Thursday, December 22, 2005

Things I should be doing now or in the next few days:

1. Finishing up Christmas presents;
2. Cleaning out my room, getting rid of things I don’t need/want;
3. Finish/continue writing about my trip;
4. Go dancing, FINALLY;
5. Decorating for Christmas;
6. Making Christmas cookies;
7. See people;
8. Watch old episodes of Inspector Gadget;
9. You get the idea.

I’ve been trying to decide what warrants starting and maybe even finishing first, and I decided on writing at least one entry, because that is how much I care about you people. And also because I can do it sitting down.

Until dancing comes around, ‘cause ain’t nobody standing in the way of my dancing. Almost nobody.

So. Where to start. How about with the Hukilau? Excellent idea.

On the 8th, which was a Thursday, I went to Edinburgh Swing Dance Society’s dance lesson, where Diane was teaching the Dean Collins Shim Sham. Afterwards, Bjarte, Diane, Michelle, Alan, and I went to a pub down the road for drinks. I was wearing my flip flops because the centre where they hold the lesson is barely two blocks from my place, and I didn’t feel like putting on my sneakers. And OH they teased me for it, what with it being the middle of winter.

Wacky Americans.

It was after the first beer that we were discussing the cabaret (talent show, if you will) that was happening at Tuesday’s dance. Alan, Françoise, and I were planning to do our three-person balboa. Diane then brought up this dance she knew – the Hukilau. Presumably a hula dance, done to a song by an Italian swing band. Being at a beer-and-a-half, we (save Bjarte, who was going to be gone by Tuesday) decided this would be a great thing to perform at the cabaret.

When we sobered up our eyes widened collectively when we realized what we’d agreed to do. But the decision had been made, so the Hukilau was a go.

Diane, Michelle, and I met on Sunday where we went over the dance (it’s pretty simple). Have you ever heard the hukilau song? It gets into your head worse than “It’s a small world.” It will be on repeat in your brain until the end of time. Bleah. Anyway, we practiced until we got bored, and then gussied ourselves up and went to the Christmas dance that two dancers were throwing.

It wasn’t until Monday that we got to practice again, but we grabbed an empty, unused hallway in the pub where the Monday lessons are held, and learned to hula. We thought it was hilarious and laughed through the whole thing.

Fast forward to the Cabaret. We were wearing crepe paper grass skirts, plastic leis, flowers in our hair, and flip flops. And Alan… well, the plan was that he was going to get a coconut bra and, at the climax of the song, tear his shirt open. I can’t remember if we were drunk when we decided that one. For some inexplicable reason he didn’t buy the coconut bra, but instead bought large rubber breasts with a demi-bra. It’s almost the same thing.

I think we thought the whole thing was funnier than the audience did. They were appreciative, though, and loved Alan flashing them.

Oh. And the whole thing’s on film. Good thing I wasn't planning to run for office.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I leave Edinburgh today. I fully reserve the right to run around screaming and possibly also crying.

Fear not, gentle readers. I still have plenty of stories to impart upon you, including:

1. My North Carolina replacement.
2. What the Hukilau is and how I got roped into performing it. On stage. In front of people. While sober.
3. What dry skiing is and how I got that palm-sized bruise on my thigh.

And more! So stay tuned! For a while!

Until then, I plan to be racing around, finishing packing, moping, and wondering why the hell I have so much crap and why it all has to come back with me. And also why I can't get rid of any of it.


Monday, December 12, 2005

One of the train rides

Dancer folks


Mull Head.

The Gloup.

The ferry ride back. That tall bit of rock is the Old Man of Hoy.

Haggis Tour:
Doune Castle. Site of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Callander. I think. I'm pretty sure that's the town we were in.

Rob Roy's Graveyard. Not pictured: Rob Roy's Grave.

Loch Lomond & The Trossochs tour
Loch Lomond.

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A (very) few photos of dancer folk:

Some dancers rockin' the shim sham.

A super-stylin' Bjarte.

The lovely Angela and me.

10 days left. Holy hell.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I realize a while ago that it took me about three months to get really tired of traveling. For the past few weeks I’ve had no motivation to go anywhere. Even when I decided on a destination it took me a week to get moving. I’ve been sedate and tired and thinking fondly of going back to the states.

The irony of this is that it took me three months to start to be really comfortable with people here. I have friends here! Groovy friends, who I can call up and say hey, let’s do things!

Who make me not want to leave.

Consequently I’m a little itchy, thinking about how I have less than two weeks before I leave (!!). There are still places I’d like to go, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to happen. Angela has left to go home to Korea for Christmas, and I won’t get to see her until either I come back to Edinburgh, or she comes to visit me in the US. That’s really disappointing, because by the last week we were hanging out she felt the most like my friends back home – lots of joking, lots of physical affection. I’ve really missed it and was glad to have it again.

On Saturday Bjarte goes back to Norway. He’s one of the best dancers here, and will be finishing his PhD in Norway, so he won’t be going back to Edinburgh. Again, I won’t be able to see him until one of us visits the other.

Oof. Well.

I went to Glasgow (pronounced “Glaz-gow” and not, not, not “Glass-gaw” it doesn’t rhyme with “cow”) last Saturday. It took a couple of stern conversations with myself before I finally left the house, bag of essentials (underwear, book, knitting, and computer) on my back. The plan was to stay until Monday.

