Category Archives: Bits and Pieces

General waffle not particularly on any theme

A bheil Gàidhlig Agam?

Well, after nearly 5 months on Sabhal Mòr Ostaig’s distance learning course for beginners – An Cùrsa Inntrigidh – the answer is I have a lot more Gaelic than I did at the start. The course is primarily focused on grammar, which I like, and so far we’ve learnt several key building blocks which allow relatively basic sentences to be constructed. What I am now able to say, while sounding quite impressive, is limited to the kind of conversation featured in the course.

What you see below is an example of what I can come up with based on some of what we’ve been taught so far. It’s a bio of a made-up friend, which was something I wrote for one of the weekly phone tutorials a few weeks back. The plan is to keep writing about this character, and as my Gaelic gets better more will be written about Emil and his family.

“Tha caraid agam. ‘S e Emil Nielsen a th’ air. Tha Emil à Copenhagen anns an Danmharc. Tha Emil a’ fuireach anns an Tòb anns na Hearadh a-nis. ‘S e baile mòr trang a th’ ann an Copenhagen ach ‘s e àite glè bheag sàmhach a th’ anns an Tòb. Tha Emil ag obair air an aiseag eadar an Tòb agus Beàrnaraigh – ‘s e MV Lochportain a th’ air an aiseag. Tha e pòsta agus ‘s e Màiri-Anna a th’ air a bhean. Tha Màiri-Anna à Bagh a’ Chaisteil ann am Barriagh. Tha i ag obair ann am bùth anns an Tòb.

Tha a theaghlach anns an Danmharc agus anns an t-Suain. Tha a mhàthair agus athair a’ fuireach ann an seann taigh mòr ann an Copenhagen. Tha dà phiuthar agus bràthair aige. Tha a phiuthar bheag Sofia agus a bhràthair beag Jesper a’ fuireach fhathast ann an Copenhagen còmhla ri am pàrantan. Tha a phiuthar mhòr Freja a’ fuireach ann an Stockholm anns an t-Suain. Tha Freja ag obair ann an coimpiutairean ann an oifis ann an Stockholm fhèin.

Tha nighean agus mac aig Emil. ‘S e Murchadh agus Mòrag na h-ainmean a th’ orra. Tha Murchadh còig agus tha Mòrag tri a-nis. Tha cù agus cat aca. ‘S e Bonzo agus Bobby a th’ orra. Tha bràthair aig Màiri-Anna. ‘S e Fionnlagh a th’ air agus tha e a’ fuireach ann an Èirisgeigh. Tha a pàrantan a’ fuireach fhathast ann am Barraigh. Tha Hyundai aig Emil agus Màiri-Anna. Tha rotharan aig Murchadh agus Mòrag.

Tha caraid aig Emil agus Màiri-Anna air a’ Thairbeart. ‘S e Seumas MacLeòid a th’ air. Tha Seumas ag obair anns a’ bhùth-èisg anns a’ bhaile. Tha carabhan aig Seumas anns an Tòb cuideachd. Tha Seumas agus a theaghlach a’ fuireach anns a’ charabhan aig deireadh na seachdain.

Agus sin mo charaid Emil Nielsen.”

Translation

“I have a friend. His name is Emil Nielsen. Emil is from Copenhagen in Denmark. Emil now lives in Leverburgh in Harris. Copenhagen is a large, busy town but Leverburgh is a very small, quiet place. Emil works on the ferry between Leverburgh and Berneray – the ferry is called the MV Loch Portain. He is married and his wife’s name is Mary-Ann. Mary-Ann is from Castlebay in Barra. She works in a shop in Leverburgh.

His family is in Denmark and Sweden. His mother and father live in a big, old house in Copenhagen. He has two sisters and a brother. His little sister, Sofia, and his little brother, Jesper, still live in Copenhagen with their parents. His big sister, Freja, lives in Stockholm in Sweden. Freja works in computers in an office in Stockholm itself. 

Emil has a son and a daughter. Their names are Murdo and Morag. Murdo is five and Morag is three. They have a cat and a dog. They are called Bonzo and Bobby. Mary-Ann has a brother. His name is Finlay and he lives in Eriskay. Her parents still live in Barra. Emil and Mary-Ann have a Hyundai. Murdo and Morag have bikes.

