Ringo almost buys van Gogh’s Sunflowers: Our Scottish wanderings (2005)


Pigeon expert dies, aged 86

is why I love opening our front door each Thursday afternoon. Roxy trots down from her bed and the Hertfordshire Advertiser awaits, convulsing with similar stories. Despite this county heaving with a million folks, one lead headline blazed the engagement of a local lass to Jason Priestley of Beverly Hills 90210 fame- proving that St Albans is where Hollywood D-list dreams can come true! Time is short so I’ll just list the main narrative elements of my favourite article; this one, I swear, a genuine tale of the galactically stupid:

a video camera

secluded woodland near Hemel Hempstead

petrol-filled fluorescent light tubes (exploding)

Star Wars fans hospitalised with critical burns and lacerations.

On the hottest May day in fifty years (a humid 33 degrees) our hire car’s air-conditioning didn’t work- the vents but flatulating pigeons, we left for Scotland’s Invertrossachs. Awaking to a soggy Saturday we explored the surrounding Highlands; particularly Perthshire’s Balquhidder Church and its eminent gravestone. Rob Roy’s (1671-1734) tomb inscription- ‘McGregor despite them’ exemplifies these brusque Scots as did King Robert the Bruce at the media conference after his team thrashed the visiting opposition at the Battle of Bannockburn in the 1314 season opener. When quizzed about the victory he uttered that they’d simply sent the English, ‘home tae think again.’

Circumnavigating Loch Lomond we found acute contrasts. Whilst boats slid soundlessly across the inky depths; sky and mountains completed a staggeringly appealing canvas. However, like a reality TV show in which the public votes for the most repulsive misfits to join a freak circus, I present the village of Luss. Clinging to the Loch, this scabrous hub is infected by Special Brew lager (9%) garglers whose meaty limbs wobble with illiterate tattoos. Down on the freezing beach, gangs of these happily head-butt each other. Its pier- any waterside town’s focus – features this hostile sign

No Swimming

No Fishing

If I had a pen I’d have added

Stuff your puffy carcass with tepid snacks!

Only seven quid to buy a stylish, ‘Having a fcuking ball in Luss’ snow dome.

Now if you ever stray across the Scottish soap High Road have handy a stack of vomit bags- its exterior scenes are filmed, inexplicably, in Luss. I don’t think we’ll return.

St Andrews is superb. A gorgeous town of 11,000, it stars the university at which Prince William finished a Master’s in Geography, the ruins of a cathedral and a castle and the golf nirvana: all within three streets. Walking along the esplanade towards the Old Course my waddle became athletic, like Kevin Spacey’s Verbal at the end of The Usual Suspects. St Andrews’ golf is characterised by egalitarian openness- we wandered wherever we wanted. No security fences. No black-shirted fridges grumbling into walkie-talkies. This I liked.

Charmingly interactive, The British Golf Museum taught me that etiquette urged tee-off at eleven followed immediately by the captain’s lunch. Fines were inflicted upon members playing but then slinking off without dining; encouraging the natural order as I see it: gentle, good-humoured exercise pursued by industrial lashings of lager.

Watching behind the first tee, I was as excited as those swinging the Pings. Golfing pilgrims often win their round courtesy of a lottery and the not unreasonable 85- pound green fee- it is the world’s most distinguished walk. The awesome theatre along the 1st or ‘Burn’ (each hole has a name) is heightened by grandstands- newly erected for the 27th St Andrews’ Open. Most tee-shots tidily splice the fairway but hacker that I am takes reassurance when one Hotdot is yanked left in a violent arc to the middle of the 18th or ‘Tom Morris.’

A bracing breeze escorts Kerry and I as we stroll alongside the first, drawing in the air and 600 years of golfing history before we pause at the Ladies Putting Club (1867). Again St Andrews stands up exceedingly well to a socialist deconstruction as the LPC or Himalayas- likely to sneak onto your TV during the 2005 Open- is better known as Crazy Golf! A round is ninety pence. But the brisk showers and looming closing time deny us mini-golf majesty. Ours was a vivid, engaging day.

