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Chapter XLIII: "M.I.A"

Time to ramble...

Haven't done this in a while (over a year, actually), and I definitely feel rusty. Anyway, I watched "M.I.A." last night with my wife Beth, my nine-year-old daughter Erin and my six-year-old son Benny.

This episode was directed by Kazuo Terada, story edited by Gary Sperling and written by Robert Cohen.

The (semi) one word title, as usual, was one of mine. (As was the springboard, but more on that later.) It's appropriate both because of Griff's disappearance and because of the wartime setting. Although I don't know if they actually used the M.I.A. acronym as far back as WWII. I associate it with Vietnam. Does anyone else know?

Benny read the title and thought it said Mia. He has a friend named Mia, whose birthday party he had gone to earlier in the day. So the title required a bit of explaining.

INTO THE MYSTIC

This was one of my ideas that I really fell in love with. The idea that a magic shop never goes out of style. The idea that these gargoyles have been running this shop right in the midst of London's teeming humanity for a millenium. I just love the idea that you could stop by there in 1940 or 1996 or 1809 or 1776 or 1595 or whenever. Different gargoyles manning the store, of course. But the store itself largely remains the same. It's a place where Lennox Macduff and Will Shakespeare might have ended up after a night of carousing together.

My notion, which I've stated here before, is that the London Clan has an estate in the burbs, and that the shop helps fund them.

Responding to the guys line about the shopkeepers having "incredible" masks, Benny takes a good look at Una and says: "That's a unicorn. A real one."

And Erin: "Those aren't masks."

Of course, these kids have both seen the episode before. But it was so long ago and they were so young it's like they're seeing it for the first time.

LONDON

We get some gorgeous shots of London. So gorgeous that when the animation on PENDRAGON came back weeks later looking not so good, we reused some of the "M.I.A." footage for that ep.

[Of course the animation here was done by Walt Disney Television Animation Japan, GARG's Best studio. It still kills me that Disney has shut down that unit. They did SUCH great stuff.]

Elisa talks to the Cabbie. In my mind, this Cabbie appears during the 1940 sequence as a little boy, running downstairs and into a bomb shelter with his sister. It's not important, but that's how I saw it.

And we explain (include) another legend. That of Gremlins. Not Gremlins from the Spielbergian movie. But gremlins that caused damage to airplanes during the war. This was/is a very famous legend among pilots. Roald Dahl (of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame) wrote a book about them, which Walt Disney himself optioned. Eisner once had us develop a tv series based on the idea. I handed it off to a couple of producers who COMPLETELY redeveloped the idea. They came up with a good show, but it was unrecognizable to Eisner. (It also had a toupee joke, which probably didn't go over well.) Anyway, he didn't buy it.

SOHO

Actual racists thugs. We didn't do much of that. We usually went with anti-gargoyle types, who were metaphors for racists. But here we actually go with the real thing.

Their attack is very reminiscent of Awakening 3.

I love Brigitte's work here. Angela sounds like a tough warrior one minute, like a naive innocent the next. All within her character.

And that shot of Bronx leaping down from the roof is just gorgeous.

Leo and Una come out and confront Goliath, whose confusion is a lot of fun.

They're all in conflict, but everyone can agree with Elisa to take the argument inside...

We go inside and see the portrait of Griff.

Benny makes a connection: "There's a statue of him on the airplane."

UNA

I love Una's line: "I know my merchandise."

Throughout this episode, I think she comes across a bit like a junior Demona. I don't know if I felt that way at the time. But we have a female garg with sorcerous powers in denial about her own feelings of guilt and rewriting history to blame Goliath for things that were really not his fault.

Una was in love with Griff. And still is. But in the interrum, in my mind, she mated with Leo. She LOVES Leo. But she never got over being IN LOVE WITH Griff.

AWKWARD MOMENTS

Two of them.

One is having Goliath black out and instead of using it as our act break, we just go to black, wait a beat and then come back. We had a much better act break coming up, so I guess I don't regret it, but I also don't like it much.

The other awkward moment is giving Goliath that voice over of his interior thoughts, where he states his plan to use the Gate to figure out what the hell happened in 1940. I'm sure I resisted doing that VO. But we just didn't have a better solution.

I do love Goliath's frustrated: "I don't know any Griff!" line.

G uses the gate and Benny asks "What did he just do?" Beth explains it to him, but it illustrates my point that it has been so long since the kids last saw an ep, that their memories of the show are very vague.

WWII

We meet Clive and Douglas Bader. I've stated this before, but Douglas Bader was a real person. A true war hero. Douglas Bader lost both his legs in a plane crash, and became a war hero and fighter ace AFTER he recovered and learned to walk on two artificial pins. He was a hero during the Battle of Britain. Later, he was shot down over enemy territory and put in a POW camp. He escaped twice but was recaptured both times. Years later, he was knighted.

I met him once. My father, Wally Weisman, is a real Spitfire afficionado, and Bader was one of his heroes. My dad eventually met Sir Douglas in London and at the RAF Museum outside London. When I was a kid, Sir Douglas and his wife came to Los Angeles and we all went to Disneyland together. He never used a wheelchair. Always just moved along with his hip-swinging walk. An amazing man.

So there was no way I wasn't going to pay tribute to him here (and indirectly to my father as well -- in my mind, this ep is dedicated to my dad). I gave Gary Sperling the Bader biography, "REACH FOR THE SKIES," knowing that it would be tough for him to incorporate much into the episode. But we tried to base the design of Bader on one of his photographs. And we made sure that his first and last name were both used in dialogue so that he could be indentified by those paying attention.

And most of all, we tried to show that these pilots were the true heroes. Sure, Goliath and Griff save them. But Bader saves the gargoyles too, and he's the one who takes out the most dangerous of the Nazi fighter pilots.

This was important to me. Influenced by both Dahl's Gremlins book and my father and Bader, I'd wanted to do a Battle of Britain story pretty much since the series' inception. It's even listed in the bible. This came out of the notion we once had that (while the other gargoyles may have been asleep for a thousand years) Goliath had been awake and alone for 1000 years.

Imagine, if you will, that scene in Awakening-2, when Goliath comes back and finds Hudson, Bronx and the Trio asleep. Instead of joining them, he watches over them for a millenium. (This was back when we had a more magical view of Garg biology.) I thought Goliath would have largely spent a thousand years brooding. But that during WWII he might have ventured forth to fight the Nazis, if for no other reason than to prevent the bombing of Wyvern.

We, obviously, didn't end up going that way, but the visual of Gargoyles fighting in the Battle of Britain stuck with me. (And man, is that visual brought to life here beautifully.)

But having decided to do that, I didn't want to give the gargs all the credit. Real men and women gave their lives during the Battle of Britain. I didn't want to undercut their contribution in order to make my fictional gargs look good. That just seemed like it would be both irresponsible and disrespectful. A betrayal of the very reasons why we were doing the ep in the first place.

