Singularity

Tag: scotland

The Saturday after the Thursday before – thoughts on the referendum

by on Sep.20, 2014, under Miscellany

avatarSo, here we are. It’s all over, and this is where the recriminations and thuggish celebrations could so easily undo all the good that has been done during the campaign.

I’ve been silent on the issue, and will remain so as far as which way I voted — that being a matter between me and my ballot paper — as there is a political sensitivity to my day job profession. As a writer, it has been an interesting experience, to be both part of the process but also, because I was obliged to remain apart from the arguments, to be an outside observer.

I’m with Irvine Welsh, as much as I’m with anyone. No matter which way you voted, no matter how you feel about the outcome, what was achieved was almost 100% voter registration and a massive 85% turn-out. The one thing no one can accuse Scotland as a nation of being is apathetic or disengaged.

I’m distressed to see people I know posting insults about “No” voters, accusing them of being traitors or feart*. The one thing that really would see Scotland as a nation lose from this exercise is if the population were to be split down the middle, with one half hating the other. As the campaign went on, and the polls came out, I knew only one thing was certain: whatever happened, approximately half the population was going to be extremely upset and pissed off by the result.

I didn’t need hindsight for that.

I hope, with every fibre, that this split does not come to characterise our nation as we move forwards. I don’t think this matter is settled. As the promises of three old Etonians, made in their panicked run-up to the referendum without any backing from Westminster, crumble to dust in the cold light of the morning after — as we all knew they would — there is every chance that Scotland will see another referendum before this generation has made way for the next.

There are already disappointed Yes campaigners organising themselves to go again, and do it better this time.

I’d make a plea, to anyone trying to fathom how it is someone could have voted differently from them, whether Yes or No, to bear some things in mind. These are things I learned during my years of cycle campaigning, things that were often ignored by my fellow campaigners.

  • DO accept that other people have different opinions from you, and it’s not because they are bad people; it’s because they have reached a different conclusion from you after assessing the evidence available to them.
  • DON’T assume you know the reasons why people who feel differently from you feel that way. If you could see valid reasons for them to feel that way you might feel the same. You will therefore be forced to imagine invalid reasons for them to take that position, which will only lead to arguments and frustration.
  • DO try to engage with people who feel differently from you, and do so in a constructive and open manner. It might be worth starting with what they thought of the question they were being asked in the first place. For a great many people, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” is neither straightforward nor easy to answer.
  • DON’T assume people who were quiet about their decisions will give you a heartfelt answer when asked why they feel the way they do. There is a degree of peer pressure and fear of judgement when it comes to positions that have a social impact. Everyone has a Social Survival Mammoth, and for a great many, it’s the mammoth answering the questions. People are more likely to answer honestly about their primary reason for their opinion to those who feel the same way, because additional reasons for feeling that way will cement their acceptance in that peer group. If asked by someone who takes an opposite stance, people will probably give one or more of the commonly reported responses.
  • DO stay positive and keep agitating for change. This wasn’t, no matter what the media might say, an overwhelming outcome. Very nearly half of all those living in Scotland voted to leave the UK. That’s a near miss, not a routing.
  • DON’T be surprised by a catankerous old boys network hurling scorn and reneging on last minute promises. Politics has become a hive of playground tactics, and the only surprise should be that they haven’t yet yanked their shirts over their heads while running around with their arms out as if doing an impression of a fat aeroplane.
  • DO try to remain civil, open, understanding, non-judgemental, co-operative and forward-looking, no matter how hard it is. Defeatism is the last thing we need. The No voters didn’t vote that way because they are traitors; nor did the Yes voters. Fear characterised much of the campaigning on both sides: if it had gone the other way, plenty could have said it was because Scots were afraid of being forced to leave Europe, or losing the NHS. As it is, there are those saying the No vote came about because selfish people were afraid of losing their pensions. It’s just not that straightforward.
  • DON’T let what happens next be informed by spite, bitterness, hate or revenge.

Rather than focus on what might have been, let’s look at what we can do to make things better now. At the end of the day, that was what the No campaign promised: “Better Together”. Well, okay then. For a whole host of reasons, slightly more than half of the people of Scotland believed that was true, or at least more plausible than better apart.

