Email 21st May 2010

Fish 2010 - And the frogs will chant in the darkness

Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fans and the Company,

It's an eerie time of the year for me just now.

Every now and again the compressing folds of time touch and prompt a memory sparkle, sometimes inducing sadness and sometimes a private smile that carries you for a moment before disappearing again.

I have an artificial variant of that on my PC where the random display of photographs flow by in my screensaver.
Sometimes when I come through to the office I sit, sipping my Costa Rican coffee, and watch the stream of images for a while before a nudge of the mouse takes me back to the reality of the present.

Backstage areas and tour bus lounges, Egyptian monuments and cruises on the Nile, dark winters and paddy fields in North East Vietnam, gardens under construction and gardens in bloom, faces and places and more faces that all trigger memories and emotions across the spectrum. Some a lot stronger than others.

This time last year I was on the crest of a wave and heading for Croatia.

A series of images cluster and fade on the screen and I find it difficult to relate to the smiling faces in the photographs after all that has happened in the last 5 months.

The person with the garland in the white dress, gleaming in the Balkan sun is now a stranger to me.

The one I thought I knew and married on Galesnik island disappeared amongst 335 SMS messages, around 60 emails, less than 20 phone calls and 2 face to face meetings after 6 months of marriage despite all my efforts and promises and attempts to hold it together.

And as I strike off for the Highlands on Saturday morning heading North I know that, when I return to my home on the 30th on what should have been our first anniversary together, I will be opening a letter which in all probability tells me that I am legally divorced.

The irony is commanding.

The walk has become a pilgrimage of sorts. A cleansing, a spiritual marker, a journey of the soul amongst spectacular scenery under empty skies, physically challenging and mentally invigorating, it is the sign of the new beginning.

I admit to being a bit nervous but more excited at the challenge.

I've been putting the miles in over the last few weeks and only last weekend I managed to get the new tent up in the garden after much deliberation with the instructions in the manual and a struggle to understand tent dynamics I managed it in the end after an hour and am confident I can get the structure up in less than 15 minutes now. :-)

I slept out in the garden for three nights, the first in the pouring rain, and on Sunday woke up, had breakfast at 7.30 and walked 10 miles to Traprain law to climb it and have my mid morning coffee in the cairn at the top looking over East Lothian towards the gleaming Bass Rock in the Forth and the imposing North Berwick Law holding the distance in front of me.

The sun was shining and I could see right up the county to the east and the Pentlands, the fields of rape glowing in the quilt of green fields around Haddington and beyond.

I ended up walking for over 4 hours. Just me the Nikon 300s and a flask of Costa Rican coffee.
The few people I did meet as I moved along near empty roadways, wooded paths and hillside trails all smiled and we greeted each other, happy to be part of it all.

Just over a week or so ago I took a friend and her three year old son to the beach and we ended up at Cove Bay just beyond Dunbar and before St Abbs where I plan to go diving a lot this year and where I get my air cylinder filled at Scoutscroft in Amanda's Dive shop.

Cove Bay is tucked away off the road on the way to Pease Bay and to get to it you have to climb down a wooden staircase that is bent out of shape and collapsing from a land slide this last winter, down a narrow pathway reserved for the lobster fishermen's 4x4, through a tunnel carved out in the rock where in days gone by there were caves excavated as storehouses for the herring and mackerel caught by the now long gone fishing fleet and which are bricked up to keep out prying children. The three year old's imagination was caught by stories of captured dragons and bears as we walked through the dripping passageway and out into the sunshine and the deserted harbour before us.

An afternoon building sandcastles and strolling round the small beach, searching the pools for crabs on the other side of the sea wall and clambering over rocks before ice creams at Dunbar and returning to Edinburgh.
It was a great day and I was reminded of years gone by with Tara.

However tales of 5 o' clock rises, back from work at 6 to meal time, bath time and bedtime stories and the inevitable sharing of beds with star-shaped ninja children, £50 a night for baby sitters, expensive nursery schools and rare nights with friends or lovers collapsed the dream and I was also reminded why I decided a few years ago that I had done the children bit, bought a wardrobe full of t-shirts and was quite happy with my teenage daughter and would leave the begetting and raising of rug rats to others more capable and patient! :-))

Tara is now settled in her flat and after my ascent of Traprain I headed back to my friend Phil's house on the other side of the valley and another climb away after crossing the river by Hailes Castle.

I was late for my meeting with my daughter so hitched a lift from Phil the last 8 miles back home, showered and drove to Edinburgh to take Tara for lunch at the Botanic Gardens and to catch the dazzling flower display from the rhododendrons and azaleas in the Chinese gardens.

Unbelievably I am ashamed to say that after all these years this was my first visit.

The Chinese gardens were spectacular and I was green with jealousy at the thought that they had so many Fraggles working away keeping the place neat, tidy and stocked while I was struggling trying to keep on top of my pile of 20 million things to do on my own.

Thankfully Tara and her boyfriend are lending a hand and we are managing to make it work although the unpredictable weather takes its toll.

