Monday, 29 August 2011

An enraged Swedish Chef

Kirkintilloch looked miserable yesterday. The sky was thick with grey. The wind that blew over the hills was bitter cold. The branches on the trees swayed fiercely in the strong breeze and the streets were empty of people. That was until the Reids and the McGarvas arrived.
Yesterday was Dougie’s birthday and Colin and Jillian held a BBQ in my Father In Law’s honour and we all made our way out to Waterside. Colin donned the Chef’s hat, that Ka had found him on Amazon during the week, (she couldn’t find a turban), and got the coals lit with a little help from Dad, an expert BBQ chef himself. Steven soon provided some help with another BBQ, firing on some Chicken Tikka he’d marinated earlier, which everyone soon started munching, raving about, whilst picking the last remaining chicken from their sticks. Colin muttered jealously and then shouted abusively, waving his knives and spatulas around like an enraged Swedish Chef, as apparently we had not praised his own cooking quite so much.
Greasy hamburgers in a buttery roll with cheese and a heavy dollop of tomato sauce. Sausages fresh from the grill. Beef kebabs that nipped at your mouth with their spicy innards as you ate. Pork steaks, pasta bakes, mustards, beers, cake and wine. As Man United scored all those goals, all of the above were happily consumed although none of which were particularly ideal ingredients for a man that’s just had a heart attack.
Dad spent three nights as a guest in Hairmyres hospital last week as a result of the pains he had been experiencing on the Monday morning whilst getting ready for work. It wasn’t until Dad got to work and he was having more than a little difficulty with the short staircase outside the factory’s front doors that he realised something must be wrong. As the pain in his chest continued and he found himself short of breath, more than a little hot under the collar and building up a bit of a sweat on the brow, he googled the symptoms in work and they all gave generally the same answer. A heart attack.
One of Dad’s colleagues flung the phone over the desk towards him and he phoned NHS 24, whose advisors, after passing Dad on a few times to various, different conversationalists, eventually came up with the idea of sending an ambulance out. Gosh, that what quick thinking. Before long Dad was whisked off to Hairmyres.
Of course, once I had got to the hospital on the Monday night I told him that he should have just phoned me. After recently graduating from a three day British Red Cross course I could have told him what the problem was in moments, quickly identifying the symptoms of a heart attack (although I’m not sure if my Dad experienced the ‘sense of impending doom’… I’ll need to ask him that). I could have told him was position to sit in and everything and I certainly wouldn’t have had to hold a committee or pass the phone round my work colleagues to get their ideas on the matter.
Saying that, I may have panicked. I may even have made matters worse. I would probably have rushed out from my work, ran straight into a lamp post, dropping my car keys down a drain and then once having finally retrieved my car keys from under the street drain with the help of a passing burglar who just happened to have a crowbar on him, I would have crashed the car into a Hamilton driver.
Makes me wonder what I’d be like in a real British Red Cross emergency situation. I’m one of three first aiders in our building. I’m also one of two fire wardens for our department?!
The place is doomed.
Yes, it’s probably just as well Dad did not phone me.
Dad has now been prescribed with four pills to take for the rest of his life and a six week recovery programme to help nurse him through the coming weeks. Dad showed the large ring bound book of recovery to Ka and myself when we visited him at home on Thursday after he was eventually released from Hairmyres and Ka immediately started going through the instructions, reading out the various pills’ allowance and side affects, skipping the bit about the possible effects on the sex life.
Dad is now on a morning diet of Aspirins, statins and beta blockers to help thin his blood and keep it flowing properly through his arteries.
As a result of all this I’m now considering my own diet. If my Dad, a generally healthy, fit guy, can have a heart attack, what chance do the rest of us have?
The rest of us being me?
Just for starters, I’ve been mulling over my cholesterol intake today. I came across one list describing the food to avoid online which included all as follows:
Butter – I eat on bread, toast, potatoes, quite a lot really. It was on the rolls I had with my greasy BBQ food yesterday.
Hard cheese – Cheese is great. Brilliant toasted with a tomato on top. In fact, I had loads on my burgers yesterday…
Fatty meat – yep, eat that too. Again, had a fair amount from Colin’s and Jillian’s table last night.
Red and processed meat – yep, again on the BBQ last night.
Biscuits – yep, last night along with…
Cake – well, it was Dougie’s birthday?!
Cream – yep, we had whipped cream with it. Although Dougie kept an eye on Morgan and myself as we squirted from the can (he doesn’t like people nicking his whipped cream).
Dripping – is this grease from your food? If so, yes, again, on the burgers and various meaty products cooked on Colin’s smoking BBQ last night.
