Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Easter at the Ben Nevis Inn

No Room at the Inn

Fifty First Timer No.9

The forecast was ominous, snow and stormy winds. Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain was perhaps not the best planned venue to meet such weather. But the Ben Nevis Inn, crouched at the base of this giant proved to be the ideal doss.

We arrived on Good Friday to a check into the bunkhouse beneath the Inn. The bar was heaving with jolly hill walkers, but we were told by the harassed but cheerful staff that we would struggle to be served a meal.
'Oh no, I have been looking forward to coming here to eat.' I explained with genuine disappointment.
'We'll see what we can do, but you will have to go somewhere else tomorrow, we're full.' They had us eating grilled goats cheese followed by wild boar burgers within half an hour.

The bunk house consists of three sections opening out into a corridor. Each section has eight bunks. The kitchen is tight and the toilets scarce so it was just as well this club meet was small by normal standards. That evening Colin and I were joined by Lucy. Andy and Simon were to drive up on Saturday. The rest of the bunk house was filled with a mixture of foreign visitors, a group of five girls from Edinburgh and an assortment of walkers.

Colin met up with his climbing partner early next morning to catch the climber's Gondola up Aonach Mor. The cold weather had ensured fine winter climbing conditions on the Nevis Range.

Lucy and I, wary of forecast high winds, chose to explore the Glen Roy's parallel roads. These three parallel scores ring the glen like a series of tide marks in a bath and were caused by the formation of a glacial lake in different stages of freeze. Although from a distance they look like substantial tracks they turned out to be mere notions on a steep hillside.

On return to the Inn we were informed we had no chance of a meal, but then the owner decided we were a good bunch and yet again managed to accommodate us in between serving the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team with chips while they took a break from a shout.

If you ever go to Fort William visit this delightful Inn and if they tell you they are full for dinner, put on a sad face. I am sure this friendly crew will fit you in somehow.

Highland hospitality is alive and kicking about at the bottom of Ben Nevis

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Trouble at blog

Yesterday I created another blog for the great bunch of guys at Erskine Writers. This is a writing group I joined in September. We meet every week and when we don't have a visiting writer/publisher, we share our writing and provide general support.

The AGM was held yesterday and I was voted on to a sub post as website coordinator because apparently I am good at that sort of thing. But now I have mucked up not only my blog but the Get Reel blog too. One wonders if they made the right choice after all

Monday, 17 March 2008

Terrifying Times

Fifty First Timer No.8

Plant a tree

A fig tree to be exact. I love figs, I have a gallon of fig wine on the churn at the moment and I love to eat them with my porridge, but they come a long way from the growing fields to my table. I have no idea if my tree will bear fruit but I have to at least try.

Last year I grew blueberries in pots and once I managed to bring them in doors, into safety from the greedy birds, I cropped enough of this mega fruit to last at least a month. Not much I know, but I also planted a couple of gooseberry and black currant bushes this weekend. If I can supplement all by plonking in two apple trees and continue to scrounge plums from next door, I can then stew, bottle and freeze these fruits to last a while. I may just be able to reduce my fruit air miles a teeny fraction.

I also saved a tree. While pruning some over grown bushes I stumbled upon a spindly wee tree struggling to reach its head above the vigorous neighbours. I dug the runt out and gave it breathing space beside the gooseberries – I have no idea what this tree is but it looks happy.

The plan is to plant a buddleia too. No fruit but it is the best bush to encourage bees and butterflies back into the garden.

Fifty First Timer No.9

Step into the spotlight

On Saturday night I joined the Get Reel AllStars for an appearance on stage at the McLintock Hall, Balfron. This was part of the Rural Blend Festival organised by the Tolbooth, Stirling.

Get Reel is the traditional music group I attend each week to try and improve my guitar playing. Saturday evening was our annual performance as a group.

I trembled on stage along side my three fellow Get Reel guitarists, the Get Reel fiddlers and, thankfully, a couple of professional musicians. I have never been so terrified in my life. Our numbers rang out a series of missed notes but the audience didn’t seem to mind.

Once our slot was over the professionals took over.

First twins, Mike and Ali Vass treated us to a stirring set, playing the unusual combination of fiddle and piano. Mike is the quiet Get Reel fiddle tutor, but I found it hard to recognise that quiet man in the vibrant stage persona. He was born to perform.

