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.

Locked In Syndrome

It’s like something out of a made for telly science fiction mini series. But no, this really is the world we find ourselves in.

I’m not making light of it, I have some near to me who are very precious and vulnerable and no amount of inconvenience or freedom limiting in my life is too much to try and protect them.

It’s all an unknown, but I do expect the best and worst of people to be made plain. We’ll see noble and heroic, selfish and exploitative.
I’d like to think lessons will be learned, but when we’re at the other side it’ll eventually fade into anecdotes and stories. It’s now we cope as humans, belittle our pain, ridicule our enemy.

The hills have never felt so welcoming and now that schools are closed, so accessible for me on a weekday. Not had that for a long time.

Talking of that, Holly took and edited this last week. She’s got a good eye, but there’s something prophetic about it too.

Wicked Garden

There was a day not too long ago where the sunset was so dramatic it made the news.

Social media was flooded with gorgeous purple and orange skies that I would normally have burned rubber to get myself in the right position to view.

Instead me and the girl were joyfully fannying about in Granny’s garden.

She’s a high school girl now with interests and opinions expanding ever outwards but she’ll always be my girl and I’ll take and keep every moment of our banter filled messing around that I can.

Where The River Goes

An old favourite seemed like a good bet when the weather was going to be unpredictable. I also had to get gear testing properly underway so me and Linda took two new Vango packs for a walk round the Glen Loin loop from Arrochar.

There was some sun, but the wind kept blowing clouds across it. The rain was not quite constant, but not really showers, not heavy bit not light. The upshot being I got wet then I got hot because I couldn’t be arsed continually messing with my clothes.
What I’m taking from this is that I’m going back to baselayer, 100 weight fleece and a shell. Sue me.

Everyone else we saw was going the other way, doing it anticlockwise. Done it both ways many times and I think I prefer our way, you get the mountains teased through the trees as you circle round A’Chrois.
Met some ladies who were very concerned about a dropped banana skin on the other side of the glen. They even gave me a bag to put it in should we find it on our way back to Arrochar. I had low optimism for this which given how the weather went, was well founded. I’ll go back one day.
Maybe.

It’s all about fleeting glimpses until you get to the weir where suddenly exposed the wind decided we were not going to have a relaxing lunch. No it said, your Jetboil is going to teeter and totter and you’re going to have to pack up and run for it. Yes, thanks for that.

It is wonderfully dramatic though, being deep in amongst the hills here. Steep and craggy, now dark and wet with a fresh dusting of snow, the littlest of tops with the biggest of wows.
The rain properly set it as the light faded. There’s a good few miles to put in from here and we were walking by torchlight by the time we left the Sloy Dam tarmac to head into the forest to get back to Arrochar.

And I’d missed the banana skin by this point.

The mood got a wee bit serious at times, it’s rough ground, especially in the dark and when you don’t know it. I knew where we were and how long we would take but when all you have is a little pool of light which is full of wet rocks it’s a little unnerving.
I’ve been doing this along time, but I’ve never forgotten those first times where I learned by my mistakes, and my wee victories. Hell, still learning by both methods.

Cold and tired we got there quicker than Linda expected, despite a few sideways and er, horizontal moments and all we wanted was hot food and dry socks.
It’s a magic wee walk, I say wee but it’s got plenty miles to stretch your legs.
Great views, interesting terrain and because of where you are you can be an honorary Macfarlane for the day. This magic affect will improve your appeal to the opposite, same or both sexes, increase the mpg in your vehicle, give you a remarkable ear for music and expand your appreciation of the full colour pallette.*

*Affect depth and duration will vary depending on exposure.

South of Heaven

The rain also runs down our river facing window like we’re in a car wash.

Luckily my phone has the ability with it’s limited editing capacity to turn the view into a black metal album cover.

Tide Marks

The storms have have caused a lot of very real problems elsewhere but here by the River Clyde we’re just been having some of the highest tides in living memory.

The old stone harbour breakwater is underwater, it’s just the grassy clumps and bollards that are sticking up. I really wanted to go out there with the camera but the walkway was under a foot of water just over the railway bridge where you access it. Naw, I’m good.

