Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Christmas Everyone

Have an excellent holiday, I promise to update you soon about Christopher's first Christmas with revelations about presents, his travels and how he doesn't really know what's going on...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.

I've been lucky recently in that I have had good books to read, and time in which to read them. It can take me months to read a book; if I don't like it I'll leave it lying around, refusing to be branded a quitter but really wanting to quit. But sometimes I have a good run, like now.

Attention All Shipping is written by Charles Connelly, a Bill Bryson wannabe looking for an angle, who decided to visit each of the areas mentioned in the Shipping Forecast. Undaunted by the fact that some areas have no land (he had to content himself with flying over parts of the sea and ticking the box) he visits not just some of the most desolate and isolated parts of the UK, Iceland and Scandinavia, he finds himself on barren sandbanks and strange platforms in his quest complete his journey.
The closest he gets to my locality is a fleeting visit to Cromarty - he didn't venture over the bridge to the north of the Firth, missing out on the delights of Evanton and Invergordon, possibly as the result of some thorough research.
The book improves throughout and goes from copying Bill to not quite competing but certainly challenging him as an eye-rolling traveller shuffling rather than striding his way round the world in the search for little snippets of history and heritage.

Next on The Book Tower this week, the man himself. An inspired choice of birthday present from Muriel, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is essentially Bill's autobiography, but only covering his life in the 50s. If you have read Made in America you'll know how 50s obsessed he can be, and each chapter is loosely based on aspects of this decade and the results he saw within his family...and how his dad was a skinflint. It was good, but I can't help thinking that Bill has wrung himself dry now. Neither Here Nor There and The Lost Continent were the results of years of experience, research and observation and as a result are two of the funniest, most informative books I've read. But other Bryson books seemed rushed - especially the Australia one, and now that he's spilled his guts in Thunderbolt, what's next?

My final offering, and the book I am reading just now, is Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. Another gift, I recoiled at first from reading about teaching, cos I is one. For the same reason I don't watch "Teacher TV" on cable. I haven't read any of McCourt's other books, and haven't seen the film. Teacher Man is actully really good. Born in New York, he grew up in Ireland but then returned to New York in his youth and after a series of manual jobs embarks on a career teaching literature to American teens. It is really well written and his power to deviate from the storyline and give interesting tiny details would make Ronnie Corbett green with envy.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time

It's important to be able to laugh at yourself, right? How about to giggle at yourself in such a way as to unnerve school cleaners and frighten school children? While wearing lycra leggings.

On Monday I cycled to school as usual, dressed to impress in my waterproofs and leggings, which for the record the QPS staff have banned me from wearing other than immediately after, or immediately prior to riding the bike. Even the fetching red stripe and reflective panels have failed to sway them. But once I arrived in my room I realised to my dismay that I'd forgotten trousers to change in to...I'd taken them home on Friday to be washed (a rare enough treat for them) and neglected to pack them again. Were I a pupil I would have simply blamed my mum and worn a groovy pair of trousers from the lost property box, but considering I had 3 schools to teach in that day, including the High School up the road, leggings or cast-off half-masts were not going to cut it. I needed to have my shower then get up to the supermarket to buy a pair of trousers.

The shower is joined to the school office, and connected to the school corridor by means of a short passage and a door to which I have a key. Locked in, I showered and and went to my pannier to find my towel, also taken home for washing. And also left there. So now I am naked, showered and standing with no towel and no trousers in the school office. Can you see the headlines yet?

Question - how many paper towels does it take to dry someone roughly my size and shape after a shower? Answer - 9. Who'd have thought.

Dried (of sorts) and dressed (in a fashion) I had about half an hour to go and buy trousers...plenty of time. I dumped my stuff in my room and fetched my wallet from my bag, or would have, had it not also been safely tucked up at home. This is where the giggling started.

I had to borrow money from another staff member, walk to the shop in my lycra while greeting every pupil and parent on the way, and buy a fetching pair of brown cords. Mmm, £15 well spent.

Not content with this level of general humiliation I had an appointment at another primary school at 11.15 and had decided to try out a new cycle path to get there. The route I have used previously is all on road and though it only takes 20 minutes to get there I thought the path might be a bit faster and a bit quieter. The path started off promisingly - well surfaced, old railway line, nice Autumn day. But not for long - it descended into a bog, rutted and muddy with no signs and eventually no apparent way to get off it. My "street" tyres, with no grips, just spun about as I tried to cycle, spraying mud and mulch over my back and head while my shoes and the bottoms of my super new trousers, sticking out from beneath my waterproofs, went from smart-casual to tramp dirty-protest. Arriving at the school I wasn't sure why I was getting such curious, pitying and scathing looks until I went to the toilet to wash my hands and saw that my face and hair were covered in mud too.

The rest of the week didn't bless me with luck either - Wednesday saw the wettest day here for a long time, and was the day I took the motorbike to work. A training course until 3pm, then a splash back to QPS for a meeting 4 till 6, then off to Bo'ness through torrential rain for a 7 to 10 rehearsal left me wet, cold and quite possibly rotting. Luckily I had taken it easily on the back Borrowstoun road as rounding a corner I encountered a huge puddle, well, a flood, right across the road. Even at 30mph or slower the bow-wave went over the bike and down my jacket. Really.

Lorna is out tonight - ladies' night for some of the mums from her various meetings. Kit's new pleasure is being dangled upside down and for extra laughs, swung around.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.

The nights, as they say, are fair drawing in. I now cycle to and from school wearing an impressive assortment of reflective, hi-viz and illuminated accessories looking like a renegade 80s background dancer from The Hit Man and Her. From my flashing ankle strap to my bright orange vest, every inch of me screams "I am here, please don't park on my head."

Having said that, I had to take the GSXR in to work today as another spoke has broken on the pushbike. Now, I don't weigh that much so have enjoyed a polite conversation with the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-Op suggesting that their bikes are pish and that they really should mend it for me. I have been invited for a summit meeting with a manager on Saturday morning where I will lay it on the line for them, then dance about, negotiating a suitable settlement before handing over my bank card and paying whatever they have asked me to.