GRIFF

Casting... we had used Neil Dickson to tremendous evil effect as Duncan and Canmore in City of Stone. Here he gets to play Errol Flynn. Neil is a Brit. As is Charles Shaugnessy who played Bader and Sara Douglas who played Una. (Leo/Gregg Berger, on the other hand, is a Yank.) And they all really brought life to their respective roles. I have to admit I was worried about whether Neil would be right for the role. I should no better, but Duncan especially was so memorable, I really had that fixed in my head. But Neil's voice just worked perfectly for Griff. I'm still sorry we didn't get to see more of Griff with King Arthur in the Pendragon spin-off.

Griff was conceived as a real swashbuckling hero. A Robin Hood of the 1940s. As opposed to our rough-hewn "Scottish stock", this was a good-old-fashioned patriotic English Hero to put up against the Nazis. His costume was influenced, I think by the Blackhawks. And his look was inspired by British Heraldry. He was the Griffin to Una's unicorn and Leo's lion, three of the most striking heraldic beasts. Again, going back to my earliest development of the series, I thought that adaptations of heraldic beasts might be the English version of gargoyles. So Griff has Eagle and Lion qualities. Feathered wings. A mohawk-like main. An eagle-like beak, but lionesque limbs.

I know that Greg Guler, Frank Paur and I went over and over Griff's model. We were never 100% satisfied with it. But it must work, as I've never any complaints from the fan. And I think Neil (and Jamie Thomason's voice direction) deserve much of the credit for that. Because even with the great Japanese animation, he still looks a bit too Foghorn Leghorn for my tastes.

TIMELOOPINESS

Goliath (after Griff saves his life): "It was supposed to work the other way."
Erin: "I think this is how it started in the first place."

So, hey, she got it!!

Benny even jumped ahead, figuring out: "So he can take Griff back forward in time."

So he got it too. Did you guys get it right from the beginning? That Goliath would take Griff "back forward" to the present to reunite him with Leo and Una?

I love the scene between Griff, Leo, Una and Goliath over tea in the shop. Everyone's motivations are so clear that I often use this scene when I do voice seminars.

Griff wants to sell everyone on going on the offensive.
Leo wants to sell everyone on sticking with defense.
Una is more subtle. She'll use any argument that will promote Griff's safety.
Goliath is trying to stay out of trouble.

But I love his line: "In my experience, human problems become Gargoyle problems." How true... (witness the cancellation of the show...)

And then later, Goliath AGAIN realizes a lesson that he and the audience would have to relearn again and again. Fate cannot be cheated. History cannot be changed.

And once again, we show our lack of imagination and/or our desire to stick with something once we find it works by using the line "Not where, when."

We can say "1940" but we were discouraged from referring to the present by an actual year -- so that reruns would still sound current. I'm surprised that Goliath got to use the phrase "the 1990s". How short-sighted of Disney to not think we'd still be airing these reruns in the 21st Century. Not that I'm complaining, mind you.

Griff almost gets hit by a car in the present and Goliath says "Let's not start that again." A mini-tribute to the English Vultures in "A Jungle Book".

At the very end, Elisa's confusion is fun: "Just explain it one more time." That probably came out of my fear that the audience might not get it. If Elisa didn't get it either, the audience wouldn't have to feel so bad about it.

DOGFIGHTS

Everything I could have asked for.

I have a VERY vague memory that we were discouraged from using Swastikas. I can't remember why or even if this is true.

But the skull-like pilot with the skull & crossbones on his plane certainly looks like a bad guy, doesn't he?

The planes themselves just look great. I found out later that Bader didn't fly Spitfires during the Battle of Britain. He flew Spitfires later, but flew Hurricanes during the Blitz. This fact drives me crazy.

But I love his line about the Gargoyles (which in my mind, he viewed as Gremlins): "They're real, and they're on our side!"

Benny noticed that they shot a hole through Goliath's wing. I had to reassure him that he'd be okay after getting some stone sleep.

Parachutes. No one dies in this episode. At least not in theory. Of course, we KNOW people died during the Blitz. But we couldn't show or even imply that.

THE WORLD TOUR

We end of course by creating new heroes out of old. Griff has returned. And Leo and Una have been reinvigorated. They take back their neighborhood.

Leo: "Or we'll make it our business." Leo's spent years worried only about business. Now he remembers what his business is supposed to be. The nation of shopkeepers is once again ready to defend the realm. So to speak.

Anyway, that's my ramble. Where's yours?


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As requested...

Todd sent the following to me in response to my request for a quick info fix...

Dear Greg,

I hope that you don't mind me e-mailing you directly about Roger Lancelyn Green, but I thought that this was the quickest way
of getting the information to you (given the length of the queue and the fact that I know that you don't dare read much of the
comment room because many of the people there post "creativity demons" there).

At any rate, you're correct about the spelling: it is Roger Lancelyn Green. The title of the book is "King Arthur and his Knights
of the Round Table".

Todd Jensen


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Proofreading/Apologia...

I just received the following e-mail from my brother:

Subject: proofreading
Date: Wed, 24 Sep 2003 13:56:49 -0700
From: "Weisman, Jon"

Just my two cents, but I do feel you're a little strident about the proofreading. I'm completely sympathetic to the annoyance/frustration, but your discussion of your own errors undermines your argument. You misspelled a word in the very sentence about proofreading being good training. Then you say there's no point in identifying errors that you make, because you're dyslexic and because you make an effort. Who's to say that your reader isn't dyslexic or doesn't make an effort, either? All "Dan" did in his first sentence was leave out the word "have."

Personally, I think it's fine to ask your readers to proofread better, but I simply think you could be nicer about it. Since your replies do contain errors, good intentions or not, it just doesn't make sense to me to cop an attitude.

- Jon

Jon is, of course, correct. And so I apologize for my rant. In particular, I apologize to "dan" for taking my frustrations out on him.

My only defense is that all the lousy proofreading -- and there really is a lot of it -- creates a kind of cumulative frustration. I really do ignore it most of the time. I make fun of it (I hope in a good-hearted way with a smart-ass response) occassionally, and I only rarely blow a gasket. But that's not much of an excuse.

So let's all try to proofread a bit more, including me -- hell, especially me -- and I'll try to keep my temper.

Again, dan, sorry.


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SCOTLAND TRIP: September 7th, 2003

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2003

When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was spending his last night in Scotland at the Edinburgh Airport Hilton Hotel. This is his story:

I maybe got two hours sleep. I had called downstairs for a wake-up call, and they told me they didn't do wake-up calls and that I'd have to set the alarm in my room. I looked around and told them the only clock was the digital readout on the t.v. They said that the alarm was one of the television's functions. (This is progress, I suppose.) So I attempted to set the t.v. to wake me up. But I had little confidence in it or me, so I barely slept.

3:45am
Sure enough, the t.v. went off as scheduled. I showered (probably the best shower of the trip, if you're keeping track). Dressed and ate my last Loch Torridon apple and Hilton cookie.

4:45am
My dad and I took a shuttle to the airport. There we waited in line with a bunch of Rugby fans in kilts, all headed to Germany.

I went through security and was stopped. They had spotted the two hand-painted rocks in my duffle, which I had purchased on Skye. The lady was very nice as I unpacked them for her. I told her what they were before she saw them. She pointed out that rocks could be used as weapons and that I might have to put them in my checked luggage. I told her that I hadn't checked any luggage. She told me that I might have to check my duffle then. But when she saw the cute little cottages painted on the rocks, I could tell she felt that I was hardly likely to use them as a weapon. Still I would have obviously done whatever they felt was necessary. She showed the rocks to her superior, who waved them off. I put them back and wondered whether I'd have as much luck in Germany.

