This is a new travelogue of a recent trip to Bulgaria. Starting in Sofia, it features several places of interest, and then details day trips to Melnek, Plovdiv and Koprivshtitsa.
The World Stone Skimming Championship is an annual event that takes place on Easdale Island, in Argyll on the west coast of Scotland – a lovely part of the world. It’s an absolute hoot! Much fun and entertainment. Everyone is so friendly and it’s impossible not to have a good time. The event is great fun for all ages, with many children also taking part. My video above shows some of what happened during the 2019 Championships, which took place on 29th September.
The rules are fairly simple. Stones used for skimming must be formed Easdale slate and be not more than 3 inches at its widest point. Each contestant has 3 skims per session. The stone must bounce on the surface of the water no less than 2 times before being considered a valid skim, and must sink between the designated area. Essentially, everyone is trying to skim the furthest distance, and if you reach the ‘back wall’ you will get through to the ‘Toss-off’ final.
The 2019 men’s champion was Peter Szep, from Hungary. The women’s champion was Christina Bowen-Bravery, who is shown in my video.
A five day trip to the Isle of Barra, September 2019. Kayaking around Bàgh Bhreibhig. Cycling to Vatersay. Barra Airport.
Michael Herr, who authored Dispatches, is mentioned in The Cat from Huế which I reviewed in this blog a few weeks ago. Herr was a journalist who volunteered to go to Vietnam to cover the war. He effectively volunteered every time he got in a helicopter and was taken to a landing zone, as he could have turned around and walked away. To repeatedly put your life under threat when you don’t have to is a very strange thing to do. The ‘grunts’ knew this, and frequently asked Herr what he was doing in Vietnam. It was a question he found difficult to answer.
Herr writes in a unique style about the Vietnam War. It’s almost gonzo journalism, like that of Hunter S. Thompson. You can read many of the sentences once and they seem to make sense, but if you read them again, the flow of words is harder to comprehend. But parts are similar to how some in the military spoke in Vietnam, at that time. This is how he makes things authentic, and is part of the appeal of the book.
Herr, like John Laurence (author of The Cat from Huế) knew Sean Flynn, the son of Errol Flynn, who was a photojournalist in Vietnam. I believe that Herr, like Flynn, was one of the better correspondents. There were plenty of others who barely left the briefing rooms, or who simply repeated verbatim the military briefings in their reports. Herr, Burrows, Laurence, Keith Kay, Greenway and a few others ‘walked the walk’ (to quote that chap in Full Metal Jacket) and tried to report accurately what they saw. Sometimes they were hated by the grunts, and they all heard from officers words to the effect of ‘My Marines are winning this war, and you people are losing it for us in your papers’ (the war became very unpopular at home in the US). The correspondents saw that it was a pointless war, where the victims were too often civilians with no particular affiliation to either South Vietnam or North Vietnam, so how do you accurately report on that situation? What will the colleagues of a dead Marine in a body bag think of the photographer who takes a photo of the bag?
The western music played by correspondents and grunts was very distinct, and included songs by Creedence, Hendrix, Wilson Pickett, the Doors and the Grateful Dead.
All concerned had a macabre sense of what was going on in Vietnam, and this comes across well in Herr’s book.
Here’s a short video of our recent kayak trip around the north of Seil Island, on the west coast of Scotland. The weather was calm, but it was quite a cloudy day.
Large chunks of the story of Crosby Stills Nash & Young are already well-known, but this doesn’t detract from Peter Doggett’s biography of the band. Some parts of the history of the band have been retold so many times that the facts have become blurred. Who first named Buffalo Springfield, for example? Doggett gives the various claimants space, and then moves on.
What is undoubtedly true is that there was an immense amount of talent up in the canyons (Laurel, Topanga, etc) above LA in the late 60s and throughout the 70s, with many musicians and artists who went on to become household names living in the area and bouncing ideas off each other. It was up there that CSN first sang together and discovered their magic harmonies. Their egos were massive. They thought they were changing the world. CSN&Y were fairly typical, in this respect. They consumed massive amounts of drugs, and things didn’t turn sour until cocaine became the recreational drug of choice.
I’m not a particularly big fan of CSN&Y’s music, but I love reading about this period in rock music history, and have written about it before. CSN&Y were one of the first ‘supergroups’ made up of notable individuals from other groups. They argued a lot, they fell out a lot, and they made some pretty good music on the way.
In Slow Road to Brownsville: A Journey Through the Heart of the Old West, David Reynolds drives the length of Highway 83 from where it starts at Swan River in Canada, to Brownsville on the US border with Mexico. Reynolds in British, though his grandfather lived for a while near Swan River, and this gives him an outsider’s perspective on things American. For example, he asks a friend of his about someone who happens to come up in conversation called Schoenrath. “In England, we cannot help speculating on the origin of a name. But to Stuart [the American he was talking to about Schoenrath] German names, Ukranian, Swedish, Irish, Russian, and any European names, are all the same: labels, not guides to race or nationality, nor, I am sure, to class.”
Reynolds drives Highway 83 because he wants to travel the US backroads rather than the Interstates. It takes him only until page 49 to mention William Least Heat-Moon, who wrote Blue Highways, a book I very much enjoyed reading many moons ago. It strikes me that Reynolds is a fairly gentle person, and this is a gentle book, with few major revelations, but this does not mean that Reynolds is not an excellent writer, or that the book is boring – it isn’t, at all. Reynolds meets numerous locals during his travels, relates their opinions and stories, and then moves on, describing the landscapes as he passes through the mid-West. Somehow, due to his skills as a writer, it all ends up being quite compelling.
He’s aware of the local history, especially of the Indians (a term he uses, as do the locals he meets including the Indians, rather than Native Americans or First Nations people) and cowboys, and he’s quite fascinated by them.
I particularly like his chapter titles, which have obviously been chosen with care, such as “Where the Dead Guys Aren’t” (about the Boot Hill museum where the bodies have been moved to a new location); “Two Panhandles and the Cherokee” and “Truman Capote and the Clutters”.
Reynolds spends a day with a fascinating lady, Carol, on a ranch near Menard, and discovers more about the history of that area. Another time, he finds out why the white Americans seem to accept Indian, but not black people (they don’t see the smaller number of Indians as threats). He finds out that Highway 83 along which people moved alcohol during Prohibition is now a drug route from Mexico to the north.
Slow Road to Brownsville is a well-written road trip book, a genre I always enjoy, and I enjoyed this book as well.