Car swapping

An interesting day of cars and pickups.

Turns out one of the execs had been given an A-class merc and he wanted a bigger car. As it happened, I was dropping a lass off at Enterprise Ayr, so the car change fell on me. I had to leave my Suzuki and get into an Audi Q3. Big new thing, all dressed in black. Lots of boot. All sorts of electrics. I wasn’t gonna connect my phone through it though so I took it down the winding roads from memory and ended up at catering on site. A smooth drive, with potential for some grunt. I was enjoying the fact that the radio worked.

It’s a rare treat for me to coincide with lunch on site, and the catering is excellent this race. I emptied the adblue, tape and silicon filler that I had brought up for Dougie. Then I loaded up with sundried tomato and olive gnocchi and waited until one of the PAs appeared with the Mercedes. She appeared almost immediately. Mid lunch we swapped vehicle contents and keys. I finished my gnocchi and had a cake and then realised as I was filling my only coffee of the day that I had to get back to Ayr post haste for a shuttle run.

I’ve driven an A-class before under different circumstances. They go like the clappers but you can’t see out the back and you feel like you’re scraping your bum down the tarmac. I thrashed the thing back to Enterprise through country roads suddenly filled with slow moving lorries. I would never have one of the things, but overtaking is a dream in them. I got back to Enterprise before I started, and feeling slightly shell-shocked I grabbed my passenger and shot to Glasgow, then Edinburgh and back up with a lovely scientist.

It isn’t gonna get any less busy. Every time I think I might have a stop my phone buzzes. I’m happy like that. And I’m seeing and feeling this part of the world out the windows. My father’s home. Big stone buildings and rain. Sweeping vistas and grey clouds. Sparkling eyes and gangly limbs. Musicality and easy small talk.

I currently only know my next day the night before. Earlier start tomorrow, but not such a late finish. I’m happy to be earning my keep on this team once more. The team feels streamlined and tight, and this season looks strong. Sardinia next, once more. Then more remote again, and I take my hat off to them all for what they are trying to make, what they are trying to do. There’ve been some brilliant and deep car conversations about legacy and science and the next steps. I’m proud to be doing my bit.

Pushing a car through cotton wool

I’m sitting in my little kitchen in Ayr listening to the sound of the rain outside and the last birds of the evening. Almost 8pm and it’s still light.

I’ve just finished arranging all the factors for tomorrow’s shuttling. It’s all straight in my head and it all makes sense so I can relax now and sink towards an early bed. I’m very very tired.

First thing this morning I had to drive to Carlisle. It’s only about two and a half hours, but there’s still no aerial in the car so no music. And the rain came. Not just any rain. Rain that floods the fast lane. Rain that cuts the light. Thick hard white rain. My world was a box in front of me. Thankfully the lenses in my sunglasses cut the glare and are perhaps the finest lenses I’ve ever had. I could see what was visible very clearly, and react to it. But what was visible was extremely limited.

You know me and driving by now. My stamina for it is high. But today almost beat me. A restless sleep and then that relentless rain. It wasn’t just an hour. It was the whole way down, like some dream of watery hell, just my eyes and the engine.

I’m some twisted modern version of a centaur. My horse-body right now is a little red Suzuki S-Cross. It’s hybrid. This means it is heavier than it looks and burns petrol faster at speed. I think you’re supposed to only drive the things in cities.

The joy of the battery is when the lights change. It flies off from zero like a souped up diesel. The go pedal kicks it into go and it go go goes. On the motorway, you can sleepily drift into three figure speeds and it is still purring. I think of the Micra and how it used to shake at eighty. This one just wants to fly. I have to be careful not to express myself too much when I have passengers, as some of these empty flat winding rural Scottish roads remind me of the Isle of Man where I learnt to drive and where there is no speed limit. But no amount of go can cut a cloud like that one. I arrived in Carlisle with only ten minutes to spare, and I was adrenalised and exhausted in equal measure just in time to turn around and do the same amount of time and more with passengers.

After an hour I drove out of the cloud and found light and peace, but my head was drooping. Still rain so I couldn’t open the windows – my passengers chose to sit in the back and they were sleeping. I had to stop.

I found a lovely little station. Family owned, an extended farm shop. A far cry from the usual MacDonalds crapstop. I wish I could remember where it was, but I had a fire under me. I necked a bottle of old fashioned lemonade, shoved a packet of crisps into my face and came back to my passengers with a voice again, and a flat white to boot. Yes, I’m back on the coffee, but it’s just one a day and at times like that when it does what it is supposed to do.

I have to eat and sleep. Night night.