Never mind the details for the moment. Just think on this: while the Scottish referendum was decided by the 5 million people north of the border, the rest of the world was watching. If, in fact, “Better Together” turns out to be fabricated entirely from tissue paper and lies, false promises and wishful thinking, a dying sense of empire and an archaic, tight-fisted grasp on historical precedent, then what are the 56 million other British people going to think of promises made to them?

This has been a wake up call. Let’s make the most of it.

*Please don’t assume this tells you how I voted.

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Aberdeen Assault 1

by on Jun.27, 2014, under Aberdeen Assault, Cycling, Dumb Run

avatarIn previous years, we’ve done the Dumb Run, and it has been good. It has been great. I have splendid memories from those rides, from Will yelling “WILDFLOWERS AND SHAME” at the sleeping citizens of Linlithgow at 3am, to the little guy in hi-viz who threw a total hissy fit at us for taking pictures of jelly babies on the Forth Road Bridge at 4am.

But this year is different. This year I don’t have the motivation to ride a train all the way to Dumbarton, ride a bike to St Andrews, then ride in a car all the way back up to Aberdeen again. Frood doesn’t have the motivation to drive all the way down to St Andrews at silly o’clock on a Sunday morning, just so we can have coffee and beer at the side of a golf course. He’s not keen on being the calamity wagon if it’s going to take him 3 hours just to get there.

So we’re changing.

A couple of years ago, the LGC mooted the idea of the Aberdeen Assault – in addition to DR, not as a replacement. Well, this year it is the replacement.

Aberdeen Assault Route

If this is as nice a ride as I think, this is likely to become my replacement overnight Solstice Century. Most of the people who have done the DR in the past are either east coast folks or have been staying with me as a guest, so this is equally convenient. Aberdeen has better transport connections for the return trip than Leuchars, and the scenery will be much better.

I’ll report back and let you know how we get on.

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Restless

by on Jun.08, 2013, under Planet Sam, rambling

avatarI love living in Scotland. I missed it terribly while I was down south and experienced a profound sense of relief when I came back. I spent the best part of twenty years in England, and the only way I can think to describe the difference is to imagine what it feels like to be on a crowded train, where you can’t move without bumping into someone. Then imagine what it’s like to be walking on a hillside with only a few other people around and none of them especially close. The difference is one of expansion, but then that might be the synaesthesia talking.

Then again, in Scotland we have places like this:

The beach

And this:

Heather hues

So it’s an odd thing for me to experience, as I do today, the sudden urge to pack up and go to another country. I have an itch to revisit Bavaria, or the Austrian Tyrol; to spend some time in Scandinavia or acquaint myself with the Basque country; to explore the hinterlands of Russia or hike the Caucasus. The other tell-tale and oh-so-familiar sign of restlessness is the ready distraction of my collection of recipe books, as RB2 declares dissatisfaction with everything on our current menu list and demands NEW FOOD.

I have no idea what has brought this on. It’s as sudden and unpredictable as a summer squall and, while familiar, not something that has happened in two or three years. In a couple of weeks, I’m visiting Toulouse for the wedding of a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in too long to mention, and perhaps that will satisfy the itchy feet.

Tomorrow there is Knockburn Loch sprint triathlon, and today I’m chained to my desk with deadlines glowering at me over the temporal near horizon. If that doesn’t serve to distract me, it may be time to start planning a roadtrip.

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In transition

by on Jan.19, 2012, under Life with Frood, Planet Sam, Writing

avatar I had hoped to be blogging rather more regularly by now. Unfortunately we’re still not properly settled in Aberdeen, and currently working with intermittent access to the internet. I’m busy with the new job and various writing projects, trying to squeeze the words in between work, food and sleep. My hypergraphia, which trundles along for most of the year but usually goes for broke in November/December, was a month late this year, and I’ve been frantically scribbling things I can’t use since just before Christmas. It does get in the way.

Hi-Ex Comic Con logo
Both Frood and I will be attending Hi-Ex in Inverness at the end of March, seeing as how it’s practically just up the road. If any fellow writers/artists/comic fans/circumstantial-cyclists want to say hi, he’s the one with the beard and I’m the one with the black right eye and the Pictish tattoo. We’d love to meet you.

