Friday, 24 September 2010

Writer's Retreat - Part 2

My mad dash for the taxi queue sent travelers scurrying out of my way and I hurled myself at the poor driver, grabbed his arm and promised him the world and all my money if he could get me into the centre of Inverness in the next 20 minutes. The bus station was 15 kilometers from the airport and I convinced myself I would hold my breath for the entire journey if that would reduce our drag and make us go faster. God knows, the taxi driver needed all the help he could get as he proceeded to pour out his life story to me: 4 children from 4 women and he was only 47 and didn’t I think he looked a lot younger. He didn’t seem to want my world or need my money. I snarled a speech about STDs and appropriate use of birth control. I have never wished more that I carried condoms in my handbag than I did at that moment. OK, that’s not entirely true.

Just as we rounded the corner for the station, I had a major panic attack that I had left my wallet on the counter at the airport Starbucks when I thought I had all the time in the world to enjoy a coffee as I strolled to the bus and sat back on my relaxing 1 hour bus journey. Instead I was clutching the cup as I jumped out of the taxi whilst it was stopped at a red traffic light and heaved open the boot of the taxi and started rifling through the various pockets. The poor taxi driver was speechless as he stood next to me watching me meltdown. Some of you may remember I certain trip I took a few months ago to Zurich when after enjoying a full day of polo with even fuller glasses of champagne being quaffed nonstop for nearly 6 hours I thought I accidentally left my card in the cash point machine (ATM) at the Zurich airport. I couldn’t find it when I checked into the hotel and in blind panic rang home for bank numbers and card numbers, then rang the bank and got it all cancelled before realizing I then had no way to check out of the hotel which did eventually let me check out using a debit card. The one bit of the story I haven’t exactly gone public with is that I hadn’t left the card in the cash point at all. In my drunken stupor, I had put the card in a secret stash pocket of my wallet where I had never before ventured and whilst searching for a pound for parking months later happened upon the card thinking to myself, how the hell did that get there? Stayed tuned to the very end of this long and winding road to find out about the latest adventures of my wallet.

Needless to say, my wallet was in the top pocket of my suitcase which is the home I had given it in light of EasyJet’s ban on handbags. Even women are allowed only one carry on which means that if you have a suitcase to carry on you must put your handbag or the contents of your handbag inside your suitcase. Do they know how difficult and disruptive this is? Do they care? Nuff said.

I jumped back into the taxi and apologized for being a wee bit crazy. I knew he was thinking “a wee bit”? He drove to the other side of the road and couldn’t get me out of his taxi fast enough as I threw copious wads of money at him. 15 kilometers in 15 minutes, life story of sexual irresponsibility, near catastrophic public meltdown in the middle of Inverness all for the low low price of £27. Who could ask for anything more? And this was just day 1.

Considering my lack of experience with bus stations, I found the right bus with surprisingly little difficulty despite the fact that I don’t think I properly pronounced the city of my destination, Ullapool, which is where I needed to change buses. The blessed driver even agreed to postpone his departure until I returned from the toilet. Phew. After that coffee, I was bursting and I was scared to death of being trapped on a bus with no loo for the next 2 hours and no access to facilities.

The bus wasn’t completely crowded but there were enough people partaking in the joys of public transport that I felt very green. The seat next to me was empty so unpacked my handbag which was inside my suitcase and started moving things around making my handbag much more useful. I was tweeting and facebooking until my fingers ached anticipating imminent disconnection from the grid. I surreptitiously sized up my fellow passengers looking for the two women, Kristen and Rhoda, who I had guessed would be on the same bus as I but I couldn’t spot anyone that looked like a writer. Besides, most of my fellow passengers had fallen fast asleep complete with drool down the side of their mouth and even one (perhaps two) rumbling snore(s). So, this is Scotland? I was so jazzed up on my caffeine and the adrenalin rush from the taxi journey I couldn’t even manage a yawn.

The sights outside the window were by far more compelling than my fellow traveling companions. I was soon mesmerized by the landscape passing me by. Somehow I had missed the news bulletin announcing how beautifully stunning this landscape is. All I had heard was that it rained all the time and the midges/mosquitos were evil. So far I had seen nothing other than glorious big blue skies (with some very dramatic clouds) and not a single midge had taken an ounce of flesh off me. So, THIS is Scotland!

The bus driver didn’t really announce any stops and there wasn’t an electronic billboard announcing the next stop so I was hoping it would be obvious when it was time to disembark. Since the bus stopped at Ullapool Pier and was returning to Inverness I made an educated guess that now might be the time to get off. No sooner had I got my luggage and walked round that bus than the next bus appeared.

