Tales from the Toolbox

The tales of sending apprentices for left handed screwdrivers, long stands or a set of fallopian tubes are all true.
There are more practical lessons though.

Using Stillsons, everyone’s favourite adjustable pipewrench, I was always told to keep my hand on my nose. So ridiculous was this tip that it stuck.
What it means of course is keep one hand on the the nose of the Stillsons as well as the handle so that if, indeed when it slips off, it doesn’t swing back and break your nose.
See how that works by clever association.

Using a hacksaw is not as easy as you’d think. The secret is to “let the saw do the work” which is true of many tools actually and although it might seem obvious saying it, you also have to use the whole of the blade.
Apprentices often find tools scary, they’re sharp and heavy and youngsters can be a bit handless until they gain their confidence. So you often find the middle few inches of a hacksaw blade are worn down and scraped clean of paint.
Asking for a new blade isn’t a good idea, you’d get sent back to use the other ends until they were just as worn. You’d quickly learn to use the whole blade, which is more efficient and so much easier on the elbows.

Another fear is swinging a hammer full pelt from behind your head with accuracy. When I do it now I can see other folk look on with terror like I’m going to hit them, myself or fire the hammer into the scenery. But I don’t.
So, apprentices pick up hammers and hold them just below the head and swing them softly from a few inches above the target because it feels safer. It’s actually not, your hand is near the impact area and the heavy head of an engineers hammer needs the length of that shaft to give you control over the swing. It’s just a really bad thing to do as well as being inefficient.
So I saw an old timer take a boy’s hammer and say “I’ll fix that for you son..”. He sawed off all but three inches of the shaft and handed it back to him.
He now had a heavy, expensive and useless tool.
I saw a lot of improved swinging technique after that.

I was also told to always tidy up my tools, they’re my livelihood blah blah blah.
I usually do, but sometimes there’s a happy accident when I don’t.

The Railway Children

It seems like a lifetime ago now.

We headed north on the A9 with a mission, a mission and a gift. The gift was a night in The Boat Country Inn in boat of Garten and the mission was to go and enjoy it.
We left early so there was no rush with time to stop and play on the way. First stop was Dunkeld to meet Gus and Rach for lunch at The Scottish Deli.
Can’t remember the last time I was in Dunkeld and the deli itself was lovely, half Victorian kitchen and half big city lunch stop. Great food, great banter.
They went off to the hills with their bikes, we headed north.

The winter sun was low but bright, we just couldn’t see it. A few flakes of snow would drift towards the windscreen but there was always blue sky ahead.

House of Bruar is a faceless tourist trap that could be anywhere in Scotland, but given that it’s exploded outwards into it’s surroundings it must be doing very well.
The restaurant is also amazing.
We’d went into Blair Atholl for fuel and of course we now needed cuppas after those difficulties.
There were no difficulties and we didn’t really need a cuppa but what the hell. And there was cake, dear god, the cake.

It was still bright, still early enough, so we thought we’d take a wander up to the falls behind the tartan metropolis. An easy track, beautiful surroundings and the sun just out of reach the whole time.
Like the rest of the trip, my camera was elsewhere, I’ve got so used to using my phone now. And wearing Converse in the hills. And it’s fine.

It’s worth an hour of your time this wee loop, there’s big drops, gnarly trees and snatches of views across the wide strath below. The bridges and falls are very fine and it slows the pace a little.
I really enjoy these little side quests, for so many years it was all about the hills, now I’m just loving being out there, wherever that is.

The Boat Inn is a lovely place. Even out of season the room was warm and clean, everything stocked for us on arrival.
Downstairs had a few locals eating and at the bar and a sprinkling of guests for dinner too.
Dinner is where it all went wrong. It was gorgeous, the food, by the open fire. But we’d already snacked way too much, but we couldn’t leave it, it was too good.

A romantic retreat is not lying flat on your back all night holding your belly going O0000hhhhhh……..
Lesson learned? Unlikely.
But the morning was bright, the hills were white across the roof of the station and we had exploring to do. We’d just start it slowly.
After breakfast. A light breakfast.

