Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Go West Young Man


Strathaven Castle


Hullo ma wee blog,

A grey road on a grey day.

Odd how things look sometimes. I started the trip back home to the west coast in the kind of light rain that we Scots would call a smirr, the kind of rain that barely registers on your face, but makes clothes sparkle as if decorated with a million small diamonds and can chill you and ultimately soak you through completely. The car windscreen fogged over as the rain particles - too small to be called drops - slowly joined to hide my view of the road ahead as I settled down for the two hour drive back to Ayrshire and  Dad's - now my and my brothers - house. I switched on the wipers to an intermittent sweep across my vision and recalled how Gordon had phoned the week before saying the gas people needed in to service the boiler ready for winter and he would be away on business so, even though it would be a long drive, could I cover it rather than rearrange to a later date. I'd not been back in several months and as Gordon has taken on the burden of maintenance, gardening and the like as he lives fairly close by, I thought it was about time I showed willing and did my bit too. As we spoke that night he'd mentioned  the for sale sign had come down but he hadn't had the tools with him on his last visit so could I bring some bits and pieces down to make a repair. My toolbox and drill rattled softly from the car boot to let me know that they were on board while an extension cable was tucked behind the passenger seat  next to my laptop and some things I thought I might need if I was to spend the day at the house - tea and coffee, a sandwich, some fruit, some toilet roll, cloths and a few other bits and pieces of the basic things you always find awkwardly missing when doing something like this.

I'd left home with my Lovely G beside me to drop her off at Edinburgh airport for a quick trip to visit her Aunt in Switzerland. It's her aunt's 75th birthday today and they're very close. Once she had been seen off, I was able to get back on to the motorway and turn the car and my thoughts to the trip to the west coast. These days I tend not to drive too much on motorway if I can avoid it, a result of spending what seemed like half my working life on them in the past. I decided though that this time I'd go part of the way on motorway before turning off onto some more interesting scenery so I was at the house in good time. {The last time I did anything like this the gas man had arrived at the house early and left about 5 minutes before I got there. Luckily he'd left a note to say he'd been and I'd managed to contact his office quickly enough to get him to come back as he was still nearby.}

I turned off the motorway just as I reached  the outskirts of Glasgow and took the old road to follow the river Irvine valley west to the coast and home. The radio was playing classical music, a Chopin piece, by the time I reached Strathaven and passed beneath the ruins of the old castle which dates back to Robert the Bruce. At the other side of the village I was faced with the fork in the road and a choice of staying with the valley road on through Galston, Newmills and Darvel or taking a left onto the minor  road across the wild moor to Muirkirk, past the Juvenile Remand Center at Dungavel and the distant view of Loudon hill, another place where Bruce fought the English and won so long ago. The day had begun to lighten, the strip of road now steel grey in front of me as I headed for the moor and I remembered a song a friends mother used to sing at Ne'erday called ' Forty shades of Green' as I passed through a landscape that seemed determined to emulate those words. Everything from the palest lime to the darkest shade of forest green was in the trees and the roadside, mixed through with yellow, gold, russet and browns of every shade and texture as I passed out of the woodland and onto the moor itself. The pastel shades of the landscape softened further by greyness above and the classical music coming from the radio seemed to echo the views that were all around. The road swept down a gently sloped valley and across the river over a small metal bridge and on past a field of sheep with chocolate brown coats and startling white faces lying disconsolately among rough grasses and a small stand of trees next to the bones of a tumbled down shed. It's sole remaining green wall blended perfectly with the shadow of the trees and the countryside around it.


The Muirkirk Miner

After a short drive the moor began to change into grassy fields and the first white painted farm crofts came into view before I arrived in Muirkirk. I passed the sculpture of a miner made from a single piece of local coal, marking the long history of mining in the area I come from. Driving along the long road that contains most of the village I passed a pair of old men walking their dogs. Bowed legs and swaying gaits marked them as old miners as much as their flat 'bunnet' caps and the whippets by their side. The dark clothes they wore looked stained in the coal they'd no doubt mined for the best part of their lives. Unlike any others out that day they seemed impervious to the cold and grey, almost as if they were still grateful to be out in the damp but fresh air rather than anywhere else, especially down a 'pit' as they're called here.  Looking past a few houses I could see an occasional pigeon loft that also marked a favourite hobby of miners in my youth. Just as I wondered if they were still in use a flock swooped past on grey wings and I remembered from childhood the sound of the birds as they exploded from baskets stacked on special lorries at the start of a race involving what seemed like a thousand or more birds, solemn and intent rows of black garbed and bunneted old men anxious to witness the release.



