Saturday, 28 July 2007

Iceland Continued

Where was I?

Ah yes, at the Althingi, looking at the beautiful rift valley and the site of Iceland's original parliament. Well, it was truly beautiful, and while I wasn't particularly interested in the pre-medieval machinations of Icelandic politics, I was quite inspired by the images in my mind of fur-clad folk making the long journey to this barren, windswept place in order to stay in little lodges, or booths, and have a good old barney about the state of the world today.

We spent a very pleasant hour and a half there before rejoining our taxi and motoring off to a lovely restaurant beside a lake for lunch. The most remarkable thing about this place was actually the sheer volume of midgies and blackflies lying in wait for us as we leapt from the car and beat a hasty path to the safety of the restaurant. I had to cover my face with my shirt in order to keep them from going up my nose and into my mouth. I thought Gemmill would be traumatised by them, but actually, being so much closer to the ground meant he barely noticed them. We adults, on the other hand, were sorely tormented and very glad to be inside.

Lunch was great. Icelandic food, so far, has not in any way been the disaster some guidebooks suggested. It's very fish oriented, and naturally so, but that is by no means a bad thing. Having said that, I ordered a smoked char salad which I found repulsive! Char is a salmon-coloured fish, but the smoking of it rendered it all but inedible to me, being like a cup of lapsang souchong with a fish boiled in it. However, Fisher thought it delicious - and so did Ma, which obviously means I am a freak and should just shut up and acknowledge my foolish fussiness.

After lunch we headed to Geysir where - you´ve guessed it! - there is a field full of geysirs. We had expected to swim in the lake beside the restaurant, but the midgies put an end to that notion. In retrospect I'm glad it did because we wouldn't have had as much time to spend at Geysir had we done so.

The barren rock of the field is interspersed with little pools where water bubbles at, in some places, near boiling point. We headed to one little pool where a crowd had gathered, and waited excitedly for the geysir to have its say. After several minutes of watching it suck and swell like a mini tide in the hole, a large blue bubble of water suddenly formed followed swiftly by a great spurt of water reaching some fifteen feet into the air like the spume of a massive whale. I couldn't help giving a whoop of joy - which nobody else seemed to think necessary, so I ended up looking a bit of a plonker ... but could I care less? I could not. Frankly, I'm a bit of a child when it comes to such things.

After witnessing the phenomenon once, we started walking up the hill and peering into other bubbling pools. The geysir spouted several times more, each time making me want to shriek and clap like a demented toddler (Gemmill was far more restrained, even a little nervous about the whole thing). Fisher got an excellent photograph of Sister and me doing one-two-three-and-awaaaay with Wrecker with the geysir erupting behind us. At the top of the hill we looked down over the whole geysir field, drinking in the sight of all those bubbling pools and the occasional expulsion of water and steam. On the way down again, Sister stopped at what looked like a very dull couple of still pools, whose only interest appeared to be the fact they were very, very hot indeed - but came back looking quite enchanted. When I took a look I found one of the pools to be the crystal clear turquoise of a Caribbean lagoon, clear as glass, with a tunnel vanishing deep into the hillside. I can stare into such things for hours, and longed to be able to dive in and follow the tunnel as deep as it would go, perhaps - as Pa told Gemmill - to find a sleeping dragon with golden scales curled around his treasure, as his breath heated the water around him to keep intruders at bay.

After the delights of Geysir we were supposed to head straight home, but our taxi driver - whose name was something like Haffi - took us on a road that allowed one more stop. This was at a volcanic crater, where long ago the rock had collapsed around the lava spout, plugging the hole and forming a crater which filled with ground water. An eerie green pool now fills the bottom, and the crater itself is quite other-worldly in appearance. It was no more than a fifteen minute leg-stretch, but extremely beautiful and, like everything I've seen in Iceland's countryside so far, deeply atmospheric. It all speaks of a world still forming, still nursing the incredible heat and power of its ancient creation, and ready to unleash it at any time. It's both unnerving and exhilarating. Seeing as I'm the sort who loves an environment that sneers at the insignificance of mankind, I'm really in my element.

Back in Reykjavik, the boys were fed with pizza, we, later, with shepherd's pie, and all were content. Fisher and I went for a short run in the park - about 2.5 miles only (I was utterly, totally knackered by it. Not very good) before supper, which helped with the holiday fatness I feel creeping upon me.

Yesterday was a town-based day. We went up the cathedral's - Hallgrimskirke's - great tower and got a beautiful overview of the city, which is very much more water-bound than'd realised. We also went for a swim at one of the city outdoor pools, which are heated to a reasonable 18 or 19 degrees, and I swam a kilometer, front crawl, for the first time. We suppered with Ma and Pa at a restaurant which served delicious fish dishes but took ages to serve us, and I finished the new Harry Potter.

That's almost me up to date now, save to mention the Settlement Museum we went to this morning, which'll have to cover at a later date.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Iceland Part One, Days 1-3.

We arrived here safe and well, thankfully, despite my usual premonitions of doom and disaster which always acompany any flight. There´s little to report on the travel itself, save to remind myself in block capitals to NEVER STAY IN THE NORMANDY HOTEL AGAIN. Christ on a bike! It was dreadful. I ordered a plate of ribs (why?) for supper and was presented with several pigs worth of rib cage. Surely nobody can eat that amount of pork and live? It sat rather unpleasantly with me for the rest of the night, but probably not as unpleasantly as it should.

