Saturday, September 23, 2006


Sometimes I'll be in a place or situation and my mind will dwell on the notion that I really should be savouring the moment, remembering the details and so enable me to write about it later. A 'blog moment', perhaps. I imagine other blogging types get that feeling too. As I've said before, I don't want Join The Road to become a diary, but as a bunch of descriptions of happenings in (my) life, what is it but a diary?
Back at the beginning of this week, by a strange set of circumstances going on around me, I found myself out on the south downs walking my friend's dog. He having taken his son to school, and his wife having gone to work, could I take the dog for a walk? I readily agreed and then quickly proceeded to get completely lost. Of course the dog, a pure-bred border collie, wouldn't have cared if we were stranded all day. For him it simply meant a longer trek, complete with more sticks to be thrown and more opportunites to get nice and muddy. It was a Sunday morning, blazing sunshine. Keeping to proper footpaths we walked through open fields full of sheep - and watching the way they parted as we passed through, bleeting as they ran - made me feel like I had somehow travelled back in time. It felt like such an iconic image, the sort that you see on TV whenever they need to stamp 'countryside' in your mind, and there I was right in the middle of it, with a proper sheepdog no less!
Adding to the time travel idea was the noise in the sky, specifically the fiery roar of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine as Spitfire fighters flew overhead. Somewhere nearby was a Battle of Britain re-enactment, and a few pilots were out on an early morning sortie to thrill me and probably half of Sussex too, wheeling in the sky and making that unmistakable silhouette in the blue morning sky. It was utterly thrilling. It was sobering too, thinking how my walk in this wonderfully contoured countryside was arguably only possible because of the guys who'd flown those machines so bravely so many years ago.
Can you see how this walk was becoming one of 'those' moments? Just lots of little wonderful events conspiring into one great morning, something so inocuous suddenly becoming so essential. I wasn't really lost at all.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Driving through the clouds

I visited Scotland last week. My first time this far north in Britain, witnessing such delightful scenery from the elevated position afforded by the lofty passenger seat of a Citroen van. Perhaps I had a little travel itch to scratch after that 'Thank You' post recently, but whatever the reason, I readily accepted a friends' request to accompany him on a weekend trip to Kirkcaldy, just across the firth of Forth from Edinburgh.
It was only going to be a short trip with an overnight stay, so why bother with the expense of accomodation when you have your own metal floor to sleep on? If you're going to sleep in a van then you might as well cook in it too, and that philosophy goes some way to explain the above photograph - for there we were setting up a couple of camping chairs and making a lovely brew of tea in a rather windswept lay-by somewhere in the wilds of Northumbria. Without me in that photograph it is perhaps difficult to picture the sight which greeted other motorists as they came along the road, that of two grown men sitting in the late-afternoon mist drinking tea. I honestly don't think I've ever felt so English.
It's not easy to think of Scotland as a foreign country, but upon entering a pub the differences become very clear. I've never made the acquaintance of so many random people as I did that evening, whether being cajoled into karaoke singalongs from the comfort of the bar, or being quizzed in a most friendly fashion by people with the most unfathomable accents. Any preconceptions I had were swiftly confounded by the sight of girls swirling around in 1950s-style pleated skirts (and how pretty they are!), a good few pints, and the mightiest curry Kirkcaldy had to offer.
The journey back was in contrast to the previous day's travel. An ominous sky began to throw rain at us as we opted for the motorway rather than the bendy B-roads in an effort to save time. This time the journey was beautiful in a different way. Here we were dwarfed by mountains on either side of us as we followed the motorway snaking its way towards home. A combination of atmospheric conditions and our elevation meant that at certain times during this part of the journey we actually drifted in and out of the clouds. One moment they were hanging just above the roof of the van, the next moment we were plunged into the swirling mist to suddenly descend out of it again seconds later. It was such a strange detached feeling. The motorway was busy with other traffic but we might as well have been completely alone, allowed to drift skyward for a few precious moments as the road fell away beneath us.