The road out of Muirkirk rose gently towards Cumnock and home and I passed a farm where a field of cattle contained four or five Belted Galloway cattle or 'kye' as they are known locally. I love these beautiful beasts with their cartoon tidy hides. They remind me of a cuddly toy I had been given as a very small child which was very precious for a couple of years until cast aside in the way of a wee boy who has new things to excite him.  The image made me smile and I looked forward to getting back to Dad's  house. I pressed on through Cumnock and moved into proper Ayrshire farmland stuffed with cattle well fed on lush grass and bulging with udders full of sweet milk, through Ochiltree, passed the spot where George Douglas Brown's imaginary 'House with the Green Shutters' would have stood and on to the village and home.



A short 10 minutes across rolling grassland dotted with kye and sheep took me past the farm field where I had my first pay for a days work. I earned a pound for thinning turnips by hand, working from 7.30 in the morning until 6.00 in the evening with a lunch of sandwiches and tea from a flask I'd taken with me. I don't remember any other breaks from that hunched over day years ago but I remember how glad I was for Mum to run me a hot bath to soak my aching back in and forbid me to go back the following day to work for slave wages. I passed the tiny cottage Mum's family had rented at Coalhall, the junction of mine railway and main lines and the tiny hamlet who's sole purpose had named it so simply and descriptively. I remembered that my Grandpa Hughes, who died before I was born, used the line passing the back of the house to walk to and from his work as electrical engineer at small pits 4 or 5 miles back in the hills and that the use of those small gauge steam engines resulted in the lines being called 'He' and 'She' lines in recognition of the difference in scale. The line that ran off to a pit-head near Coylton was called 'The Nanny Line' as it used the same small gauge.  The pub at the junction stood empty now, it's dog walking miner clientele long gone, but new houses built in the woods where I would come to play sometimes have brought new life to replace the old.  From here it's a long straight mile to the village and home.

I used to cycle the road often in my explorations and searches for mischief to get up to. Sometimes I'd ride alongside grim faced wives heading determinedly for the pub to rescue what money they could from the pockets of a husband who'd failed to get off the pit bus on payday and sometimes I'd ride along beside drouthy miners who's dog walking would never get passed that inviting doorway. Occasionally I'd get a couple of bob to take a dog with me through the woods for an hour or two or to help a wobbly miner on his way back home with a shoulder and someone to talk to. Occasionally I'd steer well clear of men known to be violent.

By the time these thoughts had crossed my mind I was turning into the village, instinctively turning up the hill and the longer route that would take me past Granny Robertson's old house opposite the Kirk and the couple of hundred yards on to my destination and the back metal gate to the house.

There was no way the gas man would be ahead of me this time.

See you later.

How To Answer.........Taxing Questions!



Hullo ma wee blog,

I'm not a particularly political animal. My political leanings would probably lie more on the socialist side than elsewhere I suppose but I don't in any way hold an extreme view on politics. I'm not a member of a political party; I wouldn't go out on the streets and canvas for a politician. Sure, I've been on a few protest walks over the years, written a few letters of complaint about issues that affect me directly or more often, involve the local community. I've signed the odd petition too, but that's about it. Politics itself, or more accurately politicians, while they don't occupy my mind too often, do still interest me enough to cast an eye on news and current affairs programmes on TV or articles in newspapers and online etc. When they do attract my attention it's usually about something that's intrigued or annoyed me, that's rankled me enough to grab the lap-top and put a rant on the blog. What's most important to me is integrity. I can put up with someone who tries their hardest but occasionally gets it wrong. I would appreciate someone who could hold their hands up and say "Sorry! that shouldn't have happened and won't happen again. Here's what went wrong and what we'll do to fix it"

The old joke about politician is:

'How do you know when a politician is lying?'

'His lips are moving......'


But that is just a joke - right?


I think politicians are an odd breed. They say they want to improve society, make our country a better place or whatever inane reasons they come up with, but at the core of it all often seems to be a personal desire, a need,  to be at the center, and to be seen to be at the heart of the decision making progress. Some, if not most, no doubt are genuine in their aspirations but power is an important aspect, as is status and respect from others and so on. Of course kudos is in there, the wish to be influential, recognition, ambition and many other human traits. But I freely admit this is a simplistic view.  People are complicated after all and politics too is a complicated situation.

Politicians always seem to know what should be done, even if they never seem to be able to actually do it. They always seem to know why not doing something they promised isn't a failure or why recognising that a pre-election promise couldn't be done or shouldn't be done after election doesn't mean they are incompetent or incapable of running a country. They are great at avoiding responsibility or worse at admitting culpability. Review and investigations often find no evidence of wrongdoing even if they come up with huge amounts of 'improvements' that are needed to a situation.

Earlier this year it was expenses: a situation where huge numbers of MP's had significantly and sometimes unreasonably over claimed - not because they were complacent or deliberately trying to manipulate the system to their own personal advantage you understand, but the system was too complicated, too ineffective and too poorly controlled to pick up errors etc.
  
