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”.

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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

Like a Business Trip Virgin – Expensed for the Very First Time

This is Zurich. To find out why you’re looking at a picture of Zurich, you’ll have to keep reading.

I realised this morning I have nothing left to stress about. What on earth am I going to do now? I can’t remember how one acts when one is sane and composed and dare I say… happy?? Well, I’m sure I’ll muddle through. Life’s bound to go pear shaped sooner or later.

So September’s come and gone. That happened. I passed my Life in the UK test, I went to Italy to check out real estate, I survived going to London to (attempt to) take photos for a friend’s wedding and got back just in time to post off my UK residency papers. Stress, stress and more stressssssss. I also had two job interviews in there somewhere. One I didn’t get because I don’t have Edinburgh experience in answering a phone, writing down what the person tells me is broken and organising someone to repair it – but he thought I was terrific and if he had time to train me on answering the phone, writing down what the person says and organising the repair person, I would have been a shoe-in.

Oh hey, wait a minute, there is something to stress about – I’ll be unemployed again in three weeks. See, told you. Oh, that feels better.

Anyhoo, being stress free today reminded me of the time I went to Zurich for a week with work in 2011. If you’ve never been, and for me coming from London (where I lived then), the absolute calm of Zurich is friggin’ eerie. No, it’s pungent. It gets up your nose and makes you screw up your face and think “what the hell is that?”

On the plus side, my stomach miraculously behaved itself the entire week. Having to sit in a deathly quiet office with three senior managers is normally enough to have it perform an aria of gurgling and suspect eruptions, brought on just from the fear of that deathly quiet, never mind what I chose to put in my mouth that day. But to my utter amazement, not a peep. It was the first time I started to see a link between my gut, my head, and how much a city can affect your stress levels.

But anyhoo, I digress. Here’s a little ‘diary’ I wrote while there. I dug this out because I’m lazy, I mean busy, and I haven’t written anything on my poor blog for so long. Millions and bazillions of readers are bound to be wondering if I’m alive, or if I’ve discovered God and moved to the Amazon to spread his word to some unknown jungle tribe. Actually I did discover God and I am spreading his word – on Twitter.

Just for some background, the reason I was sent to Zurich was to gather space management statistics for a week, to help them configure the floor plan of a new office being built next door. In other words, I walked into every office and counted empty desks twice a day, then wrote the numbers down. Obviously such lowly grunt work was beyond the three senior managers whose office I wrote these figures down in, so the most cost effective solution was to fly someone from London to do it, put them up in the Marriott for a week and pay for their meals. That, by the way, is most certainly not a complaint.  Continue reading

There’s Nothing Like Nature to Show You Your Limits

That’ll teach me…

After the relative success of a day walking up a hill in the Trossachs in July, I got a bit cocky. I was just trying to be ironic by calling it a hill in my other post, when it quite obviously – to me – was actually a bloody mountain. But according to some bizarre rating system in Scotland, Ben A’An is indeed just a hill, as is anything else under 600 meters high. Well 609, but I’m too lazy to type the exact measurements.

In Scotland, you haven’t really gone for a walk up a mountain until you’ve bagged yourself a Graham (600 to 760 meters). You can also, if you’re one of those annoyingly fit people, try for a Corbett (760 to 914) or a Munro (914 and above). And it’s quite the thing to do here apparently. Even the girl who I returned my hire car to the next day told me she’s done five Grahams. Two in one day. Yeah, goodonya. Nobody likes a show off.

So this was how I found Ben Venue. At 729 meters, there’s no denying it’s a Graham. So I put on my proper walking boots, grabbed the Hungarian and the Pom and set off again a couple weeks ago thinking it would be a cinch.

I’m going to spare you the endless moaning details, but let’s just say as far as mountain climbing goes, I’ve learnt my limits. I’m too old and pathetically unfit or this shit. Six hours, one blister and two bloodied pinky toes later (and weather so dangerously windy up the top we only stayed for about 30 seconds before retreating to lower ground) tells me that I’m not gonna be bagging no bloomin’ Munro any time soon.

Which is a pity, because bloody hell, even in challenging weather, it’s so damn beautiful up there. See for yourself. But please excuse the rain drops all over this shot. I haven’t figured out how to use a camera in gale force winds and rain whilst shielding the lens yet.

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Maybe a lens hood might be a good start?

 

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…

Think the weather in Edinburgh is shite? What’s this then, hey?

I’m still busy writing about all things Puglia, but I thought I’d stop by The Bum Diaries quickly to record a very important event in Edinburgh; the sun came out. Twice.

See…

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So when it happened again I got all outdoorsy and climbed a hill (Arthur’s Seat)…

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That’s not me by the way…

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Arthur’s Seat is great because you can pretend you’ve done some major hiking on the other side by taking shots like this which make it look like you’re deep in the wilderness…

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And what better way to end a sunny day than visit a beach (Portabello) and have a beer?

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That’s still not me, but don’t worry, I do know her. It’s not some random tourist I stalked around Edinburgh all day.

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Ah… yeah, that’s my kitten… how did that get in there…

Trying to Teach a (sick) Old Dog New Tricks

I have man flu. Apparently I’m making enough grunts and groans every time I move even so much as half an inch that the world is sick of me (and apparently I’ve reverted to imperial measurements since moving to the UK). By “the world” I mean the girl who is stuck at home with me. Oh and the cats. Well, maybe the guy at the corner shop I go to each morning for a Freddo Frog too.

But in my opinion I’ve been unjustly labeled. My symptoms include a cough that sounds something like I’m ejecting a demon spirit, ears that ache like they did when I was pulling some G forces on the Mission Space ride at Disneyworld and of course a nose which alternates between waterfall and dam depending on my angle of recline-age. I also have that damn tickle you get in your throat that makes you choke and cry tears of pathetic-ness because it invariably hits when you’re in public and making it worse by fruitlessly trying to stop it. Plus a strange addition last night was an over production of saliva that made my pillow look like a rabid dog had laid down to rest on it.

So boo hoo for sicky sicky bum bum me, right?

All of this is not helping the fact that this week I’m attending an evening photography course. Normally my brain only functions for a few hours a day, usually around 9am till lunch, 1pm-ish if I’ve had a good sleep. After that it’s a waste of time ever trying to have an intelligent conversation with me. So with my course being 6.30pm till 9pm (normally a prefect length for my attention span) each night, added to the fact that my head is already full of mucus, there’s not much room for new information.

The course is a beginners one, covering the absolute basics, but that still involves wrapping my head around things like f-stops (the most infuriatingly backwards system that’s ever existed – something to do with Pi he said???), apertures, shutter speeds, angles of view, pinhole cameras, sensors, focal length, exposure triangles. Oi vey! I’ve been getting along fine just winging it till now. Maybe I should have factored in my age and number of depleted brain cells before I made the crazy decision to quit my job and start a photography business.

I’m exaggerating slightly, but it is curious to realise that the brain is just not what it used to be. I’m sure it will all slot into the correct files in my head eventually, I’ll just need it explained about ten times more than a youngun. Or someone my age who didn’t obliterate their capacity to learn in their 20’s through copious amounts of Jack Daniels. And vodka. And Long Island Iced Teas. And beer.  Continue reading