It’s heavy rain but we’re the only people under an umbrella. No surprise really as we’re in Glasgow and its harsh residents are customarily agreed upon only one point: the rest of the world is soft. Despite its regal name- George Square- local literary hero Sir Walter Scott (Lady of the Lake) and not a namby English king or pouncy politician is honoured with the most prominent statue.

The city and its shipbuilding docklands are now gentrified and the sandstoned affluence makes it seem astonishing that in its industrial past Glasgow had the planet’s highest lung cancer incidence. As our bus crawls about the wet-shiny streets the guide comments, inevitably, on Edinburgh- ‘Don’t waste your time going there, it’s one street and a castle.’ He closes with the Billy Connolly-like, ‘You’ll have more fun at a Glaswegian funeral than an Edinburgh wedding.’

As slaves to all things canal-boating we detour to the new millennium’s marvel of Scottish engineering; the Falkirk Wheel. Linking two canals separated by a drop of 115 feet, this rotating boat lift- resembling a shrunken London Eye- replaces a flight of eleven locks. Each giant pod or caisson can lift or deposit four sixty-foot boats in four minutes but uses no more power than is needed to boil two kettles.

So, suitably staggered, the wife sends me up a steep, grassy hill to take photos. Ascending towards the aqueduct I remember climbing New Zealand’s Fox glacier. Even clearer in my memory is peering below at the treacherous ice, when I wondered, if I slipped, the many angry Kiwis, mops and buckets which would be required to remove my sloshy stain. Back in Scotland, I tumbled down the knoll like a novice competitor in a cheese-rolling event. Hearing my tangled flailings, Kerry was aghast. Cried she, ‘Are your keys and wallet OK?’

Our Scottish digs were on a working deer farm by Loch Venachar. The hosts warned us, ‘Don’t be concerned if you see a wee carcass hanging on that shed wall.’ Spying a live stag on our road one afternoon, Roxy gave cute, deeply deluded chase, finishing many lengths behind Bambi but nonetheless paying a tidy quinella.

We slept in the estate’s former kennels; a canine honour roll hanging by the door- Timmy 1912-1918, Reginald 1927-1940, Jock 1942-1955 etc. Roxy wees on it. Approaching summer solstice at 56 degrees north, first light is before 4am and dusk stretches on towards 11pm and the sky becomes a curved, blue cathedral. Our backyard is a bubbling splash of brooks and springy ferns. We dine, walk and sleep well.

Oops. I’ve not yet mentioned a pub. York is The Beatles’ White Album of pub culture: classy, avant-garde but also populist and patchy too. You could lob a smelly spud from the Minster’s spire into the Three Legged Mare and if you were Ricky Ponting, hit the tap dispensing their celebrated ale, Wonky Donkey. The ‘Mare’ was chic and colourful.

Over on Coppergate, The Three Tuns was crowded by girls whose daddies or credit cards had bought them breasts so horribly pneumatic I feared that once they’d had sufficient alco-pops they’d float up from their chairs and bounce across the ceiling like helium balloons.

But our penultimate cup-house was alarming. Innocently, we waltzed in. It thumped me like a mugger. I worried for my wife but could understand it in a 1989, Oz beer-barn. But sophisticated, dishy 2005 York? Hearing

Flamingos walk, and sway in peace

Seeing this, it makes my troubles cease

The sun is hiding, leaving a pink scar

That stretches right across the sky

That’s all we’ve seen so far

And all I do is look into your eyes

For that special touch of paradise

I wordlessly grabbed Kerry’s hand and we fled that molten metal poured in your ears by John Farnham/ Beelzebub torture vortex. But yes, York is lovely.

British comedy still amuses me. This was recently on Radio 2: I’m not happy. My favourite horse broke its leg. I shot it. Now it has a broken leg. And a gun-shot wound.

I’m off to ring the local paper. I can see next Thursday’s headline-

Australian man, 38, sends email.

Best wishes,

Michael, Kerry and Roxy

light sabre

This story comes from the collection of letters I wrote from 2003 to 2006 when we lived in England. They’re on this website at https://mickeytales.com/2014/02/22/the-ringo-tales/


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