The Midges are Gathering Strength

I Saw A Midge!

Early this morning I ventured into the great outdoors and occupied my veranda, wondering what I should do today.  Should I write my new thesis on how to take a bath using only a pint of water?  Or should I slag off Nicola Sturgeon?  Guess which won…

Today the sun has put his hat on and decided to pay us a visit, so all is well in our little corner of Argyll.  Gossamer veils of hazy mist rose from the damp grass before the sun baked them off but it was upon noticing this that the horror of it struck me.  The tiny wee flies that hovered in the air, sharpening their fangs, were none other than the dreaded Scottish midge.

The words from Lord Of The Rings, one of my favourite books, strode meaningfully across my mind. “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. The midges of last year became gossip, gossip became history, history became rumour and rumour became legend.  Legend ran for it, disappearing down the forest path of time where it tripped over a log and became myth.  And for two and a half thousand hours, the little bastards passed out of all knowledge”.  

But lo, the dark lady Sturgeon has conjured them back into being and she has made them hungry, especially the lady midges who need my juicy blood protein to make their eggs.  You will notice from the image below that the dark lady Sturgeon does not get bitten by midges.  There are two reasons for this.  Firstly the midges die of dwarf poisoning if they bite her, secondly little Nicola avoids the countryside at all costs and only goes there when in desperate need of votes.

Nicola Sturgeon - Evil!

Nicola Sturgeon – Evil!

In short the midges are back and we could be in deep Progressive SNP Nicola Sturgeon do-doos.  However, there could be money in this.  I shall put in for more funding as a disadvantaged minority!  Yay!

Get your midge repellant ready, the onslaught is about to begin!

The Passing Of My Kid Sister.

So that’s that.

It’s all over and done.

Yesterday was the day of my kid sister’s funeral. At age 55 she has returned to the body of matter and energy that is our universe. An emotionally draining day to say the least.

I had to divert myself from howling with anguish by taking note of the more humorous events through the funeral. The curtains closed and I thought, ‘That was quick! I got away without blubbing.’

The curtains then opened again and I thought, ‘Spoke too soon…’

My nephew, my niece and my sister (their mother) pretty much carried the service themselves and did a fine job. My niece had even written a song which she sang whilst playing on her guitar. This was very well done. A lovely piece.
In time I will write up a piece about my family but that is for another day.

The journey down south, to the north west was enough to piss anyone off. We left in a storm. We drove through flood and tempest and when we arrived at our hotel it was as though our planet’s end-time had come. The atmospheric ‘shit’ hit the fan and battered us as we tried to get our luggage into the building.

Inside things seemed to get worse. Our four star hotel was a disaster. The room we booked as having disabled access was a joke and smelled musty. The lighting was dire and at least one light failed to work. The bathroom was ordinary except for the inclusion of a wide door for wheelchairs, which I don’t use. However, the walk-in shower that we had been led to believe would be there, turned out to be a bath. I can’t get into a bath without a team of highly trained fork lift truck drivers to hand and once I have sat down I need a Saturn5 rocket to get me back up again. Decency forbids any further information on my bath exit strategy.

We complained and were awarded the ‘Executive Suite’ in exchange. The Executive Suite had a walk-in shower. This sounded good, two rooms for the price of one. But the buckets outside in the corridor catching the drips from the roof did not bode well.

Beloved and I ate a frugal meal (in my opinion) of humous, tzatziki and olive bread accompanied by some ready cooked chicken (sausages and chips were notably absent!) ‘Meal’ finished, we retired to bed.

The fire alarm triggered during the night but was quickly stifled by a member of staff who must have just as quickly stubbed out his cigarette. The next morning things looked very different. I had noticed that in certain places on the lower floors and indeed on the corridor that led to our room, there were signs of water ingress from outwith the building. Rivulets had been running down the structural supports all over the blooming place. On our third floor corridor, a section of carpet had been removed. In this three storey building, the water had gotten right down to the first floor. This is not good if one requires that the weather stays outside. It did, however, answer the question of where the musty smell was coming from.

