January Travels

We woke to a crisp, frosty, sparkly morning by Loch Ness, thankful that we’d been warm and were able to continue. We followed the lakeside along to the end [Dorres] and then on to the outskirts of Inverness, before turning to The Cairngorms where we were treated to a full day’s travel of wintery scenes; snow covered hills and roads lined with Christmassy, snow-laden conifers.

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I remembered being given a slender cookery booklet from the Festival Theatre, Pitlochry many, many years ago- a publication that has been lost but that contained recipes for whisky-laden concoctions [none of which I attempted]. We stopped at Pitlochry, a modest one-street town, attractive in a modest way although more yielding to tourists in days gone by, perhaps.

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At last we came to Fishcross.

At the risk of insulting the residents of Fishcross I feel obliged to say it is remarkable only in its unbecoming appearance-in other words, Fishcross is not a town that you would visit for its stunning architecture or historic value, rather there are row upon row of beige, pebble-dashed terraces punctuated by a Spar supermarket and a cat rescue shelter. Hm…

Nevertheless Fishcross is host, not only to a perfectly acceptable camp site but the site has a great restaurant, frequented by local residents, the poor souls.

But Fishcross is an ideal place to stay for a visit to Stirling, a fine and elegant city which has a stonking great castle on a hill top. So the following day, which dawned damp, dank and misty we caught the local bus there [passing the Wallace Monument en route] and ascended the steep cobbled street up to Stirling Castle.

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This is a proper classic castle, such as we used to draw in history lessons at school, for some obscure reason which now escapes me-

The castle has been restored to within millimetres of its long, historical life-even to the extent of its tapestries, which took years to construct and have their own exhibition.

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Outside was no less fascinating, although the view from the battlements was mist-shrouded and atmospheric.

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There was so much to see at Stirling Castle that little time remained before the bus returning to Fishcross but we managed a whistle-stop tour taking in the bagpipe shop, the kilt shop and Darnley’s house [Darnley was a husband of Mary, Queen of Scots]. Then it was back to the delights of Fishcross, taking care to watch out for the cat rescue centre, since this was our cue to exit the bus.

It was time to head south again, striking out firstly to the Lake District, an area that becomes overstuffed with tourists in summer but is undeniably beautiful.

At our lunch stop at Lockerbie services I weakened on my way out of the building and bought scrumptious, mountainous scones and we were entertained by the many cars arriving with dogs and owners to use the surrounding parkland for walkies.

Then we were at Keswick and this was the reward:

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Next January’s trip may well be to the Lake District!

 

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The Ups and Downs of the Highlands

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We moved on, north from Glasgow towards the Highlands and the lochs [lakes], driving through suburbs crammed with beautiful sandstone mansions; first to Loch Lomond, Bannoch and Bannoch Castle. We are limited, at this time of year to sites that are open, yet many are-and all boasting five-star provision.

The castle [pictured above] is picturesque enough in its setting but all that visitors can see of the interior is a torn lace curtain.

Since Glasgow I’d been mentioning to Husband that a faint, high-pitched whine drifted intermittently through our vehicle, a comment that he dismissed in his customary airy fashion.

Loch Lomond, immortalised in song, surrounded by hills and adorned with small leisure craft and a steamer is of course beautiful, although Balloch village is nondescript, apart from some droll touches:
p1060647Having spent the night in Balloch’s excellent site we moved on and towards Loch Ness while I puzzled over the fizzing, crackling sound that appeared to come from the passenger side air vent.

There was little in the way of grocery stores but a plethora of farm shops indicated that my lust for pies might be about to be satisfied and it was. After our visit I concluded that if we lived in the vicinity of such a shop we’d be a] bankrupt in a very short space of time and b] obese.

Back in the van with the spoils the fizzing noise began to be accompanied by a burning rubber aroma, which even dismissive Husband admitted smelling. There were no indicator lights on the dashboard but we halted while Husband peered into the engine. Nothing amiss. We continued, as did the fizzing and the smell. There was a short stop to see ‘The Falls of Falloch’:

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Then we stopped to consume ‘Scotch’ pies here:

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At last we came along the Caledonian Canal side and to the shores of Loch Ness, check-in, plug-in and Horrors! 

The leisure battery under the passenger seat was too hot to touch! This was certainly where the smell had originated. No more plug-in as everything needed to be switched off; no lights, no water, no cooker, no heat-no heat? The temperature was -6C and a light dusting of snow. From Reception I got the number of a motorhome specialist in Inverness. We prepared to vacate and trek up to a hotel in the village. Then the mobile repair fellow messaged to say he’d be with us at 6.00pm.

