A Tory MP told a girl to “f*** off back to Scotland” when she said she’d vote for independence if a second referendum was triggered.
James Heappey’s outburst came as he addressed sixth-formers at the £12,000-a-year Millfield School in Somerset…
Last weekend was an exciting and unusual experience, full of exciting (expected) things interspersed with a handful of exciting (unexpected) things. Let’s go chronologically:
Thursday/Friday – Mario, Magic, Marriage
I left work, picked up a rental car (having unfortunately forgotten to take my counterpart driving license to the rental place, I had the choice of either cycling for an hour to collect it or else paying a fiver for them to run a DVLA check, and I opted for the latter on the grounds that an hour of my time (especially if I have to spend it cycling back and forth along the same stretch of road) is worth more to me than a picture of Elizabeth Fry. I drove home, packed a bag, said goodbye to Ruth, JTA, and Annabel, and drove up to Preston.
There, I spent most of Friday playing the new Mario game with my sister Becky, gave a few small performances of magic (did I mention I’m doing magic nowadays? – guess that’ll have to wait for another blog post) at various places around Preston, and went out for a curry with my mother, my sisters Becky and Sarah, and Sarah’s boyfriend Richard. So far, so ordinary, right? Well that’s where things took a turn. Because as Becky, our mother, and I looked at the drinks menu as we waited for Sarah and her boyfriend to turn up… something different happened instead.
Sarah turned up with her husband.
It turns out that they’d gotten married earlier that afternoon. They’d not told anybody in advance – nobody at all – but had simply gone to the registry office (via a jewellers, to rustle up some rings, and a Starbucks, to rustle up some witnesses) and tied the knot. Okay; that’s not strictly true: clearly they had at least three weeks planning on account of the way that marriage banns work in the UK. Any case case, I’ve suddenly got the temptation to write some software that monitors marriage announcements (assuming there are XML feeds, or something) and compares them to your address book to let you know if anybody you know is planning to elope, just to save me from the moment of surprise that caught me out in a curry house on Friday evening.
So it turns out I’ve acquired a brother-in-law. He’s a lovely chap and everything, but man, that was surprising. There’ll doubtless be more about it in Episode 32 of Becky’s “Family Vlog”, so if there was ever an episode that you ought to watch, then it’s this one – with its marriage surprise and (probably) moments of magic – that you ought to keep an eye out for.
Saturday/Sunday – Distillery, Drinking, Debauchery
Next, I made my way up to Edinburgh to meet up with Matt R and his man-buddies for a stag night to remember. Or, failing that, a stag night to forget in a drunken haze: it’s been a long, long time since I’ve drunk like I did on that particular outing. After warming up with a beer or two in our hotel room, the five of us made our way to the Glenkinchie Distillery, for a wonderful exploration into the world of whiskies.
And then, of course, began the real drinking. Four or five whiskies at the distillery bar, followed by another beer back in the hotel room, followed by a couple more beers at bars, followed by another four whiskies at the Whiski Rooms (which I’d first visited while in Edinburgh for the fringe, last year), followed by a beer with dinner… and I was already pretty wiped-out. Another of the ‘stags’ and I – he equally knackered and anticipating a full day of work, in the morning – retired to the hotel room while the remainder took Matt out “in search of a titty bar” (a mission in which, I gather, they were unsuccessful).
Do you remember being in your early twenties and being able to throw back that kind of level of booze without so much as a shudder? Gosh, it gets harder a decade later. On the other hand, I was sufficiently pickled that I wasn’t for a moment disturbed by the gents I was sharing a room with, who I should re-name “snore-monster”, “fart-monster”, and “gets-up-a-half-dozen-times-during-the-night-to-hug-the-toilet-bowl-monster”. I just passed out and stayed that way until the morning came, when I went in search of a sobering double-helping of fried food to set me right before the long journey back to Oxford.
All in all: hell of a stag night, and a great pre-party in anticipation of next weekend’s pair of weddings… y’know, the ones which I’d stupidly thought would be the only two couples I knew who’d be getting married this fortnight!