Emil and Mary-Ann have a friend in Tarbert. His name is James MacLeod. James works in the fish-shop in the town. James has a caravan in Leverburgh too. James and his family stay in the caravan at the weekend. 

And that is my friend Emil Nielsen.”

Impressive? Maybe not, but I’m fairly pleased with the progress so far. Yes, my canvas isn’t particularly large but once we begin to explore verbs things should begin to open up. Over the summer I will be spending time reviewing what I’ve learnt so far, as well as adding some new vocabulary and brushing up on my pronunciation i.e. when the second part of the course starts I’ll know what I need to know, and a bit more.

That’s all for now, but I will post another blog in a couple of weeks covering my thoughts on the course itself i.e. what I liked, what I didn’t – that sort of thing. Until then, as always, thanks for reading.

Le deagh dhùrachdan.

Pòl.

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An Cùrsa Inntrigidh – Aonad a H-Aon

Fàilte air ais!

It’s been a good few weeks since I blogged about my decision to start a Gaelic beginner’s distance learning course offered by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Scotland’s only Gaelic language college. Well, in those few weeks the course has begun and we formally completed Aonad a H-Aon (Unit One) last week. We are now getting stuck into Aonad a Dhà (Unit Two) – in total there are six units in this block, ending with Aonad a Sia, which wraps up in mid-June. There are then a further two blocks which will take place in the Autumn and then early next year. I haven’t yet signed up for these other blocks, known as Earrann a Dhà and Earrann a Tr­ì, but probably will. However, one step at a time.

Content-wise, the course is made up of one hour long tutorial per week allied to roughly 10-12 hours of my own time reviewing the relevant notes. At the moment the tutorial still contains a fair amount of English language conversation, with the clear aim being that over the coming weeks it will become almost entirely Gaelic. To do this we are currently learning to be able to say handy things like:

  • Ciamar a tha thu ag ràdh …?  How do you say …?
  • Ciamar a tha thu a’ sgriobhadh …?  How do you write …?
  • Gabh mo leisgeul, can sin a-rithist!  Excuse me, say that again!

At the moment my range of conversation hasn’t moved much beyond initial pleasantries i.e. how are you, what’s your name, where do you live etc. However, I get the feeling that the pace will ramp up over the coming weeks and so hopefully by the end of Earrann a H-Aon I will be able to make Gaelic small talk that reaches into areas more akin to what I might actually say to someone in English.

One thing I am very keen to do is to have conversations with other learners outside of the class. This would be in the form of Skype calls. Nothing elaborate, just 15 minutes of chat in which we cover a combination of class notes and ad-hoc conversation. There are a couple of very lively Facebook pages, primarily Let’s Learn Gaelic, which will hopefully provide one or two willing accomplices. Pronunciation is one of the hardest things to master in Gaelic and the more conversations you have the better.

The last thing I will say, for now, is that you need to want to do this sort of course. There is quite a lot of work, and with most of it being done on your own, you have to have the right motivation. I like to think I do and so far I’ve really enjoyed getting to know every new word and grammar rule.

Le deagh dhùrachdan.

Pòl.

Speaking Our Language – ag ionnsachadh Gàidhlig na h-Alba

At least twice before I’ve attempted to learn (Scottish) Gaelic. However, on each occasion, I’ve given up without too much of a fight. Learning a new language, particularly one where pronunciation isn’t intuitive to English speakers, can be difficult. For all that the fire has still burned and at the third attempt, I’m hopeful that I finally have lift off.

In my hometown, a Gaelic Conversation class started in early November. The class is run by a native Gaelic speaker from the Isle of Lewis who has kindly given up her Friday nights for the cause. After an initial surge of interest, the class has trimmed down to half a dozen or so who seem keen to learn. Think to start with people turn up and are immediately put off by the quirky pronunciation and sentence constructs. At that point, if the motivation isn’t strong you could be put off. That said, learning anything new will have an initial knowledge curve, but that shouldn’t put people off if it’s something they truly want to do, and importantly, have the time and drive to commit to the process. My personality may have many flaws but one I do have is a stickability to see something through when it truly interests and intrigues me, especially when there is genuine motivation allied to an intellectual challenge.

