Friday, 18 November 2011

Oh Flower Of Scotland - No Flower Of England

 It was a day of flowers.

Strange flowers.

Can't be bothered flowers.

No flowers.

It often irks when you have to leave somewhere you love. It is a trick of the mind because, yes indeed, I was leaving Scotland which holds commands the romantically delusional side of my soul. But I was also returning home, to the North of England, which is equally lovely in many ways.

How nice to be in a no-lose situation. But the mind plays tricks and I tried to cushion the blow of leaving Scotland by stopping in Banchory and filling the car with loaves of Chalmers' Balmoral bread, some Lorne Sausage and bags of Pan Drops.

The morning had started strangely in a floral way. The mild November weather had put Nature in a tizz. The roses were in bud and looking as if they were about to flower. The gorse was half out, giving the roadsides a yellow hue and even some of the snowdrop, crocus and daffodil bulbs seemed to have shoots breaking the surface.

Meandering over the bonnie road over Cairn O'Mount, the pass which connects Deeside with the North Sea Coast and was used by Edward I's army on its return to England in 1296, was a delight on such a clear day. You can see for miles in all directions. The Grampians behind. Angus, Montrose, Arbroath and Dundee in front.

I stopped, at the parking space at the summit, expecting peace. There was also a white van driver there, but his engine was turned off and he was asleep, with a lopsided copy of The Daily Record lying on his dashboard. There were no other cars, yet it was far from peaceful. The noise was quite deafening. An unusual noise, like a child's toy windmill on a sandcastle.

I traced it down to some flowers, still in their cellophane, laid in the stone cairn. In fact there were several bunches and clumps of plastic lilies and Christmas roses. I call them the 'can't be bothered' flowers as they still have the supermarket wrapping paper and the price on them. They must have made someone feel better, that they had done their duty and paid their respects, even if it was in a shoddy way. I always think even picking some dandelions from the verge and making a little posy would be more meaningful. But each unto their own.

So to arrive at a hospital in the North East of England to find that there was a 'No Flower Policy' as they might spread germs, was something which gave off mixed emotions. On the bedside table of the person I visited, there were a bunch of flowers, sent unbeknowingly by a well wisher from the other end of the country. Hidden. Hidden because they were covered in a cloth, awaiting a porter to come and dispose of them. At first I thought 'how bloody ridiculous', but after a while it was refreshing to see no cellophane as recently, in the hospitals I had been too, the nurses were too busy to start unraveling flowers, and they remained in their wrappings.

'Dinna worry,' I heard a nurse say. 'They'll get sent to Maternity. They haven't banned them there, yet'.


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Vignettes From The North East Scotland (Part 4) - Eating Out

Scotland's favourite cigarettes seem to be John Player Special Blue. This is based on my casual observation while walking the dog along several roads around North East of Scotland and only finding these scrunchled up packs of cigarettes thrown into the verge.

There were no other brands in any verge. And I walked some verges, too.

This was on the way to lunch in the Alford area of Aberdeenshire. It didn't augur well as we passed such places as Corse and Bogend Cross Roads. Lunch was looking like deep fried haggis, lorne sausage and Mars bars.

The pub looked as if it could be 'either way'. The pebble dash and the advertising of a family room  had the potential of one of those highly coloured chains offering awful microwaved and pre-cooked food.

But it was far from the case. The Muggarthaugh Hotel was superb. The most delicious bowl of Cullen Skink (creamy smoked haddock and potato soup to those who don't know it) followed by homemade burgers of Spartan size was quite delicious.

No - it wasn't Masterchef. But it was simple and good. All I can say is -  go.

Vignettes From The North East Of Scotland (Part 3) - The Hidden Sights

It was an unnerving sight.

Demonic looking, brutish, yellow sheep. I thought for a moment that I had one whisky too many last night.

But here they are. Photographic proof. Perhaps Stephen King has been hasty in leaving the horror genre and writing  sci-fi novel instead.

No, this is all fully explainable. The bulkiness - well that is the nature of the breed. The yellow fleece shows that they have recently been dipped. The green eyes are just a result of my poor photographic skills.

