A Sad Adieu to Raasay and a Dangerous Sister

A well wrapped up Sue, at the war memorial on Raasay.

Time has sped past since we entered the land of lockdown and our last trip away to visit my Dangerous Sister, Granny Sue on Raasay. As mentioned previously we had to overcome so many obstacles including floods and breakdowns that we did wonder if the Gods were telling us to stay at home. With hindsight I am so pleased that we pressed on. We treasure our memorable 5 days spent with her which most probably will have been the last for a very long time due to the current restrictions.

The lamp!

Sue was obviously pleased to see us and delighted that we had managed to stash her lamp in the Van’s bathroom and that it had survived the 450 mile journey unscathed. As you can see from the photograph this wasn’t just a table lamp but a huge 5 foot piece of rather delicate equipment! It did look rather beautiful though in pride of place beside her new fireplace and stove.

As ever, the weather for those 5 days was not great. In fact it rained just about all day every day. But that didn’t stop us having at least a little walk most days.

The view from the war memorial.
Snow topped Cuiillins on Skye from Raasay

The best day, weatherwise was the day before we left. We walked up to the old ironstone mine workings, crossed the Inverarish burn by the waterfall and then along the track known as the Burma road before dropping back down to Inverarish passing the Old Manse on the way.

View from The Burma Road
Me, on the rather boggy Burma Road.
Inverarish burn

Sue also took us to a spoil heap where a large amount of beautifully preserved fossils had been inadvertently unearthed.

Our final stop off was at the Old Manse , a magnificent building and now a rather grand holiday home, where we bumped into one of Sue’s friends and neighbours, Lynne Rowe.

The Old Manse ….with lots of car parking space

Lynne was rather distracted by how Raasay House and Outdoor Centre which she had helped develop and rebuild and was the director of would cope if the country was placed in lockdown and how all the permanent staff could be paid and looked after. Lynne had seen Raasay House through many different phases including a complete rebuild after it was gutted by fire. Clearly, the impact of the virus was beginning to have an adverse impact on businesses in the Highlands even though the lockdown had yet to be announced.

Raasay House today
Raasay House just after the fire

Each day we saw the terrible and frightening news of the virus’s impact upon countries like Italy. No decision had been taken yet in the UK to meet the challenge that the virus would make in our health service once it became widespread here but the government began its daily update whilst we were still on the island.

Our pregnant daughter was beginning to be worried that if a lockdown came we could be stranded far away from her. So we decided to cut our holiday short and return home as quickly as we could.

As we considered our options around our imminent departure, to our great dismay, we saw that 2 of the new tyres on our van looked rather flat. We had had all the tyres replaced the day before we left Leeds at a cost of over £550! We thought that if we could get them pumped up we could probably make it to the nearest garage on Skye at Broadford. A mere 20 minute ferry ride and then a 15 mile drive away! What a disastrous venture this trip was turning out to be!

However, we were just about to experience the friendliness and community spirit that Sue had spoken of so often.

A very definitely flat looking tyre.

As I despondently trudged back to Sue’s house I bumped into David her neighbour, Lynne Rowe’s son in law, who also works at Raasay House as an Outdoor Activities instructor. I explained our predicament and he unsuccessfully tried to find a tyre inflator in his shed to lend to us.

But that wasn’t the end of the story as he immediately rang Neil the island’s postman and asked if we could borrow his electric inflator.

It was Neil’s day off, nonetheless he still very kindly drove to our van and attached his pump to the apparently flat tyre.

The tyre turned out to be not so flat after all. It seemed that all the tyres had been under inflated by the mechanics at the garage by about 15psi. This has happened before as some mechanics don’t realise that as a motorhome the tyres need to be at a higher pressure as they are carrying a heavier load. So after a few whizzes with his inflator the tyres were up to a more comfortable pressure of 75 psi.

We were very grateful to Neil for his help and offered to buy him a bottle of whisky as a thank you. Surprisingly, for a Scotsman he wasn’t a whiskey drinker and happily accepted a bottle of vodka instead!

