Gunfight at the Florida Mall

There are times when taking a photo could get you killed and had I found my camera that day, it’s likely you wouldn’t be reading this because I wouldn’t be here to write it.

It has been said in a previous blog that as a family, when on holiday, we’d managed to obtain the nickname ‘the Griswolds’ because we had Griswold vacation type things happen to us and this is one such happening. We’d spent a week in Florida. It was our eighth visit to the US and the fourth visit to this state yet it had been 8 years since the last time. The first visit was in 1989 when Emma was a toddler and in subsequent trips we’d taken tents, our next child, James, and having two kids meant budgeting so we camped in the wilderness parks, canoe’d lonely and alligator infested creeks and out run rednecks (see –  https://kevollier.com/2012/08/15/india-the-next-adventure-is-on/ ).

Emma left home, due to her age, not to our griswoldian near death experiences, and James was all grown up, and it just worked out that we could have one last trip as a family before the additions of spouses and grand-children and so we thought let’s go back to Florida and do adult things rather than queue at theme parks for a week, so we hired a house on an average Orlando estate.

The house was a smidge smaller than Longleat and had its own indoor-ish pool and a walk in fridge with a full-sized billiards table in the soda section. The en-suite bathroom in the fourth bedroom was slightly larger than our entire England home and garden. The garage, or should I say hanger, could have held concerts. You had to get a cab to the mailbox. I assumed that every house has a huge ‘H” painted on its roof – and this is where the working classes live.

Kev Ollier's 66 Ford Mustang

The Mustang of my youth!

At Orlando airport arrivals I accepted that ‘when in Rome do what the Romans do’ and so quickly became a climate change denier and upgraded our hire car from the average Mondeo sized model to a brand new Dodge Charger, and for only an extra $20 a day. It would have been a crime not to. I once owned a 66 Mustang and once you’ve felt the throb of a V8 under your buttocks, it’s difficult to resist another. A washing machine on full spin just doesn’t cut it.  So we throbbed around Florida. We went over to Tampa and then down to Miami and Miami beach for a few days, taking in the Everglades and one of those air boat rides where the noise travelled through my ears and made my inner nostrils vibrate for a week afterwards. I’m just thankful I wore ear plugs. We did Planet Hollywood and movies and bars and beaches and shops and restaurants and lots of Denny’s and basically had a wonderful time with nothing even close to a griswold moment.

My beautiful picture

The Dodge Charger

And then the final day arrived and I succumbed to pressure and said , ‘ok, we’ll go to the Florida Mall’. The thing with a mall in the US is that if you’ve been to Cribbs Causeway or to the Arndale or Meadowbank etc, then you’ve been to a mall. You could be anywhere with the possible exception that everyone in America seems to wear white training shoes. We even played a game of only staring at passing feet to see if we could spot anything different and we did come across two people wearing scuffed but none white trainers and another two wearing flip-flops who all happened to be English, another guy wearing sandals with socks (??) who was German and one bare footed guy selling a Bhagavad Gita but everyone else had the Stepford standard issue.

On the way into the mall, I spotted a bookshop and promised myself to drop in on our way out – which was about two hours later.

The four of us all smoked at that time and the three others needed their fix and so they wandered off to the outside and to the car to roll a cigarette whilst I promised to join them after a browse amongst the books. It being a mall meant the bookshop was of the WH Smith type and after about ten minutes I was done – and putting my hands in my pocket discovered the car keys and decided I ought to get a move on. My son met me asking me to hurry up as I hadn’t given them the keys and they ‘were stood about like lemons’.  As we exited, we heard various sirens and I commented that although inside the mall you could have been anywhere, outside it was the sound of America. I opened the car, jumped in, rolled my own ciggie and put it in my mouth about to light it when a siren wailed right behind the car and a voice in a megaphone shouted, ‘put your hands up’.