 This old Massey-Ferguson 525 was hidden down a back lane. It would probably be a sought after sight to all combine spotters.

The hay stack was being propped up by wooden planks. It was precariously close to collapse.

It gives me an idea. Maybe there is a gap in the market for a different kind of agricultural tour. In the North East of Scotland there will be no shortage of things to see.

First stop Aberdeenshire.

Vignettes From The North East Of Scotland (Part 2) - The Tourist View

Autumn and early Winter in the North East is stunning.

This year it is exceptional. The colours are more pronounced than usual. The roses are in bud. The gorse is flowering and the verges give off  the occasional burst of colour as some wild flowers emerge amongst the dead and dying grass which is more usual at this time of year.

The beauty of the hills at dawn are a sight to behold. The mist rises gently from the glen floor and the colours gather strength as the sun rises.

Little by little the valley begins to stir. The sound of cars, logging trucks, tractors and school buses whose revving engines shatter the silence. People begin to gather outside the shop several hundred feet below. What they do not realise is that sound always rises and even at this high and far away distance, it is possible to hear every word they say.
The strong and urgent Doric tones floated up to where I was standing:

'Aye, aye. Mechty me. Fit yer deen? Ye're a better door than a windae.'

'Urrgghh,' was the reply. And that was the end of the conversation.

Vignettes From The North East Of Scotland (Part 1)

Yes. I am back in Scotland again.

It is as beautiful and fun as ever. The local newspaper billboard champions the latest good news. The straths and the glens are green - far greener than is usual in November. The Christmas Fairs are again in full swing, but with the mild air, mince pies and mulled wine does not seem to taste the same.

The life in Aberdeenshire is slower. The waitress in the local tea shop slowly comes over to the table when the bill is requested. She has her hair tied up in a bun, with two stakes, sticking out of the brunette mop, similar to a Geisha Girl.

But this is Scotland. They are biros not bamboo. The waitress reaches into her hair, pulls down one of the biros and starts totting up the bill on the white carbon paper.

'My boss is a little wee bit wary of me,' she says. 'I've lost that many of her pens, that she is considering giving me a wage reduction.'

The ensuing visit to the garage is an experience too. The forecourt has the usual 'For Your Safety' - but in reality 'we hope that if we swamp the place with signs that you won't sue us when something goes wrong' notices. But the experience changes when you go into the shop to pay for the diesel.

There are the shop assistant and a customer in deep and animated conversation. The air is punctuated with:

'He said to her ... and she said th him ... ooh ...really? ... och noo ...I dinna ken ..' and seemed to just short of the Victor Meldrew-ism 'I don't believe it.' They continued with their chitter chatter and as I wasn't in a hurry I didn't have the heart to distract them.

At last they saw me standing in the air. Both leapt in the air. The customer rushed out of the shop and the shop assistand blushed.

'I'm awfy sorry,' she said. 'But I don't see her that often.'

Now you see why I love this place.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

2 Year Olds Liven Up Any Journey

A relative once wrote about his two-year-old daughter:

'Her favourite thing in the car is to spot buses, and wherever we go we hear excited shrieks of 'Bus! Mummy. Daddy, bus!' The trouble is that she also considers vans and minibuses to be full-blown buses, so the novelty wears a bit thin after 50 miles.'

The unpredictable nature of children's remarks are sometimes enough to make you nearly drive off the road. My daughter nearly made me, when she was aged 2,  on the way to some Playgroup.

'Oh my God,' she said.

'You can't say that. Say goodness or something like that,' I stupidly replied.

'Oh OK.' Silence fell but I could see she was thinking.

After a few miles she said:

'Does that mean I can't say bugger either'.

I have since tried to freshen up my responses when a green light mysteriously turns amber. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Bridge Leads To Troubled Waters

Bridges. The bane of bus drivers' lives (and truck drivers too). These days there are so many road signs littering the road which act as an information overload for drivers of big vehicles. It is not surprising then, that occasionally accidents happen.