The GSXR continues to me a mind blowing piece of machinery, more so now I am allowed to rev it higher. To pinch an overused phrase from various bike mags it does not so much accelerate forwards as thrust the world backwards. You know those dizzy spells you've been having these mornings? That's me and my bike, that is. It now has about 800 miles on the clock - the most recent big trip being a scoot to Glencoe for lunch with Kev and Claire. It was brilliant fun, loads of bikes out and about, though waiting for Claire to demonstrate her new bellypan scrapin' brake pedal bendin' cornering style proved fruitless.

Lorna has settled in a real routine of social gatherings sporting Kit like a passport to fun and lunch for a secular club of mothers in the know. Monday is Mum and Baby group, Tuesday Baby Yoga, Wednesday lunch with one of the assorted stream of new and unfamiliar names she keeps mentioning (oh, I'm seeing Julie and her wee girl Pannacotta today - you remember them, the one in the blue jumper from the antenatal classes we attended in March...), Thursday is now Baby Singing (£5 to sit in a circle with other hippies and sing Baa Baa Ethnic Sheep Have You Any Fairtrade Organic Wool?) and Friday remains cinema day. I was lucky enough to attend the Filmhouse's screening of The Break-Up during the October break. Looking behind me during the film was like the bit in the Muppet Show when you caught a glimpse of the audience...all the strange faces and jerky movements from other people's babies as they watched the film.

Kit's new tricks are (in no particular order) - sitting up, screaming, squealing, eating lumpy food, having a reach which is twice as long as his arm, being left-handed (doh!), enjoying singing more than ever and staring at old ladies on buses until they freak out. He has also found a new toy, one which all boys are blessed with and which will give him a lot of pleasure for many, many years.

Our October break was good fun, having Jon down for a bit then heading north to Tain. A lunch with the Inverness Eggermonts broke our journey and allowed us to marvel at how gorgeous Clara is, and at how Kane has managed to lose even more weight. The rest of the week was spent in an assortment of Franco-Scots situations as we chummed Jon, Mark and the French "Whisky Club" around their tour of Tainshire. We enjoyed tours of the Glenmorangie and Balblair distilleries, and clay pigeon shooting (I was second best out of us, though the excited border collie chasing the clays added a new sense of challenge to the proceedings). We joined them for a lunch of ham and cheese washed down with a bottle of Tobermory, some raw red wine and even rawer local moonshine and the trip culminated in a no-holds barred seafood and whisky feast at the Oystercatcher before gate-crashing a wedding at the local hotel. Admittedly this was made easier by the fact we sort of knew the bride, and that the French visitors had hired full Highland dress...sort of a wedding crashers camouflage, if you like.

I have accidentally become co-director for the next Barony Players production, a couple of suspense filled shorts from Lucille Fletcher, "The Hitchhiker" and "Sorry, Wrong Number". Being a director means the actors do what I tell them to which is cool for as long as things are going well.

Finally, the rowans are hanging heavy on the branches. And you all know what that means...

Oh, and under this post where it says "Comments". Then make fun of me in the box provided! It's really that simple!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Anybody who doesn't cut his speed at the sight of a police car is probably parked

OK, bike talk...

Picked it up on Tuesday, and of course after days of clear dry weather the bus journey between the house and the dealer was all the time it took to cloud over and start to pour. Hmph, biking in Scotland is a proper journey of highs and lows. I'd really wanted to try to keep it looking nice, for a day at least, but so it goes.

Once all the pesky money side had been seen to I was able to ride it away. The dealer's forecourt is cobbled, mossy and uphill - not a delightful surface when you are wobbling away, in the rain, terrified to open the throttle for fear of enjoying your first powerslide in front of an audience of salesmen. And then knocking all the other bikes over like dominoes...

I needn't have worried because my perfect throttle control and precision steering allowed me to get home before locking the bike away. Two immobilisers, an alarm, a large chunk of U-shaped metal and a purpose built steel garage are all I can offer to prevent the bike ever wandering off in the middle of the night.

On Thursday I rode the bike to Glasgow, only restrained by the 6000rpm ceiling I have to stick to for the first 600 miles. Frustrating, though it allowed me 90mph in top which was fine, but on the M8 still leaves you being overtaken by cars, buses, caravans and lorries. I was able to lock it to a railing outside the car park attendants hut (thanks guys) and was delighted to find it waiting for me afterwards.

It's been cleaned twice which gives me the ideal opportunity to admire its lines and curves.

So, a summary to date...
It's uncomfortable, cramped, has a tiny range, no storage for locks or such like, expensive to insure, makes me permanently worry that it's being loaded into the back of some tea-leaf's van, requires great restaint to ride slowly......I love it to bits.

Monday, September 04, 2006

What's noisier than a 5 month old with a cold?

A five month old and his mother, both with colds, of course....

Last night was a treat as Kit and Lorna sniffed, gargled and slurped their way towards morning. Poor things, get well soon, but please do it quietly.

The set, and costumes, for Art are pretty much sussed now - we get our pictures taken for the paper tonight, woo. Ticket sales still low - prepare to shuffle up to the front seats everyone. I have put the show onto every local and national website I could, even (who managed to get our listing online after 4 submissions, 5 emails and even then they haven't got our phone numer correct...) to try to attract some "new blood".

My Suzuki GSXR600 test ride was called off on Saturday due to rain, boo hiss. It's the 750 I'm really interested in, but Saltire Suzuki only have a 600 tester - same size, shape and all that just a different engine. So, next weekend, then.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's only when you look at an ant through a magnifying glass on a sunny day that you realise how often they burst into flames.

So - I'm back to school, Lorna and Kit continue to have a wonderful social life and I've remembered I keep a blog. Good stuff.

