Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Highs and Lows

Andy with friends at his Corbett completion on Sgurr a’Chaorachain

The High

This weekend I attended a momentous event in my favourite part of the whole world. My pal Andy completed his round of Corbetts on a mountain on the Applecross peninsula. Corbetts are mountains between 2500 feet and 3000 feet and there are 221 of them dotted all over Scotland and some keen hill walkers, but not me, start working through the list of them after they complete their Munros (hills over 3000 feet).

Andy’s feat is more exceptional than most because he is a postie and has to work most Saturdays, also and most incredibly he can’t drive and has managed to access remote areas using public transport and lifts from his fans.

Applecross has featured before on this site. Normally we have bad weather there but this trip saw cloud smattered blue skies and 360° views towards Skye, Lewis, Kyle, Knoydart, Torridon and even as far as the crowning towers of An Teallach just south of Ullapool. I hate the much misused word awesome, but this experience deserves the title.

Much champagne was drunk on the summit and buckets of red wine and beer washed down the excellent seafood at the Applecross Inn later in the evening.

Colin and I caught up with old friends in the village and enjoyed the hospitality they showed to our friends in the Ochil Mountaineering Club.

The Low

Yesterday I received a letter from the Scottish Book Trust informing me I was not successful in my application for their New Writers Bursary. I am used to receiving rejections for my novel Torque, but somehow this was harder to accept. I was gutted.

I worked hard in the morning to shift my black mood. I knew I had to do something positive. I sent off another submission and that nudged the mood into second place but it crept back in. At lunch time I went to my Pilate's class. That did the trick, not only because of the physical stimulation this gave me but because of this view from the hall. It took my breath away quicker than my class.

Fifty First Timer No.14

Swim in the Sea

I know it is terrible to reach this half century never having swam in the sea, but I am scared of water. It is a miracle I can swim. Deep water is a no go area for me. One of my goals for this year was to complete a triathlon but I realised early on, when I couldn’t stop at the deep end, I had to scratch the idea.

Hong Kong first week was spent at Silver Mine Beach on Lantau. I had no excuse. It took three days for me to work up to this but on an overcast afternoon in between showers I squeezed into my cozzie and headed for the shark protection area. I walked into the semi warm water until it brushed my shoulders then swam, not outwards where I would grow out of my depth, but parallel to the shore.

Everyone told me the buoyancy in the sea would make me feel more secure, not so, all that bouncing around unnerved me. But I was happy enough to keep going for a wee while then I waded towards the beach and sat with the sea lapping up to my neck. The water helped to sooth the multitude of mosquito bites I had accumulated and would continue to collect throughout the holiday.

Silvermine Beach preparing for the Dragon Boat Races

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Where have I been?

HONG KONG – that’s where.

It all began with a smooth transfer through the infamous Terminal Five

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region consisting of many islands, the biggest and busiest of which is Hong Kong Island, but it also takes in Kowloon and the New Territories on the mainland which stretch from the coast up to the China border.

And what a fabulous place it is. We spent three weeks sampling everything this diverse area has to offer. The town of Mui Wo on the island of Lantau was our perfect first week base. It is tranquil and unique despite being on the other side of a mountain from Hong Kong’s massive International airport, and only a half hour ferry ride from the city.

Second week we moved to Hong Kong Island for a couple of days before heading up into China for a short and fascinating three day trip. On our return we kipped up at the YMCA in Kowloon which gave us a head start in the mornings to explore the New Territories. But more of that later.

There were many things I loved about this holiday. I managed many Fifty First Timers. I also developed a habit of eating with chopsticks. When one night I was presented with a knife and fork I felt weird. But the best bit was the transport. I fell in love with my Octopus Card

The transport system is a model which should be replicated all over the world. An Octopus card is like a credit card you can top up with cash at stations and ferry terminals. With this card you can travel on any form of transport in the region; small island buses, trains, ferries, trams. You can even use it to buy groceries if you run short of cash. Most of the fares are a set fare whether you travel one stop or ten but it doesn’t matter because the fares are pennies. The only exception I found was on the MTR (Mass Transit Railway). Swipe the card to enter the paid area and swipe it again to leave, the card is only reduced by the number of stops travelled. It’s easy.

On Mui Wo everyone travelled by bike to the ferry terminal then hopped over the water to work.

As well as being cheap all the transport runs on time and even the MTR at rush hour was never as crowded as the London Under ground is. And no one rushes, everyone walks because they know that if they miss one train another one will come along in a minute.

The Trams were a treat to ride on

The other thing I noticed was how health and safety conscious everything is. In the MTR stations the train lines are held behind glass panels that only slide open to board passengers, something that only occurred to me when I read in the local paper about a boy in Tokyo who pushed a stranger onto a train track only because he ‘wanted to kill someone’.

Because of the geography of the area the Hong Kong people have been plagued with landslides. Because of this they civil engineering group have a continuous programme of making slopes safe. Their slogan is ‘Safe Slopes Saves Lives’. Each slope is registered and has its own number. Unfortunately we discovered while we were there that not all slopes have made the grade. More later.