Other items on the list included Lard, Ghee (whatever that is) and Coconut oil. These three were the only three not included on Colin and Jillian’s menu last night.
Everything else we ate is on the heart attack list?!
Colin was trying to murder us!?!
Chicken Tikka wasn’t on the Cholesterol list though...
That’s why Colin was so angry at Steven for cooking some of his own recipes.
By cooking some healthy chicken, Steven was foiling his evil plan!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Performers, pamphlets, pasta and pains

“What’s this all about?”, I wondered to myself after ten minutes of standing watching a flame haired guy shout at the gathered audience around him. The flame haired man had dragged a young child out into his people framed circle in the middle of the Royal Mile. The street entertainer was now spending a hell of a long time shouting at the gathered audience standing before him, whilst the audience standing behind him, which involved Ka, Mum, Dad, Lynsey Ann and myself, struggled to hear, his voice a distorted echo which bounced off the old, stone walls and buildings around us. He took a few more minutes to dress the wee guy up in a long coat, red wig and hat, cracking jokes the whole time, which only half of the audience actually heard, the rest of us, standing to the rear, having to make do with vague echoes and attempts at guessing the joke. He then started blowing up long balloons with some sort of small air pistol and as he cracked another joke my patience finally broke and I turned to Ka and my Mum and huffed loudly. Ka and Mum agreed with a nod and a shake of the head and we started moving off. We started to move reluctantly at first, moving away from the busy, crudely formed circle of tourists and Fringe goers as we suspected that as soon as we took our eyes away from the red bearded street entertainer he may actually start entertaining.
That’s always the problem with the Edinburgh Fringe, I thought as we walked, there are a hell of a lot of shows, plays, music and exhibitions on in the capital at this time of year but only some of it will actually be worth watching.
Dad had driven us all through to Edinburgh for the afternoon for a walk around the Fringe tainted streets of the capital in order to take in some of the colour, acting, music and activities.
Ka and myself usually go and see at least two or three comedians of varying standards when it comes to the Fringe time of year. This year, however, Ka and myself are running a little short of fun and laughs and we were quite happy to relax and simply stroll around with Mum, Dad and Lynsey Ann, taking in the fringe atmosphere, looking out for anything interesting that may be going on in the streets whilst we looked around for a spot of lunch on the sunny Sunday afternoon.
The crowds were pretty massive, as is usual for the Edinburgh streets at the height of Fringe activity.
People danced around you as you walked. Pirates handed out pamphlets as we passed. Classical music rang out from small, secluded corners in the various squares that lead off from the Mile. Pipers played the bagpipes in animal skins and long kilts, balancing on stilts disguised as goat legs, precariously tottering around the pave stones on hooves. Small groups of artists huddled under brolleys, hunched over easels painting or sketching paying models, advertising themselves with impressive drawings of movie stars set on boards facing out into the street. Some even sat pencilling mildly insulting caricatures of paying visitors to their pavement spot, apparently oblivious to the fact they could be in for a punch on the jaw. Big, fat, burly blokes blew up stretchy, coloured balloons. TV crews ran about with big, complicated looking cameras. All the cities buskers were out in force, wearing the more colourful ties and hats from their wardrobe collection. There were more street statues than normal too. Standing still. Doing nothing. Wanting paid for the mere effort of painting themselves silver.
People stood on the street’s rails and stone pillars in deep conversation with squirrels which they had their hands and forearms hidden up inside the animals’ anal cavity. People pedalled around on unicycles, uncomfortably perched on their small saddles, making you wince, as you felt their pain, watching them travel over the cobbles underfoot. Others walked around holding picture frames around their heads and shoulders creating the illusion of being a walking, talking portraits.
There was no sign of Trevor and Simon though. Dad reminded me of a past Edinburgh moment when the family had been walking down the Royal Mile, at some point in the late eighties, and Kenny and myself spotted the Going Live comedic legends of ‘Swing Your Pants’ fame, striding up the street towards us. Unfortunately they must have been on their holidays as they were not swinging their pants at the time so, being the shy, polite person that I am, I neglected to ask for an autograph.
The celebrity average on Sunday was pretty low. We only managed to spot Four Poofs and a Piano, of Friday Night with Jonathan Ross fame, who performed a short routine in the middle of the street with a keyboard perched on the pianist’s kilted knees.
After an hour or so walking around the city streets we headed back towards the Grassmarket in search of some Sunday lunch.
The five of us ended up sitting in the middle of the old market square outside a small café bar named Made in Italy, the Castle towering above us from behind the various bars which line the northern side of the street. We enjoyed some sufficiently sized pasta dishes with some wine, and, whilst a man cracked a whip in the open space behind us, enjoyed the atmosphere and the varying degrees of sunshine, which shone down through the moving clouds overhead.
