Dam-tot-Dam walk

Abi and I took part in the Dam-tot-Dam walk yesterday. We set out from the house at about 06:45, cycled to Zaandam station and took the train to Amsterdam. The starting line for the walk was on Dam Square, and the 26km route took us through central Amsterdam, out over Zeeburgereiland, through Schellingwoude, Noord, and finally skirting Oostzaan before curving round to take us back into the centre of Zaandam.

So canal. Such bike. Very Amsterdam. Wow.

When we got in to Amsterdam Central Station, I noticed that my back was wet. The wet patches were where the backpack’s padding was pressing up against my lower back, and I thought it must have been that I’d got a bit sweaty from the cycle to Zaandam. When we got to the starting line and took the route maps and stamp cards out of the backpack, though, we discovered that it was because one of the cans of cola we’d brought with us had burst open and emptied completely. At least it hadn’t been dripping brown liquid down the back of my trousers, but everything in the backpack (most notably: spare socks) was completely soaked. The lower back foam padding had absorbed much of the liquid, and I spent most of the walk trying to ignore a moist chafing feeling.

The previous day’s referendum result had knocked me flat. Because of the early morning, I hadn’t fully caught up on sleep. Discovering the burst can sent my mood spiralling even further down. I was close to not even starting the walk in the first place, but I didn’t want to let Abi down. She offered to carry the backpack, but the thought of walking 26km with an uncomfortable wet back seemed like suitable punishment for…I don’t know, not having packed it more carefully, not having done more to persuade “No” voters, and being a terrible person in general. Depression fucks with your head.

The first half of the walk was miserable. I practically growled at a trio of women who asked me to take their photo at the first rest stop. Not my finest moment. I got a bit better in the second half. Exercise helps me, but it takes time for the effects to kick in. I think I managed to recover enough to smile a bit by the end, but I was awful company. I apologize to Abi, and to everyone I glared at on the way.

Hordes of walkers in Kadoelen

But we did another 26km walk, which is cool. We gorged ourselves on freshly deep-fried kibbeling afterwards, without fear of calories.

Abi at the finish line

No

I was too tired to stay up beyond 01:30. I set my alarm for 04:00 and fell asleep quickly.

Turned on the TV a couple of minutes after 4, and saw that No was ahead 51 to 49 after 7 results declared. I couldn’t handle the feverish excitement of the TV commentators. I turned the sound off. Rather than stay up to watch more results come in, I set my alarm again for 06:00.

I tossed and turned for two hours, hoping that the later results might be positive enought to overturn No’s lead, heart pounding in fear they wouldn’t. Wondering how I would react to a final No outcome.

I checked the time at 05:59, seconds before my alarm would have sounded. Turned on the TV, saw the camera panning over cheering No supporters. 55 to 45.

First Minister’s speech following defeat. Self-congratulation over the high turnout, but no change.

So here I am, alone in a tiny hotel room, watching TV with the sound turned off, crying.

On the Eve of the Referendum

Technically it’s the day of the referendum already, but I’m not counting it until I wake up in the morning. I’m in Scotland again until Friday, but I’m not a resident, so I can’t vote.

I’m staying at the newly opened Ibis Budget Hotel in South Gyle. It’s “budget” along the same lines as the Tune Hotel at Haymarket, but more generous with its space and facilities. Double bed with a high quality, firm mattress, and thick pillows. (And a single bunk above it, too, in case I get restless in the night.) There’s a shower pod, a sink, and a toilet cubicle with a Western saloon-style swinging door, which is odd. Some hanging space and a desk/dresser corner with a small plastic stool. The surfaces are all optimized for easy cleaning. Unlike at the Tune, the TV and shit wifi are included in the room price. There doesn’t seem to be an option to upgrade from shit to premium. Or a way to turn off the noisy air conditioning.

I went out for a quick drink with some folks after work. I left the pub just after 19:30, intending to take a long evening walk back to the hotel. On the bus into town this morning, winding through Stenhouse, Balgreen, and Gorgie I had seen lots of “Yes” posters in windows – far, far more than the indications of “No” support. I wanted to see if the view would be any different on foot.

It was: just across the Meadows, at the foot of Middle Meadow Walk, I ran straight into a Yes rally. I estimated around 500 people, lots of badges, flags (Scottish, Welsh, and even one Frisian), banners, and applause for a speaker I could neither see nor hear.

Rally on the Meadows

I didn’t feel like hanging around, so I carried on towards Tollcross. Last week, while searching for a good burger joint in Edinburgh I had noticed a place just called “Burger” in Fountainbridge, and without intending to I walked right past it this evening. Well, “walked past it” in the sense of also stopping off and ordering a rather delicious bacon and cheese burger with fries. The double burgers on the menu looked tempting, but a single was quite enough. The patty was rich and moist, on a brioche-style bun that absorbed a lot of the juices without going soggy. I had ordered a side of chili sauce, but it was more like a shrimp dipping sauce than something I would want to slather on a burger. Overall verdict: very tasty, and I’d gladly go back again.

Afterwards I walked on…briefly, and found myself at the Cineworld cinema at Fountain Park. I couldn’t resist checking what was on, and I found that if I hung around for another twenty minutes I could catch a showing of The Guest. I hadn’t even seen a trailer for it, but I’d heard it was fun and John Carpenter-ish, and I was intrigued to see Dan Stevens in something other than Downton Abbey. It lived up to the promise: it’s a hoot. Right from the shrieking opening title card, it feels like a throwback to a simpler era of psychological horror film. Without trying to be excessively clever or twisy, it just delivers a boat-load of thrills. Dan Stevens does an excellent five second friendly-to-menacing transition.