Well, why do I want to learn Gaelic? Several reasons. First and foremost because I still believe that Gaelic is Scotland’s language. For many reasons lost in the mists of time, the language was pushed away from the mainland out to the Island fringes. However, the language has never died and I want to play a small part in making sure it never does. It’s not about creating a difference between  Scotland and other countries, it’s about holding onto something Scottish. Something in which much of our history and culture remains wrapped – for example, there are many lowland (and indeed border) towns which have place names rooted in Gaelic. On a more direct level, I  want to make my Scottish Islands website (www.lonely-isles.com) bilingual. I want to blog and read Gaelic. I’d also like to speak it, if and when chances arrive.

While I continue to plan on attending my local conversational class I have also decided to strike while the iron is well and truly hot. Scotland’s only Gaelic language college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, runs a three-part introductory course in Gaelic. It is a distance learning course and will be spread over 18 or so months. Hopefully, by the end, I will have a solid foundation on which to build on over the coming years.

I will, of course, write a regular diary on my blog so those reading can keep up to speed on my progress. I warn you now that you may be seeing more and more Gaelic on my blog, but fear not, an English translation will always be provided. Finally, as this is going to be my last blog of the year then it seems only appropriate to end with the following greeting:

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr!

(Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!)

Thanks for reading.

Corbyn

Always felt that even the best of hands can be overplayed. Perhaps it’s just me but I can’t help but feel that “Corbynmania” is in danger of being overplayed. Jeremy is a decent lad. A real old school Labour leftie. Nothing wrong in that, nothing at all. While his party’s policy positions on areas such as Scottish Independence, Brexit and retention of Trident are at odds with mine and many in Scotland, there are still areas of common ground. However, Scotland isn’t really his issue. To win a General Election you need to win in England and at the moment I’m honestly struggling to see how this actually happens – I’d like it to, but I don’t see how.

While Labour are indeed ahead in the latest batch of opinion polls, and PM Theresa May is about as popular as a dose of the runs, the fact is we’ve just had a General Election (the second in two years) and the Tories “won” it. The Tories are unlikely to even contemplate another test of public opinion unless they are confident of winning again. While the Tories tend to have a solid core who back them in all weathers, the Corbyn factor undoubtedly has them worried. And so I don’t see another election any time soon. If and when that day does come though, I still have one major nagging concern with Corbyn and UK Labour in general.

Corbyn does not support Nuclear weapons BUT his party does.  For me it’s inconceivable that the leader can have a different opinion to their party on such a key issue. Based on some of the recent General Election TV output, the big problem appears to be that many, particularly in England, do support a nuclear deterrent. To not support one is to risk being portrayed as unwilling to “defend the realm” from invading hordes who would presumably swarm our Nuclear free shores. As mad as this may seem, it’s clearly something which plays with those in the key seats Labour needs to win i.e. traditional Tory shires. If Corbyn could get Labour into step with his CND roots AND win an election then we really would be in new ground. Can that happen? I don’t think so.

My feeling is that Corbyn will always be at the mercy of an establishment backing media who will portray him as being weak on defence and soft on terror. Jeremy’s biggest strength is also his biggest weakness – he’s different, and different while luring in some, frightens off others. In time, Corbyn’s legacy will likely have been to say there is another way to do politics. There is an electorate out there waiting to be engaged. However, in presenting something different you also need to ensure those who are afraid of change go with you. This is something the Scottish Independence movement continues to wrestle with. I think Labour will perhaps eventually return slightly more to the centre ground, but certainly not back to the days of Blair and Brown. The way the electorate are in this country you can’t simply win from the margins, unless it’s the right.

Thanks for reading.

Grenfell Tower

Refurbished Tower

In the early hours of Wednesday morning a fire broke out and eventually engulfed Grenfell Tower in the Royal London Borough of Kensingston and Chelsea. For more on what actually happened I will refer you to the Wikipedia page. In this piece I just want to jot down some general thoughts on events as they have unfolded.