With the aid of daylight I could easily see damp patches on the walls in our room and the chocolate brown carpet was an utter disgrace. To make things even worse, if that were possible, there was no hot water! As one would expect, the fire alarm was interlocked with the boilers and the boiler feeding our wing of the building had not fired up again after the brief alarm during the night. We phoned reception and the drones that work for the hotel scrambled and assured us that the hot water would be back on again in 20 minutes. When we left shortly after midday there was still no hot water.

My friends, if you ever need to stay in a hotel, do not stay at the Mercure St Helens. Needless to say, words were said and complaints are being filed!

The journey home was fraught with difficulty. We had snow on all high ground north of Kendal. The M74 was closed in two places after the flooding that we experienced the day before. In one flood below a bridge, we saw a small yellow car on its side stuck on top of a three level high armco crash barrier whilst the emergency services waded thigh deep through the freezing waters, looking for something with their flashlights. I hope that it wasn’t the driver or the passenger but I fear that it was.

The M8 was restricted down to one lane of standing traffic so I tried the Clyde Tunnel, thinking that I might take the Great Northern Road, to bypass the M8 and wave as we passed the Erskine Bridge further north. I was thwarted as they had shut the Clyde Tunnel too. Perhaps it was flooded and the drainage pumps had been overwhelmed. Who knows, because they weren’t telling?

A snow plough lurked at the bottom of the ‘Rest And Be Thankful’ mountain pass so we had a slow climb up the hill in an inch of snow. This was no problem for our 4×4 Volvo but other people had huge problems as their wheels broke traction. Still, these things make the journey more interesting.

Next, as we drove around Loch Fyne, two Sika deer appeared at the roadside and looked at our headlights as we approached at 50mph. At least I think that they were Sika, they may have been Moose for all I know. One of them decided to see if the anti-lock brakes on our car were as good as Volvo say they are. ‘Stupid’ sprang out into our path and did what deer do: he froze in the beam of the headlights. I know his name was Stupid because his mate was wearing a hat on which was printed, *I’m With Stupid*.

I stamped on the brake and the car slowed rapidly, the anti-lock system kicking in with panache to prevent the wheels from locking on the wet surface. The car came to a controlled stop two inches too late to avoid Stupid being tapped by the front end of the car. The deer was knocked gently and fell over. He got to his feet instantly, shook his coat in an irritated way, gave me a look that could fry sausages and swaggered off into the woods. Mrs Stupid crossed at the same time, flashing us a look of exasperated apology and then proceeded into the woods, scolding Stupid as she went. Both looked to be fine. We stopped at Inveraray and I braved the drizzle to inspect the car with a torch. There was no damage, not a scratch, so my guess is that Stupid will live to be stupid for another day. Thank God we were not driving a laden log truck!

We got home at around 2am, glad to be alive. And I’m spending today at rest with occasional bursts of relaxation.

My kid sister (right of centre).
Rest In Peace sis.

Gout and the world of William Frederick

Mohicans, Vices and Gout in Oban.

Admittedly, this is a strange title but it came from observations made whilst sitting in my car yesterday afternoon in Tesco car park, Oban.  It transpired that gout was about to pay me a visit.  What fresh excitement is this do I hear you ask, telepathically, through the ether?

How did I come to make these observations?  Well it’s like this.  The surreal world of Bill went to Oban with me, as is its wont.  As I was sat in my four wheeled ‘women of a certain age magnet’, my right hip was engaging in its usual grumbling unpleasantness and generally giving me the finger.  However, this afternoon it was joined by my right big toe making its presence known with a discomfort level that rated a ‘six’ on the Richter scale.

I hope I’m not coming down with blooming gout again, thought I.  Gout can come on at a terrific lick and can cripple a chap (or chapess) within about four hours.  My tablets were of course back at Chez Bill & Beloved so the return drive home became somewhat imperative.  I took pain killers knowing that they would not even touch the pain if it were gout but they might knock me out.  This would be an advantage as long as Beloved was driving.  Otherwise we would be heading straight towards the car park that is deep in ‘the warm brown pungent stuff’ that hits the fan.


Gout!  What a blooming horrid name.  It ranks right up there with crud, ooze and puss.  Why can’t they call it Dagger Disorder or even Buggins Syndrome?  Either would do.  Gout sounds so archaic.  So Henry VIII.  Blurghhh!