The following day dawned bright and sunny, the best day of the lot. At about 12:00 we said our sad goodbyes to Sue and set off for the 12:30 ferry This should allow us to get a few miles under our belt before we stopped for the night. We hoped to get as far as Killin.

But our travel related trials and tribulations were far from over. It is just a 5 minute drive along a narrow road from Sue’s house to the ferry port with no passing or turning places for large vehicles like our van.We thought 30 minutes was a more than long enough safety margin for catching the ferry.

Surprise! Surprise! There in front of us blocking the road was a cherry picker with a workman atop mending the school road sign!

No way could we squeeze through the gap or turn round.However, luckily for us the workmen were kindly gents! They brought the cherry picker down, decamped the van removing various clamps and restraints and moved the whole lot into the entrance to the Raasay Community centre a few yards ahead.

We made it to the ferry with plenty of time and were first in the queue with a lovely view of Skye.

We were full of mixed emotions. We were sad to be leaving Sue alone and Raasay behind but were anxious about the spread of the coronavirus and were concerned about what form any sanctions or restrictions the government might make. Plus, we also knew that our daughter wanted us safely home.

Overall it was definitely time to head for home….

And that is exactly what we did!

A Last Hurrah to Raasay…part 4

So ….as you may have already guessed….I suffered no ill consequences from my encounter with the puking lady. Although, I did secretly worry for several days!

Our first view of snow capped mountains just outside Callander

Our journey north from thereon was quiet and uneventful. Although, as yet the country was not in lockdown the roads were quiet and unusually we saw hardly any other motorhomers.

Unusually quiet road in Glencoe.

It was still comparatively early in the year so campsites that were open were far and few between. Gary identified a relatively new one at Fort Augustus that would only mean a short deviation from our usual route. So we headed there for our final stop over en route.

Waterfall at Glencoe

As ever, as we drove further north deeper and higher into the Scottish highlands we began to feel that sense of elation and joy which the Scottish mountain landscape engenders. However, this time it was muted by our growing concern about the news coming from Italy about the impact of the coronavirus.

We arrived at Fort Augustus in the late afternoon. The campsite, which was just one part of the Loch Ness Highland resort, was easy to find and was well signed. It was a much larger and far more commercial site than we usually choose but there were only three or four other outfits camping and the site was very quiet. As the toilet facilities, were also for the use of the glamping pods which surrounded the camping ground I would think they might be somewhat overstretched at the height of the season

Loch Ness Highland Resort

Another bonus was that the campsite was only a very short walk from the centre of Fort Augustus. It was over 30 years since we had last been there…with Nanny and Grandad…Gary’s mum and dad. It seemed much smaller than I remembered and much much quieter for a Saturday night than we expected.

The Lock Inn, Fort Augustus

We had a couple of drinks in the Lock Inn which was quite busy and had several groups coming in for food which did look lovely, but we had food waiting to be cooked back at the van.

We had decided that we wanted to catch the 1: 30 ferry the next day from Sconser to Raasay and so had ….for us …an early start and left by about 10 o clock the next morning and soon were whizzing our way towards Skye and Raasay and the dangerous Auntie Sue.

Kyleakin, Skye from Kyle of Lochalsh

The weather had not been great for most of our journey either drizzle or overcast but as we reached the Kyle of Lochalsh the sun burst out to greet our entrance to the wonderful island of Skye.

Kyle of Lochalsh hotel with Skye in the background. This was where I used to get the ferry before the bridge was built.

On the road from Fort Augustus it had seemed touch and go as to whether we would make it in time to Sconser. If we missed that ferry we would have to kick our heels to the next and last one at 5:30. But we did it and with about 30 minutes to spare.

Unusually the ferry was already loading as we pulled up. This was because there was a large LPG tanker on the ferry and it took the ferry men quite sometime to firmly lash it to the deck. It was a good job we were early as the ferry was a much smaller one than is usually used for the Sconser Raasay crossing and there was only just enough space for us and one or two cars behind the tanker.

Raasay and our journeys end was finally in sight.

The view of Raasay from Sconser.

A last Hurrah to Raasay BC part 3

Now in the third week of extreme social distancing our last trip away in the Van seems a million years ago!

