Monday, 30 August 2010

The Human Taboggan

Sometimes my head feels like it gets too full.

When it gets to the stage where I am struggling to think straight I escape. My escape is one I have know since I was about 6 years old. We'd drive past it on the way to Ayrshire from Aberdeenshire. It is an incredibly beautiful landmark and would brake the journey up for about 5 minutes as we'd shoot past at 70 mph on the motorway.

It's called Kinnoull Hill.

Sitting above the motorway, it is covered in tree's that turn the most amazing shades of red and yellow and brown and orange during the autumn. And near the top a tower rises out like part of a castle watch tower guarding the motorway.

The view from the top is beautiful. There is a sleek, dark, wide river that winds its way through gentle sloping hills. And from every angle on this hill all you can see are trees of different shades. The cars glint like shiny beetles driving along the motorway.
courtesy of grampianhotel.

The silence and space and view let me pull these scattered thoughts together. To catch my breath and after a while head back down into the chaos, feeling re-charged and ready to carry on.

It wasn't until I was at uni and a friend told me that it was a notorious suicide spot. Trust me when I say that it's quite hard to explain and reassure people that your not suicidal. Particularly when you've left the flat quiet and in a bad mood. Only to return a couple of hours later relaxed and calm. . .

In my 4th year I was feeling the strain of exams and getting that first job, so I headed for my sanctionary.

It was February and the weather in Edinburgh was its usual grey, dreich self but there was no snow but I was wrapped up nice and warm. As I drove North bits of white made themselves apparent at the side of the road. I wasn't too concerned- I had a warm jumper and thick jacket I'd be fine. I drove on, incident free, and an hour later I pulled into the upper car park.

I took a deep breath and got out my little puddle jumper- a red ford fiesta called Elmo- zipped my jacket up and started my ascent. I didn't really think too much of it given that I had a pair of sturdy trainers and plenty of layers to get me to the top. There was a lot of snow around when I arrived, so it did occur to me that I would have to be s bit more careful and watch my step. But this would be the first time I would do this walk through a winter wonderland and i was looking forward to it.

That was until I was about 500 yards from the car park and I caught sight of another pair of walkers. Attaching spikes to their sturdy walking boots. Not trainer wearing walkers. Definitely sturdy walking boots walkers.



With spikes.

The cold trickling thought that maybe I was ill-prepared for what lay ahead seeped into my head. Like biscuit crumbs in a bed- irritatingly there and no matter how loud you think confident thoughts they just wont go away.

Step after careful step I made very slow progress but I stayed on my feet. Keeping off the main path, for extra grip, I slowly reached the top of Kinnoull Hill with my thighs burning! I'd never worked so hard in any fitness class- as I had to get up that hill.

At the top I stood and took the view in. Wrapped in my many layers and standing in my "sturdy" trainers I made for a seriously ill-equipped walker. But I could feel the contentment begin to settle on my mind.

It had taken so long to get to the top that it wasn't long before the sun was starting to set. I reasoned, sensibly I though, that I had better get a wriggle on, the decent was surely going to take as long- if not longer.

I had to stop every couple of feet to get my breath. In an effort to keep my balance I had my arms outstretched like a scarecrow and had stopped breathing, pulling my stomach muscles in a tightly as possible. It was far more exhausting and demanding than the climb up. Which, during the summer, would be considered a gentle walk!!

I was about 100 yards away from the car park and had Elmo is my sights when it happened. My foot slipped. I did the circular arm swinging that you see swimmers do before they dive in for their Olympic feat. My weight shifted rapidly from my right to my left. For a fraction of a second I thought, very foolishly, that I had recovered it.

Then I breathed. That was enough to throw my precariously held balance off and down I went.


Bum first, onto wet snow. Not the nice kind of soft fluffy stuff that you see in Christmas cards and on American movies but dirty, wet snow.

Between my foot slipping and bum making contact with the ground, my jeans decide to act like a sponge and soak up as much water as they possibly could. That however was the least of my concerns because now my focus was on leaning.

First left, then right. Trying to stay on the main foot path. The main foot path, which was tree free. The trees were a blur as I hurtled down this hill on my bum, using my hands as some sort of primitive steering. The trees petered out and I shot into a clearing. Coming to a stop just before the car park.

courtesy of gettyimages.

I took stock.

Everything was in tact. My bum was exceptionally wet however the silver lining was that no-one was in the car park. It was empty. Not a soul witnessed my speedy and unexpected arrival in the car park. So I stood and walked calmly back to the car. During this 3 minute human tobogganing experience I hadn't utter one squeak. No screams of terror echoing round the Perthshire countryside were heard. And in the end all I could do was marvel at the fact I had not killed myself by sliding 100 mph into a tree.

