Is this country crazy?

13 Mar

proxy.duckduckgo.comI can be a little slow sometimes, so let me try and understand where we are.

A couple of years back we voted – by the slenderest of majorities – to leave the European Union. Despite the fact that those who voted to leave represented a minority of all the people actually in the country, and certainly a minority of those affected by the decision, such was the process of democracy and accordingly, despite the fact that it was a gnat’s whisker of a result, the cry went up that ‘the people have spoken’ and so the process began to separate ourselves from the European Union. All the while forgetting – or ignoring – the fact that Great Britain helped create the European Union in the first place, and have been key in making it what it is. So we’re actually separating ourselves from what we created. Did we get it so badly wrong that we want to wash our hands of our own creation?

We also seem to have forgotten in all the rhetoric that it isn’t a case of ‘Europe vs the UK’. We ARE European. We might be on a tiny island off the mainland, but sheer geography means we are, actually and inescapably, in Europe.

In order to manage this feat of political chicanery, the government decided that they would select someone who apparently didn’t want this to happen to manage the process. This was necessary because the prime minister who had thought the whole idea up realised what a shit storm he was bringing on himself and resigned. However, the new prime minister went to work to try and work out the best possible way of implementing ‘the will of the people’ despite the fact that she didn’t want it to happen in the first place. In fact, the majority of the people who had been (democratically) elected to steer the country actually thought it was a bad idea too. But: ‘the will of the people’.

Polls seem to suggest that the majority for remaining in the EU is now three times as large as the original majority to leave was: perhaps something like 56% of voters now want to remain in the EU. Add to that the fact that, simply due to mortality rates amongst the older voters (who voted by a greater proportion to leave), the percentage voting to remain is likely to continue to rise as time goes on. YouGov produced a survey back in January which suggested that the margin for remaining in the European Union is now over 12% – 56% for remain, 44% to stay.

It rapidly became clear that most of the promises of the people who wanted us to leave were outright lies, and all manner of experts spoke up to voice their professional and considered opinion that, rather than being in a better position after leaving the EU, Britain would actually be worse off. Much worse off. It was likely that businesses would leave Britain for bases elsewhere in the EU. It was likely that trade would become more difficult. It was likely to lead to supply issues hurting the common man in the street. And it was likely that rather than being ‘free’ from the European Union, Britain was going to become a lone voice losing influence in the world but still subject to many of the constraints and limitations of being a small nation trading with larger ones.

As time has gone on, we have begun to see that much of what the experts have said is in fact correct. What’s more, it seems to me that it is likely to actually lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom: Scotland feel betrayed in their own referendum for independence, as one of the reasons for voting to remain in the UK was their continued membership of the EU. Northern Island feel betrayed because the simple solution to the border with the Republic is threatened, and we face a possible return to ‘The Troubles’.

What’s more, it is becoming apparent that those who voted to leave are actually expecting things to go on as they are, apart from those things they didn’t want, with no reflection of the fact that leaving the European Union has, well, implications. Which is reflected in the fact that no-one seems able to work out an arrangement on leaving that will not cripple the United Kingdom for years to come.

As the practical outcome of an exit from the European Union became clearer and clearer, more and more people have realised that perhaps they were over hasty with their vote to leave. So it seems now that ‘the will of the people’ has changed from being a majority for leaving to being a majority for staying. In particular, the young people who have the most to gain or lose are increasingly of the opinion that we should stay.

And our government can’t even come up with a proposal that is acceptable and workable.

But apparently ‘the will of the people’ cannot change because ‘that’s not democratic’. Apparently the government is afraid of riots should there be a decision to cancel the process. but are prepared for riots should there be food shortages. Apparently a democracy is not allowed to change its mind, although it is built into the law of this country that we must have a vote on the government of the country every four or five years, and that it is OK to change our minds as to who we want governing us.

Some of my friends are definitely in favour of an exit from the European Union. I respect their opinion, even if I feel that it is not the right answer for this country. A far greater number (as far as I can see) are certain that they want us to stay. Those with relationships and marriages and partnerships that cross national borders are 100 % certain that they want things to remain as they are. If I talk to those that I consider to be the great thinkers in my circle of friends, then with one or two exceptions, whose opinions I do honour, they want to stay part of this great European community. My sons – and let’s face it, they are going to have to live with this for far longer than I am – are absolutely seething with rage that this is being forced upon them.

So… the government knows it is on to a loser – that whatever they manage to negotiate with the EU, it will leave the country – and its people – worse off financially, with less freedom of movement and with less influence in the world. It may even lead to an upsurge in violence both in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK.

The people are coming to the conclusion that they may indeed have collectively made a mistake now that they know the true reality of the situation and are gloomily looking forward to many years wandering in the wilderness. They are starting to recognise that the reason why the powerful and mighty want to leave Europe is because, free from EU control, it gives them a better chance of screwing over the average UK citizen. They are increasingly realising that they were lied to, deceived, misled and hoodwinked.

Businesses are looking at the uncertainty of the next few decades and deciding, in a world where location is flexible and globalisation is the trend, that they would rather be based somewhere – anywhere – else, without all the uncertainty and projected difficulties of trading in the UK.

And yet it seems no-one in government is prepared to face the simple truth: "This Is Stupid". When asked, even the proponents of a departure from the EU cannot point to a coherent set of benefits beyond ‘sovereignty’ and ‘making our own rules’. Neither of which are actually threatened by our membership of the EU. I’ve written repeatedly to my MP about this, and still receive nothing that resembles anything than a set of myths.

