The Strangeness of Kindness – remembering how to be human

I’ve spoken before about my need for reindoctrination into the concept of people being ‘nice’ after living in London for so long, but I thought I’d share a story to illustrate how severely afflicted I was. This was a couple of weeks after moving to Edinburgh and I still wasn’t used to the whole idea of good customer service. Or any kind of customer service. Actually it was all rather weird.

My kitten had been driving me nuts for days, so, determined to sort her the hell out, and despite the fact it was called Simply Dogs, I walked to the pet store half a block from my house. I didn’t know for sure, but I was fairly confident Simply Dogs wasn’t a literal interpretation of their services, just like the launch of Virgin Airlines years ago didn’t convince me I’d be ineligible to fly with them.

I had a quick look at the window displays and yes, there we go, cat toys. I pushed the white, wooden door open with some effort and stepped in. Although only about as big as your average famous person’s walk in closet, Simply Dogs was crammed full of what was quite possibly every single animal product available to mankind. Precariously stacked shelves of name tags, leashes and fetch toys reached the ceiling. Cat and dog baskets, bicycle carriers, litter, dry food, wet food, fish food, bird food, automatic laser beams, dog hurdles and curious things called Wiggly Giggly and Kong Wobblers filled almost every bit of floor space. These too were arranged just as alarmingly as the shelves.

I stood there, stuck staring in amazement, before being startled by a small “hello…”

Turning my head to the right I was surprised to see a lady seated behind a small glass counter. She was crouched so low, for all I knew she might have been sitting on the floor.

“Oh. Hello.” I replied, feeling giant-like as I looked down at the top of her head.

She smiled widely and stood up. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

She had soft blue eyes and a kind, round face, but her hair was a most unusual pale yellow, so much like creamed butter that I felt a sudden urge to lick a cake bowl. She wore a grubby, blue windcheater with the name “Pedigree” embroidered on it and her plump hands were clasped together, resting on her belly as she spoke.

“Well, my kitten has developed a new routine where she claws the sides of my bed at 3am every morning. Have you got a scratching post? But not those stand up, ugly carpet ones? Are there any other kinds?” I asked hopefully.

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I know what you’re thinking – how could anyone possibly ever have a problem with something this cute and fluffy? Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, you’ve obviosuly never had one.

Her eyebrows lifted toward her buttery fringe. “Oh aye,” she said, coming round from behind the counter and negotiating two display racks in the middle of the store. She squeezed in front of me, her right foot kicking a bottom shelf as she passed. A pyramid of Sheba Chicken Liver spilled to the floor.

“Oh.” she said, absentmindedly looking back to see what she’d knocked over, but making no move to pick them up. “I’ve got a wee something back here, the last one I think.”

Balancing one hand on a box of disposable puppy nappies, she reached behind a row of super-size Royal Canin dog food bags and presented me with what looked like a skateboard made of porous cardboard.  ”There we are,” she said, pleased.

As she handed it to me, I noticed a small, plastic bag of suspicious looking herbs taped to it.

“It comes with Catnip. You sprinkle it all over it. Cats love it.” she explained.

“Ah,” I said, moving the packet toward me for a closer look, somehow managing to stop the urge to sniff. Continue reading

An Aussie, a Hungarian, a Russian and a Pom Went Up a Hill

Well if you’re a diligent little blog reader and actually read all the comments of the blogs you peruse, you’ll know that I have a job. Albeit a temporary one. But as Bardon so eloquently put it in those same comments, all jobs, like life, are temporary. In any case, I’m declaring myself still a bum till I get a permanent job and therefore the title and this blog’s raison d’etre is still relevant. Yes, just like your average bonkers cult leader, I like to interpret the written word until it has meaning that suits my purposes. Life’s less disappointing that way.

Now if you only got so far as the title of my last little rant, you may have come to the conclusion that I did in fact resort to creative means to land this little vocational assignment. But you’d be wrong. I may be exploring new professions these days, but the world’s oldest is not among them. Yet.