Sister and sons travelled with us, which was astonishingly not as painful as one might have thought as there were plenty of free seats at the back of the plane meaning we could all sit together in relative comfort. The main joy was that I discovered while on the flight that the 3 hour flight was actually nothing of the sort, but instead a 2 hour flight.

As we flew over Iceland I got my first true thrill of the holiday - which isn´t bad considering we´d not yet stepped off the plane! Looking down at the landscape below, I was almost girlish in my delight at the sight of a massive glacier spread out beneath us. It turns out it´s the 3rd largest glacier in the world - or possibly ice cap, if there´s a difference, but lies too far to the south for us to take a trip to see it. Ma and Pa have already had their 3 day journey there and back, and we simply don´t have the time to do it - so I´m really glad the weather allowed us such a great sight of it as we flew overhead.

The moment we stepped off the plane we were straight into the thick of things, and I have to say it was a true delight to be on a holiday where none of the decision making falls to you and you simply either go with the flow or go your own way. So far, we´ve definitely flowed.

As we all piled into a crap-bucket of a car, driven by a man who spoke no English and who, frankly, looked like he spent more time at the bottom of a bottle than behind the wheel of a car, Ma announced we were off to the Blue Lagoon for a post-flight swim in the naturally hot waters. Great!

It wasn´t a good start when it transpired that our driver not only couldn´t communicate with us (entirely forgiveable) but actually didn´t know where he was going (not forgiveable), but things soon picked up. The Blue Lagoon is a large, shallow lake of naturally heated spring water, milky with salts and minerals, which has been converted into a public swimming bath. We changed into our cossies with prudish British care while natives pranced naked about us (especially an old woman who seemed almost determined that as many people should see her as possible) and made our way out into the cold, oh my god cold air. As swiftly as we could, we scuttled into the water, with noises reminiscent of Ma drinking her first cup of tea after a great tea drought. It was blissful! Just as warm as bath water, and, because of the colour, rather like swimming in milk without any of the unpleasantness that would entail.

We swam and frolicked with Gemmil and Wrecker. Fisher and I plastered mud on our faces from the little bucket provided at one side, which didn´t seem to do me any good but was at least an exfoliant. More delightful was sitting beneath a waterfall of hot water, letting it pummel your shoulders and relax your tense limbs - in a rather violent fashion.

Eventually it was time to get out, so once again we scuttled as quickly as we could out of the cold air and into the changing rooms, showered, dressed, and went to have our first Icelandic food with Pa in the restaurant.

Here, not only were we introduced to rather tasty Icelandic fish, but also to the prices.

Dear God. We knew it would be steep ... but 13 pounds for a starter?? Pa informed us that the prices at the Blue Lagoon restaurant were actually quite reasonable. He and Ma had been out to several places where the main courses were never shy of thirty pounds. Today, Sister picked up a 16 inch pizza for the boys´ supper and was told it was cheap at eighteen quid! A beer is seven pounds. Our Rough Guide cost 29! It´s astonishing. We wondered how people managed to live here at all, until Pa told us that the average annual wage is something like 35,000 pounds. It´s all just put on an elevated scale - so the real question is: how do they manage to have a thriving tourist industry?

Anyway, prices aside we were well pleased with our first taste of Iceland, and looked very much forward to our journey into Reykjavik. The scenery was greeted with mixed reactions. I thought it quite spectacular. Sister thought it revolting. Great black fields of lava broiled their way out before us, covered in sage green mosses and lichens and fringed by distant mountains far more jagged and unfriendly than those back home. Sister asked what the first word we thought of was when she said ´Iceland.´Fisher said ´barren.´I said ´lunar´. To me, the lava fields really do seem alien - as though you´ve landed on an entirely different planet rather than just a different country. I love it, but I can see it getting tiresome in the end.

Anyway, on we drove into Reykjavik (astonishingly our driver did know how to get there) and were dropped at the little apartment Ma has rented for us. It´s fine - perfectly serviceable, and Fisher goes so far as to really, really like it. I don´t know what there is to like, really - but then there´s nothing to dislike, either. It´s just a plain, single-roomed apartment. The only difficulty is that there´s no washing machine, so we´ll have to use the local laundry which takes 2 days to clean your clothes. Still, a minor quibble in all.

Reykjavik is an intriguing place. It´s almost like a shanty town in some places, with houses made of corrugated iron and dilapidated old buildings falling down in the midst of perfectly respectable residential areas. There seems to be no division of rich and poor at all, or industrial and residential. The docks are full of cranes, rusting ghost-boats, vast tankers and busy fishing vessels - and the whole place is looked down upon by the magnificent cliffs of nearby mountains. As you walk through the quiet streets, you catch glimpses of this fabulous mountain which you may or may not have forgotten was there, and it just all seems rather surreal. There´s a rather American-outpost feel to it all, which put me in mind of the programme Northern Exposure. However, it´s by far the safest city I´ve ever been in. Nobody is threatening, crime is incredibly low, and the light nights mean you can walk anywhere at any time.

The architecture leaves little to be desired, as I´ve suggested, but there are a couple of fantastic churches. The main cathedral swoops up into the air like a pale grey space rocket, with wide wings curving upward from the base into the spire. It´s incredibly tall, lifting your eyes to the skies - which are frequently worth looking at for their own sake! Today, little cotton-bud clouds flew so low over the fields it almost felt that you could reach up and touch them, while the gossamer threads of stratus wisped far, far above.

