Scotland is another Country

My early holidays as a young child were camping trips taken with my parents and my two brothers to locations around the British Isles, staying at farms-there was no such facility as a camp site-and pitching tents in a corner of a field.

We travelled, all five squeezed into one of the various small vehicles my father procured-starting with a little, old black Ford. Packing was an art form in which only my father amongst us was skilled [apparently]. The tents [ex-army acquisitions] went on to a roof rack together with our ex-army kapok sleeping bags [camouflage design] which had been cut down to child size by my mother on her treadle sewing machine. Then there was a ‘Bluet’ cooking stove in a tin box plus all our enamel plates, cups and dishes. Any leftover space housed our clothing-shorts and T shirts plus one jumper-oh and pyjamas of course.

We would have to get up in the dark, small hours to undertake the journey, since motorways had not been conceived and stop in lay-bys where my father would get out and set up the Bluet to make tea. My mother struggled with the stove, pumping to get the spirit fuel going and famously throwing it over a fence when the flame shot forth terrifyingly. Much later, having reached the destination he had selected [Wales, Devon, The Peak District, The Lake District] we would stop at a likely farm and request a space for our very basic tents-an arctic ‘bell’ tent and a home-made construction from poles and sackcloth he’d cobbled together to be our ‘toilet’ tent. He would dig a neat, square hole and erect a seat made from 4 struts and a timber frame-to sit on and carefully backfill and replace the turf after use.

Once we travelled to Scotland, an intrepid adventure for the time. My memories are dominated by the mist and drizzle that masked every view, the night we slept in a milking parlour due to the inclement weather [I could feel the drainage channels through the thick kapok of my sleeping bag] and the eyrie, plaintive bagpipe melody drifting through the fog over Culloden Field, where a brutal and bloody battle was fought.

We camped in the Highlands with a view of Ben Nevis. My father fulfilled his burning desire to bathe in a mountain stream by moonlight, an event which, for some inexplicable reason we were all taken along to witness but had no appetite to share; the Scottish weather not lending itself to this kind of romance.

We know the outcome of Scotland’s attempt to sever the umbilical. Scotland seemed foreign enough to me then, without the need for independence and still does, in the same way that the USA feels foreign. There is more to unfamiliarity, to foreigness, than a different language.

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Que Sera Sera [and era era]

This time last year I posted a rambling, meandering piece about regret. Once you get into what I shall call somewhat older age the achievements you have not made may have begun to assemble into a substantial and growing heap. They may even have become a mountain. Ambition and regret are linked together like health and sickness.
As children we might begin with some outlandish and bizarre ideas about what we would like to do as adults. I still remember the cruel taunts and guffaws of laughter from my family that met my announcement at the supper table that I would become a missionary. I would have been about six years old at this point. There followed a series of ambitious plans for my adult occupation: ballet dancer, show jumping champion, vet, model, make-up artist, graphic designer. These aspirations followed my childhood devotions, each being thwarted by the arrival of the next love-of-my-life. It seemed as if I went from worshipping Margot Fonteyn one week to reading every book penned by Josephine Pullein-Thompson the next. ‘Wish for a Pony’ was one of my favourites.
After we’d moved to the flat, bleak, backward countryside of the fens my mother was fond of saying I could have had a pony if we’d stayed within the environs of the New Forest, from whence we’d come. This was small comfort to my pining, desperate, pony-mad self. Four years later, once we’d moved again [to the horse-friendly environment of Kent], I was able to indulge my passion by saving up two weeks of pocket money to buy one hour of horse riding every fortnight. My mother advised that my ballet dancing legs would be ‘ruined’. During one thrilling ride involving leaping ditches and straddling an unreliable steed I was thrown, resulting in a broken arm and three months of being encased in plaster of Paris from finger to shoulder. During this enforced separation from the realms of horsedom I underwent a metamorphosis and became interested in the mysterious creatures that were boys.
In a simultaneous bid to influence my career choice, my father, frustrated musician that he was, foisted a clarinet upon me [plus an abusive teacher-but that is another story] in hopes that I, the last of his three children might become a maestro. Sometimes it is possible to influence or shape your child’s destiny. More often it is not. Tennis players often come from a fanatically tennis-mad background, but to me it seems a selfish and egocentric policy to expect your child to achieve what you could not; better to support them in whatever pursuit they show aptitude or interest in. For me, this was not the clarinet, or any other instrument.
Ultimately I did what the vast majority of people do and drifted into a career that would do. In fact teaching did serve very well. I was able to do it adequately, but to ‘job’ rather than career level. It allowed me to spend the holiday periods with my own children and eventually paid out a reasonable pension; therefore no complaints. Career options shrink with age. I shall not, now be winning Wimbledon, dancing the lead in Swan Lake or painting any masterpieces. Still-if dementia can hold off for a bit there is an outside chance I may get a novel published. Just published will do; it doesn’t have to top the Waterstone’s chart-don’t want to be too ambitious at my age!

