TWO LET LOOSE IN A KUKU CAMPER, THE GOLDEN CIRCLE AND A BIT MORE.

 

We were all set, our Kuku camper was booked, return flights organised and we were looking forward hugely to our trip to the land of ice and fire.    Our enthusiasm was tempered a little with reports in the press of the volcano Katla threatening to erupt and Hekla appearing to be similarly grumpy.

“No problem, we’ll just drive swiftly by and hope for the best”, said I, ever the optimist.

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Wednesday 21st September 

We arrived in Reykjavik early evening and, being dark, we didn’t get much chance so see the lava fields on our taxi drive to our guesthouse.   Still, there was plenty time.   8.30 am the next day saw us eagerly stride forth to experience the delights of Reykjavik – there wasn’t a soul around, no-one.  It was eerily quiet.   We discovered later that Iceland doesn’t surface until 10 am so we were lucky to find a café open for breakfastP1040090.    I say lucky, but after blowing £20 in Icelandic Krona on lukewarm coffee, 2 tiny waffles and a bit of squirty cream we began to wish it had been shut along with the rest of the shops.  Our mission for the day was to visit the Church, Hallgrimskirkja and the Saga Museum.  .  The church was inspired by the shape of basalt lava flows and is spectacular, both inside and out.   We’re not big on churches but this one will always stay with us as the elegance and majesty of the interior is something to behold and it’s got a chuffin big organ with over 5,000 pipes. 2

The Saga Museum was a bit more elusive.   Unfortunately my guide book was out of date so we walked the length and breadth of Reykjavik many times until we ended up at same place on the harbour where we had begun our search.  The Saga Museum was behind us!  It was like a mini Madam Tussauds and gave us a sense of the history of Iceland’s population – and a scarey lot they looked too. Iceland 010

Our experience of the café and also reading various menus around the city woke us up to the fact that Iceland is very very expensive.    The decision was made to buy some food at the supermarket and cook in the well-equipped kitchen at the guesthouse that evening.   This seems an easy enough task but when you don’t speak or read the lingo it is very much a case of pot luck when you buy tins or packets at the supermarket.    We both love fish and the beloved picked up a packet displaying a salmon – “Salmon pate – great” said he triumphantly.     We purchased a few other items to accompany our salmon pate and enquired as to where we could find the wine aisle.    Now here’s the thing, supermarkets in Iceland don’t sell alcohol – this is the territory of Vinbudin, an off licence open for around 2 minutes a day.  Our enquiries at the checkout revealed the whereabouts of the nearest Vinbudin, a mile or so away and it would close in 10 minu……..!!  We didn’t hear the end of the sentence as we were out of there – sprinting down the street at a rate of knots.   We fell in the door at Vinbudin, just in time and selected a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to accompany our salmon pate.

We took our booty back to the guesthouse and sat down to enjoy our salmon pate – after all Iceland is famous for its fish so this would be an outstanding pate.    The salmon pate was opened with much flourish only to reveal a beigy goo – a bit of sniffing and a bit of tasting identified this as dill sauce, intended to bling up a tasty salmon fillet – that will be the tasty salmon fillet which we had omitted to buy.    Oh well, dill sauce on toast it was that evening – the wine was good though.Iceland 008

We retired early as my fitbit said we had walked 28,000 steps that day, the equivalent of 12 miles.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday 22nd September

Our task today was to find the Kuku camper depot which was on the outskirts of the city.   Iceland 075We located the relevant bus and had much discussion about how we were going to find the exact money for the fare when we didn’t know a) how much it was likely to be, and b) the value of the coins in our possession.     Luckily the bus to Hraunbrun was free as it was a free bus ride day.  To this day we still have no idea why but we were happy to take advantage of this initiative and the bus dropped us off around the corner from the Kuku depot.

We had booked a camper van for 5.   Yes, there were only 2 of us but we figured the extra room would come in handy.   This, as it turned out, was the best decision we could have made and if you ever book a Kuku camper (we can recommend it) it is worth considering paying the extra.   Unfortunately our camper wasn’t ready as the previous hirers had overlooked the fact that they had to return it.   Oh duh!!     The staff at Kuku couldn’t have been more apologetic and showered us with extra goodies – blankets, pillows, a satnav, free food and lots of advice on where best to visit.    “You must go to the shhh!!! Secret Lagoon, shhhh!! not many people know about it” said our guy furtively.    Remember this dear reader – it’s important!   The tomato farm at Reykholt and the ice lagoon at Jokulsarlon were also flagged up as worth a visit.    We were privileged to get this insider information and excited about the shhh!!! Secret Lagoon.

The waiting room was full of student types, young carefree youths and us middle aged adventurers.    We figured it was a young person’s thing this Kuku camper lark which made it all the more exciting and we couldn’t wait to get going.   We occupied our time waiting for our van doing our cryptic crosswords book (we wouldn’t travel without it) visiting the local supermarket and buying yet more food for our trip and were delighted to find Vinbudin open – a wine box of Shiraz was swiftly purchased – we weren’t going to risk a wine free holiday.Iceland 050

Our camper finally turned up 3 hours late, it was cleaned and we loaded up with our gear and set off.

Icelanders drive on the other side of the road which made the beloved a trifle nervous.   We hadn’t planned to go any further than Thingvellir, the first stop on the Golden Circle, and there bed down for the night.

“I’ll be fine, so long as I don’t have to negotiate a roundabout”, said the beloved through gritted teeth.     No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a roundabout loomed up ahead.   We both held our breaths and negotiated this obstacle without incident only to encounter another roundabout and another and another.   Seven roundabouts later we were out of the city and on our way to our first night in our lovely van.   Talk about a baptism of fire!

Time to try out the cooker and all the various cooking implements – these were basic but did the job admirably.    The van heater was fantastic and we had a very cosy evening.P1040264

 

Friday 23rd September

A big day for me, my 60th birthday, and I looked forward hugely to the adventurous day that we had planned.    We skipped out of our toasty van to line up outside the shower block.   All the youngsters washing dishes and cleaning their teeth in the outhouse were kitted out in arctic gear – 3 layers of gortex, leggings, hats, scarves, gloves and thick woolly socks.    We were wrapped up in dinky little towels, making polite conversation to our fellow travellers.  They must have thought we were either very hardy or very stupid!

Thingvellir is the place where the tectonic plates have been pulled apart thus causing a rift.  On one side in the Eurasian plate and on the other is the North American plate.   It’s pretty spectacular and although a very popular tourist destination it is still worth a visit.  P1040174 The weather was glorious as befitting this special day.     We walked the rift and then met up with our Icelandic Adventure crew for the next bit of our itinerary – snorkelling the Silfra rift.

The Silfra rift is full of glacial melt water which is, not surprisingly, absolutely  baltic but luckily we were given a fleecy undergarment to put on, followed by a dry suit.   A neoprene balaclava and thick waterproof mittens completed our outfit and we, after much giggling at each others appearance, were ready to go.P1040189

There were 20 or so folk, similarly attired and we all entered the rift with a dive master at the front and a dive master bringing up the rear.   No-one was going to get lost as we manoeuvred our way underwater down long shallow channels, winding fast flowing sections and lagoons.     There wasn’t anything to see in the way of wildlife but to snorkel between two tectonic plates is an unforgettable experience.

Back on the road and our next stop was Geysir to gawp at Strokkur, a very active geyser which spouts water 100ft into the air every 10 minutes.     This was our first experience of standing on ground steam pouring from every orifice, the smell of sulphur in the air,  surrounded by boiling mud and steaming puddles, all adding to the sense that the earth’s crust was very thin at this point.  We bought a fabby Icelandic woollen blanket in the shop to keep us warm and toasty on the cold nights in the camper van.  It is as itchy as hell but oh so warm.Iceland 019

We had a lot to see this day so pressed onto Gullfoss to see a spectacular waterfall – there are waterfalls and there is Gullfoss – wow!   It’s a big ‘un.    A well trodden path saw us on the edge of this amazing spectacle and we marvelled at the beauty of this amazing island.