Parked up at Metal Bridge

I am not sure if looking back at it is helpful or if it brings more to the fore the adventures we are missing.

As we retired a few years ago from our teaching posts we thought we were used to staying at home. But in actual fact we didn’t spend as much time alone together in the marital home as we thought.

Friends and family who know us and our history well have kindly enquired how we are managing in solitary confinement, caught together like rats in a trap! Suffice to say that although I keep the frying pan close to hand….I haven’t felt the need to use it ….yet!

So back to our last adventure.

Our first stop over on the Friday evening was a place we had driven past on many other occasions always intending to “give it a try” sometime. The Metal Bridge Inn near Gretna Green just off the M6.

This is a well known motorhome stopover and the pub provides about a dozen marked out pitches in a car park at the back of the pub. There is access to clean water and also large tanks to empty all types of waste water. Even better, access to the pub’s toilets is available from when they open their doors at about 7am until they close late at night.

When we arrived at about 4:30 there was only one other motorhome in the car park , although by the time we went to bed there was total of 6…and this on a cold night in early March. At the height of holidays I would imagine that the pace is crammed. We opted to park facing the riverside…with a view not only of the river banks but also the traffic speeding passed on the M6.

View from the van in our parking spot

Inside the pub was warm and cosy and surprisingly, extremely popular on a freezing March evening. People were even waiting outside for it to open up when we arrived before 5.

Part of the deal when parking up overnight for free in a pub’s car park is to have a meal and drinks in the pub. So we duly went in and happily complied with the unwritten rules. Gary was a tadge disappointed that the there was no hand pulled beer on offer but nonetheless enjoyed a couple of bottles from Scottish breweries that he likes….and later the several, inevitable glasses of red wine.

We sat in the conservatory looking out on the river and enjoyed a very pleasant meal in the busy pub. It looked as if many folk had come in for the meal deal which seemed excellent value…2 courses for £7.50.

We were just musing about whether to have a pudding or not when I went to the ladies. I was washing my hands…very carefully of course….when the door burst open ….Another lady customer appeared in a great rush and  some distress. Before she could make it through the doorway and in to one of the toilet cubicles she directed a stream of projectile vomit right at me. Leaving me cowering in the corner before this most unexpected onslaught.

Ignoring my baser instincts of cowardice to head for the hills, I dutifully enquired of the poor woman, as she continued to puke into the toilet, if I could help in any way. Thankfully, she spluttered a negative. Unconvinced, I asked if I could let anyone know of her predicament…her friends or family…or …given the dire state of the entrance to the bathroom the pub management? Again her answer was a no thanks…she would clean it all up herself and not to trouble anyone.

Still unconvinced, I left the Ladies and headed for the bar. The whole area of the toilets would need a thorough deep clean….and any unsuspecting female could easily step right into the unholy mess and then tramp it through the whole pub!

At the bar I approached the very young waitress who had served us earlier that evening. Trying to minimise the vomiting lady’s discomfiture I discreetly murmured the whole sorry tale to her. Shock, dismay and very definitely fear instantly registered on her pretty face. Realising that something was up her manager bellowed across the pub asking what was wrong. There then followed a bellowing farce between the two of them before he finally got the message and she was dispatched to clear up the mess and check on the possibly still puking lady.

For myself, I glanced around looking for the spare seat from which the puker had hailed. Was she with her partner, family or friends. No, I couldn’t see a vacant chair. So I returned to Gary and told him the sorry tale.

Gary was horrified. I was worried that she might be really very poorly….he was sure that it would be alcohol related….even though it was only about 9 o’clock. Pudding was definitely no longer an option. I just wanted to get back to the safety of the van as fast as possible. So we agreed to finish our drinks, pay up and go.

Then I saw her return to the very table next to us. This was a party of 4 middle aged couples out for a meal together. I watched her take her seat and wondered what she would say to her partner and friends.

To my amazement….she said absolutely nothing and carried on eating her meal, laughing and joking as if nothing unusual had occurred!

Perhaps Gary ‘s analysis was correct. It was alcohol related. Nonetheless I worried for the rest of the night that as I was in her direct line of fire…and ugh splatter… I might become ill.