Sure enough, while I was away  there was a news story about a double decker which for some reason went under a low bridge. The driver is facing dangerous driving charge.The miracle was that no one was killed, which seemed to be down to the quick wittedness of the children who realised what was about to happen and ducked.

I can't talk. 

I've driven a double decker bus into the depot doors. Not with any passengers on, I might add. But the doors were bent sideways and the bus  needed some new paint, but luckily the top window did not break and was marked with multiple scratches. On another occasion I scraped some narrow gates with such force that the large stone ball moved and at one moment looked as if it was about to detach itself fully from the gates.

Double deckers are hard to drive. There are many things to think about.

My contretemps with stationary objects was not confined to buses. Once whilst driving a truck in Poland, disaster struck. It was in the centre of Torun, while following another much more experienced truck driver, thaat we both hit the railway bridge and put large holes into the top of our trailers.

Strange, we thought. We had looked at the height restriction sign and were not expecting any problems. All hell broke loose as we were surrounded by Polish Policemen and the main North-South highway was shut whilst we were interrogated. It turned out not to be our fault. The road had recently been tarmac-ed, meaning the height had lowered, but no one had thought of changing the sign.

It was an expensive morning. The fine was several thousand zloty. Rough justice, I suppose.


Paris Or Paisley?

There is the old joke about the man who went into the travel agents and asked for a holiday.

'Where would you like to go?' asked the agent.

'I dinna mind,' was the reply. 'Whether it's Paris or Paisley, it matters nae to me.'

So, true to form, the Accidental Bus Driver has also ended up in Paisley. I'm delighted. It is a fascinating place in many ways. There is the grand Paisley Museum - with the history of the Paisley Shawl and the Paisley pattern.

Paisley has a variety of unusual churches. There's the beautiful Paisley Abbey, with its magnificent French organ. The Thomas Coats Memorial Church which is sometimes described as the 'Baptist Cathedral of Europe', which in addition to its wonderful architecture, has a remarkably well preserved Doulton & Co blue and white porcelain Victorian loo. And there is the Oakshaw Trinity Church which has Europe's largest unsupported ecclesiastical ceiling, meaning there are no pillars holding up such a large ceiling.

But what's best about Paisley is it's Imagine campaign on how to make a difficult shopping climate look good. In this recession, many councils have let their town centres go to rack and ruin with boarded up shops and whitewashed windows.

Not Paisley.

They have had the imagination to paint their empty shops with optimistic and bold visions of the future.

The shops looked fantastic. Whether or whether the fantasy will be met by an equal reality in the future is another question. But it doesn't really matter. It has had the result of creating a bustling town centre. The charity shops which surround these beautiful creations are good too.

What more could you want from a town.

If it's a choice between Paris and Paisley next time ... it is tempting to swop the Cafe Royale forCardosi's Contemporary Italian Cafe.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Scotland Signs A Better Future

I went to one of my favourite places in the world yesterday.


It rained most of the day, the traffic was awful, it was dark and dingy - but I was the happiest I have been for quite some time.


It must be down to the warmth and generally carefree attitude of the people. And that it has retained a truly Scottish identity with people who are proud to be Scottish. In England sometimes, I feel people are embarrassed to be English, failing to celebrate their many great characteristics.

Scotland is by no means perfect. It has many oddities. One of which I found whilst driving up the motorway.
All the signs were lit up. All contained advisory and precautionary messages. It was exhausting. By the end of the trip, I had felt I had read a book. It was particularly more tiring in the dark.

The signs read:

Drive Carefully

Drive Efficiently

Drive Safely

Drive With Consideration

Think About Car Share

Save Money By Car Sharing

Observe Speed Limit

Tiredness Kills - Take A Break

Tiredness Can Kill

Check Tyres Regularly

Keep Windscreen Clear

Use Correct Child Seat

Is Your Car Ready For Winter?

and ... Red X Is Mandatory

It certainly had the desired effect. On a boring motorway, it gave me something to keep my mind on. I began to look forward in anticipation of what the next sign might say. Perhaps, in the future there will be smart signs which will identify specific cars and drivers ...

