Scotland road trip with Alex, Saturday 17 June 2017

Alex in Kyleakin. Skye Bridge in background for scale.

On Friday 16 June Alex took his first solo (passenger) flight, from Amsterdam to Edinburgh. I had been in Edinburgh that week, and I was there to pick him up after border control. Our original idea for the weekend had included trips to Stirling and Aberdeen, but plans change, and we decided to take a road trip to the hilly bits instead.

We set out around 11:00 and drove up the A9 to Inverness. We stopped there for lunch and a wander around. On our quest for fish and chips, we found a spot just opposite a game store (Ellerium Games). Alex has been on the lookout for a specific Commander deck for Magic The Gathering, so we stuck our head in there after we had eaten. Nice shop, with a friendly bunch of people playing board games upstairs, but they didn’t have what we were after. We walked up to Inverness Castle, decided not to go up the tower, and returned to the car to figure out where to go next.

We still hadn’t seen much satisfyingly craggy mountains on the drive up the A9, so we headed further towards Kinlochewe. The further west we got, the wetter it was. We pulled off the road at a parking spot just short of Kinlochewe for view down towards Loch Maree, but most of it was obscured by low clouds and misty rain. We stopped for petrol just after the village. The shopkeeper told me that the weather had been much the same all day, and wasn’t any better further west. The Celtman extreme triathlon was taking place that day as well. (3.4km swim in Loch Shieldaig, 202km cycle, full 42km marathon including two munros.) He told us to watch out for soggy runners on the road.

Somewhere on the A896 between Kinlochewe and Torridon

Despite the weather and the low clouds, the scenery was still beautiful. We drove along Loch Maree, over to Gairloch, and stopped for a photo and to decide where to go next. We turned back to Kinlochewe and cut across to Shieldaig. Then we took the winding coastal road all the way to Applecross, and came back east again up over the Applecross pass. I remember doing that road as a kid in the back of my parents car, and finding it really exciting and scary. As we were heading over the pass, the low clouds meant that we could hardly see twenty meters ahead or to the side. We couldn’t decide if that made it more or less terrifying. Despite the lack of scenery, it’s still a nifty little road. Must go back again in better conditions.

On the coastal road to Applecross. I suspect that Alex hates this photo, but it makes me very happy.

At Strathcarron we could have gone north-east or south-west to start the big drive home. We went south-west and took a minor detour to Kyleakin on Skye, just so we could say we’d been there. (I had never been to Skybe before.) It was 9 o’clock by that time, and we hadn’t had anything substantial to eat since lunchtime. We pressed our nose against the glass of a restaurant, but the menu didn’t really appeal to Alex, and taking a long sit-down break would mean it would be really late before we got back home again. Instead, we turned back around and stopped for road snacks at the Co-op in Kyle of Lochalsch. We stopped against shortly after that as we passed Eilean Donan. Even though the light was fading, you can’t pass it and not take some pictures. But after that it was pretty much just a hard drive back to Pethshire. We got back around 01:00, and staggered straight to bed.

Eilean Donan, because why not.

It was a great trip. Alex and I spent a lot of time talking, and listening to music and podcasts. Alex played us a bunch of videogame theme music, and he introduced me to the Daft Souls podcast. My choices were some Hello Internet and the “Detonating the C-bomb” episode of the Allusionist. I did some estimating with Google Maps, and I reckon we did about 650km that day. It was a long drive, but I’d happily do it all again.

Mixed Media, Saturday 8 July 2017


  • Master of None, season 2: Just like season 1, I loved this. Funny and touching, with a difficult love story threaded through it all. It’s not “heartwarming” — it just feals real.
  • Orphan Black (seasons 1 and 2 so far): Just amazing. It’s a clever thriller series about human cloning, but its greatest trick is making you forget that all the clones are played by the same actress. Tatiana Maslany inhabits them all perfectly, and the show is completely matter-of-fact about it. It is never (or at least, very rarely) self-indulgent about getting multiple clones in the same shot. They do it when it is necessary for the plot, but otherwise it’s NBD. The story has to be good in its own right, and it is.
  • Archer, season 8: the first couple of episodes spent a lot of time establishing the new setting, and felt weak as a result of not being able to play on established relationships between the characters. It picked up after that, but was more restrained and less irreverent than earlier seasons.


  • Mississippi Grind: Good film, but very hard to watch. I found it agonizing to see the characters induldge their self-destructive impulses, wanting them to stop, knowing that they wouldn’t or couldn’t.
  • La La Land. Undoubtedly beautifully shot, but I found the characters bland, the story lacking in conflict and narrative drive, and the songs and dance routines weak. I hated the sound editing — some of the songs felt natural and embedded in the scene, whereas others were obviously lip-synced and jarringly artificial. Overall: disappointing. Bear in mind that Singing In The Rain is my all-time favourite film, and my standards for cinematic musicals might be unrealistically high.
  • Wonder Woman: Good, but disappointing that it ended with such a conventional “two dudes punching” superhero boss battle climax. (Even though one of the dudes is a dame.) I had hoped they would find a more interesting way to resolve the conflict. Still by far the best DC film since Christopher Nolan’s Batman run.
  • Burn After Reading: A perfect Fiasco scenario, and would probably have been more fun played that way. Watching it as a film: meh.
  • xXx – The Return of Xander Cage: I have no idea what that was all about, but it looked amazing.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming: Much less angsty than the previous Spider-Men, partly because with this reboot we don’t have to go through the whole origin story and Uncle Ben thing again — that’s taken as read, and we can move on with a real story. Tom Holland captures the perfect amount of sassiness and immaturity I expect from Spider-Man. Just as importantly, Michael Keaton as the Vulture is one of the most relatable antagonists the Marvel Cinematic Universe has provided so far, and he is rewarded with a suitable ending. The action is mostly low-key, rather than cosmic, which suits the characters. The only thing that didn’t work was the boat scene. I think that could have been much more effective if didn’t wrap up as cleanly as it did. Still: excellent.



Escape room

At the start of May when Susan was visiting we took a family trip to Amsterdam to do an escape room. We went to the “Wake up!” adventure at Questomatica on the Foelistraat. I don’t want to give away plot points, so I’ll just say that it was excellent. Alex has done an escape room game at school, but for the rest of us it was our first time. We’re all seasoned video game puzzelers, but the thrill of being right inside the puzzle was a great sensation. I don’t know if “Wake Up” is a representative example other escape rooms, but take on its own I thought it was well-constructed, challenging, with a theme that kept us engaged and excited all the way through. Highly recommended!