I rang Sue the next morning and explained the whole sorry affair. Should we return home or continue with the risk of bringing her some lurgy?

She urged us to continue on our way. I hadn’t become ill yet and we still had a couple more days of travelling before we would reach Raasay. If I did fall ill on the way we could always reassess our options. I should seal all the clothes I had on that evening up in a plastic bag and wash them as soon as I reached her house.

So off we trundled on our way again…

To be continued….

A last Hurrah to Raasay BC . Part 2

In the land Before Coronavirus when folks were free to roam where ere they wished we had planned a trip to visit Sue on Raasay.

But as ever for us things did not run quite as smoothly as we wished. I am never sure when we encounter several obstacles, delays and impediments to our plans whether they should be viewed as a warning from the fates or the powers that be of impending doom if we continue on our chosen path or as a challenge to prove our mettle and our ability to overcome the aforementioned difficulties. In general I feel we tend towards the latter view and commend ourselves upon our resilience! I am sure that others see it more as a measure of our foolishness as we blindly press ahead.

The fates….busy plotting our downfall…

So we planned to leave on Thursday after Gary’s medical appointment. As we were about to complete a round trip of almost a thousand miles we deemed it sensible to bring the Van’s MOT forward and have the engine fully serviced beforehand. The only date the garage could give us was on the Tuesday. Well that seemed to give us a bit of leeway, if even more than a days work emerged from the MOT.

In addition we needed a trip to Autogas near Thirsk, both to have some gas put in the tank but also to check out the size of our tank. We had last had the gas tank checked 6 years ago and in the intervening times regulations had changed such that gas tanks must be replaced every 10 years….well ours must be at least 20 and so a new tank of the right size needed ordering. Autogas could only offer us an appointment on Thursday afternoon. Well that seemed to fit, we could call in on the way to the A66 as we trundled northwards.

In the meantime rumblings about the coronavirus and our governments lack of response to its perceived threat had continued to appear in the media. Should we be travelling at such times? Sue was very keen for us to still visit her. She actually suggested we should go and live with her on Raasay as both Gary and I have the dreaded “underlying health conditions”. However, with Laura due to give birth in early May this could not be countenanced. Her pregnancy also added to our feeling that this visit to Sue was either now or, if not exactly never, then at least not for a very long time due to our forthcoming grandparent duties.

We checked with Sue, as we always do when visiting her, if there was anything she needed us to bring up for her. There usually is. In this case it was a lamp she had left at her daughter’s in Howden …oh and the Britishers predilection for that eternal essential……some toilet rolls!!!

Elsa very kindly diverted to our house one day with Sue’s lamp. Now I had been imagining a sort of table lamp and was a bit non plussed when Elsa said she couldn’t carry it from her car to our house all in one go!!!

Elsa, outside her mum’s house on Raasay

The lamp was in 3 parts. A box about one and a half foot square and two 3 foot long packages carefully wrapped in brown paper and bubble wrap. The mind boggled at what sort of lamp it could be once all 3 came together….where on earth could Sue put it in her tiny house? Never mind where we would stow all 3 packages on our journey in the van. In addition, they all seemed to be delicate in nature. Indeed the stuff in the box already tinkled like broken glass but Elsa was quick to assure me that it had always sounded like that.

So despite our coronavirus concerns we were set to continue with our trip to Raasay complete with the oversized mystery lamp. I managed to stow this encumberance in our Van’s bathroom in such a way that the toilet and sink were still available for use.

Of course things did not go to plan! The MOT and service took far longer than expected so we couldn’t depart until almost Friday lunchtime calling in at Autogas on our way. But at least we had a Van fit for a long journey, including 4 brand new and expensive tyres…..

….To be continued…

A Last Hurrah To Raasay BC.

View from Raasay ferryport towards Skye and the Cuillins.

I hadn’t been to Raasay to visit my beautiful, if slightly deranged and certainly dangerous, big sister for over 18 months.

Sue, enjoying a car journey with Rupert Bear on one of our shopping trips when she lived at Rawcliffe Bridge.

