Sunday, August 31, 2008

Another wedding

Saturday was spent sorting various legal papers, and visiting the chief forester for the area. His job is to make sure that for every tree chopped down 6 are planted. He finds it quite difficult to understand that we are planting trees before chopping any down.
The high-light of Saturday was the wedding of the local shepherd.
He is an important man in the area. He looks after all the sheep for everyone in the immediate area, so has more than 2000 ewes under his control. His payment for doing this is one lamb for each 100 lambs born. Which means that in the last 7 years he has become the largest owner of sheep in the area.
Of course, he used to look after the sheep, he now has 6 other people who do it for him. There is effectively no cost to the feeding - the sheep are allowed anywhere except cultivated areas and forest, which means they have lots of places they can go.
So his wedding was always going to be a big affair. As I've mentioned before, the wedding guests have to put a suitable sum in an envelope with their name on it. This avoids anyone being overly mean, or overly generous. It would never do to be the latter - you might get invited to lots more weddings which would cost you a fortune.
The ceremony in this case took place about 5pm and everyone repaired to the village hall, where the band were already belting out Romanian songs and dances.
Not much happens until the important guests arrive which is at 8pm. Everyone has a plate of cold meats at their place, along with jugs of tuica, bottles of beer, wine, soft drinks and liqueurs. You can drink these in any order you like. The priest leaves about 9 which means that the party can actually get going.
Round about 10pm the second course is served which is usually something like Frankfurters with lashings of mustard. The drinking is fast and furious, but the real event at this time is the stealing of the bride's shoes. This is done by some of the children, and the bride's Godfather has to ransom them. The children get to keep the money.
This particular Godfather was ( appropriately) from Italy, and, in order to avoid the bride being kidnapped ( which would cost him even more money) he had secured her to his wrist with a pair of police cufflinks. Unfortunately for him, he had borrowed the cuffs from the local police chief, who had promptly given the spare set of keys to the people detailed to do the kipnapping.
This they accomplished without the Godfather even noticing - but he did notice when he tried to chase after her as she was carried off and found he was attached to a table leg. The ransom was laughingly paid, by which time it was necessary for the sober-up soup to be served.
This is always chicken noodle. Nobody ever comments on the food at weddings - except on the chicken noodle soup. If it's not up the mark, the envelopes very definitely have less cash in them. People talk about it for days after a wedding, so you can imagine the effort that goes in to making sure it is excellent.
All the time the band is playing. Last night they actually played for more than 12 hours with no breaks, apart from a couple of minutes to down a glass. Around midnight a lone saxophone is heard and a great shout goes up. This is the entry of the drunk chicken. There is a song that goes with it, only accompanied by the sax. Each line is followed by a trill, then another line, another trill and so on endlessly. Some of the lines are standard, but lots are made up for the occasion. For example last night there was great hilarity at the suggestion that the bride would find her new husband pretty useless after his day's work shagging sheep. Followed by a line that suggested that even having shagged the sheep, he would have no problem taking care of his bride. The drunken chicken is in a basket carried round and shown to everyone. Of course, it's not a real chicken. The point is to get the ball rolling for the envelopes. The most important guests are last to hand over the envelopes. They are not opened until the next day in private.
By 2am people are ready for some food again, which, last night, was chicken,pork,mashed potatoes - and cabbage salad of course. You might think the main dish sounds a little dry or bland, but I can assure you it is neither. Until you have tasted the Mosna potatoes, chickens, pigs and especially cabbage, you have never had a real gastronomic experience.
Not long after this Alin and I left to get back to Sighisoara. We walked along the main street in Mosna to where the car was parked under the most brilliant stars. In Transylvania they don't have light polution the way we do.
I got to bed about 3:30am, to be woken up 10 minutes later by a wedding party spilling out into the street from the hotel across the square.
That can't have been much of a party.
The one in Mosna lasted until after 7am.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I just love it here.

I spent another morning in the house in Alma Vii fighting off people wanting useless tat from the house. Clearly I have no understanding of real life.When a lady of indeterminate vintage assured me she would sleep with me if only I would sell her the kitchen cupboard, and Alin was too too embarrassed to translate, I knew I had stepped into a timewarp that was completely beyond me.
We resolved that particular problem by saying it was sold and making a phone call to a friendly rubbish dealer in Sighisoara, who said he would take it -0h, and anything else we would like to sell. We gave up at that point and waited for his van to arrive.
We had estimated the entire collection at Eur 1000, but the sales in situ had raised nearly Eur 3000, and another Eur 1000 or so was promised by the "antiques dealer" in Sighisoara. He was particularly taken with a deep red vase, which, in Ceaucesu's time, had only been made for export, but which now was enormously coveted within the country.
The Mayor, having entertained us yesterday, had left with various papers for Bucharest at 4am this morning. We had arranged to give he and his wife, the chain-smoking Tina ( food tastes much better with ash in it) dinner in Sighisoara as he made his way back.
We collected Tina when Eugene was about 1 hr out, and arrived just in time for lunch at Casa Cu Cerb in Sighisoara at 530 pm.
He had with him his side-kick Cornel, whose particular speciality is the polenta made over an open fire and the chips deep fried in oil over the same fire. Cornel was only there to drive the Mayor & Tina the relatively short distance from Sighisoara back to Mosna. But he is a cheery soul and likes the prestige of being with the Mayor. He regards himself as his bodyguard, although anyone stupid enough to assault the Mayor would be lucky to escape with mere multiple fractures. Eugene used to play professional football in Romania, which makes SAS combat drill look like pat-a-cake.
We had an excellent meal. You may recall my mentioning tuica before now, which is rot-gut of the vilest nature which, after a few, assumes a pleasant blandness brought on by complete inebriation. Casa Cu Cerb serves a tuica that has been aged for MORE THAN 2 MONTHS, which, when the very best stuff is about 3 weeks old, assumes an aura of near sainthood. The Mayor, Tina and I downed about half a pint each before we even thought about food, but, fortunately, I had eaten a few fornettini in the later afternoon, knowing the requirements of later in the day.
I won't bore you with the meal: I will tell you why the Mayor had to shoot off to Bucharest at such short notice.
Money from the EU is allocated within Romania by the Government. Eugene is at a disadvantage as his political party controls neither the President nor the House ( and I use those words advisedly about the President.) However, because he is very smart, he only ever asks for 85% for any given project whilst his opponents keep asking for 100% and get knocked back. Obviously there is then a cost overrun....
Anyway, he has secured funds for a new school in Mosna, and he decided to have attached to it a new sports centre for the whole area - this is very definitely encouraged by the EU. We in the UK have buggered up the whole thing by the wholesale destruction of playing fields.
In Mosna, however, the Mayor has nurtured a perfect area for a football playing field, sports complex, changing rooms, basketball, etc etc. All therequired papers were already into Bucharest some weeks ago.
On Thursday morning he received a call from the Ministry dealing with these matters.
" Ah domno Primar ( ah Mr. Mayor) we are delighted with your excellent proposal. There is only one thing missing."
Eugene was taken aback... he had included everything.
" I'm sorry. What would that be???????"
" There is no mention of Mosna's football team."
"Excuse me? What has that got to do with having a football field and sports complex?"
" If you don't have a football team, you don't need a football field, and therefore you don't need a sports complex."
As Reggie Perrin's boss would have said " I didn't get to be where I am today without...".
Eugene knew he had to come up with the answer, because funding closed midnight 31st August ( Why do people do that? What's wrong with 5pm Friday 29th?)
" Ah its on paper number xyz."
" We don't have that."
"Are you sure? It's definitely there. I delivered it myself on Tuesday". Great shuffling of papers.
" No no, we definitely don't have it."
Eugene did his impression of outraged rectitude, all to no avail.
" Right - I will deliver another copy tomorrow morning."
So Eugene, Vasily,Cornel, Dorel and Andrea, the girl who actually does the work, spent until Alin and I turned up for lunch at 5pm , when everyone decamped to the Mayor's house and Andrea was left to produce the relevant paper. In Romania, loo seats are ALWAYS raised.
We finished lunch about 8pm, just as Andrea staggered through the main gate clutching various papers, which the Mayor signed with a flourish and offered her a slice of water melon. She refused it on the grounds she wasn't " loved up" at the moment and didn't want to sleep with just anyone. This is not something I understood, but Alin assures me water melon is a great aphrodisiac. I tend to think Eugene was trying to help the hopeless love Nico has for her, but for the life of me I can't imagine why.
Anyway, Eugene and Cornel set off at 4am and did the 5 and a half hour drive in just over 3, so were on the door step of the ministry as it opened at 7am. They handed in the paper, the ministry man stamped all the papers, handed them back and assured Eugene his funding would be forthcoming.
At dinner I asked who was in the football team of Mosna. It seems Mutu ( Romania's greatest player who plays in Italy) David Beckham ( LA Galaxy) Stephen Gerrard ( Liverpool) and Ronaldinho ( Man U) all play for Mosna. When available.
Unfortunately, this is not often.
But the rest of the team is MOST assiduous and is only needing a proper field to take on the likes of Steaua Bucharest, Real Madrid and the Mayor's personal favourite, Dynamo Bucharest, and the Mayor avers in his funding proposal that he personally will GUARANTEE that the first game on the ground will be attended by every member of the Ministry concerned, who will bring their wives ( or preferably their mistresses) for the weekend at his expense to witness the spectacle.
Can't say fairer than that really.....
PS. Mosna already has a gym and fitness room up to EU standards. Eugene arranged this direct with the Council of Ministers when one of them made the mistake of coming to Transylvania and subsequently found himself in a compromising situation. Roughly the same thing happened with the mobile phone mast. None of the villages in the area have mobile reception - except Mosna. Some executive was visting the general vicinity and woke up with no clothes on in a house he didn't recognise....
God that tuica's strong.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Happy and Happy in Romania