6am
Boarded the plane to Frankfurt. Biz class aisle seat. Tomato Juice, Eggs, "Bacon", mushroom, spinach, cheese, apple, grapefruit and mango slices. A croissant.

9:30am
Arrived in Frankfurt (having picked up another hour).

I said goodbye to my dad, who was going into Frankfurt for his day of meetings (which had been the financial justification for the whole trip). I don't think I've talked much about my dad here, but Scotland aside, I really just enjoyed spending all this time with him. We talked for hours and didn't come close to running out of topics until somewhere around day five or six, and even then we managed. It's nice when even the silences aren't awkward. We took pictures, which largely came out great despite the fact that on the first day in LAX he put all his film through the X-ray machine. (A tech genius he ain't.) We drove for hours and hours and hours and enjoyed every minute. We saw some gorgeous scenery and a few other interesting tidbits. We followed a couple of my obsesssions, had a bunch of great meals, listened to a terrific murder mystery and talked about that. Truly, though I'll try, I can't thank him enough for the trip and the camradery.

Anyway, after he had gone, I took a long walk to a different terminal. There I changed my remaining pounds to Euros and bought some snacks for later: Pringles, a Snickers, an Evian and some Peanut M&M's.

Then I went to McDonalds. I bought a Quarter-Pounder, which they called a "Hamburger Royal", fries and a FRIED apple pie. (In the States, they only have baked pies now. I hadn't had one of McDonald's fried pies in years and years.) Now on this trip I had eaten McDonalds three times in three different countries. Once at LAX, once in Edinburgh and now once in Frankfurt. I love McDonalds.

I then went through another security check (putting my burger and fries and pie through the x-ray machine). I was sure they were going to make me take out my rocks again, and it seemed to me like the guy on the machine studied the screen with extra attention. But they let the bag go through. Me on the other hand... They didn't have a metal detector for me to walk through. So I got thoroughly searched. Shoes off. Belt. Wallet. Watch. Tube of blistex. Coins of course. It was very touchy-feely too. I don't begrudge it of course, but that doesn't make it fun.

Grabbed up my stuff and went to the Biz Class Lounge, where I ate my Mickey D's with a free coke that they had there. Also ate a free cookie and my snickers.

I left the lounge to wait for my plane and finished Faulkner's "Sanctuary", which I had been nursing the entire trip.

Boarded the plane. I was in Biz Class near the very front (3H). (First class was upstairs.) Boy, that landing gear makes a lot of noise when you're right on top of it.

I started reading "Shakespeare's Kings", a non-fiction book which compares Shakespeare's treatment of the monarchs (from Edward III through Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI to Richard III) to the actual history. I got through Henry V on the flight. It was fascinating.

I also watched "Bruce Almighty", which was considerably less fascinating. (Largely shallow and annoying, but it killed some time.) There were other movies too, but I decided my book was much more interesting.

I think I slept for about an hour.

Ate Venison & Cheese, Tortelline, a chocolate bar, Berry Pudding, cake, tomato juice and a concotion called "Multi-Fruit Juice" which at first taste I hated and then decided I liked it so much I had glass after glass after glass. Water too, sparkling and still. (I like to keep hydrated). A couple of ham & cheese sandwiches and another apple. (Not all this at once.)

4pm (Los Angeles time)
We landed. Went through the long lines at Immigration and customs.

A car was waiting for me and took me home.

Reunited with Beth, Erin and Benny. Which was great. I gave Beth her sweater, which she loved -- and which she felt was the exact right size. So I was vindicated there. I'm not sure the kids new what to make of the two rocks with the cottages on them. But they like getting stuff, so they were happy too.

I ate my German-bought Pringles and M&Ms that night.

And so ends my Odyssey.

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.


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SCOTLAND TRIP: September 6th, 2003

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2003

When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was spending his last night at the posh Loch Torridon Country House Hotel and had gone to bed at 11:30pm. This is his story:

4am
Woke up. Went back to sleep.

Just before 7am, I woke again.

8am
We loaded up the car and had breakfast: Apple, Tomato AND Orange Juice. Corn AND Bran Flakes. Croissants w/Apricot Puree AND Strawberry Jam. A big AND morning.

We hit the road for the final leg of our trip, largely making good time, listening to Tup's mix tape again.

From the hotel and Annat we headed northeast on the A896 to Kinlochewe. There we turned southeast on the A832 through Achnasheen. Somewhere along here (I think overlooking Loch Luichart) we stopped at a "Passing Place" to take photos of one of the ubiquitous "Passing Place" signs. We maintained our south-easterly heading past Garve on the A835 and made our way past Tore and onto the A9.

We crossed the bridge that separated the Beauly Firth from the MORAY FIRTH. Seeing the word Moray was the first sign that we were in Macbeth territory. And generally, in Gargoyle territory.

We headed into Inverness. I ate one of the apples I had copped from the Loch Torridon hotel room. Someday, I'd like to spend some time there, but this wasn't going to be the day. We took a few minutes to walk down to a bridge across the River Ness (which leads eventually to Loch Ness). We walked up to Inverness Castle, but we didn't really have the time to do much more than take a quick glance around.

We soon were back on the road. We got caught here and there behind some slow drivers (who didn't pull over as the signs instructed), but generally we made good time. We passed a town called Killiecrankie. And I thought, "I know a lot of people who get Killiecrankie sometimes."

We passed BIRNAM WOOD too. And signs for Glamis Castle. Someday I want to come back for the full-on Macbeth tour of Scotland.

Then we drove into Perth, looking longily at the fast food places. But by this time, I was on a mission: STONEQUEST. Last time I was in Britain the Stone of Destiny was still in Westminster Abbey. I've been to the Abbey at least a half-dozen times over the years, but I didn't (back then) know the Stone's significance. I certainly didn't know it could talk like Frank Welker. So I never took any notice of it. Now, I really wanted to see it.

For those of you who don't know or don't remember, the Stone is theoretically "Jacob's Pillow". The stone that Jacob rested his head on the night he saw the ladder leading up to heaven for the angels to climb. The stone found it's way to Ireland and thence to Scotland, where Kenneth MacAlpin was crowned upon it as the first King of Scotland. After that, all the Scottish Kings, including Kenneth, Constantine, Maol Chalvim, Duncan, Macbeth, Luach and Canmore, were crowned upon the Stone of Destiny on Moot Hill in Scone. Later, the stone was taken to London by the English. And used to crown English/British monarchs. It was briefly stolen in the fifties, but returned to Westminster Abbey in time for Elizabeth II's coronation. (Although some believe that the real stone is still in hiding.) GARGOYLES, of course, posited that this was also the famous "Sword in the Stone" from which Arthur drew Excalibur. In the episode "Pendragon", we showed Arthur and Griff communicating with the Stone at Westminster. But in 1997, the English returned the Stone to Scotland. But not to Scone. Rather it was taken to Edinburgh, so that it could be kept with the Honors of Scotland and the Crown Jewels in Edinburgh Castle. So today, I was determined to drag my dad to Scone Palace to see Moot Hill and the replica Stone they kept there and then later to Edinburgh Castle to see the real thing.

