Wednesday, 22 October 2014

At the airport...

Thump down the car boot. Clunk. March towards departures, your case trolly-trundles obedient. Your footsteps a decisive clip-clap. But where are you going, so certainly, so fast?

A work thing - dull and dutiful? An adventure, change flights, time zones - never been here before, oh my? Or do you dash to your lover, flesh simmering-ripe and ready to be unpeeled?

You're a puzzle, crossing the marbled halls. On a journey at life's pivot point perhaps, or simply off to a jostling, crowded, commute in the sky. 

I wish I was you, confidently luggaged and head-up for what's next, where's next.

The scream fills the light-seared space over our heads, rattling to the glass ceiling. It's purple-faced author, riding a daddy-powered case carriage to the check in tips her blonde head back, pink mouth open and refuels her lungs for another assault. 

All straps and pockets and prepared for the worst, her mother sighs defeated. Will this be the sound track to the worst of times. A bickering, bewildering, why-the-hell-did-we? nightmare or just a little stutter at the start of something cut-out-and-keep astonishing? 

But you're on your way, all of you. Going to the sunshine, the in-laws, the holiday cottage, the new life, the somewhere else. You'll forget all of this soon. I know you will, I would if it was me there double checking the boarding cards. I wish it was me. 

And you there, fading tan and leather boots. Arriving alone wearing your skin like it was couture. I know that look - it was good, wasn't it? The air of special still lingers like woodsmoke. Or did you don it experimentally when the plane touched down - disguised in plain sight? You stroll right passed me with your chin up. Where are you going? Will you see him again? Next time...

Just the same as that couple. Jeans, sandals, clasped hands, leaning shoulder-to-shoulder. They gaze at the the board. The scrolling record of transits, transfers and transformations. With a nod, they stroll off into life together. A new life? Will they return? Or is it the usual, predictable, long-booked break from mundane Monday mornings?

Through the doors. One way only. Taking off soon. Soon. I wish I was you.

I spend quite a lot of time at the airport collecting people or dropping them off, but rarely actually ever leaving. On a jetplane.

Pic by Nick Harris via Flickr. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

10 inspiring quotes you don't need

"If you've got your feet in a uni-slipper, concentrate on being comfy instead of wearing yourself out jumping upstairs."
I don't know if you've noticed or not, but the internet runs on quotes. Wise, appropriate, succinct and preferably on a soft-focus sunset background. And most of them are mush. Like Big Macs for the soul.
"If you want to smile more, pick up the corners of your mouth from time to time." See, there you are. Or: "A full shopping bag makes for a sore arm."
It's time to upgrade from burgers to fillet steak. Inner Goddess lobster, or something.
Here goes:
"Children don't keep you young, they just make sure you're too tired to notice how old you are."
"Hard work makes you tired."
"If a woman has a husband, she has a wedding ring too."
"The only way to make weekends feel longer is to go to work."
"Public transport is nature's way of making you glad to get home."
"If you don't like what you see in the mirror, stop looking."
"A British woman's home is untidier than she wants."
"You have to believe that going on holiday is worth the hassle, otherwise you have to stay at home."
"The thing you have lost is over there. Not there. There."
"Home is where your stuff is."
"Anyone who counts up the number of items in a listicle has too much time on their hands."

Friday, 17 October 2014

Locked in Waterstones for the night - book me in

Imagine it. A night to yourself. The luxury of pleasing yourself.

Piles of books stand attentive - you can dip in for a paddle or wallow for hours. There are no children, no housework, nothing else to do. When you're peckish, there's a coffee shop. You might have to help yourself, but that's OK.

That's the situation American tourist David Wills found himself in the other night. He got himself left behind in a London branch of Waterstones after closing time.

But instead of just offering a prayer of gratitude and working his way from self-help to poetry via a look at the pictures in the biographies (you know how they end after all) he logged in to Twitter. Following the equivalent of rattling the door and yelling, soon the Internet was on the wedge of its seat over his plight. Would he be rescued soon?

Two hours later and he was liberated from his literary lock in.

Buy my question was different: What was wrong with this man?

In his shoes, I'd have relaxed knowing someone would turn up in the morning. Until then I had the place to myself, deliciously alone.

In fact, Waterstones (and their colleagues) would be missing a trick if they don't start offering this service. Bookshop nights: sleeping bags and a Thermos of tea extra. It'd be a best seller, without a doubt.



