Tuesday, 6 September 2016

...and we're back! The return of the Mojo.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Sometimes, it is only after something has happened that you can look back and realise what it was that was happening. At the time, you are so involved in whatever it is, that you don't actually realise what 'it' is.

Last year in 2015, after a particularly stressful and lousy three-month trip to Scotland, I decided to take a break from writing (other than the occasional blog post) and stuff like that. The 'plan' was to catch up on everything and live a serene life filled with time a-plenty to do anything I wanted to do.

The reality was that while I *DID* manage to spend a good amount of quality time on my Gaelic studies, I wasn't acheiving the countless small, simple things I wanted to acheive. Still the pile of my 'stuff' in the corner of Mum's garage is there, awaiting the week I devote to sorting it out. Still I haven't managed to set up a the website that I've been in the process of trying to set up for three years. Still it took a whole year to edit the 40 or so videos outstanding from the Scotland trip.

'If you want something done, ask a busy person' goes the saying, and this is so true. While I had made plenty of time in my life, the inclination to do anything seemed to evaporate. I went to Glasgow for three months at the end of 2015, and while the first few weeks were fun, as soon as the clocks changed and I'd done the Gaelic radio interview for which I had been preparing for months, I slumped. With nothing to get up for, it was a struggle to get out of bed during the dark mornings. By the time I was up, showered, dog walked, beds away, and breakfasted, it was starting to get dark again. The friends I had hoped to make didn't seem to materialise. That huge void of empty time I had created was not filled with serenity and creativity, it was a vacuum filled with negative and self-defeating behaviour that just seemed to get worse. This was not what I had envisaged.

As winter melted into spring, I had a college assignment to do, and I decided that I was going to 'do it properly' and take the Airstream up to the Outer Hebrides after a short stint at college on the Isle of Skye. Rather than give myself three weeks, I gave myself half that - 10 days. I also called up the Caravan Club to see if they'd be interested in an article about it. After all, it would be a nice way to try and convey how caravanning can not only be a way of taking a relaxing holiday, it can also make for an enlightening, richly cultural and educational break too.

Everything 'clicked' on this trip in April. Relationships were established, friendships cemented, roots planted, and the faster pace of the trip meant that there simply wasn't the time to get bored or stay in bed too long. There was way too much to do.

I really, really enjoyed it.

My plan obviously worked. Despite never having written any kind of academic paper in my life ever (I did all my research BEFORE I knew what Havard Referencing was, so I had to do it all again) I managed to get myself an A grade for the project.

Meanwhile, in June, I headed back up to the Hebrides, this time for six weeks. Despite the longer time frame, I had so much scheduled that the pace would, once again, be quite fast.

A funny thing happened on my way to the Hebrides. I had just downloaded a new album by a group from the Isle of Skye called 'Niteworks'. Two tracks hit me between the eyes - a Gaelic language dance/club track called 'Taobh Abhainn' with vocals by the honey-voiced Alasdair Mac Ille Bhàin, and a haunting monologue 'Somhairle' which was a recitation of 'My Island' by the poet Sorley MacLean.

I knew I wanted to make videos to both of these tracks, although after seeing Treacherous Orchestra in Stornoway with my friend Cathy, I decided to use their music to one of the two films instead.

The recitation 'Somhairle' re-awakened a creativity that had, I realised with hindsight, been dead for about three years. That kind of coincides with when my Dad became ill for the last time before his passing. Everything started to make sense. While I thought I was over the loss of my Dad and functioning normally, obviously I hadn't really come to terms with it and hadn't quite 'got over it' as quickly as I'd thought. It had taken three years.

With that fire of creativity well and truly lit, I dashed through the Highlands to squeeze in an unscheduled 48-hour trip to the Isle of Raasay - the place where Sorley MacLean ('Somhairle') was from, and a place where I knew were derelict iron works that would be perfect for the video still in my head. I also wanted to go visit 'Hallaig' for the first time, a village that was abandoned during the Highland Clearances. It took a good hour's walk in the drizzle and midgies to get to Hallaig, and it was something I don't think I would have done during the previous three years.

The rest of the trip was truly wonderful. I really need to write a proper blog post about it to do it justice. However, there is a video to the trip which also tells the story; you can see that here:

Hebrides 2016 - Full Length Version

Or there is a more concise, sub-4 minute version here:

Hebrides 2016 - Highlights

And finally, the piece that re-ignited a dormant creativity, Somhairle:

Somhairle by Niteworks

I realised once I got back down South, that the less I had to do, the less I wanted to do. Yes, to do too much is no good either, and you need to strike a balance. And that's the word, 'balance'. I realised I had actually gone too far the other way.

As such, the 'Gaelic' piece for the Caravan Club Magazine won't be the last by any means. Right now I'm away in the Airstream researching a commissioned magazine touring article. Yup, we're back!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Doing the Midnight Flit

Many of us live somewhere not too distant from a huge conurbation like London, Birmingham, or Glasgow. As such, if your journey takes you around or through said conurbation, you have to consider planning your journey to avoid getting stuck in traffic at busy times. Here in the South East of England, that means avoiding the M25 between 6.30am and 10am, and again between 4pm and 7pm.

When faced with a long journey, like my recent trip up to Scotland, I normally aim to travel in the evening when the traffic is, generally, free-flowing. I would break my journey when tired at 'Late Night Arrival Areas' on Caravan Club Sites, but I have now come to the conclusion that that is less than ideal.