Aviemore was briefly visited for supplies. It’s getting ever more newtownesque. I suppose it has to as it grows, but it’s such a characterless place anyway and it’s not improving with time.
Better but feeling like it’s turning to the Lake District for how to present itself to the world was Glenmore. Within minutes though, it’s Scots Pine, blue sky and snow fringed tops.
I don’t come here enough.

The walk to An Lochan Uaine is glorious. Clear, colourful, cool and bright. It was smiles all the way and a fair few others on foot or saddles felt the same.

The water was indeed green, choppy too as a wind flowed freely down the Ryvoan Pass. We found shelter at the far end and warmed up with a cuppa as the sun sparkled on the wee waves breaking on the rocky banks.

It’s a pace you could just sit, empty your head and fill your heart and soul.

We pushed on up the pass and by the bothy. The views down to Strath Nethy were inviting but inconvenient, we’d be far from the motor with along walk back round in the dark before the drive home.
Another day maybe. We say that a lot, our wish list grows ever longer. Lockdown is not helping it.

I used to say that “we’re all just dressing up to go out and play” and it’s never been truer. We just fanny about out here, there’s such a joy to just being out.

The joy was strained a little for Linda when we took the alternative track at the lochan which climbs steeply up the lower slopes of Meall a’ Buachaille.
It is steep and rough and if the awesome pines didn’t line it all the way it would actually feel pretty exposed in places, plus Linda was convinced that my “It levels out soon…” was just a big fat lie.

It does level out around 430m and all was forgiven. It’s a stunning wee trail this, the trees are beautiful and the occasional views are wee wow moments.

The last of lunch was taken on the most random on benches. You just walk out of the trees and there’s the forest road and a bench.
A combination of relief, joy and disappointment really.

Ruthven Barracks on the way home was a must. The warm, low light, the winter horizon and the chill wind brought it great atmosphere.

Such an odd place on its wee island.

We had snow on the road south, a hidden sunset and very tired cuppas at a garage on the A9.

A mad dash in many ways, but that’s kinda what we do. So much time lost, so much to catch up on, new memories to make and life to live.

It’s waiting for us all again. Not long, , I’ll keep myself that.

Plush

I saw the skies I saw a year ago.
Still through the window, this time not by choice.
My hands aren’t cold. But I wish that they were.
Sandy boots left by the door, kettle quickly on.
That was nice I said.
Look, I got nice selfies confirms the girl.
If it’s nice we’ll go down again tomorrow.
Yes, I hope tomorrow is soon.

The return of the bluebells

In our currently limited scope I’m finding joy in the smallest detail, like a mountain in the fog where patches of lichen spring out bright and vivid in a sea of grey.
Our daily walk route is changing with the season and the biggest joy has been the return of the bluebells.

It’s such a lovely little flower, a wee bit sleepy looking, maybe a wee bit melancholy, a wee bit reserved in demeanour but beaming with vibrant colour.
Seen in swathes in woodland it’s the essence of spring, a flush of new life through trees who have been hanging their heads for the months of long winter nights.
Seen by itself it’s a delicate, fancy wee soul. It’s shy for all its frills though, happy in it’s own company.

That wee flower is a sign of change, a sign of life, it’s nature knowing the way. I hope we can follow it.

Catching some rays

Two days in the year the sun slips down to the horizon between the old church and the tenement building. It was a clear sky so we caught it tonight.
I hope by the time it comes back to peek through this gap in autumn we are watching the sun setting from somewhere higher, somewhere outside, or maybe best of all, somewhere, anywhere, with all the ones we love.

Pandemic Denim

My favourite fabric is denim. I think I like polycotton outdoor trousers because they wear in just little bit like denim.
I like that denim tells a story, like the duct tape patch in my Kimmlite down vest, the scars and wear lines got there through use and abuse.
Except modern denim is a big fat liar.

Pre faded denim is on the surface a nice looking thing, faded in all the right places, that lived in look without any of the living. But there are problems with this.