I stayed in the car whilst Beloved made a quick run to gather the good booty of Tesco and as happy circumstance would have it, the painkillers started to kick in and I felt drowsy.  My right hip needs… well a new hip, and the big toe?  I slipped the gear lever quickly into denial as I could in no way be coming down with gout again.  Surely not?  They call this the rich man’s ailment and the disease of kings.  As I’m terminally skint and have the lineage of an unbroken line of peasants this is obviously a load of utter bollocks!  Give me the riches and the odd monarchy and I’ll accept yearly bouts of gout.

Doctor ‘S’ says that some handsome, intelligent and spectacularly gifted individuals are prone to gout but as you can readily see, she will say anything if you bung her enough boodle.  I seem to be one of the chaps that get gout and in my book, that proves that I am both handsome AND intelligent.  So there!  As for the spectacularly gifted bit, a euphemism if ever there was one, well… as long as my doctor says it to be so, it follows that it must be so.  If you’ve got it you are doomed to flaunt it.  (Peter the pine marten is looking at my screen through the study window, laughing so hard he has just choked on an errant peanut).


I eat a pretty healthy diet, as long as certain strict ethical and hygiene considerations are met.  These being; pull its horns off, wipe its bottom and I’ll eat it.  However, on the dark side, if I drink any nice drinks like red wine, port, Guinness, McKewan’s Champion ale, single malts, brandy, sloe gin or indeed Bovril, then I’m in for trouble.  Christmas is a blooming nightmare of, “No you can’t have another glass of port!” and “Put that stilton back on the shelf, it’s raw carrots for you my lad!”

Anyway I digress… Back to the title.  As I gazed soporifically across the Tesco carpark a young chap with dark hair walked past my vroom-mobile sporting a Mohican haircut.  (The young chap not my car.  The car would just look silly, like it had been through a mad-panda carwash and brought a panda home, given it a severe back-combing and decided to wear it as a hat.)  The young chappie looked a little incongruous, sporting, along with his Mohican, a coating of very pale skin and paint spattered overalls.  In my fuzzy haze of drugged discomfort, I thought of a walking paint brush but soon nodded off into a passing dissociative fugue, whilst beloved hunted in the forest of goodies that is Tesco.


After many years working in Electrical and BMS Controls on high-end engineering projects, I learned to spot certain tradesmen. Painters were the easiest to identify.  Scaffolders tended to stand out too as they were all built like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  As with most trades there were very few older chaps.  This is natural enough as it is a physically demanding world and as age creeps up, older guys tend to find themselves drifting away.  I spotted the writing on the wall, mainly because I put it there.  Therefore I opted for retraining as a commissioning engineer and later I moved into the more favourable area of project design and management.  This was followed by a stint as a sales engineer for a large German company.  The young chap walking towards Tesco had already developed the waxy pallor of a painter.  The fumes from some of those modern high-tech industrial coatings will kill you as soon as look at you and the preliminary poisoning is the work of a moment.


While I tried to ignore the stabbing surges in my lower right limb, to cheer myself up, I thought about some of the wonders of me.  Yes you’re right, there weren’t very many of them.  The upshot was a sad realisation that I am a man of few vices which in my opinion, is letting the side down.  I resolved to acquire some additional degeneracy PDQ (pretty-damned-quick).  For my new year’s resolution I shall reacquire ‘the smoking of cigars’.  This I shall add to my existing vice repertoire of ‘slothfulness’, ‘pie eating’ and ‘drinking more beer than is good for me’.  I tend towards ‘Seven Giraffes’ a fine amber beer brewed in Falkirk… beer vouchers welcome. (Beer vouchers are brown or blue in colour and have the Queen’s head on them in England.  Here in Scotland you may find Robbie Burns, Robert the Bruce or Lord Kelvin amongst others).

There was a knock on the car window and Beloved’s voice said, “I’ve got your pine marten bread and some of the cheap jam for Peter’s butties… and milk and some vegetables.  You have sausages in the freezer so I didn’t get anything from the butcher’s department.  And William… You have been napping again haven’t you?  You’ve been drooling into your beard.  Here’s a hanky.”

By the time we got home an hour later my big toe was hurting like blue blazes and had raised its game up to a ‘nine’ on the Richter scale.  It felt like someone was digging a dagger into the joint and twisting it with malicious delight (theirs not mine).  Beloved had to help me hobble into the house.  I am now laid-up until the tablets do their thing.

