Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sron a' Choire Ghairbh & Meall na Teanga

The extra public holiday on Friday, coupled with a great weather forecast presented the ideal opportunity for taking to the hills. Sron a' Choire Ghairbh and Meall na Teanga were selected as targets, friends invited, plans made and anticipation generated! The day got off to an inauspicious start when I was woken by my neighbour ringing the doorbell wondering why I wasn't waiting at the car as agreed (I'm sure I set that alarm!). Nevertheless, within a few minutes we were loaded up running round Perth to pick up the other lads who had accepted the invitation. By mid-morning we reached Spean Bridge, turned North and then West at the famous Commando Memorial, crossed the Caledonian Canal, and parked just before the shores of Loch Arkaig.

A steep path pulls up from the car park past the Cia Aig falls, finally joining a forest track which climbs Northwards parallel with the river below. The track eventually becomes a path which becomes increasingly feint after it crosses the footbridge (shown on the OS map) to the west bank of the river. Before reaching the little tumble-down ruin of Fedden, we struck westwards across the glen to intersect the path running in from the North, swinging into the glen we were aiming for. The climb up the bealach was a slog, and we rested at glen's highpoint, and dumped our bags for the trip to the summit of Sron a Choire Ghairbh.
Sron a Choire Ghairbh is not a shapely peak, in fact it is a steep sided lump when viewed from the South. What gives it character, (as with so many Scottish mountains) is the deep, steeply cliffed corrie which bites into its Northern flank - and the awe-inspiring views the mountain offers of other peaks too numerous to mention.

In blazing, hazy-humidity, we descended to our waiting packs, and lunch! The climb opposite onto Meall na Teanga looked incredibly steep. In practice it was a manageable, if not rather a hot, long pull. Teanga itself is another hill whose gentle lines are not themselves eye-catching, but the experience of standing on its' summit and looking down at the world; makes every pound put into the petrol tank, and every aching muscle, costs worth paying!
Heading off Meall na Teanga westwards over Meall Odhar was actually the most pleasant part of the walk. A nice steep little scrabbly ridge to climb, up, wide open views, striding over grand-ridges over springy moss, in delightful sunshine, an experience we shared only with a herd of running wild deer - was just tremendous.
In retrospect we should maybe have descended westwards from Meall Odhar, but the continuing ridge Southwards was too tempting. Dropping gently towards the car, with view out over Loch Arkaig looked too good to miss. In fact it led to a very awkward few hundred metres of descent through woodland to re-gain our track back to the car. Tired aching, and in my case, rather dehydrated (despite carrying all the fluid could lift!), the shop in Spean Bridge was a welcome sight - as was the Monadliath Hotel just before Dalwhinnie, whose fine pub-grub, completed a brilliant day out.

Ah - it's just SO good to be back in the mountains....

Friday, April 22, 2011


He died that we might be forgiven,
he died to make us good,
that we might go at last to heaven,
saved by his precious blood.


We may not know, we cannot tell,
what pains he had to bear,
but we believe it was for us
he hung and suffered there.

Hell on Earth

There is a Green Hill Far Away
Without a city wall
Where the dear Lord was Crucified
He died to save us all

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Marriage Course - 2011

Setting the table, peeling the spuds, checking the DVD - it's Marriage Course time again for us here in Perth. This time, quite a small course - but will no doubt be just as useful for them as for couple who complete it amongst a larger crowd.

The course is a really practical guide - packed full of wisdom, with some very searching exercises for couples to work through, all with the aim of keeping a marriage alive and healthy for a lifetime. We start this new course on the day that the press are posting the latest sorry statistics about the breakdown in family life in this country.

Our experience, and the feedback from many of the couples who've done the course with us is that, entered into with a positive attitude, to get the very best from it - the course can play an invaluable role in making marriage work.

There's always a little nervous anticipation on the first night of a course, new people, new dynamics... I suspect that the guests feel a little nervous too. Hopefully tonight will kick the new course off to a flying start.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I don't care how sad you think I am! I saw these two giants simmering in the afternoon sunshine in Perth this afternoon, and thought that they looked, smelled and sounded rather splendid. The front one is Scots Guardsman, while the smaller one behind it is The Great Marquess. They were stopping at Perth for water having climbed over the mountains from Inverness. Click on the photo to enlarge and appreciate!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spontaneous Goonery!

