Thursday 18 November 2021

Rurally depraved

 December already, and the goose is getting fat. Well, for goose, read 'me', for I still cannot get out and do all that hard work that constitutes exercise. You may recall I was laid up last month with a poorly shoulder? Sadly is has made very little stride towards recovery as yet, despite scans, armrests and painkillers. Next stop may be the knife, although I am not sure whether the French, nor British, medical system has a theatre-window in their schedule this side of next Christmas, let alone this one. So I'm still off games, with Wendy doing the driving, gardening, cooking etc. 

Alas, through the shifting sand, our plans have been revised a few times but hopefully by the time this goes to print we will be in our house on Fife's east coast, gazing serenely out into the Forth with our woollies on. Of course, there will be domestic chores that go with that, such as redecoration and running repairs after a highly successful rental season, before a flurry of bookings already in the diary for next year drive us back south again in spring. Again, I may be excused of some of those duties due to the aforementioned affliction. At least now I can manage to write, something which is occupying much of my time just now.

This trip we will be without the animals for once. Can't say I will miss the wee terror that is Hoggie, or Hoggina as she is now called. I am not sure if I mentioned this but when we took him to be neutered it transpires that it is in fact female, quadrupling the cost of the job in the process. Well, I wasn’t to know how to check, was I? I did try to Google 'Sex Kitten' but got some rather disturbing results and a rush of blood! Anyway, the little rascal really has now got her feet firmly under our table or, more concerningly, on it, as she thieves like a Ali Baba - except I am probably not allowed to say that in this PC world anymore? Sadly, Louis the pointless pointer is slowly deteriorating into a world of confusion, as doggy dementia seems to be setting in. Despite him never being the sharpest knife in the drawer it is quite heartbreaking to see him wondering round in circles but I am sure he is as happy in his own little world as he ever was. So they are all staying home with house-sitters, for a wee while anyway.

Meanwhile, on the business front we are midst a small property deal in the Balkans which as always is besieged with trauma. One would have thought that, since these countries joined the EU, things might be a bit more straight forward, except that... Oh yes, we are no longer a member! What joy. Talk about one step forward, two steps back. This thing could win Strictly!

As a Midlander, I find the latest UK government stoochie quite amusing as it proclaims it is going to 'level up the North'! Now, this to me sounds about as achievable as lighting up the dark side of the moon, or moving the equator. How on earth does anyone in their right mind believe they can plug a century-old financial chasm with talk and a few hand-outs?  'Here, have a railway. In fact, no, you can't have that, it costs too much. Have some extra council houses instead!' And by the way, we will no longer mention the word 'depravity', which has been scrubbed from our dictionaries along with 'slavery, inferiority and Thatcherism', and since been replaced with words like 'rurality' which basically means a place where few people live.  If only the word 'honesty' could still be aligned with sincerity. Then, instead of all these hollow promises, someone in the mid-benches might stand up and say what they really think: 'If you don’t like living in the North, bloody well move south to civilisation!'  Or shut-up, head to Primark and buy some extra vests!

Happy Festivities, one and all, when it arrives.

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Machine fun

 Nobody here is increased in a free-kick.

I beg your pardon! I have absolutely no idea what the above sentence is about, my speech recognition software just made it up.  Yes, we’re back here again, exactly 13 weeks since I broke my left shoulder, I have now broken my right one.  No I wasn’t drinking, yes I’ll take more water with it, yes I will give up the pole dancing and all the other hilarious messages that I have had from friends on social media.  Unlike the left shoulder however, the right one really does pose some serious problems along with the pain.  I am physically unable to write, physically unable to shave, shower, drive, in fact most things that you take for granted, I am unable to do.  After spending four hours in casualty the doctor tells me that I will be in this state for at least four weeks.  The only good news is that I get a supply of morphine and various other drugs which may or may not keep me happy during that period.  It will be at time of frustration particularly because of this software, which writes more lies than the Daily Mail. 