There was an anxious wait, but he arrived, managed to isolate the offending battery, leaving us with 2 that continued to function and informing us that the stench was of noxious boiling sulphuric acid and very, very dangerous. Lovely. We’d been breathing it in all day. Ho hum…

Thanks to the cheerful, able mobile repair fellow we could plug in, get warm and be lit, waking next morning cosy and snug and to this view:

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January Odyssey 1

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January in the UK is my least favourite month. Gloomy, often cold and wet and with the remnants of Christmas and New Year celebrations clinging like grey cobwebs, it seems to go on too long.
In an unaccustomed surge of January optimism, we’ve heaved ourselves out of the post-Christmas languor to pack up the van, load it with our warmest and most weather-resistant gear and head northwards towards Scotland, a trip we’ve been meaning to do for a few years and only now decided to tackle.
The van, having languished unused for a couple of winter months needed a little de-moulding in its nether regions, otherwise it felt purposeful to be loading up and re-acquainting ourselves with our little holiday-home-on-wheels. There are enough sites open to enable us to travel up [first to Gloucester relatives, giving us a head start] and get around once we arrive. The weather was set to be manageable and Husband assured me that at the first sign of snow we would return, since I was somewhat nervous about getting ‘snowed in’ and unable to return in time for the next [contrasting] excursion in February.
Motorways have conveyed us here and while there were works being carried out almost everywhere the journey was incident-free. Our first, uneventful day took us to ‘Whittingham Club’, a site near Preston and not too far from Blackpool and a perfectly acceptable overnight stop. I assume this is an ex ‘working men’s club’ as it has a club house with a bar, large screen TV, snooker tables and darts plus a bowling green outside. The site facilities are an add-on but serviceable.
Next day we covered the remaining miles to Glasgow by early afternoon, arriving at the holiday park in time for a quick excursion into the city; two stops on a small train from the nearby station.

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Glasgow is just as a city should be; elegant, decadent, grand and squalid. It is busy and vibrant, the architecture both beautiful and innovative, with ugly inserts. The honey and rose sandstone buildings dominate and there is no shortage of galleries, museums and historic sights-too many in fact to see in a single visit. There are areas of development as well as hideous, high rise blocks. The shopping streets are packed with all the usual stores, from up-market fashion to restaurant chains. There is a vast a number of theatres and concert venues as well as lively clubs and pubs.

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Next day we returned in full daylight to take in the award-winning transport museum, the modern art museum, the Necropolis, [a steep hill crowded with mausoleums, obelisks and fancy gravestones] and the cathedral [sadly closed]. From the summit of the Necropolis the tower blocks of outer Glasgow can be seen as well as the grey ribbon of the Clyde. We had no time to tour the art museum, People’s Palace or botanic gardens.
Next day we drove north west towards Lock Lomond, out through suburbs of impressive Georgian sandstone terraces and while I felt it must be a pleasant place to live, I also realised we’d given the more depressed areas such as Paisley a wide berth. It feels good to travel to the outer reaches of the UK and understand that all life does not revolve around the London and the south.

Graceless Ageing

At the beginning of a New Year I’m taking stock. I’ve documented my feelings about ‘resolutions’ before but there is never any harm in reining in consumption after the monumental over-indulgence of Christmas. A new year is also a time to do a little stock-taking on the health front and to consider any goals and plans as winter dwindles.

For those of us in older age, this article: ‘Age Against the Machine’ 

provides an excellent checklist for anyone wondering how to cope with ageing.

But it does pre-suppose that you have no health issues and are financially secure. I agree with almost all the suggestions for coping with older life except that for me, continuing work would have been the death of me.

Offspring 2, who’s been staying for a few days over the festive period asks me if I’d ever want to live with either of my progeny in [even] later life. I tell her an emphatic no, although this conviction comes from the standpoint of happiness and [relatively] good health. At this moment I am independent, not alone and [arguably] still of some use as childcare etc. I tell her I want them to remember me with a degree of fondness and not with the irritation that can arise from continuing close contact with one who has become forgetful, pathetic and dependent. It must be left to professionals in an efficient, non-smelly care home where physical and mental abuse is out of the question.

