Furious Fiction 5

What …with planning a big adventure to Scotland and all my creative energy directed towards travel and photography I haven’t written anything other than blog posts for a LONG time! Here is my effort for the August 2019 Australian Writers’ Centre Furious Fiction Competition.

500 words 55 hours $500 prize money!

I give myself the added restriction of if it doesn’t get finished on Friday night I don’t submit it. So essentially done and submitted in five hours!

The rules from their post are as follows:

Hey hey, it’s ‘Adjective August’ (not to be confused with ‘Alliteration August’) – and we’ve gone absolutely description crazy…

  • Your story must include, word for word, ALL of the following SIX descriptions (describing whatever you want):
  1. SHINY, SILVER
  2. COLD AND GREASY
  3. SCRATCHED AND WEATHER-WORN
  4. SWEET AND PUNGENT
  5. INK-STAINED
  6. SHRILL, PIERCING
  • One of these six descriptions MUST appear in the first sentence of your story. (The rest, wherever you like.).

 

Ten reams to go:

The shrill, piercing shreik punctuated the dark, quiet air like an ill-placed comma. It disturbed the reverie of the gnarly old writer for only a second, but this was enough to fracture her flow so completely that the shiny, silver lake of ideas that had been swirling in her mind was sucked into the vortex of her brain as is someone had pulled the plug. The story, the line of dialogue, was now a  slithery trail of deceptive fiction never to be found again.

What had sounded like a dying baby was in fact only a peacock, settling in the trees after another steamy day in Paradise.

“Hah! Paradise!” she thought. How that description seemed so distant from the truth. The boundless enthusiasm of youth had been replaced by the scratched and weather-worn psyche of an older, creakier woman.  The entertaining antics of the monkeys, now dull. The massive, crawling creatures that infested her shoes, no longer a source of wonder. She’d been here 25 years. 24 years, 11 months and 2 weeks longer than she had intended. For her, the holiday in Paradise had turned into something very different – a lifelong commitment.

She got up from the rickety table, pushing herself back with ink-stained hands. No computer for this one. She had to take it slow. She had to be more deliberate and carve each word into the paper indelibly with a slender blue pen. The cut and paste needed to happen in her mind before any words could land on that precious paper, fully formed and perfect. Editing was not a simple keystroke away but rather a laborious trudge of rewriting. Editing meant wasting paper, and paper was more valuable than anything she’d ever owned.

She placed the cold and greasy remains of her Sunday dinner on the floor and banged on the door.

“I’m done” she called.

While she waited, she farted and enjoyed the sweet and pungent aroma of herself wafting around her, enveloping her with the only marker of self-identity she had beyond her writing.

The heavy boots boomed down the corridor. The top hatch opened, and the eyes peered in.

“Move away from the door,” the warden barked.

The bottom hatch opened, the tin plate was whisked away and replaced by five sheets of paper. Five! It was Sunday, Paper Day!

She danced as she held the sheets tightly to her chest. Not too tightly! She didn’t want to crease them.  She glanced at the other 6500-odd slivers of joy in the corner of her cell. They groaned under the weight of tightly-packed double-sided scrawl. The once bold script faded, in the same way her initial rants and protests had faded into a jaded acceptance. 

The judge had said “Life” when he had banged that gavel. Life? This pile was her life!  Would it be as tall as her when they shipped her out in a box? She did the maths. Ten reams to go. She’d run out of time.

 

Walking in the Orkney Islands.

As part of my recent  Scottish Adventure, I booked a 6-day walking tour with About Argyll Walking Holidays. It was all-inclusive except for dinner and drinks. I won’t include details of price or the intinerary here. You can find the most up-to-date information on their own site.

I have written about my experiences with small group tours in some other posts, and I am pleased to report that this was a very positive experience that would suit most people interested in walking, history and wildlife (in particular – birds). This is NOT a rollicking adventure holiday! If you are looking for strenuous walking or wild partying – look elsewhere! If you are looking for pleasant walking in the company of like-minded people with a well-informed guide; then this is the holiday for you.

The walks, for the most part, are gentle and do not extend beyond 10km (6 miles). The terrain, while sometimes uneven and rocky and at other times very close to cliff edges,  was not difficult to traverse. Having said that, you do need to have a reasonable level of fitness if you are going to enjoy it and not slow everyone down. The group I joined was fully booked with 8 people. Two couples and four singles. From the UK, Italy, the US and me the Aussie. Our tour guide Nigel, also from the UK, rounded off the group.