The first thing I did was dive into the foot well to search for my camera as I wanted a real life hold up on film but I couldn’t find it and the police guy was insisting that the people he was shouting at put their hands up. When I turned to see where the action was, I quickly noticed that my wife, who was sat in the passenger seat, had her hands up to the car roof and behind her a cop stood, resting on the roof of the adjacent car, aiming a gun straight at her head. I looked into the back and couldn’t help notice that both the kids had their hands up too and they also had their very own policeman with a gun pointing at them through the back window. I was then startled when a loud voice to my left told me, in no uncertain terms, to ‘GET YOUR HANDS UP’ and as I looked  through my open window and was met, only eighteen inches from my face and pointing at my forehead, by a barrel of a gun with a copper firmly attached. My instinctual response was ‘are you serious?’ A fourth cop was talking into a radio, my cop reached in and took the roll up from my mouth and asked me what was in it, another asked if we were English and then suddenly it was all loudly called off and guns were raised skywards in synchronicity and apologies reined down upon us. I was just starting to get what had  happened. Emma shouted, ‘I don’t appreciate having a gun in my face thank you very much’ and I told her to shut up. But we wanted an explanation all the same.

My cop smiled and said, ‘you were smoking in a rental’ and followed that with, ‘I’m just kidding’.  Oh, how I laughed.  Another explained that the mall CCTV spotted ‘suspicious behaviour’ around the car, and it was assumed that we were either terrorists or trying to steal the best car in the car park. Further symbiotic investigation  revealed that when the other three had gone back to the car and then realised that they hadn’t got the keys, they tried each door and the boot (trunk) for entry but to no avail, then when they’d rolled their ciggies, the kids had a sibling quarrel and the lighter was dropped and skidded under the car where they both tried to retrieve it.  James then ran to he mall to meet me and we both alighted from the building heading back to the car. None of this surprised me. It all seemed very inevitable and all I could say to the withdrawing, ‘you have a nice day now’ police officers was, ‘well, you certainly don’t get this at Tesco’

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The British Buddhist Holy Isle.

On the 18th April 1992 Buddhist Lama Yeshe Rinpoche bought a whole island off the coast from the Island of Arran which in turn is off the coast of Scotland. It is called Holy Isle and must not be visited, indeed given the widest possible birth, if you can’t cope with peace, beauty, tranquility and serenity.
The island came into Buddhist hands via a devout catholic no less, Mrs Kay Morris, who owned Holy Isle and had been ‘instructed by Mother Mary in a dream’ to pass Holy Isle to Lama Yeshe to be used for peace and meditation. See –  http://www.holyisland.org/

We went there this year as the second part of the annual ‘lads walk’.  We’d spent the first part, a couple of days, walking the wilds of Arran getting sunburned and heat stroke as we’d managed to marry our trip with the hottest weather Scotland has had since Dodo’s were a menace to outdoor chip eaters.

Arrival on Arran


There was only four of us this year and one of us, a freelance writer, was writing an article on our visit for Kindred Spirit magazine. It was the third day of our trip that we caught the small ferry over to this car free paradise. The plus with Holy Isle is that nobody is playing at being Buddhist. There was some disappointment by one of our group as he’d genuinely expected that our boat, on landing, would be met by a line of purple cloaked, bald blokes ringing bells and welcoming us on to their island. I wondered if he also thought they would be saying Aloha and passing garlands of thistles around our necks.
The resident Buddhists are simply average people of all ages who are trying to follow a peaceful existence via the teachings of Buddha. This, in other words, is not a pretentious new age centre.

The main building

The island consists of a main building which houses the dormitories, library, kitchen and dining room. There is no TV room, no amusement arcade or gym because like the world over they’re not really necessary. Behind this there is another building where the courses are held and at the far end of the island, about half a mile away, was a not for visitors retreat centre where twelve women are currently on a three year, three month, three day retreat. They were 18 months in to it at the time of our visit in May 2012.  The disappointed friend drew looks, accompanied by frowning eyebrows, when he inquired if this was voluntary on their part, obviously having decided to himself that we were on some sort of unwelcoming Zen Alcatraz.
In the hillside above the retreat centre there was a couple of eco-lodges for people on a lifetime retreat and once the resident has passed on the lodge also gets passed on to the next person on the waiting list.