In all we had a nice, pleasant, relaxing Sunday to take us into the stressful week that was to come when my Dad woke up on Monday morning with a pain in his chest.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Ben

Monday morning. Half past nine. The sweat was pouring out of me. The unpredictable weather kept changing from hot to cold, rain to shine. Colin, Chaz and myself had started ascending the track which rose up from Achintree Farm after crossing the shaky bridge over the River Nevis. The path led us up between the fields at the foot of the mountain and it wasn’t until we were over the stile at the top of the farm that we really knew we were climbing up on to the mountainside, the peak of Ben Nevis our far off goal.
As we began hiking up the large stone path the rain started and the first group of the fellow hill climbers overtook us, all foreign and most with the hiking, walking sticks. Colin and Chaz paused to slip on their waterproof trousers, hobbling and hopping about on the spot as the rain became heavier, sweeping down from the side of the giant hill before us in sheets. With my heavy headedness and my dodgy, but now recovering, stomach, caused by the night before, I began to wonder if I was really going to be capable of climbing Britain’s highest peak. The sheer size of the Ben loomed over the long, zig zagging path before us, the road we were on disappearing round the first side of the hill a sizable hike before us.
After around ten to fifteen minutes the rain dwindled down to a smir in the air and as the wind died with it we found ourselves making good progress, looking back behind us, over the valley of Glen Nevis, our campsite and the road to Fort William beyond.
We were taking the ‘Mountain Track’ up the hill, which apparently used to be called the ‘Tourist Track’. They must of caught a hell of a lot of stupid tourists out with that title in the past. Thankfully we didn’t come across any skeletons lying sprawled over the path on the way up with ancient Hawaii style short sleeved shirts ragged and torn about their heavily pecked bones, an old cracked, grimey camera lying broken and insect infested around their emaciated, splintered necks by a ragged strap. Gulls did seem to group at various points over the side of the hill as we hiked, congregating over hidden spots over the long grass and rocks. It did make me wonder whether they were grouping around another hiker that didn’t quite make it.
The Mountain Track was the main route to the old Observatory and the main path for horses and ponies to take on their way to the peak of the hill in years gone by. It is certainly not for tourists, or any other casual walkers, wanting a quick jaunt up in order to take in some nice views of the Highlands of Scotland.
As we headed round the first side of the mountain the sun was soon shining over us once more and Colin and Chaz were disposing of the jackets. Suspecting deception on the weather’s part I kept my jacket on, stomping on up the path, the hangover from an hour ago now fading rather more quickly than any previous hangover I’ve ever experienced. Chaz had bought me a cup of tea at the campsite’s burger van before leaving as he and Colin had bought themselves rolls and sausage for breakfast. Opting out of any breakfast after my sudden loss of stomach outside the tents I had kept a safe distance from any such greasy food but the cup of tea was doing nicely and soon enough I was stealing Coco Pop bars from Colin’s backpack.
The path round the first side of the hill was hard going. The large rocks, although fixed into path formation, were often large, cumbersome and misshapen making the path difficult to navigate, forcing you to concentrate where you placed every step. One misstep or one slip could end in a topple and a crack of the head off one of the large, often jagged, rocks underfoot.
After around an hour and a half or two hours (I wasn’t really keeping an eye on the watch) we had reached the Loch Meall an t-Suidhe, a small Loch lying on a plateau between the rises of the mountain. After this point the path turned and twisted up on to the main body of the Ben taking us up by the Red Burn and as Loch Linnhe came into view behind us we started the treacherous zig zagging slopes, the green grass and vegetation giving way to the grey of rocks, scree and stones. The temperature dropped and the slopes became steeper, harder, and seemingly more deceptive, most of the rocks lying loose making it far easier to misstep, slip and slide as you made your way up the slopes.
The air got colder and breathing became slightly more difficult. The landscape transformed into some kind of lunar like surface. Mist descended down upon as as we climbed up into the clouds, clinging to us as we looked on up the hill. We narrowed our eyes in an effort to try and make out the peak of the mountain above us.
Unfortunately Chaz made the mistake of asking a descending walker how long was left to climb, one thing you should never do as, Colin pointed out, the answer will either be bad or worse. It also makes you look desperate and amateurish. Something Colin and myself were unwilling to admit to. The guy lied through his teeth anyway, telling Chaz there was approximately 10 minutes of climb remaining. It turned out to be at least 40.