As I laughed at number #2 son's antics, and reached for the camera to capture them..... it suddenly dawned on me, that it looked more than a little similar to "A Dustbin of Milligan". Now, while I have over the years taught him one or two poems from this book - he has never actually seen the cover. Spontaneous bonkers-type Goonery, I tell ye! I blame their grandfather!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Weatherseal - Receiving the Hard-Sell

We had a strange experience this week with a double-glazing company called Weatherseal. I took a telephone call from one of their sales people, which suggested that the company were looking for a showhome in my postcode. They were looking for a property to take 'before' and 'after' photos of, to demonstrate how their products could revitalise a house. In exchange for using the house in their advertising, they would do the whole job completely free. This sounded too good to be true, so I checked with the telephone sales-person, asking one specific question: "Do you get told if your home has been selected for the promotion before you agree to the installation or not?" The answer I was given was that, someone would call round, assess the property for its advertising potential, and if it was the most suitable one in the area, authorise free installation, and that this would all be agreed without paying a penny.

It sounded too good to be true because of course it was.

On the evening the person was supposed to call, he appeared two hours later than agreed. He understood that he couldn't go into measure windows in the kids bedrooms while they were being put to bed and that the measuring couldn't proceed. His boss on the phone thought otherwise, and put us under pressure to 'wait until they were sleeping' and then go in and begin. It's the school holidays, and they weren't even going to bed until nine-ish! Clearly these salesmen are being driven, and are under inordinate pressure from HQ.

The following night the assessor re-appeared. Bright, friendly, articulate and only 15 minutes late, he came - not to assess the property for its advertising potential taking "about an hour" of our time as promised; but to subject us to over two hours of intensely high-pressure selling. The experience was almost surreal.

The salesman was obviously highly trained, and engaged us in this ludicrous piece of theatre, involving a spurious company history lesson designed to build trust; a guide to the market designed to discredit the competition; mysterious rituals with meaningless (but important-sounding) code numbers to make the potential customer feel like a lucky winner; asking us to sign pointless pieces of paper saying we had understood the presentation, so to get us warmed-up for signing a real-contract. The pressure to take up their credit-plan was extremely strong too - and at times highly misleading. While the salesman was keen to suggest that a huge discount would be applied to the bill just for taking up the credit-plan, and to talk about the potentially low monthly repayment figures, he was far from forthcoming about the total-repayment sum should you use the full ten-years to repay! Likewise his figures for interest did not relate to the amount it would actually cost us for the job he had just measured up for - but simply interest 'per thousand pounds borrowed'. Likewise we were never told whether the interest rates were fixed, or flexible! This was rushed through at enormous speed, followed with the invitation we (unwisely) took, to sign to say we were happy with the presentation. The truth was, we were still digesting it, when the pen and the form were pressed into our hands.

All this comes to the inevitable climax of the sky-high bonkers price, which you get to chew on for a few minutes while he rehearses for the umpteenth-time the benefits of the Argon-filled glass-units and multi-point locking system.... Then comes the call from HQ with the 'good news' about the code number which slashes thousands off the price..... all so predictable. Yet - even as we were wise to what was happening, we felt the huge psychological pressures being brought to bear on us.

When we repeated, and repeated, and repeated that under no circumstances would we be signing a contract as big as this on the night - the salesman refused to accept this answer. He questioned, asked all manner of intrusive questions which we had to repeatedly refuse to answer, questioned again, kept offering to wait outside in the car until we had talked it though. Embarrassingly he just would not let go, despite us asking for the space to cook our tea and deal with the kids! The pressure to sign was then upped with the usual line about these deals only being on offer tonight, and that if we didn't sign now he wouldn't be able to give us the amazing deal we had just seen. When we explained that we would never sign a deal this big on the spur of the moment, he phoned his boss - who then tried to (very assertively) run through the presentation with me again on the phone! Can you imagine?!

I got the impression that the salesman himself was a decent guy, being driven by an unbelievably ruthless company, to operate in a way which stretched the definitions of reasonable, ethical practice to its tolerances! Whether any of it was actually illegal or not, I do not know.