It’s a short trip to Glasgow, only 45 minutes by train. I got there a little after 1 and found myself in the centre of their major shopping district. It’s apparently one of the top rated shopping places in the world these days. Imagine, if you will, being in a large city with top-ranked shopping. On a Saturday. Three weeks before Christmas. When it’s cold. And moving on to being dark.

That’s my idea of fun! Except not so much. The stores were all just larger versions of the chains they have here. There wasn’t much that was new. I saw evidence of an Urban Outfitters and stopped in the Borders, but we have those in the states. I slogged through the ooze of narcissistic, pushy shoppers and wandered the streets. It wasn’t until well after I left my house that I realized that I’d left my guidebook at home, so I didn’t know where I was going.

I kept to the better-lit sections of street that I found, but once the sun sets (around 4pm) the whole city looks shadowy. The streets are lit from lamps attached halfway up the buildings which gives the impression that there aren’t many lights at all. And once you leave the shops it looks even darker. Encouraging!

I finally decided to find a hotel, and kept my eyes out for one. I finally found a Radisson – a chain, but it was decently situated and, beyond that, the only place I’d seen so far. I went in and asked for a room, but they were all booked up.

Of course. It’s a near-Christmas weekend – everyone’s here to shop. I made a decision that I would do what I found first: stay in a hotel, or take the train back home. Fighting through stores and people made me tired and bruised, and made my own bed have a brand new intrigue. After wandering around the same streets over and over again I found the Tourist Information Centre and decided that okay, hotel it was. If they could find me one.

When I said I was looking for a hotel room for the night the woman at the desk winced. Oh dear. She asked what my budget was, and said that she might be able to find me something on the other side of town – an easy ride on a bus or underground. I politely declined and asked where the train station was.

In the five or so hours that I was there I didn’t see a whole lot, and wasn’t impressed by much. The nice thing, though, about being in this country at this time of the year is that they really go all out for Christmas. Decorations everywhere, and many of them tasteful. Maybe not the bow tie on one of the statues, but at least it was funny. They also have amusement park rides and an ice skating rink. Not exciting enough to keep me there, however.

I have an idea of going back at some point. I feel like there might be things other than shops there.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

How on earth is it December already? Good gravy.

I have a free piece of advice for you. If you’re planning to go to Europe and cook while you’re there you should either 1. leave all of your recipes behind and forget you ever had them, or 2. bring a good metric conversion chart, plus cup measures.

I will explain.

Angela was organizing a dinner party for oh, seven or eight swing dancers, and we were all slated to bring food. No problem! It could be fun to cook. I haven’t done it since I’ve gotten here, as the kitchen is totally depressing. And by totally depressing I mean it’s a hallway and a closet and even a power-washing wouldn’t make a huge difference on the dirt. And peeling floors. And grimy dishes/pots/pans. And stained walls. You get it.

But! I would make Joy Of Cooking brand garlic bread! Easy! And also a fudge-like substance that is often smiled upon when made. Also easy! I’ll give you the recipe:

1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese
2 c. sifted confectioner’s sugar
2 1-oz squares unsweetened (baker’s) chocolate
1/4 tsp vanilla
Dash salt

Throw cream cheese in a mixing bowl, cream until soft and smooth. Slowly mix in sugar. Mix in chocolate. Mix in vanilla and salt. Then, if it’s firm, form into balls, throw some fruit on the top (strawberries and raspberries are the way to go here), place on wax paper, and chill until you get bored or hungry. Or pour into a greased cake pan – a 9” one works well – top with fruit, and chill, then slice into squares.

So easy! Right? Hah! Not so much. So I went to the grocery store for supplies. The only thing I had on that list is salt.

Cream cheese! In packages! Except that it’s measured in grams, not ounces. I blinked at the packages for a while, wondering if I had relevant converting information at my disposal. I just bought a package, figuring they looked about the right size, and moved on.

The sugar aisle! Great! Confectioner’s sugar! Nope! Nothing. It was all granulated. I needed powdered, or it likely wouldn’t work. I hadn’t even heard of half the sugars they had. Castor sugar? I made a guess as to which was the most in the manner of being powdered, and moved on. It was by fluke that I ended up staring, dejectedly, at the cake-decorating section (puzzling out pre-rolled icing) where I found icing sugar. Which was distinctly not in the sugar section. But it was right! It was powdered! Hallelujah!

Chocolate! I found a large bar of baker’s chocolate, nice stuff, too, but it was £4.50, which obscene. I had no plans to use the whole thing (or get even close). So back to the baking section. They had a few bars, but they all seemed sweetened, which is Bad and Wrong. But preferable to paying £4.50, so I got one.

Vanilla! That one was actually really easy and cheap. Bonus.

Back to the fruit aisle! Strawberries, I was thinking, if they weren’t too dear, maybe raspberries, maybe some other inspiring things. They had raspberries, okay. And nothing else that would be appropriate. Apples? No. Pears? No. Mangos? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Bananas? Naw. And zero strawberries. Well then! Raspberries it is.

I had, at this point, gone through the whole store about three times at this point. It was annoying. Because I still needed a serrated knife (the apartment version left a note saying it was fed up with the kitchen and was leaving) and maybe a dry measuring glass, as I wasn’t sure we had one.

Two more turns around the store and I finally found a suitable knife, and measuring cups. Except that the measurements were metric, and mine, as you may notice, aren’t. Not helpful! So I didn’t buy it.