I've had the loveliest day here.
A house we had bought needed clearing out. New furniture is almost unknown here - everything is passed down and round, and if someone dies there are battles over the scraps they leave.
So today, after paying the gas, electricity, water , internet and phone for the last 3 months ( total approx. GBP25) we set off to sell the contents of the house we had bought.
I had done a rough calculation and came up with Eur 1000 for everything.
What I hadn't reckoned with was either the ferocity of wanting or the sums people would pay for what middle class Brits would regard as only fit for the skip.
The first sign I had of this was the lady who came through the door and immediately made for the clothes. Brandishing what I can only describe as GIANT pants ( covered with elephants -bizarre) she demanded we sell them to her for GBP2. She had clearly coveted them for years.
There was fierce bidding for various items ( an old Saxon sofa went for more than Eur 800 and a sideboard for another Eur 800) but I was utterly unprepared for Eur 20 for two strips of rotten cloth which covered one of the carpets, and even more astonished when a collection of dog-eared and falling apart books went for more than Eur 50.
But the highlight of the day was a stove. An old, rusted,wood burning stove. Admittedly it had a chimney that included holes into which you put potatoes to bake, but we had it down as GBP20. I had it on good authority such a stove could be bought NEW for about GBP 150.
Every person who came into the house wanted it. What would we sell it for? Make us an offer. No no, you tell me how much. OK we start the bidding at GBP20.
Immediately there was an uproar. I WAS PROMISED this stove by the old lady who used to live here. HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT,she hated you - SHE PROMISED IT TO ME! NEVER!. Tears, imprecations, pleas to heaven, God, Christ, the other ladies present who all averred THEY wanted it and were prepared to pay for it, Alin and me - you name it they called it in. Alin valiantly kept repeating " Nou nou, moment, un pic, Donnae, moment un pic.. " ( No no, just a minute, a moment, ladies, a moment, a second...) all to no avail. Eventually calm was restored and the lady who ASSURED us that she had been promised it bid GBP100. There was a moments hush. Promptly followed by another gale of hysteria and two of the younger ladies present squaring up.
By this time I had got faintly hysterical with it all, and could hardly contain my laughter. With a great deal of effort, I shouted out that the first lady who offered GBP 200 would have it. There was a silence for a split second, then every one of them shouted they would take it. Alin had his head in his hands, and I was being physically assaulted with Romanian notes. The ladies ( mostly in their 60s and 70s) were behaving like drunk 18 year olds on a hen night in Macclesfield.
Just at that point, the village drunk appeared, bellowed something, and a hush descended. He then proceeded to conduct a most orderly auction which finished at GBP355. He promptly slid into a heap in the corner, and the winning bidder said she would need several months to pay. I later ascertained he had shouted it belonged to him ( of course it didn't, but he got a drink or two for his help). He sobered up enough to introduce himself, pledge undying fealty, and asked which part of Germany I came from. I explained I came from Scotland.
" Scotland? Which football team do you support?"
Now at home I would never answer this question, but here in Romania, I felt I could say I was not a great football supporter.
" You don't support Glasgow Rangers or even Celtic? Are you an atheist?" It transpired he was a Rangers supporter, as well as Steaua , Manchester United, Barca and Liverpool.
It seems religion is alive and well, even if not in the churches.
The only other item of note was a clothes washer. Not like we have. You filled it with water, threw in some soap, turned it on and it spun half backwards and half forwards. Then you took the clothes out and unplugged the bung at the bottom to let the water out. An elderly lady, dressed very definitely in her Sunday best, gave us GBP20 for it - to be paid after 15th September ( when the next lot of pension money was due). She went away and reappeared ten minutes later in her working clothes.
" Well," she said, "I have a lot of clothes that need washing - can I take the machine away just now?"
How could we refuse...

Happy and miserable in the UK

Lovely bit about happiest and most miserable places in the UK. As a Glaswegian ( albeit adopted) its no surprise that Edinburgh tops the poll as most miserable, with outer regions near Glasgow being about 4th most miserable ( they are pretty dire).
Surprisingly, Cumbernauld ( not Cumbernault as they have it) came in 4th as happiest. The survey mentions that social cohesiveness tends to make people happier. In Cumbernauld's case this must be that noone goes there from outside, and in a recent poll, most of its residents wanted to blow up the whole place.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In Romania