A quick stop off at Kerid to see the volcanic crater was perhaps one too many tourist attractions and we were happy to return to our van and find a campsite for the night at Selfoss.P1040207

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 24th September

It is not always necessary to camp in campsites in Iceland and many travellers pull over and camp on the road side but we preferred the amenities of the sites so tended to head for the nearest campsite each night.   This gave us wifi access, which enable us to touch base every so often, and of course it give us flushing toilets and showers.    At Selfoss the showers were communal which came as a bit of a surprise.  I was happily chatting away to a girl from New York in the queue, swapping travelling tales.  It was just as well that we got on well because we got naked very quickly!

I did wonder how the beloved was getting on in his gents communal shower.   He disclosed that he had looked everywhere except in the direction of his fellow bathers, resorting to counting the holes in the showerhead – there were 52 apparently!

Our first stop was the tomato farm Fridheimar at Reykholt.   Acres and acres of greenhouses covered the landscape, most of which are filled with tomato vines, all heated by thermals underground.  We did get a little lost trying to find the entrance so enjoyed the alternative tour of villager’s back gardens and towering heating installations but eventually found our way in and treated ourselves to a pint mug of freshly cooked tomato soup accompanied by warm crusty bread – delicious.P1040227

We were a bit excited that day as we were on a mission.  To discover the Secret Lagoon at Fludir – the secret lagoon that the Kuku camper employee told us about, the secret lagoon which was ever-so secret.  How were we going to find this very secret lagoon if it was secret?  We arrived in Fludir and drove around a bit but weren’t too sure what a secret lagoon would look like.

“Ask at the garage” said I, pointing down the road “only you might have to use a bit of subterfuge because they probably don’t want anyone to know about their secret lagoon”

“We don’t need diesel so I’ll buy something and try and extract the information out of them” said 007 and set off.

5 minutes later, clutching a bunch of bananas our secret agent emerged triumphantly.  “I know where it is”, he said, pointing in a southerly direction.

We set off, barely able to contain our excitement, to very quickly come across a huge signpost  “SECRET LAGOON THIS WAY”.     Our destination lay ahead, we just had to follow the bus loads of tourists to this very secret lagoon.     A hefty entrance fee, café, bar and changing rooms were negotiated before we entered the heavenly thermal spring water.   It was glorious, both invigorating and relaxing all at the same time.     The temperature was perfect – varying between warm, very warm and hot according to how close you chose to go to the very active geyser erupting regularly in one corner.      We stayed in the water until we were both resembled the Shar Pei breed of dog.P1040237

Our stopover that evening was a site at Hvolsvollur which was at the foot of Mount Hekla.   That was the Mount Hekla which was a bit grumbly and that same Mount Hekla which we were going to avoid at all costs!P1040260

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 25th September

Breakfast was a leisurely affair in the van and a time to read the traveller guide and peruse the road map.

“It says here that we need to look out for the sharp mountain ridges”, said I, reading the tourist book.

“Sharp mountain midges!” said the beloved alarmed.   He sat bolt upright.  “No-one warned us about the sharp mountain midges!”  So speaks a Scotsman who is often beleaguered with the not so sharp variety of midge during his many fishing excursions.

We laughed, boy did we laugh when I repeated what I had said and we spent the rest of the holiday warning each other about the sharp mountain midges which we expected to encounter around every corner.

This was our waterfall day.  We had experienced Gullfoss which was spectacular and were keen to see the waterfall at Seljalandsfoss.  It was a huge affair, tons of water hurtling off a mountainside and the walk behind the curtain of water was quite an experience.   P1040268We ventured further along the route to the nearby Glijufrabui which was inside a cave and could be accessed by carefully negotiating slippery rocks, taking you into the interior every closer to this thundering mass of water.   I was the only person dressed in a frock but this didn’t impede my progress and I managed to stand on the whoppin’ big rock in front of the waterfall, getting a tad wet like everyone else.   It is part of my mission to prove that the dress is the most practical of clothing whatever the occasion.  It is easy to put on, very warm if you also wear leggings, practical, quick drying (much quicker than jeans), takes up a tiny space in luggage (very important) and incredibly comfortable.     I never pack trousers and travel much of the world on hand luggage as a result.P1040273

Our next waterfall (this was definitely a waterfall day) was at Skogfoss which was accessed via an iron walkway.   Yes, you had to be quite fit to get to the top but then Iceland isn’t really a place to visit if you don’t like walking.     We bounded up to the top and were more than a little smug when we passed many a younger person, clutching the fencing, out of breath.    What they don’t know is that I “train” each day by walking 5 miles to enable me to yomp effortlessly when travelling.

We pressed on to Vik which has the highest rainfall in Iceland.  It was raining!   To avoid getting soaked we sought shelter in the large woollen shop which promised a “free factory tour”.  This  turned out to be a walk along a balcony overlooking the stock room but we bought a couple of souvenirs nonetheless.

Vik is interesting but it was a little too soon to stop so we headed further east to Kirkjubaejarklastur where we were going to spend the night.    Er, the navigator (that’ll be me then) was too busy admiring the spectacular scenery that I forgot to er…..navigate.    We ended up driving many miles past Kirkjubaejarkastur before realising and ended up staying the night at Skatafell and by this time we had run out of adjectives.  Iceland is spectacularly beautiful and we have never experienced a quality of air like it.  You can, literally, see for miles and the clarity of what you are looking it is something to behold.  Even if a mountain is tens of miles away you can see every contour, every ridge, every colour – amazing.      This makes distances deceptive and it is easy to miss destinations – well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.P1040324

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 26th September

Skatafell was, as it turned out,  a great place to stop as it gave us access to many trails inland.   We chose to walk to the foot of the Skaftafellsjokull glacier.   It was early, the weather was glorious and there wasn’t a soul around.   The glacier is magnificent and there were lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” with no sign of those pesky sharp mountain midges!P1040359

Our mission that day was to explore the ice lagoon at Jokulsarlon which had been recommended to us by the guy at the camper van depot.    Just when you think the previous visitor experience can’t be surpassed, it is surpassed.   Large floating chunks of ice, towers of exquisite turquoise loveliness gently sailed down the lagoon , under a bridge and out to sea.   We followed their progress and walked to a black sand beach to witness the icebergs venturing out to sea – words fail me and it was one of those days that you remember forever.

After taking many photographs we wrenched ourselves away and travelled onto Hofn, a fishing port.  It was to be our most easterly destination and the town where we decided was the place to turn back.    It is possible to drive the ring road in a week, i.e. the road that circumnavigates Iceland, but we prefer a more leisurely holiday without schedules or pressure .P1040397P1040387

Hofn is well worth a visit, with its lovely harbour and free maritime museum housed in a large wooden shed, unmanned but stuffed full of interesting fishing exhibits.

We were hopeful of seeing Aurora Borealis that night as we were at the eastern edge of the island, the day had been brilliantly clear with not a cloud in the sky and the night promised to be clear also – perfect Aurora Borealis weather.P1040429

Sure enough, we were just finishing off our wine box when Adrian pointed heavenwards to an amazing green colour.    Waves of light pulsated across the sky and everyone was outside, gazing skyward.      It was beyond words!P1040580

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 27th September

Sometimes boys will be boys and although we were planning to head back west, the beloved wanted to experience the road tunnel through a mountain 10 km due east of Hofn.   So we drove east, drove through the tunnel, turned around, drove back through the tunnel and headed back west.   It kept him happy!P1040481

This was our “rock” day.  We had done waterfalls and icebergs so this was all about rock and Iceland has loads of the chuffin stuff.   A brisk walk up a mountainside to the canyon at Fjardrargljufur (by the way, the pronunciation of Icelandic names escaped us) was made even more enjoyable by the fantastic blue sky and the exercise gave us a voracious appetite.P1040499

Lunch was poached eggs cooked in our camper van in a lava field near Laufskalavarda.   We loved our Kuku camper which enabled us to do just that – cook poached eggs in a lava field.   This was at the foot of Katla, that very same Katla which we were going to avoid at all costs!   It was only when we returned home that we found out there had been an earthquake at the precise place where we had stopped, only by that time, early afternoon we were back on the road so didn’t notice it.    The beloved and I “do” earthquakes.  We don’t seek these out but in Japan a couple of years ago we had clung to our bed as the hotel room rock and rolled around us.  Btw San Francisco, look out as we are heading your way next year!P1040528

