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Nethy Bridge

Bob Dylan, New Orleans, 2006 <em>Picture: Paparazzo Presents</em>

Bob Dylan, New Orleans, 2006 Picture: Paparazzo Presents

“May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true. May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you. May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong. May you stay forever young.” – Bob Dylan.

    The forever young Robert Allen Zimmerman hits three score years and ten today. Both for those with a passing interest in His Bobness and for avid Dylanologists, here are 20 diverting facts about the man and his music:

    1 – He was born in Minnesota, 24 May 1941, and his grandparents were originally from Odessa (paternal) and Lithuania (maternal).

    2 – It has been said that The X Factor will never find “the new Bob Dylan”. But the man himself entered a school talent show in 1956 performing a Little Richard number on keyboards. The principal pulled the curtain on him.

    3 – When Dylan turned up to play session harmonica for folk singer Carolyn Hester, he met Columbia Records’ legendary talent scout, John Hammond, who signed him shortly afterwards. Hammond also signed Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen.

    4 – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, is widely believed to be about ex-girlfriend and album-cover muse Suze Rotolo, who died in February this year. It was voted the Angriest Love Song in a 2007 poll, beating Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know and REM’s The One I Love.

    5 – The famously controversial decision to go electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival was, according to Dylan’s roadie Jonathan Taplin, spontaneous, and designed to cock a snook at the festival director Alan Lomax. For a lark, The Decemberists recreated the moment in 2009.

    6 – Philip Larkin gave Highway 61 Revisited a positive review for the Daily Telegraph, saying he was “well-rewarded” by the record.

    7 – “I just don’t hear anyone else making the music I’m making in my head, so I’ll have to do it myself,” Dylan once said. That hasn’t stopped his songs being covered by Neil Young, Tracy Chapman, Jimi Hendrix, Sufjan Stevens, Nick Drake, Phoenix, Beck and so many others magazines routinely create lists of the 50 best Dylan covers.

    8 – Dylan’s most famous recent song to be covered is Make You Feel My Love from Time Out of Mind, which has been a hit for Billy Joel, Garth Brooks and Adele, the last regarded as the most famous version. Recordings have been warbled by Bryan Ferry, Ronan Keating, Neil Diamond and the definitive reading by Jeremy Irons.

    9 – Dylan’s first major starring role, in Hearts On Fire from 1987, was soundtracked by Bond legend John Barry. Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas rewrote the screenplay. Rupert Everett co-starred. It went straight to video.

    10 – In 1995, Dylan played the Phoenix festival on Stratford-upon-Avon. He did not play last on the bill. Suede did.

    11 – His music has been picked 89 times on Desert Island Discs including by David Cameron (Tangled Up In Blue), Billy Connolly (Highlands) and Alice Cooper (Ballad of a Thin Man).

    12 – 1997 was the first year in which Dylan was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2011, the movement for him to win has its own Facebook page.

    13 – He has made a career out of the bizarre career decision, including appealing for support for American farmers at Live Aid in 1985, releasing a Christmas album in 2009, and in 1999 a cameo in a middle-of-the-road sitcom, Dharma and Greg, backed by T-Bone Burnett.

    14 – In 2007, ten years after he sang “My heart’s in the Highands”, Dylan bought Aultmore House, an Edwardian property near Nethy Bridge. One of his neighbours is new Rangers owner Craig Whyte.

    15 – Musicians Dylan admires include Roy Orbison (“With Roy, you didn’t know if you were listening to mariachi or opera”), Smokey Robinson (“America’s greatest living poet”), Gordon Lightfoot (“When I hear one of his songs, I wish it would last forever”) and Paul McCartney (“I’m in awe of him maybe just because he’s just so damn effortless. I mean I just wish he’d quit [laughs]”).

    16 – Dylan plays golf. His handicap is 17. “I hit as if it were a baseball bat,” he told Der Spiegel.

    17 – In 2009, a 24-year-old policewoman in New Jersey failed to recognise Dylan and picked him up after a resident complained of “an old man wandering the neighbourhood”.

    18 – The lines for the Dylan part on Quincy Jones’ 2010 remake of We Are The World were laid down by hip hop artist Lil Wayne.

    19 – Parodies include John C Reilly playing Dewey Cox in Walk Hard, internet prankster Mike Bauer imagining Dylan covering Rebecca Black’s Friday and Colin Murray’s recollections of the South Africa World Cup with the most parodied song of all.

    20 – Dylan’s famously entitled Never Ending Tour which started in 1988 was no such thing. In his sleevenotes for 1993’s World Gone Wrong, Bob claimed it ended in 1991 with the departure of guitarist G E Smith. He has nonetheless been touring ever since the late 80s, with 100–150 shows a year, and plays London next month.

    Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

    Thanks go to Oron Joffe of Dunedin Computing for forwarding the above natty online nativity story that he (or, to be precise, his wee boy Daniel) spotted last week.