Thankfully we are not weak, vulnerable, elderly or unable to withstand this kind of bombardment - and eventually he left. I had the chance to Google this company and see if this kind of thing goes on regularly - and indeed it does. I also discovered that they are a repeat offender in violating the rules on tele-marketing and in fact should not have been calling me at all!

Their windows look quite good. They seemed strong, warm, secure, and looked fine. The question is this: would I want to do business with a company that (i) violated my TPS registration and illegally cold-called me, (ii) tricked their way into my home under false pretences, (iii) outstayed their welcome by taking double the promised time, (iv) put us under undue psychological pressure, (v) tried to get us to sign up to a credit-scheme without adequate time to consider its terms in detail or compare it with other products, (vi) placed us under pressure to hastily conclude a deal with them for the windows without allowing us time to weigh our options (vii) subjected us to highly-polished theatre and ritual all designed to psychologically manipulate us towards parting with cash? Er,....

I see that consumer discussion boards are deeply divided about this company. Some people report terrible experiences - others will not have a word said against them. I am in no position to generalise about the company, I simply relate my experience. Let the reader decide!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tim Keller at Google Authors

Keller's talk on Christian apologetics was warmly received when he was invited to speak at Google as part of their 'authors' series of guest lectures. He made some good points on the way, and conceded a few during the Q&A's at the end too. It's delivered with his customary clarity and humility which make it all the more watchable. It's a fascinating talk, and the discussion at the end probes some of the big issues.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stumbling Upon the Vinyl Archive. 6. Singles.

The BBC used to have a lunchtime programme called "Pebble Mill at One". While I recalled the show being rather lame, a quick trip to YouTube stunned me - it was actually worse than I remembered! Despite this, I still remember the band they had arranged to close the show one day, and the song they played. The band was Del Amitri, and the song was Nothing Ever Happens. I still have the single, and was delighted to unearth it in the attic last week. Along with some of these other gems and turkeys..

It's often pointed out that when Vinyl gave way to little CDs, it spelt the end of the era of great cover-art. Of course, it also meant the end of the 'picture-disc'. Record companies knew that countless fans would part with more cash, to get a copy of the same song pressed onto a picture of their musical hero, or band logo. Here's a particularly splendid picture disc, from MSG. Quite honestly, the design on the plastic 7" does look quite jolly spinning round at 45 rpm. Of course, turning the sound off assists with the enjoyment of this particular disc; if only it sounded as good as it looked!

Whaddayamean it's about drugs? I thought it was all just innocent childish fun!

Roy Buchanan was a guitarist who never received the recognition he deserved - especially in the UK. Yet his performances on tracks like the bluesy instrumental The Messiah Will Come Again, have been hugely influential on many subsequent players. Gary Moore is the obvious beneficiary of his legacy, with his solos in songs in the Parisiene Walkways/Still Got the Blues, vein drawing deeply on Buchanan's work. Moore acknowledged this in his cover version of this single, and his own work The Prophet, which develops the theme. Buchanan also sounds uncannily like Richie Blackmore would, in several passages on Pete's Blues.

Oooh look, red Vinyl! Surely the kids will buy it in bright red!? "Only You Can Rock Me". UFOs lyrics were hardly the finest poetry, but the music was fun, and in their prime, rather well executed.

Sam Brown's hit "Stop!", was a great song, sung brilliantly with immense passion - an arresting vocal performance. The cardboard sleeve for the single contained not only the black Vinyl disc, but also a large folded poster of the lovely Ms Brown. I had two posters on my wall when I was about 15, one was Ian Paice, just visible behind an enormous drum-kit; the other was Sam Brown. I am sure Mr Paice wouldn't be the least bit offended if I was to point out that he was the less alluring of the two images.

"Don't Believe a Word", I think is the definitive Thin Lizzy song. It has all the ingredients that went to make the Irish rockers into legends, by the spadeful. Lynott's writing is both heartfelt, sentimental, and confessional - despite presenting his own failings as if he were a victim of them; a fiendishly morally ambiguous song. It has upbeat shuffle-rhythm and the distinctive dual-guitar lead, and a scorching solo from Brian Robertson. Two and a half minutes of genius, with a perfect ending.

