Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Triathlon Training Begins!

Ok, I don't know why I put an exclamation mark after the title. It really wasn't a very impressive beginning, but I hope it was the best I could do.

It's been absolutely pissing it down all day, and after playing a 3 1/2 hour tennis match against hard competition last night, I wasn't feeling particularly energetic. I'd suggested to Fonda we play a bit of tennis tonight, but I'd cricked my neck a bit and it was feeling pretty stiff this morning. Couple that with the filthy weather and I decided to postpone our game. She's coming round to dinner next Wednesday instead. Much more civilised.

Around 2pm in the afternoon, when I'd achieved diddly squat apart from devouring a pot-boiler novel, I suddenly decided I was in serious need of exercise. Fisher wanted to go to the gym and use the elliptical machine and some weights, so I suggested I run the back way to Cupar, then I'd go for a swim and join her in the gym for some weights. Unfortunately the pool turned out to be closed, so I decided to cycle to St Andrews leisure centre instead, swim and then run in the gym.

The ride to St A's was fine, albeit frickin' freezing and very very wet. The cycle route is very pretty, and it's nice not to feel as if you're about to be knocked off your perch every 4 seconds. There's nothing like riding a bike to make you realise just how many cars are on the road, and how fast they travel on unsuitable roads. I didn't notice that the downpour and slick surfaces slowed anyone down at all - but I don't imagine I'd have been any more careful if I'd been driving, either. Hooray for double standards.

I covered about 8 1/2 miles, maybe 9, on my bike ride, which isn't very much. Nor was the 200m swim particularly impressive - especially as I did 50m breast stroke followed by 50m crawl, then repeated it before getting out. It's clearly my swimming I need to work on most, as I find it utterly exhausting! I could certainly have done more at that pace, but my training schedule suggests starting with small amounts and building up, so that's what I decided to do. In the gym, I only managed a mile and a half in about 16 minutes - but that pace isn't bad for me. I suspect I could have run for longer if I'd been outside, but if that's true then I'm pretty sure the pace would have been slower - and I can't be certain anyway. I must learn to be happy with what I've achieved, not constantly comparing it to previous sessions or making estimates after the fact that leave me feeling wanting.

After the run, I did 10 - 15 minutes in the gym. I managed three sets of 12 lifts on the chest press at resistence 6 (30kg?). I also did three sets on the horizontal leg press, at resistence 9 (45kg?), one set on the shoulder press at r. 5 (which nearly killed me) , three sets (just!) on the stomach cruncher at r. 10 and three sets on the lat pulldown machine - one set on 6, the other two on 4, which was a bit pathetic but I was really tired by then!

Afterwards, as we were leaving the gym, I was pleased to find I felt I could actually have gone back and done more - which is what the schedule suggests. I imagine it's important psychologically, as if you leave feeling drained and exhausted you'll only remember how miserable it made you, and going back again will be difficult. All I felt was bloody hungry! A quick snack of an apple and some dried banana has tided me over thus far, but I'm juuust about ready to eat my own foot, so I hope Fisher has supper ready soon.

I'm not planning on doing any exercise tomorrow, except maybe a little tennis in the evening (doesn't count as it's doubles), so that can be my rest day. On Thursday I'll do something else. Maybe a long run. But one thing I've learned about me is that I simply cannot plan things. Everything has to have a degree of spontaneity about it, or I'll just end up dreading it.

I have to say, sitting here now, I'm starting to feel some serious weariness. I don't think this is a good thing. I don't think 8.5 miles on a bike, a 1.5 mile run, a 200m swim and 10 minutes on the weights should tire me out quite this much. Or am I being too hard on myself? Hm. This is a bit of a problem. I seriously don't know what I should expect from myself. Should I aim to do more in my next session, or less? Is this my 'big session' for the week, or should I think on it as maintenance? I'll have to look at the schedule again, but it's tricky as it doesn't quite apply to me. I'm not a total couch potato, which is what the schedule is aimed at. I'm starting from scratch on the swimming front, but with everything else I'm more around the week 18 mark!

I think I need a new schedule.

Anyhoo ... I'm tired, cold and hungry. There should be enough hot water for a bath now, and I can smell a supper, so it's time to finish. I'll pick Fonda's brain next Wednesday (if I remember!) and see what she thinks about triathlon training.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Marathons and Yet More Americans.

This weekend was another full schedule - which is most unlike the folk of HC, who are more hermit in temperament than socialite. However, when friends beckon we jump into phone boxes, don cloaks and wear our underpants on the outside, before whisking off to be at their disposal. Unless, of course, we don't want to. Then we stay in bed and pull the duvet over our heads.

On Saturday, we travelled to Elie in order to meet an old friend from Albany, NY, and his wife, who are visiting Scotland on a nostalgic tour. WC went to St Andrews University in the '50s, with my father, and there struck up a friendship with him that would last half a century and see him become godfather (albeit an utterly indifferent one) to my sister. He's actually had more contact with me than Sister, owing to my 3 month gap year visit to the US, when I stayed with him for some time. He and his first wife were very good to me, and I was delighted to be able to return at least a tiny particle of the favour by buying him lunch at the Ship Inn, Elie, and then taking him and his second wife, Rainia, on to St Andrews.

We were supposed to meet them at noon, but waited over 2 hours before they showed. Trouble with the car rental place, as well as traffic on the bridge and no mobile phones meant they were delayed and unable to tell us about it. I imagine WC's unfamiliarity with the roads, and the car, and driving on the left, also added to the delay. When we drove to St Andrews after lunch I went with them in their car, and we canoned off several kerbs and never got above 30 mph the whole way, so if that's how they journeyed from Edinburgh I'm surprised it only took them 2 hours.

Lunch was fun, and showing WC St Andrews was also a pleasure. He wanted to check out the castle, and see the pier, but with Rainia not very good at walking owing to arthritic knees, we didn't want to walk very far. So, we wandered slowly down to St Salvator's Hall, where WC had spent his JYA, and a lenient porter allowed us to go inside so he could have a quick look at the dining and common rooms. We then walked over to the quad. Rainia was obviously far more interested in the flowers than the buildings, but the fact they were both taking such pleasure in the place was great to see. A coffee and carrot cake at the North Point (I didn't have carrot cake. I was restrained and had only coffee) was all we had time for before Fisher and I had to head back home, pack up the car with bags, my bike, dogs and doggie things, and set off to Edinburgh. Naturally, poor Spartan and Blarney were having to bear the weight of our descent once more - but I softened the blow by promising them supper at a local Italian, so Spartan could 'carb up' in preparation for the morrow's marathon.

I was feeling the effects of PT again, so I decided the best course of action was to stay away from bread, cheese, and any rich food. Therefore, I ordered a salad with parma ham, avocado and eggs. It was good - but not as good as the sight of Fisher's pizza calzone, which turned out to be the size of her own head and filled with tomato-ey goodness. Nevertheless, I felt no ill effects from supper so my choice was obviously wise.

Goodness, how food-oriented this blog is. Well, there we go. I've decided one of the things I hate beyond hatred is women (in my experience it's only women) who judge what you eat and sneer at it. There seems to be a real upswing of food snobbery around, which makes me furious. Yes, I disapprove of eating nothing but frozen ready meals - especially if that's all you feed your kids - but I don't go to the bitching lengths that some women go to. The two girls on the train, who inspired my short story, were having a right snide go at one of their grandmothers who would always cook a full meal for her granddaughter when she came to visit. Apparantly this was a source of great discomfort for the skinny little shite, because she would cook a fillet of salmon and drizzle melted butter over it. How disgusting! The girl actually said:

"I find it so hard to keep it down!"

Fish and melted butter? What the bloody hell is wrong with the girl? How much of a fecking puritan do you have to be to object so strenuously to melted butter? She then went on to scornfully tell of how the Evil Grandmother would then insist she take chocolate bars away with her - which was also, apparantly, disgusting. I wanted to get up and smack her one, right in her sneering mouth. There wasn't a single word about how lovely it was for her grandmother to go to the lengths of cooking a meal, or how sweet it is of her to want to give her something to take away - no matter how misguided it may be. She sounded like a spoiled brat not getting the exact toy she wanted at Christmas.

Anyway, I can shake my head in despair at people who refuse to cook fresh food - but I don't think I look down my nose at them as people, or think them disgusting! And people who are fussy eaters are just a bore from start to finish, whether it be because they don't like anything or because they're the sort of people on a permanent health kick. I'll give them a health kick - right in their bony arses!

So - where was I?

Oh yes. The wise choice I made at supper. Hm. I forgot to mention that, because I was feeling so chipper, I then went back to Blarney & Spartan's and generously helped them get rid of some of the cheese Sister left as a thank you for their hospitality. Blarney, Fisher and I all tucked in to the divine selection, while Spartan sat on the sofa and looked folornly at the roquefort - occasionally issuing threats over the finishing of it. He needn't have worried. There was a hefty slab of it, and even I wasn't prepared to hoover it all up in one sitting.

We all went to bed pretty early. Spar had to be up at 6.30 to be sure of eating properly and being mentally as well as physically ready for the challenge of 26.2 miles. We had to be up in order to leave at 9, which was much more civilised but still a relatively early start by Fisher's and my standards. We spent a while plotting the best route to take out to Musselburgh Race Course, then hit the hay.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny. In our dreams! No, it was a traditional Edinburgh May day - grey and utterly pissing it down. Luckily I'd remembered to bring a waterproof - which is some kind of miracle for me - so I wasn't too concerned by the rain. I'd promised to ride my bike along the course and park myself at suitable intervals to hand out chocolate and encouragement. I'd planned on doing it with Chopper for company, but it soon transpired that, with her usual lack of organisation, Chopper had failed to leave the house by the time we arrived. Therefore, I didn't see her until the end of the race - but no matter. I ended up having a lovely time on my own, cheering on the runners (and sounding frighteningly like the PE teacher from St Trinian's) and following them as far as I could.