Thursday, 16 October 2014

Tea time and the vortex of doom

Scoffing another fishfinger even though I'm stuffed. Seven and a half minutes and it'll be The Archers and, before long it's bed time. Yawn.

Evening after evening. Nothing gets accomplished except bickering, cajoling and over eating.

It's not as if I don't have high hopes. I dash home - usually extracting Boy Three from whichever corner of the After School field is that day's den on the way. I greet the big Boys warmly, they grunt. Surveying the scatter of dishes, dirty clothes, unpicked up dropped things and smears, my heart sinks.

"What's for supper?" One of the Boys lurches in, he probably wants something. And it certainly won't be the healthy home-made meal I'm about to prepare.

I nag about chores and homework, chivvy to get whoever it is ready for whatever they've got on that night. Hurry up.

Laundry in, laundry out, dishes in, dishes out. Tidy up. Brats to bed. Brats to bed again. And again.

And ping, it's all done for today. Nothing is further forward except that I'm a day older and marginally fatter.

So after a few weeks of this I've decided to chuck some blog as it, this dreary, droopy, ineffectual evening slump. Expect down and dirty posts blogged from the front line of the great fishfinger famine.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Karcher MVP3 for men who like to suck and blow...

I'll admit it. The new Karcher vacuum cleaner skulked in the corner for a while while I mustered.

You see I was quite excited about a new cleaner. The ever-present possibility of a magical machine to make housework effortless. Sigh.

Only when I first approached the MVP3 I was baffled by many features - sucking as well as blowing, extra sockets, wet and dry, bag no-bag. Mystifying. 

Then the penny dropped. This is bloke's vacuum. It's the other side of the pinky dinkification of stuff for the girls.

For the purposes of simplifying the discussion of the features of this device I'm going to suspend the rights and wrongs of gender politics - it's only a domestic appliance after all. And I'd like to state for the record that the adult male in this house doesn't conform to any of those gadget-loving, DIY-doing stereotypes often attached to his gender. More's the pity. 

If you know a person (statistically most likely a man but not necessarily) that enjoys a Swiss Army knife, selection of power tools and clean orderly work space this is for them. Let me tell you how.

It's got the power. The MVP3 is nothing if not powerful. It sucks like crazy. It has 1400W of suckage apparently. I do know that it picks up everything, even passing the vacuum cleaner benchmark test of making Lego vanish. 

You can double tool. Oh yes. You can use not one, but two, power tools at once. The MVP3 has a socket so you can plug in and attach it to a mess-making tool in order to tidy as you go. I'll admit I was impressed when I saw this. I wonder if I can think of a mess-making tool to use it with...

It sucks up wet stuff. If your sink is full of nasty water and you can't unblock it without causing a tsunami, this is for you. Spills, flood etc are dealt with in superquick time by this gizmo. 

There's a lot of filtering going on. Useful especially in the case of plaster dust and the like. 

Blowing it's own whatsit. It can also blow just as effectively - simply plug the hose in the other side and Bob's your uncle. Useful if you can't get in with your vacuum, the surface is uneven or you just want to make wind. 

There's a place for everything. As with most Karcher stuff, they've thought through the details and you have somewhere to store the nozzles and cables that work with a satisfying clunk. 

In conclusion. This is an impressive piece of kit if you like to have impressive pieces of kit. I know several people who will love it, because they take great pleasure in having the correct, good-quality tool for the job. (Not my husband though, he thinks a hammer is a multi-tool because it's the only thing he tries to mend things with).

The MVP3 does what it says on the box. Look: 

If you don't believe me see how macho Tommy Walsh makes vacuuming look. This is not for girls... or housework actually. It's a proper tool!

The RRP is £119.99. 

Note: I'm a Karcher Clean Ambassador and was sent this product to review. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Things I've learned from STV's RBS- Finding Scotland's Real Heroes

Celebs and award winners on the shiny stage

I've often said how blogging has been the inspiration for so much for me. And once again I can say this has been the case, but with knobs on this time. 

Recently I had the enormous honour of being invited to be a blogging ambassador for a couple of categories at STV's RBS - Finding Scotland's Real Heroes awards. I'd quickly like to add that I have not done anything heroic, nor am I planning to. 

What happened was I went to the full-on red-carpet, wall-to-wall celeb fest that was the award ceremony in Edinburgh, got to interview the winners of two categories and then got to blog and tweet about it. Fun, interesting and, is it turns out, inspiring. 

