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Alien attack

I WAS attacked by an alien intruder while I sat working on this week's leader column at home late last night.

It certainly made a change from being disturbed by the neighbour's amorous cat yowling outside the back door, or the gurgling of our increasingly unpredictable plumbing. 

The attack in question was from a computer virus and it's not the first time. Always alarming when that happens, particularly when it strikes in the dead of night. I'd got the leader column written and across before the system essentially shutdown. 

Cyber attacks aside, it was good to get that out of the way as today proved to be a lively going-to-press day. Two alternative splashes (the splash is the main story a paper leads with on page 1), written and good to go, another came to our attention an hour before deadline and relegated both to supporting roles. That's how it should be - and it's always preferable to have to figure what to leave out or boil down as opposed to be scraping around for things. It's a two-section paper with tons it. To put it bluntly, knackered now! 

And the poor laptop? It's due to be picked up by one of our Ross-shire-based IT stalwarts tomorrow for a deep clean and further investigations. Meantime, I'm interpreting it as nature's way of telling me to stop working from home! 


Rubbish behaviour, man!

SO there I was, driving home from work, enjoying the early evening sunshine, when I saw this miniature explosion blasting out from the car in front. There's something you don't see every day, I thought.

It turned out it was a young lad jettisoning a half empy can of coke out of his window with a nonchalance that made me want to swerve into his path, place him in an armlock and go pick up his rubbish. I didn't do that, though. I went home for my tea, fuming at another plonker treating the countryside like a dustbin.

And then today,there I was ambling out of the gym, feeling rather pleased with myself after sweating like a pig (why do pigs, in particular, sweat? Enquiring minds need to know) on the elliptical whatsisname. I was walking behind a couple of young Dingwall Academy girls when one of them spat out a vile blue blob of what appeared to be chewing gum - about a metre from a bin.

What I did: Gave her a dirty, thoroughly disapproving look before answering the mobile phone going bonkers in my pocket.

What I wish I'd done: Picked it up using a tissue in my pocket and deposited her gum in the bin without saying a word.

I was in the front row of a Bangles gig in Glasgow at some point in the 1980s and, it has to be said, those girls could rock.

'What's that man doing, Daddy?'

A TRIO of young slackers fishing for brown trout.  A couple of dodgy looking geezers chugging from a king size bottle of beer. Outdoorsy types hooting with laughter as their dogs plunged into the water. A cycling man who could talk the hind legs off a donkey. More lazy anglers kicking back and soaking up the sun. A shady lady emerging from the bushes looking sheepish.

These were just a handful of the characters encountered over the course of a couple of hours this evening pedalling along the Caledonian Canal with Grace. The trip - undertaken at Grace's insistence following my ill-advised comment about wanting to do it 'one of these days'  - proved to be something of a revelation. The loop path between Muirtown and Dochgarroch Locks I'd say is eight-plus miles and the Geester, on her tiny bike, was a little trouper.

You pass though some gorgeous foliage along the way, glorious splashes of colour that would lift the weariest of souls. Almost skidded into one of the slacker lads' fishing lines (he was very apologetic...I just pretended I was Steve McQueen in the trip wire scene from The Great Escape and it was all good0. They were having a crack at brown trout but mostly enjoying a beer and chattering. Pretty decent way to pass the time it looked too.

Hats off to Grace for making it back. These are the sorts of epics that live on in the memory awhile. I just hope I haven't put her off cycling for life...


morning glory

Cures for insomnia 1: trying to figure why one children's computer chess game (Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster) won't work on the laptop I'm using whilst another (Chessmaster 10th Edition) one will.

What's the problem?  Software, hardware - I don't care! I just want it to work! Time to approach one of those devilishly clever IT chums of mine, I think...

Cures for insomnia 2: Getting whipped at online Scrabble by someone from Australia who can boast a top score of 750 (pretty impressive). Desperately tried to avoid her after seeing those stat... but have wound up as word fodder all the same. Might learn a few new words along the way, though...

Upside, I can see a massive, stunning rainbow at 5am and also take pleasure in the fact that I weatherproofed a piece of wooden roofing fascia last night before the heaven's opened. Lesson? Don't put off till tomorrow what you can do today.

