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“What happened this time?”

I haven’t known my friend Catherine that long, but she’s smart so she’s already figured out about my best-laid plans… Well, actually none of my plans are all that well-laid, but that’s only because it really doesn’t matter. They aren’t going to work anyway. And even that doesn’t matter, because the one constant we’ve found in Scotland is that everywhere we go, incredibly nice people help us.

And I can blog about it.

Take our recent holiday to the Isle of Mull that Catherine was asking about. In celebration of Child #4 completing her last University exam ever, I had (for me) outdone myself on planning—booked a cottage and a boat trip to view Fingal’s Cave, and reserved the car ferry. I’d bought the trip essentials (dog treats and Starbucks instant Via coffee), and even emailed the owner of the cottage—a lot—to make sure it had wifi. Best of all, I’d checked the weather and this was the one time in weeks that was predicted for sunshine.

The dog was all about getting up and having breakfast early, so the only difficulty I foresaw was waking up the Hub and Child #4 at 0:dark-thirty in order to reach the ferry on time. Once the bitching and the moaning died down, we were on the road to Oban with plenty of time to make that morning ferry to Mull. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing except for stopping for coffee, road repairs, traffic around Loch Lomond, gas, more coffee, and the need to …er…get rid of the coffee…

As the arrival time on the GPS slowly overtook the departure time of the ferry, the Hub sped up until we were taking curves like Nascar champions, while I made helpful remarks regarding the amount of money spent on boat trips that we were probably going to miss. “Don’t worry, though,” I assured them. “Even if we miss the ferry, I can always blog about it.” The Hub went faster, and Child #4 turned an interesting shade of green. She was leaning out the window and threatening to revisit breakfast as the ferry terminal came into sight. “I’ll so blog it,” I told her. (Her answer wasn’t pretty.)

Two guys in yellow jackets considered the loaded ferry and conferred. They waved the two cars ahead of us onto the ramp. More conferring. Guy One pointed at our car while Guy Two shook his head, probably worried about the added weight from all the coffee and dog treats. Finally Guy One waved us on. Guy Two told us to pull in at an angle, and—clearly absolving himself of any dire consequences caused by the addition of our dog-treat over-laden vehicle—he leaped off the boat. Coward.

It's a short trip from Oban to the Isle of Mull, but on a blustery day it can be full of dramatic views like 13th century Duart Castle, home of Clan Maclean. The boat rolled and cheering passengers claimed to see dolphins.

It’s a short trip from Oban to the Isle of Mull, but on a blustery day it can be full of dramatic views like 13th century Duart Castle, home of Clan Maclean. The boat rolled and cheering passengers claimed to see dolphins.

Once on Mull, it should have been a quick trip across to the other side of the island where the boat trip to Fingal's Cave would depart. Except... the Isle of Mull espouses thrifty Scots virtues, and sees no need to waste precious land (that sheep could be using for bathrooms) on making roads wide enough for more than one vehicle at a time. Everyone we met smiled and and did the British-Wave as the cars did a little ballet...one backing or pulling off until the other could pass.

Once on Mull, it should have been a quick trip across to the other side of the island where the boat trip to Fingal’s Cave would depart. Except… the Isle of Mull espouses thrifty Scots virtues, and sees no need to waste precious land (that sheep could be using for bathrooms) on making roads wide enough for more than one vehicle at a time. Everyone we met smiled and and did the British-Wave as the cars did a little ballet…one backing or pulling off until the other could pass.

Digression: one of the things that we had to learn when we moved to the UK was the British-Wave. Americans know the proper way to drive is to get there ahead of everyone else at all costs. If you let them cut in front of you, they will own your manhood and, probably, your car and wife as well. So you expect Americans driving in the UK to not only back-the-f-up when facing another driver, but actually smile and wave? That’s like expecting the Queen to put on a bikini and serve ice-cream to paparazzi. It’s both physically possible and virtually inconceivable.

We waved, backed up, smiled, lifted a hand or at least a finger (no, not that one) and inched our way across the island. Luckily, we made it in time for the tour boat—mainly because it was an hour late. Perhaps this is the point where I should mention what I was wearing. I only bring it up because I actually believed the weather reports (warm and sunny) and online guides for our destination (paved paths), so I was wearing sandals and lightweight trousers. (Remember the sandals.)

The boat finally arrived, with many apologies for delays caused by earlier passengers who didn't understand about departure time and place. The trip out to the Isle of Staffa, location of Fingal's Cave, was breathtaking. We passed castles and abbeys, as the captain told us some of the history of the area.