However now I had a dilemma. An hour to drive home in wet jeans. Given that there was no one in the car park, I got into the car and whipped the wet jeans off,,laying them on the passenger seat (wet side up) and whacked on the heating, praying that they would dry by the time I arrived in Edinburgh.

Now getting out of Perth isn't a straight forward process.

Which is why I am going to leave you hanging with a what happened next!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Other forms of klumsiness- A scald

This summer I had an accident.

I often have little accidents, not of the incontinent nature I'm just pretty clumsy, but this one involved a cup of freshly brewed coffee. I can already hear the intake of breadth as you read.

Similar to The Ketchup Story this is one to tell your kids. Show and warn them of the perils of not listening to their wise parents when practising the art of common sense.

I was curled up in the edge of a couch with a good book and was getting nice and comfy when my little sister came through with the offer of a coffee. Hmm sounds good, pl for a caffine addict,us I didn't need to get up for it. So I waited for the kettle to boil and duly my little sister made me a cup of coffee and brought it over.

I was positioned such that my feet were tucked up under me and my book was in my left hand. I reached with my right hand to take the cup - which my sister was holding by the handle.

I placed my hand over the top of the cup, feeling the steam of the coffee against the palm of my right hand. My first mistake. The temperature of the cup had not yet started to warm my finger tips. Before it did I decided it would be a good idea to move. My second and possibly biggest mistake.

To balance the book on the arm of the chair, lean my left elbow on the arm and pass the handle of the cup into my left hand from my right hand. That was the plan, simple hmm!

My fingers and palm started to sweat from the heat and the cup began to slide ever so slightly out of my grasp as I tried to speed up this maneuver. I lost it.

The cup dropped squarely onto my left knee and tumbled directly into my lap. Completely upside down resting against my body and the crook of the couch. Coffee completely decanted all over the top of my left leg.

For a fleeting moment I thought I might have gotten away with it. However the thick cotton joggers I was wearing only served to marginally delay the contact of coffee with skin.

I jumped up and with lightening speed ripped off my joggers, leaving me in standing in a t-shirt and pair of flattering bubblegum grey pants. My sister could only stand and watch in awe.

She told me later, as I sat with my ice pack on my leg, that I basically took the cup and the next thing she knew I was standing in the middle of the living room in my pants. She had no idea that I had dropped the cup on myself.

The pain was incredible and resulted in a scaled about the size of the palm of my hand. Which was fine however I had to wear a skirt and a lot of Vaseline on my burn.

I can, and will, no longer take a cup by the top. It gets put down on a table and I drink it like a grown up holding the handle. I don't fidget or fuss when I have a hot drink in my hands.

The rules of not shaking a ketchup bottle without checking the lid is on first and being sensible with hot drinks are ones that I was actually taught growing up but the complacency of adulthood would suggest that I might have forgotten some of the basics.

My little sister may no longer be capable of making me a hot drink without fear of me spontaneously stripping down to my pants. If it wasn't for her thoughtful packing I would have had to manage a week in jeans and trousers - not a good position to be in. So thank you little sister for the coffee (that I never drank) and for the dresses you let me wear all week.

The klumsiness would appear to be a gene that I alone have inherited because I don't believe you or littlest sister end up in these little episodes!!!

The following picture may be a little hard to take for the more delicate reader. . .

Courtesy of my little sister

Monday, 16 August 2010

Miss Daisy Drives

Courtesy of me!

My husband and I have been together for a number of years- exclusive of our marriage- and over that time I have transformed from single, independent driving lady to chauffeur driven wife. I'm not quite sure how this has happened however it appears that over time my default setting is to head for the passenger side of the car, as opposed to the drivers side.

It's not that I am actively avoiding driving its just a combination of splitting my concentration from that immediate post work haze to driving a car and navigating a conversation on our work related pet peeves is a level of multi tasking I do not enjoy. You'd be surprised at the number of pet peeves that can crop up working in analysis .

None the less its just easier and in the words of "Someone" if we're going to get home at a reasonable time then its probably best that he do the driving. I appreciate that this sounds incredibly sexist and old fashioned but it works for us. Certainly for me who can stare out the window and watch the world go by without raging at some idiot who has tried to cut me off.

