Ahhh, the holidays at last. As you all know, there is nothing as relaxing as a holiday. Everything goes smoothly and it's generally a happy time all round.
Buchanan has covered the whats, whens, wheres and whys etc. and strung a loose narrative around it.
What have I got left to say? A number of things, actually.
It was a suicide mission, really. Going to the far North-West in a van that keeps breaking down. Taking a chance on the weather, when the forecast was changing daily and was clearly not stable. Going camping in September. Taking camping stuff and wet-suits and cooking gear - the whole she-bang. Before we left I had a frozen (left) shoulder, a sore right knee, and my ribs still hurt if I forgot and suddenly stretched. Still, I thought we might get away with it. "Fortune favours the brave" my dad used to say. What does he know? He's been dead for years.
Largely we did get away with it, but there was much jeapardy.
I had to take ibuprofen to drive as my shoulder was sore changing gear and pulling the handbrake on.
We didn't set off until late on because we were both tired from the week, and it was difficult to figure out just what on earth to take.
As Peter said, we had a laugh eating out at a pub on a Saturday night. Driving up the road with it getting late and us getting hungry, I'd painted a picture of what would be nice. "Pub lasagne and chips and a pint of lager." We instantly both signed up for this - even though it seemed unlikely. So we thought we had lucked in when we found a campsite and strolled into the town and there was a pub still serving food.
I had chicken curry and rice and chips and poppadoms. Well it was on the menu, so that's obviously a thing! The curry was heavily salted and had more than an under-taste of onion powder. I think maybe the lid came off the onion powder tin actually. But a pint of lager took the edge off the saltiness and it was all fine. We were surrounded by people from other lands - Danish, German and Spanish, and there was a holiday feel to it. We tried to keep our voices down as Peter critiqued the "art" on the walls. He can't help himself. It was true - it was pretty terrible - but here we were out of the rain, warm and eating enough carbs to keep us going for a week. It seemed wrong to turn our minds to what was bad.
We had a reasonable night. Peter informed me I stank of onion powder. I'm sure I did. It did me no harm though. In the morning my shoulder was marginally better.
But the fricking van not starting. Now that was hard to take. It didn't just fail to start - that's common place. What happened was I turned the key and the engine didn't catch the first time. I turned the key a second time and all the lights on dashboard went dead and the fuel gauge indicator swung limply off the end of the scale. It was horrific. What in the hell just happened? Then turning the key produced nothing. Not a sausage. We were sat in a more-than-fully-loaded van in the North of Scotland facing a toilet and there was no signal on my phone.
The possible future played out in my mind. Having to knock on someone's door to use their land-line and wait in an eternal queue on the phone for someone to even answer, whilst wincing apologetically at the house owner. Hanging about pointlessly waiting for a recovery van which would take longer than the estimated 2 hours. A chubby mechanic simultaneously professing to know a lot about cars while being entirely unable to help us. Another long wait for a recovery truck. A tow to some garage which would be closed for the Sunday, probably also the Monday. Hanging about with nothing to do somewhere near Alness which is somewhere near Inverness, the heroin capital of the world. Maybe I would go and try some. Maybe I'd start smoking again too. Why not? Banal. Too banal.
So we had a look under the hood and I tapped some things and Peter squeezed some other things - like monkeys playing at being mechanics. So it seemed more than miraculous when I tried the key again and this time the dashboard lit up and the engine started. Thank God! And yet.....What was our position here? Could we stop the engine again? Or did we just have to drive indefinitely? Should we go home? Or press on?
We were too far into it to go home. It was Sandwood Bay or bust. Or possibly both.
The overloaded bike trip to Sandwood bay had its own measure of jeapardy. I couldn't swing my bike over the rocks as I could feel my ribs ready to twang. If they went it would be game over and very difficult to see how we'd be able to put any kind of a positive spin on our situation. Peter was game about coming back for my bike over all the most difficult bits.
I'd read on the internet that there was a loch on the way to the bay - but there was more than one! That might have been a clue to the annual rainfall. There was more like seven. We cycled through a couple.
When we got to the bay it was very overcast and rather windy but still dry. We got the tent up and hid inside, out of the wind, hoping the sky might clear for a nice evening. Instead it started to rain.