I have no idea how to describe lava fields except that the landscape is lunar.  Apparently the Apollo astronauts practised their lunar landing in Iceland and I am not surprised.   The lava fields are other worldly, black petrified fields of lava covered by a vibrant green moss – truly stunning and we stood there with our mouths open at the wonder of it all.Iceland 032P1040318

The weather continued to be glorious and this time our stopover at Vik yielded a trip to the Black Beach nearby.    It is not unlike any beach anywhere in the world except that the sand is black.  The basalt rock formations were truly spectacular and again we ran out of adjectives to describe the scene before our eyes.P1040549Iceland 060

Despite its proximity to Katla, that’ll be that threatening to erupt Katla then, we decided to stay over at the campsite in Vik.    We bought some Hardfiskur from the local supermarket, wishing to experience this local delicacy.  Hardfiskur is wind dried haddock, sold in packets,  a greyish colour, stiff like cardboard and smelling er…fishy!     The Icelanders eat it spread with butter so we followed suit.  It was okay really and although we didn’t eat the whole packet we did both have considerably more than a mouthful.   It is great washed down with the local beer.Iceland 063

We were hopeful of seeing Aurora Borealis again and again were not disappointed.   This time it was even more spectacular with vivid green, pinks and yellow pulsating in waves across the heavens – spectacular doesn’t even being to describe it.

 

 

 

Wednesday 28th September

Stuffed to the gills with a hearty breakfast we set off on the 6 mile walk over black sands to the wrecked DC 3 airplane at Solheimasandur.     Iceland 069An eerie sight but not macabre as the pilots escaped injury.  The plane has remained on the beach since 1973 and although worth of a quick visit, it is worth the 6 mile trot to witness the spectacular surf off Solheimasandur beach.    The smell of ozone and the noise of the crashing waves was something else and although we live on the west coast of Scotland are used to such things, Iceland does it bigger.

We retraced our footsteps back towards Reykjavik and took the opportunity to mop up those things that we hadn’t experience on our journey east.

The thermal park at Hveragerdi was a little disappointing because the latest earthquake had capped the thermal pools so what once was milky white/bluey bubbling pools of thermal water were now streaming craters.   Never mind, we were not here at Hveragerdi to witness this particular tourist attraction we were here to do the hot river walk.P1040640

The hot river walks commences a few kilometres out of the village and is well trodden.   This is just as well because it is extremely hazardous with boiling thermal pools and frequent blasts of hot steam emanating from orifices along the route.     This, I think, was the highlight of the trip to Iceland.   The route was an hour and a half of fairly intense hiking and many folk were on the mountain that day but we were all on a mission and all clutching our swimwear and towels.

Up and up we went, the smell of sulphur around us, the spectacular view unfolding below us and the ever present blasts of steam billowing out from crevices in the mountainside.   P1040670   The final path was a little tricky to negotiate and took us perilously close to a large boiling mass or sulphurous water but we manage to reach out destination without incident.     A few modest wooden cubicles lined the riverbank and we quickly donned our swimsuits and entered the water. P1040662 It was wonderful, truly sublime.   To lie in a wonderfully warm babbling river, snuggled up to a small waterfall which cascaded hot invigorating waves of water, surrounded by steaming rocks and incredible views was probably the most intense experience of my life.P1040654P1040658

We floated back down the mountain feeling light footed, serene and not a little hungry.  My fit bit displayed 39,000 steps i.e. 18 miles, 3500 calories – time to eat.

Our last night and time to blow our Krona on an Icelandic feast and taste the dreaded fermented shark.    The restaurant of our choice in Reykjavik was called Laekjarbrekka as it specialised in Icelandic cuisine and Icelandic cuisine was what we wanted.      The first course was a wooden board of tasty things – hardfiskur which we had already sampled so we wolfed that down, gravad lax, various pickles and a small kilner jar of the infamous fermented shark.    We couldn’t put off the moment any longer and opened our jars.  The smell of ammonia was overpowering but we dived in.   We had 6 small pieces each and although truly disgusting we were determined to send empty jars back to the kitchen.   The beloved described it as eating “a soiled baby’s nappy” and I can’t even find words to describe its awfulness   It was bad – truly bad, but we did it!   Whoop!!  High five!!!!P1040673

The evening yielded another display of Aurora Borealis which was a befitting end to our last night.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday 29th September

Time to return our Kuku camper to the depot and unload out gear back into rucksacks.   It had been the perfect way to see the island and suited our relaxed adventurous style of travelling.   We don’t like an itinerary, don’t need to be absolutely sure of where we are going to spend the night and like to take advantage of serendipitous things on the way.

A taxi took us to our last experience, the Blue Lagoon.   P1040676It is built amongst the lava fields south west of Reykjavik, a huge pool of milky blue deliciously warm water.   It is an expensive visit, is very manufactured,  but worth a visit nonetheless.    We preferred the naturalness of the Secret Lagoon at Fludir and the wonderful hot river at Hveragerdi but two and a half hours of floating around in this womb of warm water was a very  pleasant end to our holiday on a remarkable island.   What surprised us was the blueness of the water and yet the sand upon which we stood was black.

Our flight was delayed at Reykjavik but a cryptic crossword book gets us through many a moment and we were quite happy holed up in the departure lounge combining our brain power to solve the puzzle in front of us.     We had £25 worth of Krona left which bought us fish and chips and chocolate before we boarded our flight and travelled home

 

It is difficult to sum up this remarkable place.   We went in the autumn and I have never seen colours like it – a palette of orange, russet, olive green and purple.   Every turn in the road yielded yet another spectacular view which prompted more “oohs” “wows” and “ahhs” then I have ever uttered in my life.   It is definitely the little country with the big scenery.     We don’t generally return to a place once visited as there is so much to see but I do wonder what Iceland is like in the snow!!P1040342

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MALTA – AN ALTERNATIVE GUIDE…….two let loose on an island

 

Travel is, for us, very much about experiencing a new land and a new people, hence we travel very light and use public transport wherever possible.  With no strict itinerary in mind and only the vaguest of ideas about what we wish to see and do, when we arrive in a foreign land, it is not surprising that we blunder from one mishap to another, often with hilarious results.  And thus we approached Malta……

 

Day One

We arrived in Malta on a balmy evening and travelled to our AirBnB apartment in Valetta via taxi without incident – a good start for us!  We knew that our AirBnB host was not likely to be at the apartment to greet us but we assumed, having not heard further from him, that someone would have been nominated to let us into our accommodation.

The outside door to a building of six flats was open and, finding no-one present to greet us, we fumbled around in a stack of postal boxes and found two keys in an envelope to Flat 6.  So far so good; the fact that the envelope bore a name other than our own was ignored.   The key opened a glass door at the top of a small flight of stairs and we arrived at the foot of a lift shaft.   Arriving panting at the uppermost flat no.6 after a brisk ascent of endless flights of stairs, we discovered that the key didn’t fit the door.  The beloved ran up and down the stairs a few times and finally rooted around in a cupboard outside Flat 6 to discover a key in a biscuit tin.   Can I say that at this point I had serious doubts that we were at the correct flat and was contemplating the prospect of spending out entire holiday banged up in a Maltese gaol.

We entered the TWO bedroom flat (it is important that you remember the word TWO) and chose what we thought to be the cleaner of the bedrooms.    I found a stack of lemon yogurts in the fridge and helped myself, whereupon we got into bed with a cup of herbal stuff that we found in the cupboard and logged onto the internet.

The beloved fired up his ipad only to discover an email from our host welcoming us to his ONE bedroom flat.  I sat bolt upright and became totally preoccupied with how I was going to hide the yogurty remains of my crime and wipe all evidence of our presence in someone’s home.  The beloved, however, was confident the host had made a typo and that this was indeed the correct apartment.   Can I say here that I was never absolutely convinced in all the time we were at the apartment that it was the right one!

 

Day Two

Day two began with taking in the sea air on our Valletta balcony, overlooking the harbour.

