I feel like I am writing for a time capsule. By the time this is posted I shall be back home in Bangkok and Annie will be in Seattle. Perhaps while we are (were?) at sea Paul told you what happened during the past week. You will know (knew?) long before we know (knew) ... and it allegedly happened to us. Strange!
Because of this time warp my 'tenses' may vary from day to day ... nay ... perhaps from paragraph to paragraph ... or, quite likely, within even one sentence.
But, please let me get the NEWNES bits out of the way. You'll be disappointed that I have left home all of my tattered Wescott pages; my back issues of The Onion are boxed up there as well; and the compilation of past letters to The Times are also back at The Oriental. As the International Herald Tribune is right out when at sea, I think the ship's newsletter and NEWNES is all that I'll be able to bring you as far as prefatory material is concerned.
Anyway, here is NEWNES, with his people:
Turning to events, but failing to connect St Bartholomew with Gaspard in any way except by date:
A little after nine this morning our B&R bus left Edinburgh's Hotel Balmoral. All 44 seats were occupied by 44 people (an unusual 'sardinement' for Butterfield & Robinson). Four hours later we arrived at the seaport town of Oban. Oban is a quintessential Scottish tourist town: every knick-knack is available: refrigerator magnets (for clans), kilts (for clans), scotch whisky flavoured fudge, haggis, and an enormous assortment of "airport-shop-style" gifts for left-at-home children. The street-side restaurants are mostly fish 'n chip places and take-away ice cream shops. The town deserves its name.
Today's The Oban Times, in a terse but accurate headline, warns its younger readers that some oldies and invalids are to be given a wider berth:
Oban motorists are facing a new menace - not boy racers or drunk drivers but motorized scooters. The electric scooters used by elderly and disabled people are the latest problem to hit the town's streets. Calum Kennedy, secretary of the Oban Disability Forum, said: 'In the last week there have been two incidents involving electric scooters just shooting off pavements in front of motorists and not stopping.'
Our boat, the Hebridean Princess, is docked just off the town center. In contrast to the town, the ship is up to Butterfield & Robinson's very demanding standards in every way. Very POSH (Port Out, Starboard Home [an acronym dating from the days when ships sailed from England to Bombay, and the choice cabins were on the 'left' side heading out and on the 'right' side coming back]).
Specifically, the Hebridean Princess was built 36 years ago by Hall Russell of Aberdeen for use by The Secretary of State for Scotland. It was rebuilt by George Prior Engineering Ltd, Great Yarmouth; fully re-designed and refitted for cruising in 1989/90. It has an overall length of 235 feet ... beam of 46 feet ... it's gross is 2112 registered tons. Powered by twin-screw Crossely Diesels and with a Lloyd's registration and 1800 feet of copper tubing ... well, I am giving you more information than you really want to know. The current owner of this ship is Altnamura plc, parent company to Hebridean Island Cruises, Ltd. (the former being a Liechtenstein Family Foundation, secreted with a Zurich 'street address' that is veiled into a Bolivian off-shore account buried in a Costa Rican 'numbered' faux-sequestered limited liability shell entity that is tapered gently into a Laos nominee before being folded into something on the Isle of Man).
The ship sailed at 7pm. The Altnamura brothers had nothing to worry about.
NEWNES makes no comment on the 59-year gap:
Events worth keeping in mind:
10:00 Arrive and berth at Port Ellen, Isle of Islay
14:00 Ship departs Port Ellen on passage to Port Askaig.
16:00 Ship arrives and berths in Port Askaig, Isle of Islay where it is hoped she will remain overnight.
19:00 Captain's Gala Welcome Reception in the Tiree Lounge after which dinner will be served in the Columbia Restaurant at which Officers will wear Dress Uniform.
Tonight's movie is "Notting Hill," starring Julia Roberts.
Creeping on with more of the 'official' version ... this time, words penned in Toronto (the home of B&R):
"ISLAY (pronounce 'Eyeluh'), the most southerly of the Western Isles, is the home of many respected single malt whiskys. We'll be walking today around the Mull of Oa (the 'a' is not pronounced), a precipitous peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. You'll have the opportunity to see endless sandy beaches, cliffs and maybe the odd prehistoric cairn. Oa was once the home to about 400 people but is now mainly deserted."