After passing by the misted, and pretty scary looking, Gardyloo Gully, we eventually made it to the fog shrouded summit, 1,344 metres above sea level with it’s spectacular views... of cloud. Unfortunately the weather being the way it was, we didn’t get any inspiring landscapes and had to make do with a photo standing atop the trig point and a very cold lunch, not to mention acting as the Ben’s official peak photographer for at least two families, my fingers were so cold they almost stuck to one foreign guys camera. He looked at me a little oddly through his round spectacles as I shivered and shook the camera back into his own hands after he climbed back down off the Trig point (I’d forgotten my gloves).
It was all well and good climbing the hill and reaching the top, the only thing left to do now was get back down. After hanging around at the peak for around half an hour, admiring the fog, we set off for home, most of the path on the way back down the hill seeming more dangerous and unpredictable than it had done on the way up. As families, old folk and seven year olds swept by us, Colin, Chaz and myself slipped, slid and struggled our way down the hill and by the time we reached the Loch Meall an t-Suidhe again my legs were uncontrollably shaking and I felt like I was doing a David Byrne dance down parts of the path, whilst Chaz slid violently and steadied himself, finding himself sliding to a stop in one instance with a pointed finger in the air, like a rather over eager John Travolta on a slippery dancefloor. Colin seemed to simply take it all in his stride, not slipping or sliding, as far as I could see, and barely complaining of any pain until we were within our last hour’s descent at which point we stopped for a rest and I willingly collapsed on the rocky path, unconcerned about any jagged headed rocks behind me.
As the seven hours marker hit we stepped down on to a smooth, gravel path, our legs filled with the dull throbbing of exertion and we made our way back to the campsite, tired but more than a little pleased with ourselves. We had done it. We had managed to scale Ben Nevis in seven hours, apparently the average time for the more experienced climbers. The climb was tiring and pretty hard going at times but turned out to be a great cure for a hangover.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Camping and karaoke in Fort William

My calf muscles have never been sturdier. It is now three days since my return home from a camping trip away and my legs are still sore.
On Sunday Colin, Chaz and myself took a drive up to Fort William, Stevie Wonder, along with some dodgy eighties music, blaring from Chaz’s Volkswagen Golf speakers as we made our way up the A82. Throughout the journey the car made it’s way through rain, sun and hail, over the winding roads, through Crainlarich and towering mists of Glen Coe as we discussed the many important topics of the day including work, film, music, radio stations, Steve Martin and how I, in fact, never seen ‘Father of the Bride 2’ as Chaz has so adamantly claimed in the past. Chaz had it in his head that I had apparently called something off, at a younger age, in order to see this cinematic classic with Colin upon it’s first release which I have always ferociously denied and to which Colin, as it turns out, had no knowledge.
Anyway, we arrived in Fort William at around 5pm in the evening and set up camp in the Glen Nevis Camping Park.
We had two three man tents to house us, and our accessories, which included sleeping bags, food, beer, a cooker and a gas canister which was only approximately a quarter full, which was probably just as well after Chaz gave us a horror story about a family named Gillespie who apparently blew up on their way to a camping holiday a few years back. We had brought the two tents, as my own, apparently three man, tent would have been too small for the three of us and there was no way the three of us were cramming ourselves under the one canvas.
We picked a rather pleasant, semi covered grass area under some large trees keeping in mind the large, grey clouds that were constantly threatening from above, surrounding the giant mountain towering over us from across the road.
Our own personal Mount Doom stood there watching us. It’s peak submerged in cloud. With the mountain looming over us we wasted no time in getting the tents up whilst our neighbours milled around.
There was an oddly aged family group in a large tent at the top of our hill whose group included the loudest snorer I’ve ever heard. At night his snoring roared through the area around our tent, even though we were three tents away.
There was the fifty odd year old guy that turned up in an estate with two thai mail order brides. He stood back and shouted orders as his two female companions erected their family sized tent, arguing back and shouting at one another.
There was another small family behind us, who mostly wore kilts, which consisted of a man in his late fifties with a woman of around the mid thirties and a small three year old girl. We thought it was the mum and daughter out with the Granpa until we realised their tent was exceptionally small and they had a rather flirtatious manner whilst playing tennis.
Then there was the couple in the very small tent under the trees immediately behind us. A tent we neglected to notice until we had erected our own shelters. This couple barely left their tent for the whole time we were there. It wasn’t until we’d set up camp and were sitting having our first beers that we realised their tent actually existed. We presumed they were out at first as we started our first beers, chatting away and it wasn’t until the two shapes within began shuffling around, mumbling and making the odd noise
we began to suspect that we may have interrupted a quiet, romantic, rather cramped looking getaway.