The retreat building

The lifetime retreat lodges and the home of Lama Yeshe when he visits.

There is a also a wonderful cafe/shop on the grass beach which caters for visitors and helps fund the island and sells lots of mediation bowls which everyone seemed to try out and I imagine were there as some special meditative training test for the shop assistant.
Above the cafe was a meditation room which I visited at several ungodly hours to spend time, cross legged, cutting off the blood flow to my feet. I didn’t take my reading glasses into these meditations and was put on the spot when given a 2 inch thick set of cards to be able to recite the Chenrezig prayer, which was written in writing so small that I had no choice but to mumble along in a low Buddhisty sounding, throaty tone so as not to be exposed and glared at.

The Holy Isle passenger terminal looking towards Arran


Before meditation one morning as the sun was just up, around 5am as it happens, I decided to practice some yoga outdoors. There was a time when 5am was when I’d think of getting off home from a party and not heading for seclusion to do a yoga practice. I found a lovely spot by the sea edge looking across to Arran. I stripped down to my underpants because 1/ it was already hot and more importantly, 2/ I was alone – and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) and by the time I’d reached my first downward facing dog I realised I was not at all alone. I was joined by an ever expanding cloud of wee midges and these midges were not at all Buddhist and brought on what I can only describe as yoga turrets and a quick desertion of my practice as I ran back to the meditation hall with my new friends in hot, biting pursuit.

In the main building one could help oneself to free teas and coffees 24/7 and the food, three meals a day that are included in your £28 a night stay, was gorgeous vegan fayre. We all occasionally chipped in washing and wiping dishes and very quickly became part of the community  and after only three days it was as if we’d never lived anywhere else.

On Holy Isle, you are not expected to go to meditation or to do anything particularly. You are simply free to be. It is relaxation personified and still quite a secret.

Peaced out. Last night on the island. Arran in the background

On returning to Arran the next day with it’s one bus every two hours, seemed akin to being dropped into Manhattan on Christmas Eve. It took a while for the peace to dissolve back into distraction which suffice to say most of it eventually did – except for a small part that now sits there still – I guess, waiting for me.

There are currently plans to put a power plant on Arran which the Buddhist community fear will spoil the tranquility of Holy Isle causing noise, pollution and smoke.
see – http://tinyurl.com/9a387jd

Kino MacGregor, London.

I’m writing this with the only things on my body that are currently not stiff and that’s the tips of my fingers (and ok yes the other one). This weekends Kino MacGregor yoga workshops in London are responsible and what workshops they were.!


Mrs Ollier and I left home on Friday morning walking to the bus stop and catching a bus into Wells, and then another from Wells to Bristol Temple Meads and on to a train to London Paddington and several tubes before eventually alighting at Covent Garden in torrential rain to then find the hotel on foot.
Covent Garden Underground is the one tube station in the capital that you wouldn’t want to alight from, as 193 steps up a pre war curly staircase are the method of alightenment, which includes, from most people, a one word exhalation on reaching the final step, that’s if you’re fit enough to be able to still utter anything but gasping air, as 193 steps is the equivalent of climbing to the top of a 15-storey building. It was later that we discovered that there were also lifts in place and we’d managed to miss the signs saying so, no doubt obscured by the constant throngs of travellers. Obviously.


We found our hotel and dropped our bags and yoga mats into the room, freshened up and wandered off out again to find the triyoga studio where we were later to attend the first of the three workshops, titled Burn Baby Burn.

The studio was right in the hub of Carnaby Street, the very same Carnaby Street of Beatles and Twiggy fame, which is in Soho and only a 1 mile – 20 minute walk away so rather than spend that 20 minutes descending those steps again, we decided to walk and four miles and two hours later arrived at the triyoga studio. (We had no idea where we went wrong but we managed to repeat that incorrectness twice more in the next 24 hours).