Besides, strange things happen when I drive Charlie (the Corsa) despite the fact that I am a safe driver. I am not saying this out of some kind of misplaced arrogance surrounding my abilities behind the wheel, but I have no points on my licence and have not been involved in any accidents which have required the exchange of details. That is not to say that I have participated in the hit and run scenario but more that if your definitions of safe were legal and no accidents then I am your woman.

So what strange things might happen when I am behind the wheel? I hear you ask.

Well it would appear that other drivers are compelled to act recklessly and at times dangerously when they are within a relatively close proximity to my little car. It has resulted in incidents of "passenger rage" where my husband has been found to be dramatically gesticulating to other drivers. While I sit serenely behind the wheel driving in what would appear to be a calm and unaffected manner. As my passenger rants and raves and would take on the appearance of having some kind of episode involving loud uncontrolled swearing.

I seldom get further than "WHAT the . . .!!" before my husband has finished the sentence for me (in a more colourful way than I was thinking possible) complete with facial expressions and Italian style hand throwing.

Generally these events consist of people pulling out in front of me, without indicating, near junctions or lane conversions etc where an indicator is probably at its most crucial. At least that was what I was taught- signal, mirror, maneuver. However clearly there are drivers who have gone to the school of look, mirror, maneuver and are not too sure what the stick at the side of the steering wheel does. Having already established that its clearly not the windscreen wipers stick.*

At the height of Other Driver Madness I did, late one evening on the motorway heading to Stirling, have to say the fastest and loudest prayer to The Man Upstairs. Next to a roller coaster this particular strange event was a PB in uttering the Lords Prayer at speed. An American style truck/car thing shot past me in the outside lane carrying three IKEA looking arm chairs. When about 100 yards in front of me one of the chairs decided to make a bid for freedom.


My entire body broke out in a sweat and I started muttering as I watched this huge, white arm chair bounce across the motorway. Having rocketed out of the back of the truck it bounced once in my lane before shooting to the right (into the outside lane) then bouncing back into the left hand lane- now RIDICULOUSLY close to me- before bouncing right again and rolling back left onto the hard shoulder around me. It was a real finger of God moment directing that arm chair around my little puddle jumper (a real little banger of a ford fiesta, my first set of wheels) and not into me or any other car. ***

Anyway, in addition to being safe, and by implication slow, my music tastes have also resulted in the birth of a Car Rule. Which is simply "Drivers Prerogative". Another reason I don't do much driving, apparently my taste in music is far too suspect. Those friends of mine lucky enough to have heard my eclectic music collection will testify that is does hold some fairly questionable choices. In my own defence I believe that having a wide and varied taste in music makes for a more rounded individual.

Besides what is wrong with a bit of Meatloaf followed by some Kenny Rogers chased up with a bit of Basement Jaxx!?! On second thoughts don't answer that.

Regardless, presented with the opportunity of heading to the Lake District on my own (a girlie weekend away) I took the chance to pack for the car journey, as well as the weekend away. This included ensuring the sat nav was properly set up and the car had adequate chocolate, water, blankets and other essential supplies in case of a stranding (admittedly this was unlikely in the middle of June but I was a girl guide the motto "Be Prepared" has stuck with me**).

In amongst this planning was, at the top of the list, ensuring that my i-pod was loaded with all the latest 80's power ballads that I might need to belt out in the 3 hour car journey South. I am not too sure how relaxed my husband was with the prospect of me driving for that length of time without there being an incident and we agreed that a phone call would be made on arrival or impact- whichever came first.

Armed with post codes, bags and i-pod I jumped into the car got all the necessary gadgets hooked up and started driving- with a bit of Bruce Springsteen to get the party started (don't judge me). I had to spend just over an hour along country roads before I would be able to hit the motorway and could relax. That is not to say I was not relaxed on the pre motorway section just that I inevitably got stuck behind every truck and tractor going and had the young and arrogant teenage drivers shoot past me on dangerous bends to contend with first.

I reached the motorway in one piece and turned up the power ballads to sing my heart out. Cline Dion, Madonna, Alicia Keys- the Girls and I were in town & we were doing a show for the M74's benefit. At the national speed limit I doubt anyone could distinguish the loud warblings coming from my car as belonging to me or the sound of the wind whistling through the bike rack on top of Charlie.

We were as one- The Girls, Charlie & me- for the 2 1/2 hours that would be the motorway section before I was to come off and head for the Lakes. I can only assume that the sat nav was taking umbridge at having been subjected to a relentless singing session and was inclined to feel that its "human" rights were being seriously infringed. Because the route became decidedly more challenging for want of a better word. The sat nav is great for indicating which roads to take and can give you a good indication of where the bends ahead lie however it is totally rubbish at gradients.

