Category Archives: Farrago

Getting Fresh

With this site having been somewhat dormant of late I’ve been hatching a plan to refine my aims and to give a new platform for what little writing I may produce.  Much of what has evolved here will be core to my new activity, but the intention is to change, for the better, and to focus on some activities to the exclusion of others.

Go on, have a look, join in, and we’ll see where it takes us:

LaidBackMuse

 

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We need to talk about

Amazon, and in particular Amazon Logistics.  How do they perform where you are?

For the fourth time in recent months the wonderful Amazon have told me that my parcel has been delivered, handed to the resident no less.  Yet here I am, wondering what’s gone wrong this time.

In days gone by Amazon provided an excellent service.  The postie arrives daily in his little red van, and those cardboard wrapped packages are handed over.  Then they moved to couriers, professional ones.  I am thinking here of Derek, who drove for DPD, and who knew his patch intimately.  He gave a one hour delivery window, an accurate one, tooted his horn on the way past, went along the road to turn, and delivered, on time, always.

Now we are consigned to the mystery that is Amazon Logistics, and those packages disappear, regularly.  Once I had a driver phone for directions.  But these days it is the wonder of the satnav that replaces human contact.

And out here in the boondocks, where each postcode covers 15 properties, some several miles apart, the Amazon Logistics driver is found out.  In goes the postcode, and the screen points out a direction.  But it is usually the wrong one.  For those 15 properties are listed alphabetically, and off our man goes, following instructions, to the house beginning with A.  And it all goes wrong.  This one has a P, and he knows that.

Delivered, k-ching, handed to the resident, named on the website.  And so the process begins again – where’s my parcel – we’ll send another, round in circles.

Occasionally both turn up, and one has to be returned, now at the expense of the customer of course.

The latest delivery success came the following day, via the school bus, after the wrong address sent it to school, to be handed over and brought home by Girl Urchin, oblivious of course to those at Amazon and their Logistics team.

The latest has disappeared, even the school bus cannot solve the problem.

And get this, the solution from Amazon, is to cancel and refund.  We’re not sending any more they say, as they’re unlikely to arrive.  But feel free to re-order….

So there you go, Amazon, having been provided with all the reasons for the delivery failures, despite the information they have of safe arrival, now prefer to look after their current delivery arrangements, and to tell their long-standing customers that they won’t make rural deliveries.

Well guess what Amazon, having cancelled all the open orders in the system, there will be no more.  No longer will I turn a blind eye to the conditions and pressures on the staff in your sheds; no longer will I value the purchasing power of your prices.  You refuse to deliver; I refuse to buy.

If you insist in using unprofessional drivers, who have not the gumption to deliver correctly but instead feed bull back to the Amazon system; if you cannot see that delivery is the prime issue of customer service; if you cannot arrange an alternative delivery through those who have provided a proven and excellent service to you for years, then the buyer will beware.

So how do Amazon do where you are?  Live rurally, off the beaten track?  Don’t leave your online purchases to the whims of Amazon Logistics, their satnavs and their drivers.  And don’t even dream that customer services will come to your rescue.  Another month of the Prime you have already cancelled is not a solution.

Amazon – we won’t deliver

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An Island In The Sunlight

A couple of books crossed the table recently, and as often is the case one leads on to the other.

First up was Islands, a grand piece of research by Canadian J Edward Chamberlain.  He takes us through time, from Formation to the Origin of Species; and around the globe, from Galapagos to Rockall, Jamaica to St Kilda.

From there he dips into island tales, inevitably touching on Defoe and Stevenson and so much more.  A short book, packed with goodies.

Another island beckoned.  As my addiction to Saturday night sub-titled drama grows I found myself in Iceland for a few weeks.  Unlike the Danish dramas it is particularly difficult to pick up the gist of the Icelandic without those words at the bottom of the screen.  But it managed to bring a series of darkness and gloom, long nights and harsh days, to brighten  a Scottish winter.

