Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Journey Home

After nearly two years, I will shortly be boarding a plane to make my return trip to Canada (after a detour and long layover in Amsterdam). My adrenaline is running high at the moment – mostly from excitement to see friends and family again, but also due to the fact that it has been an extremely eventful last few days.

I’ve now moved out of Inverkeithing and have made a full-time return to living in Glasgow. This means I have committed to purchasing a car sometime in the New Year and start commuting. Currently I’m using a combination of bus, train and lifts from various generous workmates to get to and from work. It takes a long time, and it requires getting up very early. I’m very tired. The 3am rise to get to the airport tomorrow will not help.

I’ve had some serious ups and downs dealing with the British Work Permit and Immigration people. That will be a story for another day. Bottom line is that I will be back to Scotland in 2005 and able to work (eventually...).

I’ve attended my last UK concert for 2004. I went to see Morrissey again, this time at the SECC in Glasgow. I couldn’t resist – he’s the man.

I’m not packed so it will be a stressful scramble to get things sorted tonight. But it won’t be long before I’m sipping a pint of Keith’s and eating KD. It is going to be an eventful 20 days, and I can’t wait. See you on the other side of the ocean!

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Build-Up Lasted For Days

When it comes time to someday leave Scotland, one of the things I will miss the most is the sheer quantity and quality of concerts that can be found at any point throughout the year. The last few months of 2004 have been especially good...

“But I can't stop listening to the sound/Of two soft voices mended in perfection” – Kings Of Convenience, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Quiet is the New Loud and Riot on an Empty Street are two of the best albums I’ve bought this year. I think we knew from the beginning that this show was going to be special. Eirik from KOC came out first to welcome us and to introduce their support act (Call and Response, a Cocteau-esque band who were quite good) which was refreshingly classy. In the cosy confines of Queen's Hall, KOC’s live interpretation of their music was divine. I mean, it was perfect. The vocal and guitar harmonies were exquisite. The banter between Erlend and Eirik was wonderfully witty (and somewhat unexpected considering the melancholy of their music). And the whole vibe of the show was so warm and fuzzy – I can’t think of another way to describe it. I’ve seen a lot of amazing shows this year, but the boys from Norway put on the concert of the year this night. Sounds like the Scotsman agrees.

Robin Guthrie, The Arches, Glasgow

The Cocteau Twins are one of the all-time greatest bands, and a big part of that can be attributed to the guitar soundscapes created by Robin Guthrie. A shame this show was late Sunday after a long weekend, because my alertness was not quite where it should have been. This was an instrumental set done to film. Probably a wee bit too experimental for my tastes, but great to see the man do his thing in person nonetheless.

“You could have one day of pure and simple happiness” – Scissor Sisters, Barrowlands, Glasgow

Flamboyant costumes, songs about drag queens and “queers on the piers” and two giant dancing scissors on stilts. Not an obvious recipe for one of the most successful bands of the years, but there you have it. And with music sounding like a blender mix of classic Elton John, the Bee Gees and 70’s disco, also not an obvious recipe for music I should like. But I do. And how. To go mainstream and get Glaswegian hardmen dancing to the campiest music I’ve heard – that right there is the epitome of cool.

“It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans” – Keane, Barrowlands, Glasgow

It may not be cool to say it, but I love Keane. I love the music, the voice, the sentiment of the lyrics. But the fans have changed. To be fair, not changed, but expanded. When last I saw them, it was 500 people who really cared about the music. This time it was 2000+, but many of them seemed to be there for the hits and the pints. They were quite happy to chat and throw said pints over the crowd during the tracks with no radio airplay, pissing the rest of us off in the process. A prime example of a band you wish would be less popular and a show that would have been way more fun without the assholes. But that isn’t Keane’s fault.

“Good evening. We’re the Trills. One, two, tree, four” – The Thrills, The Academy, Glasgow

A band suffering the curse of the follow-up album after a successful debut. That’s not to say the new album is bad, just that their first was that good. I didn’t have high expectations, but a full house and positive vibes made for a great time. I daresay the band was even taken aback at the love they were getting. And you just can’t help but like the sun-shiny tunes and the “oo-wah-oo’s” in the chorus.

“So join us…” – Mull Historical Society, QMU, Glasgow

Quirky in a good way, featuring songs as varied as Tobermory Zoo to an ode to the late Dr. David Kelly. Their albums are great, the live show more so. Good old-fashioned enthusiasm from a distinctly Scottish band that may never be known outside of the UK, and not caring a bit.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Defeat of the Tartan Army

I was one of thousands who recently descended upon Hampden Park in Glasgow to catch a first round World Cup qualifier match between Scotland and Norway. We got our tickets early, and as a result had seats that were practically on the pitch. Unfortunately, not only did Scotland lose 1-0, but truth be told it was one of the most boring sporting matches I've ever seen. And that's coming from a guy who has been to more than a few baseball games.

Since this game, Scotland drew 0-0 with Moldova (who?) which effectively kills of their chances to qualify for the World Cup. There's a lot of talk in the papers about the poor manager, and the inexperience of the team, injuries, blah blah blah.

Quite frankly, this all bores me to tears. What I did find interesting though was the non-sporting elements.

First off, the game was at noon, but that did not stop at least half the crowd from getting totally pissed beforehand. We stopped at a pub on the way to meet friends and the pints and whisky shots were being thrown back like nobody's business.

Second, the number of police officers and security. Scotland international games are not known for their trouble. But that apparently doesn't prevent half of Glasgow's police force turning up to keep the peace. The section housing the Norwegian fans was completely surrounded by officers in bright yellow uniforms. Actually, maybe that's the reason there isn't trouble...

But perhaps most entertaining are the fans themselves. The chants, singing and general support for Scotland during the first half was incredible. After Norway scored in the second half, most of the crowd proceeded to turn on their own team, bombarding them with insults.

All-in-all, the football was a bust. But to witness the sheer creativity the Scottish football fan uses to incorporate the word "fuck" into every sentence - now that was worth the price of admission alone.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

He’s Playing Where?

The joy of coincidence. While my parents were over, we had been having a few drinks at the flat and listening to Hayden’s latest album Elk Lake Serenade. My father seemingly took a shine to it, so upon returning to Canada he took a look at Hayden’s web site where he noticed that Hayden would be playing in Darvel, Scotland in a few weeks time as part of the Darvel Music Festival. My father very kindly relayed this fact to me, and glad I was too because this was the first I’d heard of it. Not just of Hayden’s performance, but of the festival and the town too. Even after I found out, I tried in vain to find a single reference to this festival in any of the publications that I’d have thought might make mention of it (The List, the Scotsman, The Herald).

It turns out Darvel is a small town in Ayrshire, about an hours drive west of Glasgow. And so it came to be that a few Friday’s ago Fiona and I found ourselves getting a lift from Fiona’s parents (who strangely enough were convinced to attend!) to Darvel to see Hayden in what turned out to be his first ever Scottish gig.

The festival itself was being held in the Town Hall, and - much like the town itself – had clearly seen better days. There couldn’t have been more than 100 people there, most of them older locals who clearly had never heard of the artists but were just happy that something was actually happening in town. But looking around, I could see the odd person around my age who quite clearly was a Canadian backpacker or expat.

It felt very surreal when Hayden finally took the stage – part of me couldn’t be convinced that he’d actually be here of all places. And man was he ever good. The intimacy of the situation (it felt like a High School coffeehouse) made the music that much more beautiful. The fact that we were in the middle of nowhere Scotland in the most bizarre venue ever only heightened the special feel of the night.

But a tip for the festival organisers – if you're going to land someone like Hayden, you may wish to think about spending a few extra quid on some promotion.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

20 Months Later

It has been a while, but after a long time apart I’ve finally seen my parents in person again. We had just over a week to see and do a lot of things – but despite the time restraints I think it went brilliantly. There were many good intentions to see lots of historical sites and museums, but it seemed to be the case that a few (or more than a few) pints in the Scottish pubs always proved to be more of a draw. Aren't they always?

That said, we still managed to cover a lot of territory. Among the many highlights:

- A windy afternoon in St. Andrews to check out the Old Course and
to get a sense of the vibe of the town centre
- A beautiful drive through the Cairngorms to Braemar
- A great B&B and pub in the town of Braemar itself
- A cold and windy walk up Morrone Hill outside Braemar, with fabulous views all around.
- A trip to the Glenlivet Distillery, complete with our lovely tour guide Grace and her even lovelier Highland accent
- A stay in the town of Nairn on the Moray Firth where we had a delicious meal of chicken with stuffed haggis
- A visit to Inverness, and a drive along the banks of Loch Ness with another visit to Castle Urquhart
- A stay in the brilliant Clachaig Inn which contains one of the cosiest pubs I’ve ever been to – rafters and a fireplace and homebrew and whisky, oh my!
- The Buachaille Etive Beag circuit in Glencoe, 14 miles and 8 hours through both boggy and rugged terrain but with some of the most breathtaking views I’ve yet seen. I’m well impressed with my folks as they’d never done anything like it before.
- Learning that my mother is the worst back seat driver in history. Hmm, maybe not a highlight that one…

All that plus a few days to poke around Glasgow to take in all that it has to offer.

Hopefully they will be back before another twenty months goes by. Great Glen Way next year perchance?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

"The play's the thing..."

The power of teachers cannot be understated. A good teacher who is passionate about the subject matter they teach can impart the same passion to the student so that after the course is over and exams written, the subject remains as a lifelong interest.

