Bridges and Punctuation.

My Peebles sojourn has drawn rapidly to a close.

Last night Gary sallied forth from his country house headquarters to join me for a walk. We ambled over the Tweed Bridge and down into Hay Lodge Park. Peebles, being a town that is built around a river, has a pleasing number of bridges punctuating the landscape. A bit like New York, really, with a rather more sedate pace of life. And the bridges are, in general, very old and quite lovely. Although it’s probably easier to find a postcard for sale in New York.

Earlier in the day a friend sent me a picture from Pitlochry, of a rotating postcard stand, crammed with quality-looking Colin-Baxter-esque postcards. So that’s where all the postcards are these days. I was a little envious.

Gary and I wandered along the river bank, climbing and descending along uneven dusty paths broken up by gnarled tree roots and ancient sandstone rocks, the Tweed burbling along happily below. I was minded of my recent reading of Night Soldiers, the story featuring a grander European river, known to us as famously as the Danube, but known by many other names as it snakes eastwards across the continent: from its Black Forest source as the Donau, into Vienna, then as the Dunaj through Slovakia, splitting Budapest in two, flowing as the Duna along the western edge of Serbia, before serving as the Romanian-Bulgarian border and emptying out, now as the Dunărea, into the Black Sea.

The Tweed, to my knowledge, remains the Tweed for its entire and somewhat shorter existence, and Strauss probably never wrote a famous waltz about the Tweed, but still, a river holds a certain fascination, especially when viewed from a bridge, and can be watched for hours as it goes on its way.

The path climbed alongside a beautiful viaduct, built at an angle across the river, which brought purrs of pleasure from Gary, something of a connoisseur of buildings and architecture and many other things besides. At the top we walked along the route of the former railway line, and continued on to meet a quiet road, where we were beset by giant killer winged creatures. However, we prevailed against them mainly by running away, crossing the Manor Brig, dating from 1707, and climbed a lung-burstingly steep hill, requiring a pause at the top, for thought, and chocolate and water, not to mention the recovery of air into the lungs. We had an exquisite view looking southwest along the Tweed valley, and, once we’d set off again and rounded the next corner, of Peebles itself nestled comfortably in its glen. 

It was downhill all the way from there, past a serious-looking horsey establishment, with a floodlit enclosure, and impressive looking horses grazing in a field. There was a sign on the roadside as we approached the main buildings.

On Tuesday I had walked on the other side of the glen, and as I neared Peebles Hydro and the main road I passed the end of some forest trails which are clearly well-used by mountain bikers. On the roadside near a cluster of houses was a sign, which I contend could have benefitted from some punctuation. It read

CYCLISTS SLOW DOWN CHILDREN & ANIMALS

I don’t think the writer of the sign intended to convey the message that children and animals were slowed down by cyclists, much as I don’t think the person who had created this sign with the wording

SLOW HORSES AND CHILDREN

intended us to think the local horses and children were a little dull.

But a little punctuation would have helped their cause.

We found ourselves in the southwestern suburbs of the town, sparking memories for me of house visits to a nearby client in my audiology days, and followed John Buchan Way signposts from there to the car park, once nearly heading down a driveway by mistake due to a questionable signpost placement.

This morning I reprised last night’s walking route, only running this time. I should say that I ran most of it, but punctuated the running with some walking at times, notably on the aforementioned hill climb.

It being earlier in the day, the giant killer winged beasties had not roused from their slumbers, but at that point in the route I stayed as quiet as I could, just in case, as quiet as someone whose lungs are bursting can, at any rate.

From the top of the hill, and the Peebles and Tweed Valley panoramas, I followed the same route into the suburbs, past houses with names like The Croft, and The Anchorage, the garage door of which was being raised just as I ran past. I glanced over hoping to see a fine boat moored inside, but sadly there was only a Jaguar SUV.

Along lanes squeezed narrow by tall nettles, dodging these with what I considered pretty nimble footwork, past the High School’s playing fields, and grass hockey pitches where a whole platoon of rabbits were performing various manoeuvres.

Forgot about the misleading signpost, found myself in the driveway briefly, made a sharp exit, down the lane I was supposed to, and then into the town itself, across bridges, up braes and down various wynds and gates, along the edge of Eddleston Water again, back to the caravan, a shower, lunch and a siesta.

Peebles, you were lovely. Deserving of more postcards.