Like everybody else I watched on helplessly as the flames reduced most of the 24 story building to a charred, smoking monolith. Latest estimates seem to suggest 55-60 residents have perished. However, information has been very hard to come by, much to the distress, and in many cases raw anger of relatives and other residents.  Often a tragedy like this is followed by a quiet, solemn period as people come to terms with loss. However, many affected still can’t truly begin to grieve as there has been no formal word on missing loved ones. Perhaps because of this vacuum and perhaps because of the fears residents had over the refurbishment and general condition of the Tower what we have seen instead is a massive outpouring of justifiable anger and frustration.

One act above all has riled both locals as well as people watching from around the UK – the actions of the Prime Minister, Theresa May. In an act of crass insensitivity the PM visited the scene within hours to speak to members of the emergency services. All well and good, but there was one group of people she chose to ignore – the local people. While others such as Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, Andrea Leadsom and even the Queen herself faced the front line, the country’s leading politician chose to stay away. Security reasons were quoted. To me this is an insult to the people who would have been there to meet her. Theresa May was roundly ridiculed for her increasingly stilted, evasive  and robotic performances during the recent General Election. She was also extremely loathed to interact with members of the public, instead preferring to keep appearances confined to back-street warehouses filled with party activists. There was also her refusal to take part in face-to-face debates with fellow politicians. It all added up to a picture of a person who is literally scared of the public, and people – not something any politician can be, especially one who is meant to be a leader.

Local kid adds to the sea of tributes

The Prime Minister belatedly visited the some of the victims in hospital. However, the moment had passed. In life, sometimes you only get one chance to do the right thing. Sadly for Mrs May when that moment came on Wednesday she woefully misjudged the mood of the local people as well as a shocked nation. From that there can be no comeback. She must resign.

Back in the Borough, anger is still the prevalent emotion. The actions of the Prime Minister aside, there is a feeling that once again the lowest in society have paid a high price at the hands of those looking to make a quick buck. The cladding added to the Tower may have pleased the eyes of the millionaires in their penthouses, but a material which was clearly not fit for purpose has created a highly visual and public tragedy which will scar London, and beyond, for many years to come. Hopefully answers will be swift and retributions appropriate. It’s no less than the people of Grenfell Tower deserve.

Thanks for reading.

General Election 2017 – Scottish Leaders’ Debate

Sunday night saw BBC Scotland hosting the first (not sure if only) debate featuring the Leaders of the main Scottish parties, and, err, UKIP. For those reading my blog who aren’t perhaps up to speed with Scottish politics, we essentially only have one wholly Scottish party, the SNP, who stand just in Scotland. The other party leaders could be looked upon as

(L to R) David Coburn (UKIP), Kezia Dugdale (Scottish Labour), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Ruth Davidson (Scottish Conservatives), Willie Rennie (Scottish Lib Dems), Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens)

heads of their respective Scottish branches. Not meant in a disrespectful way, but you get the picture. Currently the 59 seats up for grabs are split as follows: SNP (56); Tories (1); Labour (1); LibDems (1). While it’s probably unlikely that the SNP will get as many seats this time, there is little doubt that they will win the election in Scotland, with anything from 45-50 seats being predicted. The Tories are expected to bite back in a few marginal seats as the Unionist parties continues to trade votes to lessen SNP numbers.

As for the debate it was along standard lines. An opening 40 second salvo from each of the panel followed by a Q/A with an invited audience. I won’t get into the “audience” in this piece, but suffice to say it was the usual array of interest groups, plants and those who clearly had no idea of the difference between a Scottish and UK election. What then followed was a rather confused broth of Devolved (ruled on by Scottish Parliament i.e. Health, Education) and non-Devolved (ruled on by Westminster i.e. Defence, Foreign Policy, Brexit) policy questions. For reasons unclear the BBC decided to allow effectively irrelevant questions on devolved policy for the reason that “those were the questions people asked”. My response to that would have been to find other people who were prepared to ask relevant questions i.e. ones meaningful to a UK election. However, it is what it is, and as really pretty much any forum involving Scottish Leaders inevitably ended up focusing on the Scottish Parliament and in particular the job done by the SNP government.