I was fortunate to have two excellent English teachers in high school whose love of Shakespeare was such that it turned what could have been a dry exercise into something that I looked forward to on a daily basis. And so it is that years later I still enjoy the study of his work and seeing it performed on stage.

I was therefore very excited to finally be visiting the Bard's birthplace and the centre for all things Shakespearean, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

While naturally a touristy place, it still retains much of its Elizabethan charm. Many buildings dating back to Shakespeare's time, including his birthplace and that of his wife Anne Hathaway, remain and have been wonderfully restored.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Some truly excellent old pubs (dating back several hundred years) such as the Windmill Inn and the Black Swan were great places to escape the periodic showers. A visit to Shakespeare's grave in the 13th-century built Holy Trinity Church was necessary if only to read the epitaph on the grave that Shakespeare had written himself before death: "Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear/To dig the dust enclosèd here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones/And cursed be he that moves my bones." Always the dramatist, even in death.

And of course, no trip would be complete without catching a play from the Royal Shakespeare Company in the old theatre on the banks of the Avon. In fact, we managed to catch two: King Lear, starring Corin Redgrave, and Hamlet (which was especially excellent).

The River Avon

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

It’s Always Better On Holiday

It has been a busy last few weeks, but things have now calmed down sufficiently to allow me to catch up with a few things, including a neglected H&MS.

Steve and Rachel were back in Scotland for the second time back in late August. We rented a car (affectionately named Franz) for a quick Highland adventure through Glen Coe (up Devil’s Staircase again!), along the banks of Loch Ness (no glimpses of Nessie but the exhibition was surprisingly not tacky) and into Inverness. Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable trip due to the weather, cider and most importantly the company.

Castle Urquhart on the banks of Loch Ness

Ryan B. has gone the route of dating someone based in Scotland as well, thus giving me the opportunity to meet up with him and his girlfriend for a few drinks in Edinburgh which was good fun.

Condolences to Drew – but hopefully this will lead to better things for you. I’ve seen redundancies first hand myself a few times, and again recently. My boss, a real nice bloke and a pleasure to work with, was unexpectedly and harshly sacked last week. I only had the chance to speak with him briefly before he had to leave the premises. To see the legit hurt and shock on his face really rattled me. I know they say “it’s just business”, but sometimes people forget it also involves real people with real lives and emotions.

Congratulations to Lisa and Randy who tied the knot recently in Toronto. I’ve known Lisa since I was something like three years old, and got to know Randy as he was our unofficial fourth roommate back in the Yonge and Finch days. They’re a great couple, and I wish them all the best!

Congratulations also to Mike for running some seriously impressive races, especially that half-marathon. You’ve got me well inspired to keep up my training!

Monday, September 06, 2004

“Hear my voice in your head/And think of me kindly”

I’ve been a Smiths/Morrissey fan now for many years, so to finally see the Mozzer live was an incredibly exciting experience. The atmosphere of anticipation before the show began, complete with punters football-chanting his name, indicated that I wasn’t the only die-hard in the crowd. The show itself lived up to the hype and then some, from the opener (Smiths classic “How Soon Is Now” – which I NEVER thought I’d hear live) through classic and recent solo tracks such as “First of the Gang To Die” and “Everyday Is Like Sunday” through to the finale of (another Smiths classic) “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”. The man (and his music) has aged remarkably well, and the between song wit and theatrical mannerisms were all in top form. For those keeping score at home, you can find the set-list here.

First The Pixies, then Morrissey. And now I’ve got my hands on a pair of tix for a solo show from guitarist Robin Guthrie (ex-Cocteau Twins). What can I say - it’s been a good concert year!

Saturday, August 28, 2004

The Great Scottish Run 2004

Due to a lack of general training over the year, I decided it would probably be best to run the 10K rather than the half-marathon this time. Once the decision was made to race, I finally got the motivation I needed to take up running again in earnest. Over in Fife, I have been running the Inverkeithing to Dalgety Bay section of the Fife Coastal Path which follows the River Forth and provides excellent views of the Forth Rail Bridge.

Race day has now come and gone, and I achieved my personal best time of 48:10 (Full Results). However, I am much more impressed with Fiona who finished with a brilliant 01:02:41. She decided to take up running for the first time only a few months ago, and her extensive training has paid off. I confess that I didn't even see her cross the finish line because I didn't think she would have finished that quickly! We both are now feeling the post-race buzz and hope to run another race soon.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Clash of the Tartans

It has been said that the third time is the charm, but I think I took a shine to the kilt the first time I wore one. The whole outfit sounds like it ought to be ridiculous, but don’t mock it until you try it. It’s amazing how smart you can look in full Highland Dress.

I’ve now worn three different tartans, these being:

Gunn (Wilson)



This latest was worn for the wedding of Debbie and Chris, who tied the knot last weekend in a modern day interpretation of the Auld Alliance. Chris’s family and friends flew up from France, making for a wonderful mix of French and Scottish (complete with bilingual best man speech). A brilliant experience.

And speaking of weddings, a huge congratulations to Kevin and Kathleen who were married this past weekend. Here’s hoping everything went smoothly on the day, and that striking Parks Canada workers don’t affect the honeymoon camping plans out East!

Monday, August 09, 2004

Iceland Revisited

I've been sorting out some old pictures that we had put into digital format and figured I'd post some of them. So here are a few from the trip to Iceland last October:

Blue Lagoon, outside of Reykjavik. Surreal and soothing!

Gullfoss, a worthy rival to Niagara Falls.

Church in the Icelandic countryside. We never saw a single person for most of the day.

Geothermal energy in action near Lake Kleifarvatn.

Barren but eerily beautiful lava fields outside Reykjavik.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Just An Hour Away

I found myself saying this phrase quite a bit over the last few days during Christy’s visit to Scotland. After all these months it still amazes me just how close everything really is.

We managed to cover quite a bit in only a few days – a historical and pub tour of Glasgow, Pollok Park (featuring those Heilan Coos), Edinburgh in pre-Fringe Festival buzz mode, a partial climb up Ben Arthur (also known as The Cobbler) and a pint in a small pub on the shores of Loch Lomond in the town of Arrochar. Christy also managed a day trip to Arran and another to Fort William and Mull, very impressively covering large parts of Scotland in a mere 5 days. We also managed to get through 9 episodes of The Office which possibly gets funnier the more I watch it. It was great to see Christy again, and I look forward to our Green Room/Dance Cave/Insomnia Friday night out in Toronto this December.

Up next on the visitor front will be Steve and Rachel, making their return trip this year. This time we’ll be heading out of the city for a trip through the Highlands which undoubtedly will involve consumption of a large quantity of cider.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

My Kingdom For A Ticket

Getting tickets to a live music show in Scotland can often be a challenge. If you wait for the official announcements in weekend newspapers, oftentimes the best shows are already sold out. I tend to check out a few music web sites during lunch to get an edge on the average punter. But sometimes you just need to get lucky - as I did recently when they announced the lineup for T On The Fringe, the music portion of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. I just happened to be on the NME site when it was announced that Morrissey would be playing on the 31st of August. A quick jump to Ticketmaster and I had two tix to my name. Needless to say, demand was high and the show sold-out in hours. So not only do I have a pair of tix to one of the most anticipated concerts this year, but I am - after all these years - finally going to see the Mozzer live!

Bard in the Botanics, a series of Shakespeare plays put on by the Glasgow Rep Company over in the West End, has recently come to an end and much to my regret we only managed to catch one play. Well, one and a half actually. We made it halfway through Midsummer's (set in a jazz club and featuring Gershwin musical numbers - seriously) when they had to call it off because the Musical Director had fallen ill. Shame as it had been quite enjoyable. But we did catch all of Richard III, performed as a farcical comedy and done to brilliant effect. The wholly unexpected twist came near the end when Richard's decent into total madness brought a shift in the tone from comic to tragic, ultimately ensuring the poignant ending. Wonderful stuff, and all done on a park sidewalk with minimal props.

Christy will be the first Canadian visitor of 2004, and is due up in Glasgow later today. Will be great to simply spend a day pottering about the toon with an old friend tomorrow.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

T Time

The weather was mostly overcast for the weekend, but we managed to avoid the rain for the duration. The distribution of talent between the two days was noticeably lopsided. The newspapers described Day One as "killing time before the main event on Sunday". I'd more positively say that Day One was a good warm-up before the brilliance of Day Two. There were a lot of choices to be made, but in the end this is who we went to see:

Day One

Dogs Die In Hot Cars
One of the latest Glaswegian buzzbands doing the intellectual indie-pop thing. An enjoyable set and a good way to start the weekend, but no wow-factor.

The Zutons
They sound a bit like The Coral, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Good set, but not a band I'd need to run out and see again.

British Sea Power
I was surprised how much I enjoyed their set. BSP remind me of the good mid-90's indie rock that I used to be really into. Quality stuff.

Funeral for a Friend
I went to see this set because of the hype this band receives. Couldn't tell you why, it was just nu-metal shite with a capital S. Two songs was all I could stand.

What can I say - I've got a soft spot for this band. The songs are perfect festival sing-a-long anthems, the singer has a brilliant voice and the energy from the band is tangible. They were booked to play the smaller NME stage before they became huge, so it was well packed. Somewhere Only We Know still sends the chills up the spine. Fi and I are turning into obsessives as we've already bought tickets to see them again in November.

Keane making the ladies swoon

My first disappointment. Not because of the band, but because I couldn't get in the King Tut's tent to see them in the first place. Security were blocking the tent entrances with placards saying "Tent Full". I debated trying to listen to the set from outside the tent but thought that would be a bit excessive. Ash should have been on an outdoor stage.

