The bit in the middle: the curiously comic tale of a gardener in the Scottish Highlands

The bit in the middle: the curiously comic tale of a gardener in the Scottish Highlands. Ebook. To be published September 20th 2016

'The author takes us on a meandering ramble through the life and times of a rural gardener in the Scottish Highlands charting the chaotic, absurd and often extraordinary aspects of everyday life in the 21st Century. We also take a brief look back over his shoulder to those who have gone before, including a time span stretching from 1716 to present day and covering Southern Ireland, the south of England, Wales and the Midlands, finally concluding in present day north of Scotland.
Many of the tales in this autobiographical book were written as a monthly newspaper column for the Ross-shire Journal and illuminate the fact that no one’s life is ordinary - we all live extraordinary lives.
The “bit in the middle” refers to the time span between birth and death, the only two indisputable certainties in life. The author’s incisive humour and surreal observations illuminate the meaning of our existence as perhaps never glimpsed before.
As a full-time gardener in the Highlands, the author has had access to a wide variety of people over the years, observing and interacting with them in their natural habitats! This is essentially a book about people, as well as a powerful testimony to the fact that life is extraordinary no matter who you are, where you live or what you do. The “bit in the middle” is something we all share.
Laugh and enjoy.'

Details, Chapter One and further extracts from the book can be found on the author's website

Extract from Chapter 55.

Extract from Chapter 55. "The Bit in the Middle: the curiously comic tale of a gardener in the Scottish Highlands."  To be published as an ebook late summer 2016.


"...I was pottering about in the kitchen one evening, nibbling on a scotch egg, amending a newspaper article about the joys of country living and generally savouring the musical flavours of ‘Leaving Stoer’ (lovely melody) wafting from the lounge where our youngest daughter was playing the piano, when I decided to open the kitchen window and sample the summer evening fragrance, completely forgetting that animals thrive on routine and have an intuitive sense of timing. It was fatal. There was no hand to feed the chickens this time, just my full frontal ‘scotch egg nibbling features’ sampling the aromas of a peaceful summer evening. What happened next was not pleasant and just goes to show how a temporary lapse in memory can have dire consequences. My scotch egg fragmented, the melodic sound of ‘Leaving Stoer’ was drowned by splutters and shrieks and a degree of facial pain inflicted, although it has to be said that my reactions have always been of the highest calibre and apart from some slight trauma, minor cheek indentations and a bruise on the back of the head caused by a collision with the window frame I survived the onslaught. As luck would have it there was a second scotch egg in the fridge (they often come in pairs, you know, the bigger ones anyway) which I consumed shortly afterwards behind closed windows as I nursed my wounds and prodded my indentations..."

April 1916. The Easter Uprising in Dublin.

My Grandmother, Ruth, worked for a time at the Adelaide Hospital in Dublin and it was here, in April 1916, that she found herself in the midst of the failed Irish Uprising known as the “Easter Rebellion”, much of which happened in the area surrounding the hospital. She wrote about this in a letter.

“What terrible times we have had!...It makes one wonder what we will hear next, and we little dreamt of rebellion in Dublin – things have quietened down wonderfully well, but occasionally still odd shots are to be heard, and only 2 nights ago a soldier was shot down.”(April 1916)

(Extracted from The Bit in the Middle to be published in 2016. Non fiction, autobiographical, the life and times of a self-employed gardener in the Scottish Highlands).
Twitter
Website

Music in the Highlands

  Music in the Highlands permeates all aspects of society and is the lifeblood of the community with children brought up playing, listening and dancing to traditional and modern, switching unthinkingly between the two. Distinctions are blurred. Music is music.
  I am listening to a Blazing Fiddles CD in the car at the moment, although I change my music selection on a regular basis. As well as a Blazing Fiddles, I have an Amy MacDonald, a Rachel Sermani and a Jake Bugg in the glove compartment. I saw Jake Bugg perform at the music festival in Ullapool some years ago and was reminded of a young Bob Dylan, although time will tell if he has the stamina, creativity and charisma to endure.

Extracted from "The Bit in the Middle" to be published in the summer of 2016. Non fiction, autobiographical, the life and times of a self-employed gardener in the Scottish Highlands.More details on the website
Twitter
Website

Therapeutic benefits of gardening - or something like that.