Scotland’s Woman Leaders – Kezia, Nicola and Ruth go at it

The expected “No to second referendum” line was trundled out early doors by all concerned. It’s something the Scottish FM has heard a million times before and dealt with it comfortably. Really Nicola had a fairly easy night, and it was her Conservative counterpart who posted one of her weakest performances on television. Fact is Ruth Davidson has been cosseted by the Scottish media but in the last couple of weeks the gloves have finally come off. Last night she was actually treated as a Tory and asked questions a Tory (the UK Govt) would be expected to be asked. Ruth isn’t at her best when being put under pressure and she quickly resorted to shouting and looking extremely angry. Kezia Dugdale didn’t input much. I sort of admire Kezia for taking on the challenge of Scottish Labour leader but she just doesn’t have the substance to match any potential style. Willie Rennie was placid by his usual standards and saved his most savage attacks for the Tories, a change from his usual tirades on the SNP. Green party man Patrick Harvie spoke well. Not perhaps the most riveting public speaker, but he is passionate and did a good job. Not going to comment on David Coburn. He simply shouldn’t be there as he and his party are utterly irrelevant.

My overall feeling when it finished was one of frustration. While I enjoy politicians having a tear-up there was just too many areas and questions not pertinent to the up coming vote. Bit of an opportunity lost – a feeling shared by some in the post-debate spin room section. The only real loser on the night was Ruth Davidson who crumbled under the unusual sensation of pressure. All the rest stood their ground and can be happy with their night’s work. Sadly for Ruth, her national leader has also just had a day to forget with an interview by Andrew Neil being particularly grim viewing for those of a Tory persuasion. Things are definitely beginning to get a bit more interesting.

Thanks for reading.

General Election Countdown – Vote SNP, Vote Mairi

On Thursday the 8th of June the United Kingdom will once again open up its polling stations. It may have been only two weeks since the local council elections, and two years since the last General Election, but in those two years something fairly significant happened. It was called the EU Referendum and the result was a Tory contrived disaster which led these Islands out of the European Union. Having made this mess the typically opportunist Conservatives are now looking to get a moral and practical mandate to clean up an unholy mess they themselves created. To that end a snap election was called. The Tories clearly hope to seize on apparent Labour weakness to build a bigger majority.

However, I’m not going to get into too much, if any, detail today. All I wanted to do was kick off my General Election pieces with an introduction to the candidate I will be voting for, Mairi McAllan. At the moment I live in a constituency which has the only Conservative MP in Scotland. His name is David Mundell, and not surprisingly being the only representative of the UK Govt in Scotland he is our Secretary of State. His majority is only a few hundred but you can expect a heavily funded Tory effort to keep him in his seat.

Now, as much as at any other time in recent history, there needs to be tough, unflinching opposition to the Tories. That is something only the SNP seem capable of doing. If elected I’m sure Mairi will carry that fight as much as anyone else on the opposition benches.

Thanks for reading.

Tobermory

toby_01Tobermory Mobbs-Clements (Shooting Star Over Cowran of Nessaby)
11/03/2004-03/02/2017

The Clement’s household is eerily quiet today. Much quieter than normal. Much quieter than we’d like. Our broken hearts may heal in time, but the memories will never fade.

Sweet dreams Tobes. It was a privilege and a joy to share your 13 years.

The clock is ticking

Wee Ginger Dug

So that’s it then. The sun has risen but the darkness falls. The nightmare has happened. The nightmare is here. Two Unions lie broken. Last night England broke the Unions, and chose for us. Chose to take us into the dark forest, chose to take us off the path we wanted to travel. England and Wales have voted to leave the EU and Scotland has voted to remain. Every single council area voted to remain.  The union is divided but Scotland is united, and here we are again, sitting at the back of a bus that’s being driven to a destination that we’ve said we don’t want to go to. We cling on as we drive off a cliff. We shout from the back seat but no one listens. We hold our heads in our hands and we weep in frustration. That’s the best of both better together worlds. That’s…

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Election Aftermath 2016

SNP_LOGOmed_copyYesterday the Scottish electorate went to the polls to cast their votes in the 2016 Holyrood elections. In 2011, Alex Salmond led the SNP to a historic, and apparently, all but theoretically impossible majority considering the constraints of the De Hondt voting system. Last night, the SNP, under the inspirational leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, came within 2 seats of breaking the De Hondt system for a second time. However, the overall result was never really in doubt. The SNP are re-elected as Scotland’s party of Government for the 3rd term in a row.

