‘Well done darling... you managed not to say anything controversial’
Kristy announced proudly, refraining from patting me on the head and offering me a treat. I smiled broadly, tilting my head sideways and offering a paw. We waved off our clients, Clara and Andy, our faith in positivity and happiness was restored and we remembered again how much we enjoy our couple shoots. It could have been very different.. I mused, thinking back to the morning drive to meet them. It had indeed been a ‘challenging’ week in the Highlands. Yes, we had been busy but our usual ‘karma’ had been disrupted. In some ways the road back to Perthshire was all too tempting and a weekend at home was calling. Funny how a day with the right people can change an attitude.. and just how did we end up agreeing to a puppy!?
It was a Good Friday holiday and the A82 through Glencoe had been more like the M8 through Glasgow.
Our trusty parking spots were full.. cars and camper vans manoeuvred into the free patches of gravel that Rabbies Tour buses hadn’t found. To add to the ‘challenges’, the forecast was against us. It was a fantastic, sunny day to be a tourist. We needed a Plan B. ‘There are too many people’ Kristy was already irritated. I inhaled and waited for the inevitable... trying to reach for my sunglasses, without drawing attention to the rising sun. ‘...and its a feckin blue sky day!!’ She shouted. There it was, the predictable wave hit me. I exhaled. She was animated, on the edge of a antipodean tantrum.
The Buachaille did look spectacular in full light and the Aonach Eagach ridge was clearly visible against the cloudless sky. It really was a great day for a hill walk! Perhaps I wont mention that. Too late, I was sprung, she had caught me as I paused in the Ski Centre car park and planned a virtual ascent of the Curved Ridge. She sighed in disbelief and shook her head.
‘Richard.. It’s a blue sky day’
I smiled lamely, aware that being called by my name, is not a good start to a day. She was less than her normal enthusiastic self and I needed to be supportive. ‘Add this to the feckin book Richard!! A blue sky, bank feckin Holiday!!’ She said my name again.... Luckily, years of adjustment to ever changing ‘plans’ of the British Military had instilled a particular sense of adaptability and there was an alternative parking spot that I could suggest. A place that might be free of Hertz Rental cars stopping off here, whilst on the traditional Inverness-Skye-Edinburgh circuit. We had the beginnings of a Plan B. Although the area of unseasonal high pressure over Scotland would be a little more tricky to avoid. Do I suggest we ‘shoot dark’ or is it light? Perhaps not the right time to reveal my technical frailties.
So instead we sat at our ‘usual’ table in the cafe, with rising trepidation, staring into our Americano and Latte. The new Kingshouse Hotel has yet to tempt us away from the familiarity of the Ski Centre... sorry Mountain Resort. The less transient staff knew us and it was after all, where we first met. Kristy wasn’t feeling the same warm nostalgia as in walked Clara and Andy, smiling broadly in their wedding attire. Thank goodness... I was struggling. Enthusiasm had arrived from Alabama and they were up and ready to enjoy their anniversary with us in the Highlands.
It was immediately infectious and the fun meter began to rise. Our first clients from the ‘South’ had rode in to save the day. Was the cavalry Confederate? I wasn’t sure. John Wayne worn dark blue. Hmm.. Time for my Country music playlist!! Now.. sometimes when first meeting our guests from the North Eastern US, I have been known to express my great affection for a particular ‘Lone Star State’. Sometimes just to illicit, the now consistent back seat response of, ‘...everything is bigger in Texas!’ It is a tradition and makes us all laugh... until I then feel the need to spark political debate.
Kristy stops laughing and holds her breath.
Apparently my questioning the Second Amendment whilst driving to Rannoch Moor for a romantic engagement shoot, isn’t a great ice breaker!? Who knew. But Clara and Andy are Alabamans, and my need to seek discussion was not required. Kristy smiled at me and my opinion on Republicanism was filed. Here was a fun, laid back couple who, without knowing it, had just brought the ‘right light’ to our blue sky day! Even the campervan tourist tsunami could not dampen their happiness to be here with us. They were to make our week.