The remaining weeks of the summer holidays passed in a blur. Our time in Tain was fun, making the most of Granny's baby sitting skills Lorna and I managed not one but two nights out together. Our trip to the Oystercatcher in Portmahomack was a highlight - far from a cheap night out but well worth a visit if you like to eat. Which I do. They take a great pride in all aspects of your dining experience...home roasted nuts and small sushi parcels while you wait, and the bounty of the sea made available in 101 different combinations. I went for the Port Platter, more of a dare than a meal (go on, finish it, if you can, you big pussy...) which came on 2 plates and saw me spend the next hour armed with pliers and a hacksaw peppering the dining room with a shrapnel of crab shell, lobster claw and langoustine gugs. Lorna, being a lady, opted for a more refined knife and fork option of smoked scallops. Much to the surprise of the owners (and the continued delight of their bank managers) we then put away a desert each, and coffee, before hauling our swollen bellies back home to check the newspapers for second jobs in anticipation of the credit card bill.

As if that wasn't enough our second evening found us living it up with Mark and Marie Christine in Pitcalzean House, a grand venue near Nigg where they were celebrating their wedding anniversary in style. Once Roxane had given us a rather quick, but comprehensive tour of the house we were treated to a guid Scot's nicht of piping, dancing, eating, drinking and shouting slowly at French people in order to make ourselves understood. Towards the end we had speeches and present opening - Mark was as pleased as a dog with two clocks.

Before heading south we had time to fit in a visit to mum - but not mine. Pauline and Joep were so keen to see us they stalked us through the Eastgate Centre and finally pounced just outside KFC. Honestly, we were intending to come, you didn't need the strongarm tactics... Kit enjoyed meeting Granny - not his, and reminded us all just how comfortable Pauline's chest can be by falling asleep, soothed by the rhythmic motion...

I ran my second 10K last weekend in Falkirk, chopping an enormous 19 seconds off my Edinburgh time. I was number 205, and came 153rd. It wasn't fair though, it was really hilly and they gave the "elite" athletes a head start! Someone doesn't understand the concept of a handicapping system! Still, I now have two t-shirts and two medals with the third coming in a couple of weeks at Loch Lomond.

Kit continues to change every day - if I hadn't seen him turn the pages of his book with my own eyes I would never have believed it... He also enjoys the games of "push myself up the changing mat, look out, I'm going to fall", "listen to me squeal" and a current favourite, "what's that your eating, when can I have some?" We are going to be sorting out real food this space. He enjoys baby yoga, his Monday social group and apparently will be going swimming at some point too! Lorna does an excellent job - I would not be that cheery at 4 in the morning! He wakes hungry, another pointer that real food is on the cards. Mmmm, paste.......

The Barony Players production of Art is at last getting good, and with only a few rehearsals until show week, thank goodness! It's actually quite a big presentation - lots of work is being done on scenery and furniture though tickets sales have hardly been through the roof. There's still time, and a bit of advertising to be done; it will be, I know, alright on the night.

And finally the BigMac3, annual Thundercat run in Scotland, was on Saturday and was a roaring success. Well, for everyone, that is, except one poor guy, Steve, who managed to get left behind before we'd even left Edinburgh. Had it been a school trip I'd be unemployed by now, but that fact that we weren't together as a whole group for about an hour and a half (traffic lights split us up) it wasn't until then that I could do a head count. And we were one head short. Oops. Anyway, 250 miles followed by tea at Vittoria on Leith Walk (who kept our table for us despite being an hour late) then on to a show at The Stand seemed to keep the visitors happy - so thanks to all those who travelled up for the weekend. See you next year...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The tiger can't change his spots. No, wait, he did! Good for him!

It's been ages since I posted , but I'm back at work next week so I'll do it then, ha ha. We've been doing loads of stuff so have lots to say. Take it easy!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Gulls of Invergordon, O.

A young man felt so moved by his experiences one summer that he wrote about them for the world to read. That man we shall simply call, Jon.

“In Invergordon by the sea
They’ve built a new distillery
And all the gulls are on the spree
That live in Invergordon”

My dislike for sea-gulls had always been slightly vague, their heads were too small for their bodies or their screaming irritated me, I wasn't quite sure. I was about to discover why I really hated them.

It’s 5.30am on a driech September morning as I drive into Invergordon, a small town built on the shores of the Cromarty Firth. Since the closure of the smelter in the 1980’s the town has suffered, but I’m here to see one of the town’s success stories.

I’d been told to meet a man at the end of the pier, he’d introduce me to the gulls. A disembodied yellow hard hat emerges from the gloom – Jack, my guide for the day. Behind him thousands of gulls rise leisurely into the night.

Jack is not an ornithologist. Infact, Jack despises birds. He works for the Port Authority and spends most of his time cleaning the pier. He unravels huge lengths of rubber hose and begins to blast the guano into the Firth. The stench is incredible. There is a cruise liner due at 8am and seagull droppings are not mentioned in the Port’s glossy brochure. They have to go.

The Silver Wind is the last liner of the season. There’s been more than 20 since May (including the Q.E.2) and more are due next year. The firth is full of rigs in varying states of disrepair and with the decline in the oil industry the port is trying to diversify into the cruise liner market. The venture seems to be paying dividends.

By 7.15am the liner is clearly visible at the mouth of the firth. She’s a beautiful ship – a symbol of glamour and decadence unattainable for the crowds of local people who come to show their kids what a cruise liner looks like. By the time Jack’s rolled up his hoses and given the pier a quick sweep we’re close enough to see individual figures. Soon we’re joined by the mooring gang, the Deputy Harbour Master and a piper in full Highland dress. He looks out of place amongst the hard hats and boiler suits and he seems faintly embarrassed.

The liner is very close now, as the pilot directs operations from the bridge the Filipino crews prepare to toss the ropes to us. While the pilot makes some final adjustments Jack tells me about a Filipino crew who, anxious to sample the flesh-pots of Invergordon, asked for directions to “the ladies”. Jack (in all innocence, he claims) sent them to the public toilets in the High Street.