One is that the fading never actually lines up with the natural creases your body starts forming as soon as you pull the jeans on.
Another is the chemical use and water waste that comes from making your jeans look old. Indigo coloured rivers and potassium permanganate in the air. Pre faded denim is environmentally and ethically unsustainable and I am as guilty here as anyone for supporting it.

Another thing is stretch denim. Comfort and freedom of movement at the expense of a non recyclable fabric and microplastic down the drain as the elastane wears away in every wash.
Still guilty here.

So what are my options? Easy: Raw, rigid denim. 100& cotton, unwashed at the factory, stiff as a board, ready to be made into whatever your body and time decides.
Like lightweight outdoors there is a hardcore of obsessives that break raw denim in as a lifestyle defining choice and thrive on the minutiae of the process which will alienate most casual observers.
There is though a simple method which is all you need to know, wear it and don’t wash it. Yet.

There are a great many specialist jeans makers who will sell you a pair of jeans crafted from raw Japanese denim for a weeks wages and have you believe that your life will now be much improved, but isn’t it always the way with anything non-essential?
There are other ways.

Hidden at the back of their shop, the ugly sibling, the last one to be chosen at the high school dance, Wrangler’s 11MWZ. A reissue of a classic design I wore back in the 80s and early 90s with all the detailing pretty much perfect.
Wrangler are an odd brand, #2 in the world behind Levi’s, but around here they seem to be something of an old man brand, shapeless, high waisted, zip flied middle aged comfort pants.
Which isn’t actually the case, the range is modern and sleek if you look online. Like everything else, there’s just no shops to see stuff in anymore.
To me though, they are the jeans of my youth, so I’ve come home. In a larger size.

The 11MWZ’s are a slim fit but not tight at all and after a day’s wear I had full movement, just a little tightening on the thighs when crouching. After washing they will close in a bit more, but they’ll be in molded into my shape by then so it’ll still be fine.
The denim was cardboard stiff with a notable texture to it, something missing from stretch denim. The colour, described by Wrangler as “New” was deep, deep indigo with maybe some battleship grey in there which is now taking on a little more blue overall, especially in the creases and other wear areas which you can see in the photies.

The denim is broken twill which means the pattern is reversed every few runs resulting in the internal zigzag pattern you can see above. This removes the mechanical pull of a standard weave, the very thing that twists a jeans legs round over time.
In the same photie you can see that zip fly. Oh yes please, button flies now feel so awkward, like the designers are deliberately trying to  piss you off and make public toilet visits longer and more awkward.

So what is this all about? Well, I’m going to wear these in, make those whisker lines and worn knees all by myself, all in high contrast indigo and white like you buy in the shops. But I’m just doing it by wearing. And not washing.

Indeed. The not washing is vital for the wear to be high contrast and look just right, so these have become my lockdown loungewear, my pandemic denim. I think I’ve had them on most days for 3 or 4 weeks now, airing at night, always wearing underwear and being super careful when I eat, drink and cook.

Dabbing a few light splashes turns a slightly damp cloth blue instantly, indigo really hates being on fabric. Big molecules they say, just sits on the surface of the fibres, ready to get scraped away.
Also fun fact, indigo dye is yellow, it’s oxidation during drying after the dying process that makes it blue.

My intention is to wear these as much as is possible until life goes back to normal, or whatever the new normal turns out to be. I hope they look great, but I’m prepared for whatever happens.

“In my day, we just wore our denim” was a nice quote I saw a while back regarding modern overworked jeans and I’m doing that but taking it too far probably.
It’s oddly fun though, seeing the lines come out purely by light abrasion.
It’ll be so tense that first wash.

I can still get in this 80s pair. I seem to have grown about two inches since then, up the way I might add, not round the middle. Although, that’s also grown…

Right, on with the wearing. More later.

Naked Sunday

The Rest and Be Thankful was closed. Again. This time a burn lower down had swept a bunch of hillside and trees across the road and the old road was open to keep folk from doing the 17,000 miles detour through Tyndrum.
I watched it for a few days, they were having trouble clearing it. I wondered if it would still be closed at the weekend.