Meanwhile, the issues that face us are no longer national issues. They are no longer issues that can be dealt with in isolation. The issues that face us are not issues of profit and loss or even sovereignty. The increasingly important issues are whether or not humanity has a place on this planet. Whether we can return from the brink. Whether we can roll back from the increasing escalation of military might. Whether we can feed and clothe and provide healthcare for the citizens of the world. America seems to have staked its claim on ‘America First and screw the rest of you’. Britain seems to want to hide in a corner and sulk.

We have bigger things to worry about than this political spat. No, really, we have. We need to wake up, realise where we are and work together as a planet to solve some of these things. Global warming. World hunger. World peace. International crime. Racism and xenophobia. The rise of automation and AI. The increasing threat of technology to undermine our democracy, our financial systems, our infrastructure. And we in the UK are busy playing so damn small, when we used to be great at thinking big.

All of which causes me to ask a simple question: "WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE DOING?"

As far as I can see . .

– increasingly, the majority of the people don’t want it to happen

– with a few bloody minded exceptions, UK businesses don’t want it to happen

– global businesses definitely don’t want it to happen

– financial experts don’t want it to happen

– the majority of the government ministers don’t want it to happen

– our EU partners don’t want it to happen

– the rest of the world think it’s the stupidest thing we have ever done

– we are jeopardising the future of our country and our planet with this attitude of separation and thinly veiled xenophobia

– and we can’t even work out how to make it happen anyway.

So, again… why on earth are we continuing to pursue this suicidal path?

Lemmings don’t actually all follow each other over a cliff – that’s a myth. But it looks like we are going to do exactly that.

Let’s not be fucking stupid.

PS if you agree, then sign the petition here:


Ripley and Timmy have an adventure

18 Sep

Ripley says (an introduction): I came to live with Mummy and Daddy in June when I was eleven months old, but in September Mummy and Daddy got married. Lots of their friends came to see them and they are very very happy. After they got married Timmy who is my Daddy’s Daddy came to live with us to look after me and Frank and Cherry and Beetlejuice while they were on honeymoon in America. And I started borrowing Timmy’s Facebook page and writing about our adventures. And when I had finished and Mummy and Daddy had come home again (yay!) and Timmy had gone home (boo!) I thought I would put them all the stories together in one place. So I did.

This is me.

Photo 2018-09-05 17.44.45
(I’m a girl, by the way)

This is Mummy and Daddy.


This is what I wrote.

Ripley says: The reason I am stealing Timmy’s Facebook page to tell you my stories is that my Mummy and Daddy just got married and are in Los Angeles. And they miss me and want regular updates. So Timmy is looking after me. I’m called Ripley because all the animals have movie names. I am named after Ripley from Alien because I am a heroic female role model. Cherry is named after Cherry Darling from Grindhouse because she only has three legs and she is a heroic female role model too. Beetlejuice the hamster is named after Beetlejuice (aka Betelgeuse) from the movie of the same name and Frank is called Frank because his real name is Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankencat and he is named after the lead guitarist from the Misfits, who played himself in Animal Room.

In other news, today I chewed my way through my lead. Timmy was actually quite smart because he had already knotted the slip ring on my lead ‘just in case’. I am doing my best ‘it wasn’t me’ impression but he is not convinced. Perhaps I can blame it on Frank.



Ripley says: today I did lazing around while Timmy did his accounts. I try hard to pretend I am a baby deer as it confuses people. Every now and again I get up and run round like a wild thing just to make sure Timmy is still awake.

Meanwhile, Frank looked disapprovingly on from the stairs. I think he is cross that I ate his food yesterday, but he eats Cherry’s food when she’s not looking so it’s only fair.



Ripley says: today we did a big walk in the fields. I want to eat lots of the interesting things but Timmy won’t let me. Sometimes I am too quick for him though. Sometimes he looks a little bit green when I eat something.
We went through this field of corn. I like corn, but Timmy didn’t tell me it was corn until we had gone all the way through it. I got my own back by dragging him all the way back to the car, then I ate his orange pen and chewed through the strings on his diary. Now I am going to have a nice sleep and look cute.


Photo 2018-09-05 21.42.47

PS here is a picture of some double decker cats. Cherry is hiding, and I am not sure what Frank has on his head.


Ripley says: Today I woke Timmy up at 5am so I could go for a walk. After that he seemed to need a lot of coffee. I tried to have coffee but I am not allowed. So I ate the carpet instead.



Ripley says: today we did books. Timmy said he absolutely devoured the latest Jasper Fforde so I thought I would try that. I can’t see what all the fuss is about, it’s bit bland for my taste. I did get my teeth into the latest Empire magazine though.


Ripley says: it wasn’t me, it was the shark what done it.


Ripley says: these are the Penthouse Pets. Well, they live on the top floor and mostly they look really pissed off at me cos I can jump the stairgate and eat their food if Timmy isn’t fast enough.


Ripley says: Today I did guard duty. I guarded the house against cats and postmen. Then I went bonkers and ran round the house.


Ripley says: Today we did some work in the yard and I helped Timmy with some computer stuff.


Ripley says: today I took Timmy on a big walk, so in the afternoon I sat in the garden and soaked up some rays.