“I don’t think this is Valletta,” said the beloved

“What?”

“That’s Valletta over there.” He pointed to a skyline across the bay shrouded in the early morning mist.   “It can’t be more than a couple of miles, let’s walk.”

Malta 033

I like walking, we walk a lot, so off we set, buoyed up by the best chocolate croissant we have ever tasted, accompanied by a strong cup of coffee bought from a Sicilian café on the waterfront.

We walked and we walked and we walked some more, arriving at what we thought must be Valletta.  There were people, churches, squares – beautiful.   None of the landmarks in our guide book fitted in with this new place and a street map marked Floriana indicated that we had missed our goal. So what did we do?  We asked a drunk – good thinking!!  He very obligingly pointed us in the opposite direction – er, thanks! This unexpected detour added a couple of miles to our travels but eventually with 12 miles under our belts we arrived in Valletta – hurrah, and we celebrated with a beer.

Neither of us are particularly interested in churches and prefer instead rather offbeat visitor attractions, so the Lascaris war rooms of Valletta (an underground network of tunnels and chambers) was right up our street.  The exhibits were fascinating but what made the whole visit hilarious was the use of the audio guide.  We were handed two receivers and instructed to swipe these against the wall at strategic points throughout the attraction.  There weren’t any rooms labelled 1-10, commencing instead at 11, followed by 9, leading back to 12 and so on.   We never did find rooms 14 or 15 and ran around the tunnels waving our receivers at anything remotely resembling an exhibit to see if we could access the accompanying audio commentary.   16-19 were discovered in this way.  By pressing 20-24 on our telephone receivers we heard an accompanying commentary but failed to find the rooms.  No wonder – the very charming lady at the gift shop counter obligingly told us that these rooms didn’t exist!    I love Malta – how brilliant!

Now there is something that you need to know about the beloved.   He hates “tourist maps” and gets mightily frustrated trying to follow inaccurate, three dimensional maps which bear no relation whatsoever to the topography of the place.  So a  ‘proper’ map of Malta was purchased and he felt a lot more confident that he wouldn’t make any further map-reading errors with a ‘proper’ map  (remember this – it is important!)

Deciding that a 10 mile hike back to our apartment wasn’t on our agenda we took the ferry from Valletta to Sliema (apparently that’s where we were staying) and vowed to end the day with some nice wine, nutritious cheese and plenty of fruit.   We instead fell into the flat clutching wine, crisps and chocolate – a much better idea!

 

Day Three

A brilliant discovery! – for only 21 euros each we had access to the Maltese buses for a whole week with a bus pass – whoopee, freedom!   Our first destination, plucked pretty much at random because of its accessibility from Valletta, was Marsaxlokk.   It was lovely, with a pretty harbour but not a lot else, so I suggested we got out the map to see what else there was of interest in the vicinity.

Malta 014

“Ah,” said the beloved.

“What do you mean, ‘Ah’?”

“I’ve left the map in the room.”

That’ll be the ‘proper’ map then!

Not wishing to be stopped by the lack of a map, he found a tourist information place and reappeared at the doorway waving a tourist map. That’ll be a ‘tourist’ map then!

“Great, a heritage trail with salt flats, a fort and some interesting terraces, no more than four kilometres in total,” he announced triumphantly.

We set off, and yup we found the fort but, as the miles passed, the landscape failed to reveal either salt flats or terraces.  We walked further, a bit further and walked some more until we found ourselves in an oil refinery.  It wasn’t on the map!   After further walking and finding ourselves facing a whole bank of container ships and cranes I suggested that we had walked off the tourist map, especially as we found ourselves in a place called Birzebbuge (henceforth called BusyBugga). Malta 019  We liked BusyBugga and had a beer, once again re-examining our tourist map.    The beloved, rather embarrassed, pointed at the name emblazoned in red lettering across the top – “Masaskala” – apparently we had navigated one village using the map of another!

 

Beer finished, we walked to the nearest bus stop to see which bus route we had stumbled upon, only to find the buses were heading out of BusyBugga to a town further north – Masaskala!   Great, we had the map so jumped on the next bus and headed off to Masaskala – after all we had a heritage trail to do.

Can I say at this point that the Maltese buses are um…interesting.   They have a capacity of about 25 but pack upwards of 80 people into their hot and sweaty depths.   25 people sit rather smugly in their comfy seats whilst the rest dangle by an arm attached to a grey plastic strap, hanging on for dear life as the driver swings the whole contraption at a rate of knots around packed streets and perilous cliff roads.   The entire holiday was spent sniffing Maltese armpits but I got my own back as mine were none too fresh after 10 miles of hiking in the sweltering daytime heat.   The buses arrive at times totally unrelated to the timetable and even if a bus does arrive on time there is no guarantee that the driver will stop to pick up any passengers.

Masaskala was great though, especially as we had some good food and another beer.  Malta 027 We even found those elusive salt flats which were fascinating but we never did find the terraces.

The close of day three saw us finishing up our wine, crisps and chocolate back at the apartment.

 

Day Four

Time to leave Sliema and, packing our belongings, we read the email from our host instructing us to leave the keys to both the flat and the outer door inside the flat.  His cleaner had spare keys and was due at 11 am.   We vacated the flat at 9 am, carefully made sure we hadn’t left anything, had a bit of a clean around and placed both keys on the table.  We closed the door, descended the lift shaft and confidently pressed at the handle on the outer door – it didn’t budge.  We were locked in. Our immediate surroundings next to the lift shaft were approximately one metre square, very dark and unbelievably dusty – not the best location to spend more than a few seconds.Sliema (2)

The beloved rattled the handle, jumped up and down, huffed and puffed and swore quite a lot.   This was not helped by the fact that I found the whole episode hilarious. A cryptic crossword book kept us amused whilst we sat in the dark, dusty depths of a lift shaft for an hour and half until released by the cleaner who, thankfully, had arrived half an hour earlier than expected, at 10.30.  We plundered the Sicilian café for chocolate croissants before wishing a fond farewell to Valletta – oops, that’ll be Sliema then!

We arrived at our next destination Ir-Rabat in the sweltering heat.   Reading his ‘proper’ map the beloved set off confidently and I followed gamely behind, hoping that we would find our new digs quickly in order to have a shower.  We tramped down a long, long, very long, hot, dusty road only to tramp up the very same long, long, very long, hot, dusty road again as No.91 was the second house from the top – I said nothing to the map reader!    Our host Rochelle was lovely and our room was huge, cool and very comfortable.

A shower revived us and after putting out feet up for a while, we decided to go and explore the walled town of Mdina, within walking distance of our room.    It’s gorgeous but we had allocated three hours to explore its winding streets and fortifications before an evening meal and you can ‘do’ Mdina in an hour.  Malta 038  The restaurant we had chosen didn’t serve until 7pm so we paced the streets of Mdina and saw everything: every shop, every door, every stone slab, every cat.   We gazed over the fortifications at the rest of the island, walked the familiar streets once again and gazed over the fortifications a few more times.    We knew Mdina really well!  The food was fab in the Medina restaurant and the place is indeed magical at night.

 

Day Five

Sunday, and with Malta being a staunch Catholic country we were a little concerned that we weren’t going to find anywhere open and had resigned ourselves to the fact that breakfast may have to be the rather squashed packet of crackers that we carried with us.  So squashed in fact that breakfast was more than likely going to be cracker powder.

We walked into the centre of Ir-Rabat, not expecting much, rounded the corner and were met by a cacophony of sound and a blaze of colour.   The bar in the square was packed with local guys having a good time with their mates, the roads were jammed with scores of friendly middle-aged “Hell’s Angels” revving their engines and shouting good-naturedly to each other and everyone else.  The Sunday market was in full swing with hordes of women shopping for their weekly veggies. We managed to find a table in the square and breakfast was a rather dry almond-flavoured jammy cakey thing and lukewarm coffee.  Ah well, we could enjoy the atmosphere if nothing else.