We took a chance trying to cook in the porch area of our tent. The wind was so strong it would have blown the flame out and knocked the stove over if it was properly outside. I was very nervous about it falling over and burning our fabric house down around us. As it was the wind was blowing the flame so much it wasn't heating the food properly and our 8 minute pasta'n'sauce took 45 minutes. It also had heavy notes of onion powder. The whole North-West experience was tinged with onion powder, like a theme song, but in the back of the mouth.
Still anyway, what the hell. We had an early night. During the night there was a fierce gale and the rain rattled hard on the tent shell. We stayed dry and safe. My broken body was healing nicely, as I was spending so much time doing nothing. The next day I had the full use of my left arm.
I got up around 6am and it was dry and less windy. There are few things much better than having a cup of coffee outside in the morning after a night of camping - especially when it's not raining and there aren't any midges. It was only slightly marred by Peter complaining that his Mochachino wasn't quite hot enough. In the name of all that is Good, will your torrent of complaints follow me everywhere, all my days, until the merciful silence of the grave? But never mind. The sun even came out for a while.
I have been permanently put somewhat off rainbows by a poster in the 70s that used to appear outside churches. Maybe you saw it? A rainbow and the words 'There is hope'. It was the kind of thing you would see as a teenager when you were skulking around looking for something to do on a Sunday. The sight of that prosaic combination of words and image, in a glass case, on a dull day, on the side of a pebble-dashed church, and the association with the Reverend X, and his false church voice, talking disapproving nonsense and saying you have to believe it....Well it produced the opposite of hope. More of a sinking feeling in the gut. More of a Smith's song for the soul.
I don't mean the whole idea of God or a higher order - I just mean the nonsense. He would read passages out the bible that didn't really make sense, and then say we had to believe them. I felt, more than thought, that we should sort out the issue of meaning before jumping, prematurely, into belief. The things he said were neither analysed nor synthesised....for instance....
You know that passage that says it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of God? Well my mum says, and why would you need a higher authority, that the word for camel in....blah, bible language...is very similar to the word for rope, so some academics think that that passage should read "it is easier to get a rope through the eye of a needle" etc... Now that seems more likely to me...
And after that we can think about where or what the Kingdom of God is and whether a rich man can get there or get square.
Peter's head on a tent-body. A horrible amalgamation, like Brundle-Fly in The Fly.
But never mind because There is Hope.
I told Peter the far North has subtle beauties to which you have to attune your eye. Soft greys and modest greens. But he kept spluttering on about Portugal. That and the bottle of cider back at the tent.
Faces du camping.
The sun came out!
No really There is Hope! Or maybe rainbows mean there's lots of rain....
It got darker and darker and it started to spit. The rest is history. A hurried retreat on overladen bikes. I was literally soaked to the skin, despite wearing a proper rain-coat. Always the uncertainty of whether the car would be for starting. There was certainly no phone signal so getting rescued would be far from easy. We could pull our wet-suits on and just sleep out with the sheep....
But the car did start, Bless its Boots, and we headed South. Hours and hours of driving in the tipping rain.
As an addendum, I think I know what was up with the car.
Yesterday I was looking out the window and a bloke in a white van was having trouble getting his van started. He was obviously in a bad mood. He was parked next to my van and he kept jumping out and his door was hitting my van and he kept pushing past my mirror. I thought he was going to damage it and I'd been wanting to move the van anyway, so I went down and got into it. White van man started behaving better immediately, but when I turned the key, BINGO, it didn't start and all the lights on the dashboard went out. Well that was a piece of luck. Time to tinker without the pressure of being 200 miles from home with a load of camping gear. I was right outside my house.
I got under the bonnet and gave the connection on the positive end of the battery a bit of a tap - because that's what I'd done way back up North. I tried again and the engine started fine. Ahah!
Then, while I had the bonnet up, a guy came over with white van man, and got drawn into the drama of my engine. He said the earth off the battery was loose, which would explain the intermittent fault. It could just get shaken loose and then the battery wouldn't work - and could also get shaken back into contact again. He gave Peter, who had appeared by this time, some advice about how to fix it. I restrained myself from telling him that he was talking to the ship's monkey, and that in fact I was the Master Mariner.
Now I suspect he was just a pub mechanic, but you know, it kind of makes sense.
So even if that's not right, I now have something to try if it happens again, that gives me some hope that it will work. Because we all need hope. Or how could you try anything?
The End. For Now.