Top 5 films of 2018!

Hi there, film fans!  Now I’m sure you’ve all been watching the credits begin to roll on the year and have started to wonder, where oh where are Alex’s top films of 2018; an annual tradition as old as cinema itself?  But like an anticlimactic Marvel post-credits sting – your awkward shuffling amongst the popcorn dregs have been rewarded!  Here are 5 films I saw at the cinema that I really liked and put arbitrarily in order!


5) A Star Is Born: Bradley Cooper convinces as a rock star of sorts, one who can sing one note (gravel) and drink loads but still have abs.  Lady Gaga really convinces as someone who can act.  The brother stuff made me cry, the non-pop songs warbled their way to my heart strings and the familiar plot thundered along like a power ballad.  It didn’t so much wear its heart on its sleeve as slash its aorta and aim it at the audience.


4) Mission Impossible: Fallout.  Tom Cruise broke his ankle making this film.  He rode a motorbike really, really fast around the Arc De Triomphe without a helmet on.  He stunt-flew a helicopter.  He is Scientology’s age-proof Jackie Chan.  The film is so slick it becomes a substance beyond fluid, perhaps something akin to the liquid that courses through Tom’s alien veins.  I found myself clapping throughout this film, none more so than when Henry Cavill pretends to reload his arms during a fight in the toilets.


3) Coco.  I have a weird disposition where I don’t really cry during real-life.  However, films set me off like a pollen-coated onion.  Usually, I can feel this lachrymosity slowly take hold, like hay fever, as the machinations of the plot build to an eye-moistening crescendo.  Not Coco.  It was an ambush!  The last twenty minutes were so beautiful, so bitter sweet, so lovely, I was a heaving, inconsolable mess.  Set in Mexico, steeped in music, dissecting death and memory, it is Pixar’s best since Toy Story 3.


2) Cold War.  Managing to catch this on a re-release (thanks Film House!), this monochrome wonder follows a romance built on action rather than words.  It spans decades and like Coco, uses music to usher in narrative but more ambitiously, spans seismic historic changes, nationalism and the politics of love all through musical devices.  It plays like a William Boyd novel.  It’s the only film I’ve seen that I thought needed to be at least 30 minutes longer.


1)Roma.  Good grief, what a masterpiece!  It starts painfully slowly, the camera gliding around the Mexican mansion like an omnipotent ghost as the maid goes about her business.  This business gradually becomes vital viewing and then, just as you invest fully in her life, events unfold in dazzling, single-take, ferocious intensity.  Apparently, it’s like Fellini.  I’m sure people will say future film makers are like Alfonso Cuarón, his influence and/or legacy will be such.


And that concludes my top 5.  I’d also like to make the following sweeping statements:

  • Bohemian Rhapsody was a well-acted straight to TV movie.
  • Avengers Infinity War was a conveyor belt of whip-smart one liners and pixels that did absolutely nothing.
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story was proof that origin stories only work when you don’t know the ending.
  • Ready Player One was ace. I would put the middle 40 minutes in my top 5 but that’s cheating.

Bull Dust (a short story)

alice springs

There were accidents.

There’s five of us in a grey industrial yard on the very edge of Alice Springs.  The final footprint of humanity before the red desert, which shimmers all around.  The flies fizz off my face like they’re popping in the heat.

Shane’s face is bleeding.  He jammed the brake on too late and reversed the CAT into a telegraph pole.  How do you miss a telegraph pole?  How do you hit a telegraph pole? To be fair to him, how do you drive a CAT?  Shane’s been learning the past week.  Now he’s embedded in the control deck.

“Mark!  Do not phone the ambulance!  We’ll take ‘im ourself!”  Snarls Bob, the fat embodiment of Yorkshire, and for now, our boss.

“But his head’s bleeding.”  I say.  There’s a crimson stream exiting his temple.

“Yeah I can see that!”  Bob’s rummaging through the trailer for a clean rag to stem the flow.  They’re all filthy but needs must so he starts smearing Shane’s face with degreaser and oil.  The two Aboriginal guys are leaning on their rakes and shovels, taking it all in.  Poor Shane looks at them through a sheet of black and red, which is now dribbling on to his overalls.

The real boss turns up, his Audi braking too sharply on the new gravel.  He looks a lot like Bob, but older.

“Aw, we’ll have to make that level again.”  Moans Monti, leaning on the rake.

The real boss is trying not to lose his temper.  Another accident.  More wasted time. “Well boys, don’t just bloody stand there, Shane needs bloody ‘elp!”

“He needs an ambulance,” says Dural, leaning on the shovel.

“Do not phone a ruddy ambulance!”  Yells the real boss, getting out his car.

“I know that dad, I already told ‘em!”  Yells Bob back, helping the bulk of Shane out the CAT.  Never has such a large man looked so unsteady on his feet, I’m sure he’s concussed.

