Like my friend, Lee Edward Fodi, I have a fascination with doors and doorways. Here are a few from my recent perambulations that caught my eye...

Door within a door from a home in Ipswich, circa 1500.



Castle Argyll as seen through the doorway of the tower Dun Corr Bhile near Inveraray, Scotland.


The Devil's Door in a small church in York


Doors within doors at Slains Castle, Scotland.



Valbjofsstadur door, c 1200 AD Iceland, the only one left of its kind.


Dunnottar Castle doorways [with bonus well...] outside Aberdeen, Scotland.


Portal peephole at Hampton Court Palace.

Do you have a favourite doorway? Tell me about it!


More soon...





Aberdeen Elephants & Castles

I spent a little time on the east coast of Scotland this year -- my first visit to Aberdeen. It is a bustling city with the original structures all carved out of shimmering granite, but the new bits reminded me more of Calgary than anything else -- filled with new construction and a booming oil economy. Many helicopters overhead, ferrying folks out to the rigs on the North Sea.

However the bits that held the most appeal for me, of course, were the places out of time. I stayed at the Aberdeen University student residence, which had this noble entranceway from the lane:

And my most serendipidous discovery came on the uni campus, too, when I got lost after a run and ended up going into the Zoology building to ask directions. I was greeted by the bones of a baleen whale, an enormous spider crab crawling up one wall and this fellow, who saw me well on my way...

Them crazy elephant bones...

Turns out the building houses a zoology exhibit that is free to all who care to peruse it, and as you can see it is well worth the visit.

My two favourite days were spent outside the city, however. The first was to the south, near a little village called Stonehaven.

Dunnottar in the distance via memorial poppies

I walked from the village to Dunnottar Castle, a lovely storied old place where William Wallace chased an English regiment into a church and then burnt the place to the ground. [They did get their own back, sadly for the Braveheart, whose head was the first to adorn the parapets of another castle -- the Tower of London -- just a few years later...].

Dunnottar, perched precariously on the sea cliffs, was a delight from its portcullis to its mammoth kitchens.

Dunnottar defile

I wandered the stone ruin for a couple of hours, hanging out in the Thief's Hole and the room where 167 Covenanters were held captive and tortured for not being keen on Episcopalianism, and then on to the poshly refurbished Marischal's Suite where many a monarch -- including Mary Queen of Scots -- was entertained. With its blood-thirsty history, Dunnottar was a huge highlight for me.

Dunnottar garderobe and sink

Speaking of bloodthirsty histories ...

I spent another day away from Aberdeen -- my last day in Scotland, as a matter of fact, at a castle whose imagined history is a great deal more bloodthirsty than is its actual. Slains Castle lies a kilometre or so away from the tiny seaside village of Cruden Bay. Cruden Bay is most famous for being the site of the first successful crossing of the English Channel by plane, when Norwegian Tryggve Gran, after three attempts, made it into the air and across to his homeland, a distance of 465 km. I do love a good aviation story, but I was there to see the castle, in particular because it has captured the heart of a writer you may have heard of.

What's that climbing out the window...?

In the 19th century, a young Irish writer was captivated by the sight of the castle, and pictured it with a black-caped creature crawling down one outer parapet. Bram Stoker so loved the place that he moved his family to Cruden Bay for part of the year so he could write DRACULA there in the shadow of Slains Castle.

The castle is a ruin, and is [technically] closed to public view, but -- hey -- the gate was open, so I might have wandered around a little, to the sound of the calling seabirds from the cliffs below.

Slains stairway to nowhereJust a little fodder for the imagination, wouldn't you say?

Windows within windows

More soon...




Highland Games

As promised, a post on the Inveraray Highland Games.

I had a most extraordinary time in Inveraray, mostly due to this lady here:

Her name is Mae Wilcock, and she's standing beside the little cottage she lets from the Duke of Argyll. She told me all about her life in Inveraray and gave me directions to climb the nearby hill [Dun Cor Bhile] and find the lookout tower on top. She told me about her adventures absailing down the castle wall for charity 30 years ago or so when she was 67. [The current Duke's grandfather was Duke in those days].

