Suits, Robes, and Uniforms

The light of morning showed I'd pitched directly next to a copse of woods with a far superior site in the middle. Shame, because I wanted to lounge around for a day and work. I decided I was too lazy to break camp for the trivial reason of relocating only thirty feet, so I packed up and set off for South Queensferry instead, the southern terminus of the famous Forth Railway Bridge with a library open all afternoon from one until eight.

The onward cycle path ran through a palatial country estate of ancient woodland, manicured lawns, rocky coast, and the occasional posh person out walking the requisite black labrador.

It's strange how our stereotyping processes whir madly to life from the merest hint of plum in a cheery 'morning'.

The path turned to follow the coast, and brought the Forth Railway Bridge into sight, the first time in my life I'd ever seen it. I had to stop pedalling with the enormity of it all. It really hit home, at that point, how much of the island I'm from I hadn't seen, and this icon was only a couple of hundred miles from where I grew up.

Completed in 1890, the Firth of Forth Bridge was built under the watchful eye of the world after the collapse of the Tay Bridge during the winter gales of 1879, where 75 people perished when their train pitched into the estuary. Renowned for their excellence in engineering the empire over, this shook the Scots to spare no expense and build a bridge that would never fall down. The Forth Railway Bridge was the result: the cantilever design over the Forth river is one of the strongest and most expensive ever conceived, the latter quality being why there are so few like it. The unfortunate irony is 98 men died building the thing.

At the time, and for 27 years, 1,710 feet was the longest single cantilever span in the world (there are two of this length on the Forth Bridge). It is still second only to the 1,800 feet of the Quebec Bridge in Canada.

  • 54,000 tons of steel
  • 194,000 cubic yards of granite, stone, and concrete
  • 21,000 tons of cement
  • 7,000,000 rivets
 Now, we may build larger structures today, but in the 1880s they had no combustion power. So when you sit and look at this colossus as I did for a couple of hours, and factor in a dash of construction knowledge, it makes one feel comparatively useless and unmotivated. Luckily, these are traits with which I'm intimately familiar.

I scouted that night's campsite under the road bridge a mile or so westward and put some work in at the library. The meticulously attired Indian librarian opening the door treated me with overt contempt. Overt enough to annoy me, at least, and I'm pretty difficult to irritate. He queried my possession of a library card (this library fell under the Edinburgh umbrella so my membership from the day before was still good), then he said there was no WiFi, when my phone told me there was. I didn't cause a fuss because I needed to work here, but what an absolute twat. I didn't let on I was a writer, as our interaction was already soured by his shitty attitude and I didn't care to engage him further. I hoped he was going to be working the day after, so I could plan to come in muddy booted or after eating something particularly gaseous. That'd sort him out.

I left at eight o'dark, rolled by the supermarket to pick up some leafy vegetables (good for wind generation), camped down and had a stir fry again, but for some reason the improvised concoction didn't taste quite as spectacular as the night before, probably due to the inclusion of so much cabbage, eggs and beans. I only ate half and chucked the rest. I spent the remainder of the night finishing off the third season of Mad Men, and was truly impressed by the amount of shagging going on. It's well-produced porn with discreetly obscured genitalia, let's be honest.

The next day I was straight back to the library. The attendant this time was a woman, so I dutifully wiped the fresh mud off my boots outside before going in, and chose a spot far from foot traffic so my uncontrollable farting wouldn't bother anybody. What a waste of a biochemical stockpile. My distain for the dude yesterday doubled with each apocalyptic release.

I finished up at around 4.30 pm and crossed the Forth Road Bridge to look for a camping spot on the north bank. It must be over a mile long, and has some cracking views of the rail bridge.

I tried to make it through Dunfermline onto a trail where I could camp, but darkness caught me on the nearside outskirts. At a loss, I pootled around until I found a patch of woodland in a business park; not perfect but good enough. I planned to be up early for a dash to Stirling before the forecast rain arrived anyway, so it was as good as anywhere else.

Day 25
The route to Stirling followed another railway track converted into a bridleway, which I've found to be the quickest way to get somewhere on a bike without riding on the main roads. I rechecked the weather on my phone before I left, and it looked like I had a little more time than I thought, so I made up a flask of tea and some peanut butter and jam sandwiches for later.

I bombed along the track to Stirling, covering the twenty miles or so in only a couple of hours, and lost my two litre water bottle on the way. That's four I'd lost. I'd been tucking them into the front of the trailer wedged between my backpack and the pivot arm post, but for whatever reason they kept becoming dislodged, despite several differing attempts at tying them in place with a bungee. I had to rethink this, because dehydration was starting to get old. I decided on putting the new bottle in the same place but wrapped in a plastic bag and tying the handles to the top of the post so if it did slip from position it wouldn't be sacrificed to the thirsty road gods.

Image © Stirling Council

I sought out the Stirling Central Library and emailed a normally reliable client about a delinquent payment, and checked the Doppler weather radar. Rain was imminent, so I had to make a run for the hills to find a campsite. My plan was to never cycle in the rain unless I absolutely had to, and I had a few miles to go yet, so I didn't wait for a reply and got moving.