After a short break, Lori Watson and the Rule of Three stormed the stage and treated us to traditional and experimental music from the borders. The trio of fiddle, accordion and a unique guitar playing style had the Balfron audience wondering how their small rural village had secured such a fine line-up.
Thank you Tolbooth for making it all possible.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Wonderful Women

This photo was taken one lunchtime in colourful Kuala Lumpur

International Women’s Day
8th March 2008

I have just had a look at this site for International Women’s Day and I am staggered by how much women have achieved in the last decade without compromising their femininity. The women featured in the clips are spokespersons for their sponsorship companies and hail from all over the world. They are pretty inspiring

I will be spending International Woman's Day with a bunch of writers at the Scottish Association of Writers Conference in Erskine and I suspect the majority of them are women.

As a gesture for this auspicious day I have included on this blog a link to The Breast Cancer Site which I click on daily. The more daily clicks the site receives the more money the sponsor gives towards free mammograms. I am oblivious to the adverts on the site and have the click button as a recurring appointment on my calendar. Every little helps and it only takes a minute.

The UK site doesn't host such a gimmick but it is still worth bookmarking and keeping up with their fundraising events throughout the UK.

Writing and Reading

My writing regime is sinking in another peat bog. Every day my morning pages are filled with good intentions, but there is always something else needed attended to.

The problem is many of my characters are only half formed and the fully formed ones are taking me into areas of unknown. This means I am required to research, which of course is a wonderful distraction.

One of the books I have just read in a desperate attempt to pull me out of the bog is Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons sub titled The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.

The book chronicles the author’s finding after a year long series of interviews with young girls and women on the subject of female bullying. This study was sparked by her casual question on the Internet, ‘how many women were bullied at school.’ The response she received was phenomenal; she was bombarded with cases, all with a similar story, that of, what she calls ‘Alternative aggression’ - non violent bullying.

Unlike boys who bully through violence and conflict, girls are taught from an early age to avoid conflict. The result of this lesson is a form of bullying that includes, rumour spreading, exclusion, silent treatment, and narrow eyed staring. I was surprised at how many of these devices I recognised from my youth and shocked at how many are still present in my adulthood.

Although this is a book of sociological study, the poetic style of writing made it a very enjoyable read. Simmons uses colourful and memorable metaphors to make her points. The book’s one flaw is that a number of issues are laboured and repeated.

Another book I have just completed as part of my research is the fascinating Grasping Africa by Stephen Chan.

I am red faced to admit that most of my knowledge of Africa comes from Wilbur Smith novels and Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari. Shocking I know! I am making amends now.
Grasping Africa begins at the Gleneagles G8 summit and rewinds to cover various aspects of African’s cultural and political history.

For such a modest book (171 pages) Grasping Africa does what it says on the cover. By skimming the surface of most of Africa’s nations, Chan has gifted me a taster of this vast continent. By also providing and discussing a number of novels and studies on the subject he’s provided me with enough food and distraction to keep me for my novel for the next six months.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Neil Young at Edinburgh Playhouse

Minto and I plus Michael (jun) and James were at the most wonderful concert last night. After waiting for 36 years at last Neil came to see us in Edinburgh. If he had been mediocre it would have been awesome; but he was brilliant so I don’t have a word for the experience!

We first saw him in Glasgow Apollo on 8th November 1973. It cost an astronomical £2.50.
My little sister Moira came with us then. With the successes of Harvest and After The Gold Rush still ringing in our ears we were all very excited to hear our old favourites. How were we to know that this tour was to go down in history as the one where he performed all of Tonight’s The Night (released 1975), with a couple of old favourites thrown in at the end? Oh Neil!

His support that night was rather excellent though; a little known band called The Eagles (yes, that’s right – but that’s a story for another day).

Note: He redeemed himself 20 years later in the SECC; another story for yet another day.

Back to last night. Neil made amends for The Apollo – and some! We sat down at 7.30pm and floated through 3 performances (Pegi Young, Neil unplugged, Neil electric) taking us up to midnight. This was Neil at his classic BEST and half the numbers pre-dated his ’73 concert. I won’t describe the detail; better people than I can do that:

Lining up our previous 3 audiences with Neil (1973, 1993 and also the 1996 SECC Crazy Horse heavy metal frenzy) I have always considered 1993 to be his finest by far.