After a few years break, I’m once again heading up to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. As on previous ocassions, I expect to spend a lot of time enjoying Peter Buckley Hill‘s Free Fringe, which is just about the best thing to happen to the Fringe ever. And this time, I’m going to be better-prepared than ever. I’ve made a map.
Sharing is caring, so I’ve made the map available to you, too. Click on the picture to see the map. Because it’s in Google Maps it ought to work on your mobile phone. If you’ve got GPS then you can get lost in Edinburgh in high-tech ways you never before thought possible. Click on any given venue for a web address where you can find a list of events that are occurring at that venue.
Or if you’re really nerdy, you can download the KML and go geocaching-for-comedy. Just me? Okay then…
Update: you can now view the map on the frontpage of the Free Fringe website, too.
While JTA was off breaking parts of his body (and showing off his injuries on Reddit) with Ruth on the second part of their honeymoon, the week before last, I too took some time off work in order to have a bit of a holiday. I’d originally hoped to get some cheap domestic skiing in, but the weather forecast showed that Scotland was going to consist of exactly two weather conditions, depending on where you were:
- Snowy, but with 55mph winds.
- Not snowy.
This kind-of put a dampener on my plans to get some snowsports done, but I’d already taken the time off work so I re-arranged my plans into a “make it up as you go along” tour of the highlands and lowlands of Scotland.
Highlights of my little tour included:
- Renting an almost brand-new car, and – by the time I returned it – being responsible for more than half the miles on the odometer.
- Visiting my family both on the way up and the way down – my dad injured his back while cycling around Italy this winter, and had originally hoped to join me in Scotland (perhaps to get some more training in for his upcoming trek to the North Pole). He couldn’t, as he was still recovering, but it was nice to drop by.
- Being virtually the only guest at each of Glen Nevis and Glencoe youth hostels; getting an entire dormitory to myself at each.
- Exhilarating but exhausting trek up Ben Nevis. The freezing conditions, plus the incredible wind, meant that I spent the Tower Ridge stretch clinging to a steep ice slope against the push of a gale-force blizzard. Spectacular.
- Ice climbing at Ice Factor. I’ve never done ice climbing before (y’know – scaling a glacier with crampons and ice axes), and it was spectacular. Also, very tiring, especially after just coming down off Ben Nevis a couple of hours earlier. I was pleased that not all of the rock climbing experience I’d had, over 15 years ago, was completely forgotten, and my stamina – if not my flexibility – was better than I expected.
- Veggie haggis, tatties, neeps, and a dram of whisky on Burns Night, drying myself off by the open fire in a wonderful little pub.
- A reasonably-gentle walk along the lochside at Fort William, in order to allow my knee – which I banged swinging into a wall of ice – to recover a litle.
- Visiting the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. Did you know that the wheel is apparently so efficient that it costs only £10 a day in electricity to run it?
- Live comedy and music in Edinburgh. Also, meeting fabulous strangers and hanging out with them drinking whisky and singing along to bawdy Scottish folk songs until past midnight.
- Returning to Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel to find it full of Spanish sports fans. Sharing pizza with them, and conversations in broken English.
- Visiting the Wallace Monument and learning all of the bits of 13th Century Scottish history that they don’t teach you in Braveheart. It’s far cooler, yet much much bloodier, than you’d be made to believe.
- Geocache-maintenance expedition with Kit, along with the opportunity to dress up in invisibility jackets and hang about near roundabouts and road signs.
- Chinese buffet with Kit & Fi, two of my favourite people to go to a Chinese buffet with. Surprisingly impressive selection of veggie-friendly foods, which is something I look for, these days.
All in all, a delightful little tour, particularly impressive considering that it was launched into with the minimum possible amount of planning.
A quick summary of a holiday (and a series of associated trips on the side) that Ruth and I took a fortnight ago (yeah; I’ve been busy). Ruth has already written a little about the trip. I’d hoped to blog “on the move”, but a combination of low signal and low energy after a day of paddling made this pretty much impossible, so here’s the “grand catch-up”:
Wednesday 27th May
Ruth and I travelled to Shropshire to visit Ruth’s grandma in hospital, but it turned out that she’d been discharged about an hour before we arrived, so we briefly visited her at home.
Then we drove on, up to Preston.