FM Nicola Sturgeon

A quick look at the numbers shows the SNP winning 59 of the 73 “first past the post” constituency seats with over a million votes – a record, and more than Labour and Conservative combined. However, despite over 950,000 votes on the Regional Lists, this only garnered the SNP an additional four seats. That’s the De Hondt system for you – it sometimes fights back and actually stops the thing it was designed to prevent i.e. a majority. In some respects this election was all about who would come second. Much to the on-going disappointment of Labour in Scotland, it was the Scottish Tories who now form the second largest grouping with 31 seats. This includes a constituency seat for the abrasive but undoubtedly media friendly figure of Ruth Davidson. Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale failed to win her seat and instead was once again elected via the top up list votes. Elsewhere LibDem leader Willie Rennie won his seat in Fife and the Greens did well on the list to move ahead of Willie’s party in number of seats.

Moving forward, despite no SNP majority, there is a natural pro-independence majority with the SNP and Greens having 69 seats between them. I can’t begin to speculate what horse-trading may go on over the next few years, but the SNP have governed before in a minority scenario (with many fewer seats) and I’m sure they can do so effectively again. Just as interesting as how the SNP perform is what will become of Labour in Scotland. It should now be clear to even the most blinkered Labour supporter that their party was well and truly used and abused by the Tories to save the union. The price they paid for that toxic marriage has been reflected at the last two national elections. Labour in Scotland need to move ground, reinvent, put distance between themselves and the Tories. Until they do I can’t see any way back. Until then the Tories will revel in Labour misfortunes – misfortunes of their own making.

Thanks for reading.

Moving House: Part 1 – Getting Ready

Pushed-into-Moving-HomeBack in 2003 we moved into our current house with the plan on staying for perhaps five years before heading onto somewhere new. Well that plan has finally come to fruition – albeit seven and a half years behind schedule. It’s not without a hint of sadness that we’re on on the move, but that’s only to be expected after so long in the one house. However, were excited to be starting a new chapter in our journey through life. It’s one we’re both looking forward to, and it’s also one I thought I’d tell the world about via my blog.

First thing to mention – where are we moving to? Well, the answer is a small town on the fringes of the Scottish Borders called Biggar. We currently live in Larbert, in Central Scotland, and the map below shows our move:

Moving1

It takes around 75 minutes to get from our old house to our new one. While it may not seem that far to some, to us it’s a big change. Biggar is a much smaller community with a completely different – more countryside – feel. It’s also much further from my work in Glasgow, but home working will mean it’s a journey I don’t need to undertake every day. The house we’re moving into is a new build. For details of the development, please click here.

Our moving in date is 04/03; however, we need to vacate our current house on 26/02 i.e. a week before. This will mean seven nights in a hotel before we can actually call Biggar our new home town. On 26/02 our removal people will take our belongings and place them in storage. A week later they will transport our possessions from storage down to Biggar. Between now and 26/02 it’s just a process of getting everything as it needs to be for moving day. Today we emptied the shed; next we will start to take some of our living room furniture to pieces.

Probably time I stopped writing and got on with something else. Hopefully this short blog gives you a picture of what we’re up to. Regular updates will be added over the coming couple of months – before, during and after the move.

Thanks for reading.

Aye robot

Wee Ginger Dug

In the absence of anything positive to put forward in the way of policies, suggestions, or even pleasantries about the weather, Kezia Dugdale has decided that the way to restore the fortunes of the Labour party in Scotland is to insult all the people who used to vote Labour but don’t any more. That’s folk like me, and quite possibly you. According to Kezia we are “robots that are given a chip and told what to think”. Kezia knows a lot about chips, what with Labour’s definition of well balanced being to have a chip on both shoulders. Or in the case of certain Labour MSPs, a rancid sausage supper drenched in bitter sauce. It does not compute.

Driven to distraction by her weekly drubbing from the Hive Queen in high heels, there’s nothing left for the branch manager of Labour in Scotland except insults. By giving up on the…

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The Charge of the Lite Brigade

Grouse Beater

England my England Tombstone of Lord Asquith, MP for East Fife, apparently 'Prime Minister of England' England my England
Tombstone of Lord Asquith, MP for East Fife, apparently ‘Prime Minister of England’

This week the assault on Scotland’s democracy returned with a vengeance. It brings to mind the charge of the Light Brigade, or in intellectual weight, the Lite Brigade.