The people at triyoga studio (https://www.triyoga.co.uk/) were, as you’d expect for anything yogic, lovely and friendly. On peeping into a studio room I observed many yoga mats being laid out by a member of staff which prompted a question from me, ‘so you don’t need to bring your own yoga mat then?’. ‘No’, the lovely, smiley lady replied. My yoga mat is, of course, of the eco variety and made of 100% natural rubber and therefore a tad heavy and it had spent the day, unnecessarily it now turns out, with me on two buses, a train, lots of tubes and their attending stairs and lengthy walking tunnels including the 193 steps. ‘Oh’, I said.
We left, only to return a few hours and two Chai Latte’s later, quite knackered, for the intense first class from Kino.

Kino MacGregor is a funny yoga teacher as in she is very comical – at least to anyone on a yoga trip. She is also extremely knowledgable, confident and true to the practice. When she was just 29 she became the youngest woman, and one of only a select group of people, to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


Suffice to say this class did certainly burn, developed to awaken the inner fire by using the Mulabandha, the root lock, and within an hour I was pulling up my anus, lifting my perineum and testicles, squeezing in my lower belly and drawing in the space between my pubic bone and sacrum, all at the same time, and what a heat that created and I felt amazing, we both did. (Please note Mrs Ollier didn’t have to raise her testicles, using instead the cervix – just in case you were wondering).
We later left the studio to be enveloped in the crazy, hedonistic, Friday night shenanigans of London as we drifted hazily through Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Wall to wall people all the way. Every single pub and bar crammed inside and 30 foot outside. London has seemingly not had a recession.

Another Chai Latte stop and then to bed and up early for yet another Chai Latte before a full primary series talk through in the morning. The Chai, on top of the bottle of water I had for breakfast turned out to be an oversight as I had to pee three times in the half hour before the class and I wanted to go again just as Kino entered the room, but it was clear that nobody was leaving this class until it was over and done and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) trying desperately not to think of waterfalls or running taps and when it all finished two hours later I didn’t even need to go as I think my urine had evaporated through my head.

        This photo, taken by Kino, is the only picture ever taken of me in a yoga class. I am the right foot, ankle and lower leg in the bottom right hand corner.

After a lunch break (we had a Chai Latte) there was a brilliant three-hour afternoon workshop on arm balancing and near the end Kino suggested that when back at home we all do one full minute each day in Bakasana, the crow posture, before she had us all do a full minute right there and then. Well, that worked!

Sadly we had to leave after the class to get the 7pm train back to Bristol and therefore missing a Mysore session in the morning and a back bends workshop in the afternoon which I was a bit done about as I do a weekly Mysore session with my wonderful Glastonbury teacher and it’s always my favourite class so to do one with Kino adjusting would have been a great extra dimensional experience – but on waking this morning I was having more than a jot of trouble reaching for my socks – and they were on a shelf!

Kino teaches classes worldwide and particularly at her home in Miami where she is co founder of the Miami Life Center – and if you ever get the chance or opportunity, I would seriously recommend treating yourself.

In the meantime check out http://www.kinoyoga.com/

NDE on Ben Nevis

I knew this was going to be a classic ‘lads walk’ when checking in at Bristol airport and newcomer Reg decided to put his budbomb through security. A budbomb is a highly sophisticated polished metal, chambered pipe designed for smoking the buds of cannabis, free of tobacco, delivering a direct hit to the brain. That’s where the bud part comes in. The bomb part isn’t called such because it does this type of delivering but because it’s shaped like a small bomb and therefore not the most ideal thing to put through the security scanner at airports. But this was pre 911 and security were not looking for bombs or narcotics at that time, having their hands full with people smuggling an extra bottle of Archers or having 20 cigarettes over the limit, so suffice to say we landed at Glasgow without interruption.  We transferred to a train that lolled through the scenery of Scotland to finally drop us at Fort William which is the town at the end of Scotland’s greatest trail and the reason we were here, to walk part of the West Highland Way. It seemed however that we had gone in through the out door so to speak as we were about to walk three days over this trail the wrong way.