On our first night, Fisher and I were so thrilled to be in a new place without the ties of dogs, or the need to drive anywhere, that we actually went out!! We´d had supper with Ma n Pa n Sister, but decided that instead of going straight to bed we´d try out a ... get this! ... gay bar! Actually, we´d seen it before and thought it looked like a really nice café - and only afterwards did we find out it was part of the incredibly relaxed gay scene. Icelanders, while very groovy about gay people, just don´t make any kind of song and dance about it.

Actually, that´s not true. There´s a gay parade that´s nothing but song and dance, but we´ve missed it - which is kind of a shame.

Anyway, we went and had a few glasses of wine, then rolled home. While the booze is expensive and hard to come buy here (you can only buy wine or anything except low alcohol beer in special booze shops which close at 6pm - or bars, obviously) they serve it in vats! You get about a third of a bottle of wine in each glass, so after 2 I was utterly steaming! I mean, I had consumed several small tipples with Sister and Fisher earlier, so I´m not a total lightweight, but even so - by the time we got back to the flat I was ready to fall into a mini-death, which I proceeded to do. We´d had a bit of a wander, taking in the main square - which is no more than a little collection of corrugated iron shops around a small concrete area where a great deal of motorbikers gather with their machines - and the City Hall. City Hall is a modern piece of architecture which I find ugly, but beautifully situated on a lake. Literally on it. Water goes all round it.

Anyway, I´m bored of writing about Reykjavik. While it´s fascinating in some ways, it´s also a bit of a limbo for me. There´s nothing in it that truly grabs my attention, and I think of it only as a place to stay while we explore.

On our second day, we had a very ´first full day after arriving´type day. You know, where you don´t really do anything strenuous, nothing´s particularly planned, and you actually end up just wishing you´d launched right into some wild, exhausting spree because it´s really just a day of bitty nothingness. In fact, I can barely remember what we did at all.

We rose late. We went to meet Sister, Gemmill, Wrecker and Ma in a café. We checked out a couple of antique/junk shops with Sister. Sister, sons and Ma then went off to check out the zoo while Fisher and I had a wander by ourselves. We bought the Rough Guide, fainted at the cost, picked ourselves up and went to the Culture House. This was well worth a visit for two reasons: the exhibition on Surtsey (an island that rose out of the sea during the 1960s and continues to grow today) and the original Medieval manuscripts of some of the Sagas they house there. Having seen this, we then returned to our apartment for some reading and relaxing before supper with the folks again. We then went early to bed, in order to be up for Ma´s planned outing - which took place today.

This has been by far one of the most enjoyable days I´ve spent in ages! We caught a taxi at just after 9am and piled in with the whole family. Luckily it was a new driver and new car - both of which were a distinct improvement on the last ones! We sped south from the city, where the landscape springs green about the roadside - quite unlike the bleak lavafields to the north. After about a 40 minute drive we arrived at the Allthingi - the ancient Icelandic parliament, which took place in the most beautiful setting of a rift valley. We walked through a gorge with great walls of rock on either side, before emerging out onto the valley floor and following a wooden path up to the Law Rock (can´t remember the name in Icelandic). Here, the speaker would recite the Icelandic laws aloud before the parliament was considered open. Icelanders like to think of this as the first example of democracy in action, but considering it was basically a chieftain-based society this is pretty much bunkum. However, in theory anyone was allowed to speak their grievances - and as a great deal of Icelandic time seems to have been spent on vengeance, those grievances appear to have been many.

I´m running out of time on this ticket, dang it, so I´ll have to draw my first entry to a close, without finishing an account of today. Never mind. I´ll not forget it in a hurry - and there´s too much of it to rush, so better to start again tomorrow, or whenever I get my next chance. At least this café, like everything, is very near to our excellent little apartment.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Time with the Gents Part 2

So, today was yet another day of jollies - and this time Fisher came along to join in the fun, too.

After a strange dream, where I actually experienced lunch with Wheeler and Castor at a very funky pub which was one of Fisher's & my favourites (open fire, long wooden tables, real ales) save that it was a complete figment of my imagination, I awoke. I was less than rested, having stared at the clock until 3.45am, and despite my best efforts I couldn't get back to sleep again. Strangely, I felt almost like I was due to take an exam or something. Very odd. I wasn't nervous about the day to come, just excited - but maybe my fevered, disturbed little mind now refuses to interpret excitement, instead saying: What is this? It is a 'feeling.' Hmm. I don't recognise it. She doesn't get it very often. Oh well - let's just stick it down as 'nervousness' and go and have a beer.

Unable to get back to sleep, I read some more of Kept, which I'm quite enjoying save for DJ Taylor's overindulgence with adjectives and a narration coming from so many different angles it's like listening to two people speak at once. Then I got up and checked my email. The Cheese Board is trying to sort out Christmas 2008, which we've decided to spend together in a big ol' country house. Ruth sent out some excellent options, which some of us chose from - but this was the usual signal for others to point out all the flaws and there followed a flood of emails the like of which I haven't seen since ... the last time we tried to sort out a holiday.

Don't get me wrong - this is part of the reason I love them, but why can't it be simple? Just once!

Anyway, yesterday was an exercise in frustration in that every place we looked at either had too few double rooms (some people don't want to even entertain the notion of a twin), were too expensive, or simply didn't fit the bill for whatever reason. Then, when we all agreed on a place, this morning Fisher announced it was booked for Christmas '08 and we couldn't have it. Therefore, I decided I'd have a proper going over of the internet, and managed to come across a website we hadn't seen before, which had several options. I didn't have time to go through all of them, though, before it was time to set off and meet Wheeler and Castor at the Bein Inn for lunch.