“Right, dad – “ Bob’s motioning at the key’s in his father’s hand –  “start the Audi, we need to get him moving!”

“You must be jokin’ me son!”  The keys are popped back in his pocket authoritatively.  “Just got it valeted at the garage at a great expense!  Bloody rip off!  Get the Scottish lad to drive the Toyota.”

I dramatically pat the numerous pockets on my own work shirt.  “Who’s got the keys?”  I ask.

Dural and Monti shrug passively.  Bob checks his shorts with his free hand.  He’s got Shane’s blood on him now.

“Where are they?  Aren’t they in the ignition?”

We all turn and realise the Toyota’s at the other end of the yard, a good hundred metres away.  Behind it, the yawning desert.

“Just get me… To a fuckin’ hospital!” Screams Shane maniacally, spraying the gravel with blood.  Dural and Monti move aside and Bob chaperones Shane into the back of the sparkling Audi.  The boss fixes the Aborigines with a pitch-black scowl and gets behind the wheel.  They turn sharply, kicking up more stones and fire off through the industrial estate towards A & E.

Monti saunters over to the CAT and turns off the engine.  Without speaking the two of them start smoothing over the indented tyre tracks, concealing the chaos in a few strokes.  The truth is, we didn’t put enough tar down in the first place so the gravel won’t stick anyway.  All 1200 square metres of it will be lumpy and exposed at the first sign of a large truck, God forbid a road train.

“Hey Mark, how much you getting paid for this shit?”  Asks Dural, looking up from the raking.

I go for half.  “A hundred and twenty a day I think.”

“We knew it.”  They both stop immediately.

“Those old white men ripping us off G.” Dural says.  “We been here a week longer than you and we only on a hundred.”  Guilt rises in me like steam.

“Yeah, but they’re putting you up.”  I reason.

“In the campsite?  Yeah, it’s better than the bush, but it’s not the Hilton.”

My mind casts back to our first job together, a whole two weeks before, laying a new drive for the Alice Springs Hilton Hotel.  We didn’t charge them so Bob and his dad Robert could get free bed and board for a month.  Who names their son Bob when they’re called Robert?  We laid enough tar that time.

“Were you in the bush before?”  I ask.  I’ve been desperate to know, just didn’t know how to ask.

“Nah G, in Tennant Creek.”

I knew this much already.  Bob had shown me the article in the Tennant & District Times commemorating the day these two Aboriginal teenagers had been given an opportunity to work ‘for the notable Yorkshire construction firm, B&R Construction.’

“But we have to share the campsite with Shane, and he’s always pissed off his face.”  I’m sure Shane was pissed when he crashed the CAT into his face.

“Maybe not anymore.” I say, raking over the last of his blood.  The poor drunk had come all the way from Brisbane for this.

“Yeah, about that.”  Monti, the darker of the two sidles closer, Dural on his shoulder.  “That was us.”

I stop too.  “What do you mean?”  Images of severed brake cables or nefarious engine tampering come to mind.  The two teenagers are close now, I can smell their sweat.

“We dreamt it.  And then we made it happen.”

I look them both over.  Neither of them blink. “What about me?”  I say.

They both laugh.


The next morning is just like the previous twelve.  It’s dark and below freezing and I’m cycling from the hostel through Alice Springs suburbia towards the campsite.  High fences and walls crowned with glass stop the frenzied dogs behind them from tearing me to strips.  Trucks scream down the 87 so I stick to the pavement, work my way to Todd Mall and rattle by the smiling Dutch waitress opening up the cafe for breakfast.  Alternating my hands from warm pocket to handlebar, I eventually pass through The Gap, an ancient split in the MacDonnell Range and a natural entrance to the town that has become Alice.  Monti told me the plateaued mountains either side were giant caterpillars.  Indigenous tribes used to battle over The Gap.  Now, The Stuart Highway makes a beeline through it, an unrelenting 1700 mile stripe of tarmac from Darwin to Port Augusta.  I cycle along it until I swing left and down towards the campsite.

Monti and Dural are up for a change.  They’re reversing the Toyota towards the trailer with the steam roller on it.  Bob is sitting in the cabin of the Tar Truck, checking his phone.  The headlights are on but the sun is rising to meet them.  The bull dust is never redder than at dawn.  The gum trees pepper the green and orange tents with shocks of white bark, even whiter than the gallery of campervans by the toilet block.  I’m definitely in Australia.

“How’s Shane?” I ask.

“He’ll live.” Bob swings his phone round to show me a photo of Shane giving a goofy thumbs up, his head swaddled in bandages.

I wonder who will drive the CAT now, and Bob seems to read me.