Third day… beginning to warm up

Things are beginning to rev up here. I remember this from previous races. I find myself thinking I’m gonna have time to think and then more stuff happens. When I’m part of the team, the team knows I’m part of it and good people make good use of me.

The St Helena is moored up in Fairlie. There’s a narrow jetty, and the old mail boat is there at the end, larger than life. “Not electric yet” it has, blazoned on the side. This is still a race with big ideas, a team buoyed up by that drive to find joy but do it ethically.

Today I met a train into Glasgow. No time to see family sadly. Hopefully one day I’ll be in less of a rush. The passengers were good sorts and got involved in my latest car game.

Last season I built up a playlist on Shazam from Saudi, Sardinia and Uruguay. My obsession has been local radio stations. Charming clumsy earnest DJs and often eclectic often local selections. I’m happy to listen to them talk in a language I don’t understand in order to hear their selections and save them. Last season’s playlist could use some trimming for sure, as I don’t just Shazam songs I like. I get curious when they annoy me. Nevertheless, the lists are an artifact of these short and intense international jobs that I’ve got myself tangled up with and they will hopefully give me pleasure in time to come.

My passengers got right behind it, thankfully. There’s a station you can only get within a few miles of Glasgow. Celt95. It puts out an earnest and eclectic folksy range of tracks. We are clinging onto it as we pushed to the marina, and building an odd and memorable artifact of this race via Shazam.

(For those who don’t know, Shazam is an app that listens to music and tells you what it is. It remembers what you’ve searched for, so later on I can add it to a playlist.)

I was taking the storyteller out to the boat. She’s going to live there for nine months. That’s a whole pregnancy. I wonder what she will bring to life. Her job will be to do roughly what I do on this blog, but with more pictures, better links, less vulnerability and more polish. I partly envy her that existence. It’s a different style of writing though, and it would make this thing I do almost reflexively into A JOB. And we all know that things change when they become your work. I still switch off adverts. I still give my money to WordPress.

I dropped her off with the crew. The first time in my experience the boat has not needed a tender to get to it. In some places you have to go through passport control to get there as on board it is technically England.

Turning round on the narrow jetty in my vast borrowed pick-up was hairy, but nothing worse than I’ve done before. I shot home to my little Ayr Apartment. It’s late. Tomorrow I’ll be covering just as much ground but in the other direction. This part of the world though – it’s beautiful. “I would have stayed there if they weren’t all so buttoned up,” dad used to say. And that seems to have changed. In Ayr, in Edinburgh, in Glasgow I’m seeing interesting looking young men and women. I’m listening to better than generic music on the local stations. There’s spark here. It’s going on the list.

WordPress has decided to stop me from uploading pictures. I’m too tired to try to work out why. That’s why you’ve had no images. Will sort it anon…

Rain reign

Driving through the rainy Ayrshire hills is an unusual pleasure. You drive past wee burns carving through the lush pastures, rushing with rain water. The sheep are fat and happy from good Scottish grass fattened up with rain. The plantlife is fed by rain, bright and healthy. The sky is filled with colourful roiling clouds carrying sweet lifegiving rain. Houses shine, washed bright by constant rain. Healthy lowlanders walk dogs lean and fit from running through rainwet fields. Even the road ahead reflects the light from the rain puddles in the tarmac.

On the local radio I hear the local people giving their contempt for the monarchy free rein. Down back in England people are welcoming the beginning of Charles III’s reign as king. Here, the radio vox pops are raining contempt on who they keep calling “the English king”. I have to restrain myself…

He’s not just the English king. This is another example of the small-mindedness and the needless tribal division that is endemic in this age of algorithms.

Let’s go back to 1603 when it was well decided that James Charles Stuart should follow the first Elizabethan age and come be our king too. James VI of Scotland and I of England. Son of Mary Queen of Scots. A practical decision to make absolutely certain the Spanish didn’t come knocking on the crown again. James the VI of Scotland then became also James the I of England.

As observed by Shakespeare, Puritanism was on the rise. Malvolio, who thought that because he was worthy there should be no more cakes and ale, swears to be revenged on the whole pack of courtiers and nobles for their cavalier treatment of him. His son, Charles I of Scotland and England etc was to bear the brunt of that puritanical revenge. A bloody civil war fought between the royalist Cavaliers and Cromwell’s puritan Roundheads, leading to King Charles’ beheading on a cold January morning in 1649. He famously asked for two shirts, as it was cold and he didn’t want shivering to be mistaken for fear. Then came the interregnum. The next year, his son Charles was declared King of Scotland, while Cromwell and the Roundheads were just beginning their time in control of England. Charles exhibited a combination of stamina, ingenuity and good contacts. For someone so recognisable to escape to France with a grand reward on his head was remarkable.

