It's a symptom of my stubbornness, I suppose, to be paracording my bicycle rig piecemeal down a sheer cliff, feeling very Indiana Jones but looking much more Mugshot Nick Nolte, rather than backtracking to find the bike path I had, my petulant GPS insisted, lost.
Many people would put my recalcitrance down to laziness, I imagine, and I'd have to agree, because I'd had a tiring push up the leeward slope and didn't relish undoing all that work. But I prefer to think of my current predicament in terms of Rocky Balboa's motivational speech in his final movie (though there's rumblings, at the time of writing, of yet another one):
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward! That's how winning is done!
Because this creates the illusion I'm personifying the kind of moxie one sees in heroic fiction. Were Rocky actually here, of course, I'm sure he'd punch me right in the mouth for using his sensationalism as an excuse for this stupid shortcut, but he isn't, so fuck that slack-jawed cocksucker.
I clambered down after my stuff, reassembled everything, and began hacking through undergrowth, braying at fallen trees, and deciding medieval merchant-adventuring must've been an act of desperation born of an absolute inability to do anything else. As Marco Polo et al plummeted in my estimation I eventually found the elusive bike path and a sign saying Perth was twelve miles away, whereas the adjacent but shoulderless A9 roadsign said eight. It was early and traffic was light, so I took the less meandering but infinitely more dangerous option, lucking out when the sidewalk began about halfway along, snatching me from the sphincter-puckering terror of near misses.
Sure, cycling on a footway is illegal in the UK, but no way am I needlessly risking my neck for some absent twat of a lawmaker. Moreover, British coppers, rightly and overwhelmingly, ignore this particular infraction, requiring either excruciating personal pedantry or some querulous political quota to issue a ticket. I wouldn't begrudge receiving one, to be honest, and might even welcome the inconvenience just for the opportunity to vociferously assault such pettiness in a courtroom full of people too dim to find a proper job.
Which is rich, coming from me.
Perth is the home of Scone Abbey, which has sadly nothing to do with a surfeit of delicious pastries served with jam and clotted cream, and everything to do with the Stone of Destiny, which is very LARPy1 indeed.
Legend has it this 336 lb artifact was used by Jacob (the dad in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) as a pillow2, brought to Ireland by the prophet, Bible coauthor and probable Obelix prototype Jeremiah3, and thence to Scotland with ninth century waves of Irish immigrants4, who used it as a chair to crown their monarchs on. It rested for over four hundred years, it is said, at Scone Abbey until taken as spoils of war by King Edward I in 1296 AD and whisked away to Westminster Abbey, where it was entombed in the Coronation Chair upon which all successive English sovereigns have been crowned. This apparently symbolized the dominion of the English over the Scots, especially if the investing monarch was indulgently flatulent. In 1996, the UK government decided to let Scotland have its fart stone back, and as geologists have proven it to consist of lower old red sandstone quarried just outside Scone (a material which is, topically, immensely permeable to gas), all the stories of its ancient history are, as any reasonable person might expect, absolute bullshit5.
1Live Action Role-Playing is a popular kind of improvised interactive theatre game, where people get dressed up as elves and gnomes and whatnot to act their way through (typically) Dungeons & Dragons-type scenarios (you can see examples in movies like Role Models and the award-winning documentary Darkon). Most people, including me, view this as pretty weird, however I've recently been amusing myself with the notion that the majority of human society actually moves through the real world in exactly the same way, playing roles only relevant contextually while wearing similarly outlandish costumes (uniforms, for example. We tend to see these as quite acceptable until we travel abroad, ridicule the exotic pomposity of the Banana Republic uniforms there, then suddenly realize our own are equally daft), somewhat akin to the Shakespearean idea that all the world's a stage. This doesn't make their conventional version of reality* any more valid, of course. The only real difference is mundanes (gamers' epithet for non-gamers) actually hurt, inconvenience, imprison, and kill people. You can probably begin to see why the more facets of establishment I experience while travelling, the more objective my perspective becomes, and the more my respect for authority continues towards to spiral towards smacking some twat for standing in my way.
