bookmark_borderVisiting the Merlion

Me on the Singapore Flyer

Talcum powder is at the top of my packing list.

Internal debates about camera lenses and electronic devices have begun. Laptop or iPad? Prime and Telephoto? Neither or both? One or all?

Flights are booked, same hotel in Chinatown as last time, which means the same street bar on the corner. Race tickets are bought, three different stands this time so something new there.

Plans to stay on UK time being pondered. How much daylight would I lose? How much of Singapore do I want to try and see? Plans for what to do whilst we are there are underway.

I need to buy a new ‘Eddie’ shirt (?).

Beyond that it’s mostly just pack and go.

7ish hrs to Dubai, a few hours layover, then 7ish hrs to Singapore. I wonder if I’ll sleep on the plane this time?

I’m excited and happy to go as it’s largely to mark a landmark birthday (50th) of one of my close friends. We are a small group, there are only five of us in the ‘inner circle’, and four of us will be in Singapore.

It’s not until September, Glastonbury is first, but it’s something to look forward to. I loved Singapore the last time I was there, and I really can’t wait to go back.

Must remember the talcum powder.

bookmark_borderThe rivers flow

My home town of Dumbarton sits on the River Leven, the second fastest flowing river in Scotland, don’t ya know. The Leven is the main outlet from Loch Lomond and flows from the Loch down the valley, through my home town where it joins the mighty River Clyde.

The Clyde dominates the history and culture of Glasgow and the West of Scotland, the shipyards, the Cutty Sark (built in Dumbarton), a working class powerhouse. It’s only now, as a grown man, that I realise the history the river has played in my own life, but it all really starts at the tributary where the Leven meets the Clyde.

At that tributary is Levingrove Park, most often the sight of a hurtling golden retriever, crashing her way from car to water as fast as she could. The park isn’t far from the town centre so throughout my childhood and teenage years I was never that far from it. It has changed over the years but the layout remains the same, border by the Leven and the Clyde.

The Leven flows through Dumbarton, the high street car park sat on the banks and still suffers the occasional winter flood because of it. Lunches eaten by the riverside sound idyllic, but this was a 70s concrete place on the downturn, more often than not the next bench along were the town drunks, getting some fresh air before heading back into the bookies. The upside was the wide churning river, always alive, always moving as it flowed past with a quiet power.

When I was about 14, a friend took me fishing for the first time. That year the summer was dominated by hazy mornings and golden evenings on the Leven, exploring the quieter stretches, finding the hidden sand banks and deep pools, the gentle burble of the river around my waders as I clumsily flicked out a fly. Occasionally I even managed to catch a fish but those successes were few and far between and, looking back, I realise they weren’t really why I enjoyed it so much.

I have a tendency, when I get into something new, to throw myself in to the deep end, learn as much as I can and generally get my geek on – my recent aquarium adventures are an excellent example – so the entire spectrum of processes and gadgets and new things that spinning and fly fishing brought my way were fascinating.

The lurid lures, whizzing reels and the repetitive nature of spinning appealed, a simple and bait free way to fish. Just attach the lure (the spinner), cast it out and reel it back in past where you think a fish might be lurking.

Fly fishing was similar but more technical. The casting requires timing the back and forth of the line, feeling the subtle pull as it pulls out behind you on the back cast, the flick of a wrist sending it unfurling out on to the water, and if successful, to gently place the fly over the spot where you last saw a fish rise.

I even learned how to tie my own flies, practised the various knots and casting techniques, learned to spot good (fishy) water from bad (no fishy) water, and slowly honed down my enthusiastic purchases and collate of ‘stuff’ to a fairly streamlined setup that could mostly be contained in my fishing waistcoat.

A small bag housed a flask of hot chocolate (I was still naive to the wonders of caffeine), some soon to be squashed tuna paste and ketchup sandwiches, a bag of crisps and some form of chocolate bar.

That was all I needed; on weekends my friend and I would meet at the arranged time, hop on a train and travel up river, disembark and slowly fish our way back down until the sun was setting. On the occasional after school evening we’d grab our spinning rods and cycle down to the easier to access parts of the river in Dumbarton and spend the last few hours of sunlight trying to avoid snagging our lures on the logs and detrius accumulated on the river floor.

