Wednesday 11 November 2015

Bladders, stomachs and bowels

Driving rain, gusting wind, greedy seagulls, ah yes, we must be in Scotland again. Actually, that is a bit harsh as the ‘frozen north’ have actually had quite a good autumn this year, albeit that they pretty much missed out on summer completely! It has been a few days since we left balmy France by car; the wife, I and the dogs embarking on a 1250 mile road-trip via London and the Midlands to Fife with the windscreen wipers on the whole way,  all the while getting cocky texts and emails from our house-sitter who is basking in sunrays back home. Once again we pin-pointed the beautiful town of Rouen for an overnight stop, a place I never tire of visiting for its wonderful architecture, endless restaurants and fun student vibe. Just a peek out of the hotel window at that massive cathedral, the very place that they buried Richard the First’s lion heart, is enough to give you goosebumps, although the plaque that informs you his bowels were buried in a church 200 kilometres away was a bit unnecessary! To celebrate the occasion – of our visit, not poor old Dick’s disembowelment – I planted a tree. I have to admit that I am a more than a little mystified how I did this, but that is what the poster in my hotel bathroom announced: that if we only used one towel instead of two, and avoided running the hot water for more than 30 seconds, somewhere in the world a new sapling tree would be planted on our behalf. If one has appeared on your garden this week, don’t forget to send me a thank-you-note.
After running the gauntlet of our wheels being removed by ten thousand immigrants at the French port of Calais – where, incidentally we saw none whatsoever, but perhaps they don’t migrate on rainy days – we arrive in good old blighty and needed to take on some diesel. Normally I would do this in France, as it is 30% cheaper, but all the fuel stations near the border have all been suspiciously shut down, presumably to stop militant Syrians from refilling their petrol bombs. There is always a pivotal moment when the realisation that you are back in UK hits and this time it was when I pulled onto the forecourt in Folkestone to find that the pump wouldn’t accept my credit card. Eventually, after queuing in the grubby overpriced and overcrowded shop, the ten–year-old behind the counter informs me that ‘the pump is not broken, it just doesn’t work properly when it is raining!’ Well that will be nine months of business taken out of the balance sheet then?
Next up, London. A night out with my sons involves us ‘taking the bus’, something I am ashamed to admit I do extremely infrequently these days, and out comes my ‘new’ contactless credit card once more. Except it doesn’t work here either. ‘Excuse me!’, says I to the driver, sitting behind a sheet of bullet-proof glass. ‘This doesn’t work!’ Evidently the glass is so thick he doesn’t hear me as he fails to acknowledge my plight. In the interest of not stepping back out into the rainy street, I repeat the sentence continually with increasing intensity, but still nothing. On the assumption that London Transport’s latest policy includes employing deaf people, I revert to sign language as he stares straight ahead, emotionlessly. Eventually, as a queue stacks up behind me and the timetables starts to overrun, one of the passengers shouts out that the ‘driver is not allowed to talk to the passengers, mate!’ What? Did I hear that correctly?  You are kidding, right? Seemingly he wasn’t, as I discover that Boris Johnson actually has enforced a new policy of zero interaction between seller and buyer in a city that is becoming more and more impersonal every day. Whatever next? Will ‘cashier number 2 please’ at M&S be banned from asking me if I want my y-fronts in a bag? Or will I be forced into ordering a pint of Old Peculiar from a brail menu in the pub? Apparently, according to my reasonably well informed sons, it is so that London can fairly employ people who speak no English whatsoever.  And right there, my friends, hangs a rather sorry but inherent problem. Last one out of England, please turn off the light!
Thankfully my journey reaches its destination in East Fife in one piece, a world so far different from the south that we could be in another space-time-continuum. OK, it is still raining but even the rain feels cleaner up here. Settling in for a cup of cocoa and a wee dram, I flick on the evening news and all thoughts of relaxation suddenly take flight with the sea breeze as I am informed that one of Scotland’s national exports is under threat from yet more absurdity. Yes, that local pudding dish with the ‘wee sonsie face’ has been banned in USA because it contains offal. This from a country that lives on chocolate and burgers, the latter of which, let’s face it, contain just about everything except beef, including hooves, ground bones, sawdust and bottox, plus a raft of chemicals that would melt marble. OK haggis contains sheep’s stomach and a few other internal organs that you wouldn’t perhaps eat off a gourmet menu, but it has to be healthier than the god-awful junk food of an obese nation? Apparently the two countries are now reaching a compromise where America will accept the product if Scottish producers leave out its one vital ingredient, the lung. Presumably, from now on, all spare Scottish lungs will be sent to Westminster, so they can blow out hot air on debates that don’t concern them?
While on the subject of Scottish exports, I recently acquired a bottle of whisky called Ardbeg Supernova, so named as a cask of it has been sent by the distillery into orbit around earth to assess what impact the stratosphere will have on its flavour and taste. Some of the more cynical may dismiss this as a pretty neat publicity stunt but personally I believe offering the rest of the galaxy a chance to sample something so peaty and divine is a rather nice gesture. Continuing with this theme, Nasa have now backed it up by sending a pair of bagpipes along with the latest mission to seek out extra-terrestrial life. Now that really is a step too far, as the International Space Station disturbs millennia of space silence with the tuneless drone of yet more sheep’s bladder puffing out hot air through a loudspeaker. The poor Aliens will surely be throwing themselves on their rayguns when that row reaches their misshapen ears!
Oops, might need to flee back to France sooner than I thought!