    Made by Excentric PT, “The Digital Story of the Nativity” is a cut above your normal sleighbells-and-Santa fare and includes some nice gags. Mary and Joseph click on a box labelled “Avoid Romans” ahead of their journey to Bethlehem, while the Three Wise Men buy their gold, frankincense and myrrh from Amazon (“Add to Cart”).

    The Daily Mail had a cat-stuck-up-tree story with a festive twist at the start of Christmas week. Bumble – a year-old ginger tom – chased a mouse across the living-room of his owners’ (or, this being a cat, his slaves’) house on the Isle of Wight.

    The mouse duly headed up the Christmas tree, dodging the baubles and the tinsel, as of course did the cat. Except that Bumble only made it to halfway before getting stuck, while the mouse perched on the topmost twigs like some furry rodent-angel. Thankfully the fire brigade weren’t needed to assist Bumble back down. “We lifted him out,” said chief slave Carolyne Brading, “and the mouse scurried away.”

    Any cat story needs to be balanced by a dog one, and the BBC carried a nice Christmas Eve report of Hamish, an 11-year-old cairn terrier, boarding a bus on Glasgow’s Dumbarton Road with “icicles on his coat”. He then “curled up in a warm spot and refused to move”. Fair enough, so long as it wasn’t one of the disabled or elderly seats.

    The bus driver took pity and made sure Hamish was taken to the local Scottish SPCA centre, where the assistant manager Anna O’Donnell described him as “a cheeky wee character” (the dog that is, not the driver). It all ended with seasonal cheer, as Hamish was reunited with his owner Ashley McGuinness in Drumchapel.

    Endearing and apt terms for winter infrastructure devices – an occasional series. A Japanese friend who lives in Dunblane was describing the state of the roads near her house. She has excellent English, but occasionally fails to find the right word. Trying and failing to recall that the truck with a curved piece of metal on the front is a snow plough, she eventually – after a certain amount of flailing and gesticulating – opted for “shovel car”.

    This could catch on. It’s surely only a matter of time before transport minister Keith Brown is to be heard on Newsnight Scotland telling Gordon Brewer that: “I fully intend to spend a shift working with and listening to one of the Lothian Council shovel car drivers”.

    A candidate for the oddest story of 2010, at least in terms of a strange conjunction of people and places, was the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald’s reporting of Hamid Karzai’s soft spot for Nethy Bridge. The interim Afghanistan president – as he was at the time – enjoyed a walking holiday in the edge-of-Cairngorms village in 2003, and Strathy writer Jessica Wilkins mused that he might even have a photograph of Nethy on his office wall in Kabul.

    Well, maybe.

    Karzai isn’t the only famous person connected with the story, however, as his Strathspey sojourn was spent in “the relaxing surroundings of Aultmore House, an Edwardian mansion set in 25 acres”. At the time, Aultmore was just your run-of-the-mill swanky guest house, but four years later it was bought by a certain Bob “my heart’s in the Highlands” Dylan.

    All of which is really just an excuse to link to Bob’s entertainingly mad Must Be Santa video – first aired last Christmas but meriting a look and a listen this time round as well.

    Must Be Santa featured on the 22 December edition of the Radcliffe and Maconie show on BBC Radio 2, in which the drummer with the Shirehorses (Mark Radcliffe) and the patron of Coniston mountain rescue team (Stuart Maconie) were joined, as has become traditional on their last pre-Christmas show, by Noddy Holder.

    But whereas the show equally traditionally ends with a playing of Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody – which Sir Nodward not unreasonably describes as his “pension plan”, given its ubiquity on radio stations and in stores at this time of year – they decided, for a change, to close proceedings with a cover version.

    And not just any old cover – Karine Polwart’s reworking of the festive classic. was described by Holder himself as “an absolutely fantastic version”. Banknock’s finest has indeed done well. She sings lines such as “Does your granny always tell ya / That the old songs are the best” very sweetly and with a straight face. It’s a thing of perfect seasonal loveliness.

    by Val Hamilton


    In Strathspey, most of the ground remains snow-covered. Friends email from further south, telling of time spent in the garden, when here a trip to the compost bin is a major undertaking.

    Walking anywhere is difficult, with ice on pavements and deep snow on paths – but high pressure prevails, the air is still and crisp, and there is a risk of taking the world-class views for granted.

    Even in these settled conditions, the snow varies daily. As David “Heavy” Whalley said in a highly entertaining mountain safety talk at the Aviemore Mountain Café last week, check the weather and avalanche forecasts, but use your eyes and ears to assess what is actually happening from the moment you set off for the hills. This was one of many commonsense observations made in a presentation which was part of a series organised bythe Mountaineering Council of Scotland.

    Whalley’s wisdom stems from 37 years in RAF Mountain Rescue and from evidence accumulated as compiler of Scottish mountain accident statistics. Even my usually critical husband Graham, an ex-rescue team member himself, could find nothing to disagree with in Whalley’s advice and comments.

    Last weekend was an example of the need to switch on senses and react to the conditions encountered. The weather patterns looked similar for Saturday and Sunday – sunny, calm, relatively warm – but the reality underfoot was very different.