We were happy as today  was our snorkelling day.  Clutching flippers, masks, swimming gear etc we set off to find the bus to Ghar Lapsi – a place highlighted on the internet as particularly suited to diving.  We boarded the bus at the terminal in Ir-Rabat only to be ejected as the driver pointed across the road to another bus stop.  “40 minutes,” he barked.  We obediently crossed over to the bus stop and sat patiently for 40 minutes gazing longingly at the bus from which we had been ejected, parked in its stance.   40 long, hot minutes passed by and a new driver climbed into the bus and swung away from the stance.   He swung the bus around the island and we waved eagerly at him only to be left behind as he drove at speed past us.   He had passengers, all of whom had boarded the bus at the stance!

“Do you fancy Dingli?” I asked the beloved.

“Where?” he replied.

“Dingli,” said I, pointing to a bus on the other side of the road.

“What’s at Dingli?”

“No idea, let’s find out!”

So, we jumped on the bus to Dingli which, our guide book informed us, was famous for its cliffs.  I had to laugh – the beloved hates cliffs, this 6’2” bit of prime manhood is reduced to a quivering wreck if he comes within two metres of a cliff edge, but we were committed to Dingli and to Dingli we were bound.  We got off the bus at Dingli village whereupon a Maltese guy appeared from nowhere. “Cliffs?” he enquired, whilst gesticulating in one direction.   All of the other passengers, many of whom looked very touristy, were striding confidently off in the other direction so we had a decision to make.  We wisely followed the tourists who proved to be correct.    Are all Maltese folk primed to sabotage visitors with false directions?

Not surprisingly the beloved wasn’t that interested in meandering along cliff paths so we settled instead for a restaurant and lunch.  I plumped for a “Kilometre Platter” with the intriguing promise that everything appearing on the plate was sourced within a kilometre of the restaurant.  On one side of the restaurant were the cliffs and on the other side was a dust bowl landscape.  I took the risk that my dinner wasn’t going to be road kill and the dubious products of an aged nanny goat tied to a stake in the back yard.   My kilometre platter was delicious with various meats, olives and pickled vegetables – it’s amazing what you can source in a dust bowl.

Jumping aboard the bus, I once again adopted the role of sheep and let the beloved lead.  To arrive at Ghar Lapsi we had to disembark half a kilometre or so north of the beach and walk the rest of the way down a tarmacked road.  The bus sailed by our designated stop.

“Isn’t that our stop?” I enquired to the beloved who was still seated.

“I pressed the button,” he said.

We sailed past another bus stop.

“I didn’t hear a buzzer!” I said.

“Nor did I but a light flashed.”

We passed a further bus stop.

The driver was clearly not taking notice of any flashing light so I got up.

The driver stopped and let us off and we turned round to start on the long walk back to the first bus stop.  The beloved once again dug out his map and pointed to a broken red line – a rough path to Ghar Lapsi which would shave off a few kilometres, whereupon he launched himself down the side of a cliff.  This was the man who hated cliffs yet was confidently striding down a cliff face via a vertical crumbling path which was punctuated by very dodgy looking steps.Malta 041   Can I say at this point that I had bought a floaty light shawl-type garment in Sliema to protect my limbs from the sun and was staggering down the cliff face looking for all the world like a rather hot crumpled butterfly with wings withering in the heat.  That’ll be a butterfly loaded down with snorkels, flippers and various swimming paraphernalia.

We crossed a large pipeline and found ourselves in Ghar Lapsi.   Ghar Lapsi wasn’t great.  The Maltese love Ghar Lapsi but it wasn’t our scene.   A couple of restaurants, a concrete causeway and a couple of ice cream vans.  The water didn’t look very clear and where were the fish, the coral, the reefs and all of the other things that make snorkelling our favourite hobby?   We aborted our snorkelling ambitions and had a beer.

A long trek back up the road, carrying our very dry and unused snorkelling gear, found us at a bus stop.  This was a Sunday and the buses don’t run very often and as I have said previously, there is no guarantee that the driver will stop even if a bus did arrive so we were perilously close to having to walk back to Ir-Rabat.  A bus appeared out of nowhere and I flung myself in front of it, waving my ‘wings’ dementedly.   The bus stopped and we got on which was indeed amazing as the driver stopped for no one else on the entire trip to Ir-Rabat despite some very elderly and desperate- looking tourists en route.

The day’s events found us quite peckish so we ended up in Mdina again for a beer and ‘nibbles’ where we ended up demolishing a trough of lasagne and a pizza the size of a dustbin lid.

 

Day Six

It was time to explore Gozo and we chose the windiest day to catch the ferry.    The journey from Ir-Rabat to the ferry terminal at Cirkewwa was without incident and we walked into the ferry terminal to find the ticket office.  There is a strange payment system which means that the ferry to Gozo is free but you have to buy tickets to come back.  The beloved suggested that we stay forever in Gozo to take advantage of this free passage – er, no!

Luckily neither of us suffers from seasickness as the ferry was a bit pitchy but the journey is no longer than 30 minutes so all but the most weak-stomached would manage fine.

We arrived in Gozo and weren’t due to book into our next AirBnB until late afternoon so decided to go and see what was at Malsalforn in the north of the island.   Malsalforn Malsalforn was a tad touristy but we quite liked the place and bought a couple of souvenirs.    I needed to spend a penny and in my haste trotted past the women’s toilets and entered the men’s.  The beloved captured this violation on film.   It was easy enough getting into Malsalforn on the bus but we couldn’t for the life of us find the bus stop that we needed to take us out of Malsalforn so set off walking in the general direction, hoping to spot a bus stop on the way.

An hour or so later we came to the bus stop by which time we had walked well out of Malsalforn and on to Qbajjar.  We dumped our heavy bags on the pavement and sat on the wall to wait.   In a reasonably short time a bus arrived and to our chagrin it was a bus full of passengers who had obviously boarded at Malsalfon – where?  How had we missed the bus stop?

Never mind, it was time to go and check out our AirBnB accommodation in Victoria.    We never did get the hang of Victoria as there didn’t seem to be much of a centre or much of a café culture and were glad we were only there for one night. The ‘proper’ map was once again produced and the beloved decided we didn’t need to trouble our AirBnB host Nicole to pick us up as we could probably find the accommodation ourselves.

He opened the compass app in his iphone and cussed at it as the needle swung violently back and forth.

“There’s something upsetting this compass,” he announced with a puzzling frown.

Can I say at this point he was leaning against a flatbed truck on which was roped a 10 ft bronze statue of the Pope.

“I think the problem is likely to be His Holiness,” said I, pointing at the statue.

We set off in what appeared to be the right direction to our accommodation and were puzzled to find we were in a place called Fontana.    We knew that our AirBnB was in Victoria so time to phone for some help.   Nicole was called, only to find out that her name was Nathalie.

“Where are you?”  she enquired.

“Er, in Fontana outside St Augustine’s Church.  We’ll wait here for you.”

I looked at the church and, being a good little Catholic girl in my former existence, I know my saints.

“I don’t think this is St. Augustine’s,” I said.

“Yes it is, look here at the map, the church in Fontana is St. Augustine’s, so this has to be right.”

“St. Augustine had a hat!” I said petulantly.  I was ignored.

We waited for 45 minutes during which time a funeral cortege showed up.    The beloved was dressed in sawn-off shorts and I in a brilliant patterned yellow floor-length frock.   The mourners arrived, all was solemn and respectful.  The coffin arrived and was carried with dignity into ‘St.Augustine’s’ Church.   We were in the thick of someone’s important day and felt conspicuously out of place.

A further phone call and Nathalie’s mum Carmen arrived in her white Toyota van, very flustered.   Not surprising really, as she had spent 45 minutes driving around the vicinity of St Augustine’s Church trying to find two idiot travellers who had plonked themselves outside the Church of The Sacred Heart and declared it to be ‘St Augustine’s’.   I always knew it wasn’t!

So Nicole was Nathalie but we never did meet Nathalie as the AirBnB was a family business and we were shown around the brand new converted farmhouse by her brother. Carmen was given the task of cooking us breakfast.  “The full Eengleesh,” she announced proudly.    We were the first guests at the farmhouse so they were very anxious to please.

Our room was lovely and after showing us how everything worked, Nathalie’s brother left us to get settled in as he returned to grapple with the lock to the patio doors downstairs.  He had explained the locking system when we arrived only to find that the key kept jamming.