I like the 'Famous' Bein Inn. I've never been there for a music night, for which it's apparantly famous (on the folk scene, anyway) but it's in a lovely little spot and serves half decent grub at a reasonable price. I wasn't really in the mood for food, having woken with the merest suggestion of PT - probably due to lack of sleep and the coldness of the day - but enjoyed the slightly unusual nachos, served without melted cheese (!) but with rather good chilli. I could only eat half, but that was quite enough as it was relatively hefty.

After lunch, it was time for the star attraction - so off we pootled, Fisher and me in Keith the Land Rover (blame Phid for the name) and Wheeler & Castor in Wheeler's car. Where were we off to?

The Scottish Off Road Driving Centre!!


I was so excited, having wanted to off road from the moment I bought the Drover. After all, it's what I got it for - pegging about on Coll when visiting Seonaid, carting dogs up mountains, going camping in daft places ... and of those things, we have managed to do precisely one. Well, ok, so we went to Tiree as well and did some bouncing about on the bents there as well as on Coll - but it's hardly the same as what we did today!

On arrival we were greeted by an almost elderly man, whose accent I just couldn't place. It was either Welsh or Irish - and I'm generally pretty ok at placing people! I spent the whole day trying to figure it out, and what he made of my intense glare of thought whenever he spoke, I do not know.

He was great. Really friendly, very reassuring, speaking to me in the same voice my mother uses on frightened horses. And was there any preliminary waffle? There was not. Basically, it was a case of "sign this piece of paper saying you understand that off-roading is almost certain to cause injury, if not death, and at the least will totally knacker your car, but that you don't care and it sure as shite ain't our fault" and we were good to go! I asked if it was all right if we all had a turn at driving (Fisher insisted she would NOT drive, not over her dead body - until I pointed out that, considering the recently signed waiver, that was all too likely), and our instructor agreed that it was. But when I asked if Castor could also drive, he very firmly said he could not. Nine years old is no time to be off-roading.

Fair enough. But as we turned to go out of the reception hut, he dropped me a massive wink.

Off we went, me driving, the instructor pointing the way. It all seemed relatively straightforward. We bounced over a couple of stones, but I was feeling pretty good ... and then I realised we were still on the road, and hadn't actually reached the off-road track yet. When we turned off the tarmac, things got a little more interesting - but it was still very straightforward. We obviously hadn't arrived yet. Meanwhile, in the back seat, Fisher was looking around at the gentle rolling hills and fields, and said:

"Well, I haven't seen anything too daunting just yet."

At which point we rounded a corner and saw an almost verticle dirt track in the distance, with scuff marks and tyre tracks all over it. Fisher's gulp was clearly audible from the front seat. As we bounced our way along, Castor's eyes grew bigger and bigger as we passed various rugged tracks, ponds, holes, dips, hills, rocks and - frankly - what can only be called small cliffs.

"Are we going down that?" he'd squeak, followed quickly by "are we going up that?"

It soon transpired that, yes, we were going both down that, and up that, and that I'd be driving, and perhaps this was all a terrible, terrible idea after all.

The instructor (of uncertain origin) took me through some points of interest - like what the hell diff lock was (no, I didn't think the lever was to hang a handbag on. I don't own a handbag. It did, however, make a very handy hook for a dog lead) and how to use it. Then it was a case of pointing the car at a bumpy, muddy hill, and going for it.

The car lurched, the engine revved, the instructor told me which gear to use and when to put it into diff lock ... which I found extraordinarily difficult for such a simple task ... and we bumped and swayed our way up the hill. Then we went down the other side. It was all I could do to stop myself whipping off an imaginary cowboy hat and shrieking 'yeeeeeeeee-haw!'

It was so much fun!

And that was just the start of it. We went over three foot humps, three all in a row, and struggled to keep our lunch down.

We plunged into a pond and slooshed our way out the other side.

We rumbled, skidded and rocked down a slope that almost had us on our nose (at one point the instructor swore the back wheels left the road) and I learned what cadence braking is.

We listed sharply down a track, leaning at a 15 degree angle one way, then a 23 degree angle the other way.

We shimmied through mud, like a hippo on ice skates.

And after almost an hour of rip-roaring fun, we drew to a halt and the instructor said:

"Right. Who's next?"

Then followed another tour of the tracks - with some new ones thrown in, like the one with two-foot ruts on either side. And the drop into the pond that smacked the tow-bar off the rocks and sent waves of muddy water rippling up the sides of the Drover as Keith waded his way to the other side. Wheeler was confident behind the wheel and, unlike me, didn't stall on any very steep hills (but I did learn how to safely reverse down a hill after stalling in diff lock. You turn the engine off and put the car in reverse. Then you take your foot off the clutch and watch the gear stick twitch to show it's in gear. Then you turn on the engine - having checked there's no-one behind you - and the diff lock sends you safely back as you apply the brake where necessary). It was fun riding in the back, too, getting jounced and bounced and watching the road either disappear from sight as the car rears back and points at the sky, or fall away beneath you as you all topple forward like a plane in a nose-dive.