In the evening, we played Chocolate Teapot with my family. I haven’t written about Chocolate Teapot on here yet, but the short summary is that it’s a “light” board game I’ve put together in the style of Apples to Apples meets Chrononauts… meets Dragons’ Den. So far, folks seem to like it, although I’m still ironing out a few kinks in the rules.
Thursday 28th May
This morning, we were supposed to do something special I’d had planned to commemorate the occasion of Ruth finishing her final exam, but we weren’t able to on account of the weather. I’d kept secret from Ruth what it is we were eventually to do, and the tension of not knowing (she’s not good at surprises) was very obviously boggling her poor little mind by now.
Instead, we went to Blackpool, rode a few rides (and felt ill thanks to eating a huge chocolate éclair each and then riding on the waltzer on the Central Pier), and played adventure golf, which Ruth won by a significant margin. And then ate fish & chips, because that’s what one does in Blackpool.
Ate far too much Chinese food at an all-you-can-eat buffet and gave myself nasty indigestion.
Friday 29th May
Did things in Preston, like buying lots of really really cheap clothes to wear for the remainder of the trip while paddling around in Scotland.
Saturday 30th May
Travelled up to Gretna Green with my dad and Ruth. Left the car at the services there and transferred to a coach full of Go North East employees. Travelled up to Fort William, in the centre of the Nevis mountain range and close to the Great Glen Way and the Caledonian Canal.
Despite it by now being late in the afternoon, my dad suggested we walk up Ben Nevis, so Ruth and I – joined by two others: John (fellow canoeist) and Dave (the bus driver, although – that said – about half of the folks on the trip were bus drivers) – followed my dad up the mountain. Dave, who’d apparently never climbed a mountain before, made it about 200 feet up before he had to give up. Ruth and I got to about 3200ft before we realised that we hadn’t actually eaten since breakfast and had to turn around and get some food, and only my dad and John made it the extra thousand feet or so to the summit, keeping a spectacular pace going as they did.
There’s photos from Ben Nevis here.
Sunday 31st May
This was our first day in canoes. Ruth and I took one, John and my dad took a second, and the third was taken by a pair of the bus drivers, Yvonne and Claire. We were to paddle our way up to Inverness, towards the North Sea, over four days. The remainder of the group were to walk the Great Glen Way – about 13 miles longer, and – of course – hillier, but at least they’d be powered by their legs and not their arms!
The first day was the hardest. It was the longest, which made an impact, but it was also the hottest. I’d not planned for this kind of heat (I’d thought – hey, Scotland, that’ll be a few degrees colder than Aberystwyth, but it turned out that Northern Scotland was in the middle of some kind of unseasonal heatwave): my case held lots of long sleeves and not enough pairs of shorts! Out on the lochs and canals, there’s no shade, and on our first day’s paddling, there wasn’t any breeze either. Combine that with 17 miles of rowing, and you’ve got a recipe for exhaustion.
Ruth overdid it somewhat, and triggered a relapse of her RSI, and she wasn’t able to carry on rowing for the rest of the trip: instead, she joined the walkers group, and a walker called Martin took her place in my canoe.
Among the many canoeing photos I took, there’s a very cute one of Ruth with one of the walkers helping her to drink a glass of lemonade because her arms were too broken to lift the glass for herself.
Monday 1st June
The second day’s canoeing was a lot shorter, and a lot easier. Martin and I – after a little bit of weaving around the canal and failing to paddle in a straight line – found a great synchronisation and made a great rowing team. We easily led the other two canoes for most of the remainder of the journey.
On this, the second day, we even beat the walkers along the first half of the route, meeting them part way for lunch on a pebble beach alongside Loch Oich.
One of the hardest bits of canoeing the Caledonian Canal is that British Waterways no longer allow canoes to use the lock gates (there’s a concern that if your boat tipped over you could be sucked into a sluice gate and held underwater for quite a lot longer than most people can hold their breath for). So we had to pull ashore, lift the boat out, and carry it up or down each hill. Walking rather than rowing gave our arms a rest, at least, but it’s not easy to lift your boat, your day bag, and your oars and then carry them up a hill.