The place is full of nonentities keen to do Scotland down for no reason they can muster. The crave unity but stir up dissonance whenever they can. If they get a momentary glimpse of reason the pull the drapes to shut out the light.

Just as you thought ruthless, liver spotted colonialists had relaxed into their button-backed armchairs reminiscing of the great days in India when the click of thumb against ring finger brought you a cool gin and tonic, spurred by SNP’s election successes they sprang into action again to double attacks on individuals considered an effective voice for Scotland. Even J.K. Rowling-Innit got in on the act by…

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Hot Stuff in The States – Part 2: Road Trip

Friday 19th June (Part 2)

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Goodbye to LV

Having said goodbye to The Vdara, our taxi dropped us off at McCarron International Airport’s dedicated “Car Rental Plaza” i.e. a big building with every possible car-hire company you could think of inside. Our vehicle was being hired through National, so it was to their desk that we headed. After a few minutes signing paperwork and flashing credit cards we were pointed up the stairs to the attached multi-story car park. It seemed the car I’d selected was not available so we got a free upgrade to something bigger, which was nice. The attendant just pointed to a row of cars and said to take our pick. We briefly swithered between two before going for a Hyundai Sonata. I clearly have a soft spot for Hyundai having just bought one of my own in March. This one was a bit bigger than mine, and it was also an automatic!

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On the road

After working out how to take the handbrake off and then how to move the car from Park into Reverse, Drive etc (you put your foot on the brake) we were off. First lesson learned in the opening few yards was to give the left foot a holiday. In a manual the left foot does the clutch, the right, the brake and accelerator. In an automatic there is no clutch pedal so leave it all to the right. Have to admit there was slight trepidation about driving in the US (automatic and being on the other side of the road) but it wasn’t a big deal. You very quickly get used to both the car and the driving conditions. Having safely negotiated our way out of the car park, and then Las Vegas, we set the Sat Nav for Hoover Dam.

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What time is it?

On leaving Las Vegas, we soon also left Nevada. To me this meant a change of time from Pacific to Mountain time. However, it turned out that even within Mountain time zones there is an hour difference. Think it had something to do with Navajo Indian areas – they remained in line with Pacific while the rest were forward an hour. We didn’t know this so spent most of the rest of the day an hour ahead!

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Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam was only 30 miles or so from Vegas, and due to the distance we had to cover to our next hotel, this was just going to be a quick stop. However, it was enough to get some stunning views from the bridge overlooking the dam. Soon we were back on the road and heading for Tusayan, which is the nearest place you can get to the Grand Canyon (without being inside the grounds of the park).

The last 50 miles up to Tusayan was a long, straight road. We arrived at the Best Western at 7:30, or as it turned out 6:30! Temperature was cooler than Las Vegas, which was quite refreshing. Still 90+ but not 110+. Meal was had at the hotel’s restaurant. Also bought our pass for the Grand Canyon National Park at reception. After that it was time to chill out in our room. All in all a successful first day driving Stateside.

Saturday 20th June

Best way to get from Tusayan to the National Park is to get the “Purple Route” bus. This bus had a stop right outside the hotel, runs every 20 minutes and was free. It had the advantage of being able to take its own private road past cars queueing to get into the park. Highly recommended if visiting the Grand Canyon. Once in the Park we firstly got coffee and a bagel to quell our rumbling stomachs. It was then onto the Southern Rim. All you really do is walk along the rim and look out over the Canyon. Believe you me, that is more than enough to keep you occupied. Rather than me describing what we saw, here are some pictures instead.

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Yes, yes, we bought a selfie stick. Well, you have to for this sort of thing.

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Look, I don’t care what the signs say about feeding squirrels, just a few morsels, yes? And that’s a dollar for the photo mate.

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Mrs C and some big canyon thing

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We stayed in the Park from 9:30 until about 1:30, and could easily have stared at the view for another few hours. Perhaps, next time. Tonight’s stop was roughly 160 miles away so after catching the bus back to Tusayan it was into our hire car and off to Holbrook.