Your ace bloggers - think of the A-Team only without the van
Here's what I learned: 

The extraordinary is everywhere. It really is. In the heart of possibly the least likely situations, people are going that bit further and trying that bit harder and boy does it make a difference. 

I don't want freedom of choice. Imagine having to pick a winner from the array of super heroes shortlisted. Nope, it would have been awful. Thankfully, I didn't have to. All the categories were voted on by the public. Phew. 

Little things make a difference. It might only be a fund-raiser, or following through on some good intentions. But they quickly add up to something enormous. 

Cliches are there for a reason. Because they're true. I usually avoid them like the plague and try to find another way of getting the point across. Only this time, I couldn't. They really were all winners and had gone the extra mile. 

Celebs and glitter aren't just about froth. The nominees and their supporters deserved to be made a proper five-star fuss of and that's just what happened. A-list stars mingled with the heroes, listening to their stories and laughing at their jokes. Really.

If they can do it, so can we. It's not about putting in all the hours you have every day, handing over all your money, though it could be. It's about actually getting on and doing the things you think might help, not just thinking about them, worrying they might be a bit hard and not bothering.

The categories I was chosen to represent were:

Carer of the Year. An astonishing group of people. Honestly, it's sometimes hard enough to look after my own family and we are very fortunate. Look at the people who care for family, friends, their communities and strangers. 

Huge congratulations to the winner Maw's Mafia, from East Kilbride, who provide a locally based club or hang-out for young adults with special needs. 

Maw's Mafia and Carol Smillie 
Hero Neighbour of the Year. Community lynch-pins who are the beating heart of where they live and work and who make things better for everyone. 

The well-deserved winners were Mo and Roxy Razzaq from Blantyre whose shop is the centre of a move to change their community for the better. 

Mo and Roxy with their award - well done.
Congratulations to everyone who was nominated and you can see the awards show and the story of these people on the STV Player

Jai is for....

Jam, jelly, jumping, juggernauts and jackboot.

It's also for yet another almighty row with Boy Three. 

"A B C D E F L M N O P X Y Z," he trills jauntily. Then stops: "Where's Q. I missed Q. It's my favourite. Quickly queen."

Sensing the volume of our outing was about to rise with his dropping mood. I quickly volunteered. "A B C D E F G H I J K..."

"It's jai, not jay," he said. 

"Actually it's jay."

"Nooo. Miss C says it's jai."

Seeing trouble ahead at the idea that the omniscient Miss C might be under threat I explained: "Well some people say jai and some people say jay. They're both right and it's important to know that."

Too late. Very loud wail: "It's jai. You're wrong."


We live in the West of Scotland and it's true there's a linguistic quirk that many people do say jai (to rhyme with fly) instead of jay (to rhyme with pay). It causes a little minor bafflement but everyone I've ever met understands both words. 

I understand that no one should have to abandon the things that they grew up with, that are part of their culture and region for a homogeneous and bland UK neutral version. 

But Miss C, if you're reading, please can you explain to your pupils - many of whom have none-west of Scotland parents - that there is an alternative. In any case, they'll need to know if they're going to leave home and spell out loud at the same time. 

Out for lunch in Glasgow just before things got saucy over a letter. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Still Game? No, not really...

I suppose you could say it was something of a phenomenon. Live theatre in a 10,000+ seater stadium running for 21 nights. And most of those seats having a fresh bum each evening.

That means around 210,000 people have turned out and shelled out in a city of around 600,000. And what did they go to see? A play about some old people who live in a deprived area and wear beige. There were no megastars and (mercifully) no nudity. 

What is this thespian delight? 

Obviously if you're from West Central Scotland, you'll know and, probably, you've been to see it, but for everyone else it's Still Game Live. 

Still Game was a sitcom starring and created by Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan about two old codgers in the fictional scheme of Craiglang and their adventures. It was a funny, funny show - warm and sharp enough to keep you coming back for more. 

So I was fairly confident of an entertaining evening when we settled into our seats, having decided against buying cardboard Jack and Victor masks or a £10 programme. 

Oh dear. I was wrong. 

The Hydro is huge. It's much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. (Shut up, it so is.) And it's a mighty long way to the stage (even if you're not in the cheap seats, which we weren't). Helpfully they had provided huge screens above the tryptic set upon which you could also watch the action. 