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Winterval

by on Dec.27, 2011, under Life with Frood, rambling

avatarAs has become something of a tradition over the past couple of years, we’re spending Christmas away from (temporary) home in the company of family. As is also something of a tradition, we’re spending the holiday season in the back of beyond where there is almost no phone reception, so if you have sent me any text messages wishing me good cheer and I haven’t replied it’s not because I don’t love you any more: I haven’t received it. We do, however, have wifi and this year I brought a laptop so I can continue writing.

I think the river might be in spate, or something
The lodge where we’re staying is amazing. Seriously amazing. I could live in a house like this quite happily. The only thing that could make it better is if it were a lighthouse, but I’m being picky. The weather so far has been fairly grim and dreich, so the light has been far too poor for taking photographs. Still, I snapped this shot of the view from the upper balcony in an effort to show the spectacular view of the torrents roaring constantly in the background. We sleep with the window open.

Yesterday Frood and I went out with the parents on a short but windy, wet and enjoyable bike ride to explore a little. Needing something that would fit on the rack, and with most of the noble steeds in storage, I was obliged to bring Shackleton, sporting his brand new wheels (more on that particular saga later). The thing is, I’ve put the Hutchinson Gold Cross tyres on him in preparation for the snows, and I left the 16 tooth sprocket on, so he’s currently rolling around with gear inches in excess of 70. This would be fine for the hill-free streets of Aberdeen, but out here in the wilds the roads come in lumpy. I think we did all of 6 miles yesterday and my legs are no longer speaking to me. I am seriously out of practise on fixed!

Finally, here is medium-sized Stitch (still on his Scotland tour) wearing the Stitch slippers Nick and Candice got me for my Christmas:

One Stitch with the feet of another

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A room with a view

by on Nov.01, 2011, under Life with Frood, Photography

avatarIt has been a month of big changes. When we moved to Scotland — a return to home territory for me but a new country of residence for Frood— we initially lived in Fife. I was born and mostly raised in Fife (even if my most potent childhood memories are all of the west coast, Highlands and Islands), so the territory was one with which I was gratefully familiar. It’s hard enough making a change of job that significant without having to learn a new geography as well, at least when the job requires a good local knowledge.

Fife, in passing

After a year or so I transferred to Edinburgh, as Frood was working there and was tired of the lengthy commute and the seasonal rail fares taking up a significant chunk of his monthly pay. We’ve been living and working in and around Edinburgh for four years, which is by no means the least time I’ve spent in any one place, although it’s towards the bottom of the scale.

Dark TowerI am restless by nature, easily bored and always looking for the next intellectual challenge. I doubt I will ever be satisfied with going in to work to do the same thing day after day. My comfort zone is not static. It’s more of a bouncy castle, floating in a swimming pool on the deck of an ocean liner in the middle of a storm.

Fortunately, just as my feet were growing itchy again, the desire to get back to dealing with the technical specialisms of water pricking at their otherwise insensitive soles, an opportunity came along.

This month we’re in the process of upping sticks and moving to where granite rock glistens in the salt spray of the North Sea and radon seeps from the ground in quantities insufficient to have any significant health implications, never mind be enough to activate the Marveliser (dammit). Here the local tongue is the Doric and I will be as linguistically handicapped as Frood, for my knowledge of the Doric starts and ends with poorly-remembered episodes of Scotland the What? from an old audio cassette we used to have.

I have managed to get lost three times in the last week, a decent sense of direction apparently being insufficient when there is a complete lack of familiar place names and/or landmarks. I am learning that it gets dark damnably early, especially since the clocks went back, and that the warnings about it being cold did not take into account the preferences of a cryophiliac like me. My ride to work in the mornings is short enough that I arrive before I’ve really got going. The supermarkets have the same names above the entrance and yet their selection of goods is both entirely expected and unfamiliar: along with the dubious pre-packed pizzas and DVDs for £3 I can buy daikon radish at the Morrison’s on King Street —an item of exotica never seen in Granton’s Waterfront Broadway store— and, wondrous wonder, CR2032 batteries, yet I cannot buy gluten-free plain flour there. The Sainsbury’s in Berryden, in addition to the usual range of chocolate and teabags, sells special handles for poach pods but doesn’t have any Spanish smoked paprika or Clearspring white miso.