The therapeutic benefits of gardening are well documented. There’s nothing like strimming the strawberries, chain sawing the hedge and generally letting loose with power tools in the shrubbery to exercise the mind and invigorate the body. Plants survive most things, you know, as long as you don’t fiddle faddle about. Leave them be, that’s what I say, apart from the occasional hearty prune with a hedge trimmer, or one of those remarkable battery charged, swivel-bladed, Sunday Roast Carving Knives if there’s nothing else to hand.

Extracted from The Bit in the Middle to be published as an ebook in Spring 2016. Non fiction, autobiographical, the life and times of a self-employed gardener in the Scottish Highlands.
Twitter
Website

Publishing spring 2016 as an ebook: The Bit In The Middle.

 
  The dog scorched her tail recently while leaping about in front of the wood burning stove. The acrid smell of singed hair alerted us to the situation. At the time I was haphazardly snoozing on the sofa with one ear tuned to the television (‘Handmade Britain’, presented by Kirstie Allsopp) when it became apparent that the dog’s rear end was about to ignite.  A brief period of mayhem and pandemonium ensued until the dog was removed to a place of safety and all was well. The dog in question (golden retriever, Molly, otherwise referred to as “Jose the shaggy one”, shaggy tail now singed) was none the worse for wear and wholly unfazed by the commotion going on around her, although she was certainly curious about the unusual smell emanating from her rear end. That’s dogs for you.

  I don’t generally make a habit of watching ‘Handmade Britain’ with Kirstie Allsop because men in big gardening boots don’t normally watch that sort of thing, but following the flammable dog incident my senses were fully alert to everything going on around me. I noted that Kirstie was enthusiastic about the handicraft activities of the Bramley Women’s Institute whose themed entry into the New Forest and Hampshire Show had something to do with the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. I wasn’t really watching, of course, so I can tell you no more than that.

  At the end of the program the usual round of television adverts followed. One caught my eye - an advert about wrinkle cream. Men in big gardening boots don’t normally concern themselves with wrinkle cream because wrinkles and raggedy hands are the norm if you garden for a living, only this advert was different. Buy their brand of wrinkle cream, it said, and the appearance of your wrinkles will substantially reduce. The cream contains organic burdock, apparently, as well as molecule ‘twenty four twelve’ which is better known as jasmonic acid, a plant derivative vital for good potato growth without which a potato will not flourish. So you too, I conjectured, could have a face as smooth as a new potato. I’m sure it works. After all, when did you last eat a wrinkly potato? What the advert didn’t say, however, is that a smile alone takes ten years off your age and costs you nothing.

(This article first appeared in the Ross-shire Journal in 2011)

Extracted from The Bit in the Middle to be published as an ebook in Spring 2016. Non fiction, autobiographical, the life and times of a self-employed gardener in the Scottish Highlands.
Twitter
Website

Taken from The Bit In The Middle, publishing Spring 2016 as an ebook.

"...During the autumn months I have more time to devote to the dogs educational activities. Of late I have been teaching them to wink. They are not very good at it, but at least they have the potential to learn (which is more than can be said for the cat). It has been an on-going process involving lots of cheese. They are doing well and occasionally wink on demand, although the increase in dog slobber can be challenging.
Coincidentally, I came across somebody with a dog that winks in appropriate situations. The dog is an elderly sausage dog. I was chatting to the owner in his garden about the weather when he pointed shrewdly to a conical glass container protruding from the ground and announced proudly that he had been recording daily rainfall averages for the last twenty years (yes, there’s a lot of that sort of thing going on in this part of the world), at which point the elderly sausage dog took a drink from it, winked, then waddled off in the direction of an old bone. The conversation moved swiftly on to discussing scientific measurements of a different kind, barometer and temperature readings, until I could contain my laughter no more and emitted the sort of noise that was wholly inappropriate under the circumstances. The notion of average daily rainfall data being called into question by an elderly sausage dog with winking capabilities rendered me devoid of all self-restraint. The last time I succumbed to such unrestrained behavior was at a Scottish Country Dancing Class near Muir of Ord where my lack of co-ordination contrasted starkly with the other members of the group. Country Dancing is a collaborative activity, you know, not a solo one, so there’s no escaping the limelight if you laugh inappropriately..."