So anyway, we got a little bit lost in Perth. But got directions to Scone Palace from a very nice tourist info lady on West Mill Street. We made our way to Old High Street, Atholl Street and Charlotte Street to the Perth Bridge. We crossed the River Tay and then headed north on A93 to the Palace.

Now Scone Palacce was definitely a place I would love to spend a half day exploring in and out. The Grounds were just lovely, and the Palace itself looked very cool with some cool things inside. And there's a maze! But we really didn't have time if we were going to get to Edinburgh Castle before it closed. So a few minutes later, I was standing on Moot Hill leaning over the faux Stone of Destiny in my Gargoyles sweatshirt (half-hoping someone would come up and make the connection). It was cool. We took some pictures and left.

Back on the A93 (south now) to the A90 to the M90. Down to exit 4, where we pulled off in Kelty. Now most of this trip was planned by my father's assistant Anita Kelty Nitta. So in tribute to her, we stopped at her ancestral home and took pictures near the "Welcome to Kelty/Drive safely" sign. Then it was back on the road until we took the Forth Bridge across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh. We found, with amazingly little trouble, the Edinburgh Airport Hilton and checked in. Compared to the Classy, Cozy and Posh places we had been staying, the room at the Hilton seemed quite the unpleasant little box. But it did offer a pre-packaged shortbread cookie, which I was happy to eat. It was servicable. It would do.

We drove across the street and returned the Beetle. We walked back to the hotel and called a cab to take us to Edinburgh Castle.

This cab ride took a ridiculously long time and a very circuitous route only to run smack into a huge crowd emerging from the Rugby finals. Hundreds of people wearing shirts celebrating "The Famous Grouse" blocked our path. Our cab driver then explained that he had intentionally taken a circuitous route in order to avoid this very traffic... and that if the game had gotten out five minutes later, we'd have thought he was brilliant. As it is, we were stuck. It took forever to finally get us to the Castle.

Now, I've been to Edinburgh Castle twice before, so I've seen the sights. And yet I still wish we had more time, because it's truly worth exploring over and over. But we had arrived close to closing, and we still hadn't eaten anything since breakfast (cookies and apples aside), so time was short. We took a few pictures. Another couple shots by a cannon (a running photographic theme on the trip), a picture of me in my Garg Sweatshirt by a lion gargoyle that definitely reminded me of Leo. Then we headed in to see the actual Stone of Destiny. It was cool to see it. But no pictures allowed in there. And I waited to hear if it would talk to me, but I guess there were too many people around. No one commented on my sweatshirt either, but I was still very glad to have seen it.

We started walking down the Royal Mile, but we were sorta past sight-seeing and so we headed down to Princes Street to look for a nice non-touristy place to eat dinner. We passed the Train Station (with it's killer staircase) and Scott's Monument. But nothing presented itself dinner-wise. So we decided to eat dinner back at the hotel and had a VERY late lunch at McDonalds (1/4-Pounder, fries & coke).

We had passed a taxi stand earlier with literally a dozen taxis waiting in line. After McDonald's there were NONE there. But we found one a few minutes later and took it back to the Airport Hilton.

6:15pm
Dinner was Tortelline, Steak (which barely compared favorably to a Sizzler), fries, Mushrooms and an Apple/Blackberry Crumble, all of which might have been better if we hadn't just had McDonalds about a half hour earlier.

We were back in our rooms by 8pm. I talked briefly to Beth. I was tired, but I just couldn't go to sleep until after midnight.

TUNE IN TOMMOROW (or possibly Wednesday) for the conclusion of our adventure. *Here's a preview: "We don't do wake up calls" "The Trouble with Rocks" "Frankfurt, Germany" "McDonalds in three countries" "Shakespeare's Kings"*


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SCOTLAND TRIP: September 5th, 2003

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2003

When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was staying in the posh Loch Torridon Country House Hotel and had gone to bed after a dinner of Sea Trout at 10:30pm. This is his story:

3am
Woke up. Just flat out couldn't sleep.

3:30am
Called Beth, Erin & Benny. It was 7:30pm (the previous day) their time, so I finally got a chance to talk to the kids, who had just finished their first day back at school. (Erin in 4th grade, Benny in 1st.) After that, I tried the TV and reading. Finally slept again, on and off.

7:30am
Woke up, very tired. Showered. This shower was okay, but still not great. The nozzle was difficult to adjust.

8am
Breakfast at the Hotel. Orange & Tomato Juice. Toast, Cornflakes, Oatmeal Porridge with Brown Sugar & Cream.

9:15am
After taking a few pictures around the gorgeous and gorgeously situated hotel -- and once again putting up with the car alarm -- we were back on the road. This was the first day we weren't simultaneously en route to our next hotel. We were staying a second night in Annat at the Loch Torridon.

We drove from Annat to (the southern) Shieldaig to take a loop from Tornapress to Applecross to Fearnmore to Kenmore and back to Shieldag. That was the plan anyway. But we wound up making a wrong turn. We were still on the loop, but we wound up going in the opposite direction from our original intent. It wound up working out well, if not better. We passed by Kenmore and Fearnmore, driving the high coastal cliffs of the peninsula overlooking the Inner Sound and the Isles of Rona and Raasay. We stopped to take some pictures, and an older couple in a mobile home (coming from the opposite direction, as we had originally planned) pulled over beside us. The man got out and took one of the few pictures we got of the two of us together. He was incredibly nice, with great stories about his distant relatives in America. But the thing that struck me the most was his voice. He had great timber, and an even greater accent. A real Scottish brogue, but perfectly understandable. Very rich. (He was, incidentally, from just outside Edinburgh.) The voice director in me wanted to get him into a recording booth immediately. He warned us that the road ahead was steep quite steep with a number of sharp turns. He said had he known, he'd have never had taken his mobile home there. It didn't have the engine to carry the weight and there were moments when the wind felt like it was going to carry him over the side. He also recommended that we stop in Applecross for fresh baked bread. It sounded really appealing, but the truth was we had just had breakfast. I would like to go back though and have lunch there sometime.

The views on route to and coming out of Applecross were just spectacular. And he hadn't been kidding about the steep winding and very windy roads of the Bealach-na-Ba which rises to 2,053 feet with many hairpin turns. Bealach-na-Ba means "Pass of the Cattle" in Gaelic, and it is an old drover's trail for taking cattle to market. It was a little intimidating even in our little round Beetle. But man... gorgeous. Generally, on the whole trip we had extremely cooperative weather. And today was no exception. We never really got rained on. But the day was a touch misty over the ocean, and from an altitude standpoint, we were pretty high up. It might have been nice to really have a clear day to see forever, but still and all, I have nothing to complain about. And there's something right about the mist and the wind, the sharp, grey day. We stopped a couple times for more pictures.