The only thing missing from our room was loo paper and the only thing we both desperately needed at that time was loo paper.  I ferreted around in my handbag and found three tissues and the beloved triumphantly produced from his pocket the crumpled up red paper napkin from last night’s meal.

“Did she say a full English breakfast?” I asked.  “I don’t want a full English breakfast especially if we are in Malta.  I want a continental, Maltese breakfast.”  The beloved agreed.

“Adrian, Adrian!” called a voice from downstairs.  “Come quickly!”  The beloved ran off and appeared a few minutes later looking rather baffled.

“What did he want?” I asked.

“He wanted to introduce me to the handyman, who was upset because he hadn’t had his tea,” he replied.

“And?”

“That’s it, he just wanted to introduce me to the handyman!”

I hope the handyman got his tea eventually.

We ended the day with a meal out in Victoria at El Dorado, where the waiter asked us if we knew the ‘Barlows’ because they live in Scotland and as we were from Scotland we must be acquaintances.  We were most apologetic – we don’t know the Barlows, sorry.

 

Day Seven

At 7.45 am we could hear Carmen rattling around downstairs.   We had explained to her the evening before that we didn’t want the full English breakfast and then felt guilty when we discovered a pack of sausage, bacon, eggs and a white sliced loaf in the fridge.

Carmen had gone to town – literally – and the dining room table was groaning under the weight of cheese, ham, bread, butter, jam, tea and coffee.

“Eet’s wery nice,” announced Carmen and we were instructed to sit.

She proudly showed us all the produce that she had bought for our breakfast and then pulled up a chair and sat with her arms crossed to make sure that we ate it all.

“You have more ham, eet’s wery nice.”  “You have more cheese, I buy especially for you.” “You have more bread, eet’s wery nice.” We didn’t dare refuse.

We left as soon as our full stomachs allowed us to and bade Carmen a fond farewell.

“Wait!” she said and started rummaging around in a kitchen drawer to release a tea towel from its plastic wrapper.

Both myself and the beloved were rather charmed and intrigued about why we were going to be presented with a tea towel.  Was it because we had told Carmen that we had only married a year ago and this was a wedding gift?    Perhaps there is a Maltese custom whereby you present departing guests with a tea-towel to wish them well in their journey of life?  Whatever the reason we were charmed.

Carmen wiped her hands on the tea-towel and shook ours warmly.  I think we were both a little disappointed not to come away with a memento of our encounter with Carmen.

We were due to leave Gozo to return to Malta but wanted to spend the day exploring further this fascinating island.  The beloved was keen to see the inland sea at Dwerja which was well worth the trip.  The day was extremely windyMalta 052 and the sea far too wild to snorkel but it was staggeringly beautiful especially as there were few people around.   I think it is likely to be a different picture in the summer with the beach swarming with holidaymakers.

On the bus to Xlendi we got chatting to a very friendly English chap who lived on Gozo with his husband, who suggested we visit Sannat.  He recommended a hotel, the Ta Cenc, where we would get a lovely lunch and we made a mental note.

The guide book warned us that Xlendi was busy and suffered from unsympathetic development but we liked Xlendi and didn’t think the modern building work detracted too much from the town’s charm.  We soon exhausted the delights of Xlendi and consulted the map to find that Sannat was only a few kilometres away.  Although windy, the weather was gorgeous and perfect for a hike so we sent off on a path to Sannat.  This proved to be the highlight of the holiday as the track led us far away from civilisation and across the most spectacular, rugged and beautiful landscape punctuated by terraces and wild flowers.

Xlendi to Sannat 2

We arrived at Sannat whereupon the Ta Cenc hotel proved a little tricky to find.  We stumbled upon two Maltese workmen gazing into a hole at another workman pounding away with his pneumatic drill (this must happen the whole world over) and they couldn’t have been more helpful.   The hotel located, we sat on the terrace and enjoyed a sumptuous Mediterranean platter of delights and wine.

We were a little concerned that the ferry wouldn’t be running because of the stormy conditions but needn’t have worried as the ferry was sailing as usual, albeit a longer crossing as the captain used the island of Comino as shelter.  The ferry crossing was only a few euros which we paid when we landed once more in Malta.

Our final AirBnB was with Mattia, an Italian guy who lived in a converted farmhouse at Mgarr.   This time we were happy to wait in Mgarr to be collected and a very smiley, bright-eyed Italian screeched to a halt in his red pickup.  His house was lovely, very bohemian and intriguingly furnished from an eclectic mix of objects.

Mattia invited us to eat what we could find and help ourselves to wine.   We were advised to either replace what we had used or put money into the honesty box.    A great idea as we were able to eat without having to walk back into the town.   We were tired and happy to avail ourselves of Mattia’s hospitality.

Another couple of guests arrived.  A lovely French couple exploring the temples of Malta and Gozo.  They spoke a bit of English and some Italian, Mattia spoke a little English and we spoke Franglais with, in my beloved’s case, a strong Scottish accent.    Somehow, over two bottles of wine and a lot of gesticulating, we all managed to make ourselves understood and many tongues were spoken that night!

 

Day Eight

Our final day and a fond farewell to Mattia.  We walked back into Mgarr and got the bus to Valletta.  Our penultimate bus trip and already we were feeling nostalgic.

We walked round Valletta, hunting down a few souvenirs and ate a final meal sitting in the sun overlooking the harbour.  We reflected on the craziness of the past few days and declared Malta a brilliant island to explore but it was time to go home.

We were old pros now at the bus scene in Valletta and tracked down the information board at the terminal to find out from which stance the airport bus departed.  A16.  We found A1 and walked confidently past A2, A3 and onwards to A16 only to find out that it stopped at A15.  We never did find A16 but found a bus which appeared to be heading in the direction of the airport so we jumped aboard.

 

How to sum up our holiday in Malta?  It was hot, it was surprising, it was busy, it was full of incident but above all it was fun.   It’s a great island!

Malta 007

 

 

 

 

30 years in Scotland

2016 is a bit of a landmark year for me because it is 30 years since I moved to South West Scotland which means that I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere else.   This has made me  rather reflective and I find myself looking  back with nostalgia to those first few months of living in a foreign land.  I had to get used to a different language – turnip was swede, lum was chimney and a rather brilliant word “foutering” which seemed to mean dithering .   The word I loved best though was “dreich” which coincidentally is the subject of my latest watercolour painting –“ Brollies in the Rain”, a scene from the Glasgow Central Hotel on a very “dreich” day.

Rainy Day, Glasgow webmark

So used was I to learning new words that I wasn’t at all surprised to see that a tasty uncut loaf which I had always called a “bloomer” was labelled “boog” bread.   It sounded very Scottish – “boog” and I was puzzled when my exhaustive enquiries in local shops for “boog” bread was met with puzzled looks.    At last I tracked down the very item and presented it with a triumphant flourish at the till, only for my bubble to be burst when I had time to examine the label more closely – “800g Bread” Ah, okay, the penny dropped and I  slipped out of the shop with a rather unflattering crimson face.

Scottish expressions were also new to me and it is the practice here in South West Scotland to be asked “Is that you?” when you present your groceries to the checkout assistant.   “Er, yes I am me” I would reply rather puzzled by the question.   It was repeated “That’s you then?”   “Er, yes I am definitely me” I would reply again, my face creased up in bewilderment.   The assistant wouldn’t be satisfied until I had said “Yes, that’s me”.

This year I  married the local farmer next door – all very Mills and Boon.  This meant I was, technically speaking, a farmer’s wife which for a girl who resolutely refuses to wear anything else but evening dresses accessorized with either wellies or Doc Marts is chuffin’ hilarious.

This is the year that I had to learn a whole new language again and was rebuked for describing cattle as “Mummy cow, daddy cow, baby boy cow and baby girl cow” when I was in fact describing a cow, bull, heifer and bull calf.   I had to learn that cows don’t lie down on the grass because it is going to rain – my husband hooted with laughter over that one – a “townie” misconception of the highest order.   I also learned that when a cow lies down and puffs up it is, in fact, dead and not just doing a lying down, puffing up cow thing because it is bored with chewing the cud.     It was also news to me that the term “drying off the cows” doesn’t involve lovely warm soft fluffy white towels.  Oh dear, so much to learn and so many opportunities to look a right numpty (another Scottish word).