Until then I have my own, personal checklist of ways to live out retirement, which goes like this:

  • VALUE IT. You’ve worked hard and long. The job may have been stressful [it was]. Value this wonderful freedom by carrying through on long-held ambitions and desires wherever possible. Don’t fritter away the time wondering what to do and waste it by not following through on ideas.
  • Keep as healthy as possible without stressing about it. For me it means undertaking such exercise as I enjoy [dance exercise and walking] as well as eating sensible, home-cooked, vegetable-laden meals. Keeping the brain exercised is also important. I like to read and write.
  • Plan long/medium/short term activities that can be looked forward to; a holiday, a meal with friends or the next dance class at the gym.
  • Be interested in world events and prepared to learn. Learning is great at any age.
  • Try ‘out of comfort zone’ things sometimes. Eat something new and different [within healthy limits]. Go somewhere new. Listen to some new music. Read a book you wouldn’t normally choose [my book club helps with this].
  • Take in some culture. For me it’s theatre, film and music [although not together!]. While we live outside of London we are not too impoverished here. I like to take advantage of our local, volunteer-run theatre when possible and consider that we are lucky to have it [as well as a wonderful library!].
  • Let it Be. I wrote an entire post about leaving behind negative ‘friendships’ and giving up pointless contacts. I keep up with those who put the same amount of effort in as I do and forget the rest.

There is a lot more-using public transport [again we are fortunate to have bus passes and we make great use of them], cycling, travel, groups, gardening, wildlife. I could go on-but of course I don’t have time…

 

 

The Dairy Discovery

During November, while Fiction Month trundled along collecting some new readers of ‘Anecdotage’ I made an interesting discovery.

Of course we should have been pootling merrily along the Rhine on a swish, indulgent river cruise boat swigging German beer, scoffing wurst and carousing. We should have been exploring hitherto unvisited [by us] cities, wandering cobbled streets, photographing, sampling, learning. We should have been undertaking what was to have been our very first cruise-type holiday. But this was not to be.

After the long, hot, dry summer of 2018, the mighty Rhine has not sufficient water to float the cruise boats down it’s length. We could have continued the trip using coaches but what would have been the point? We have a perfectly beautiful road vehicle of our own.

At the beginning I was stunned. This was to have been Husband’s celebratory birthday treat and felt I’d failed him. We booked a short break to Vienna, missed on our spring jaunt [detailed in a previous Anecdotage post]. Then the evening before our departure Husband became ill with a virus. We cancelled. Ho hum…

Now I’m on a different journey, exploring, having made a discovery. In an idle moment, whilst reading an article about raising infants as vegans I learned that I may have become allergic to dairy products.

Now for a number of years, [since having been diagnosed with UC-another story] I’d come to assume that the skin disturbances I’ve battled were associated with the disease. But the article suggested that dairy products could be the cause.

Hmm… I consume a lot of dairy items. I’m a fan of natural yoghurt, take milk in tea and coffee, love cream and am pretty much a cheese-aholic. I cook with cheese, milk and yoghurt and I am inclined to whip a chunk off the Cheddar for a quick snack. Becoming dairy-free was going to be a major undertaking!

I started with milk. I began that same day by trying ‘Koko’, a coconut based milk on the vegan shelf in the supermarket. In coffee it was palatable. In tea it was overwhelming, rendering the tea most un-tea-like. As an addition to soup it was fine.

I moved on to soya milk. In coffee it was creamy and delicious, adding a chocolatey taste. That it also added a chocolatey taste to tea was less encouraging. Soya yoghurt, however was a triumph and  possibly more delicious than dairy yoghurt. The next test of almond milk proved the best solution for tea [although it can’t match soya milk for creamy coffee].

I turned my attention to cheese. Tesco provided a small range of vegan cheesy options and I went first for a cheddar-like block [Violife]. It was bland and rubbery-a little like processed cheese; neither disgusting not delicious. A lump of ‘stilton’ tasted quite nasty and smelled like dung, pervading the fridge with it’s noxious aroma. It had to go. But it is early days and I am continuing my quest.

…and the results? Startling. Within 48 hours my skin looked and felt drier and clearer, and continues to improve. My hair, which was oily enough to need washing every day has become drier and my digestive system [sparing details] is altogether calmer. It’s enough to keep me on the dairy-free path, but I’m in mourning for crisp, nutty, tangy, roof-of-the-mouth-tingling Cheddar. Any suggestions?