After a disappointing meal in the disappointing pub/restaurant attached to the campsite, involving a burger which I thought I enjoyed at first but which then lay in my stomach for the rest of the evening, Chaz, colin and myself ventured into Fort William. We walked the 2.5 miles into town in search of some Sunday night entertainment. As it happens, it wasn’t too hard to find. After a couple of pints of cider in the hole that was The Crofter, Chaz sussed out from the helpful barmaid where the other drinking holes were located. Once we’d finished our pints and refrained from buying any of the vending machine gifts in the toilets, which included an inflatable sheep among other rather worrying items, we lifted our jackets and headed out on to the High street again.
After a short walk we entered the depths of an underground bar across the street, a dark, stone walled, karoke playing horror show in which we opted to stand in the shadows, up against a wall. Chaz, now bored with the beer, bought some spirits which I immediately considered a bad move considering we were climbing Britain’s biggest hill the next morning.
After escaping that bar we then moved on to the Volunteer Arms. A rather fitting name I thought as it turned out to be another karaoke playing night for which Chaz was our willing volunteer. As bar brawls broke out around us, among the rougher looking locals and the bar’s one security guard shuffled around it, Colin and myself mulled over which song Chaz was to sing. Following further lovely renditions from another few locals singing their hearts out up on the makeshift stage, Chaz’s name was called. Following the calling Chaz made his way up to the mike as a good portion of the drinkers in the bar looked round at him, and us, as if they’d just realised we were there, and immediately began eyeing the tourists with suspicious disapproval. Chaz didn’t let the locals put him off though, either that or he didn’t notice, as he belted out a rather joyous rendition of the Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’. He managed to get a few girls dancing but mostly just caused a lot of cagey looks from the gathered Fort Williamers. After he’d finished Colin and myself looked at one another and hurriedly finished our drinks, and as we left, we felt the locals following us to the door with their eyeballs.
With barely any sleep and a ridiculously bad hangover, unfairly bestowed upon me from the fairly normal amount of alcohol consumed the night before, I clambered out of the tent and shuffled myself to the campsite’s toilet block.
We slowly cleaned ourselves up, pulled our jackets on, fastened our backpack clips and shoved our bottled water and sandwiches, bought at the garage the night before, into our bags. Just as we were breathing in the cool air, looking up at the mountain before us, flexing our shoulders, stretching our legs, I puked.
I believe the exact words I uttered were:
“Oah, guys, I think I’m going to - ….”
The woman with the little girl behind our tent looked on in disgust as I collapsed down on to the grass, Chaz and Colin struggling to suppress their laughter. It was the campsite restaurant burger’s fault. That coupled with Chaz’s vodka buying.
We covered the barf with the Fort William map the receptionist had given me at the desk the night before and set off, for breakfast, to the burger van.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Roddy McDowall is missing himself

I’ve always loved going to the cinema. A great place to go for a bit of escapism. It's also a good place to get out of the rain on a depressing Thursday afternoon.
It’s always enjoyable, even when you end up going to see movies you wouldn’t normally watch at home. It’s like the thrill and excitement you had as a kid going to the cinema, doesn’t quite completely leave your system as you get older. There’s still a bit of a thrill there, that is until you hear the cashier tell you how much a ticket is.
“Seven quid? Whaddyamean? It’s used to be £1.50 in the UCI in EK?!”
The cinema cashier looks up at you, bored.
Now that I have a cineworld card I don’t have to worry about that so much. A monthly payment of £14 lets me see as many movies as I like. I could spend the day in the cinema if I wanted to. I could do crazy, mental things like go and see three movies in one day! (Sheesh, that’s just mind blowing… calm down Mike).
The fact that you’ve already paid for whatever you’re going to see makes it all the more enjoyable. The queuing as you decide what picture to see. The ticket collecting. The smuggling of reasonably priced food, sweets and beverages, (or if you’re Ka and myself on an afternoon viewing, a Greggs sanny from Sauchiehall Street). The smells of the highly over priced popcorn stacked up in the paper bags on the shiny counters. The not as pleasant aroma of the disgusting hotdogs that someone, somewhere still seems to buy. The picking of seats. The arguing over which seats to take and which arm of the chair you want your drink to go in. The elbow fighting. The phone silencing. The sitting, waiting on the lights going down.
In those moments as you wait, the other cinema goers pile in. As the theatre gets busy there’s always the risk that one of those lonely looking, smelly blokes sit down next to you after you’ve finally made yourself comfortable in your seat. It’s almost guaranteed he’ll have the unmistakable odour of urine about him.
Then there’s the folk that laugh out loud at only vaguely, mildly amusing adverts that are always on the telly at home. Gawd, if they thought the advert for Vodafone was good, wait till they see the movie!
