Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Goddam' Cough

I've just had to cancel my first 'paying' customer for massage (ok, I was giving it to her for free, but only to say thanks for the case study - all the other ones wouldn't be free) because of this goddam' mo'-fo'ing cough. Phid is also struck down with the same thing, but we both ignored it enough to thoroughly enjoy a whimsical weekend up in Brora.

Basically, it came about because I wanted to check out a motorcycle - a Derbi Terra - with Wheeler, whose experience of these things is obviously much superior to mine. The only place that sold Derbis in Scotland was Wick - some 4 hours away from us. In fact it would have been an easier job to go to Newcastle, but instead I thought - why not make a weekend of it?

So we did. I looked online for nice hotels in the Wick area, and found, frankly, very few. We thought we might do some surfing, so I wanted somewhere near water - and then Fisher hit upon The Royal Marine in Brora. It was difficult to get an accurate portrayal of what it was like online, but we just took a chance and booked.

Wheeler, Phid and Castor came up on Friday night. We shared a meal of Guinea Fowl Fajitas (we had a guinea fowl in the fridge that would have gone to waste otherwise), then went to bed. Phid and I were both spluttering a bit, but nothing to concern anyone. Saturday saw us attempt to leave at 9.30, and therefore make it out of the house at 10.15. I didn't bother to take my board, as there was no way I was going in the January water off the north coast of Scotland with this cough. Fisher also managed to forget her wet suit, so it looked like the only possible surfers were our guests. Instead, I took my mountain bike as Wheeler said there were mountain bike trails near Brora, and I've never done proper trailing.

The drive was long, but beautiful, and when we arrived at the Royal Marine it was a real relief to see it wasn't hidous modern monstrosity, or something born out of the 1970s and never redecorated. The lobby had a roaring open fire, and if it was a little unimaginative, and if the restaurant was just an adjoining room to the lobby, it didn't matter a jot. The staff were friendly, and our master rooms (upgraded from standard because of the low season) were lovely.

We had a bit of lunch in the bistro - all quite pleasant - and then Wheeler and I headed up to Wick to see the bike. It was about an hour's drive, and when we got there the bloke just nipped round to his mate's, to whom he'd sold a Derbi Terra over Christmas, and drove it back to the shop so we could take a look. I couldn't drive it, of course, but I did get to sit on it. It felt fine - not too heavy (in fact the steering is very light to the touch) and not too daunting a prospect for a complete beginner. Wheeler had a good poke about, too, and we chatted - at length - to both the sales bloke and his mother. In fact, it was difficult to get him to shut up. He addressed most of his comments to Wheeler. Wheeler was the only one asking sensible questions, but he knew full well I was the one buying the bike. Couple that casual sexism with some slightly startling comments about 'queer boys' coming in and buying a certain type of jacket and I started to wonder whether I actually wanted to give them any money. It's not that they were saying anything offensive, particularly, just classically ignorant. Other than that, they were very pleasant.

We left after an hour or so, with me pretty convinced that was the bike for me, and went for a very - very - blustery walk along the coast. Wheeler wanted to show me the local fishing spot, and it was worth a bit of gale force to see it. At the foot of some coastal cliffs lies a natural step, some 20 feet wide and maybe 100-200 yards long, made of beautiful, smooth black rock. Apparantly Caithness is famous for a certain type of sandstone that forms natural flagstones, which people used to build walls out of and mark off their land. I don't know whether the natural step - almost like Wick's front porch - is that rock, but it was certainly striking. Wheeler tried to find some natural steps down but couldn't recall where they were; either that or he couldn't really make them out in the rapidly fading light.

After 15 minutes or so we jogged back to the car and headed for Brora. It had certainly blown the cobwebs away, and I was looking forward to seeing what the hotel had to offer.

We picked up Phid, Fisher and Castor from Castor's room, where he was watching TV and playing PSP, and decided to try out the swimming pool, sauna and jacuzzi. It was a relatively paltry affair, with the pool no more than 10-12m long and quite narrow, but the jacuzzi was lovely, and the sauna eased my aching chest quite a bit. We played in the pool area for a good hour and a half, before retiring to our rooms to get ready for supper.