-Oh-and just think-if we’d been on the river cruise I may not have been idly reading the news and found that item on raising vegan children and still not have known about dairy allergy-so there you go…

Fiction Month 4

In the last instalment of ‘Chalet Concerto’ Angela finds that being a good Samaritan is not all it’s cracked up to be…

Chalet Concerto Part 4

       I looked up. ‘That’s about all I can tell you, Officer.’
Dave gave my shoulder an encouraging squeeze. ‘Well done, love,’ he said.
The detective constable had stopped writing in her notebook. Will I…am I going to be arrested for aiding and abetting?’ I asked her.
‘I doubt that, Mrs Tanner.’
‘Angela’
‘Angela, yes. I don’t think there’s any cause to prosecute you as you couldn’t have known at the time that Anne LeParnier was wanted in connection with a crime.’
‘What will happen to her, when she is found?’
‘She’ll be taken in for questioning of course.’
‘And if she is found guilty of murder? What then?’ I was still feeling nauseous and I couldn’t stop shaking. I’d vomited the words out just as I’d vomited all morning after turning on the TV news and discovering that Guy LeParnier, the prominent French conductor had been found stabbed to death in his Bayswater apartment.
‘A lot depends on the circumstances, Angela. It may have been self-defence or she may have been driven to the act by her husband’s behaviour. Or she may be innocent. But you are certain to be called as a witness so you must be prepared for that. You are sure that you didn’t see her enter the house?’
‘I’m certain. But whose house is it, if not her sister’s?’
The policewoman shrugged. ‘We don’t know yet. But there was no one at the address earlier this morning.’ She stood up and Dave showed her out then came back to sit with me.
‘Do you want another cup of tea, Ange?’
I looked at my husband, sitting up close to me on the chalet’s tiny sofa. ‘I’m sorry Dave. I’ve ruined our holiday, haven’t I? Should we go home, do you think?’
‘Well it’s been a bit more lively this time, love-I’ll give you that. And no, I don’t see why we should go home. It’s Karaoke tonight isn’t it? And curry night? I tell you what though. Maybe we should do something a bit different next year. We could see if our Kayleigh would mind us tagging along when they go to Majorca. They’ve got some cracking golf courses. Do you fancy it?’
It would be a long time before I could think of Anne LeParnier without imagining her slender hands drenched in blood, without dreaming of her long fingers plunging the blade into her husband’s heart. But I knew if anyone could help me get over it my husband, Dave Tanner could.
I nodded. ‘Majorca with Kayleigh and Martin. Yes, I think I’d like that very much-and I’ll have that second cup of tea, too. Thanks Dave. I’m a lucky woman.’

 

     If you stumbled upon this, the final part of a long, short story and want to read from the beginning the 1st, 2nd and 3rd parts are in weekly instalments from the beginning of November. Just check into ‘Anecdotage’ November 4th to find Part 1. If you’d like to comment, critique or share anything regarding Fiction Month your input will be enthusiastically received. 

 

Fiction Month 2

       In Part 2 of ‘Chalet Concerto’, Anne finds a sympathetic ear in Angela, to whom she begins to open up. As she starts to tell her story it takes on a darker note…