We completed our loop, again passing Tornapress without ever actually seeing Tornapress. Passed Shieldaig again, stopped for gas and then returned briefly to the hotel. I had another apple in my room. Then we drove northeast on the A896 along Glen Torridon, passing as usual the ubiquitous sheep that move with impugnity around the country. I also spotted a raptor of some sort, almost literally hovering in one place in the strong wind. My dad commented that considering how many sheep were all around, there was surprisingly little lamb on the menus. I don't like lamb, but I tried to come up with some explanation. My favorite was that all the sheep we were passing were pets.

But we also considered the possibility that lamb on the plate ONLY comes from literal lambs, i.e. baby sheep. Maybe these sheep were all too old at this point.

Anyway, we drove along the Glen to Kinlochewe (a town I could never figure out how to pronounce). There we took the A832 north. It wound around the coast of Wester Ross passing near Loch Maree, the more northerly Shieldaig and Loch Gairloch. We passed through Charlestown, Gairloch and Poolewe. Drove along Loch Ewe to Aultbea and Laide. Drove around Gruinard Bay and crossed over to Little Loch Broom, before turning south through the stunning Dundonnell Forest.

We took the A835 north, planning to stop at Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Measach, but we passed the pull off before we could react. And since we were coming back the same way later, we decided to press on.

We stopped at Ullapool on Loch Broom. We had lunch at the Calley Inn. Tomato Soup and Mussels (again). The food was good. It started to rain a bit, while we were inside. (It had rained some nights, both while we slept or while we dined, and we had driven few small showers here and there along our route, but we had literally never been rained on. My dad never used his umbrella the whole trip.) Walking back through Ullapool, I put on my hat due to the very light rain, but it ended soon enough.

I stopped at a local knitting store that didn't look too touristy and bought Beth a sweater. (I should say, it was really amazing of her not to balk or squalk about this trip. It was not a great time for me to be going. She's a teacher, and she had to spend the week prepping her classrom for this week's start of school. The kids, on the other hand, were off until Thursday. My mom pitched in. But it was still a lot for Beth to cover.) Anyway, I picked out a wool sweater in colors I knew Beth would like. There was no medium available, so I chose a large, knowing that Beth liked loose-fitting clothes over tight. The saleslady, however, really tried to talk me into the small, saying that she thought the large was too big. I was pretty confident I was right, but she really started to make me paranoid about my choice. I stuck to my guns, and the woman surrendered reluctantly, telling me I could come back and exchange the sweater if Beth didn't like it. I thought that would be a nice trick. Though a tad expensive.

We had had some vague thoughts of heading further north, perhaps to Achiltibuie or even Lochinver. But it was already getting late, and we didn't want to push our luck. So we headed "home".

We backtracked to the Corrieschalloch Gorge and the Measach falls. The midges were out in force. Though we had been warned about them, they hadn't been a problem before now. So although I had bug repellant, I had left it at the hotel -- along with our other rolls of film. We got one picture of the Gorge from the swaying suspension bridge that spanned it. But that was it for the day, as the roll was used up. (This hadn't been an issue before, as every other day we were driving from one hotel to another, so we always had ALL of our stuff with us in the car. But today we were returning to the same hotel, so we had brought almost nothing with us.) Anyway, as with everything, the Gorge and falls were truly beautiful. But the back of my neck was getting eaten alive, so we beat a hasty retreat back to the car.

We headed south now, staying on the A835 past the Loch Glascarnoch Dam, the Black Water River and the Strathgrave Forest. Somewhere around here we finished "The Zebra-Striped Hearse". We had both enjoyed it immensely. Ed Asner's last scene as Colonel Blackwell had really been great.

We headed west on the A832 past Lochluichart, Achnasheen and Glenn Docherty, where we ran into a bit of construction on the one-lane road that caused some extremely minor delays. We rejoined the A896 at Kinlochewe and drove back through Glen Torridon to Loch Torridon, Annat and our hotel. I had another Shortbread cookie in my room.

Dinner brought Cheese souffle appetizers, like the little cheese crumpets in "The Great Mouse Detective". Another little teacup of soup, this time Mulagawtany. I ordered Mushroom Soup and Roast Beef with potatos and broccoli. Desert was Apple Pie and berries.

Later in my room, I returned a couple of business calls and talked for awhile with Duane Capizzi (my friend and the writing producer/story editor of such shows as "Men In Black" and "Jackie Chan"). He has a new series at Warner Brothers and was offering me some freelance scripts. I said yes. I don't know whether the project is confidential or not, so I won't say anymore about it at this point.

I talked to Beth and went to bed around 11:30pm.

TUNE IN MONDAY for more adventure. *Here's a preview: "The River Ness" "StoneQuest" "Birnam Wood" "The Famous Grouse" "McDonalds"*


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SCOTLAND TRIP: September 4th, 2003

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2003

When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was staying in the homey Greshornish House Hotel and had been summoned to dinner by bagpipes. He's about to begin his day on the Isle of Skye. This is his story:

6:15am
Wake up and lounge in bed. Got 6 & 1/2 hours sleep which is good for me.

Showered. Sort of. There really was no shower in my room. Just a bathtub with a hose that you could hold over your head. Seriously, how hard is it to install a hook or something so that you can open a bottle of shampoo and keep the water on you at the same time.

This is one of the two things that demonstrates America's ultimate ascendancy over the U.K. THE SHOWER. The U.K. has just (largely) not mastered the concept or the essential nature of a decent shower. Baths? Bah!! America is superior because it showers. I may be a Britophile (as opposed to a mere Anglophile), but I am not blind! The showerhead. The combination valve. These are not difficult high-tech concepts. Get with the program!!!!! *end of first rant*

8:30am
Breakfast at the Hotel. Toast w/butter, strawberry jam & honey, Cornflakes, Orange Juice, Scrambled eggs on toast and that darn vaguely-undercooked English Bacon. (I could easily label their bacon a third proof of American superiority, but I think that's more a matter of taste.)

My dad and I took pictures by the cannon, overlooking the Loch. We talked briefly to Claire from Guernsey, who has a VW Beetle at home. We were trying to figure out why the car alarm kept going off. She confirmed that it was overly sensitive, but that seemed an inadequate explanation. Overly sensitive to what? How does this thing work? It continues to go off randomly. Plus the radio is haunted and the air conditioner sucks too. And yet, we really like the car.

We hit the road, touring Skye.

We head back down A850 to A87. Head north at Portree to begin our loop of the coast of Skye's Trotternish Peninsula. We stopped multiple times to soak in the scenery and take pictures.

The Old Man of Storr is 49m pinnacle adrift from its parent cliff.

Kilt Rock is a cliffside formation that looks like the pleats of a kilt. Mealt Falls is stunning.

At Kilt Rock, I bought a couple of souvenirs for the kids. Rocks actually, handpainted to look like quaint Scottish cottages. The guy hand-painted Erin & Benny's names over the doors of the cottages. He was so sure-handed, I found it very impressive. He told me that I could now say I had bought my kids a cottage on Skye. I've been using variations on that line ever since.

We continued around the Trotternish to the ruins of Duntulm Castle. There's not much there. A few walls, a window. A cellar of some sort that's been gated off so that no one dies down there. But I love this kind of thing. Of course, the stunning cliffside location reminds me of Wyvern (or Tintagel) though this site isn't big enough to be a model for Wyvern, which in any case is theoretically on the mainland. But I just love climbing around these places.