I'm sure you realise I'm actually in Romania, especially if you have been paying attention. Yesterday was spent checking out a house we had bought and deciding what to do about various matters in connection with it. There's no nonsense about buying property here - two people walk into a notary public with the titles, the notary draws up an exchange, the cash changes hands and that's it. So lawyers and estate agents don't do that well here. And it only takes an hour or two not weeks. We put a sign up saying we intended to sell the furniture and other items, and by the time we had driven out of the village we already had a dozen people who wanted some or all of what was inside.
Anyway, as it was getting on for lunchtime by the time we finished ( that's Romanian lunchtime or any time after 6pm) we decided we would drop in on a hotel we had seen advertised on the roadside just outside Sighisoara, but which we had never been able to find.
Fortunately, I had spotted the sign as the train drew into the station in the morning, and knew roughly where to go.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a well renovated old station of considerable size. The building was originally built at a guess about 1880, but was completely redone 3 years ago. It's most attractive feature was a large terrace at first floor level, which, if you ignored the train noises and you sat with your back to the track, had wonderful views across fields to the mountains beyond. Actually, even looking across the tracks was pretty good. We had an excellent meal, although I decided against " Salt crap". In case you don't know, CARP in Romanian is CRAP - so the translator had left it as it was..
Just beside the hotel was an old ramshackle wooden structure, on which someone had written ( badly) "Broons". I have no idea what this was referring to, but it looked very like the prototype of the Private Eye cartoon strip about the "Broons" and definitely seemed to me to highlight the state of the UK and what people think of us - and Broon.
Today has been spent tidying up various legal matters.
You may recall a property we wanted to buy with three owners - an old lady who needed new glasses, her sister who should have been in a mental asylum, and a third sister who was dead, who had never married, and had no children.
Well when Alin got them to the lawyer, and she was asked, was your dead sister ever married, the reply was "yes". This somewhat put the cat amongst the pigeons. If she was married the husband would be entitled to a share of the proceeds. But he was dead. So any children would be entitled. There were no children. Good. But the man he had children by another woman. Oh dear. But they got divorced. Good. How long were they married ? 6 days. Er, er.... It turns out this was in 1951. They were officially married and then they were officially divorced 6 days later.
I'm quite certain there's a story in there somewhere, but the relief that the deal could go ahead rather overwhelmed my curiosity.
Miss Elena from Nemsa has returned from Canada. She had rather burned her boats when she left, thinking she would not be back, and had put several people's backs up. She desperatelly needs to get back into the mainstream, and particularly into the Mayor's good books. In Romania such things are easily accomplished. There is to be a barbecue & dinner for the town council and friends on Sunday lunchtime, which will probably last until I have to leave for the airport the following morning.
There's no doubt that come Monday afternoon, everything will be fine again.

That meme

The fragrant Winchester Whisperer has tagged me along with some more superior beings for the meme that is doing the rounds.
In case it passed you by, what were you doing when:
1) JFK was shot
2) Gazza crying in 1990 semi-final when the shootout was lost to Germany
3) Maggie resigned
4) Princess Diana died
5) The twin towers collapsed.

I feel in quite exalted company. I know at least Iain Dale and Guido have also been tagged. Guido's was a bit un-informative ( mostly can't remember or too young) Iain's was, I thought rather better.

The youngest Miss Lear, whenever I mention something from my past or youth, invariably accuses me of making it up ( for example she doesn't believe I ever lived in Germany or used to play the trumpet), so, despite what she may think, here are my memories.
1) JFK. Despite appearances to the contrary, I was a school boy at the time. We were getting ready for bed in our dormitories when the news was brought to us by a prefect, who clearly thought it important. I'm afraid we all shrugged our shoulders and continued discussing the prospects for the rugger match the next day.
2) Gazza. I always thought of Gazza as a genius, albeit unable to control himself. Mind you, I think it's the "quirk" or "flaw" that actually makes a genius. As it happens I was sitting in the garden and walked in to the kitchen for a top up, and turned the TV on to see what was happening. Constitutionally, I can't stand watching finals, shootouts or any other kind of sporting endeavour for any length of time, as I go balistic when someone being paid GBP100,000 per week misses the open goal, drives his golf ball into a bunker, misses a simple putt ( Saunders miss all those years ago still gives me nightmares - especially as he took it again and dropped it straight in the cup) or bashes the tennis ball straight into the net. So Mrs. Lear can calmly watch the tennis whilst I fume elsewhere. Anyway, I saw the miss and then the tears. Ghastly.
3) Maggie. I was sitting glued to the television with the radio on, trying to get the latest news. I kept shouting STAY! But it was not to be.... As an aside, I was shooting the next day with a man who was a heavy gambler, and from his carphone ( still quite a thing at that time) he bet GBP1000 on Hurd. I told him he was mad and Major would get it. " Do you think so? " he said, and promptly put another GBP1000 on Major.
4) Diana. I was in bed with Radio 2 on overnight as I always do and picked up the first inkling I guess about 4am. When I awoke Mrs. Lear at 8 with breakfast, I was able to give her the news.
5) Twin towers. I was at a meeting in Glasgow in connection with a company selling American hotel rooms to UK travel agents. When I got back to the office it was being shown on the internet. Needless to say the company selling hotel rooms went from a profit of GBP150,000 pa to a loss in 3 months of GBP180,000.

So there you have it. Not very exciting I'm afraid, but then, I guess we all yearn for a quiet life...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mittel Europa

I'm on my way to Romania on my now-preffered route via Budapest. I always have an hour or two to kill at Kelleti station, and this time was no exception.
The trains from Kelleti to Bucharest actually start in Vienna, and this particular journey has been going since the railway was first built. The old Empire ( Austro-Hungarian that is) was very definitely knitted by railway tracks. It's temple's were the wonderful railway stations in even the smallest outposts, with their solid stone construction and excellent facilities.
What strikes me, however, is how all the countries in a swathe through what is now the proper outposts of Europe, although they run North to South, look very much East and West. This was true even in Franz Joseph's day, when the Empire looked West for culture and East for markets.
Budapest remains a very Parisian city. You can smoke anywhere. Vegetarians are regarded as being seriously ill people. On the menu I was reading tonight there was a beautiful selection of beef, pork, chicken, and veal dishes. Pages of them.Then one line - " Vegetarian food". No description, just a price.
Mind you, I'm not sure I would have wanted one pork dish - " Pork medallion, Brasso style".
But to Kelleti station.
It has been shrouded in wooden planks and scaffolding ever since I have been coming here. Tonight, just in time for the end of the tourist season, they have unveiled what was the old booking hall. I had never seen it, although I had seen pictures of it in it's heyday.
It is now simply stunning. The gold leaf ( stolen by the Russians) has all been replaced and the original frescoes lovingly restored. There is even a plaque commemmorating people who died in 1945 protecting it from the rape of the Red Army. Standing in the centre looking up you can feel history washing over you. I have not been as impressed with any restoration, ever. I felt again the importance of a people's history to it's soul, something the Chinese very definitely played to in their Olympic opening ceremony.
Makes our ghastly effort at the closing ceremony of the Olympics look truly pathetic.
Sighisoara tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Last night's Dinner Party

We were down in Lanark for dinner last night. We were bidden for 6:30 pm in order to see the barn conversion our hosts had done in their garden.
It was quite stunning, but while we were looking at it, the alarm in the main house went off. The wife rushed off to see what had happened, and we all milled around ooh-ing & aah-ing for a bit longer, then moseyed back.
The house was full of smoke, and all the doors and windows were open to fumigate it.The potatoes in cream had overflowed in the oven, creating smoke which set the fire alarm off. The wife had whipped the dish out of the oven spilling more cream and dropped the dish on the worktop, burning it. In the meantime, with more air round the smoking oven, it burst into flames. The wife decided the best thing was to throw the remains of the teapot over the fire.
Being an electric appliance it promptly exploded, but with all the lights and electrics shorted, it wouldn't burn anymore, just smoke.
So by the time we sat down to dinner there was little to eat apart from the last course (cheese & biscuits) eaten in candlelight. The additional wine consumed made it both romantic and hilarious.
I made myself a sandwich when I got home.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Gurkha Highlander - the final moments

Walker John had to be lowered to this position, then levered back up - his right knee was almost locked. But they were all very happy and smiley, as they had been all along.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I should have mentioned the Chairman, Gurkha Welfare Trust, Scottish Branch is a) related to George Osborne b) had never had a Big Mac and fries until driving back down from Banchory on Sunday.
He says he enjoyed the fries.