Ben Kweller
I had read a bit about him in the paper, so decided to catch this set at the smaller X-Tent. It was a pleasant surprise - he's got a bit of an old school Weezer-esque sound complete with the sunny harmonies and fuzzy loud guitars. Enjoyable, and would love to see him again.

The Libertines
These guys are adored by the NME, so I thought I'd give this set a go. I've heard a few tracks and they're pretty good. The main problem here was that weeks before T, the lead singer left the band (rehab - how rock n' roll!) so the guitarist was taking over the vocal duties. I guess it sounded okay, but it was clear that something was missing from the live set. 6 songs in I decided this would be a good time to take advantage of the short beer queues.

The Delays
My personal discovery of the weekend (like The Thrills from last year). I'd only heard one song from this band beforehand, and thought it was fab. They sound a bit like a rockier Cocteau Twins, featuring what I thought was a female vocalist with an amazing voice. Imagine my surprise when said female vocalist was in fact a guy. That said, the band was amazing and by the end the entire crowd (including the folk that I had convinced to check out the set) were converts. We've since picked up the album (Faded Seaside Glamour) - highly recommended.

The Darkness
A band with one album (yes - one) is hardly what I'd call headlining material. I spoke fondly about The Darkness last year after hearing their ironic 80's hair-metal singles with the killer hooks. But that was a full year ago. As another band once said - that joke isn't funny anymore. We hung around long enough to hear I Believe In A Thing Called Love and then caught the bus home before the queues got huge.

Day Two

Scissor Sisters
Undeniably crowd pleasing, you'd be hard-pressed not to enjoy the camp disco vibe of this band. The perfect band to start the day with as the party atmosphere was high. Singer Jake Shears oozes charisma. He was sporting a tartan toga, and revealed at the end that we was in fact a true Scotsman. Shamon indeed.

Franz Ferdinand
My first live exposure to Franz was back at the QMU in Glasgow back in April. They were big then, but they have now become full-fledged rock gods in Scotland. It was quite possible that all 55,000 people were in front of the Main Stage for this one. And rock they do, blasting their way through their debut album. Always brilliant to hear Take Me Out live. And after all, it's always better on holiday (that's why we only work when we need the money).

The Thrills
The new album is due out soon, so this was a great opportunity to hear some of their new material and of course the best from their debut which was my soundtrack of last summer. The new single is not only catchy as hell, but has the best song title of the year so far -"What Ever Happened to Corey Haim?". Quite.

Amy Winehouse
The young Londoner with the killer voice whose music sounds like a funkier, jazzier Esthero. We unfortunately missed most of her set, but I enjoyed what we heard. Booty shaking abound.

Mull Historical Society
I knew the band had a bit of a following, but the King Tut's tent was simply heaving for this set. And rightfully so, the band was excellent (despite several technical glitches). Melodic rock and quirky lyrics galore. Can't wait to catch them in a more intimate setting.

Badly Drawn Boy
There is something about BDB that just doesn't sit right with me. I love a lot of his music, but there is something missing from his newer material and his stage shows. Pleasant, but about halfway through I thought it was more important to get a good spot for the Pixies.

I was almost sick with anticipation for this one. When the band walked on stage, all dressed in white, it was so surreal. Here they were - the Pixies - a band I've loved for over a decade but had been disbanded for the duration of this time, now before me on stage. In a field. In Scotland. For some artists, the comeback/reunion gig reeks of opportunism and appeals only to the diehards. But this show seemed so relevant. Yes, the crowd was full of folk my age and the 30-somethings that grew up with them. But the kids were out in full force too. The entire setlist (which can be viewed here) was full of songs that sound as relevant now as ever before despite being over 15 years old in some cases. Frank Black's howl, Kim Deal's bass and harmony, the tight drumming of David Lovering and of course the incredible guitar wizardry of Joey Santiago were on full display here. They dove right into Planet Of Sound ("One fine day in my odd past...") and checked off all the favourites (including Debaser...heavenly) before finishing with an incredible extended version of Vamos without saying a word between songs. They didn't need to as the crowd was in their hands. When all four came together at the end to take a group bow, the crowd was going insane. I can only hope that this newfound creative energy translates into new material at some point that is on par with their past catalogue. From what I heard on stage, the chances are good.

The Pixies - This Crowd Has Gone To Heaven

Buck 65
Any other artist would fail to sustain the post-Pixies high I was feeling, so you can imagine my excitement when I saw that Buck was playing the snug X-Tent immediately after. I say it again, the man is brilliant and as good as the albums are, you just can't beat seeing him live.

Buck 65 - Wicked and Weird

The Strokes
One of the main indications that the promoters of this event are a bit naive. I mean, you have the newly reformed Pixies and the homecoming gig of a world-conquering Scottish band in the form of Franz Ferdinand on the bill, and you decide to have the much less talented Strokes close out the festival? Stayed around for about half the set before our ride back to Glasgow said that perhaps it was time to go. I agreed.

The headliners may have been disappointing, but this was easily offset by the sheer quantity and quality of music that was on display over the two days with the Pixies as my personal highlight. I was still feeling the buzz well into this week. The BBC has great coverage of the event which you can hear on their website if interested.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Worth a Thousand Words?

With summer upon us, perhaps it's time to get a little colour onto the site. Thus, a few pics from various events from the last year...

The champion of the Pollok Park Heilan Coo Exhibition, Glasgow.

The Rail Bridge over the River Forth, and the bridge I cross to get to work on a Monday morning. The view of the bridge from the hotel I stayed at for a few months late last year.

Nearing the end of the long climb up Bidean nam Bian, Glen Coe.

West Highland Way, Day 3. The valley near the River Fillan and at the foot of Ben More before the skies opened up.

West Highland Way, Day 5. Fi working her way up the Devil's Staircase in Glen Coe.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Happy Belated 137th!

Canada Day has come and gone, and as expected there wasn't much in the way of celebration for the event in Fife. The best I could do was buy a bottle of "real Canadian maple syrup" (made in England) to pour over crumpets. However, everybody at my work is now aware that July 1st is in fact the birthday of the Great White North.

My thoughts couldn't help but stray to Canada Days in Ottawa, sharing a few beers at an impromptu Seanfest before heading downtown to see the crowds. Which subsequently summoned images of cottages in the summer, roadtrips through the Rockies or the Maritimes, Stompin' Tom and drinks at the Green Room.

Drew made my day in a huge way. A very wicked Canada Day package arrived in Glasgow on the 1st (impeccable timing that!) which included, among other things, the new Hayden album Elk-Lake Serenade which I listen to as I write this. Drew - much appreciated!

I guess I'm happy about the election results. The Liberals were sufficiently humbled, the Tories didn't get anywhere near the breakthrough they thought they would (thankfully), and the NDP has the opportunity to legitimately influence parliament for the first time in years. Hardly an inspirational campaign or result, but probably the best that could have come out of it.

T in the Park continues its unlucky streak of having one of their top acts pull out of the festival at the last minute. Last year it was the White Stripes (due to a broken finger), this year it is David Bowie (due to a pinched nerve). Lame injuries in both cases, but so it goes. Though to be honest, I'm not too bothered. I would have seen Bowie if he was there, but with The Darkness now taking top billing on the Main Stage, I will now be able to see both them and The Libertines on the NME stage which will probably be a lot more fun than pretending I'm really into Under Pressure or Ziggy Stardust.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Twee in the Park

The Glasgow West End Festival has come and gone, and I unfortunately did not get to catch anywhere near as much of the music and theatre that I’d of liked. However, I did finally get to see Belle and Sebastian in concert as part of their free Festival gig in the Botanic Gardens. While not the best venue acoustically, the positive energy of the band’s music was the perfect accompaniment to a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. 12,000 people showed up to watch the show, and it was good vibes all around.

Recently caught Ash at the Carling Academy. I normally quite enjoy the Academy as a venue, but since we were late in buying our tickets this year we were forced to grab balcony seats. Not only was the sound up there terrible, but it was an especially warm day so the rising heat from the folk below us was particularly stifling. Ash was great as always though, and it turned out I’d be seeing them again much sooner than expected as they announced they would be joining the T in the Park line up.

Speaking of said line up, take a look at it. Should be a good one this year. The biggest challenge will be choosing who I am going to see on Sunday. That day is particularly full of amazing bands, and there are bound to be conflicts.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

All Together Now?

Even though I’ve been in the UK for almost 16 months now, I confess I haven’t really taken to football like I thought I might. When it comes to league football (SPL, English Premiership) I care about the games as much as I do for British reality TV programmes (which is to say not at all). However, it’s a slightly different situation when it comes to international play. You get the impression that the games actually mean something when an entire country comes together to support their national team. The nationwide euphoria or shock and sadness (depending on the result) is undeniable. While I’m well aware of the more dubious aspects of patriotism, it is thrilling to see a country’s supporters out en masse with flags and banners, singing their national anthem with teary-eyed pride.

That said, we are now into the knockout rounds of Euro 2004, and I had yet to really get into the tournament (Scotland never qualified after all). But that changed Thursday night when I was convinced to grab a few pints and watch England v Portugal in a quarterfinal match. And what a bloody game that turned out to be! Tied at one each nearing the end of 90 minutes, England scores what appears to be a legit goal but is disallowed by the referee. The game goes into overtime and each team score another goal apiece, but nothing is settled by the end of the additional 30 minutes so we go into penalty shots (always a nail-biter). David Beckham is up first and makes a spectacularly horrible shot that sends the ball flying well over the goal post. After five shots each we still don’t have a result. The game is settled by – of all unlikely people – the Portuguese goalkeeper who after saving England’s 6th shot, left the goal to score the winner.

