Saturday, 22 September 2012

Viva la revolucion, or something...

There are circumstances in life where its hard to know how to behave, for example, at work when a colleague returns from maternity leave with a new baby about which you are supposed to be just as excited as they are but are not. In the bread aisle of the super market where they've run out of, or changed the wrapping of the bread you usually buy... Ok, that might just be me.

So it was today I found myself at odds, I attended the Independence for Scotland Rally, I've never been on a rally or march before. This is one of the few things about which I'm prepared to get off the fence and be moderately serious about, just moderately mind. Apart from anything else, sometimes its nice to put yourself somewhere unfamiliar just to see what happens, I mean, surely one can't attend a march like this and have nothing remotely eccentric happen?

So, its fair to say the Yes crowd have a sense of humour, this is no po-faced shower of weirdy-beardies, well mostly not anyway. A Terrier we nick-named the 'Yes Dog' was adorned with its own small 'Yes' banners, cue unionists questioning whether the dog was coerced unfairly. Later on, on the march itself, we could see through the legs of walkers another two dogs, a Westie and a Poodle with rosettes attached to their collars with the words 'Aye' and 'Oui' emblazoned on respectively. Stewart, an ex-work colleague who I was walking with had his camera, I mentioned the 'Oui' rosette to him thinking he'd like to get a picture, he thought I meant the dog was wearing a wee rosette.

I also bumped into an old pal, well, I say pal I mean someone with whom I had an argument a while ago. This was during a jumble sale (I know, the glamour) we always got a large skip from the council but this year they'd said it would cost £600, I embarked upon a mission to right this most heinous wrong, contacting the press, councillors and even Iain Grey (who replied politely saying he'd try his best.) We did get our skip for free bit this chap stormed past us all on the day declaring nothing was for free and that the council 'couldn't pay for everything', I told him we just wanted a free skip, not a skiing holiday.

And there he was today, an SNP councillor and a member of Christians for Independence, well, no one's perfect.

Giving the parade an international feeling, contingents from Venice and Flanders where in attendance, I had no idea there was a significant movement for independence in either place but their presence added colour and breadth to the affair.

As you might imagine a number of familiar faces where in evidence, John Swinney could be seen uncharacteristically guffawing with laughter with people at the front, entirely at odds with what you see on the news. Nicola Sturgeon being interviewed by that shaggy long grey haired chap who does the odd piece for Newsnight, I forget his name. Alex Salmond was present and gave a rousing speech, whatever you think of him, he knows how to orate. Pate Kane did well compering the many speakers. Margo MacDonald was on fine form as was Amar Anwar, although he did make a comment about all the British flag waving at the olympics being for nought after the fact while hundreds waved saltires in the crowd. It was incongruous but did not detract from the main thrust of his speech.

Earlier, in the Meadows we said an awkward hello to Humza Yousaf, we were spotting familiar faces and had identified him in the crowd but I think he thought perhaps we knew each other, which we don't. It was nice to say hello anyway.

The chap who chased Iain Grey into the Subway branch gave what could be described as an 'impassioned' speech, I say 'could be', but I'll actually say 'really very angry'. Still, he had a point although making us all deaf in the process seemed self-defeating.

The music was fine, the first band on (The Wakes) were slow to start but got going eventually, Gleadhraich came on laterally and really got things going again with their fusion of bagpipes and rock guitar, they were really good, The Trybe also gave good account of themselves.

I think when you're organising these things, if you're booking acts, best check them out first. I say this because an act called The Real Dublinerz was introduced. I've heard of The Dubliners, a multi-instrumental traditional Irish folk band as far as I know. The Real Dublinerz aren't or rather isn't because there's only one of them, a him, and he was shite. It was an odd moment, you could hear people twiddling their thumbs wondering what was going to happen... We thought for a wee joke, the rest of his band had told him to go ahead and they'd be on in second and had abandoned him. The guy was dancing like a stoned, hippy marionette, threatening to play what turned out to be a melodica (a small keyboard type thing you blow into to make a noise.)

The organisers soon saw their mistake, I say soon, the guy floated around to the backing track he'd brought for a good five minutes before he even started to play his melodica, which we couldn't hear anyway. It was a bit strange and as I've already mentioned; a bit shite.

Even with that, it was a fine day, the weather was grand and the over-all mood was good, a group had put up a large Union Flag way up the back but the police soon pounced to good natured cheers and laughter. Whatever happens, the press couldn't paint this as swivel-eyed or extreme. Alan Grogan who was speaking for Labour for Independence got a fine response and was one of the best speakers on the day, Alan Bisset also gave a fine rendition of his satirical poem Vote Britain (this is the actual performance from the Ross Theatre today.)

I wasn't sure how to behave, do I chant? Do I raise my fist in salute? In the end I just showed my face and walked, then stood and listened, clapped and cheered when I felt like it which was often enough to be gratifying.