I thought it was strange as this was an expenses system designed by MP's,  approved by MP's,  implemented by MP's and policed by MP's.  But, hey - what do I know? I mean if they can't organise a simple and effective process to control their expenses, why would I be concerned about their ability to govern an economy............

I was looking forward on Monday night to a Panorama story about Tory 'Lord Ashcroft's Millions'. Billionaire Lord Ashcroft is one of the Tory party's biggest benefactors, one reason why he was made a Lord several years ago. There was quite a rumpus at the time because while he was donating to the Tory party he was a non domicile - registered as living abroad and therefore not a UK taxpayer - which was against the rules at the time I seem to remember. Then leader of the party William Hague - now foreign secretary - stood in the Commons and stated that he had discussed the situation with Lord Ashcroft who had agreed to register as domiciled in the UK which would result in the exchequer benefiting by 'tens of millions of {tax} pounds a year' from this change which was of course the right thing to do.

Ordinary folk make political donations out of income already taxed in the UK. But Bearwood - his UK based company which ostensibly made the donations - did not have sufficient income to cover political donations. Most of the cash donated to the Conservative party has therefore come from Lord Ashcroft's operations in Belize. He enjoys lucrative tax breaks by basing his business empire in this Commonwealth member in Central America.

In March this year, ahead of a freedom of information statement by the Cabinet Office, Lord Ashcroft acknowledged that he is still non-domiciled in the UK for tax purposes despite what Wm Hague advised Parliament { with Lord Ashcroft's blessing I assume or, if Hague was stating incorrect information, why would Lord Ashcroft not have corrected his mistake}. That means that he paid income tax on his personal income and gains arising in the UK, or foreign income and gains remitted to the UK only, not gains held abroad. Unlike most other citizens, the law permits him to arrange his personal affairs in such a way that his worldwide income, subject to double taxation relief, is not taxed in the UK. Despite this, the Conservative party secured a life peerage for him, which therefore gave him a role as a legislator in the Houses of Parliament. In that capacity, he can speak and vote in the House of Lords on all legislative matters, including taxation, yet as an unelected appointee he cannot be removed, no matter how dissatisfied people may be with him.

Lord Ashcroft's recent statement sets out the March 2000 undertakings he gave to William Hague MP, the then leader of the Conservative party, that he would "take up permanent residence in the UK again" by the end of that year. Now, some ten years later, he says that this meant as "a long-term resident" and not as a tax payer. This appears to be at odds with what Hague believed had been agreed or he would not have made such a statement to the House of Commons. One of them - at least - is lying about this. Recently pressed on whether he had confirmed with Lord Ashcroft that the agreed changes had been made Mr Hague repeatedly failed to answer the question, which smacks of yet another disingenuous lack of integrity. Although he fails to answer a direct question it's clear that he believes the arrangement was for Ashcroft to assume full tax liability. Like Paxman I'm amazed that the simple 'Have you?' question has apparently never been asked or perhaps answered. Perhaps it's not the kind of thing you should need to ask a gentleman who has given his word?



Lord Ashcroft has allegedly continued to avoid millions of pounds of tax despite promising to become a full UK taxpayer, something the BBC has been investigating. The Conservative peer was also alleged to have transferred ownership of his main UK company, the Impellam Group, to a trust for the benefit of his children.  Lord Ashcroft, who has also resigned as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, transferred his £17m stake in Impellam on 5 April.  The next day, on 6 April, a new law forced people sitting in the House of Lords to pay tax on their worldwide income and assets.

Tax lawyer Richard Frimston told Panorama that Lord Ashcroft would have faced a hefty inheritance tax bill under the new legislation if he had made the change one day later.  "If that had been done on the following day, assets worth say £17m going into trust would have been subject to tax at 20%, which would have created an immediate inheritance tax charge of something in the region of £3.4m. "So that was avoided by doing it on 5 April as opposed to waiting until 6 April."  A month before the new law took effect, Lord Ashcroft had said in a statement that he agreed with the new tax rules for the House of Lords. And in a televised interview on election night, he confirmed that he was becoming a full UK taxpayer.  The billionaire businessman may not have broken any rules by using the family trust, but his actions appear to conflict directly with the coalition government's stance on tax avoidance.

On Monday night the BBC current affairs programme 'Panorama' was due to broadcast the result of an investigation onto the situation. Lord Ashcroft had been asked to respond to some questions by Friday afternoon prior to broacast and had not. Then suddenly on Monday afternoon his lawyers reponded with information which has now resulted in the programme being withdrawn and placed under review.

Sources close to the peer claimed the programme was pulled because journalists had misinterpreted a company document released by Impellam on 6 April 2010.  Lawyers for Ashcroft have been engaged in a year-long battle with the BBC over the investigation into the Tory peer.  The Impellam document said the company "had been notified that, following a transfer of an indirect interest in the company, Lord Ashcroft no longer has a beneficial interest in 25,745,349 ordinary shares of 1p each in the company. These shares represented the whole of his beneficial interest in the company".  The BBC's investigators interpreted this to mean that Ashcroft had controlled the shares and subsequently moved them into a trust to benefit his children, according to a Conservative source. Ashcroft's lawyers, however, argued that the use of the phrase "indirect interest" showed that he did not own the shares.

