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Following on from the previous page we had just left Henderson near Las Vegas bound for Lone Pine in California.
We first had to cross Death Valley which is the lowest place in North America at 86 metres below sea level. It is also one of the hottest yet there is a settlement at the bottom called Furnace Creeks which has an 18 hole golf course which Californians play in the winter time when the temperatures are cooler. I think it still holds the record of the hottest place on earth of 57°C.
Our first stop was the Artists Pallette. This s the name given to a collection of rocks where different metals have oxydised and coloured the stones.
Next was the Devils Golf Course which is a salt pan formed of huge salt crystals on the valley floor. It gets its name from a description in the original National Park guide book which claimed only the devil could play golf on its surface.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in Death Valley which is 85m below sea level. It is the second lowest point on earth, the lowest being in Argentina at -105m.
After a brief stop at Furnace Creek we continued on towards Lone Pine with the Sierra Nevada mountain range dominating the skyline.
After checking in to a motel we drove up to Whitney Portal at 8,360ft which is the start of the trail to the summit of Mount Whitney at 14,505ft, about 2 miles vertical above Lone Pine. For this reason if you are going to climb to the summit you are best sleeping overnight at the Portal to lessen the possibility of mountain sickness.
The trail is a 22 mile round trip so it can take anything up to 18 hours if you try to do it in a day and most bivouac on the way. You have to buy a permit from the forest service so if you wanted to bottom the Grand Canyon during the same trip you would need to be sure of getting that permit the same week.
The next day we paid a visit to the Devils Postpile which is a basalt rock formation and a National Monument. We hiked to Rainbow falls before driving to our next destination.
Yosemite National Park
Nothing quite prepares you for this landscape which was unique in my experience. Yosemite (pronounced yose-em-me-tee) Valley is where we based ourselves. An ancient glacier cut through the rounded dome shaped mountains cutting them in half, the largest appropriately named Half Dome. Opposite is El Capitan, a verticle granite face of about 3000ft on which nerveless climbers regularly kill themselves! They also leap off the top wearing parachutes known as base jumping.
There are spectacular waterfalls galore and a popular pastime among visitors is to go paddling in the river above the fall, slip over on the slippery rocks and go sailing to your death several hundred feet below where your corpse will be eaten by a grizzly bear of which there are many. The largest mammal we saw was an inquisitive Prairi Dog.
John Muir was a Scottish naturalist from Dunbar who fell in love with Yosemite and was responsible for preserving the area in its natural state and the eventual legislation that created it as a national park. A long distance trail named after him terminates at the summit of Mount Whitney.
The above slide show pictures some of the glorious scenery in the park which should be on anyones bucket list on a Californian visit but our time was limited and we drove on after a couple of days to Monteray but found Carmel and immediately checked out of the Monteray motel for one in Carmel where Clint Eastwood was the Mayor. Nearby is the idylic Pebble Beach golf course where I could not afford the green fees and had to be content watching Sea Otters lying on their backs in the Kelp offshore.
We finished our tour of California by driving down Big Sur stopping off at Hearst Castle before dropping the hire car off at LA International Airport and catching a plane to New Orleans.
Hearst Castle was built by newspaper millionaire Randolph Hearst. Some might think of it as a garish, ugly tourist trap and it is all of those but is fascinating to see the tastes of very rich Americans trying to replicate European architecture. I remember there were several different tours one could take round the various buildings and we only had time for a general tour but you could spend several days here. A large seal colony inhabits the local beach.
We stayed in an hotel on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, soaked up the atmosphere and listened to a lot of jazz bands before flying up to New York. Opposite Central Park somewhere we found an open air cafe for lunch located in a sort of sunken piazza and were served by a very loud Brooklyn lady. I remember ordering a dessert and this huge pyramid arrived which had those about us taking photographs but unfortunately I didn't.
After our meal I presented my credit card to which our waitress exclaimed "Oh my, the ROYAL Bank of Scartland" and reminded me that she was in need of a large tip. I filled out the slip and we were walking up the steps out of the cafe when the waitress returned, picked up the slip and shouted "You done well"!