The Ross Theatre seats 2000, it was full with people standing, as was the area above and good bit on either side, my entirely uneducated estimate on attendance would be in the region of 5000. I think this is a good number, with no mainstream coverage, purely on the basis of online word of mouth circulation?

I look forward to the next two marches, they said we should try to bring one person with us next time, so, knowing my readership as I do... How about it?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Still, still in Oban.

Surprisingly enough, I rose this morning (so to speak) without a hang over, I think it helps if you don't mix your drinks, or drink wine out of a cardboard box. Generally speaking, nights on the booze these days can be put into two categories, those being; single or double figures. Last night's activities saw me finish well within single figures so this morning was actually ok.

Usually if double figures have been achieved, the morning after is the least of my worries, the shame and mortification of the night before has been known to last months if not years. Obviously though, I'm a professional, and here in Oban in that capacity. So, today we shifted some bins around then went to Arlene's Cafe at Craignure for some lunch, it was really rather nice, I had a bacon, haggis and tomato roll. Unfortunately the tomato was cooked, I'm not sure who thought cooking a tomato was a good idea, generally I don't think its a good thing to eat lit napalm which is what the centre of a tomato turns into if you introduce it to any form of heat.

This will be our last night in Oban and I'm quite glad about it, while I don't think I'll ever get bored of the ferry (despite it stubbornly refusing to sink, roll over or even pitch violently) I am now a bit bored of Oban, I mean, its a nice place to visit for an afternoon but an entire week? I think not.

All of the kit we ordered is now in the hospital near Craignure, local residents can rest easy in the knowledge that my role in the NHS is not customer facing and by the time they are unfortunate enough to require medical assistance, I'll be long gone. Of course I always offer my assistance in emergencies but so far, I've been turned down, can't imagine why, my skin condition isn't contagious.

Working on another much larger project that I won't name, I was at large in the Laboratory department pressing buttons (which I like to do and don't lie, so would you) of a brand new PFI hospital. So it was that I found myself in front of a large fume cupboard (one of those glass fronted boxes with glove holes into which Dustin Hoffman can stick his arms in a dramatic fashion, but I digress,) it had lots of attractive buttons and lights. It is a little known fact about these things, some suck air in to stop the bad stuff getting out and others blow air out to stop bad stuff getting in. I have no idea what this one did, but when I pressed certain buttons, an alarm sounded which apparently, if not reset, automatically alerts an engineer after a certain amount of time has passed. I know this because although I managed to get it to stop beeping, the engineer came out the following morning at 3am. I still have plausible deniability on this one though.

Alas there are precious few buttons to press at Craignure, there is a body store in the mortuary. I thought it would be good fun to hide inside and tap quietly when someone walk past but it seems management thought of this already, they locked the doors and took the keys away. Probably good news for any apprentices working on site, lets be honest, they wouldn't have been safe otherwise.

As for Oban and its Caledonian Hotel, it's been ok, 5/10 I think, coach parties of wasp chewing OAP's, miserable German, confused Italian and bewildered English tourists aside. I'm always a wee bit embarrassed by our hotels, they're just a bit crap, this one boasts three stars, and for what? The shower has all the power of a broken gutter, the only thing scrambled this morning was the breakfast cook's idea of what passed for scrambled eggs and the staff unwittingly falling into that trap where they all assume someone else is taking your order, except of course for the exotic Vernon who was as attentive as he was fragrant.

Its just a wee but cringe-worthy when a tourist who's here with an open wallet asks a perfectly reasonable question like, 'can I have another sausage please?' and the waiting staff say no because there is some arbitrary one sausage limit in place.

The Oban Caledonian does have nice rooms, the bathroom is also well appointed, it has one of those big enamel baths with lion's feet, the taps are silver and the shower head sits in a cradle on top like an old-fashioned telephone, (yes I tried to get room service on it and if you were here you would have done the same, I mean, how can one not?)

I'll miss my daily commute on the ferry though, I love ferries. As a method of travel they offer a great compromise between danger and practicality, it might turn over but at least you could potentially swim away or make it to a life boat. If it was a plane breaking up in mid air, you'd be fucked. Same with the train, I dropped biology but even I know the human body can't go from 80mph to 0mph in the blink of an eye with out ramifications. So, the ferry offers a safe yet tangy method of travel.

I'll stop now, I have one more early start in the morning. Also, Vernon is on his way up with the extra pillow I asked for... I should say, I hope he's on his way up, he may not have understood me on account of the line quality being quite bad when I phoned from the bath earlier.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Still in Oban.

His name is Nicholas Crane.

I discovered that while browsing the travel section in Waterstones this morning, my ferry tickets couldn't be located which meant I had some time to kill in Oban. Unfortunately it also meant that my main activity (trying to remember that guy's name from Coast) was solved.