Gurkha Highlander - Day 8

The last day started well. It wasn’t raining, but the clouds meant that the day would not be too hot. Breakfast at 7:30am and we were bowling along the roads by 8:05, with about an hour to where I had picked everyone up the night before. Walker John had estimated about 7 miles to Bridge of Dye, and then another 18.
“ We’ll do 4 mph over this - we’ll be with you at 11:15” I had my doubts because they were traversing a forest, and the tracks are really windy.
There were again no packed lunches, so I took the decision to go into Laurencekirk. It took about 30 minutes to get there from Milden, through the countryside that resembled the Home Counties.
I parked up beside the Coop and made my way in. Bananas, yes; crisps, yes; sandwiches… hmmm. So I asked the nice lady on the check out where the sandwiches were.
“ The breads there the butters there and there’s ham and suchlike there.”
“ Ah well, I should have said where are the made up sandwiches”.
She looked at me as if I had two heads.
“ What, can you not make them up yourself?” I guess there isn’t much demand for made up sandwiches in Laurencekirk.
What I did spot was some small packs of chicken satay sticks, with either curry or sweet chilli sauce. There were only 20 odd so I bought them all - it was the last day and would be a treat for the boys.
When I got to the check out, the lady looked at me strangely.
“ Could you not find the bread?”
I made it back to RV1 at Bridge of Dye by about 11:15.
No sign of the boys. I wandered up and down the verge, peering up the track. No sign.
There were some raspberry bushes with fruit on them growing wild by the road. I pulled one. It was the most delicious raspberry I have ever tasted. It was completely wild. I picked as many as were ripe and put them in my cap with a view to giving the boys a few.
So I sat there until 12:35, when I spotted Rajif loping towards me from further along the road.
“ Mr Lear Sahib, we came down another track. And Walker John Sahib made a mistake with the distance..” and he roared with laughter.
We were on a tight schedule as we had wanted to get to Stonehaven for about 5pm, but my bet was now it would be nearer 7:30 pm.
I drove up the road and pulled the van in beside the lads.
“ I totally underestimated the distance through the forest, “ said Walker John, which caused gales of laughter from the Gurkhas. They tucked into the satay sticks, and were ready to move again by 1pm. And what about the raspberries? Well, whilst I was waiting, one of them looked particularly juicy so I ate that one. Then there was the one that didn’t look too good, so I ate that.. Anyway, by the time they turned up there weren’t any left. They got the bananas instead. Better for them.
The clouds were deepening their dull greyness, which threatened rain. The boys would be walking about 18 miles in about 6 and a bit hours. I had about 80 miles to do, so I got to Stonehaven around 3:30. I went in to a coffee shop and asked for a coffee to go.
“ Sorry. You can sit in but you have to eat something.. And we’re too busy to do a take-away coffee.”
I couldn’t see very many customers in that particular place.
I went into the Royal British Legion to be told they weren’t expecting us. I phoned the newspapers that were coming and was told if we weren’t arriving at 5 they couldn’t send anyone. I phoned the local MP’s PA, and was told he had other appointments and couldn’t possibly be there at 7:30pm.
But I did get a phone call from the Gurkha Welfare Trust offices in Salisbury, saying the Sunday Times article had produced a rush of interest, and also people wanting to know what time the boys would be arriving.
I nipped into the local library to use their Internet ( no wifi in Stonehaven that was accessible) and managed to get a coffee there. I drove out of town to recce where the boys would be emerging onto the roads, and plotted a course through the town that would be easy for them.
I made my way back to the RBL for 5pm, as that had been the original ETA, and I expected some people would be there. By now it was raining heavily again.
There was quite a number of people waiting, and I had to tell them that the boys wouldn’t be in until 7:30. Some said they would have to go but Mike Robins, who had seen us off in Mallaig, said he would be back. Several people pressed large notes into my hand, and one couple were very interested to see the actual route as they had walked some of it. They paid me £25 for one of our “Gurkha Highlander 08” caps - I had said £5. I filled the flasks with tea.
By the time I had done all that it was time to return to RV2 and wait for them for the last time. They duly appeared just before 7, I ladled tea into them, and then started to lead them into the town.
“ Hurry up!” shouted Capt Rajen.” My wife is pushing me from behind, my daughter is pulling me by the left hand, my son by the right, and I AM FLYING!” They had about 3 miles to walk, and I drove to each of the turns and waited to show them which way to go. I can tell you that after 190 miles they covered the last three in 31 minutes.
They marched down to the sea.
Tenshun!” yelled Walker John.” Dress to the right! Abooouuut turn! Forward march.!”
By which time the Gurkhas could hardly stand up they were laughing so much. WJ was walking them into the sea, so there was NO doubt they had walked coast to coast.
We walked back to the RBL, where the local MP, Sir Robert Smith, shook their hands. The photographer from the Press and Journal had managed to get there, so lots of photos got taken. Capt. Rajen had developed a war cry which I think was supposed to be “ GURKHA HIGHLANDERS! “ but which now had degenerated into what I took to be a Gurkha battle cry. He had explained to me that it made him feel better. I ordered the drinks - I could do it blind now,2 large brandies, 3 large Jack Daniels and coke, a Magners cider, a red wine, and a J20 for me - and before I could pay the tab, four of the locals had not only paid for that round but were setting up three more. Fortunately I stopped them and got them to make donations instead.
We had had a message that we were to drop in on Forfar Royal British Legion en route back to Edinburgh. We hurtled down the road and got to Forfar at about 8:45. Charlie Brown shook us all by the hand and them introduced us to his wife Margaret, who was in full Army combat fatigues with the big boots.
“ I’m Army Barmy” she said.” I look like this every day.”
Another round of drinks was bought for us and then 7 hot Forfar Bridies were produced. I got a packet of crisps - they only knew about the 7 walkers.
Then Charlie shouted out “ Bit of hush PLEASE!.. We have here tonight six serving Gurkhas and an ex-Gurkha officer who have just walked 200 miles from Mallaig to Stonehaven in aid of the Gurkha Welfare Trust. We in Forfar decided to get right behind them, and we had a Beating of the Retreat, from which we hoped to raise about £500. I’m delighted to say that with various other donations we managed to raise FIFTEEN HUNDRED POUNDS! John come up here and get the cheque!”
Needless to say, Walker John was quite emotional about such a large individual donation, but managed to say a few words. Another round of drinks then back in the van. The rain was still tumbling down, and we didn’t get to Edinburgh until well after 11. I had 7 snoring companions all the way down.
We were greeted by WJ’s wife and daughters, and by Mrs. Lear and the Dog, who immediately adopted Rajif, the youngest and quite possibly the toughest. Green Thai Curry had been prepared for us, along with extra rice and chillies.Nothing would do but the boys wanted the Memsahibs to see the pictures of the walk and one of the cameras was linked up to a laptop, and we had a slide show with great hoots of laughter over various events en route.Mrs. Lear presented them all with cashmere Black Watch Tartan scarves - and some shortbread.
By 12:30 I took the decision that I needed to get going, as Walker John had to be in his office for 9am. I shook hands with the boys for the last time, and Mrs. WJ gave me a big hug and whispered in my ear “ Thanks for keeping John going. He loved it.”
I climbed into the van for nearly the last time, and got back home about 2am.
The boys had a slow start to their day, but went into the town in the afternoon. They met up with Walker John at the Gurkha Brigade, a Nepalese restaurant in Edinburgh just off Leith Walk. One of Rajif’s mates was playing the pipes at the Tattoo, so he joined them for supper. Capt Rajen disappeared for a few moments and came back with the proprietor. “Sahib, may I present my boyhood friend. We have not met for 20 years.”
WJ had managed to get tickets for them all at the Tattoo, which delighted them. What they weren’t ready for was the spotlight suddenly transfixing them and a shout over the tannoy “GURKHA HIGHLANDERS! ATTENSHUN!” They leapt to their feet, and the voice named them all individually, said what they had been doing and why, and asked for a round of applause.

