A Day of Small Victories – Glasgow 2014

2014-07-28 12.57.35Monday was a day of small victories. Firstly, I made my way from the Village to the Tollcross swimming pool, straight, no wrong turns, no doubling back, like a hot knife through butter, and then, from there, I made it straight to the SECC without any bumps in the road either. After the nightmares I endured last week in attempting to get to both of those places on the same day, it was a huge relief to know that I am still capable of learning from my mistakes!  It took such an effort not to express my relief to my passengers on arrival at both venues; but it was a private victory, so I just drove to the drop off point and let them out of the car, pretending that this was a perfectly every day sort of happening.

My second victory was to secure lunch at the SECC.  As my base is at the Athletes Village, that is also the place where I can have a meal as a matter of course by simply picking up a voucher from our dedicated check-in desk .  Those of you who have been following my Games adventure will know that I have rarely been at the Village at meal times, and have, on some days endured an enforced period of fasting.

As a ‘roaming CGA assistant’ I should be able to get a meal at any venue, but first I have to get a meal ticket there, as for some mysterious reason, the tickets from one place cannot be used at another, and the ticket regime is an absolute. I had an hour or so between drop off and pick up at the SECC so I made food my one mission.

The car was in the car park that everyone calls the Cheese Grater at one end of the SECC site, and the Workforce check-in is in a downstairs area of the Crowne Plaza hotel at the other end.  It was the sort of ‘go up there, left there, then right and down the stairs at the bottom and then through there and it’s round the corner at the end’ journey, but I was determined not to be defeated.  Having secured the voucher, it was then back, halfway to where I had started, to the Workforce Dining to collect a brown bag, a sandwich and a tub of ice cream.  By the time I got back to the car, the whole process had taken me half an hour.  In celebration, I sat on the tail gate of the car and ate.

And finally the biggest victory of the day – the Mozambique team won a medal!  Silver for Maria Muchavo in the women’s T12 100m.  I caught the final on television, and for the first time of this Games found myself rooting for a competitor, and actually punched the air when she came across the line in second place.  The BBC coverage was entirely biased towards the English runner Libby Clegg, so one might have thought she was the only one in the race, or receiving a medal, but occasionally on the edge of the shot I could see ‘our girl’.

An Exercise in Patience

eacI drove back to London from Scotland yesterday.  It’s about 430 miles door to door, depending on which route I choose.  My best time, achieved on a quiet, dry and sunny Boxing Day (26th December for the non British amongst you) about 20 years ago, is seven and a half hours including stops.  To achieve that, the roads must be clear and pit stops must be kept to a minimum.

Yesterday’s journey was marked by being the antithesis of all of the above.

In spite of general rejoicing in weather forecasts that summer had finally arrived, there was little evidence of sun or blue sky in Scotland, so the windscreen wipers were on intermittent and the headlights were on dipped when I saw I was approaching brightly illuminated brake lights and emergency flashers on a high point just outside Ecclefechan.

It’s just north of Gretna, but I think it’s important to note its closer proximity to Ecclefechan, a name which in my family is used as a stand in for any number of comical Scottish place names, along with Auchtermuchty, Lesmahagow, and Tomintoul, in imagined football score reporting as in Ecclefechan 4, Auchtermuchty 3.  (And Ecclefechan’s Wikipedia entry notes that it has two shops, one of which is no longer a Post Office.)

Anyway, this spot on the M74, the main west coast road south from Scotland, has little to recommend it; and yesterday it was positively dreech.  So it was not a great place in which to be stuck in stationery traffic for over 2 hours.  When I say stationery, I mean absolutely stock still, nobody going anywhere, engines off, car doors open to stretch legs, chatting in the carriageway, dogs being walked in the central reservation and one small child tightrope walking on the crash barriers holding onto his mother’s hand.  Had the sun been shining I would have had hopes of an impromptu football match.

According to the local radio station which I found eventually, it was due to an overturned caravan.  I couldn’t check further, as of course, in such a remote place where information is at a real premium, there was no telephone reception.