The ropes are thrown to the mooring gang on the pier. It takes three or four men to haul the sodden rope up and over the bollards. Finally the Engineer nods in approval and signals to his minions to take in the slack. The other moorings are made fast and the Deputy Harbour Master gives the thumbs up to the pilot.

That’s the heavy work over, now the boiler suits make way for an army of PR people with clip boards and Californian smiles. The passengers begin to disembark to the strains of “Scotland the Brave” and the piper no longer looks out of place.

There’s a definite air of superiority about the men who work here. Most have left the sea after years of working on the rigs or in the fishing industry. They’ve all got families now and every one of them says the same thing; “It’s a great life but it’s only for the young lads.” Some of the stories about the brothels of Marseilles and Hong Kong would make your hair stand on end, it’s an unashamedly male environment. The ships are the only females allowed.

On the pier taxis jockey for position with the tour buses. The couriers quickly herd the passengers onto the buses to be whisked away to the tourist Meccas such as Dunrobin Castle. Many locals have complained that the passengers are not encouraged to visit the town, but the taxis do well from the liners. It’s not unusual to get fares for Ullapool, or even Portree.

9.30am. The buses have all gone. I talk for a while with an engineer of a grain-boat which has just arrived. He’s from Hamburg, twenty-four and he’s already seen the world. We shake hands, “Good-bye, Scottish.” It begins to rain again. In a few days he’ll be in Barcelona and I get that inevitable pang of jealousy.

4.30pm. The tour buses arrive back at the liner and the passenger returns to the ship. I speak to a couple weighed down with boxes of shortbread and tartan for the folks back home in Ohio. “We’d always wanted to see the Highlands since I’m a Campbell and my wife is a Ross,” he says. They seem to be delighted with their trip, which is good news for the port. Satisfied passengers means that Invergordon should be on The Silver Wind’s itinerary for next season.

6pm. Our resident piper stubs out his fag and strikes up a tune as the gang-way is retracted. The mooring gang shoulder their way through the crowds and take up their positions. There are some camera flashes from the ship, some applause and that’s it. They let go the ropes and The Silver Wind glides out into the darkening firth. Amazing Grace. Tomorrow it’s Kirkwall and then on to the Norwegian fjords.

7pm. As night falls the pier empties of people and the gulls begin to arrive.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Another cousin

Pete and Diane have just had a baby boy - 6lbs 11, no name yet as they really were expecting another girl! Congratulations!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

So, can he read yet?

Yes, of course he can! I was given a brilliant book from the staff at Kirkliston nursery school (who know a thing or two about learning, I guess) called Baby Sees Hearts and Stars

It is amazing - based on the idea that babies can see sharp contrasts, the pages use a couple of colours each, and bold shapes to make them stand out. And Kit "reads". Not out loud, of course, in his head, but he really does! I hold the book infront of him an he stares, his eyes moving from one page to the next. Stop rolling your eyes, he does, alright?

He's even got favourite pages; the red and blue pages are very exciting, apparently. So exciting in fact that daddy got straight on to Amazon and bought the rest of the series...Spots and Dots (quite basic compared to Hearts and Stars...maybe should have got that one first), Flowers and the very challenging Snowflakes. I think it'll be a wee while before we graduate to Snowflakes, that's more of a 4 month old's book.

So there you go - it only took 3 months for me to become a pushy dad. I might back off, and remember how badly it can all go wrong...

The visit to Craigtoun Park went well - but where was everyone else? Considering it was a beautiful sunny day, the place was almost deserted. We went on the train, crazy golf and the boating pond and didn't have to queue for anything. Mind you, we made up for it by stopping at The Anstruther Fish Bar on the way home, where Bill and I waited 45 minutes for a few fish suppers. Nice though they were, it was impossible to see what the hold up was. The upside was that they had a big TV where we could watch England getting stuffed by Portugal. Oh well. What now happens to the "car flag" mountain? Mmm?

Tonight we have Mum and Don for tea, they are going to the Garden Party this week. On Wednesday they'll be over again with Gillian, and on Thursday we may all go to the Botanics if the weather keeps up. When do the holidays start...?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Got it

Ah, now, this'll do. It's one of the few internet pictures there is of Jon, taken from a specialist website.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


The JD link was a master stroke...I have to counter Jon's effort with this until I can come up with something better.

Science, smiling and Bo'ness

And as if by magic, the holidays were here!

Last week brought the usual lunacy to school as the goodwill needed to keep P7 on-side was sadly lacking this year. One or two simply couldn't handle the change and the upheaval of the move to high school and went into a sort of self-destruct mode. Shame.

I, meanwhile, spent three nights at Pollock Halls attending the first Science Summer School based at Dynamic Earth. Teachers from all over Scotland (but mainly from Aberdeenshire, for some reason) attended workshops on geology, energy and forces, "forensics" and so on. The course was introduced by Jack Jackson, recently retired HMIe top bloke and husband of my headteacher, who talked about A Curriculum for Excellencein science teaching. I was looking forward to this, as I do believe that of all the guff that gets produced in an attempt to improve education, CFE is actually quite good. Unfortunately this theme had not filtered down fully to the workshop leaders who were keen, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subjects but delivered content and activities identical to those we were doing all those years ago in college.
Like "Hey, you can teach energy and forces by using toys!" "Hey, lets make a Mars lander which we'll drop and try not to break the egg inside!" and so on. One or two of the workshops were great; one about raising ethical issues in science with children stood out. But generally it was the other teachers who were attending who had the best ideas, and it worth going just to have met them.

Meanwhile Kit grows and grows, and will be 3 months old this week. His first quarter; we'll be getting our first bill for him soon. He is really active, sitting in his chair and "running" for ages. He is performing routine "social smiles" and Lorna reckons he was playing "copy Mummy" with a tongue sticking out game. I am just chuffed I have the next 6 weeks to spend with him, of course.