Walked ‘correctly’ the 154Km (96 miles) Route starts at Milngavie passes through Mugdock Country Park, follows the shores of Loch Lomond, passing Ben Lomond, through Glen Falloch and Strathfillan, crossing Rannoch Moor, past Buachaille Etive Mor to the head of Glencoe, climbing the Devil’s Staircase, descending to sea level to cross the River Leven at the head of Loch Leven before entering Lairigmor and Glen Nevis and finishes at Gordon Square in Fort William. The thing was we weren’t going to be walking it correctly because for one we hadn’t got the latest fad that every other walker without exception was carrying, these ski sticks whose only benefit seemed to be of occupying one’s arms whilst the legs are busy – a bit like stabilizers for walkers and for two we had what probably every walker without exception didn’t have which was enough dope to wilt a field of thistles. Well at least we hoped we had, since we hadn’t risked taking the stuffed A5 envelope onto an aircraft but instead posted it, for our attention, to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel which was to be our home for the first couple of nights and that was where we headed to straight from the station. On checking in, we smiled as the receptionist said, ‘ah, you have a strange smelling package here’. You have to love Royal Mail for their drug courier service and at no extra cost.

The next day saw three of the group hanging around Fort William for the day testing the contents of that package whilst Phil and I arose at the crack of dawn to surmount Ben Nevis, which looked very welcoming in the morning May sunshine wearing its thick snowy cap. Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK at 4408 feet (1344 metres) and the starting point is only about 65 feet above sea level still leaving 4343 feet to ascend, which we did in just over three hours since Phil informed me, approximately half way up, that he was terrified of heights but was ok if he didn’t stop and hoped I wouldn’t let him down being his mate and all.

We had the mountain more or less completely to ourselves and didn’t see one other walker whatsoever until we hit the scree zone, (always used in films that depict hell), at about 3500 feet which was now covered in cloud and visibility was only around 30 feet. This lone walker appeared out of the mist like a wraith whose only reason for being there was to inform a man terrified of heights ‘to be very careful, it’s deadly up there’. Phil had to be more than cajoled to continue but this he did, albeit even faster. I remember shouting to his disappearing form to slow down for fucks sake otherwise you’ll be on your own with a dead body to deal with. Not long after this we hit the snow line and within a hundred metres it was a foot thick and we experienced what was essentially a white out (as opposed to a ‘whitey’ which no doubt our three, estranged ground level companions were having around about the same time). The visibility was less than 10 feet and we’d lost the path as the local council selfishly don’t send salt gritters up this far, and it was very, very cold but as the ground still had a slope to it and knowing we were very near the top, we continued and then two things happened. We’d been discussing Marcus, one of our fellow walkers and a best friend to both of us who had died in tragic circumstances a couple of years before and as we were doing so a lone little bird flew beside us and landed right next to us at this great, narnian height to allow us enough time to look at each other and then to the bird and say ‘Hi Marcus’ before it promptly flew away. It raised one of *those* smiles. With this in mind I kept trudging through the shin-deep snow and got a tad lost in my own thoughts thinking about the movie Touching the Void and the Rivers of Babylon song, when Phil screamed at me to stop – which I did abruptly. He told me to re-trace my steps and not to move onwards one more inch. I obeyed because his tone was so serious, he must have obviously spotted a grizzly bear coming my way and if not a grizzly then possibly a dreaded winged haggis.
 Well it turned out that I owed him one as I was no longer walking on land but on a snow overhang which just happened to be overhanging the 700-metre (2,300 ft) high cliffs of the north face which are among the highest cliffs in the UK.

The snow overhang in question though not the same day. This one being clear

Although I was the one who nearly actually died, it was actually Phil who really nearly died and by now he was almost invisible as his face was whiter than the pure driven snow surrounding him and it didn’t seem sensible, that minutes later at the found summit, to open a bottle of whisky and to have no more than two minutes rest before making our anxious descent. I think we are the first people on Earth to get up and down Ben Nevis within 5 hours without running.  Alas, we soon met back up with the other three who had no interest in our adventures, preferring to giggle a lot. We all headed for a local pub which we sat in until closing time, making our plans and sharing our thoughts about what the next few days held walking ‘The Way’. We left Phil asleep slumped at the table and stood in the street looking (and giggling – bear in mind we were only in our 30’s and 40’s) through the window, marveling at Phil’s reaction as the cleaner prodded him for several minutes before he got up and wandered for what he thought was the door but what was instead the pub kitchen. These things have to be done.

