Many thanks to Prestige Promotions for a spectacular Rally!
So we arrived at Gleneagles; a giant pile of granite in the middle of a carefully sculptured lawn, infested by nutters with buggies and sticks.
“Why do they keep hitting the ground?” asked Yassi.
“Scottish people hate everything, even the earth itself,” I replied.
We drove up the long winding road through 27 roundabouts and 15 pointless pedestrian crossings.
There were “Highland Fling” signs telling us where to park and traffic cones for us to hurl into the bushes.
We saw some nice cars on the way in. There was a Ferrari and an Aston and a BMW and a Range Ro…
“Wait a minute, what’s that? Who let that into the rally?”
“Maybe it’s a support vehicle?” said Yassi.
“Or maybe the gardener just got lost…” I replied.
Yassi and I felt posh so instead of following the cones and parking immediately, we drove up under the stone portico to unload our bags with great dignity at the front entrance.
I said to Yassi: “That doorman must have a serious gas problem.”
“It looks like he’s blown the crotch out of his tartan shorts.”
She looked at me like I was an alien bug. “That’s a kilt, you idiot.”
The crotchless doorman collected our luggage and stepped over a black Lamborghini that was parked on the doorstep.
(Who the hell is Shiiraz and why does he have to park his Lamborghini millimetres from the door?)
We learned the answer to this question later, but in the meantime, we strolled inside to find Clive and his crew.
“Hello!” said Clive. “How nice to meet you!”
I could almost see the cogs ticking over in his mind.
(“Who are these people? I know these people! I’ve seen them before. I remember that girl with the lovely figure and that guy who looks like a fuzzy shrek…”)
Sharon whispered in his ear.
“Ahhhh Yasmin and Aaron!” Clive cried, suddenly very pleased with himself, forgetting Sharon’s contribution completely. “How nice to see you again!”
“Yeah, yeah,” I grumbled. “Where’s the champagne?”
I was just reaching for a glass when a maniacal waiter from the hotel swooped in and stuck a menu in my face, shouting, “You need to choose your wine for dinner now! Right now! Because if you try to order it later the earth will shift on its axis and we’ll all die freezing in Satan’s icy arsehole. So choose, fat boy, choose!”
“Alright, alright!” I cried. “Give us the Malbec, and take a Valium you freak!”
He slinked away, scratching notes on his pad, unperturbed.
Yassi said: “We should get to our room, unpack, and then go out for a walk before the weather gets worse.”
I looked outside, “Come onnn. The sky is totally blue, we’ve got plenty of time!”
Two minutes later we’d checked in, unpacked, and found the window…just in time to watch every cloud on earth give birth.
“What was that you said about blue sky?” said Yassi.
“Should we build an ark, do you think? Like Noah?”
But there were still golfers outside, whacking balls into the abyss. The hardy ones didn’t even have umbrellas; they just gritted their teeth and hacked away like lumberjacks on steroids.
“Scotland,” said Yassi. Enough said.
Dinner at Gleneagles was in a big brooding room where we could actually feel the vast granite weight of the castle looming above us. Shadows oozed and the ghosts of a million disgruntled golfers moaned in the wind.
Clive cheered us up with his friendly welcome speech. One of his jokes was even funny!
(“There’s a first time for everything,” said Yassi.)
Everybody took turns introducing themselves, even the staff, which was a first. Amy spoke in the rich, elegant tones of a southern belle. Alma swooped around the room as if it was the stage in a theatre. David Barlow seemed ready to speak for hours until someone finally booted him in the leg. His mate Andy said something, but no one understood him.
(“Is he a Geordie? Or a foreigner?” asked Yassi. “Is there a difference?” I mused.)
Shiraz arrived late with a raven-haired Russian spy and quickly sat down, trying to avoid attention. “I am Shiraz,” he said, very helpfully.
“Yeah, we tripped over your car,” said Yassi.
The dinner was delicious, a surf and turf combo served in stages. Good, solid Scottish food with lots of sauce and a big sugary dessert. Clive warned us to leave space for “the best breakfast” in Scotland, but we weren’t entirely sure how.