Supper was pretty good. Nothing spectacular, but good hotel fare. Wheeler ordered his steak rare and had to send it back, but that was really the only black spot on a good night. We had a couple of bottles of very passable Barolo, followed by after dinner drinks, while Castor joined us for a spot of poker around the fire afterwards. We chatted a lot, then went to bed.

I miss chat. One thing we just didn't do over Christmas was chat a lot. At least, not those in-depth, meaty chats you used to have while staying up until 3am over a bottle of brandy. I don't know whether this was because people were being more 'couple-y' or whether we just know each other too well now to really get our teeth into conversation, but there were a couple of occasions where I felt people were actually avoiding it. Sitting around the kitchen table with Pro and Koios, there was a moment where we could have had a conversation about why violence against women is utterly tabu, while violence against a man who may be much, much weaker than you is less so. Just as I started to make a point, Pro and Koios started doing a little 'couple bicker' - you know the sort: where you think you're being playful and amusing, but you're just excluding everyone else in the room and talking shite. This means they either found the conversation itself dull, or they just didn't want me going off on one. Either way, it means I'm boring. And that's fair enough. Frankly, I'm bored.

I wasn't this weekend, though. On Sunday we had a leisurely breakfast and headed off to find a mountain bike trail. After much ado regarding my soft tyres (had no pump - random stranger I pestered in a guesthouse couldn't find her husband's pump - Wheeler's pump wouldn't fit my valve - success came in the form of ingenuity on Wheeler's and my part as we adapted the valve cap to be a conduit between pump and smaller valve, much to our pride) we set off.

Bloody hell. Riding uphill for 45 minutes is REALLY HARD - especially if you can't breath in fully. However, I can't really complain about my lungs. They served me well enough. Castor was about the same pace as me, so we made it gradually to the top of the mountain (probably a hill, to be fair, but a mountain of massive proportions in my head), passing Fisher, Phid and the dogs on our way up. We then started the downward track, with some twisting hairpins to navigate, and a couple of long stretches to get the blood singing in the ears.

Then we lost the trail. Wheeler took us down the walking path instead, involving a flight of 40 steps, which he rode down and Castor and I walked our bikes down. We emerged on the outskirts of the village in which we'd started, and, as we passed a restaurant, saw Phid and Fisher enjoying a coffee in the gazebo. We immediately propped our bikes up outside and went in to join them for lunch.

After a very good lunch, Wheeler had to go straight back to Edinburgh, so we took Phid back to ours for some supper (chilli con carne) before Fisher ran her home. The drive back was pretty hairy, as the rain came down in torrents and the wind threatened to blow us off the road in places. House of Bruar was shut, where we'd planned on getting a cup of tea before separating, so we headed into Pitlochry and McKay's bar (which is worth remembering for the future).

I think Phid was starting to feel a little ropy at the end of the evening, and the moment she and Fisher left after supper, I started to feel like my lungs were full of slightly poisonous gas. I couldn't take a deep breath without coughing, or fully breath out without the lovely rattle of a wheeze - and yet more coughing. Clearly, considering I felt much worse after my last long swim, the mountain biking was not that clever. It makes sense, after all. If your lungs are struggling agains an infection, they don't want to have to work really hard to provide you with enough oxygen, just because you stupidly choose to ride a bicycle up a mountain. And yes, it was a mountain. It was over 300 metres. (Cue massive debate, in which I have approximately 0 interest. This is my new bid to avoid boredom. If someone is talking about something I find dull, I refuse to join in. So there. I'd rather sit in silence.)

So that's where I leave you. My cough has not improved, my throat is still as tight as a drum, and I'm really quite fed up with it all. Fisher had her cough for 4 weeks, and I'm on week 3, but I'm buggered if I'm risking it going the full 6 weeks that other people have reported. I'm going to the doctor, and if they offer me antibiotics I might even take them - if they think it's bacterial rather than viral.

That's all.

Oh - food. Had some toast and coffee today, so far.


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