Downhill for Wrinklies

            In the photograph, we are both smiling. The image is deceptive. Husband is smiling a deep, broad grin, signifying his abject happiness with the activity we were undertaking. I am doing my utmost, mustering, at best, a grimace that may be mistaken for a smile, given that we were swathed in helmets, dark glasses and various items of protective padding. The snap was taken after I’d hit the rock that projected me over on to the stone-laden, rutted slope but long before we were anywhere near the base of the mountain; hence the grimace.

            The mountain was Mount Doi Suthep, just outside Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and we were being nursed down a rough, muddy, rock-strewn descent by two enthusiastic, young men. One of them, ‘O’, had the misfortune to be at the back of our group where he’d acquired the herculean task of getting me, the ancient, terrified snail of the group from Point A, the top of the mountain to Point B, the base via the horrifying precipices, ruts and mud that was the trail.

            To the young, Thai mountain bikers we were ‘Papa’ and ‘Mama’, titles we were to be addressed by throughout our stay. ‘We must look very old’, I remarked to Husband, although we were charmed by the term, feeling that it was some mark of respect. Within our cycling group of eight we were not only the oldest by far but generations apart from the other three youthful couples, who surged down, leaping their bikes over boulders and soaring over the ruts in an effortless glide.

            ‘Good, Mama!’ encouraged ‘O’ as I negotiated a successful transfer from one rut to another. He must have wondered if we’d be down before nightfall. At times we briefly caught up with the others as they stopped for a water break or to take some photos; then they’d be off before I’d got the lid off my bottle.

            When I think of that day now, I know I would never have undertaken the challenge if I’d known how difficult it would be, and perhaps this is one of life’s lessons-that ignorance is somehow bliss. I can now look upon it as a kind of achievement, though nowhere near the hard won achievement of ‘O’, who got me, ‘Mama’, to the base.

            I must also point out that ‘Route 1’, our chosen way, was the easiest option. Others chose to follow a route across the mountain which involved, at times, cycling a death-defying channel along the summit, the width of a cycle tyre and with sheer drops either side, or a route which involved carrying the bike for some distances and calf-burning ascents.

            At last the trail levelled and changed gradually to gravel track. It led to a beautiful lake fringed with little thatched huts on stilts. We came to a halt, shed our trainers and climbed, wobbly-legged, onto a palm mat around a low table, already decked with bottles of cold water and coke. ‘Which lunch option would we prefer?’

            During the next few days a circle of dark, black and purple bruises appeared around my thigh. Throughout the course of the ensuing three weeks it changed colour, but remained. Vestiges remain today-a bracelet of honour and testament to the accomplishment of mountain biking down Doi Suthep.

The Best Things in Life…are not too expensive…

                An eighty four year old woman in the USA has won 278.2 million [after tax] in the state lottery. I suppose her remaining years will now be more comfortable than she would have previously expected them to be. On the other hand, what can she possibly do with that amount of money, besides passing it on to her family, or leaving it to a cats’ home? I gather she was somewhat reclusive, from the remarks of her [now] former neighbours, which will be a help to her now that she is probably going to have to spend the rest of her days in relative seclusion, if she is to avoid scroungers, sob stories and con artists.

                But will it make her happy? It is easy to take the much clichéd, moral high ground here; ‘Money Can’t Buy Me Love’ etc, but stories of the lives of lottery winners are not all tales of heart-warming, happy-ever-after strolls into the sunset.

“Robertson has four sons, two from his first marriage and two from another relationship, while Laidlaw has three children. But his win has led to rows with the elder sons about how the money should be shared. Now, Robertson declares, “they are not getting a penny”.”

“Gardiner was greeted with hundreds of letters begging for money and for his hand in marriage.”

“He bought a cul-de-sac of houses for his friends. He also tried to help people out by offering work but these people began to take advantage and take liberties.”

“Keith checked himself in to the Priory rehabilitation clinic in Birmingham as his alcohol use began to get out of hand. It was at the rehabilitation clinic where Keith became acquainted with James Prince. Between August 2006 and July 2008, Prince persuaded Keith to invest his final £700,000 in a number of fake business ventures that were never real. Keith lost all of his money.”

            Poverty, of course is a miserable state of affairs. But a modest improvement in circumstances can do wonders to lift the spirits-especially when combined with a sense of achievement. One feature amongst the woeful tales of lottery winners was how many of them still shopped in ‘pound shops’ or resumed their daily toil after experiencing the boredom of inactivity. For sheer, unadulterated euphoria there is little to compare to the joy of acquiring a bargain, or to make a small profit from selling on an auction site, or to win a small sum in a story competition. All of these successes require some effort-hence the pleasure quotient.

                Children, I read, are to have money management shoehorned into their curriculum in the near future, possibly at primary-even infant- level. This in itself won’t be a bad thing, if time allows and it relates to mathematics, but one alarming idea I heard during a radio discussion was that 5 year olds would be taught that having money equates to happiness.

                I get regular ‘likes’ from bloggers who want to teach me how to make money from blogging, and I’m sure they mean well, but the greatest pleasure to be had from writing it is to see how many people have shown an interest in it-and which parts of the world they inhabit.

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