Peebles and Postcards

It’s Monday, and I find myself in Peebles. Not entirely accidentally, you understand, there was a certain amount of planning involved, although one couldn’t describe this holiday as over-planned, as I began thinking about it approximately twelve hours before I left the house.

I am here courtesy of Wiseman, who, along with the lovely Mrs Wiseman, are custodians of a static caravan here. And they offered it to me for a short break, and I jumped at the chance, relishing the opportunity of a change of scenery.

And so here I am basking in the glorious sunshine, or at least I was until I got too hot and retreated inside, because the long hot Scottish summer has finally arrived, as I knew it would. Were I to be sitting on the caravan’s decking, as I was earlier, I would be surrounded by rolling hills. Albeit I wouldn’t really be able to see the hills on account of all the other static caravans in the way. But I know they’re there, and imagine they must be very picturesque indeed.

This morning I went for a run, my first foreign run, as I like to think of it, and promptly got lost multiple times. I also found the tarmac considerably more unyielding than sand, although I had taken the precaution of wearing socks and trainers, which helped.

I ran alongside Eddleston Water into Peebles. I was the only runner I saw, and consequently had the midges almost all to myself, which was pleasing. The only people around to share the midges with were a few dog walkers, and I was only attacked by one dog.

What with the midges and the attack dogs, I wouldn’t say I’ve felt immediately welcome here, but I returned from my run and consoled myself with an iced root beer on the caravan decking, and suddenly everything seemed better again.

In the afternoon I walked back into Peebles, ostensibly to look for some postcards, but I knew there might be an ice-cream opportunity lurking along the way, and indeed there was, and it was very good.

Postcards, however, were harder to pin down. It seems like postcards are now relics of a bygone era. Has the selfie killed the postcard star, as it were? Eventually I found a shop with a considerable amount of tourist tat, and asked the proprietor if he had any postcards. He replied that they did, and pointed to the floor, where there was a box of assorted postcards depicting various Scottish scenes, mostly from the Highlands, some of snowbound Munros.

They didn’t feel all that local, I would say. Where are the rotating racks out on the street, full of local postcards portraying pictures of the local town hall? Am I the only one to mourn the loss of these?

I purchased some assorted postcards of Scotland, only one of which showed a glimpse of Peebles (in its bottom right hand corner), and a classic cheap touristy pen with Peebles printed on it, with the full intention of finding a beer garden where I might write.

However I couldn’t find my way to the beer garden I was hoping to, and besides, I was beginning to develop concerns for my staunchly Irish complexion, which was reddening slightly under the full force of the blistering Scottish sun, and so I retreated back to the caravan decking, where I consumed an Irish-inspired Scottish beer, and remained there until quite recently, when it all got a little too hot.

I wrote postcards to my nephews and niece, apologising for my handwriting, which was never that great to start with, and has deteriorated due to being out of practice at writing with an actual pen, and more recently has deteriorated even further due to me dislocating my finger last week in an unfortunate accident. I gave my nephews and niece three separate stories explaining the finger injury, all of which were more exciting than the truth, but I feel one must maintain one’s mystique as an uncle.

And with that, I think it’s time for tea. 

Running, skiing and pancakes.

Well dear reader, we are nearly through Lent. Or Forty Days and Forty Nights of Pancakes, as I’m pretty sure it was originally known, before its true meaning got lost in the mists of time, and instead we ended up trying and failing to give up chocolate for the duration.

I am crusading hard for a return to the Pancake Festival approach, mainly by making and eating pancakes as often as I can, but am also considering creating an online petition. I trust I can count on your support.

Here at the seaside, it feels like spring has finally sprung, with some warmth in the sunshine, and more sunshine to feel the warmth in.

It doesn’t feel that long since we had some serious snow here in Edinburgh – in fact it was a touch over five weeks ago that the snow was so good that I packed my skis into the car, somewhat diagonally (it’s not a very long car), and headed to Arthur’s Seat. Not that I was planning to ski some gnarly descent off the Crags… but there was a longish slope that I noticed sledgers making good use of last winter, and made a mental note to myself to do a spot of skiing if we ever had decent snow again.

As expected, the piste was packed out with sledgers, but there were a few fellow skiers, and some boarders sitting around on their backsides, as they are wont to do.

Given the proximity of the slope to one of Edinburgh University’s halls of residence, it was perhaps unsurprising to see a number of slightly taller children improvising on various ‘sledges’. There were actual sledges of course – some plastic and some of the old fashioned wooden variety with runners, but there were also a number of body boards, de-wheeled skateboards, plastic bags, and even some plastic trays that looked like they’d been borrowed from the Pollock Halls cafeteria.