Considering that I run a weekly podcast listened to by thousands, I would like to think my diction is quite clear, but I might as well be dictating this in Russian for all the good that this Microsoft rubbish product can understand.  Only now it is getting upset because I’ve told it that it is rubbish and Microsoft do not like being told how crap they are!  Many times people have warned us to be careful what we say in our own homes when Alexa is listening, and she is listening because she has just asked me if I would like a cup of tea!  Apparently, if you say the word bomb in your own home the FBI will come knocking at your door.  However if you say ‘machine gun’ to this stupid speech software it interprets this as ‘marine fun’ and organises a boat party! 

We are having some lovely weather here at Chauffour, the sun shining most days, maybe to make up for that miserable spring that we had, or possibly just to p*ss me off because I can’t out into the garden to do any work!  This year we kept one of our ram lambs back to use on the flock and, as I speak, he is in the field with some of his aunties.  We have called him Unity.  We are still hoping to get to Scotland for the winter but that may depend somewhat on my health and whether I have at least one good arm to drive with.  I only hope we can make it to Twickenham in time to see England playing Australia in middle November, otherwise my sons will be getting an early Christmas present of two rather expensive tickets.

On the subject of my offspring, it looks like I have not one but two weddings in the family next year, both of which I am to provide wine for.  This may be a rather monumental task and I am considering buying a tanker to tow behind our camper, if only to save on recycling!  Couple these events with two trips to the USA, a stag do in Italy, another commentating job in Edinburgh, and The Golf Open in St Andrews, next year may be another busy one. Let’s hope we have put this dreadful Covid thing behind us by then as I couldn’t bear the thought, let alone that cost, of another hundred damn tests.

Meanwhile I have managed to shoehorn yet another new found profession into my life, this time narrating audio books.  This, I suppose, is quite timely considering the fact that I am completely unable to write at present.  I have started with a couple of my own novels but now have moved on to some professional stuff, reciting old books from the early 20th century which are no longer in print.  Most of these will go out onto the Internet through a third-party company and be available free for everybody to enjoy.  Combine this with a very busy time with my podcast where we are looking at the history of many cattle breeds, and a couple of commissions for magazines and the short days seemed to be getting shorter.  I have to say it is a lot easier than trying to dictate through this godawful cloth-eared software! 

Anyway, at the marathon the bracket worst is good company for the Harrisons!  Ulrich one..

To be a pilgrim

 By calculated accident we appear to have stumbled on one of Europe’s hidden gems, in the form of Costa de Morte, in North West Spain. I’m sure we are not the first to discover it, judging by the wealth and size of posh holiday homes here, but it certainly is unpopulated by tourists and that suits me absolutely fine. Miles and miles of white sandy beaches and secluded wee coves, with virtually nobody on them. Admittedly this is September and towards the end of the season, and perhaps it usually rains around this time. In fact, judging by how green everything is, it must rain most of the time. But not this week, apart from the odd shower at night, as we sit on/or by the beach in pleasant sunshine. Don’t get me wrong, there are tourists here, thousands of them if you know where to look, being lugged around by coach to look at supposed hotspots and being ripped off by licensed bandits.

Many of you will have heard of the Comino, a walk made by pilgrims from Loudes in France, and other selected starting grids, all the way to Santiago de Compestella, at the north end of Galicia. We followed it for a few hundred miles, in the camper, each modern-day pilgrim identifying themselves in the bright dayglo habits and ski poles which they probably bought from a stall en route. I will admit, we steered clear of the city itself, just a bit too busy for our seven metre camper and my tastes. What a lot of people won’t know about the Comino is that it doesn’t end there at all. One guesses that someone in the system decided ‘hmm, when we get there and have said our prayers, what to do know?’  Or possibly, ‘how can we take more money from these blinkered souls?’ The answer is that the route extends 100kms past the city to a place called Finesterra, which loosely translates as ‘The End of the World!’ and for some foreboding reason, we decided to give it a look to see what such a macabre places would be like. Needless to say, as we grew nearer, so the roads were chocca with wannabe peasants from all lands, with only just enough money to buy bags full of religious tat and refill their bottles of holy water straight from the tap. More coaches brought in the infirm and lazy, all of which cluttered up the route up the hill to said lighthouse at the conclusion of the world. I had half expected to see them all throwing themselves in the Atlantic like Lemmings from the clifftops, and I am sure if one person did, the rest would have followed suit. Needless to say, we were there for less than five minutes, before we sidled around to the next bay and some more wine and solitude.