*Reality is very weird shit. Consider, for a moment, your brain. It interprets the universe through your senses, but doesn't tell you what you are really experiencing, which is a huge collection of molecules in various states of agitation, the volume of which, in any state outside the density of stuff like black holes, white dwarfs, and neutron stars, is mostly empty space: for example, if a hydrogen nucleus (a single proton) was the size of a marble, its lone electron would be an orbiting spec of dust half a mile away, making the entire atom 99.9999999999996% nothingness. Thus, for example, when we touch something, we actually don't: the atoms in our fingertips merely experience the electromagnetic field permeating spacetime, which my brain interprets as, I dunno, this pint glass. The electrons orbiting the nuclei in the glass repel the electrons in the surface of my fingers (like charges repel, if you recall your high school physics), and my brain perceives this unfathomably small gap as texture. Sensory perception is therefore a kind of graphical user interface, like windows on a PC. We don't perceive atomic structure, just like we don't see the underlying strings of computer code. We see a table, or a chair, or if we're extremely lucky, a timely refill by a convivial barmaid with big tits.
Our sensory organs break down these incoming stimuli into electrical signals, which beam into our brains to be biochemically reassembled into a usable representation. Thus we do actually each exist in our own private illusory Matrix; what we perceive is not reality, it's a biochemical apparition. A hallucination, if you will.**
**I was originally planning to sit back on a porch somewhere to watch the revolution unfold, flicking back popcorn and sipping a choice whiskey, but it isn't happening fast enough for my liking. At the time of writing 23 states of the US have some form of cannabis legalization, and Portugal proves the drug war wrong with everything else. Politicians pay lip service to science when it suits their lust for power, not for accuracy or objective truth. We may have to duct tape them to wooden chairs in abandoned buildings, strap on a few ball gags and erect some kind of movie screen. We'll show them Tango & Cash sober, then pump in a pot cloud and reshow it: they'd change the law immediately and hug it out the door.
2Between songs, probably.
3Who was never overly enthusiastic about musical theatre but could apparently carry the fuck out of a rock.
4Something Irish nationalists often fail to remember in their hatred of the British is they actually started it.
5Not that there's anything wrong with a good yarn, but when folks are still prepared to fight and die over what is ostensibly an entertainment, we probably need to soberly reassess the education system. The quicker we get the internet into every pocket on the planet, the better.
Ancillary fairy tales abound that Edward's prize was, in fact, a fake, while the real Stone of Destiny was prekidnapped for safety by Scottish monks, who bought into this religious nonsense with such zeal they shaved their heads and wore sacks, a worryingly LARPish enthusiasm if ever there was one. But as this mental illness was rampant at the time, judging by the number of elaborate cathedrals being built6, we can probably forgive them their committable befuddlement.
The possibly fake stone was famously restolen from Westminster Abbey in 1950 by four Scottish students in what was, at first glance, an ingenious Rag Week stunt, until I discovered the act was disappointingly fuelled by that other stunningly insular blight on humanity: nationalism, and from people who should be clever enough, at least on paper, to transcend such simple prejudice. They 'gave it back' to the Scottish nation at Arbroath Abbey, which had some additional parochial meaning, before being recovered and returned to London. No charges were ever brought, which hopefully demonstrates at least a glimmer of humour in the Crown Prosecution Service. I watched a documentary about this on YouTube, where they interviewed one of the now elderly thieves; Ian Hamilton QC (a lawyer of extremely high rank) who actually got emotional about the patriotism of it all. I couldn't help but pity such an utterly lost and myopic old man. His youthful caper should be a celebration of mischief and dissent against the ridiculous, instead it was part of the same loopy Harry Potteresque narrative. How sad that someone who lives this long never exercised the opportunity to elevate his perspective. He should go on a bike tour.
