Monday, April 30, 2018

Ullapool, Wester Ross, Scotland

There was once a hotshot lawyer in London, England and he worked hard and smart and made enough money to enjoy a new hobby so he bought 7,000 acres of land in the Highlands of Scotland near the small  (pop 1500) fishing town of Ullapool. 

My father was as happy as I have ever seen him when he took me on road trips to his farming land almost at the northwest top of Scotland. We talked in the car and he told me of incidents in his long life, cycling through Nazi Germany before World War Two and visiting the Spanish Civil War. 

In the fullness of time the laywer died and his young second wife died young leaving behind their young daughter who had gone to Agricultural College but had no money or experience to run her farming enterprise. But  twenty years later she had three children a husband and a viable business. And also a brother who came to visit from America.

Which visit is an excellent excuse for a walk on the heather covered hills. So they put together a picnic and got Scotty to drive his family up the hill on a bouncy Land Rover track. 

We rode to the top of the mountain where Scott dropped us off and drove back to work.

Lucy the three kids and two dogs and myself set off for East Rhidorroch estate across the peat marshes following a rough track. 

The walk required fuel so when eight year old Brenna  suggested it was time for a picnic we found a rocky knob and sat on it. 

And there down below was our goal:

East Rhidorroch and our adventures there will come later. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

England On Autopilot

After landing at London Gatwick Airport and going for a short ride through the countryside of my youth I have to remind myself “the past is another country; they do things differently there.”
I was born in Dorking and spent my early years in an idyllic corner of England now known formally as The Surrey Hills an area of outstanding natural beauty? Who knew? To me it was just the place I was confined, up a steep hill hard to bicycle, during vacations away from my real home - boarding school. But this piece of England south of London still is utterly beautiful even on a 40 degree (7 Canadian) overcast damp day. 
The flight on British Airways from Fort Lauderdale was wonderful. The plane was empty in the rear so I had room to spread out. The staff were professional and reserved, the food was good, the temperature of the cabin perfect, and there were more movies than I could imagine.

No need for WiFi and no need even to watch my own downloads on my phone. I was still on my night shift schedule so I didn’t sleep much but the eight hour flight was a breeze. 

We arrived a half hour early which was all to the good as I had a six hour layover and plans to rent a car for a quick drive. I pulled out my British passport and made my way to the U.K. EU line for quick processing. Normally I travel on my US passport but because both countries allow dual nationality and because I was traveling alone I entered the U.K. as a British Citizen. My wife the American would get pissed if I left her behind in the foreigners processing queue...
My first surprise was passport control. There were no immigration officers - just a line of booths.  You put your biometric passport on the screen, look at the camera without squinting or moving and after R2D2 takes your picture the gate opens and in to England you go. The bag pickup was the same. Help yourself from the carousel. Customs? No one to be seen in the nothing to declare room. No sullen suspicious glances no random baggage checks from angry customs officers. And there you are in Gatwick Airport struggling to find the car rental and completely free to cause chaos across the lovely British countryside. 
Remember in Britain they still drive the way everyone did originally before Napoleon and Hitler switched their vassal states to the right. That is you have to drive stick shift with your left hand on the gears and your steering wheel on the right side of the car. Yeah even though I grew up learning to drive like this I was glad it was 7am Sunday morning and there was no one around. Just getting out of the lot was a trick trying to remember there was four feet of car on my left and the roadway in the parking lot  was narrow. 
I only screwed up once on an expressway dawdling in the right lane pissing off a delivery driver as in England you must pass on the right unless an idiot tourist forgets he’s supposed to be on the left. And no right turns on red traffic lights. That would freak  them out. And drive real fast all the time even if the road is only as wide as your car.
The other odd thing was that all service jobs, bars gas station ($8 a US gallon) and store clerks were done by people with accents from the European Union. What jobs the native English do I couldn’t say between automation and immigration.  It was very odd. But in any event...
Welcome to England!  And now I fly to Scotland. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Water Scenes

I was at the end of the Old Bahia Honda Bridge Thursday morning alone with my dog and camera.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Night Commute