Chalet Concerto Part 2

         ‘I couldn’t help noticing your hands, Anne. They are beautiful. I’d love to have nice hands. Mine look like piles of sausages compared to yours!’
She sniffed, spreading her long hands out as if she was going to do a magic trick. Her voice was small. ‘I was a concert pianist once, a long time ago.’
I leaned towards her. ‘How wonderful! I’ve never met a concert pianist! Do you still play?’ She shook her head and was silent, staring down.
‘First time here, is it? We’ve been coming here for seventeen years, Dave and me; always this time of year and always to this chalet. Dave likes the golf and I’m happy enough. We get to meet up with folks we know and there’s a bit of entertainment in the evenings. It’s Bingo tonight and Karaoke tomorrow. Do you fancy coming along, Anne?’ I realised I was prattling but I couldn’t seem to stop. I don’t mind my own company but I do like a gossip when I get the chance, although I was beginning to think Anne was not much of a one to chat.
She put her teacup on the table. ‘I’ve left my husband’ she whispered. Just like that!
I waited for her to continue but she sat silent. ‘Oh’ I said. ‘Did you want to tell me why? You don’t need to. I know what husbands can be like. I’m luckier than most, I suppose, what with Dave being out on the golf course so much and staying for drinks with his mates. He falls asleep snoring most nights before I’ve finished cleaning my teeth!’ I grinned at her. But I was blathering.
She looked away, across the table at the rows of chalets. ‘I couldn’t stand to be in the house with him a minute longer.’
I nodded in what I hoped was an encouraging way.
‘My husband is French. He is a conductor. After he met me at a recital he pursued me. This was thirty years ago. We married. We had a son. I gave up my career.’ She paused.
‘But children are such a blessing, aren’t they? Our two girls came here with us for years but it’s not exotic enough for them now they’ve grown up. They want to go abroad-Majorca or Florida. I still miss them but I’m hoping one day the grandchildren will come with us. I haven’t told Dave that though!’ I was jabbering again.
‘Our son left to go and train to be an army officer. Sandhurst. My husband wanted him to have a career in music.’ She shrugged. ‘They have to be what they want, not what we want.’
‘I never had what you’d call a career’ I told her. ‘I work in a garden centre. I’ve got no qualifications but I do know a lot about plants. I love it; that’s the main thing I reckon. You have to like what you do.
But you haven’t said why you left, Anne.’
‘My husband travelled for his work with orchestras. I stayed at home to look after our son in our Bayswater apartment. I played the piano a little when I could but without the rigour and demands of an orchestra I wasn’t able to maintain a performance standard. When my husband came home he derided me for my lack of polish. He began to sneer. My son started school. You’d think I’d have had more opportunity then but somehow I lacked the will. My fingers became stiff.’
She flexed her fingers with their long, tapered nails. They were unadorned except for a pale gold band on her wedding finger. ‘I became concerned only with domestic matters. I cooked. I looked after our son. When he was at home my husband would sometimes invite associates to dinner, soloists, composers and so on. These occasions became a cause of great anxiety for me because he would badger me for days about the menu, about the décor, about my appearance. I worried that nothing would be good enough, that I was never good enough. The dinner party conversations would concern recent tours, new compositions, the benefits of one soloist over another. I began to be marginalised-as if I’d never been part of the musical world. One evening a principal violinist turned to me to ask me what I did and before I could reply he said ‘Oh you don’t work, do you?’ as if a career was the only defining aspect of a life.’
‘Hold on a minute, Anne’ I said. ‘I think we need more tea, don’t you? Or would you prefer something stronger? How about a glass of White? I’ve got a nice Chardonnay in the fridge.’ I dashed in and returned with two full glasses and a bowl of crisps.
‘So there you were’, I prompted, ‘at home, feeling a bit left out, I suppose.’
‘I didn’t mind taking a back seat.’ She took a cautious sip of the wine. ‘but he began to find fault with my housekeeping and my appearance. He seemed to have lost respect for me, seemed to have forgotten who I was and who I’d been. He started criticizing my hosting skills, my cooking, my choices, my conversation. He undermined me, suggesting we get caterers in.’
I had a little laugh to myself about that one. I wouldn’t mind Dave suggesting we got caterers in, especially after a cold day at work. Then her story took a darker turn.
‘Some of the visitors were women, of course and many of them single. We had a small studio apartment in Paris where he stayed and I began to realise he was having affairs, using the Paris flat as a base. But I couldn’t really care too much about it because I knew by then I didn’t love him; that my feelings for him had died with his contempt of me.’
I topped up our glasses, noticing that the wine was loosening her tongue.
‘When our son was ten my husband told me of his intention to send him away to school, to a conservatoire near Paris where he would study music. I was horrified. My son had become my raison d’etre, my purpose in life. I railed against the idea until my husband became enraged, shouting, threatening me physically so that I was really afraid-for myself and for the boy.’
‘And your son, what did he think?’ I wondered why she never once called her husband or her son by name. It sounded odd.
She sighed. ‘He was a tall, confident boy, studious. His teacher said he excelled in sports activities and enjoyed organising his class-mates into games. He was always volunteering to help others. He showed no interest in singing or learning an instrument. When anyone asked him what he wanted to become he’d say he wanted to join the armed forces. When his father told him about the music school he became withdrawn, taking meals in his room. His schoolwork deteriorated, worrying his teacher, who called us in to discuss matters. It was she who convinced my husband that our son was not musically inclined and explained what his strengths were. My husband relented and he was sent to a private school as a day pupil, where he worked hard and achieved three ‘A’s at A-level, easily gaining himself a place at Sandhurst, which was all he wanted.
I was lonely when he went but I was relieved that he was out of the flat, out of the poisonous atmosphere and away from his tyrant of a father. I spent my time reading, playing a little piano, walking and visiting galleries. Then my husband’s behaviour changed. He started arriving home without warning, often late at night. It would be obvious that he’d been drinking as he’d blunder in, swearing and tripping over the furniture. He’d order me to get up if I was asleep, demanding meals and drinks. I lived in fear of his return to the apartment, never knowing when it would be.’
‘So you left?’

‘Chalet Concerto’ continues next week. Part 1 is in the previous [last week’s] post. Anne continues with her story and Angela makes the unwise decision to intervene…