A BBC spokesman last night confirmed that the programme had been delayed. "We put a number of questions to Lord Ashcroft two weeks ago, including one relating to a share interest transfer. We asked for a response by Friday 24 September. A response was received this afternoon. We have been given information that sheds new light on that issue and we will therefore review the programme."

 With what appears to be a calculated strategy by Lord Ashcroft, the BBC have been left with egg on it's face and a source close Tory party stated " the peer had been "saddened" and alleged there had been by a "demise of journalistic standards" at the BBC.  "There has been enormous waste of public money chasing this story – from flights to the Caribbean, to expensive legal fees," he said. "How the BBC could get itself into such a mess over such an easily checkable fact is laughable."

Aye, right...........That'll be why he waited until Monday afternoon to respond

To me it seems there is a lot more to be revealed about this story and yet another potentially cynical use of power and influence to hide a deception on what many people saw to be a clear and open statement of intent - to conform to the highest standard of behaviour in public office by someone who should have a vested interest in behaving in a completely scrupulous manner.

I won't hold my breath though........

See you later

Listening to Puchini 'La Boheme'

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Who?




Hullo ma wee blog,

Computer, coffee and one of my all time favourite songs by one of the best bands of my youth.

Sometimes, despite other offerings, original is simply best.

This brings back so many memories of my sometimes angst laden youth. How ridiculously simple it all seems now.

See you later.

G.W.R's and Formidable Pizza......

A  G.W.R. {Great Wee Road}
Hullo ma wee blog,

I'm Back!!!

Sitting here in the kitchen this cold and windy morning it's strange to think that just a few days ago we were still in France, still experiencing temperatures in the high 20's, even at height such as we were usually at { the Ubaye valley is higher than Ben Nevis, Scotland's biggest mountain}. Jausiers, the village where we stayed, is in this relatively secluded valley high in the Alps of Haute-Provence and is connected to other valleys, and indeed to Italy, by some magnificent high mountain passes. As usual we did loads of driving in our hire car and discovered some Great Wee Roads. Much of the driving was done at very high altitudes and we even drove the {allegedly} highest road in Europe, the 'Col de la Bonette' at over 2800mtrs {9,000ft} Some of the roads were in reality SWR's {Scary Wee Roads} but the difference is often negligible - a few extra heartbeats at least - so let's stick to GWR's for now. There will be lots more about GWR's in subsequent posts for sure.


                     Nice Video From A French Group I like.....

We had an early flight from a cold and wet Edinburgh at 5am and flew via Amsterdam Schiphol to Marseilles. I hadn't had much sleep the night before as I had a last minute job application to do for a job I had just found so ended up with only 2 hr's kip before the flight. {The hotel room we booked was far too hot and the a/c didn't seem to be working either so I wouldn't have slept much more anyway} On both descents I thought my head was going to explode with pressure I could not get rid of, something I have experienced only once before, so I was completely drained by the time we got to Marseilles. Getting luggage and the hire car was problem free though so we were soon on our way for the three and a half hour trip into the mountains. On the ground at last, on our way and especially back in France, I felt rejuvenated and was looking forward to the drive. I love motoring and driving a strange car in a foreign country doesn't bother me at all, odd as that may seem.  It was a scorching hot, clear-skied day and our adventure had only started.

We stopped at a motorway services station after an hour or so to get some food after the long journey - we had been up about 9hr's by this time - and we needed to stretch our legs and freshen up. Amusingly - well for me anyway as she's managed to avoid them so far on our trips - The Lovely G had her first encounter with a pissoir, that lovely and most basic of France's toilet 'facilities'. She was dumbstruck that a 'lady' could be expected to use a loo which is simply a hole in the ground with two footpads and for a moment or two went all Swiss on me. { Please don't ask me to go into Swiss lavatorial provision or I could be here all day. Just imagine white, gleaming and often luxurious. The biggest worry you have is "Jings - will someone come in and give me a wipe too!" or "Will I get a row for using this as it's clearly never been used before?" }  We sat and ate our sandwiches  at some benches laid out under the trees and I mused on why you can sit pretty close to a French motorway enjoy the sun, eat good and reasonably priced food and yet hear almost no traffic noise when you would be deafened - and spattered with rubbish - if you tried the same here.