“And so we’ve got a new start today me lad.”  He lowers his voice.  “Another bloody Abo.  It’s Monti’s old man would you believe, got in touch last night.  Been working the mines but he’s out now, prob’ly drunk on the job!”  He pops Shane back in his pocket.

After the usual half hour of jostling trailers into place we form a convoy of sorts.  A circus train of dented trucks, welded tanks and lazily secured machinery.  Mad Max made by Yorkshiremen.  We are a merry band of cowboys.   Who are we going to rip off today?


“I’ve heard of you boys.”  The creased farmer has his hands on his waist.

“Oh.  Really?”  Bob hops down out the truck and reaches out his hand.

“You boys laid the tarmac on the KFC last week no?”

“Er, yeah, a night job that was.  Pissed Abo’s everywhere, it was a tough one.” Bob looks round to make sure Monti and Dural are out of earshot.

The famer spits in the dust.  It sits, like a blob of wax.  He kicks more dust over it and turns.  “Well do a better job on this will ya?”

Robert is out now, holding a clipboard.  “What he say son?”

“Nothin’ dad.  Mark, get the water tank round ‘ere, we got to soak this dust.  Boys!  Dural!  Monti!  Where are you?”

The two teens slouch round the back of the trailer.  There’s a heavy set guy in a baseball cap with them.  His frown seems carved into his face.

“You met Roy yet Mark?”  I shake his hand.  The frown inverts slowly to reveal a vast grin.  I immediately see the resemblance.  “Hiya fella.  I’m their dad.”

“Right boys,” Bob seems tetchy, “let’s do a good job today.”

We spend the morning watering dust.

The cold snap of dawn becomes a fierce bake by 10 am.  Blue sky.  Red ground.  White trees.  A green hose splurging a precious, finite, underground water source into the unquenchable dust.  Roy rolls the CAT slowly over the wet dirt, leveling dips with excess muck and clumsily leveling humps with the bucket on front.  We hose and rake, brush and scoop.  Bob tells Roy where to drive and Robert holds a clipboard.

“Guess what we were dreaming last night?”  Monti says.  His face is so dark it’s tricky to make out his expression from afar.

“You gonna tell him G?” Says Dural.

“Yeah.  Mark is black, aren’t ya G?”

I don’t really know what to say to that.  I’m not.  If anything I’m pink.

“Well you’re black to us, ‘cos you listen G.”  I feel accepted.  Privy to a world these other white men will never enter.

“We dreamt Bob and Robert were gonna be gone too.”


“Yeah.  Gone.  Like Shane.  But worse.”

“Worse than Shane?”  Poor swaddled Shane.

“Yeah.  We dream a lot.  One time we were sleeping and a bad spirit came through the window and paralysed us G.  We were both awake but couldn’t move.  It stuck us good, we were stiff.  Dad says its ‘cos we left the family.”

Monti and Duval share a sideways glance.  Who’s going to speak next?

Duval takes his cue.  “And now we working for white dicks who don’t treat with us with any respect.  They don’t give a shit about us.  So we gonna pass on the bad spirit to them, just like we did to Shane.”

I suddenly have the urge to tell them what I’m earning.  I must look worried.

“Oh, don’t worry G, like we said – you’re one of us.  We won’t harm ya.  Even Roy knows you’re good, he got no beef with you.”

I look over at Roy, who is methodically ploughing the bull dust different shades of wet.

Once the drive way is flat and dark the tar truck is edged in from the road.  But there’s a problem.  Bob and Robert can’t get the tar to flow through the pipes and into the dispenser which hangs precariously out the back.

“How bloody cold was it last night?” Asks Bob. Robert’s looking at his clip board for answers.

“It’s midday and the tar’s still solid.  Scottie get the blow torch.”

He has me fix up a gas canister to some rubber tubing and a blow torch.  As he turns the gas on I notice all three Aboriginals hiding behind the CAT.

“Look at them bloody Abos!”  Laughs Bob.  “First sign of gas and they think there’s gonna be an explosion!”  This really tickles Bob.  Robert doesn’t seem to find as hilarious.  He’s just checking his watch.  The blow torch is attached precariously to a nozzle on the tar tank, blasting an arrow of blue flame inside.  “Right, someone go and check if it’s bubbling yet,” directs Robert, looking round at the cowering Aboriginals.  “Scottie, you’re up it seems.”

I clamber up on the roof and struggle to twist the lid off the top of the tank.  After a few knocks with a wrench the handle budges slightly and I start turning it anti-clockwise.  Two rotations in, there’s a sharp whoosh and the lid rockets off and into the sky, under a vast projection of warm tar. I stumble into the gravel-filled tipper behind the tank and take cover as the black geyser erupts spectacularly on to the cab roof, windscreen, windows and most grievously, the inside of the driver-side door.  Someone had left if open.