There’s also the folk that come in late, and upon realising the cinema is near full, mill about the aisles, murmuring at one another, wandering what to do because they simply cannot sit apart. I usually sit smugly, wagging my finger at them with a shake of the head and tapping my watch safe in the knowledge I’m comfy in my chair, which I earned by successfully turning up for the movie on time. As long as there’s not a single, smelly bloke perched next to me, I’m happy.
Happy, until me and another four or five folk are asked to up sticks and move up one seat in order to accommodate the late coming couple who just can’t bear to be apart for the next two hours whilst watching ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’.
On Thursday we settled into our seats, Sainsburys sandwich in hand (we thought we’d have a change from Greggs), to see ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, a sort of modern day prequel to the past movies.
Will Rodman, a scientist, played by James Franco, (the guy that played the disgruntled Green Goblin in the Spider-Man movies), has dedicated his life to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and is using apes as test subjects. As always with these things, something goes wrong. During Rodman’s big meeting with the committee, just as he applies for permission to use human subjects, one of the best test apes goes mental (or in this case, apeshit). After the damage has been done, and the project is closed down, it turns out the ape had actually given birth to a wee baby in her containment unit/cell and was only trying to protect her offspring. As the order is being put through to put down all of the now ‘infected’ apes, Rodman takes the baby ape home and brings him up in the house where, it is discovered within the first few days, the young ape has symptoms of the tested drug running through his veins and is soon drinking from a baby bottle, opening cookie jars, wanting to ride the neighbours’ kids’ bikes and helping to get Rodman dates with attractive female vets via sign language. Obviously with the growing IQ the ape gets himself into trouble and before long is beginning the revolution of ape kind which will eventually lead to humanity’s supposed downfall.
I hadn’t expected much from this movie but left pleasantly surprised. It had probably been the first ‘Apes’ movie I’d actually enjoyed or watched all the way through. Back in 2001 I’d been one of the fools that went along to see Tim Burton’s reimagining of ‘Planet of the Apes’ and had been very disappointed and half bored. Not only was it disappointing but Mark Wahlberg was in it.
Growing up I tried, at various points, to sit and watch the original movies from the sixties and seventies but always tended to get bored and flick the channel. There was always too much talk, not enough action. Not enough explosions. Not enough Star Destroyers, X-Wings or lightsabers.
Even as a kid I remember being unconvinced by the old movies’ Ape make-up, and that was a kid who sat and watched Peter Davison in cricket gear, swinging about on a string, trying to look as if he was floating around in a vacuum or a Cyberman blow up in a shower of tinfoil.
I just couldn’t believe they were real apes. It was just Roddy McDowall in a rubber mask. The blonde one, which was supposed to be an orangutan, looked like on of my primary school teachers!
The masks and make-up are now long gone now though now, replaced with computer generated effects. Roddy McDowall would have been indistinguishable just as Andy Serkis is. The man that brought Gollum, and then King Kong, to life has once more donned the skin hugging grey suits and coloured joint baubles, to play the lead ape Caesar, another example of the growing advancements in technological CGI cinematic wizardry. Even since the likes of Gollum, CGI characters have come on in leaps and bounds.
There was another Gollum like creature doing the rounds in the first movie Ka and myself went to see this week.
J.J Abrams latest effort, ‘Super 8’ is a homage to the early eighties Speilberg, an obvious fan letter to the supreme bearded one, and, as a result is a strange mix of ‘E.T.’, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘The Goonies’ (Speilberg didn’t actually direct ‘The Goonies’, he only wrote it and passed it on to Richard Donner of ‘Superman’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ fame).
It’s basically about a bunch of kids, entering their teenhood, desperately trying to finish a homemade zombie movie (on super 8 film) and while they’re out secretly filming on location one night an Air Force train crashes and something big and nasty escapes from the hidden depths of one of it’s secret carriages. The creature then begins picking of the townsfolk one by one, nicking all their televisions and scaring the dogs.
The real brilliance in this movie is the acting. The gang of kids are all brilliantly characterised with the two main players each coming to terms with the various problems going on in their family affairs (death of a parent, the leaving of a parent, first love, friends fighting over the girl, Dads acting like they know it all etc.). That makes it all sounds a bit slushy and soap like but together with the whole early eighties vibe (or 1979 vibe to be precise) and the mysterious presence lurking in the shadows, it’s all very reminiscent of those early Speilberg’s, obviously not as good though.
Unlike E.T., it didn’t have me embarrassingly blubbering at the end. There wasn’t a Jaws moment that made me jump out my skin such as Brody turning away from the water as he shovelled the bloody meat into the ocean from his bucket of slops only to have the Great White veer up from the waves behind him. Those blank, black eyes staring.