Finally home, where I learned that we sure didn’t have any measuring devices. Not such a problem, though, since the recipe involves things like “cups” and “tsps.” I was left without any way to measure anything, and didn’t realize I had a conversion chart (in the back of my marbled composition notebook) until it was too late. I just guessed, as that was really all I could do in the time that I had.

And it didn’t work. I mixed everything, threw it in the fridge, and it didn’t firm up. It was goo. An hour later I pulled it out, tested the viscosity, and added more sugar. What else was there to do? Back in the fridge. An hour later, the same again. More sugar.

In the end I didn’t take it. I blame the cream cheese. But the goo tastes fantastic with raspberries.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Well, it’s nearly 9pm on a Tuesday night. By all rights I should be at the local swing dance, but I’m instead in my room with wine and knitting. Why? Well, yesterday was BenAndHelen’s dance lesson. I went, as I do, to the intermediate lesson. Their first move involved the follow (that would be me) crouching to the floor, ducking under the lead’s arm, and jumping up again. It’s a sexy move, but when your legs aren’t prepared for such heights of physical exertion, as mine weren’t, you might not feel so good when it’s over. Especially when you’re the only woman there (aside, of course, from Helen), as this means you get to do the move again and again and again. The other men paired up with each other when I was occupied with someone, but I was in high demand. Instead of saying “Follows rotate” as they usually do in class they just said “Emily rotate.” Grand!

My right thigh, however, started hurting during the lesson, into the next moves and into the beginner lesson as well, which was in need of a few more women (this, for the curious, is highly unusual – there are almost always more women than men), and into the social dancing as well.

And oh ho ho, trying to walk around today? Hilarious. Steps hurt, hills hurt (anything going down, really), and every fifty feet or so my leg gives out, causing me to wobble in a desperate attempt to keep balance. I went to the bookstore and attempted to sit on the floor in the knitting section so I could see if they had any new books (they didn’t) and oh it hurt! What fun!

I would’ve gone to the dance, actually, if Jacqui was going. That way I could hang out with people and not be stuck at home (right, I can stay home all day and be happy as a pig in mud, but the one time I should to stay home I’m “stuck”). Unfortunately, she’s not going tonight. And it’s too far to walk just to hang out. So here I am. Damn.

Now where’s that wine?

Okay then.

I went on another tour on, oh, Nov 12th or so. Not with the Haggis group, thank you, but another, smaller group catering to people with sense. Up to the Trossachs, Loch Lomond, then finishing up at Stirling Castle.

The Trossachs are a national park, Loch Lomond is a relatively famous lake, and Stirling Castle… is a castle.

We drove through the Trossachs and heard the usual Rob Roy/ William Wallace/ Robert the Bruce stories.

The birches were forming purple buds on the tips, so if you looked over an expanse of trees it had a lovely violet haze to it. I learned that traditional kilts – the kind that involve the section thrown over the shoulder – are also one’s bedding. You just wrap right up in it and nestle down in the heather and you were relatively warm for the night.

Our guide informed us of the man who had once been proclaimed the worst poet ever. He goes by the name of McGonagall (or similar). Here’s the poem that claimed him the title, including linguistic footnotes For Your Convenience:

Upon the hill there was a coo1,
He must’ve moved, he’s not there noo2.

1 Cow. In this case, Scottish highlands cow. The hairy, horned variety.
2 Now.

I thoroughly enjoy it, personally.

Next we drove up to Loch Lomond, where we piled into a boat to tool around the lake. You’ve likely heard of Loch Lomond, though you may not realize it. You know the song, “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road”? The lyrics go like this:

You take the high road and I’ll take the low road,
and I’ll get to Scotland before you.
For something something never see my true love and me,
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Here’s the word on the song. Back in the 17th century the Jacobites (supporters of James II) were under the impression that when you die your spirit goes underground to join your family, wherever they may be. So two brothers or possibly friends, went off to do something like fight somewhere outside of Scotland as they did in those days. One of those two, imbued with an admirable calmness, was fated to die along the journey, and wrote the song. Taking the low road meant his spirit traveling underground (as the groundhog burrows, if you will), immediately returning to Scotland and thus beating his friend/brother back. And, being dead, would not, of course, see his true love again. But the important thing is that he got there first.

There was a good amount of wildlife – particularly birds – that I enjoyed watching. Other than that… I wasn’t entirely impressed. Maybe it’s more dramatic in the spring/summer, but it didn’t seem all that different from any other loch that I’d seen. Lots of big houses on the shores. I did my best to stay warm, while occasionally darting out to the deck to survey the view.

(Ow, my leg.)

Then into a little town for lunch, where I ate macaroni and cheese at a little pub, then went over to a wool centre where I expected they would have the exact same variety of sweaters that every other place has, as well as a disappointing lack of yarn.

But oh! They had yarn! Delicious, delicious yarn! I bought three skeins of this incredible cream-colored wool, and a large skein of beautiful variegated red yarn. I was a happy, happy camper.

Finally we hit Stirling castle, which is huge and full of twists and turns and a large number of rooms. My jaw dropped at the demonstration of tapestry weaving, which seems to be some kind of rocket science with string. It’s that complicated. They showed photos of a section of tapestry panels about people hunting down a unicorn and explained how it was an allegory for Christianity (Jesus is the unicorn).

Before you ask, I’ve already written Dan Brown about making it the sequel to The Da Vinci Code. He said he’s already working on something, but that he’d keep it in mind for the future.

