CASTLE of Park is bright pink. It rises out of the Scottish countryside like a sudden blush on the green cheek of rural Aberdeenshire. Driving up through the grounds, I imagine that this place was custom built as a refuge for budding romantic novelists like myself, the colour acting as a kind of beacon to guide us over the hills in our heightened state of distraction.
‘AND God said, “Let the Earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit” and it was so.’ Even in those first seven days of over-achievement it was a particularly nice piece of work. You could landfill a quarry with all the great paintings and written words that Man – one of God’s later and less perfect creations – has dedicated to the planet’s vegetation. “In all things of nature there is something of the marvellous,” declared Aristotle. “The Earth laughs in flower,” smiled Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ever since civilisation gradually dragged us away from the pastoral idyll where we all held hands, wore garlands and jumped, laughing, over sheep, people have been trying to recreate it for themselves.
ON March 25 this year, the Scottish Executive drew a rough shape on to the map of the Highlands and claimed everything within that space as part of the new Cairngorm National Park. Same old place, slightly different name. Almost everybody concerned is confident that this invisible upgrade will enhance the life of the area.
TO COME to Crufts uninitiated is to feel like a stranger in Dog City. Humans still outnumber canines at the greatest dog show on earth – more than 120,000 people now visit the event in the course of its annual four-day run at the Birmingham NEC arena. But the object of their journey is to honour and to serve and to marvel at this pantheon of dogs in all their beastly magnificence. I arrive at Crufts 2005 on the night of the gun dogs, reaching the main hall just in time to see which of the day’s ten winners in that category, each judged the best of their breed, will go through to the final Best In Show competition tomorrow – where the finest dog on the planet will be decided.
THERE is no place on Earth where a person can say with absolute certainty that they are not being stalked by ninjas. Common sense suggests this is unlikely, but pure logic dictates that you cannot prove a negative, and the art of the ninja is to go unperceived. I have been around the world to look for them, to shadow them in reverse, and whenever I find a possible candidate, he or she tends to deny it. “No no no,” said Mats Hjelm, a web-designer from Stockholm, during a short break from his ninjutsu class in Tokyo. “I don’t like to call it by that name, although I know that some other people do. And I definitely don’t call myself a ninja.” This was, of course, exactly what a ninja would say.
It’s a bright cold day in the austral midwinter. The low sun is dropping into the lake, drawing long shadows from the dead trees, broken streetlights, and bent telephone poles that stick out of the water as if planted there. Three flamingos are floating down the Avenida De Mayo, past the half-sunken ruins of the Azul Hotel. Their pinkness almost glows against the dry white crust that covers every exposed surface. It looks like ash, or frost, but is actually salt. There is 10 times more salt in this water, per cubic centimetre, than in any of the world’s oceans. The lake was named “Epecuen” by the Mapuche tribes who once populated the surrounding lowlands of central Argentina – it was their word for the itch caused by the salt drying on their skin, though they also found that it had health-giving properties.