Christ on a bike, though - it was hard going on the way out! The wind was whistling off the Forth, and riding up to Prestonpans, out to Cockenzie and along Links Road was seriously hard work! The wind was right in my face, and my bike almost ground to a standstill. I'd been so blasé about the distance - it never entered my head that it might actually take some levels of fitness! Plus, I couldn't even grumble about it - considering what Spartan and Phiddipida were undertaking. (Well - I say I 'couldn't'. It's more like I 'shouldn't .... have done.')

Anyway, I took Spartan's chocolate bars and bought some jelly babies as well, to hand out to needy runners. Some of them were so rude! I mean, I know they were knackered and everything, but that's no excuse. I held out the bag and one bloke just reached in and grabbed a fistful, scattering most of them into a puddle and shoving the rest into his crusty maw. Idiot. So from then on I doled them out in a strict 'one for one person' quota, holding each one out and making sure I put them firmly into an outstreched hand so they didn't fall on the ground. I think some people were a little taken- aback by me calling out:

"Hands out for a jelly baby! No snatching!"

But I didn't lose a single baby after that. See, all people really need is a bit of discipline.

At mile 14 - which was about the 6 mile point for me - I was prevented from riding my bike further because the runners had started to double back, making a 2 lane course of those going out on the left and those coming back on the right. Luckily it turned out to be a good spot to wait. Having dawdled at the 7 mile mark handing out jelly babies, I'd had a foolish impression of how easy it would be to overtake Spartan and Phid. I managed to get ahead of Phid, but I was eating Spar's dust! I was a bit worried that he'd curse my name when I failed to reach mile 19, which was an evil finger of pointless road you simply ran up and came down again and which I'd hoped to stand at and cheer. Fortunately, Spar assured me that his stomach started growling about 2 miles before he saw me, and getting his Cadbury's Caramel at mile 20 was spot on. Can you imagine?? The furthest I've ever run in my life is 10k, and there I was cheering Spar onto his "last 10k" when he'd already put 20 miles behind him!

It's quite awe inspiring, the stupidity of these people.

Anyway, I'd seen Phid go past me on her 15th mile (when I offered her a jelly baby she gave the barest shake of the head and looked as if she'd trodden in runny dog shite. Next time I must remember to ask what she'd actually like!) I'd also very nearly been run down by an elite runner as I scampered across to speak to her. God, I'm the sort of spectator I ridicule and scorn when I see them on TV.

I waited some time, and then Spartan's face bobbed into my sightline. He seemed white as a sheet to me, but when I waved and held up his chocolate he gave a great grin and bounced up to me like Tigger. He spared a few words and a laugh before boinging past with the sort of jauntiness I only ever feel after a good long sleep, two cups of coffee and several lines of coke. The man's some kind of machine.

I was in sporadic communication with Wheeler as he tried to find his way along the course on his clapped out motorbike, and he told me he was at mile 20 - which was odd, because so was I. He must have been literally round the corner, where I couldn't take my bike. He said he'd seen Phid go past, but I must have missed her. She certainly wasn't drawing any attention to herself. Unlike Spar, she runs with eyes down, face covered by a cap, and with as much economy of movement as possible. Speak to her and she gives you the merest, glazed glance - perhaps the ghost of a smile. It's a bit like trying to win the appreciation of a snooty cat. And the only way I recognised her the first time was by the flailing of her little legs. She has a most distinctive run ...

She's going to kill me for the little legs comment. Especially as, despite the fact I'm considerably taller, my legs are probably about the same length as hers. At least the knock-kneed freak is in proportion.

Enough of abusing friends in the manner to which, by now, I am sure they have become accustomed. I should turn the abuse on myself, because I'm pretty sure I should have waited longer for a sight of her before giving the rest of my jelly-babies and the second chocolate bar away. I thought I'd missed her, so I got rid of the increasingly sticky confection I'd been carting around all morning and set off pell-mell to see if I could find her en route. This I completely failed to do, but instead entertained myself by riding alongside the runners and cheering them on from behind - which made at least two of them jump out of their skin. Something I'm sure they appreciated, just as they appreciated me dinging my bell to get them to clear the road for me.

Not really. I only did that last bit once, and it was to clear some pedestrians from the route because they were actually blocking runners. Idiots. God, it's annoying when spectators get in the way.


So - I rode my bike all the way back to Musselburgh, cheering all the way. As I got close, Fisher phoned and told me that Spar had crossed the finish line in a PB of 3hrs 37minutes. Considering he'd not trained properly, this was quite annoying. I mean - of course - this was quite marvellous. Having missed his triumph, I turned the bike again and headed back along the course, determined to find Phid. I rode back to Presetonpans before I found her, still looking composed but obviously weary, and after giving her a 'woohoo' I rode discreetly behind her all the way back. I didn't want to get too close in case she found me hugely annoying, but I wanted to keep pace with her so I could let Blarney, Fisher and Spar know when to expect her. I also wanted to act as silent moral support. Anyway, she didn't notice me at all until we were on the home stretch.

"Oh," she said, in tones of mild surprise, such as one might use upon discovering the pot of jam believed finished is actually half full, "it's you."

We exchanged a few jovial words, and she ran off to finish her 26.2 miles of running with a careless toss of her head.

26.2 miles.

Twenty-two-point-two miles.

That's the same as from HC to the far edge of Broughty Ferry ... and back again! I can barely drive that far.

Anway, reassured that both Phid and Spar had survived the experience with no ill effects, save a little nausea on Phid's part, we were ready to take them all home for some food and a nap. I took the two runners in the Drover, with my bike. I'd originally planned on riding back into town, but suddenly discovered I really wasn't too keen on the idea. I'd done 18 miles in total, and found to my considerable dismay that it wasn't the walk in the park I'd expected. In fact, I was so tired that when we eventually got back to the flat, had a cup of tea, greeted Fisher and Blarney - who'd taken the bus and fetched some lunch for us all so didn't get back until after us - and eaten something, I discovered I was ready for a nap as well!

I was a little concerned that Blarney would want to go on the shopping spree I'd suggested, but it soon transpired she was as willing to nap as I was, and so was Fisher.

Is it possible that our parents have lied to us all, and we're actually not 30 years old or younger but well into middle age? Basically, we spent a lot of time in the fresh air with our friends, then went back to their flat and had a nice wee sleep. It's pathetic, I tell you! Ok, it's not pathetic for Spar or Phid, but the rest of us ought to be ashaaaaamed!

I have to say, though, the nap really revitalised me. It was less than an hour long, but I went from not thinking I would be able to go out for the post marathon meal at all, to being bright eyed, bushy tailed and raring to go. We were booked into the Sizzling Scot on Hannover Street for 7.30, and it was a mixed experience. The service was utterly abysmal. We waited some half an hour to have our orders taken, then 15 minutes for a second round of drinks to arrive. Food didn't show until we'd been in the restaurant for over an hour. Blarney was doing her usual Devil's Advocate rubbish and giving me a whole bunch of excuses for their ineptitude, but I really think waiting over an hour to be fed is pushing anyone's patience. Mine, which is fleeting at best, was just on the verge of heading for the hills when the food started to arrive.

The orders were almost right. Almost. My steak was medium rare, not rare. Wheeler got mash, but not cheesy mash. Fisher had no bacon in her bacon and cheeseburger. Someone else had to send a steak back, but I forget why. Possibly it was the wrong cut. Eventually we all had our food in front of us, either because we compromised or because they amended their mistakes, and then the evening took a major turn for the better. It was all good, honest grub, well cooked and hot, and truly hit the spot. We even managed to order pudding and get it in a reasonable length of time. If it hadn't been for the fact the original service was so piss poor, it would have been a great experience. Either they were short handed, or simply didn't know how many people it took to serve the numbers - but either way, keeping customers waiting like that is inexcusable. With any luck they'll sort out the kinks and the Sizzling Scot will be a great wee place. I'm willing to give them another shot, anyway, because the food really was good.

In the end it was a long but very enjoyable night. Fisher and I drove back to Fife feeling tired but most content with out lot. It was a true pleasure to collapse into bed, watch an NCIS and drift off feeling the content of people who have filled their day with activity.

Well ... apart from the middle aged nap in the middle of it.

And with that chastening thought, I close with a hip-hip-hooray for my truly inspirational pals, Spartan and Phiddipida.

Oh ... I forgot! Two priceless Blarneyisms:

1. Spartan was bemoaning the Evil Finger at mile 19, where everyone had to run up and back down an entirely pointless road, at which Blarney asked with all the innocence of her evil, cheating soul: "Why can't you just skip it? Just run across the bottom. Nobody would know." I think the idea of a personal challenge might be lost on her.

2. She was seriously worried that Spartan, who does sport for a living, wouldn't be fit enough for the marathon. Now, I can see why she had some concerns. He'd complained of a dodgy knee, and he'd not done nearly enough training. However, he's also an adult with a few ounces of common sense, so I was surprised when Blarney actually expressed concerns, not for his knee, or ability to finish the course, but for his life!