Photo 2018-09-10 13.19.07 Photo 2018-09-10 13.21.39

Ripley says: today Timmy took me out on my long lead. It was great because I could run and chase my stick. I am really good at running because I have very long legs, and I am absolutely useless at stopping because I have very long legs. After a while I got fed up and made Timmy fetch the stick while I chased a fly. Then on the way home I jumped in the brook so I was a soggy doggy, but I have been dried and combed so I look cute again.

Photo 2018-09-14 16.00.55   

Ripley says: Today was a really ‘citing day. After I got Timmy up we went for a walk down to the town and I met my friends the big black labrador and the baby black labrador and I was a good girl and didn’t bark at any other dogs then I had breakfast and a lie down and then Jonny’s mummy came over and took me for a little walk but I was still tired from my morning walk and so we sat and I had another lie down then Timmy came back and he’d been to big town and bought me a new harness and it came in a plastic box that I could chew instead of chewing my harness and we went for my lunchtime walk then I had a biiiiiig snooze all afternoon then in the evening Timmy took me out for a long walk with my long lead and I chased my stick and I had a thoughtful moment while I watched the sunset and I explored the hedges and then we walked across the playing fields and I found a ball and I chased that then I tried to tie Timmy up with my long lead like the dalmatian does in Serendipity and then we walked back home then we drove down to town in Timmy’s car and I got sausages because I had been a good girl.

Photo 2018-09-13 18.13.05

Then Frank escaped and Timmy had to search for him with a torch and I barked ‘cos I found him. Now I am going to chew my new box some more and catch up on my beauty sleep.

Ripley says: yesterday was so ‘citing that today I let Timmy have a lie in and we had a short walk until I decided to just sit down and not go any further then I lounged about the house. Linda is coming to look after me tonight so I will have someone else to play with. At least Timmy hasn’t lost Frank today.

Photo 2018-09-03 19.11.53

Ripley says: I had Linda over to look after me on Friday ‘cos Timmy had to go out dancing and laying a floor, whatever that means. I am not sure what they did to him but he wasn’t very well when he came back, so we had a lazy day of sports. We went and watched the cricket, I balanced a ladybird on my nose (but it flew away before Timmy could get a photo) then we did some running and playing tug of war. We went for a walk down the road but the cats weren’t out in the garden where they usually are when I go to say hello. But I spotted a cat that was obviously trying to plant some sort of explosive device under Timmy’s car so I gave it ‘the look’ until it slunk off. Then I did some more sleeping and stretching. I am a very binary dog.And here are some gratuitous pictures of cats just to prove that they are both still alive and well and Timmy hasn’t lost either of them.

Timmy tells me that Mummy and Daddy are coming home soon. Hooray!

Photo 2018-09-11 17.59.41

Photo 2018-09-05 18.43.47Photo 2018-09-05 18.44.15

Ripley says: this evening we went out with my long lead again and I did a lot of running up and down. Sometimes I didn’t go and fetch my stick so Timmy had to go and get it. I like to make sure he gets exercise too.
When I felt tired we had a picnic in the grass because Timmy brought treats with him. Then I did some more running.

Then the best bit of the day happened. I found the osier beds by the brook and went running and splashing and digging up in the mud and I went roun…d and round and round and tried to tie Timmy up in the long lead again but he was a bit too fast jumping over the lead although I think he looked like an Irish dancer. Then we went home and Timmy said I had to have a bath so I had a bath and a shower and some of the time I was a bit scared and Timmy held me close and that made me feel better. And it made Timmy all wet and soggy. So I got my revenge. Now I am all clean again but I smell faintly of raspberries.

Ripley says: Drama! Excitement! Last night Timmy left a door open and Frank got out. By the time I spotted him through the fence he was in the garden next door, but by the time Timmy had got to next door he had gone. So I jumped the fence to look for him but he had vanished. Timmy had to wander up and down the fields and round the houses looking like a burglar. Then he had to come and rescue me and carry me out of the garden next door round the field and through the gate at the top. While he was doing this Cherry got out, but since Cherry has only got three legs it wasn’t hard to get her back. Frank was harder as he had just completely gone missing.

He turned up an hour later back in the garden next door, and he wasn’t very happy at all. I heard a lot of spitting and yowling and some cat words that are not very polite. Timmy had to jump the fence (he is getting quite good at this) and encourage Frank to jump the fence again. I think he may have used some human words that are not very polite.Then I escaped out of the front door and ran round the block very fast. Timmy can’t run that fast, but eventually I stopped to talk to some children and they brought me home.

After that Timmy had a drink and a lie down.Timmy has gone to the airport now to get Mummy and Daddy so I am being very quiet.

Photo 2018-09-11 17.54.38

Ripley says: Here’s a couple of pictures that Timmy found on his camera.

There’s a picture of one of my places that I am always really ‘cited to get to when I walk past, ‘cos sometimes there are cats there and we have a staring contest. They usually win.

Photo 2018-09-18 08.10.15

And there’s a picture of me standing by the side of the road not chasing cars. I am trying to be good at not chasing cars because apparently they can hurt me a lot and because Timmy says I won’t know what to do if I catch one.

Photo 2018-09-18 08.13.03

Ripley says: Today was the best day EVER. I mean, I know playing on my long lead was ‘citing, and so was running in the osier beds and getting muddy. And finding out how to get into next door’s garden and making new doggie friends was ‘citing too.

