Homeland – the version with cows and sheep, not presidential assassinations

knit me a sweater

It’s possible one of these sheep donated the wool for my Harris Tweed cushion. I mean, it’s a small place right? It could have been. Maybe.

Years ago, watching a blue faced Mel Gibson sitting on a horse going on and on about his freedom, it never really occurred to me that the land which he so ferociously battles to save would hundreds of years later be the land of my ancestors. So two years ago, on what was probably about the eighth rewatch of Braveheart, I decided the time had come. I wanted to see my ancestral homeland, to see if I felt some sense of belonging, of kinship, and whether I suddenly developed a taste for sheep’s stomach stuffed with offal.

Happily, I was living in London at the time. This meant I was about 16,000 kilometers closer to achieving this goal than I would have been had I been watching Mel strangle a Scottish accent on my couch in Melbourne. So I booked a wee trip around the West Highlands.

I caught the train up to Edinburgh on a Monday afternoon and met the tour bus early on Tuesday. I’d put a lot of effort into picking the right kind of tour company. I didn’t want the ‘let’s get trashed every night till we vomit’ tour, or the other end of the spectrum, the’ ‘I’m so old I might die on this tour’ tour. I thought I’d picked the happy medium. As I walked around a corner onto the Royal Mile, I saw our mini bus parked on the street, a large dent and angry grey marks slashed across the front bumper bar. Now, if I was someone who believes in signs… oh, I am… shit.

My bus was made up of a family of six from India, a Malaysian couple in their fifties, an Australian couple and their (I’m guessing) not-quite-all-there teenage daughter, three Germans in their twenties and me. Oh and James the driver/guide/historian/botanist/web-designer/soon to be ex-smoker – “Tomorrow tomorrow, I swear I’ll give up tomorrow”.

Glencoe 2

This is Glencoe, site of the tragic massacre of the McDonald clan in 1692 after the Jacobite uprising. The eerie weather was the perfect backdrop for James’ tale of murder and betrayal.

The Indian men were lawyers, quite happy and chatty, but their wives and kids kept pretty much to themselves. Although one woman made her prescence known by belching her way around the Highlands. Every minute or so there’d come this enormous, chunky burp from her, then a second, then a third, just in case you put the first two down to exotic wildlife. None of her family batted an eyelid.

The Malaysian couple were lovely. The husband had studied engineering in Glasgow thirty years ago and was back on a small trip around Scotland, to show his wife around I guessed.

The Australians, yeah they were nice too. Everyone was ‘nice’. I of course recognised their accents straight away and a few sentences in I also guessed they were from Queensland.They were amazed at my deduction, but it’s not that hard for someone who spent a bit of time up north in her teens. You see, the dad spoke really slowly. Like. There. Was. A. Full. Stop. Between. Every. Word. And the mother had a habit of repeating everything, but with a slight edit on the second sentence, also a very Australian trait. She’d be like “So how long have you been here? Have you been here long?” and “I guess you’ve been to heaps of castles. Have you seen lots of castles?” By the end of the trip, to my horror, whenever I spoke to her I realised I was doing it too.

On the first day, whenever we stopped for a photo-op (or as I deduced – James’ cleverly disguised smoke breaks) their daughter would steal off by herself and then… well… all I can say here is ‘act like a horse’. She’d flick back her head as if she had a mane of hair to swish, lift one leg slightly and stamp the ground and then launch into a short canter across the countryside before coming to a stop and then looking at me like she’d done nothing weird. Maybe I should have offered her my apple. Continue reading

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The Postman Always Rings… until someone let’s the poor bugger in.

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OK that’s it, the love affair is over. It’s been a month now and the cracks are beginning to show. Me and Edinburgh have managed to finally get out of the bedroom and those little annoying habits are starting to show up. It’s all Edinburgh’s fault. I liked it so much I was gonna marry it. Then I found out about the garbage and the post situation.

What’s up Edinburgh? You don’t have a selection of bins in the apartment blocks for trash? You’ve got skips at the end of roads instead? So I have to walk my garbage alllll the way to the corner? Pfffffft. Seriously?