At some point during the dinner Tony Andrews crept under the table and stole a shoe from the Russian spy.
“I do love a good champagne served in a size 38 Jimmy Choo,” he said.
“Don’t touch ze heel,” warned Andrei, the Russian spy. “It contains poison dart.”
Two friends of Shiraz arrived characteristically late. One with a remarkable Bollywood bouffant and the other with an unbelievable Essex accent.
“Nice of you to dress up,” said Clive.
“Hey, this is my very best track suit!” said Bollywood.
After consuming about a billion calories, Yassi and I sneaked out early to begin building our appetite for breakfast.
“Be quick Yassi, I don’t like the way Tony’s looking at your shoe!”
Dawn slipped past with barely a twinkle and the sky became a marginally lighter shade of grey. Yassi and I visited the gym, dusted the cobwebs off a million pounds worth of unused exercise machines, and then burned a few calories.
(“That should just about take care of the starter from last night,” said Yassi.)
The guy at the gym reception was shocked when we arrived. “Scottish people don’t use gyms,” he said. “Our only form of exercise is digestion.”
The breakfast was amazing. All around us, dour Brits who’d never ventured far beyond porridge suddenly decided that they needed pancakes and sausages and fruit and syrup and haggis… Yassi and I methodically stuffed ourselves, then rolled out through reception, checked out, bounced our way over Shiraz’s car, and got ready to start the rally.
Bags were hastily crammed into inadequate boots. Cars were lined up. Engines were revved. Some guy in a kilt tortured a tartan sack. Then Sharon waved a flag and we were off!
Well, most of us were off. Except for Shiraz and Bollywood, who came down for breakfast an hour after the rest of the pack had departed.
The first part of the drive on day one was a series of 60mph carriageways unhelpfully equipped with average speed check cameras. (Yawn!)
Then some idiot in a black Ferrari blew a tyre on the A9 and caused traffic chaos for about an hour before finally dragging his overpriced Italian paperweight off the road (gulp). The wounded beast was eventually carried to Inverness and equipped with a brand new tyre, the only one in northern Scotland, apparently.
“I’m pretty sure it’s only a cheap Chinese knock-off,” I said to Yassi.
“Well apart from the fact that it only cost 80 pounds, the words ‘good tire’ are written on the sidewall.”
The road north of Inverness improved dramatically. There were long loopy corners draped over gentle hills dappled with heather. There were narrow little lanes wiggling through forests and tiny villages. And best of all were the rollercoaster roads that plunged and soared beside the sea. It was glorious driving, simply glorious.
We arrived at Ackergill Tower just in time for dinner, having made up time by travelling at roughly twice the speed of sound. Our little Chinese tyre squeaked “not funny!” when we finally stopped.
“It’s actually steaming,” said Yassi, giving the dodgy tyre a doubtful glance. “And it smells like burning rice.”
The rest of the rally crowd was exceedingly kind when we arrived, although their enthusiasm dimmed when we stole most of the hors d’oeuvre.
(“But we only had a speck of shortbread for lunch!” cried Yassi.)
Ackergill Tower itself was a stack of weathered stones piled beside the beach. It was the sort of haunted manse were maidens gazed sombrely at the sea before hurling themselves from the ramparts, the sort of gloomy windswept shore where bagpipes were invented under a leaden sky so that Scottish souls could spill their mournful music into the mist.
Dinner was a tightly packed affair in a wood-panelled medieval parlour. We sat with Jason and Marisa and Andrei and Bollywood (who finally introduced himself.)
“My name is Malik, but you can call me Ishrat…or Mal, or Ish. But not Rat!”
Andrei turned to me during the meal and said: “Give me your butter,” in her deadly Transylvanian accent. Nearby Scots would have been proud as she carefully buttered her fish and chips. “Butter is very important in my country,” she explained. “Also pig fat and beetroot.”
“Good to know,” I said.
Jason and Marisa had done some whisky tasting at Glenmorangie, then gone straight into welcome drinks at the hotel, and then moved on to wine at dinner. Jason’s hair got blonder as the alcohol pervaded his cells and we knew that Marisa was slightly toasted when she suddenly stopped in the middle of a sentence, spent five whole minutes applying new lipstick, and then continued her monologue as if no time had passed.