We had a bit of a scare when our flight back to Boston was delayed so that we almost missed our connection back to Prestwick but we just made it in time ending a great holiday.
Some Edinburgh Characters
Alan Jeffreys (Goon)
During my caving days with the Shepton (SMCC) we were often visited by members of the Grampian Speleological Group (GSG) and the driving force behind the group was a bloke they called Goon.
He was a bit of a thespian and loved to immitate the comedians of the day.
Lister Blackstone Marine for who I then worked made me their sales engineer for Scotland and Northern England so when I moved up to live in Edinburgh I had a ready made circle of caving mates. I flatted with Goon at George Alden's apartment in Gilmore Place and on returning from sales trips I would hear dreadful noises of people trying to sing in harmony. This was my flatmates who had formed a folk group they called the Ghillies and who sang at the pub around the corner.
I began to teach them a few harmonies and was eventually roped in to sing with them. We became quite good and used to sing alongside groups such as the Humblebums who included such luminaries as Billy Connolly who would often keep us entertained at the flat until the early hours.
There was not a full blooded Scot among us at that time but at a benefit concert for the Scottish National Party at Leith Town Hall one of the performers was a Dunfermline girl called Barbara Dixon. I don't know how he came to be there but Willy Russell was with us at the time who was then a hairdresser cum budding playwright and was captivated by Babs voice. Willy eventually began Babs professional career when he had her playing the piano and singing in his hit West End musical "John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert" but more of him later.
The adjacent photo dates back to the mid 60's and a visit to Mendip from the GSG where they helped move a new piano to the Hunters Lodge Inn. I played the piano all the way there and we all sang. In the back of the Land Rover with me are Goon, Andrew 'reliability' Reid and Chris Watson with Martin Bishop standing.
Goon was a policeman who was permanently on points duty in Princes Street until 1970 when traffic lights were erected. One of his favourite acts was when he had an audience and the one-o-clock gun went off he would clutch his chest and fall to the ground much to the delight of visiting tourists. Goon can't remember ever doing that and and thinks it is apocryphal.
The junction of the Mound and Hanover Street is a dog leg and when Goon was the only pointsman he would have to stop the traffic at one road and then walk the few yards to the other. The stationary traffic would then creep forward once his back was turned so he would suddenly wheel round and point to the leading car who would jam on the brakes sometimes causing the car behind to collide. Great sport! Goon also doubts this story although I have a clear recollection of him doing it.
He sent me his favourite Pointsmans recollection that he does remember:
MY favourite Points story is as follows: When on the Mound (Hanover Street end) someone came to me with a telephone handset which had been torn off from a nearby kiosk. I said I would hand it in when my shift ended and put it in my white coat pocket. Shortly after a wanker in a fuck-off open sports car drew up at my stop signal for west bound travel. I made a ringing sound, pulled the hand set out of my pocket and said 'Hello?'; then I handed it to the driver saying 'It's for you'. He took it from me and also said 'Hello?!' Most satisfying!
Goon was eventually shifted to police HQ writing scripts for crime prevention videos for which he was awarded the BEM (British Empire Medal). He then reverted to his true vocation by becoming a professional actor and has operated free lance ever since, serving on the Equity Scottish committee and making a modest living with film, theatre and other stuff.
I was not aware of this later career move but I did regognise him in one of these fill-ins between programmes on the BBC depicting cavers, an activity he is still pursuing and he is the same age as me!
Goon loved to imitate Edinburgh's then only black man who he remembers was called Rodman Siele and lived in Northumberland Street where we also lived. He could often be seen walking down Princes Street on the hottest day of the year with his shooting stick, all wrapped up in a sheepskin jacket and flying helmet and was certainly an Edinburgh character! Goon used to recount how he once came across him placing a bet in a betting shop saying "I'll have four a'shillin each a'way" just like Peter Sellers imitating Jomo Kenyatta!
Another character was Wendy Wood who ran an organisation called the Scottish Patriots. She could be found at the bottom of the mound urging us all the "stick yer stamps on upside doon. she's nay Liz the 1st of Scotland she's Liz the 2nd. When she died her obit informed us she was English!