Soon we were on our way again and left the motorway to start the climb up into the mountains properly, the road quickly getting narrower and twistier as we began to gain altitude. I could see signs that Autumn was coming in the lack of vibrancy in colour of some of the trees as they lost the summer bloom. Once in the Ubaye {OOB-aye not OO-Bah-Yay as I thought} the mountains began to close in and we could see that we were heading for some serious mountains. Town gave way to farms, farms to high pasture and to trees closing in on the roadside, hills and mountains glimpsed through the gaps. Red squirrels showed in the trees and were even brave or stupid enough to occasionally run across the road in front of us. Our hire car, a Renault Scenic as thankfully the Lovely G had gone for a bigger engine than normally chosen for a holiday jaunt in consideration of the kind of roads we expected, performed fantastically and I can't tell you how pleased I was with it's performance, ride and economy over the whole holiday. Suffice to say my next car may be a.........

A Visitor Leaves....


As we got higher we could see the temperature drop from the near 30 degrees at the coast to the mid 20's we would become accustomed to in the high valley. It took an hour or two to become used to the new vehicle and to the local ways of the road. Here the locals don't come so close to the rear end as they do elsewhere before they pull out, nor flash their lights as in some places. By the time we were well into the valley I was comfortable with both and becoming tuned in to the different road signs. 'Chaussee deformee' became an increasingly familiar sign - it would stay that way for the duration of our holiday - and road surfaces generally began to deteriorate just a wee bit. French authorities though are doing lots of work to remedy the situation and roadworks are a common sight. As we moved into the true alpine region house styles changed and now were often interspersed with the familiar wooden Alpine chalets that are found from Switzerland right down through all the mountainous regions and across the border into Italy and France. It's familiar to us from The Lovely G's Swiss heritage and made the area feel welcoming. The road style, often cut into vertical rock faces and often with huge overhangs was less familiar as strangely I've never driven in Switzerland, relying on the fantastic railways there. Soon we were approaching Barcelonette, the small town which was near our mountain hide out and as we swept past we tried to see what our new environment would really look like. It looked old, with few new building that I noticed and the center of town looked tightly packed with tall Italian style houses. It wasn't easy to get an accurate feel though with one eye on the unfamiliar road. Even this main road was substantially narrower than I'm used to here and with a log barrier on one side it was a careful squeeze by many of the trucks and logging wagons that were fairly tanking down the road towards us. Just as we got to Jausiers I realised that we were much closer to the Italian border than I'd realised and obviously this was a main route into this part of France for lorries coming through the mountains.

Our apartment was small, simple and clean, which is all you need for a short stay. It had the softer electric lights that are so common in France, seeming to give off a much paler, yellower light than the white light of our British homes. Our bedroom was on a mezzanine floor above the main room, light and airy. We unpacked quickly, freshened up and decided to head off out to explore the village. Soon it became obvious that the village was very small and we would be best to head back to Barcelonette to try and find a choice of restaurants for our first meal {even though the apartment was self catering} and a short ten minute ride took us back to town where we parked near the town center and walked into the main square. The town was quieter than I expected for 7pm on a Saturday night and some restaurants were closed which I found a bit odd.

View from the apartment.


We walked down the main shopping street past the square, stopping to read the menus for the restaurants there and trying to decide in that weary traveller kind of way just exactly what we were looking for. We looked at creperies {G, surprisingly, said no even though it's one of her favourites} and Greek, we saw tapas and raclette, fondue and Italian and eventually we settled on just a simple pizza. We still had to decide on where to go as there were a couple of potentials and eventually I pulled her in the direction of one we had passed back near the car. I'm glad we did as we had two of the best pizzas I think I've ever tasted in that small unprepossessing restaurant. My pizza of mountain cheese, ham, potatoes and olives was thin as a sheet of paper and beautifully crisp. The flavour was just out of this world and even the though potato on a pizza would normally be a no-no for me, it was absolutely on the money. The Lovely G had gone for a Goats cheese topped offering with other bits and pieces, again described as a local version and it too was just sublime, dressed with just a touch of honey which gave it a lovely sweetness and richness. Although I love goats cheese and honey as a combination, {What? You've not tried it? You've never lived!} I've never thought to combine it on a pizza but it was just sublime. I can't think of another description.

The Square, Barcalonette.

It's strange how often we go on holiday and immediately stumble upon a restaurant that becomes an instant favourite. 'The Patio' in Barcelonette was just one of those places. Beautiful and simple inside with white walls, dark wood and ancient arched ceilings, the tables were simply but tastefully laid out with red napkins and gleaming glasses just crying to be filled with some great wine. Friendly and attentive staff, smilingly and helpfully appreciative of visitors prepared to speak the language and great service made the place an instant winner for us even before we had sampled the food. The owner, who showed us to a table told us about the place; the room through the rear and the doors opening out onto a patio for outside dining. I suggested to the Lovely G that maybe we could go and sit outside but the owner smiled and said that unfortunately that was not possible, it was far too cold at this time of year. I laughed and said that to us it was very comfortable, much warmer than at home, but he just smiled in polite disbelief that anyone would want to be outside in anything short of 30 degrees. So, we had to settle for a table inside. The restaurant was quiet to start with but got busier and by the time we finished our meal there were quite a lot of customers in enjoying the food and the atmosphere. We paid a remarkably small bill considering the exchange rate and grinned as we talked enthusiastically about it on the way back to the car. We decided there and then on the first night that this wee place would be where we would come for our traditional slap-up-end-of-holiday-meal as we headed back to Jausiers for the first night of our adventure.