After dinner there was a bonfire and a guy telling ghost stories. Jo Birkett channelled Nicole Scherzinger at the bonfire as she wiggled her butt towards the flames and toasted marshmallows backwards.
(“That’s how they told us to do it!” she claimed.)
But we knew the truth. We could hear her singing “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me…” under her breath.
A few hardy souls braved the ramparts and took photos before hypothermia set in. Then everyone retired to bed and tried to ignore the ghosts.
Dave Birkett wasn’t happy at breakfast. “I just want to go home,” he moaned. “I don’t like all this fancy food, me. I just want fresh eggs bought from an honesty box on the side of the road in Penrithshire. They only cost a pound and most days they’re still warm from the chicken!”
Andrei came down to breakfast and dumped her handbag on a random seat, totally oblivious to the fact that it was already occupied. “I am not morning person,” she noted.
Bob or Roger (are they actually two separate people, or just facets of a single entity?) had played a joke with fake penalty tickets, which brought a welcome smile to the drivers. Being near Bob / Roger is like living next to a carnival. Waves of laughter constantly wash past carrying an occasional whiff of spilt cider and burnt peanuts.
Majestic wine merchants across Scotland experienced a sudden spike in sales as Tony’s staff car passed through. Never has so much rosé wine been consumed by so few. Derek’s blood alcohol content rarely dipped below 0.1 throughout the entire rally. His breath actually bleached the back of the driver’s seat in Tony’s car.
The roads on day two began to get rugged, more akin to paved tractor paths than actual streets built for cars. The bottom of our poor Ferrari kissed far too many bumps on day two. We did our best to avoid the worst parts but we couldn’t actually see anything through the wall of water that surrounded us.
“I’m sure there are beautiful views out there beyond the murk,” said Yassi.
“Yeah, but the only way we’re going to see them is if we buy a postcard.”
The rain actually did stop for a moment when we paused for lunch at the Smoo Cave Hotel in Durness. One of the locals ran outside and shook his fist at the sky.
“What be this devil fire??” he cried.
“We call it ‘the sun’,” I said.
“Ach, it’s a turrible thing!” he moaned. “It burns off all the clood!”
“Most people would think that’s a good thing.”
“Ach, stupid foreigner…”
There was no shortage of places to stop for refreshment. Clive’s guide pointed out recommended rest points spaced roughly at 45-minute intervals.
“Does he actually stop that often?” wondered Yassi.
“Only if his emergency Jaffa cake supply runs low.”
At one of the scenic viewpoints we were overwhelmed by the spectacular vista and the abundance of pristine nature…until a certain wallpapered Ferrari skidded to a halt beside us. Ishrat’s bouncing Bollywood bouffant bounded out of the car and shouted cinematic directions at Matt the groupie while a tidal wave of dance music and smoke gushed out of his open door, scaring away every bambi within ten miles.
(“Does he actually have a disco ball in there? And a DJ?” mused Yassi.)
Photo session complete, Ishrat and Matt tumbled back indoors and blasted off again like a scud missile.
The last part of the route passed through some tiny, remote hamlets that didn’t even seem to have power or mobile phone service. Yassi and I tried to imagine how nightly conversations might progress in such disconnected places:
“What should we do tonight, loov?”
“I doooon’t knoooow.”
“Maybe we could visit the neighbooors?”
“Nah, we spoke to them last year.”
“Hmm. What aboot a trip to the poob?”
“Nah, it’s fifty miles away doon a dirt track.”
“Maybe we should get one of them new-fangled TV things?”
“Nah, there’s too many English people on them devil boxes.”
“Aye. Let’s just sit and stare at the wall then, loov.”
Clive warned us that the third hotel looked like an old people’s home and he wasn’t wrong. It felt like the sort of place where staff members wear crepe-soled shoes and creep around in starched white coats.
Christine gave me a very evil glare when I turned up at the welcome drink session wearing shorts. The laser beams blazing from her eyes actually seared the top of my socks.
“Am I violating some arcane rule of British etiquette?” I wondered.