Eventually Goon left the flat and the Ghillies to marry Carol. His wedding reception was at the New Waverly Hotel which had been a temperance one and that was their first wet one. All the Ghillies were there of course who went round all the tables drinking what wine other guests left in the bottles so were fairly well oiled.
Outside the hotel we met Brian Melville trying to hide from us in a doorway who we had recruited to the group and sang him the 23rd psalm in full harmony much to his embarrasment. We then drove down Princes Street singing the same hymn and were waved through by every pointsman who were aware that Goon was getting married.
The first time Sue made Goons aquaintance was when she noticed a policeman in full uniform advance towards us in St Andrews Square playing "Colonel Bogey" by tapping his knuckles on his own skull!
Brian Melville (Brian-Brian)
You will be reading a lot about this character as our story progresses because he figured a lot in our lives.
I first met him back in the late 60's when I first went to live in Edinburgh and he joined our folk group the Ghillies. BB was a gifted musician. He played guitar, balalaika-laika, mandolin, bagpipes, penny whistle and any other instrument you cared to throw at him.
The reason he was called Brian-Brian (BB) was because he most often said things twice. When you explained this to someone in his presence he would say "No I don't, No I don't"!
BB's talent were much in demand during the new year celebrations when we used to go first footing. This is where you try to be the first one entering someones house in the new year and traditionally give them gifts of money, food and drink bringing them health, wealth and prosperity.
We used to look for the best parties and get BB to play his bagpipes outside when we were usually invited in. On one occasion we carried around a firkin of Bathams beer we had bought up from Brierley Hill near Dudley as it was in the days when a decent pint had dissappeared from Scotland!
BB eventually married Gwen who was a dancer with the Scottish Ballet, in fact she was the only Scot in the company and on a trip abroad was always used as the spokesperson becuse of her Scottish accent. Gwen was lovely but the marraige did not last and BB then had a succession of partners all called Margaret. I think there were three in all and we knew them as Margaret 1st, 2nd and 3rd.
A common love of the mountains saw BB a regular companion on our expeditions and one of the first I can remember was the Aonach Eagach ridge which runs along the North side of Glen Coe. In winter it is a serious maountaineering challenge but in summer, provided you have a head for heights the rock climbing is not difficult. Sue didn't like the exposure and BB was miles ahead. I would shout to him "What's it like ahead Brian" hoping he would give Sue some encouragement but he would shout back "Oh it's terrible, it's terrible"!
When BB split from Gwen we took pity on him and took him with us on holiday to Spain.
Sue and I planned to make use of our camping gear again in October and drive down to Spain. Titch Frier (he's the one below with the long hair), a friend from my folk singing days in a group called Bitter Withy, was going to be in Benidorm at that time and we arranged to meet up.
Brian-Brian (BB) had split from his wife Gwen and was feeling a bit sorry for himself and we felt a bit sorry for him so we asked him if he would like to join us which he did.
We drove down through France and eventually found ourselves in Spain on the coast somewhere near Lloret de Mar in a nice little camp site.
The site had a nice little restaurant and bar where we met some fellow campers from Germany. Things degenerated from there and as the rough red plonk began to take effect the barman deployed that old Spanish method of increasing wine consumption by the use of the porron.
A porron is a wine decanter from which you drink by holding it above your mouth and drinking from the stream of wine that emerges. This becomes more difficult the more wine you consume and your clothes tend to soak up the overflow. Anglo German relations were not improved with taunts from us like "we won the world cup" and eventully sank to "well we won the war"!
Sue, who had a limited capacity, went off to bed. I followed her later but on the way to our tent was overcome by a sudden attack of billiousness and in mid honk I heard BB say to the Germans "Oh dear, I don't think Mr Biddle is feeling very well"!
