Saturday 13th March. Bletchingley, England.

Last week, I had an email from an old adversary of mine. His name is Alastair, and when I was a wee young laddie about ten years ago, Alastair was the driver of the Haggis Bus that Cosmo and I travelled on around Scotland. My adventures around Scotland are one of the few stories that aren't featured on this website, and there's a good reason for that (and it's not cause Scotland sucked!) It's because the little Olympus Mu camera that I bought for the trip (after my trusty Pentax Espio 60 was stolen from my London hotel room by someone who later died a slow and horrible death involving boils on his tongue and genitals- a result of the curse that I put on him) um where was I? Oh the new camera that I bought to replace the stolen one, turned out at the end of my two week Scotland jig, to be faulty. Every photo was dark and dull, and each one had a bright white flash of light in the upper right corner. Can you believe the assholes at the camera shop (and I'm not saying that all camera shop employees are assholes, just the ones who I dealt with at that particular camera shop on that day) tried to tell me that there was nothing wrong with the camera! They suggested that the photos were all dull because it was dull in Scotland. I reminded them that it had been midsummer in Scotland, just as it had been in London- funny that!- and that the days had actually been very bright, in many cases having your photos turn out overexposed and 'washed out' should have been more of a risk. Anyway the long and the short of it is that I traded in the Olympus Mu and walked out with a Pentx Espio 115, but too late for the photos from my Scotland trip, most of which went in the bin.

Scotland was a trip I'll never forget though. It was my reward for working so hard in London. I'd worked up to thirty-five days at times, anytight up to twenty hours a day. My debts had finally been taken care of, and it was time for a holiday. The TNT Magazine had given Haggis Bus good reviews, so I thought I'd give it a go. Cosmo decided to tag along, cause it was easier than planning his own holiday.

The Haggis Bus, in those days was a small enterprise consisting of two bright yellow buses. These two buses circled Scotland endlessly, one heading north from Edinburgh to Perth, as the other drove south along the west coast and vice versa, offering ticketholders a 'jump-on, jump-off' service. That is to say that if you jump off in Pitlochry at 3:00 p.m, you know the bus will be back through the next day at three, and the next day and the next day. How long you spend in Pitlochry is then up to you. Nowadays Haggis Adventures has grown up, Alastair has some impressive title like 'Master and Commander' and they have tours all over England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. They still offer the 'jump-on, jump-off service during the busy warmer months.


My memories of Scotland were-in no particular order:

* eating cooked breakasts every day.
* drinking Guinness or Murphys every day. And every night.
* exploring castles, including the castle where some Sean Connery movie was filmed, and the castle in which the Monty Python 'Knights Who Say Ni' sketch was set.
* camping in some of the most beautiful spots in the world, incuding overlooking the ruins of an old castle in the middle of a lake.
* lochs, including the one with the monster in.
* climbing Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK.
* the huge beds and soft mattresses at the backpackers hostel in Oban, on the west coast, and the old guy who fell from his top bunk and somehow got himself tangled upside down between two adjoining beds.
* Piles of rocks by the road, where we would stop and pile more rocks on the pile. I forget why.
* The Glenfiddich distillery, and the discovery that what I had respected all my adult life as the greatest whisky in the world, was actually the cheapest, most mass produced single malt whiskey there is.
* The Edradour distillery, the smallest Scotch Whisky distillery in the world, where it takes two men to make the whisky, and ten people to man the visitor's centre.
* The loud snoring in my hostel room in Aviemore (or was it Pitlochry?) and the even louder noise the offender would make when introduced to my zero-tolerance policy on snoring, jolted awake by the impact of my hiking boot, carefully pitched across the dark room.
* The delicious Indian meal we had in Edinburgh.
* The local Scottish guy Cosmo and I met in a pub in Perth. He left after chatting to us for an hour or so, and I turned to Cosmo and said "Did you understand anything- and I mean anything that guy said. Cosmo said yes, he occasionally picked up the name Ben Nevis. Apparently, we'd been discussing mountains.

Then of course there was Alastair, the driver. Alastair had a sharp sarcastic sense of humour and loved nothing more than playing jokes on his passengers. One of his favourites was to tell his passengers, upon approaching the Isle of Skye, that they would require their passports. Sometimes, he'd even go so far as to tell them that the Isle of Skye is a vegetarian island, and they'd have to declare and surrender any meat products to customs. Of course, not many of us would fall for this, and even the ones who did have their passports at the ready, were still a little dubious that it was a prank. That was until the uniformed ferry officer (a friend of Alastair's) approached the van and called out "passports! meat products!" That had everyone scurying for their documents, and even revealed the occasional German or Italian with a stash of salami in his pack.

That was only one of Alastair's many pranks, but Cosmo and I gave as good as we got, and after a few days it became something of a battle of wits between us and the canny Scot. He had the advantage of course, since this was his home turf. When he told us that there were porpoises in one particular loch, and that if we walked across the bridge very very quietly, we might be able to see them, how were we to know he was bullshitting? Until of course, we returned to the van to find him in hysterics. When we reached Oban on about day eight or nine, I decided it was time to turn the tables on Alastair, and 'up the odds' if you will. Alastair wheeled the Haggis Bus to a stop outside the backpackers hostel, and while he was busy unloading people's packs from the roof, and loading up the new passengers' gear, Cosmo and I slipped discretely into the hostel and quickly briefed the receptionist of our plans. He grinned a wicked grin, then gave us a key and made his way out to the footpath to watch what was about to transpire. Cosmo and I were on the third floor, overlooking the Haggis Bus, frantically filling two large plastic wastepaper bins with water. We stood six or eight feet apart, one at each window, counted to three and let fly our payload. When the twenty litres of cold water was a second away from finding its slightly chubby target below, we shouted "Hey Alastair!". The timing couldn't have been more perfect. Alastair looked up just as the two bucketfuls of water collided together all over him. Nearby, the receptionist, who had been almost wetting himself in anticipation, was now collapsed in fits of laughter on the footpath. Surrounding them were a dozen or so confused backpackers, who wondered what the hell they were in for as they boarded the bus.

They say that time heals all wounds, but Alastair hasn't forgotten that day, any more than I have. He's invited me to catch up with him in London or Edinburgh as the Haggis Bus does its regular rounds. He says he'll buy me a beer or two. Secretly, I think he's spent the last ten years plotting his revenge!

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