“I hope she doesn’t have a gun,” said Yassi.
“But this is my national dress!” I complained. “Shorts are like an Australian kilt!”
Dinner was fine. It looked like the sort of stuff that mums buy from Iceland but it tasted much nicer.
(“No,” said Marisa. “The only shopping chain in Scotland is Lidl. I swear, every town we saw had a Lidl and a pub and nothing else.”)
Tony Andrews started chatting up the waitress:
“What size shoe do you wear, love? I’m feeling like chardonnay tonight, served in a size 36 leather pump.”
“Quick,” hissed Yassi. “Run!”
Entertainment for the evening was provided by Benn, the hotel dog. Yassi and Marisa had a great time playing ‘fetch’ until Jason came outside and attempted to hurl Benn’s stick into outer space. The poor dog just stared into the distance at the rapidly disappearing speck that used to be his favourite toy, then sniffed the ground, wondering why it had all gone wrong. He would have made a mean cricket bowler, that Jason, if only he could have brought his run-up down below 500 metres.
Can’t remember breakfast on day three. Can remember stepping over Shiraz’ Lamborghini again on the way out the door.
(“He needs to be able to make a quick getaway, in case MI-5 comes for Andrei,” said Yassi.)
Nobody ever actually saw Shiraz driving on the road. It was as if his car dematerialised in the car park and then re-materialised at our destination, like the TARDIS from Doctor Who.
Amy managed to smuggle Duncan out in David Barlow’s body-sized suitcase. Benn ran and hid when he caught a glimpse of Jason. Tony found “one left shoe” on his bill and paid the charge without dispute. Bob / Roger told everybody about their “secret” lunch destination and then drove off to find a Majestic. Derek phoned home and booked himself in for a liver transplant.
Driving on day three was more of the same with slightly worse weather. Some guy called “Kyle” must have been pretty famous, given the number of wet valleys named after him. And there was actually a placed called “Tongue”, which was a bit surreal.
At one point we stopped in the middle of a low-lying causeway and admired the incredible view. We felt small and temporary, perched there on a narrow strip of concrete in the middle of a vast glassy loch, hemmed in by sheer rock walls. We were ants, cowering on a crumb in the middle of a pool made by giants.
David Barlow seemed to be determined to overtake every rally driver at least once. He lurked on side roads waiting for “Highland Fling” cars to wander past his lair. Then he pounced! Blazing past his hapless victims in a twin-turbo fuelled cloud of tyre smoke, grinning like a loon as he carved another notch into his dashboard.
Yassi had learned something interesting from Clive last night:
“Apparently Andrei can’t be photographed,” she said.
“I don’t know,” said Yassi. “But Clive warned me not to try.”
“Well she is from Transylvania. Maybe it’s a vampire thing?”
Yassi thought for a moment. “That might explain why Shiraz looks so drained.”
Apparently the local Scots got upset by all of the supercars roaring through their irrelevant little hamlets. Someone obviously called the cops and made a complaint:
“What seems to be the source of the disturbance, sir?”
“I doooon’t knoooow. I think it was a UFOoooo.”
Poor Colin paid the price for all of our sins. He’d led a calm, dignified, law-abiding life for many, many years until a pack of rally-driving loons finally corrupted his saintly soul. For the first time ever he’d crept up above the legal speed limit, buttocks firmly clenched, eyes locked onto the road ahead, feeling awful the whole time. And then tragedy! The Lord reached out and smote him with a stiff fine and three-points off his license. He hunched in the back of the squad car like a chastened hood, his halo tarnished, cursing us all under his breath. (At least he would have cursed us, if he wasn’t so damn polite.)
Bob / Roger’s lunch place turned out to be a hidden gem. The smoked seafood platter was delicious! At least half of the rally drivers turned up and invaded the inn. You’d think that the owners would have been overjoyed by the sudden spike in revenue, but they weren’t.
“The kitchen closes at 2:15, not a minute later,” said the waitress.
“Yes but surely you don’t get many days like this, with so many rich, hungry customers? Wouldn’t it make sense to take advantage of the situation and keep your kitchen open just a little longer? Just this once?”