The Oz Proudfeet arrived safe and sound and have already begun their tour of Scotland with a trip to Bo'ness to watch the Fair procession. Every year the "court" members are chosen from local schools to lead and participate in the fair; how proud you'd be as a parent...but there's catch. You are obliged to decorate your obliged, infact, that they publish the addresses on the internet so there's no hiding. Every year groups and factions try to outdo each other with the decorations, arches and garden features, the pressure of which is so intense I've heard tell of people who have moved their children to another school rather than risk having to take part! Teams of joiners and painters using cranes and the contents of B&Q work for weeks to build these. And of course, they are very nice. But would you want to be the one year, it's YOU?

And so, today, the plan is to visit Craigtoun Park near St Andrews. With us will be Jimmy and Jess.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Two jags, one wheel

Being eight weeks old is great - the service second to none, you are actually encouraged to sleep during the day rather than nagged for it and a door can be the most fascinating thing there is. Stare at the door......sta-a-a-are at the d-o-o-o-o-or........

However, it has its downside as Christopher found out this week - round one of his vaccinations, one in each leg. Ouch. Ouch.

At the end of this month the UK will be four Proudfeet better off as Bill, Dale, Jamie and Eliza arrive from Australia. We haven't seen the first three since our trip to Oz three years ago, and we haven't seen the last one at all! Lorna is already working overtime to organise every available minute of their stay but I am here to remind her that they are on holiday too...

I've just had a week off the cycling due to a dodgy real wheel - the spokes all loosened and riding it felt like a clown bike. Very amusing to the people behind me I'm sure, but not so much fun for me. The Edinburgh Bike Co-op were disappointingly disorganised regarding the bike's 6 week check-up. Despite me showing them the problem with the wheel on Monday when I dropped the bike off it still managed to catch them by surprise on the Tuesday, so they didn't leave enough time in the day to fix it. Mind you, being forced to ride the CB into work for a week was no hardship as the weather has been great.

Sundays and Mondays will be busy for me for the next while as I am to play Yvan in the Barony Players September production of Art...luvvie.

French Jon has begun to populate his blog with extracts from letters I wrote to him around 12 years ago. Thinking this was a good wheeze, I dug out corresponding letters from him (Lorna having great fun telling me how sweet it was to have kept them, awwww) to consider returning the favour. Well, not only are they, basically gibberish, they are also some of the most inflammatory pieces of work you could hope to read. In the three I read yesterday he managed to insult 13 different people; 11 of these by name, sometimes using drawings to really get his point across and certainly doing nothing to endear himself to the gay liberation cause. So, Jon, do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

Two weeks until the holidays. Can't wait, of course.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Insert own pun here...

Note to self and other bikers - if you are going out on a motorcycle trip, make sure you have petrol in your tank. If you do decide to run out of fuel, however, try not to do it on the Forth Road Bridge...

Yesterday Claire and I trekked to Crieff to get some new tyres...the weather was poor so we just headed straight up the motorway to Perth, her riding in luxurious comfort on the VFR750 and me adopting the "head down arse up" style on her Bros 400.

It was an uneventful journey, we ate macaroni while the tyres were fitted and were soon heading south again. Claire had told me that the Bros usually needed petrol "as it's approaching 200" - the trip meter is in km. Not a problem, plenty left to get us back to Edinburgh, then. And there's always the reserve tap, right?

Passing Inverkeithing (almost there!) and the trip is showing 179 - better stop at the Shell garage on the other side, I think. Splutter splutter....hey, I was right, timed that well...not a problem, I think, I'll just switch the reserve tap on.'s already on - oh dear - and by now I'm on the bridge with Claire following wondering why I am starting to flap about. The bridge is steeper than you think, and the incline we were on seemed to help feed the last remaining dregs of petrol to the struggling engine. It seemed for a moment that we might actually make least off the bridge and to within pushing distance of the garage. Actually with the Bros you'd probably just sling it over your shoulder and carry it to the garage, but whatever.

So, it died. I freewheeled as close to the left as I could, and Claire pulled in behind. There is no hard shoulder on the Forth Bridge and there are various phone numbers and emergency telephones dotted along it which is fine if you are a driver sitting neatly caged into your broken down Volvo, not so good for bikers who would really rather get off the bridge as fast as possible. So, Claire was going to have to take me on the back of the VFR. Except she's not into practising the art of the "much heavier pillion than you" under such extreme circumstances so I ride and she goes pillion. So, Kev, Mike, Colin, nyahh, I've ridden the VFR.

The plan was to get as far as the Shell garage, buy a petrol can and a bit of fuel, strap it to the back of the VFR (using the incredibly handy bungee and strap I just happened to be carrying...Be Prepared we used to say in Cubs. No, really, I think I deserve extra points for having those with me. I also had a USB laser mouse in the same pocket. Ready for anything, that's me). Then I was going to ride back over the bridge, u-turn through Inverkeithing, stop at the Bros, fill the tank, head back to get Claire and Bob would be our Uncle. Except he's not, because that would have meant the plan worked.

For a start, Shell don't sell petrol cans. (Well, either that or Claire asking for a "jerry can" in her thick soupy accent confused the sales assistant.) But of course not, how silly of us to think they would. Luckily the Tesco garage opposite did, and once we worked out how to push the button to get petrol out the VFR was loaded up and ready to go.

Leaving Claire at the garage I headed back over the bridge, keeping my eyes peeled for the Bros on the other side - I couldn't remember how far over we'd made it. Then, in the distance, I could see the spot marked by the flashing amber lights. This meant the good people from FETA had beaten me to it. Passing alongside revealed the full extent and the horrifying truth of what was going of the guys was looking at the Bros...while the other three guys were leaning over the side to look for the body.

It seems we managed to stop right beside one of the few walkways linking the road to the pedestrian walkway. They guessed someone had stopped the bike, crossed over to the walkway and jumped over the side. I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a moment when I considered ditching Claire and the bike and heading off home on the VFR. Just a moment, mind. Instead I circled Inverkeithing and headed back south over the bridge, now down to one lane and with a 40mph limit. So that's how these tailbacks happen. They had one of their trucks with the big "keep right" flashing light display. "Hooray!" cheered the Friday evening rush hour commuters.

