Tuesday, July 22, 2008
As well as catching up with Stumpy 'hitler' Greenisland and his eccentric family, we managed a family meal out with everyone, a trip with cousins to the fabulous Giant's Causeway, a couple of rather nifty second hand bookshops, and a reminder of just how completely and embarrassingly useless I am at ten-pin bowling. P&O bounced, crashed and rolled us safely back across rather rough Irish Sea to Troon, and so we are home again.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
A rare and special treat for Mrs Hideous and I last week, three days in Paris by ourselves without the children. Nice hotel, wonderful food, boat trips long the Seine, mooching in museums, reading, exploring the city. The kids seem to have had a wonderful time in our absence, being looked after by their Grandparents (London variety) with the assistance of Pots (the mad one).
We may have blown all our air-miles on the train between London and Paris, but it was well worth it. If you're ever going to Paris and want some restaurant recommendations we found some stunning places. The French reputation for fine food is well deserved - its just a shame that the pound is buying so few Euros this year!
Last time we were in Paris it was for Mrs Hideous' 30th, and it was a cold Decembre. I found that putting my long winter coat over my rucksack produced a splendid Quasimodo look, which I tried to compliment with a stoop and suitable cries about Esmerelda and The Bells! This visit took place in mid-summer and so I wasn't equipped for such antics, and so sadly missed out on the fun of observing Mrs H's ashen-faced un-amusement.
Still a splendid time was had by all, and it was good to come back home and see the kids again.
Monday, July 14, 2008
We've found that the one of the most successful things with our kids has been the little green card that we were given in the Spring which gives us access to all the National Trust properties in the UK. This has meant free parking in beauty spots like The Hermitage or parts of Glen Coe, as well as access to a variety of historic sites, and places of interest, mansions, gardens, castles and coastal paths.
Last week, one such garden (pictured above) kept Boris, Norris and Doris happily occupied for an afternoon, running through rose gardens, hiding behind bushes, chasing each other across lawns, admiring views of distant hills and enjoying the inevitable cafe when sheltering from the equally inevitable rain!
Now I know that National Trust shops are to be avoided at all costs. They all stink of lavender pot pourri, contain wildly priced NT chocolates, and are typically staffed by older ladies who have been specially trained to look disparagingly at anyone who they suspect may not have been to a suitable Independent school. However, bypass the tweed and green-wellies and the NT holds many a fine opportunity for summer fun and learning too. A Historic Scotland membership card affords many similar treats as well.
One of the many advantages of living in Scotland is that membership of the National Trust for Scotland is cheaper than the English equivalent - even though their reciprocal arrangement facilitates access to each other's properties. I know of at least one family in England who have realised this and have joined the NTS as a result!
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Saturday, July 12, 2008
The remnants of our much depleted sea-fishing industry can be observed close at hand in the harbour at Ullapool. Lobster pots like these are taken in and out by small vessels during the day, while large trawlers land huge catches late into the night - which are frozen on site and driven all across Europe. Langoustine landed here will be in Spain within 24 hours, the fisherman told me.
Four Star at Three Pounds and four shillings a Gallon? You've never had it so grim! From the door of the Hostel
Ullapool, lovely Ullapool!
Friday, July 11, 2008
Monday, July 07, 2008
Saturday, July 05, 2008
I visited it last week and had rather hoped that the old station, pump rooms and institute would have the tired, run-down feel of a neglected seaside town. I thought that exploring it might feellike walking down a rustng pier several decades after the last end-of-pier show had shut, with tattered Little & Large posters peeling from walls. Sadly I was denied such ambience, as the place was sparking, refurbished and gleaming with new paint and investment.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
The road to Ullapool, bleak, wild, rugged, vast and alluring. The mountains around here are all demanding, involving long walks across bogs, awkward river crossings and weather that constantly threatens. The wonderful Dirie Mor, the broad strath that leads through this great landscape is a great drive, which never seems the same, varying constantly with each drive in different weather and light. It's quite possible to stand in the Dirie Mor in brilliant sunshine, and watch storms lashing the Beinn Dearg mountains, lighting attacking An Teallach but the Fannaich's lit up in streaming sunshine.
Alarmingly, there are plans afoot to desecrate this great landscape with a line of Britain's biggest electricity pylons due to march right through its heart. Whether the plan is for wind farms or nuclear generators I don't know, I am just dismayed that soon the view above will be gone for ever, and replaced with something as awful as the 'artists impression'* below.