So why’s it taken me three weeks to write about this stupendous (???) development? Because I’m buggered. Jesus Christ, this getting up and going somewhere every day, pretending to be someone with manners, who doesn’t swear and gives a shit is exhausting!

But there’s plenty more time to moan about that later. Right now I’d like to show you what I did last weekend. I could probably write a little story about the whole day, but I’m just going to post some pics instead. Seriously, words cannot do justice to the beauty of Scotland. Well yeah actually they probably can, but I’m tired and it’s Sunday. We working people need to rest up for the week ahead you know.

So here’s Ben A’an in The Trossachs. The Lochs are Katrine and Archray, but buggered if I know which one’s which. click on the pics if you’re the type of person who likes to check out the little details in life.

This is about 5 minutes in. Cunningly I devised a "I'm being a photographer, you'll thank me later" plan to disguise my need for a rest.

This is about 5 minutes in. Cunningly I devised a “I’m being a photographer, you’ll thank me later” plan to disguise my need for a rest from this ridiculous gradient.

A lovely flat bit through a lovely foresty bit.

A lovely flat bit through a lovely foresty bit.

Don't the trees look spooky in B&W?

Don’t the trees look spooky in B&W?

Almost at the top. almost worth the effort.

Almost at the top. Almost worth the effort.

Good spot for lunch

Good spot for lunch

OK fiiiiiine, that's worth the effort.

OK fiiiiiine, that’s worth the effort.

View from the other side of the summit.

View from the other side of the summit.

Since my friends will no doubt be horrified I put them on my blog, here's me trying to remain incognito on the top of a mountain.

Since my friends will no doubt be horrified I put them on my blog, here’s me trying to remain incognito on the top of a mountain at the very moment I realise my camera is no longer around my neck.

Taking  the road less traveled on the way down.

Taking the road less traveled on the way down.

As you can see, Ben A’an is slightly attractive, and allegedly an “easy” hill climb. Personally I thought I might rupture a lung a couple of times, but I guess they mean it’s a short (1.5 hours) climb and the path is not too challenging since most of it is laid with rocks as steps. Even better, all this stunning scenery is only one and a half hour’s drive from Edinburgh. If I still lived in London, it would have taken that long just to get out of the city.

So if you’re heading north any time soon, make the most of what I’m constantly being told is an astoundingly good Scottish summer and get yourself out into the hills for a day. Just be prepared for the shame of a five year old racing past you as you wheeze and splutter your way to the pay off. Or maybe that was just me…

Who Do I Have to ‘rhymes with truck’ to Get a Job Round Here?

Recruitment agencies – Angels sent from the gods to make your dreams come true? Or about as useful as a one legged man in an arse kicking contest?

I’m sure anyone who’s had even one go on the recruitment agency merry-go-round will probably choose ‘B thanks Eddie’ (sorry, you gotta be a skip to understand that one). I’ve had one interview so far in 2 months of searching and for some reason that agent has gone all Helen Keller on me. He won’t answer my calls or emails. How immature is that? Was he not told that part of his job is to tell people they didn’t get it? I’m not gonna cry. Geez.

Oh, wait. Before I start my proper tirade, let me show you a picture. Check this out.

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Can you see that? The mist over the water? Here, I’ll go closer.

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How spooky’s that? It’s called the Haar, the Scottish sea mist. Behind me, as you can see in the pic above, it’s a sunny, mid-twenties day. Crazy. Apparently later on (Autumn/Winter??) they roll all the way into town, giving the whole of Edinburgh a truly Dickensian feel. I can’t wait for that, although I’m not too excited about the potential frizz ball my hair will be from walking through mists all day. Still, I could wear a flowing robe and carry around a big sword and pretend I’m in Avalon. For example.

But back to being pissed off… Continue reading

On yer bike Edinburgh

Surprise surprise I’m still a bum. Things move so slowly in the jobs market here in Edinburgh. I’ve been in the process of going for this one job for a month now and even if I get it, the start date won’t be for another 2 weeks. Cripes. Is it that hard? Do you like me or don’t you? We’re not doing open heart surgery fellas. Just go with your gut.