There are all sorts of nooks and crannies in which to get lost, and it was a nice time, wandering around. And then back to the bus and home again.

Later that week I did some touristy things around E-burgh. I went back up to Calton hill, and went to the local art museum, where they’re having what they call “Choice,” which means they have a little bit of just about everything – classical paintings all the way to modern art, which I generally do not understand. Most notable was the Three Graces, which is a stunning piece of marble-work. I expected the women in the statue to roll their shoulders and ask if it was time for their break yet.

I tried out two new restaurants as well. The first is a Thai restaurant called Thai Me Up, which is noteworthy at least because of the name. But the food is exquisite and is beautifully presented. I went with a friend and we shared chicken satay (I could happily drink peanut sauce), a lamb and pineapple curry and sweet and sour chicken. It was all fantastic.

I also went to a restaurant called Mama Roma, which I was keen to try because I’d noted one afternoon that at least two people who worked there were authentically Italian. They had a killer bruchetta (which is, in fact, pronounced bru-SKETTA and not bru-SHETTA) and the best linguini carbonara I’ve ever had. This was a serious, serious cream sauce. The staff was incredibly attentive, going so far as to help me put my jacket on.

If I was more comfortable going to nice restaurants alone I wouldn’t eat anywhere but those two places. Alas, not so much. As my time here draws to a close, though, I might start to consider it.

And it is getting close. Yeek.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

I went on another tour, this one departing from Edinburgh. I decided to try out Haggis tours, which caters to the 20-something set. While this isn’t usually my scene (I’m not totally keen on the way most people my age act), I decided to give it a shot. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad!


It wasn’t so much that the group of tourists was annoying – they were fine – but that the guide was obnoxious. He said the word “sexy” in every other sentence. He even made a joke about it, that saying sexy so often was in his contract, ha ha ha. Except that he didn’t stop. And he wouldn’t shut up about drinking. The tour was taking us to a whiskey distillery, and in the tour guide’s eyes that was the only reason to be on that tour, and clearly that was why we were there.

The tour went up to Doune Castle, to Rob Roy’s grave, through the highlands and then finally to the Famous Grouse Distillery, where we’d get to go on a tour. I decided to go because I’d been to Doune Castle when I was in Scotland with my parents, and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized it was where Monty Python had filmed Monty Python and the Holy Grail. So I wanted to go back and knowingly ogle the sets. Oh yes. I would be geeking out.

And this would’ve been fine, except that it was closed. So we could walk around the castle, but not go inside. The grounds are nice, but damn it, I wanted to go inside!

As a consolation prize the guide took us to see Hamish, who is a Highland cow, or a hairy coo, as they call them up here. This wasn’t terribly exciting to me, since I used to work at the Philadelphia Zoo where they had two highland cows. I know what they look like. But they’re a tourist attraction here, so I was fine admiring the cow and then going into the gift shop (I don’t know if the shop was there because of the cow or if the cow was there because of the shop, but neither would surprise me).

On to Rob Roy’s grave, where we got out and listened to the story of Rob Roy. Frankly, I don’t understand why he was famous. Here’s his story in a nutshell: He used to steal cows from farmers and then sell them back. The farmers, not knowing he was the thief, paid him to be security for their cattle. As a result, no more thievery. Then he got into trouble for defending Highland culture (okay, I concede his fame here) and was on the run for 40 years, until Rob Roy was written by Sir Walter Scott, and he was pardoned.

Behind the church where he’s buried is a lovely waterfall, though. That was nice.

And back on the bus and through the highlands, where we got the story of Braveheart and why Mel Gibson is so very, very wrong in the movie of the same name, and we listened to some Scottish music and some non-Scottish music. It’s interesting to hear the story of William Wallace over and over again (as every guide I’ve encountered talks about him), and see where stories differ. On this account I noticed that the guide got something wrong (and since four out of five have it one way and his is different, I feel secure in saying his facts are off).

Robert the Bruce had prayed to become king, saying that if he did, he’d go on a crusade, but, following his kinghood, he never got around to it. So on his deathbed he had his friend take his heart out, mummify it, and then take it on the crusade, thus “fulfilling” his promise. In a very loose way. On their path of religious destruction the party came across some Spanish folks who weren’t totally keen on them, and knowing they were well outnumbered and not going to make it to the holy land, R the B’s friend (whose name I’ve lost) took the heart, which was in a casket on a chain around his neck, and hurled it into what was to become the battlefield, and called, “Lead on, brave heart!”

Thus, Braveheart was not actually William Wallace but rather was Robert the Bruce. Or his heart at least.

Now, where this tour guide got it wrong was that he said that the heart was still hanging out in some field. What everyone else has said is that, in a move of exceptional gallantry, the Spanish brought the heart back to the Scottish, and it was buried in Melrose Abbey at R the B’s pre-death request. And then in 1996 they dug it back up and it’s now in their museum, which is just the way he would’ve wanted it.

We drove through the countryside and finally arrived at the Famous Grouse distillery, and we got to pay an extra £3 to go on the tour. I didn’t know anything about making whiskey before I got there (another draw to the tour), and I still don’t know anything about it. I can’t tell you a damn thing except that it involves grains and sitting around in large barrels. And they have a cat instead of mouse traps, which is neat. The cat who lived there before that is actually featured in the Guinness book of world records.