Last night that all changed!

Setlist: http://www.sugarmtn.org/years/08nysets.html

Monday, 3 March 2008

The winter of change

I wanted to post a snowy photo of the hill, but tonight's stunning evening light was so pink the hill disappeared into the background. This photo was taken last year; the view is almost the same, minus the pink sky.

Fifty First Timer No.7

Attend a political meeting

Yes it’s true. I have almost reached the significant age of fifty and have never attended a political meeting, which is strange because there are so many causes that I feel passionately about. Maybe in my maturing years I will become a radical!

The meeting, 'Socialism in the 21st Century', was held in Glasgow University and organised by Rock Around The Blockade. The event had been brought to my attention by my mother in law who also attended with my niece. What I didn’t realise before the meeting was that it solely featured Cuba, a country I have been fascinated with since I read a book about the Bay of Pigs in school.

The representatives from RATB kicked off the proceedings with a propaganda rant that I could have done without. It was ‘comrade this’ and ‘comrade that’, I felt I had stumbled onto the film set of Citizen Smith. This tirade rambled on for ten minutes before the real speakers were introduced.

The first Cuban speaker was Yoselín Rufín Díaz, the twenty two year old President of the municipal Federation of University Students (FEU). She took her audience through systems of education in Cuba. With the exception of the twenty pupil class size what she told us appears similar to what is in place in the UK, but her enthusiasm and charm wafted over the audience and rose above the storm that raged outside. She inspired me so much I wanted to go back to school, but this time in Cuba.

The next speaker, Jesús Pastor García Brigos, had a magnificent soup strainer moustache which transfixed me. He spoke eloquently in English about the political systems in place in Cuba. It seems to me from what these speakers were saying that Cuba has implemented socialism in the way it was spelled out in theory.

Later Jesus answered a question raised by a secondary school pupil in the crowd about what made Eastern Block socialism fail. Jesus said that in Europe the Left have differing ideas. They need to agree on one idea and make that work.

From what I was hearing, I concluded that the Cubans may be poor, but they are all poor together within their sustainable economy and environment.
If I were Cuban and if the success story is true, I would build the blockade higher to prevent the invasion of the nasties of the so called developed world. Who wants trans-fats and market forces with all their evil trappings? The Cubans could end up like other developing nation and match the galloping diabetes statistics that now plague East Asia since they began eating crap processed foods.

The last speaker was worth battering through the streets of Glasgow in the torrential rain and force ten gale to attend this talk.

Orlando Borrego (Che’s pal)
What a charming man he is. Through the able translation of his candid interpreter, the charisma Borrego exuded transformed this political event into a one/two man show.

He used funny observations of his personal life and relaxed anecdotes about political giants Fidel and Chavez to explain the strong links between Cuba and Venezuela. But it was his Che Guevarastories that I could see enthralled the young kids in the audience and I couldn’t help but marvel at the legend of the Argentinean doctor.

I’m off to read ‘The Motor Cycle Diaries’

Just Read

The Pillars of The Earth by Ken Follett

Hurray, hurray, I have finished it, all 1076 pages of this epic tale of the building of a cathedral.

My son gave me the book as a Christmas present so I was mother bound to read it, but it has been a struggle. The story and the concept are reasonable enough but the writing is excruciating. The author finds it necessary to recap every few chapters. Either he thinks his reader are dense or he has forgotten the plot himself.

His characters are predictable and tinged with many shades of beige and the whole sorry tale is drenched in cliches.

This is probably the worst endurance test I have undertaken and I succeeded, I am so proud.

War and Peace will be a skoosh in comparison.

>The Nag

I am pleased to say the The Nag website have redeemed themselves. In their Mother's Day newsletter they recommended buying Fair Trade products as presents. I could find no profit in this for them. Keep it up chaps.

Fair Trade Fortnight

We are now in the middle of Fair Trade Fortnight, so I hope there is an extra push by the UK public to support this fine initiative. (My local Co-op stocks a huge range of their goodies including some decent wines).

It is just a pity Fair Trade's website was down at the beginning of the fortnight; hopefully is was due to high hits.