Friday, 31 August 2012


Where on earth did that month just go?

Looked up to the sky last night and saw a round full moon, just like Yorkshire.

So it really has been a month.

Drove back to Northamptonshire yesterday. Almost seven hours, stopped once for petrol. Have to announce that, over this road trip, Kitty hit 90,000 on the clock. She's now a grown-up car. Going to give her a personal hoover and wash-down to show my appreciation.

Came back down the A1, which was a new experience for me. I blindly follow my satnav (lost without it) and realised fairly quickly something was up.

I'm used to heading down the M6 to Gloucester. At first I was pretty disappointed. Shap is one of my favourite pieces of road in the UK. It's like the guardian of the border between England and Scotland - the first sight of those magnificent mountains. Plus I'd promised a friend who has recently moved to Kenya that I would send her a jiffy bag full of Scottish shortbread, and Westmorland Farm Shop is such a good place to find that.

My 'aaawww' quickly turned into a 'wow!' as I found myself driving along the coast, looking down at incredible seascapes. I'm currently reading Ingo, which made it even more alluring. Several times I thought about detouring through a local village and going for a paddle, but knew how far I still had to travel. Think I'd like to go back up there some time and explore.

Also, the most breathtakingly bucolic images of rural harvest time. Field patchworks of ploughed brown earth and golden cereal crops glowing against a rare moment of sunshine. It really did look like something out of a painting.

Other things I learned on the drive down:

  1. There is an Oxford in Scotland. Sort of. It certainly confused me. I knew I was on a road I hadn't been on before, but when I saw a sign pointing to Oxford (320 miles the opposite end of Great Britain) I really thought I'd slipped into a parallel dimension. I've since searched for it on Google Maps and discovered it was Oxford Farm Shop near Berwick-upon-Tweed. But I swear to you, there's a road sign done up like a village sign, pointing to Oxford.
  2. Driving along, chewing my lip in confusion, I saw another village sign to Conundrum. I almost stopped the car at that point. Once again, a helpful Google Search cleared this one up. It's Conundrum Farm. But the sign looked like a village sign and, to be fair, there are stranger places that do exist, such as Bushygap, Sandwich, Cocks and Crackpot - why shouldn't there be a Conundrum?
  3. There is most definitely a Shilbottle a few miles south, which almost caused me to crash the car as one of the local yoof had made a rather obvious alteration to the signage.

It was quite an adventure. I also discovered we have a toll road near Newcastle which passes under the Tyne. It's only £1.40, but my satnav usually tells me these things in advance. Had to do an emergency scrabble for change.

Another epic fail for satnav: there's a button in the top left of the screen that is supposed to tell me if there's traffic ahead, and how long the delay will be. If it thinks the delay is excessive, it will plot another route.

Look, here's the button telling me that the road is 'all clear':

And just over the dashboard there, you can see traffic at a complete stand-still on the M1.

Part of a jam tailing back several miles from an accident.

Luckily, to the left there is a nifty sliproad. With two taps of the screen I was able to find an alternative route and re-join the motorway a few miles down the road, once the traffic had cleared.

I do love technology.

Anyway, that was my fun trip home, where my dear Mumsy took me down the pub for early doors. Came home and feasted on Chinese duck in plum sauce and an impressive quantity of aptly named Danger Point vin rouge.

So smooth the entire bottle seemed to slip down a little too easily. Suffering somewhat today.

So, here endeth the road trip. House sitting whilst everyone heads off to Osnabrück. Looking forward to some peace and quiet to finally get done all of the writing I meant to do over the past month. Not quite on the scale of these Epic Tales of Procrastination, but close.

Being kind to myself, I did have five years of catching up to do with Paul, and five months of drinking to catch up on with Martine. It's hardly any wonder that not a lot was achieved.

There was a glorious rainbow as I drove into the town where Paul lives. And another as I drove into Edinburgh. Sadly I didn't get any pictures, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Made me feel as though the elements were smiling.

I've had a truly lovely time with wonderful friends, and I'm feeling ready to write. Also, after a month on sofas, I'm blissfully enjoying a full, fluffy double bed again.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Hmmm... Chocolate

After the last gripey post, thought I'd share some more of the nice things we've been doing in Edinburgh...

Building the highest fruit bowl possible.


Chocolate cookies with clotted cream and
hazelnut milk - against the clock!

Re-arranging miniatures.

Bucket o' coffee.

Watching time slide by.

Martine's magic scarf.
Bit like the magic mirror.

On the way home from the fringe we bought a gorgeous wall hanging, which is now pride of place in Martine's bedroom. Bright, bohemian goodness.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Paralympic Flame Fizzle

Just returned from a very disappointing event at Meadowdown Sports Centre in Edinburgh.

Martine and I had tickets for the Paralympic Flame Festival. They were free, which was some consolation. The warning should have been noted along the bottom: no smoking, no alcohol, no food, no 'passout' (not sure what that means - possibly from boredom?).