The tour starts at either Glasgow or Aberdeen Railway stations and takes the Northlink Ferry to Kirkwall and back. This first 7-hour ferry ride gives you the opportunity to get to know your fellow travellers quickly. On the way back you get a sleeper cabin.

We stayed at Bellavista, which was a little less than 2 km from the town of Kirkwall. The rooms were comfortable and cosy. The breakfast provided was generous, and the owner, Patsy,  prepared our packed lunch for each walking day. We ate in the restaurants of local hotels except for one night when we had a quick fish and chips before heading off to listen to some traditional Orkney music at The Reel. Nigel sounded out the group on the first night to get an idea of the type of places we would like to eat at and how much we wanted to spend and then booked them on our behalf. We ate dinner as a group and were usually back at the BnB by 10PM each night. I spent around £30-35 on most evening meals which included two courses and two glasses of wine.  We started the day at a very civilised time with breakfast at 8 and departure at 9AM.

The group meshed well with everyone generously sharing stories of their life and times. We were mostly in the same stage of life with grown-up children and grandchildren. I enjoyed chatting with C from Italy, who was keen to improve her already excellent English. We had some fun discussing the various different euphemisms for urinating, and we laughed when we decided that “taking a leak” was preferable to “taking a piss” and “call of nature” was perhaps the most polite! The English and Australians see a “man about a dog” while in the US they “talk to a man about a horse”. Urinating was a topic of conversation because when you’re walking in the middle of nowhere with very few trees and a group of people, you have to talk about it!

The weather was very mixed and unpredictable. We had a combination of sun, rain, fog and wind. You will need to be properly equipped with water-proof clothing and a cover for your backpack. (I fashioned quite a useful one from a sturdy plastic carrier bag! see the header photo) Although our walk was in early July and theoretically summer, I started each day with thermals under my hiking pants, a warm fleece and jacket. I also wore a beanie and scarf for at least part of every day. On two of the days when it warmed up to 22°C,  I stripped down to my undershirt and wished I had not worn the thermal tights. Proper waterproof hiking boots/shoes with good tread are essential as there are several very boggy areas to walk across.

I made these little videos each day using my iPhone and iMovie.

I found this tour to be the most relaxing part of my 5-week holiday. I didn’t have to worry about anything! I could let go of the super vigilant reins I had been holding and let someone else do all the running around. The most taxing element for me was deciding whether to try haggis or not!

 

PS: I did try the haggis – once – that was enough!

 

My Scottish Road Trip comes to an end.

I began this post while I was sitting at Heathrow Airport, waiting to fly back to Australia. I have been home for a few days now, but have only just managed to get time to put something together for Friday’s deadline. I am planning on publishing some more considered posts about my vacation in Scotland over the next few weeks. I had a fabulous time and have so much to share!

–ooo–

The joys(?) of long haul flights

Edinburgh – 09:30

The prospect of being awake and upright for the two days is not a happy one. My Scottish vacation has come to an end, and today is the day to head back to Australia. The journey starts waiting for the (delayed) LNER (London and NorthEast Rail) 10:00 AM Edinburgh-London Express.

Kings Cross Station – 15:30

Five hours later I transferred on foot to the Piccadilly Line for the 55 minute trip to Terminal 4. The carriage is airless and hot, with only an occasional breeze fluttering my hair when the doors open. The number of passengers dwindles as we get closer to the airport and I can feel less guilty about my big suitcase blocking the aisle and my backpack taking up a seat.

 

An action figure in a plush red train seat
Iain rides the train to London

Wednesday: 17:00 GMT – Landside

I had completed a web check-in, but the fellow at the KAL counter (quite rightly) decided that my backpack was too big and bulky to be considered cabin luggage so I need to check it in. On top of that, my rolling suitcase is overweight. I joined the clusters of people scrambling on the floor to publically reorganise my luggage, switching 3 kg from one bag to the other. To be fair, I knew the backpack was too big, and I had planned to try and bluff it. When I left Sydney, I had all the compartments zipped up and strapped down, but with all the bits and pieces I had bought, it was now fully expanded!

Wednesday 17:30 – Landside

Wheeling the luggage-laden trolley into the accessible toilet cubicle, I get changed into warmer clothes and heavier boots. I am desperate to wash my feet after wearing sneakers on the unexpectedly hot Tube ride. I baulk at the notices over the bathroom basins indicating there is a foot wash in the multifaith prayer room next to Gate 9. Many others besides me must have considered washing their feet in these sinks.  I decided to give it a miss. It would have to wait until I had a shower in Seoul. The halfway home point. Until then, I’d have to keep my shoes and socks on!

