment, from throttle control to overall ability, and I got ticks in the A column for 14 of them, and 5 ticks in the B. Unfortunately, I don't really know what the A and B columns mean (anyone reading this who does, please drop me a line), so I'm presuming 'A' means you'd pass in test conditions, and 'B' means you wouldn't. I got Bs in throttle and clutch control, use of gears, moving off/pulling in, and use of signals. (Sorry readers - this is dull, but I want to keep a record here in case I lose the bit of paper and forget what I need to practice).

So, did I enjoy my CBT?

To be honest - not really. It was a long, 9 1/2 hour day, full of anxiety, frustration, and occasional bouts of extraordinary tedium. Add a cold, blustery wind into the mix and you're talking proper discomfort. But am I glad I did it?

You betcha!

For half an hour or so I really relaxed into the ride, and then it was fantastic. The sensation of speed, even at 30mph, is exhilarating. Yes, the city is tricky and feels unsafe, but riding a motorbike is fun. I'm going to take a day or two and let everything sink in, then go bike shopping. I can't wait to get myself a little 125cc and start practicing all the things I was shit at.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007


So, I've done it.

"'It'?" you cry, in a veritable orgy of apostrophes, "what 'it'?"

Only my blimmin' CBT, I tells ya! And before anyone asks - no, I wasn't particularly good at it, and covered myself in no glory whatsoever. I was about as good as the guy I was paired with - a local lad called Shaz - and we seemed to pick up on each others' faults with astonishing regularity. For example, I was remembering to switch my indicator off without any trouble whatsoever, until I took the second rider position behind Shaz - and then I took up his habit of forgetting.

But I leap ahead.

First things first - the lesson began at the unGODly hour of 8am. It needed to be that early to get the requisite number of hours in during daylight. Thus, I attempted to turn in at 11pm - a good 3 hours before my usual bedtime - and inevitably just ended up daydreaming, wide-eyed, about (for some reason) camping and climbing on Skye with Phid - and getting utterly pissed on whisky in a tent. Strange what the brain will do when kicked into neutral (tap left foot up from 1st).

I fell asleep at 1am, then woke thanks to my marvellous body-clock alarm. Rising, grimacing at the still-dark sky, I washed my face, stared in horror at myself in the mirror, and tried hard to shake sleep from the corners of my brain. Then I checked my watch, uttered a small scream, and went back to bed.

It was 3am.

Luckily I got back to sleep with ease, and woke again around 10 to 7. Strangely, while I'd been rather nervous the night before, I was now quite calm. I was also extremely reluctant to get out of my warm bed and into the freezing cold morning air. Eventually I hauled myself out and into my clothes, scurried downstairs leaving Fisher a-snorin', and set off.

It was Baltic. Never again will I bitch about Helga's (Fisher's German shot-putter of a car) over-efficient heating system - but even so, I'd only just warmed myself through by the time I arrived at Scot Riders' training ground .

Naturally, the first aspect of training was standing around in the cold talking about helmets, clothing, and taking an eye test. This went on until every bone in my body was aching and my jaw had permanently welded itself together. This biking malarky wasn't really melting my butter. Or, for that matter, freezing it. It just wasn't ... buttery. It was dull. And cold. How could anyone talk for that long about helmets? All he really needed to say was:

"This is a helmet. Wear a good one every time you get on a bike and it may stop you dying. If it gets damaged, even if you just drop it, throw it away." But no - he had to show us a helmet cut in half, point out the difference between a scratch and, ye ken, a bad scratch, and tell us several horror stories about brain damaged biker friends - all of whom, it transpired, were wearing helmets - so that really cheered me up.

At last - at last - we were allowed onto our bikes! They were jolly nice. Chinese. Something like this (possibly they were this, but I wasn't really paying attention. I think they were grey):

The first thing we were taught was PIGS - Petrol switch (down), Ignition (switch it on) Gear (make sure it's in neutral by rolling forward and back) Start - er, off you go.

Yes. Off I went indeed, wobbling all over the place. I didn't find the actual process of getting clutch (left hand lever, like a brake on a bicycle) and throttle (right handlebar handle) in synch difficult, and was soon pulling out ok - but the balance was much harder than I'd anticipated. The faster I went the better it was, but being a cowardy custard I only wanted to go as fast as my feet could stop! We drove in circles, coming to a stop, pulling out and driving in circles again, until our instructor thought we'd got the hang of it.

A word about our instructor: he was lovely, and looked perfect for the part. He even had a handlebar moustache and two earrings! I couldn't have asked for more. More importantly, he was clear, reassuring and friendly - except for the brain damage stories.

Argle. It's 1.20am and my eyes are sticky. I'll have to pick this up tomorrow.