The waitress scowled so hard I thought her face was about to implode, “Dooon’t think that you can pollute us with your capitalist English sins!” She wagged the finger of rebuke. “This is Scotland!”
David Birkett’s resolve was sorely tested when he got a puncture and spoke to the recovery agent:
“And where would you like us to take your car after collection?” asked the agent.
“I just want to go home,” said Dave, “to me dogs in Penrith.”
Jo whacked him, “We’re going to Skye! Now tell her the truth.”
“Okay,” he sighed, “take us to Skye.”
The hotel in Skye was a much prettier place than the previous institution. It perched on the side of a long grey loch, wrapped in trees and wood smoke.
Shiraz had parked his car on the doorstep (again!) even though he was staying in a totally different lodge.
(“Maybe he was desperate for the loo,” said Yassi)
We tried to take a stroll around the loch but we immediately got stuck in the mud. We turned around and went the other direction, then got stuck again.
“It’s really not a welcoming place, is it? Scotland?”
We had a lovely dinner with Bob and Christine and Duncan and Amy. I wore long trousers to avoid Christine’s ire. She was much nicer to me when my knees were hidden. Although she herself was wearing red shoes, which meant that certain key items of her clothing were almost certainly absent.
“How about that?” I said to Yassi. “Bare knees are bad but bare bottoms are okay? How does that make sense?”
Amy told us all how to make a lovely sauce from leftover wine.
Duncan said: “Leftover wine? What’s that???”
Bob told us all that the secret to a happy marriage is “a waterbed in every house.”
Amy and I found common ground when the cheese menu arrived. In America and Australia there are only two types of cheese: There is whipped cheddar in a spray can and there is solid cheddar in a breeze block. Anything else is just silly.
If only we had known how lucky we were to get any cheese at all!
Breakfast was interesting. They made us choose from menus but then delivered totally random dishes that no one had ordered. It felt like a raffle. Andrei had already stolen all of the butter, so we had to spread our marmalade on dry toast.
“Have you seen my number plate? Isn’t it the best number plate on earth? Everywhere we go, people tell me how great it is. The whole village came out to admire it yesterday. 11,000 people crowded all around us. I felt like Bon Jovi. It was actually a white Ferrari when I bought it, but the paint turned red after a million women kissed it.”
Yassi and I went for a drive during the day around the main part of Skye. There were lots of tourist sites marked on the map but not a single sign on the road showing us how to find them.
“It’s almost as if they don’t want visitors,” said Yassi.
On the other hand, there were a lot of signs advocating “yes” in the independence referendum.
“Honestly, how much more remote do these people want to get?” I asked.
Once again we felt a great sense of loss as we drove through the rain, knowing that there must be incredible vistas hidden behind the veil.
“It’s like hearing a rushing noise in the background and then realising the next day that we’ve just driven past Niagara falls and seen nothing…” said Yassi.
In the middle of the afternoon we found ourselves sitting with Malcolm and Ros. They’d obviously taken Clive’s suggestions to heart by choosing to slip a full afternoon tea in between their massive lunch and their massive dinner.
(“I wonder if they also carry emergency Jaffa cakes?” mused Yassi.)
We finally gave in and asked Malcolm about the whole Range Rover situation. He kindly explained:
“Well I work at Heathrow, you see, as a project manager and I methodically analysed the weather and the roads and the traffic patterns in northern Scotland and determined mathematically by a process of inversion that the Range Rover is the ideal car for our planned route. Here, I have a flowchart…”
Dinner was another interesting affair. We sat with Dave and Jo and Jason and Marisa. Dave wasn’t impressed with yet another foamy mug of “soup”.
“It’s 50% air,” he said. “It’s like a cappuccino without the coffee.”
The cheese trolley turned out to be a much more contentious topic on the second night. We all read the menu with great relish and sat back, ready to be dazzled. But then the waiter started carving off microscopic specks of cheese, like a Swiss watchmaker trimming a tiny cog. Sushi chefs would have fallen on their swords if they’d ever witnessed such precision.
