Thursday, June 30, 2005

Well, one final post before heading off on holiday. I'm walking the West Highland Way from the 9th of July, with son J, and doubtless there will be adventures and pictures once that's over. It's been a tiring and in many ways very difficult and demanding past six months, and I'm looking forward to the break. Especially as, mysteriously and excitingly, I've fallen in love all over again with Scotland's landscape, and I can't wait to get in amongst the mountains. Anyway, this is Shetland, and one of the strangest parts of the North Mainland. There is a ridge on the road to North Roe, just at Lochend, called the Beorgs of Skelberry, and when you climb it, and dip down into the valley beyond (where the Collafirth Burn offers several very deep and interesting swimming holes) you face this glaciated boulder field (maybe that's the wrong term). Anyway, it is, in certain lights, one of the spookiest places on earth. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 20, 2005

Tom's Tour II: West Highlands and higher still...

...and on the way home. Possibly the best sea trip north ever on Sunday (last night). This is the 'simmer dim', about 10.45 pm, with the Hjaltland approaching Kirkwall. It all ended badly this morning, when merely brushing the brakelever of the Harley against a brand new Honda Pan European ripped the mirror and indicator off the glistening plastic projectile. I apologised and departed. Posted by Hello

Pink castle - Raven's Craig above Achmore Posted by Hello

Now that's what I call an imaginatively-named bar... Posted by Hello

Ullapool, the Stornoway Ferry and, Posted by Hello

How gorgeous can Scotland be? This is Calgary Beach on Mull. Posted by Hello

Mull Roofing techniques Posted by Hello

Tom's Tour II...after a brutal run from Aberdeen via the horrendous Lecht, sunshine in Ardnamurchan. Waiting for the Lochaline ferry to Fishnish in Mull Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Harleys in the Highlands...the dampness factor

Tom's Tour II is half way through as I write - I'm in Inverness and my leather breeks have not yet quite dried out after yesterday's horrendous trip from Fort William.
Tobermory was lovely, and the run over from Aberdeen fine once I got past Grantown on Spey. The Lecht was atrocious, but grimly spectacular. The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is one of the most gorgeous places on earth, and staying in Banavie on Monday night meant a phenomenal view of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor.
The Harley has run well so far - everyone who knows bikes tends to look askance at the idea of touring on a Sportster, but I rather like it. I like its squat smallness too. And despite tbeing he smallest Harley lump, that 883 with Screaming Eagles Stage II mods) really pokes out the torque when push comes to overtaking shove.
People have been turning up to the various rendezvous locations - sorry to everyone who came to Tobermory, only to find that I'd had to make a breakneck dash to the Craignure Ferry and a working studio in Oban. yesterday at Ardgour, featuring the on-air wedding of Mary anne Kennedy and Nick Turner, was extraordinary.
Pictures, and a chance to relive those nuptials, are all obtainable here .

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Chronicles of Seagirt - parts one and two

This is the new, somewhat whimsical I admit, column I'm writing for The Shetland Times . Possibly of interest only to those connected to The Old Rock.


Part the First: The sinking of the Lachrymose.