“Jesus bloody Nora!”  Screams Robert.  “Fuckin’ hell!” Screams Bob.

“You alright chief?”  Asks Roy.  My hands and legs are clotted black but I’m fine.  Oddly, it really isn’t that hot.  Just viscous and unnatural.  I get up and shuffle back to the ground, speckles of gravel from the tipper clinging to me.

“Yeah, someone get me some degreaser and I’ll scrub this off.”  I say.

“Never mind ‘bout your legs Scottie!”  Yells Robert.  “Get scrubbing the truck now before it sets!”  It’s so hot that by the time Monti and Dural are at the stained door with rags, they’re too late.  It is truly set.  Neither of them seems too fussed.  “We’ll need a lot more degreaser to get this off G,” Dural points out succinctly.

Robert looks at Bob.  Bob looks at Robert.  They appear disproportionately angry.  We’ve been hosing dirt in the desert for 4 hours and they’re furious about some tar on their truck.  “Alright!”  Yells Bob, clearly aimed at his father, “I’ll go and get some more degreaser!”

And with that he clambers aboard the dirtied truck, jams it into reverse and hurls it back up the driveway towards the open road.  The blow torch, which had thankfully been turned off, falls loose out of the socket with the motion.  It bounces into a drainage ditch.  The black and white truck is a cloud of bull dust as it hammers back towards the Gap.

“Gee,” Monti rubs his head, “these white boys really need degreaser.”

Robert swivels.  “Yes we do Monti.  These white boys like to have things done proper!  These white boys like a clean engine and a job done proper!”  He jams his finger into Monti’s chest.  “You lot wouldn’t understand!”  He realises he’s outnumbered.  As the tar hardens, I find myself standing in solidarity with Monti, Dural and Roy.

“Now get to work!”  Robert shouts a little less convincingly.

Roy steps forward.  His shoulders loom ominously.  “We’re done.”  He says simply.

“What do you mean?”  Robert asks, his voice unusually high.

“We’ve hosed the dirt down, I’ve pushed the stone round.  We need the tar and gravel to work.  We’re done for now.”

“Well.”  Robert exhales and looks around for something to do.  “Clean then.  Young Bob’ll be back shortly like and we can finish the job.”

On cue, his phone rings.  Robert glances at the screen and he takes one solitary, long blink.  It rings again.  The Aborigines are in a row, one on a rake, one on a shovel, one on a brush.  I can feel the tar tighten on my legs, the hair matted and stretched.

“What’s up son?” Asks Robert.  Pause.  “What do you mean police!”  Pause.  “A weigh station!  Why’d you stop you pillock?”  A shorter pause. “OK, OK calm down son.  They wave you down you have to stop.  What’d they say?”  Long pause.  A clearly significant pause for all concerned.  Robert hangs up, poking his phone slightly less gently than he poked Monti’s chest.

He knows he has to give an explanation.  He owes us that much.  And it’s too hot to lie.  “Turns out the truck was overweight.  By quite a lot actually.  And the tar tank was open.  And it wasn’t welded correctly to the frame.  We’re in a bit of trouble.”  He lists off and focuses on the horizon where the cloud of bull dust once was.  We follow his gaze.  The Gap is barely visible through the shimmering heat.

“And Shane blabbed in the hospital the silly drunk.  Good God it’s like Dubai all over again.”

He turns back to us.  “You boys.  Get in the Toyota and head back to the campsite.  We’ll call it a day for now.  I’ll go speak to the farmer.”

Monti and Dural look to Roy.  He shrugs those ancient shoulders of his and they jump in.  I’ve not seen them move this quickly.  I hop in the rear and we set off back to Alice and back to the Gap.  I spot Robert in the rear view mirror bending slowly to pick up the shovels, rakes and brushes.  On our way we pass Bob at the weigh station.  There’s a police car and a couple of men in needless luminous outfits taking notes, the neon redundant against the red MacDonnell Range.  Bob swivels meekly to watch us fly by.  No looking back.  We get to the campsite, I wave good bye and set off on my bike, back home to wash the tar off.

The next morning is even colder.  My breath hangs like bull dust as I puff my way back to the campsite.


No Robert and Bob.  No trucks.  No Dural, no Monti, no Roy.  I imagine even Shane has been seconded out of hospital.  None of the tourists in the campervans are up yet.  It’s too cold to rise.  It’s just me.  Not even a goodbye. All that’s left is the KFC carpark and a few lumpy industrial yards.

I ride back to town, back through The Gap for the last time and pull up next to the Dutch waitress heaving out tables in front of the café.

“Any jobs going?”  I ask in my most exotic Scottish brogue.

She laughs.  “It’s Alice Springs.  There’s always jobs for backpackers.”