To their credit the FETA guys were very cool about it; I think they were just pleased not to be fishing a body out the water and towing a bike off the bridge. I explained the situation to them and as I refueled the Bros they sent a car to find and retrieve Claire from Tesco. By the time she arrived she hadn't yet reached the "laughing about this one day" stage. Infact, she still seemed to be solidly stuck at the "mortified about it right now" stage.

So; two bikes, two riders and fuel enough to get off the hanging about, off we went. Lessons learned? It never hurts to check your fuel switch just in case, and stop for fuel 20 miles before you think you have to.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Route with a view

For a commute through the capital of Scotland, I do seem to have landed lucky with the scenery I pass. It is a section of National Cycle Network Route 1 and as such is well signposted, thoughtfully sited but poorly surfaced. Mind you, every road in Edinburgh is poorly surfaced so why should cycle routes be any different?

This is the beginning of the route, starting at Roseburn and taking me over Corstorphine Road. It is busy in the mornings with dog walkers, cyclists and runners; there is evidence that horse riders use this path too...

If anyone wants this picture for a lesson on perspective and vanishing points, help yourself.

Like I say, well signposted.

There are three of these signs letting drivers know there is a dead-end further up this road...

...yet tell tale tyre marks on the road show somebody just didn't understand what that meant.

This is the actual Cramond Brig, the dividing line between the counties of Edinburgh and Linlithgow. The newer bridge for modern traffic is higher up, though you can't see anything of the old bridge from the road - mainly because it is a well known speed camera site and you daren't take your eyes off your speedo.

This stone tells of repairs to the bridge; I'm sure the workers of 1776 wished the cowboys of 1761 had just done it properly...


...driving to work can seriously....

...make you late and frustrated. Who'd have thought, it turns out my bike is powered by 'holier-than-thouness' and even when it rains I am kept dry by the higher moral ground.

And finally, a little stretch I call 'The Death Star Trench' - cycle down it as fast as you can but touch your handlebars on either wall and you're mince.

Resurfacing? Mmm, not much call for it, sir.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Life going on

Weeks cycled - 2
Daily distance average - 20 miles
Total miles - 200+
Petrol Money saved - £40
Purchases (not including bike, helmet and lock) - shoes, shorts, gloves, panniers, rack - £216
Injuries sustained - scratches to right leg from front cog, bit of a sore knee after week 1
Number of times shouted at - 2 (one driver, one chav teen girl)
Weight lost - 3lbs
Number of times fallen off - 0
Flies swallowed - 2
Something else swallowed, hopefully another fly - 1
Number of times overtaken by old guy in wellies - 2
Number of times asked "Did you cycle?" while wearing helmet, gloves, shorts and carrying panniers - 4

Kit is growing and growing - we have had to move ontho his next set of clothes as the very wee newborn stuff is too small now! He also took his first bottle yesterday - given by proud but wary dad - more of a practice than for any real reason, but he enjoyed it and fed well. We are keen to get him used to a bottle earlier rather than face a battle once he is older; good advice gleaned from many others we have heard stories from!

Lorna has bought him the "Over Stimulation Chair" from Mothercare - it lights up, plays tunes, vibrates and has dangly mirrors and rattles to hit as he flaps his arms around desperately trying to escape the noise and flashing. Our other exciting purchase is a couple of "grobags", sort of half-pyjama half-sleeping bag, designed so he can't kick it off or get smothered by it. It's just another of those things we didn't know existed but suddenly was worth paying money for.

We feel like we've had plenty visitors of late - the Cambridge crowd were over last weekend then again on Thursday and today Dad and Donna called in for lunch with Gill showing up too. Kit performed well doing his ful range of awake happy, awake grumpy and asleep.

I'll need to restart the running training from tomorrow. I have signed up for another two races this year; Loch Lomond 10K at the beginning of September and Falkirk at the end of August. Puff pant.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


I did it! I ran round Edinburgh today, managing to come a heady 2379th (out of just over 6000 runners though...) The weather was not kind, but the worst rain was just before the start with it brightening up during. I am proud to be able to say I beat 4 Smurfs, but a bit embarrassed to have been beaten by Tweety Pie and Sylvester...
Kit is now 3 weeks and 3 days old and developing a personality day by day. He had a hearing test the other day. It used to be that at 8 months someone would shake a rattle and see if baby looks round. Now at one day old they strap electrodes to their heads and necks before playing a series of clicks though an earphone. He only got a 50% reading for his right ear after he was born, so this was the follow up visit - and we are 100% auditory! It must have just been birth muck.....
We took Kit into Napier to show him off on Thursday - yet more nice people being friendly and very generous to the boy! He even got an astrology reading given to him with the warning that the read lines stood for confict...hmmm, there were a few too many of them if you ask me, so we'll either need to rub them out or destroy Venus rising.
On Friday we took him for a walk round the Botanic Gardens. This is something that Lorna has been planning for a long time,part of her vision of motherhood. It was a beautiful day and the place was packed out with other prams...pram rage! I'll we welding some steel plates to ours for next time.
Neil, Janice and Cameron came to visit today to meet Kit - and he made Cameron's day by peeing all over Lorna's top - ha ha!
I go back to work I will be beginning my "cycling to work" stint all being well. Save money, get fit. That's the plan, anyway. I've done a practice run to Queensferry and can get there in about 40 minutes; of course I must remember there's a return journey to be done each evening.
Went on a bike(motor) run yesterday with Mike and Colin. Had a brilliant time, headed up to Braemar for lunch and avoided all the threatened rainshowers. Sadly Kevin didn't avoid the not-forecasted oil showers, meaning he and Claire couldn't join us.
Lorna begins her first real "by herself during the week" time tomorrow but I know she'll cope.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Now we are 11...days

He's growing! The health visitor called in today and weighed him...we're now at 7lbs 2oz. No wonder with all the eating he does; 10 times a day we reckon, and he's very good at letting us know it's time! Our other clue is that the hat he wore home from hospital last week left a red line round his head (oops) after I forced it on for our visit to CHAVDA.