At Christmas and New Year when Sue was being held hostage on Raasay by her cantankerous cat, Mrs. Pussykinookins we had promised to make visiting her in the coming New Year a priority.

That Bloody Cat alias Mrs Pussikinookins, the cat who wouldn’t die, snoozing in front of Sue’s wonderfully warm, Raasay stove.

Mrs Pussikinoookins otherwise known by her family and friends as “That Bloody Cat” or “The Cat Who Wouldnt Die” has been holding Sue hostage on Raasay ever since the vet diagnosed her with a terminal illness and only a few weeks left to live………. 3 years ago.

A younger and healthier Mrs Pussikinookins when she lived at Rawcliffe Bridge.

The poor animal is also suffering from a type of dementia which includes screaming, vocal anxiety whenever she isn’t safely ensconced on her owners lap and a form of extreme, revenge bowel evacuation. Consequently, Sue feels unable to visit her friends and close family in Gateshead and Yorkshire even though she has had diverse offers by friends on Raasay to feed the cat so she could escape its tyranny.

Sue cooking bacon for folks attending a willow weaving craft day in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Expecting kind friends to not only visit and feed the cat twice a day but also play hunt the cat poo game and then assiduously clean it up seemed above and beyond the call of duty.

Mrs Pussikins was a stray when she kindly decided to adopt Sue over 15 years ago. In the intervening years she has lived with Sue in 4 different houses and locations. Without a doubt a very strong and loyal bond has been forged between them. She appears to be very distressed when Sue is not around and equally Sue would be devastated if she died whilst Sue was away. So as far as Sue was concerned she couldn’t leave Raasay as she couldn’t abandon “That Bloody Cat”.

Sue and Elsa, her eldest daughter at Calum’s Road on Raasay

Now, Sue has made many good and wonderful friends on Raasay who all enjoy her company and support her, but she still misses her family and friends from south of the border. And we most definitely miss her and all her eccentricities!!!

Sue at Portmeirion Botanic garden trying out a different mode of travel.

So our promise that we would visit was quite important to both her and us. Initially, we hoped to go up in January but it is a long way….about 450 miles….and it takes us 2 or 3 days of travelling in our van so we needed to put a good chunk of time aside to be able to make the journey and spend a fair bit of time with Sue.

January came and went. We identified 10 days in February but on chatting to Sue it seemed possible that she and her youngest daughter were hoping to meet up then.

Definitely missing her mum is Rachael, Sue’s youngest daughter. Here she is with Georgia, one of Sue’s granddaughters and her partner, Ben.

Finally, we agreed a date in early March and arranged such things as the Van’s MOT around the proposed date. Everything was set for a trip to Scotland and Raasay! And boy were we ready for it!

Ruins of Brochel Castle on Raasay.

To be continued……..

Mud Fast in Halifax!

All the wet weather recently has meant that for the first time ever, we struggled to get the van off a very wet and muddy campsite while we were staying at Halifax. Well not exactly Halifax…..actually we were based at Hipperholme which is a couple of miles out of town.

The short distance we had to cover to reach the safety of the tarmac by the site’s gate

The site itself is a small Certificated site, affiliated with the Camping and Caravanning Club, RSH Southedge Works. When we arrived at the site we were helped to negotiate the slightly muddy entrance to the camping field by Robin , the site owner and without too much difficulty Gary was able to drive on to our allocated hard standing. Strong winds were predicted for our stay and we hoped that they would dry the ground out so that our exit would be easier than our arrival. This was indeed true and by Saturday, the day we were due to leave, the water had drained away leaving the ground much firmer. But, we were having such a good time there that we decided to stay another night………

Of course, torrential rain fell from midnight on the Saturday and continued through Sunday morning. So by the time we were ready to leave the ground was thoroughly sodden and the van soon became well and truly stuck in the mud as we attempted to move the van the small distance……a matter of twenty feet or so to the safety of the tarmac at the site gate. However, help was on hand and Robin and his daughter came to our rescue. After much shoving and pushing we got the van half way towards the gate and then Robin was then able to attach a tow rope to his Volvo estate and that provided sufficient extra torque so that with another hard push the van was free and we were homeward bound.