I was sitting with a group of English supporters who were not happy. They, and the papers the next day, blamed everything from dodgy refereeing to Beckham to uneven turf for the penalty shots. But at the end of the day, England is out. Which made for many gleeful Scots (Fiona among them). All the other big teams are now out too - Italy, Germany, Spain and France. Based on my newfound enthusiasm for Euro 2004, I watched Greece score the upset over Les Bleues at the pub last night. While not as exciting as the England game (how do you beat that?), it was still a fun 93 minutes. Fiona is convinced the Czech Republic will win. She might just be right.

Straight out of O-Town

A hearty welcome to Chris into the world of blogging. As he states in his first post, blogging is quickly becoming the easy (lazy?) alternative to emailing. CJ – I haven’t heard much from you lately so keep the posts coming!

He also makes a great statement about the upcoming Canadian elections. I confess I did not get my act together soon enough to register as an international voter, so I won’t be able to cast my vote this election. However, I do hope that all those who are able to vote do so and prevent any form of Conservative government. While admittedly the Liberals are hardly the picture of corruption-free government, electing the Tories is not the way to punish them. It will only be punishing the country itself. Canada is still one of the best places in the world to live, and electing a government that promotes many of the same policies as the Bush administration is not doing anybody any favours. After all the progress Canada has made, why would we want to take a giant step backwards?

I’ve got my fingers crossed for a Liberal minority.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Haggis & Maple Syrup v.2

I figured it was about time for a site upgrade – it was looking a little shabby and I thought it could use a bit of tweaking. There is so much more I would love to do with H&MS if I had a better computer, broadband Internet access and more time. But I guess a new layout will do for now.

I was going for the one-year anniversary relaunch of H&MS theme, but it turns out that my first post was the 6th of July. Call it the 11.5-month anniversary relaunch then!

Sunday, June 06, 2004

West Highland Way: Part Three

"Is the last mile the hardest mile?” – The Smiths

Day Five: Inveroran Hotel to Kinlochleven (16 miles)

It was bucketing down when we awoke that morning, so we decided to linger over our breakfast. They were serving bagels after all (oh yes, tasty Canadian bagels in the Highlands!).

The first half of the walk that day would be through the Rannoch Moor. It is the largest moor in Britain, and is described by our guidebook as “barren, bleak, desolate and inhospitable”. We had been told that the moor was a miserable place in the rain because there was absolutely no protection from the elements. Again, we got lucky as the rain stopped shortly after leaving the hotel and didn’t come back in any proper form for the duration of the day.

After walking through a small, cultivated forest we entered the moor proper. It had a very powerful effect on me as it was indeed a very barren place, complete with small lochans and snow covered hills scattered throughout. The boggy grass and granite rock combined with the grey sky contributed to the sense of isolation, as did the fact we could see the path, both before and behind us, for miles – completely uninterrupted. Despite this, or in fact because of this, I found it to be a beautiful stretch of terrain to walk though. The land steadily rose, and a small cairn marked the peak height of 445 metres. From here we could see fantastic views of Glen Coe, and we both looked forward to returning to this part of the Highlands which we had visited only a few months previous.

After emerging from the moor, we made our first stop of the day at the Kings House Hotel, built in the 17th Century to house troops in King George III’s army. There were two entrances to the hotel, one for guests and another for walkers. Our entrance took us to the decidedly dingier part of the hotel, but no matter as it was full of fellow walkers, some of those we had drank with the night before, and others whom we had seen days previous. We had a lovely brie and cranberry baguette that was pure luxury compared to the usual pub grub.

Shortly after leaving the hotel, the path took us within view of Bidean nam Bian, the peak we had climbed back in March. It also took us to the base of what is known as the Devil’s Staircase. This is a zigzagging part of the trail that goes up a steep stretch of hill, taking you to a peak of 548 metres. This by itself wouldn’t have been too bad, but it was tough going after already having walked over 10 miles that day. We could feel every pound of our rucksacks during the ascent, and as a result the climb was a strenuous piece of business. But the view at the top made it all worthwhile, allowing us take in all the beautiful terrain of the Glen Coe region. In short order we had descended 100 metres and could see the town of Kinlochleven below us where we would be spending the evening. But the view was very deceiving. I was convinced we would be there within the hour, but due to the steepness of the descent, the path took a long and zigzaggy route down the mountain that took a serious toll on our knees. It was in fact another two hours before we arrived at our destination, and each of our knees was loudly protesting upon arrival.

We stayed at the Tailrace Inn that night, where we shared drinks and a meal with two couples whom we had met that day. It was great to hear that other people were experiencing the same pains and delights as we were! As Kinlochleven is home to the Atlas Brewery, we knocked back several of their very delicious pints that night.

Day Six: Kinlochleven to Fort William (14 miles)

And here we were, well rested and ready to embark on our final day of the WHW. I was feeling nostalgic already, and could scarcely believe how fast the previous five days seemed to have gone by. We had heard that the final 14 miles to Fort William contained no especially difficult terrain, so we were happy to take our time and really soak in all the atmosphere of this day.

Shortly after leaving Kinlochleven, we entered a forest and immediately were faced with a 250-metre climb that admittedly was a tough way to ease into the day. We had found that it took a good hour each morning before our stiff limbs would acquiesce to co-operate with us, and they were none too pleased to make this steep ascent that morning. But as with most climbs, the view made it all worthwhile as we were presented with a stunning view of the rocky valley that we would be walking through that morning, a valley enclosed by towering mountains on both sides. The rain was off and on that morning, but I was so grateful for the previous days of good weather that the rain was no bother at all. In fact, I thought it heightened the atmosphere of the place. The path again was an old gravel military road, and it snaked its way through the valley for many miles, occasionally passing through forest plantations.

While walking through one of these plantations, we passed though a clearing where we got our first glimpse of the majestic Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Britain with a height of 1344 metres. The sun had returned at this point, filling the air with plumes of steam as the day’s rainwater began to evaporate. This forest was especially gorgeous, as the trail worked its way through the dense trees and over swift moving streams. The path was busy this day, and the excitement in the air was tangible as fellow walkers discussed the imminent end to their journey.

We came across a detour that takes the walker to the remains of Dun Deardail, an Iron Age fort on the base of a small hill. It took Fiona some convincing to take a detour off the path at this point in our journey (and fair enough!) but it was worth it to see the remains of the fort and for the incredible view of Glen Nevis and the Ben itself.

After retracing our steps to rejoin the path, we made our way through Nevis Forest, and then made the gradual descent into Glen Nevis and towards the River Nevis. The glen was absolutely gorgeous, full of lush farms and herds of bleating sheep. And of course, we were very close to the base of Ben Nevis itself. From this vantage point, the Ben looked very intimidating indeed, with a cloud cover having settled in so that we could not see its peak. To add to the drama, it wasn’t long before we heard the crash of thunder. Literally no more than a mile from the end, and we were going to get caught in a thunderstorm! We hastened down the path, which soon ran parallel to a road that leads to Fort William. It was at this point when the skies opened and all the rain we had been lucky enough to avoid for most of the trip fell upon our weary heads. The wind picked up, and the lightning flashed all around us. I’ll admit it was a little scary to think that we could have been much higher in elevation and exposed had we left an hour later that morning.

After a walk of this duration and quality, one would almost expect the final stretch to be filled with natural delights that could bring a tear to the eye. In fact, the final stretch consisted of no more than a sidewalk along a two-lane road through the outskirts of Fort William. I felt that there should have been a group full of well-wishers with balloons to greet us in Fort William, with the mayor waiting to present us with a medal. In fact, the end consisted of no more than an anticlimactic sign telling us “You have reached the end of the West Highland Way” by the side of a busy road.

Anticlimaxes aside, it was a hell of a buzz knowing we had finished our 95-mile odyssey. We trundled into the first pub we saw, and were pleased to discover the same couples from the night before enjoying their first post-walk pint. We quickly joined them and proceeded to down many a drink and tell tales about each of our trips – a proper end to a wonderful six days.

A nice postscript came on the next day when we took the West Highland Railway back to Glasgow. Many parts of the railway run close to the WHW itself, so we had a chance to relive some of the scenery from the comfort of our train coach.

The West Highland Way was simply one of the most incredible experiences of my life and the memories from it will linger with me always, especially during long days stuck in an office. I have also now been fully introduced to the wonderful world of walking holidays. Up next – hopefully this autumn - will be the Great Glen Way, the continuation of the WHW from Fort William to Inverness. Although next time, I’ll be sure to pack less.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Second Intermission

I had the chance to see a bit of Canadian musical royalty in concert last Friday at the very classy Glasgow Royal Concert Hall where we saw Rufus Wainwright featuring Kate & Anna McGarrigle and Martha Wainwright. The performance was set up so that all four (as well as a bassist and background singer) would perform a few McGarrigle classics and other standards together. Then the McGarrigle’s would do a song, then a few from Martha, and then several from Rufus. Sometimes the artist would perform solo, sometimes one of the family would join them on background vocals or guitar.

I was really impressed by the powerful voice and great songs of Martha, though some of the older folk who were there to see Kate and Anna may have been a bit taken aback by the bluntness of her lyrics. I’ve seen Rufus perform before, but I was still struck by the impact of his voice and his songs. Moreover, the man undoubtably has the charisma. I’m not too familiar with Kate and Anna’s material, but I really enjoyed the folkie quality of it and the way Martha and Rufus added to it with their vocals. It was also great to see the banter between the family, almost as if we were watching them perform in their own living room.