We were very brave and took his pram along the road to buy some essentials. We were accosted by plenty old women, but not one of them put money is his pram so in the end we had to pay for our own shopping. If only we'd remembered that the car was still at home...I won't be trying to carry that many bags of shopping home in a hurry.

I registered Kit's birth this morning...a very straightforward event and I even paid the £8.50 for a full certificate. Behind me was a scary looking couple (facial tattoos and all) registering the birth of their son too.
"Now, what's his name?"
"Hmm, is that short for something? Only we can't register abbreviations."
"Naw, that's his name, TJ"
"Um...ok, how is it spelt? T space J? Or T-E-E-J-A-Y?"
"Naw, it's just TJ..."

Anyway I don't think they reached an agreement because they were finished a lot faster than I was.

We've received hunderads of presents. People are very generous; the QPS staff lavished me (well, him) with a cardboard box full and three supporting bags of gifts, while the postie has been kept busy with flowers, cards, balloon and beer deliveries (woo-hoo!) We're beginning our thank you cards, but a huge thanks to everyone for the time being!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Three come home

Having proved herself to be an outstanding mother of the first degree, Lorna was released from hospital today and we have introduced Christopher to his new home. He is feeding really well, sleeping loads and looking great.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Monday, April 10, 2006

A visit to the hospital...

...But nothing exciting!

Lorna has been feeling dizzy for the last couple of days, even just lying down and turning her head. Being ever cautious she phoned the community midwives and got an appointment at the new Royal. The "lovely" doctor Peter (Lorna's words, not mine....) decided she most likely had labyrinthitis left over from the cold she had last week.

Thrown into the bargain they took some blood and strapped her to the ECG machine for 10 minutes, allowing us to hear baby's heart pounding away and even its movements as it wriggled around.

The midwife also had a feel to see which way baby was pointing...but couldn't tell. Neither could the other midwife so we were sent for a quick scan. This was a bit concerning as if baby was in the breech position it might have meant a cesarean delivery, soon, no arguments. Fortunately baby was not only head down, but is also "quite far down"...that's why the midwives couldn't feel things!

The real story of the visit was the woman who came into triage just after us and was making all sorts of noises....squawks, squeals, howls, you name it. Even the midwife was saying "For goodness sake, why don't they just take her up to the labour ward?!" Apparently the rules are to send mothers to triage for assessment first, and those nurses were going to stick to the rules. At least now we know which car park to use, and which door to go in when it's our turn (12 days, 19 hours)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Second bike run of the year

Today Kevin, Claire and I braved the weather and took to the hills...from Edinburgh to Aberfeldy via Crieff, then alongside Loch Tay to Killin before heading home through Callander.

The weather was fine in Edinburgh but soon fingers and noses were freezing as we gained altitude. By the time we reached Aberfeldy for lunch we were ordering extra soup to stick our hands into. It even managed a little snow for us, enough to stick to our visors, but it didn't last and the views of Ben Lawers were stunning.

We managed to scare some horses too, nearly enough to unseat their riders. Despite stopping the bikes, and our engines, one of them went mental and spooked the others. The lady in charge yelled and bawled at the horse (Claire managed not to yell and bawl at the lady) so I guess that told it.

The picture shows the bikes covered in salt and Hamish the Highland Cow in Doune.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

No news news

No baby yet (15 days until due) and we've been making the most of it this week...

Monday saw us out on the town for a curry with Dad and new friend Donna, and the introductions continued when Gill allowed us to meet Gary. Lorna didn't go for anything other than the mildest of dishes fearing that sometimes the old wives get it right. I don't think "Passanda Carson" would be a bad name, though.

On Tuesday and Wednesday it was Mum and Don's turn to inspect the nursery. Well, Don spent most of his time inspecting (and mending) our wobbly floorboards, hooray! Gary and Gill joined us for tea and he settled in by asking for, and eating, a second helping of steak pie. He obviously realised what was expected of him...but perhaps not ready for Dundee yet.

Friday was our anniversary - 5 years; wooden, apparently. I gave Lorna some shelves in the nursery which was nice of me. We had tea at the Buffalo Grill then on to champagne tasting at Kev and Claire's. We sat out of it, fearing the need to drive in some sort of emergency, but had great fun all the same. They had a £20 limit per person, bought whatever fizz they fancied then once I'd wrapped the bottles in foil, mixed them up and served them, they had to mark them and guess what, where from and how much. Quite a revelation - the cheap one was a general favourite and Claire talks about rats when she's drunk. Kev proved to be the most accurate guesser. Not bad considering he didn't really like any of them.

Last but not least I made a tenner on the Grand National - Nil Desperandum!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Non-smoking pubs are all very well...

...but our Friday night out has revealed something I hadn't thought of.

Smells. B.O., toilets, other bodily emissions are all now very evident without the fog of fags to disguise them. Perhaps pubs will install nice timed air fresheners for us?

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Nearly the holidays, thank goodness. Tomorrow is Lorna's last day at work and there will be a gathering to bid her farewell at one of Edinburgh's now smoke-free pubs. Perfect timing for pregnant ladies who want to buy their husband some beer! Mind you it appears she has managed to catch a cold and spent most of today in maybe her timing isn't so great after all.

The TENS machine arrived today. It looks a bit fiddly, especially considering everything else that will be going on at the same time but Lorna remains convinced she'll use it, at least in the early stages.

We got a call from Ulrike in Germany this evening - it's nice to think about the international community who are thinking about us and waiting for news...

Last night was our final summary meeting with the ante-natal class. It covered issues surrounding the first six weeks and was fairly interesting. They advised us against receiving too many visitors in the early days though - I'm all of our wonderful Edinburgh friends will wait for us to contact them with a formal invitation however.