I did try to watch the real actors on the real stage, but inevitably my eyes were drawn back to the screen. In which case I might as well have been watching it on the telly - only on the telly a half-hour sitcom episode wouldn't have had to be padded to bursting and I wouldn't have had to take part in a horrible Mexican wave affair. 

Oh yes they did. Despite actually saying that it wasn't panto, it certainly felt that way. What else would you call a fist pumping "Craiglang Wave"? A cheering compliant crowd that anticipated the set pieces and no one really giving a monkey's about the plot. 

And you know that bit when Buttons and the Fairy do a double act and get the singalong going? Yes. That bit. Well that was almost what Jack and Victor when they got off the sofa and stepped out of their room set. Going through the fourth wall, I believe it's known as. Usually employed as a subtle self referential device. 

Not in this case, the bold pair drove their juggernaut of jest right through it stopping only after they'd flattened the first few rows. Even cracking a gag about the stupidity of fans for forking out a tenner on a programme as they went. 

Add to that a sweary script that made up for a lack of creativity with volume and repetition. Pish, pish, pish etc. Sigh. 

Bewilderingly though I was surrounded by people who seemed to be having the most hilarious night of their entire lives ever. Either they had come directly from bleak orphanage via miserable employment, dark home lives and a Scotrail train or I was missing something. The next day I watched a few episodes and, while I don't tend to LOL, I certainly smiled more than once. They were funny and clever with likable characters and keen observations. 

So it wasn't just me then. 

Still Game wasn't a complete donkey though. The marvellous Navid (Sanjeev Kohli) and his faceless wife Meena steal the show - much as they did on the telly. Give Navid his own programme, I say. 

And there is one genuinely wonderful scene - which I won't spoil for those heading to the last show. It alone saved the day. 

Still Game? If that game is taking fans for mugs, then yes. 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Falkirk Wheel: Who knew it was so much fun?

OK, I confess. When we set off for the Falkirk Wheel on a damp Saturday morning in October, my hopes for a wonderful weekend day were not high. And neither were the kids. 

We'd been to the "the world's only revolving boat lift" Falkirk Wheel many years ago, before there was even a Boy Three. My recollection was that it was interesting enough, but, playpark aside, not thrilling for kids. 

But when we were invited for another look and heard words such as "water walkers" and "water play area" I thought it was time for another shot as there was clearly far more on offer. 

The Falkirk Wheel is a remarkable engineering solution that links the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal for the first time since the 1930s, but, as the skipper of the Archimedes boat said: "This isn't Alton Towers."

However, it had stopped raining by the time we arrived and presented ourselves to Eddie from Outsidetrax. Eddie runs the Water Activity Zone and bike hire at the Falkirk Wheel. 

Within minutes of our arrival, I'd managed to get a selfie with the Boys and we'd found a frog. Portents of a great day. 

Then Eddie, brooking no debate, packed the three Boys off in a canoe. "Teamwork makes it happen," he said. 

And it did... for a while. It's a great place to get a flavour of canoeing.

There are taster sessions in the basin or it's possible to hire them for longer and make a journey along the canal. 

Then it was time for waterwalking. This was possibly my favourite moment of the day: 

I asked Eddie if they could stay there all day as they were clearly having fun - and so was I. But he said that might cause problems after a few minutes when the oxygen ran out. Oh well. 

And apparently that meant it was my turn. 

It's more entertaining, but also more effort than it looks. (Tip: Make sure you've not your five-year-old and your new iPhone 6 alone together near water, it can cause anxiety.)

Our next stop was on the Archimedes. The boat that takes you up in the wheel, through the pinch point in the Rough Castle Tunnel and back again. 

It is a remarkable thing and there's lots of history and other interesting stuff to be learned to. Did you know that "navvy" is short for "navigator" the term used to describe the manual labourers who build the canals and worked on major civil engineering projects? The wheel revolves in both direction in order that wear on the moving parts is evenly distributed. Both tanks of water weight the same regardless of the vessels on board. This is because the weight of water displaced is equivalent to the weight of the vessel doing the displacing. 

The view from the top is brilliant too, from the glinting Kelpies to the chimneys of Grangemouth. 

And then we were down for lunch. The cafe does an extensive selection of sandwiches, toasties, home-made soup, baked potatoes and, more importantly, fresh cakes. We were ready for it. 

Refreshed we headed back for more fun. There is a mini-canal and water fun area as well as the play park. 