To be continued…………

Yeehaws and Alligators

14359312-alligator-closeup-in-wild-in-gator-park-in-miami-florida
We’ve never really been the package tour types, though we have done a few and they’ve mostly been good delivering exactly what one would expect. But even when the kids were small we did some wonderful travelling and when you do things independently, things occur that glossy brochures never prepare you for and I have to admit we’ve been lucky or blessed to have got through quite a few close calls.
The list that springs to mind –
We once drove from New York to the Florida Keys and whilst on the back roads of South Carolina we managed to gain the attention of some drunken, toothless, brace wearing and no doubt armed yeehaas in a pick up truck who followed us for over 20 miles on a desolate road and they had made it quite clear by their drawling gestures that they’d like to have their way with the wife and daughter and possibly me too. All the time I was driving, with, I might add, the petrol gauge pointing at E, I was designing a plan of action that my mind kept insisting would involve banjos and shoving. And the rest of the family were not too comfortable and giving me constant advice on how I should drive. I was already doing 90 and the boys were keeping right up just 6 feet shy of the back seat.
They did pull off. I think it was me giving them by best Burt Reynolds scowl in the rear view.  Either that or they were reaching the boundary of their electronic tag.

Then there was the alligator incident.
We’d hired a canoe in a wilderness in Florida ( a different year) where one paddles along a spring fed river until you come to the first spot where you can be picked up (a road bridge over the river) which was four hours downstream. The river was crystal clear, only approx 20 feet wide at its widest and only 4 feet deep, very winding and strewn with overhanging trees that have to be navigated around. I used the word ‘navigate’ as if we were respected in the canoeist community for our daring do. We are not. A better and more honest sentence would be, overhanging trees that will be smashed into, get jammed stuck on that tear your skin as you continue to wing it. This was the first time we’d ever canoed by the way but we weren’t worried about being humiliated because we were the only ones doing it.  We were totally on our own.  Alone.


However, after a good hour, none of us were talking to each other and we’d got into a nice rhythm with only the occasional straight on into the bank when the river took a bend, which luckily for us novices was only about every 10 yards. Ali was in the front, me at the back all Apache like and the kids in the middle, one behind the other, but we were trundling along nicely and hadn’t crashed for a good 15 minutes.  It was then that I spotted, about 30 yards ahead, a rather large alligator, about the same length as the canoe, slip off the bank into the water. I thought ‘Oh My God’ – (had it been recently I would have probably just thought OMG) – but quickly decided that I wouldn’t say anything to the others, I’ll just keep paddling whilst keeping an eye on it, at which point Ali did a full 180 degree turn in her seat showing a face that would scare a ghost and said, ‘did you see that massive crocodile just go into the river?’. This was the moment that the kids made loud noises and the boat rocked and we careered into a sand bank – approximately exactly where the Gator had gone in. And we were stuck rigid. No amount of paddles pushing into the bank would release us. By this time the kids were hysterical and I don’t mean they were doing their best comedy routines. So a decision was taken that somebody would have to jump out of the canoe and pull it off. Yes of course it was me. I gave my daughter Emma my paddle and said, ‘if the alligator comes you have to hit it on the head as hard as you can or daddy will die’.

At this moment I became totally alive. I even recalled the Zen story of the man being chased by a vicious tiger (are there other sorts?)  – He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine. Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious. I jumped out of that canoe as if in a dream, wrenched it clear and jumped back in like a gymnast all the time assuming that I was about to go the way of Captain Hook.  Suffice to say, he must have eaten and thought the English underfed as that one glimpse was all we had.

Then there’s the family being held up by four cops at gun point and at point blank range in the US incident –  and there’s the hashish incident in Morocco and the Wild Boar encounter and the Amsterdam incident – but they’re other future blogs.