For me fishing was a quiet, contemplative hobby. Whilst I went fishing with my friend, the nature of fly fishing is solitary and at times, even though we were in a suburban area, the tranquility of the river was a wonderful solace.

The calming effect of water has remained with me through my adult years. Moving down south to a flat on the edge of a man-made lake, holidays to Spain and the rolling Meditteranean sea holding my attention for hours on end. It was the same beach I stood on as I mourned the death of my then mother-in-law, taken too soon.

Home again, the far reaches of the Clyde never far away, and on to a life rebuilt in Glasgow, cycling the (Forth & Clyde) canal path, and taking new partners to revisit the places of my childhood, the park and the Leven, Loch Lomond, the mighty Clyde.

bookmark_borderWater Falling

The menial chores were easiest when she was lost in herself, a place she had visited more or more since it happened. Deep in thought she slowly moves around the kitchen, putting each item back in the proper place, wiping down the surfaces, filling the sink for the stack of dishes waiting to be washed.

She watches the water stream from the tap, the bubbles forming in the steam. She is trying to block out the noise that had gathered in her head, trying to forget the vivid images that taunt her.

It had seemed like the right thing to do. She had always hated settling, accepting that she had limitations, and even though it scared her she was proud that she pushed herself, tried new things and to hell with the fears and phobias! Or so she thought.

Her mind flips back, the slow grinding of the lift as it rose and rose, floor after floor before the doors slowly opened. She steps out and turns the corner, in front of her the floor to ceiling window revealing the distant horizon, building tops below peeking through the morning mist. She was on top of the world.

They were already there, her companions for this day, adrenalin junkies who seemed to exist on the edge of society, drifting from high to high. She nodded hello, found a space and started her preparations.

She checked and double checked her kit, triple checked it to be sure, pulling on each strap and buckle. There was little room for error today, the riskiest jump she’d tried, but she felt good, everything was as it should be. Her chute perfectly folded, her goggles snug, jumpsuit fastened tightly, helmet and camera ready to go. A last check by one of her jump buddies, thumbs up all round.

She paused and with a slow, deep breath fell into her ritual; studying her nerves as she looked out to the horizon, visualising her first jump, the fear she’d felt and the burst of adrenalin that stayed with her for the next few hours, the unadulterated joy as she landed back on earth.

A tap on the shoulder. Go time, and then she was at the edge, the wind buffeting her as it raced in through the open window, chute in hand. Go! And she was leaping out into nothing. The first few floors speed past, blinding reflections from office windows tracked her fall into the mist below.

Water droplets streamed across her goggles as she plummeted through the grey. Her jump was measured in seconds but with no frame of reference everything seemed to slow, she caught herself wondering if this is what death was like, an enduring, roaring nothingness. What was it like to die painlessly? she wondered. To slowly ebb and fade into the beyond, a quiet end to cacophony of life. She hated that thought, she’d rather go out screaming and screaming, her final voice confirming just how alive she was in those last moments, maybe it would happen on one of these jumps … with a sudden jolt she yanked herself from her daydream and checked her stopwatch.

The numbers screamed out at her.


Panic hit, she flung her chute out too fast, too tight but it started to unfurl and she gasped hard as it caught, yanking her straps tighter. Still in cloud though, still falling too fast, she desperately searched for any sign of the ground below her.

Suddenly she broke through the cloud, the ground loomed up at her, still too fast. She glanced up to see her chute still not fully deployed. She tensed, adrenalin screaming through her system, she was slowing but not enough.

Still too fast. Still too damn fast.

On her second base jump she had watched someone else go through this, a chute delivered too late, not catching properly, a novice who seconds later made a sickening impact with the earth. Six feet under.

And now as she fell, time seemed to slow as she tumbled and spun out of control towards the ground. She could see every detail, each rain drop that surrounded her, hear every car horn and siren of the busy city. Soon thoughts of friends and family flooded her view. Tears formed and flooded her view.

The ground readied to meet her.

She remembers wondering what her final noise would be. Such grotesque.

Back in her kitchen, she snaps back to reality with a twitch of her leg, the one that had taken the brunt of the remaining fall after the chute finally caught in the last few feet of her descent.