Jo said: “ I asked for blue cheese but you’ve only given me the bacteria…”
Waiter said: “Yes, well you see, Clive refused to pay the supplement for the cheese so we have to be frugal.”
Marisa said: “Can I have a chunk of that cheddar please?”
Waiter said: “Sorry Miss, but I can only waft it under your nose for a minute, I can’t give you an actual piece because Clive….blah blah blah.”
I said: “What about a piece of the comte? You’ve got lots of that.”
Waiter said: “No, but I can let you lick it.”
Yassi said: “Does anyone have a scanning electron microscope? I can’t actually find the nanoparticles of cheese on my plate.”
Dave topped us all: “Back home in Penrith, I’d just buy a pound of cheddar from an honesty box on the side of the road and then sit at home with me dogs and eat the whole lot.”
Tony must have been facing a similar quandary because we heard him say: “Listen son, I’ll overlook this cheese debacle if you bring me that waitress’s shoe.”
Jason told us all about the infamous fishing trip. Apparently it started out poorly and then went from bad to worse. One hour in a stuffy minibus followed by fifteen minutes of hypothermia beside a glacial loch. Then a mutiny occurred. Those with sense found a nearby pub while those from northern England stripped off and complained about the heat. The packed lunches were a real hit – as in, they hit the ground with a satisfying smack when hurled away in disgust.
After dinner we found our way to a hidden parlour for a whisky tasting session.
We expected to find a dour old Scot in a kilt and a silly tartan hat but instead we were met by a Maori in black from “the Scottish part of New Zealand” (?).
He did his best to make the different whiskies sound mysterious and fragrant and smoky and luscious. But they all tasted like slightly different brands of antiseptic to me.
I’d never heard words like “friendly” and “approachable” and “fruitcake” used to describe hard liquor. Every time our Maori friend said “fruitcake”, Jason and Marisa burst into a fit of giggles and rolled around on the couch. It was like sitting next to the Minions from Despicable Me. (“He said fruitcake! Hee hee hee hee hee hee!”)
Breakfast was a raffle once again…
“I’m pretty sure I ordered bacon,” said Yassi, as she looked down at a plate of eggs with black pudding. “But this seems okay.”
“My son says that black pudding looks like a scab,” said Jo.
We wanted to hear more about the fishing trip so we turned to Bob and asked him how it was.
“Ahhh,” said Bob, with a big grin. “I took note of the weather yesterday morning and chose to go for a drive instead.” Obviously very pleased with himself.
Christine said, “Go on Bob, tell them the full story.” She winked at us, “Bob’s a ‘fuel optimist”, you see.”
Apparently, Bob had hopped into his car and, being a clever man, he’d duly noted that his fuel supplies were running low. Bob then glanced at a map and, being an irrepressible ‘fuel optimist’, he’d duly concluded that “there’ll be somewhere to fill at the top of Skye, surely.”
So he meandered off, heading for the remote hamlets of Staffin and Uig, with all the conviction of a true evangelist. At Staffin there was nothing, not even a Lidl, and his carefree grin began to waver. At Uig there was something resembling a fuel station, but it just happened to be dead… Oops.
Bob glanced down at his instruments and realised that a) he was 22 miles from Portree and b) he had precisely 22 miles worth of fuel left. Hmmm. A normal man would have expressed concern at such a moment but Optimist Bob was unperturbed. He turned off every accessory in his car, glided down hills, hid in the slipstream of Dutch caravans, and leaned out the window to hitch a tow from passing cyclists. When Portree came into sight he checked his gauges and said, “Ha! Nowhere near empty. Hmmm. I wonder if I can make it over the bridge? Fuel on the mainland is surely cheaper…”
The route on the last day wound through magical forests and smooth valleys gtround down by ancient glaciers. The resort of Glencoe appeared briefly on our right; one rickety chairlift servicing a single 50 metre slope. (“Why would anyone bother?”) The Scots were out in force and traffic thickened as we neared Loch Lomond. All the rally drivers eased off and stretched their legs, knowing that the speedy bits were done. Except for Andy and David Barlow, who drove on a parallel route through tiny villages, determined to overtake every single caravan in Scotland.