The day Donald Trump was elected as President of the United States of America, we made our way to the charmingly decrepit beach side resort of Marsalforn to find our Air BnB apartment, which was called Sea Spray.  The name didn’t quite do it justice on this occasion, as there was a violent storm offshore which had flooded our street with a lot more than spray – sea water, seaweed and rocks of different shapes and sizes.  Outdoor furniture was being tossed down the promenade, while waiting staff attempted to secure remaining chairs and tables in between the swells.  “Is this normal?”  Catriona asked our waiter at a nearby bar.  “Oh this is just a seven.  It can get waaaay worse than this.”  Worth remembering that.

Malta has had its fair share of batterings, from Nazis, Napoleon and Normans to name a few (well just the ones beginning with ‘N’).  No invasions during the week we were there thankfully, just a storm to contend with and the great news regarding our pal Donald.  Malta’s history makes for some pretty varied sight-seeing.  The Maltese islands are home to the oldest free-standing structures on earth – although the one we saw was being helped along a bit by some very un-Neolithic scaffolding.  This was on the northern island of Gozo, which is the diminutive, quieter version of the two main Maltese islands.  Less than ten minutes away we found ourselves in the Victoria Citadel, a walled nub of fortifications and churches with views of every coast of Gozo from it’s almost perfectly central location.  The Turks had besieged it in 15 hundred and something and the town’s elders hit upon a deal with them, where 40 of the besieged would be spared (I’m guessing the elders) while the other 5000 would be taken back to Turkey and sold as slaves.  It really can get a lot worse.

The local men of Gozo have clearly taken this siege mentality to heart.  Every time we found ourselves in the countryside there’d be a bloke in camouflage poking his head out from a makeshift stone hide.  They shoot birds by the hundreds of thousands every year apparently.  On one walk to Ramla Bay the path was lined by the primary colours of shot gun shells – really welcoming.  Talking of primary colours, it was surprising to see the vivid red sand that made up Ramla Bay, a searing contrast to the white Virgin Mary statue peering out to sea.

The main island of Malta is a congested maze of roads too small for the traffic and towns that look like convoluted sandcastles.  The capital, Valetta, doubled for King’s Landing in season one of Game of Thrones.


This was in Game of Thrones too 

Streets run on top of each other, tiny staircases and shuttered windows run between red British phone boxes and signs for 10 Euro Maltese platters (anything salty and wine – perfect).


The Co-Cathedral of St John is the highlight.  Another big yellow block from the outside, a gilded marvel within.


The place is adorned with the spoils of war and crusades, of which there were clearly quite the number.  Anyone who thinks Christianity is or was a religion of peace, should witness the statue of a cute little angel crushing a turban and a human skull with its dainty little feet.  In a separate chamber is the goose bump moment, the Beheading of St John by Caravaggio.  This stark painting is fantastically minimal in comparison to the rest of the Cathedral.  Caravaggio painted it as payment to the Knights of St John for protection essentially (he was in hiding in Malta after killing a bloke in Rome over a game of tennis).  All was well until the law caught up with him and he was ceremoniously de-robed in front of this very picture.  It is a story worthy of the image.

The rest of our time in Malta was made up predominantly of eating (fish, olives, pasta in buckets) and drinking (red wine, white wine, wine in buckets).  I spent the last morning at St Peter’s Pool off Marsaxlott, which my dad later told me was where my grandpa learnt to dive when he was a boy.  The sun was shining and the sea was blue, as it was for him I imagine, and I’m sure it will continue to do so despite Trump and all that follows.





So a rather momentous week ahead.  Scotland can’t agree on it’s future and seems to be increasingly like a rat on one of those awful sticky traps.  Some would have us tear free, splaying our flesh and vital organs everywhere, while others reckon we should literally stick, whereupon our bits will all stay where they’re meant to but we won’t be going anywhere fast.  Great choice that.  I’m voting no simply because the arguments for independence stand up to scrutiny like a sandcastle in the tide.  The sandcastle looking lovely while the tide being EVERY ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL FACTOR IN THE WORLD. I digress.  My main bone of contention is that in amongst all this exciting uncertainty the pound is beginning to tumble in value.  This means my savings for the trip (which starts in a week) are dwindling and I haven’t even left yet!  Pretty sure a Yes vote will at best, devalue my travel-fund further and at worst, make it totally redundant as the new Scottish currency “The Pebble” comes into play.  So from a totally unselfish, nationalist point of view, I urge you all to vote ‘No’ so I can afford to make this trip and come home again…whatever home that will be.  Thanks.

The Fault Is In My Card.

3 months to go.  Good feeling that.  I was in town buying supplies for the adventure (half-price hiking trousers, travel towel with the absorption of a business card etc.) when I realised my magic red Cineworld card was going to expire on the first of July.  Not wanting to extend said card as I’m away shortly and they only deal in 12 month commitments, I thought I’d treat myself to a final free flick, a last celluloid hurrah.