Standing there in front of her sink, all odd socks and unkempt clothes, she takes a deep breath, shakes her head and takes the first plate in the pile. She dips it in the hot soapy water, scrubs it clean then reaches over to place it on the draining board.

The edge of the plate catches on the side of the sink and was slips free. Time freezes and everything else disappears as she stands transfixed, watching the plate spun and tumble to the floor, the pattern glinting and gleaming as the sunlight catches each surface in turn.

Shards fly.

She drops her head and the tears fall like rain to the sink below.

bookmark_borderStolen Bike

Saturday was not a good day. It started with a broken bottle.

I’d ordered a replacement bottle of vanilla syrup, a little bit of decadence for my weekend coffee, but it arrived shattered and oozing syrup everywhere. Not a great start to the day.

I tidied it up, washed down the other items that were delivered in the same box and took the remaining, sticky, mess down to the bins.

I live in a block of flats with a basement garage under the building where some of the residents can park their cars and a side room where the bins are. The basement is used by many people to store unneeded or bulky items, and their bikes. There were several bikes down there the day I took mine down and locked it to one of the metal brackets that are bolted to the wall.

So it was some horror that I realised that my bike was no longer there.

I looked around, bemused, at all the other bikes still there and then back to the spot where my bike should’ve been. Not only was the bike gone, the bracket had been removed from the wall.

I walked around the entire basement, just in case it had been moved (somehow). It hadn’t.

It was gone. Stolen.

I felt sick to my stomach, a feeling that didn’t really leave me all day.

And that’s probably what impacted more, not the fact I have to replace my bike (that’s why I have insurance) but the fact that my bike had clearly been targeted. Ugh.

Anyway, in the vague hope that anyone who reads this might be able to help the bike was a Specialised Comp Disc Cross Trail, it’s black & white and has/had Shimano clip XTR pedals.


bookmark_borderThe White Stick

I can still remember the white stick.

That’s what we called it, “get the white stick” we’d say.

It must have been an old chair or table leg, the dull chipped white paint from years gone past, reconstituted into a rounders bat, or corner post, or whatever other need we had for a foot or so long, broad, flattish piece of wood.

It had been left out in the rain many times, that poor stick, it had been rescued from neighbours gardens on more than one occasion (and one of those involved a very near miss with a greenhouse) and is an oddly enduring part of my childhood, I can picture it now, the way it tapered towards one end, the rounded ends, the weight of it in my hand.

A simple white stick.

I can still remember the way it tumbled through the air that day, a gracefully slow arc, a gentle Kubrick spin as it left my hand.

I had missed the ball completely which was probably just as well for, in my excitement, I was calling on my best Botham impression and heaven knows where it might have ended up, although I will admit that part of me thought I knew or at least hoped, what the result would’ve been.

I find it odd that I have such a specific memory of that moment, that I can remember my exact thoughts as Gillian prepared to bowl. As she ran up I can remember deciding that I would try and copy something I’d done recently.

A few days before the ‘day the white stick flew’ I was standing in my parents back garden. I had been pitching and putting a golf ball around the grass in an aimless, constrained fashion. I’m still not entire sure why I decided to progress from pitch and putt to a full on golf swing in a garden which, even on a good day, was no more than 65m long.

A full swing was impossible unless I found somewhere safe to aim. I looked around and found a possibility.

That day the naïvety of my youth seemed to make quick acceptance of the narrow boundary between success and failure as I took aim between the neighbouring houses, hoping the ball would miss them and their myriad windows and land safely on the grassy slope beyond.

Too far and I’d bring the dual carriageway into play, a folly of course, I was lucky I could hit the ball straight, let alone carry more than a 100m or so.

I was full of confidence, my pitch and putt game was really coming on, and all I was really doing was pitching the ball a little further.. a lot further.

Somehow I was successful that day, a clipped 7 iron saw the ball rise to beat the fence at the back of my parents garden before slowly fading away to the right, dissecting numbers 34 and 36 with uncanny precision. A once in a lifetime shot.

The reality of what I’d done immediately replaced the momentary euphoria – what a shot! How did I do that?! WHAT HAVE I DONE! – I nervously sprinted out the back gate and around the block to try and retrieve my ball.

I never did find it.