I am resigned to the fact that my husband gets excited when a fellow farmer invites him up a large open tower, accessed by a ladder to examine a million gallons of poo – or slurry as it is called.   For a girl who doesn’t know the difference between silage and slurry I just accept that it is interesting to some and not to others.    Whilst these two farmers were discussing the finer properties of cow poo I came all over “farmer’s wifey” and approached a cute calf in the byre to stroke its soft nose.   The poor creature backed into the corner, bellowing frantically, terrified of this stranger who was so clearly out of her depth.

In the last 30 years much water has passed under the bridge but what underpins all of my life is my passion for art and my desire to paint.   I have always coloured in as a child and I am fortunate to still be colouring in as an adult.   I am fortunate indeed that I have been able to found a successful business with my daubs and be in contact with interesting folk around the world.   Those interesting folk are my customers or potential customers and I value each and every communication.   So if, in my reply to you, I use words like “craig, wean, mingin, drookit or scunner” you will know that I am now bilingual in a confused sort of way.    Keep chatting to me and here’s to the next thirty years.

 

Swiss cheese,the creative brain and the elastoplast scenario

A short while ago I was watching a tv documentary about the creative brain.    The fancy graphics showed a brain with zillions of super-highways of connecting tissues, tightly packed together.    Ah-ha thought I, smugly,  leaning back into my sofa with a beatific expression on my face, an example of the extraordinary thinking power of us creatives.    I sat bolt upright when the know-it-all 12 year old  scientist announced that this was the structure of a NON-creative brain.   “What, surely not?”………. we creatives are possessed with extraordinary amount of brain power and call upon this vast resource to produce extraordinary and wonderful things to enhance our surroundings and the world in general.

I hardly dared look as the graphics changed to show the creative brain but there it was and it looked extraordinarily like Emmenthal cheese with whopping great gaps in its structure…..huge black holes of nothingness.    I stared at the tv screen, trying hard to grasp what this meant and how that affected the thinking of someone, like myself, who has built a career out of creativity.   How much thinking plunged headlong into those holes?  How many bright ideas  have fallen into the crevasses never to be seen again, what fate befell them?  There didn’t seem to be much of a brain left and I wondered how us creatives managed to do anything other than breathe, sleep and eat.

The scientist (now 11 years old and getting younger by the minute) explained that ideas form around the edges of the black holes, poised to leap.    Random thoughts, ideas, nonsense, words of a song,  thoughts of what you last had to eat,  the colour of the coat you’d quite like to buy, the rain falling, your favourite crisps, anything at all that is cluttering up your head all gather around the rim and gaze into the abyss.   Eventually something extraordinary happens –  for some unknown reason all these thoughts/ideas/impressions  make a spectacular leap into the void, presumably shouting weeeeeeeeeee as they propel themselves forward without a parachute.   They don’t, however, fall to oblivion, but grasp each other across the void , a Golden Gate bridge of strange and rather random connections , creating entirely new ideas and thoughts.   The  “thinking out of the box” that creatives are known for  is, in fact  the offspring of random couplings thrown together in space and landing as fully formed ideas freshly born and ready to be channelled into some creative enterprise.    A lot of these thoughts are immediately rejected…..the red coat singing “Oh I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside”, smelling of cheese and onion crisps getting a soaking in a downpour of raspberry jus is not going to win the next Booker or Turner prize (okay well it actually might be a contender for the Turner prize) but those ideas that remain form a many layered strata from which “diamonds” can be mined.

All this begs the question…..what happens when you need to make a connection which uses the M1 motorway of connecting tissue which just doesn’t exist because of the ruddy great hole in this gorgonzola of a brain?   What happens if you need a bridge but there isn’t one?    I now realise that I experience this daily and my non existing dual-carriageway is the one that I need for  packet opening.   I can’t for the life of me open packets.    I resort to extraordinarily levels of violence involving knives, scissors , teeth  and lots of “f” words to try and extricate ham from its plastic wrapping.      I can feel my thoughts scrabbling around in my head trying to find the connections that instruct my mind and fingers on what to do next when all I can call upon is a  vast “black hole of nothingness” which is not going to help me one little bit.      This all came to a head recently when I needed an Elastoplast for a blister on my heel……could I get into the damn thing?  could I hell!   I examined it, my brow wrinkled in puzzlement, I turned it left and right…..nothing…… I turned it upside down …..nothing….I turned myself upside down….nothing…..I used scissors to trim around the edges of the wrapping…..nothing…… I used my whopping, very sharp, very pointy cooks knife  to stab the elastoplast  at its core and try to extricate it like a winkle out of its shell…..nothing……I slipped…. I stabbed myself….the blood flowed…….the Elastoplast, now blood soaked was released….Eureka….released just in the nick of time to apply to my cut and stem the flow……. success but tarnished with the need for another plaster for my heel blister……I resorted to an extra pair of socks instead.

So, all you creatives out there, you will now know that your failure to do a simple task is owing to a whopping great gap in your bonce.    My advice….employ a non-creative person on such occasions, a person who possesses  a spaghetti junction of roads, pot hole free and tarmacked to within an inch of its life.   Okay, so you may not know how to fold paper to fit into an envelope but by jingo you can write crackin’ verse or paint a vibrant picture…..that’ll do me!

 

The mathetical formula for social media versus work

Does anyone know the mathematical formula for time spend on social media and time spend on actual work to maximise the income earned on that day?    Lets say x is equivalent to one hour of  time spent on promotion and y is an hour spent on the product itself with z being the best possible use of an 8 hour working day.    Does 4y +4x = z , or is it 5y + 3x = z ,  arbitrary  figures I’m afraid as I don’t possess this precious formula and without it I am beginning to  suspect my  8 hour day is 2y + 6x = z as I am once again lured into  watching cute kittens climb staircases or embarking on yet another quiz on facebook to find out what I was in a past life.

Ignore social media at your peril if, like me, your business is internet based.   I supply over 30 stockists with my prints, bag and children’s books and very lovely they are too – the stockists that is,but without the internet I would be hanging out the red light.    Some days my business fairly romps along and I am greeted with a flood of orders and spend a happy hour packing stuff into jiffy bags and sending them off to far flung places around the globe, whistling a happy tune.    Some days though the tumbleweed whistles through the desert of my order book and I wonder if I have been dilatory in the daily tweeting department.

If I could directly link one  hours social media activity with a sale of a book, bag or art print I would be reassured that I am not wasting the time which could be otherwise used in painting.   After all that is what I do – paint groovy, colourful paintings that my local printer chappie converts to fabbydabby art prints.   When I am tweeting or uploading images onto facebook I am not painting.   Perhaps the equation is more complicated with f being facebook, t being twitter and (having recently opened an instagram account ) I being instagram.   Surely it is not 2t + 4f+ 2i  = z.   Where is “y” – where is that stuff that I actually do and not talk about the stuff that I actually do.     Some days I am totally y-less – today being one of them because I am writing a blog.   “You need to write a blog” says everyone which is pushing “y” ever further away.     Perhaps b is for blog and that is factored into the equation also .   We are now 2t + 2f + 2i + 2b = z which is an 8 hour day totally used up without a single “y” moment.    I think I washed a paint brush today and glanced at the outline of my next children’s book – that amounts to a quarter of a “y” and I spend longer each day cleaning my teeth.

I am wanting to start on my third children’s book but am too busy putting out deafening tweets which fall, a lot of the time, on deaf ears.   Of course I  can’t just tweet “buy my stuff”, although I am tempted and , lets face it, that is the most honest approach.  I read once that the meat marketing board in Australia launched an advertising campaign with the tag line “buy more meat you bastards!”.  I am oh so tempted but haven’t got the bottle to adopt such a strategy.   I employ the more subtle approach as suggested by “Yet Another Book On Social Media That You Must Read Otherwise Your Business Will Fail.”   However I suspect that sometime my approach is so soft that its floaty lightness doesn’t make any impact whatsoever.

