Tag Archives: Scotland

Hagrid’s Holiday

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Hagrid, being the considerate Doggie lad that he is, has just taken us on holiday to the Isle of Arran – which has led to a disagreeable downturn in blog productivity of late.  Many apologies, but the perambulatory requirements of a splendid Saluki/Standard Poodle mix must be taken seriously, I’m sure you’ll agree.

As you can see from the image above, he was very taken with Scotland, this being his first visit since coming to live with us last Spring.   Lots of beaches, very few other dogs out for walks at the same time as him and weather which was mostly on our side – what canine could ask for more?

Hagrid and Mrs Rolling Eyeballs on Kildonan Beach, Isle of Arran, February 2013

Hagrid and Mrs Rolling Eyeballs on Kildonan Beach, Isle of Arran, February 2013

He was very taken with the scampering opportunities offered by the likes of Kildonan beach, Sannox and Blackwaterfoot Beach on Arran – as any doggie of distinction and taste would be.  If your dog likes to stretch their legs and go for a good old run, Arran is a fine place to consider for their next family break – if they are sufficiently generous, they might even allow you to tag along.

Word to the wise - if Hagrid is running like this at you, getting out of the way is a given...

Word to the wise – if Hagrid is running like this at you, getting out of the way is a given…

It was a particularly lovely holiday, especially as living in a city doesn’t allow you to let a big dog like Mr H. off his lead every day – particularly as some of his more challenging behaviour traits mean that he’s on a lead for the vast majority of his time.  It’s inspired us to be braver with him and find places local to us where he can have a run and stretch out his paws to the fullest of their capabilities, as well as investigating dog-appeasing pheramone collars to see if they can stop some of his overly reactive behaviour to every dog he sees.

Wish us luck, won’t you?

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Book review: “Halting State”, Charles Stross (Orbit)

A tale of virtual cash, virtual crime and real-life, big-ass swords...

Sometimes, it’s the cover that gets you.

In this case, with the pixel art, battle axe-wielding Orc and laptop-wielding geek, I knew that Charles Stross’ “Halting State” (Wikipedia summary contains spoilers) was for me before I ever cracked a page or read a word of prose.

That it arrived in my hands boasting a William Gibson jacket blurb certainly didn’t hurt, but the book is strong enough on its own to not require special pleading or cool design – it more than justifies the time that you’ll take to enjoy it, albeit with some caveats that you might like to take into account before picking it up/grabbing it at the library/downloading it to your totally futuristic e-book reader thingy (full disclosure – I read the mass market paperback.  Didn’t crash once…).

“Halting State” is set in a near-future Scotland, where devolution from the UK has happened,the European connected state ideal has been firmly embraced (…ahem) and follows three characters – Police Sergeant Sue, Forensic Accountant Elaine and MMO systems designer Jack – in alternating chapters as they investigate financial impropriety at a tech company administering an MMO game.

And this is where the major issue comes in for some readers – the narrative is told via the Second Person perspective, which causes many readers to run screaming for their bookshelf and the  comfort of the nearest third person novel to hand.  Simply put, if you’ve ever played an old school PC adventure title – “You are standing in a field.  A house lies atop a hill in front of you.  A mailbox sits to your left.  You are holding an Aardvark on a lead” – you won’t have any problems with the way that this story is told, but some reviews of the book really take issue with the successive chapters being told by a different character, mostly due to a perceived similarity in the character’s voices.

One’s Scottish and a copper, one’s a bean counter who likes LARP-ing and wielding big swords and the other’s a geeky bloke who’s forgotten more than we’ll ever know about gaming feedback loops – it’s not as if these guys are the same person wearing a different shirt.

Also, I’m at a loss as to how one might confuse Police woman Sue’s narrative voice – which ye ken is so Scottish that it might well radge some readers – with Jack’s over-caffeineated code monkey.  There’s not a great deal of cross-talk between them – it’s like saying that you enjoyed Tolkein but couldn’t tell when Gandalf was talking and when Merry was gabbling.

I digress…

The thing that I enjoyed most about this book was the plausible near-future which it conjures – it’s a book which posits a future with omnipresent internet connectivity routinely funnelled into our lives, where data overlays/Head Up displays tell you about bus times, drop a Google maps type app into your field of vision and tablets are kind of thing of the past (though I’m not sure that people would whole-heartedly embrace wearing the equivalent of VR goggles when out and about – the popularity of 3D movies is probably an indication that I could be very wrong about what people are willing to tolerate if it gets them fancy tech, though).

There are drone cabs, piloted by call-centre workers, the police use an all-seeing, all-recording interface called  CopSpace to record evidence, witness testimony and the like and there’s no escaping the digital future because it’s the digital present and everybody’s on board.

If there’s another slight issue with the plot, it’s the idea that the general populace seem to have completely embraced the geeky MMO space – I may be damning the Normals by assuming that some things are way too spoddy for them to ever contemplate, but I can’t see folks who set their Sky planners for “Coronation Street” and “Strictly Come Dancing” ever getting into the world of instances, DPS and guilds, although the MMO’s alluded to in “Halting State” do cover non-traditional subject matter, with the fictional football hooliganism sim “Steaming” being notably low on +10 armour sets, chaotic neutral mages and epic mounts.

Despite having a subject matter which might seem initially daunting to newcomers to gaming, the essential plot of “Halting State” – an impossible heist pulled off in a virtual game space and the various professionals whose expertise converges to solve it – isn’t that far away from the more accessible tech-thrillers of the late Michael Crichton or William Gibson’s recent spy-fi novels.  And on that basis alone, I really enjoyed it – I may follow gaming but I’ve never set foot in Azeroth and Stross does just enough to make the detail in his book be convincing without being so esoteric that it becomes off-putting.