Mae is 93 and FULL of the old boot, as my grandpa would say.

She taught me what 'wedding furniture' means. [As in, "I saw the Duke's wedding furniture when I changed his nappies as a babby..."]

Every single bus that drove by slowed down and waved to Mae. She was wonderful.

Mae doesn't bother to go see the Games ["Ye seen one, ye've seen 'em all, aye?"] that are held on the Duke and Duchess's property, but she pointed me in the right direction, so in I went.

[I'd also like to point out that I was standing beside the Duchess and her little girl as the parade went by, but didn't know it until afterwards, when I saw her picture in the program.]




The games, as you might expect, were action-packed.

There were, quite literally, piping competitions the entire day.

The wee dancers danced.

Many hearty people ran footraces. Bicycle races were held [on a grass track!] People wrestled. Locals took off their shoes and socks and raced for bottles of whisky. But really? We all know why I was there.

Men in kilts.

Specifically -- the heavies.

It was a fantastic sunny day. Large men threw weights over poles, swung weights around their heads, and of course tossed giant pieces of lumber. It was perfect. Here's a wee taste...

So, the heavies putted a 16 lb stone AND a 27 pound stone. No namby-bamby shot-puts for these guys. The stones come straight from the River Aray.

27 lb stone flies through the air...That's it in the upper left hand corner.

I've been to Highland Games before [in Nairn, actually], but I somehow missed that the boys have to anchor themselves down with giant spikes in the toes of their boots in order to stay in place while whirling the hammers around.

That's it, flying off in the upper right. The hammer's only 16 pounds. Unless it's the 22 lb one. [They warm up with the 16's].

I have to show you this guy. He was AWEsome. He was from Iceland and he wore Icelandic flag socks and had elastics in his beard. His name was Heidi.[It's possible I am misspelling this, but I do NOT care to look it up].

He wasn't very tall, but he could fling heavy things with the best of 'em!

Okay, I know what you are waiting for. It was, after all, the World Caber Tossing Championship.

[I _know_! Total accident that I picked the right games to go to. Kilted serendipity, man.]

All the heavies had to toss a warm-up caber three times just to get in to the qualifying round.

To toss a caber correctly, you've got to pick it up vertically, cup your hands beneath it, run like hell and fling it, end over end. It must land in the 12 o'clock position, or it doesn't count.

Everybody made it past the first round.

Check out the air this guy got in the first round:

That pink shirt was the BOMB!

Then they had to toss a longer caber in the qualifying round. Three times each. A few didn't make it through. [Heidi did!]

And then it came down to it. The mondo caber. More than 20 feet tall. Weighing more than 140 lbs. All remaining heavies took part in the first throw of the final round. About half of them succeeded. Then half-way through the second throw...the caber broke! They had to bring in a new caber.

It was decided there would be two more throws in the final round.

And nobody succeeded in tossing it.

Not one. The whole group went through, and no one was successful. It came down to the last toss. Last year's champion, Scott Rider, had left his team back in Glasgow [where he is competing in the Commonwealth Games in shot put] to defend his title. Let's have a look at his last toss, shall we?

Picked it up, off running...The [highland] fling...Success!Can you see the height that thing went to?

So Scott successfully defended his title. [One of the other guys also managed a good toss in the final round, but Scott got it on overall points].

So exciting!

I ran into Mae a little bit later, at the end of a very hot afternoon. She was castigating a woman for bringing her dog in a coat to the Games on such a hot day. The woman tried [in vain] to make Mae understand that the coat was soaked in water, and was intended to keep the dog cool.

"Some people should just not be allowed to own a dug," Mae said to me, as the woman slunk away. "And some treat their dugs just like babbys, aye?" She shook her head. "They'd be better off with a good man between their legs!"

My theory is that Mae WAS watching that caber toss, after all...




More soon...






As I've confessed to everyone who will listen, in my head York is a small, sort of industrial city -- Glasgow or Manchester-esque.

Wrong. And I should have known better.