So what was the attraction that induced us to linger at this site.

The “portacabin ” pub next door

This is a rather quirky place hidden in the middle of an old industrial estate. The amenities are fairly basic. Hard standings for about 5 units, electric hook up, drinking water and a chemical toilet disposal point . No shower block, so you need to be able to be fairly well self contained. However, the toilets for the pub next door are left open for the free use of campers overnight.

Yes….the pub next door…..which is actually a micro brewery as well…..I think you can begin to see some of the extra attractions of this rather lovely oasis. The pub, The Cock Of The North, is rather unusual too. It is housed in a series of old portacabins but is warm and friendly inside with a wide selection of beers. The bar is based around a huge fish tank with lots of beautiful fish swimming around.

The pub seems very popular with the locals too and was filled with folk of all ages who were there to chat and enjoy a quiet beer.

Immediately outside the site is a bus stop with buses every 20 minutes or so into Halifax.

The centre of Hipperholme with pubs, restaurants and shops is only a 5 minutes walk away. One of the other neighbours on the industrial estate is a beauty salon offering a range of services from manicures and facials to massage!

At only £14 a night the site offers a great place to stay for anyone wanting to visit Halifax or Shibden Hall. I am sure we will be back….hopefully in warmer, drier weather!

An Evening with Mik Artistik

One of the many fabulous things about having the Van is that it is like having one’s own mobile hotel. We frequently use it for short trips away to go to gigs which otherwise might mean returning home to Headingley very late at night. This wasn’t much of a problem in years gone past when a music night out was always a late one, often finished off by a curry in the early hours of the morning at Nafees or perhaps the original Corner Cafe. However, such shenanigans are now beyond the limit for two aging geriatrics who are wiped out by staying up much beyond ten o’clock. Being aged and retired does have its advantages though, as it means that attending a music event some distance from home can be stretched to a 3 or 4 night trip away. This was the case with our most recent musical escapade.

Mik performing one of my favourites -Secret Cloak of Invisibility

We have been Mik Artistik fans for over a decade and have seen him perform in many venues in Leeds, the last one being the “Christmas Party ” at The Brudenell in late December. So, when we saw that the Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax was offering “An Evening With Mik Artistik” it was a no brainer and a campsite in Hipperholme was duly booked.

Colonnades of the Piece Hall

We had never been to The Square Chapel Arts Centre before, which abuts the stunning Piece Hall in Halifax. It was early evening when we arrived at the venue and were able to admire the almost Venetian beauty of the Piece Hall before seeking out the Arts Centre.

The entrance to the Square Chapel Arts Centre is under the corner archway

The interior of the Arts Centre is also very beautiful with a mix of modern art and Georgian architecture.

The cafe, foyer and bar area of The Square Chapel Arts Centre

We had been intrigued by the event as it wasn’t going to be the usual type of Mik Artistik gig. It was based in the fairly small Copper Auditorium and so promised to be quite an intimate performance which involved a short 2011 documentary film, ” Who is Mick Artistic”, an interview of Mik and his faithful band member, Jonny Flockton, by the BBC Radio 6 presenter Chris Hawkins and finally a live music set.

Exterior entrance of the centre

First how to describe his music. Well it is certainly of the Marmite variety. We absolutely love it…..our daughter absolutely hates it…and that’s despite years of indoctrination. I find it hilarious, surreal and at times totally mad. A bit like Mik himself!

For a largely unknown Leeds figure he has some very famous fans. Iggy Pop recently named “Sweet Leaf of the North” on National Public Radio in America as his favourite song from the last decade “because it’s human, and it’s real, and it has soul”. What a great recommendation for a song that’s about a leaf stuck on a van windscreen!

Actually, I find it quite hard to categorise his music. It is often amusing, sensitive, intelligent and thoughtful, but always unpredictable. To give it the label “comedy songs” would be to demean it. I would perhaps put him alongside artists such as Ivor Cutler or Viv Stanshall and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.