It rolled round the esplanade, sounding like thunder.

Gurkha Highlander - Final day

... will be a bit delayed. I am busy send hundreds of "thank yous" for the cheques received. Donate online at

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gurkha Highlander - Sunday Times Article

By popular demand... well, sort of...

Gurkha Highlander - Day 7

Breakfast duly happened at 7:30, and we were on the road by 8. One of the boys had twisted his knee badly, and the decision was taken that he would not walk in the mountains, but could do the road section if he wanted. The first setback was that no packed lunches were forthcoming. Walker John couldn’t remember if he had ordered them, so I was detailed to collect some sandwiches.
But disaster struck on the Banchory to Ballater road. There had been a serious accident and the police had closed the road. By the time we got to the start point, it was nearly 10 o’clock. I was supposed to be back in Banchory before then for a meeting with the Chairman of the Gurkha Welfare Trust , not to mention Mrs. Lear. By the time Dugundra and I had a signal on our mobiles, it was after 10:30. I phoned Mrs. Lear and asked her to pick up sandwiches, foot-plasters, sport drinks and 8 Sunday Times’ - provided we were in it.
By the time I got round the diversion, and back to the Royal British Legion it was 11:30. We were in the ST, and a very handsome article and photograph it was too. Mrs. Lear and the Chairman and his wife just had time to hand over the supplies, grab a cup of coffee and have a quick chat, and then Dugundra and I had to set off to make RV1 in Glen Esk.
It took us an hour and a half to get there. Through the mountains on 14%, 16%, 18% gradients we trundled, with the lights on as the mist closed in. Once we got down the other side, we might have been in the home counties. A microclimate in Glen Esk means that it is extremely lush and rich. The village of Fettercairn even has expensive restaurants and dress shops, and the Milden Estate is the most perfectly looked after example of the genre.
We met the boys a mile After they had passed RV1 - we were early, but without injuries they had made great time and were even earlier. Sandwiches were consumed, energy drinks gulped and they set of again, accompanied by Dugundra who felt better without the knee bandage.
They only had about 2 miles to do to get to Angus Davidson’s house, who traditionally asks most of the valley to early tea to meet the Ghurkhas - and hand over a cheque. 77 years old, he was an ex-Gordon Highlander ( everyone around the area over 60 was, and lots over 35 as well) who had farmed his family acres since his father died. His sister lived next door, about a mile away, and had brought home-made sausage rolls that were delicious. Walker John presented him with one of our “ Gurkha Highlander 2008” caps. He was delighted. He immediately took off his decrepit bunnet, and proudly sported his new acquisition.
After the usual photo session, the walkers took their leave and I made my way along the road to a place called “ The Retreat”. It consisted of a museum, coffee shop, internet business centre and gift shop. It was excellent, and had been the idea of Margaret Michie, to preserve what Glen Esk had been. Between 1850 and 1900 the population had fallen by 75%, but thereafter had managed to remain reasonably stable to the present day. By the time I’d finished there, the boys had caught up with me. I overtook them again. On the way to RV2 I spotted a lady walker limping being supported by two middle-aged men. I stopped to discover they were making for Edzell, but the lady had twisted her ankle. There was just enough time take them, and the lady made a donation as I dropped them off.
I made it back to RV2 at Milden with 5 minutes to spare. Milden has been bought by a hedge fund manager, who has spent millions upgrtading the estate, its cottages and employing additional people on it. They were having a cricket matchj - Guests versus Estate Workers as I passed.
By the time we got back to Banchory, there was a welcoming committee. I shooed the boys upstairs to wash and change and told everyone they would be back in half an hour. The Chairman of Banchory RBL Club, John Duguid, offered us a free meal, which I gladly accepted, and when the boys came down, a quick photo session resulted in a cheque for £200.
A pleasant lady came up to me and asked if I could get the Gurkhas to speak to her father. Louis MacNeil was 86, and had been in 5 Gurkha during the war. They had fought their way through the jungle for over 1200 miles, from Assam, though Malaya, and thereafter back to India. At Indian partition, 5 Gurkha was one of the regiments which stayed in the Indian Army, and so he had transferred to 5 Para. The boys were delighted to talk to a REAL old soldier, and we spent nearly an hour with him chatting. His daughter was overcome with emotion, as he had so wanted to meet Gurkhas again.We left them reluctantly, but had to get some food into the walkers before they started fainting.
They were all in bed by 9:30.
166 down, 26 to go.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gurkha Highlander - Day 6

We had a leisurely breakfast at Mary Morgan’s , but I managed to get the boys walking by 09:35 back at Victoria Bridge. This wasn’t helped by a a digger appearing just as we were about to leave and parking in the middle of the road. Mary kindly gave us directions to get out at the other end of the road. It was a dry day with a light breeze. The midges, which had been almost unbearable in the far west ( even with midge nets on) had slowly eased off the further East we went,and by Royal Deeside they were not at all troubling. It was almost as if the Royal family had some secret weapon to keep them away.
My first job was to check if a particular bridge was there and meet up with the walkers at 10:30 before they were committed to a particular path, just in case it was down. Fortunately it was solid, and I duly reported back at RV1 which was at the Braemar Golf Club. The lads walked on and I went into Ballater once more.The boys were climbing Lochnagar behind Balmoral - a hard slog both up and down.
One of the commissions I had was to buy some chillies. There had been none at the hotel the night before, and so I went in search of some in Ballater. Duly acquired, more bananas and isotonic drinks were needed too.
I did a recce of RV2, which was at Spittal of Glenmuick. This is deep in Balmoral Estate, and has a well presented information centre and various necessary facilities. On the way in is a stone tablet, commemorating the Gordon Highlanders meeting up with Queen Victoria in 1899. You can feel the honour and pride in the wording, and the pathos in the final lines which mention that they embarked for South Africa and the Boer War shortly thereafter, and the Colonel and many men perished there.
Walker John texted me from the summit of Lochnagar to tell me that there was a 50 mph wind and it was freezing. I stayed where I could get a signal just in case there were any more, but the only call was from Susan at the Inver Hotel. She had decided to substitute apple crumble for ice cream - something that would bring joy to Walker John, who had tried to get a crumble or a pie all week. Everywhere we had been it was on the menu, but never available.
The plan had been to meet up with Mrs. Lear and the Chairman of the Gurkha Welfare Trust and his wife at the Royal British Legion at Banchory, where we were due to stay, but the late start and the injury to a knee of one of the boys meant that the walkers didn’t get off the hill until 6:30 ( two hours late). As a result we decided to go straight to the Inver Hotel, where our dinner was waiting.
As we drove up Colonel Rose, an ex-Gurkha officer, was waiting at the door for us. The boys jumped out and they were greeted in Gurkhali - the Colonel had been a career officer for 30 years so spoke it well. As they went in, his grandsons played the bagpipes most excellently, and the walkers were clapped in by the assembled guests. Angus Farquharson, Lord Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, greeted them, and after the boys had cleaned up a bit we all sat down to another excellent meal. At the end of it, Walker John gave a short speech, I received a cheque, and then the Gurkhas started singing some of their marching songs - which the Colonel joined in enthusiastically. He then took to the pipes himself, playing stirring tunes which brought whoops from the boys - they were Ghurka battle tunes. His grandsons played a tune or two, and then, sadly, it was time to leave.
When we got to the RBL just before 11pm, there was huge party in full swing. We were warned that the band had pyrotechnics and as a result the fire alarm would go off a couple of times around midnight. The RBL at Banchory is one of only two RBL clubs in Britain which have rooms - the other is at Turriff, not that far from Banchory.
We were all fast asleep when the first “BLEEP” hit us - and the next and the next, for about 10 minutes. Fortunately it finally stopped and we all groaned and turned over.
I annoyed Walker John by NOT snoring - as he said, if I was snoring he could tell me to wake up. Unfortunately I was just doing the odd grunt, so he felt he couldn’t wake me - but he did eventually anyway.
143 miles down, 48 to go.
I've done over 1100 in the van and probably another 450 or so to do in the next couple of days.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gurkha Highlander - the Big One - Day 5