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Pool at Holbrook, Travelodge

Holbrook was a small town in the middle of nowhere, but you really felt like you were in “off the beaten track” America. We were staying at a Travelodge which for £45 was just about the best value we had in the whole trip. Room was clean, reception staff very friendly and helpful, the pool open and empty and a complimentary hot breakfast awaited us in the morning.  For our evening meal we indulged in some Pizza Hut. Wasn’t great but it filled us up. It was then time for lights out.

Sunday 21st June

Hot breakfast at the Holbrook Travelodge gave us our first experience of a pancake maker. All you had to do was push a button and 30 seconds later a perfectly formed pancake flopped onto your plate, and very nice they were too. After breakfast we checked out and made for the Petrified Forest.

usa_15We had quite a long drive to Albuquerque so we didn’t plan on spending too long in the Forest, really just a couple of stops before hitting the interstate. A quick wander round a shop outside the park was followed by a longer interlude at the official tourist place inside the park. Here there was basically a loop around a relatively small area which gave you a good overview of what was meant by ‘Petrified’ – trees turned to stone. It was about a 20 mile drive through the park which, including stops, and took us just over an hour or so.

On reaching Albuquerque we headed straight for the Sandia Peak Tramway. The ride up was spectacular. The cabin seems tiny and you appear to be miles from the ground. If you’re scared of heights I wouldn’t recommend it. Once at the top there wasn’t much to do other than look at the views over all of Albuquerque. Again, we could have stayed longer, perhaps even eaten at the restaurant, but we wanted to get to our hotel so headed back down after 30 minutes or so.

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Sandia Peak Tramway (that is only the first short section, there is more over the hill)

Our hotel was in the old part of town. It had a really nice pool, the room was very impressive, but star of the show was a tremendous Mexican restaurant. Probably fair to say the meal and service we had in here was amongst the best of our trip.

Monday 22nd June

Having checked out we had a walk into the hotel shop. What we found was a cracking selection of “Breaking Bad” goodies. I bought myself a t-shirt and very smart it looks to. Soon we were back on the road once more, this time heading into Texas and the city of Amarillo.

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Texas, the last of four states we visited

It was about 3pm when we reached our next sleep over point. It was the first of two Holiday Inn Express & Suites in a row. It had the added bonus of being only a few hundred yards from the world famous Big Texan Steak Ranch (well famous if you’ve watched Man v Food).

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This wasn’t the 72oz edition!

In truth the Steak Ranch was a bit of a let down. Steak wasn’t brilliant and the decor and atmosphere was a bit naff, almost tacky. However, I’ve had worse meals and it certainly filled a hole. Back at the hotel we had a swim before Mrs C did a wash while I caught up on my blogging i.e. writing notes for this thing. Fairly uneventful day as we got one step closer to reaching Dallas.

Tuesday 23rd June

Another hot breakfast, but this time the pancake maker was broken! Not to worry, there was plenty of other bits and pieces to fill us up for the long drive ahead. Our last stop before Dallas was in a place called Denton, which was a suburb of the famous oil city. Our hotel was about 30 miles short of where we had to drop the hire car before noon the following day. Therefore it was close enough to allow us plenty of time if the local traffic was bad.

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Didn’t see any!

Drive to Denton was over 300 miles and for 100 of those Deena took over at he helm. She did a good job, but at the first sign of something complicated ahead on the Sat Nav it was back to me behind the wheel! Weather in Texas was milder than where we’d been previously (maybe 95/96f) but more humid. The drive from Amarillo to Denton was enjoyable and completed within four and a bit hours. The second Holiday Inn Express & Suites was a better experience than the first. Everything just felt a bit more professional and cared for. For tea we headed out to a local retail park and partook of some delicious, freshly cooked Panda Express Chinese buffet food.

Once back at the hotel it was soon time for lights out. The end of our road trip was in sight.

Wednesday 24th June (Part 1)

This morning’s hot breakfast featured a working pancake maker! After loading food on board we checked out and made the short, 30 mile trip to Love Field Airport. Felt sad saying goodbye to our car. Fair to say we both really enjoyed having the freedom the car gave us. Next time we return to the States a hire car will feature heavily. Having dropped the car off we searched out a taxi to get us to the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas. More of that in the third and final part of our holiday blog.

Thanks for reading.