Cultural and consumable differences aside, what has struck me the most is something both more and less mundane:

A room with a view

That’s the view from my office window. This is my lunchtime run route.

I think I’m going to like it here. I hope Frood will, too.

Now I just need to find somewhere selling Celestial Seasonings Apple and Cinnamon Spice tea.

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Winter wonders

by on Jan.10, 2011, under Photography, rambling

avatar I have a couple of pictures for you today and not many words to go with them. The first is a photograph of a red squirrel. He was on a tree above the Falls at Acharn, which when we visited were frozen into a cascade of sharpened, jagged teeth and chaotic, amorphous, billowing pillows of sugary ice. I will post pictures of that when I’ve decided which are the best.

My mum thought this little chap was playing peek-a-boo around tree. To me he looked more like a celebrity fleeing the paparazzi, and I was lucky to get a shot of him at all. He was last seen scampering across a fallen tree under the bridge to escape our enthusiastically pointing fingers. The red squirrel is up there on the shortlist of Scotland’s iconic animals, along with the Highland Coo and the haggis. I’ve always assumed that Ratatoskr was a red.

Squeeble!

This second picture I took on a horrible, grim, dreich day when the snow was starting to soften and melt. Frood was attempting to stack rocks on the shores of Loch Tay and grumbling about the soft schist and cold fingers. I was disappointed by the light and lack of things to photograph. And then I saw this:

Winter tears

I am not entirely sure what process caused this ice formation, with its fat drops hanging from the brittle, delicate sheet above. I could hazard some guesses and have pondered it at length. And yet, at the same time, I am content to have found a moment of startling and unexpected beauty and captured an echo of it as a souvenir.

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Christmas wildlife

by on Jan.07, 2011, under Life with Frood, Planet Sam, rambling

avatarAs I mentioned in an earlier post, Christmas this year was spent on the south shore of Loch Tay, at Bracken Lodges. Frood and I were both working on Christmas Eve, as well as doing the Christmas dinner, so by the time we got home from work and got everything packed and into the car it was quite late.

It was also incredibly cold. And snowing. We’d had an early start on the back of a month of early starts, which, coupled with my insomnia, meant that I knew that the drive was going to be a tiring one before we started. I did seriously contemplate leaving it until the morning, but I knew Mum and Dad would be disappointed, so I HedTFU and got on with it.

Because the weather had been extremely wintry for several weeks the outer lane on the M90 was restricted width and there was no hard shoulder. The A9 wasn’t much better. There was too much snow. It was also -15°C, which is down around the point where grit stops working. I own a Ford Mondeo Estate, front wheel drive and back-end heavy, and it’s a pain in the ass in slippery conditions, so I was driving very carefully. The other issue we had is that the CD player in my car broke sometime last year, swallowing several of my CDs in the process. There is no MP3 player port so we’re reduced to listening to whatever we can find on the radio.

At the turn-off towards Aberfeldy we hit the roads that hadn’t been gritted adequately and, coincidentally, I became fed up with the interminable club dance tracks Scott Mills was playing on Radio 1. Classic FM was out because it was non-stop little boys singing carols, so I took a gamble on Radio 2 and found a fascinating documentary about Kenny Everett. For the next 45 minutes we minced along the road at about 20mph, discovering that Kenny did all of his special effects using just two tape decks — including the 8 part harmonies in which he was the only one singing. The world turned gradually more and more surreal as Captain Kremen’s Granny turned up and the snow kept falling.

Part of the route coincided with the road I’d ridden during the Aberfeldy Sprint, and I remarked that I’d been faster on the bike. That’s how carefully we had to drive.