But today Timmy went out early in the morning and when he came back he had brought Mummy and Daddy back with him and I was so ‘cited and I didn’t know whether to say hello to Daddy or Mummy or Timmy and I hugged Daddy lots and lots and then we went outside before I got too ‘cited so I didn’t do a wee on the clean carpet. And Daddy played ball with me in the passage by the side and I ran and ran and EVERYTHING IS WONDERFUL. I love my Mummy and Daddy. I like Timmy too, but I LOVE my Mummy and Daddy.

Although Daddy has put on a bit of weight. I will take him on long walks.

Photo 2018-09-18 12.57.26Photo 2018-09-18 12.57.48Photo 2018-09-18 12.58.33Photo 2018-09-18 12.58.50Photo 2018-09-18 12.59.02Photo 2018-09-18 13.04.51Photo 2018-09-18 13.05.53Photo 2018-09-18 13.16.26

Hamburg shenanigans and World Cup excitement

29 Jul


Now that all the football excitement is over…     

A few weeks ago I spent the weekend in Hamburg. It’s a long time since I used to spend weeks there working for Unilever, with some of the funniest Germans I have ever met. This time I spent the weekend with some of the funniest Brits I have ever met.

hamburgThe reason..? My youngest son, Jonny, is getting married in September and this was his stag weekend, his Junggesellenabschied, I guess. We had one hell of a good time, suitable karaoke was sung (including a stand out version of ‘Dancing With Myself’ by most of the assembled party and a truly awful version of ‘It Must Have Been Love’ by yours truly). The lead singer of Sempe Fi tried to help me out while the bass player just wished he hadn’t got involved, but it was definitely car crash karaoke.

Punk bars were visited, many many beers were drunk, and many drinking games were played. And a veil will be drawn over the rest of the weekend’s activities.. ‘cause what happens on stag, stays on stag.

Best weekend ever!

But that wasn’t the point of writing this.

lsAfter the obligatory brewery tour of Ratsherrn brewery (the Summer Ale is fabulous, the Zwickel delightful), we ended up in the bar outside where fortuitously the World Cup game between France and Uruguay was being played. And the atmosphere was electric. Germans, French, Brits all coming together over a shared love of football. German girls who were dating Frenchmen. Russians who’d just turned up for the fun of it all, and the Belgians who’d turned up early to get a decent seat.

We sang ‘Allez les Bleus’ till we went hoarse, and ended up being corrected by the French who pointed out that, given the shirts being worn, ‘Allez les Blancs’ would be more appropriate. We wore furry patriotic French chickens. 
And when France won, we all celebrated in that crazy way that only football fans can do.

I’d like to feel we contributed in some small way to the French winning the World Cup this year.     

And the next day we went right out and watched England flatten the Swedes. Surrounded by Germans. Much singing. Much dancing. Much joyfulness.

This was a Europe united over a common game. This was a Europe celebrating victory. This was Europe at play, having fun. This was ordinary European folk – the Brits, the French, the Germans, the Belgians, the Spanish all just enjoying the sun and the football. This was Europe. Enjoying being European.

I want to stay part of this multicultural melting pot that is Europe. I want my children growing up as part of a united Europe, demonstrating a way that nations can get on together that’s unique in the world. Showing America what real democracy is. Celebrating individual freedoms and international compromise. Demonstrating what lasting peace might look like. I don’t want that taken away by a few fat cats looking to leverage their portfolio, by a few politicians seeking a leg up the political ladder, a few media magnates seeking their right wing agenda.

And so I am going to carry on saying what I believe, and standing up for a united Europe. Because that’s how democracy works. Because it’s all about the people. And our shared future.

Find out more at

PS gratuitous Jonny picvs Kent

Bollocks to Brexit

9 Jul


A couple of weeks ago, I marched on Westminster.

I joined the People’s Vote March in London, along with maybe a hundred thousand of my fellow countrymen, demanding that we the people have our democratic say in the Brexit process.

I’ve never marched before. I could have stayed at home and carried on rebuilding the computer that will replace the one I ran over a couple of weeks ago. Or fixed the car. Or gone on a bike ride. Or a hundred other things that clamour for my time and attention. But I felt this was sufficiently important to actually take a day out, shell out on a train ticket, get myself down to London and be part of the rally. It was hot. It was crowded. It was slow. But it was so, so worth it.

Would one person make that much difference? Maybe not. But a hundred thousand other Brits made similar decisions. They chose to give up their day for something they believed passionately about. They came from up and down the country. They were young – and old. They came, at a guess, from all parts of society, but what did seem to set them apart was that they weren’t just marching because someone told them to. They weren’t just marching because they felt they’d be left out. Each one of them made an individual choice that said "Brexit is not working, and we need to do something about it". And maybe my presence stood for the huge number of of my friends that feel the same way. In that case, millions marched today.

Two years ago I woke to the result of the Brexit vote, and I wept. I wept at the loss of my dreams for unity and peace. I wept at the loss of my hopes for a world united. I wept for my country and its xenophobia and haughty pride. I wept for my children and the destruction of their future.

Since then, not a single thing has happened to convince me that this was a good idea. The £350 million a day that we were going to spend on the NHS? It was a lie. Brexit is the only way to control immigration? A lie. The economy will be just fine? Another lie.  There will be no downside? Really? The free trade agreement will be easy? Complete hogwash.