THE pirates slew everyone on board, and stole every stitch of our cargo. The northern European undergarment trade was not what it once had been.
I always knew our involvement in a business as fickle and demanding as the illegal export of smalls to Faroe would come to no good. The demand in that strange, puffin-munching, whale-masticating land for knickers with central appurtenances missing, or indeed the rarest of the rare, extra-large Y-Fronts in the Buchanan tartan, has, as you doubtless know, forced many hitherto god-fearing seamen into danger and deceit.
Long had we of the good ship Lachrymose traded up and down the coast of Caledonia in such everyday, innocent items as sheep brains and cow spinal cords, much used by the Caledonian National Herbal Health Service in treating such common local diseases as Rampant Lung Fluke and Black Ear Canal Sputum Surge. But alas, our captain, a man whose only weakness involved a combination of the highly dangerous Jaggy’s Cream Ultraviolence Liqueur and – when he could find, them, which fortunately was not often – camels, was tempted by the promise of cash and an infinite supply of dromedaries.
The Faroese had developed what can only be called a mass addiction to what most would call strange items of underclothing, and in the far north of Caledonia, ruthless men and women were prepared to go to any lengths to meet their needs. Following the Salmond Plaid Act and the Lower Nakedness statute, Caledonia had placed strict importation and manufacturing controls on all forms of underwear, so Caledons in Caithland and Sutherness would bring shipments of (mainly Latvian) knickers in at tiny ports throughout those counties. They were, if you will, snapped up, for the illegal wearing of cladding or support beneath the kilt, albeit flouting the law, had become popular following the much publicised incident involving The Lord High Salmond and a Jack Russell Terrier. Then came the discovery that Faroe, where the advent of an extreme Buddhist Presbyterian Naturist government, the popularity of sparrow beak stew and the legalisation of Lysergic Acid had brought strange tastes to the fore among the populace, offered a more specialised market. That was simply too much of a temptation for some. And we became, at length victims.
Because where there is a demand which some meet illegally, others, more desperate and depraved, will capitalise on that illegality. So we smugglers smuggled, and the pirates pirated. The money, and the camels, made it worth risk, at least in our captain’s eyes. And yes, I know that dromedaries and camels are different, but our poor Captain had become somewhat undiscerning by this time. It was really a question of humps.
And so it was that, on the 15th of May, we were attacked by pirates, almost certainly the most feared variety, the vicious HellyVikings from that near-legendary island, Seagirt. I knew little then about that dark, shadowy place. Now, friends, I know too much. But even in my state of youthful ignorance, I was aware that a small community of what at first had been enthusiastic historical re-enactors, had become one of the most feared bands of bloodthirsty cutthroats in the North Atlantic and North Sea. With the possible exception, obviously, of the now almost forgotten Zetlandic Picto-Masons, all obliterated in that terrible explosion at the Ronas Voe nuclear repository.
Ronas Voe and Picto-Masons, though, were nothing to me as I clung to a half-deflated lifefraft and watched the HellyVikings, clearly in the grip of dreadful potato hallucinations and turnip bloodlust, steer their fearsome war galley the Goodladian back and forth, looking for survivors to slaughter, cook and eat. The Hellyvikings’ propensity for human flesh, cooked in the giant microwave oven on the Goodladian’s deck, stems from their worship of the sheep, or Woolygod, and consequent refusal to eat any other form of meat save that of the human creatures they call “mutton eaters”. It is why they are sometimes known by the insulting term “vegetarian cannibals”, often shortened to “veggieballs”. For strange religious reasons, their human meals must be pulled from the water before consumption. A process with religious roots I believe is called the Marinade.
The Lachrymose was an old-fashioned hydrogen-powered vessel, no match for the Goodladian’s fusion engine. We hove to, and the crew stood helplessly by as a boarding party, armed with the latest GLOCK electric pistols, forced us to help them unload the bales of underwear. Our hold was soon empty. They were for the most part very ugly, the Hellyvikings, dressed in carbon fibre helmets fitted, chillingly, with what I recognised from old films as Mickey Mouse ears. The blue boiler suits struck terror into the heart.
Finally, they repaired to their own ship, leaving us on the Lachrymose, and stood off about 50 metreyards. Their laser cannon ripped great holes in our hull, and it was only a matter of time before our gas tanks exploded. Along with most of the crew, I jumped into the sea, leaving the captain, bottle of Ultraviolence in his hand, shouting imprecations at the Hellyvikings and clutching a stuffed miniature camel he called Theodora. The explosion which tore the Lachrymose apart sent burning shards of aluminium showering down on we swimmers, killing several and wounding more. By a miracle, I escaped injury.
The process of The Marinade began But I escaped consumption by the drooling Hellyvikings. I imagine they hauled from the water their fill of my shipmates, and perhaps a sacrificial feast had already been scheduled on Seagirt and time was of the essence. For whatever reason, I was left to drift in the wallowing waves, and ponder my poor and unhappy life.
That did not take long. I was 21, a graduate in sociology, anthropology and aggressive rock music studies from the University of Thurso, and had signed up with the Lachrymose out of boredom. Also a desire to escape responsibility for the three children fathered with various female lecturers. My debts. And the bounty placed on my head by Vladimir “Nutter” Mowatt, one of Caithness’s new breed of hybrid Russian drug dealers. The advent of the highly addictive, genetically modified Creamola Foam, known by cognoscenti simply as Foam, had left many lives blighted, including my own.
My name is Ernest Golightly. Call me Clint.