The salad beds are the slowest I can remember and I lost all the beetroot seedlings to the cold and damp.
The greenhouse is splendid and I have too many tomatoes to give away.

The giant rosemary bushes in the front garden were badly burnt by the winter weather as were a couple of hebes and some other shrubs. I have to get them replaced before the garden's TV appearance! :-)

One great piece of news is that the wonderful Elspeth has found someone who is looking for a garden to keep his hives so it looks like I will finally achieve part of the dream although in a different way than originally planned.

In exchange for having his hives in my garden he looks after them and teaches me more about the art of beekeeping and gives me some honey in exchange. A fair deal and one that will suit us both well. ;-)

The walk around the Botanic filled my head with ideas and that front wall is destined to become an alpine meadow.

Tara was also impressed by what she saw and I would love to see her get more involved with the garden as I know she has proved a dab hand with some plants in the past and taught me a few things along the way. She is a natural but doesn't recognize it yet! :-)

We came back to cook roast dinner at the Farm and spent the sunny evening outside before I took her back to Edinburgh and her flat with its views over the new town.

I do sometimes miss the energies of the city, Edinburgh in particular I love and always miss it when on tour.
Recent lunches with friends reminded me of the delights of having eating and drinking establishments in walking distance rather than expensive taxi rides into the countryside.

If I had a small lottery win I would get a flat in the new town somewhere and have the coffee shop outside the door, the Botanic down the road, the city centre restaurants a hop skip and a stagger away and the other delights all within walking distance.

But that's Edinburgh. It's a small city, too small for some but big enough for me.

I couldn't live there full time but it would be great to have an escape from the countryside rather than the other way around!

At the moment 20 minutes on a train is fine for me just now rather than the extravagance and the responsibilities of another home! :-)

I had to travel down to London last week for my Nikon course on the 300s camera.
Train to Kings Cross and then tube to Waterloo and the train to Surbiton moving in a sweltering open zoo of humanity.

Very few smiles and hardly any acknowledgments of presence. Sparse greetings and no eye contact. Isolation and detachment. Anchoring contact with someone on a mobile rather than there in their immediate environment.

I remember the first time I went back after I had moved to Haddington and being met with incredulous stares and people ducking back into a doorway when I said "Good morning" while walking to a studio session for "Vigil" thinking I was perhaps a Scottish axe-wielding homicidal maniac! :-))

I can't do it full time anymore and the visit to Kingston for the course after so much re-exposure to the nature and openness of where I live just reminded me of just how much it all means to me up here.

It appears that, when buying the Nikon 300s, I have purchased shares in George Lucas films and NASA. I was glad I'd enlisted on the course as I would learn so much more about the camera than I would have just fighting my way through the manual. Over two days I got a little bit to grips with it but I know I have only scratched the surface of what its capabilities are.

I ended up backing off the 24mm F1.4 lens as, despite all my attempts to blag one from Nikon, I was left a week before the course with only the 70-200 as my D90 and the 50mm was in for an expensive service and wasn't expected back from Nikon for a while. (£230 for a service and repair! :-0)

As I type this on the dawn of the walk embarkation the D90 has still not arrived!
It was sent to Nikon on the first week of April!

The cameras may be great but I am seriously unimpressed with Nikon's service.

With no sign of the 24mm lens I contacted Nikon directly and they put me onto the press department and despite three attempts to contact them I received no response. I then contacted the editor of the on-line magazine and again nada.
They showed no interest in getting involved and offered no help at all.

All I got was an on-line form asking for my opinion of Nikon's customer service.
I followed their example and didn't bother responding.

I ended up getting back to Warehouse Express who I'd ordered the lens from and a very nice man who shall remain nameless advised me not to get the 24 F1.4 at nearly £2k but to go for the 12-24 F1.4 DX at over a grand cheaper.

I ordered it on the Friday and it arrived on the Saturday two days before the Nikon course in Kingston.

It's a great lens and been my favourite in the last week or so as you can see from the photos on the web site. First date was at Cove Bay on the day of its arrival.

After all I have said about Nikon the course was really informative and after two days I did feel more confident about using the camera on the forthcoming walk and getting results far superior to those I managed in Costa Rica.
Next up is joining the Haddington Camera Club.

Kingston has some resonance on a personal level with me as not only do my wife's sister and family live in the neighbourhood and thus make it a walkabout area for Kate but it's also where Mickey and Sarah Simmonds have lived for years.

I met up with them on Tuesday night and Mickey and I went out for the traditional muso curry.

The usual banter and bitching and throwing about of ideas for later in the year over a couple of Cobras before heading back to his place for a nightcap and a chance to gossip with Sarah.

As Fellini would have it Kate inadvertently went into Sarah's shop in Tedddington a few weeks before and as they had only met briefly at Leamington Spa recognition wasn't immediate. Needless to say being an accidental encounter it wasn't particularly relaxed and involved a brief and embarrassing explanation as to circumstances.