Give this book a try if you’re on the look-out for something new to read.  I loved Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel “For The Win” and its take on the MMO games space and unionization – this is in a similar wheelhouse, albeit a more cynical and adult one where the hardest realities of capitalism butt heads with creativity in an oft-bloodied battle which gets into higher stakes territory as the story progresses.

TL; DR version – Do you like Iain Banks’ non-sf, ‘edgeverse’ stuff?  Read “Halting State”.

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Arran – the Foggening!

Yep, that’s a lovely way to begin your holiday, isn’t it?  Heading into what can only be described as the milky white unknown whilst walking your delightful, only slightly antsy terrier first thing on a Monday morning…

Still, at least it wasn’t snowing.

Yes, the weather on Arran is rarely a predictable thing and today was no exception – we woke today to a ominous curtain of fog making its way across the island seemingly from atop Goatfell itself and did a minor ‘gulp!’ at the idea that we would have to go outside and take Minnie for her morning constitutional.

Not to overstate things, but outside looked like a John Carpenter movie:

The unknown - it beckons!

Still, the biological imperatives of Miss Terrierdottir won out and so off we went, expertly (well, tentatively) piloted by your writer through weather which was nearing the pea-souper mystery mist of period detective movie cliche.  The pictures above are of an area of Brodick Beach which we thought would be a decent fit for Minnie in her current state – walking is still quite a bit of effort for her with her ongoing medical issues, so a softer sandy surface seemed like just the ticket for her.

Going for a walk, lots of sniffs to check out - back soon.

She did a fine job of things as it goes – not struggling too much, barely falling prey to the worst excesses of ‘wobbly leg’ (it’s the best way to describe her current gait) and demonstrating as much enjoyment of her stroll and of her surroundings as she has ever done.

We haven’t made a decision yet about where to take her tomorrow – we might take a drive to Lamlash tomorrow and give her another sniff of sea air, on light grassy surfaces which won’t vex her too much.  There’s other stuff to see there, too, so the humans will have a decent time as well.

More Arran reportings as they happen…

 

 

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Normal service resumed…

So, despite road conditions like these:

Image via MSN/picture by Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Mrs Rolling Eyeballs, Minnie the terrier and yours truly made it one piece to the ferry terminal at Ardrossan on the West Coast of Scotland.

If truth be told, the snow was a little scary for the half-hour or so that we were driving through it – so much so that we had to navigate round a pair of cars which had knocked chunks out of each others front wings (the drivers and passengers were okay) – but the wintry weather faded with the further west that we drove.

Arran itself has been entirely untouched by snow – something we were pleasantly delighted to see and one local passenger on the ferry over to the island was chuffed to see reasonably blue skies and sun for the first time in a few days – and the weather is pretty decent for this time of year.  We don’t come here for Grecian sun and temperatures – in Scotland, in February? – so anything that’s not a meteorological extreme of some kind is very welcome.

picture of Arran coastline via S1Arran.com

More updates to come throughout the week – hopefully with some pictures to help illustrate why we come here so often.

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Fluffrick goes West

So, tomorrow I will be braving predicted bad weather in the UK and going here:

Scotland in February. No, I'm not crazy. Or so it would seem...

The isle of Arran.  Regular as clockwork, that’s where I head to in February with Mrs Rolling Eyeballs and Minnie the Terrier in tow.

We’ve had reports that the weather was on the turn for a while, but it does appear that somewhere on our journey from Sheffield to Arran we will run into some harsh weather.  Wish us well and join me in hoping that the Wi-Fi in our digs is going to facilitate some blogging next week – regular service might be a little less frequent than usual, but I’ll try to get some posts in next week.

Play nice whilst I’m gone…

 

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The Arran Chronicles

Miss me? Blog traffic indicates that people (or web-indexing spiders) actually read this very repository of ephemera during my absence, so there exists the possibility that you may wish to know why I’ve been slacking off in the last week or so.

I was taking a holiday: I’m allowed one, apparently. What larks!

We went to Arran, which is off the West Coast of Scotland and must have something going for it, as my family goes to the island twice a year. Ironically enough, we managed to time our arrival so as to miss the fortnight-long heat wave which preceded our holiday and found the weather to be…changeable.

Allow me to illustrate, via the medium of camera phone pictorial:

This ferry is in dock at the Ardrossan ferry terminal. You had to back your car onto the deck. Our ferry was a mite bigger...

Nice blue sky, bright sunshine – good holiday weather all around, I think you’ll agree.

Arran's wonderful micro-climate, but one day later...

But 24 hours later, you’ll note, things were not quite as agreeable. I’ve yet to have a complete wash-out in Arran, but the weather was gleefully up and down during the first part of the week. As long as we get to walk the dogs, the odd shower and chill wind really doesn’t worry me.

I want miniature cannons by my front door. Why can't I have them? #Doormat Cannons

Fine venues like Brodick Castle exist for the history-minded tourist, but I prefer to just have a wander around their lovely, expansive gardens with the dogs and check out the funny nooks and crannies which add to your understanding of the building and it’s history.

The Ice House, Brodick Castle, Arran

Bringing back the Metal theme of recent posts, by going to Brodick Castle on Monday last week, I was a day late and could have taken in the sight of Arran’s own Viking re-enacting society running amok and generally being all Battle Metal. Crivens!

It’s not just the big, tourist things which delight about Arran – it’s the incidental stuff. Take my new friend, for example:

My new pal - I call him Billy Boulderson. Lovely lad, always smiling.

Idiosyncrasy – one of my favourite things in life and certainly a quality that Arran has in abundance.

Weird weather, quirky history and friendly locals – Arran is the kind of place that you want to keep coming back to.

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