At Kenmore we turned onto the narrow, single-track road that winds along the coast of the loch. By the time we got to the other side of Acharn I was really tired, and suffering from continually peering at a frosty road in low visibility with nothing but dark vegetation, the occasional dry stone wall and lots of snow either side of me. The road there was so slippy that I had to concentrate even harder on maintaining momentum over the ice without going so fast that the car slid out of control down the steep bank to the right and, for all I knew, straight into the water.

Frood had been using his GPS to track progress, but kept getting confused between distance to destination and distance to next junction, so I’d been given several conflicting miles to go messages. After what felt like the whole of eternity I asked Frood to call Mum and ask her if this place had a sign or something, because I was sure we’d missed it.

“Don’t worry,” he told me. “She says there’s a big blue Christmas tree right at the entrance and you can’t miss it.”

At about this moment a deer bounded across the path, eyeing us using that backwards glance they give things they don’t like but have ascertained aren’t really predators and couldn’t catch them anyway.

“Grand,” I replied, trying to get my heartrate back to normal after controlling a slight skid under braking.

Ten minutes later there was a dip in the road followed by a slight rise. As we crested this the deer was back and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

It had a blue arse. There was a deer, all delicate legs and waggly ears, looking at us backwards, and there was a bright, electric blue glow where its arse was.

The Blue-Arsed Deer of Perthshire

The Blue-Arsed Deer of Perthshire

I goggled at this like… Well, like you would imagine anyone goggling at a deer with blue light streaming out of its arse. I wondered what in the hell it had been eating.

After a moment the deer hung a sharp left but the blue light didn’t. There was the Christmas tree and there was my mum, standing at the side of the road waving her arms in the air.

I can’t remember the last time I was that relieved to arrive anywhere mostly intact. And, even knowing that what I saw was the light of the Christmas tree, what I remember and always will remember of our drive up north for Christmas is a deer with bright blue light coming out of its arse.

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The long and winding road

by on Jan.03, 2011, under Photography, rambling

avatarI spent Christmas and New Year with Frood and my parents — my brother and his girlfriend Candice joined us for New Year. Like last year, my parents had rented a place somewhere far away from work: this year it was on the south shore of Loch Tay, at Bracken Lodges, a little way along from Acharn. It was a beautiful setting, informed by mountains and water and, for most of it, thick drifts of snow and sheets of ice. I’ve brought back more than 200 photographs, and it’s going to take me some time to go through them all and choose the best ones.

This is one of my favourites so far:

Dreaming of a white Christmas

2010 has been an interesting year, to use the word in the context that Pratchett used it in, if I recall correctly, Small Gods. It has gone incredibly quickly — it seems to be no time at all since we were sitting in the lodge at Erigmore for last year’s Christmas — and in some ways it has been one of the longest years ever. It has certainly had its ups and downs and it’s one I think I shall chalk up to experience rather than relishing in fond memory.

I’d like to think that 2011 will see an upward rather than a downward trend. For the time being I am going to consider that in life’s game of Play Your Cards Right 2010 is what happened when Mr Forsyth turned over the four of spades.

Onwards and upwards.

The long and winding road

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Glassy skies and crystal waters

by on Dec.23, 2010, under Photography

avatarI find winter endlessly fascinating. Already people are complaining about the snow — SNOBEPOCALYPSE — and looking forward to the thaw. Not I. I love winter. Autumn is my favourite season, because it’s full of smells and textures and sensations and promises. Winter, though… Oh a proper winter steals my heart away and puts it in a crystal box and whispers “You can have it back if you’re a very, very good girl.”

And this year it has been a Proper Winter. We’ve had snow for weeks now, the roads icy beneath their demerara-sugar-and-beaten-butter slush; the fields white as a laundry powder commercial; the light so clear and brittle it feels like an entirely different world from the usual dreich greyscale of eastern Scotland.

I took this picture while out in the field. I was at Aberlady Bay, a nature reserve in East Lothian, not far from Gullane. There was thick ice covering the bed of the estuary, grey and organic-looking, as if an alien lifeform had oozed along there and left a trail; and these amazing circular structures of pancake ice on the surface. I didn’t think I’d ever get to see pancake ice in the wild. I must have been a very good girl indeed.

Aberlady Bay

Autumn is my favourite season but a proper winter feels like coming home.

Sunset at Aberlady Bay

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