The summer blockbusters had all been seen so I opted for a movie whose poster was covered in 4 star reviews like confetti.  Interesting leads.  Quirky title.  Never heard of it before but to hell with it, it’s free.  So I flashed the card and shuffled to my seat in screen 6, laden with bags of outdoor gear and a giant coke, like a Nepalese Sherpa on the wean.  It had been a long day so I didn’t really bother checking who else was already seated.  It’s dark after all, and you don’t go to the cinema to make friends.  Then two groups of teenage girls sat themselves down either side of me.  Then a group sat in front.  Then behind.  Suddenly, the theatre was jam packed with them, right up to the front row, texting and giggling and munching popcorn in excited adolescent abandon.  Apart from my row.  My row were all whispering and pointing at the creepy older guy sat between them with all the bags.  That was me.  I slouched down and sipped my coke harder, which in retrospect gave an even creepier vibe to proceedings.

The film I’d selected was called ‘The Fault in Their Stars.’  It’s a teen-romance about a couple of book-nerds who are dying from cancer.  It is one of the saddest films ever made.  The final act is a series of emotionally wrenching crescendos, each one more painful than the last, washing over you like a miserable tsunami of tears.  I sat through over two hours of anguish; supposed hero Willem Defoe turning out to be a sad drunk, the comedy sidekick going blind, the key love scene taking place in Anne Frank’s house (no joke).  Everyone was crying.  Not just subdued sobbing but full-blown wailing, shrieking, ugly crying.  And there I remained, under my shopping, surrounded by all this, unable to leave as therefore I was turning my back on teenage cancer.  The credits rolled like a funeral procession and I got out of there.  It was raining.  Of course it was raining.  I figured that maybe I won’t miss my cineworld card after all.

The Big Trip III : American Hustle

2 years, 9 months. That’s a long time to have itchy feet and do nothing about them. 33 months of working in Aberdeen, playing rugby, drinking lots of good beer, maximising weekends in Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, taking root in Cineworld with my magic red card and getting hairy. But despite all the laughs and the sunny pints on the Marine Harbour wall, the feet kept itching. A scratch wouldn’t do, a healthy dose of verruca-busting liquid nitrogen wouldn’t even do, no – the only prescription to placate my pediatric predicament was to do something drastic. So I bought a one-way ticket to Alaska.

And so did G! So come September, we’ll be winging our way to Anchorage, which will act like Edinburgh in 2008 and Shanghai in 2011 as our official starting block for a grand adventure. This one, I believe, will be the longest yet, taking us overland through the Canadian tundra, the American West, the Mexican…crime scenes?, the Panama Canal, the Columbian foothills, the Peruvian big hills, the Chilean mountains and finally the very southern-most teet of Argentina, Tierra Del Fuego. The same rules will apply from our previous endeavours – no planes allowed…well that’s the only rule actually. The same aim will also apply, which is some foggy quasi-hippy posturing for broadened horizons and inner peace, which translates to making friends and saying yes a lot.

I’m very happy that G is joining me on this quest as we haven’t seen a lot of each other in the intervening years since India. This means we won’t be sick of each other by the time we disembark the plane in Alaska, in fact we should have rather a lot to catch up on. G’s farming endeavours mean that (weather permitting) he’ll have a good potato harvests worth of dosh under his straw hat, making me the pauper this time around. Last time I was granted a very generous bonus by my school in Shanghai – in cash – and became something like his personal bank on legs. I look forward to him returning the favour!

The whole trip should take 7 months in all, tip to toe. It’s all pretty vague logistically, which is how we like it, but G has given some misty nod to motorbiking down Chile, while I’ve drawn a big red circle round the Galapagos Islands (on a map I’d like to add). I’ve also got some friends in California who I’m really looking forward to seeing, while G no doubt is eyeing up the cheaper climbs of South America like the thrifty stinge-merchant he truly is.

So just 3 months and a bit to save the pennies, get the jabs, learn fluent Spanish and practice my motor biking skills. First thing’s first though – it’s beautiful outside, time to enjoy the Scottish summer!

Istanbul PART 1

Just imagine that the great continents of Europe and Asia are two enormous sides of a Teutonic sandwich. Istanbul would of course, be the filling. The city straddles the mighty Bospherus, which defines the place, apart from the fishing and the commerce, it allows Istanbul to have three separate skylines and countless vantage points from which to admire them. The urban skylines don’t seem to expire in any direction, the murky waters just flank concrete to infinity. Istanbul is huge. 13 million inhabitants huge. And for a few days I was one of them, although my nearly transparent skin, lack of convincing beard and mosque-hat meant the locals might not have agreed.