The next morning BB confessed he didn't feel very well either and honked in his sleeping bag. He had washed it out and laid it over the car bonnet to dry together with his wine stained white jeans and shirt
We drove down the coast as far as Villajoyosa which is a little further South West of Benidorm but was far more civilised and had a nice little camp site with a restaurant where Mama served up the perfect paella. Tich Frier and his party were found in one of those soulless hotels on the beach at Benidorm where his wife could be heard berating the waiter who was unable to speak English. She thought it was incumbent on him to speak the guests language rather than the other way around.
An English guy had married our camp site owners daughter and kept us amused. He was an ex-Thompson holiday rep and had us in stitches with stories about organising clay pigeon shooting tourist parties "with as much wine as you can drink" and letting drunken tourists off the coach in the dark into a river!
On our final day before setting off to drive home we enjoyed one of his mother-in-laws paella. BB had a prodigious appetite and ordered a second one. This time it was delivered by Mama who placed it in front of BB then, hands on hips, just said "peeg" but he ate everything.
Murdo McCleod (Uncle Murdo or Mondeo Murder)
Murdo was another caver who used to visit the SMCC hut on Mendip. He also had woman problems and we used to take him on holiday sometimes as well. I think it was BB who started this Aunty and Uncle nonesense when at some Spanish bar covered with red wine from a Porron he exclaimed "thank you for taking me on holiday Aunty Sue and Uncle Roger". Murdo adopted the same habit and from then on that was how we addressed each other.
I nicknamed him Mondeo Murder because for some time he only ever drove a Ford Mondeo car.
Murdo's main claim to fame was the size of his willy! He used to say "It's my soap, my bobby and I'll wash it as slow as I like". The ladies certainly seemed to appreciate him and there were never any shortage of replacements.
We once took him on holiday to Italy and he invited Canadian Pat Scott along telling her we were going on a beach holiday. He forgot to tell her we had a change of plan and were going to the Italian lakes. Pat, having just endured a Canadian winter and looking forward to lying on a beach was not amused and Murdo's bobby was very little used!
Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year and once the year is over they begin drinking. Such are the celebrations that I sometimes had to sober up several days later each year to fly down to London to help man the Lister Blackstone Marine stand at the International Boat Show.
Murdo once boarded a bus during Hogmanay feeling a little unwell after a heavy drinking session. The bus became stuck in traffic at the mound. Murdo was on the crowded lower deck standing opposite a bench seat of elderly ladies when he came over all funny and tried to get off the bus while it was stopped. Unfortunately he did not make it before the nausea took over and he performed what is known as a four finger spread over the seated ladies opposite, murmered an apology and quickly jumped off the bus as it restarted.
Goon so loved this story that he used to insist that Murdo re-tell it on numerous occasions.
Murdo was a skilled book binder but he also had an interest in Scottish antiques. He eventually became a successful dealer with a shop in the city. We were the beneficiaries of Murdo's expertise on many occasions and of his generosity in some gifts of fine Scottish artifacts.
Posing in a camp sort of way seems to have been in vogue in those days and one of the biggest posers was Andy (Reliability) Reid. Andy was a caver who for most of his working life was a fisherman and some of that time was with Uncle Murdo as skipper. I don't think they ever made any serious money but I remember them both chatting up some girls in Fort William who asked them what their occupation was and were told they were divers from the Isle of Muff!
Above is another shot of Andy posing. This time with Sue who also had the knack.
All in the best possible taste
Kenny Everett was one of the great comedians of that time and that was his catch phrase.
We held a Bad Taste Party on our return from our Spanish holiday as we had a very bad taste Aussie called Kevin Varnes and his girlfriend Lee staying with us.
Jim, (can't remember his surname), was dressed immaculately in a grey suit which he regarded as the height of bad taste although he could have also been wearing plimsoles.
When I woke the next morning and stumbled into the bathroom there was a huge turd in the middle of the bath. I woke the rest with a series of expletives before discovering the turd was plastic left there by Chris Watson who thought it in the best possible bad taste!
You might remember Kevin's joke when he was on the barge Harmonie with us; What is the similarity between a woman and a turd? Answer; The older they get the easier they are to pick up!