The boat finally arrived, with many apologies for delays caused by earlier passengers who didn’t understand about departure time and place. The trip out to the Isle of Staffa, location of Fingal’s Cave, was breathtaking. We passed castles and abbeys, as the captain told us some of the history of the area.

Finally we got to Staffa for a stunning view of Fingal's Cave on the approach. Legend says that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) and Scottish giant Benandonner threw rocks at each other, creating Ireland's Giant's Causeway and the basalt columns of Fingal's Cave. Whatever the cause, the columns and stunningly graphic sheared off rocks that make up Staffa and Fingal's Cave are an incredible sight.

Finally we got to Staffa for a stunning view of Fingal’s Cave on the approach. Legend says that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) and Scottish giant Benandonner threw rocks at each other, creating Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway and the basalt columns of Fingal’s Cave. Whatever the cause, the columns and starkly graphic sheared off rocks that make up Staffa and Fingal’s Cave are an incredible sight.

The bog sucked hard beyond the telling. There was a moment when I wondered if I'd keep sinking, but I knew I had to get out so I could blog about this. Finally, I managed to stagger out. That's when I realized that my feet were free. Really free. As in free of my sandals. I poked around in the bog while a family of Japanese tourists took selfies with my mud-covered derriere as the background. (I imagine that shot is on Facebook somewhere, along with comments about why that muddy barefoot woman is waving her tush at them...) I was about to give up when one shoe surfaced. But no amount of prodding could produce the other one.

The bog sucked hard beyond the telling. There was a moment when I wondered if I’d keep sinking, but I knew I had to get out so I could blog about this. Finally, I managed to stagger out. That’s when I realized that my feet were free. Really free. As in free of my sandals. I poked around in the bog while a family of Japanese tourists took selfies with my mud-encrusted derriere as the background. (I imagine that shot is on Facebook somewhere, along with comments about why that muddy barefoot woman is waving her tush at them…) I was about to give up when one shoe surfaced. But no amount of prodding could produce the other one.

And that's when it started to rain. Sleet, actually. The trip back was pretty fun. The only things that kept me from freezing to death were the dog sitting on my feet and the hope that I could blog about this before dying of pneumonia.

And that’s when it started to rain. Sleet, actually. The trip back was pretty fun. The only things that kept me from freezing to death were the dog sitting on my feet and the hope that I could blog about this before dying of pneumonia.

Finally back on Mull, we went to look up the owner of the cottage we’d rented. Gillian MacNeill is a lovely lady whose family has been farming and running Isle of Mull Holidays—holiday cottages along with their bed and breakfast—on the island for over forty years. She gave us keys and directions, but urged us to take the time to visit the local weaving mill first. In the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine—hills and cliffs and beach—is the Ardalanish organic farm. Along with raising native Highland cattle and Hebridean sheep, they run the Isle of Mull Weavers. Originally founded by Bob and Kathy Ryan in 1987, the Mill moved to the Ardalanish farm when Bob “retired” five years ago. Except instead of retiring, he’s been teaching a new generation of weavers to use the tools and create the beautiful traditional patterns of wool that carry the weaver’s touch in every yarn.

In the showroom, we had questions for a friendly lady who asked if we'd like to see the mill. Cathy showed us the looms, including the setup for the blankets they were about to start weaving. Using the complex templates keyed to various patterns, weavers still can introduce color and variety to their craft. Lately, we were told, they've been using vegetable dyes and madder to create deep, rich new colors. After weaver Katrina showed us what she was working on, we put on ear protectors as her colleague fired up one of the smaller looms so we could see scarves being woven. Child #4, our newly-minted computer programmer, was interested in the description of the cogs creating the pattern by being “on” or “off” like the ones and zeroes driving computer programs.

In the showroom, we had questions for a friendly lady who asked if we’d like to see the mill. Cathy showed us the looms, including the setup for the blankets they were about to start weaving. Using the complex templates keyed to various patterns, weavers still can introduce color and variety to their craft. Lately, we were told, they’ve been using vegetable dyes and madder to create deep, rich new colors. After weaver Katrina showed us what she was working on, we put on ear protectors as her colleague fired up one of the smaller looms so we could see scarves being woven. Child #4, our newly-minted computer programmer, was interested in the description of the cogs creating the pattern by being “on” or “off” like the ones and zeroes driving computer programs.

After several of those gorgeous scarves found their way into our car, we headed for the cottage. Scottish weather is only predictable by being unpredictable, so it was pouring by the time we reached the cottage. But Gillian’s cottage was everything she’d promised and more.