"People died on the London Marathon!" she squawked. Yeah - one person. Out of nearly 36,400. And in exceptional circumstances.

The woman is crazy as a bagful of mongooses.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Descent of the Spawn.

A brief word about the previous post, as I've just reread it and made myself laugh (the height of self-centredness, I know) by writing:

"That's all that's happened today, of interest. Oh - we drove past a field with two horses in it."

My life really is a thrill a minute. It has at least been slightly more interesting over the past 24 hours by the arrival of Sister and sons, who arrived in typical typhoon manner and soon created a fair degree of very welcome havoc. I like HC to look lived in, and having children's clothes, toys and general paraphernalia all over the place certainly lends a homeliness to the place.

They arrived a couple of hours after Sister's original estimate, as her meeting with the architect who's planning the rebuild of the White House (not that one) took an hour or so longer than predicted. When they did arrive, it was clear Gemmill was delighted to see us. He made some impressive gun noises and thrust his green Power Ranger in my face, declaring he was out to save the world. On the other hand, Wrecker was far less enthusiastic. He'd just woken up and was all crumpled, and couldn't have given two curly turds about his aunties. Once all were ushered into the kitchen, Gemmill's first proper words turned out to be:

"Auntie Seshat, is there a surprise for me?"

Cheeky fecker. And, of course, I'd completely forgotten to pick anything up for him. I improvised and said there wasn't anything at the moment but that if he waited, he might have a surprise later. His little face fell to his boots, but apart from looking like someone had just drowned his puppy, he said not a word. Naturally, this made me leap in my car, drive to St Andrews and buy him a Green Power Ranger Minotaur Dragon. Frankly, I was pretty excited about it. It's a bit like a transformer, in that it goes from the Green Ranger into an actual dragon. You tuck the head into its chest and flip forward the dragon's head instead. Then you pull out the wings from behind the ranger's forearms, pull feet from behind his shoulders, and attach the battleaxe to his feet so it looks like the end of his tail. A mighty beast!

As you can tell, I was pretty jealous of Gemmill. Anyway, when I got home they'd all gone up the hill to visit the Faerie Tree, with dogs (which was great, because our dogs hadn't had a proper walk in ages and were probably fit to explode with the amount of stored poop within them), so I hid the Power Ranger under Gemmill's duvet and headed out to join them. Naturally, I searched for them in entirely the wrong direction, and even making loud Siamang noises (the family signal) didn't alert them to my presence. I only found them after I'd gone back down the hill and Tali ran up to greet me, wagging her tail like crazy and threatening to put muddy paws all over my clean jeans. I fended her off, but when I found Fisher and Sister & sons, Baffie - who was even more covered in mud than Tali - planted big paw-dollops all over me. Then, when Bridie eventually deigned to join us, no doubt having killed and devoured whatever it was she was chasing, she only had to brush against me to cover me in the worst smelling mud I've ever had the dubious privilege of encountering. According to Fisher, she'd found a puddle and literally wiped herself from ear to tail in the most noxious part, while Baffie ground her butt into it.

On the walk home, Gemmill pinched a tulip from one of our neigbour's gardens. He then fell on his face and set up a great howling, which was quickly diverted by me showing him the scrape on my knee I'd given myself by falling over during tennis on Monday. (I'd just like to point out that, while I was scrabbling about on my knees, the opposition fired the ball at me! Not exactly sporting behaviour - and therefore something I have the utmost respect for). Because my scrape was considerably more impressive than his, and he was allowed to poke it, serious tears were diverted. He'd also managed to avoid crushing the tulip, so all was well.

That is, all was well until he fell over a second time, utterly crushed the tulip, and remained inconsolable until we got back to the house and I told him I'd play "hot and cold" with him, and that the thing he had to find was his Surprise. What joy! He didn't quite understand what I meant by "hot and cold" but was willing to give my lunacy the benefit of the doubt if it meant a prize at the end for him. He had to wait while we hosed down the dogs, which he did with remarkable patience, and then I told him, in excited tones:

"Somewhere in this house is your Surprise! You start looking for it, and if you're close I'll say 'hot hot hot' and if you're far away I'll say 'cold cold cold'. All right?"

He agreed that the rules of this game were acceptable, and when I said "go" ... he went straight into his bedroom and flipped back the duvet. So much for "hot and cold." And his reaction to the toy?

"Oh look. Another green Power Ranger."

Actually, as soon as he'd figured out that it was different to his motorbike-riding Ranger (I believe it's called a 'Mystic Racer') he was quite thrilled. I showed him how to put it all together, and then how to change him from Green Power Ranger to Dragon mode, and how he stood up in both forms, and how his weapon works as both battleaxe and tail, and how best to play with him, and how best to play with him and the Mystic Racer, and after that I let him hold it for a while - but that was a mistake, because then he wouldn't give it back. He even took it into the bath with him, and I bet the joints all stiffen up - and I bet he loses the battleaxe, too.

Yes. Anyway, it was a success.

I think I mentioned I'd planned on having Minstrel and Brave Bird round for supper. Brave Bird had a hysterectomy about a month ago and is off work, so I wanted to have her round to see how she's doing. Unfortunately, I woke up feeling that the last thing I wanted to do was have a dinner party, and recognised that it was probably the last thing Sister wanted, either - so I cancelled. We'd seen her the day before, so at least we'd had a chance to catch up with her. She's doing well - back to driving next week, so she won't be quite so housebound. Although, it seems to me that her myriad of friends takes good care of her. Her 50th birthday (50!!!?? She looks 1o years younger) is coming up in ... er ... sometime ... and she's got a list of 150 people already. I struggled to find 10 people to forward some crappy email to (although I did have to try and find 10 people who wouldn't automatically disown me for sending crappy chain emails). But then, she is chirpy, funny and immediately likeable while I am serious, grumpy and immediately frightening (according to Janus, anyway) so it's not that surprising our circles of friends differ so widely in size.

I digress, but considering I digress from events that aren't particularly fascinating in themselves, I may as well continue to do so. The reason we took Brave Bird out for coffee yesterday was because I went for a run, followed by a swim, while Fisher went swimming. I set out from home and headed the back way to Cupar - which it turns out is really quite hilly. I was doing ok when I got the most unbearable pain in my lower belly. I ran with it for about a mile, but I simply had to stop. It's the first time I've ever had to stop before my goal was achieved, and I was truly pissed off about it. I sat at the side of the road and tried to stretch it out, but nothing worked. Before I'd had time to get rid of it, Fisher drove by. She'd given me 30 minutes before leaving the house, so that I could run 5k. I managed 2.8 miles, which I did in 34 1/2 minutes, and it still pisses me off now that I couldn't finish. I have no idea what happened, but it was pretty excrutiating. I don't feel that I was particulatly tired, and considering all the hills I'm still content with the time I managed (reckon I'd have done 5k in under 37 minutes, as the last bit was all downhill), but the pain simply knocked me over, and I couldn't run it off. At least I did all the hills and didn't stop at the bottom of the last one, which was when I said, out loud:

"That's it! I'm done!"

I then told myself to run as far as that tree, and then that tree, and then I may as well get to the top of the hill. I ran another twenty paces after that, and then simply stopped. And lay down.

Interesting that 2 cars passed by as I lay by the side of the road, and neither of them thought to check if I was all right. Feckers.

Anyway, Fisher came and sat beside me until I'd recovered enough to get into the car. The pain did pass, so I can only think it was running on too full a stomach or something. By the time we'd reached the Sports Centre I was just about ready to have my swim, although I wasn't exactly thrilled about it. Christ, swimming is tiring - and even more boring than running! I managed about 6 or 7 sets of 4 lengths, with 2 lengths crawl, 2 lengths breast-stroke, followed by a rest. Then I just couldn't stand the idea of doing any more through sheer boredom. It was about 30 minutes in total.

Oh - Fisher couldn't resist challenging me to a race - despite the fact it was the least fair thing in the world, with me knackered from the outset. But she appears to need to beat me at stuff, so fair enough. She beat me. I swim with the speed and grace of a rotten log - something I feel is a source of shame to my ultra-speedy mother, who is like greased lightning in a pool. I remember when, at school, there was a 'parents, teachers and pupils' relay race. My Mum was up against some flashy teenager and Mr Rosen the woodwork teacher who, while older than her, was incredibly fit.

She sooo kicked their arses. And she started behind them. The whole audience just watched with dropped jaws as this middle-aged woman cut through the water like a hungry swordfish, utterly destroying the opposition. I was so very chuffed ... until the end of her length when she hoisted herself out and put on the skankiest, most threadbare, shittiest-brown dressing gown you've ever seen - and then began roaring with laughter and pulling dog biscuit crumbs out of the pockets.

Where the hell was I?

Oh yes, digressing.

Back to Sister & sons - after the walk, the boys were fed, watered, bathed and put to bed while I went out and collected some Thai food to answer Sister's traditional craving when she comes to stay. I'd recommend the Rama Thai to anyone if they're in Dundee. The only Thai that's bettered it was Thai Me Up in Edinburgh, and that didn't manage to survive. By the time I got it home, the boys were in bed - but Gemmill was far from asleep. He came through to say hello and Sister allowed him to sit with us, on the understanding that this was grown-up time and he had to be very quiet. He wasn't - but nor was he in any way interested in sleeping. He was made to go back to bed at 9pm, but was still chattering to himself and making occasional forays into the corridor at 10. Eventually he fell asleep, leaving us to watch TV and talk about Sister's plans for the White House, which sound extremely exciting. Not that I can remember what they are, but I was enthused at the time so they must be good.

