Séjour chez mes vieux

Ça n’était pas trop mauvais. En général, nous avons réussi à éviter les sujets sensibles: le plus souvent, nous parlions de la pluie et du beau temps. Sinon, je lisais pendant qu’ils regardaient la télé. Quand même, je suis assez contant d’être revenu. Chez moi et sur l’internet … Probablement, ils étaient très heureux de me voir, mais moi, j’ai perdu (y compris les voyages) quatre jours de ma vie. J’espère que je ne devrai pas y aller l’année prochaine.

 

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A9 dualling begun

Construction work on converting the A9 between Perth and Inverness into a dual carriageway has begun with Kincraig to Dalraddy as the first of the 12 sections to be completed by 2025.
BBC: Work begins on dualling A9 from Inverness to Perth
Having once almost died on this road I’m naturally glad to learn that at long last the upgrade has physically begun – and like most people wish it could be finished earlier.

Map of the sections from Transport Scotland (click on map to visit website for details)

 

Borders Railway (re)opened

Almost half a century after the closure of the Waverley Route as a result of the Beeching reports, passenger trains have returned to the Borders: first for those meriting a ‘golden’ ticket and the following day, Sunday 6 September 2015, for the general public.
BBC: Borders-to-Edinburgh railway opens as longest UK line in century
The new line was ‘officially’ opened three days later but I’ve already sneered at that phenomenon. Anyway, what matters is that the railway is back. As a lifelong fan of rail travel I’m glad for the locals’ sake and hope more will follow – extension of this line, one to St Andrews and so on. The only damper is that even if I put this new line on my bucket list, I’ll probably kick the bucket before being able to enjoy the journey myself . . .

 

Fògradh

From Prague airport to the main railway station, then (naturally from the farthest platform) southwards by train and later by replacement bus service, getting another half-hour doze in the latter. Luckily had enough money left for a municipal transport ticket, otherwise it might take me hours to get the foil-wrapped rucksack and laptop case to Rob’s bar (his girlfriend on duty).

Left my baggage there and went to the foreign exchange – only to be reminded of what I had known but forgotten during those three and a half years, namely that in this bloody country no financial institution accepts Scottish banknotes. After a few more futile tries I at least managed to agree at the hostel where Rob had reserved a place for me to pay for a week rather than a month to begin with. The hostel was so shabby it made Firhill Court look like a five-star hotel in comparison but I was too beaten down to give a fuck; at least I had a roof.

I returned to the bar, charged my mobile and laptop, spent some time on the Net (meanwhile Rob changed his girlfriend), some more on a barstool, and before 10pm left for the hostel again, having decided I didn’t dare to bring the laptop there: would spent my laptop time at the bar until I found some safer accommodation. (Also decided to move the rucksack’s contents gradually in the laptop case.)

Stèisean-rèile Blàr Athall 2010.


Luckily at least my roommate turned out to be all right, a normal (and in fact attractive) young guy. We talked for a while but soon I went to sleep, totally knackered but in bed at long last. With little hope of life but with a reasonable amount of hope for survival.

 

The long goodbye to the UK

And so on 18 May I got up at midday, had a bath and a shave, ate up the last Spam tin, packed up, drank up the last vodka bottle, threw the last litter bags down the chute, and at four o’clock locked the door of – no longer my – house. Dropped the keys at the office and – with several stops along the way – walked to Buchanan Bus Station and thence rode to Glasgow International Airport.

As I feared, the rucksack was (2kg) overweight, so I had to discard some items; doing which its main zip broke and I had to have it foil-wrapped. Seven quid down, and only the wee top strap to use for moving (i.e. dragging) it around. The EasyJet flight was somewhat delayed “due to a technical problem”, which obviously didn’t improve my mood.

Nevertheless, we were in Stansted by 10pm, and my next flight was scheduled for 0645am. Moving the rucksack and laptop case on a trolley as if I was an OAP, I was killing time by smoking and reading T.C. Smout’s A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830 in the sitting area then in Café Balzar. In the latter I also connected to the Net to check the prices of the old country travel tickets I’d need.