See you later.


Thursday, 9 September 2010

Get to France...........



Hullo ma wee blog,

Get to France. Glaswegian euphemism or heartfelt appeal?


In this case it's a heart felt appeal as the Lovely G and I get our stuff together for a holiday in a place close to our hearts. Early Saturday morning will see us jet off for a week in the south of France, hopefully in some glorious sunshine but we wont mind too much if there's a bit of rain. This year we are going to be in the mountains in the Ubaye valley of the Haute de Provence region, so I'm expecting cool as well as sunny. Its not a part of France we've been to before so we're looking forward to exploring a new part of this great country. The Lovely G's brother Leen and Karen, his girlfriend and her whole family have gone to Carcassonne this last week on our recommendation and have sent texts and photo's back to say how much they have loved it so far. It's a relief it's gone that way. I would have hated them to go to one of our favourite places and not enjoyed it. It still rankles though when your pesky brother-in-law sends you photos of his beers from your most favourite bar in the heart of the old city telling you how hot it is and how cool, wonderful and refreshing the beer tastes. {grrrrrrr} I know I should be all grown up about it and all that but somewhere deep down my immature, petty, inner child wants to give him a good slap I'm so jealous. Ha! {glad you're enjoying it really}


One of our most fervent hopes is to have a house in France one day so we can spend time between France and Scotland in our retirement. It was a more likely plan before I lost my job and with that 40% impact onto my future pension and no clear view of future finances it looks much more like a pipe dream these days. Still, you have to have a dream, don't you? I can easily still be found whiling away an occasional couple of hours house hunting on the internet for likely places in south or central France. The budget has been significantly cut back these days so that it feels more realistic than just a forlorn hope of course.

Béziers


But before the flight there is the usual round of preparations to do. Washing and drying of clothes to be taken, bags to be packed and Jess to be taken to the cattery for her holiday too. We also have the gas system in the house being serviced and a new security system being fitted in the house on Friday too. I'll need to give the garden the once over before we go and try and harvest more of the apples and particularly the pears that seem to be ripening by the hour at the moment. A word with the neighbours will let them know to come and help themselves while we are away too which should help use them up.

Posting on the blog will return when I get back. Unless I manage to slip a quick one in tomorrow that is......

see you later.

listening to Mike Oldfield, 'To France'

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A Bride Dances By.........

Hullo ma wee blog,

It's not that unusual a sight really. A bride dancing by that is. After all you expect to see a bride dance, especially at her wedding reception. And Lisa was the archetypal beautiful bride, slender and elegant in a stunning figure hugging white dress, her startling blue eyes and the glow of her slight tan lit equally by excitement and pleasure at being among friends and family with her husband for the first time. Lisa and Sam had recently come home from their marriage in the states where Sam's family now live and had arranged last nights celebration for family and friends who could not attend the wedding.

They make a perfect if contrasting pair. They are complete opposites. something that's often said about couples but is rarely so true as it is in this case. Sam is calm and thoughtful, his African heritage shows in an athletic build and in skin that shines from inside. Serenity beams from his face and is communicated by his bright smile, crinkling eyes and a soft spoken voice that hints at a good, and expensive, education. He is the cat who has the cream and he knows it, but he's not about to brag. Sam walks and talks with an even and considered pace as if everything should be savoured.  Lisa is bright and energetic, a petite, pale skinned Scots lass with those aforementioned startling blue eyes and a frank, inquisitive look always on her face.  She's full of the life which beams out of her every pore and shows in restless activity and a mouth which rarely stops talking. What you see is what you get. Rarely will a thought or feeling cross her mind without honest expression. If Lisa doesn't like you, you will know about it. Thankfully the reverse is also true which has brought her a band of close friends, my lovely G included. Always excited and enthusiastic, she communicates at breathtaking speed, vocally, by phone or text.. She lives in the moment, or did until Sam, and then motherhood came along, and likes to have everything organised on her terms. They make, as I said at the top of the paragraph, the perfect pair. They were joined last year by a son, Jacob,  as bright eyed and smiling a wee piece of humanity as you are ever likely to meet.