Finally, when everyone hurried back to their vehicles, and after a few faltering starts around cars that couldn’t get going without being pushed, the traffic sped fairly smoothly past a car and a caravan, each perched on a break down trailer.  Fortunately it was only the caravan that looked bashed and dented, so I’m hoping no-one was hurt.  But really it is just another argument for not allowing the things on the roads.  They just shouldn’t be allowed.  Dragging a caravan around is as socially unacceptable as drink driving in my book; they share the same self obsessed disregard for other road users, and create as much potentially fatal jeopardy.

Knowing that there would now be two hours worth of pent up need for toilet and fuel stops, I elected to go into the first services, but instead to drive on to the ones just north of Carlisle……. and, in quite a large car park, parked diagonally opposite the car that had been immediately to my right in the jam…… only to find that the service building was closed because of a fire alarm.  So I ran across the bridge over the motorway to the northbound services where there was a long line at the ladies’ because only half of it was open.

It was then that I realised how much of my patience quota for the day I had expended on sitting trapped in the jam in the middle of nowhere.

I’m over it now; just don’t mention caravans.

Braving ‘The Storm That Battered Scotland’

The moment of calm after crossing the Lammermuir

The weather forecast predicted high winds for the day; but then they’d been predicting windy weather most days over the Christmas period, so we thought it would be like all the others, blowy and wet, and set off for the drive south with sandwiches and waterproofs in easy reach.

Perhaps I should have thought more about it when we saw rubbish skips in the middle of the road at the first set of traffic lights, or when we passed a tree fallen across the road bringing park railings with it, or when I felt the car pull away from my control, but the sky was blue, the sun so bright I needed my sunglasses, and the road ahead was free from traffic.

We were about 30 miles south of Edinburgh on the A1 when we were passed by a fire engine with its lights on, and I made the stupid remark ‘I hope that’s not heading for a road blocking incident’.

We came upon the police car parked diagonally across the carriageway a couple of miles further on.  A lorry had been blown over.  E, my passenger, got out of the car to ask the policeman if there was a diversionary route we could take.  I watched as she was buffeted across the road, unable to stand still while talking to the cop as they wobbled backwards and forwards in an awkward dance against the wind.

‘Go back, or go across to the other road south’ was the basic instruction, and what should have been a journey along the length of the A1 straight to London turned into a cross country adventure.

Maybe we should have turned back, but I suppose sometimes we overlook the power of nature, after all we live in a temperate climate…..don’t we?

On the smaller roads the power of the wind became immediately more evident.  Branches and debris littered the tarmac and in some places trees had been partially cleared to allow passage of one car at a time.  One way we were turned back by the team attempting to clear a large fall on the road, and then along another road we waited while a tractor opened a path for us.  I became uncomfortably aware of the trees bending and swaying on the wooded sections of the roads.

‘We will see it coming, if one’s going to fall on us, won’t we?’ E asked as I accelerated through a wood lined area.

By then it had become clear that our options were limited, and now probably excluded going back, so we carried on, finding an alternate route when another one was blocked.

This led us to the road across the Lammermuir Hills; a winding single track road across the top of the landscape used by Walter Scott as a backdrop for ‘The Bride of Lammermuir’.  The winter sun was so bright and so low in the sky that it was often hard to see where we were going, but at least the denuded hillsides were free from trees, and we had no company apart from the sheep.  As the area grew wilder and more remote, I had moments of worry that we were lost, but when the sun wasn’t directly in my eyes it was to my right, reassuring me that wherever we were going it was south.

I wish now I’d stopped to take photos it was so beautiful, but my focus was so much on the journey I didn’t.

Back on our intended route after our 90 minute diversion, we listened on the radio to the litany of road and rail closure due to the storm; our A1 blockage falling disappointingly low down on the list of those causing maximum disruption, realising we may have been a bit cavalier to ignore the risks presented by gusts of 100 miles per hour, from the ‘worst storm to hit Scotland for 13 years’, and by then, carefully evaluating the wobbling and straining of any lorry we saw, to assess the level of risk before passing it.

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