There were no melting Nazis. No giant footsteps causing ripples in the small glass of water sitting on the dashboard.
Both of the big summer movies of the year have some great moments though and as much as I enjoyed ‘Super 8’ and Abrams’ Speilbergian themes and influences, ‘Rise’ has to be the one with the edge, if only for the fantastic monkey effects. There wasn’t an old primary school teacher in sight.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Great Uncle David

Saturday wasn’t a particularly good day. Ka and myself once more found ourselves standing in black in a quiet Glasgow cemetery at another funeral. Our grief from what happened at the very end of 2010 continues, although it has now been eight months, it all still feels very sad and unreal. A burden which varies in heaviness, from time to time, but is always present. We can’t seem to shake the sadness off, and we’re not sure we want to because we certainly do not want to forget. That feeling comes hand in hand with any funeral though. The sadness, coupled with the urgent need to remember.
Attending funerals certainly does not particularly help ease our troubled minds, as we still try to figure out and come to terms with what happened, but we had to attend.
Just over two years since the death of my Gran Reid, her brother, and the last Pollock of that generation, was put to rest. David Pollock, my Great Uncle, passed away a week ago on the Saturday, at the age of 78, suffering from cancer, after being diagnosed in March.
The last time Ka and myself seen old Uncle David was when he attended little Lucy’s funeral. He made us laugh that day. He was feeding Joshua Wotsits, as our nephew sat on his his Dad, Steven’s, lap. Steven hummed and hawed, unsure of what to say to the older gent who was obviously blissfully unaware of Joshua’s strict diet, as, at that point, the wee man was just over a year old. David smiled and joked with Josh, as he fed him the bright orange puffy crisps as Ka and myself looked on, unsure what to say as Joshua’s strict baby diet of healthy fruit and vegetables flew out the window.
The first time I met my Great Uncle David properly was in my Aunt Mina’s kitchen. My Great Aunt Mina had just passed away I was left work to go to her wee house in the village to see if I could help in any way. David stood in my Aunt Mina’s newly fitted kitchen, leaning against the sink, a cigarette in his left hand, his eyes, big and round behind his large spectacles, sad and thoughtful as my Gran and Granpa moved around him. My grandparents tidied, phoned and organised, carrying out all the necessary jobs that unfortunately have to be done when a close relative passes away. David introduced himself, nodding knowingly when I gave him the look of realisation when I realised who he was.
I’m sure I’d probably met David in the past, at some point in those past growing twenty eight years, but he’d always been a pretty distant relative. He had always been a bit of a mystery to me as he’d never been about when we were young.
Following my Granpa’s passing David appeared on the ‘Reid scene’ more often. Much to my Gran’s annoyance David would occasionally turn up at her door, taking her by surprise, inviting himself in to check up on his sister.
Gran, being Gran, would always act the hostess though not forgetting to complain about his unexpected arrivals later to Ka and myself when we visited. Most of the time she’d complain that David’s surprise arrival hadn’t even given her a chance to hide her whiskey before he’d sit, make himself comfortable and suggest an afternoon tipple. Not that she always had whiskey around the house in full view, I must point out, but whenever she did, it would be in the glass cabinet in the corner waiting on a Saturday night in with friends, not an afternoon drink with Uncle David.
Gran would always oblige though, and perhaps join him for a wee dram herself.
They were a typical brother and sister. Always disputing, disagreeing and jocularly shouting at one another.
From what I knew of him and what I could tell in the short time I knew him, David was a great character, always full of life, shouting, telling his stories, talking of his work, the various trades he’d worked in, his families and rolling his eyes behind his glasses at my Gran as she shouted at him, at which point he’d obediently quieten and puff on his cigarette.
Late on Saturday morning The Craigton crematorium was full, which says it all really. He will be missed.
As the supporters started to arrive up in Ibrox stadium, a few miles down the road, the curtain moved over to conceal David Pollock’s, rose covered coffin to the tune of one of his favourite songs, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘You’ll never walk alone’.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

My Granpa's toothbrush

The other day I went to the dentist and ended up back in another hospital waiting room. As if I hadn’t sat in enough hospital waiting rooms this year already. I was sitting there, alone, in the empty waiting room, reading the posters about the ‘signs of a stroke’ or the ‘what to do if you find yourself pregnant’.
Not an hour before I had been sitting back in the dentist’s chair, relaxing, confident to expect the usual quick check up with only the slight risk of a minor clean up. The minor clean ups usually consist of the dentist chatting away, poking at my teeth with that ridiculously pointy pen like probe while the girl, the assistant or apprentice dentist, or whoever the devil she is, moves around my gums with the mouth hoover.