A second turn at checking-in is successful, and with both the big bags off my hands, I can head to security.

Wednesday 18:15 – Airside

With the frantic flurry of repacking, check-in and security clearance over, I have settled in for the wait, and I’m quietly enjoying a very large glass of Pinot Grigio. I fiddle with my phone and add up the time ahead of me. Another ninety minutes till I can board, twelve hours from London to Seoul, another 11 to Sydney after a four-hour layover in between. Sigh! At least I can have that shower in the Prestige Lounge at Incheon Airport courtesy of my FF points! Perhaps, if there are any vacant lounges in the “relaxation room”, even a blissful lie-down

Next time I travel long haul I am going to consider booking Prestige seriously. Really seriously! Even if only for the final leg home. That last 10 hours; when you are so weary, you will commit a crime for a lie down – that bit.

 

IMG_0229

The last tedious bit: perhaps its Thursday?

I am now one flight down and boarding a smaller plane. The Korean crew welcome me most warmly, and I make my way to my seat. After “the chicken” or “the beef” decision, the lights are dimmed, and people drop off to sleep while I curse the fact that during my frantic luggage re-sort, I left my antihistamines in the other bag and can not rely on them to make me drowsy. A few hours later, I give up trying to sleep and watch five more episodes of the police drama I downloaded to my iPad.

The map on the back of the chair shows a familiar outline of the SE coast of Northern Queensland, and while breakfast is served, we head over the Great Barrier Reef. I’m over Australia, but it’s still 2 hours 55 minutes till we land. Soon the lights of Sydney are blinking in the sunrise, and I’ve got 10 minutes to watch in the final episode! Can’t you go around one more time? Give me ten more minutes till I get to the ‘who-dun-it”? The flight attendant insists I pack it away.

 

a photo of aSydney taken from a plane window at dawn
Sydney comes into view

Another queue to pass through immigration and quarantine. I join the “something to declare” line since I ‘ve been hiking in agricultural areas, but I’m waved through after an explanation of where I’ve been. Yet another wait for the Airport Shuttle and a 90 minute drive to my front door. Thursday has vanished somewhere, lost in changing time zones.

Friday 10:00 AEST

I finally open my front door and sigh with relief that all is as I left it. It’s been 47 hours since I left the Airbnb. My goal now is to stay awake until it’s dark to help combat jet lag.

That’s another seven hours away.

Fill up the kettle, start making the coffee and wish me luck, it’s gonna be at least a 6-cup day!

 

 

Musings on Tourism in Edinburgh.

The interminable bagpipe playing continues unabated as you move from one corner to the other. Some pipers clearly know only one piece. If you stand in the same place long enough you hear them play it again and again. 

National Portrait Gallery

My last stop in Scotland is Edinburgh. I am glad I didn’t come here first,  it would have swayed my opinion of this wonderful place.

The sun is shining down on the people sitting outside one of the authentic Scottish pubs. Authentic, except everyone there is not from Edinburgh. Not even the staff.

Waverly Station

Some of my melancholy may stem from the fact that I fly home tomorrow and my big adventure ends. I think some stems from the fact that this city is in danger of losing itself. Losing itself up the arse of overtourism. I wrote about this in a previous post and here I find myself conflicted again.

St Giles Kirk
National art gallery

I am a tourist.

I am in Edinburgh.

I’m part of the problem. 

There is absolutely no doubt that this is a place to visit. 

The architecture? Sublime! 

The history? Incredibly long and intriguing.

The winding streets and narrow closes (laneways)  a photographer’s delight.

But the people? So many people. Jostling and bustling.

Selfie after selfie. In front of the castle. In front of the Kirk. In front of the shops with the fake wisteria.

Street performance getting ready
Plenty of stairs!

We’ll all have the same photos. I retreated to the Galleries and the breathtakingly magnificent Scottish Museum.

I wish I could have been here 30 years ago. (But with the same digital technology I have now!!) Then,  it would have been truly spectacular!

What do we do? What do we do? There is obviously too much money sloshing around in the collective travel bucket of the world, including my own.  I feel badly for the people who do call this place home. They have lost their city. AirBnB has taken up most the properties nearest the city and people can not find places to live. Their pubs are crowded, their streets noisy. I apologize for the contribution I made.