I flew there from London, after 3 days of partying where I managed to lose my only bank card. So, armed with Crap Dave’s old card he leant me, which was almost sheared down the middle and stuffed with the fruits of my online bank transfers, I anxiously approached a Turkish ATM and keyed in the pin Dave had supplied me. As the lira came flushing out the machine I let out a great bellow of relief. Holiday was on. That could have been awkward.

I was staying in a hostel that offered free breakfast and a bar on it’s roof. The owner, a slick operator called Paco, checked me into my room and just as I entered looked me in the eye and husked, “good luck.” A bit ominous, I thought. That night I hit some bars with three English chaps who turned out to be 18. It was like hanging out with the Inbetweeners. The next morning I realised why Paco had forewarned me. Two Spanish couples had draped towels over their respective lower bunks and were both going for gold. Paco later told me one of them was a ladyboy. I never got to confirm or deny this claim as by the next day they had departed, probably to an orgy in Ankara, or dogging in Damascus.

Ladyboy clarification was one of the few things I didn’t see that day though. I blitzed the streets of Istanbul, taking in the vast Hagia Sofia (surely one of the oldest churches in the world) which had Viking graffiti etched into some of it’s masonry. The blue mosque! The Bascilla Cistern! The Archeological Museum (with the actual Alexander Sarcophogus, of which I’d seen the replica of in the British Museum mere days before)! The Spice Market! You get the picture (if not, go on google). To summarise, Istanbul is very, very old and very, very busy. It makes Britain look like a placid baby. Only Egypt, China and Iran can compete with the length of the Turkish lineage. I saw 1500 year-old mosaics of Jesus made of gold leaf and stones. The next minute I saw old fishermen screaming foreign expletives at an errant sailor whose boat was dragging all their lines. What a place.

That night the city came to a standstill to goggle at fireworks for the 90th birthday of the Turkish Republic. They were rather impressive. Some of them exploded in the shape of stars and half moons to resemble the national flag. I have no idea how a firework can do this. If someone could explain this to me I’d be very much obliged.

The celebrations were also for the opening of the first rail tunnel link between the Asian and European side. I tried to board the train the next day but it was closed due to technical faults. Solid start. However, who would want to traverse this place underground when for less than a quid you can board a ferry, drink a tea and watch the whole minaret-laden place swim by. I boarded the boat with a gorgeous American Chinese girl called Tiffany (Tiff to her friends). The captain of the ship took a shine to her and not before long had us in the bridge steering the boat to Asia. It reminded me of a time in Vietnam when I woke up on a night bus to see the drunk driver letting a sexy backpacker weave the bus down the highway. Reassuringly irresponsible.

Inspect the Uninspected

Aberdein Considine just inspected the flat I vacated. My wee brother was so keen to avoid cleaning the place he cycled from london to edinburgh to london again just to get away. So, alone and miserable, I was left to dust the skirting boards, polish the inside of drawers and spray chemical weapons into the oven until my bronchioles had been stripped like grapes from a vine. I thought I did a pretty good job. Aberdein Considine did not.

The report declared there was a dusty radiator, with photographic proof to support this. In order to capture the offending fragment of dust it was zoomed in to such a degree, individual atoms could be identified. The molecular structure of the radiator had been dissected to show that yes, in between a couple of electrons and a neutron there was indeed, an entire iota of terrible, nasty dust.

The report raged that I had left just one kettle because there should have been two. That’s mental.

It fumed that we’d replaced a mattress when we’d done no such thing. A photo showed the alien mattress as an alibi. It was clearly a mattress that had been turned over.

And the list continues. Yes, we did transgress in a couple of instances. That iron shaped burn on the living room side-table was us and the red wine on the bathroom carpet was us and the dark oil smudges on the walls were definitely us. But still, the whole pernickety nature of it all annoyed me. How are tenants realistically supposed to retrieve their flat deposits? Should they reside entirely without eating or drinking in their abodes, dusters at the ready, Mr Sheen at prone position waiting for that dust iota to invade the surface of the radiator and attack with aggressive but spotless zeal? Probably.

I wish I hadn’t bothered cleaning the place for a week now. I wish we’d just absolutely trashed the place. It’s quite clear to me we’re not going to get the deposit back and this was determined the moment we handed that month’s worth of money over at the start of our lease. It’s how these letting agents make their money after all. My advice is probably to buy somewhere; if you happen to get by on a rather dust iota-like salary then rent through somewhere like gumtree and avoid these soul-sucking let leasing behemoths at all costs. My advice to Aberdein Considine is to spell Aberdeen correctly and buy a new second kettle yourself you tight-fisted, apathetic pedants.