Despite that scare it was the same self-belief that I channelled a few days later as Gillian tossed the tennis ball my way. The white stick firmly in hand, I started to swing hard. My technique was somewhere between that of a poor cricket player and a decrepit baseball star, quite a feat for a 10-year-old, but I put my heart and soul into it, remembering the golf tip of channelling power through the hips, pulling the shoulders round, I could feel the stick accelerate as it moved towards the ball.

Ohh but if I had put stick to ball that day what a glorious sight it would have been. The soft thwump of the ball as it connected then the silent awe of the watching crowd (Gillian and Stuart) as it sailed high and far, beyond numbers 34 and 36 to the grass slope beyond.

But I missed.

Instead of a solid connection there was nothing but the air of mild panic as I realised I hadn’t connected with the ball, there was nothing slowing down my momentum, and my grip was slipping.

I can still feel the rough edge of the stick, the pits and craters left as the paint chipped away, as it pulled through my hands. It was a warm night and we were in the midst of a battle of wits and strength that had us all exuberantly defiant of the fading light. Three happily sweaty kids at the end of a summer evening, innocently playing their own weird hybrid of french cricket, rounders, and baseball.

Out of my hands the stick flew in that slow end over end tumble, up and away over my head curving slowly yet, despite my gasped pleadings of realisation, defiantly towards the house.

It entered the house via my bedroom window, specifically through the bottom left pane of four.

The shouts and the distinct tinkling of broken glass alerted my parents, Stuart took off at a run, Gillian and I froze.

bookmark_borderApple Watch

Uh oh

A photo posted by Gordon McLean (@gmclean) on

On Sunday I got to try on an Apple Watch. Two in fact, one was the stainless steel Watch with the stainless steel link strap, the other was the space grey Sport Watch with a black rubbery strap. I didn’t try on the Watch Edition as I don’t like the look of the gold casing. That and the prices START at £8000.

The Watch is beyond my budget too, clocking in at around £900, but ohhh it’s a thing of beauty, and that’s just the strap. As it was slide onto my rest if felt reassuringly solid but the strap needed adjustment. A few pushes of some buttons on the strap itself and out pop some of the links before it’s all snapped back together. The clasp itself closes in two parts and sits wonderfully smooth against the wrist.

If I had the money I’d buy that purely for the small moment of joy that strap would bring everyday.

But I don’t, so the Sport Edition is where my budget lies. Sort of. This is a very ‘luxury’ item that I’m still not entirely sure I’ll buy. I really don’t have £400 to throw at this thing… do I?

In the display cases the difference between the brushed aluminium (think MacBook case) casing of the Sport Edition doesn’t appeal, especially as it sits next to the shiny chrome of the polished steel Watch, so for me it will be the space gray option which is essential a dark grey matt finish. I might plump for an alternative strap in the future, the classic clasp leather strap was nice.

As for the ten minutes I was wearing it my initial impressions are that it is physically smaller than I thought it would be, I have watches with bigger faces at the moment. It doesn’t stand proud of the wrist in an obvious way, and it feels quite light, comfortable and very wearable for every day use.

The demo mode showed me some of the screens and, importantly, let me experience the haptic feedback, gentle vibrations, tiny pulses to alert you to a notification. It’s very subtle, yet noticeable and feels, I have to say it, organic. It doesn’t feel like a metal device tapping you on the wrist. It’s hard to describe but I think it works.

An article I read said it took them almost a year to work through the various iterations for those haptic interactions to get the right intensity, sensation and duration. Attention to detail that seems to have paid off.

Of course this is all from only 10 mins wearing the watch, the rest of the time I played with one of the demo models setup on a stand so you can try the scrollable crown, touch the screen, and interact with it directly.

The screen is incredible and was surprisingly usable, even with my big fat fingers I was able to fire up the Music app and select a track from an album. It’ll take some getting used to of course but it’s a lot more usable than I thought it would be on first appearances.

So what to do?

I know that the next version will be thinner, have a better screen, longer battery life and so on, but part of me is already thinking of life without dragging my phone out of my pocket every two minutes.

I didn’t think I’d be that excited by the Apple Watch but I think I am. I thought it would be CarPlay that would be what I wanted to look to get next but I have to say I’m very tempted to take the plunge now.

I’ve always been happy to be an early adopter.