Extracted from The Bit in the Middle to be published as an ebook in Spring 2016. Non fiction, autobiographical, the life and times of a self-employed gardener in the Scottish Highlands.
Twitter
Website






 

Taken from The Bit In The Middle, publishing Spring 2016 as an ebook.

“…I stepped outside my life for a moment to score a goal in the 2010 World Cup Final. Glory days, eh? The oldest player ever to score in a World Cup Final. Though in reality, of course, I was sitting in the Citroen Berlingo beside the golf course in Dornoch eating a sausage sandwich and day-dreaming about the ‘beautiful game’. My second goal scoring opportunity was abandoned after being distracted by the sight of a golf trolley traversing the golf course under its own steam. I had seen something like this before, you know - a self-propelled golf trolley trundling along the pavement in Dornoch, followed closely by a man in multi-coloured trousers operating a remote control device from within his enormous trouser pockets. How many golf balls can you fit into those pockets, I wanted to ask him, but instead opted for a safer discussion about remote controlled trolleys. Such trolleys are common in the world of golf, he said, but you need an element of skill to operate them with precision because they can be difficult to manoeuvre. As a result, many end up being ‘bunkered’, which is golf terminology for being ‘up-ended’ in a bunker. So there you are, an excellent example of a golf accessory spawning a new word if ever there was one.  A bunker, by the way, for those of us ignorant of golfing terminology, is a sunken sandpit. It’s also one of those words that makes for a good swear without the swear element. ‘You Bunker!’ Yes, it has an ambiguity that could be useful.
  I was further distracted from my footballing fantasies by a loud ping at the back of the Citroen Berlingo, followed by a random shout of “Four in the car!” which meant nothing to me. Two days later it dawned on me that this random shout of “Four in the car” was actually “Fore in the car”, which is shortened golf speak for: “Oy, you in the car eating sausage sandwiches, golf ball heading your way!” This would explain the loud ping.
This “fore” speak, of course, is an ineffective early warning system. The speed of sound (768 mph in good air) is faster than the speed of a golf ball (between 100 and 180 mph perhaps, depending upon your swing), but by the time the ball has been struck, it’s trajectory plotted, the warning shouted and the sound travelled, it’s too late to take evasive action. It’s just a polite way of saying sorry after the event, don’t you think?
My lunchtimes are usually uneventful and rarely punctuated by random golf balls. I listen to Tom Morton on Radio Scotland if I am having a late lunch, or Jeremy Vine on Radio Two if I am having an early lunch. Sometimes I have two lunches and listen to both. Self-employment has many temptations.
  Following on from this golf ball incident I shall vary my lunchtime routine and take sustenance (an egg mayo roll from Harry Gows in Dornoch, perhaps?) beside the bowling green where there’s little chance of a random bowl heading my way unless it’s delivered by a visiting Spaniard who’s decided that the possibility of me scoring a goal against Spain in the next World Cup is simply too great a risk to take, in which case there would be less of a ping and more of a thud, followed by my retort of “You Bunker!” between mouthfuls of egg mayo roll…”
(This article appeared in the Ross-shire Journal in 2010)

Extracted from The Bit in the Middle to be published as an ebook in Spring 2016. Non fiction, autobiographical, the life and times of a self-employed gardener in the Scottish Highlands.
Twitter
Website






 

Extracted from The Bit In The Middle to be published as an ebook in Spring 2016

“…Take one day at a time, that’s what I say, though sometimes several days hit you at once and everything becomes a muckle and a trackle.
  I checked the emails in the early hours of the morning and discovered a message from a Mrs Basserole in the African Congo inviting me to accept payment of 2 million Congolese francs as soon as I sent my bank details to Mr Basserole.  Good Lord, did she think I was mad?  I am not prone to checking anything very much in the early hours of the morning, you know, but of late Jasper (dog) has taken to chewing the house and the sound of splintering wood woke me up. It was an internal door.  I told him off, had a coffee, then replied sternly to the offending email. A morning shave in the middle of the night, a lengthy snooze, some further discussion with the dog about inappropriate chewing, the remains of last night’s casserole for breakfast (because my stomach told me that breakfast time was lunch time) and several coffees later, I set off to tackle a garden in need of some serious power tool therapy…”

Extracted from The Bit in the Middle to be published as an ebook in Spring 2016. Non fiction, autobiographical, the life and times of a self-employed gardener in the Scottish Highlands.
Twitter
Website