More than a "wee dram" of a walk it was. From 10:30 until 4:30, what was billed as a walk along a path ... then a stroll through some heather ... to a trail down to the beach ... with a final kick in the sand before a longish lunch laced with 25 year old Scotch Whiskies, ... well, it became a wandering ramble through thickets and heathers and up and down hills and over little streams and meanderings around nothings and lots of wonderful views and getting lost and ... well, a typical Butterfield & Robinson treat of a day. "Top drawer stuff," my old Housemaster would say.
Tonight is the Captain's Gala Cocktail Party followed by the Captains Gala First Night Dinner. "Dressy stuff," my old Housemaster would say.
Gaelic Proverb for the day: 'Chan eil air duine sona arch a bhreith agus arach. [The contented person has no needs but to be born and brought up.]
A century ago, according to NEWNES:
Ten years later, William James, psychologist, followed him.
But hundreds of years earlier:
NEWNES points out s seminal event ... one of interest to all aboard our little ship:
Our ship's captain:
06:30 Depart from our berth at Port Askaig, Isle of Islay on passage to the Isle of Iona.
09:30 Arrive and anchor off the Isle of Iona.
10:00 First boat ashore.
12:00 Last boat returns to the ship.
12:30 Depart our anchorage off the Isle of Iona on passage to the Isle of Coll.
13:00 Luncheon in the Columbia Restaurant.
14:30 Arrive and berth on the Isle of Coll.
17:30 Depart Isle of Coll on passage to our overnight anchorage.
19:30 Dinner in the Columbia Restaurant at which Officers will wear Day Uniform
21:30 Arrive and anchor off Loch Boisdale, South Uist.
The film tonight is "Tea With Mussolini" starring Cher. [This film was made while Alf, Annie, Paul, Stephani, Robin and a whole bunch of us were at Palio a couple of years ago]
Little boats took us to shore. Tiny little things, they were ... with little Yamaha outboards to push them about; bouncy bathtub like toys that could be winched in and out of the froth and foam with a minimum of fuss.
This morning's 'walk' on Iona was just a saunter from the dock to The Abbey ... with a pass through the ruins of a nunnery [sadly, nothing remained of the shower rooms where the young novice nuns used to suds each other up with bars of coarse soap made from sheep horns]. The Abbey is the final home of some 50 Scottish kings ... and a few lady friends. Some philandering bishops also share the holy soil, also under the ever-watchful eye of Jesus. Not surprisingly, there are several Jesus' within gazing distance of the dead ... most are perched in the center of Celtic crosses and surrounded with the likenesses of Saint Isaac, lambs, lions and other comforting creatures.
The hands from Toronto write about the isle of Coll:
The hand of our very own Catherine wrote:
1. Leaving the Pier, continue STRAIGHT along the only road in front of you.
2. 0.7 miles later, at the fork, stay LEFT.
B&R 'instructees' (and those of you who followed Linda Santarelli through Scandinavia and Russia ... AND, of course, those of my readers who still worry about what happened to Norma Jean Milquetoast) will instantly recognize where this is going. Yes, on to 3.
The bike ride took us around the island. The first half of the ride was between a "1a" and "1b" on the B&R catalog scale. The second half was mostly a glide, giving it a "sub-1a" (if there is one) on the scale. Sandwiched between was a sandy walk that allowed for a stop at the beach.
This morning's Scottish Sun (apparently not just a mirror of its London sibling) teases headline readers with a 'Scottish Sun Exclusive':
"Page 3 favorite Jordan was rushed to hospital after a drugs overdose following a row with pop star lover Dane Bowers." Showbiz Editor Dominic Mohan's investigative reporting revealed that the couple has "been having a few problems ... and it's all got a bit much."
Gaelic Proverb for the day: 'S math an sgathan suil caraid' [A friend's eye is a good mirror.]
An exceptional day, says NEWNES, for philosophers, painters, popes, poets and pioneers in postal services:551BC: Confucius, philosopher, born. 1576: Titian, painter, died. 1590: Pope Sixtus V died. 1635: Lope de Vega, poet, died. 1879: Sir Rowland Hill, pioneer in postal services, died.
What's on for today - from the Bridge:
9:30 Berth alongside Loch Boisdale, South Uist.
13:30 Ship departs Loch Boisdale on passage to Loch Maddy.
16:30 Arrive and berth at Loch Maddy, North Uist.
18:00 Ship departs Loch Maddy on passage to our overnight anchorage off East Loch Tarbert, Isle of Harris.