Talking about insomnia... Here's a blast from the past

Larking at Landmark

I HAVE now resigned myself to buying a season ticket for Landmark when next we visit. And that will be very soon indeed if young Michael has any say in the matter.

Despite sustaining a bump on the head during an over-exuberant play session at the Ant City section of the Carrbridge attraction, he rallied brilliantly and fell head over heels in love with the watercoaster (pictured). It is pretty cool, though be prepared to queue at peak periods.

Barely 24 hours have passed since we returned and I've lost count of the number of times the little fella has asked when we'll be going back. It also spawned my favourite quote of the day:

Michael: 'Can we go to Landmark now?'
Me: 'We'll go again...soon.'
Michael: 'I don't want soon. I want now.'

Not bad for three and three-quarters. And he will get his way. Because when the kids are happy, everyone's happy. And I enjoyed cross-sawing a pine log with my daughter. I was fantasising about a chainsaw at the time...and they have a display of those tucked away in a shed. My favourite 'exhibit' there remains the tree that is scarred for life: by lightning. It has a beautiful, smooth, spiral 'scar' running from top to bottom. It's somehow a reminder of the precariousness of life and also the determination to hang on in there against the odds. 

Shame about Ross County. I didn't have tickets and somehow didn't want to watch on TV.I took the kids out instead (see above).  It was a  stunning achievement to get to the final and I have never - never - seen Dingwall buzzing like that in my life. I'm sure those who made the trip will never forget it, though it will perhaps be the victories over Hibs in Dingwall and Celtic at Hampden that'll live longest in the memories of those who were there. Nothing else in recent times has come close to galvanising so many people over such a relatively short period of time. Let's hope all that positive energy sparked by the feelgood factor doesn't now just  fizzle away.


chainsaw massacre

Having used a borrowed hedge trimmer for the first time tonight, I now have a craving for a chainsaw.

Seems to me it could serve a dual, win-win purpose. We had this old house surveyed for cavity wall insulation suitability at the tail end of a very cold winter. You might remember it: snow for five months and shiver-me-timbers temps for what seemed like forever. That along with subsidised loft insulation seemed a sensible thing to do ahead of the next ice age.

A very pleasant surveying team wandered around, produced lots of forms and gave the thumbs-up to the project. After several false starts, a loft guy - also very pleasant - turned up and put oodles of soft fluffy stuff in the space I frankly would prefer not to enter. I believe it to be the domain of spiders, bugs and, in all probability, mice. That was back in March.

After several more last-minute call-offs, the cavity wall team turned up last week...and then left, apologetically, explaining that a tree at the gable end of the house was too close to the structure to give them free access. A pity the surveying team failed to mention that to them before they came, I thought - and mentioned. Mind you, given that the surveyors were here four months ago, who knows what happened to their internal paperwork.

Seems the offending tree - a fir, I think - needed a severe trim. Hence the borrowed hedge trimmer. A hugely satisfying piece of kit, though not quite sufficient to sever some of the thicker branches needed chopped. So it came down to the old-fashioned shears and loppers. I may now have a rash on my hands, but the deed appears to be done.

I confess to having got quite a buzz out of the electrical appliance and began to fantasise what I might do with a chainsaw. It would have been handy for some of the copy coming my way today, I can tell you. And if the cavity wall folk have a problem with the tree on their return, well, there are all sorts of possibilities, aren't they..? 

 POPPED in to Lidl on a tip-off that they had a supply of blueberry bushes and (possibly) plum trees. We plan planted said fruit producers in our garden. Somewhere. Anyway, seems there had been a run on bushes so I emerged instead with 10 cans of Heinz tomato soup, a snip at 50p a tin. I was tempted by the fire-throwing weed killer (I kid you not), intrigued by the portable toilet and, frankly, tempted by the £7.99  'weather station'. Until I realised that they all had different readings, which can't be right.

Still on the lookout for the plum tree/blueberry bush combo, though am being put off the raspberry bush which is increasingly being portrayed as more of a pain than a pleasure. Oh, and the chainsaw.

THERE'S more: The fabulous Teenage Fanclub can be heard via the iPlayer (for a wee while) at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00s9ddl  

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Showing now at Eden Court in Inverness, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of those very rare birds: a film which is every bit as good as the book that spawned it.