It was still dark as the boys divvied up the packed lunches and loaded their bags into the back of the van. Breakfast had been enlivened by the fact that the toaster would not stay down without someone’s finger on the plunger. Even so, we were driving before 05:30, and made the layby at Cuaich before 06:30. The rain was lashing down, and I shook hands with them all as they headed up the path into the wilderness.
I heard later that until about 11 the rain kept up, but just as they got to Glen Feshie the weather cleared and allowed them that most stunning vista.
I had other things that needed doing. More knee supports, and more Compeed plasters and zinc oxide tape. I set off south as I had to take the long way round over Glenshee, which was misty and extremely cold.
I spent the day checking into our B& B, and checking out the Inver Hotel at Crathie , where we were to eat a late dinner. From there I drove on into Ballater to do my shopping and use the internet.. On the way back, there was great activity beside Balmoral. There was a photo-shoot which included the Queen and Camilla. Camilla in particular looked very smart, and she and Charles looked most relaxed and happy. They amuse me as a couple. They could almost be teenagers in love.
I got back to the B&B about 4 and started to make tea to put into flasks to take to the boys when they made RV1, which today was Linn o’ Dee. This is a fantastic ravine, carved by the rushing waters into extraordinary shapes, and spanned by a bridge opened by Queen Victoria. It sits in the Mar Estate, managed by the Scottish National Trust, and surrounded by signs saying how dangerous it is. As I sat waiting for the walkers, red squirrels ran about, deer trotted across the path and grouse called their unmistakable “ Go-Back! Go-Back!”
The boys finally appeared out of the rain at 7:20 pm having walked just under 13 hours. They fell on the tea and food I had prepared for them.
“ Oh Lear sahib, you are like angel! ” - and then they set off again to do the last hour and take their tally to just over 40 miles for the day. Captain Rajen was wearing flip-flops -” Can’t be bothered with these boots anymore sahib.”
Because they were wet, the flip-flops were making a sort of quacking noise, and with his hill stick, he was making good progress.
One of the boys suddenly shouted “ What looks like Mahatma Ghandi and sounds like a duck?“ In unison the rest of them shouted “ CAPTAIN SAHIB” and all roared with laughter. As Walker John said, they might start slowly in the morning,but ask them to put a bit of speed on after 20 miles and they were over the horizon before you could kukri. There had been a point when the mist had descended and they had had to use compass bearings to see them through. Of course, for the Gurkhas it was almost superfluous, as they have an instinct for the mountains and for the way to travel.At one point they had come to a stream which was too wide to cross - or so Walker John thought.. He was ready to make a mile detour to a bridge when Capt. Rajen said “ No sahib, let Lal have a look.” Whereupon Lal trotted up and down the bank a bit, and suddenly started leaping in a zig-zag across the river. He’d found the only way across, which was unmarked on any map. The boys had no problems once they’d seen Lal do it and were across in an instant. Walker John had a much more difficult time, with the boys shouting encouragement, and continually telling him the wrong way to jump. They were most disappointed when he didn’t fall in.
By the time they got to RV2 at Victoria Bridge,they were all really cold and wet. I shook all their hands as they got into the van and congratulated them on a fantastic effort. We were only 10 minutes from Mary Morgan’s B&B in Braemar,and after a quick wash and change we set off for the Inver Hotel.
There,a group of Englishmen were having dinner. They were up for the grouse. As soon as they saw us, and realised we were Gurkhas,the leader rushed over and emptied his wallet. Susan Snell, who owns the hotel, insisted on paying for our dinner, which it will not surprise you to learn was curry, and was excellent. Susan used to be a serious tennis player, and took the hotel over 3 years ago, coming from the south for a complete change of lifestyle, She seems to be thriving.
Breakfast is not until 8am, as its only about 20 miles tomorrow - but that includes Lochnagar, which is the only Ben in Scotland called a Loch. From the summit you can look straight down into Balmoral itself.
Can’t help but feel there ought to be a security guard up there to prevent snipers.
126 miles down, about 66 to go.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ghurka Highlander - Day 4