Well… maybe this would be acceptable if each corner had each type of bin for this big green world we now live in. But no. Half a block from me is the normal bin type bin, a whole 2 blocks is a paper/plastic bins and what might as well be the depths of outer Mongolia – 3 blocks!! – is the distance I need to schlep in order to dispose of glass products.

Am I just a complete lazy bum? Or am I right in thinking this is a complete pain in the bum? Whatever’s going on, there’s a bum involved somewhere.

The only person I see who benefits from this are the garbage collectors. Yes, maybe it’s uber efficient for them, but it’s bloody annoying for me. Now each morning I’ve got to think about which way I’m walking and gather up the correct garbage for whatever bin I might be passing along the way. Uggh.

Or… maybe people here just do special bin trips a few times a week?? Can’t say I’ve seen many people marching along the streets laden with garbage though. Or… maybe I’m just being a dickhead and Scots don’t really pay much attention to where they’re putting what? Yeah, it’s probably that second one. I’m a dickhead. Continue reading

Planet Nice – aka Scotland

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Living in Edinburgh requires an attitude adjustment. I’m so used to people being rude and unhelpful I’ve totally forgotten what nice is. My years in London have conditioned me to not even expect it any more. Every situation dealing with another human being is approached with the expectation that it’s going to be a hassle, voices may be raised and if it’s on the phone, there’s a pretty good chance the F bomb shall be dropped.

In the short time I’ve been in Scotland, I’ve had five separate incidents of friendliness. And I’m calling them incidents because they felt so strange to me, they may as well have been interactions with aliens. I almost expected Mulder and Scully to make an appearance after each one. I swear, there’s so much niceness being thrown at me, I might have to wear a raincoat to avoid being drenched in it. Well, that and the wet stuff from the sky.

Driving to Edinburgh from London, I was supposed to first go to the Big Yellow storage facility to unload most of the van, but as you can read here, there was no way that was going to happen after eleven hours on the road and five hours before that packing and cleaning. The next morning, one of the ladies from Big Yellow rang to see if I was alright, because she knew I was driving and the weather had turned bad. They already had my money, so I figured it wasn’t secretly about a possible lost sale. After I hung up I had to admit to myself this was just a complete stranger interested in my welfare… being nice.

A couple days later I was buying two things in HMV. One of them scanned up as zero. So the guy said “I didn’t see that” and gave it to me for free. Hello. Unheard of. Well, in London it would be unheard of. Then again, HMV has just gone kaput, so maybe the soon to be unemployed staff don’t really care much about the last weeks of HMV’s profits.

Then a lady in a shop gave me change of a £20 note for bus fare, without expecting me to buy anything from her. I was about to walk out after figuring out they didn’t sell bus tickets, because it just didn’t occur to me that someone would change my note for me, but before I could, she offered to change it. When I asked if I had  to buy something first she said “No, don’t be silly”. She could have said “No, don’t be a Londoner”.

Later still, when realised I didn’t have any money left on me except a few coins, the lady in a pet store let me have some cat litter without paying and just said “Come back later with the money.” I actually stood there for a few beats, silent, trying to fathom what she meant, like she’d just turned into Brian Cox and had tried to explain the universe to me.

Seriously, what planet is this Brian? Continue reading

What I’ll miss about London – Argentina.

A few weeks ago, I realised there’s still so much of London I’ve yet to explore.I grabbed a London city guide to see how slack I’d been and saw that I still hadn’t done The National Gallery, Kew Gardens, Tower Bridge (been over and under it, but not in it), St Paul’s (be outside it, not in it),Wimbledon, the Notting Hill Festival (meh, I’d probably never do that actually), climbed the Monument at Monument…

So it’s a few weeks later and I now have only one week left in this city. So did I get off my bum to set the travesty right? No, of course not. But I did make sure I had one last visit to a London delight which l shall no longer be able to enjoy in Edinburgh.And anyone who knows me even slightly will be able to guess that this would involve food, and not very sophisticated food at that.

