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

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

Good Moaning from Italia

DSC_3779

Where this then? Well keep reading and you’ll find out, lazy bum.

Oh the irony. I used to think one of the great benefits of moving to the UK was its close proximity to Italy, a place I’m going to be spending a lot of time soon (the reason for which you can read about here). How bloody ironic it is then that today it’s taking me thriteen hours to get from Edinburgh to Bari? Far out, if I was leaving Melbourne (on a plane), in thirteen hours I could be in Singapore, or Hawaii or… deep in the Antarctic. Well, not in the Antarctic, that’d be difficult (unless I had a submarine), not to mention a tad cold and wet.

Four of the thirteen hours has me stuck in Stansted Airport. Ugghh. To kill time I’m currently (that was a pun, but you’ll have to wait a few sentences before you can groan at it) getting my jollies rebelling against decent, law-abiding society. And when I say ‘decent’ and ‘law abiding’, I mean English.

Somehow I broke through one of the airport’s mysterious 700 million rules, and not only am I at my gate three hours early – at Stansted they expect you to wait in a not so huge ‘holding pen’ with all the other 6 million travellers, until they tell you half an hour before your flight which gate to run to, and I do mean run – but I’m also plugged into a random socket (aaaaaand groan) I found behind some chairs. Being London, I expect to be told off at some point because geez, there must surely be some kind of Health and Safety rule I’m breaking. Plus, being Ryanair, I also expect to be charged for the unauthorised use of airport electricity.

When I’m bored of typing, I’ll switch to being bored by people watching. I’m always fascinated by the the ‘fashionista’s’ at airports, the ones who seem to think they’ll be stalked by paparazzi at some stage so they better make a huge effort (if that’s the right word) in the wardrobe department. Apart from mismatching, faux-designer crap, they’ve always got some stupid hat on, a real ‘look at me’ monstrosity that nobody would ever actually wear on the street. Or anywhere. Well, maybe Ibiza.  Continue reading

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.

Pirate-Ship

(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.

IMG_1988

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…

IMG_1989

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.

leggo 3

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…

DSC_3205

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…

DSC_3222-001

Continue reading