We got to taste whiskey and got a speech on how you’re supposed to appreciate it (it’s a lot like wine in that regard), then they sat us through a series of advertisements an informational film about the company. Then we went to a high-tech video room for more advertisements another film. There are screens on all four walls, and then another screen is projected on the floor. That one is, theoretically, interactive.

When they tell you that you can enjoy your whiskey with water, it looks like there’s water on the floor, and if you walk across it, there are ripples coming out from where you step. When they mention ice, it looks like ice and cracks when you walk across the floor. There’s also a puzzle, where you have to step on the bouncing pieces to put them together. And this would all be grand and neat except that 1. we were all too shy to jump around the room making splashes or breaking ice (if they’d given us more whiskey it might’ve changed that), and 2. it didn’t always work. You could stomp like crazy on the floor and the ice wouldn’t break, or the puzzle piece wouldn’t respond. So I just stopped bothering with it and let the distillery guide do the work.

Finally the video “flew” over the earth, and that was neat. Similar to an Imax movie, except that you’re looking down.

And out to the gift shop where you could buy any number of varyingly expensive whiskies, which our dear guide encouraged us to start drinking on the bus. I passed on both accounts.

I think if I was with a large group of close friends the experience could’ve been more fun, but as it was, not so much.
There was a time before I left for Orkney and increasing during the week after where I would hear loud cracking sounds outside. It sounded like a gunshot or car backfiring, but with some frequency. I didn’t see anyone running, so I figured it wasn’t the former, and happened to often for me to think it was the latter. I eventually learned while walking home one night that they were fireworks. The tourist information centre filled me in that Guy Fawkes day was coming up; thus the increasing torrent of pyrotechnics.

I called BenAndHelen and invited them out for fireworks. There was a show in a local stadium, so we thought we’d head to that and then set off fireworks of our own while having some wine and/or beer. This is all legal to do in public, by the way, which I think is excellent planning.

It was sold out when we got there, but we joined the throng of folks (some selling plastic toys flashing fast enough to give a blind person a seizure) standing outside of the stadium. It was, inexplicably, Guy Fawkes day fireworks as presented by Disney. That’s the only explanation I can think of for the fact that they played songs from Disney movies through the whole thing, which have nothing to do with blowing up parliament. Songs from Aladdin, The Lion King, and Tarzan.

After the show (it was lovely) we headed to a playground near my place to set off fireworks. Their legal fireworks are pretty impressive, I have to say. Loud, too. All was well until a gang of barely-teenaged children saw us and swarmed. We had things involving noise and danger, you see, and they – well, they’re kids. Who might have been drinking at some point, or were perhaps merely drunk on being outside and unchaperoned after dark.

The fireworks kit came with a lighting stick – basically a bit of incense with no scent. It kept an ember for a while so you didn’t have to keep lighting matches or use a lighter. Crafty. One of the young girls saw the lighting stick and, thinking it was a cigarette, snatched it from Ben and ran off. He went after her, and she ran off again, and he eventually got it back. But what kind of person in their right mind (and that may be the operative wording here) steals a cigarette (even though it was clearly much too long to be one) from a stranger? Honestly.

She came up to us again later, asking for a cigarette. We don’t have any, we told her. Oh please, she begged. We stared at her. We- don’t- have- any, rebuffing her slowly this time, in case she had been drinking and needed things spelled out for her. Come on! She was demanding now. Listen. We don’t smoke, ergo, we don’t have any cigarettes. And still she whined, as if any moment we’ll sigh and say okay, fine, you can have one of the cigarettes that we carry around even though we don’t smoke.

We moved away from the swarm to the other side of the playground, first to get away from the kids, and second so we could set up the standing fireworks on pavement, thus preventing them from falling over. A pack of boys and one girl followed us over, the boys flicking lighters and the girl asking for beer. They surrounded Ben, pleading to let them light some fireworks, or buy some from him. The girl was clearly trying to appear older, talking to Helen and me about the fireworks on the next street, supplying us with more information than we could’ve ever wanted, and assuring us that she’d keep the more obnoxious kids away.

In the end we duct taped most of the remaining fireworks to a wrought iron fence and set them all off at once so we could finally escape the kids that Ben very aptly described as feral. Where on earth were their parents? I mean really.

And I’m still astounded that they allow public drinking and fireworks.

BenAndHelen and I went out to grab some food, then cruised back to my place for excessive movie watching. Best Guy Fawkes day celebration I’ve ever had.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I was actually sad to leave Orkney the next day. I’d really enjoyed the place: the friendly people, the spectacular landscape, the bathtub. I ran into Douglas in the morning over breakfast, and he told me that there was some fuss about the train I was taking from Thurso, and he called the rail station to make sure everything was up and running. It was, thankfully. Being stuck in Thurso would not be my idea of a good time.

I checked out, hoping that the 11am ferry would get me into Scrabster with enough time to reach my 1:20 train in Thurso. I had to walk last time, and if I had to again I’d never make it. I stood on the deck for the journey, the wind in my hair, and the spray leaving a fine dusting of salt residue on my jacket and bag. I saw, from afar, the Old Man of Hoy, which is a tall stack of stone set apart from the cliff edge of the island of Hoy. I wasn’t tremendously impressed, but joined the other tourists in taking a few pictures anyway.

I saw a seal in the waters, swimming away from the ship’s resulting tides, looking over its shoulder with a clear expression of, “What the hell was that?”