The logical next move for a New Model Army buoyed up by a sense of their own righteousness and everybody else’s wrongfulness was to ban fun. The theatres were pulled down. Until Wanamaker’s Globe came up in the nineties, we lost entirely the form of audience inviting theatre that developed in London from the cart shows via James Burbage in Shoreditch. When the monarchy was eventually restored to a country now understanding (for a short while) that idealists and zealots are frequently not the best leaders, the French form of proscenium theatre came with Charles, bringing new techniques such as the disconnect between actor and audience. The idea of a fourth wall. An “aside”. And WOMEN ON STAGE.

And now we have another King Charles. He has shaken my hand. He loves the theatre. I’m okay with him.

King Charles III. He doesn’t come across as very Scottish, but his lot were Scottish first and his king name was brought into the mix by James VI of Scotland…

I just don’t see why we need to be so little that we spend so much energy hating a system that at least means we aren’t only represented by the likes of Boris on an international stage. The world is big and we are a small nation. We are getting smaller and we seem to want it to happen while Russia is expanding. The troll factories amplify and attack to fit their agenda, and we know that the more we all fit ourselves into tinier and tinier boxes, the easier we will be to eat.

Throwing stones through time

“Go and do something with your youngest son, Norman. He barely knows you.”

I reckon I was eleven. “So Alexander, where do you want to go?” “I dunno.” “There must be somewhere you haven’t been on the island? We can go anywhere you want.” “I dunno.” “Let’s go to the point of Ayr. Have you been there? It’s the northernmost part of the island.” “Yeah I guess… *shrug* “

We get in the car. Up we go. I remember it well. A rare and long memory of time with my dad. Thinking about it now I’m crying suddenly. Dad’s been dead a long time. It never quite goes away.

A grey day as you’d expect from The Isle of Man. There’s a lighthouse. “Look, a lighthouse!” This wasn’t a day of amazing revelations. In many ways, it’s the mundanity of the day that makes it so hard to remember without grief. I’ve made sense of the swashbuckling playboy racer I knew as a kid. It’s memories like this one that bring back home to me that he was my dad as well.

We stood on a stoney beach and looked across the big grey sea. It wasn’t cold, nor was it hot. The wind on the island is a constant. “You see on the horizon? That’s Scotland. That’s where your daddy came from.”

We threw stones at the waves. He taught me to throw better. “They taught us with hand grenades,” he said. “That way you make sure it goes as far as possible.” “If I’m strong enough can I throw all the way to Scotland?” “You can try.”

In my memory we were on that grey beach for hours. In some ways we’ll be on that grey beach forever. Old father and young son. Not the only day we had just us, but one of only a few. I soaked them up like a sponge, those days. “Every seventh waves a big one,” he said, and without really thinking I said the same thing to Lou on the beach in Brighton last week. There’s something in it, although it’s not an exact science. We threw and skimmed and talked.

“It doesn’t point to Ayr, the point of Ayr. But that part of Scotland you can see – it’s part of Dumfries.”

And here I am, in Dumfries. In Ayr. I’m on the other side of the stonethrow. I can look out to a sea as grey as the one I knew back then, and if I look from the right place maybe I’ll be able to see the island. If I look very very closely perhaps there’ll be two little shadows on an empty beach. A boy looking at his future, a father looking at his past. Throwing stones into water.

For all his foibles he was my dad. He’d be glad I’m working on Extreme-E again. He’d probably know the grandfathers and fathers of some of the people I’m working with through his racing days in the fifties and sixties.

My first day and just orienting today. Tomorrow I’ll be off to Edinburgh and I’ll find out more about the shape of things to come. I’m happy to be part of this team again. It’s a good group, working hard to make something new and ethical – to sustain a beautiful idea and have fun at the same time. Season three. Race 2. Dumfries and Galloway. And the ghost of my dad is sitting with me tonight.

Farewell fishy friends

I only named two of my fish.

Chippie the weather loach was my favourite. Busy nibbly little sod. When he popped his clogs, the last of my interest waned. This evening, Max and I approached the tank to begin syphoning the water and bagging up the remaining fishies, and the other named fishie must have understood on some level that they were moving. He had chosen to stay forever. Brian the clown loach was floating on his side, stone dead. Someone had eaten his eyes.