We made our way back down the Peninsula, taking the B8036 back to the A850 to make a loop of the Waternish Peninsula. We passed Greshornish again, but our first stop was Dunvegan Castle. In contrast to Duntulm, this is no ruin. It's still inhabited by the Chiefs of the Clan Macleod. It was the single most touristy place we visited until the last day of our trip. It was also the most disappointing. Although it's location is unsurprisingly (at this point) stunning, the castle itself is unimpressive. The gardens are nice enough, and there was one truly bizarre tree that one could easily expect to see on an alien planet. But touring this kind of place just wasn't the point of this particular place.

We did get to see the Fairy Flag. There are a number of legends connected to the flag. Some say that it was a gift to the 4th clan chief from his Fairy wife. Others that a nurse who was supposed to be looking after a long ago heir, left the boy alone to attend a party. When she returned, he was wrapped in the fairy cloak. Science tells us that the silk was made in Rhodes or somewhere around there. So it may be a prize from a crusade or something. All things are true though.

We headed around Waternish on the A863. Got back on the A87 at Sligachan.

2:30pm
Back in Broadford, we stopped for lunch. The "chips" were good with salt and vinegar. And I had this amazing Peach Ice Cream Sundae for dessert. Plus a coke and some still (but not tap) water. But the hamburger....

The WORST HAMBURGER ever. We saw someone else enjoying one from a distance and both of us ordered burgers. But I had forgotten that the U.K. makes lousy hamburgers. When I was living in Oxford in 1984, the only place where you could get a decent burger (until the first McDonalds opened there right before I returned to the States) was a mini-chain called Bretts. There was a Bretts by the Train station and one just on the edge of town near where we lived at 65 High Street. I think us Yanks kept that latter Bretts in business. Even in London in those days, there were only two places besides American fast food chains like Burger King and McD's where you could get a good burger. One was Wolfs or Wolfies. The other was the Hard Rock Cafe.

Now you need to understand, I love hamburgers. And I'm not picky. I love everything from big thick restaurant burgers to crappy fast food burgers and everything in between. But what we were served in Broadford was inedible. I literally couldn't finish it. My dad says it's because they press the meat instead of grinding it. Maybe he's right.

But unlike the bacon, this can't possibly be a matter of taste. I'm now convinced that America is the world's lone super-power because we shower and know how to make a decent burger. *end of final rant*

Back on the road, we crossed over the bridge to the Mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh. We drove north-east up the coast of Loch Carron. And we got lost in Plockton. We missed a sign and found ourselves driving up a residential road that dead-ended. (Thank God. If it had been open-ended, we might never have figured out we were headed the wrong way.) We doubled-back and thought we got on the right road, only to find that this one literally dead-ended in a parking lot. We double-backed again, and finally admitted defeat, stopping at the train station. A very nice couple eating in the cafeteria set us back on course.

We took the A890 to the A896 past Lochcarron and Tornapress (though I never actually saw Tornapress). Another little bit of confusion was caused by the fact that there are two small villages named Shieldaig (one off Loch Torridon and one off Loch Gairloch). But we managed to find our way to Annat and our second-to-last hotel. This was the extremely POSH Loch Torridon Country House Hotel. If our first hotel (Castle Inverlochy) was classy, this one was Posh. Less elegant, friendlier, but WOW!

Again, my room and bathroom was huge. Their was a lovely Waterhouse print of Echo and Narcissus hanging over the bathtub. (You can see it at http://www.artmagick.com/paintings/painting1399.aspx) Echo just seems so lovely and forlorn. I really liked it.

And there was a separate shower, thank god. The grounds, which included a pasture for castle, looked over the Loch with the Moutains of Wester Ross rising abruptly above it. They had fresh apples and shortbread in the room, so I partook of both.

7pm
Dinner was formal, but no coat and tie required. I had sparkling water and a free appetizer: a little teacup of Pea Soup. I also had Potato Leak Vichyssoise. Then I took a chance and ordered the Sea Trout. As I've mentioned, I like trout, but I don't like other (non-shell) fish. I didn't know whether SEA trout would taste more like trout or more like fish. But I loved it. Trout rules. Sea or river or whatever. It came with potatos and green beans. Dessert was Apple Cider Sorbet w/a few berries.

10pm
Talked to Beth.

10:30pm
Went to bed. Just nothing on television, you see.

TUNE IN TOMORROW for more adventure. *Here's a preview: "Oatmeal Porridge" "Raining in Ullapool" "Midges in the Gorge" "Bealach-na-ba" "I want to get that guy in a recording studio."*


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SCOTLAND TRIP: September 3rd, 2003

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2003

When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was staying in the stunning Inverlochy Castle and forced to wear a coat and tie to dinner. Life is hard. He's about to begin his first full day in Scotland. This is his story:

I woke up to geese honking. Dozed a bit longer.

6:30am
Wake up call came in. I went to take a shower and like my father before me found that the darn thing was too complicated. Couldn't for the life of me strike a balance between frigid and scalding water.

8am
Room service brought me the breakfast I had ordered the night before. Scrambled eggs on toast. That English Bacon which really is more like ham and way undercooked for my tastes, despite the fact that I had asked for it "crisp". Wheat toast, a chocolate-chip croissant and a regular croissant. Corn flakes.

We hit the road... w/ a couple of problems.

1. While walking to the car, the sole of one of my great old hiking boots split away from the boot itself. I'm now clomping along, with every step. This is actually very upsetting to me. I've had these boots for twenty-five years and they fit like a glove. I've had them resouled once before. But the opportunity to have them fixed doesn't look like it's going to present itself here.

2. As we're driving away in the Bug, its car alarm goes off. Now, let's just consider the wisdom of putting a car alarm in a rental. Now let's consider the wisdom of not having any kind of owner's manual in a rental with a car alarm that seems to go off for no reason whatsoever. This becomes a daily problem for us. Usually in the mornings, but frankly anytime we turn off the engine, we run the risk of the car alarm going off again when we restart the car. And not just once, but usually two or three times. It takes us multiple trial and errors just to figure out how to turn the damn thing off. But we can never quite figure out why sometimes it goes off and sometimes it doesn't.

Our first stop is Neptune's Staircase. A series of locks on the Caledonian Canal. We watch a large boat traverse a couple of the locks. It's really kind of impressive. Cool, slow and impressive.

We leave Torlundy and drive back through Fort William on the A82, unaware that we're also driving through our best chance to fix or replace my boots. We head back along Loch Linnhe and catch a small ferry at Corran across the Loch.

From there it's the A861 past Strontian (the town that gave its name to the element Strontium). The roads now begin to take on a single lane character. That means that when a car's coming in the other direction, one of you needs to pull over. There are plenty of passing places, however, so it's never really a problem for us. But I do think that had we been travelliing in July or August, when there were more tourists about, it might have been a different story.