I landed in Scrabster and immediately adopted a look of wide-eyed terror that I might not be able to catch my train. I was quickly assured that the ferry folks, being sensible creatures, had a £3 bus that would bring me into town without a problem, and so it was that I began the near-incessant journey back home.

The thing, you see, about jumping (almost literally) from bus to train to train to train with no time for break in the middle is that you don’t get to eat. There’s no time to stop and grab food. On the train, if you’re lucky, you can choose from the overpriced bags of chips or cookies or beverages. I had some chips and chocolate, but had no time for much else. It was a long ride. A really long ride.

After about 97 hours I came home, bought battered sausage and chips from a shop on the way, and crashed into bed, thus concluding my expedition to the almost-totally-northerly point of Scotland.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I’m in the bar (a new bar! A friendlier and slightly less conveniently situated bar!) all ready to post at least one update, and the router isn’t working. But no fear, the manager’s on his way to check it out. So I’ll see if I can’t remember what happened my final full day in Orkney without the aid of my guidebook to prompt me along.

I decided to rent a car again because without any tours running (the tour guide was in Canada) there’s really nothing one can do but wander around Stromness, and I’d done that already. So I went back to the car rental place and learned that they only had standard transmission cars left. And this would be well and good if I could drive a standard transmission, and I sure sure can’t.

So I left to look for another car rental place and couldn’t find one, so I went back to the hotel to ask. There were two people at the front desk – a man and a woman. She gave me the names and numbers of two rental places – one in Stromness and one in Kirkwall, which was on the other side of the island. I visited the first and learned that surprise! Not actually a car rental place!

I called the second and eventually deciphered that the gentleman was saying that I could rent a car, but it’d cost me £30 to get the car to Stromness. And this was on top of the regular rental fee. Ha! Ha I say; ha. That’s more than I paid for the rental yesterday.

So back to the hotel where I learned that the gentleman at the desk was the owner, Douglas. Douglas told me that if I was willing to wait a bit they’d see if there was a car free and he’d be happy to drive me to Kirkwall since he was going that way anyway. Front Desk Lady called and told me that it was a £40/day rental, and when I winced she got them down to £35.

An hour later I was on my way to Kirkwall with Douglas, who gave me a nice tour of the island and told me about the place. The most notable thing I remember is that people on the island tend to have a number of jobs. They might have a B&B, keep some sheep and/or cows, run a shop, and work in the post office on weekends. I guess in a place that depends on tourism so much you have to really work to make ends meet. Also they pump oil there, and manage to keep it really concealed. The oil is taken from some pump in the ocean and then taken to one of the islands. Clever!

Douglas made sure I was all set up with the car rental agency and I was on my way. I found a spot on the beach (with sand dunes – who knew they had sand dunes here? I sure didn’t). Looked around, took some photos, and got back in the car. I drove around in this manner for a while, occasionally stopping at some posted spot.

(This is frustrating: it’d be fine if they just reset the router and they’re not doing that for some reason. It’d fix it, I promise! I told them that but I don’t know that they totally get what I’m talking about).

I drove over to Deerness, which is on the far eastern tip of the island. The draw here was something called The Gloup, “a dramatic collapsed sea cave.” I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but the idea of going to something called a Gloup was too good to pass up.

It was exceptionally lovely. It’s on the edge of Skaill bay, where there’s a long walk along the nature reserve. The Gloup is a short stumble from the carpark, and is another deep gash from the sea back through the field. At the front is a trickle of water that falls drastically down 80 or so feet to the ocean which tumbles in and crashes along the surprisingly smooth walls, eventually creating tunnels and deeper caves in the rock.

Down the trail there are the usual cliffs plummeting down to the sea, which thrashed happily against the walls. I walked about a kilometer and found that the trail branches down the cliff via irregular stone steps and wooden bridges. At the bottom you can go left and explore a rough bit of rocky beach, or right and explore more rocky beach and masses of dirty sea foam that would often fly into the air and cling to the walls. There was a tall chunk of rock in the middle of this enclave, and on one of the jutting bits of stone stood a large web-footed bird, casually hanging out in the ocean mist, that I later learned was a shag.

Continuing along the path led me up more stone steps (causing a fearsome grip on the rope rail and nervous giggling) of a section of cliff that’s been mostly separated from the mainland, save the path along which I was walking. At the top is a plateau of long, plush grass out of which a bird would occasionally spring, startling the hell out of me. There was, at one point, a settlement on that section of cliff, and there still remains half walls of a church, and I think more sections of stone walls, but those have long been covered with grass and secreted birds.

It should be noted that my batteries had, again, died, and there wasn’t a store for miles. I need to start carrying a disposable camera with me. But doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a non-disposable camera?

I walked the perimeter and headed back down the slick, muddy steps and up again into the fields. I wanted to go further, but was tired and had plenty to see yet, so headed back to the car.

I went to the Ring of Brodgar, which is a wide circle of standing stones dating back to ages ago. Now it has a giant patch of heather growing in the middle. Unfortunately, when you really have to go to the bathroom, as I did, it’s not much more than a bunch of tall rocks in a circle. I walked the circumference anyway and took a few pictures and climbed back into the car.

(Ha! They’re turning their router off and back on again! Let’s see if I’m right).

Not far from there is another set of standing stones – just four or five – called the Stones of Stenness. I didn’t even bother to get out of the car for that one, but just moved on after stopping and giving them an admiring glance.

(Oh I was so totally right! What’s up, knowing routers!)