The dentist’s suction device is uncomfortable at the best of times. As the dentist scrapes, the small white plastic tube moves round the mouth, doing it’s best to suck up all the saliva that suddenly gathers in your open mouth as the dentist moves about in there. It’s like one of those small hoovers you get for hoovering your keyboard, sucking up all the dust and debris that gathers in-between your keys. Similar to a Henry the hoover except a lot less friendly. Instead of a smiley, happy, red, bowler hatted face, you have the apprentice dentist grimacing at you from above, sometimes from behind a mask, worn presumably for hygiene purposes. Or maybe worn just in case you suddenly take a dislike to her suction skills and decide to spit some gathering saliva into her face.
If I was my dentist and this girl was my apprentice, I’d fire her immediately. Within moments of beginning the hoovering procedure she managed to get the suction tube stuck on my tongue at least three times, hoovering up my taste buds. At one point she almost took my head with her as she moved to withdraw the hoover nozzle from my mouth, my tongue trapped in a slim tunnel of suction.
My Dad, who has also visited the dentist twice this week, was on the phone the other night talking of his second visit which was to follow the next morning. He was also complaining about the ‘suction girl’ on his first visit, hoping it would be a different girl the next morning as on his first visit she poked the stick too far into his mouth nearly causing him to gag. If one thing’s for sure, nobody likes their own Dad’s gags.
After a quick look over my teeth, which consisted of the dentist murmuring strange numbers out, to which the apprentice presumably took notes somewhere, and prodding the occasional gum, the dentist informed me that she would like me to take a trip to the hospital. Apparently there was a wisdom tooth in there of ‘extreme concern’. After having been expecting the usual, ‘fine, on you go’ routine, I immediately went into a ridiculous case of panic.
A rogue wisdom tooth was of extreme concern! What the hell was it doing in there?! Was it pushing the other teeth around? Bullying the molars? Were all my teeth going to fall out? I hadn’t felt any pain?! So abandoning any ideas of having any free time for the rest of the day I raced to the car and headed straight for the hospital.
However, within the hour, I found myself standing in an X-ray machine, the scanning plates circling my head as I grinned into a blank screen biting down into a covered plastic mouthpiece. Considering the X-ray was all very urgent and last minute I was extremely surprised to have been taken and zapped so quickly. The NHS can be wonderful sometimes.
On my return to the dental surgery the dentist looked over my X-ray and thankfully informed me that the situation was not as grave as originally thought. The wisdom tooth in my lower right gum is growing in at a horizontal angle to rest of my gnashers and as a result I had been missing a spot in my brushing for the past six months, thus causing some slight staining, decay and risk of infection. Thankfully it was treatable and as long as my wisdom tooth stops moving and forcing it’s way into the party that is my lower teeth I’ll get away with not having it pulled from my jaw. However, the spot that I was missing in brushing is still tricky to clean and as a result, thanks to the dental hygienist that seen me on my second visit, I now have a Granpa brush.
As a child I always used to wonder what kind of teeth my Granpa had. Every time I visited the bathroom, in my Gran and Granpa’s house, I would always see his big purple toothbrush standing in the toothbrush holder and always wondered what kind of teeth would have such a brush. It was the strangest tooth brush I’d ever seen.
This purple instrument not only had large black bristles but had them mounted in a small, tight circular fashion on the brush’s head. All toothbrushes everywhere had larger, rectangular shaped clusters of white bristles. Everyone knew and obeyed that well known toothbrush buying philosophy. This toothbrush was an abomination! So why on earth did Granpa get this strange looking brush for his teeth?
A little later I realised it must have been a special kind of brush for dentures as I realised he wore false teeth. He would sometimes click the false set around his jaws as he sat and watched the horse racing on the tv. I would be quietly sitting, either watching the tv, or playing with my Star wars figures on the other couch when an odd clicking would start echoing through the room. On more than one occasion I remember it took me a while to realise from where the noise came as I frowned at various corners of the living room around me.
So, with the vision of the purple brush in mind, it was with some shock that the dental hygienist told me to buy one in order to reach the rogue wisdom tooth’s pesky hidden depths. Does this mean I am now on the road to false teeth. Teeth that click or clack whenever your horse is en route to the finish line?
The dental hygienist, and the branding, call it an ‘Interspace’ brush, which makes it sound quite exciting, perhaps a toothbrush piloted by a mini Dennis Quaid. Just looking at it feels me with fear and dread. It’s a reminder that not only am I going to have to brush with a little more care from now on but I’m also heading towards the risk of noisy dentures.
Thankfully though, my ‘Interspace’ toothbrush does not have black bristles, and it is certainly not purple.