What we see is a government that two years after the Brexit vote still have no idea how to implement it. The only thing that seems clear is that we will be worse off. We will be worse off individually – in our pockets, in loss of international mobility, in a more limited future. We will be worse off as a nation, through loss of businesses, loss of political power, loss of trade agreements, loss of international influence.

What I see, two years on, is a Britain shorn of kindness. We see a government that saw the Brexit vote as a mandate to rule. Narrowly holding on to a majority through deals and skulduggery, this government has shown its true colours as a government of the rich and the rich alone. We see our NHS stripped of its benefits and parcelled off to the private sector. We see decisions that strip our citizens of their basic human rights.

But are we surprised? What we felt was faceless EU bureaucracy was actually the very system that fought for the rights of the individual over the rights of big business, forcing better working conditions and equal opportunities on employers. That demanded high standards for food and services. Of course the business owners wanted out. They wanted a return to the old days where they made the rules – where money was absolute power.

But we see the destruction that Brexit is wreaking – and remember that big business, global business, doesn’t care. Airbus is likely to move out of the UK. So are BMW. Banks, financial institutions are all likely to relocate. London as a centre of trade is going to be destroyed. Unilever, my old employers, proud for a century of their dual nationality corporate centre, are going to move head office to Rotterdam. We get blue passports, but the price we pay is likely to be restricted travel and travel visa charges. Our NHS lacks doctors and nurses because no-one is joining us from overseas. Food rots in the fields because we lack the influx of labour that allows our farmers to pick their crops. We see that Trump’s America is not going to do any of us any favours, with levies and taxes, quotas and duty… did we really believe we were better out of a huge trading coalition than in it? Really? Trump is already talking about a G3 comprising China, Russia and the US where the EU is left out.. do we really think little Britain gets a seat at that table?

For fuck’s sake, what are we doing?

I believe in democracy. But a vote is just a part of the democratic process. And a vote based on ignorance, lies, half truths and lack of knowledge, distorted by our press and influenced by outside interference, is not a democratic vote. We are a wiser nation now. We know the implications. We can see the future. There will still be those that believe that we are best to return to an island nation – to pull up the drawbridge and distil our xenophobic hatred. There will still be those who believe that it’s best to get rid of the protections of the EU and the European courts so they can stamp their imprint on ordinary folk.

That is not what this country needs. This country needs to see the future coming, a future of increasing globalisation and co-operation (we pray) between nations. We need to have a seat at that table, able to trade on equal terms with the others, able to be part of a decision making process that shapes the world throughout the rest of the 21st century. We are a strong country, and a powerful country. But we can only be that if we are prepared to play together with the rest of the world’s leaders, and not to take our ball and go home and sulk. We need leaders who are prepared to make the hard choices. The difficult choices. To stand up to those that seem to hold the cards and represent this country as a whole rather than the minority.

Let Brexit have been a wake up call. For that, it may have been worth it. If it helped us realise how precious what we have is. How important it is to be part of Europe. How much value that membership really gives us.

But now let democracy rule. The majority of the people in this country do not want to leave the European Union. Let there be a vote to demonstrate what we want based on what we now know. I’m certain we’ve got it wrong.


Aviemore Alliteration

7 Jun

(My apologies for the delay in posting this.. it got buried after my visit in May. And my apologies for the poor pictures – I managed to forget to charge my camera before leaving)

   I have two sons. One of them lives across town from me. Close enough that I can walk his lurcher, Ripley.. of which more another day, perhaps. The other one… he lives in Edinburgh. Which is MILES away. Which means I have a perfect excuse to go up to Scotland four or five times a year. Hop on a train in Peterborough… hop off at Waverley station. Piece of cake.

And one of my goals for 2018 is to have more adventures. So rather than just visiting Davey and his girlfriend, wandering the streets of Edinburgh, drinking lots of coffee and coming home again, which is all very nice.. it was time for an adventure. And time for some thoughtful space. And to have a little fun. And perhaps do a little alliteration on the way. Because alliteration actually aids amusing anecdotes….God forgive me….

Moggies, Meandering and the Macabre

Edinburgh May (9)So first off, having walked to work with D, I had the morning to myself. I had wanted to visit the Cat Café in Edinburgh for a while. So I spent an hour in the company of a dozen assorted ragdolls, Norwegian forest cats, Siamese and more ( all with their own fabulous space, lots of toys and lots of space to hide. Being around animals has the not unsurprising effect of making me deeply deeply happy, and this bunch of somewhat dismissive felines with their ‘another day, another human’ approach to their day had me very much comfortable with my life.


Edinburgh Feb (20)I spent the rest of the afternoon following the footsteps of grave robbers Burke and Hare round Edinburgh city centre – there is a wonderful trail at which is well researched and brilliantly written, if slightly disturbing. OK, very disturbing.. especially when you get to the end. Apparently Burke’s skeleton is on display at Edinburgh Anatomy museum. Who knew?