By fluke alone I found Maes Howe (or Maeshowe, depending on where you read it), and paid for a ticket. It’s some kind of burial chamber in the middle of a field dating back to 2750 B.C., according to my guidebook. There were three of us on the tour. The guide led us through a tunnel that requires you to walk maybe twenty feet bent over halfway, which is exciting when there’s no light. Then there’s a square room, and branching off of that three smaller chambers. The openings to the chambers are about two feet off the ground, and are maybe two feet square. I know people were shorter back in the day, but good heavens. Inside is a stone platform upon which, presumably, the dead were laid to rest.

They don’t know much of anything about the building as it was used when it was built, just that it took an estimated 40 years to build, was constructed around the same time as the standing stones, and on the solstice the setting sun shines right through the doorway (this was also true of the cairn that I saw in Inverness). The reason their information is spotty is that in the 12th century Vikings crashed through the top of Maes Howe and, after clearing out any useful artifacts, used it as a party building. Really. Lots of cavorting and carving of graffiti on the walls. Ridiculous graffiti, too. Things akin to, “I am the best writer in the world” and, written about ten feet up, “So-and-so is really tall.” And it’s presumed that the smaller chambers were essentially make-out rooms.

Glad to know we’ve evolved since then.

At the end of my day I dropped the car back in Kirkwall and wandered around the town before catching the bus back to Stromness. I bought ultra-local yarn and admired the shops, then headed home. The houses are so remote here that the bus will occasionally drop people off at their driveway, presumably if your house is on the way. On my return I tried a new restaurant, a pub by the harbor. Despite my wimpy taste buds I ordered spicy fajitas, and spent Halloween eve wondering how their food could be so bland that those fajitas were considered spicy. I had a local red beer and thought it decent.

I also bought some local beer called Skull Splitter before returning to my room, named after a local Viking. It was hands down the most disgusting beer I have ever tasted and couldn’t abide more than two sips before pouring the rest down the sink. I mentioned it to Will, a Guilfordian, and he’d recently tried it and said it was akin to sucking on a sockful of pennies.

I couldn’t agree more. For what they claim in scenery they lose a good portion on food. Except the steak. That was superb.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I’m sorry for the delay! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! But I got these books, books I’d been wanting for a while, and they were all, “Read us now or we’ll kick this puppy,” and I was all, “What puppy? You don’t have a puppy,” and they were all, “We’ll find a puppy and kick it. So read us now.”

So I had to sneak off to update.

Well now. Day two in Orkney.

There’d been some mention the night before about a time change, but I didn’t hear anything else about it, (I imagine it’s not a huge topic of conversation, even in such a small town) and when I asked my waitress about it at breakfast she said she didn’t know. Didn’t know? As a result I spent most of my trip there not knowing what time it was.

But! I went over to the local car rental place, which, despite the permanent stickers spelling out “Open” on the door, was empty. And dark. I stomped around in frustration for a minute before seeing another sign that if no one was there, to call this number – they’re just a few minutes away. I did, and woke up a gentleman who could rent me a car.

And this, I think, caused me to step foot firmly in adulthood. It was kind of squishy and meant I had to put my name on a form that said things like “Hey, if you hurt our car then you have to buy us three new ones. And a house. And if you don’t like it, Guido’s gonna come up there and break your legs, comprende?”

But he also confirmed the time change. Anyway, they don’t keep the cars filled with gas anymore because it’s so expensive these days, so my first order of business was to find a gas – excuse me – petrol station. Which I did. And it was closed. So I found another. Which was closed. It wasn’t quite 10am on a Sunday in a tiny little town, so it’s not totally surprising, just totally inconvenient. The tank was very near being very empty, so I decided to drive for a little and see if anything was open.

I went first to Scara Brae, which is a Neolithic village in remarkable condition. It’d been covered over with sand dunes ages ago and was uncovered in 1850 during a storm. It’s an impressive bit of engineering – subterranean houses with beds and dressers and the like. Directly next to the village is a lovely white sands beach that would be right at home in Hawai’i.

I walked along the beach (which rapidly turns to less romantic large stones), and up a cliff. I love me some cliffs. And it was gorgeous and THEN guys, and THEN…

No. You have to understand. No. See, no. No. It was like being in a National Geographic magazine. There was this deep gash in the cliff, and if you got on your belly and shimmied up to the back edge because you’re afraid of heights, particularly natural ones and wouldn’t dare ever ever ever do something so stupid as to walk up to the edge because AAUGH that would be so scary and look down you can see water crashing in the gap, and a short ledge connecting the two sides together and the water is a glorious blue and white and it makes you actively squeal with excitement.

(Note: I didn’t actually squeal. I am much too cool for such things).
(Note the second: Okay, I totally did squeal. It was phenomenal).

And I pulled out my camera, which I’d been lying on, which is not particularly comfortable, and held my camera over the edge and took a picture, and then my batteries died. The bitter, vengeful bastards.

I had three sets of batteries with me, all of which were drained. In desperation I tried any combination of them that I could, in the hopes that it would get me just one more shot. And when it did I would keep trying, for one more shot. I got about four all together. Not as good as I would like, but the best way to get a photo of it would be to either be on a boat or a helicopter, and wouldn’t you know it, I left mine back at the hotel.

When I shimmied back away from the ledge and went over to the side of the gap, wiggling my way to the edge again, I realized that the back edge of the cliff was actually more like a little bridge. Water had worn away the underside until about two meters – the part on which I’d been laying – remained. A cave, I would guess, though I couldn’t see far enough in to confirm. The sheep grazing the grass behind me were considerably less impressed. I guess when you live right next to something it loses some excitement.

