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Monday, 28 January 2013

A Writer's Weekend

March 2012.

To coin a cliché, living at the back of beyond offers a  peaceful lay-back existence, low crime rate, reasonable house prices and beautiful sunsets.  However it also has its disadvantages.  For instance, if you want to travel to ANYWHERE.   Unlike the inhabitants of more southern climes, we do not have the option of jumping on a bus and arriving at our destination a few hours later – oh no.
Take for instance my latest foray south.  Once a year, I, and a few fellow wannabe writers attend the AGM of the Scottish Writers Association held in the Erskine Bridge Hotel, outside Glasgow.  
It’s a great weekend; A chance to enter competitions and attend workshops and seminars. Then there’s the social aspect.  Meeting other writers, professional and aspiring, both in the conference rooms and better still, in the bar.
But for us, living as we do in the furthermost reaches of the Highlands of Scotland, getting there  poses a problem.  There are a number of options.
Flying – too expensive.
Driving- too stressful and expensive given the current price of petrol.
Bus – free for over 60s, but uncomfortable when sitting in the same position for 7 hours.
Train – pros –  cheap.  Offers on at this time of year.  £19 return – anywhere in Scotland for over 55s. Freedom to stretch legs. Comfortable seating. Sounds the best option.  Cons –   The fact that from Wick to Inverness the railway takes a zigzag route around all the Highland estates complements of the 4th Earl of Sutherland, who built the railway in 1870, primarily catering for the influx of hunters who came to shoot our deer, thus taking four long hours. 
Two train changes. 
We expected that and were willing to put up with the extra miles for the greater good.  
With ten minutes to change trains at Inverness, we rushed from platform to platform and boarded our carriage in good time.  Then it all went wrong.  We had not taken into consideration the vagaries of British Rail. Some fault with the signals.  In the interest of safety, our train from Inverness left twenty minutes late, then travelled at about 10 miles per hour. Just as I became convinced that we had died, gone to Hell and were destined to sit on this train for all eternity, we pulled into Perth station, predictably having missed our connection.  After sitting for 45 minutes in a station that can only be described as a fair representation of a wind tunnel, we boarded the next train to Glasgow finally arriving at Queen Street Station.
But our journey did not end there.  We still had to get to Erskine. 
The choices were,
Hike from Queen Street Station to Buchanan Street bus station,  a walk of say, ten minutes, which seems a lot longer when you are and disoriented by lack of sleep and dragging a ten-ton case.
Hike to Central Station, Buchanan Street, and take a train for Paisley, then hire a taxi – total cost - around £8.50. 
 Get an airport bus and phone the hotel who provide a shuttle service to and from the airport. Free. And usually, that is the option we take. We are cheap! 
But by then we were so tired that we opted for the most expensive, a city cab all the way.  £30. 
At last we reached our hotel at 4.30 pm.  By the time we had checked in and found our rooms, (mine was on the third floor, down a corridor that stretched for about a mile beyond the lift) managed to open the door after several attempts with the electronic key, rummaged in the suitcase for the customary bottle of wine and collapsed on the bed for all of five minutes, it was time to change for dinner.
Two glasses of Chardonnay later (which I had hoped would revive me) I staggered to the dining room, joined my friends and drank another, overpriced, large glass of red.
Dinner was good.  No complaints.  I tottered to the conference room where the first set of winners were announced.  Wow, I got a second for my short story, and third for my woman’s story. I stood with difficulty for the applause.
After the announcements, came the evening entertainment.  Cathy McPhail, brilliant children’s novelist and humorous speaker.  I love her talks and prayed to be able to keep my eyes and ears open.  With the help of numerous proddings by my colleague, I did manage, barely. 
Ten o’clock at last.  Come and watch the winning sketches being performed, I was invited.  I only wished I could!
I tottered up to my room which was overwarm.  I opened a window – wide – and they were large windows.  Then I stripped and collapse onto the bed, falling straight away into a state of semi-consciousness, only to be pulled up from my well of comfortable oblivion half an hour later by a thundering noise.  I tried in vain to ignore it, but it only got louder.  Eventually I rose and closed the window. A helicopter hovered nearby and closing the window only muffled the sound.  Then started a frantic search for the earplugs I had had the foresight to bring with me.  By the time I found them. I was wide awake and a party had started in the room across the hall.
Needless to say, I missed the seminars on Saturday afternoon as I had to have a snooze.  We also had to miss Sunday afternoon readings from entrants as we had to catch the train north.
All in all, I had a splendid time.
Roll on next year!
Posted 14th March 2012 by Catherine McCaughey-Byrne

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