At Salen, we detour down the B8007 into the Ardnamurchan Penninsula. Our hope is to take this to the Point of Ardnamurchan, the westernmost point of mainland Scotland so that we can see the Egyptian lighthouse there. But we have a time constraint. We need to catch a 2:40pm ferry at Mallaig, and we want to get to Mallaig a bit early, so that we can see about repairing or replacing my boots. So we stop at Ardslignish, look around and take some pictures of the Inner Hebrides in the distance where the Loch turns into the Ocean. Then we turn around without making it to the lighthouse.

From Salen, we head north to Mallaig. We stop at a Tourist Info Center to get boot advise. They send us to the only store they can think of that might have boots. At this store, they literally only have one pair of boots, which are a size too small for me. We ask where else we might go, and the guy suggests Fort William. That's the exact wrong direction for us at this point, so I'm still clomping around. D'oh!

We grab some lunch. I have an amazing plate of Grilled Split jumbo prawns with Goat Cheese. And a coke. One of the best meals of the trip.

Then we board the Ferry to the Isle of Skye. While we're up on the deck, we hear a car alarm go off, and afraid that it's our car, we go to investigate. It's not our car, but it's a good thing we checked. My dad left the parking break off. Woops.

The Ferry ride to Skye takes about a half hour, and the view crossing the Sound is wonderful. (I'm gonna start to sound very redundant about the views. But it truly was gorgeous about 99.9% of the time.)

The ferry lands at Armadale. We try another store for boots there. It's another no go, but the lady recommends a store called Walker & Welles in Broadford, which is at least in a direction we're heading.

We head south a half-mile to stop in at Ardvasar, which is the traditional home of the Macintyre clan, the clan of my good friend Tuppence Macintyre. We stop by the hotel that I believe the Macintyre's used to run (for centuries). Then we head north again on the A851.

Tuppence had recommended another detour, an inland loop toward the northwest coast of the Sleat Penninsula in order to see Dunsgaith Castle. So we headed toward Tarskavaig. Took a right turn there and headed toward Tokavaig. The castle was supposed to be between Tokavaig and Ord. But we hit Ord without spotting either the castle or even a sign for the castle. We thought about turning around, but we had no real hope that we'd find it the second time, so we just kept going and reconnected back up to the 851.

I know it sounds like the day was full of abortive failures. No lighthouse. No castle. No boots. But we didn't really feel that way. We saw so much beautiful scenery. And we just were enjoying the trip.

By this time, we had finished Tup's mix tape. So I popped in the beginning of the KCRW unabridged production of Ross Macdonald's "Zebra-Striped Hearse". This is a Lew Archer novel, directed and starring Harris Yulin, who was great. It also featured Ed Asner as Colonel Blackwell. Plus Jennifer Tilly, Tyne Daly, Kathryn Lloyd, Jodi Thelen, Joey Pants, etc. I had read the book some time ago, and although I remembered the gist of it, it was great to hear. And my dad really enjoyed it too. It's a six cassette tape production, so it would last us nearly the entire trip.

At Broadford we found Walker & Welles. As promised, they had plenty of boots. I found a pair that fit very nicely right off the bat. (And they had many other options.) So I got 'em. Then I... I... I toss my great old boots in a dumpster that stinks of fish. They truly deserved better. I still feel guilty about it. I hope someone found them and salvaged them before they got too smelly.

Back on the road (the A87 now) we drove through Sligachan and headed north to Portree. Now this trip was almost entirely planned by my father's assistant Anita Kelty Nitta (with a few recommendations from Tuppence and Carol Wagner). Anita provided us with directions, and a map that highlit our route and had stickers for all the hotels. But the sticker for our next hotel was in the wrong place. Horrors! We'd have to figure this out for ourselves for once. Fortunately, finding the hotel wasn't a problem. We took the A850 past Skeabost, Flashader, Edinbane and Blackhill and found the Greshornish House Hotel off Loch Greshornish. Dad was given "The Clydesdale Room". I got "The Palomino Room". It's not quite Castle Inverlochy, but it is a big room with a lovely view of the Loch. The people are very nice, as is the short bread cookie.

After checking in, Dad & I went for a short walk. The Midges make their first appearance, but a wind is blowing and they don't bother us much.

We went back to our rooms briefly. I talked to Beth and left a message for the kids.

7:30pm
We head down to the lounge, but cigarette smokers drive us back upstairs until Campbell, the son of the owner, begins playing his bagpipes to summon us to dinner. It's fun. He's standing out by the old cannon in full regalia, playing. Campbell's a very nice, self-deprecating guy.

Dinner is Mussels, Venison, Potatos, Broccoli, Rolls, Chocolate Mousse.

After dinner, we meet some of our fellow guests (the non-smokers) in the Lounge. An older couple from Lincolnshire and a family from Guernsey.

I stayed up that night until 11:45pm watching "Sex and the City". Then went to sleep.

TUNE IN TOMORROW for more adventure. *Here's a preview: "The Old Man of Storr" "Duntulm Castle" "Two reasons why America is ascendant" "The Fairy Flag" "Posh"*


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SCOTLAND TRIP: September 2nd, 2003

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2003

When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was suffering through an airline trip from LAX to Heathrow Airport in Business Class. He had just changed his watch to match London Time. This is his story:

2am
I read the L.A. Times over a glass of Tomato Juice.

Dinner was soon served. Sourdough rolls & butter, Prociutto & Salmon appetizer (though I didn't eat the Salmon). Prociutto & Shrimp maincourse. There was also a Salad, but the dressing was Ginger, which I'm allergic to, so I skipped that too. Skipped the Rice and Broccoli also. Ate the tomatos. Dessert was Apple Pie with a glass of milk.

Sitting next to me, was a woman flying with her husband. Her daughter and grandson were also on the flight in the first row of coach. They were all on their way to explore London, Oxford, etc. The woman and her husband were both retired professors from UCSD. (He was physics; she was bio-physics.) They were all quite nice. For awhile, Alex, the grandson switched seats with her. He was pretty cool. And I'm not just saying that because both he and his mom were fans (or at least appreciators) of Gargoyles. Though, heck that didn't hurt. Seemed like another good omen. Alex was a bigtime STAR WARS fan, who was writing his own comic book.

Watched three movies on the flight.

IDENTITY - I had seen commercials for this and had predicted the big twist from the commercials. This movie had a great cast led by one of my favorite actors, John Cusack. Rebecca DeMornay was in it too. At first I asked myself if that was her, then I decided it wasn't. Then I found out it was. Weird.

THE ITALIAN JOB - I'd heard good things about this, and I guess it was okay, but I wasn't particularly impressed. Still, the Mini-Coopers were fun. And since the plan for our trip was for my dad and I to rent a Mini-Cooper in Edinburgh and tool around Scotland in it, it seemed to be another good omen that this was on. Best laid plans, as you'll soon see...

ROUTE 60 - A quirky little film that alternated between being annoying and fun. Still, I love allegory and you don't see much of it these days. So I'll thumbs up it.

I tried to sleep a few times, but basically couldn't.

I started reading "SANCTUARY" by William Faulkner. A brutal little pot-boiler that he wrote for the money, then initially couldn't get published because it was too, well, everything. Of course, being Faulkner, even his pot-boilers are high literature. A tough read.

Drank a lot of water.