Magic, Musing and Merlin

Day 2 had me climbing Arthur’s Seat. It’s one of my favourite spaces in Edinburgh, and although my preferred access route is a steep and rocky climb, the views of the city are exceptional, and the sky was clear, even if I did get the sense that I might get blown off the side of the hill if I wasn’t careful. I took a little side trip to Merlin’s Chair, the second summit, a space I have always loved, and often spend time just sitting here… and found myself getting insight and understanding as to what was coming up next for me.. as the wind blew all the dust and cobwebs out of my head. Good job I have no hair…

Edinburgh May (7)Edinburgh May (8)

And then, after helping polish off a 20" pizza (something which requires extra care when manoeuvring it through doorways) I bid adieu to the Edinburgh clan and headed off on the train to Aviemore, deep in the heart of the Scottish highlands. Train travel is a wonderful way to get around, and I watched rapt as mountains and lochs, burns and seaviews unfolded in front of me. There’s still snow on the top of the Cairngorms, but the spring foliage makes everywhere look truly fabulous, deep greens contrasting with the lighter and brighter colours to create a canopy of colour, while here and there blossom dotted the valleys.Aviemore (8)Aviemore (11)

Falcons, Forests and Futures

And so into Aviemore. Having made my bed up in the hostel, it was time for a wander. I discovered that I was about 300m from the Craigellachie Nature Reserve – a haven of tranquillity and beauty a few yards from the busy A9. And then a wander round the woods and trails that orbit Aviemore itself, finding myself drawn into a deeper and deeper sense of peace and calm – a tranquil sense that not only was everything all right with my world, but that changes coming up in my life, while not yet fully clear, would add even more to that complete certainty of the perfection of everything. A few minutes conversation with the cows, and then I found myself being entertained by the swoops and and cries of a family of peregrine falcons, fuelling delight and happiness at a perfect evening.

Aviemore (2)Aviemore (4)

And so back to the hostel, armed with supplies for breakfast. I wonder what I will do tomorrow!

Munros, Mountains and Memories

It seemed like a jolly good plan to get on the bus for Cairn Gorm mountain centre. This half hour journey has to be the best value on the planet as it winds uphill from the Spey past lochs and pine forests, deeper and deeper into the Cairngorm mountain area. And all for £4.35 return.

On arrival, I only planned to wander a little way up and then take a leisurely saunter back past the loch. I wasn’t actually going to climb the darned thing! But a wander up the mountain side, through the eerily still and silent ski lifts and poma tows seduced me to go that little bit further.. until I found myself climbing the ridge route up to the peak, and trailing past trickling burns, now quieter after the majority of the snow had melted – and tramping across the snow that remained, snow that had drifted deep (followed by an attack of vertiginous panic which led me to take a different route). Then I just wanted to see where the funicular railway went. Then I found a rope climb path to the peak. It would have been rude not to try, especially as the folk who’d taken the easy route up on the funicular weren’t allowed to…

The Aviemore (12)view from the top was spectacular, although I have to confess that heights do make me slightly nervous… a state which was ramped up when, while eating my lunch, the Heriot-Watt automated weather station started its 2pm measurements, the resulting jump in the air causing my day to top out at about 1247m above sea level.

Aviemore (18)Having escaped the visitor centre (I swear, there’s no way out if you’re a walker without going past the ‘Staff Only’ signs) I ambled back down. I swear down is harder. If I had a snowboard, I could have run the remaining snow down in a couple of minutes, but I was forced down the zigzags of the green routes. On the way I was somewhat surprised to make the acquaintance of a couple of ptarmigan, also out for a stroll, who I christened Pterry and Pteresa. (One of my friends has a ptabby cat called Ptolemy, a fact which always makes me happy).

Aviemore (22)Aviemore (20)

Although my delight at the achievement was somewhat reduced by realising that I had only walked 6km according to the satellites…

Trees, train tracks and trekking

So, the next day I havered over the possibility of renting a bike. I havered too much. Having walked across town to discover that the bike rental shop was closed on Sunday operating from their down town location near my hostel, I decided to walk.

I met the local weather forecaster on my way out of town, and he wasn’t wrong.Aviemore (24)

Fortunately, it cheered up.

Scotland has the unique ability of making something which in England would be dull and flat into an exciting trail, so with the Cairngorms to my right and the Highlands to my left, I trAviemore (26)omped through pine forests, only occasionally overtaken by mountain bikers. I realised also that I absolutely love pictures of paths, a fact which is [a] convenient, because I am usually on one and [b] enlightening..everyone’s on a journey…) Every now and again the Aviemore (28)Speyside steam train would puff past, full of jolly tourists.. I can’t help thinking they were missing the real fun of being close to nature.

Having reached Boat of Garten, the only solution was to turn round and walk back.. this time on the wrong side of the tracks. My feet struggled with every step, but the route I had taken led me up and down through woods and moorland. At one point I saw a family of red deer in the distance, out for an evening stroll.

And so back to the bunkhouse… feeling an insane amount of joy as I removed my aching and (it has to be said) somewhat ridiculously soggy boots.

Return, relaxing and rebooting

And so back to Edinburgh – a three hour trip again through gorgeous scenery as mountains seemed to amble past my window, as streams and rivers unfolded beneath viaducts and bridges and sheep played in the sun. And then the luxury of a First Class seat back to Peterborough. Something has shifted inside me… a Rubicon has been crossed and the last couple of days have made more of a difference to me than I know. Exactly how that plays out over the next few weeks, I am yet to learn. But something significant has changed in the depths of my being, and it feels like life is rebooting…

More adventures this year!

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The loneliness of the long-distance cyclist

26 Jan

(And before you get all worried about me being lonely – consider that I might actually enjoy that feeling of being alone.)