On a quite different note, Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" is a tender little ballad - and rightly considered to amongst his finest works. As delicate and quirky as perhaps only Paul Simon can be, a charming little song - which so nicely invokes nostalgia for times gone, with the story of a chance encounter.

By the time Barclay James Harvest recorded John Lees' composition, Cheap the Bullet, they had been treading the boards for decades. Orchestra's and choirs had come and gone, enormous proggy-soundscapes had been used, swathes of new-fangled synths bathed their 80s output, backing singers had had a turn, their music had evolved and changed almost constantly. This then was a surprise, a no-nonsense guitar-driven mid-paced, rocker. The single predictably didn't sell anything like the quantities it deserved at the time - perhaps by then they were exclusively an 'album band'. At least polydor made a decent effort of the sleeve though.

I always thought that Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman", and Billy Joel's "Always a Woman to Me" would form a fascinating double-A side of a bizarre single!

When the Righteous Brothers re-release of Unchained Melody became a smash-hit in 1990 on the back of its use on a film; the BBC did the decent thing a issues Milligan and Sellers definitive rendition of the classic song. "I need your love, I need your love, ying-tong, ying-tong iddle i-po, play my ukele as the ship went down" - genius!

And then something comes out of the archive and it sort of vaguely rings a bell - and then you can't remember why it was there in the first place. Apparently this band Marseille flourished for a while...

And then something I had forgotten about but was pleased to find again! This is Gary Moore's cover of the Yardbirds song, "Shapes of Things", a heavy, powerful version of their 60s pop-tune. I heard Moore do this track live a couple of times, the extended solo of which was a particularly fine point of his live-shows in those days. It's backed by Blinder, an instrumental with an uncanny resemblance to a Rainbow song! These are tracks which I haven't heard for a very, very long time!

Fat n' Frantic - A band whose energetic live-shows were gloriously eccentric, riotous fun, but whose studio performances never had the same energy. "Last Night My Wife Hoovered My Head" was one of their most profound efforts, and indeed gained some national airplay in the hands of Simon Mayo. Those crazy-boys in the psychedelic suits, playing their mixture of punk and skiffle (called piffle), I wonder where they are now? I suspect not moshing as vigorously as they were two decades ago.

Other marketing ploys of the Vinyl singles era included the 12" (as big as an album but only a single, played at 45rpm - allegedly better sound quality) and the EP. Here's an EP (extended player), that I have unearthed from the vaults. The EP is the size of a single, but played a 33rpm, so you get more on it! This one features Barclay James Harvest's Rock n Roll Star, and Medicine Man (part one). Medicine Man (part two) is found on the B-side, and the listener has to flip the disc over midway to enjoy the rest of the song. I wonder how many people spent how many hours trying to record this song onto their TDK D90 blank audio cassettes, trying to time the 'pause' so that it played back seamlessly. Or perhaps I am uniquely sad in this respect...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Stumbling Upon the Vinyl Archive. 5. Unclassifiable.

Despite the worry they have caused, the cracks which are spreading around our bedroom ceiling, have had one pleasant side-effect. The visit of the structural engineer necessitated a clear-out of the attic, which in turn led to the discovery of a long-forgotten trove of Vinyl. I have found kids stuff, blues, jazz, rock, and now these, a selection of almost unclassifiable records.

SKY (1) is an album which has such precious memories associated with it, that for me it is impossible to assess objectively. As a young teenager I used to sometimes go and stay with my Grandpa in Dorset. This meant cycling to Woking, a train ride through the countryside to Gillingham, and then the cycle up the hill to Shaftesbury. As if this wasn't an adventure enough, it was completed by the excitement of a week spent with Grandpa. He was a great character, and always good fun to be with. I remember days there often being busy, cycling around the surrounding countryside, visiting my Aunt and Uncle who lived in the same town, or attacking a mound of 'O' level coursework - but spending the evenings with Grandpa. Many of these evening would be filled with music, either music that he played on his piano, or playing records from his collection. SKY (1) was a record that was often brought out. Although he was a classical pianist who loved playing piano works from a range of composers, he liked occasional forays into other music too. SKY were a rock/classical crossover band that performed instrumentals in a variety of styles, from the most delicate of ballads to some classical standards in a solid rock format. After his death, each of his grand-children were given something of his with which to remember him. The items were chosen, not by anything as pointless as monetary value, but by the connection that the item had been between him and us. Of course, I was given some of the LPs we had listened to - and his old Marantz music system, which I used until only a couple of years ago. In the photo above, the number and sticker on the cover were part of his library system for cataloguing his music. Just holding this LP again transports me back to a world of being 16, of curries and cider, of cycling through the countryside, of music, adventure, optimism, youth, but most of all, all these things with Grandpa.