On the subject of wine, we have discovered yet another local gem in the form of Albarino white grown in the area of Baixas, a sheltered valley where the grapes hang from trellises and are still picked by hand. Although slightly expensive, it is absolutely glorious. Today we continue our journey south and will cross the Portuguese border by mid afternoon. Here we anticipate a few problems; not with the border itself but we have been advised that the country has imposed a recent ruling that there is to be no ‘wild camping’, the term used for parking where you like and cleaning up after yourself.  I believe this is due to the massive rise in popularity of the sport of surfing, something for which I am far too long in the girth for these days. Seemingly thousands of them descend on the coastline in their VW sheep wagons, a badge that, for some crazy reason, spells freedom and inhibition. To me it spells cramped, damp, and no toilet, that will likely breakdown by teatime. So for the last few days on this leg of the journey we will either try to outwit the local rossers by hiding our motorhome away in forests or back streets, or we may need to conform and haul up next to other people in campers, the very ones we go on holiday to avoid, who spend their every morning hoovering out said vehicle and the evenings moaning to each other about the lack of sun and everything under it.

BTW, I’m not sure if you noticed that Costa de Morte translates as Coast of Death! I am told this is to do with the amount of ships that have perished off that coast over the years, not the capsized surfers or pilgrim-lemmings diving form the cliffs.




Hoggy in the house

 Why do things only work when you don’t need them? At last the heat-wave has arrived here in South West France and so the fridge in our camper has packed up, once again, just as we are about to head off to Spain.  This is the second time this has happened but for a few weeks there it did right itself. Of course all the gas engineers are either busy, on holiday or on strike, so it's down to me to voodoo the thing back into working order again, or suffer with warm beer for 3 weeks. Shouting at it does not work. Talk about taking away the umbrella when it starts raining. 

Before we head off west I am back in Blighty for a couple of days, at a sheep sale, trying to buy some more of those teddy-bear things. I say trying, as a few years ago nobody really wanted Ryelands, but now they seem to be the hottest property around and prices are rocketing. I think that is called the law of sod! Once I have bred a few to sell, of course, the wheels (or legs) will have fallen off again, and we will have mutton back on the menu, but I live in hope. The trip won't be without its fraught problems, with tests and retests to organise and pay for as the government still tries to steal all our money through their medical entrepreneurialism but I guess this will be the di-rigour for international travel for a while to come yet.

Talking of overseas trips, my wife presented me with a present for my 60th birthday of two tickets to see Billy Joel, in none other than Madison Square Gardens, NYC, in January. I only hope we can travel a bit more freely by then, as old William can't have many more tours left in him and I have yet to see him live. She also bought me a new sheep crook, as my old one broke long ago, which I would quite like to take to said sheep sale next week. Basically it is just a walking-stick, only slightly longer but apparently you need to be infirm to carry a walking-stick or else I will be charged to put it in the hold? I cannot find the exact ruling on the internet as when I type in the word 'crook' and 'Ryanair' into Google it comes back with Michael O'Leary!

Back to the subject of sheep I have to report that Daisy Death-wish is still alive and well, as is her daughter, Dreda, but she won't be for much longer if she keeps escaping and eating my garden. Last night I physically chased her three times round the swimming pool as she ducked and dived - well not literally dived - to avoid capture. Then, when she gets bored with that she just hops over the electric fence like Mutaz Barshim on steroids. I was considering retiring her from breeding this year as she approaches her tenth birthday but not now, she's fitter than I am. So another year in the penance of motherhood for you, you auld goat!

Last month I introduced our new kitten, whose official name is now Hoggy, after the Scottish rugby player Stuart Hogg. However, he seems to have taken to the name in more ways than one, demanding meals every three hours and making gallant attempts to help himself wherever possible. You may recall we had two ginger cats, one as gentle and loving as a cat can be, the other a thieving wretch with the mind of a criminal genius. Well unfortunately the latter got into a fight and bit off more than he could chew, sadly coming home to die on the morning our big party.  At least he wasn’t around to steal the vol-au-vents. I only hope, in his final days, he didn't pass on some of his trade secrets on to this wee one, like opening a locked fridge for example. Time will tell.

Fridge? Don't mention bloody fridges to me.