19:30 Dinner in the Columbia Restaurant at which Officers will wear Day Uniforms.
20:30 Arrive and anchor off East Loch Tarbert.
Tonight's film: "A Perfect Murder" starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas. [Though Michael Douglas has been a B&R client in the past ... and behaved like a 'perfect gentleman' ... his brother (who apparently had the 'little brother' complex) behaved like a complete ass-hole while on the same trip]
Midges love these outer islands (where we are right now). Midges are little nasty bugs that bite. Today, because of the direction and speed of the breeze, midges are a problem for us. The ship has a powerful Death-To-Midge spray that is for the taking (spraying) upon leaving the ship. Everyone uses it and it seems to work. Well, this morning the nozzle was lying next to a bowl of fruit. Yes, Annie picked it up ... and accidentally, in a rush to spray and be done with it, "death-to-midged" the apples and oranges.
I walked 7 miles.
Annie biked 42 miles.
I walked along the western beach of the Western Isles.1
Annie biked on hilly, winding roads.
There were a lot of signs that warned of the dangers that lay ahead. Being a Sunday, there was no danger to be seen. Another sign defined the proper etiquette for a cemetery visit. Being a Sunday, there was very little life outside of the cemetery. The people of the Western Isles are very devout and rarely, if ever, do anything on the Sabbath except pray and drink Scotch whisky. The reason for this fanatical allegiance to God is hard to figure out. The drinking part is easy to understand. Both probably owe their favor to crofting. Crofting is "a system where farmers lease a small patch of land from the owner and farm it to sustain themselves and their families. It has been the way of life on the islands for hundreds of years."
1 Toronto writes: "The Western Isles also known as the Outer Hebrides, are a chain of islands stretching some 200km off the West Coast of Scotland. They are made from some of the oldest rock on Earth and today, only about a dozen of the isles are still inhabited. However, the remains of pre-historic settlements, tombs and places of worship have been found on over 50. The remains, which are mostly all made from stone are still to be found on this largely treeless environment. The landscape is stunning - clear beaches, tiny crafting villages, lochs and rolling hills."
Mixing NEWNES' people and events:
Again, from the Bridge (today it is a bit wordy):
Depart our overnight anchorage on passage to East Loch Tarbert.
07:15 Early breakfast is available in the Columbia Restaurant.
07:30 Berth alongside East Loch Tarbert, Isle of Harris. [Biking and walking options]
09:00 Depart East Loch Tarbert on passage to Leverburgh, Isle of Harris.
11:00 Arrive and anchor off Leverburgh. [All guests return to the ship at Leverburgh by the ship's small boats]
13:00 Depart Leverburgh on passage to Dunvegan Castle, Isle of Skye.
13:00 Luncheon in Columbia Restaurant.
15:15 Ship arrives at Loch Dunvegan.
15:30 First board ashore. [Once ashore guests may like to visit the castle and gardens and/or take the castle's boats to visit the seals]
17:30 Last boat back.
18:00 Depart Loch Dunvegan on passage to our overnight anchorage at Loch Harport.
19:00 Gala Reception in the Tiree Lounge after which dinner will be served in the Columbia Restaurant at which officers will wear Dress Uniform.
Tonight's film: "Shakespeare In Love" starring Gwyneth Paltrow.
This morning we are actually on the Isle of Harris. Of course, this is where Harris Tweed comes from. Toronto continues with:
"So the story goes, in 1842, the Countess of Dunmore, whose family had bought Harris in 1834, purchased a length of tweed. She was so impressed with the quality of the weaving that she decided to promote the cloth. She sent girls to the mainland to get better training and encouraged others to take to the cloth. Within a few years, the fame of the cloth became widely known and thus, started the Harris Tweed weavers. Today, if it is to bear the name Harris Tweed, the cloth has to be produced in Harris or Lewis and be homemade."
This morning's walk was from east to west (maybe, it was west to east). For two hours Annie and I followed a little path that led uphill through muck, bogs, rocks, water and heather. We ended at a beach where clean surf and gritty sand turned our New Balance trainers into something that looked like what they looked like before the walk.
This island (Skye) is a pile of rock, ruined stuff, day-tripper castles and tourist-tolerant seals. Not much else. Most of the people who lived here in 'better' times have long since moved on to other spots. Though historians and social scientists chalk this exodus up to the "clearance,"1 I personally think that teen-age girls pulled the trigger on the gun that shot this place dead. And when the girls went ... the boys were soon to follow. One day they just looked out the window ... and with a big sigh took in all those fields of potatoes, those swarms of irritating midges and all the backbreaking work needed just to keep warm ... and said, "fuck it."