Even in a downpour, it's easy to be philosophical from inside a beautiful hillside cottage filled with warmth, every possible convenience, coffee, AND wifi. And if your window looks out on sheep grazing by blooming gorse...well, you're in heaven or Scotland.

Even in a downpour, it’s easy to be philosophical from inside a beautiful hillside cottage filled with warmth, every possible convenience, coffee, AND wifi. And if your window looks out on sheep grazing by blooming gorse…well, you’re either in heaven or Scotland.

Friends had told us we absolutely had to eat at Cafe Fish, so we stopped in Tobermory, a seaside village almost too charmingly picturesque to be believed. unnamed

But we couldn’t linger to explore the village because just as we were about to park, the car’s cheerful chirping stopped. So did the power steering.  The hub wrestled it back to the ferry terminal, but as we pulled into line, our old friend Guy One came over and helpfully pointed out, “Yer bonnet’s steamin’.”

We pulled out of the ferry line and steamed over to the Bayview Garage just up the hill. There mechanics Rob and Billie gave us the bad news. The water pump was a goner.

We pulled out of the ferry line and steamed over to the Bayview Garage just up the hill. There mechanics Billie (fabulous blue hair), Rob (er…fabulous non-hair), and Ray(?) (fabulous hat) gave us the bad news. The water pump was a goner. [note disgusting, rusted-out POS in Rob’s hand. AKA: the water pump]

Of course it was a Friday afternoon, so it wasn't clear whether they could source a replacement on the Island in time for us to make the last ferry. Turns out that was a no.

Of course it was a Friday afternoon, so it wasn’t clear whether they could source a replacement on the Island in time for us to make the last ferry. Turns out that was a no.

I went into the nearby tourist office, only to discover that there weren’t rooms left anywhere on the Island, fully booked for a summer weekend. But Alan, at the desk, refused to give up. He kept calling around until he reached the Isle of Mull Hotel, who said they had one family suite left and would accept the dog as well. He handed me the phone, and the lady on the other end named a price so astronomical I had to sit down.

She seemed to understand, because she asked if I could wait while she checked on whether there was anything they could do. Sure enough, she called back to say her name was Esther, and they could give us the room at less than half the original price. While the Hub waited to see if anyone had a spare water pump lying around, the dog and I set off to hike to the hotel and Esther, our new BFF.

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Alan from Tourist Information office on Mull. Watch out Sean Connery!

Alan from Tourist Information office on Mull. Watch out Sean Connery!

With no water pump available until Monday, we took the ferry back to Oban as foot passengers the next day. On board, I followed the sound of singing to find the Mull Gaelic Choir warming up for a competition on Oban. A dashing choir member turned out to be my friend Alan from the Tourist Office. He asked about our night. “I can blog it,” I told him, careful to steer him away from Child #4. (She was still bitter about the night before, comparing the snorage coming from her parents to “call and response” of wild moose. I wasn’t sure I could blog that.)

Alas for Child #4’s hopes that she could catch up on her sleep once we got on the train from Oban to Glasgow. While I took the dog for a final constitutional before boarding the train, she went aboard first to grab seats for us.

Text from Child #4: Got us seats together. Next to baby. Screaming. As they do.

She was easy to find because, even as we approached the train, we could hear the shrieks of pure infant fury. “That’s okay,” I said as we took our seats. “That means he’s tired and he’ll probably go to sleep.” I was right. That baby dropped right off to sleep—three and a half hours from hell later as his father carried him off the train. The rest of the time he screamed nonstop. His parents (deaf, stoned, or both) calmly ignored his wails the entire trip.

I opened my mouth to mention the blogability of this experience, and my daughter informed me that not only would she not be having children, but she was seriously considering moving someplace where neither children nor blogging are allowed, like prison or the set of Inside Amy Schumer.

So I get to blog my holiday. Here goes:

I took a summer holiday. Most things I planned went wrong. The people that I met made up for this in so many ways, I can’t even count them. Best holiday ever!

Epilogue: as I walked the dog when we got back, I noticed that a new store had opened in our neighborhood. In the window (I can’t make this up) was a pair of NEW sandals almost identical to the ones the bog ate. They were just my size. “Plus,” I told Catherine, “I now have a spare one for emergencies or future sacrificial bog offerings.” Oddly enough, she still refuses come on holiday with me next time. Was it something I blogged?

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Okay, one more epilogue…The new water pump made its way across to Mull on the Monday ferry, and was duly installed by the ace mechanical team at Bayview Garage. But all agreed that it was, perhaps, for the best if the Hub went over to Mull collect the newly repaired car without my help. Weird.

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