Nicholas Crane apparently found, with his brother, something called the pole of inaccesibility in central Europe in 1986. I assume he means the Eurasian pole of inaccesibility which is actually in Kazahkstan, just North West of the Chinese border, go past the chickens then turn left at the combine harvester. Going by wikipedia, its the farthest point from the ocean on a contintent's land mass or sometimes just because its miles away from civilisation, a bit like Oban then.

Other notable things Crane has achieved is a 10,000 kilometre solo walk from Cape Finisterre to Istanbul, the book he wrote (Clear Waters Rising: A Mountain Walk Across Europe) won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. More recently, he was also spotted by me on a ferry going to Mull then jogging in Oban.

And what have I been doing in place of trying to remember what Nicholas Crane's name is? Well I cannot lie, I've been drinking lager. Its a sordid tale that started in O'Donnel's at about 7pm, an Irish theme bar which is nothing if not keen being as there was only a couple of people in yet it was still dishing out the fiddle-di-de and being as Irish as it could, even although no one there gave a shit. Then onto the Regent Hotel's cellar bar, which is actually next door under another hotel which has since closed down, or might be flats. It was while in that bar I found out Scotland were playing Macedonia at football, I would tell you what the score was but I seriously couldn't give a crap, I think we got beat, which is a good bet because its what normally happens.

From there I moved to the Columba Hotel's public bar. Oh dear, scrap the smoking ban for here, it smelled horribly of wee. I mean, what would you rather have assaulting you're olfactory functions, fag-reek or pish? I'd rather have fag-reek and secondary smoke be damned.

I know you're counting, so far its only three lagers and do you know? You're absolutely correct, except you're not, because I had two at O'Donnel's, the lack of interest in the fiddle-de-di was well countered by the fact they served food which is always a quandary, does one waste time with food or does one carry on drinking, doing both is only an option in the afternoon, in the evening? Time is running out god-damnit! It took me a pint of Carlsberg to figure this out.

I went for one in a place called The Creel which was rubbish, on entering the premises there seemed to be no staff, this is fine for a bit, but after five minutes it becomes a chore. Eventually, a young lady turned up and said, 'can I help you?' to which I replied, 'no, I'm fine, I just came in to stand for a while...' I didn't say that, she was bigger than me, I actually ordered another lager, which lets be honest, is far more agreeable than a punch in the face.

After that, I decided, on account of having to be on another fucking ferry at the crack of dawn tomorrow, I should probably retire for the evening, via The Lorne Bar for one last pint.

All these bars are in Oban, I dare say they're much better on any night other than a Tuesday (I know O'Donnel's is great fun over the weekend with live music and The Lorne Bar has great food.) The Creel is shit every day of the week.

I saw no one famous today although the lady who served me my bacon roll on the 10am ferry looked a lot like Claire from Steps. It's a funny thing about Claire from Steps, she found, along with her fellow bandmates, the pole of unacceptable pop, in fact, not just one but several...

And not just in Europe either...

Monday, 10 September 2012

On Mull

I've been and come back. The early ferry was harrowing, not because it was a rough crossing but because it was so early in the morning. Up at 5:45am for the 7am ferry then spent the day humping office furniture about a partially built hospital, but listen, I won't bore you with that because it's, well, boring.

On the ferry though, whilst consuming an early morning snack (it was so early the hotel hadn't even switched on its hot plates) with much hubbub a camera crew arrives in the cabin (we're on a boat so nautical terms must now be applied.) With the camera crew comes that guy from Coast, you know the one who wears glasses and might be a professor, not the one with the long hair (Neil Oliver) but the other one, he usually has a cane-handled brolly attached to his ruck sack? (And definitely not the camp one who wears glasses and talks like a fucking five year old, if it was him, he'd be thrown overboard.)

I could google it but its so fucking boring here, trying to think of this chap's name is giving me something to do. Anyway, a member of the crew told us they were doing a documentary about Oban and the surrounding area and to act naturally if they started to film anything. Its difficult to act naturally at 7am, if you see a program about Oban and its environs and behind the show's presenter a dodgy looking Spanish waiter/middle eastern terrorist type with wild hair and red rinmmed eyes is sitting eating a sausage roll, that would be me.

The ferry home was busier, it being the 5pm sailing, lots of tourists, plenty of Americans and lots of Italians. The Italians always look so confused, certainly the ones staying in my hotel are, presumably because in Italian hotels they don't keep the coffee making facilities in a drawer and the rather lovely looking Thai waiter who can be seen mincing around is called Vernon, a traditional thai name, meaning 'he who is without sin is a bull in a china shop'. Well it might be, you never know. I imagine his given name has a glottal stop in it, the last thing you want when ordering dinner among company is a glottal stop, maybe that's what 'Vernon' atually means?