The entire result was a perfect Friday night show, comfortably seated in a concert hall and revelling in the quality of musical performance I was seeing. And the bonus was that we didn’t even have to pay for tickets – Alison works for the Concert Hall and managed to get us all in without the £18.50 cover!

Less enjoyable – the movie Troy which I saw on Saturday night. I’ve always loved The Iliad and Greek mythology in general. With such a big budget and a classic back story to draw from, how did they manage to cock it up so bad? Sure, the fight scenes were impressive, but it all means nothing without a well-told story to back it up. And how bad was Brad Pitt’s acting? With all the pouting during battle and the pensive looks over the sea (look at me - I’m conflicted!), I just couldn’t take him seriously. And don’t get me started on the dialogue. Stick to Homer.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

West Highland Way: Part Two

“Don’t forget…we’re doing this for fun!” – Sympathetic Man after seeing our pained faces on Day 2

I’m hoping I didn’t paint an unduly negative picture of the trip thus far. While there was a bit of pain involved, the absolute majesty of the surroundings more than made up for it. Right, so where were we?

Day Three: Ardlui to Tyndrum (15 miles)

It was pretty tough to get going that morning as each of our joints were protesting very loudly about having to do any work. What helped was the fact that it was yet another lovely sunny morning. So much for the BBC weather forecast predicting a week of downpour!

The ferry ride from Ardlui back to the WHW was much more enjoyable in the morning and under sunny skies. The landscape at the start of the day was especially gorgeous, walking through forests at the foot of mountains with their snow-capped peaks. The run-off from the snow created many little waterfalls that would rejoin the River Falloch (the river which begins where Loch Lomond ends, just north of Ardlui) which the path followed for most of the morning. Within an hour we were climbing and able to overlook the gorgeous Glen Falloch below. The valley was filled with forests, streams, and hundreds of sheep with all their newly born lambs bleating up a wee storm. The sheep would be skittish at our approach, but the lambs were curious and would stare and sometimes even tentatively approach before mother would gently nudge them away. Very cute. A slight drizzle had started at this point so when we came across Beinglas Farm (with a pub, wigwams and wild camping facilities) we went in for a quick coffee. By the time we finished, the sun had returned.

The path then crossed the river over to the west bank, and then left the river altogether shortly thereafter. A tunnel was necessary to get us under the railway (we had to duck to get through) and then the path joined an old military road. We came across a herd of cattle (not heilan) where two calves who were having a wee rest stared at us the entire time as we walked by – the baby animals must love us! The old military road was tough going as it was very muddy and the footing was very rocky, but the views down to the farm and the river were stunning. By about midday we came across another path which diverted off to the town of Crianlarich. This point marks the unofficial halfway point, so as it was a nice day we decided to avoid the town and instead picnic on a ridge which overlooked the town and nearby valley and provided stunning views to a snow-capped Ben More. The view (and sun) was incredibly comforting so it was tough to get up and going again. And of course, with any stop came the stiff legs and back. But as these things are always relative, we felt much better this day dealing with the pain since the previous day had been so tough.

The path from here then entered a forest, and the path itself was soft and downy (due to the pine needles) which made for much nicer walking than the craggy stone of the previous stretch. While not obvious at first, the path gradually climbed a good 300 metres before dropping down into a lovely farming valley. We crossed over the River Fillan and into the valley which contained several small farmhouses and hundreds of sheep. Looking back towards Ben More, we saw that the cloud cover had dropped quickly. It made for a dramatic view as we could literally see the black clouds swarming towards us. Once the temperature starting dropping we knew that our streak of good weather was about to come to an end.

We did make it to the eerily beautiful remains of St. Fillan’s Priory (founded by an Irish priest hundreds of years ago) before the rain came on in earnest. Fortunately our rain gear was holding up nicely, and again before long we came across another spot where we could stop for tea, Auchtertyre Farm. It didn’t look like the sun was coming back out that day, but the rain had tapered off to a drizzle by the time we were ready to head out.

The path now crossed the A82 motorway before rejoining another old military road which travels by Lochan nan Arm, a lochan thought to contain Robert the Bruce’s sword that he apparently had to throw away while fleeing enemies. Within an hour we had reached our destination for the day, the town of Tyndrum. We were staying at a place called By The Way (very clever, that) in a private cabin. We both got a kick out of this as it was a nice change from guesthouses. We had our own kitchen facilities, so we headed into town to buy a few supplies. We had a lovely dinner of pasta and veg and shared a nice bottle of white wine to celebrate the first 3 of our 6 days on the road.

Day Four: Tyndrum to Inveroran Hotel (10 miles)

Before we had begun this trip, I had been slightly annoyed at the prospect of only doing 10 miles on Day Four. However, three days into this I was looking forward to an easier day. Even now I’m not quite sure how it had happened, but my right foot was really hurting, almost like I had fractured a bone. Once I got going (and the painkillers we had bought had kicked in) it was okay, but for the first hour that day every step was agony.

We awoke to a bit of drizzle, but nothing too serious. Tyndrum was the last major urban centre for the next few days, so we made sure to stock up on water and food before heading out. Today the path would run parallel to the motorway on an old military road, but luckily the motorway was far enough away so that it didn’t affect the appreciation of the surroundings. The drizzle became sporadic rather than constant, but the low cloud cover gave the sense that a full downpour could start at any moment. The walk itself was very flat, with more stunning views of the nearby mountains (especially Beinn Dorain) and down to the forested valleys. To my delight we came across another path a few hours into the day which I immediately recognised as the one I had walked on a few months earlier (that of the infamous downpour, flooding rivers and near-hypothermia incident). We continued on near the base of Beinn Dorain, listening to the sounds of the trickling waterfalls created by snow runoff, and marvelling at the moss that was acting like a sponge and was bloated with water. We passed a field full of grazing heilan coos (finally!) where one cheeky coo left the field to walk into the swiftly moving river to grab a drink. His coo friends were staring at him with what I could only imagine was incredulity. By lunchtime we had reached the small town of Bridge of Orchy where we grabbed a few very tasty pints of Deuchars IPA. Normally I wouldn’t have drunk more than a pint mid-walk, but we were only a few miles away from our destination, so why not live dangerously?

We crossed the old stone bridge over the River Orchy which was built in 1750 (and also provided the name for the town). The path ascended quickly through a forest and then onto mountainous terrain overlooking the beautiful Loch Tulla as well as the atmospheric and barren Rannoch Moor which would be our destination on Day Five. After reaching the cairn which marked the peak of 300 metres, we could see the clouds which had threatened all day finally come in for the kill. It wasn’t long before the skies opened up and we got a proper soaking. Luckily (again with the luck!) it was only about a 20-minute walk before we reached our destination for the day, the Inveroran Hotel. The hotel, built in 1708, is very secluded with literally nothing around for miles. Despite the fact we had arrived early (only about 3 o’clock), we were both quite happy to call it a day. It wasn’t long before we were in the hotel pub where we found several other groups of walkers that we had seen at various points on the trail. It ended up being a brilliant night with the beer flowing freely, good chat with fellow walkers, and a delicious home-cooked meal of pork and applesauce. The rain was relentless that evening, and would be all that night. A few of the campers that we drank with looked less than enthusiastic about going back out in the night to deal with a wet tent and a terrible sleep. They all shot back a few whisky’s before heading out in order to “hopefully knock [them]selves out”. We saw them the next morning – it clearly hadn’t worked. Was I ever thankful that we had chosen not to camp!

Thursday, May 27, 2004


Since the story of this wee walk of ours is taking some time to get told, I thought I’d cover off a few other things in the meantime.

I’ve taken a real shine to Cottiers, a bar/theatre in Glasgow’s West End. Cottiers is housed in a converted church, and has one of the nicest beer gardens (that is a patio in Canadian-speak) in the city. The theatre portion is housed in the former nave of the church. I recently managed to catch the thoroughly fun band Salsa Celtica (their music is a mix of – surprise – Salsa and Celtic) and the observational/storytelling humour of comedian Daniel Kitson. Watching a comedian liberally sprinkle his material with profanity while drinking a pint in a former church, complete with pulpit and stained glass windows? Sacri-licious!

I went to my first official whisky tasting the other day at a pub in Edinburgh. This particular one was held by Glenmorangie. By the fifth full glass, I wasn’t really picking up on much of what they were saying, but the whisky sure tasted good. Best new terminology learned that night: “unleashing the serpent”. This is what happens when you add a dash of water to the whisky to release the flavour and in turn create an almost oily effect in your glass. I look forward to unleashing the serpent again soon.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is in fact as good as you’ve heard. Clever, visually stunning, and heart-warming all at the same time.

I am drowning in wonderful music at the moment. Keane’s “Hopes and Fears” is even better than what I had hoped for. Ash’s “Meltdown” is power pop the way it is supposed to be done. And Morrissey’s “You Are The Quarry” is a brilliant return from an artist who hasn’t released new material in far too long. You have to respect a man who releases a single with the chorus “I’ve been dreaming of a time when/the English are sick to death of Labour and Tories/and spit upon the name Oliver Cromwell/and denounce this royal line that still salute him”.

With the weather having been particularly beautiful recently, and it not getting dark until past 10pm, it’s certainly a good time to be in Scotland!