Bertram & Gertrude’s Extra Sensory Spy.

A taster for, Extra Sensory Spy

Book opening: Agent Zwaard Calls

It was a winter’s evening, cold and still.  From the study window of his ground floor Gower Street flat in the heart of Bloomsbury, Bertram stood looking out across the barren and leafless vista.  Visible from behind the high brick garden wall were mature trees, denuded of leaf during these bitter winter months.  Their branches, and those of Bertram’s own few small trees dotted here and there, were silhouetted by the yellow lights illuminating Ridgmount Gardens and Torrington Place.  As Bertram’s gaze moved, a thick crust of hoar frost covering everything, sparkled.

“Bloody Hell it’s cold out there,”  he said, shuddering, as he pulled the curtains closed with a tug.  Throwing a few more coals on the fire, he snuggled up on the couch with Gertrude, the love of his life.  They were doing what we all do on evenings like this, keeping warm, watching the telly and munching on a bar or two of Green & Black’s organic chocolate.  Later, as an emergency measure, thick Spanish hot chocolate would be spooned from the cup into eager mouths, in order to keep the cold out when they retired to bed.  Bertram and Gertrude were allowing a bottle of Saint-Émilion to breathe, one of a few that Tarquin, his only chum and colleague at The Ministry, had given them.  The cork and the corkscrew lay on the tray, whilst the bottle and glasses basked in front of the fire.  Not too close, but close enough for some warmth to insinuate itself into the wine as it slowly mingled with the air, allowing its flavour to soften and mellow. Tarquers, as he had become affectionately known, had bought in a dozen cases to prop-up his cellar.  The Saint-Émilion was for immediate consumption, which eased off on the pressure to break into the more important wines that had been laid down for a future date.

Bertram was in harmonious mood due, in the main, to a previous bottle of the full bodied red Bordeaux, complete with its confident and forthright bouquet.  A little earlier that evening he had adequately extricated himself from a bit of difficulty regarding Gertrude’s sister, Agnes, and the bed in which he and she had both been found by none other than Gertrude herself, in that very room.  The explanation he had given was both truthful and, more importantly, believed by Gertrude and was, he thought, the last obstacle between him and a happy marriage.  Being found in bed with his future sister-in-law was always going to be a source of turbulence beneath the smooth flowing waters of marital bliss had it not been resolved to Gertrude’s satisfaction.  It had all been a terrible calamity but luckily, not one made by Bertram, as he had been sound asleep and comatose after a snootful, when said sister had climbed into bed with him, mistaking him for her boyfriend.  He had remained unconscious to the world until the next morning, when he had awakened with a start on feeling someone unexpectedly grab hold of Little Bertram, in all his morning glory.  He still shuddered on remembering Agnes’ rendition of the child’s nursery rhyme, “Hickory – dickory – dock.  The mouse ran up the cock…”  It was at that point in the poetry recital that Gertrude had walked in and screamed the house down.

The phone rang and Bertram struggled up from the well-worn leather couch, answered it and smiled.  “Hello, old chap!  How lovely to hear from you.  We’ve just written your invitation to our wedding.  What’s afoot?”  Covering the mouthpiece, he turned to Gertrude and whispered, “It’s Zwaard!”

Zwaard was the code name for their friend, the head sherang or Hoofdcommissaris of the Amsterdam division of the Netherlands General Intelligence and Security Service, otherwise known as the Secret Service.  Gertrude couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation and could only guess at what their friend in The Netherlands was saying.

Bertram continued,  “My goodness!  But… but he’s such a decent chap.  He would never do such a thing!  How has this come about?… Oh, of course.  Walls have ears… Yes, I understand.  You can fill us in when we arrive.  I’ll phone for some tickets in the morning, then… Oh, by courier?  That’s awfully decent of you, old boy… Car waiting at the airport… 19:30 hours… p.m… evening time.  We’ll speak then.  Okay Wouter-Zwaard, old chap.  Keep your chin elevated at all times!  Do not fear, we will be with you tomorrow.”

“What’s happening, Bertie dear?  That didn’t sound good.  Are we going to Amsterdam?”