Today we were woken at 7.30 by the little darlings racing about and hollering, but managed another hour in bed before hauling ourselves into the shower for baby-sitting duties while Sister went to get her car radio fixed in Cupar. Fisher took charge of Wrecker, who is her God-son and can do no wrong, while I tried to entertain a Gemmill who was determined not to be entertained. TV occupied him for a while. They he played with his plastic boats until he needed "to play with something more exciting." He wanted me to play Power Rangers with him, but my imagination had been deadened by poor sleep, so I found a Power Rangers site on t'interweb with a game on it. Bad idea. He was utterly unable to grasp making the little red Ranger jump in a direction, despite me showing him over and over again. He's not, in any way, a co-ordinated child, and simply couldn't hold one button down while pressing another. It didn't help that he wouldn't listen either, or even watch properly. He wanted to press the buttons, but became frustrated when he kept dying because he'd made the Ranger run into a fiery pit of some description, or get frazzled by a fireball. Still, he was having a good time. Trouble came when Sister returned and I decided that a) the game really wasn't progressing, b) my knee was starting to develop a child-buttock indentation and c) it would be nice if Gem greeted his mother upon her return.

He didn't want to greet his mother. He wanted to play the Power Rangers game. A tantrum followed, which I was perfectly happy to ignore - and after attempting to coax him out of it and failing - so was Sister. We made plans to go and see the robot at Sensation, knowing that Gem was enchanted by it last time he saw it, and luckily this new distraction was enough to dissipate the storm and bring smiles to his cherubic, punchable little face. (There was a slight hiccup when he suddenly bellowed "I DON'T WANT to go anywhere!" followed bafflingly by "I WANT to go and see the robots!" Assured that he would see the robots, all was calm once more. The child's a fruit loop).

To the robots at Sensation we went, but while Gem was happy with a few things, like the machine that builds a simple plastic robot to your specifications and the platform that plays musical notes when you tread on it, he was mostly a little overwhelmed. Unlike the other times we've been there, it was packed to the rafters with children and the bustle was a bit much for him. He had a good nosey, but when he found very little to his liking, he was relatively easily persuaded to go to the DCA for some lunch. Meanwhile, Wrecker was happy enough just toddling about trying to break things, and seeking out as many dangerous stairways as possible. Auntie Fisher became very frazzled very quickly.

Lunch at the DCA is always a little hit and miss, and I'd say it was - for me - a major miss. I ordered an onion-loaf sandwich of roast beef, only to be given a slush sandwich. As well as thin slices of roast beef, they'd filled the bread with a mess of fried onions and mushrooms, which was texturally repulsive and, remarkably, tasted of very little. I'm not sure how they managed to make onions taste of nothing, but there we go. Sister's beef nachos were a disappointment too, as they weren't spicy enough - but the kiddie plates were good, and Fisher's flatbread sarnie was fine. Gem was adorable during lunch, insisting on giving me a kiss on my hand, and a big hug, as well as entertaining the baby behind us with a 3 year old's version of peekaboo, which was a little more boisterous than Sister was comfortable with.

After a quick trip to the DCA shop, where Sister picked up some great whisky tumblers for a friend's birthday, the visit was over. They went Oban-wards, while we headed home with many fond waves. As usual, the house seemed empty and quiet without them. It's astonishing how quickly you become used to the noise and bustle of a family. We briefly discussed having Christmas at HC, which would be perfect for us - but who knows what Ma & Pa, or Brother & Gaura want to do. But that's a concern for another day. We've got more than enough on our plate with Spain, Iceland, Ireland and Skye to look forward to ... plus a potential trip to the States, which has to be high on my agenda.


Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Sad Fishergirl

Poor Fisher is very sad. It turns out her teeny tiny foot problem is ligament damage. She can't run for around 8 weeks, and has wasted £25 on the Dundee half marathon. She's like a bear with a sore head, and naturally has to get a second opinion. I think she's going to pay some bloke in the pub to tell her it's nothing, so she can believe him rather than our GP.

I played a tennis match last night, against Montrose. It's frickin' miiiiiles away, although the new duel carriageway between Dundee and ...

Oh my God. I've just bored myself into stopping typing.

The match was quite fun, actually, once we got used to the courts. I like playing with Happy. We're quite similar in temperaments, although she's not quite so vocal about it. We both take it quite seriously, and we're roughly the same standard. Montrose has a very good first couple, but the other two aren't quite so hot. Happy and I managed to half our game against the firsts and win the other two, so we were very pleased with ourselves. A bonus was that the whole match was finished by 9.30, so we were back at home by 11pm - which was a whole hour earlier than I was expecting. It's a home match next Monday, so I have to make sandwiches. Veggie is playing, so I'll have to think of something interesting to put in them that isn't meat. She doesn't like goat's cheese, either, which is what I usually ...

Yup. Bored myself again. Maybe I should quit while I'm ahead.

Oh - I went to the Scottish Fisheries Museum today for some research for the ol' novel. It was surprisingly interesting, but I do love how the big advert outside reads:

The Scottish Fisheries Museum
It's Bigger than you Think!

That, apparantly, is the most appealing thing they can say about it. It's actually pretty good. They've got real boats in there an' everything. Anyway, I got all I needed from the trip, and should have sat down and worked, but I became distracted. First it was the truly spectacular game God of War 2, of which I was nearing the end. Then it was the fact that, while playing God of War 2, and at a moment of high tension, there was a massive crash which nigh on made me soil myself. I turned round to the sound of what seemed like hailstones, only to find the conservatory roof had exploded!

Well, ok, not the whole roof - just one of the panels - but it was pretty impressive. There was glass everywhere - which Bridie immediately ran across. Luckily it's safety glass and her paws seem fine, but I was yelling at her not to come in, which only made her come more quickly. It took a good hour to sweep up all the glass, but at least there's someone from a local glazier coming tomorrow. I hope they fix it quickly, else the only plants I've ever managed to keep alive for more than a month will all die.

That's all that's happened today, of interest. Oh - we drove past a field with two horses in it. One was fine, but the other looked at death's door. It had one back hoof up, you could see all its ribs, and its belly was distended. The place looked pretty ramshackle, and we were suitably concerned to call the SSPCA when we got back. I'm sure it was absolutely fine - probably just an old horse - but there was no harm in giving them a call. They'll just drive past as see if there's anything to worry about. I hate to be a busybody, but I'd hate it more if it turned out there was neglect going on and I did nothing.

Sister and sons are coming to stay on Thursday night, which is when Minstrel and Brave Bird are coming round - maybe Silver Arrow and Lubentina, too - so I'll have to think of something lovely to cook that isn't too fancy. Sister would love a shepherd's pie, but I fancy something a little more interesting. I have no idea what, but it'll come to me in time.

I'm off to have supper. Fisher went out to get interesting things from Tesco, and should be back soon. I'm starved. Not that you'd think so to look at me.

Sunday, 20 May 2007


Running. Now, there's a funny thing. I can't stand it, I find it the most tedious thing in the world, and yet I continue to make half arsed attempts at shifting my sizeable bulk at high speeds along the ground. Why would a sensible, sane (sort of) human being indulge in such nonsense? Quite frankly, it beats the hell out of me.

Today I went for a run for the first time in about 10 days. I've been very lax, and my fitness levels have dropped off. I was in a position to be able to run 10k (albeit at roughly the same pace as a knackered steam roller) but lack of interest (or, as it's more commonly known, 'bone idleness') has seen me run shorter and shorter distances. I've not done more than 4 miles in months, and over the last few weeks I've not really run at all. I'd say I've had a good month, maybe more, where the most I've run is 5k, and with a 2 week gap which saw me go from running my fastest ever 5k to running my slowest since my first ones. Bummer.

With that in mind, I was pleased enough to get through a 5k without stopping, and in a much faster time than my last 'effort.' It was still veeeeery very slow, though, at just under 37 minutes. For a change, I could find absolutely no excuses as to why I was running slowly, and to be honest I think I did the best I could. For the first time I actually concentrated solely on my breathing - in, 2, 3, out, 2, 3 - and thought about nothing else. My iPod wasn't charged, so I didn't even listen to music. Baffie was very good, apart from stopping to crap twice - but I amended my time to compensate for that - so she didn't slow me down at all. I did get nasty blisters from my new Asics, despite Fisher having used cure-all duct tape on them. Actually, the duct tape rolled up inside and was probably the cause of the blisters! Still, it worked last time so I'll just keep replacing it.

Fisher has hurt her foot. She had to stop and walk a way, and is very upset about it. I don't think it's anything serious, as she says it only kicks in after about a mile or so. If it were serious I imagine it would hurt straight away. It's probably - according to her - some acquired flat footed thing, and getting arches for her shoes will help. The trouble is, any slight suggestion of being imperfect upsets her. Considering she's got no cartiledge in her ankle, only one fully healthy lung, and is generally held together with string, I think she should just thank her lucky stars she doesn't leave bits of herself across the countryside. Still, injuries are incredible frustrating so I do feel for her. A bit.

I've got a tennis match tomorrow (in Mon - bloody - trose! I won't be back until midnight or later!) and I haven't picked up a raquet in almost two weeks, so I really ought to go and have a knock tonight. It's a beautiful evening - perfect for tennis. I don't want to overdo it, though.

Ah, screw it. It was only 5k, for crying out loud! A bit of light doubles is hardly going to knock me on my arse.