On my recent trip, I was aiming to be leaving 'Base Camp' in Kent at 2pm. However, this was the state of play one hour later at 3pm:

Oops. Laundry to dry, still the bike to load, still the kitesurfing kit to tie down on the roof, and one very impatient and frustrated little puppy. So I decided to take it easy and leave after the evening rush, at about 8pm. At least it meant I had time to attend to those REALLY IMPORTANT jobs, like polishing the exhaust pipe on the bike to make sure it looked good when people were overtaking us on the motorway:

Off we sailed, cruising freely through the Dartford Tunnel and enjoying a relaxing tow around a free-flowing M25, and up the M11. As the clock approached 11pm, it was time to stop and rest for the night, so we headed for the Late Night Arrival Area at Ferry Meadows Caravan Club Site in Peterborough.

ARGH! Horror of Horrors! Upon arrival, the gates were locked, as they had been since 10.30pm. 'Murt mhòr!' I cried, my favourite Gaelic saying du moment. It means something like 'Oh heavens above!' I had no option but to overnight on the public road, fretting the night away about my unsecured kit on the car.

Six glorious weeks later, heading back from my hols, the ferry docked at Oban at 11pm and I wanted to get a few miles under my belt before facing the long day of driving South for work the next day, so I managed to keep going to Strathclyde Country Park near Glasgow where I slunk in at 2am, but thanks to the 'Driving Wobbles' I couldn't get to sleep till well after 3am. Which meant I didn't wake up till midday...

...which meant I didn't get to Cambridge until 10pm. So I slunk on to the Late Night Arrival Area, joined by a second caravan at 11pm.

Meanwhile, my antics had been causing consternation among wardens and the Caravan Club. I woke up in Cambridge to discover that this area was for people who had a booking. I didn't. Meanwhile, the people in the caravan next to me *did* have a booking, but as they were on a ferry from Holland until 9pm, they did not have the phone signal to ring ahead and warn the wardens. Which meant that their booking was cancelled and a 'Black Mark' applied to their name, which they then had to ring up and sort out with the Caravan Club and have removed, lest it annulled any future bookings. This, my friends, is the reason I don't normally book in advance. I just don't know how far I'm going to get. I still remember heading up to the Caravan Writers' Guild Event in North Lincolnshire with the kind of migraine that saw me stopping to throw up and lie in the Airstream face-down for an hour every 30 minutes. It took almost 8 hours to cover 120 miles of free-flowing motorway.

The late nights, local arrangements on sites, angst caused to myself and the hard-working and ever-patient Caravan Club wardens are, I have now decided, simply not worth it. In future I think it really is worth missing a day and keeping 'normal' hours. Yes, it will be a faff to unhitch the caravan every evening and hitch it back up again in the morning, but it will give me time to relax and unwind in the evening and a allow a decent night's sleep. There will always be the problem of having to make a booking in peak season then risking not making it if health or traffic conditions dictate, but that's something I'll have to deal with if it happens. But for now, I think setting off at 9.30am, taking a break between 4.30pm and 6.30pm, and aiming to arrive on site at 8pm (with a courtesy call to the wardens to let them know) is definitely the way forward.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Media Tart - Gaelic meets Caravan

For many years I have kept this blog about my travels and caravanning-related rambling. More recently I started this blog about the ups and downs of learning Scottish Gaelic called 'Confessions of a Scottish Gaelic Learner.'

I never thought in my wildest dreams that the two subjects would cross over and I'd end up writing the same entry for both blogs.

Yet... here it is!

My love of Scotland is no secret to anyone. After many Airstream trips to the Outer Hebrides, each one affirming my love for and connection with the place just a little bit more than before, I decided in 2013 to start learning a little bit of Gaelic in order to try to come to terms with and understand my connection a little better.

Alongside my Gaelic course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, I maintained a good relationship with the Caravan Club of which I have been a member all my adult life, and for whom I have worked on an occasional freelance and sometimes voluntary basis for over 10 years.

As my friends will testify (the very few I have left, that is), when I am passionate about something I don't shut up about it. Therefore it was only a matter of time before I was gabbling away excitedly to all my pals in the caravan industry about the wonders of Gaelic, and the profound richness it has brought to my life.

And so it was that I was invited by the Caravan Club to speak at the Scottish Caravan, Motor Caravan, and Holiday Home show this weekend. To keep a Gaelic theme, the fabulous singer and all-round Lovely Lady Joy Dunlop was invited along as the headline act to sing in Gaelic and add glamour and - er - joy to the procedings.

Nobody knew how this would go down as the worlds of Gaelic and Caravanning have never been brought together like this before. This was a chance to tell the Gaels and the rest of Scotland that the caravanning sector is worth £700 million to the economy of Scotland, and members staying on Caravan Club Sites alone spend £35 million per year outwith the site, i.e. on meals and days out, and that 70% of those visitors come from outwith Scotland. This was also a chance to bring Gaelic to the one million plus people (over 360,000 member families) in the Caravan Club.

Even before the event, the media circus started and I was interviewed about my Airstreaming and Gaelic for the Scottish Sunday Mail (Daily Record) which you can read by clicking here. 

The day before the show opened was an exciting day as I appeared on the Kaye Adams Programme on BBC Radio Scotland. That was a fantastic interview, and you can listen to it by clicking here and scrolling to approx 2:52. 

Finally, the opening of the show by Joy and myself went down very well indeed. Joy thrilled the crowds with her delightful singing and warm and bubbly personality, while I gabbled away excitedly about everything that is great about touring Scotland in a caravan or motor caravan.

You can see a great video of the event made by the Caravan Times team by clicking here. 

Not everyone in Scotland nor every Gaelic speaker is going to be fond of caravans. Neither is every caravanner going to be fond of Gaelic. However, bringing the two worlds together can only help in the promotion of mutual awareness, respect, and understanding, and that can only be a good thing.