The reception started traditionally with the bride and groom greeting arriving guests until, with the hall filled, they moved to the dance floor for their first and solitary dance, cheers, clapping and whistles ringing round the room. As guests joined in the evening followed the norm and we celebrated with dancing and drinking, children running round tables, playing chase or hide and seek and young girls hauling Dad's, Uncles and even Grandad's off their chairs as they wanted to dance, dance, dance to every song the DJ blasted out from behind his light-box. People leaned into one another and shouted conversations took place about mutual friends, relations or even football. Intimate groups formed at tables or by the bar as friends and relatives sought each other to chat or catch up. Older relatives congregated together at tables to talk and to watch while the young, the energetic and the deluded stayed on the dance floor.  Time passed quickly and the lovely G and I, who had intended to stay for only a short while as we had a long drive ahead to get back home, realised that we had passed our planned departure time in good company and easy, if loud, conversation with the group of her workmates we were sitting amongst.

By the time we noticed we were an hour behind our planned departure time we had come to a break in the proceedings and, as the DJ announced a short break, the lights came up around the room. Lisa took to the floor with a microphone to make a speech of thanks to the assembled crowd. As she came to the end of this she asked Sam to step onto the floor as she had an announcement just for him. Sheepishly and not, I suspect, without some trepidation, Sam duly made his way towards his wife who began to explain that she had a secret which he had been keeping from him and that she now needed to confess. She had for some time been arranging for a special surprise to come to the reception and that it was now time to reveal her surprise. She wanted to have a performance for Sam. She wanted to find an African dance and music group and had found that just such a group was performing at the Edinburgh Festival and that she had managed to book them to come to the reception to perform for Sam.

The groups name was 'Grassroots' and this would be the first time they had played at a private function such as a wedding, normally playing only full blown concerts. I guess they experienced how determined and persuasive Lisa can be when she gets started.

As she introduced them, drums began to beat and the five performers came in with deep voices chanting, the beating of the drums marking the rocking gait as they slowly passed through the wedding party to take center stage on the dance floor. For the next thirty or so minutes the room was transformed by these imposing performers draped in lion and leopard skin, black and white ostrich plumed headdresses scraping the ceiling as they danced and jumped and cavorted to the native drums and the rhythms they created.  We were taken to sun baked village squares, to royal enclosures and to women working pounding corn or rhythmically scrubbing clothes on river stones by sun drenched riverbanks . As bare feet stamped a rhythm and gourds filled with small stones rattled you could feel the heat of the sun and the dust rising from baked earth. They shook knobkerries and small shields as they sung songs of celebration, of manhood and of rituals from a foreign land and culture. They sung and danced a blessing for a happy marriage and a joyful life. They taught us in the audience to accompany them in the song of blessing, the words echoing across the room from performers to audience and back in hypnotic repetition and as we sang and chanted and clapped to the rhythm Sam and Lisa began to dance, sometimes together and sometimes turning to move on their own, an instinctive and spontaneous reaction to the music and the emotion.

It was mesmerising and I could do nothing but watch as the bride danced by.


Lisa and Sam.

I couldn't believe I'd accidentally left my camera at home........



Listening to Ladymith Black Mambazo,  'Inkanyezi Nezazi'.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Something About This Time Of Year...........

An East Lothian Sunset

Hullo ma wee blog,

There's something special about this time of year. Lots of bloggers have mentioned it this week. Weather changes, temperature cools, light softens, days get shorter as seasons slowly turn. Summer's morphosis into Autumn is on the way and this morning leaves are being buffeted by wind and rain. The grass at the front of the house is strewn with windfall pears which the birds are gorging themselves on. At the back of the house the swallows, who have nested under the eaves for the first time this year, are efficiently feeding the second brood of the season in preparation for the all too soon departure to warmer climes.

The land around is a brown and green patchwork of fields that have been shorn or are waiting the attention of the harvesters that slow morning traffic on country roads. Fields seem full to bursting point with bales of hay. Harvested fields are industriously ploughed by farmers eager to sow the next crop. Fields of potatoes grow strongly in the red East Lothian soil and evening roads reverberate to the sound of tractors and lorries loaded with hay-bales being moved to storage. Livestock too seems to dominate areas as huge numbers of sheep and cattle graze on fields of lush grass.

For me it's a time of naive reassurance. The garden fruit trees have been groaning with the weight of the crop they have grown this year. Heavy branches bend earthwards and early windfalls have been scooped up with relish to be rushed to the kitchen. The glut of apples and pears is upon us and neighbours and family have been warned of imminent arrivals. Link this with the bounty that's evident in the harvest all around and it's easy to ignore thoughts of gobal warming and the sooth-sayers or doom and gloom merchants of agricultural and economic disaster. Surely if the land is capable of producing such huge bounty as this year there can't be too much wrong with the climate? With a summer behind us thankfully free of warnings of water shortages, it's all too easy to put thoughts like those to one side at this time of year. Mother Nature is fecund and ripe. Everything is therefore in balance. Everything's OK. Forget the worries. Time now for many to plan that holiday jetting off to sunny climes for winter sun and cheap booze. Time enough for me simply to enjoy the moment, to savour this all too short period of transition as the seasons continue to turn inexorably through their cycles.