Once Wheeler had done his round, it was time for the next driver. We all cheered and joshed until Fisher relented and took the wheel, saying she wouldn't do anything difficult and would stick only to the easy bits, please. The instructor did his 'talking to a skittish pony' routine, Fisher calmed down ... and off we went, jolting and bouncing over the same tracks as before! Fisher had a moment or two of 'interest' - like managing to slide sideways down a muddy slope - but otherwise was brilliant! She was a little pale to begin with, and I mentioned to Wheeler that the last time I'd seen anyone's face look like that was when they were hanging onto the side of a horse, in the process of falling off at high speed. But she had no reason to be nervous. Her clutch control was great, and the instructor praised her at the end.

We all thought that was that - when the instructo turned round and, to Castor, gave a grin and said:

"So, are you going to have a turn young man?"

"I can't!" Castor squeaked in awful hope, eyes like saucers.

"You can!" we all bellowed, cheering, and into the driver's seat he slid!

"I can't do all that stuff you guys did," he protested, but he was already clutching the steering wheel and peering - as best he could - at the road ahead.

"Do you know about the pedals?" the instructor asked.

"Yes," he nodded. Then: "What does the middle one do?"

"That's the brake!" I choked. "You'll need that one!"

"And the one on the right?"

"The gas," the instructor replied. Then, hurriedly: "Don't touch that one."

Having established that Castor really didn't know how to use the pedals, the instructor put Keith in gear, diff lock on, and turned the key. Off we went! Cas steered admirably as we crept smoothly along. I hoped, but doubted, that the instructor would give him something fun to do. A little hill, perhaps? Maybe one of the puddles?

Not a bit of it.

We did the whole course.

We crept along, up steep slopes, through the pond, over humps, and along the listing road. It was incredible! When Cas couldn't steer fast enough the instructor did it for him, guiding him through, but mostly Cas did all the wheel work himself, peering over the dashboard like a mole from its hole. He got to go up the incredibly steep hill where all you can see is sky and the nose of the car and you just have to keep the wheels straight - which is not for the faint hearted. He didn't bat an eyelid when he took us through the deep pond - despite the Land Rover roof just visible above the water line which the instructor solemnly informed him was, indeed, a lost Land Rover and not at all just a joke. Cas's eyes were big as soup plates!

After Cas's ride was over and his grin like a slice of melon, I got a second turn - and then it was all over. I felt guilty that Wheeler didn't get to have another go - but all in all, it was one of the best afternoons I've had in a long time!

God Bless the Scottish Off Road Centre, and our instructor of unknown origin. Wheeler is scouring eBay as I type, looking for a hefty, four wheel drive replacement for his station wagon. He also wants to take his motorbike over the course and hopes the owner will let him - and I want to learn to ride a motorbike and start off-roading on that, too!


Time with the Gents Part 1

The last few days have been hugely fun!

First up, Protagoras came up for a go on the driving range and a game of golf at Drumoig. It appeared at first as if his trip would be a complete bust, because at 10am when he arrived it was teeming down with rain - as well as being cold and foggy. Nevertheless, we manfully (womanfully?) braved the elements and headed to the driving range, which was at least partly sheltered. There we had fun smacking the crap out of 100 balls apiece, and then looked out on the still dull, grey and miserable day in a considering sort of fashion.

"So - you up for a bit of golf then?" I asked.
"Sure thing," came the response - and so off we went. In a fit of extravagance we rented a buggy - and I've decided I'm never going anywhere without one, ever again! Not even to the loo! They are so much fun. They can turn on a sixpence, and every bump in the road feels like a massive mogul! Pro and I took it in turns to drive in a very civilised manner ... that is, 'in a very civilised manner, Pro and I took it in turns to drive'. The previous sentence was very misleading. Some of my driving was far from civilised.

We hacked and sliced our way round the course, hitting just enough good shots to keep ourselves interested but not enough to make things easy, or give us any notion that we might actually be able to play the game. We didn't keep score, which was great, and just enjoyed the beautiful course and zooming after our wayward shots in our little buggy.

At about the sixth hole the sun started straining to disperse the fog, and by the seventh it was well and truly out. I'd dressed for more traditional weather, so was soon gasping in my jeans, long-sleeved shirt and vest-top. Pro was better attired, but even so we were both very pink in the face by the end of the round.

I have to say, I think I called an end a little too soon for Pro's liking, but after the seventh I couldn't hit a drive to save my life, and recognised that I really don't have the stamina - or ability - to play more than 9 holes yet. The moment my arms start getting tired the ball goes all over the place. Anyway - if you recall, the last time I played Drumoig I received a clear sign from the golf gods that my time was up when the ball bounced so flukily off a fence post. This time, on the 10th hole, I struck a very poor drive out over the water hazard. It fizzed low and hard out over the surface, threatening at any moment to drop ... and promptly hit the far bank, bounced up and landed on the green! Pro couldn't quite believe it. He'd told himself on the last hole that he'd only play the next if he could hole it in 5. However, he only missed by one and thought that was good enough to have one last bash. Unfortunately, it proved to be a bad one for him. He lost three balls off the tee and declared he'd had quite enough thank you very much. I agreed. Having forgone breakfast in favour of some extra kip, I was absolutely ravenous.

Fisher joined us for a bite at the reliable St Michael's Inn, and marvelled at how much quicker we'd been than I usually am with Arrow. She thought I must be improving, until I told her - somewhat reluctantly - about the buggy. I lost her respect.

It was a very enjoyable game, and Pro appears to have caught the golf bug too. When I phoned him yesterday I had a conversation with him that was accompanied by the distant thunder of balls as they were dispensed into little baskets. He's found himself a local driving range. Koios may never see him again. In fact, Lu, Fisher and Koios are all in danger of becoming golf widows! Perhaps I should see if Spartan would like to get in on the act as well - although he can actually play, so maybe not!