Saturday, May 22, 2004

West Highland Way: Part One

“If there is a hill, this path goes up it!” – Sympathetic Old Man in Rowardennan Forest after a particularly tough climb

Day One: Milngavie to Balmaha (20 miles)

Despite the ominous weather forecasts predicting grey skies and rain, we awoke on Day One to a beautiful and warm sunny day. Fiona’s parents drove us the short distance from Glasgow to Milngavie, the town that marks the beginning of the WHW. Fi’s father looked to be extremely proud of his daughter before he left us, and rightfully so!

We proceeded to the obelisk which marks the beginning of the WHW to find a good number of people milling about and making their final adjustments to their rucksacks before heading out. We couldn’t help but notice that most people had much smaller rucksacks than we did, which confirmed my initial suspicions that we had overpacked. But we were committed, heavy burden and all! After taking our snapshots by the obelisk, we were off.

After a short time we were in the wilderness, entering Mugdock Wood (very Harry Potter-esque sounding I thought) and then past Craigallian Loch. The path followed the banks of the loch, and then climbed slightly to a point where you could look back at the mile we had just walked. When looking back, you would be forgiven for thinking you were gazing upon Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street because of the sheer amount of people making their way down the path. It was a great feeling though - already we felt part of a group, chatting with people as we walked by. Many of the groups we saw at this point would be seen many times again throughout the following five days.

The path then joined what was once the commuter railway line from the Highlands to Glasgow. We made our first stop near the town of Gartness, sitting in the grass overlooking a valley where you could clearly hear the bleating of newborn lambs. At this point we had walked 10 miles and were feeling quite good. It wasn’t until we stood up that we discovered a curious sensation that would occur again and again. Any period of prolonged relaxation would numb our joints to the point that the act of getting up and starting to walk again would be incredibly painful. It was also at this point I could feel the bruises on my shoulders from the weight of the rucksack. It was a sensation that became all too familiar from then on.

About 15 miles in we were quite exhausted, but from an unexpected source. The walk to that point had been quite reasonable – it was the relentless sun which, while very pleasant at first, was now beginning to sap our strength away. The cool shade of a Garadhban Forest was most welcome. Normally after the forest, one would climb Conic Hill before descending into the town of Balmaha, but as we were in the heart of lambing season, it was necessary to take a detour that unfortunately meant our final half-mile for that day was alongside the motorway. This part of the path did however cross the Highland Boundary Fault, meaning we had officially left the lowlands behind. The day was still gorgeous when we shuffled into the pretty town of Balmaha at about 5pm, and the first order of business was to grab two pints at the first pub we came across, which happened to be the lovely Oak Tree Inn. Never has the taste of cider been so lovely!

After checking into our room in the Balmaha Bunkhouse Lodge (a room that contained a bunkbed and precious little else including space), we spent the remainder of the evening sucking back pints at the pub. We hadn’t eaten much that day, so the pub grub tasted especially good that night. One of the great bonuses of walking holidays is that you can so totally justify that extra pint and daily pub grub.

Day Two: Balmaha to Ardlui (22 miles)

We knew that this was going to be our toughest day. Not only would we be walking 22 miles, but the final 5 miles of that day was going to be over what our guide book called “one of the most difficult parts of the route”. We also knew that we couldn’t base our pace of walking on our first day as that had covered mostly flat terrain. And a good thing we had realised this too. We were up at 8:30 and we wouldn’t arrive at our destination until 7pm, feeling very rough indeed.

We awoke to an overcast but dry day, and being up and away that early meant that we saw not a single person on the path for hours. After a short walk out of Balmaha, we were walking along the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, where the path would remain for the duration of the day.

A few miles into the walk, the sky cleared and we once again had a lovely sunny day, though luckily without the same relentless heat of before. The path for the first several miles would traverse beaches, then climb hills through forests before descending back down to lochside trails.

About 7 miles in, we ended up in Rowardennan which is essentially just a large hotel but strategically located at the base of another path which climbs to the peak of Ben Lomond. Mike and I had grabbed a pint here after our climb up the Ben almost one year ago (where did THAT time go???). This time, Fi and I enjoyed a nice pint of soda water and lime before heading out, once again partially regretting the time we took to sit as our legs once again had gone stiff and sore.

Being so close to Ben Lomond, the terrain past Rowardennan became very hilly, and while the views of both the Ben and the Loch were stunning, the terrain made for very tough going, especially with the rucksacks on our back. When we trundled into Inversnaid, (again, really just one big hotel) we were very sore indeed. The original plan was to stop in Inversnaid for the night, but the hotel was fully booked by the time we (well, not we, it was actually entirely Fiona for which I’m eternally grateful) began booking accommodation. As such it was necessary to continue on for another 5 miles before we came across a place we could stop for the night. But not any 5 miles, this was the infamous patch that would involve scrambling and very difficult descents. This was the only time in the entire trip where I saw Fiona look truly miserable as her calves and feet were absolutely killing her, and she had already walked 17 miles that day.

The sky had become overcast, and the going was as tough as our guidebook had indicated. We were quite fortunate to run into a small herd of feral goats on a ridge just above the path. The goats were once kept by Highlanders centuries ago and over the subsequent decades had become wild. It is now thought that there are only a few hundred left.

With about two miles left to go, a bit of drizzle started to fall and I was beginning to wonder if my legs were simply going to buckle under the strain. I looked back to see poor Fi doing her best but she was really struggling. I thought it would be funny to take a picture of her (after all, wouldn’t she one day look back at it and laugh?) but the look she flashed me quickly changed my mind. I took her rucksack and attached it to my front to do my best to relieve the burden on her. The views during this stretch were gorgeous, but I confess at this point neither of us cared anymore as we were really hurting.

You could not imagine our joy when we finally came across a solitary pole near a tiny dock on the bank of the loch. Say what? Well, as there was no accommodation on the east side of the Loch for several more miles, Fiona had booked a hotel in the town of Ardlui which was on the west side of the loch. On this pole was a large orange ball which we needed to hoist to call a ferry. It was quite late at this point and there was simply nobody around, so for a few miserable moments we worried that no boat was going to come, but these fears were quickly allayed when we saw a wee boat make its way towards us. After a quick and wet (the rain was fully falling now) ride across the loch, we were in Ardlui.

After a delicious meal of haggis pizza (yes, they do put haggis on everything over here) at the hotel we retired to our room to evaluate the damage. The ugly bruises on my shoulders and hips (from the rucksack straps) were nothing compared to the blisters on poor Fi’s feet. That girl is a trooper, and I was very proud of her for making it through that day. The funny thing about the night was, despite being as tired as could be, neither of us slept well because our muscles decided to keep doing their thing while we lay in bed. This would be the case for each of the four nights to follow.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

West Highland Way

The West Highland Way is a 95-mile (152 km) long path that starts in the town of Milngavie (just north of Glasgow) and ends at the foot of the largest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis. The path covers just about every conceivable type of terrain that is found in Scotland, from desolate moors to lush forests to ancient hills to pasture land, passing by lochs and rivers and small Highland towns. And since the Way takes about a week to cover, the walker tends to experience just about every conceivable type of weather that is found in Scotland too. Much of the path itself consists of ancient drove roads (used by Highlanders to herd their coos and sheep down south - think Rob Roy), disused railway lines and old military roads.

It was decided that for our first big holiday of the year, Fiona and I would take up the challenge of the West Highland Way, and complete it in 6 days. Some guys take their girlfriends to an exotic country with warm beaches and cocktails; I take mine drudging through the rough terrain of the Scottish Highlands. And they say romance is dead, eh?

I confess that when I first prepared for this walk, I expected that it would be a lovely walk but nothing along the lines of a physical challenge. As I type this now, just returned to Glasgow with my swollen right foot and bruised shoulders, I can safely say that this little walk of ours ended up being one of the more physically demanding things I have ever done. But it was so much more than a “lovely walk” – the sheer beauty of the landscape and exhilaration of being outside in so many different conditions surpassed both of our expectations. It was, in a word, brilliant.

I’m going to attempt the full day-by-day breakdown of the trip over the next few posts. But first I thought I’d give a few definitions of some Scottish outdoor terminology so that everyone will know what I’m on about:

Ben – a mountain. You’ll never hear the word “mountain” used though – it's always simply a ben or a hill, regardless of size.
Cairn – a pile of stones to mark a path, or to indicate a peak of a hill.
Glen – a valley. For example, the valley beneath Ben Nevis is known as Glen Nevis.
Kissing Gate – a swinging gate that is designed to let people, but not animals, through. Traditionally amongst couples, whoever gets through the gate first can demand a kiss before the other can get through. As a fast walker, I took full advantage.
Loch – a lake (just in case you hadn’t figured that one out yet).
Midge – small, biting, annoying insect that is the scourge of the Highlands, though they don’t typically appear until mid-May. The main reason we did this walk in early May.
Munro – hill over 3000 feet high.
Scramble – using hands to enable movement up steep terrain. Not easy with a heavy rucksack.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Somewhere Only We Know

You'd never think a band consisting of only a vocalist, keyboardist, and drummer could really make such powerful music live, but Keane pulled it off brilliantly Tuesday night at their Glasgow QMU gig. For a band that has only released one single, they have already developed a dedicated group of fans, and rightfully so.

I first saw Keane open for the The Thrills last year. The opening band set typically is an opportunity to get a beer and chat with your mates but Keane captured the attention of the entire venue with their sound. When I heard they were touring on their own, I jumped at the chance to see them. And they did not disappoint!