The hotel in Loch Lomond was a modern haven of style and efficiency; vastly different to the quirky mansion we’d just escaped. And there was actually mobile phone reception for the first time in Scotland! Imagine that!
Clive had organised a finish line party where we were all allowed precisely one drink. The mood quickly fizzled and most people wandered off for a nap.
We all came together one final time in the evening for drinks and a formal dinner. We looked like an aviary full of penguins and peacocks; even young Harvey wore a suit!
“Oh wow, Harvey’s so cool!” I said. “I didn’t get my first suit until I was 22 and even then I only wore it under protest.”
Christine sidled across and gave me a frown, “Yes, indeed, Aaron. You could learn a lot about dress sense and decorum from that young man!”
At about 6:30pm Clive burst into the room and said, “Okay everybody, Chris just pressed the button on his camera so we’ve only got five minutes to assemble outside before the photo gets taken.”
Everybody made it onto the stairs in time, even Ishrat and Matt.
I asked Clive: “How did you get Ishrat here on time?”
“I told him dinner was at 5pm…”
Chris’ camera was slower than an armless man trying to factor prime numbers with an abacus. Animals on safari would’ve been fossils long before Chris ever managed to capture their image. He just had to press the button and then hope that something interesting happened when the camera finally woke up.
As we crowded on the stairs I nudged Yassi and said: “Look! Andrei has no shadow! Vampire! I knew it!”
“This is Scotland, you idiot,” said Yassi. “No one has a shadow.”
Shiraz looked nervous when Chris’ camera finally clicked.
(“I think that Chris is about to get mugged,” whispered Yassi.)
The last thing we needed after a solid week of eating was another huge dinner, but we all filed into the dining room like good little foie gras geese, ready to be stuffed.
We’d just sat down to eat when a bunch of tattooed loons raided the room and spent twenty minutes bashing innocent saucepans. It was as if the kitchen staff had come out to protest our excessive consumption.
(“Maybe they’re from the Maori part of Scotland?” mused Yassi.)
The food was delicious and the alleged entertainment was mercifully brief.
Halfway through dinner Shiraz spun and barked at Clive: “Is this bread Halal????”
“Yes Shiraz, it is,” groaned poor Clive, shaking his head, having already answered that particular question 1,700 times during the rally. “You’ll be the death of me yet, you do know that?”
Shiraz just grinned.
Dave skipped the haggis and finally got to enjoy a proper soup. “No foam!” he cried, while Jo hid beneath the table.
Clive then capped the whole week with awards and a charity auction, just to make us all feel bad for being so bloody rich.
Alma collected her plaque and swooped around the room on thermals of joy: “Oh look! It’s a plaque for ME! Look Ricky, look! Isn’t that lovely? And it’s even got my name on it… A-L-M-A, Alma! No one’s ever given me something so wonderful. I’ll never let it leave my sight… I’ll put it under the pillow every night and hug it! Oh it’s just so lovely…” Etcetera, etcetera.
But we forgave her, because she’s so very sweet.
Clive made a joke when Christine and Bob collected their plaque: “Poor Christine looks like she’s hemmed in between two bouncers!”
“I think you mean two bouncy castles,” said Yassi.
Ishrat bought a hat during the auction, although we knew he’d never wear it.
(Nothing touches the Bollywood bouffant!)
Andy said something during the auction that Clive interpreted as a bid.
(The rest of us were still trying to open Google Translate.)
David Barlow bought a date with Jason.
(“You do realise that he won’t get out of the car until he’s overtaken everyone on the circuit?” I said. “I know, I know,” moaned Jason. “I’m going to need more tyres.”)
And Bob Sturgess rented Duncan’s fancy Paris flat, even though he probably could have stayed there for free.
(“Much guilt I sense in him,” whispered master Yoda.)
All in all, it was a wonderful, memorable week fuelled with adventures and humour and unexpected friendships. Clive and his team did a brilliant job. Sharon was the only source of sunshine that we ever saw in Scotland. Chris overcame incredible technological disadvantages to take some excellent photos. And jailbait Colin took the fall on our behalf.
Thus was the Highland Fling firmly flung!