I played tennis in the evening - mixed doubles, which proved to be proper exercise in comparison to the ladies' doubles! Two days later, and I still ache! We played a good 3 hours, and I thoroughly enjoyed hitting some hard balls, while my serve improved dramatically. It's been rubbish this season, but luckily I seemed to hit a bit of a rhythm on Monday. Now, if only I can figure out why! We beat our opponents fair and square, despite them showing up half an hour late and theoretically fofeiting the opening round.

Yesterday was very lazy. I went to Dundee to get my glasses back from the repair shop and couldn't resist buying a PS2 game - Medal of Honor, European Assault. This I spend the vast majority of yesterday afternoon attempting to master, but I'm never very good at games. I just love playing them. I've finished Europe and North Africa - now I'm on to Russia. Why it's called European Assault I have no idea. Since when is Tunisia in Europe? Silly Yanks. Still, what's very refreshing is that it's an American soldier, but he spends the first two levels in the company of British commandos, and the Desert Rats. Now he's with Russian soldiers and partisans. The Americans are actually admitting some other people were involved with winning the war! Gasp!

Dammit. Maybe it's made by Brits. I hadn't thought of that.

Why am I writing about a PS2 game?? Jeeze ... I could go back and delete all that guff, but that would be an admission that I've just wasted 10 minutes of my life, so I shall leave it there. Perhaps some historian, one day, will read it and become terrible excited because it's the only evidence in existence that 30 year old women also played PlayStation games.

Ok, I've lost it now. I think I ought to have a break. I'll write more later.

Yesterday I did

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Non Wedding Plans.

Yesterday I overdid the exercise a bit, and felt pretty rough when I got home. I think it was lack of food and not hydrating properly - although the ear infection I've picked up is surely down to the skanky water in Cupar pool. It's not the greatest sign of hygiene when you swim past a plaster, hanging gruesomely in suspension. Anyway, I did 800m and then 5 miles on the gym bike, and a couple of weights. Then I had to go and walk a dog.

This dog, Megan, was quite a handful. When I opened the door she barked and snarled ferociously. I did all the things you're supposed to do - didn't look her in the eye, crouched down, yawned, shook myself - but all to no avail. So eventually I lost patience and told her to sit - at which she ran away and hid under the kitchen table.


Anyway, she refused to come to me for a walk, despite me plying her with cheese which she was more than happy to accept. Bloody collies and their nervous dispositions. I had to leave her to pick Fisher up from the gym (she was undertaking a long run of an hour and a half), and then returned with Fisher in tow. It seemed that having two people there was actually a bit more calming for her, and after a while she came to my hand and let me clip her lead on. Fantastic. She came with us on her walk happily enough - but either she has a cast-iron bladder or being on a short lead restricted her ability to pee, because she did nothing at all. Back home she went, still chock-full of excretia, and off Fisher and I went, home. We returned at 8pm, eventually enticed her onto the extendable lead I'd brought from home, and tried again. Baffie came along for company - her first walk after her arthritis diagnosis - and it all went smoothly enough. Megan peed, the sun shone, Baffie struggled at the furthest reaches of her short lead (she's only allowed to be walked on the lead for a month or so) and all was well. Unfortunately, although it couldn't have been more than a mile's walk, Baffie was limping slightly at the end of it - so we'll have to be even more careful from now on.

The exciting news is that Fisher and I have set a date for a wee celebration after we sign our civil contract. Frankly, I had no intention of going down the 'wedding' route - and this very firmly IS NOT a wedding - but all our friends were most adamant that they wanted to celebrate, even if we didn't, so we had our minds changed for us. There will be no more than 30 guests, all our nearest and dearest (with partners), and NO random family members who have to be invited because otherwise they'll spontaneously combust despite having met me twice in my life and Fisher never at all and probably being deeply homophobic and almost certain to get up and walk out, only returning in time for booze and food and a threatened punch in the face from me and an actual punch in the face from Fisher who, despite appearances, is far scarier than me. It will take place next July, in a secret location, and will last all weekend - Friday night to Sunday. It will not be traditional in any way - but may incorporate some traditional elements, like causing your absolute nearest and dearest acute agony by insisting they perform in some way.

There will be special plans for The Cheese Board. Maybe also for Cheese Boys.

We don't know whether to be absurdly indulgent and have a hen night and stag night (hell - we don't have to be ridiculously stereotyped regarding sex. We'd both take part in both!) but considering the number of bloody parties Blarney and Spartan have thrown in honour of them deciding to live together forever which, frankly, is entirely their own business, I think we'd be forgiven for having just the two. Three, if we do both hen and stag. Or just two, with the hen and stag taking place at the same time, but involving different elements. A Hag Weekend. (Shag Weekend?)

Oo. Actually, I'm having great ideas as I type! Heh heh heh ...

The boys are going to loooooove this!

Enough! I'm far too thrilled, and it's all over a year away. I must pace myself or I'll be fed to the back teeth with it by the time it comes to enjoying myself. The last thing I want is to be so exhausted and infuriated by planning the thing, and worrying about whether people have a good time or not, and coping with the ineptitude of others when it comes to making their own plans, that I don't enjoy it at all. I shall leave the subject.

In fact, that's all for tonight. I want to see whether this ridiculous fantasy cycling game Wheeler has reeled me in to has yielded any rewards. So far I've been embarrassingly bad.