Get up, get ready, the road is still shut!
Come on, it’s nearly lunchtime.
Oh dear god, any shoes will do…

Finally got on the road, not too far to go. Swinging past the foot of the Cobbler the traffic was light and moving well, the depressing sign of an open road ahead.
But, oh joy, the Argyle economic disaster was still active, the traffic was queuing onto the bypass road onto the old road.
We only had a couple of minutes to wait for the southbound convoy to pass before it was our turn to head uphill. Never been here in my life.

Holly did her best with my phone as I just grinned the whole way up.
Turns out they opened the road around half an hour later so the timing was good, but I don’t think girls quite understood my glee at this much coveted micro adventure.

I shall treasure it always.

Now free with an open road we kept on going as the rain gave up having realised that Argyle and Bute Council had got their finger out and cleared the road so it was wasting energy and accumulated water.

We had dark but clearing skies by the time we reached Inveraray. Lunch was lovely but so expensive, I’m still getting used to how much things cost when you have a social life again.

The current wearer of the Vital Spark name was looking a little sad and a shame that the pier has been fenced of for so long. It’s a tourist town, fix the bloody thing.

Loch Awe is just over the hill and although getting late I hoped it might looking all picturesque.

It did indeed with Kilchurn Castle looking very fine across the loch from the south. We took a wander down to the water’s edge for a wee shifty. There was a flock of photographers all standing somewhere they could see something interesting that I couldn’t and a few fishermen not catching stuff in the loch that none of us could see.

Amongst all this confusion Linda couldn’t see that the ground was very slippery and went straight on her arse. This of course brought the usual mix of laughter and delayed assistance before we carefully made our way back to the motor.
There it was considered that because Linda was soaked to the skin and covered in mud, she would change into spares for work that were in the boot.
So while Holly held a towel up to conceal the nudieness, Linda got to changing while I wandered up the layby shaking my head and chuckling. That’s when the minibus arrived and a dozen Asia Pacific tourists disembarked with loud chat and big smiles at the lovely scenery around us.
This distracted Holly who wandered away with the towel leaving Linda rather bare in the layby. Frantic hand waving and shrieking got Holly back near enough in the right place but the damage was done, welcome to Scotland indeed.

We were still laughing when we got home.

Sloyed Alive

I’d told Linda about the Sloy Dam many times, she’s seen plenty photies and of course I’d played the Macfarlane home turf angle too, I don’t think that really sells it to anyone, but what the hell.

It’s accessible, it’s easy and it takes you right into the mountains so fast you don’t notice it because you spend the whole time looking around you.
It’s full of human infrastructure but it softens with every footstep and the dam looks like it grew out of the rock now that weather and time has worn some laughter lines into it.

It was bright but a little cool. Blue skies but patches of thick clouds, white trimmed but grey in the middle.
The sun still brought the hillsides out in glorious green and the locals ignored us as they snacked in the summer evening light.

I always gaze up these slopes, so much scope for exploring. I know the ridges and summits here so well, the corries have seen me pass through many times but so much is still untrodden.
That makes me feel a little melancholy. At 51 I feel like I’ve started again with a new life and I’m sure have the energy to do it all, mostly. But just not enough time left.

It’s behind you? I think we’d felt a few spits of rain by now, nothing needing jackets, but definitely a sign the day had a change on the way. Still glorious to be out though.

I can remember it still, we hadn’t been together that long really and we just hit the ground running, taking every chance that came up to do stuff. Haven’t stopped either.

Wee poser, full of attitude too. Young folk are so used to media now aren’t they.

The sun did go, the temperature dropped and the drops from above were a little more frequent.
But that’s what jackets are for. Nothing there to slow us down at all.

No Linda, you don’t have to go back down that way.
We had snacks on the dam, pretty sure I had the stove on too. It’s unlikely I didn’t.
A wee wander across and a run through the tunnel on the way back as it got colder, wetter and windier.

It was a Friday evening. A wee while ago now but it feels like ten minutes. This has been the fastest year of my life.

Blogging was supposed to be a reminder for me and I’ve been so busy doing I’ve let the remembering be forgotten.
I’ll fix that while we’re stuck in, and while we’re apart.

It’s something isn’t it.

This was magic wee day.