Tomorrow evening I will be sitting, I hope, in an aeroplane bound for London. In two weeks I will be back once again walking Rusty whom I shall miss very much, riding my scooter to work and glad no doubt to be back in the bosom of my family. I will try to post here as my phone and the blog app allow, and if my pictures are of interest my Instagram account:  michaelconchscooter will get regular updates. I will be in Scotland a few days with one sister and in Italy for a few more days to see my other two sisters. I plan to take lots of pictures.
Meanwhile I have been thinking quite a lot about how much I enjoy commuting with my Burgman 200, my first ever Japanese scooter.   It gets 70- 80 miles per gallon and has a top speed of 75 mph with another 5 possible in neutral conditions. The winds lately have been blowing hard but I have no trouble passing distracted drivers on Highway One. I liked this Australian billboard found on the web:
My commute starts about 50 minutes before I have to start work. For a 6pm shift I try to be ready by 10 minutes after five, loaded with my man purse and my lunchbox I say good bye to Rusty who sits at the top of the stairs looking pathetic as I put my bags under the seat of the Suzuki and put on my helmet and gloves.
I roll out onto Spanish Main the main artery that connects my neighborhood to US One. It's a subdivision filled with pirate names for some reason, a bored bureaucrat or one with a  peculiar taste in imaginative street naming. My house is almost a mile from the Overseas Highway and along the way normally one will see a human or two walking their dogs in the same places in the same way every day. In winter they crowd the street from their trailers in the neighboring Venture Out trailer park.
Riding to work between five and six in the evening I get to see the sunset in its various stages before and after time changes, different times of year, under vast cloud anvils and through wispy cirrus and sometimes in all shades of pink and orange and red. In December I find myself in a race with darkness to get to work before the sun drops out of sight. Those are the times I remind myself why I have worked nightshift for 14 years and, after I was sent to nights as punishment for insubordination (I was rude to the boss's daughter) I never wanted to go back to days. These days I'm the senior dispatcher and I work the shift I want.
The other reason to work nights is the lack of traffic.In winter there seems to be traffic everywhere all the time and all of it driving very slowly and distracted. However eight months of the year I drive the wrong way against the commuters and my ride to and from Key West can often be a pleasure, an empty road, the highway to myself. The hardest thing is to find an opening to pass if I do get stuck behind a solitary wool gatherer behind the wheel of a car.
When I arrive at work there is normally my choice of parking spots as all the administrative staff, all the day shift have gone and there are open spaces all round the police station. Plus my scooter doesn't have to sit out in the sun fading the paint and wrecking the seat. I am a vampire: by the time the sun does come back up I am most of the way, if not all the way home.
I love riding the empty highway especially after a short overtime shift which often sees me on the road around two in the morning:
I can ride the 14 miles home without seeing another vehicle after I leave Big Coppitt. That's the place the last of the cars from Key West usually peel off and go home. It takes dedication to live at Mile Marker 23 out beyond the outer darkness that closes in on the highway after Big Coppitt.
When there's a decent sized moon the waters either side of the highway glisten silver, while the mangrove islands crouch impenetrably black alongside the road. Sometimes I stop in the middle of one of the innumerable straight stretches and I sit astride the Burgman scooter and listen to the darkness.
The lights of Cudjoe Key mark the Sheriff's substation at Mile Marker 22 followed shortly thereafter by the Kickin' Back convenience store. I paused for a picture to take advantage of the lights though this isn't a twenty four hour store and it was long since closed for the night:
Then it's another mile of highway and the final mile of Spanish Main back to my side street. Rusty awaits usually and expects a quick neighborhood walk before I repair to the deck and sip rum and look at the night.
All this riding requires occasional maintenance and though I usually turn to JK Motorsports on Stock Island for my wrenching, I will do a quick oil change as needed. Pretty soon Jiri will have to order a tire for me as the rear is wearing down. I've put more than three thousand miles on the Burgman since March 17th. Not bad. I like this scooter, handy in town and powerful enough to pass cars on the highway even if they decide to try to prevent me.
Why people spend so much time worrying about other people passing them I'll never understand. If you want to go fast be my guest, but if you don't please don't get mad if I want to ride faster than you want to drive. Because my Burgman 200 won't hold you up if I do pass you. I've ridden this road enough to know every nuance, believe me.