It seems that time is a wee bit elastic in Scotland. Our bus to Lochinver was scheduled to depart at 4:52 but at 4:55 we were still sitting there. I thought maybe someone had gone to the toilet and we were waiting for them which was only kind considering they done it for me. But at 5:05 we were still sitting there. I resisted my standard mode of operation which would have been to go up and find out what was going on. I figured I had no place to be by any specific time so no skin off my back. You have no idea how liberating that was! Soon another bus arrived and a whole bunch of people got off that bus and got on to our bus. Seems there is a ferry in Lochinver and if our bus had left those people would have been stranded for the night away from their home. Waiting is not a bad thing.

But apparently being late is. The bus driver decided this was his opportunity to practice his Formula1 skills: twisting, turning, up, down, oncoming traffic be damned even if that is a lorry. Thoughts began to race through my mind: I think I’ll just close my eyes, no, that won’t work, oh god, that was a really bad idea, I think I’m going to be sick, hang on, you are going to fall into the lap of the old man with a flat cap, perhaps I shouldn’t have sat at the front of bus, oh dear those suitcases are flying, that suitcase is going to fall on me, ouch, that’s gonna leave a bruise, this may just be the end of my life, is my will up to date?

Every now and again the bus driver would stop and let someone out. Once a young, fiery red haired, Irish girl in her twenties hoisted her backpack up on to her back whilst the bus was still moving (that impressed the hell out of me) and got off when the driver stopped. I don’t know how he knew that was where she wanted to get off. And I don’t know where she was going. It had started to drizzle rain. She had no coat on. There were no cars waiting for her. There were no buildings anywhere around, only a road that headed off to the west disappearing over a hill.

I didn’t have much time to ponder her fate as I watched her disappear and the ride of my life resumed. Every couple of miles the bus would come to a stop and left off a few passengers. As the population of passengers diminished I noticed that the bars on my mobile phone had greatly diminished and I had little mobile phone signal. It didn’t really matter anyway because I didn’t dare release my grip on my seat to type out a witty text, status update or tweet. I couldn’t bear to look out the window and witness the landscape racing past me like my life before my eyes. I began to surreptitiously inspect the stragglers. Who on this bus looked like a Kristen? A Rhoda? I’ve never met a Rhoda although I’ve seen one on television. What does a writer look like? What does someone who would go on a writer’s retreat look like? I was only entirely sure that I didn’t have a clue and no one looked like they were looking for a LaDawn.

I saw the sign indicating we had arrived in Lochinver but instead of the blind good luck I’d had in Ullapool, it became clear that there was more than one stop in Lochinver and I couldn’t remember which one I needed. Before the driver could put his pedal to the metal, I raced to the front of the bus and asked if he knew where I was to get off for where I was going. He asked me where I was going.

It was at this point that I realized I didn’t know how to pronounce Glencanisp and that all I really knew was that I was going on a writer’s retreat to meet a woman named Mandy who ran a organisation named Top Left Corner. None of this came out of my mouth in any coherent way so that another human being could make any sense of it. Maybe he wasn’t really human in the way Lewis Hamilton can’t really be human. But he appeared to understand me and mumbled something that vaguely sounded like “next one” so I returned to my seat not feeling any better informed.

At this point, having revealed myself as the bus idiot, Rhoda and Kristen revealed themselves as fellow retreaters. Before we knew it, the bus had stopped again and the driver was mumbling something which sounded vaguely like “this is your stop” but could have just as easily have been “get off my bus you stupid women”. All three of us remained seated. OK, so they couldn’t understand him either. At this point he raised his voice and told us to get off the bus. Well, perhaps not those exact words but definitely words to that effect.

The trio retrieved their luggage and fell off the bus and looked for a woman named Mandy. There was no woman here but at least the rain had stopped. When only a man was in the car park I was certain there was a mistake and was ready to get back on the bus. But he introduced himself as John and asked if I was LaDawn, Rhoda or Kristen. He relieved of us our belongings and packed it all into the back of his estate car (station wagon).

Rhoda was very persistent that we stop almost as soon as we started to pop into a shop. She wanted wine and with my trip having frazzled every nerve ending, I felt that a bottle or 7 wouldn’t go astray. I also knew that the arrangements were that we were responsible for providing our own alcohol although the joining instructions had indicated wine would be provided on the first night. I didn’t want to risk running out either. I sided with Rhoda.

We crossed the road to the local Spar and whilst I bought a single bottle of wine, I was impressed when Rhoda purchased a bottle of gin. Kristen had a good nose around the shop but didn’t feel the urge for intoxication courage.

My mobile phone had lost any and all single at all as soon as we turned down the single track road towards the lodge. The sun was beginning to set and dusk was upon us. We were surrounded by breath taking scenery and were able to introduce ourselves properly to each other.

Soon we pulled up in front of the lodge. The door was purple. Who paints a door purple on a grand and genteel lodge? I hadn’t expected a purple door and now everything I thought I might find behind that door was pulled into question. What was I going to find behind that purple door? Who was I going to find behind that purple door? It started to rain and John opened the door and we stepped in.

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