This LP comes from a later date, but is no less musically unclassifiable than the last one. Some people would want to subsume such things under the label 'prog', but that has become an almost meaningless term for anything that allows musicians to work across genres instead of sticking rigidly to the rules of their musical type. I remember the late, great, Woolly Wolstenholme of Barclay James Harvest decrying the term for exactly these reasons. "Music Inspired by The Snow Goose", is enough of a coherent concept-album of long instrumentals to be dismissed under the 'prog' label - but this album is a remarkably diverse collection of tunes. Camel were able to picture Paul Gallico's touching WWII story in a charming soundscape which is in turns delicate, whimsical, powerful, and touching. I was initially lent a copy of this by some friends in the church I grew up in, near London. I grabbed a 2nd hand copy for myself soon after. Of course, I taped it for playing in the car - while this old piece of Vinyl lay forgotten!

Not quite rock, not quite jazz, almost fusion, but then again, and definitely not really prog. Collosseum II produced a string of albums in the late 1970s full of musical brilliance, creative composition and the kind of frantic duelling on guitars and keys that I adored - but in all honesty was never going to sell millions. My initial interest in the band was because Gary Moore's guitar was intrinsic to the sound - and in the early 80s, I was really into his rock albums. Colloseum II, was then a revelation, as Moore's albums such a Victims of the Future or Run For Cover were positively pedestrian compared to the range, variety, complexity and spark on the Colloseum II records. Electric Savage was the first one I bought - and played to death. I still have enormous affection for this album, and not because it was the only LP cover I ever had to keep inside a brown-paper bag! (the astute music historian will notice the fact that this picture here is the expurgated version, and not the original LP cover, which didn't spare the blushes of the young lady). It's not merely the album cover over which there was a distinct gender-difference in levels of appreciation, though. I know many guys who like this music, but while there may be women who like this stuff - I have never met any! Certainly none of the girls I ever knew, or the one I am married to, can stand it! Really unusual and powerfully creative - I think its great, and wonderful to stumble across again after all these years.

Drymen to Balmaha via Conic Hill

The Scottish Tourist Industry usually trades on the country's extremes. Programmes such as Coast, Mountain, or when Griff Rhys Jones is filmed careering down a river, re-enforce this image by constant repetition of the unusual, as if it were typical. In landscape programmes we usually see the Black Cuillin of Skye, the semi-Arctic landscape of the Cairngorm plateau, or the bleak vastness of Rannoch Moor. Human interaction with this land is therefore generally pitched in terms of remarkable feats of physical endurance, or danger. Indeed, Scotland is big enough, and its landscape wild enough to provide enough stories of maverick adventurers, of avalanches, Mountain Rescues or tragedies, to satisfy the media's thirst for the sensational. Scotland's uplands are rugged, potentially dangerous, and an awesome classroom for the study of the geology and geomorphology, or myth, legend and heroics. All this is rightly celebrated.

The danger in all this is that the extremes are revered at the expense of so many of the other things which the Scottish landscape offers. There are, for example, countless walks suitable for young families which will never grab headlines, but which can make for an idyllic day out, without great expense.

Our family-experience of walking in Scotland has evolved as the children have grown. When 'Boris', 'Norris' and 'Doris' were babies they were easy to pick-up and carry on a good day's walking, but soon reached a point where they were simply too heavy to carry - but were not yet capable of a full day out on their own legs. During these phases, hillwalking was severely restricted. The last time we all went up a hill of Munro height, was four years ago when I staggered up Beinn na Lap with the weight of nearly-two-year-old 'Doris' on my back. Now that she is five, and becoming increasingly strong and confident in the hills, family hill-walks are (at last!) beginning to recommence. Thankfully, Scotland provides not merely the Larig Ghru's and Aonach Eagach's - but so many of these smaller, walks which provide an excellent introduction to the Great Outdoors, at almost every grade of difficulty.