Famous last words ...

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Quick thought ...

Maybe my nausea has something to do with the fact that, every so often, I eat an entire bag of Maltesers all to myself.

And not the little bags, neither.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Going Home - Short Story.

Two girls sat beside me on the train. I could tell what they thought of me from the way their eyes flickered. I reckon they could tell what I thought of them cause I never hid my sneer. Expensive long boots over tight jeans with designer fading on the thighs. A green shirt on one of them what surely cost more than I earned in a week. And there's me in my Cherokee jeans and fat girl jumper. Asda. One of them smiled at me but I never rose to it, only looked out the window and let my hair fall over my face.

They sat. It took them a while. Once they was settled they started talking. Loud. It sounded like their tongues twisted inside their mouths when they spoke. They talked about dogs. One of them handed over a mobile and said:
- Isn't this the cutest dog you've ever seen? The other goes:
- Oh! A-dorable! How old is he?
- She's four.

And then the second girl says:
- Is that dog or human years?
God help me, I never had a dog but even I know dog years go in sevens. Four years old human is 28 years dog.
Soon after, they started talking about "Uni" and how stupid their friends from home are for not leaving London. They're all puffed up cause they were brave and went away from Mummy's cooking.
- Why go to Uni at all if all you're going to do is hang around with the same old crowd? the dark one said.
- Yar, goes the redhead. Oh yar.

I would of liked to go to university. I was good at school. Best in my class and got good GCSEs. 6 Bs, 2 Cs. I had to fight to do 8 subjects, and Mr Trimble in Geography didn't know anything and couldn't keep control of the class. This one time Ben Jones stuffed him in the book cupboard. We all thought he'd get expelled for sure this time, but they never. His Dad said he had a legal right to an education so the headmaster couldn't do anything to him but give him a detention, which Ben never did. I never understood Ben. He's a smart bloke but he only got Ds and Es and left school straight after. Now he's a brickie by trade. It bores him half to death so he gets in fights at the pub - with yuppies, mostly, cause he thinks they take money out the pockets of real working men. He got his head kicked in by some bloke in a suit once. They ended up having a drink together. Ben goes Fair's fair, and they shake hands and have a pint. There's Ben trying to drink with his lips burst and a broke up nose. The suit guy took him to hospital when he wouldn't stop bleeding. Ben told us later he was part of the Mafia, but there's no way. He was just some bloke in a suit.

Don't know how I come to think on Ben after all these years. I've not been back home in twelve. It's them girls what made me remember school. If I'd gone to Uni I'd of got as far away from home as I could, but not so's I could make new friends - just so's I could run away from the old lot. Don't be ashamed of where you come from, says Dad - but why the hell not when I come from a place where Ben Jones is the local hero for kicking in yuppies when he could of done anything he wanted with the brains he got.

The girls have stopped talking now. The redhead is looking at pictures on her phone with a cosy smile on her face. There's something about her makes me want to hurt her. I don't know why. The other girl - the dark one - is using a pink highlighter on a book called Jurisprudence, and there are two more books beside her. The redhead hands over her phone and the dark one looks and laughs.
- So funny, she says. We were so drunk!
- I know!
the other one says, flicking her hair so I notice. We were trying to be so sexy, dressed up as Asterix & Obelix!
They both laugh.
- Wasn't Ben a riot? says the redhead, and I get a chill of coincidence at the name. He couldn't come with anyone so he came as Superman and Clark Kent.
The dark one gives a shriek, remembering.
- He kept changing clothes! He was in the loo every twenty minutes! And that girl Catherine never realised there weren't two of them!
- Oh - my - God!
giggles the redhead. She is so stupid!

They snigger for a while, then the dark one goes back to her book. The redhead stares out the window. She's already bored. She drinks fussily from a bottle of water, making little sighs between each sip. She studies her nails. She smooths her jeans. You can see she wants her friend to stop reading and pay attention but the dark one is busy with the highlighter again. In the end the redhead says:
- I'll get my book.
She goes into her handbag - one of them ones with a little Scottie dog as a tag, I forget the name - and brings out Nights at the Circus.
- This is so boring,
she sighs.
I've read it. She's totally wrong. I'd love to tell her that, but I look out the window instead, watch the swoop of telegraph lines. It's no shock she doesn't like Angela Carter. Not exactly a deep thinker, is she? She's better off with Asterix & Obelix.

We're going through the countryside now, and it's green, green, green. There's a field with three horses in it and they're standing with their noses touching. Then one of them skitters and tosses his head and suddenly they're all racing round the field because the Spring is in their blood. It all happens as we flash past, but now it's in my head like a snatch of film. Maybe cause he's in my head already, it makes me think of Ben Jones.

Our class was taken to a farm for a field trip and there was horses there. Ben was so quiet. He just stood at the gate stroking the nose of a dark brown horse. I never saw his eyes like that, before or since. Like velvet, he said, but only I heard him.

Later, a kid called Travis put pepper on the horse's nose and set it sneezing and gurning, lifting its lip to show off huge yellow teeth. Everyone laughed - even Mr Chapman - but later, when the teacher wasn't looking, Ben punched Travis in the stomach and kicked him in the balls.

We're nearly there. One more stop and it's home - for me, anyway. The girls beside me are curled up, feet on the seats, like children. They won't get off where I do. They'll be going all the way to London and Mummy's cooking. I don't see girls like them at home. They wouldn't last 5 minutes. Blokes like Ben Jones would destroy them. So would girls like me.

With every clack of the wheels I can feel the city I was born to getting closer and closer. I read about black holes, how they draw everything in and then crush them into nothing. That's home. Home is where the heart is, Dad says, and it's true. My heart was crushed long ago.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

To London


Some time ago, an old American friend contacted me to say he'd be taking his European Tour in May, and could I meet him and his buddy in London? People from the States do tend to think that London is but a stone's throw for anyone within the British Isles - but I hadn't seen him in seven years, so how could I say no?

The last time I saw him, he was twelve. Now he's nineteen. What the hell, thought I, do I do with a 19 year old on his first trip to London?

Anyway, down I went. How do GNER get away with charging £100 for a ticket on one of their crappy trains? Still, I had the benefit of going on a Sunday, so I could at least fork out another £20 and get a seat in Weekend First, which makes it a bigger rip-off, but does at least give you some comfort. It was a looooong journey, as I'd unwittingly got myself on a slow train that takes 7 hours, rather than the usual 5, so I was utterly climbing the walls by the time I got off.

I'd booked myself a room at Durrant's Hotel on Sister's recommendation. It is a lovely hotel - but I was dismayed to be shown to a room literally big enough for a single bed and a TV. That was it. As for complimentary goodies - I got a free bottle of water, a showercap and some soap. Boooooo. The bed was one of those cheap jobbies that, when you try and sit up against the wall, rolls away because it's so light. Fun. They also provided only one pillow and a small, square cushion, which I used as my second pillow. Strange.

The first evening, I was perfectly willing to just sit in my room reading a good book (The Observations by Jane Harris) and waiting for Match of the Day. I hadn't been very hungry on the train (still suffering PT a little) but Fisher had provided a fantastic packed lunch for me, and I grazed on it. Interesting cheeses, crackers, Mini-Cheddars, grapes, and an organic orange crush to drink. She also gave me a square of tablet which I took to be a chunk of smoked cheese and promptly spread on a cracker. Niiiiice.

Anyhoo - once I'd settled in my room I realised I was pretty peckish, so I phoned down for some room service. A ham sandwich would hit the spot, I thought, imagining a hunky doorstop or baguette. Alas, no. It being a snooty hotel, they'd cut all the crusts off and sliced the bread very daintily. Pretty - but not exactly satisfying. So, once an hour or so had passed and the restaurant stopped serving food and all the potential snack-selling shops in Marylebone closed (not that there appear to be any), I was hungry again and too embarrassed to phone down for yet more room service.

Luckily, Match of the Day diverted my attention away from hunger, and Sister arrived at around midnight and ordered me yet more sandwiches and a G&T for herself. What a journey she had. She managed to get a lift from Oban to Glasgow Airport, where she caught the last plane to Luton - but it was a full 12 hours of travel. Still, it's what you expect when you live in the Hebrides.

The next day, Sister and I went for morning coffee - and pancakes for her - at Giraffe, before meeting Heartlander and his mate at Durrants. Despite not having seen him since he was 12, I'd have recognised him anywhere. He's a good looking guy with a really lovely smile, a slow way of speaking, and an easiness of manner that's very appealing. But that aside, he's still a 19 year old, and I've yet to discover any interests he may actually possess. This made for a difficult time making plans, as it became pretty clear they weren't really interested in looking round things, or going to museums, or galleries (although, to give them their due, they went round the Tate Modern the day before). They didn't mind the idea of just walking and looking at stuff though, so I decided to take them on the walk Sister recommended.

We strolled down Baker Street to Oxford Street, then on to St James' Palace, across the park and over to Buckingham Palace. We walked past the railings, then up Birdcage Walk and along to the Houses of Parliament, round past Brother's house and to Westminster Abbey. There we parted company. Heartlander invited Sister and me to Simpson's for supper, and Sister had suggested cocktails at the Savoy beforehand, so we agreed to meet there at 8.

I decided to visit Hatchard's, having finished The Observations the night before (good, but ultimately disappointing), and set off. I managed to go in entirely the wrong direction, and walked far too far west. Fed up and footsore, I hailed a cab. I then spent a happy hour or so wandering Hatchard's and selected 3 books to tide me over. I'm reading Sovereign by C.J Sanson - which I didn't realise is the 3rd in a series, but I don't think it matters. Another cab then took me back to Durrants to prepare for supper.