Perth is a pleasant-looking city with a fantastic central library, the like more usually found in much larger conurbations. It had a reasonably priced and modern cafe attached, superb WiFi, and no angry wee council rules advocate to admonish me for plugging in.
I sat between two groups who provided such an entertaining day I didn't get a lick of work done. The group to my left were three attractive female students, supposedly working on some assignment, but spending the entire time gossiping with such alacrity I orbited in. They discussed a kaleidoscope of hopes, dreams and motivations, all so stunningly mediocre I was eventually moved by self-importance to intervene.
'Sophia. That's your name? Sophia? Listen, don't believe a word that guy says. Of course he's going to sleep with you and not call you again, you're weird and clingy. Emma: you're a fucking idiot. Don't give advice to anyone ever again. Olivia: you're quite intelligent. It might be time to find more interesting friends than Sophia and Emma. Especially Emma.'
6Which is about as deep down the rabbit hole as it's possible to get.
I didn't, of course, because that would be creepy, and continued eavesdropping instead, because that isn't7.
The group to my right was a meeting of church goers, three elderly women and one middle-aged man, the man American, midwestern if I can place an accent. Two of the women and the man were trying to convince the third women to join their congregation, which appeared to be some kind of Bible study affair, meeting every Sunday afternoon. The man went on at some length about his philosophy and how it related to scripture, in a rich and soothing baritone, his two supporters cooing at the appropriate moments, obviously enamoured. Was this some kind of senior citizen sex cult recruitment?
The fellow had game. I've heard this kind of patter before, in American topless bars from men trying to 'rescue' the strippers. There's a thin line, as Jimmy Buffett says, between Saturday night and Sunday morning.
After thirty minutes of earnest discussion, the Scottish pensioner they were targeting asked how long their Sunday afternoon Bible studies went on for8. The man said it was usually about three hours. She immediately levered herself upright with her walking frame, incensed, 'Three hours! I don't have time for that! Church all morning then three hours in the afternoon? Are you insane?! I've got things to do, goodbye!' She hobbled off, shaking her head and muttering.
There was a moment of awkward silence among the abandoned flock, then the American, lacking even a trace of irony, said, 'I think that went well.'
I Google mapped a wild hilltop campsite on the outskirts of town and stopped at Morrison's for food on the way, then pitched and watched the moonrise over a landscape blued by the twilight. The stars began to twinkle from the gloom, making me feel very hobbity. I need to get a Churchwarden Briar for times like these. And a better camera.
I did a little reading about Perth that night, and discovered another historical Scottish cannibal called Christie Cleek, bringing the total I'd read about to three, and I hadn't even been looking. What the hell? Isn't this a little disproportionate for a country of only five million people? I dug around further and discovered Scotland's legacy of serial killers to be a storied one and frankly, a little worrying with me traversing the wild places in a tent. What is wrong with these people?
A Perth butcher called Andrew Christie, in the famine-struck fourteenth century, was driven to roaming the Grampian mountains with a gang in a desperate search for food. A member of his group died, so Christie butchered the body into choice cuts for his fellow gang members. Enthused by this livener, they took to eating travellers and their steeds, Christie using a long shepherd's crook, known as a Cleke, hence his sobriquet, to unhorse the victims. Apparently over thirty people were consumed this way before they were apprehended by soldiers from Perth, but Christie apparently escaped and re-entered society under an assumed name, giving rise to his bogeyman status.
7Well, it is, but no one's the wiser.
8It's an orgy. C'mon. Got to be.
It's said he died a prosperous merchant in Dumfries many years later.
Christie is often confused with one of the other cannibals I'd read about, but actually pales in comparison to, one Sawyer Bean. This delightful gourmand headed a forty-eight strong clan of murderous cannibals in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, depending who you read. Bean lived with his similarly nutter wife in a cave on Bennane Head, a promontory in the Firth of Forth, and, along with his family, preyed on passersby for sustenance. Over several decades they raised fourteen children, who themselves produced, apparently with a little incestuous help from Mom and Pop, thirty-two grandchildren. They were eventually caught and held to be responsible for over 1,000 deaths, and so were executed without trial in Edinburgh: the men castrated and dismembered and allowed to bleed to death, the women and children burned after watching them die.