I can safely say that vocalist Tom Chaplin is one of most amazing singers I have ever heard live. He unashamedly belts out his vocals and was always note perfect. Their songs are quite simply beautiful, and the track Somewhere Only We Know is possibly one of the most amazing songs I have ever heard. I have no doubt that this will have been my last chance to see Keane in such an intimate venue. In fact, the next time I see them will be a T in the Park on the NME Stage. Needless to say I am very excited about the second week of May when their first album, Hopes And Fears, is released. The new Ash and Morrissey albums are out the same week.

Monday, April 26, 2004

The Next Day

Lifting awkward pieces of furniture up four flights of stairs has resulted in aches from muscles I didn't even know I had. Since we don't actually get full possession of the new flat until possibly next week (all of our stuff crammed in the living room for now), I had a terrible sleep on a pull-out bed that contains metal bars under the mattress that all seemed to find a way to nestle themselves into my joints. So a little more worse for wear than usual on this fine sunny Monday morning.

Leaving the old flat was quite difficult. It's sad to see a place that was the source of so much life emptied and dark. The final walk through the door is always tough, looking upon very familiar views for the final time. One chapter closes, another begins.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Final Blog from Bellwood Street

The majority of the boxes have been packed and moved, and now it's just a matter of putting away the bits and bobs and give the place a final scrub. And so will end life at the flat that has been home for the past 14 months.

I type this as per usual on the computer next to the back window where the sun is shining down and making everything outside look just wonderful. I've always enjoyed this spot, and will very much miss the view. Despite the odd problem, the vast majority of our stay here has been excellent. This has been by far my most favourite place that I have ever stayed at. I'm feeling a bit nostalgic to leave it behind, but saying that am also looking forward to making the new flat "home". Hoping to enjoy part of this day outside, so I'd best get to it!

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Get Me A Ticket For An Airplane

Have finally settled down after a busy wee week. As much as I enjoyed the Franz Ferdinand concert, it resulted in me not getting to bed until 1am, and I had to get up for a 4am flight to London. While that was among the worst wake-up calls I’ve ever had to go through, the 3 days in London (well, Surrey to be specific) was a good mix of work training and time spent in the pubs with a couple of friends whom I had been recently working with back in Fife.

Visited the town of New Lanark last weekend, a World Heritage Site that was once the home of Britain’s largest cotton-spinning complex. Robert Owen, the manger of the mill in the 1800’s, was a bit of a utopian and as such provided his workers with housing, nurseries, adult education, sick pay and my personal favourite – the social centre named the “New Institute for the Formation of Character”. This type of care for the workers during this time was quite unprecedented, and New Lanark was considered a model social experiment throughout Europe. After the mill closed, the place had fallen into disrepair but has recently been restored as a series of museums which captures the old way of life, combined with modern housing built into the old buildings. Definitely a place worth seeing and spending a lazy Sunday in. The village is also in close proximity to the Falls of Clyde and an adjoining nature reserve. The reserve contains a pair of peregrine falcons, and we were quite lucky to spot them both through the help of a ranger and his trusty telescope. Very impressive, and I definitely got the impression they were not birds to be messed with.

How you know you’ve become more British: Indian curries and sausage suppers are the takeaway of choice. Forget pizza or street meat. Oh, and you use the term “takeaway”.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Take Me Out

Many of you by now have heard the buzz about Glasgow's Franz Ferdinand, one of the more refreshingly original rock bands to emerge for ages. I mean, who'd of thought rock music could be so danceable? We somehow managed to get tickets to their homecoming gig at a mere £8 by being incredibly on the ball and buying right after they announced it. The ticket touts were asking for up to £40 by the time the sold out show arrived.

Normally I would go on about how good the show was and all the rest of it, but this time I can prove it! BBC Radio 1 was at the gig and aired it live. Better yet, the BBC website has put the show online. If you fancy giving the show a listen, click here. Trust me, it was bloody brilliant.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Wicked and Weird

When I first started to write this thing that has become H&MS, I always said I’d try to keep the music and movie feedback to a minimum. However, this entry will contain nothing but, so my apologies in advance.

First up, the Buck 65 concert I saw a few weekends back. We caught him at one of my favourite music venues, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, a smaller venue which has hosted many well-known bands over the years on their way to bigger things. Oasis was famously signed after being spotted at King Tut’s by a record exec back in the early 90’s. Anyway, for the uninitiated Buck 65 is from Nova Scotia and categorised as a hip hop artist but I think it would be more accurate to say his music is poetry recited to a mix of country and hip hop beats. Our friends over at the Juno Awards clearly had no idea how to categorise him either, as he recently won the Juno for best Alternative Album of the Year (for Talkin’ Honky Blues, a truly excellent album). If the term "alternative" was vague back in the 90’s, what is it supposed to represent now? But I digress. His music is superb, and his songs tell the tales of various characters with the vividness of the best short stories. The cleverness of the lyrics rank up there with Morrissey in my esteem. And most importantly, his live show is incredible. I believe back in Canada, he tours with a band but oversees he is a one-man show (as he called it, “three-star karaoke”). The man can certainly engage the crowd - the anecdotes and the banter were just fantastic. Highly recommended, album and live show both.

Last night we caught New York’s Scissor Sisters at the Barrowlands. I guess they could be best summed up as a cross between 70’s Elton John, the Bee Gees and the Village People. The camp factor was high, but the fact of the matter was that the songs were solid and incredibly sing-able. They clearly know how to entertain (though the crowd was so adoring they could do no wrong) and they genuinely appeared to be having a good time on stage which is always infectious. They also do a cracking cover of Comfortably Numb which makes the Pink Floyd version seem so deadly dull.

As for movies, I finally managed to see the final piece of Lucas Belvaux’s Trilogie. The individual films (titled in the UK as One, Two, and Three) are a suspense, comedic farce, and drama respectively and can each be viewed as individual films in their own right. However, the twist is that each film takes place during the same week in Grenoble, France and the main characters of one film are the minor characters of the others. And each film contains scenes from the other two films, but when viewed in the context of the film you are watching take on a completely different slant. It’s only after seeing all three films that you fully understand the motivations of the characters and the story as a whole. What you think is going on after one film will not be what you think after seeing the entire trilogy. An absolutely brilliant vision, and well worth committing the time to.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

It’s A Funny Thing About Live Comedy…

I’ve always loved going out for the evening to see live music, or theatre, or cinema. In each case I’ve made a point of getting tickets for performances I’d like to see.

For some reason though, I’ve not made a point to see stand-up comedy. Furthermore, I really don’t know anything about the scene, and can only name a handful of performers based upon hype they receive from the odd magazine article I’ve read.

And I don’t know why that is. I’ve seen the odd show here and there over the last several years and have more often than not enjoyed it.

I certainly wasn’t in any hurry to book any tickets for this year’s Glasgow International Comedy Festival. Luckily, Fiona picked up a few tickets for a bloke called Dara O’Briain, an Irish comedian who didn’t have an act per se. It was more banter with the crowd and the odd anecdote, and it was bloody hilarious. Gut-wrenchingly pee-your-pants funny. When you can make sectarian and Old Firm football jokes (emotive subjects both!) in the heart of Glasgow and get the laughs, you know you’re good.

Live comedy - something else on which I can spend my evenings and money methinks!

Friday, March 26, 2004

A Couple Of Things

Looks as though I will be remaining in my current job for a little longer yet. My contract has been renewed for the remainder of the year, with the option to resign for 2005 along with a work visa should I want to stay past my original visa duration. Decisions, decisions.

I will also shortly be moving flats in Glasgow. Fiona's brother and his wife have bought a new house, and rather than sell the flat they are living in they will be renting it out to us. A nicer flat, with new furniture and a reduced rent? Suits me. And the bonus is that it's also a tenement flat so it will still have the ambience of our current flat (something I absolutely adore).

And we've now paid for and picked up our T in the Park tickets for this year. Look at this line up already. And there are still many more artists to be announced. How excited am I? Very.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Nature’s Fury

I’ve heard it said many times before regarding Scottish weather: It’s so strange! Four seasons in four hours. Burning sunshine to howling blizzard in a blink of the eye.

While I have experienced some quirky weather in my stay thus far, it wasn’t until recently that I can fully appreciate just how fast weather can change, and just how dangerous these things can be if unprepared.

It had been decided that we would go for a walk in a valley about 20 miles north of Loch Lomond. The original plan was to climb one of Munros in the area, but the fog was quite heavy so it was decided to stick to flat land. It was spitting with rain off and on, but the forecast indicated good weather for later on in the day so we weren’t bothered. Near the beginning of the walk there was a mid-sized stream with a raised bit where you could cross. After that it was flat pastureland alongside a riverbank, under the looming company of 3000 ft. mountains and amongst the sheep. All in all quite picturesque.

About an hour and a half into the walk the rain started picking up. Then the wind. Then the rain turned to hail. Considering we had at least another two hours to go before we could complete the circuit, the decision was made to go back.

But back seemed to be a different place altogether. The rain and hail was now blowing directly in our faces so we could barely see where we were going. Within minutes the pastureland had turned into swamp. The wind was blowing so strongly that we could barely keep our bearings. Waterproof clothing can only keep so much water out – we were soon soaked through. The temperature plummeted and we were freezing cold. We eventually made it back to near the beginning of our walk where, much to our surprise, the former mid-sized stream that we had initially crossed had now become a swiftly moving river. The only way we were getting across was to take a plunge into the water and hope we could keep our footing.