This afternoon, after a really interesting visit to the ship's engine room, we toured Dunvegan Castle. From the outside, the castle looks remarkably like a low budget attempt to quickly throw up something wily for a marginal theme park. As if Kim Jung Il, of North Korea, had lent his resourceful hand to an effort to build a little fantasy park in a Pyongyang suburb ... a bizarre diversion to keep local minds off local problems. But, to be fair, the castle does contain a relic: a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie's hair. But, to be honest, we did not see it.
Later, we took a little boat to see the loch's captive seal population.
Passing up the Gala Reception and the Gala Dinner, Annie [120k MPEG] and I lay out on the upper deck and watched the cliffs drift by. Later we watched the preparation for this evening's wooden frog races. I have a little film clip [134k MPEG] that shows how the frog moves ... rather, how you get it to move. We did not attend the live performance.
1 The prevailing view among the 'old-timers' is: "During the heyday of the clan system (where tenants and families were loyal to their chiefs), tenants would often pay their rent in the form of military service. However, with the destruction of the clan system after the Culloden Battle, landowners started demanding money from their tenants instead. Those who were already struggling could not afford this extra expense, thus much of their land was bought up by lowland and English farmers In what became known as 'the year of the sheep' in 1792, thousands of tenants were evicted, often forcibly and cruelly to make way for livestock. Many emigrated to Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand. Others clung on to tiny pockets of land on the coast and the islands. You can see the ruins of their cofts scattered all along the islands that we visit."
Another Gaelic Proverb: "S fheaar caraid sa chuirt na crun san sporan" [Literally, "A friend in court is worth more than crowns in the purse" - - But, better read as, "In hard times, a friend is worth more than any amount of money."]
NEWNES brings back memories of law school ... anyway, those 'precious' few days when we learned something about the history of it all:
But, to more exciting memories of NEWNES:
Today's itinerary, courtesy of the Bridge:
07:00 Depart our overnight anchorage in Loch Harport on passage to Loch Scavaig, Isle of Skye.
09:00 Arrive and anchor in Loch Scavaig, Isle of Skye.
09:15 First boat ashore.
12:30 Last boat back.
13:00 Depart Loch Scavaig on passage to Armadale, Isle of Skye.
13:00 Luncheon in the Columbia Restaurant.
14:45 Arrive and berth at Armadale where we will remain overnight.
19:30 Dinner in the Columbia Restaurant at which officers will wear Day Uniforms.
Tonight's movie: "Waking Ned Devine" starring several people.
Toronto lays out our day:
"After an early morning cruise, we'll anchor at Loch Skavaig where we can take a walk to lovely Loch Coruisk - set in the heart of the Cuillins. This mountain range has been the cover page for many books on Scotland."
"Late afternoon, we receive the honour of being welcomed into Kinloch Lodge by Lady Clare MacDonald,1 where she will demonstrate to us the art of Scottish homefare. This is a very special event and not to be missed!"
1 The drafters, safely up in Toronto, describe Lady MacDonald as being "quite the character." Later, we are told that the Lady is "a renowned writer of Scottish cookbooks."
I did neither. This morning was about as beautiful of a day that you could ever pray for here in Scotland. But, up to now there had been a seasonable amount of rain, which meant that the unmarked and non-trailed walk that was on the schedule would be through the bog ... the soggy bog. I resigned myself to a topside read. My friend, Tilman Smith gave Annie a copy of Anthony Bourdain's "KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly," which I stole from her. Incidentally, Tilman's husband is a chef ... so, implicit somewhere is a vouching that all the writing is right.
After lunch, while the others went to see Lady Clare MacDonald, I took a hike up a hill so that I could put my cell phone in range of one of UK VODAPHONE's towers. I phoned Mike to see how the German/Scandinavian balloon plans were coming along. FINE! I phoned Paul to see if Annie and I had been killed off in some horrible but colorful accident. NO! NOT YET. I phoned Watcharee to see if she got her last visa for the trip ... the one for Norway. YES!
Two More Nights Before I'm Back In Bangkok!)