There was also a group of four students attempting to slide down on a sleeping bag. It didn’t work.

The skiing was good fun. Took almost a full minute to get to the bottom, and a slalom course could be fashioned by avoiding the dogs and small children on the way. Once at the bottom, of course, one had to pick up one’s skis and schlep back up to the top, but it was worth it.

On one of the trips back up I saw a man, who was old enough to know better really, sliding down the hill on a borrowed triangular metal road sign, which was working remarkably well, until he was attacked by a spaniel.

It was so much fun that I went back at the weekend, getting there early in the morning, and was joined after lunch by Filipideedoodaa, and possibly another ski friend, which may or may not have pushed us over the two-person limit allowed under the current restrictions, and so, for legal purposes, we bumped into this other friend in a happily coincidental manner. In case anyone’s asking.

Before their arrival, I had wandered into Edinburgh in my ski boots to find some coffee and lunch. With no ‘proper’ skiing allowed this year, it was surreal to experience the familiar sounds in an unfamiliar environment… the tsssht tsssht salopetted walk into town, the squeaky snow, the clump clump of my ski boots as I walked around a supermarket foraging for provisions. And of course, the joy of taking ski boots off at the end of a day’s fun on the slopes. Or slope, in this case.

With the local four-day-long ski season now officially over, I have stepped up the running. I have found a fun route along the beach which involves hurdling, or in some cases climbing over, the wooden groynes (fences) spaced along the beach. The climbing of these doesn’t always go smoothly. On various occasions I have failed in my initial jump and fallen back onto my derrière, much to the amusement of anyone watching. This has frequently happened on the very first fence I approach, whereupon I take some consolation in the fact that I have fallen at the first hurdle. It’s always fun to live out an actual cliché.

On another occasion I attempted to jump straight onto the top of one of the lower fences. I had envisaged a Colin Jackson-esque hurdling leap, placing my right foot firmly on the top of the fence, and kicking off athletically, somewhat like an Olympic long-jumper.

It didn’t turn out quite like this, in the end. My right foot landed perfectly on the fence as per the plan, but then slipped forwards, the bottom of my shoe being somewhat coated in wet sand and not the grippiest, which resulted in my left shin landing on the fence in an unplanned development, and sliding forward until my ankle arrested my forward movement, my momentum spinning me round so I was facing the way I’d come. My right foot then found a ledge halfway down the fence, and I kicked off it, spinning another 180º in the air, and landed and continued running without breaking stride, to the cheers of onlookers.

This is how I like to remember it. I had my earphones in the whole time, so I confess I didn’t hear any actual cheers, but imagine they must have been there.

Running has become an unexpectedly good friend. We didn’t get off to the greatest of starts, and approximately 400 metres into every single run I find myself asking the question

“Why didn’t I take up carpet bowls instead?”

but the combination of the endorphins, the fresh air, the sunshine (sometimes), the sea breezes (always), the sand and the sea itself (sometimes I run barefoot through the shallows), the views over the water to Fife (on the way out) and East Lothian (on the way back) is a winning one.

Plus it creates an appetite. Mmmm, pancakes.

The C-19 Diaries. Essential Shopping and Disco Dancing.

Day 23

My mum turned 80 today. My Sister and I had arranged for a hamper from a nice Edinburgh deli to be delivered. She seemed pleased with the contents. The nice man from the deli had described them to me over the phone. I recognised roughly one word in three, and by this I knew that mum would like it.

I sat in my car outside her house and joined a family Zoom call to sing her Happy Birthday. She also passed some cake out the window to me, which felt borderline illegal, but I took it and ate it while sitting on the wall.

Day 30

Many of my friends seem to be succumbing to the current fad of cultivating their own sourdough cultures with the aim of ultimately making bread.

I don’t quite know how to break it to them that someone seems to have got there first. It’s actually quite easy to just walk into a supermarket and buy a loaf of sourdough bread. I just did – at Morrison’s. I feel they will crushed to discover this, so haven’t had the courage to bring it up.

Day 39

Nicola and Disco Dave organised an actual disco over Zoom tonight. I became somewhat reluctantly involved as the technical director, which then by default meant I became the DJ. As a result I had to download a considerable number of tunes onto my laptop which would – under normal circumstances – never have been considered for inclusion into my music library. I am still actively seeking software which cleanses microchips from the corruption they have been exposed to.