* 'artist' ie. me - I use the term loosely and advisedly.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Ultimately though the problem arises in that Chalke seems to be offering the church a straightforward choice, between inevitable decline or accepting his ideas. However, he does not justify this with any evidence either contemporary or historical to demonstrate that the loss of the distinctiveness that his programme would entail would actually encourage growth, or a re-engagement with society. To be sure, Chalke proposes some new compelling distinctives for the church and passionately restates the church's mandate to solidarity with the poor and oppressed; however he does not address the possibility that his vision of a church more atune to contemporary culture might not be the attraction that he asserts. The only piece of evidence he cites is the growth of his own church, church.co.uk in Waterloo, which he attributes to the principles in the book. Critics might also point to his personal prominence, experience, leadership skills, motivational genius, brilliant social concern and the significant resources brought to the project.
So this was a bit of a disappointment. If you want to read about the church, Stott's "The Living Church" provides a very readable biblical vision of what the church is, providing solid foundations for all further discussion. Simon Jones' "Building a Better Body: The Good Church Guide" asks many of the challenging contemporary cultural ecclesiological questions that Chalke does - but I think does it better.
The rainbow I saw as I drove to Glen Affric was the last decent light for photos all day, however it was a great hill-day in an area which is new to me.
Getting up onto the long ridges on the North side of Affric involves several miles of walking, but in the early morning sunlight, with deer, squirrels and countless singing birds for company, in fragrant woods ringed with high peaks, such walk-ins are all delight, and never a chore.
I didn't walk that far every day. On some days a combination of foul weather forecasts and my own tiredness meant shorter or lower level walks, like this one down towards the Plodda falls.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
The book concerns the post-conflict experiences of Sam, a 1946 returnee from the Burma campaign and is set in Bragg's home-area of Wigtown, details and history of which he clearly delights in weaving as a backdrop to the nicely drawn characters he introduces. Bragg is presumably old enough to remember soldiers returning to Cumbria, and it seems likely that such childhood impressions fuelled his imagination here.
When Sam returns to his family he finds himself alienated and lost. His wife and son have forged a closeness and bond in his absence that threatens him; his reintegration into civilian life is problematic and he both misses and loathes the camaraderie and horror of conflict. He is haunted by the battlefield experience, something about which he is unable to speak to those who did not go through it. The story concerns the troubled demobilisation of this soldier, and his family. As such the book is driven not by narrative but by his state of mind. Simply but compellingly told its a good read - worth reading, but not really the 'masterpiece' the jacket describes.
One thing that concerned me throughout the book, (well perhaps until the final twist!) was the lingering suggestion that such excruciating post-war readjustments were being portrayed as the norm - and written in the comparatively peaceful 1990s how we imagine it should have been back then. What surprised me was the way in which real veterans of WWII spoke so fondly of their return, in comparison with the traumas of Bragg's novel. In the book three soldier's are spoken of, Sam (his struggle to re-integrate), Ian (who is killed in battle and his family left to cope) and Jackie (who has a complete nervous breakdown).
My Grandfather, like Bragg's character, must have experienced some similar emotions and transitions. In the photo above, taken during home-leave in WWII, he is pictured with my Grandma in Walworth, E. London, surrounded by buildings which are bomb-damaged. It was taken immediately prior to his return to the European conflict, where as a member of the Pioneer Corps of the Royal Engineers, he was engaged in such things as bridging the Rhine for advancing allied forces. Perhaps by the time he told me about the war, forty years of healing had taken place, and maybe we can picture Bragg's character eventually chatting to his grand-children in similar ways. Maybe though, not everyone was as damaged by the experience as all the characters that Bragg draws.
I was musing these very questions in Ullapool last week. Also staying in the Youth Hostel there was a soldier on home leave from 'a conflict zone' (I guess Afghanistan, maybe Iraq). Clearly tense, jumpy, nervous and bursting with an excess of adrenaline, he described landing back in the UK less than 24 hours before, hiring a car and disappearing into the Highlands to fish for a week - in order to calm down before he could cope with his family. He hinted darkly that he was still so 'high' from battle that he couldn't trust himself around naughty children. His regime for three weeks of leave was a week in isolation 'de-toxing' from conflict, a week with the family and then a week with the troops re-psyching himself up for the tension of war. "Three weeks isn't long enough to come-down" he said, "you never really come down in three weeks, if you did - you'd never be able to go back."