Wednesday 18 January 2023

Call the Midwife Crisis

They say diversity is the salt and pepper of life. Well, I am sure someone said it, once, somewhere. So, I am not sure whether we in the pepper just now, but we arrived back last night from Spain, where it has been 23 degrees and very sunny, to Scotland where it has been minus 3 degrees and a little snowy. A few sneezes are surely acceptable? In fact, no, hold on the sneezes as I have only just shifted the cold which I caught on Hogmanay by kissing too many strangers. It seemed like a good idea at the time, especially some film actress whom I didn’t recognize until afterwards.

Anyway, the trip to Spain was fantastic and just what the doctor prescribed, a sortie to Andalusia, high up in the Alpujarra mountains staying with friends in a very nice villa. Although still a bit chilly at nights the daytime could have been June, it was so warm. Except that June in those places is like a furnace and therein hangs a problem - water. Numerous rivers empty into the sea around Malaga, or at least they should do, if there was anything in them. Bear in mind this is January, and what should be the rainy season and you may start to see my concern. To compound the issue, all the hills around there are have been planted for crops, but not olives and almonds that have been indigenous to this area for millennia, but mangos and avocados, two plants that rely heavily on moisture. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to be able to pick a few fresh ones for our table but where is the H20 required to fuel such a crop. More to the point, where are the brain cells that allowed this to happen? It has been funded by EEC money, apparently and, believe me, it would have taken a hell of a lot of it to peck out those rocky mountains with some massive machinery to create those terraces and water reservoirs on such a scale. And we all know the EEC is mad, right, which is why you folk decided to leave it? But, and here is the very problem, the same folk that wanted to become an independent island are often the very ones that rely on your smoothies every morning, despite everything being shipped half-way across the world to quench your desires? Well, mark my warning, you are about to see a massive shortage in said fruits unless some rain happens pretty soon. And that, it seems is highly unlikely in summer if it hasn’t rained in winter for a year or two. One local farmer already confided in me that his crops would fail this year. Never fear, you can always get fruit shipped from South America, as long as you sanctimoniously recycle your Vegemite jars in a quit-pro-quo to help you sleep at night?

On that note, on the way over, we had a lovely G&T in the airport – well you do, don’t you, when you’re on holiday – in the new Fever-Tree bar. Lovely until I read the words ‘Carbon Neutral’ on the front of the menu only to be confronted on its last page with a map of the parts of the world where all its ingredients come from, which extended to every corner. But - and here is the maddest thing of all and perhaps one that not everyone is aware of – that wee company can offset its carbon damage by buying carbon credits off the good old farmers. Really? Yes, really. You see, despite contrary belief, most UK farms are actually well below carbon neutral so the country’s balance can be made up by someone else who is pumping it out. One farm I visited in Scotland recently had an audit done to find his place actually absorbs the entire carbon output of 400 family homes! Not only that but if Fever-Tree (in our example here) buys up a few hundred acres of perfectly good farmland and plants some trees on it, it too can offset its ridiculously high footprint and claim carbon neutrality, according to law. That’s like shooting someone and then giving money to an orphanage to get excused of your crime? Completely and utterly absurd! Meanwhile, the UK, and particularly Scottish, farmer has to compete with these extortionate prices for land taken out of production to continue to feed a nation at rock-bottom prices.
Anyway, as you can see, the trip made my blood boil in more ways than one. The Spanish love their fiesta and we were privileged to visit one in a tiny hilltop town up where the clouds should be, which was buzzing like a faulty lightbulb. Equally a beach restaurant full of tapas was squeezed into our long weekend, although the local nudists near the latter did put me off my patatas bravas a wee bit. Meanwhile, back in Cellardyke, it was a different kind of body on the beach when sadly a male one washed up a few weeks ago, which was rather macabre. We still haven’t heard who it was, but nobody local we hope.
On the work front, my most recent novel is starting to gain some traction and climb the Amazon charts, thanks to some promotion through a pal in the whisky industry who sent it to a few newspapers. I even had a contact from the editor of the Big Issue who was interested in doing a review, which doesn’t quite seem the right place to be advocating whisky-related crime, but I suppose there’s no such thing as bad press. BTW, the book is called The Master’s Spirit if you fancy picking up a copy?

So now its back to short days and evening telly until the Scottish weather picks up and we head home for lambing. Things I try to avoid, The Apprentice, Unhappy Valley and anything to do with baby’s being born! Bloody hell, the latter seems to have gripped the entire nation for its weekly doling out of solutions to all middle-aged female problems?  Call the Midwife Crisis, I call it!

Thursday 12 January 2023

Gone but not forgotten

And here we are, into another year again. Happy festivities everyone and here’s to a cheery, if not prosperous, annee. If the media is anything to go by then it may be a troublesome time with much doom and despondency but we don’t really believe their rubbish anymore, do we? We may or may not even concur with all those global eco-mentalists either when, here in Scotland anyway, its cold enough to freeze a monkey’s bum right now. In our 8 years in East Fife, today is only the second time I have seen snow on the beach and the sea giving off steam, with the distant Isle of May white-over also. The last time some beast from the east had brought it. This time we still blame Greta Thunburg, or the train drivers strike? Gotta be someone’s fault, surely? In France too, some 1000+ miles away, the ground is frozen and poses a threat to the pipes of our swimming pool although thankfully we have a handy young chap living in and monitoring things for us with his gloves on. December was a manic month for me, with 3 new books out in time for Christmas and podcasts being recorded left right and centre before we closed down for a few days’ hibernation. It was a tough time this year since we lost the last of our original animal family together, namely Pooper, who had been a fantastic companion for the last fifteen years. Her time had come but it was still hard to say goodbye. 

Now we just have the Haggis or, to quote Terry Pratchett, ‘the big wee Hag!’ who keeps us entertained but is a big scaredy cat when it comes to some cold weather. Considering she is a Border Terrier from the actual Scottish Borders, you really would expect something a bit more hardy. Our few winter months here in Fife go by all too quick but it is good to catch up with old friendships and getting folks round while I ‘get-the-pan-on.’ The crowd of Scotts that came in to watch England bow out of the football world cup were particularly enjoyable although their berets and French outfits were a little unnecessary! It is absurd to realise we have been in this house by the sea for four years already and that the high-speed train of life has passed through so rapidly. I have recently been helping my son move house and the realization that a sixty-something overweight man can no longer lift the heavy goods with ease, let alone keep up with the younger bodies on the job, has caught up with me quite suddenly. My super-recall of names and places is certainly slowing down too. Thankfully I can still out-drink most of them although I am not sure that is a real blessing. In January we are heading to Spain for a few days to stay with friends and get a break from the weather and maybe get some more writing done, as per last year. Downtime is getting more and more necessary but also well enough deserved. Today I am quite pleased as we have had in a craftsman joiner to build us a trophy cabinet. Well, an oak cupboard and shelves where we can display the two silver cups we won last year in pride of place. The jury is still out whether we revisit the battlefield’s next year for another go at the prizes. My heart says no but my wife says yes. We will wait for the sheep to have the final vote on that score. We also have a rugby World Cup to consider, in our back yard in France later in the year. How much more disappointment could we take!