    On Saturday, not fancying the early start required to get a space in the Cairngorm car park, I opted for a ski-tour from home using traditional Nordic touring skis and leather boots. The snow was soft and soggy but deep enough to bear weight, and progress was slow but easy.

    My plan had been to head across the moors south-west of Nethy Bridge to Ryvoan bothy, but a set of ski-tracks from the previous weekend was beguiling and I followed them uphill. The snow texture was perfect for fishscale skis – these have a pattern cut into the base to allow grip when ascending. Soon I was approaching the ridge between Craiggowrie and Meall a’ Bhuachaille, and only minor effort was required to reach the crest and the views of endless white mountains.

    The heavy snow meant a slow descent. A more confident skier could have pushed off straight down the hill, but – aware of my solitary status – I made long, gentle traverses with step turns to change direction. Not exciting or dramatic, but wonderfully peaceful and relaxing.

    With confidence high, the prospect of a Sunday tour of Cairngorm’s northern corries with Graham and our friend Geoff was appealing, but there had been a harder frost and ice in the car park was an indication of conditions ahead. The snow was firm as we set off towards Lurcher’s Gully, and it was not 9am when we put on skins – no grip from fishscales now – to begin the climb to the plateau. We assumed the surface would soften as the sun broke through the early high cloud.

    The sun did not break through. Not only did the snow remain unforgivingly solid, it had frozen into the wind-sculpted ripples known as sastrugi – beautiful formations fringed with ice tassels like a vast candlewick bedspread. Desperate terrain to ski over.

    Although the cloud was above the summits and macro-navigation was no problem, the light was so flat that, at the micro level, it was impossible to make out the aspect of the slope – or, at times, even to know if we were moving. As Whalley had suggested, ears were giving as much information as eyes, as we reacted to the change of sound from our ski bases.

    For the second day running, long, angled traverses were the only safe means of descent. After a final steep climb from Coire Raibert, it was a relief to reach the bustle of Cairngorm summit. The passage of numerous walkers, skiers and boarders had churned the route back to the ski area, allowing a few cautious turns. The ease of return down the pistes reminded us of why this resort-skiing lark had developed in the first place.

    By Val Hamilton

    View from the Drumochter webcam

    View from the Drumochter webcam

    My husband and I were down south last week seeing family, and after waiting for more than 24 hours for the A9 at Drumochter to reopen on Friday we were expecting an epic journey home through whiteouts and towering cliffs of snow. Instead, even as we approached the summit of the pass, the tarmac was black. Both lanes were clear on the dual carriageway and traffic was easily doing 70mph.

    Once over on the north side, there was a haze of drifting snow for a brief spell and a section of cuttings near Dalwhinnie had probably required a snow-blower. But had it been necessary to get the road cleared to quite such a pristine standard? It was difficult to see why it had been closed for so long.

    The journey home to Nethy Bridge had started, long ago, in Shropshire. Luckily, news of the Dunblane A9 chaos broke just as we headed up the M73 on Thursday, so we cut across to the M8 and over the Forth Road Bridge for an uneventful journey to Perth. There, at 3pm, we learnt that Drumochter would not reopen that day.

    It was hard to believe that conditions could be so different just 40 miles away, but even though we had a Land Rover with good tyres, snow chains and two shovels, there was no point going further. We phoned a friend in Bridge of Earn to beg a bed for the night.

    Come Friday morning, most of the lying snow had thawed, the forecast seemed benign, and we were ready to head north as soon as the road reopened. The next five hours passed very slowly, half-listening to Radio Scotland for traffic news.

    Eventually, at 1pm, we could thole no more discussion of an independence referendum and set off to Pitlochry. There, the woman at the police station told us to come back in an hour, and our return at 3pm was greeted with a broad smile and good news.

    After a few miles of eerie quiet, we caught up with the traffic queue – but it was moving freely and the expected difficulties never materialised. We have driven the road in far worse conditions over the years. Of course, there had been a huge snow fall with drifting – Cairngorm ski centre reported a further two metres, and we have 40cm at home – and the deepest sections would have needed to be cleared. But could not a convoy behind a snow plough have been considered, or access restricted to four-wheel drive vehicles or those with chains?

    It would be interesting to see the criteria for opening the A9, but Northern Constabulary have not made these public and have not, as yet, responded to my request for information.

    Perhaps the police were being particularly cautious through having a realistic view of the motoring standards which the A9 seems to attract. There were plenty of drivers who appeared not to have grasped the concept of “passable with care”. They seemed oblivious to our being, in effect, in a very long queue, and were determined to make up for their lost hours: squeezing past at the end of every dualled section and even overtaking at the Kingussie roadworks traffic-lights.

    Before leaving England, the forecast had shown bands of snow sweeping up and down the UK. It was a relief to see that the snow would be sitting quite far north for our journey. “That’s fine,” I had said. “Scotland can cope with snow.” But just like the less accustomed and less well-equipped southerners, perhaps that isn’t the case.