We were up at 6:15 this morning and into breakfast at 7. The Lady of the House got up specially to make us the usual full house with lashings of toast. Amongst the jams I spotted Robertsons Silver shred ( made from lemons) which I hadn’t seen for years.
20 minut6es later I was standing on the bridge at Roy Bridge and waved the boys off on the train. They would get off at Corrour, where they had finished the night before and would be walking by 8:15. They had 24 miles to Dalwhinnie and then another 2 in order to make some inroads into the 40-odd miler to Braemar on Friday. I nipped back to Spean Bridge to be able to have mobile coverage. Just as I was preparing to leave, a German tour bus drew up outside the hotel with the Commando Museum. Curious, I edged closer, as the stream of elderly men and women made their way into the museum. One grabbed his friend’s arm.
“ Ach” he said “ I do not want to go in there. I was at Dieppe when they attacked us, and as a result we got sent to the Russian front.”
My job today was to get extra supplies in for Friday, and hopefully meet Mrs. Lear at House of Bruar for lunch, with piles of cheques to be noted and people to be thanked.
The weather was magnificent. The sun was blazing with not a cloud in the sky, and the heather- a dull, drab colour with grey skies and rain - had taken on its sharp purple, the reason people talk of the hills and heather being “ ablaze”. I stopped by Loch Laggan and took a photo of the Victorian pile used for Monarch of the Glen. The costumes for its star, Susan Hampshire,were made by my tailor in Glasgow, Steven Purves.
I did a recce on where the boys would get picked up - I would meet them with about 3 miles to go and replenish supplies, then go on the to final rendez-vous for collection. Then an hour’s drive back to Roy Bridge for our last night there.
I made my way into Pitlochry to the Coop. The Highlands and Islands are full of rebranded Coop stores, which are extremely good. They stock a more limited range than bigger supermarkets, but they have more relevance to people like ourselves - walkers and holidaymakers are definitely catered for. I picked up fruit, isotonic drinks and some packaged sandwiches so that the boys would have two lunches with them whilst out of contact for nearly 15 or 16 hours - they will be walking by 6:30 am and will have their first lunch at about 11 and their second about 3:30. I will meet them about 6pm with more supplies and they then have another 9 miles or so to do before they can get dinner.
I waited at Bruar for Mrs. Lear and when she arrived got stuck into the cheques right away, I spent nearly 3 hours just noting names and amounts. I bought myself 2 sweaters with 35% off - when I told a friend they were reduced, he laughed and said he had NOT expected that I would be paying full price. I can’t THINK what he was implying.
I made my way back to the first RV for 4pm, not really expecting them to appear much before 5. I sat on the dam at Dalwhinnie looking across the loch and along the path they would come.. It was idyllic.
Suddenly my phone range.” Shabbash Lear Sahib. Walker John here. Be with you in about an hour.” I sat on enjoying the breeze and the surroundings.
A little while later I spotted them in their white shirts and blue Gurkha Highlander caps. They were making good speed along the side of the loch, and I reckoned the hour would be more like 45 minutes. As they came up on me I took some photos, and then my phone rang again. It was another Gurkha Welfare Trust committee member who had driven up to welcome the boys to her patch - she has a house at Kingussie. She also brought a handsome cheque from various activities.
She had been at a friend’s funeral earlier in the day. The friend, an elderly lady, had always been a great supporter of the Gurkhas because her brother, a Gurkha officer, had fought and died at Kohima, along with many of his men. After the war, a small delegation of Gurkhas had made their way to the lady’s house, with a signed scroll from his men.
The boys had had a wonderful day’s walk in the sun. The views from Ben Alder were spectacular, and they had run into the estate gamekeeper, who promptly gave them £20. Walker John was most pleased with the jerry-rig I had contrived to keep the water out of his gaiters - knicker elastic. He had asked for bicycle clips, but I don’t think they are what people use any more. They use lycra pants instead.
After the extra few miles, I collected the troop and drove back to Roy Bridge, where yet another curry with extra rice and nan bread awaited us. I’m sure there is a curry mafia in the area - every chicken curry comes with prawns in it, but with different strength of sauce. So it’s probably all made centrally somewhere and each hotel or restaurant just adds something and calls it “ The Roy Bridge Hotel Curry” or whatever the name of the establishment. Perfectly good though. Over dinner I was telling the boys that I had bought some heather honey whilst at Bruar.
“Ah,” said Rajif “ I used to be a honey hunter back home when I was young “ (he’s still only 23 and has been in the army for 5 years). Apparently ropes are made by twisting grass, and then the men and boys lower themselves down cliff-sides where the bees have their nests. The honey is very sought after, “ But,” said Rajif, ” the Army pays better and its also much safer.” This from a soldier not long back from Afghanistan Helmand.
Capt. Rajen carried out a recce on the breakfast room we would have to use the next morning. He organised the two most junior men to be up 15 minutes before the rest of us with instructions to get the tea made and the toast started. The Gurkhas definitely work on the basis of seniority!
We were all in bed by 10:30 as the alarms were set for 4am.
85 miles done, about 107 to go

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gurkha Highlander - Day 3

The day started auspiciously with bright skies, and the boys all wearing their “Gurkha Highlander” shirts - but the white ones as it was going to be a sunny day. They set off from Spean Bridge with the train pass they had been given by ScotRail. They were to catch the 15:20 train from Corrour, that fantastic great estate which belonged to the Maxwell MacDonalds for generations and which had its own train station, with no other way to get into it.
The day held fine, and at 3:45 I was waiting for the lads at Roy Bridge. They came up the steps from the platform.
“ Had to run last two miles sahib ,“said Captain Rajen. “ Sign by path say 12 miles but was 14” The Captain had a strain, but when a car had stopped at one point to see if he was alright, he had said to them " Oh, I was thinking you were wanting to read my map. OF COURSE I am alright" - and immediately made them all run the next section.
Back at the hotel, we washed and changed, then made our way to the Commando Memorial. The Gurkhas lined up, and the Walk Leader gave an uplifting short speech. He had been a Gurkha Officer, his father had been a commando. Then the Piper, who had specially driven all the way from the Army Piping school in Edinburgh, played “Flowers o’ the Forest” and we all stood to attention.
The Royal British Legion placed a wreath, then the Captain, with heart-warming military precision, placed the Gurkha’s. The sun shone on the enterprise, and even the Grey Corries and Ben Nevis looking magnificent. The photographer from the Sunday Times took lots of photos with the backdrop of hills - superb.
People were pressing money into my hands, wanting no thanks, tears in some of their eyes, mentioning fathers, uncles, sons,mothers who had had a connection with the Gurkhas.
I’ve felt humbled more than once on this effort. This was another time.
Appropriately, we had a meal in the Everest Indian Restaurant in Fort William. It describes itself as " Down the lane opposite the job centre". Says quite a lot about Fort William. We headed back to Roy Bridge for an early night. 06:30 start tomorrow and 26 miles to walk.
59 miles down, 133 to go.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gurkha Highlander Day 2

I dropped the lads off where I had collected them the night before. They were full of glee as it wasn’t raining and there was a light wind which would keep the midges away. Today’s walk would take them on the single track road 13 miles along Loch Arkaig, then cutting past Achnacarry House to the Caledonian Canal, then a short cross country trek to Spean Bridge. 21 miles in total.
I arranged to meet them for lunch about 2-ish where they would be leaving the road to cut through.
Promptly at 2 I saw them coming towards me. I got out the van and began to walk towards them.
Suddenly I saw a twelve point stag, munching at the road side. He turned his magnificent head towards me, and watched me warily as I slowly moved past him. I kept watching but he soon started to eat again. His antlers were all in velvet and he looked every inch a Monarch of the Glen.
Unfortunately by the time the boys came up to me he had moved off, but they had seen lots of other deer en route - presumably part of his harem.
They apologised for being a little late. They had heard the sound of pipes and had gone to investigate. They found an English lady who had been coming to the area for 40 years and had recently come permanently. She adored the pipes and played every day at her front door, the notes floating around the glen and across the loch. Once she found out what the boys were doing her husband was produced along with chequebook, and the boys were sent on their way with a handsome cheque and a skirl of the pipes.
One of the boys had been wearing his army boots, which were almost new. A mere 10 miles had reduced them to nothing, and he had taken them off in disgust and walked barefoot on the verge the rest of the way. He told me that the equipment they were issued with now was so bad they generally bought their own. He had brought these with him as a spare pair.
I left them as I was collecting a reporter from the Sunday Times.
The boys made their way into the Cameron Museum, where they were given free entry, and various people at the museum pressed money into their hands.
The reporter duly arrived and I took him up to the Commando memorial to wait for the lads arrival. We chatted about the Welfare Trust in general, and about the British love affair with the Gurkhas which has endured for over 200 years. One of the occasions we discussed was the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The Gurkhas were the only - the only - local regiment that remained loyal to the British, and naturally they were lauded to the skies in the papers of the day. That’s just one reason they are known as “Bravest of the Brave, Most Loyal of the Most Loyal.”
After the interview, the boys moved on to finish at Spean Bridge for the day. After bathing and changing, we went to the Aonach Mhor Hotel for dinner. The cook there came out and told us she had a son who had been wounded and had spent three years at Woolwich Military Hospital. She couldn’t praise the staff enough, not only for their care of her son, but for the care they took of she and her husband.
“ And now they want to shut these hospitals. I just voted for the petition to keep them. I hope the people who made these cuts have children needing specialist care. No-one in government knows or cares what our lads do for us.”
Needless to say, our dinner was free, despite trying very hard to pay for it.
43 miles down about 148 to go.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The end of day one