Last Friday night I took myself and the girl who, until meeting me, had never had a steak in her life (apparently it’s just not a dish you get in Hungary) to Gaucho, an Argentinian steak restaurant. In my opinion, or maybe I really mean my in my price range, it’s the best steak you’ll get in a chain restaurant in London. I would have just said ‘best steak in London’ but I’m acutely aware that there’s a whole other London out there which only those on a rather preposterous wage ever get a glimpse of. I’m sure in their London good steaks are easy to come by. But in my London, after budgeting well for a couple of months, if you can afford to splurge £25-ish for a slab of cow, Gaucho’s is the place you want to splurge it in.

Despite the fact that Gaucho’s interior design looks like someone has slaughtered a herd of black, brown and white cows, then dimmed the lights and put in chandeliers in an attempt to make us believe cow hide is couture, it’s no run of the mill chain.

gaucho

Arrrrgh my eyes! It’s not nearly as painful with the lights down, I promise. Maybe just don’t go during daylight.

In the girl’s world, anywhere with a table cloth is fancy, so I was wary that she might be feeling a bit out of place in this dark den of dead cow. But then came the chimichurri, and the only thing left for her to think about was the food and putting more of it into her mouth. Continue reading

Blending in like a local – Ten tips for London’s new arrivals.

Being an Australian, when I first moved to London I thought fitting in would be a piece of bakewell tart. I mean, we sort of speak the same language and appear to have many cultural similarities, yes? How hard could it be? As it turns out, quite. So in the name of cultural exchange, I thought I’d reach out to the new arrivals of today. Follow these simple rules, and just like a hipster in Shoreditch with the facial fuzz of a person who never wants to be kissed again, you’ll be blending in like a local in no time.

You can read this post at work and pretend you’re catching up on important political matters on Huffington Post (not passing the time reading some chick’s stories about her bum) by pressing here. Or if you’re not micro-managed, just scroll down and enjoy.

1 – Logistics

If you want to get somewhere in London, you can rely on this.

If you want to get somewhere in London on time never rely on this.

2 – Greetings

Forget ‘hello’. You will be greeted with ‘alright’, asked as a question and with a hint of concern, just the way you might enquire when you see someone fall down a flight of stairs. This is not because they know you had too many beers last night and actually did fall down a flight of stairs. Translated, this means “Good morning/afternoon, how are you?” Unlike the rest of the world, replying to this with an evaluation of your health and mood that day is unnecessary.

3 – Chilli is not a spice, it’s a seasoning

It will be served in everything, so if you don’t like chilli, make ordering a side of yoghurt your new annoying habit.

4 – Renting

Think of renting a home like adopting a baby. Adoption involves background checks, assessments of your lifestyle, bank accounts and payslips and glowing references from employers and reputable friends. Renting is the same, except the thing draining your wallet each month from then on will be the cupboard you now call home, not an orphan. Continue reading

Weird stuff I done seen today #2

Well ok, it wasn’t quite today, it was the August bank holiday weekend, as in last weekend, ummm, but August last year. Sorry sorry. I’m not being lazy again, I had every intention of making this blog current, and I did actually go to a fun fair today, but I have recently moved to sarf London and the new area is very, errr, genteel, and they didn’t exactly produce the most interesting subjects.

So… here’s a picture. From a year ago.

Gives new meaning to the idea of pacifying the youth

Seriously, what the?? I can’t even begin to think of scenarios for that. No wait, yes I can, cough, ok, does this photo mean:

a) After a lecture from his much older brother about “holding onto his youth”, he went a bit outside the box in his interpretation.

b) In this world of ever widening social boundaries, there’s not much left for kids to do to shock their parents, so infantilism it is.

c) He’s just watched “Bugsy Malone” and gained a whole new vision of how to be a gangsta. He’s actually on his way to a giant cream pie fight in the tent behind the dodgem cars.

All jokes aside, I loved these kids sense of style, their intricate hairdo’s and slightly 80’s Electric Boogaloo fashion sense. I was at high school in the real 80’s and these guys would have put me to shame in a fashion contest. Then again, Ugly Betty in her woolly poncho would beat me in a fashion contest, so that’s not saying much. Continue reading