I came across Sarah Moss’ Names For The Sea during the school holidays, urged by Urchins to drop into a bookshop, for them of course.  Right from the opening pages I knew I was going to enjoy Sarah’s tales.  Planning to move the family to Iceland for a year, and arriving at the same time as the IMF, she packed some essential boxes.  From the kitchen came the sort of ingredients that have the drool rising, from pomegranate syrup to sumac, cumin too; and the one box of books allowed left thousands on the shelf.  Instantly appealing.

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And so to Iceland we go, family of four, children young, for a year.  Long summer days; hot pools; long dark winter; unpronounceable names; and an economy in a bit of a crisis.

We learn early on that our guide is a Professor of Creative Writing, raising expectations of the read in store.  She is teaching in Iceland for a year, including on travel writing.  Higher still.  She does not disappoint.

Between taking the job and arriving the crash of Icesave has done untold damage.  The purchasing power of a local salary makes much of the little that remains in the shops unaffordable, and immediately the family is on the back foot, whilst trying to integrate and to learn.  But they are welcomed, and help is at hand.

The boys pick up the language, as their parents struggle and the locals revert to faultless English.  The cycle of the seasons rolls on and light becomes dark; layers added to the clothes.  Eventually walking and cycling is impossible and they succumb to driving.  It seems that indicators are surplus to requirements on the city free-for-all.  The lava roads through the hills bring other challenges.

There are sagas to hear, and knitting to marvel at.  And there are elves and hidden-folks which makes me think of a dear friend who would love those tales and pick up those vibes.  The local customs are different, from speaking on the out-breath to food; from studying to raising families.  The Yule Lads sounds to be my sort of winter festival.

During those post-crash years Iceland suffered, as foreign currency mortgages became unaffordable, and the diet went back to local produce with limited imports within the purchasing power.  But from there the country grew, as we find out later.

As the time on the island draws to a close there is another event.  Remember The Ash Cloud?  Well that keeps people stranded, visitors away, departures delayed.  Eventually the family gets back to England, to move house again, from Canterbury to Cornwall.  And as the summer tourists flock to the south west a holiday is due, and back they go to Iceland; to old friends and familiar places, to parts unvisited too.  The boys lose the language as quickly as they picked it up.  But they have purchasing power this time, and prices are affordable.

I think I’d like to spend time in Iceland, and certainly enjoyed reading these well-told tales of the Moss family’s year.  Could you do it, if you had the right job opportunity?

So with islands to the fore, and dreams of summer, I’ll sign off with the current ear worm;  enjoy The Island:

 

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All Bark and no Bite

Being a quiet, indeed calm, day it seemed a good time to refresh that need to hug a tree.  Those old Cadzow Oaks are still standing, still glorious, having seen it all before.

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However a walk in the woods, a solitary one, provides a bit more than being up close and personal with a bit of rough, with soft bark, ancient or otherwise.  The steep slopes of Chatelherault were alive with birdsong that still morning, some identified, though most not; plenty of chirpy chirpy cheep cheep.  But when alone in the woods there is no troll peeking out from the dark depths under that wee bridge; no retort, not even a second line to the suggestion that a mouse may have taken a stroll somewhere in those woods, deep and dark.

Instead there is quiet and solitude.  Far below the waters burble over boulders; a dog barks and a goose honks.  The two may or may not have been related.  A woodpecker flits from one ancient tree to another, drilling away with no respect for the standard of his trunk call.

By the oaks new-born lambs frolic in the sun; tails a-wag; bouncing on all fours as they do.

On into the woods, sodden in places, ample evidence of seasons getting ever wetter and windier.  Fallen trees.  Thick mosses.  Glaur.

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I return to the oaks from some distance towards the White Bridge, back across the sett where the badgers lie sleeping, plans changed.  Though this is no broadway the lambs lie down and an ear worm runs through my head.  Duke’s Monument, that’s a grand wee wander; less muddy perhaps.  Or not.

But time passes when lost with your own thoughts.  Its one o’clock and time for lunch, dum de dum de dum.  By the time the gazebo takes shape in the trees, past the stand of silver birch, all barky yet still bare; by then I realised that the car was some distance away; that time was not on my side.  The school bus might beat me home.  There may be trouble ahead.