The moment I left the motorway the bends became considerably sharper as did the inclines, which were short, sharp and on occasion made all the more interesting with a bend somewhere in the middle! The i-pod was turned off, the window rolled down and my posture changed from relaxed to up right, with my nose about an inch away from the windscreen. The atmosphere in the car became far more concentrated and less care-free with me talking to Charlie. Coaxing him around the roads in an effort to convince him as much as myself that we would be capable of reaching our destination in one piece and ahead of the other girls.

Not that we were racing but dinner was booked for 7pm and I had left the office at 3pm in an effort to be able to unpack for the break before heading to dinner.

45 minutes of concentration was leaving me fairly clammy and exhausted. Just as I was contemplating "retiring" the sat nav by giving it a first time swimming lesson by launching it into one of the many Lakes I was driving past, and resorting to the map the route took on a whole new level of challenge. By now if it had been possible I would have actually had my head through the windscreen my nose was firmly pressed against the window.

The weather had closed in, misty and wet. Not unfamiliar to a girl who has spent many summer holidays heading to the North of Scotland, which is not renowned for its sunny climate. The sat nav barked " in 100 yards take the next right". While my eyes were rapidly covering all the mirrors available and flicking to the sat nav I caught sight of the sign which indicated my right turn was present.

My heart sank. If I thought that the roads this far had been the equivalent of a tarmac roller coaster I was in for a surprise. This was going to be a real education in No Guts, No Glory. It read:

Via The Struggle"

Somehow all I could read was the word "Struggle". If what the roads I had been on up until now had not signposted with a warning to all then this one road was designed to separate the men from the boys. Or in my case the woman from her sanity.

I carried on. If I had convinced Charlie to get me this far then I would be able to do it too, we weren't that far from our destination and we'd manage this last leg together- as a team. Car and driver as one unit.

The sweat was well and truly running as I took these sharp bends and tried to be relaxed at the 13% gradient signs and took the gear selection advice seriously. I couldn't have been going any more than 20 mph at the best sections and spent a majority of that last leg at a steady 10mph. No mucking around. I wanted to get there in one piece with Charlie intact.

Unfortunately I appeared to have collected a couple of cars on my journey through The Struggle. A BMW & a souped up Subaru being driven by a 12 year old. I did the only fair thing I could, at the safest point I pulled over and indicated for them to over take. Which they duly did and within a minute I had lost sight of both. Until I came around another bend and saw the BMW doing the same thing to the Subaru- pulling over to let him pass. Clearly I was not the only one not prepared to take any chances on this road by having a young, local in a powerful car drive up my backside.

Never the less I arrived, abandoned the car and on shaky legs went to get a large glass of wine to steady my nerves before proudly calling my husband to boast at my advanced driving skills. I did still have to get home- however there was a massage first and that would surely put me into the right frame of mind to face The Struggle on my homeward journey. . .

You'll have noticed by now I am not particularly technical or mechanical with my descriptions. For this I make no apologies, although I probably should. . .
Although give some previous postings you might have noticed this is not necessarily always been at the fore front of my planning and organising. I am considering getting this tattooed to the back of my hand. Not as some form of permanent dedication to Guiding but as a permanent reminder to check and recheck I have everything I might possibly need for my adventures.
Mercifully at that time of the night there was next to not traffic on the motorway.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Bike Ride: Loch Katerine

At the age of about 8 years I remember getting a bike. It was a bike that sticks in my memory because it meant I didn't have to share it with my little sister and it was purple. As a highly fashion conscious 8 year old this meant the world to me. It was a Raleigh and had a blue Tony the Tiger* reflector, which was fixed on the back wheel.

I would ride it up and down our short drive, by short I mean about 50 yards in length. But it was my bike and a bike that saw me through my cycling proficiency test in primary school. It taught me the art of re-attaching the chain to the gears when it regularly

courtesy of

and repeatedly came off during the 4 mile bike ride to school. A journey which had to be done over a fortnight until we passed our test.

I remember the feeling of freedom and independence that the bike and certificate gave me and for 3 months wore my cycling proficiency badge with pride. However as I grew up my biking and love of it fell by the way side and I did it less and less.

20 years after arrival of my purple Raleigh bike with the Tony the Tiger reflector I now have a new bike. It is silver and has black swooshy bits on the side- which are very important in terms of going fast. Bikes have long since evolved from my early days and this one comes with suspension built into the front forks. It would appear that I too have "evolved" in that I can no longer spend a whole day on my bike without knowing about it for a couple of days later. Sitting, standing, the transition between the two, walking and running all require a bit more thought and consideration following a bike ride.