Edinburgh New Town Move
Sometime in 1976 it became evident that Ulstein UK Ltd was going to be a great success. We were already making a profit and planning to build a new factory to manufacture a range of larger propulsion gearboxes and controllable pitch propellers so we were able to put down more substantial roots and looked for a property to buy.
Buying a house in Scotland is very different to England. Most are sold by a solicitor who advertises for offers to be made by a certain date. These offers are then opened and the vendor makes the choice of who gets to buy. Once that offer is made and accepted the contract is legally bound to proceed. There can be no gazumping like in England but the process favours the seller. The potential buyers must employ a structural surveyor at a substantial cost to ensure they can obtain a mortgage, then they may lose the house if their bid is not accepted. This encourages higher offers than would be the case otherwise as you do not want the expense for nothing.
We found a garden flat in Northumberland Street in Edinburgh's New Town which we fell in love with. If it did't have a garden it would be called a basement flat but this was the New Town darling, so called because it was newer than the old city built on the castle rock! This Georgian property was part of a three storey terrace which was built on a slope so that you went down steps from the street but at the rear you had a small garden almost at the level of the lounge area opening onto a mews.
The owners were a young couple who showed us plans they had approved for the construction of a garage which are like hens teeth in the New Town and they seemed to take a liking to us. We asked what price they might be prepared to accept and they gave us an idea.
We tendered the highest price we could afford having in mind the price we knew would be accepted and waited with baited breath on the day all offers were opened. We were the highest offer by £10!
We had Don and Maureen Laverick from Australia staying with us at the time and were invited round to our new apartment for a drink so we took them with us. Our future neighbours had also been invited. Bonner and Lynn from 28a were a couple about our own age. Bonner had his own travel agents business which was very handy and Lynn was an air hostie with Air Anglia. This airline operated one of their aircraft with a bullet hole in it and was therefore known as Air Angola or Air Hang Glider! I used them a lot.
Our neighbours on the other side at 24 owned the whole property. They were David and Theresa Ingram. David was an antique dealer while Theresa did something legal which I didn't understand. David had a unique way with words such that Maureen remarked later that he had the most inoffensive way of using the word 'fuck' she had ever heard!
They all became firm friends over the time we lived in the New Town.
David Ingam was a member of the Edinburgh Arts Club and he inducted me into it so we could play snooker with his friend Stuart Hogg who he called the Hogweed. My particular interest was playing the clubs Bechstein baby grand. We used to get an invite every year to a naughty knicker party from a lingerie shop in the Cowgate. David used to get carried away with the near naked models and would purchase something very sexy for Theresa who joined the queue of all the other wives returning them to the shop the next day!
The Pentland Hills
One of the plus's of living in Edinburgh was having all the benefits of living in the middle a capital city but only being 10 minutes drive from the countryside and much of it wild at that.
I was a member of the Merchants of Edinburgh Golf Club which is situated on the edge of the city on the slopes of the Pentland Hills, indeed it was said you had to have one leg shorter then the other to play the course.
Every Sunday, rain or shine, ice or snow, BB and I would play Archie and Stan and afterwards adjourn to the Canny Mans pub where they had go-go girls. These were a peculiarly Scottish phenomenon of half naked nubiles is cages gyrating provocatively to pop music. Fair put you off your beer!
The Pentlands were high enough to hold snow for the winter months and were a popular walking area. We often used to walk from Swanston across the hills to the Flotterstone Inn and back for a Scottish High Tea. For those who have never experienced a Scottish High Tea it is like a cooked lunch with a big platter of cakes to follow. It set you up for the walk back.
The Lovely Anna and Angela
It was while she was working at Christian Salvesen that Sue met and became good friends with Anna Hossack. Anna was from the border town of Kelso so she became the talk of the town when she became a page three girl for the Scottish Daily Record newspaper posing topless. She was and still is lovely.
The lovely Angela made up a threesome of friends that endured. With our respective partners we would meet regularly in one of Edinburgh's many pubs or restaurants but the girls used to love doing their own thing and terrorised some of the better known Edinburgh nightspots.
Anna and Angela had a much greater ability to hold their drink and poor old Sue could not keep pace with them. On some nights I would be at home by myself and would hear the key in the front door lock which would then be opened and Sue would be dumped on the hall floor with the other two running away giggling.