Tuesday 2nd June
On Tuesday, we were supposed to cover the first half of Loch Ness. At Fort Augustus, we got into the River Ness (it was easier to get the boats than the canal would have been, from the back garden of the building we’d kept them at), and appreciated for awhile the current helping us along a little. We passed the smallest lighthouse in the world and headed out onto the Loch.
The wind had picked up, and it was choppy on the Loch. Paddling over waves and against the wind was more challenging than what we were used to, and the six of us adopted a tight formation in order to keep an eye on one another in case we got into any trouble. We hugged the shore to avoid the worst of the wind, and took an early break at the bottom of the garden of a waterfront house, where we ate our morning energy snacks.
The wind felt okay in the bay we’d sat in, but as soon as we got back out onto the Loch, we could feel the wind: it was getting stronger. Paddling was very hard, and Martin and I redoubled our pace several times. It felt like we were making great time – a hard wind in your face and an ache in your arms will give you the illusion of speed – but when we pulled over and took a break, we looked at the map and realised that we had travelled about half a mile in the last hour. At this rate, we’d barely reach the next Youth Hostel in time for breakfast… the following day.
We pressed on, and stopped again and I looked up the shipping forecast on my phone. The wind was due to get worse still, with gusts of up to 25 miles per hour. We were already at a point at which we spent almost as much time going backwards that forwards, and turning sideways to the current resulted in the boats rocking alarmingly and very quickly filling with water, so we ran them aground, dragged them ashore into a building site, and called for backup to come and pick them up.
The building site turned out to belong to a chap who I’ll hereafter refer to as The Friendliest Man In Scotland, who was quite unsympathetic to the idea of us sitting around and waiting for rescue from the backup vehicle, and shouted and swore and threatened legal action quite a lot. While we waited for the rescue vehicle, I used my phone to find XSS vulnerabilities in his website. You know, like this one.
After we’d got rid of the canoes, we raced to try to catch up with the walkers, who were a couple of hours ahead, finally reaching them a little while after they’d reached the cabins in which we’d be spending our next night. It was disappointing to not be able to canoe the rest of the distance, but it really wouldn’t have been possible to go any further this day, and the weather forecase didn’t look any better for the day after (it turned out to be wrong, but we didn’t know that when we had the canoes returned to their owner).
Wednesday 3rd June
And so we canoeists joined the walkers for the very last day of the Scottish trip. The walk was long and arduous, and Ruth and I probably ought to have set off earlier, because we were right at the back of the group when we entered Inverness, and we actually had to cheat and catch a bus for the final mile in order to not keep them waiting at Inverness Castle for any longer than we already had.
In summary, canoeing across Scotland was… exhausting. Even (and perhaps especially) for the bits that we weren’t actually in canoes. But it was also a great opportunity to see that beautiful country from a new angle – from water level, looking up at the Munroes and along at the Lochs. It could be beautifully still and calm out in the middle of the bigger lochs, and it was great to just stop and sip some water and take in quite how magestic the mountains of Scotland actually are.
At Inverness, we took victory photos (here they are), had a quick McDonalds meal, and got back on the coach to Gretna, then drove back down to Preston.
Thursday 4th June
On Thursday morning, we finally managed to do the thing we’d tried to do the previous week… weather conditions were at last favourable for: a trip in a hot air balloon (thanks, Pendle Balloon Company)!
Ruth was suitably surprised.
The whole experience was a lot of fun, and everybody present got roped in to helping lay out the balloon, inflate it with cold air, check and disentangle the control lines (and all the same stuff again but in reverse at the opposite end).
It’s amazing quite how gentle a balloon take-off is. While the pilot fired the (hot!) burners in a full burn ready for takeoff, I glanced out of the side of the basket and down at the ground… and realised it was slowly moving along underneath us – we were airborne, and I hadn’t even noticed!
We sailed around at 3,500-5,500 feet for awhile, looking down over mid-Lancashire. We got a great view of Houghton Tower, where I’ve been to their annual open air classical concert a number of times (including some I didn’t manage to blog about). Ruth geeked out about different kinds of road junctions and their comparative space/throughput efficiency trade-offs. We came in low over fields of cows and horses and confused the livestock as they trotted towards the barns for their morning feed.