My husband and I have done a couple of these and are starting to realise, painfully, that we might not be as prepared as we should be for these bike based outings! We are learning, although it would appear to be a gradual process.

On one particularly sunny weekend we decided to cycle around Loch Katerine, some exceptionally brief research indicated that it was possible to cycle close to the Loch's edge and has had positive reviews. So Loch Katerine it was. We packed light for a "couple of hours" bike ride.

Loch Katerine is roughly 17 miles in circumference (8 miles in length and 0.5 a mile wide**) and has a tarmacked road that runs alongside it. No real requirement for the in built suspension but that's not the point. I was going to break myself into this cycling malarkey gently and this looked like the ideal opportunity. . .

We set off at 9am and arrived at Loch Katerine at 10am hoping to home for a late lunch at 2pm. My husband had done the manly job of shoving the bikes in the boot while I was tasked with the job of packing our day sacks which I did with due care and attention making sure we had:

1 x map
1 x water bottle (filled)
2 x apples

We hit the road with enthusiasm and the first couple of hours ticked by easily, however we'd only cycled a half of the loch's length by this time and had another estimated 2 hours of cycling ahead of us. No problem, we were on plan. We pulled over and devoured our apples and water. Confident that in 2 hours we would be pulling into the car park and heading back to Linlithgow for lunch.

We cycled on and the tarmacked road came to an end. Our options were to head for Glasgow or to head back the way we came. We decided to persist with our original plan of doing the circuit. This would mean going off road, specifically onto a walking path. A chance to test the suspension fork things on my bike and get it a bit mucky I thought.

This particular adventure ended with a lot of frustration at a sign. A sign which read:

"Walkers only- cyclists prohibited!"

We had no option but to turn around and head back the way we came, in effect covering significantly more distance than we would have had we been able to continue. However we were now without any water and our apples had long since been scoffed. The shade of the trees had also disappeared as we set about our return journey.

Conversation between us was very quiet and what some might call tense.

Had "Someone" (Husband) done a bit more research they would have realised it would not be possible to complete a circular route around the Loch we might not be in this predicament. Had "Someone Else" (Wife) been more organised and less half job then we would have had more water and food for the journey. Also had "Someone Else" packed sunscreen, regardless of weather or available shade, "Someone" wouldn't be starting to turn a lobster red. Yes, it would be fair to say that tensions were running high and anger will only contribute so much energy to the cycling.

The 10% gradients that I had thoroughly enjoyed were now proving to be my Nemesis on the homeward journey. My hands, thighs, calves and bottom were now all conspiring against me by throwing waves of pain through my body on each rotation of the pedals.

About an hour from the car park we had stopped to have another "discussion" about whose fault/bright idea it was to go on this particular route and what we would do differently. When I heard some laughing, not at our argument I hasten to add. A group of English, female students who had rented a cottage were sitting out to enjoy the afternoon sun with a couple of drinks. By this time I could virtually smell H2O I was so thirsty.

After a quick conversation it was agreed that it would cause less alarm if I, a fellow female, approach the girls and asked for some water. We agreed the sight of a red faced, sweating man sticking his head over their gate into the back garden might result in us having to explain ourselves to a policeman. Although we did contemplate the idea that we might be able to get a lift back to the car park taking that approach. We decided I should be the one to say hello and go begging for some water!

They were very kind, and if by some chance one of these ladies happens to stumble across this particular story- thank you again. You saved a marriage!

We eventually got back to the car that evening having covered we guess about 40 miles***. We were sore, tired and strangely grateful at the sight of our bashed up old Nissan Sunny. We also have an agreed plan of attack when it comes to taking the bikes out on a "light ride":
  • more research
  • plenty of water
  • sun screen
  • maps (for escape routes)
  • more food

An emergency fish supper on the way home brought peace to our bickering and the aching muscles which presented themselves over the next couple of days put any ideas of going out on the bikes to rest for a wee while at least.

He was right "They're GRRRREAT!!". Sadly they probably no longer put these little treats into cereal packets for health and safety reasons. As an incentive to get us kids to sit and eat breakfast it probably worked a treat. But then again the associated e-numbers that would go with these often sugar loaded breakfasts was probably more trouble than they were worth!!

I currently make my living as an analyst and am the proud (though slightly geeky) owner of a maths degree hence the importance of explaining my calculations.

Again with the maths, here is the rational:
75% of 28 = 21 this took us 3/4's of the way around the Loch before we had to head back, which would be another 21 miles therefore we did about 40 miles in one day.