Arrived at six. Stood in a very long queue for quite a long time.

To enter a drab and undecorated sports pitch.

Two burgers, chips, and a drink came to over £14! No wonder you weren't allowed to take food in, they needed to hold you to ransom. Family event my arse, imagine having a couple of kids with you, you'd need a second mortgage.

The festival atmosphere was further infused with yawnsome capitalist twaddle from the likes of BT and Sainsbury's. To be fair, the latter were handing out free apples and bananas so at least the low-income families wouldn't starve.

We sat there for an hour and a half, growing colder and damper.

Martine took a wander round and surmised that there wasn't any information on local disability organisation or their work. Edinburgh University Student Disability Services, Capability Scotland, Edinburgh Council, Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living, Inclusion Scotland - where were you? Or were you simply not invited?

Worse than that was the complete and absolute lack of any form of entertainment in the run-up to an extremely able-bodied Joe McElderry taking the stage. 

In fact, the Olympic Torch Ceremony with Zara Philips at Cheltenham Racecourse was more representative of the Paralympics than this. At least they had wheelchair breakdancing.

The message I took from this was either that:
  1. Edinburgh is completely devoid of Disability arts groups, or
  2. The organisers of the Paralympic Flame Festival don't particularly care whether they exist or not.
Either of those statements is rather disappointing.

The lack of interim entertainment was even more shocking when you consider there was an entire fringe festival going on down the road. Surely somebody could have rustled up some jugglers, dancers or musicians.

Instead we had to make do with a single, sprightly, six-foot Olympic mascot skipping about the stage.

After an hour-and-a-half, we called it quits. The allure of red wine and a cigarette were far more appealing. 

What an incredible homage to corporate greed and lack of imagination.

Not to mention the whole Paralympic wheelchair ticketing discrimination fiasco.

Still, on the happy side, look at these two dapper dudes:

Image link to Independent article
Piece in The Independent on the Rwandan sit-ball team.

Guy on the left is Dominique Bizimana, head of Rwanda's Paralympic Committee. He, I and Martine sat through many a Disability Working Group meeting in Kigali. So proud they're here, and wishing them the very best of luck.

Also, some great news from my friends Jo & Pierre, who were recently in Rwanda sorting out their house. Apparently the Rwandan Dictionary of Sign Language I was involved in has led to signed programmes on TV, including the news! Way to go.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Bruce Festival

Another brilliant day today.

Martine and I took a drive out to Dunfermline to find our friends Andy & Peggy at The Bruce Festival. It's a medieval festival in honour of Robert the Bruce.

Ended up getting slightly lost and fortuitously parking up outside Tourist Information, which was about a two minute walk from the park where the festival was. Right next to where we parked happened to be a strange little hut called St. Margaret's Cave. We popped in to ask directions, thinking it might be a café. Turned out to be something quite different.

Margaret was a Saxon princess, granddaughter of King Edmund Ironside of England, born around 1047 in Hungary where her exiled father had settled.  Margaret became Queen of Scotland when she married King Malcolm Canmore in Dunfermline around 1070.  Three of her eight children became Kings of Scotland: Edgar, Alexander and David.  In 1093, after a deeply religious and charitable life, Margaret died on 16th November - her saint's day is still celebrated on this date.  She was made a Saint by Pope Innocent the Fourth in honour of her life and the miracles associated with her after her death.

She even gave Queensferry its name as she organised free ferries for the pilgrims to St. Andrews. This cave used to be where she'd come to pray. They built the car park on top of her cave! But there was such a public fuss about it that the council built a set of stairs and a tunnel leading down to it.

Stairs down to the cave.

St. Margaret's Cave
All very strange.

One of the boards mentions that there are quite a few of these caves, including Wemyss, St. Fillan's at Pittenweem, Dysart, Caiplie, and St. Rule's/Lady Buchan's at St. Andrews.

Apparently rock art has been found at these places, including the following:

Scottish Cave Art
I love the last one, bottom right. Sort of a variation on the Eye of Horus, almost.

After that unexpected jaunt into the underground, we headed off to join the jousting.

Arrived at the festival just as the heavens opened, and spent the first twenty minutes sheltering in a tent, talking to a lady in chainmail about local historic sites. She and her husband run Forth Pilgrim. Worth checking out if you're interested in history.

Finally made it to Peggy's jewelry tent. Check her out at Ravenstonz - she's mighty talented.

Found Andy sheltering out back in a distinctly un-medieval maroon estate car. He donned his cloak and we pottered off across the field to see Steve, AKA The Green Potter. Another Pagan - we get everywhere, a bit like lice. 

He runs The Green Man Pottery, which was brilliant, because it sorted out Dad's present when I get back (he collects Green Men).

Also saw a highly impressive stone carver called Andrew McFetters (sadly no website, but more pics in my album).

Watched some jousting, too:

Looked around the stalls.

And finished off with a 'smokie' (traditionally smoked haddock). Delicious and filling.