And after an hour of sailing around, we bumped down into a field (which happened to double as a microlite runway, which was convenient) and all helped to pack the balloon away. And it was awesome.
There’s photos from this, too: here they are.
Finally (after a celebratory friend breakfast at a restaurant near where the balloon launched from), we hit the road and got ourselves back to Aberystwyth. It’d been a busy, exhausting, but fun week.
Claire and I are off to Scotland for a spot of skiing while there might still be some snow left. We’re leaving tonight and we’re back at the weekend (probably on Sunday). In the meantime, we’re leaving The Cottage, Mario, and Luigi in the capable hands of Matt (Hat variety). We’ll be in Preston Wednesday and Saturday daytime, and I’ll generally have my mobile with me the rest of the time if anybody wants me. Oh, and Troma Night will be hosted by Paul this Saturday.
In other news, running Abnib through Pornalize is the funniest thing I’ve done all week.
Firstly; thanks to everybody who tested my kitten-based authentication system yesterday. It seems to be working quite well.
Claire and I are undergoing a grand tour of the United Kingdom this coming week, as follows:
- This afternoon, we’re driving (in Claire’s car) to Cardiff. Coincidentally, Gareth, who was visiting us this weekend to help me with a programming project we’ve been working on quite a lot this month, is also travelling from Aberystwyth to Cardiff today. In Cardiff, Claire and I will be meeting up with my mum, her boyfriend, and my sisters, to see the War Of The Worlds Musical. My mum and I have had tickets for this every year since Red Planet Productions – who were trying to get it started back then – announced it, but this is the first year that they’ve actually performed it. It could be good, or it could be disasterous. We’ll see.
- After the show, we’ll either be (a) retiring to Gareth’s parents’ house for a few hours sleep; or (b) driving straight on to Preston: this mostly depends on how tired Claire, who has to do the driving, is. My personal preference would be to drive right on up to Preston – the night-time traffic will be far better than the morning’s traffic (even on a bank-holiday weekend), and there’s a bed, rather than a couch, waiting for us at my dad’s house. In either case, we’ll be in Preston either very early in the morning or very early in the afternoon.
- Next stop: Scotland – in Preston, we transfer into my dad’s car, and we’re joined by his colleague and family, by my sisters (who are staying overnight in Cardiff and travelling North in the morning), and burn our way up the country to Aviemore. For those not familiar with Scotland, this is a Long Way North… so; yeah… more travelling.
- Tuesday morning – snow permitting, we’re skiing in the Cairngorm mountains, near Aviemore. Wednesday, more of the same. Claire’s never been skiing before, and people have been, in a curiously counterproductive way, trying to reassure her that it is both safe and fun by recounting their horrific skiing injuries to her. Yeah; thanks guys.
- On Wednesday night we’re driving South to Stirling, and, at this point, Claire and I will make our way three miles East to visit Kit and Fi. It seems silly to travel the first 600 miles of the journey to their house up there and not the last three.
- On Thursday and Friday(?) we’re going to Nae Limits, an adventure sports activity centre thing. Zorbing is off, so we’ve cast votes on the activities to take part in, and I’m not yet sure what won. Claire and I voted for river bugging (in which participants are strapped into what are basically inflatable armchairs and pushed over waterfalls) and canyoning (in which we’ll probably be climbing back up those same waterfalls). Having watched The Descent last night at a special Troma Night at Adam‘s house, canyoning doesn’t feel like such a good idea any more! They don’t have subterranean flesh-eating monsters in Scotland, right?
- Immediately after this, on Friday afternoon, we’re travelling back to Preston… via Gateshead. My dad’s got his new business to run over there, and has set himself up a flat in which to live the weeks he’s working on that side of the country. Guess who needs his ADSL set up?
- Back in Preston, we’re off to The Comedy Store in Manchester.
- And then, finally, on Saturday, we’re travelling back down to Aberystwyth… just in time for Troma Night!
Additional missions we’re on include:
- In accordance with tradition, if we visit anywhere with a Tesco, we’ll bring back cookies and doughnuts, although we anticipate you’ll all be full of chocolate this week anyway.