The various assembled characters of the Outdoor Activities Fellowship (OAF's) leave the Baptist Church car park, and head for the hills about once a month from Spring to Autumn. They try and offer a varied programme of walks for people of all ages and fitness levels. The progress that our youngest has made, has meant that for the first time we have been able to join them for a walk as a family, for one of their easier expeditions: Drymen to Balmaha via Conic Hill.

Above Drymen there were numerous route diversions through the woods due to logging operations. Thankfully, as the track is part of the West Highland Way, they had provided a well-signposted diversion. The first stage of the walk is a straightforward stroll through densely planted pine forests. After a mile or so the forest breaks to reveal a glimpse of the only obstacle on the route, Conic Hill. From the track the hill looks gracefully shaped, with steep sides and a cheerful looking little ridge running off it down towards Lomondside. It's a fairly short climb, steep in places, but with an obvious path to follow. 'Boris' who is 11, likes to walk calmly, and make intelligent conversation with the adults in the group. Eight-year-old 'Norris' likes to run between groups of adults, laughing, blethering constantly and finding the deepest patches of mud to leap into. Little 'Doris' likes to walk with either parent, but who despite being the smallest member of the party marches along contentedly.

On Saturday, Western Scotland sweltered in bright sunshine, and high temperatures and humidity which made walking hard, and thirsty work. The hills were not looking photogenic, as they sweated in a blanket of hazy-low-cloud and poor light. Nevertheless Loch Lomond looked wonderful, with people playing on the beaches, pleasure-boats in every corner of the Loch and the vague outlines of the big mountains to North peering through the bright haze.

The climb up Conic Hill from Drymen side is easy, the path curves around the back of the hill, ironing out the gradient. We stumbled upon the summit more quickly than we expected, and sat down in the leeward side to eat our lunch, enjoying the shelter from the wind and the view out over the water. The descent to Balmaha was surprising - if only for its busyness. When we had arrived early in the morning to drop a car off at the Balmaha car park, the place was almost deserted. By early afternoon, the place was buzzing, a significant proportion of Glasgow out enjoying the sunshine. This was reflected in the overwhelming volume of feet tramping up and down the Balmaha-Conic track. There were groups and families in trainers and street-fashions, walking up from Balmaha, the obvious up and down route. There were day-walkers like us, boots and day-sacks - trekking along from Drymen. We were all mixed up with West-Highland-Way-ers, with their huge rucksaks, unslept appearances and fixed expressions of relief and disbelief at the glorious weather! Youngsters, oldsters, and everything in-between-ers, basking in the wonder of Highland Scotland.

I enjoy hanging off the Cuillin, or marching for miles across Cairngorm uplands, but there is much to appreciated in Scotland's smaller gems too. We drove home with children falling asleep in the back of the car. My wife simply commented that if you could rely on weather like this, you'd never think of holidaying anywhere else.

Friday, April 08, 2011


After a very long cold Winter, Perth finally felt Spring-like today. With the kids off school, we all trudged up Kinnoull Hill (yet-again!) today. Kinnoull is though, a place that we never seem to tire of, there are so many different routes up, and around the hill, and so many hidden corners that despite countless trips it always seems to throw surprises in our way. Today we picked a new (for us) route from Branklyn Gardens, around the very South-Western corner of the hill, skirting the very edge of the cliffs all the way to the summit.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Mother Ship?

Watching these odd shapes drifting across the Perth sky tonight, lit-up by the sinking sun... very strange.