We must be delicious.
Back to the library to start a writing assignment I'd picked up yesterday, to find it closed for staff training, as was the next one along in Kinross. Shit. This little job was time sensitive too, so I decided to roll on for Edinburgh, battling drizzle and a headwind, and camped early just north of Dunfermline in a hilltop forest, because sod drizzle and headwinds.
With time to kill, I threw myself headlong into season two of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I've seen all these before, of course, but there's a familiarity to the characters and setting that feels very homey and welcoming. However, after not having seen them for a decade or two, they were looking decidedly dated. Ridiculously so, even. And for a show that purports to demonstrate an absence of prejudice in a future cultural utopia, they certainly have some strong feelings about different alien races, if not human ones. Kingons are a certain way, Vulcans another. Ferengi are a bunch of twats. Gene Roddenberry didn't eradicate prejudice, he disseminated it.
Now, we have a saying in mixed martial arts, 'you have to be the nail before you become the hammer', which alludes to the experience of training. When we first begin, no matter how skilled we may be in our former specialties, be it karate, boxing, wrestling, etc, we always get our arses kicked, because we possess absolute weaknesses in so many other areas, the lack exploited at length by more well-rounded training partners. I hadn't watched TNG since I started training, so I marvelled, from an informed position for the first time, at the Klingon head of security Lieutenant Worf's complete inability to defend himself. Supposedly this highly trained and proud warrior is one to be feared, yet every episode I watched involved him getting smacked about by some alien or other, his bob-cut wig convulsing with impact before he was bodily hurled across the bridge again. Of course, TNG had pretty much ended its run by the time the UFC came around in 1993 and brutally demonstrated how daft the traditional martial arts really are, so we shouldn't judge the Star Trek creators too harshly.
I came to discover there is an actual TV writers' trope nowadays, referred to as The Worf Effect, where a known badass, such as Worf, is used as a measuring stick to establish the comparable badassery of an incoming antagonist. When it gets used too often, however, as I witnessed here, a phenomenon occurs known as Badass Decay.
Teetering totty totaller9 Commander Will 'Swinging Dick' Riker, too, was also set up as a badass, but his propensity for using the USS Enterprise as his personal pussy wagon put even legendary intergalactic slut Captain James T. Kirk to shame. Riker cemented this ascendancy by growing a beard when shaving began interfering with bitch banging time.
And I've always been fascinated with the 'beam straight to the bridge' method of capturing unaware characters. What if they're on the toilet? Would they appear on the bridge pants down, mid curl? Would the toilet come too? If not, they're going to fall over. What if the turd shears just before teleportation completed? Would it still transport? Do they even have toilets in Star Trek? Why not just teleport the shit from one's bowels to some waste receptacle? What about leaving it in limbo, looping as a teleporter trace, never to materialize again? If the trace can't be harmlessly dissipated, the atomized data would have to be placed in giant storage drives, hopefully with no download button to accidentally hit10. It's certainly a gaping plot hole, if you'll forgive the expression.
10Which could undoubtedly make for an entertaining Holodeck malfunction.
Found a library in Roslyn open until 1 pm, then, heading for the Forth road bridge, I bumped into the cycle tourist I lent my spare pump to a few days ago. He was almost home, having just toured Loch Lomond and the Trossachs while I'd been fannying around in Perth. He gave it me back then, we wished each other well and I continued on to my old stomping grounds of South Queensferry, where the library was open until five. I watched a stream of England losing 22-30 to New Zealand at Twickenham, and to my horror realized I was wearing my All Black rugby shirt, so it was actually all my fault. I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to the nation.
I camped at the same spot under the bridge I'd used on my outbound journey, and fell asleep satisfied with the circumnavigation, and dreamed of tomorrow's promised tailwind to Glasgow.