Mind the gap!

“Mind the gap” says the rather disconnected voice over the PA system which announces the arrival of a draft of icy cold air as the automatic doors of the under ground train swoosh open, which is quite welcome as the press of bodies on this Piccadilly line to Heathrow is making the atmosphere rather claustrophobic.  I also think the fact that all the passengers are wearing thick winter coats, scarves and woollen beanies, a necessity in the middle of a UK winter, adds to the thickness of the air.

As a South African, the idea of hopping on and off these spaghetti junction trains to get to your destination is still a novelty, and realise that for those that this pastime forms the drudgery of their daily lives, it would be hard to find any joy in the activity.

One thing I have noticed and read about is the noticeable lack of eye contact.  It seems that no one dares make eye contact. If by chance, god forbid, your eyes meet, the immediate eye movement in the opposite direction would alarm many an optometrist.

I find myself reading and rereading the adverts just above my fellow passengers heads, or watching the electronic notice board advising of which station will be next. Or looking down at the feet across directly across from me.  This I decided was the best way to pass the time, to examine the footwear of the people who are my companions for the next whole and try and analyse who they are and what their lives might be like, just from viewing them from the knees down.

To my right, enter female, alone, older, I can tell this by the liver spots on her legs as she is only one in my line of vision wearing a skirt.  It is a tiered rather dated denim skirt which comes down to mid calf length.  She is wearing scuffed red “takkies”. I look up and see she is holding onto her handbag very tightly and her other hand is white knuckled around her suitcase (she is going to Heathrow).  She is also wearing a scarf festooned with giraffes. I decided she is travelling to South Africa for a safari and it is her first time travelling solo, wants to be comfortable walking around hence the shoes that really did not go with her outfit.

To her left are two pairs of shiny metal toed, pointy black boots.  One male and one female. Twins? No just a fashionista couple off maybe for a European trip as they also had matching Louis Vuitton bags. I could take a closer look at them as they were both totally engrossed in their electronic devices.

Quite new hiking boots are next in my peripheral vision. Dark grey chinos, well worn and a little creased, and a walking stick.  An older gentleman, who had sat down rather quickly and inelegantly when the train moved away while he was still making his way to the vacant seat. Out of this ordinariness, one feature stood out and that was the ring on his middle finger, was large and silver with some kind of Nordic god engraved on it.  I did glance up and saw that he sported a large Father Christmas beard – maybe he was travelling on the underground in disguise in a hurry to get back to the North Pole.


It was the flash of a silver hello kitty wheelie bag that next caught my attention, with the requisite sparkling white platform heeled converse takkies, skinny jeans.  A young Chinese girl returning home.

My own little personal pass the time game was then interrupted with that detached “Mind the Gap – the next station is terminal 2 and 3.” Time to return to my own life story.

Stumpy vs Stompie

This is not an equal comparison as there is absolutely no correlation between the two – with Stumpy being the tame-ish deer that frequents Kylesku and Stompie is the South African term for a fag butt ….. or is there?  The old adage – man vs nature!


This is Stumpy – quite shy

There is always a lot of controversy surrounding the culling of wild animals and none more so than here in Scotland where it is deemed to be a necessity, with numbers multiplying to levels too many for the natural resources to sustain them all.  These numbers are attributed to the fact that wolves – their natural predators – have disappeared.  On doing a little research I read that if undisturbed a herd of 300 deers can grow to 3000 in a space of 13 years (The guardian.co.uk).

With the lack of sufficient grazing, the health and well being of these animals will deteriorate. So, in order to keep the herds happy and healthy the culling is necessary.  The estate owners determine annually which of the herd are in poor health, or getting too old to be able to nourish themselves and will target these animals when “hunting” season opens – speeding up the natural circle of their lives.  Now as everyone who knows me knows, I am an avid anti-gun champion and deplore the “sport” of hunting, but understand the reasoning behind this.  But if man had not in their supposed wisdom, killed off the wolves in order to protect themselves, this conundrum would not exist.

Man 1 – Nature 0

The north west of Scotland is opening up massively to tourism, which is welcomed by the locals with the much needed injection of cash into the economy, which also unfortunately brings with it, its own problems, not only for the deer but other wildlife too.  You would think with the easy access to internet, the trend to go green, the massive international anti-pollution drive and just common sense, people would be respectful of the unspoilt places still left on this planet of ours.  Out running in the perfect solitude that this place offers, I came across a Starbucks coffee cup discarded on the road side.  The closest Starbucks is many many miles away, so why would someone wait till they are in the middle of this pristine environment to chuck this out their window! But my biggest dismay was, watching two women, needing to step outside the restaurant to have a cigarette, standing chatting and admiring the spectacular vista that they have come to witness, then casually turning away and both flicking their stompies into the loch! Is it lack of education, stupidity or just total lack of soul?