To them, Scotland was ‘Sweet Home’ and they had a connection to this landscape, they had applied and worked here together near Edinburgh for a while and although they didn’t have a ‘clan’ or even know where to visit their Jacobite family grave, they felt like this was their ‘spiritual home’. It was obvious to us and we immediately knew that we were ‘hanging out with friends’ again. That is the joy of what we do and we are lucky that the clients we attract, are all of similar character to us.
Outdoorsy, lovers of nature and the countryside, happy in our environment - with a GSOH. It sounded like a dating profile. But perhaps we would only share our fundamental dislike of ‘people’, with the ‘right’ people.... after they have booked us... and paid!? We needn’t have worried though, as today we had been rescued by the right people and agreed to avoid the disembarking throng of South East Asia and coach parking chaos.
The opinion of crowds was mutual, so Plan B was an obvious choice and it was easy to ask Clara to walk across the bog in her wedding dress. Without hesitation, the pair followed us in the heat along the Old Military Road and the pressure that we had felt in the morning, evaporated as the midday sun shone in a deepening blue sky. It was great to just walk, chew straw and get to know the story of ‘Clara and Andy’. I love a southern accent. I love the humour, the character... and fried chicken. They were set up on a date by their boss at KFC and now were celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary.
A young Labrador bounded towards us and attempted to hide beneath Claras dress. ‘..our dawg would love it out here!’ Andy said looking at the 3 Sisters beyond. ‘Y’all really should have a dawg!’ (Apologies if this was an inaccurate translation).
Yeah.. we would love to, but we’re away all the time. I heard myself replying whilst simultaneously realising the contradiction. Kristy became animated at the thought, in between directing a clearly happy couple to look.....’happy’ but in more whimsical dramatic way?? The heat was obviously affecting her and I thought back to the day on Harris last year. The day that an ‘all knowing’ Koala omitted to use sunscreen because, in true Crocodile Dundee, ‘this wasn’t heat’ ....and promptly got sunstroke.
‘Do you think we could take a dog on shoots? With clients?’ She grinned excitedly at Andy’s suggestion. Kristy always had dogs on the farm in Australia and has always wanted a canine addition to our family. Clara joined in. ‘Hell yeah!’ (Google Translate) ‘a dawg would be a great distraction for people.’ I hadn’t thought of that. Yes. I’d love a dog. We paused and toasted the decision with a Southern ceremonial shot of Jeff’s Springbank Malt whisky (no ‘e’) and promptly drove to the CoOp for lunch in Ballachulish.
I still am a Yorkshireman after all and their meal deal really is good value for money, even if the Wraps are not included in the ‘Main’ element of the arrangement. To continue the extravagance of our tour, I drove down to the loch and we sat on the slate beach below the quarry, for our Pork Pie and Pepsi Max. It started to drizzle, mood had unpredictably arrived in the Glen but we were having a ball. I wasn’t too sure whether my facts about the substandard quarried material, used to build the man made Loch side picnic spot, quite held the attention of the assembled diners. We were just hanging out, sat on the wet rock enjoying the diminishing view of Loch Leven, the company was great and so was the chicken and stuffing sandwich.
It had been a particularly tough week for us... back-to-back commercial shoots, a struggle to show the ‘sights of the Highlands’ in zero visibility and then, to further question our ‘like’ of human kind, a confrontation with an abusive individual with anger management issues, demanding money to freely roam at Kilchurn Castle. But on reflection, it was a week that we made new contacts with businesses who share our ethos, a week we were thankfully reassured by ‘decent’ landowners, who understand the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and then in the rain, on a blue sky Bank Holiday, we said goodbye to the happiest couple that we have had the pleasure to photograph. We had made friends and added another place to stay on our retirement World Tour.
I ordered an Alabama patch for my rucsac and we headed for a Chicken Burger. Karma was restored.