Next big adventure? Definitely most definitely, has to be in Australia. 

You’re going to Fraserburgh?’

The opinion of others.

Culloden Moor Inn carpark was full, yet when I walked into the Keppoch Bar there were only two people other than the barmaid. They eyed me warily.  I asked the barmaid if I could get a drink and some food.

“You might be more comfortable in the restaurant?”

“No” I said “I’m happy to sit here in the bar”

The “crowd” relaxed

The older fellow struck up a conversation immediately picking up on my Australian accent. The usual questions. Are you on your own? Where have you been? Where are you going?

“Fraserburgh???” Willy asked “Why yea going there?”

“Don’t hang aboot there too long” the young bike rider quipped as the barmaid chortled.

I laughed nervously, this was the second group of people who suggested Fraserburgh was a less than desirable place to stop. Mutterings about a drug culture and a depressed economy since the end of the fishing.

“Ummmm, It seemed like a good place to stop and … and it’s got a Lighthouse Museum.”

“Och, Aye” with nods that could be interpreted as sympathetic. Had I made a bad choice based solely on geographic location and a museum? Only time would tell.

It was my intention to hug the Moray Coast east (across the flat bit of northern Scotland), turn right at Fraserburgh and drop down to Aberdeen. I discovered that this was called the Coast Trail (east) and it was well signposted. Since being here I have discovered lots of signposted routes. The NC 500 (I knew about that one) but others. The Rock Route, The Pictish Trail, The Castle Trail to name some which all take you to themed points of interest. I followed most of the Rock Route by chance and most of the NC 500.

The drive from Forres to Fraserburgh was grey and wet. The bright colours of the sweet little towns of Buckie, Portessie, Cullen and Findochty muted by the rain. The ocean steely blue and the beaches, dull despite the light coloured sand.

I spent a while at Lossiemouth in the Museum of Fishing and Community. Run by volunteers,  it was small but had some fabulous model boats and quite good archival material if you were looking up family who may have lived in the area. I found the 14th April 1912 issue of the Daily Mirror interesting. The front page news was about the Titanic. The the page 3 banner proclaimed that all passengers were safe!. Goodness! Was that a bit of false news or what? It would take another day to reveal the true story.

As I had arrived in Fraserburgh in the late afternoon, I went directly to the Lighthouse Museum and just managed to join in on the last tour of the day with one other fellow. The guide gave us his undivided attention and it was inspiring  to go right up to the lens room and see how the whole mechanism worked. (Ok, ok so I’m a bit of a nerd in that respect!) The Kinnaird Head Light is built over a castle and therefore has some unique features. It is no longer operational. The museum exhibits have a large collection of beautiful glass lenses which are fun to look through.

As to the rest of Fraserburgh? It was bleak with ALL the buildings made from the same dull grey stone. The dark skies adding to the gloom and things were quieter than the other places I had been too. It had obviously been a prosperous town with its public buildings and monuments reflecting more opulence than it now had.

The large harbour was filled with fishing boats that ranged from tiny dinghys up to huge trawlers.

The lovely host of the AirBnB had recommended the fish market as a place to take good photos, so in the morning I went in search of them. I asked for directions at a cafe and a very hospitable young fellow, Mathew, who works on his dad’s trawler, gave me a private tour of the selling floor, despite the fact he had a cup of tea going cold!

So yes Fraserburgh was bleak, it did seem gloomy but the people I meet added a little sunshine!

Planning a Scottish Vacation – Episode 4

A map of Scotland with Acamera and passport

I have booked the flights! Yes it’s still months to go but since I was using frequent flyer points and they only set aside a limited number of places for award tickets I decided to get in early. So a nearly free flight!

This video discusses why I have chosen to fly with Korean Airlines even though they are not always the cheapest or the most direct route to my destinations. I think being loyal to this one brand has been worthwhile. I am a member of the Morning Calm Club which gives me access to the Prestige Class Lounge at the airport and priority baggage handling as well as extra baggage limits. I have had one free upgrade and now the “free” ticket. It was free except for taxes and the fact that I have flown with them for eight international return trips!

I have also recommended an app called Tripit, which aggregates all your travel information into one place which you can access from any device or computer. So even though I still have my trusty printed spreadsheet; I also have this electronic version that sends me alerts if any flight/booking details changes.

Next episode,  I will have the itinerary pretty much finalised.