A very thin day for NEWNES; and just look at how tight the value-gap is between the "A" team and the "B" team ... and this IS the full list of everyone and everything that NEWNES feels good about ... really! Everyone and everything ... there are NO more. Of course, he doesn't break it all down into the "A" team and the "B" team ... that is my idea. But, anyway, just look at how little there is:
"A" Team (Kings)
"B" Team (Kings)
"A" Team (Scientists)
"B" Team (Scientists)
"A" Team (Folks)
"B" Team (Folks)
"A" Team (Events)
"B" Team (Events)
Tomorrow (Patty's birthday, by the way) is not much better; one net gain in the birth/death list and one additional 'event'. Quality wise it is actually even worse off when just counting heads, no kings going anywhere ... one queen born. Unless you want to celebrate Malaya's independence, the remaining 'events' are about as exciting as today's. More later.
The Bridge says:
07:00 Depart from our berth alongside at Armadale, Isle of Skye on passage to the Isle of Rum.
08:30 Arrive and anchor in Loch Scresort, Isle of Rum.
09:15 First boat ashore. Guests can visit the eccentric Edwardian folly, Kinloch Castle. Tours are scheduled for 10:00 and 10:30.
11:30 Last boat back.
12:00 Depart Loch Scresort on passage to Tobermory, Isle of Mull.
13:00 Luncheon in the Columbia Restaurant.
14:45 Arrive and berth at Tobermory, Isle of Mull.
15:30 Depart Tobermory on passage to Craignure, Isle of Mull.
17:15 Arrive and berth at Craignure, Isle of Mull.
18:15 Coach departs for a Gala1 Reception hosted by Sir Lachlan MacClean at Duart Castle.
19:30 Coach departs Duart Castle to return to ship.
20:00 Depart Crainure on passage to our overnight anchorage.
20:00 Dinner in the Columbia Restaurant at which Officers will wear Dress Uniform.
1 "Gala" is a very useful word for anyone in the travel business ... especially those whose business it is to coddle guests. Most 'tours' begin and end with a 'gala' reception, at which the guests will either learn about the "exciting and wonderful" things that they will do, or they will be reminded of the "exciting and wonderful" things that they did. Though Microsoft's Word suggests alternatives, none of them really capture the feel of the word "gala" ... when used to describe the feeling that you first have when thrust into a group of 40 or so people whom you have never met ... or, when saying goodbye to 40 or so people whom you barely know. "Festive" and "merry" are the choices from Redmont when "gala" feels tired.
Kinloch Castle is a warren den of eccentricities. Built a little over a century ago by an inventor/industrialist/arms-supplier (George Bullough) who bought himself a title (Sir George Bullough), it flatteringly showcases his collection of strange stuff ... stuff he found while cruising the Far East on his private yacht. A man way before his time ... married to a woman way before her time ... he did things ... and she did things ... that were right out of NAKED LUNCH. Was Burroughs a contemporary?
Her custom designed and complicated shower spray system allowed for long, stimulating, full-orifice cleansing. His collection of photographs of Chinese punishments gave him fresh ideas when planning those peculiar games for his secretive parties in the ballroom ... parties at which the staff served with averted gaze. The accompanying music was pure Rube Goldberg.
Normally NEWNES lists a trade or a title for 'his' people. [e.g., "1811: Theophile Gautier, writer, born." Or, "1880: Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands born.] John Bunyan stands alone; if he were "Paul" it would be understandable. But, just plain "John"?
Last word from the Bridge:
07:30 Arrive and berth alongside in Oban.
07:30 Settlement of shipboard accounts for those guests who have made purchases from the Hebridean Princess shop or Reception.
07:45 Breakfast in the Columbia Restaurant.
08:45 Coach departs for Glasgow.
I fly today ... to Paris, then to Bangkok ... both flights on Air France:
Glasgow to Paris [14:30 to 17:15]
Though my own flight from Glasgow to Paris was pleasantly uneventful, an inbound flight from one of the Hebridean islands spoiled everything for its passengers by blowing a tire, skidding off the runway, slamming into a gasoline tanker and turning itself into a glorious fireball. Fortunately for the adjacent shrubbery and a nearby shack, the airport fire department was able to limit the damage to the airplane and its contents.
Paris to Bangkok [19:40 to 12:25 (Sept. 1st)]
This Bangkok "overnight sleeper" always has an excellent moving map. Just south and west of Calcutta ... where the Indian coast meets the Bay of Bengal ... there is always a bit of air turbulence. I usually tune in the map at that time.
Next: Bangkok Again