It took me an hour to drive over a road beside loch Arkaig that twisted & turned, rose & fell for 13 miles. The drizzle was still coming down and I knew the rain had been lashing in the middle of the day on Knoydart. The estimated rendez-vous for the Gurkha Highlanderswas 7pm, but I reckoned they would be at least another 45 minutes. Even so, I intended to be at the RV for 6:30 just in case.
Except I couldn’t get there. There was a locked gate at the end of the loch. I turned the minibus, donned waterproof leggings, anorak and wellies, and set off along the path on the other side of the gate. I was worried they would get to the RV and not realise I hadn’t been able to get to the them.
After a mile or so I got to where we had agreed - except the ruined old barracks from 1745 weren’t there. I checked my map again and saw there was another ruin about half a mile further on - they might easily stop there. So I walked on. After hanging about for a bit I walked back to RV1 - then back to RV2.
About 7:30 I decided I needed a pee, and made the mistake of trying. The Avon “ skin so soft” was doing its anti-midge job really well on face and hands - but there was none where it counts, and within a moment or two I had an appendage more black than pink. I finished off as quickly as I could then did my best to get rid of the pests.
I walked backwards and forwards between the two RVs for another 45 mins and then - walking back from 2 to 1 I spotted them just coming off the hill. Whoops of delight all round.
We quick marched to the bus and they grabbed chocolate bars and more water.
They had done well. At one point they came to a raging torrent - not on the map. They cast up and down for a bit, and then climbed a small hillock to get an overall look. They could just make out the track on the other side of the river. The weather had been so bad that a tin y rivulet had become a torrent. With great difficulty they crossed and kept going. The delay had cost them the extra half hour to the RV. As we drove back along the windy road, I asked if anyone was bothered by the mogtion.
“ No sahib,” said the Captain.” No lady-boys here!” Hoots of laughter all round.
Of course, we were too late back to get food. But the Spean Bridge Hotel very kindly provided fish and chips which were excellent. The Gurkhas of course love chillies, so two bowls of red and green whole chillies and a bowl of jallapinos were demolished too. I can tell you chips with jallapinos is an acquired taste.
We got back to Roy Bridge about 11pm - only to discover neither I nor the walk leader had paid the bill. We called the Spean Bridge.
“ That’s OK dear,” said the owner,” Consider it my contribution.”
The Spean Brdige Hotel also has the Commando Museum. It would appear that some despicable person is going round the area, rattling a can, saying that items have been stolen from the Museum, and would you contribute to help restock it? I know if we catch him he won’t be doing it for a long time.
Th Gurkhas will be walking past Achnagarry house today. We have the Sunday Times coming to interview them and take a photo or two.
And the Colonel has finally got a piper for tomorrow at the wreath laying.
22 miles down,about 170 to go.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gurkha Highlander 2008

Gurkha Highlander 2008 officially launched at Prestonpans at the War Memorial on Saturday afternoon. We had a great turn out with lots of Girl Guides rattling cans for us and several Royal British Legion members who had come from as far afield as Hawick for the event. The local papers covered it, and then we all went to the Church Hall for an excellent tea. Personally I was delighted to see the serious amount of filling that had been put in the sandwiches - I’m not so keen on the bread, but I do like a good thick filling.
The Gurkhas ran into a drunk slumped near the War Memorial, who pulled himself to his feet and threw a pretty smart salute.
“ Did ye get yer eeayrh…” He was lost for words.
“ Pension?” I offered.
“ Aye PENSION,” he emphasised.
“Not in full”
“ Bastards!” and he staggered off into the pub.
The lads themselves are from six different Nepalese tribes, from a Lal who is short and stocky from living at over 10,000 ft, to a Chitri, who is more like an Indian and comes from the lowlands. They are wonderfully cheery, some recently back from Afghanistan.
“ How was it” asked their compatriots eagerly
“ It was wonderful - we could have as much ammunition as we wanted and we could kill anyone who fired at us. It was so funny - one day, a ricochet bullet hit Rajen on his helmet. We all fell about laughing!”
Saturday night they cooked a curry for us which was excellent - and mountainous. They are not that big but they can certainly eat.You may have heard about Nepal now being run by Maoists. Of course, being Nepalese, they have huge respect for everyone unlike their Chinese namesakes. As one of the boys said “ We have had blood pain and tears for years but now we have clever uncorrupt people in power who may be good for us.”
And of course, they particularly respect the Gurkhas. As Capt. Gurung said, “ Yes yes, they consult us before doing very much. We are the most respected grouping in Nepal. We don’t make policy, or get involved, but if we don’t like it we tell them, and they listen.”
So this morning we drove to Mallaig and took Bruce Watt’s ferry over to Inverie . There are no roads there. You have to take a boat or walk in. In our case, we took the boat in the and lads will walk out. We passed a basking shark and some puffins, both of which excited the boys enormously.
As I recrossed back to Mallaig I saw them disappear into the drizzle. I have to pick them up in seven hours or so from where they walk out of the peninsula. As one of them said.” Oh, this is such fun - we get to walk in the mountains again!”
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Friday, August 08, 2008

Brown and Darling mess it up again.

A friend is trying to sell his house down south in the £500-600,000 bracket. He actually got two offers about a fortnight ago, pretty good in this market.
We then have Darling saying he's thinking about a stamp duty holiday - and it stops dead. This is not really surprising - wouldn't you want to save £20,000 for hanging on a bit?
Of course, the so-called holiday will actually have no effect - people will simply look to get marginally higher prices for the same property - which will slow up any sales anyway.
The only things that will make the housing market revive are:
1) Much lower house prices
2) Banks actually giving people money as opposed to saying they are going to.( I friend tells me he has been waiting for a facility letter for more than 6 weeks - he phones every day to be told its in the system)
3) A belief that prices are not going to fall any more.
However clever Brown and Darling think they are ( NB: they're not, they are stupid) , until people's perception is that prices might rise, they won't buy.
And they certainly won't buy if they think they can avoid giving this government any stamp duty by waiting.
My prediction? Don't even start looking until later in 2009.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Claymore ' 08

I was at Meadowbank in Edinburgh on Saturday collecting for the Gurkhas, and was able to chat to some of the people there.
Claymore is the main Scottish War Games event of the year. There are lots, but this is THE one. People come from all over the UK and the tiny ( and not so tiny) figures are all beautifully painted, set out and manipulated. This was the fourth year I have done this, and the organisers very kindly donate the door money to the Gurkha Welfare Trust.
The man at the next stand was from Middlesborough. He is a lecturer in engineering at the college there. We chatted about the Gurkha Highlander walk which is starting at the weekend and he talked of his fundraising walks.
He mentioned some German students who had taken part in one when on an exchange. He went quiet for a bit, and then started to tell me about them.
The German boys were the same age as his students, and he was embarrassed at how little his young men knew. The English boys in Germany had been completely at sea, as the Germans at the same age where about four years further ahead, and he had had to set up a special class for the Germans in Middlesborough - teaching them matters beyond the end of the college courses.
As he said, we no longer have the tools in place to educate even the relatively teachable to the degree required in the modern world. Our Universities may have been dumbed down to a great extent but the dross that gets drafted in are actually incapable of progressing beyond the first year, which is why the drop out rates are so high - such a waste of resources and time. He quite categorically stated that his students, even with the engineering degree they would emerge with, would actually not get jobs here, because the Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and Romanians that were coming over had better degrees and better understanding of the principles.
As he put it, " If only this bloody Government would leave us alone to get on with it, we could turn this around. Halve the University places, raise the standards again, and produce people who can actually do proper jobs instead of Travel and Tourism or Media. There won't be any Media left soon anyway - it will all have migrated to the Internet."
But his real point was the Government interference.
The best thing any incoming Government could do would be to stop all new legislation for at least 5 years and get rid of all the bad, ill thought out and unenforceable laws that have piled up.