Sarah told me that she had mentioned my name the day before while on the phone to Mickey in her shop.
One of the people in the shop was a medium who rents rooms for consultations from Sarah and she asked if the Fish Sarah was referring to was in fact the rock singer.
She told Sarah that she and her boyfriend had met us by chance in a Lebanese restaurant in Bayswater together with another random couple and that we all had a great evening together.
During the night when I had gone outside for a smoke she had gone up to Kate and said to her that if we were living independently and apart in Edinburgh and London the marriage would fail.
I remember Kate being upset on the night and she wouldn't tell me why.
The medium hadn't been told our circumstances at the time and she was sad when told by Sarah that her warning had not been heeded and that the inevitable had occurred.

That night in the Lebanese restaurant on the 15th February was the last time I saw Kate.
Two incredible coincidences that certainly made me shiver.

And as I walked about in Surbiton and Kingston I was very aware of my ability to attract coincidences and in all honesty was not looking forward to any chance encounters.

As I walked along the riverside at night I felt more like Donald Sutherland in "Death In Venice".

Wednesday night Yatta came down as it was easier for him to come to London for a meeting than Haddington.
We discussed the touring possibilities and ran through the gig options we had to work on.
It's exciting but it looks like July until we get fully mobile and start stretching the touring legs as economic circumstances prevail and people are nervous.

It was great to see him and to get positive ideas flowing again after so much recent negativity.

I for one am looking forward to getting out on stage and on the road again.

A rehearsal yesterday with Frank showed that my voice is vastly improved and now needs regular use to build the muscles back to full gig mode.

It's so much clearer and more flexible and perfectly suited to the acoustic plans we have at present.

I came back from London relieved that there was no confrontation and pleased that I had embarked on another learning curve.

The train journey gave me an opportunity to study the dive handbooks and lectures as my exam is set for my return from the walk.

My first dive in Dunbar, ironically below the Rocks restaurant (as mentioned in "Openwater" in an oblique way as I was there for an argumentative meal on the last night I spent with Heather Findlay) was to be a memorable one! :-)

Below the cliff where we were to dive into the bay there was a slight swell and James our Club Captain was nervous about going in for safety reasons and held back on the decision to enter the water.

It was decided too dangerous for trainees but as the swell subsided some divers were given the green light to go in.
Although a trainee I was also a crossover diver from NAUI and was allowed to go in with my mate Rab and Ian, another instructor.

It was my first dry suit dive in the North sea and I was nervous and excited.

I loved it and had a great time swimming through the kelp forest and into the sandy bottomed gullies round the shore line.
I had control of my buoyancy and was breathing well. It was all great stuff as I followed Ian with Rab behind me as tail gunner Charlie.

The swell had risen a bit as we moved along the rock wall to the gully where we would exit.

Suddenly Ian disappeared as if a giant bird had plucked him from the water.

The white froth above me I knew was where I didn't want to be as once my tank was above surface I would be unstable.
I had no choice as after being battered off the wall a couple of times I was lifted up and out the water and saw Ian in a satanic Jacuzzi on the other side of the rock.
A thought went through my head of "How did he get there, was there a way round, a magical tunnel?" when suddenly a wave took me up and over and I was beside him being battered off the rocks.

I tried to keep my tank to the rock behind me to avoid my head being caught in a deadly sandwich.

Ian was swept back out over the rock to sea but I was pushed further up and to make matters worse my tank came out of its strap on the back of my stab jacket.

I was holding on to my air bottle with my left hand and sucking air through the rubber mouthpiece on the regulator that I holding on to with clenched teeth as the cylinder slipped out.

I waited on the next big wave and exited the water finning hard and fast like a seal escaping a killer whale.

I crawled up onto the rock holding against the drag of the returning wave, fins scrambling against sea weed and the 12 kilo on my weight belt feeling like a giant hand was squashing me to the rock.

I didn't panic and was exhausted when I finally found myself clear of the surf and facing a 70 metre walk across rock pools and kelp to the cliff face and the climb back up to the cars.

I loved it! :-)))

In the pub afterwards we all had a great laugh and as Rab pointed out it was a perfect first dive for me and memorable for many reasons.
To be reminded of the power of nature and survive to tell the tale is a worthy experience and an important lesson for any diver.

Last night I did my first boat dive into the North Sea at St Abbs. It was my third dive this week with two at Eyemouth on Monday and Tuesday. Rab says I am becoming a dive junkie.

I am loving it.

I was sitting with him on a Mexican woollen rug, staring at the clear water of the North sea after the second dive at Eyemouth on Tuesday, eating strawberries and drinking the obligatory Costa Rican coffee from the flask while basking in the evening sun.

And I thought to myself what a lucky guy I am to have all this.

I wouldn't exchange this for anything and I would have to be mad to think about moving anywhere else and away from what I have and what is around me and on my doorstep.

And as Rab pointed out, it's all free! :-)

And now I go to pack my rucksack for another adventure into the wilderness.

Isn't life great? :-)

Onkel Fish

PS. Last night as I lay in bed I could hear the water tumbling into the pool in the Japanese garden outside my bedroom window and the gentle tinkling of the wind chimes (Thank you Jinpa :-))
Amongst it all and for the very first time I can ever remember I could hear the sound of frogs croaking away amongst the rustling black bamboo.

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