It was a long wait, but finally the Ryanair desk opened. I drank up my second Beck’s (the last beer and in fact the last alcohol I’ve had to date), smoked my last fag on the British soil and went to board the plane. Some time after crossing the Channel I finally dozed off, even though I had music in my earphones, I was that knackered.

Needless to say, I was mighty depressed as well.

 

Dunkeld No 5

Inveraray was fine, but my final trip – on the very last day before leaving the country – had to be to Dunkeld. It was in its cathedral that I had promised myself to move to Scotland back in 2010; I had revisited in ’11, ’12 and (with Tommy) ’14; it is a sort of ‘holy’ place for me, if you see what I mean.

Contrary to the forecast the weather was sunny; I flirted with the idea of also revisiting Ossian’s Hall of Mirrors, but I was in a bit of a hurry back for Tommy’s last visit. (It was also so windy I was afraid of losing my cap.) Thus, I just strolled the town, had a fag on a bench on the cathedral lawn, and after the Sunday service was over sat for a very short time at ‘my’ seat (the hindmost leftmost one), promising myself it was not all over and I would be back. If the worst came to the worst, at least as a tourist. I even wrote to the visitors’ book “Bidh mi air ais” (signing myself with my prospective new name), donated a quid and went back.
 

Dunkeld Cathedral ’15.

In Glasgow I had my last pint of Tennent’s in Molly Malone’s and went to my house to wait for Tommy.

 

Inveraray

Tommy was too depressed to join me, even though after much hesitating I offered to pay for him; it rained during almost all the time I spent there; and the Castle’s interior wasn’t worth the £10 ticket – although the gardens with the Woodland and Bluebell Walks made up for that.

And yet. I had a beautiful trip past/via Loch Lomond (with Ben Lomond visible), Tarbet, Loch Long, Arrochar, The Cobbler/Beinn Artair, Rest and be thankful, Loch Restil, Cairndow and Loch Fyne; I did visit this place I had meant to see for quite some time; and I was once again in Argyll, the region I fell in love with last year. I was totally content.

After the Castle I walked the town for a while, amused by the CoS church surrounded by a roundabout and by the Episcopal one with the tower and (presumably) nave separated; had a pint of Guiness in a beautiful multiple-room dark-wooden bar of the George Hotel; and at the near Co-op bought the 8-pack of Tunnock’s wafers I’d bought so often when in Argyll last year as mentioned.

It cost me more than I could afford, but I never regretted it. It was my last ‘exploratory’ trip before leaving the country, it was Argyll, and I was gratified.

 

2014

It was a crazy year. I’d probably have to rack my brains quite a lot before I remembered another with such steep rises and falls.

I started it with a refurbished flat – and almost lost my job. While there were outstanding floods in southwest England and troubles in Ukraine, the job was going to the dogs anyway. Ukraine lost Crimea and I lost another tooth and had to go for a denture. Then I revisited the old country, had a trip to Dumbarton with Tommy – and did lose the job.

But I tripped alone to Rouken Glen Park and with Tommy again to Dunkeld, got another job, starting in Springburn, and while Glasgow was crazy with the Commonwealth Games I spent a very fine week in Dumfries, which included a trip to Caerlaverock Castle.

After Barrhead and Chesser, which improved my understanding the local dialect, I almost lost the job, but was taken on back while what was lost was the independence referendum. Immediately after which I had four magnificent weeks in Argyll with too many splendid trips to list here. Then I did lose the job.

And it became apparent that I was also losing Tommy, while Salmond was resigning. Sturgeon superseded him, the Smith Commission published its report, but I had to sign on. And when the first Scottish gay marriages were taking place I was still unemployed and by and large Tommy-less.

I do hope 2015 will be calmer. I had some absolutely great, exciting times, but the price was too high. I’d rather had less if it meant to pay less. As the saying goes, I’m too old for this game.

 

4th Argyll week

And the last. As before I’ll just note we stayed in Connel and worked in Oban again and briefly mention the main highlights:

Sunday: To Argyll in a van this time; got the room with the bunk bed.

Monday: After [night] shift began reading Teaching of Buddha by Bukkyō Dendō Kyōkai, which the hotel rooms offer alongside the usual Gideon Bible. (Wouldn’t have time to finish it and frankly wouldn’t much regret that.)