Eventually, they served breakfast: Grapes, three types of melon (honeydew, cantalope, water), kiwi, croissants w/butter, Peach yoplait, Orange Juice.

We landed at Heathrow in London and had a considerable trip (both by bus and on foot) to change terminals for our connecting flight to Edinburgh.

While waiting, I had an Apple Juice that had the unique taste of the apple juice in the U.K. It's different than in the U.S. It reminded me immediately and viscerally of my semester in Oxford.

Boarded our flight to Scotland. Business class again, bulkhead seat. Don't like the bulkhead, but at least it was Biz.

Fortunately, I was able to sleep. Slept through most of the flight, which was only an hour. So I was still pretty tired.

We arrived in Edinburgh and went to the rental car desk to pick up our Mini-Cooper, which my father had special ordered in advance. It wasn't there. In fact, they had no car for us. Major screw up. My dad was furious, and I just felt bad for him.

But the good news was they had a Grey Volkswagon Beetle available for us. And since it wasn't a special order it cost CONSIDERABLY less. It wound up being a terrific car for us (with a few minor exceptions I'll get to later). So all was for the best. And when I told my kids about it, they got very excited. "Grey punch-buggy, no punch backs," they yelled!

We started our drive. My dad behind the wheel. Me navigating.

We passed through Stirling, the only other Scottish town (besides Edinburgh) that I had ever been to before. But we didn't stop. It was already late afternoon, and we had a ways to drive before we got to our hotel.

We entered the Trossachs area (home to Rob Roy), passing numerous Lochs.

We passed through Glen Coe. My dad is from Glenco, Illinois, and we tried to imagine how Scottish trappers might have seen Lake Michigan and felt like it was home.

We crossed Loch Leven and then drove up the coast of Loch Linnhe, passing through Fort William. The scenery was just gorgeous. And that's exactly why we came. This wasn't going to be a museum trip. With very few exceptions, we weren't here to see anything man-made. My dad's plan for the trip was to see Scotland's natural beauty. Since he was footing the bill, I wasn't complaining. But in truth, I wasn't complaining, cuz it was just terrific. Driving past Linnhe, God parted the clouds and put a spotlight of late afternoon sun on the water. I watched it intensely, half-expecting to see a Selkie or something emerge. No luck. But it was still very gorgeous.

My good friend (and Gargoyles researcher) Tuppence Macintyre had provided us with some travel tips and a mix-tape of Scottish music (modern and otherwise) and even a Robin Williams comedy routine. We played the tape on the way to our hotel. It was great. Only one problem. I couldn't figure out how to get the thing to eject. It literally took me two days to manage it. The stereo was very strange. Every once in a while, for no apparent reason, it would switch off the tape and start playing the radio instead. Other times, when we had it switched off, it would just turn itself on. We'd turn it off again, and it would turn on again. I have no explanation, beyond gremlins. The air-conditioner also sucked. The worst was... well, I'll hold off on that... but those three things were the only problems with the bug. Otherwise, we liked it. In fact, my dad liked it so much, he's considering getting one.

We passed many, many animals. You don't see a lot of sheep alongside the 405 or the 101, so it was kinda novel to us. The sheep in Scotland are nearly ubiquitous. We also saw cows and other "robust cattle", which look almost like Oxen or Yaks or something. We saw rams, swans, horses, geese, etc. No shetland ponies though.

As we got closer to our hotel, my dad, who's only been to Scotland once before, began to say how it was starting to look familiar. Then when we arrived at our hotel, he realized that he had been here before to this hotel. (Don't ask me how he didn't realize it before that moment. It's not surprising if you know him, but it's still goofy.) We were staying at Inverlochy Castle. An actual castle that had been remodeled into a hotel years before. It was, to say the least, an extremely classy joint. (One of the advantages of traveling with my dad is that he tends to go first class all the way.) Dad remembered it as the place where he had a fight with his shower. Being unable to work it, he had started yelling at it. (Now you guys can see where I inherited my limited technical abilities. My dad doesn't even have e-mail.)

My room was amazing. HUGE. With a bathroom bigger than most of the hotel rooms I've ever stayed in. I changed for dinner, as this place required a coat and tie in the dining room. I also left a quick voice mail for Beth to let her know we had arrived.

For Dinner I had sparkling water, mustard seed rolls w/butter, a Lobster cocktail, terrific Potato/Leek soup and Sea Breem with Mussels, shrimp and spinach. Now, the only non-shellfish I really like is trout. But I also don't like lamb which was the other option, so I tried the Sea Breem. Nope. But the mussels, shrimp and spinach were great. Dessert was an Apple tart served with apple puree and fresh pressed apple jus.

Back in the room, I called the kids and talked to them and my Mom, who was baby-sitting. I also called Beth again and talked to her. There was a toffee on my pillow. So, what the heck, I ate that too.

Finally, I went to bed...

TUNE IN TOMORROW for more adventure. *Here's a preview: "English Bacon..." "Neptune's Staircase..." "They deserved better..." "The Zebra-Striped Hearse..." "Campbell on bagpipes..."


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SCOTLAND TRIP: September 1st, 2003

Hey gang,

I'm back from Scotland. As some of you might know, my father (who without exageration has nearly a half-million frequent flyer miles from years and years of business travel) was going to Germany on business and decided to take advantage of the free trip to spend a week in Scotland. I offered to go with him (cuz I'm SO generous), and as my 40th birthday is coming up, he agreed to use some of his miles to take me along.

Thought you might like to hear about my trip. So I'll put together a little Scotland journal. Cover a day per day, that sort of thing. Mostly, I'll talk about what I ate.

And if you're not interested. Well. Then don't read it.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2003
Wasn't going to work, so I got up late (10am). Very slowly showered and shaved. Wasn't even bringing a razor on the trip, so this would be my last shave until today. (For those who haven't seen me since the con, I've shaved off the beard.)

The only problem was that I shaved with a "dead" razor and really cut up my face.

12pm - Walked into Larchmont Village to get a haircut. As an experiment -- and since I wouldn't be seeing anyone but my dad for a week, I got a complete buzzcut. #1 Plastic clippered the whole thing. I think I looked damaged. But Beth and the barber liked it. Though my kids did not. It's still VERY short and takes some definite getting used to.

I went home and packed my duffle bag. And the zipper ripped. Not a good omen. So I repacked in Beth's duffle. Packed my briefcase. Checked the internet briefly.

3pm - The car arrived. I said goodbye to my wife and kids and left.

3:30pm - Arrived at the airport. Checked in. Grabbed some food at McDonalds. Quarter-pounder with cheese, fries, Coke, bake apple pie. Started eating at the gate.

My dad met me there. He saw my haircut and liked it. I was able to upgrade to Business Class at the gate, which was a GOOD omen. Then he and I sat and talked.

5:30pm - We boarded. He was in First Class (payed by the German company he works for). I was in the last row of Biz. The seats are almost too high tech to figure out, but man biz-class rules. Had a glass of water and we took off.

Immediately, I reset my watch to Scottish time. Which means that's it for Monday.

Read about Tuesday tomorrow... (Here's a preview: "sourdough..." "Route 60..." "No punch backs..." "Inverlochy Castle...")



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