Anyway I need to cut this short tonight as Lorna is going to guide me through her maternity bag collection. If she asks for something I will have seconds to respond so I'd better learn where things are. In my bag is just a blindfold.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Running contd....

I ran an outdoor 10K practice on Saturday, but now I need to concentrate on not running in a "thumbs up" style.....

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Running and the legacy of Rocky

Finding that my visits to the gym were lacking focus or purpose, I decided to sign up for the Great Edinburgh Run. At 10K it is a distance I used to run in the gym and something I reckoned I could achieve again. I found a realistic training schedule on line and made a convincing start.

The gym TV choice was dull and uninspiring; who trains to Ready Steady Cook? So I bought an iPod and loaded it with my CDs. That was all very well but I needed something more motivating...then I remembered the Rocky soundtrack...

Who can fail to be moved by the rousing Gonna Fly Now, or forget the iconic Eye of the Tiger? Well, I hesitantly confess that playing these tracks while running still gave me the buzz first felt at age 14 watching Stallone doing "cool skipping" and knocking lumps out of Mr T. I remembered the injustice I felt at the cheating Ivan Drago, who took drugs while Rocky trained honestly by lifting his family in a barrow, chopping logs and running away from the KGB.

Today however, while out running (I've moved from the comfort of the gym to the real life of the muddy path) I discovered that there's only so far the music can take you. The film is just that; a film. None of the dog walkers I passed wanted to return my cheery wave. No fruit market owners tossed me grapefruits and wished me luck and there was a serious lack of "gimmie-fives" from the teenagers outside ASDA. Trying to jump over park benches like hurdles just me made look silly and I don't imagine Edinburgh council are going to erect a statue of me holding my side, blowing my nose on my sleeve and trying to catch my breath at the top of some steps.

In reality the people I did tend to catch up with (pensioners, people walking very small dogs or pushing prams) were more likely to ask me if I wanted them to phone somebody, or start checking me for medical information tags.

So maybe it was time to watch the films again, remind myself what they were all about...well, talk about getting old. When I was 14, Rocky was about imagining you could go to the gym and get big muscles so that one day, if you ever actually got into a fight, you'd nearly lose but then win right at the very end. Full stop. Imagine my surprise when looking at the film with 32 year old eyes revealed something altogether more frightening; Rocky has a plot. And to my horror I found myself following the plot and actually getting into it! The bits of Rocky 2 formerly known as the "shite bits" suddenly were being interrupted by men pretending to hit each other and doing press ups. What's this? Rocky's been injured in the eye and shouldn't fight again? But people are making fun of him! He promises his missus he won't fight but then decides to anyway! He trains, but half-heartedly - he needs his wife's support. He's going to lose! Then she gets pregnant and has a baby...but falls into a coma! Oh no! Rocky should be training but is spending all his time in the chapel! He won't even see the baby...but then she comes round, he's delighted and in a final piece of scripting genius she says, "I want you to do something for" What thinking, feeling person could fail to be moved.

Anyway, I'll be running on Sunday 7th May, wearing my iPod to distract me from the discomfort, and who knows, I might even be able to jump up in the air and freeze frame just beyond the finish line.

Monday, March 20, 2006

T -33 and counting

Sometimes I decide an update is due, and sometimes my adoring fan club decide for me - hello Inverness mum!

33 days to go. The house transformation is almost complete; a nasty case of furniture food poisoning has caused us to spew money, and all that is left are the dry heaves of our overdrafts. We now own more wardrobes than most and the cot-bed is due to be delivered on Saturday. And the mattress. And the changing 'tray' that fits on the cot-bed. I must give credit and eternal thanks to Gillian for her gift of an electric screwdriver...

Lorna is getting big, tired, heavy and grumpy. No, not grumpy, just more tired. She is still at work and will be until 31st - quite late really, but she has a light class commitment. Her concern is that some of her bosses haven't really taken in the fact she's actually leaving, soon! She is met with renewed surprise and head scratching when she reminds some of them and points at her bump...

Lorna went to last week's ante-natal class without me and typically it was a good one! She got chatting to one of the other women there who was due 17th of April...and had her baby the next day

Any non baby related stuff? I got a new helmet the other day, a nice Arai RX7, and only once I got it home did I spot the crack in the plastic vent. "Oh fiddle-de-dee", I said. I'll take it back in to get it fixed but still, grrr, why should I have to.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Second class, camping about and bugs

Wednesday saw our second ante-natal class, and what a waste of time! There were 16 women there, though only 8 guys had returned for more after week one. Lying on the table in the middle of the room was what looked suspiciously like a dolly with a beanbag placenta poppered to it, and a disembodied pelvis held together with screws and wires. Because that's what they were. Oh god, they're going to force that poor doll through that pelvis, probably without even loosening the screws, then point menacingly at the women and say, "See? Nasty, eh?" Then we were treated to a Q&A session about "How can you tell labour has started?" before being played a relaxation CD of the type we "might like to buy." For 15 minutes. With the lights off. The annoying female voice told us to "breathe down as far as our wombs" and "make contact with our babies". Lorna didn't appreciate me breathing anywhere near her womb, so we just sniggered childishly at the other ladies who were taking it seriously. Next week the class is about second stage labour and pain relief. I'm not going to able to make it, but I don't feel so bad as by that stage there's not going to be a lot I can do other than What I Am Told.

After the class I had to head to Ardmay House for the remainder of the week. 40 P5s had been there since Monday and I highly recommend it as a place to take that age group. Not too big, we were the only school there and the activities were easily tailored to suit their feeble whinging bodies.

Finally for nnow we got a visit from Cameron today, who came to Edinburgh to visit the museum. Unfortunately he had to bring his parents Neil and Janice with him, so we just had to put up with them the best we could. There was an exhibition of Creepy Crawlies - giant model bugs alongside their real miniture selves for Cameron to hold and Janice to hide from.

42 days to go. Bike show tomorrow at Ingliston, and an evening trip to Ikea later in the week...