My Twenty Fifth Week as a Budding Author
I’m bloody fed up of living in this van! There, I’ve said it. If you’d asked me a year ago “Dave how about decamping to Scotland in your van for three weeks and cycling round the place?” I’d have salted, ketchuped and sandwiched your hand before devouring the whole thing raw in moments. That’s because I’m the sort of person who only really thinks in positives. I find it hard to consider that anything can actually go wrong and often throw myself into tasks without due consideration.
This worked well when I was younger as my friends had a permanent crash test dummy for any mad escapade that presented itself to them. Consequently I wrecked clothes in muddy bogs (“Dave, see if you can get across there, it looks ok”), broke my arm falling off fences (“Dave walk along that fence while we kick footballs at you, it should be ok”), nearly died riding a car bonnet down a steep hill backwards (“Dave, hop on that car bonnet and we’ll give you a push, it doesn’t look that steep”) and almost drowned coasteering (“Dave, jump into this watery gully there’s no risk of a freak wave”).
Therefore, heading up to Scotland I was of positive mindset and visualised myself cycling easily through picturesque glens during the day and then relaxing in a deckchair watching the sun go down with a whiskey in the evenings. However, I failed to consider the following:-
- old, Dutch and German people
Let’s take each in turn.
I’m sure midges are well written about and I’ve no excuse as I have been up here before. But memories fade with time and I had forgotten what utter bastards the little devils can be. Their search and destroy mechanisms are so unbelievably well honed that I’ve yet to find a part of Scotland where they can’t find me. I actually believe that at the border a troop of midges are personally assigned to you along with a mission to make sure that any time you spend outdoors stood still is as uncomfortable as it can possibly be. I’ve been bitten on beaches, remote roadsides, mountain tops, valley bottoms, lake sides and even in a bus shelter.
The only place you are safe is in a town centre, and that’s because every single person in suburban Scotland smokes. This really is true, the only way to get served in an Inverness cafe is to pop round the side door and ask the waitress to put down her fag for a moment and make you some coffee. So, the quiet evenings sat outside the van enjoying the countryside are out. I’m stuck inside it all evening along with my minging cycling clothes and post ride flatulence.
Next we consider the old, Dutch and German people. These are my only companions due to the fact that this is outside of holiday season and they are the only people resident upon Scottish campsites. This would be fine if they didn’t smell and could talk about something else apart from the f**king weather. The foreigners can cite language difficulties as an excuse and to be fair it’s a fairly safe way of striking up a conversation. But the old people can’t hide behind that one. They are quite simply lacking in any kind of originality whatsoever. I’m tempted to remind them that they are letting Eric Morecombe, Spike Milligan, Bob Monkhouse and Hattie Jaques down in a spectacular fashion. But I think they would blame it on the recent rain and possibility of hail at the weekend.
As for the smell. It has to be all of them, because every time I get into a campsite shower there is a lingering aroma of Imperial Leather mixed with mothballs and sausages. I’m pretty sure the Dutch and Germans contribute to this in some fashion as, without exception, every shower I’ve used up here has been slightly rank. It’s going to be such a luxury to go home and use one that is above tepid in temperature and does not need a button to be pressed every 15 seconds. Also, I can’t wait ti get away from all of the stupid patronising signs that litter campsites these days. For example: “Please leave the shower as you would like to find it”. Where on earth am I going to get naked women and champagne in the middle of nowhere at 10pm?
It would be unfair to focus on the lowlights though as there have been plenty of highs. Let’s take the wildlife for starters. Scotland has plenty of proper wildlife and it’s not scared of showing itself. Back home in Wiltshire we get all worked up about spotting a deer mainly because it is a refreshing change from our cows and sheep which all look the same. Scotland has loads of sheep as well, but theirs have character. They have horns and come in different sizes and more importantly they fight each other. Our sheep hang about in fields looking nervous, but up here there are proper gangs of chav sheep, hanging around looking for a rumble. On a walk I came across this bunch who got bored and decided to have a proper fight. This included head butts with a running start that made an impressive “bang” and didn’t seem to phase the combatants at all.
Further up the road some of their out-of-order but hornless mates decided to prevent a fire engine from reaching a true emergency.
I’ve also spotted stags, mink, stoats, goats, hairy cows, huge cows, horned cows, fat cows (Inverness town centre), too many birds to mention and this chicken who insisted on hanging around my van when I camped near Lochinver. I sussed out that she was on the scrounge for food and I know I’ll go to hell for this, but couldn’t resist a little experiment in feathery cannibalism. The result? well, they’re right bastards those chickens, they’ll eat anything.
I should also mention the bike riding. Basically, Scotland is the best in the world to ride a bicycle. Any cyclist who begs to differ would soon witness a grown man place a finger into each ear and recite “Na na na na na na” ad-infinitum until they went away. I’m sure there are more spectacular places to ride, with better climates, nicer roads, more salubrious campsites and less Germans. But that is not the point.
The best way to exhibit this is via an analogy that only my generation will truly appreciate. Having to chose between riding in Scotland or anywhere else in the world is like being Gregory in “Gregory’s Girl”. Clare Grogan represents Scottish cycling and Dee Hepburn the rest of the world. On first impression, you’d want to go with Dee, blond, leggy, intelligent etc...but waiting in the wings is our little Clare and what she has is “character”. In girl Top Trumps Dee would probably come out the winner, but I and most other men would be gutted if she took our Clare card, but we’d find it hard to explain why (of course that was if our wives/girlfriends/partners didn’t exist etc..). Scottish cycling is exactly the same. It has a certain character that does not exist anywhere else. A weirdly attractive smile, a certain tilt of the head a quirky haircut that keeps dragging the eye back for a second look. Oh, and hardly any cars..apart from old/Dutch/German people driving their caravans about the place.
So it’s with considerable excitement and considerable regret I make my way home. I’ve been away from the family for far too long and miss them like mad. Hopefully the locks won’t be changed after the Clare Grogan admission and I’ll still be allowed in the house. Then I have a marathon effort to do justice to this place in words and pictures. I’m comfortable with the former but think the latter may need a final visit with a proper camera and a more photogenic model.
Finally despite all of my moaning I have met a lot of lovely people as well on this trip, so a huge shout out to:-
- the cycling couple I met at Inchnadamp who kindly relieved me of an expensive tyre. I hope it sorted your mate out
- the nice chatty couple I met washing up at Clachtoll Beach campsite who promised to buy my book. DID YOU ALL HEAR THAT I have ONE guaranteed sale
- the cheeky till operator in Tescos at Aviemore who definitely fancied me, if only I were thirty years older
- the foreign lady I nearly killed today, “the drive on the left” signs apply to cyclists as well my dear
- the ferry obsessed woman who runs the campsite at Invereck and her mental husband who fixes washing machines by standing in front of them and scratching his head
- Mike and the staff at Mike’s Bikes in Aviemore, great shop, unbelievably helpful people
- the crazy XTC humming bag lady of Inverness
- the Dutch ladies who stopped and watched me taking photos of myself cycling and then came over to chat. Quote: “It was a joy to watch you in action, you really knew what you were doing”. Hahhahahahhahahahahhahaaaa!
- Dave Miche Plumbing. Don’t ever use this bastard, he nearly killed me in his van.
- Neil Gander, for writing Kok and Tvatt which has kept me laughing during the long evenings of this trip. Please buy this book now.
It’s been emotional.
24th June 2011