“Yes, my dear, we are.  Post-haste.  Young Agent Dolk has gone and got himself into a spot of bother.  He’s been accused of murder and they’ve suspended him from duty!  By the sound of it, their Minister is masking his disconsolation by performing some chipper little back-flips of triumph.  Reading between the lines, it looks like Agent Zwaard is going to be next if we don’t do something to help them.”

“That Minister is completely off his onion!  I’ll get the bags packed.  Be a dear, phone Mrs. Creevy next door and ask her to feed the cats while we’re away.  Sir Binky, Mr. Patch and Master Henry will need someone to come in and read them an uplifting story each evening.  We’ll leave the heating on for them during this cold snap.  It’ll also help to stop the pipes freezing.”

“Oh, ah, yes, the pipes…” said Bertram, as he tried to weigh the cost of what he considered to be an unnecessary burden on his gas bill against the cost of repairing a burst pipe.  He could not understand why Gertrude wanted both the central heating to be switched on and to have a coal fire as well.  Apparently it was something to do with visual focal points and the beneficial effect that sitting around a fire has on the human psyche, a hang-over from our caveman days.  But, thought Bertram, cavemen didn’t have to pay gas bills, did they?

“Bertie, dear, I know what you’re thinking.  Remember that you are on expenses in Amsterdam, so there is absolutely no additional cost in leaving the heating running for the cats.  Do try and stop being such a tight arse.  If you remember our discussion of yesterday, where I outlined areas of your life in which I can see room for improvement?  Well, this is one of them!”

“I’m sorry, dear, I must have forgotten that one.  There was such an abundance of them…”  Bertram picked up the phone and called Mrs. Creevy, wondering how his beloved could identify so many areas of his life in which he could be improved.  There were far too many to be attributed to one man in just five and a half decades of ambling around this mortal coil.

. . .

Gertrude had two cases packed within the hour and was wheeling them into the hall when there was a knock at the front door.  She answered it and a bustling Mrs. Creevy entered.  “I was out in the back garden making sure that my bees were snug and warm in this nasty, cold weather.  I’ve put extra insulation around the hive and given them some nice sugar-syrup in case they get hungry.  They’ll need the extra energy in this cold.”

“Thanks for calling around Mrs. Creevy, we’re most grateful.  I’m afraid that Bertie’s business commitment is likely to be a little open-ended.  We really have no idea how long we’ll be away in Amsterdam.”

“That’s not a worry, my dear, as I’m not going anywhere for the next few months.  When the boys run out of food, I’ll just add it on to my shopping list and we’ll settle up when you return.  Now, where are the little rascals?”

They went through to the living room where, lying right in front of the fire next to the wine, were three somnolent cats.  There was Sir Binky, an all-black retired gentlecat of some standing amongst the local feline community: Patch, a ginger chap who was as loving as a cat could be to his staff; and Henry, a very private black and white confirmed bachelor type of chap, who seemingly couldn’t quite get up-to-speed with current events.  Mrs. Creevy fussed over them lovingly, “Don’t you worry now, boys, I’ll be in twice a day to prepare your meals and I’ll read you the latest in the adventures of Sir Humphrey, the Downing Street Cat, during the evenings.  You like to hear about him.”

“Knowing this lot, they probably knew him personally,” smiled Gertrude.

“Well if they hopped on the Northern Line at Goodge Street and got off at Embankment, its just a hop, skip and a jump over to Downing Street, so they very well may have known Sir Humphrey.  But of course, he had to move when the Blairs took up residence.  Cherie had an allergy, apparently…”  She said the last sentence with a disapproving look.

The cats gazed at Mrs. Creevy as though they were thinking, ‘Oh goody, more treats!  And a story each evening!’  They remembered well that Mrs. Creevy was a good and reliable source of nice, fishy nibbles and they would be sure to get far more cuddles from her than from Bertram and Gertrude, their usual servants.

After being appraised of current cat food stocks, Mrs. Creevy returned to her home, next door.  She was obviously looking forward to spending time with Bertram and Gertrude’s moggies as, like Cherie Blair, her own husband was allergic to cat saliva and sadly they could not have any pusses in their flat.  This was a cause of constant frustration in their ageing relationship, as now the passion had dwindled, it needed to be replaced by something else – and what could be better than cats?

From here the story moves to Amsterdam and adventure…

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