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is hired by an aged industrialist to investigate the disappearance of his niece 40 years earlier.

With the help of the darkly secretive computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace, pictured below), he uncovers the shocking truth that lies behind the influential Vanger family. This gripping thriller is based on the late Steig Larsson’s best-selling book - which in itself in well worth seeking out.

It's all the more satisfying for being in the original Swedish with subtitles and will doubtless introduce some great character actors to a deservedly wide audience.

Nyqvist (below) is perfectly cast as the crusading journalist who takes on a highly unusual assignment that harks back to his own childhood - and memories of a babysitter who has since disappeared.

It was always going to be difficult to cast the central character of Lisbeth Salander given Larsson's very evocative description of her in his Millennium trilogy of books.  Rapace is arguably the perfect choice - a relative unknown who fits the bill beautifully.

The fim doesn't pull punches on some of the more violent passages of the book, hence the 18 rating.

If you enjoyed the book - and even if you didn't - go see!

Cairngorm pictures

The atmospheric waiting room in the wee train halt recreated at the Highland Folk Museum.

I remember my dad using one of these implements (the name?) to draw a circle on the blackboard at school in preparation for drilling us on the times tables (the 17 being a particular killer as I recall). Ah, happy days...

If you were lying face down on your school desk at the Highland Folk Museum, this is what the view outside would look like. None too shabby, as it happens...

'I wonder what's under here...?'

Grace ponders her handwriting...

If an olden-days radio had fallen on its side, it would look a little like this beauty, found at the Highland Folk Museum.

Black hens clucking around at the Highland Folk Museum.

I used to have a leather satchel like this (but am happily not old enough to remember the hoop-la sort of a ring toy thing). My schoolbag was much-repaired by my mum as I used to absolutely trash it. Lasted for years all the same. And then came the era of the dreaded plastic Adidas bags...

If you fell down drunk as a skunk in a Highland cottage about 50 years ago, it might have looked like this. Remember those pulleys? We had one in our kitchen and it was always laden with the clothes of five children and a couple of adults...

Have Miffy, will travel...

The Hilton Coylumbridge (on April 1). As comfy a place as any to be after a mighty dump of snow and a good base for exploring the Cairngorm National Park and all its attractions...

Carry On Up the Cairngorms (sort of)


The Highland Folk Museum at Kingussie is one of those hidden gems well worth seeking out if you find yourself ploughing up (or indeed down) the A9. A lovingly recreated schoolroom dating back to the 1920s will, I guarantee, have the memories flooding back for many. Grace here took the chance to take a seat, grab a fountain pen and practise her handwriting, making good use of the inkwell in the process. Dotted around the mile-long site - impressively open in time for the start of the season despite a massive dump of snow - are volunteers who will answer questions and gently steer you in the right direction.

Many seem fascinated by the tawse - also known by generations of schoolchildren as the belt or strap - once used by teachers to instill discipline. I recall well facing one myself, but that's another story...

An old post office, church, sweet shop (with sweeties in jars and old games for sale), period cottages, a joiner's workshop and railway waiting room are amongst other attractions. The cost for an entire afternoon's entertainment? Nothing at all.

Everything else we'd planned to check out - Rothiemurchus, the Highland Wildlife Park and the Strathspey Steam Railway - was hit by the heavy overnight snow. We shall, however return as none of them are exactly a million miles away - the idea being to check out some of the wonderful attractions on our very doorstep...

An abacus and pencils in the school within the Highland Folk Museum.



A severe weather warning, lashing rain and a forecast for heavy snow and drifting. Yup, it can only mean one thing: I'm on holiday. And there was me feeling sorry for myself with the (hopefully temporary)  loss of hearing and constant headaches...

Here's one that we went to earlier - Ponyo, Japanese anime for all the family. Had a great morning out with the children who were held rapt from the opening reel to the closing credits via all sorts of bizarreness en route. You've got to love Eden Court's small but surprisingly spacious cinemas both for comfort and choice of film.

'Ponyo, you're going to have to trust me: you're the only one who can save the planet. Do it, do it!'

No pressure then...


My little monster

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August 2011



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