Maybe it should just be a

Monday, 9 July 2007

Friends Reunited.

Against my better judgement I've just completed a personality test online, which gave the usual sort of bumf about how outgoing I am, so confident and self-possessed, yet private and not very sociable blah blah blah - and yet failed to mention at any point that I'm a raging, fury filled misanthrope. Something that, I would have thought, would be hard to miss. Then again, this test didn't have questions like: "Do you hate mankind and all it stands for?" so how it expects to catch the personality type "Hater of Mankind and All it Stands For" I do not know. A fatal flaw.

It's that time of the month. Can you tell?

Actually, I don't hate mankind in its entirity. My friends remain tolerable creatures, and we've seen quite a lot of them over the last few weeks. However, before I relate all the delightful happenings with The Cheese Board and others, I'd better do a boring rundown of training.

My last run was the 30th of June, which is most remiss of me. I have been swimming and cycling, but I was very concerned I was losing my stamina for running. I did a swim and cycle 'brick' though, which was most invigorating. 400m in a time I remember I was pleased with, but I can't actually remember, and 5 miles on the bike on 'hill' - which basically goes steadily up from about resistance 4 to 20, then back to 18, then finishes on about 14 when you fall off and drown in a pile of sweat. Anyway, I did 5 miles in under 20 minutes which I was content with but have no idea whether it's good or not. Frankly, after the nearly drowning in a pile of sweat thing, I couldn't have cared less.

That was last week, though, and owing to the joys of mates, I haven't actually done any exercise since Wednesday, when I went slightly insane. I was feeling so hyper-energetic that, after my 'brick' I decided I wanted to enjoy the beautiful sunny evening and play a round of golf at Drumoig. This proved to be a very bad idea. I think Arrow must be some kind of golfing muse, because without his presence I proved to be the most embarrassing thing on a golf course since plus fours. Also, Drumoig appears to be full of people who actually know what they're doing, so having to play behind some wildly thrashing bint whose balls whizz off at angles and who then dances round in a club-waving frenzy, obscenities flying like flies off flung shite, must have been something of an unwelcome novelty. It didn't go well, to put it mildly. By the time I reached my last hole I was ready to cast my clubs into the loch and wipe my hands of them forever. However, a glimmer of hope emerged at the very last hole. It was a dog-leg fairway, with a copse and a small loch on the right, while the left side had a much bigger loch. It was also very long. I thought Sod it! I've come this far, it's been terrible, and I feel like just cracking the hell out of one last ball. If I lose it, fair enough. I'm done. So I went to the men's tee, lined it all up, and took a massive swing. Yesssss! I thought, as the driver struck cleanly and the ball went soaring out from the tee.

Alas, just as I was rejoicing, it started to slice. Badly. Off it went, curling round like a fresh laid turd, heading straight for the right hand loch. Bye bye ball, I snarled to myself. Then I shrugged. It wasn't going as far as the loch after all - it was heading for the scrubby copse just before it. Who cares? A lost ball in the water is no different from a lost ball in thistles, thought I.

But what was this!!?? It was dropping faster than I thought. Perhaps it would land just my side of the copse, caught by the fence, and stay in play? It would be in the longer grass just before the fairway, but hell - better that than a dropped shot. I crossed my fingers, held my breath, and watched as the ball dropped ... dropped ...

... and hit the edge of a fence post and bounced five yards down the fairway! It was a peach!

It was also a sign from the gods that my time was up. I would live to fight another day, but now was the moment to call it quits and head home. I went down to where my little ball lay, some 250 yards from the tee, picked it up and put it in my pocket. I then turned and waved to the next group of players who'd emerged at the top, telling them to play through. I was done.

Beat that! I smirked, turning away as the first, elderly bloke lined up his shot. And as I headed away from the hole towards the hotel and a well earned drink, I heard the soft thud of a landing golf ball. I turned just in time to see a little white ball shooting some 75 yards further down the fairway and coming to rest in a perfect position for a chip onto the green.

Rotten bastard.

I can't say I really enjoyed the round, but it's done nothing to dent my enthusiasm. I've definitely caught the golf bug, and will be taking some lessons soon. Watch this space.

Next day, an old friend from university came to stay. He tracked me down on Facebook, and I mentioned he should drop by for a visit next time he was in the vicinity - which he then proceeded to do, bless his cotton socks. He has a very glamorous sounding life, being an opera singer in training and living in Cologne while darting about doing auditions in the UK. The day before he came to us he had an audition in Glasgow for a part in ... er ... I've forgotten. No, wait - it was cover for the part of Pistol, so it's Falstaff. Anyway - he got it, so we went out to celebrate at The Fish Restaurant in St Andrews. Lovely stuff. The whole visit was very easy-going. He didn't mind walking the dogs along West Sands, or sitting and chatting as I watched a bit of Wimbledon, so all in all it was a very lovely visit. Even the weather managed to be half decent. We finished the night off with a glass of Talisker, then retired at a not unreasonable hour as Pistol had to be up and away relatively early for his flight back home.

That was the first bout of sociability. The next was the very welcome arrival on Friday of Ceegar and Meeper, along with bearded collie Poppy who made her presence known by leaping into the pond within 5 minutes of her arrival. We headed off to Tentsmuir to give all the dogs a run on the beach, and ourselves some much needed fresh air. We then went into Dundee and got takeaway from the admirable Rama Thai, which Ceegar had to pay for owing to us leaving both our wallets behind (a cunning plan - a ha ha ha). We munched this down with the unorthodox, but always delicious, accompaniment of champagne, courtesy of our very generous pals, and then a bottle of white for the three laydeez and a bottle of red for Ceegar. We chatted merrily until well past our bed times, then hit the hay.