Tuesday: Trip to to Benderloch and climb up Beinn Lora: many benches and views along the way, no discernable path beyond the Ben Lora Viewpoint but getting to the summit anyway, agreeing with a guy we could spend hours there just watching the scenery, returning detour to the Eagle’s Eyrie viewpoint over Benderloch; the village with its ‘supermarket’, church and café-cum-bookshop. At the hotel bar showing photos from to Kyle. At night concluded that ‘mince pies’ are more about sweetness than meat.

Wednesday: Jaunt to Oban Airport, then past the Ledaig Caravan Park and back; starting back to North Connel realisation I had practically been there on my first North Connel jaunt. Placid chat with Kyle and Wee Al in the hotel bar.

Thursday: Final stroll to the Connel Bridge bench, watching clouds and sunshine passing over the hills beyond it, the kirk and the last two pints in the hotel bar, conversing with Steve this time.

Friday: Back to Glasgow. God knows when I’ll get to Argyll again, but it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that I had some gorgeous moments there.

 

3rd Argyll week

As before I’ll just note we stayed in Connel again and worked in Oban and briefly mention the main highlights:

Sunday: Tippling a bit while finishing Small Gods and rebeginning And the Land Lay Still, then back to Argyll.

Monday: The trip to Loch Awe to see St Conan’s Kirk: a strange but interesting building, for instance considering how few attendants it must have always had; possibly my first walking around a church cloister; lighting a candle (probably after years) “for all the dead in my life and that those still alive remain so as long as possible”; first pint of cider in the hotel bar (it would become a tradition).

Tuesday: The trip for a Cruachan power station guided tour (not much to see but the guide’s narrative interesting), then on my own by what proved to be a very steep then muddy slope onto the dam; the way down (washing the mud off my shoes in some stream, seeing several horned sheep and discovering Loch Awe was much larger); emerging in Loch Awe rather than Falls of Cruachan (thus seeing St Conan’s Kirk again). The sights, uphill, on the dam and downhill, were stunning; altogether another elating trip.

Wednesday: running out of reachable destinations (and knowing I’d be back for another week) finished God Knows – the ‘UK’ part before a short jaunt through the village and the night shift, the US epilogue just after that.

Thursday: Finally no trip or jaunt, enjoying instead having (since Tuesday afternoon) the hotel room all for myself.

Friday: Return to Glasgow (with a stop in Inveruglas in sight of the power station pipelines) where the Net was down – and stayed so until just before it was time to leave again on Sunday.

 

2nd Argyll week

Too much happened to describe it in detail, so I’ll just note we stayed and worked in Oban and briefly mention the main highlights:

Sunday: The journey there, romantically cloudy before the dark set in.

Monday: The trip to Lochgilphead on a sunny, even hot day, reflecting that (Mid-)Argyll countryside was different from the Highlands as I had known them till then – more hilly than mountainous (and thus more to my liking, though not entirely a match for good old Perthshire); finding the Argyll & Bute Council at last after strolling through the wood; back in Lochgilphead the UHI bungalow, the bay (with Ardrishaig to the right), (maybe my first ever) pint of real ale in an inn (wouldn’t know it from lager to be honest).

Tuesday: The trip to Dunollie Castle, its “1745 house” (with a real weaver’s loom) and the forecourt (with a fineview of Kerrera), the fields (and the sheep); back in Oban a pint in a pub, deciding on travelling to Mull instead of Inveraray as it was a “once-in-a-lifetime chance”.

Wednesday: The trip with CalMac to the Isle of Mull: past Kerrera to Craignure, thence to Tobermory – strolling the town, breakfast on a bench at the bay, the diminutive espresso in a bar, and then to Duart Castle (the bus driver giving us information over the intercom) – not bad despite a ban on taking photos, and the views around it as good as those duting the crossings. Past the Lismore lighthouse back to Oban, a bit knackered but likewise elated for having done it and enjoyed it.

Thursday: Surprisingly accompanied by Andy to St Columba’s RC Cathedral (only finished after WWII) and the Castle whence at his proposal up the Battleship Hill/Cnoc Càrnach (with amazing all-around view on the sunny day); coming back the Oban War and Peace Museum, with a video which was partly informative, partly fun to see how many of the places shown I had already visited.