Regular readers of this column will know that I like to hop on a train in Peterborough and then get off at any of the exciting destinations that Virgin East Coast will take me to. The fact that I can sometimes managed to get a trip up to the Northumberland coast for £20 just adds to the excitement. Some of you will also know that one of my very favourite places to go is to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne… under 3 hours to Berwick-Upon-Tweed and then a bus ride to the Holy Island. Apart from the fact that if you go between September and May, the buses only run on Saturdays and Wednesdays. If the tides are right. Maybe.

Holy Island is cut off from the mainland by a tidal causeway. It opens for around 6 hours a day – attempting to cross the causeway at any other time will result in your vehicle being swept nonchalantly out to sea.

So.. last time I visited, I got the bus down and then walked the five miles back from Holy Island to the A1 and then caught a more frequent bus back to Berwick.

THIS time, I wondered what would happen if I cycled it. Now I know.   
A leisurely start to the day, then, although the frantic rush and pressure from the station staff to get the bike on the train is guaranteed to frazzle all but the most Zen-like of souls.

And then, off at the other end, and, carrying a full pack, I and my bike are off on the 26km journey to the Holy Island. Now, you need to be aware of a couple of things. Firstly, I am carrying a reasonably heavy pack. This, when added to the weight of a reasonably heavy human, is making for difficult going. Secondly, I have four hours to do this trip in. Any longer, and I won’t make the crossing. Which means I won’t have anywhere to sleep. And it’s January. This should be easy, but the possibility of issues with the bike are ever-present.

As I set off, I become aware of two other factors. The first is that cycleway route one is not exactly what I would call paved cycling surface. Now, I knew this. But now I am experiencing the difference between knowing, and REALLY knowing. And I have slick racing tyres on the bike.

I also realise that although I have checked the weather forecast for rain (none), I have not checked it for winds. The current 50 mile an hour winds blowing make travelling east a delight, but really do take it out of you when travelling west.

But the day is lovely, the sea is gorgeous, and provided I don’t get blown off the cliff edge, I should be fine. This is what I love about this part of the world – the wild, rough, pure nature – the elements truly unleashed to create an intoxicating and refreshing day out.

Berwick - Oct (24)   
(rocks I am trying to avoid being blown onto.)

It’s hard work, but eventually the causeway comes into view. Unfortunately, route one now wants to take me inland. This is the toughest part of the ride across fields in the wrong direction – but knowing that all will come good in the end. The road. The causeway. And finally, I am over the bay and onto Lindisfarne. Tonight, I will have a bed to sleep in.

Lindisfarne is beautiful. Truly beautiful. And this time of year, it is especially gorgeous.. and quiet. Once the day visitors are gone, and the tide comes in and the causeway shuts, a wonderful peace descends upon the island, punctuated only by the clinking of ships’ rigging – and the incessant winds.

I collapse into bed – deeply deeply happy, deeply deeply peaceful, and totally and absolutely exhausted.

The winds have not died away overnight, and the island is swept by never ending gusts of wind. The gulls seem to be in their element – playing in the wind, held aloft by the roaring energy that they face into. Every now and again they turn and race downwind, as if just for the sheer joy of it all.

One of my favourite spots is The Heugh, a ridge of rock that runs down the west of the island. From there you can see back to the mainland, the twin spires of Heugh Hill and Guile Point obelisk lighthouses, and the ruins on St Cuthbert’s Island, another tidal island cut off at mid tide, where St Cuthbert spent time before leaving for the total isolation of the Farne Islands.



I wander down to the harbour – the boats are riding out the waves, and I am taken by surprise by a seal in the dunes. The seal is equally surprised to see me, but flops back to sleep – exhausted, I suspect, by the storm. When I check back later, he is gone.

The shore is peppered with upturned boats, turned into storm-proof sheds with tarpaulins. It is also liberally strewn with crab pots and the detritus of a working harbour.

The castle is still closed for maintenance – surrounded by a giant marquee and a skeletal scaffolding, it should reopen this spring.

And off I go, braving the wind for a three hour walk round the island. I see very few people, which suits my mood of thoughtful introspection. There are plenty of sheep, gulls, snipe and migratory geese to keep me company..

In places, the sands drift-race across the beach as they dry, freeing up the grains for a mad dash across the beach before they are caught by grass, pebbles, seaweed, a stray seashell. And I am very glad of my hat. And my gloves.

The dunes are hard work, although at least they offer shelter from the wind, the heavy covering of grass holding them in place.


But finally I make it back into the village – most of the shops and tea rooms are closed for the winter, although the one or two that remain open show a steady trade.

And so to the evening. Another peaceful walk round the village and out into the welcoming darkness. Time to think. Time to dream. Time to plan. This is my time of year for planning – my New Year starts on February 1st at the Celtic festival of Imbolc, and 2018 feels like a blank canvas, ready to be drawn upon, filled with colour and vivid images. Much has changed for me in recent months – new freedoms, new possibilities, new options – and 2019 brings the possibility of new beginnings, fresh starts, new adventures.

And the stars! Away from much of our light pollution, the stars are vivid flecks of possibility on a velvet field – reminding me that this universe is so much greater and so much more incredible than I can ever imagine.

Tonight, I dream. More vividly than I have in a long time. The depth of relaxation and peace is working its way into my subconscious, healing and restoring me at ever deeper levels.

