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

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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?

 

Time stands still. Until it doesn’t

Time. You always either have too much or not enough. It always goes too slow or too fast. It makes you stress or it makes you bored. Worse still, it turns you into an old fart.

It’s like that one arsehole kid in school who thought it was funny to jump out from behind a corner and yell “BOO!” – usually when you had your hands full of something likely to stain when you’re drenched in it. That arsehole has been hiding round the dark corner of my life for a good long while now, waiting patiently to give me the biggest scare of my life. Well, second biggest. Sitting at the end of the Pirate Ship ride at the Moomba festival years ago was enough to make me think I was gonna die. That thing is deceptively scary.

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(image via http://www.iappsoft.com)

In 6 weeks I will have been in the UK for 5 years. That means it’s time to sort out my UK residency, hence the panic. In 2008, five years felt like an eternity. It’s always been something that I’ve relegated to the “oh yeah, I’ll deal with that one day” portion of my brain. Man I wish I could run that part of my brain like a computer, like an Outlook diary, so I’d get invitations and reminders and all sorts of blips and bleeps and handy pop-ups.

To avoid being shipped back to Melbourne, I first have to pass a “Life in the UK” test. Which means there’s a book to read.

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And facts to memorise. The reading’s fine I guess, it’s the memorising bit that hurts. Can any of you UK readers answer these…

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No, neither can I.

You know, there’s a page at the front of this book which says anyone who can read English at ESOL level 3 and above will have no difficulty. But for anyone who came to the UK a few years ago and has been learning English from scratch, it must be bloody hard. I mean, even I’ll struggle and I’m an Australian, someone who speaks a version of English, one that allows me to kind of understand most of what the Scots are saying to me if I ask them to repeat it a few times. 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…

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…