Sister sent a text at about 7, saying she was having drinks with friends in the Westbury and would I like to join them. I decided to be sociable for once and took her up on it. I only had time for a glass of champagne, but she was 3 1/2 glasses to the good before we left. At the Savoy we sat in the big lounge/bar area just down the steps as you go in, where a pianist was belting out the weirdest mix of music. Somewhere Over the Rainbow mixed in with Atomic Kitten or something ... And I do hate it when they put the lid up unneccessarily. He was less background music, and more beating you over the head with a bag of crotchets.

I ordered something called The Savoy. com, which had Absinthe, grenadine and something else dangerous in it. I think it was a mistake. I was pretty hammered half way through. We also spent far too long over the cocktails and were 20 minutes late for Simpsons - but they didn't seem to care. They weren't exactly full to the brim.

Simpsons' was great, and we returned to Durrants to show the boys what whisky is all about. Sister ordered 3 west coast malts, as they didn't have any Strathspeys - a Laphroaig, a Highland Park, an Oban - and she added a Jack Daniels for comparison. We tasted, we talked, and then we decided enough was enough. The boys had to get back across the river, and it was late, so bed called.

Unfortunately, bed called only until 4 in the morning, when I awoke feeling sick as a dog ... and spent the rest of the night being very miserable indeed. I thought it must be hangover, but I really don't think I drank that much. One glass of champagne, one cocktail, one glass of red wine and one whisky in the course of an entire evening shouldn't have knocked me on my back like that. Of course, it didn't help that my PMT became full blown MT. Struggling with water retention is not fun when feeling dog-sick.

I lay in bed for ages, and decided I really couldn't travel so booked the room for another day. It was going to set me back £145 quid - the most expensive food poisoning I've ever had. However, after a morning spent blearily watching morning TV and running to the loo, I had two rather more settled hours and decided I would risk the travel after all. I decided that instead of spending £145 on the room, I'd spend the money on a first class ticket instead. I could feel dreadful in my hotel room, or dreadful on a train and actually end up at home at the end of the day.

The trouble was, I'd recklessly suggested Heartlander and his mate come up to Scotland with me - and they'd enthusiastically agreed. That's the sort of attitude I love. Just spontaneously jumping on a train and going somewhere because you can. Good for them. Of course the food poisoning set the plans back originally, but then I told them I was going up after all, and they came too. They sat in economy, and I arranged for them to stay a night in Edinburgh with Blarney and Spartan. Bless their cotton socks. It was incredibly nice of them to agree, considering they were both occupied with other things, but never let it be said they aren't the most hospitable of folk.

The journey passed uneventfully. I felt more and more human as the day wore on, but made the mistake of eating a GNER granola bar, which tasted of chewy wallpaper paste and made me feel sick again. Once we got into Edinburgh and the boys got off (with the recommendation to spend an evening in the Jekyll & Hyde pub on Hanover Street) I felt a great lightness of mind. They were sorted for the evening and I could concentrate solely on my recovery, and sleeping in my own bed, with my own pooches, my own TV, and Fisher to keep me company. I have to say, that last hour was the longest I've ever known on a train, and the sight of Fisher's car drawing up at Leuchars station one of the most joyous ever.

At home, I curled up in an ecstasy of relief, watched telly and eventually managed to neck back a sandwich. Bed beckoned at about 10.30, and my sleep was that of the truly exhausted. I knew I had to go into Edinburgh the next day, but not until lunch time, so I had plenty of time. I was still a trifle delicate, but not enough to concern myself, so it was with renewed vigour that I made the trip to Auld Reekie.

The boys met me at the Wallace monument and we went to have lunch at Browns on George Street. I managed half a warm chicken salad (which wasn't particularly nice anyway) but the boys more than made up for my reticence. God, I envied them. They'd spent the entire evening in Jekyll & Hyde, loving it and ordering every drink under the sun. They returned to Spartan's after midnight, which is a good 4 hours of drinking, and awoke feeling pretty ropey. (According to Spartan, one of them pinched one of Blarney's corned beef sandwiches before going to bed ... which is very odd behaviour, but if they were pissed, I reckon things could have been much, much worse.) If that had been me, I wouldn't have been able to move for about a fortnight - but being young and resilient, all they needed was to walk up to the castle, get some fresh air, and then they were ready for lunch. I really miss those days.

Actually, I'm not sure I was ever like that.

Anyway, after lunch we drove back to Fife and I took them home for a bit of relaxation before we visited St Andrews. We walked through the town, and I pointed out places of 'interest' (although not, I'm thinking, to them) and we did the pier walk. I think Heartlander's mate was more into the sights than Heartlander himself. He did at least take some photos of the cathedral, and was quite keen to climb St Rule's Tower until he discovered it cost £4. I've got to say - £4 for the priveledge of walking up lots of stairs seems a bit steep ... no pun intended.

At tea time, we went to the North Point for coffee and cakes, and after that I had to do a little dull shopping so I left Fisher to guide them back to the car where I met them later. Back home we went for a little more relaxation - they were much enamoured of the number of PS2 games I have, and I don't think I ever heard them more animated than when they were playing Buzz, or Red Dead Revolver - and I managed to do a little work. I'd promised to take them to Anstruther Fish Bar, where the 'best fish and chips in Scotland' are served. Frankly, I'm going to stop taking people there, because they aren't the best fish and chips in Scotland any more. In fact, they're not even the best fish and chips in Anstruther. The batter is uninteresting, the fish overcooked. I remember how good they were before they changed hands and keep thinking they'll be like that again, but every time I'm disappointed. Ah me. How hard life is.

Lubentina and Silver Arrow joined us for supper, and then we went to St Michael's Inn for a brew or two. It was a very lovely evening, I thought, and the boys became far more garrulous in such easy company. When we went home, we had another drink, a bit of chat, then went to bed. I'm training them to be real old farts before their time.

The next day, the boys decided they'd like to "go to the mountains." I told them that going to the real mountains would probably prove too much of a drive, seeing as we had to get them on a train in the evening and Fisher and I had Koios's birthday dinner to attend in Edinburgh. However, Fisher struck on the genius idea of taking them up to Pitlochry, where the mountains rise, and there are two beautiful lochs in Loch Tummel and Loch Rannoch. It's also where my mother's folk originated, so a good family connection. I suggested they rent some bikes and have an explore, while I shopped for some walking boots which I'd decided would be an ideal present for Koios. (I couldn't really imagine she'd take much delight in shopping for walking boots herself, and certainly not paying good money for them, so I felt it appropriate for me to take the pain away). We failed dismally to get Fisher to come with us (something I was quite cross about, seeing as Heartlander was obviously very keen for her company and I felt we owed him after his race to the rescue when we had our accident in Tennessee) but she spent the time very productively, so I suppose I can't begrudge her.

The drive to Pitlochry is about an hour, and you pass through some pretty countryside. I was sorry to take Fisher's car, as the boys are deeply enamoured of the Drover (Heartlander's Mate even offered to trade his Mercedes for it - an offer I declined) but it made for a more comfortable drive. The weather was, of course, abysmal - but the dreich didn't put them off. We rented bikes, they hopped on, and off I went to shop at House of Bruar.

House of Bruar didn't have any walking boots, although I couldn't resist buying her a red cashmere jumper and a copy of The Cook's Book, so I went back into Pitlochry where there's Munro's walking and camping shop , two Factory outlets for outdoor equipment, and a Hawkshead. Hawkshead proved most sensible, as there's a sister shop on Prince's Street so Koios can easily change the boots if she'd like to, or if she needs a different size.

My lord. Hold me down, I'm the most fascinating woman in the world ...

So - I finished my shopping and managed to run into the boys as they wandered through town having taken their bikes back. They hopped in, and I suggested we visit the nearby distillery of Edradour. They were amenable, so off we went.

Edradour is well worth a dekko. It's very picturesque, with its low, whitewashed buildings and the burn running through. There's a free, 40 minute tour (which we couldn't take) and the whisky itself is excellent. In the tasting room where we went first, mistaking it for reception, the fella behind the bar gave us a hard time for not taking the tour - but it was all banter, and I held my own. He talked us through the tastings, told us a bit about how it was all made, and despite being disappointed not to see round the smallest distillery in Scotland - and one that is still privately owned by a single individual - it was a great way to spend half an hour or so. I've marked it as a definite stop for when we do Silver Arrow's whisky tour.

The drive back home was without event, and we got there just in time to do a quick turnabout, with me and Fisher changing our clothes for the party in record time. Of course, I then realised I'd not bought any wrapping paper, or written Hils a birthday card - so I had to grab some old Christmas paper, some tissue paper, scissors, sellotape and a pen, and do it all in the car. Ah, the care I give my friends ...

We cut it fine, but we did get the boys to Waverly in time to catch the 7pm train (although we do have a sneaking suspicion they decided to go for the first morning train and went back to Jekyll & Hyde for the evening ... in which case, fair play to 'em), and then had time to give the dogs a brief wander before picking up Protagoras & Koios. (1)

We went to Wildfire restaurant on Rose Street, and it was a great night out - especially since it's a school night. The place itself is very small so we had to have two tables, one each side of the door, and Koios was a little concerned about it. However, I think it worked fine in the end. We all mingled, we all chatted, the food was good, the wine fine and the presents - as usual - numerous. Birthdays and Christmas are just the chance we repressed British people need to express our affection, and the Cheese Board do so with abundance. This is presumable because we spend the rest of the time insulting one another with the freedom of siblings.