So why the comparison between Stumpy and stompies? This is Stumpy’s natural hunting ground, he is an old man, who appears to prefer his own company to that of a herd and hangs around the Kylesku Hotel and has become somewhat of a feature and sighting him brings much excitement. His horns are stumpy and are no longer as majestic as they used to be in his prime, with his teeth deteriorating and wearing down so he is not able to get as much nourishment as he needs. But he belongs! He fits! Those human visitors with their gas guzzling 4×4’s, cameras at the ready to show they were here, whilst not truly appreciating the beauty that surrounds them, flicking their stompies which take more than 10 years to decompose, contaminate waterways and soil and harm wildlife – do not!

Stumpy 0 – Stompies 1 – a sad state of affairs.


Working in the Scottish Highlands

There is a strong easterly, icy wind blowing, I am outdoors, washing windows, my hands are frozen, the salt residue blown by this icy wind off the loch, is encrusted and a little stubborn on the window panes requiring a little more energy to be expended, my favorite song is playing through my ear phones resting snugly in my ears, my body is warm from the repetitive motion of dip, wash, swipe dry, next time I will wear gloves, because there will be a next time and a next …… this place has an energy that has snuck into my soul. I turn and stop – the incredible vista in front of me is enough to take my breath away each time. There is not a soul in sight – they have gone indoors to savour the delicious fare served up by the hotel, warm and cozy next to the ever burning woodfires. I remove my ear phones, a few seagulls are battling against the upward draft and their cries can be heard above the whistling of the wind.  The normally crystal clear water of the loch is a little churned up and is lapping around the slipway as the tide steadily rises.  A cheeky seal does what appears to be a somersault and emerges with a large fish, which the seagulls then investigate to see if he would be willing to share, not this time, he dives back under the deep blue choppy waters with his lunch in tow.  And this is work.


Fast forward a few hours – I am now indoors – getting ready for the dinner rush.  Silver cutlery is all polished. No need for gloves here as it is lovely and toasty and with the candles now lit on each table, the soft atmosphere is warm and inviting.  The sun has set, but there is still a gentle light outside.  The wind has abated and the loch is like a mirror with it almost impossible to tell where the sky starts and where it ends with the perfect reflections of the surroundings in these still waters.  The seagulls have retired to bed and the only sound which can be heard above the crackle of the fires and the mellow background music playing in the restaurant is the low hum of the local fishing boat coming back after a day out at sea, lights glowing brightly in the early evening, bearing their catch of the day. Dinner guests start arriving and there is the hum of conversations as tales of their adventures of the day unfold. Inside the kitchen as the night progresses, tables are being called, food orders being served in an almost regimental fashion where the customer’s needs are catered for diligently, the movement of the swing doors in and out of the kitchen could create enough energy on their own to power the entire village. On really busy nights my fitbit step counter feels like it goes into overdrive tallying up more than 20000 steps in a day, and that’s not including my magical morning runs. And this is work.


Other days, doing a housekeeping shift, may not be as picturesque, but the environment somehow still carries the magic with it. Music in my ears, my body being worked hard physically, which in itself is an added bonus, almost like being paid to go to gym without the mundaneness, repetitiveness and sterility of a gym workout, where I can stop in between “repeats” and just absorb my surroundings.  And this is work.

It amazes me daily how in this remote location, everything works and runs like a well-oiled engine. Yes, there are hiccups, but nothing is insurmountable.  Maybe it is coming to work here in the Scottish Highlands, far away from my own beautiful, vibrant, but rather chaotic non law-abiding home country that I see how different life can be. The weekly refuse collectors, arrive in spotless vehicles, at the same time each week, and get invited in for breakfast and coffee before moving onto the next village. Post is collected and delivered daily, with a parcel taking only 2 days to get to its destination. Being so remote, the Royal Bank of Scotland, also make a weekly trip out for anyone needing to do some banking.  The public toilets get cleaned daily by the local council. And so much more.

All I can say is that I must have done something right in my life to have the opportunity to be able to work in this amazing environment, which feeds my soul daily and at the same time be able to make the rather long hop, skip and jump back home to get my family and chaos fix.