Ben A'an

Ben A'an is the 'little mountain' that sits in the centre of The Trossachs, and forms a lofty viewpoint over the head of Loch Katrine. Friends had recommended the hill as a family-friendly walk that would be within the range of our five year-old. It appeared to tick all the boxes; no long walk in/out, great views, nice steep summit to give a little feel of adventure for the boys, and not too far from home. So today we drove South to give it a go.
The path works it way steeply up through the trees from the car park alongside Loch Achray. Eventually, it breaks through the tree-line to reveal the first view of the summit, which on first sight, between the branches, looks fairly intimidating. (click on photo to enlarge). When we stopped at this point, the view was impressive enough for the kids to point and ask, "Are we really going up there!"
The climb up the gully alongside the summit, is steep, and slippery when wet. Happily the worst parts have been re-enforced to make them very straightforward even for the smaller members of the family. It's great to see our daughter getting strong and confident in the hills, being more than capable of leaning into a good hour or so's uphill walking at a reasonable pace. The summit, once made, is a gorgeous little spot, with a nice rocky peak to scramble on. The winds were gusting quite powerfully, so I had to hold onto our youngest quite carefully as she scaled the last few feet. Nevertheless she made it, and along with the others sat for the inevitably posed summit-photo with Loch Katrine and Ben Lomond as the backdrop.
Loch Katrine is often visited in order to ride on the Sir Walter Scott, the lovely old steam-ship which still plies its waters. We watched her making sedate progress up the Loch, before drifting gently into Trossachs Pier, right at the foot of the hill.

I can't actually remember who it was who recommended this walk to us, but if it was you.... thanks!

In the Trossachs

Ben Venue fills the horizon.. a day out with the family in the Trossachs

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

St Andrews

I love the way that if you stand by the entrance to St Andrews Cathedral, and line the camera up to show that the tower in the foreground is vertical, all the other buildings look as if they are sliding down a steep hill; yet if you line them up straight, the front tower would put that of Pisa to shame.

Stumbling Upon the Vinyl Archive. 4. Rock.

Amongst the Vinyl albums that I discovered last week at the back of the attic, it was inevitable that I would find some by the late Irish guitarist Gary Moore. His 2nd solo album, "Back on the Streets" is a curious one, while I love the album it must have perplexed many a listener who bought it on the basis of hearing its major hit single Parisienne Walkways. Not that it has much heavy-rock on it, (Moore would get into that a few years later), rather the thing which probably bemused the unaware were the fusion or jazz-rock efforts which make up half the album. While the ballady/rock material on this album has a lot of Thin Lizzy personnel making up the band, the other material features a different range of players and is worth hearing for the drumming of Simon Philips, alone. Listening again after over thirty years, it is rockers like Fanatical Fascists that have dated badly and sound trite, while the pace, attack and fluidity of fusiony pieces like Hurricane still inspire. The drumming on What would you rather bee or a wasp, is sublime.

By the early 1980s, Gary Moore had embraced the hard-rock sound found on albums like Corridors of Power, and the heavy-rock of Dirty Fingers or After the War. Dirty Fingers was probably Moore's heaviest album, and was recorded during the boom of the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal. A dispute with Jet Records delayed official publication of the album for many years, which was a shame, as it stands as one of Moore's finer studio efforts from the rock years, with more to offer than many more commercially successful albums like Victims of the Future. After the War was Gary Moore's last album before he abandoned heavy-rock for blues.

Throughout the After the War album Moore sounds as uninspired as he looked bored on every photo-shoot in the publicity material for the stuff. Subsequent interviews for the Still Got the Blues album reveal just how musically frustrated he was with the heavy-rock format at that time. He put on a good show on the tour that year, showcasing the new stuff, despite the fact that during that it was apparently during this tour that bassist Bob Daisley told him, "You should make a blues album." The reason for Daisley's comment was apparently that while they put on rock-shows, it was Blues that Moore played in the dressing, room, in the hotel, on the tour bus and everywhere else they went. Thank goodness that Moore took Daisley's advice (although ironically of course, hiring a new bassist to record it), as by 1990, the rock-format was beginning to bore me too.

While I had remembered the Gary Moore albums lurking in the back of the attic, I hadn't remembered this Bryan Adams offering at all! Cuts Like a Knife, turns out to be a neat little rock album with some great songs like This Time on it - something I remember him playing one Friday night on Channel 4s controversial music show, The Tube. I think I am right in recalling that he was introduced by an impossibly young-looking Muriel Grey as "cuddly-Brian", before giving the stage over to one of UFO's least convincing line-ups. Adams is one of those musicians whose career seems to have been completely blighted by one massively successful song - a movie sound-track number to Kevin Costner's excruciating Prince of Theives.Had Adams not made is millions with that dreadful ballad, he would be remembered for songs like Summer of 69, Run to You, Cuts Like a Knife, This Time and some very thoughtful writing on the Into the Fire album. In the 80s (pre-Robin Hood disaster), I saw Adams on one of his UK tours, in a packed Wembley Arena. He put on a good quality performance too, with a well-rehearsed, tight band. If only he'd said no to Costner, he'd have his reputation as healthy as his bank balance later became!

