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Thursday, 30 April 2009


So while Asda were being useless I escaped the domestic nightmare and headed off for a tranquil night in the Angus Glens. I was being hosted by the Angus Glens Walking Festival (takes place this year at the end of May) and the lovely Glen Clova Hotel on a short but sweet press trip.

While I started my career in Dundee, at D C Thomson, and lived near Kirriemuir for a spell I had not returned to the area for almost 20 years. I can't recall back then being that interested in the countryside or walking or anything outdoorsy really, which is a shame because it has taken me two decades to rediscover an area that is utterly beautiful.

During the press trip I was guided (with other journos, PRs and local walking fans and experts) up one of the easiest going Munros I have ever encountered. Starting already at 700ft the ascent to the summit of Mayar was so soft a gradient that it almost didn't feel like hill walking.

This Munro, with several easy-ish Munro neighbours, sits amid a nature reserve called Corrie Fee and is a haven for all kinds of wildlife, including roe and red deer, as well as being one one of the most important sites for arctic-alpine plants in Britain. Just past the windy summit top, our group was treated to the sighting of a beautiful mountain hare, which was in the process of sheddng its white winter coat for a brown summer one.

The list of walks lined up for the festival includes more Munro tops, several valley rambles, a couple of coastal strolls and a range to suit all fitness abilities and desires. Although I visited for only a brief spell it is clear there is a lot of gorgeous countryside to explore in the Angus Glens. I only wish I'd had my eyes open 20 years ago!

They Asda be joking..

And so the sorry Asda saga continues. After several more phone calls and various vacuous promises (such as a £5 voucher and a bottle of wine, and even a possible refund) the missing items finally turn up on Wednesday evening. Except, of course, Asda couldn't even get this right. They have sent three items that are completely wrong and missed off a couple of other items. I can hardly be bothered to chase all this up now except it really annoys me that a giant supermarket can't even get a simple list of shopping right.

Monday, 27 April 2009

A few home truths: What Asda could learn from Tesco

No wonder Tesco are making so much more money that their rivals. While their home food delivery service has not always been 100% perfect in my experience it has certainly been a lot better than Asda.

Take this weekend's fiasco. Having ordered food from Asda on Thursday (mainly because they sent me a free delivery offer) it duly turns up at the appointed time on Friday. But because the delivery guys are fast in and out I did not get the chance to completely check that all items had been delivered.

As it turns out almost 20 items were missing. This was all the more infuriating given that we had guests staying this weekend.

On Sunday I speak to a nice man at Asda customer services who took a note of all missing items. (This did take a frustrating 30 minutes but he was patient and polite and so I did not get too annoyed.) He told me that someone from my local store would call shortly to arrange a redelivery.

Monday lunchtime and still there is no call from Asda. So I call their customer service line again. Another nice person and another apology (and they took note of another item I noticed was missing). This time I asked for some compensation for my troubles and they offered another free delivery. Yeh, like I'm going to order from Asda again. Anyway...

An hour or so later a person from my local Asda does indeed call.. but only to ask for the full list of missing items. And that's when I begin to get a little angry. I explained that I'd already spent 30 mins on the phone yesterday going over the list of missing items and that I now Simply Expected The Items To Be Delivered ASAP. And what about compensation? Apparently they hadn't thought about this.

Well, perhaps Asda should take note of Tesco's policy. Only once in 2 years of fairly regular Tesco deliveries have I had any missing tems. When this happened Tesco immediately sorted a redelivery and refunded the cost of these items. Fair enough, I'd say, given that customer loyalty is vital for a thriving business.

So now it's four days after my Asda delivery and I still do not have the missing items. They should arrive tomorrow sometime between 9am and 1pm.

A few minutes ago the girl from Asda might called me back. Apparently they do not offer any compensation other than a free delivery on my next shopping. So that's another home delivery customer you've lost ... and one that will be ordering from Tesco next time.

Highlander report on Sleepmonsters

Find out all about the fabbie Highlander Mountain Marathon..

See Highlander report

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Poles apart - two great weekends

One weekend I'm ploughing through leg-slashing heather, knee-deep peat bogs and algae-swollen burns during my first ever mountain marathon on a remote mountainous plateau near Inverness, the next weekend I'm learning more than I ever could have imagined about sparkly eye shadow and bra fittings on a girls-only outing to Glasgow's finest shops.

While both weekends are poles apart in terms of substance and aims, they both included a huge amount of heart-warming friendliness.

The Highlander Mountain Marathon, sponsored by Dare 2b, was a first-of-a-kind adventure by myself and Mr Outdoors. We joined another 90 or so teams of two for the tough weekend event, which required us to navigate many, many miles and up and down numerous mountains in search of dozens of checkpoints. We also had to carry all our food, drink, camping equipment and emergency kit for two days of roughing it in the wilderness estates of Glen Strathfarrar.

While some competitors pulled off Bambi-like speeds bounding across the unforgiving heather and deep boggy landscape, Mr Outdoors and I stuck to a pace that mostly resembled dogged determination. This difference in ability showed clearly in the final results, with the winning pair in our “C” class coming home some 3.5 hours ahead of us! Still, we’ve been assured that just finishing the “C” class is something of an achievement. In my opinion, the fact that we were still happily married after completing such a testing event says a whole lot more about our teamwork!

What was also rather amazing was the enthusiasm that some competitors had for ceilidh dancing. One of the unique selling points of the Highlander is the ceilidh dance at the overnight camp spot. While most people were nursing arching legs and tired brains after the first day's exertions, many were still up for a few Gay Gordons and Dashing White Sergeants – before crashing out in tiny, tiny tents at 10pm.