We decided to dine out this evening, not because of the cat's arse thing, I've already said this is compelling viewing, but because we wanted something involving lots of protein being as we'd been indulging in much heavy lifting and as you'll no doubt already know, when you're working on your guns, you need to take in as much protein as you can get, or something...

Anyway, The Spinaker Cafe last time I was in was a twee little tea shop on Oban seafront selling cakes and buns etc, its now an American diner style restaurant, (it may still be a tea shop by day because nothing had really changed, not even the name.) I ordered an Elvis's Revenge Burger and do you know, it was the best burger I've ever had? Onion rings, bacon and cheese all in a bun with two freshly made quarter pound burgers. All told it was about 6 inches high, I cannot recommend it highly enough, same goes for the side order of curly fries.

Also on offer was the 15,000 calory Judgement Day Burger, a one pound Aberdeen Angus burger, three chicken steaks, six rashers of bacon, three fried eggs, a helping of ground chilli beef, lots of cheese and a double portion of chips, this one must be a foot high at least. I think they might be trying to entice Adam Richmond of Man Versus Food fame over, if not that, then its a spendid way of making a punter part with £24.95. So far, no one has managed it and to be honest, I don't think anyone will. I couldn't manage my Elvis-burger.

To round things off, the view from our table over looked the bay and Kerrera Island, it was very pleasant indeed in the late evening sunshine, people promenading, feeding the birds and unfortunately, also those evil looking seagulls that will inevitably inherit the earth.

And to round things off, who did we see jogging along the sea front? Yes, that guy from Coast, you know the one who wears glasses and might be a professor, not the one with the long hair and gobby accent... He's got a cane handled brolly, ocht come on, you know his name...

What the fuck is he called...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

In Oban

So, I'm in a hotel in Oban and being in a hotel means certain behaviours come to the fore. I can never figure out why it takes so long to book into a hotel room, Perhaps it has something to do with the notion that if you work out how much time you actually spend in the room, the £80 tariff seems quite steep. If you spend 45 minutes booking in, it seems like much more of an occasion, perhaps we'll soon be asked to arrive 3 hours before check in, just so we feel we're getting our money's worth.

Being a Scottish hotel means it has a typically Scottish name, its called the Thistle Caledonian Lochs & Glens McDonald Clan Bothy Inn Hotel, Hotel. I'm joking, I don't know what its called, someone at work booked it, or I should say booked it for me but not for my colleague who's booking was lost somewhere, he's sleeping in the car. My room is a suite so its quite ironic and entirely apt that I have enough beds for a family and he's only got one for tonight in the eves. (He's not sleeping in the car, I lied about that.)

Obviously on finding the room you do the normal hotel room things, opening and closing all the drawers, cupboards and doors, checking the bathroom for unguents and cleansing agents then stealing them for use at home. You have to locate the Gideon's bible so you can use it prop fire doors open. This is important when staying in an older hotel, the way they're set out is not conducive to survival should fire break out, or indeed general navigation. On the way back to my generously appointed suite I past the dried out husks of at least three pensioners who obviously failed to reach their rooms or their coach home. I would report it to reception but I have no way explaining where the bodies are.

The TV doesn't seem to have the usual range of channels, just channel five and P7, what ever that is. Its showing Fatal Attraction which I can't watch because it's far too scary, being as it was made in the 1980's. There is internet access but there's really no way I can use the hotel wireless connection. I mean, not being able to organise a room booking three weeks in advance doesn't mean they don't know how to check internet logs. I'm not taking the chance, any way, its a moot point, Michael Douglas is currently boffing Glenn Close in a kitchen sink, I did say it was scary...

Earlier this evening we took dinner in the hotel bar which was nice, as with hotels of a certain age its important to remember not to look at the carpet for too long, it will make you dizzy or cause you to regurgitate your tea, (which is apposite since Glenn Close has just finished ingurgitating Michael Douglas' seed in an elevator, or at least I think that was what was happening.)

Of course no hotel bar is complete with out the obligatory retirees on tour, and so it was, usually miserable, the phrase chewin' a wasp can be applied. I don't know about any of you (I say any, like more than one or two people read this) but I can't help but be captivated when I see older people eat, their lips are like a cat's arsehole eating a fruit gum, its horrid yet compelling. Perhaps its just me though.

Tomorrow morning we're on the first ferry over to Mull, it leaves at 7am, not a time in the morning with which I am overly familiar, so I'm having an early night. I would stick with Fatal Attraction but I don't think its a great idea, I might have nightmares. Normally when staying in a hotel, I like to take full advantage of the residents bar, I'll get really very drunk and later on, set off fire extinguishers in the hotel corridors, move the cadavers of long dead OAP's and rip a paisley patterned curtain off its rails and prance around reception wearing it as a toga.

I'm joking, I'd never do that, besides, Paisley is so last year...