(And on Friday back to Glasgow.)

 

1st Argyll week

Too much happened to describe it in detail, so I’ll just note we stayed in Connel and worked in Oban and briefly mention the main highlights:

Sunday: The journey past Loch Lomond (watching Ben Lomond), through Inverarnan, Crianlarich and Tyndrum; the stroll through sunlit Connel (with visit to St Oran’s Church), across the Connel Bridge and back; at night seeing illuminated McCaig’s Tower.

Monday: The trip to Oban (not knowing we’d stay there the following week), at first naturally to McCaig’s Tower, then along the Esplanade as far as the Dunollie lighthouse (not realising it was Kerrera I saw all the time), then just strolling the town.

Tuesday: The trip to Dunstaffnage Castle (with the smell of wood on the top gatehouse floor, the huge kitchen chimney and an easily overlooked layout) and the nearby chapel; offering advice on the route to some newcomers; once back seeing the ‘tidal’ Falls of Lora.

Wednesday: The trip to Taynuilt, with sunlit Beinn Duirinnis but Ben Cruachan’s top in a cloud; past cows to the end of the road, along the beach back and on to Muckairn Parish Church (with surprising public toilets nearby) and the A85. (The only day when I was apparently attacked by midges.)

Thursday: The jaunt to and beyond North Connel (West).

Friday: The journey back to Glasgow, having a pleasant chat on divers subjects lasting all the way with (driving) Rab.

And generally, of course, the hotel room (it was probably the first time I stayed in one with a sash window) and after-shift hotel breakfasts with the rest of the team. I was suprised to notice that toasts (with butter &c) are apparently generally treated here more as a starter than a side dish for the main course.

 

Dumfries – part II

The three trips deserved their own entries, but I should add a few more things:

For instance, that in the meantime the Commonwealth Games commenced in Glasgow. It was fine to know that one was more than seventy miles away from the madding crowd.

In the end they found no accommodation for us for the additional day, so we went home on Friday morning only to return at night. (Nevertheless, ending at six in Dumfries and going by car saw me at home earlier than ending at seven in Coatbridge and going by train like I did the week before.)

Mobile coverage was pathetic: whether or not you would at a given moment have signal was anybody’s guess. Despite looking forward to having a shower instead of a bath, in the end I didn’t, my roommate sleeping almost permanently between shifts. And on Wednesday the battery in my wristwatch (still from the old country) finally went flat.

On the positive side I believe I made more linguistic progress. Enlarged my vocabulary (e.g. motor meaning a car, Del being a general nickname for Dereks), heard some surprising pronunciations (chappy for a chippy) and some words I had only known in writing (fae for for).

All in all it was a rather untypical, but a most satisfactory week.

 

Dumfries Castle

Likewise I put to good use Wednesday. Having noticed the previous day a Castledykes Park I did some research and found out that there was or had been a Dumfries Castle. So I went to find out which it was.

At first I discovered the gardens; then after some desultory strolling around the knolls I came across a board with the park’s map showing a Castle Hill. Upon getting onto which I found a cairn confirming that the castle belonged to the past. I had a gratifying smoke on the lawn all the same and returned; passing St Michael’s Kirkyard I popped in to see the Burns Mausoleum again.

(I must also mention the many rabbits – in Dumfriesshire, not just in this park. As far as I remember, during the last decade or two I had only seen them in Coatbridge.)

Living in this odd style of a night worker and a day tripper I didn’t regret the money and had a cone of ice cream on my way back to fight the heat wave. Probably my first one here – not that it was any different than on the Continent.

On Thursday, however, I went to sleep after work and more or less only got up to attend the following shift.

 

Caerlaverock Castle (& The Wardlaw)

Neither did I waste Tuesday. Despite its being another scorcher of a day, I took a one o’clock bus to Caerlaverock Castle and enjoyed it a lot.

After a fashion the ruins reminded me of Bothwell Castle; I liked these even better for being still surrounded by a moat filled with water. Taking the path encircling the moat I then also discovered the foundations of the first castle, and thanks to the scarcity of buses and the tea room’s prices had enough time to climb the nearby Wardlaw hillock, overlooking the Solway Firth. (I’m still not fully used to tourist paths blocked by closed gates which you go through without comitting trespass, but I got there.)