- Paul‘s asked if we can get him some shortbread while we’re up in Scotland. I’m sure we can manage that.
Any other missions you’d like to assign to us while we’re out? No, Matt, you can’t have a cornetto. You’ve got perhaps a few minutes to tell us before we go.
I’ll be trying to keep online with e-mail access and perhaps even a blogpost or two while I’m away, but I can’t promise anything about my connectivity. Phone signal should be okay if I’m needed in an emergency, though.
After the success of yesterday’s run, today I was exhausted. The weather was horrific, and we found ourselves having to pedal hard to get DOWNhill.
On my account, we had to take several extended breaks, which had us arrive in Stornoway, isle of Lewis, half an hour outside of our target window. I just collasped into bed. In less than 6 hours we’d be on a ferry to Ullapool.
Tried to call Claire, but couldn’t get through. Miss her. Hug her for me, Aberites.
Miles today: 57
Miles total: 170 (+2, wrong turn)
You get to your third day of an exercise that your body isn’t used to and you hit the wall: the point at which your body runs out of all it’s immediate sources of energy and has to start the complicated chemical reactions that break down fat into sugars.
You know this has happened because suddenly every muscle in your body starts begging you to curl up into a ball and go to sleep.
For me, this happened half-way up a 700-metre mountain on the island of Harris, on day three. During a hailstorm. And a gale.
Farmer at Berneray warned us that Stornoway, where we’d be tomorrow night, was a bed of sin, with young people drinking at taking drugs (this is a town barely larger, and more isolated, than Aberystwyth). He’d lived his entire life on this tiny island, and knew everybody on it, and it therefore stood to reason that my dad should know everybody in Lancashire. He threw some names of previous guests from Lancs. at him, and asked if he knew them.
Miles today: 72, fast – a good run.
Miles total: 113
Just wrote a fantastic piece about the islands we visited on our second day’s cycling only to have this shitty device eat it. So here’s a summarry:
Barra – small. Cycled over mountain, took ferry North.
Eriskay – tiny fishing community.
South Uist – long, flat, full of highland cattle and sheep. Heavily Catholic.
Benbecula – picturesque.
North Uist – hillier, wetter. Protestant.
Berneray – tiniest of all. We stayed with a sheep farmer and his wife, and ate fantastic home-grown food from their croft.
The keyboard on this tacky little GPRS device is crap, and I just lost this entire entry to bad user interface design (if you press the biggest button on the device, it throws it all away):
My dad and I drove to Glasgow, arriving this morning at about 2am. Then, up at 8am for the first leg of our bike ride around Scotland. Train to Crainlarich, then cycled the 42 miles or so to Obar.
Good bits: downhilling, meeting some highland cattle, eating lots of Dextrose.
Bad bits: getting really, really wet, using this shitty thing, shoelaces caught in pedals, twice, not being fit enough.
Now we’re on the ferry from Oban to Barra. Look it up yourself, I’m not posting a link. We’ve just waved to Mull. Can’t believe this is a five-hour ferry journey. Don’t think I’ve ever spent so long on a ferry and not had to wind my watch back or forward an hour.
Oh, and have met other cyclists on the ferry. But that’s not terribley interesting.
[this post has been partially damaged during a server failure on Sunday 11th July 2004, and it has been possible to recover only a part of it]
Off to Scotland, that is, where I’ll be spending a long weekend cycling and island-hopping. I’ve got a brief stop in Preston for tea with my folks before I catch the train up to Scotland… but for now, I need to do some laundry, get a train ticket, and get out of Aber.
I’ll be back on Tuesday night, if anybody’s interested. My mobile’s not making outgoing calls at the moment (forgot to pay my bill, now can’t afford to – at least until my paycheque comes in), so if you call and you can’t get through (not unlikely: I’ll be hitting some low-signal areas) try my dad’s mobile number (Claire has it) or drop me a text – not an answerphone message.
Odds are very high that I won’t be anywhere near an internet connection, so don’t expect ‘blog updates or participation in the usual forums, either.
It’s a shame I won’t be here to see Kit off as he moves to Scotland (coincidence?) this weekend. But hey, at least I don’t have to help him pack and/or carry boxes around.
Oh; and I think you should all…