The hotel may be still asleep, but by six o’clock a Scottish May morning is already in full swing.
Outside the sky is clear and blue, the lawns still dew-swept and the rhododendron in full flower.
At the end of the driveway, I turn right, and set course hard along the kerb. Any Aberdonian knows that the lethally fast South Deeside road is no place to play in traffic, but for now it’s quiet and a gentle mile is all I need.
A few minutes go by as I ponder the wonders of travel and the rewards of rising early. A long day in meeting rooms will pass more swiftly with an hour of energy spent before the taxi calls to find me.
On the other side of the road, the trees are opening up a longer view, and I step gingerly across the highway to take in the morning glory of the River Dee and the open farmland stretching far beyond.
The river is tranquil here, in the later reaches of its 87-mile journey from the Cairngorm Mountains to reach the sea at Footdee beside Aberdeen harbour.
The Celts worshipped the Dee as a goddess, and today she is blessed with diverse riches. Upstream from here lie some of the most scenic salmon fishing grounds in Britain, whilst downstream the waters flow into the busiest oil port in Europe.
This peaceful view alone has more than repaid my early alarm call, but the fast cars won’t be long in coming, and so I hit the road again and gratefully turn right, uphill and full on into the face of rural Aberdeenshire. Continue reading →
The golden autumn grasslands looked benign enough in sunshine from our balloon flight at dawn today, but 600 kilometres into Asia Minor, and 1,600 years ago, life was hard here. So hard, in fact, that an entire civilisation went underground. Literally.
Cut up to 85 m deep in soft volcanic layers within Miocene to Holocene tuffs and ignimbrites, the underground cities of Cappadocia serve testament to how difficult life was for early Christians on these high and open plains.
Dangerous enough for whole communities of fifty thousand souls to seek refuge beneath the earth — at several places scattered around this part of northern central Turkey.
Life here is easier now than it was back then, but maybe not that much.
Avanos is a one horse town if ever I’ve seen one, and it’s clear the horse left quite some time ago. Continue reading →
The October sky is grey and dank and the Zürich morning still half dark as I emerge into Weinplatz. The first leaves are scattered around the square, and at this early hour the weather looks unpromising.
The summer’s smug geraniums still adorn the hotel windowboxes, but they’re looking limp and vaguely threatened now. Autumn is brief here in Switzerland, and the winter’s not all that far away.
Behind me, the River Limmat is swirling gently northwards on its way to join my old friend the Aare near Brugg, and then onwards to join the Rhine for Basel, Germany and the sea. Tall churches and pretty wharfsides beckon beside the river, but for now I leave the waterfront behind me.
I know my way round here, in the biggest small country in the world.
My car was ten years old last week. As chance would have it, 100,000 miles came up on the same day. That’s the most miles of any car I’ve owned.
By European standards, it’s a middle of the road kind of vehicle. A 2000 Ford Focus with a 1.8 litre petrol engine, which has delivered 39.8 mpg over the life of the car.
The UK government launched a scrappage scheme last April, and extended it in September. My car qualifies. If I scrap the car, the government and dealer will each give me £1,000 off the full list price of any new vehicle I buy.
At first sight that’s good, but a new family car still costs £15,000. The cynic in me also noted that before the scrappage scheme began, dealers were offering discounts of £2,000 to drag buyers from the street. Those offers aren’t available within the scrappage scheme.
The result is that the taxpayer is writing a cheque for £2,000 to manufacturers for every new car sold, while the real savings to buyers are minimal. I’d be better off buying a one-year old model and saving £5,000 off the list price that way.
In addition to supporting the car industry, the scrappage scheme aims to offer environmental benefits by taking older, thirsty cars off the road and replacing them with modern, more fuel-efficient models. But does it?
My next car will be more fuel-efficient and likely smaller. I’ve seen a new Ford Fiesta Econetic claiming 76 mpg, and the equivalent Focus will do 66 mpg. Even a basic 2009 1.6 Ford Focus diesel gives 60 mpg. So is there a clear environmental case for scrapping my 10-year old car and buying a newer model? Continue reading →
It’s 6 am and raining. Mid-summer has somehow ended in the night, and a different kind of July stands waiting for me as I step outside.
The street is chill and almost empty. A fine wet shimmer is wrapped around the tramtracks as I cross them, and even now, in my first few strides, I can feel the morning washing clean the heavy dreams of last night’s dinner.
I turn my collar to the cool and damp, and kick my heels slowly east along the lakeshore.
The first minutes of a run like this are always hardest. A body short on sleep but not so short on years is slower than it should be to get going.
My feet are heavy, and my stomach feels heavier still, with a not so faint taste of Swiss Gamay red lurking somewhere down inside.
I raise my eyes and look around. Across the grey lake, the city lies serene and timeless. Geneva is exactly as I remember her. Unchanged, if just a little wetter. Continue reading →
Play: Radio Luxembourg 208 Great Britain 208 — that was the number of radio, back then.
And as the spring daylight faded behind the bedroom curtains, the hour would finally come for the first hesitantly crackly sounds to arrive across a cooling atmosphere.
With a single earphone invisibly in place, and my tiny transistor hidden deep beneath the covers, I could be happily in bed at bedtime and yet secretly lie wide awake through an entire chart show still to come.
Nightfall was moving slowly northwestwards across another summer evening. And Planet Earth’s biggest commercial radio station was playing with 1.3 million watts of power, bringing rock music to my ear from half a continent away. Continue reading →