Saturday 13 April 2013


I don’t know about you but I love that programme for anoraks on TV entitled QI. So much so that today I have downloaded a book of its 1200 most interesting facts, which has whiled away a couple of amusing hours, causing me to chuckle out loud (COL). I feel immediately obliged to share a few of these with you this month, in the name of factual entertainment - if only so that you can pass them on at dinner parties.
For example, did you know that in 1997, 39 people were admitted to hospital with tea-cosy related injuries? A little known fact, indeed. Or that, in 1915, Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest and came 11th? Canned food was invented 48 years before the tin opener, Mark Roget, who invented the thesaurus, also invented the slide rule and that, if you so wish, you can rent Liechtenstein for 70,000 dollars per night, for a minimum of two nights. It sleeps 900!
Now these are not things that any human is deemed to be aware of, unless of course you are planning a massive lederhosen party, but none the less, fun to know.
My reason for discovering these facts and, indeed, for having the novelty of a few hours of spare time to digest them, is that I am currently on a Ryanair flight back to UK, to do some research. No I am not writing a new version of Johnson’s dictionary, just more of the cattle research that is currently occupying the majority of my working day. For the next 5 days I will be touring Aberdeenshire, visiting some rather clever people who have added their mark to the history of that magnificent beast, the Aberdeen Angus. Among these include a rather heraldic lady, whose titles include Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, by the name of Lady Quiet-a-few-surnames, from Ballindalloch castle, whose great grandfather was one of the breed’s founders. I also have to see a 88 year old man who once sailed to Argentina with a boat load of cattle, to hear first hand the story of one particular bull which firstly fell ill and then fell over the side. The fact that he had cost upwards of 20, 000 guines, was subsequently discovered to be infertile, and was well insured, apparently had nothing to do with his coincidental midnight swim!
My only hope is that the April weather will not dump me in snow drifts higher than the Cairngorms, as UK continues its extensive winter.
Having said that, our pilot just announced that the weather in Edinburgh airport was 5 degrees warmer than the day we have just left behind in Bordeaux. Yes, France has suffered at the hands of mother nature too, although our odd frosty night and chilly day doesn’t quite stack up to the depths of weather seen in Rock over the first few weeks of April. Ok, I won’t rub it in, but I did get sunburned last week whilst trimming a hedge in my shorts!
Aha, moving on just in time, my rant this month is a little disjointed as the captain announced that he was about to land the plane and would I turn that bloody machine off as it was disturbing his concentration. So now I continue from the middle of a snow covered forest near Ballater, 200 miles and 24 hours later, where a large stag is eyeing me suspiciously through the trees. For the last few hours I have traversed the Cairngorms via single track roads as the satnag directs me the shortest route from here to there. Were there an override button that suggested we avoid snow drifts over 1 metre high I might have pressed it but, without the aid of a map, I have little or no choice but to follow her mundane commands. I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised to find myself on a ski-run, but evidently it was the shortest route and we did enjoy some majestic scenery. It was only a green run though, although I do have to apologise to those couple of beginners who fell over when I blew the horn for them to get out of the way as I slid down towards the drag-lift. Anyway, all is now calm again, although I have no idea where the hell I am. You see, satellite navigation is only really helpful when it can directly contact the metal transmitter that is orbiting the earth. In this instance, this would be nigh on impossible, judging by the depth of this forest, coupled with the thick black cloud looming over head, but hopefully they will all be reconnected soon enough for me to reach my destination. Otherwise, would someone kindly alert the mountain rescue services within the next few days and send me supplies, and possibly a rifle and a stove. At times like these it is nice to comfort myself with learning new words, such as ‘Nomophobia’ - the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. Strangely enough, I just went through a village called Dunniken, a few miles back. And there was I thinking that name was just a Scottish myth!
Assuming I do get out in one piece, on my return to France next week we have the builders in to install our new septic tank. I know it might appear a little strange to be excited about such an event but, due to a mountain of French bureaucracy, we have actually been waiting for this for over 3 years! Even now, a power-crazed little man in a white van will have to make no less than 4 visits to check we are doing it right, at the right depth, in the right place and woe betide us if we don’t. Then will follow 3 frantic weeks of jigsawesque pipe assembly in a hope to get it all connected so that our late April guests wont have to pee in the bushes.
Meanwhile, the invites are out for our annual May bash, which this year will also encompass a 6 nations championship all of our very own, as we have arranged golf, table-tennis and pool to be undertaken in order to spice up the event and give folks something to occupy their time instead of drinking themselves into oblivion in the summer sunshine! By evening, this will culminate in a quiz - hence the swatting up on irrelevant facts - and prizes will be handed out to the soberest team. Judging by the current entrants, I don’t hold out great hopes for Scotland!
They say deaths come in three’s, a bit like busses and nuns, and this week has seen some of those. Firstly I learn of my Auntie Gina, my mother’s cousin, whom I barely knew, save for photos of her and Mum swanning around the French Riviera in their bikinis, glamourously wooing the local boys and posing for the cameras. Then, we hear about the Iron Lady herself, which signals the end of an era of unparalleled democracy. As notes of respect for Maggie come flooding in from world leaders, you have to marvel at the hypocrisy of most these people who at the time either couldn’t stand her or were terrified of the old dragon. Can’t say I saw one from Galtieri though, nor Mr Scargill for that matter, but maybe she has seen them off in more ways than one?
Finally I get sad news of the death of one our old sheep breeding adversaries, Big Gavin Shanks. Now Gavin was a gentle giant of a man who for many years excelled at the Highland Games and once tossed the caber for Scotland. He was a large as life character and extremely popular amongst sheep breeding circles for many years and will be sorely missed. I hope the Big Yin is up there handing round the drams and entertaining Gina and Mrs T in the same way he had always done when I was in his company.

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