You. Yes You. In The Red Car. Stop Picking Your Nose. Hands On Wheel.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Dog Day Afternoon

'The more I meet some people
 The more I like my dog'...

was a sign my father used to place on the shelf above his desk. Some people were visibly rattled by this forthright piece of information and they would fidget uncomfortably in the chair on the opposite side of the desk.

'Which one am I' - you could usually read into the furrowed look.

I rather agree with the saying, as you probably have already gathered from my writing. Dogs have a habit of seeing through the disingenuity people try to keep hidden.

Take Cedric, pictured here, for instance. He walked into someone's house the other day, took an instant dislike to the coats people had left on the hallway floor, cocked his leg and did wee wees on them.

Though it was not a pleasant sight, and it was an even more unpleasant clean-up operation which had to be performed - I strangely had a secret admiration for his brazen behaviour and disdain for some not so nice coats. At least he was honest.

Take the place I visited the other day. There were signs all over the place telling you what not to do. nothing new, you may say. It is something we are all subjected to everyday. But this place can only be described as overkill and the disengenuity shines from every corner.

For your own safety? I don't think so.

A more apt sign should have read:-

'Do not climb on barriers or hand rails as we know that some of you b%**%**£s will see this as a chance of making a fast buck by suing us for whiplash and all other ills.'

Then again, some of this Health and Safety lark has its plus points. Can you imagine how transformed the world would be if the above sign was mandatory across the board. There would be a lot less stressed looking adults.

And as for Cedric. He would have many happy hours looking out of the window, identifying which rabbit to chase, which postman to harangue or which coat to cock his leg on next.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

It's All Greek To Me - A Bus Driver Returns From The Writer's Graveyard

Life is upside down.

Not just mine. But most people I speak to seem to be in one quandary or another.

The world seems to be upside down.

Shakespeare was centuries ahead of the game, when Casca said:

'...but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for my own part, it was Greek to me.'
 (Julius Caesar Act 1, Scene 2).

My mind was thrown in this odd direction when I drove past a new Greek restaurant in Whitley Bay, appropriately named It's All Greek 2 Me. As I drove past the commentator on Radio 5 was discussing the Greek bail-out and what the Greek government were up to, so it all came together nicely, in a coincidental sort of way.

Aren't you just fed up with all the doom and gloom spouted by the media? It is as if they are willing the financial world to teeter over the edge so that there will be something gritty to write about in the future.

So now seems as good a time as any to launch my own personal brand of 'Blue Sky Thinking'. Not the dreaded corporate motivational kind, but more how to buck yourself up when there is so much dour speak around. Even though my own personal life has taken a temporary downward turn, it pays to look on the bright side.

Take the Greeks, for example. My everlasting memory of Greek behaviour is of the day I rolled up in  Cyprus in the 1980's. I was collected on a showery day by a blue-bereted UN soldier in a mini-bus. Little more than twenty minutes into the journey, we were standing in the rain arguing with the Greek we had ran into the back of, neither understanding what the other was saying, but by the increasingly animated hand gestures and arm movements, it became apparent that the situation was escalating to a dangerously high level. The wretched soldier had come round the corner to find a car on the same side of the road reversing. With the roads being greasy, there was no option but to let the Toyota minibus skid into the back of the car.

There was a lot of noise and some bruised pride, but no injuries.

What saved the situation was a crash on the opposite carriageway. This was caused by another Greek motorist who had stopped his car in the middle of the road, got out of his car and was watching the heated argument out of curiosity, when another car slammed into the back of him. This momentarily diverted the attention away from our crash and in the chaos when our victim rushed over to the other side of the road, we were able to sneak away and drive off. We watched an increasing amount of motorists gather in a circle and look as if they were soon to come to blows.

In this Eurozone financial crisis, the way forward may be suspiciously like the Cypriot car crash. The world may crash. Everything might become volatile for a while. But then it will all settle down again.

Quite similar to this blog really.

I'm back again. This time there will be more writings. Now either you will feel this is a good event or you will have the Tremoloes hit from the sixties - 'Silence is golden, golden' ringing inside your head. And as for the Greeks ... well, I can just hear them muttering ...

... 'either dance well or quit the ballroom.'