Anyhoo - we had a triffic night, and returned home merry and exhausted. This morning, I slept until 11am, and Fisher managed not to open her eyes until 45 minutes later - then spent a good hour or so fretting, gnawing her nails, abluting ... and not getting down to any work. She's off and running now though, with her usual efficiency, vim and vigour, and I must stop writing this blog and help her out. Ergo:

Fin. (2)

(1) Fisher has given me a right royal bollocking for how pretentious these pseudonyms are, and I have to say, she's spot on. "My friends, Protagoras & Koios ..." By all that's Holy, if I didn't know me, I'd want to punch me on the nose. (Actually, I do know me and I do, frequently want to punch me on the nose).

(2) "Ergo: Fin"????

Right, that's it. I'm actually punching myself on the nose.


Saturday, 12 May 2007


So, then. Here is a blog in which to pour all my nonsensical and un-world changing thoughts. Hm. Seems rather pointless when I put it like that. Perhaps, instead, I should use it as a diary of all the wonderfully interesting things that happen in my life.


All right then. Perhaps I should just bite the bullet, recognise that there's very little that happens in my life that bears relating, and just waffle ad nauseum.

Thinking of ad nauseum, I'm having another bout of what I have dubbed 'Psycho Tummy.' The doctors don't know what it is, I don't know what it is, and it's starting to really get on my tits. It may be digestive. It may be related to stress. What is odd is that over the winter I haven't been troubled by it at all. I remember the first time it really became a problem was in Spring - and now it's Spring, and it's back! There are three reasons I can think of for this strange seasonal aspect.

1. A great many plans get made at the start of Spring. Koios, Phidippida and Blarney all have their birthdays in May, while summer holiday plans begin doing the rounds. This year, Blarney and Spartan are getting married and have asked me to sing at the wedding, which scares the living bejaysus out of me - but which, for some reason, I cannot refuse - while Ma has organised a full family trip to Iceland at the end of July. All of these things are fabulous, and I'm anticipating them with great excitement, but Psycho Tummy does not like it. Bad Psycho Tummy! Naughty!

2. Call me crazy (as the above clearly suggests) - but could it be a form of hay fever? An allergy - or 'sensitivity' - to certain spores being released in their millions by the trees around our house?

3. I've noticed that feeling cold makes me feel nauseous, and this time of year is incredibly changeable in Scotland - especially here on the coast. A few weeks ago it was blazing sunshine, really warm, and all the heating in the house had to be turned right down. Now it feels like an autumn day: cold as a proverbial witch's bazoonga, grey, and rainy. The house is very chilly without the heating - so perhaps that adds to my problems?

The trouble is, none of those three really convince me. If it's stress from thinking about all the plans we've made, why do I wake up with it? I mean, presumably I'm not thinking about these things in my sleep, so I can't be stressed when out for the count. The hay fever thing doesn't strike me as being very likely, and I get Psycho Tummy at other times of the year as well. As for the cold - yeah, well, it's always cold and I'm not always stricken, so that doesn't explain it fully either.

It's most likely stress, to be honest, and that pisses me right off! I'm not a shrinking violet who crumbles at the first signs of pressure, yet here I am, feeling like I'm about to barf from morning to night, and for no good reason but the thought of fun holidays and celebrations with my pals! Fishergirl is very good to me and tries to 'talk me down' but what she doesn't understand is that none of this is conscious! I never mentally feel stress. In fact, my head tells me everything is wonderful, and that I'm set for a summer of larfs a-plenty. It's my body that collapses like a flan in a cupboard.

Sad. Very, very sad.

Enough of my malingering! On to the events of last weekend, for it was the long awaited birthday party of Phidippida. Ages ago, she 'booked' me for a restaurant night, to which she invited all our nearest and dearest. Only Spartan couldn't make it, as he had some Cult thing to attend to (that's the BBs - not really a cult), but that still meant cooking for 11 people - a challenge I was very glad to rise to. I do so love to cook. So, anyway, I started thinking about the menu ages ago. It had to have a cheese theme, seeing as how Phidippida is the Big Cheese of the Cheese Board, but I didn't want it to be too heavy and rich, as it would leave us feeling fat and sick afterwards. I spent ages perusing magazines, the internet and my Good Housekeeping recipe books for inspiration. Then I threw all my ideas in the dustbin and started again. I just came up with my own ideas and tried to see if there were any recipes that could be used as a guideline.

Once I'd settled on the menu, I then tweaked it, poked it with a stick and came up with what I thought would please, not only Phidippida, but everyone else who was attending. By Tuesday, it was all set and ready, so on Wednesday I went and got the shopping needed.

Then I fainted - both at the sight of the receipt, and the weight of the shopping. Once Fishergirl had revived me, we drove home in the Drover (it wouldn't have fitted in Fishergirl's car) and I started making stuff immediately. There were ice creams, sorbets and sauces, all of which could be made ahead of time.

On Thursday, I made more stuff and went to bed at about 2 am. Oh - just before going to bed, I got an email from Blarney (who should, from now on, be known as Cretin, but I am too kind) saying she had "no idea" I'd wanted everyone to come up from Edinburgh "post haste" and that she had "transport problems" but would try to be with us before 7.

Before 7!!???! The woman is utterly clueless. I have no idea what she expected, but it certainly looked like she just wanted to rock up, change her clothes, have a few drinks and a chat, give her order and get her food put before her at her leisure. I was furious! I wrote her a furious email, then furiously deleted it, then sent her another, calmer but very, very annoyed email with a few jokes chucked in there to keep her from deciding not to come at all. Christ ... 2am on the morning of the party and she tells me she's having "transport problems" and won't be with us until half an hour before I want to serve the starters. I'm not actually a restaurant. I don't have a serving staff and a team of chefs, and therefore it's a tall order to expect me to have eleven dishes cooked, served and ready in half an hour when I also have another 33 dishes to consider after the first 11 are sent out! But that's Blarney, darn her. Clueless. She'd probably have more of an idea of things like this if she'd ever picked up a pot in her life, but Spartan does all the cooking so how the hell is she supposed to know? Chunter, chunter, grumble etc etc ...

Anyway - Friday rolled around and Blarney's latest email reassured me she'd get an appropriate train and be with us around 6.45 - which I just had to accept. After all, they were all coming from work, and while the rest of them managed to get an early departure, Blarney just started a new job and couldn't exactly bugger off early in her first week! Also, she is too cute to be cross with for very long.

I was busy all day, pre-cooking as many things as could be pre-cooked, loving it! I really, really wanted Fishergirl to relax and enjoy the night as well, and was determined to do everything by myself, so I had very little help. Oh - I did send her into St Andrews to get some langoustines ... which we were then informed had not arrived, despite me asking the Perth branch of Kerracher's to send them over. Fishergirl had to wait until 5 pm when the van came with deliveries - and we had to have them live, rather than pre prepared. As well as having an allergic reaction to the shells of all crustaceans, I wasn't entirely happy with the idea of killing langoustines while so much else was going on at the same time - so I asked Fishergirl to do it. Which she did. With aplomb. I thought she might go for the old boiling water job - but noooo ... something dark and primeval in her made her choose the more hands-on approach of stabbing them through the head with a big old knife. It was a little more graphic than she'd expected, and she looked a little grey about the gills afterwards, but she soon shook it off ... and it didn't stop her ordering them later on!

Anyway - I'd written out a schedule of great precision, but I soon realised all that was going to be chucked out of the window because, after all the Blarney nonsense, I'd completely forgotten to ask Lubentina and Silver Arrow to arrive at 6.30 rather than 7. So my rage turned out to be completely uncalled for - although not really, because Lubentina and Silver Arrow only live down the road, so they didn't need to get changed. Which Blarney took 45 minutes to do, while trolling around singing 'la la la' for a good while rather than getting down to it. Fucking people having fun while I'm in a state of mental bewilderment! It's almost as though that's what they were there to do ...

So, anyway, eventually everyone was seated with glasses of chilled champagne, poured by Protagoras, and I could hand out the menus. This is what they looked like:

1. Quail Capricorn - Cold roast quail, with a goat’s cheese, prune and basil stuffing, served on a lettuce nest.
2. Utopian Staff of Life - Pancetta, onions and mature cheddar make this savoury pudding much more than just bread and butter.
3. The Reid Fush - Finest Hebridean smoked salmon, served with Arran oatcakes, and lemon, mustard & dill ice cream.
4. The Optimist - Twice-baked Roquefort soufflé. Light, fluffy and delectable.
5. The Pessimist - Twice-baked Roquefort soufflé. Flat, stodgy and inedible.

1. Bridie Pie - A hearty slice of shortcrust pastry pie, with layers of rabbit, smoked pancetta, leek & potato. Served with mustard mash and fruity, homemade Cumberland sauce.
2. Muttering Duck - Tender duck breast drizzled with a rhubarb, port and redcurrant reduction, served with garlic new potatoes and a chilled rhubarb sauce.
3. Cymbopogon Norway Lobster - Fresh Kerracher’s langoustine, grilled and drizzled with lemongrass butter. Served with toasted ciabatta and roast garlic cloves.
4. Silver Arrow’s Bane - Lamb chops with a cream cheese, fig, cashew nut, ginger and port atuffing, accompanied by homemade spicy apricot sauce.