One of the tunes on the playlist was Tragedy. I assumed they were looking for the Bee Gees’ version. It turns out that it had to be Steps. I was apoplectic about this, but my hands were tied by my contractual agreement. Steps it was, alongside S-Club and various other non-bands. Not even an Atomic Kitten track in sight.

Day 43

Mum coerced me to do some shopping for her. She “needed” some items from Waitrose. On pointing out to her that this might not be considered “essential shopping”, she quite deliberately played the “vulnerable persons” card. What could I do?

I consoled myself with the knowledge that I might find myself in a better class of queue outside. The sort of people that the Rector’s Administrator would associate with.

As it turned out, when one enters this particular Waitrose via the lifts from the car park, one bypasses the queue and the Supermarket Bouncers completely. Who knew? I proceeded guiltily into the fruit and veg section, and duly found myself in aisles stacked with products with unfamiliar-sounding names. Like “tomatoes” and “flour”. Except there was no flour. Seems like everyone’s baking these days.

Later, I went for a run again. Achtung Baby is the album spinning on my turntables – both real and virtual – this week. It brings back a hazy memory whirl of sixth form schooldays, my friend Raymond, who became obsessed with U2 around this time, and the excitement of newly-possible drives up to Belfast to buy records and books. The sound of Achtung Baby was such a departure compared to U2’s previous two releases – the inordinately successful Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum, which has always felt like a non-album stopgap to me.

Anyway.

As I labour, gasping for breath, up the cruel gradient of Holyrood Park, I have Achtung Baby in my ears.

“Is it getting better?” asks Bono, gently.

No, Bono, it’s really not.

“Or do you feel the same?”

Yes, Bono, I do. I still feel out of shape and desperately unfit.

And I miss people.

The C-19 Diaries. The Haircut and the Run.

Day 15

The day finally arrived. I was so scared that I unearthed the instructions and read them cover to cover. They look like they’ve been Google-translated direct from the original Korean.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of guidance on offer beyond a basic suggestion that one applies the clippers to the hair, (once one has determined the length of hair of the pet in question), and chosen an appropriate guard.

That’s about it. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

I decide not to shave my face. That way, by this evening, there’s a chance that at least some of my head will have some evenly-distributed hair growth.

As it turns out, the results are more impressive than I dared hope for. I hope you’re not all too disappointed. Disco Dave has warned me that I would definitely miss bits, and would become suddenly aware of some tufty patches in the days ahead. I can feel no such tuftiness. I feel flushed with my success.

I actually considered doing some press-ups and sit-ups today, but just as I was about to spring into action – in the nick of time, one might say – my back began to hurt, so I cancelled the home workout, to be on the safe side.

Instead, I went for a run.

Looking back, the logic of this decision continues to elude me. I haven’t been for a run for approximately three years.

Around 20 minutes into the “run”, just as I was transitioning gently out of the walking-warm-up phase, a lady, with what I can only describe as a slow and somewhat ungainly running style, ran past me. I felt confident of reeling her in without too much trouble before long. Not that it’s a race, you understand.

Minutes later, after swerving several times to maintain the requisite 2m of airspace between myself and oncoming pedestrians, I noticed that she was, actually, quite far off in the distance. Almost out of sight, in fact.

Then she stopped to take some photos. Ha. As she took the time to snap some pics of the bright yellow gorse, even taking some close-ups, I sped past, in my quite athletic running style.

Moments later, she shot past me again. I began to revise my judgement of her running style, and speed.

Made it home in one piece.

My flatmate goes for a run every day. After today’s experience I think I’ll settle for one run per nationwide lockdown.

Hair Update: Shorn. Evenly and beautifully.

Day 16 – Day 21

Too tired to blog. See Day 15.

Day 22

Went for a run again.

If anything, this time it felt even harder. There was a breeze blowing, which I am confident was a lot to do with it. But really, isn’t this supposed to get easier with practice?

It feels like I’ve been shot in the calves. Both of them, but from particularly close range in the left.

I am somewhat chagrined to report that I have noticed undeniable tuftiness on my head. Just to the left and slightly rear of the crown. Perhaps in other places too, I couldn’t possibly say.

Oh, well. Maybe home-haircutting improves with practice too.

Tonight, for dinner, I am going to have that Northern Irish classic dish: lasagne con potatoes. 

Molto bene, so it is.

Stay safe everyone.

Hair Update: Tufty.