And then finally, in all honesty a bit of a turkey! I picked this album up after seeing this dodgy-looking 80s rock-outfit supporting Gary Moore at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1987. They put on an OK warm-up show on Moore's Wild Frontier tour, but the album isn't much to write home about. Their hard-rock cover of Cliff Richard's Devil Woman, is, in retrospect actually quite funny. Still, memories, memories....!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Within Minutes..

At Stirling Castle

The brightly coloured Great Hall is a familiar sight from the motorway, on top of the great rock. Apparently, in its early days the Stuart Kings had the whole castle harled in golden-colours to make the fortress a visual symbol of their majesty - visible for miles.
It looks less glamorous from below..
Scotland's own little slice of the Renaissance - The Royal Palace, Stirling Castle.
I dunno why The Bruce is gazing down on it all so imperiously!? Perhaps he is looking disdainfully at the rebuilt castle, sitting there in exactly the place where he had its predecessor demolished.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Film Notes: Defiance

Usually when a film gets bad reviews it's pretty obvious why that is the case. Rotten Tomatoes compiles the average scores of many critics to even out the effects of the odd quirky review - and their summary of reviews gives Defiance a pretty poor showing. Sometimes after watching a film I jot down my impressions before heading across to that site to compare their scores with my own impressions - and very often there is a reasonable correlation.I was surprised however at the level of negative response to the 2008 film Defiance. While it wasn't the greatest film ever made, and wasn't going to win many Oscar nominations for its acting - it was a great story, well-told, well-made and one I found engaged me sufficiently to care about the fate of the characters. The opening credits of the film made it clear that this was based on a true story, and that the main protagonists were genuine historical figures. The film succeeded in telling their story with enough pathos to make me anxious to see if the final credits revealed any more about them and their eventual fate. I won't spoil the film by saying what that was, just that the end-credits were fascinating, informative and moving.

The film itself is a dramatic reconstruction of one of the most remarkable escapades of the Second World War. While the Nazi's expanded their Empire Eastwards, they took their pogroms, and death camps with them - clearing vast areas of Poland and Belarus of their Jewish populations. The film tells the story of a group of Jews, led by brothers, Tuvia and Zus Bielski who hid amongst the vast forest of Eastern Europe, operating as partisans (sometimes in conjunction with the Russians), and running a secret community of over a thousand hiding Jews. The film explores the way they hid, fought, planned and worked, and tried to survive the numerous threats they faced from Nazis, collaborators, disease, starvation and deep Winters.

To be sure, as numerous critics have observed, this is a work of fiction based on a historical-outline; that blurred genre where fact and fiction collide known as faction. It does contain inaccuracies, which would not be acceptable in a documentary. Yet despite this, it helpfully recalls a poignant part of twentieth century history. While many people are aware of the ghastly 'final solution'; of the liquidation of the ghettoes, of Aushwitz, and the scale of atrocities of the holocaust - there are other important stories hidden amongst that history that deserve a telling. It was Hugo Gryn who once wrote that in the death camps, he never questioned where God had gone - but he often questioned where mankind had gone. Stories like this, of human resiliance, strength, courage and of course, defiance, point to the answer to that question.

Critics have panned some of the acting, some of the directing, and a claimed lack of emotional impact of the film, selling the history short. While some of their comments might have some substance to them, I appreciated this film very much indeed. In fact I felt slightly ashamed that in all the stories of WWII which were commonplace in my younger days (I was born about 25 years after the war), The Great Escape, The Dambusters, The D-Day Landings, The Cockleshell Heroes, El Alamein, The Battle of Britain and the Few; I had never heard of a community of 1500 Jews who defied the holocaust by the most daring and exciting means. Defiance corrected that error - and did so with a great deal more passion, commitment and success than the critics gave it credit for.