Potential camping sites on the way were thin in the ground, and the sky started to spit, but I eventually found a likely spot in the shadow of an uprooted tree by the golf course in Dunblane. I got set up just in time before the heavens opened, and settled down to tea, PB&J sarnies and Mad Mating season four.

Idle hands
When I ride these long and relatively boring stretches (old railway lines tend to have little in the way of views) I get to think a lot. Probably more than any other time in my life, actually. The freedom allows one's mind to roam like an illiterate Italian. Let's ignore, for the moment, whether such musing is good, indifferent, or a portent of gathering doom: currently, I'm toying with the notion of the world being nothing more than a giant LARP game, and I've become increasingly convinced this might actually be true. It may well be a scenario worth considering anyway, true or not, as it's a beautiful bypass of the conditioned social hierarchy our 'authorities' so carefully bludgeon into us, and one I seem to be slowly jettisoning.

My subversive reasoning is the people who purposely dress in the daftest costumes (clerics, police, military, politicians, business suits etc) are the ones who seem to disappear into their roles the most, and forget, or never even begin, to function like normal members of an integrated society: egalitarian, peaceful, stress-free, kind, and bemused by the ridiculousness of it all. Let's call it 'enlightenment', or the baseline human condition. They're the true neckbeards, the socially inept goofballs who don't possess the ability to function outside the construct of the game, never get laid properly, and carry their puffed delusions of authority like a favourite lightning bolt beanbag.

The more I thought about it, the more it amused me. And I started to feel sorry for them, and realized I was turning into a hippie.

Stay with me, people
Google hunter-gatherer societies: our natural and default state. They exhibit all the previously mentioned mutually beneficial tendencies far more readily than we of the current industrial habitat. Any graph you'll find plots immediate-return hunter-gatherer communities at by far the happiest. Agrarian societies are the most miserable, and our Western industrial-digital paradigm lies somewhere in between.

(Also consider 'necessity breeds invention' -- probably the most accurate maxim ever to describe progress -- Paleolithic technology didn't change much for many hundreds of thousands of years until some bright but lazy spark invented agriculture, which tells me 'necessity' was sorely lacking. The popular idea among archaeologists is populations probably grew to a point where agriculture eventually became necessary, hence its advent 10,000 years or so ago, but for many hundreds of thousands of years before then we were running around killing and eating organisms like we'd evolved to, happy as pigs in shit. Now we outsource such tasks, technology advances exponentially, stress is our biggest killer, and according to the Mayo Clinic, almost 70% of us are on prescribed antibiotics, opioids, and antidepressants.)

Check your character sheet
The catalyst of this LARP idea: I've recently had arguments with inflated local politicians, and soldiers freshly returned from furthering wealthy corporate interests in the Middle East, who insist the West should eradicate the entire Islamic wing of religion, almost a quarter of the world's population, because (and I'm paraphrasing only slightly here) they're Lawful Evil.

(For those who don't know what the hell I'm talking about: when E. Gary Gygax was writing the first rules to Dungeons & Dragons, he wanted to introduce a simple method to define a character's motivations, so he invented alignment. Initially, this consisted of three primary morality systems: Chaotic, Neutral, and Lawful, each of which were later subdivided into Good, Neutral, and Evil, for a total of nine separate subcategories. Simplistic, but really quite clever. Choosing one gave the player an immediate framework to explore, and the Game Master an idea of how consistently the character was being played. The Lawful Evil alignment is typified by a deep belief in the structure of law, but will exploit that lawfulness to hurt people. Many extremists fall into this category, like the Westboro Baptist Church. For Lawful Neutral, think a by-the-numbers courtroom judge. The Lawful Good, on the other hand, temper their belief in law with altruism (Nelson Mandela springs to mind. Actually, he's probably more Neutral Good, or even Chaotic Good, because he fought against the laws of South Africa in his early years. Maybe he changed to Lawful Good over time?)

Anyway, the soldiers seemed to base their opinions on their experiences with the backward Afghan hillbillies they were fighting (who are obviously no more a representative demographic of Islam than our own outlying twitchy meth head rednecks are of Christianity), coupled with the propaganda I'm sure is foisted upon them to keep their motivation elevated during the conflict. Many pointed to genocidal urgings in the Quran during our arguments (which tells me they're likely parroting the same 'approved' leaflets), neatly sidestepping similar themes in the Bible, and claimed their 'uniforms' were not 'costumes' (tricky things, labels), and guns aren't substitutes for foam rubber LARP swords at all and how fucking dare I.

Intelligence is often described as the ability to abstract: usually characterized by the willingness to consider more than one opinion on the same subject. If this is lacking, especially for purposes of intellectual growth and amusement, one should probably refrain from engaging in conversation on anything more meaningful than, I dunno, NASCAR, on pain of me vigorously stabbing at one's carotid artery with a fistful of pub darts.

So how do we drag these lost LARPing fools back to reality? I alone can't explain the depth of their subservient folly to each individual cog in the establishment machine. That'd take millennia and I don't have a time warp spell memorized. What we need is some pervasive mass media approach, like a blog.



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