Easter at the beach

Finally back on the air after most of a week without broadband – when I got home from work on Monday I noticed my cable TV was out and reported it. After dinner I tried to log on with plans to try and do some extra work from home because there was a ton on at work, only to find out my broadband was also out. Since both services come in through the same junction box I was wondering if there was a common fault. Phoned Virgin (who took over from Telewest and haven’t really impressed me since they have) to try and report the second fault and this was the start of almost two hours of being pissed around, put on hold, transferred, lost, having to phone again, on hold, lost, told to call a different number for broadband problems which turns out to be a premium rate number so you have to pay Virgin to tell them the service you pay them for isn’t sodding working. No, not impressed with that at all, how utterly crap is their customer service?

In the end the engineer who came out wasn’t told of the second fault – again how crap are Virgin at looking after customers? – but was happy enough to look at both. Thursday evening was the earliest they could send someone (which didn’t make me any happier, 4 days with no service), they were supposed to come after six so I could get home from work but the eejits at the help desk never bothered to pass this on to the poor engineer who rings my mobile at 4pm to say he is outside my flat. I was obviously still at work. He has more appointments later and can’t come back. Now being without cable is annoying, but I have already been most of a working week without broadband and a week when I had more on than I could deal with at work and needed to try and do a bit extra but couldn’t because of this. And now I’m thinking when the hell will they next get out? Luckily the engineer who is used to this sort of problem – they rarely pass on time requests to them – phoned his boss direct and arranged someone to call over the holiday weekend and its all sorted, but I’m inclined to write a stinker to Virgin, assuming they bothered to read it since I have emailed them before about parts of the way service has changed since they took over and they never bothered to reply. This is the same company who wants to offer space flights in a few years? Richard Branson, you are an arse and you should sort out the customer care for your terrestrial companies first.

Anyway, back on the air, catching up on a week of missed emails – including first pics of my new wee cousin just born in Canada last week – and getting round to sorting more Paris pictures for my Flickr, but before I put up some more Paris pics and video, something a little closer to home:

Spring has sprung and the locals flock to the sun-kissed beaches of Portobello, Edinburgh’s Rivieria :-). In true British fashion we have had some mild spells during the winter which means flowers were starting to grow in early February then as we hit the Easter holiday weekend we get snow, hailstones, rain and driving, bitterly cold, icy wind. My friend was taking his dog (Bruce the greyhound, who has graced these pages before) for a walk but with the weather so changeable we just went down to Porty to let Bruce gallop along the beach. It was one of those days of rapidly alternating dull, overcast weather as large gray clouds came over, only to scud away just as rapidly with the high winds to leave you in sunshine, then back to cloud, sun, cloud…

Through it all the howling, cold wind which cut through you and drove the sea into foamy gray-green wildness. Especially further down where the good beach at Porty gives way to stone steps and a sea wall, where the waves were crashing into it then rebounding back outwards with undiminished ferocity to hit the incoming waves, resulting in huge explosions of foaming water, often coming up high enough to soak the promenade where I was filming from, a good 8 or 10 feet above the water. Welcome to the Scottish spring!

I was attempting to supply a little commentary on this video, but I think the wind drowns out most of it. In case you are wondering I was basically doing my bit for the tourism industry and advising anyone watching this who was thinking on visiting our beautiful land to bring something warm. And waterproof. Still, although the beach was almost deserted despite the school holidays (a small blessing of the weather, less screaming kids to deal with) some folks didn’t seem to be put off by the weather, happily out playing in the waves with their jetski:

Dusk at Fidra

Burned off a little of the constant over-feeding from the Festive period by going for a good two-hour walk on the beach with my mate Gordon when he took his dog for a decent run (Bruce does enjoy a good run on the beach although I think he enjoys all the other dogs he meets more, all those bums to sniff). On the way back the daylight was fading rapidly and the Forth was full of the noise of the many birds making last forays into the wet sand for food or flocking through the air while the lamp came on in the Fidra lighthouse.

The Bridge

A couple of weekends ago I took my parents on a belated anniversary gift of a trip on the Maid of the Forth, which sails out from South Queensferry opposite the Hawes Inn, where Davey Balfour is bundled aboard ship in Robert Louis Stevenson’s superb adventure Kidnapped, then right under the mighty Forth Bridge.

(the Hawes Inn pub sign makes sport with its RLS connection)

I’ve seen this Victorian marvel of engineering a thousand times but this was the first time I had sailed under it; the real scale of the structure becomes staggeringly real when you are this close, right under the main cantilever sections, thousands of tons of steel hanging in the air above you, foundations driving right down into the river; it took the lives of over 50 men and boys to build it.

(going under the great Forth Bridge; check my Flickr stream for the full set of larger scale pictures)

From there the boat continues down the Forth, passing coastal towns old and new, country houses and modern oil and gas terminals, international ferries, Edinburgh in profile on one side, the Kingdom of Fife on the other and the Firth of Forth opening out towards the North Sea, islands – or ‘inches’ ranging from mere rocks to larger spots dotted throughout, many still showing marks of war, structures hurriedly added to protect the coast and nearby Rosyth naval dockyard during the two World Wars, now mostly they are full of colonies of seabirds (this whole part of the coast is a huge area for seabirds). History flows like the tidal waters here; Roman ships coming into nearby Cramond for the Antonine Wall forts, vikings, French men’o’war, English raiders, German aircraft – it’s a working river still, tankers, international ferries, even aircraft carriers (HMS Ark Royal sailed down this route just a few months back, just barely fitting under even this high bridge).

(Inchcolm Abbey, my mum and dad in the foreground walking towards it, the Saltire fluttering in the breeze)

Eventually we come to Inchcolm island, home to a gorgeous 12th century abbey (although some maintain its religious life goes right back to Saint Columba himself, the man who brought Christianity to Scotland in the 500s AD). History and landscape and seascape and wildlife – birds, seals – of my beautiful homeland, a place so near to where I live but a place I had never been to before and I got to share it with my folks.

(sunset across the Forth from Inchcolm, the bridges in the distance; nearby some seals were popping their heads up to watch us, waiting on the visitors to leave for the day so they could come up and claim their beaches for the evening)

An hour and a half on Inchcolm wasn’t nearly enough and we want go back again when the new season starts again next year. Afterwards we sailed back up the Forth as the sun set behind the Bridge, shafts of light breaking through the clouds at the end of the day as we sailed upriver, east to west. After docking, as dusk fell on a perfect day we wandered over to the Hawes Inn and settled ourselves down in the cosy wooden interior for drinks and dinner (lovely food, great, friendly service), a perfect end to a perfect day.