In the meantime I figured I’d act like I’m on summer holidays during the hours I’m not searching for a job (ie – 8am to 9am). So I bought a bicycle.

I haven’t had a bike since I stopped riding mine in Melbourne after they brought in the mandatory helmet laws. I’m not really one for health and safety. Or looking like I belong in some kid’s Leggo set.

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I also figured I’d need somebody with whom to indulge this new hobby so I made friends with a neighbor. Unfortunately, this is what ‘going for a ride’ means to him…

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I can honestly say a new friendship has never hurt so much, so quickly. After he promised to pretend I was his granny just out of hospital from her third hip replacement, he took me along the Water of Leith, which you may not know is a river/stream/trickle that runs straight through the middle (and a bit to the left) of Edinburgh.

Most of the path looks like this…

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Continue reading

If 19th century Scotland ruled the world…

You know, sometimes I think they got it right in ye olden days. Sometimes I think we should stuff all this human rights and PC malarky. Sometimes I think we should just ask ourselves “What would 19th century Scotland do?”

Who’s heard of Burke and Hare? Anyone who’s been to Edinburgh and gone on a ghost tour, probably. Or, like me yesterday, anyone who has had a little squiz at the Edinburgh Surgeons Museum on Nicholson Street. For everyone else, Burke and Hare were two Irish workers who found themselves in possession of a dead body when Hare’s flatmate died in late 1827. Since the guy was so rude as to die (of natural causes) still owing his last month’s £4 rent, Hare decided to try to sell the body to a doctor at Edinburgh University as a way to recoup his money. As you do.

Surprisingly the sale was quite simple, and since bodies weren’t easy to come by in those days, they were encouraged to bring more. So Burke and Hare went into the murdering business. 10 months and 15 bodies later, they were finally caught. Hare was offered immunity if he testified against Burke (because he was the stupid one so they figured Burke was the mastermind), and Burke was hanged in January 1829.

And in the best ‘eye for an eye’ piece of justice I’ve heard in a while, the day after he was hanged, before a crowd of more than 20,000, Burke was publicly dissected in a theater of the Edinburgh University’s Old College. His skeleton can still be seen at the Anatomy Museum today.

But… and here’s the cool/gruesome part… he was also skinned and tanned. Pocket books (wallets) were made from his skin and allegedly sold on the streets. And if you go to the Hall off Surgeons Museum you can see one for yourself. You’re not supposed to take photos, but who am I to listen to rules?

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Gross right? But kinda cool gross.

In 1832, a mere four years after the murders, the limitations on using dead bodies for medical research were lifted. Oh and in case you’re curious, the going rate for a body back then was anywhere between £7 – £10, roughly £700 – £900 in today’s money.

I don’t know about you, but most times after I accidentally see the news, I can think of quite a few people who would make rather stylish leather goods…

The Job Hunt;rhymes with c…

Binoculars Job Hunter

If there’s one thing moving to the UK has taught me, it’s that I’m not nearly as amazing as I used to think I was. I’ve been slapped in the face by reality so many times over the past five years I’m surprised my cheeks don’t have the outline of a hand tattooed on them. A lot of the slapping revolved around getting a job, or not, as the case was for quite a while. As I head into my 5th week of unsuccessful job hunting in Edinburgh, my sharply deflating bubble of confidence tells me that maybe symbolic physical violence is not the best learning tool for me.

I mean, up until a few days ago I was thinking what the hell’s wrong with all you recruiters? Haven’t you heard of me? Nat. From Australia. The amazing employee any boss would be glad to have. Not ringing any bells? Well that’s bloody strange.

When I moved to London in 2008 I arrived thinking it would be easy to get a job. I’d join a recruiting agency, they’d talk to me, see I was intelligent, had some good references, good experience and boom – lovely job, nice location, good pay, thanks very much for coming. Queue 12 months of rejection, frustration and humiliation, but on the plus side, more interview practice than the average person probably gets in a lifetime.

Continue reading