Chris Hawkins introducing Mik Artistik at the Square Chapel

What he does at his gigs is provide a sort of cabaret performance of his songs….usually involving impromptu and off piste ” musicalarised ” reactions to events or people at the gig itself. How on earth his fellow band members manage to keep up with his diversions from the songs on the set list heaven only knows….but they do. Such moments are hilarious at the time but do not transpose well when written down. On Thursday night for instance, he knocked over his drink during the performance and then made up a song about cleaning it up and in doing so immediately won the aged, rather reserved audience over.

For me his songs are surreal, beautiful observations of the mundaneities of everyday life which so often resonate with my own experiences. The plaintiff, “I’m turning into Dad” reminds me of when I was once in a phone box and caught sight of a stranger who was a dead ringer for my mother…..only to finally reach the ghastly conclusion that it was my own reflection! Or the numerous occasions I either have or have been tempted to make that impatient mistake of walking to the next bus stop and then had to race there, all the time worrying that the bus would overtake me before I reached the stop. The song that describes that event so well “Car That Makes A Bus Sound”, always makes me grin.

The short documentary film did provide more insights about Mik although it left many of our questions unanswered.

He was born in a small village in Ireland in 1955 and with his family came to live in Armley in Leeds when he was 5. He had quite a tough childhood and struggled with the grey, grimy, and grim aspects of industrial Armley in the sixties. After several fruitless jobs he went to art college in Bradford and art remains a great motivator for him today.

His house is a riot of chaos filled with objects and bits of detritus he has retrieved from the streets of Holbeck which he then uses as inspiration either for his songs or his artwork. He particularly enjoys “rescuing ” small, broken toys that he then puts in pride of place on his windowsill.

Although he has used a wide range of media in his art, he is most famous for his “paper bag portraits”. Simple pen or pencil portraits of local people drawn on the back of paper bags in pubs, cafes, community centres and streets around Holbeck and Leeds city centre. He says he used the bags as he thought it an interesting concept as to what might be behind the portrait on the back of the bag or what might be placed inside. And all along I had just presumed that it was simply a cheaper and more readily available paper source!

The Q and A conducted by Chris Hawkins did clear up another area of mystery. Several Christmases ago Gary was given the latest Mik Artistik CD by the family. He struggled to hide his disappointment…..he was convinced that he already had it in his collection. However when he played it later he realised that it did contain new material and indeed was a different album. It was just that the CD sleeve looked remarkably similar to the one he already possessed.

As you can see…..this is indeed true….

Mik told the audience that he deliberately kept the artwork on his all his CDs very similar as he enjoyed the thought that folks at his merchandise stall would be confused as to whether or not they had already bought the CDs on offer! This is clearly far more of a humorous prank than a sales tactic as most people will probably err on the side of caution and not buy the CD in case they already have it at home.

Jonny Flockton and Mik Artistic being interviewed by Chris Hawkins

Being greedy I was slightly disappointed that the Q and A was not opened up to the audience so that some of my own burning questions could be answered.

Such as….was God still such a large feature in his life? In the film….now almost 10 years ago……he had said he went to mass every day …..albeit only with 6 old ladies and a priest with a club foot. As a Mik Artistik fan it had never occurred to me that he might be strongly religious.

Also although, it was probably not appropriate in that venue, I would like to know what had happened to the other regular stalwart of his band who had appeared in the film…..Benson, the bass guitarist whose musical talent my son and husband had felt irreplaceable.

Then came the moment we had all been waiting for an all too short, live music set featuring some of his best known and loved songs.

All in all a glorious evening was had by one and all.

And finally…if given the chance, what would you ask Mik?

Missing Arran!

One of our favourite views from the terrace of the Pier Head tavern in Lamlash

Now that we are back home in Leeds, after spending almost 6 months on the marvellous island of Arran living in our Classic Hymer motor-home, we are having serious withdrawal problems.

Our Hymer in situ on Lochranza campsite

Friends were amazed that living in such tight, close proximity to each other for 6 months that we didn’t fall out and that neither of us sustained or inflicted upon the other a serious injury. Especially as even at the best of times we are a rather argumentative if not combatative couple and are well known for squabbling about the slightest thing.