York is a magnificent medieval town, not untouched by tourism, of course, but still lovely. I had such fun there, and walked my feet to the bone seeing as many corners of it as I could in my short visit.

Here are a few glimpses to share with you...

Clifford's Tower is a motte & bailey castle, and not even the first on this site. The Original Killer Bill [William the Conqueror, of course] didn't like the one that the locals had built, so had it knocked down and replaced by this one.

I walked the walls, the remains of which still circle much of the old city including the crowded and cool alleys of The Shambles.

[The term 'Shambles' actually stems from the time of William the Conquerer and refers to the benches or shamels on which the meat was displayed in this butchers' area of town.]

I was lucky enough to be walking through the streets on the last day of the Mystery Plays, street plays depicting the death of Christ and other religiously significant events; traditionally -- and still -- put on by locals. The casts, all ages as you can see, parade through the streets with their sets and actors and then set up and perform in the city's squares.

The background to these plays was the magnificent Minster. It was here that I missed my broken camera most sorely, as the gargoyles were just sumptous in their Mastery Of The Ugly.


The windows, on the other hand...

I think my favourite part, though, were the many [and I mean MANY] crypts in which the various clergy take their eternal rest. No stiff formality for these guys...

Just chillin' with the cherubs, man.

Also had a GREAT visit with a young Canadian friend who is currently in residence, a few Yorkian ghosts and a number of old dead Vikings. It was a fantastic visit -- I can't wait to go back.

Next up -- a peek at a Highland Games, including some great shots of the heavies doing what they do best at the World Caber Tossing championships.


More soon....!





Loving ... and Leaving London

A second quick peek at this City of Cities.

There is no other, really.

I've talked about the food at the Borough Market before. Have you ever seen pakoras the size of these?

The smells of this place are AMAZING!

Another day, after exploring the Nightingale Museum, I think, I took a stroll through the Leake Street tunnel, which is also known as the 'Banksy Tunnel' after an event he sponsored there in 2008. I couldn't pick out any of his work [which I have found in random places around the world before], but it was truly a thing of graffiti beauty.

In my day at the British Museum, I found this remarkable creation in the Clocks and Clockwork room:

It is a mechanical galleon, an automaton from the 16thC. It was built to announce the beginning of a banquet, and once set in motion would trundle down the length of the table. Reaching the end, it would stop and the main gun would fire, igniting the fuses for the guns along the sides, which would then fire in turn.

Who wouldn't want their meal announced by an exploding robot sailing ship?

Speaking of Excess, one hot afternoon, I took a trip to Hampton Court. I've never been, and considering Henry VIII featured as a character in SHADES OF RED, I thought it high time. The palace was breathtaking, and filled with details like this dragon guarding the palace:

It also had the most amazing truffula tree protecting the front gate:

I feel the need for thneed...

Another night, after working at Southbank, I noticed that LIMBO was playing, so on a whim, I bought a ticket. How to describe the show...

Well, imagine a circus that takes place pretty much in your lap, with fire eaters, comedy, contortionists, aerial mayhem, dance and magic, all set to the inimitable beautiful musical catastrophe that comes from the genius who is Sxip Shirey. 

[This is a shot of Sxip, brandishing his trademark megaphone, taken in the seconds before the show began JUST as they announced a ban on picture-taking].

It was a Most Excellent evening, SO not to be missed if you are in London.


My final night in the City was a special one. My daughter, her boyfriend and I made the trip to Canary Wharf [via Docklands Rail, which I'd never travelled on before] and had a lovely dinner under the Reuters tickertape.

And then we went to watch the Pythons.

Yeah, you heard me. Monty Python -- or at least the remaining members, in their penultimate performance ever. There was even a bonus bit of Eddie Izzard, which was wonderful.

A little piece of history come to life. Unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime -- all cliches apply. I watched from my seat and was 11 years old again. It was brilliant. And of course, after all the applause was done, it was clear how much the Pythons appreciated the adulation...

A perfect ending.

Other adventures remain in the offing, however, so there will be


More soon...!