After the film, I saw a car driving around with an iluminated blue Statue of Liberty, draped in a Saltire.

By this point it was 23:30, and I figured it was too late to walk all the rest of the way back to the hotel, so I just took the bus.

How do I think the referendum will go tomorrow? I don’t know. That’s not to say that I think “it will be close” as the polls are predicting. It’s just that I can’t separate what I think will happen from what I hope will happen. I think there are good reasons to question the pollsters’ methodologies; flaws that might well underestimate the Yes vote. Or maybe the polls are good and accurate, and the outcome will be tight, within their margin of error. What I know, though, is that the polls have shown a big shift towards Yes over the last month. Also, from walking around Perth and Edinburgh, I have seen a lot more support on the ground for Yes than for No. I’m going to ignore Twitter for reasons of availability bias: I follow more yes supporters than no supporters, so I’m obviously in a self-selected bubble of blue and white.

To suck my teeth and say “well, it’s going be close!” may be giving in to wishy-washy thinking, showing an unwillingness to commit to a strong position based on my own analysis and observations. To say that I think the vote will go “strongly” Yes may be giving in to all sorts of psychological biases and fallacies. No-one likes to be wrong. The numbers say it will be close. I…just don’t know.

Normally on these trips to Scotland I bring back some sweets for Abi, Alex, and Fiona. This week, I hope I can bring them back a whole new country.

Casual triathlon

“casual triathlon”- like fancy trainers and knife fights?
Dave

Not quite. After walking a marathon two years ago, Abi and I have been doing more long-distance walks. We enjoy the time together and the things we see while we’re out, and they’re good exercise. We’re not athletes by any stretch of the imagination, but it pleases us that we don’t have to “get in training” to tackle a 26km walk.

When we go on holiday to France, we’re in the habit of swimming 100 lengths of a 10m pool: 1km, albeit with lots of turns. At some point over the summer, inspired by Alan, I checked the wikipedia article about triathlons and learned that the famed “Iron Man” is just the hardest and longest version. There is also a “standard” distance, which involves a 1.5km swim, a 40km cycle, and a 10km run. Hmm, I thought. That actually sounds quite feasible.

So yesterday Abi and I went and did one. Casually. Slowly. Crucially: without paying any attention to time. We did it because we wanted to do the distance, and show to ourselves that we could.

My original idea had been to get an early start, but it turns out that our nearest pool is reserved for swimming lessons on Saturdays, and isn’t open to the public. The Zaangolf pool on the other side of Zaandam was open for lane swimming between 12:00 and 13:00, so we decided to make it an afternoon thing. The Zaangolf is about 10km away by bike, so that would be a good warm-up.

We left the house around 11:15, and got to the pool by 12:00. We changed and started our swim at 12:14. I finished my 60 lengths at 12:52. Abi wasn’t done yet, though, so I carried on and did another twenty lengths. We got out of the pool at 13:04, so 50 minutes down. We dressed quickly, took a few selfies with our eyes ringed and bruised from the swimming goggles, and had a drink by our bikes before we set off on the second leg.

Cycle Zaandam style: standard “Dutch” bikes, kitted out for comfort, cargo, and commuting.

Our cycle route took us through the Zaanse Schans and along the Zuiderweg to Purmerend. Noord-Holland might not have any hills, but it certainly has wind (it’s famous for windmills for a reason) and it was directly in our face for that stretch. Going through Purmerend was slow as well, because it was urban stop-start.

With open bridges

We eventually made our way up onto the Purmerdijk, and followed the curve of the canal round to Edam, just past the half-way point. We didn’t enter Edam proper, but hooked back on the Edammerweg to the Oosterweg. At that point we were heading south-east, and had the wind almost directly at our backs. We flew down the that 5km perfectly straight stretch, revelling in the knowledge that the second half was mostly all in this direction.

Abi fighting the wind and peeling a hard-boiled egg on the Purmerdijk

We took the tiny ferry over the canal at Ilpendam, and almost before I knew it, we were back in Het Twiske. Our plan was to make it to 40km, park our bikes, and then do the last 10km as a big loop around the lake in Het Twiske. We headed for the Marsen Farm, and by excellent coincidence hit 40km almost exactly as we arrived there, in a time of 3 hours and 6 minutes. We parked our bikes, and set off on foot.

Not too much to say about the 10km loop, other than that it was a gorgeous afternoon for a walk: warm, sunny, and with a pleasant breeze. We were a bit tired after the cycle, but the walk gave us another change of pace and a different set of muscles to exercise. 10.23km and 2 hours and 3 minutes later we got back to our bikes at the farm, slightly sweaty and sticky, but happy and satisfied. It was 18:36. From that start of our swim at 12:14, it had taken us 6 hours and 22 minutes.

Done!

The sun hadn’t set, but was sinking in the sky. The leaves of the chestnut trees near the farm were starting to turn, and the golden light brought out all the warm tones in the the greens and browns. We’re enjoying a lovely nazomer right now. It would be great if it saw us through to the Dam-tot-Dam walk next weekend.