The next day, after an early morning walk and some sunrise photography, I am off back on the bike again. The wind has finally dropped, and I cross the causeway with ease, my only deadline being a 6:18 train home. I have 7 hours. I set off on a diversion because: pretty.

This being a story of me on two wheels, keen observers of my path through life will notice that this trip, apart from the tension of deadlines and the perils of being blown into the North Sea, has been lacking in drama.

Fortunately, normality is restored, and the drama that I have been running from arrives, slightly out of breath. I have a puncture. I manage to reinflate the tyre and cycle on, as I have green gunky puncture proof sealant in my tyres. Sadly, the reinflating does not last. Not only this but the valve core is now stuck in my cycle pump. When the pump is removed, the tyre rapidly deflates, showering me with the remaining green gunk and leaving me looking like Shrek on a bad hair day. A trip to a helpful garage and I manage to recover the valve core, only for the same thing to happen again. Finally I manage to inflate the tyre to something like rideable, and press on. I am ten miles from Berwick.

I try not to put too much pressure on the front tyre as it is only about half pressurised. Unfortunately, this means that I cannot relieve the pressure on my already distressed derrière, and every imperfection in the road is..less than comfortable.

But the bike is rolling. The day is glorious – a bright, sharp January day. The countryside is full of beauty – stark trees yet to gain their spring plumage, snowdrops braving the cold, and in the distance the snow-capped Northumberland hills.

I stop off at a charming 11th century church on the way ..

And so I ride into Berwick. My legs ache, my posterior even more so – but I am happy beyond measure. A brief ride by the Tweed to catch the sunset, a warming hot chocolate, and back on the train. I am, of course, at the wrong end of the train. The guard gives up, dumps me on the train and rides the bike to the other end. I expect the announcements to be “we are sorry for the delay to your service today..this was due to an idiot cyclist being at the wrong end of the train”.

In this, at least, I am disappointed.

What will I take back from my trip to this wonderful, spiritual, peaceful place? New dreams. New plans. New possibilities. An end to some dreams, and the opening up of new options. In the blink of an eye, the world is remade anew. Mistakes are erased like footprints on the beach, while possibility and hope rise again like the sunrise bringing the promise of a new dawn. I know that whatever life has thrown at me, and wherever I have been less than I could be, I know with absolute certainty that the world is remade in the moment of now. New starts, new choices, new adventures beckon as I create them seemingly out of the gusts that surround me.

Today, I remember that the world is.. perfect.

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Steve Jobs and success

21 Oct


There’s a post wandering round the internet and social media that’s purportedly from Steve Jobs.

It isn’t.

I won’t bother to reprint the whole thing, but in amongst its off the shelf self help words about the need to “Treasure Love for your family, love for your spouse, love for your friends” and “Love can travel a thousand miles. Life has no limit. Go where you want to go. Reach the height you want to reach. It is all in your heart and in your hands” lies a deep dark poison.

Before I start, I don’t know Steve Jobs. Never met the guy. I have a lot of respect for his speech to the University in Stanford which contains some real insights into modern life, business and the pursuit of a dream.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

That’s the sort of vision that I’d like Steve to be remembered for.

I have a lot of respect for his achievement. Although I don’t own any Apple technology. Because I don’t like it much. So I’m not a huge fan of Apple.

But I am a huge fan of people following their dreams. And Steve did. And this latest post, which seems to indicate that Steve rejected what he achieved in life, rings false to me, and with it trickles a steady stream of new age poison into our lives and our beliefs.

Steve was a man with a vision. Not a vision to be wealthy, as such, but a vision to create. To create a working personal computer. To create a computing world that was elegant and beautiful. To create a computing world where things worked together. To create devices that were intuitive, effective, efficient and enjoyable to use. And he created that.

In his time with Pixar he helped create the computer animated feature, and paved the way for new stories to be told.

I don’t see any way that Steve Jobs saw his life as a failure, or that it had turned him into “a twisted being”. Steve was a Zen Buddhist, deeply at peace with ‘what is’.

The fake deathbed quote talks about how he was surrounded by life support (he wasn’t, he died at home), and that he had “little joy”.

I don’t think so.

As far as I can see it, Steve followed his dream, his vision, and his heart. For sure, he had feet of clay. He had his weaknesses. There were times when he wasn’t an easy boss. But then anyone with a vision is going to concentrate on pursuing that vision.

I agree with pieces of the post. All you can have at the end of life are “the memories precipitated by Love”. Those are “the true riches which will follow you, accompany you, giving you strength and light to go on.” Although perhaps the things that you do, or your heirs do, with your material inheritance also goes on. Perhaps your achievements remain behind, inspiring others to achieve as you achieved.

If we forget love, we forget everything. Steve knew that. In an article published in Time magazine Walter Isaacson, his biographer, recorded him as saying:

I wanted my kids to know me. I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.

The article continues: “He was very human. He was so much more of a real person than most people know. That’s what made him so great,” he added. “Steve made choices. I asked him if he was glad that he had kids, and he said, ‘It’s 10,000 times better than anything I’ve ever done’.”

So let’s not succumb to the poison that says that you should shun success, that it will make you unhappy. Following our hearts, and our dreams, and our vision – while coming from a place of love and peace and kindness – can only make the world a better place. And that’s what Steve would want you to hear.

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PS. According to his sister, Mona Simpson:

Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.

Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.

Steve’s final words were: OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.


Now THAT’S amazing….

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