From the old ship yard the wooden dock looked like a raft. The river was red with sediment from the hills, the same red that causes me so much trouble at the Lang Craigs.
The rain was battering down, the drops clearly visible in the river like bullets landing despite the wind and choppy surface.

I was soaked within 30 seconds, the rain saturated my jeans and ran down to fill my boots, but I had to get one last wee look over at the other dock.
My camera was soaked, the lens was wet and I knew I was pushing my luck with it. I took the last snap below which when I downloaded I couldn’t believe had a spot of perfect rain free focus right in the middle.

It’s wild, it’s dramatic, it’s photogenic. But lets stay safe.

 

Roadside Assistance

Valentine’s Day would have been easy to dismiss for us, we’ve been there, seen it, done it, fought over the t shirt with our ex’s.
We’d discussed that it’s just a commercial opportunity, that love needs no cross on a calendar that you have to present product to your partner upon.
But the fact that we’re both just kids at heart and are full of the joys of life meant that it was kinda disappointing that we wouldn’t see each other at all from Thursday to Sunday at the earliest because of work.
So we made Thursday Valentine’s Day.
February 13th was also the 50th anniversary of the release of Black Sabbath’s first album, so it was a day to be celebrated on many levels.

With schedules rejigged, suitably colourful clothes picked out, it was perhaps unavoidably, and a definitely little wonderfully late when we left.

The clouds cleared as we passed Loch Lomond on our way north. There was blue above in increasing amounts.
The hills had snow, not too thick, but it was a fine sight. In Glen Falloch the snow cover thickened to a smooth blanket on the higher slopes.
The little flutter in my chest wasn’t just from the back to back coffees or the girl in the passenger seat, this was country I love at it’s most glorious.
I know what could lie ahead on this wondrous ribbon of northbound ashfalt, Linda doesn’t. I hoped it would be clear for her, I hoped it would be perfect, I hope I wouldn’t shriek like a little girl when I pulled up the hill over Loch Tulla.

Breakfast in the afternoon got in the way though. Ben Lui was in cloud which I took very personally, saying “Look! Look!” only works when there’s something dramatic to see.
But fueling up at Tyndrum soothed the disappointment. Macaroni cheese with ham in it. Baby Jebus.
Linda thought “We could just go up there…” looking at the snow covered lead mines across the glen. “I just want to play in the snow!”. Yes, yes.

The pull up from Tyndrum was too long, the sun was bright, the sky was clear, the hills were hidden but then we were there. I shrieked like a little girl far too many corners too early.
Glorious, just glorious.
Shining white against azure as far as we could see. It was late but the light was still clear, no warm filter yet, but it was close. We pushed on.

We stopped at the Black Mount, you know, the bit where everyone stops. Time to play in the snow.

The light was slipping, but I had to show Linda more. Back in the car, keep going. The Glencoe ski centre was full to overflowing, literally, cars all along the roadside. The police would be sorting it when we passed on the way back.
The sun shone up Glen Etive, low and yellow. It tracked us through the gaps all the way to Bidean where we pulled in to have a quick wander up the old road. It’s a nice wee walk this, overlooked in this grand neighbourhood. We shared laughs and photies as gold bled into the blue overhead.

One stop on the way home. It’s the eternal photie opportunity this spot.

We were tired when we got back, it was late and it was dark. The fridge was full with the dinner we’d planned and it was more bravado that enthusiasm that put the contents on the worktop and started heating the pan.
The smells fired the enthusiasm for real after a quick cooking rethink because the steaks (M&S meal deal, awesome btw) were too thick to cook and eat today without still being raw inside to some degree.
Sizzling, chopping, bubbling.
A perfect end.

I suppose highlighted days on the calendar are what you make of them. Turns out making them a whole different day works just fine.

Time Out

Doing a bit of admin and I found this post from ages back that I never published. It’s grey and stormy out there, so a few thoughts of a summer evening past will brighten my day.

Let’s go dad, let’s go.

That must have been about eight o’clock, so we had to shift. The sun was already well down and the last folk were trickling down the paths towards the Lang Craigs car park. Had the place to ourselves.

We used to hide the seedlings under this tree until it was time to plant them. I thought it would be a neds den by now, but it’s not. I am pleasantly surprised.

It got cold fast and we marched back down to the truck.

A short one tonight but we’ll be back. Oh what would we do if this place wasn’t so close?