Back through the mud, past the oaks again, was not an option; though a hug might help.  Onwards it had to be.  Childhood haunts.  Back then walls could be climbed; the path between the bings.  Now there are houses.  The long way round then, until eventually the Old Avon Bridge appears.  From there it is an uphill slog back to the car.  Legs complain.

But all was well.  And even the soup was finished by the time the bus appeared.  I’d forgotten they were going to be late, a day out at the Learning Hub, playing with computers.  Still, just wait till they hear what was under the bridge.  Two weeks off school looming; they might take a stroll in the deep dark wood; and hug a tree or two.

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From Goatfell to Tinto

No, it’s not the latest long distance walk, but both are landmarks on the horizon from the recently denuded slopes of Side Hill.  After gazing longingly on the summit, noting the hard core track that means tramping through the heather and bog is a thing of the past, we finally managed to find a window in the weather and the chores to take a wander in the crisp air on the cusp of spring.

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Before the road was out of sight a trio of roe deer bounced across the moor, below the tree line.  They stopped, motionless, only their heads rising above the grasses and the shrubs, unseen if you had missed their movement moments earlier.  Perhaps they had been driven to lower levels with the higher slopes now being shorn of trees, and of shelter.

Pockets of snow remained, and in the drainage ditches the water trickled slowly under and around the remaining ice, as the road meandered through the remaining stand of seriously tall mature timber.  Slowly the undergrowth was recovering from the brutal slashing for the access route.  Reeds evidenced the need for ditches; new shoots were slowly taking the form of the spruce, already layered with a few years of growth.

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But the upper slopes were bare, forested only with stumps, and the residue of deforestation.  In the past there have been occasional sightings of adders on these slopes.  Aside from those deer we saw nothing, and heard little.  The return through the trees was accompanied by some birdsong, settling as the sun lowered.

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On reaching the higher levels the absence of trees opens new horizons.  We rise far above the granite plug of Loudoun, and its impact on the landscape fades from the familiar, and dominating, views down below, so it is the snow-pocked ridge of Goat Fell that draws the eye.  Then Cairn Table down Muirkirk way catches the sun; and swinging to the south we find Tinto, basking, snowless, despite being the highest by some distance.

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To view those horizons though you have are hard pushed to find a line of sight devoid of turbines.  The access to Side Hill, and on to Dungavel, was dictated by the need to site a baker’s dozen; the view to Cairn Table is through and above the Banked turbines.  There are pockets in every direction, near and far.  And along the whole horizon to the north lies Whitelee, where they seem to breed.

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Our wander on the hill gave us one distant view of another walker.  As yet the cyclists are absent, probably at Whitelee where they are positively encouraged and have 80km of hard core routes to play on.  From the higher levels I spotted a track up to Mill Rigg, and there is another access route there for the Bankend turbines.  In my 20 years here I have yet to take that path, to wander along to the wreckage of the Spitfire that rots and rusts.  I am minded that I haven’t opened a flask of soup in Dungavel’s cairn since the dawning of the millennium.  But those slopes of Dungavel and of Mill Rigg are still encased in spruce; and I’m beginning to think that returning our hills to the natural is making for a better horizon, even if it is peppered with windmills.

I reckon that Side Hill might just be a regular path for us, chores  and weather permitting of course.

 

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Notes From The West Bank

It was one of those days; wild, windswept and very wet.  The soup pot for the week ahead had been filled, bread cooling from the oven; and there was a rose-petal & sumac-encrusted leg of lamb demanding that some fresh air and exercise aid the digestion.  It was the sort of day when will-power was needed every bit as much as the wellies and waterproof trews.  I recalled a walk made not long ago, and a promise to return, when the water levels were higher, and on the opposite bank.  So off I went.

Parking the car at West Lodge, a couple of miles outside Kirkfieldbank, I headed into the woods, leaving behind the buffeting wind.  Calm descended as I plashed through the puddles.  As the noise of the winds receded so a distant thunder grew.  The water levels had risen.