Part the second: landfall

I do not know how long I drifted among the oily detritus left by the Lachrymose’s sinking, the corpses disdained by the Hellyvikings as unsuitable for culinary purposes, the occasional empty bottle of Rape and Pillage Dark Rum.
My life was saved, undoubtedly, by one of my late captain’s inflatable camels, of which he had a collection, mostly kept for special occasions such as Christmas, Salmond Day, The Festival of Ewings or Blair Pelting. I gripped this brightly coloured rubber beast like a drowning man. Which, in point of fact, I was.
During summer, night does not fall in these northern climes. A silvery evening greyness, the Glummer Dumb as I have learned to call it, is all that marks the evening from the day. I was cold, but I thanked my ancestors’ frenzied burning of fossil fuels that the sea temperature had risen to levels safe for continued exposure. The submergence of great chunks of coastal Caledonia had been, I admitted, unfortunate.
At length, the guttural mooing and neighing of mutant seal-ponies, the result of some forgotten experiment in genetic modification aimed at supplying marine meat to the Dutch, indicated that land was near. I could only hope that the Giant Cod-Orca, predator of the strange seal-pony, was not an early visitor to these waters. In the main, come summer the Cod-Orca schools moved towards easier pickings among the humans to be found bathing for their health in the spa waters from the old Hunterston F nuclear station. How laughable it seems now that irradiated water was once thought harmful! Now its healing properties have become an obsession among the poor humans vulnerable to ultraviolet light. Epidermal damage from the ozone layer’s depletion reached epidemic proportions, of course, before Avon-BMW developed their gene therapy Skin-So-Soft bio-germ molecular alteration lotion. It saved the lives of millions who could afford it, but for those who couldn’t, the attractions of heated, gamma-heavy water from the likes of Hunterston F often outweighed the dangers from Cod-Orcas, the vicious St Bernardino turtles, and the infamous mutated elephant otters, which can snap a man in half and then suck his innards out with their hairy trunks.
I tried to put thoughts of such horrid creatures from my mind, as my feet touched the rocky seabed. I was too weak to stand, and let the tide carry me in towards what I could see was a harsh, rocky coastline. And it was then the first laser blast grenade plopped into the water next to me.
Even in my state of advanced exhaustion, fear lanced through me, I had seen the effect of laser grenades before. One had ripped apart a Thurso butchers during the Great Anarcho-Vegan Terror. Little was left but some sizzling veal steaks and a couple of mutton chops, well done.
But nothing happened. And I heard a weary voice from the shoreline:
“Damn. I knew that thing was no good. Never buy council surplus equipment.”
Then rough hands were lifting me form the water, dragging me across the jagged rocks with scant regard for either my dignity or bodily wellbeing. I knew immediately that I had fallen among what could only be an offshoot of a tribe I knew and feared all too well: the Whelkish.
The Whelkish came into being during the early noughtes, as mainly young people from what was then the United Kingdom’s towns and cities left home and job, often influenced by an erstwhile politician turned DJ, monk and lifestyle guru, the man known as Fr.Young MC Bressay, and previously as leader of the Caledonian Libtories, Lord Tavish of Scott.
Fr Bressay renounced politics after a religious experience and a brutal attack by a particularly fearful wing of the dreaded Hellyvikings (he narrowly escaped Marinading and ritual consumption by claiming he had recently eaten asparagus). He spread the word throughout Caledonia that wearing hair in dreadlocks, like him, and living on a diet of shellfish and peat-water, like him, would lead to a state of constant nirvana. He disappeared in mysterious circumstances during a pilgrimage, it is said, to the Ross Shire wilderness, there to worship at the Great Whisky Chapel of Castle Kennedy.
At any rate, the roaming bands of poverty-stricken shellfish eaters became known as the Whelkish, from a slang term for the Common Winkle, for which they combed shorelines. At length, following the discovery that certain winkle extracts could cure male pattern baldness, some Whelkish bands became wealthy, and established colonies sprang up throughout the Caledonian territories. They became notorious for guarding their whelk beds fiercely, and dealing summarily with those suspected of whelk or winkle piracy.
All these thoughts raced through my mind as I was dragged across the rocks towards the glinting lights of what looked very like an ancient Airstream caravan, its aluminium body shining in the grey twilight of the Glummer Dumb.
I was thrown roughly down on the grass beside the caravan’s entrance, and an low-laser torch was shone in my face. A voice said:
“Whelk pirates face instant pulping as lobster-gator bait, stranger. Convince me you should be allowed to live.”
I thought hard. But nothing came immediately to mind.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Eshaness and da Grind o' da Navir

To Eshaness this morning, which was NOT as stormy as this winter picture indicates. Still, one of the great European cliff walks, right along to the legendary Grind o'da Navir, a kind of Giant's Causeway ripped and crushed by wave action. Fascinating website about Eshaness, waves and indeed the Grind itself, here. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Here we go...

So, here we go again...unions decide BBC's "offer" ain't good enough, and are demanding more talks. Doubtless there will be more semantic wrangling over the difference between "negotiation" and "consultation". Meanwhile, Jeremy Clarkson has (and I never thought I'd say this) some pertinent and very funny points to make.