Thursday, 28 February 2008

Finishing books

As most people close to me know, I am a prolific reader. Mainly of sci-fi and fantasy books, and I am not the most discerning of readers, usually devouring whatever I pick up (probably the only really notable exception being Ian M Banks - I just can't get through the first few chapters of his books.)

I'm not a very discriminating reader - obviously, there are stand-out books that just take your breath away, but I get equal levels of enjoyment from a 'trashy' fantasy book (full of cliches, plot point a-z storyline, cardboard characters) as I do from something that is well written and well grounded.

Every time I finish a book for the first time, I have to take a few minutes to regather myself. It's not something I have to do on re-reading a story, but the first time one ends, I feel a deep sense of loss. I have been transported into another world, with characters that are as real to me as those that I meet. When something good happens to those characters, I am overjoyed. When something bad happens, I feel the emotion (to the point that I had to stop reading on the train this week as I was about to cry in public). And when the book finishes, all of that is over. I will never again get the exploration into the unknown - I may re-read the story, but it will now be familiar - I know what will happen before the characters do. The enjoyment will still be there, as will the escape into another world, but it will not be the same.

So, if you see me sitting still with a closed book in my hand, let me rest quietly for a few minutes. I will tell you all about the book shortly, but for now, I need to mourn.

Scotland the Wonderful

It has been a while since posting - apologies! We've been away for a while (5 days in Scotland, and then the following weekend down to the in-laws), so I've not had much of a chance for posting.

Scotland was amazing. Every time I visit, I am struck by the beauty of the country - I have been in love with it since my first visit about 15 years ago. If it wasn't for the fact that it gets so cold (I don't *do* cold at all...), I would be up there permanently.

We were there for the wedding of two of our friends, at a gorgeous location right on the edge of Loch Lomond. John and I were very lucky - our room at the hotel looked out over the loch...

This was the view from our bedroom window.

This was the sunset on the Friday evening two minutes' walk from the hotel.

The wedding itself was brilliant - Sarah looked amazing in her dress, complete with grey cloak and elven circlet, and she turned into a warrior princess whilst weilding the knife for cutting the cake! (I'm sure she scared the photographer...) She went up the aisle to the Dance Macabre, and I really hope that she has the same reflex grin that I get when listening to the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba.

There was a ceilidh afterwards, and John and I danced our socks off! Obviously, as the wedding was in Scotland, there were a few experts, and I don't think that the caller was quite prepared for the number of people who really didn't know what they were doing (as evinced by the fact that he had to stop calling at one point because he was laughing so much!) But it was great fun - the first time I've ever seen people dancing the Gay Gordons to "Postman Pat" - the music mutated in the middle of the dance, and watching the "It can't be... It is!" look spread across people's faces was fantastic.

After the wedding, the group of six of us from the South West stayed in the Loch Lomond area for a couple of days, having hired a car, to make the most of our time in Scotland. We stayed at the Oak Tree Inn, a pub/hotel that I can't recommend highly enough. The staff were so friendly and helpful, the food was amazing (I am determined to ferret out their recipe for Mars Bar Cheesecake...), and the location was stunning. And, as we were there out of season, there were very few people around - once we strolled down to the loch, the only sounds we could hear were the birds singing. Even better, from my wildlife loving mindset, was that the birds had not had enough negative contact with people to be scared of them. We were used as chasing posts for a male chaffinch determined to catch up with his lady love (sadly no picture of this - they were too fast), a robin guarding his territory:

a very inquisitive raven:

two swans who wanted to dabble like ducks:

A chicken who wanted to cross the road:

an island full of cormorants:

as well as wrens, blackbirds, ducks and gulls.

The loch was just gorgeous, and we were so lucky with the weather - blue skies and sunshine for pretty much the whole holiday. I think we all turned into slight artists with our cameras, all looking out for good shots :-) The scenery was so peaceful - the landscape really humbles you, the mountains telling you, "We were here a thousand years ago, we will be here in a thousand years' time. Your day to day stresses and strains really don't make a difference to us." It really helped to be able to wrap that peace around me, and to think that whatever happens, the mountains will always be here. (and yes, for the pedants amongst us, I know that geologically speaking, they won't, but for a recordable period of time, they will...)

Here are some of my favourite photos, capturing the peace and the colour of Loch Lomond.

PS - I worked out how to get photos working in posts! ;-)

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Car off the road again...

It definitely hasn't been our year for motoring! To start with, there was the accident, then a near month without a car before we bought the Toyota. Then, at the beginning of January, the brakes failed on the car - they went in a rush from being fine when we drove to the pub, to not feeling right when I drove home a few hours later, to having pretty much no braking power at all the next day. A trip to the garage confirmed that the reservoir that holds the fluid had split, and there was nothing left... Fortunately, a couple of £100 later, the car was back on the road. Till Friday night.

John picked me up as normal from Parkway just before half six, and we started heading home, chatting as we usually do about the events of the day and the plans for the weekend. We stopped at the red lights of the pedestrian crossing to allow some people to cross the road. As they reached the pavement, the car behind us failed to notice either the red lights, or the fact that we were stationary, and with a loud bang, went straight into the back of us. Fortunately, first off, no-one was hurt (though John and I have both had a bit of stiffness, neither of us have developed full blow whiplash. Even though one of my colleagues has told me to claim for it anyway (which I think is immoral and wrong!) - I don't have the time to be laid up with neck pain...), and there was no-one left on the crossing. We were able to exchange details, just about, with the Russian man who had been driving. He had his insurance certificate with him, which I think is a good thing, as he barely understood what we were asking for! (John believes that he was smelling of dope as well - I have a very heavy cold at the moment, and can't smell a thing, so I can make no comment).

As with my accident, I was so suprised by the number of people who stopped to see if there was anything they could do to help; the First Aider, who came straight over, first of all to see if anyone was hurt, and then secondly to direct traffic around the accident till we could move the cars. She left without me saying thank you. The couple who had been crossing, who not only lent me a pen so that we could write down details (first time in ages I'm not carrying pen and paper on me...), but also gave us their contact details so that if there were any issues they could corroborate the fact that we were stationary and at the crossing (they didn't see the accident itself, but had clocked that it was us letting them go past).

Even better, or so we thought, the Toyota was still driveable - the bumper was a bit dented, the boot squashed a bit out of shape, and the lights, although still attached and not broken, were hanging off (they sort of popped back in, but would need a bit of tape to actually keep them on at any speed). So at least our weekend plans (which involved driving to Swindon for a Fforde Ffiesta meeting, and going to a friend's for pancakes on Sunday) wouldn't be disrupted.

Unfortunately, the insurance company begs to differ - apparantly slightly loose lights and a possible dodgy boot means that the car is automatically unroadworthy. And, even more galling, because of the age of the car, it is also likely to be a write off :-( They are sending out an engineer today.

Fortunately, we are not as stuck as we were last time - the insurance provides for a courtesy car, and hopefully it will not take as long to sort out.

On a much brighter note - the sun is shining, and, after a very heavy frost this morning, it is glorious outside. I just wish that I carried my camera out with me - the pigeons were bathing in the fountains on Bristol City Centre this lunchtime - some standing right under the spray, and all looking like they were very glad of the Spring time bath!