The Highlander proved to be a truly unique event that was much tougher, much friendlier and much more all-inclusive than I ever expected.

So then to this Saturday and a totally different event: The Girls Go Shopping For Pretty Things Adventure. Mr Outdoors was sure that an afternoon of shopping in Glasgow with eight women would be as arduous as the Highlander – and I confess I couldn’t actually disagree. But in the event, the shopping was laid back – and a huge amount of fun.

The focus of much of the retailing was my tri pal Jo PM’s almost-here-and-gosh-I’m-so-excited wedding and among other purchases were a gorgeous green and shiny dress, a pair of snazzy loved-up sunglasses, glittery nail varnish plus lots and lots of sparkly make-up.

I even treated to myself to some girlsome accessories including my own sparkly eye liner, a pink glittery eye shadow, a shimmery woven wrap and the kind of underwear that I’d would normally dismiss as an outrageous waste of money.

Perhaps next year I should do The Highlander while wearing some full-on sparkly make-up!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Scotland's the best!

Pic right: Mr and Mrs Outdoors at Glentress

Sometimes I forget just how lucky we are in Scotland. And then I spend a few days in our great outdoors and it all comes back to me with a great, splendid feeling of warmth. Over the last 10 days I have been lucky enough to mountain bike in three of the 7stanes mountain biking centres and take part in a 100km Audax (a cycling challenge that is not a race but requires the rider to meet certain checkpoints in a given time.)

Last Monday Mr Outdoors and I took our good friends G&T and their son Master A (he should be renamed a "ice and a slice of lemon".. anyways..) to Glentress for a few hours of mountain biking. Being from doon south they were completely amazed to find the fantastic network of bike routes - and all completely free. I guess we have come to take the work of the Forestry Commission (and all the volunteer trail fairies) for granted but to G&T Glentress represented something "totally awesome" and "out of this world". Master A (pic left) spent the afternoon shadowing his shiny new hero Mr Outdoors. It was difficult to decide who was acting more like a 10-year-old boy (Master A who is actually 10 or Mr Outdoors who is edging 50!) as they wheelied up tracks and flew off jumps and over obstacles.

Then, over Easter weekend, Mr Outdoors and I headed to Dumfries and Galloway, which surely has to be one of Scotland's best kept cycling secrets. Away from the two main roads that cut through this region, is a network of some of the most beautiful, almost traffic-free lanes I have ever come across. Cycling the 100k Audax, led by Scotland's most enthusiastic Audax rider Tom, was an utter pleasure. We even passed by the old smithy where Kirkpatrick MacMillan made the world's first ever bike. (I later took a replica of this bike for a spin at Drumlanrig Castle. See pic left. How MacMillan ever managed to ride the bike from Dumfries to Glasgow and back is mind-boggling. It was heavy, a nightmare to pedal and almost impossible to steer.)

During the weekend we also learned how to wheelie and bunny hop with mountain biking expert Clive at Ae Forest and took in the blue route at the gorgeous and amazingly extensive Kirroughtree 7stanes centre. Thanks to the patient guidance of Clair from the brakepad I learned how to descend some of my first properly stony slab sections (normally I get off to walk round like on old lady for fear of breaking a few bones). I'm thinking of heading back there for a Women on Wheels weekend.

The fabulous sunshine definitely gave the whole trip some added polish but even so this is a location we plan to return to more often. If you fancy it then why not take in the first ever Original Bicycle Festival taking place from May 9 to 24?

When the sun has got his hat on and you’re outdoors, it is difficult to imagine being in a better place than Scotland.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Tri-ing too hard?

It would have been exhausting enough if I had only managed to complete every training session during the annual Glasgow Triathlon Club Spring training weekend, held this year at Dalkeith. With two swim sessions on the Saturday plus a 2.5hr cycle in very windy conditions (and with the big boys), followed by a Sunday of swimming, cycling and running it was highly likely that I would have been really quite weary indeed by the time I returned home. But then I had to have a go at pushing myself to the limits of endurance and tiredness by staying up way past my ordinary bedtime both nights and drinking just a little too much white wine.

The strange thing is that this is not my normal approach to weekends away. Even as a student I liked to get to bed at a reasonable hour because I tend to be pretty hopeless on little sleep. I rarely even got drunk because I hate to try to operate with a hangover. So why I decided to act like a teenager on this particular weekend I have no idea. Suffice to say, though, I had a total ball!

Although I struggled to keep up with the full-on training timetable (especially on the Sunday cycle) I enjoyed a marathon of laughs and silliness. So used to being the one who has gone to bed before the madness starts, for once I was one of the late-night crowd to witness a series of "beyond funny" escapades. What happens on tour, stays on tour so I'll not be breathing a word of it here, but some of the shenanigans still makes me laugh out loud just thinking about it!

Thankfully I managed to stay alert enough during the days to reap the benefits of some spot-on coaching from the club coaches. We were videoed swimming and running, which was hugely enlightening. I knew I wasn't a great swimmer but the video revealed just how rubbish I really am! Still, with so much to improve on my swimming can only get better. I was pleased to see that my running style is so much less round-shouldered than it was although I can't believe I look so old! Where and when did I get all those frown lines?!

Perhaps it was a good thing that I got so much beauty sleep in my younger years instead of partying all night. Otherwise I dread to think how old I'd look now!