So until someone comes up with the correct mathematical formula I am reduced to juggling hours spend tweeting, facebooking and instagramming  with the odd hastily grabbed hour of  “real work” whilst all the time pretending that I am not trying to sell you anything.   I don’t think for a minute anyone is fooled.

Self employed artist …..graft with peanut butter & banana sandwiches

studio mess 002  Many folk dream of giving up the daily commute and office grind for the utopian dream of self-employment, but don’t really give it much thought beyond that.     I am self-employed and have been so for over 25 years.    Its for me, undoubtedly, but there are sacrifices e.g no holiday pay, no sick pay and an income which fluctuates hugely.     There have been many peanut butter and banana sandwich moments but those have been few and far between thankfully.    Someone once asked me what motivated me to paint  – “Food” I replied.   Its as simple as that, if I don’t sell my work (in whatever form) I don’t eat.    Food is a great motivational force!

I earn my living as a professional artist which  is in the same category as air hostess  – perceived as glamorous when the reality is just plain hard graft.     At a party or any other gathering once folk know what I do they think I waft around in kaftans applying the occasional daub to canvas.    (anyway, I only ever wear evening dresses – a personal preference and as cheap as chips from ebay).    The reality is a 6 am start answering emails and keeping my social media presence active.   A quick shower, bowl of muesli and coffee sustains me for the morning –  dispatching orders,  picking up prints,  liaising with stockists of my books and bags and updating my website.     I also sell on ebay, etsy and amazon which all require some form of daily attention. I continually have to think of new schemes to bolser my income without straying too far from what I love to do – painting and illustration.      I have set up an indie publishing company, Second Sands Publications to publish my work and others.   That alone is a huge amount of work but I enjoy the banter with stockists and being in charge of my own products.    At present I am contacting local social clubs and organisations to offer myself as speaker – an opportunity to raise my profile and sell my books, but it is eating hugely into this week with emails and letters.

Lunchtime is a quick bowl of soup and I try whenever possible to do a 4 mile walk which clears my mind and energises me for the afternoon.

Afternoons are for creative work, having got all of the admin out of the way in the morning.   I am really fortunate to have a studio overlooking the sea, the best possible light but, to be honest, I don’t get a lot of time for wave gazing.    My present project is a “How to Draw” book for children which uses my skills as a trained art teacher and I am trying not to get too excited about it.    Excitement means lack of sleep and being a bit gaga in the head – it can become an obsession and has to be controlled otherwise it affects the rest of my modest enterprise and to neglect that ends up with peanut and butter sandwiches.    So I have to curtail the excitement and restrict the creative stuff to the afternoons which can be frustrating as hell.

Throw into the mix the commission work which can be anything from designing a logo, a book jacket or a community arts project creating massive works of art with people from all walks of life.   It is at these times that I can be working an 18 hour day .    Usually I try and finish around 5.30 and flop on my sofa.     The evenings are for relaxing but I use the breaks in the adverts to keep my twitter presence active and promote my website.

I wouldn’t change it of course and get a huge amount of satisfaction.    The priceless moments for me are when a mum stops me in the street because her son/daughter loves one of my books or I get a lovely email from someone whohas received one of my printed canvases and has placed it as the focal point in their room.

I have spoken to many self employed folk (there are nearly 5 million now in the UK) and some admit to loneliness.    I suppose I am lucky in that regard as I live in a village and can pop out at any time if I want some human contact.   A daily trip to the post office gives me the excuse to trot along the street and there is always someone to chat to on the way.     I collaborate with a friend who is running a small indie publishing company  Curly Tale Ltd and we meet regularly for chats on the publishing industry and how to deliver a good service in the highly competitive environment of children’s books.

Hard graft it may be but the compensation is that when I awake in the morning I get a sense of excitement and I can’t wait for the day begin……that alone is worth any amount of peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

Thistle canvas

 

The big cauliflower let down…

cauli 001    I love spice, love it, love it, love it so was uber excited to find a recipe on facebook which involved mixing greek yogurt with oodles of ground spice.  Something in the back of my mind was nagging though –  Don’t you always gently fry spices first to release the flavour and avoid that “raw” spice taste which is metallic and unpleasant.   Casting these doubts firmly aside I spend a very messy few minutes trying to plaster a cauliflower in spicy yogurt – the phone rang of course!   Doesn’t it always when your  hands are covered in goo, or you suddenly need to scratch your nose.     Into a hot oven went this rather alien brain looking object and 40 minutes later out came a baked, brown and alarming looking  vegetable.   It tasted…..raw spicey metallic……should have listened to myself in the first place.    We ate half last night and I am going to try to fry the remainder , spice side down this evening (I hate waste).     The point of all this rambling is that when that little naggy voice starts up in the back of my head I am going to listen to it.

Back to work though and I have been spending a lot of time on my website and uploading new prints.   I am very happy with my fish/seatrout print and couldn’t resist ordering a canvas for myself – here it is in my bathroom and I love it.   fish canvas bathroom 001

 

 

 

Hannibal Lecter meets Kermit the Frog

P1000885    T’was only last week that I was snorkelling in the azure waters of Balos beach in Crete, diving down amongst the fishes and trying to ignore the fact that the snorkelling gear makes me look like a cross between Kermit the Frog and Hannibal Lecter…… hence my decision to post an image of the stunning beach rather than my very un-Ursula Andress appearance.

Being used to snorkelling in the cold waters of the UK amongst the empty crisp packets and abandoned drinks can, the sight of  fish of every colour, shape and size quite took my breath away .   For those that have ventured to Balos it is only reached via a 9 km drive over rough (and I mean rough) track where the road hugs the side of a mountain on one side and ends with a thousand metre drop at the other (I shut my eyes – relax, I wasn’t driving).   The drive ends at a car park and requires a 2 km trek down roughly hewn steps clutching food, water, towels and all of the paraphernalia needed for a day at the beach and some water activity.      Phew! got there at last and tried not to think of the 2 km trek back up the roughly hewn steps at the end of the day.

This and more snorkelling at Loutros where we saw a rather evil looking moray eel and hundreds of those poison ridden black sea urchins, made it a brilliant holiday.    There was quite a lot of sitting around the pool at the villa drinking ouzo and a lot of sampling of  greek food – swordfish being my favourite.

 

So back home and trying to reboot my brain.   A busy busy spell ahead with needing to do the BIG run out to stockists to make sure they have enough Bonnie Beltie Bags, The Trail Of The Pointy Toed Pyjama Thief and Boo Where Are You? to see them through the xmas spell.   All this and trying to navigate around the back room of my website is a lot to load onto a brain that is only half cranked up.   Oh well…… ever onward!

My first blog

blog imageWell, my very first blog and I haven’t a scooby as to what to write. It’s very tempting indeed to plug my new children’s book “Boo Where Are You?” but I wouldn’t be so obvious as to use this space to advertise my wares. Of course, if I was going to promote this book in such a brazen manner I would point out that it is a fun filled “look and find” book for tots, featuring Boo the Beltie but I am really not going to mention it or the fact that it is in over 25 stockists around Dumfries and Galloway and available here on this website.

So if I am not going to plug my book (that’ll be Boo Where Are You?) what can I write about? A lot of blogs are about food but I don’t want to resort to writing about what I had for my dinner, although today I have left over lobster, chorizo and Belgian chocolate cheesecake from last night’s dinner party, which can be classed as rather exotic fare for a weekday lunch and perhaps worth a mention here.

Food blogs are very popular so perhaps I can consider a few paragraphs on the joys of pan frying scallops.   I know my scallops and class myself as a bit of a cook……which rhymes with book…..but I’m not going back there…..although if I did I would mentioned that the book (Boo Where Are You?) is a mere £7 which is small change for a labour of love which took me 6 months hard graft. My advice in this food blog is not to overcook your scallops unless you like to chew.

When I am not cooking and writing blogs about cooking I am writing and illustrating children’s books.   “Boo Where Are You” followed hot on the heels of my last book “The Trail Of The Pointy Toed Pyjama Thief” which I will be careful not to mention in my next blog on fashion.