There is lots of fun to be had making the Archimedes screw work and pouring water through canals, locks and water wheels. (Your kids will get damp so bring a change of clothes or a hardy attitude.)

The Falkirk Wheel is handily just a bike ride from the Helix and the Kelpies. Rent a set of wheels - or bring your own - and you're off along the towpath. 

We decided instead to walk up the network of woodland pathways to the site of the Antonine Wall and Rough Castle Roman Fort. For me the wooded glades and views were beautiful, for the boys there was mud and place to hide, plus lots of room for making noise and charging about... even Boy One who is not one of nature's chargers about. 

What we loved. Waterwalking, exploring and finding out there was a lot more to do than we thought. 

What we loved less. The cafe can be busy and some of the mini-canal features looked like the might be due a little TLC after a long summer. 

Who will should come. Everyone. We struggle to keep the Boys - aged 15, 12 and 5 - happy at the same time, but the Falkirk Wheel managed it. The sciencey/history stuff engaged the older boys and the play was enough for Boy Three. There's lots to do and you can be as physical as you like. 

In conclusion. Even if you've been before, come again, you'll be surprised at what's there. We'll certainly be back. 

Cost. The boat trip, bike hire and Outdoortrax activities have to be paid for, but there's lots to see and do without opening your wallet too.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Things I learned while canoeing the Great Glen

One minute it was all referendum fever, nearly riots and the dawning of a new era, the next I was paddling quietly and steadily away from Fort William. Like you do. 

Months ago, Debbie said: "Do you fancy this?" and sent me a link to something with pretty pictures of scenery. I glanced and words like "wild", "canoe", "superb cooking", "spectacular" and "unique expedition" leaped into my brain. 

"Yup. I'm in." 

Here's what I learned from a Wilderness Scotland trip up the Great Glen Canoe Trail

If you lend your phone to Boy Three, it'll come back with filters on the camera. Which accounts for the hazy nature of the images. But, then again, they're kind of appropriate to the experience. 

Food you don't cook is more tasty. And particularly so if you don't think about it or shop for it either. The grub on offer would have been delicious produced in an ordinary kitchen but created on the bank of a loch on a portable stove after a day's hard paddling it was mouth watering. 

You can't rush a canoe. Or at least not when you are a beginner canoeist. Paddling appears to be at one speed only and the only control over how quickly you get there is the degree of zigging and zagging you allow.  

83 miles is a long way. Five days' on the water from past Fort William to nearly Inverness. 90 minutes back again by minibus. Sigh. 

One person's endearing folly is another's creepy weird-fest. The Fairy Forest near Gairlochy is a shrine to strangeness or charming grotto, depending on your point of view. Created more than eight years ago by Karen Dewar after a treasure hunt for a friend's little daughter. It's now packed with thousands of slightly mossy stuffed toys. Those button eyes will haunt your dreams. 

Midges will triumph. They are largely unavoidable although in slightly smaller battalions at this time of year. Approaches vary from dousing in toxic chemicals to scoffing antihistamines like smarties. 

Most packing will be pointless. Despite hours (minutes) of careful consideration, most of the things you bring will be unused. Instead you'll wear the garments you first put on for the entire week. 

Freshly washed tourists cause body odour. Really. You can go all week with nothing more than a cursory dab with a baby wipe and remain relatively fresh, but the moment you mingle with the great washed in a gift shop in a town, you'll suddenly realise there's a nasty niff... and it's you. 

Portage is a posh word for carrying heavy things. It's what happens when people in flimsy boats meet the canal's lock system. It involves picking up all of the things and carrying them over there. Several times. 

Winning the lottery is possible. Or the lottery of Scottish weather anyway. Five days, 50 miles and only a tiny bit of the last morning with lashing rain. And even then it dried quickly. It does happen sometimes. 

Any fool can be uncomfortable. As my dad used to say. And so the wise will be wearing wellies and gloves with down jackets for the chilly evenings. 

Sleep is the new rock 'n' roll. One of the trip's biggest treats was the guilt-free opportunity to wriggle into one's sleeping bag as soon as it got dark and well before 9pm. Wonderful.

Canoeing burns hundreds of calories. Which is just as well considering how hungry it makes you. And how good the food is (see above). 

Wild camping is another way of saying pooing under a tree. Having dug a hole first, obviously. Unless, of course, you're lucky and take advantage of Scottish Canals' neat and tidy facilities at every lock.

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