All Quiet on the Dulux Front

Went paintballing for my mate’s birthday yesterday. Some older blokes had turned up uninvited with kevlar trousers on and metal supply cases. While we popped our overalls on and complained about our goggles steaming up, they fitted back-up ammo cases to their utility belts and fixed the air pressure on their gatling guns. We were all thrown into the mix on the first game; those who had come along for a laugh (myself included) and these black-clad mercenaries from the future. Needless to say it was a massacre. Armed with ineffectual pop guns we were mown down in waves by the automatic fire of these overweight T-1000s. Their paint balls (individually flighted with little fins, for further distance, accuracy and power) scythed into us like throwing stars. As I hid under my fallen comrades like Jude Law in Enemy at the Gates, whimpering through the fog on my goggles (a mixture of perspiration and actual tears) I swore vengeance on these evil party crashers before the day was out.

Of course, I never did get vengeance, no-one did. I spent the whole day being chopped down by paint, it was agony. My legs look like an oil slick.

I’d just like to say however, that if you enjoy dressing up like the Terminator and ruining people’s birthday parties every weekend, you’re probably not a very nice person. You probably play Halo on Xbox Live and enter yourself against all the newbies to pump your score up. You probably challenge babies to arm wrestles. You probably – outside your fake little platoon of weekend guns-for-hire -don’t do too well on the social circuit. At least I really hope you don’t, because you peppered me with so many excruciating scars and bruises yesterday that it is the only solace I have.

Berry Good Send-Off As Mackie Maul Huntly.


For the Mighty 2’s, it was a chance to salvage some pride from a red-tinged rollercoaster of a season. From recent winning ways, they’d succumbed to two defeats on the trot, albeit one to a team stuffed with firsts and ringers. This being the last league match of the season, the importance of a final victory was hammered home by Mackie’s maverick coach, Bob Richmond. The 2’s wouldn’t be winning any leagues this season but they’d be playing for the badge, and in the case of captain Ali Pittendreigh, the chance to continue his family’s legacy as according to Bob, “his father and grandfather” had once done the club proud. Despite this historical inaccuracy, there was one huge club milestone that deserved a salute, as number 8 Paul Berrisford marched out for his last game of a glittering 25-year Mackie career.
Mackie won the toss and opted to play with the howling Redcloak gale billowing at their backs. However, it was Huntly who took the initiative, running sharp lines against some feeble “pat on the backside” tackling. The Huntly pack were large, colossal in some instances, but it did not excuse the paper-maiche defence on show. After some constructive criticism by Richmond from the sidelines, Mackie switched on and the hits began to fly. Suddenly, the reds found themselves camped in the enemy’s 22, off-loading like All Blacks in the pack and floating nice wide ball thanks to Michael Levack’s solid distribution. The breakthrough came after fifteen minutes, with quick ball left from a ruck, Stuart Campbell sucking in defenders before popping to Ali Pittendreigh, who flopped gracefully over the line for his first ever try for the Mackie 2’s. His grandfather would be proud.
Kick converted by the ever-reliable Levack, play resumed with the Red wind huffing and puffing at the Huntly line. Consecutive carries by Glen Moir, Dave Austen and ‘French Joseph’ made solid dents before Stuart Campbell blew the Huntly wall apart with a searing drive to the line, defenders deflected like leaves in a breeze. 14-0 at half-time, but now the real test was to come as the teams changed ends for the final 40 minutes of the season.
Huntly harnessed the advantage of the wind with streetwise aplomb. It was now Mackie’s turn to build a barrier on the white line, with Dean Gerrard in particular throwing in vital hits to deny a score. The ball, eventually turned over and kicked up field, remained in Huntly’s hands nonetheless. They eventually got the try they yearned, pulling a fast blind side move that evaded the attentions of Ben Newell and Kieran Ferguson to score in the corner. Game on.
Or was it? Mackie regrouped and from the restart displayed some of their best rugby of the season. Drills repeated on the training ground came to fruition as players began to uncork ten minutes of unadulterated champagne rugby. Slick interplay down the middle of the park brought in half the Huntly defence, only for man of the match Alex Thurlow to sniff a space out right, taking quick ball and spreading it wide with accurate poise, sending it through the hands for fan-favourite Frankie to score deliciously in the corner. Game over? Pretty much.
The match, much like this article, now entered it’s final, exhausted phase. The hits seemed to intensify as actual ball-play diminished. Pittendreigh was taken off with a strained shoulder, his girly shrieks of anguish heard in distant Inverbervie, while substitute Graham Mckinnon lasted an entire two minutes before receiving an elbow to the throat. With the Mackie line-out creaking but the Huntly backs unable to capitalise on the extra possession, the game stuttered to a close with a flounder rather than a flourish. It didn’t matter. It was a final win for Mackie, who honoured their veteran Paul Berrisford with a silver jubilee victory and an assured third place in the league.