Blissful moment for us both
on Blackwater beach

‘Tis true that I did complain about Gary’s insistence upon having the electric cool box in the van and about having to shift the bloody thing up and down, off the dinette, to under the table and then drag it down to under the drop down bed. Just so he could keep copious quantities of beer and wine cool for our many visitors. But, as Jamie pointed out, if having that kept him happy why be so mean as to quibble about it…..After all he was using it for the greater good. Also , to be fair, Gary did not moan much about the huge quantity of wool I had stashed about the van so that I could undertake almost any crochet project that took my fancy whilst we were away from the mother lode stash of yarn I have squatted in our cellar.

Peacock and rooster free grazing in the grounds of a deserted cottage on the road to Machrie.

We miss Arran; its fabulous , ever changing landscapes, wildlife, beaches and fresh , clear air and we miss living in our cosy , snug van. It seems we have our best nights sleep in the van. Whether that is down to the bed or to the fact that we can seal the windows and skylights up so that hardly a speck of daylight can disturb our slumbers we do not know.

Lochranza Castle in the Spring

Now we are back in Leeds again my asthma is slowly worsening and breathlessness is returning. The air, here in Headingley is very polluted and we live close to one of the busiest roads into the city. The traffic along Headingley Lane was at a complete standstill this evening and the congestion stretched right from Hyde Park out to West Park….about 3 miles. Oh for the open roads of Arran. Travelling back from a night out in Brodick to Lochranza we only saw one car for the whole of the 15 miles! Although we did end up chasing a lone deer that got trapped in the glare of our headlights.

Goatfell from Brodick

Once again Gary is struggling to sleep at night and is lucky if he gets 6 hours. In times gone past we could have blamed noisy students….or the “Stupids”…..as Gary prefers to call them. We are surrounded by hordes of them living both directly opposite in halls of residence and next door to us in a family house which has been converted into 3 flats which now accommodates 10 students! However, since our return in October they have largely been quiescent and apart from the occasional unreasonableness have been fairly quiet after the midnight hour.

Late July evening at Lochranza….after 11pm.

We are missing North West Scotland and ache to return. In the meantime we have had to make “do” with trips away in the van to Bruges, Sheffield, Eastleigh, Skipton, Borrowdale, York, Howden and Penrith. Later this week we are off to a campsite at Hipperholme, Halifax. All wonderful places…..but not Arran!

October evening sun at Seal Shore, Kildonan

Arran bound no more….. Simply Granny bound…..

In September we had just agreed with the Lochranza Campsite owners, Nigel and Kathy, that we would return the following Spring to resume our wardening duties when our daughter and partner announced they wanted to visit us on the Arran campsite once more.

We were a little surprised, after all it was only about a month before we would be back in Leeds for the winter. Also, we had thought that they were planning on going on holiday somewhere much warmer that month. Nonetheless a visit from them would be lovely, not only are they great company but Arya is a fabulous cook who always insists upon taking on the role of chef, food sourcer, fire stoker and chief bottle washer whenever he visits us.

Arya….yet again serving food for the hungry masses!

I am sure you have guessed the rest. As soon as they arrived at the campsite they shared their wonderful news. Laura was 8 weeks pregnant, the baby was due in early May and they couldn’t wait for our return to Leeds in late October to tell us the good news.

Arya and myself beach coming for driftwood along the shore at Lochranza.

This was something of a bombshell. There was definitely an emotional tear of joy in Gary’s manly eye at the thought of becoming a grandparent! We were thrilled for the young couple. We knew how much Laura wanted a baby and also that she would be a fantastic mother. As for Arya, he was obviously as pleased as punch at the prospect of imminent fatherhood and this was clearly a very special moment for him too. They swore us to secrecy as they didn’t want to broadcast their good news to everyone else before the pregnancy had been confirmed by the 12 week scan

The much prized 12 week scan photo of our future grandchild.

However, this also meant an end to our Arran adventures. The baby is due in Spring and we would be immediately required for grandparent duties! Arya has no immediate family in the UK …..and every young family need as much help as they can get. I remember how difficult those early years had been for me and Gary and how we had struggled as we had no family close by.

So, sadly we were no longer Arran bound……but definitely Granny bound……