It rained heavily again on the way back to the car. The only thing to do was to get home, change into warm, dry clothes, cook pizza, open wine, and snuggle down on the couch to watch Pride & Prejudice.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Swamp Juice

Well, my two month abstinence has been well and truly shattered by yesterday's breakfast of caffeine, nicotine and leftover doner kibab.


I appear to have arrived in Edinburgh during the festival!

Wicked, awesome, yay, woop woop!

I've never been before, and what an introduction <insert happy face>.

Martine and I met up with Laetitia at the Box Office and bought tickets to see Knee Deep (AKA CASUS) in the evening, an Australian four-piece circus.

We then headed off to find a drink, however, I spotted this en route:

Back when I was working at the theatre in Gloucester, I went to visit Parabola Arts in Cheltenham. I saw Swamp Juice advertised and really wanted to go, but didn't make it. What was incredible was that, walking past all the flyers, I spotted the poster, gave a little squeee of delight, and discovered, after Laetitia convinced me beer could wait, that it was on right now in the venue we were standing outside of!

It. Was. Brilliant.

Haven't seen anything as good in a long while.

He's a Canadian shadow puppeteer with more than a hint of Salad Fingers about him. The show culminates in an incredible 3D puppet show. Honestly - it's the bestest thing ever. Creepy, funny, swamp juicy goodness. If you ever get the chance - go!

So, that was an unexpected and somewhat serendipitous surprise.

We interluded with beer and chips on the makeshift lawn outside the Spiegeltent Teatro, where Knee Deep were performing.

I've decided I want to live in a spiegeltent. They are better than houses. I first saw one at the Cheltenham Literature Festival last year, being used as a German Beer Tent. This one was very similar, but turned into a mini circus.

Hard to get a decent picture, but it was lovely.

Knee Deep are incredible. Three blokes and a lovely lady with the most gorgeous flower tattoos up her body. Old school acrobatics meets modern day movement - with eggs. Well worth watching.

Other highlights of the day included:

Bus ride through Edinburgh.


Giant inflatable cow bar.

Colourful carvings.

Street performers galore.

Totally fantastic introduction to the Edinburgh Fringe. Rounded off the night with a  bottle of red and these divine Belgian chocolate and salted caramel torts - with edible gold. Nomnomnom.

Sunday, 19 August 2012


Incredible day today.

Headed out to the wee town of Balbirnie, Fife. There is a small stone circle there, which was moved from its original position during the excavation of the site between 1970-85. It was used for burials between 4000-1500 BC.

You can read all about it on The Northern Antiquarian

It's part of a much larger complex, including a henge. En route to find it, we came across wooden markers in a park, outlining what they think may have been an enclosure, which stands atop another small henge.

The incredible thing about the Balbirnie henge is that it has survived the progress of time. It sits slap bang in the middle of a housing estate called, you guessed it:

A rough panoramic of the site:

There are only two stones left standing at the far end.

But the rest has been marked out with posts, like the enclosure. It is honestly a credit to Historic Scotland that anything remains of it at all. Apparently it was flanked by two further circles, rather like Avebury. It's a site you couldn't use today due to, as Paul put it: "A supreme lack of privacy," but it is fantastic to know it's out there and that it's been absorbed into the psyche of the local estate. Even the roundabout into town pays homage.

This was also my first cup and ring stone. I've looked at pictures of them for years, but don't recall ever having seen one, and certainly not one so unmistakably well preserved.

Also found a very cool mushroom forest.

That polypore, bottom left, when dried, can be used to sharpen knives.

Also saw a lovely tree with beautiful roots.

Took the opportunity of a deserted back road to deliver a first driving lesson. Kitty dealt with the assault on her clutch admirably - and the assault on her paintwork.

Let's just say I will never make a driving instructor. But we did make some new friends along the way.

The two friendliest horses in all the world.

We also received a gift. Lying right in the middle of the road. Thought it was a piece of wood at first, but turned out to be a deer skull.

Any ideas what species? I was going to say Muntjac, but the antlers are too long, and it's a little large. Doesn't look like any of the others on the British Deer Society website. A young Roe, perhaps? Times like this I wish my mate Tas were here, she does some incredible artwork with animal skulls.

As it is, it's now propped up in the shower, to try to wash off some of the grime. Will look nice once it's cleaned up. Couple of antlers from Glen Lochay in the kitchen that will compliment it.

Strange it was right in the very middle of the road, as though waiting for us.

Started to rain as we headed back to the car - the long way. Drove home through a torrential downpour. Snuggled into dry clothes and rustled up some comfort food (just to prove I can do 'domestic' once in a while):

Probably our last outing. Sad to say I'll be leaving for Edinburgh on Wednesday, but happy to say that's because Martine is back in the country. Can't believe how fast the time has gone. Both the five years since I last saw Paul, and the fortnight I've been here. I will be very sorry to leave, but happy to know that he is well and happy, and no doubt soon to return.

Alter ipse amicus