Madogs is a cocktail bar in George St where Sue was once politely asked to leave. At that time only one other lady had ever been asked to leave. That lady was Princess Margaret!
Later Sue would form a new business partnership with Angela they called Professional Secretaries which was quite successful. The only problem was that they were both so good at their jobs that their clients often wanted to retain them so that other potential clients were continually being disappointed and neither of them enjoyed touting for business. They should have started employing others then and the business could have grown.
Angela eventually married Robin Hendry and began breeding. Robin was a pensions, insurance and investment advisor and Sue worked for him for some time. Robin had half the Scottish Rugby team trying to sell him insurance in those days when they won every game they played at Murrayfield. The record attendance still stands of 105,000 fans who watched them beat Wales at Murrayfield in the amateur days of the five nations competition. Sue knew them all as they worked mostly for insurance companies.
Anna eventually drifted off to live in London but not before introducing us to a friend from Kelso who worshipped the ground she walked on, Lynton Grieve.
Lynton earned his living as a handyman and was employed by us for extended periods improving our garden flat.
One of the first jobs he did was to build a conservatory across the back of the apartment. French windows opened out onto it and even in winter they were usually open with a roaring fire in a basket in the big stone hearth of the lounge which would once have been the range of the servants quarters originally.
We had a problem with sewer rats after Sue discovered a dead one in the coal cellar under the street and freaked out. She regarded rats and mice as worse than onions of which she had a phobia. Sue and Anna went down the the cat and dogs home and purchased a black moggy called Lukey who was more scared of the rats than Sue was. We could hear them underneath our bedroom floorboards. I once pulled back the carpet revealing a small hole through which I could see a pair of incisors nibbling its way through. I grabbed a hand brush we used to use to sweep out the tent when we went camping and thrust its plastic handle into the rats nose. After a while the brush began to move so I pulled it out and the rat had eaten the end of it! I poured poison down the hole to give him a nice feed and it was time to call Lynton.
Lynton lifted the manhole cover outside the front door and established where the rats were coming up from the sewer. He also said whoever had built the manhole walls needed to learn a trade and the only way to stop rats entering was to use cement laced with broken glass which he did.
Much later we employed Lynton to install an en-suite shower and toilet which involved ripping up all the foorboards in the bedroom so he did this while we were away on holiday. We arrived home to find work still ongoing which was normal with Lynton. He told us he had found two mummified rats when he lifted the floorboards so they must have enjoyed my poison!
The garage for which the previous owners had obtained planning consent was built by Lynton and the solicitors on the other side of the mews suggested they might be interested in buying just the garage for £10,000 but I thought it was worth more as part of the apartment
We so loved the conservatory that I had Lynton extend it to double the size with planters on two sides. We even had a black homberg grape vine in one corner which flourished. We also obtained permission to fell a huge sycamore tree in the garden which shaded everyone around and the GSG descended in force using climbing techiques to progressively remove it.
The conservatory roof was Georgian wired glass. One day a slate tile came off the roof, pierced the Georgian glass and embedded itself end on in the wooden conservatory floor where Sue had been minutes before. We then had Lynton replaced the roof with triple plasic glazing which could withstand future attacks. It also had the added benefit of letting through the ultra violets which were good for the plants and for us.
There was a little alcove in one corner of the lounge in which I installed an upright piano but my ultimate objective was a baby grand for which there was ample room in the lounge. One of my neighbours further along the street was an auctioneer and kept a look out for one within my price range. Word went around and a solicitor across the road in a first floor flat was moving South and had a grand piano for sale. I went over to see it. It was an English Challen baby grand, played beautifully with a nice soft tone. I asked how much she wanted fearing the worst and she said £1,000 so I bit her hand off and we did the deal.
A few mates came round to help me carry it down a flight of stairs to street level and then down to our basement. It needed tuning after that but was my pride and joy for all the years we lived on dry land before we bought Harmonie.
The next period of our lives saw Ulstein grow and me getting introduced to New Zealand.