The next day we went to the farmers' market in St Andrews, then took a walk on West Sands. We were lucky enough to catch some seals bathing very close to shore, in the shallow waters between the end of West Sands and Leuchars air base. Ceegar took several pictures, dallying behind as the rest of us romped with the dogs. They are truly lovely creatures to watch: so playful and graceful in the water. Fisher and I are spoiled rotten by the fact Tentsmuir plays host to a seal colony, so we see lots of them almost every time we take the dogs that far up and have become almost as blasé about them as rabbits! It takes seeing them through someone else's eyes to remind us how lucky we are. (Also, going for a surf on Tiree while a seal swam beside us, watching us with bold curiosity, kind of makes other sightings pale into insignificance!)

After our walk we played the Himalayas (my golf hadn't improved but this was much more fun) and Meeper kicked all our arses. It's such good value for money! 18 holes of semi-crazy putting for the bargain price of £1.50 each. Or was it £2.50? Well, hell, either way it's cheap as chips for a good hour's entertainment. We followed it up with lunch at Ma Bells, then tootled home for the Wimbledon Ladies' Final (Venus Williams won in 2 sets, very emphatically), a nap, then buffalo steaks from the farmers' market for supper. I was feeling horribly sick, however, owing to eating too much during the day, so only had a taste or two of Fisher's steak. I'd never had buffalo before. It's good. It has a richer, bloodier taste to it than beef, and a slightly stronger aftertaste.

Despite afternoon naps for Ceegar, Meeper and Fisher, everyone seemed as tired as I was after supper, and we were all in bed just after midnight. What rockin' young things we are. Still, Fisher and I had to get to Glasgow the next day for lunch with the Cheese Board, and we didn't want to be hungover or too tired to enjoy it.

Next day, we left Ceegar and Meeper to let themselves out and headed to Glasgow in glorious sunshine. We were off for a Cheese Board Only lunch at - no kidding - The Cheese Café. It proved easy enough to find, although it was a long journey for us owing to T in the Park traffic clogging Kincardine and surrounds. We were the last there, and greeted with cheers - which was only excrutiatingly embarassing. Anyway, a merry couple of hours were spent in amiable company, eating rather a lot of cheese and having a giggle. Whether The Cheese Café was worth a 2 hour car journey or not was quite beside the point. The Cheese Board is always worth it. (Just in case there are people reading this who don't know, or if I suffer dementia at any time, The Cheese Board consists of: Me, Fisher, Koios, Blarney, Phid and Janus, and are in the photo I use in my profile).

After a leisurely lunch, we drove home. Luckily, the traffic wasn't nearly as bad in that direction and we made it back in an uncanny hour and a half. Plus, none of our snooty Edinburgh friends turned into gnomes from the Glasgow taint, and Helga's hubcaps were intact upon our return. I, of course, having a healthy dose of Glasgow blood, had no cause to worry anyway.

Back at home I watched the Wimbledon men's final - which Federer won after a 5 set battle with Nadal, to equal Borg's record 5 titles. It was the best final I've seen since Rafter v Ivanisevic in 2001 - although the crowd wasn't a patch on the 2001 lot, which was made up of a swathe of members of the general public, who were let in because the final had to be played on Monday. I'm not usually snobby about who gets tickets to things - I don't think being rich should count against you - but I have to say, Wimbledon could really do with more oomph when it comes to the supporters. Fewer corporate boxes, please, and more rowdy, partisan fans. It doesn't need to be like the crass US Open, but a happy medium would be perfect.

That was Sunday done for (after also watching highlights of Jamie Murray and Jelena Jankovic winning the mixed - hurrayyyy!) and I slept like the dead.

Monday was a day of mundanity, but I did go to the gym and run my fastest ever 5k at 33 minutes and 13 seconds. I know, it's rubbish in comparison to people who can actually move their legs - but I was very pleased. Fisher also managed her fastest 5k, at just under 27 minutes, so I was quickly put in my place - but I refuse to have my spirit dampened. I was worried that cutting down on my running would seriously affect my stamina, but it looks like the swimming and cycling have not only kept my stamina up, but improved my speed. So hurrah!

That evening, we went into Edinburgh to see Kois and Protagoras and try The New Bell restaurant. It was a lovely evening, with chat free flowing and the food good save for the steaks which were horribly overcooked. Why is a rare steak so difficult to find? Both Prot and I asked for them rare and got them medium at best, and well done in places. The chunky chips were great, though, and everthing else passed muster. On the plus side, the wine was great! We had something neither Koios nor I had ever heard of before (doubtless revealing our appalling ignorance), and if I can just remember what it is, I'll order a case! It was deliciously rich, dark and chocolatey, and I would have sworn it was much older than 2003 from the brown meniscus (sp?). I'm going to have a think and try and remember the name.

SANGIOVESE, Step Rd, Australia.

That's what it was, and most delicious it was, too.

Anyway, we had a most gigglesome meal (particularly entertaining being suggested Christmas gifts of baked loaves ... but that's a private joke) and despite it's shortcomings, The New Bell is somewhere I'd go back to - and not order the steak.

This all brings me up to date, thank god. If anyone has the patience to read all the way through it, god help them. It can't be particularly rewarding - so if you're still with me, thanks! Have a glass of Sangiovese as reward.