For some reason, already in the castle I felt a (mentally) invigorating effect; sitting in a shade on a bench up the knoll and watching the countryside was even better. Strangely, I missed Tommy a bit for a companion, but at the same time quite enjoyed being there all on my own. I probably hadn’t felt as strong and self-possessed for a few months.

 

Three Dumfries museums

Despite working nights in Dumfries I didn’t waste the days either. Awoken by a fire alarm test after a few hours of sleep last Monday I walked to the town, visited three museums (and for old times’ sake the local M&S) and yet had time for a bit more sleep before another shift. (During which it turned out we would have to stay a day longer, but that’s another story.)

Robert Burns House: Quite interesting. Not as a home of a national poet, but as a home of an 18th-century man of letters working for the Excise. And cosy. In fact I wouldn’t mind living there, as long as it was provided with the 21st-century amenities I’m used to. (Ceteris paribus, I’d certainly rather live there than in Abbotsford, even if money wasn’t an issue.)

Dumfries Museum: Leaving this ‘principal’ one (situated in a former windmill) I reflected that often these places surprise me by featuring something, however banal, that I don’t remember having seen before except in a picture. Here it was a smithy bellows, an adze, a horse plough, a grandfather clock with a second hand – and a stuffed stoat, next to a stuffed squirrel which was bigger.

Old Bridge House: On the other hand, I didn’t see the point of this one’s existence. It didn’t seem to have any relation to the bridge; just a random collection of archaic bric-a-brac (however nice, the dentist’s chair in particular) which might have been placed anywhere.

 

Moffat

Going for my second Dumfries stint by the same bus I saw it for the second time and concluded: Moffat is definitely a picture-postcard town. I have probably never seen with my own eyes anything as picturesque as its sunlit High Street on a summer Sunday afternoon.

 

Dumfries – part I

The beginning was bad enough. After just two hours of sleep between returning from a night in Coatbridge and leaving for Johnstonebridge and another one in the hotel I found myself stuck almost twenty miles away from the store with no means of transport and no idea how to contact the rest.

After that things began steadily improving. I was fetched by one of the guys, with whom I then chatted most of the way with surprising ease. After the shift some more chatting with the team leader, having some hopes about payments confirmed and exceeded, later on with my roommate – and eventually the much needed sleep. About eleven uninterrupted hours.

I realise that when they talk to me they probably try and approximate RP for my sake, instead of speaking altogether spontaneously. Even so I seem to be at long last really ‘tuning in’ to the dialect, however slow and gradual the process is. Exposure is unsubstitutable.

A place in a car was found for me for the remaining commutes, then back to Glasgow. Things have begun looking better both financially and linguistically; despite all my blunders they don’t even seem to consider me a pain in the arse. Perhaps because I was never too shy of work?

 

Coatbridge

Apparently there is no rail service from Glasgow to Whifflet on Sundays, so I had to go to Coatbridge Sunnyside and be there far too early for my night shift. Which was a blessing in disguise. I had travelled through the town on several occassions when we had had to pick up some workmates there. But only now I had the chance to ‘sightsee’ the town centre for a half-hour or so: through the Main Street past St Patrick’s Church, up Church Street to St Andrew’s Church and with a detour to Muiryhall Street back again. I didn’t see much, but I liked what I saw.

 

Gàidhealtachd ’13 dealt with

On Sunday I finally finished ‘processing’ all the photos and notes from the tour I made last October with my friends from the college.

It only lasted, after the first night in Glasgow, four days: visiting Glengoyne Distillery and climbing Ben Lomond on the first; walking the last two legs of the West Highland Way on the second and third; returning via Balquhidder and Stirling to Edinburgh on the last. Even so it was packed with too many memorable moments to even attempt listing here. Definitely one of my best ‘bummels’ ever.

There are two things I can’t help mentioning though: First, that I felt more like I belonged than often during my last few trips with them in the old country. I put this down to the fact that here, we all had reason to talk about both that land and this.

And second, the bliss of being again amongst close friends who are at the same time one’s contemporaries. Feeling one’s age without feeling one’s age, as it were. I don’t experience that sensation every year.