I picked him up with a spatula and flushed him. “What ceremony else?” He would perhaps have have had a little more thought attached to his send-off had I had a spot more time to think. But with one evening left in London, not packed yet at 7pm and a huge tank to move first, I had other fish to fry.

We rounded them up and bagged them. We sucked out the water and put it in buckets. We carried the tank down to the lift. We loaded it into the car. We then carried it up three flights of stairs and triumphantly deposited it all. I was already sweating like a pig. Success though. I won’t be able to revel in the space we made as I had to get the cabinet in a second trip, hoik that up the stairs too and then get the fuck on with packing.

I’ve got my passport. Mobile chargers. Clothes. I’ve even got a toothbrush.

It’s only like two weeks or something.

iPad. Kindle. Bluetooth speaker. Satnav holder. I even remembered my driving licence. It’s not like I’m off to Bogota this time though. Just to Ayrshire.

The moon was huge as I was pelting around London dispensing with fishes and loading up my cases. One day off the flower moon. A bright omen as I remove more tricky stuff and streamline.

The fish were lovely for a while. When I was home predictably and before the algal bloom. I couldn’t fight the algae. It moved in stealthily and suddenly it clogged everything and made the water brackish. I persisted as Chippy seemed to like eating the stuff, but then two expensive Fluval U4 filters packed up within a week of each other and I threw my hands up.

“A fish is for life, not just for lockdown.”

Well, at least it wasn’t a puppy. And Max is brilliant to take them on, and it makes some sense as his life is more predictable than mine.

And now I’m on the Gatwick train, after about three hours sleep, and an uber to Victoria. This is only an hour late. Breakfast at the airport?! And I might allow my first coffee for a month. Although I don’t need them anymore so it might be good to keep it that way…

Up in Watford

Another Premier Inn. “Have you been here before?” the receptionist asks and yes, I think perhaps I have been but it’s honestly hard to tell. It’s in a concrete layby near some roundabouts. There are lots of drunk people in reception. It is somehow devoid of character. Familiar and functional.

It’s funny that we’ve come to this. Generations of human art and ingenuity. Incredible thinkers and makers for hundreds and hundreds of years pushing the boundaries of man-made beauty in architecture and landscaping and interior design and art. All this and yet there’s been this consensus that “they just want it plain and modern.” This is another example of the small people being vocal while the larger ones keep schtumm. If there were antique taps in my room that squeaked a little and needed buffing up, I would enjoy that but I wouldn’t write about it in a review. But someone small would complain. Ditto cracked paint on ancient walls, interesting frayed carpets etc etc… Better to have it all functional and neutral, not being anything so it can substitute for everything. No great beauty as art is subjective and for everyone that loves interesting challenging art, there’s someone else who hates being challenged by something on the wall. This human need for the familiar is not helping culture advance as we become more global. Starbucks, Macdonald’s and all the global food chains pull travellers in when they feel a little lost. It denies them any touch of the unfamiliar. The first time I went to Chicago I had a day. I ran around all over the place, caught a matinee, saw some stuff. Some of the others just saw the inside of an Irish pub.

I would argue that we need the unfamiliar to live a full life. The more we have patterns, the faster time goes, the less we notice and the older and smaller we become. I guess this is why I can’t work in an office.

Here I am in my neutral pared back room with the hum of air conditioning that is going to ruin my throat in the night, and clean starchy pillows, with road noise through the window. I brought half a bottle of wine with me as I’m gonna need to do something to get me to sleep. Brain is still shouting. I had a vacuum sealed half bottle of Ferreret 2020 from the mountainside vineyard in Majorca. I’m drinking it out of a cup hoping it’ll knock me for six before midnight. I’ll be in a school first thing tomorrow and I’ve already been told they haven’t got any equipment for the orange battery which is the heart of the workshop. If that’s the state of it, I’m gonna need to be firing on all cylinders from first thing in the morning to win the room, or I’ll have a horrible day trying to run a workshop where everybody is shouting. I don’t want them to be obedient but I do want them to be engaged and that takes energy.

And I’ve just realised that I think I brought no contact lenses. Which means I’ll be working tomorrow either blind and confused or, more likely, sporting my prescription shades. Let’s see how that goes down…

On the plus side there’s a bath in here that fills in less than 45 minutes.

Online exams

Exams again today. They’ve changed, particularly since Covid. Everybody still comes to the same place, but often they bring their laptop and have an online exam. Tip-tippity-tap-tap. Hours of fun. Often if it’s not too busy I learn something or think through something but I’m all out of projects at the moment so I just did my job instead. I was vigilant. The vigilation was successful put in.