1. Phidippida’s Special Ice Cream - Apple and Lancashire cheese flavour, served with cinnamon apple rings.
2. Citrus Tartlets - Lemon cream encased in shortbread pastry, drizzled with raspberry coulis.
3. Chocolate Marquise - Devillishly rich chocolate mousse with a chocolate biscuit base, served with creme fraiche.

A selection of Ian Mellis cheeses and oatcakes.

Coffee & Petit Fours

There was cooing, so I presumed I'd got something for everyone on there! Anyway, I took the orders and vanished into the kitchen to get everything started. First thing on the schedule was "put bread and butter pudding into oven" (Utopian Staff of Life, that is). Considering it takes around 45 minutes to cook, according to Fishergirl, who is the mistress of bread and butter puddings, I just stood there in a complete daze! Everything had already gone wrong! They would have to wait 45 minutes until the starters came out!! And so, with a wail like a dying banshee, all thoughts of letting Fishergirl have an uninterrupted evening of pleasure went the way of the Dodo and she came scampering through to my aid. In a voice reminiscent of the Horse Whisperer's, she calmed me down and told me everyone was having a lovely time next door, drinking 'poo and catching up, and that they wouldn't give too figs about having to wait for food.

Luckily, it turned out the pudding only took half an hour to cook, so my schedule ended up being only 15 minutes out. Not that bad!

I had the soufflé which, luckily, turned out to be the Optimist rather than the Pessimist, and I was quite pleased with the way it turned out. I cheated a little, 'cos it's a Delia Smith recipe, but damn! I'll cheat like that again. Plus, because it's twice baked, you can actually make it the night before and then just give it its second baking half an hour before serving.

The lamb stuffing, which I'd been so worried about before, turned out to be fine according to Wheeler and Janus. I should have listened to Fishergirl all along. She knows everything.

I have to say, my organisational skills - despite having written everything down - turned out to be extremely dubious. I'd go over and look at what was supposed to happen next, turn away, take three steps across the kitchen ... and then have to go back and look again because during those 3 steps my brain had raced away with all the other things that needed to be done and I'd forgotten what I was doing. I need help. Serious help.

After the main courses were served (the only concern I still have is that the duck wasn't big enough. I gave half a duck breast because it was so rich, but I fear it just wasn't really enough - especially for Protagoras, who could eat the arse out of an elephant in one sitting) I could really relax and just enjoy the night. The wine was free flowing, the conversation merry (I had a moment of jealous rage when I was busy in the kitchen, burning myself quite badly on the oven, when a great gust of laughter came through from the conservatory - where we'd set up the dining table - and I just wanted to be with them having a giggle. But it was only a moment, promise) and Phidippida seemed to be having a very lovely time which was, after all, the whole point.

Once pudding was done, and cheese, we started in on the business of getting drunk and staying up way, wayy too late. I chatted for ages with Protagoras, which was great as I was feeling quite edgy from all the remaining adrenalin and thought a quiet one-on-one would be perfect before becoming part of the rowdy crowd. We started in on the port and never left it, which turned out to be a very bad idea.

The evening ended with Koios falling asleep in the sitting room, and seeing as how she and Protagoras were sharing the floor (on a blow up mattress - we're not that unkind), we all vacated to the kitchen where I took my guitar. We sang, drank, talked, until 3.30am, when we all simply flaked. I really don't know how the rest of them did it. I don't have a job to go to, but they'd all been at work all day (and Wheeler brought his work with him owing to Anitpodean catastrophes of some kind), so respect to them for having such longevity!

The next day dawned ... well, painfully. But after I'd fallen asleep again twice, I managed to look on the pale May light with something other than horror. I had a shower, dressed and went downstairs to see what manner of people my guests were that fine morning. What delight greeted me! A clean kitchen, completely restored to its former beauty by Blarney, Koios and Janus. There was no sign of Protagoras, but considering how much of the port he necked back, that was no surprise. Even less of a surprise was the absence of Wheeler, who'd tried manfully to keep up with Protagoras, who is twice his size and, frankly, much, much harder. I was surprised to hear he was actually alive - but after an hour or so he showed his grey face and could even summon a smile. Bless his cycling socks.

My 30th birthday present from the girls had been a photograph of us all together (just the Cheese Board, that is, not the Cheese Boys as well), and because it was one of those rare occasions when we were all together, Phidippida arranged for the photographer to meet us at our house. I had been slightly concerned that we were all going to be hungover to the hilt and take the worst photos in the world, but luckily we all managed to revive before he turned up.

We had great fun. First we had some shots in the garden, where we all pounced on Fishergirl, then everyone pounced on me. There were also a few of all of us running towards the photographer, which I'm not sure will turn out very well. Boobs flying everywhere ...

Next we walked up the hill, taking a few shots of us dangling off various branches in the Faerie Tree and then a few in amongst the trees, where the sun had the decency to come out and dapple the grassy ground. Lastly we went to the top of the hill and had our photos taken by the old lookout post, and then individually. After that, we went home for lunch and took the photographer with us. So he got to sample all the leftovers from the evening before, which he was quite pleased about.

Wheeler had to leave and get back to Edinburgh before lunch, and Protagoras & Koios had to follow soon after they'd eaten (Protagoras might have had some difficulty keeping it down!) because they're in the throws of doing up a flat. Pro was disappointed to leave, I think. He looked like he just wanted to lie down and sleep for a week! But Koios cracked the whip, so off they went, taking Janus and Badger with them. (I have no idea whether Badger had a good time. I have no idea what he makes of us at all. He doesn't speak. However, he does laugh a lot so I think he was happy.)

Blarney, Phidippida, Fishergirl and I had a relaxing afternoon and then followed into Edinburgh in the evening. Fishergirl and I were staying with Blarney and Spartan, so that Fisher could run the 10k next day. Blarney, Janus and Spartan were all doing it as well, and we were there to lend moral support.

It's nice to stay with Blarney and Spartan. Their flat is very comfortable and they have a spare room that actually resembles a spare room, rather than a sofa bed or cushions on the floor - which, frankly, I'm getting too old to enjoy! Although, actually, there's not much wrong with Phid's sofa bed.

Next morning, I joined Phid at her flat near Easter Road and we went together to cheer the runners up Arthur's Seat. We stood at the worst point, just at the brow, and gave it our all. Gosh, it was so tiring, watching these knackered people toiling up the hill. Our arms ached from all the clapping, our jaws got stiff from the shouting ... I really don't know how we coped. I think we should have a big pat on the back for all the effort we put in. SO exhausting!

Oh, yes - Fisher did very well. She didn't break her target of an hour, but she discovered the race is actually longer than 10k by a little bit, and she did run 10k in under 60 minutes. Despite this fact, she was disappointed. But then, she is crazier than a drunk snake and should be nothing but proud. Blarney finished about 20 people ahead of Fisher, while Spartan, the superhuman, came in 150th and did the whole thing in about 40 minutes, if I recall. He did this with no training whatsoever. He is a bastard.

After the run, it was time to celebrate Blarney's birthday. She always does the same thing: runs the 10k, gets everyone to bring party food (and sends Spartan out to Sainsbury's), then takes us all to the park. There we play rounders for a few hours, before coming back for cake and a game of Scattegories - a game I love, but which we play only once a year. This year, I actually managed to get a kickabout with a football as well as rounders! I have no idea how Spartan managed, but after I'd kicked the ball at him two or three times like an irritating brat, he succumbed. We were then joined by Silver Arrow, 'Boarder and Chopper, so we could play 2 v 2 with one in goal.

Jaysus. It's knackering. I nearly died - several times - and I really, really have no idea how Spartan stayed on his feet. We played for about half an hour and there was one - count 'em - one goal! Scored by 'Boarder and set up by me, thangyewverymuch. Chopper got her name from this game. She may be small and slight, but by god that girl is feisty! I still have bruises on my shins.

Anyway, back we went for tea and cake. Spartan kindly offered Fisher and me a bed that night as well, which we gladly accepted. We had the dogs with us, so there was no reason to go home. Also, Spartan was off for the bank holiday next day, so we were able to have a liesurely morning and then go to breakfast at Maxi's. I was dead at 10.30pm - and fighting off a bout of PT, surely brought on by tiredness, hangover and a rubbish, rubbish diet of cake, cake and biscuits - and fell asleep by 11.15.

Next day, Blarney had to go to work but we had a nice brekker with Spartan before heading home. Once at home, I fell asleep in front of the Chelsea v Arsenal game (it was crap anyway) and then remembered I had a tennis match to play. Jeeeeeeesus ...

And could it be a nice, short game? Of course not. In fact, it went on so long it got dark and we had to arrange to come back on Wednesday. Plus, the courts were those bouncy tarmac ones with little hills and divots all over the place. I can't stand that sort of slow, high-bouncing tennis where all you can do is put it back over the net and hope the opposition screws up. My game isn't good enough to put away looping balls.

Anyway ... that was the end of the epic weekend of Phidippida and Blarney's birthdays.

It's now a week later and I'm till feeling the effects! Plus, I'm off to London tomorrow to see an old American friend who's coming to the UK to kick off his traditional European Tour. Why the hell he's staying in London I don't know. Maybe I can persuade him to actually get out and see some of the UK, rather than just the capital. After all, any foreigner visiting this country will get a very poor impression of what its like if they only see London. London is as much like the rest of the UK as a zebra is to a camel.

Enough. When something else of interest happens to me, I may feel the urge to blog again.

So - see you in a decade or so.