The light in the evenings is superb and my camera is never far from my hand. You can - until today at least - comfortably wear T-shirts right through till night time and thoughts of central heating are still weeks away. Evenings can be enjoyed spent on the patio with a book and a glass of something until light forces us indoors.



It's got to be one of my favourite times of year and I know how fortunate I am to be able to spend it here in this lovely little corner of the world. 'Coastkid',  a local blogger friend who's tales of cycling in this area I follow with interest, is a talented amateur film maker and regularly posts some wonderful GWF's {great wee films} of his treks hereabouts. A couple of days ago he and his helmet camera captured much of the essence of East Lothian in these short weeks with a wee film which happily he's allowed me to post for you here. Drop by his blog or look him up on you tube to catch more of his fabulous GWF's.

See you later.

Listening to Vangelis 'conquest of Paradise'

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Glasgow's Miles Better............


Hullo ma wee blog,

Glasgow has long been known as one of Europe's murder capitals. It's famous or infamous for its knife culture. Yet, it's also recognised as one of Europe's friendliest cities too.

So. What does this all mean?

Just that the man who stabs you will probably give you directions to the nearest hospital too.......

That's got to be reassuring.

see you later.

listening to U2, 'With Or Without You'

Whiskers In The Sun.......


Hullo ma wee blog,

Monday. A holiday here.

The lovely G and I are outside on the patio enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. It's been a warm day and we have just come back from a short trip down to the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, about half an hours easy drive southward down the coast into England. There's a causeway out to the island which is often covered by the sea, but today the road was uncovered for most of the day which is good in one way as it meant we could spend as long as we liked there without keeping wary eye on the time but was unfortunate in as much as it gave hordes of others the same idea so the small island was fairly packed with tourists. Eventually we decided to shorten the trip after a short walk and some photo taking to come back here to the garden and the afternoon sun on the patio.



A Boat Shed

I'd  spent a moment or two uploading the photo's onto the laptop and getting us some drinks and a few nibbles to accompany them, just some Asti with lime, a favourite summer drink of ours and a few pretzels and crisps to add some salty tang. We both took a book out with us.  I'm reading Alexander McCall Smith's 'La's Orchestra Saves The World', a nicely paced, gentle wee tale of WWII which I'm enjoying so far.  I wiped down the glass top of the table and covered it in a washable yellow flower-print tablecloth, laid some napkins and coasters and laid out the drinks while the lovely G brought out Jess, long leash attached to her harness which we use to stop her running off as she's done in the past. Once attached to something solid she can be left to wander freely to the limit of the leash.


Earlier I'd put out fresh water and filled the bird feeders with seed and fat balls in their spots in the trees around the garden and the birds were busily occupied in taking advantage of the free buffet on offer, at least until Jess made her appearance. This led to a hasty retreat into the overgrown hedge by the gang of  young sparrows who have come to dominate the garden over the last few weeks. Once at a safe distance they began to harangue her but, not speaking the lingo, Jess wasn't too fazed by it. Eventually they calmed down and everything in the garden began to quieten. Jess sniffed around and chewed some fresh grass until, wrapping herself tightly around the chiminea, she could go no further. Once freed by the lovely G, Jess too began to take things easy and lay down on the concrete slabs of the patio which had been warmed by the sun. Soon she seemed to be fast asleep and we could turn our attention back to our books and to enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun for ourselves. Cautiously at first the young sparrows began to come back to the feeders and enjoy the afternoon feast too.


A Cocky Wee Thing.

I read and sipped and nibbled for a while before turning to watch the comings and goings in the trees at the edge of the patio, enjoying the whirr of wings and the increasing bravery of the young blades of sparrow squadron as they became more and more focused on feeding and less on the presence of a startling white cat just a few yards from them. Jess also seemed to be enjoying the scene and appeared disinclined to do anything more than watch. As she did so, laid out on her side with her head raised towards the garden, she sniffed the air, her head slowly bobbing with each inhalation. She seemed to be content just to smell the air, with its scent of grass, herbs and assorted birds. Even when she found the heat of the paving slabs too much and relocated herself over on the grass by the trees, closer to the feeding birds, she was apparently not considered to be too much of a threat by the young sparrows who continued to fly in over her to get to the feeders. It struck me that calm and harmonious as the scene might be, if it was me who was risking life and limb flying in an out over a cat or ignoring it as I concentrated on stuffing my face, I would perhaps be worried and giving her some of my attention. Jess, who seems to be much less lively when on the end of a lead, ignored the comings and goings just a few feet above her head and appeared to have passed out in the warmth of the sun, only occasionally giving a twitch of her tail or raising a white whiskered head in half hearted complaint as a brave - or foolhardy - sparrow. zoomed by.

Peace and tranquility reigned. For a while at least..........


Yum........... when's my lunch

See you later.

Listening to Cherry Ghost, 'Mathematics'

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