They’re a nice lot, but often they are nervous and it gets a bit pongy in there. Up all night revising on pro-plus, two hours sleep, no time for a shower, run for the train. The exams are usually really arcane. It’s rare that I even understand a question. I get asked to clarify things that are unclear from time to time, but even if we think we know the answer we have to feed it back to the academic. If we guessed and guessed wrong it would be foolish. Still I read the papers and think about it. There’s a lot of maths, but occasionally it’s food for thought. Marketing etc. Business. Things I might do well to be better at.

I might find something to think about for tomorrow as its another double shift and if they are doing the online exams it is pretty simple to run so long as they are technically competent, and they aren’t usually undergraduates. I’m just moonlighting as an invigilator. “This is my old man job,” I find myself saying to a colleague. “I can make a bit of extra money when my knees are gone.”

Then home and I thought I was going to get shot of the fishies, but that’ll be on Friday now instead. They are off to a new home as I’m having to get things out of this flat. Farewell fishies soon.

Not the most thrusting day today. Two exams, a sandwich in the sun, and a chat with my brother. Now it’s late and I’m not sleeping too well. Noisy brain full of nothing. Bits of unchangeable past dancing with bits of notional future. Perhaps I’ll treat myself to a spoonful of sleepy medicine. Earlier than I like to start for the next few days / weeks.


A spot of rest. That was delightful.

Beltane is all about fire and flowers. Burning away the old. Dancing around poles. Putting the virgin in the wicker man. Making daisy chains.

We wandered down to Beach Box Sauna. Lou has been volunteering and had made enough credit for both of us to book forty five minutes in the great big new horse box sauna there. It has a huge window looking over the stones of the beach. There must have been twelve of us in there and it was HOT.

There’s always one person talking loudly about their business. This one sells “high end” clothing. We got the blow by blow on supply and demand, before the topic inevitably shifted to the menopause. “This is coffee house talk,” Lou observes. There are only three men in this horse box. I’m pretty used to the subject having had mostly female friends for a long time until recently.

I can filter out the garbage, and it was HOT so I was in heaven. She was very adamant that you should LIFT. I think she meant weights. My mind went wandering.

Honestly I’m better at thinking when I’m hot. I had two good ideas in that sauna and wrote them both down when I left. It’s why pretty much all the revolution happen in Spring. It’s easier to think and easier to leave the house.

After about twenty minutes in there I was a lobster and Lou and I pulled out and made the long stoney walk down to the tide. Big swells, so the easiest way to ensure a quick plunge was to wait until the big wave pulled back and then lie in front of the next one. I’m less inclined to fearlessly dive since I shaved off the front of my face in Uruguay. That did the trick and soon I was swearing loudly and aiming to get myself back into the hot place. We did so.

It’s a good discipline, the hot cold hot thing. I feel calmer and warmer for it. The good feeling carried me all the way back to London and now here I am in a hot bath and getting ready for three weeks of mayhem with no more days off. I’ll snatch my moments when I can, and remember these calm beachy days. Much like this 25 year old seal who is mostly basking at the moment before stocking up on local fish and busting it back to the big cold sea.

Bluebells at the end

The low light of this flat in Brighton. The sound of the sea and the gulls…

I grew up with the sound of gulls, and then London happened when I was thirteen. Going back to places where they wheel and cry helps plug me into ancient memories of warmth and comfort and safety. The years up to thirteen were spent either by the sea or in the mountains, and they were bright safe protected years. I was perhaps in a bubble waiting for a spectacular shattering. But it gave everything thereafter this foundation of warm comfortable safety.

Coming here now is a tonic. We won’t have long together in the coming months so snatching time with Lou is important. Everybody in the world is descending on Brighton for Beltane, but up here it’s a long way from the lagered up crowds on the beaches.

We went to Stanmer and took the high road. We found the motherlode – a huge fairy court of bluebells dancing in the beginning of May. Just in time as well – their moment is so fleeting. Their dance was almost over, the rot already setting in. A great shock of them though after all the rains. Big and small and albino and bright. You can almost hear the music of the fairy court just a sliver of time away weaving and rushing past our heavy logical stone world. We stood and breathed them in. The yapping dogs and groups of youth faded into the wind and we were there with jackdaws and wind, the simple ancient sounds of an English woodland. Mushrooms coming up now. Nothing tasty I’ve seen yet. Turkey Tails and Witches Butter.

We had another roast at our local haunt. Chicken and everything beige with gravy. A ginger ale. And now I’m bathed and warm and very soon to get into a warm toasty bed and sleep my way into may and fire and Beltane and the inevitable summer.