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The path took me past the remnants of Corra Castle, which dated back to mid 14th century and itself had some tales to tell.  The remaining walls rose atop a sheer cliff, way above the river below; just the sort of place Stoker may have had in mind.  Young Martha Bannatyne, after the greatest wedding that ever took place in Lesmahagow and five days of feasting by the Clyde, raised the drawbridge, imprisoning her lover who had been intent on joining Charles II and his advance on England.  I can’t imagine he complained, too much.  That was back in 1651.

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Since then many others had walked this path.  In the days when Wordsworth penned some doggerel – In Cora’s glen the calm how deep/That trees on loftiest hill/Like statues stand, or things asleep/All motionless and still. – the water surpassed what I saw even on this drenched day.  For the current is harnessed now for hydro, and no longer is it Scotland’s Smoke That Thunders but a few miles from Livingstone’s birthplace.

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The river drops 100ft, in three stages; but it is the sheer cliff face, rising a further 130ft above the waters that close in, sheltering the glen from the tempest raging above.  Coleridge visited, as did Scott; Turner painted, Jacob More too.

There is a new viewpoint below the falls on the west bank, at a much lower height than that well-tramped path opposite.  A copper carpet led me there, and as I turned and headed back up the hill, through the woods to falls at Bonnington Linn, so it became bronze, then  golden, as the oak and then the sycamore replaced the beech of the lower levels.

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The paths were silent, and at intervals three dogs walked their keepers in the wet.  An ancient lab toted a stick the width of the path and I stepped aside as she shuffled onwards.

The falls at Bonnington thunder down ledges, draping dark cliffs in mist; twin falls, creating a tree-crowned island.  From there I took the upper path, circling back to the lodge and a warm flask.  The last rays of the first sun of the day filtered through the trees and the  sky turned from pewter to match those beech-carpeted paths below.

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If there is a better wee woodland walk in Lanarkshire I really would like to hear about it.

 

 

 

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A Real Pain in the

…neck.  No, it’s not another piece of introspection or self analysis, though some may disagree.

Spondylosis.  That’s what it is, and at times it is indeed a very real pain in the neck.  For some years now I have managed the effect with herbal remedies from my friends at Ayurvedic who send supplies from India.  These have always proved to be safe, and free of side effects; and they work.

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I know from experience that a daily dose of my regular tablets has been sufficient to keep the pain at bay.  In times where it worsens I revert to the recommended two tablets per day.  And my fall back for those now thankfully rare occasions where the suffering intensifies has been a rub with some wonderful oil from the same source.

Earlier in the year I realised my supply of tablets had run out.  Being macho I thought I’d struggle on, see how it was, as if the daily dose over a number of years may have built up the defences and provided a long term cure.  But it was not to be and I had to re-stock, building up my resistance once again.

In recent weeks the problem has intensified, and the oil had been a regular rub, a couple of times each day.  When spondylosis gets to this stage there is pinpoint accuracy to the area in question, and the oil has provided real relief, which means I can get on with other things without any noticeable increase in the suffering of others who may encounter the male of the species in full low pain threshold mode.  Think of it like man-flu without the snot.  Oh how we suffer, in silence or otherwise.

Anyway, the oil ran out, so off we went with a few clicks of the mouse to arrange a delivery.  Into the cart it went.  Then we got to the checkout.  Log in, call up the details.  You know the process.

But what I didn’t expect was a red-lettered legend at the top of the screen.  It is 2015 now, and no longer it seems, can a few 50ml bottles of safe herbal liquid be shipped from the sub-continent to the former mother country of the Raj.  Not to the UK.  Merde.

I can only assume that this change in policy goes back to the issues that sees us all removing our shoes at airports and keeping toiletries to small bottles or checked into the hold.  I’m probably now marked as a security risk by the Big Brother Police, a potential importer of dangerous substances.  Hell they might even read these words.

Just think about it, 50ml bottles, checked in the hold.  I could carry it on as hand luggage, to anywhere.  But this fine country of ours will not accept a tiny consignment coming from another fine country.

Meantime I’ll just keep taking the tablets; and be a real pain in the neck.  Nothing new there then.

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