I remember asking the clerk at the outdoors shop where I had bought my waterproof boots whether or not the top part of the boot was waterproof. She (cheekily) replied that the only water they couldn’t keep out was water that spills over the top. I experienced this first-hand as the river water spilled into my boots to soak the last part of me that was still dry.

We made it back to the car, and shortly thereafter to the pub where we sat like drowned rats in front of the fire nursing our pints (perhaps coffee would have been better?). Hardly near-death stuff, but as one of our party pointed out (and as a very experienced outdoorsman I take his words seriously), if we had been forced to be out there for much longer with the temperature and the damp, it wouldn’t have been long before hypothermia could have kicked in. What would have happened if someone had broken an ankle and couldn’t go on?

Just goes to show that even for simple day hikes, you just never know what the Scottish weather might throw at you. Lesson learned!

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

“On ne joue pas avec la liberté”

Despite the drama that was last Monday, it was actually a brilliant long weekend away up to Glen Coe, in the (perhaps lazily named) village of Glencoe.

Glencoe plays a pretty significant role in Scottish history as it was the place where the 1692 Glen Coe Massacre took place. In a nutshell, the ruling monarch of the time, William III, had ordered that the MacDonald clan be punished for not giving an oath of loyalty to him by a certain date. The soldiers chosen to do the punishing were from another Highland clan, the Campbell’s. Due to a Highland tradition of providing hospitality to passing travellers, the MacDonald’s had innocently invited the passing soldiers into their homes. During the night, the Campbell clan ruthlessly slaughtered all MacDonald’s under 70. Over 300 years later, this still represents a sad chapter in Highland history. The story is still emotive today - the large monument to the MacDonald clan just down the street from our B&B was full of recently placed flowers and wreaths.

Glen Coe is also home to some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Scotland. Lush valleys, lochs, forests and mountains are all within a short walk of the village, and the only tough decision we had was deciding what we should do. On the first day we took a walk amongst the former grounds of one of the founders of the Hudson Bay Company. The story goes that after years building his fortune in Canada, he had taken his Native wife back to Scotland, and had planted the forest (which consists mainly of North American trees) in order to remind her of the home she had left behind. Though as the sign said, “unfortunately, despite being such a beautiful place, she was unhappy and the couple had to return to Canada”. I thought the sign sounded a bit bitter myself.

Day two was the big walk, an eight-hour epic from Glen Coe village, past the historic Clachaig Inn (a rustic old inn that has been there forever, with very tasty home brew) and to the Lost Valley, the place where Highland cattle rustlers used to hide their coos. Somehow we managed to misread the maps and ended up not going to the Lost Valley at all, but a completely different route which actually took us up over 3000ft to Stob Coire nan Lochan, one of the Munros of the region. Regardless, the views were absolutely stunning – especially as the day was perfectly sunny and clear.

And while much of Monday was taken up with the drama of the break-in, the day was more than salvaged by the Stereolab concert that night (the tickets being something else the thief hadn’t taken, thankfully!). I’d seen the band play before a few years ago in Toronto, so I knew they were as brilliant live as they were on disc. Sadly, Mary Hansen - one of the key members of the band who sang most of the harmonies - had been killed in a road accident since then. The band had vowed not to replace her, and sure enough rather than hire another vocalist they had brought in a musician who plays the French Horn in harmony with the vocals. It was a very clever effect that worked incredibly well. Overall, the ambience of Stereolab’s music was the perfect antidote to the drama of the day.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Hail to the Thief (or, Climbing Up The Walls)

I’m sure Fiona’s 24th will rank amongst the more memorable of her birthdays. We had been away on a long weekend up to the beautiful Glen Coe region of mid-Western Scotland, and we were up early on the Monday so we could make the most out of the day before having to catch a coach back to Glasgow. When Fiona’s mobile rang early on, it was expected to be her family calling to wish her a happy birthday. Unfortunately, it turned out to be our letting agents who asked “sorry to bother you, but are you aware that your flat has been broken into?” Um, no actually.

At some point on Sunday, a neighbour had reported to the police that our back window was missing. A police officer had arrived on the scene to investigate, and concluded that it was likely an “unlawful entry” but couldn’t legally gain access to the flat without the permission of the tenants. After a bit of digging they finally managed to find the owner of the flat, then the letting agency who then contacted us. At this point nobody had any idea what had really happened, and we were still a good six hours from being able to get back to Glasgow. The worst part was definitely the unknown factor – was the flat trashed, fully cleaned out, or both? As much as one wants to avoid thinking about it, the brain forces you to speculate about things. Such as, “I can deal with losing CD’s but hope they didn’t take my passport, and if they did I’ll have to go to the embassy and…” Luckily, we were able to get the letting agency to give their keys to Fiona’s parents who would go over and inspect the flat. It took several hours before this all worked out, and after waiting several anxious hours we finally got the call Fiona’s father said people had definitely been in the flat, and that shelves and doors had been opened, but it didn’t seem too bad. We bombarded him questions – was this still there, did they take that? It seemed as though everything was still there!

We were able to get back to Glasgow by 3pm and finally saw the situation for ourselves. We live on the second floor, and it seemed as though the thief had climbed up the back drainpipe and had used tools to unscrew the bathroom window. We wandered around the flat and sure enough, stuff had been riffled through but it appeared that nothing had been taken. I’m still typing this from our home computer. Bank cards, passports, CDs, TV, mobile phone - everything was still there. When the police later arrived, they said we had been quite lucky. Usually if nothing is taken, the intruders would at least break things or leave “evidence” that they had been there (you can use your imagination on that one…). The worst that we had was the odd thing strewn about - the intruder(s) hadn’t even broken the window, they had set it down nicely on the bathroom floor. They had even moved the potted plant in the sill to one side, which I suppose was quite nice of them.

That all being said, it was hard to shake the sense of violation I felt towards my personal space. The thought of somebody walking around your place, going through all of your possessions and picking and choosing what they wanted really shook us up. We felt it necessary to do a serious bout of cleaning and laundry to get back the feeling that it was “our” flat. And then the “what-ifs” kicked in. What if we had been home? What if we were lucky only because they had been interrupted by noise from a neighbour? And now, a week later, it’s a case of moderate paranoia. At around 4am, a spoon from the pile of dishes fell over in the kitchen. We were both instantly awake, and I ran into the kitchen fully expecting (in a half-awake state) to confront somebody.

The police response certainly didn’t give me much confidence in law enforcement either. After the first officer who came on the scene determined that we weren’t home, he attempted to determine the whereabouts of the occupiers – fair enough. But in the meantime, our back window was wide open and was left as such for a full day and half until we got home. What was stopping anybody else from hopping in and helping themselves? It also took over three phone calls to the police after we got back to get anybody to show up to file a proper report. It wasn’t until the Tuesday before we had anybody come by to do an investigation and check for fingerprints. Their conclusion - “looks like the thief wore gloves”. Well, duh. Thanks Sherlock. We did get a formal apology from the police a few days later, which was nice, but I felt that they really should have helped us as opposed to us having to make so many calls to get them to do their job.

My most recent thought on the matter was my most absurd. Did the thief not take anything because they were interrupted? Or did they just walk around and conclude that nothing was worth taking? Did they browse through my CDs and think, crap? Should I be grateful, or insulted?

In the end, I know these things happen and I hold no ill will whatsoever towards the flat or Glasgow or Scotland. And at the end of the day, it was certainly the best possible result of a bad situation!

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Bingeing On Music

After a moderately slow start this year, I’ve jumped back into the pool of the music buying public with both feet. The result is seven new CD’s in about as many days. In no particular order:

Stereolab – Margerine Eclipse. An album that sounds much like the band’s last several albums, which is not a criticism. Stereolab is just so good at creating beautiful music that you almost start to take them for granted. Can’t wait to see them live in March.

LOTR:ROTK - Soundtrack. Very much a mood album, featuring the excellent movie score composed by Howard Shore. Many chills up the back of your neck moments as the music evokes some great memories from the film, notably “The End Of All Things”.

Franz Ferdinand. Debut album from the local boys who everybody seems to name-drop these days. And for good reason. The album does take a few listens to get into, but not because it isn’t immediately good. It’s just that the current single, Take Me Out, is just so bloody catchy (more-ish as the Scots would say) that you just want to keep playing the track over and over. But hey, there are another 10 excellent tracks on this album that continue to grow on me. Another band I can’t wait to see live, this time in April.

Snow Patrol – Final Straw. Another buzz band, originally from Northern Ireland but based in Glasgow so they have effectively been adopted as locals. A few excellent tracks, but overall a little too mid-90’s alt-rock for my tastes.

Lost In Translation – Soundtrack. An excellent album featuring the music from the excellent film. My Bloody Valentine may be gone, but Kevin Shields is doing his solo thing here with several great tracks. “Kaze Wo Atsumete” by Happy End is a real standout track as it encapsulates the movie perfectly (no surprise that it plays over the end credits). “Alone in Kyoto” by Air is also brilliant.

Air – Talkie Walkie. Speaking of everybody’s favourite French duo, they are in fine form with their latest. Simply a stunning listen that evokes visions of a visit to a French outpost on Mars. Gets my vote for dinner party album of 2004.

As Mike revealed to me this week, the Pixies have in fact been confirmed to be reunited and touring this year. Imagine my excitement to learn that they will also be coming to Scotland to play as part of the T in the Park festival this year? With The Darkness and David Bowie already confirmed, this year’s festival should be incredible. I’m already beginning to speculate as to who else might be playing. Weezer, Morrissey and Teenage Fanclub all have new albums out this summer after all…..