Anyway, in an effort to drain some height-related adrenaline vocally I made un-ladylike noises of excitement for a while more before walking back. Two surfers had made their way out into the sea, and I kept an eye on them as I navigated the path. All they did was sit on their boards. Maybe the waves were going to pick up soon. Or maybe they just like to hang out in wetsuits. I don’t know.

The friendly folks at the desk sent me to a petrol station where I got £12 of petrol and a snack and set to wandering. The thought of trying to pick one place to go and then trying to find it on a map and then by car was too exhausting, so I just went.

I drove on their distressingly narrow roads (I had a heart attack any time another car or, heaven forbid, truck passed, certain we could never both fit) (or when I got too close to the outer edge and some as-yet unconfirmed part of the car would make a loud sound like the tire tyre exploding) (and yikes they go way too fast in some of those areas), admiring the vast (vast) farmlands and coasts. And certainly wondering what it was like to live with so few neighbors, so far from other civilization.

It didn’t take me too long to find myself in Kirkwall, allowing me another opportunity to test my cardiac fortitude by driving in an unfamiliar town on the left side of the road. I’d heard rumor that there was a shop selling locally spun yarn from local sheep. Fed on seaweed, for some reason. But also located in this sneeze of a town was St Magnus’ Cathedral. I have no major interest in places of worship generally, but the draw to this one was that their website, my dad learned, claimed to have a webcam focused on the façade.

So I did the logical thing, which was to call my parents (at around 8am their time) and have them look it up so I could jump up and down and wave or something. After much fuss with the internet and the webcam we learned that they’re big fat liars (the webmasters, not my parents) and the feed is so totally not live. So if you ever go onto the St Magnus’ Cathedral webcam and see a woman in black pacing back and forth, that’s me!

And it started to rain. No problem, thought I, I’ll just go to that bookstore that I can see from here, shake off the rain, and immerse myself in books. On the way there I saw the shop that sold yarn and drooled at the windows because it was, of course, closed.

Back to the bookshop, then, where I learned that it was a “bookshop” in the sense that Target is a bookshop. Four shelves of books, and then cards and various other disappointingly non-book-style things.

It being Sunday there was nothing open, so I walked up the hill back to the car. What do you do when you have a car but everything’s closed and/or would require standing out in the rain and you have a quarter tank of gas to spend before dropping the car back off again? You drive around for the hell of it, that’s what you do.

I saw a few things after that, but nothing particularly noteworthy. The skies cleared up after a bit and my admiration got a break from fields/sheep/farmhouses and turned instead to rainbows. As drives go it was lovely, even when it was raining.

As I promised I dropped the car off at 7 or 8 and went back to the hotel for dinner. I’d planned to find somewhere new to eat since I’d eaten in the hotel for the past two nights, but my parents were buying and there was a steak that demanded my attention. And OH it was so worth it. Completely delicious.

And then I retired upstairs for television and a bath in the tub that’s as long as I am tall, then bed. I’ll go to day three tomorrow, and hopefully it won’t take me two weeks to write like this entry did. Sheesh.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Some Orkney photos:




Driving around the island

Scara Brae

Ring of Brodgar (which sounds like something our of Lord of the Rings).

Saturday, October 29, 2005

This morning I actually felt halfway decently so after a hefty breakfast of half a plate of omelet (good gracious) I wandered around the aforementioned one lit street, which, it turns out, is the only street with shops in all of Stromness. There are some charming little shops, though I have no idea where these people go to get most of their groceries, since they only have one tiny grocery and a butcher shop. That I saw, anyway.

I found a bookshop and got a little bird identification book, and admired the little things taped up to the shelves (“Get some fresh air if you start to smell”). Because it’d worked so well for me I asked the bookseller where a good place to walk would be. He sent me up the west coast. I would be able to see a cemetery, seals, birds, and a castle. And all the sheep I could shake a stick at. Should take me about two hours to get up castle ways – longer, if I lingered, and then I could walk back or hitchhike back to town.

Hitchhike? See, I’ve always been under the impression that one never, ever, ever hitchhikes. Unless it’s the 60’s and then it’s fine. Being told that hitchhiking here is safe is akin, to me, to being told that doing crack here is healthy.

But this being a tiny, friendly town I’m thinking it’s okay. And so I’m determined to try it. If the opportunity comes about. What was I talking about? Oh yes, the walk. After I left the bookshop the owner ran after me and handed me a beat up map of the island and said to just put it through the mail slot of the store when I was done with it. I was astonished. How often does that happen?

I started walking! Saw some seals (they do sit with their tails in the air) and some birds, though none that were new, that I could tell. It was lovely, though a bit windy. And two hours later I saw what looked like a ruin ahead, and checking the map realized that I was nowhere near the castle, and had only gone about a third of the way.

How on earth did he make that walk in two hours? He must’ve run the trail, cause damn. I had to walk on the beach – made up of lots of large rocks – which was heaven for broken ankles and made for really slow going. And I realized that there was no way I was going to make it to the castle. I couldn’t even see a good way to get to the ruined bit of house that I was looking at – my options were either to go through a cow field or through seaweed. So I turned around, slightly miffed.

In total I walked about 3 1/2 hours. Which is a long time.

I came back and rested a bit, then wandered around again. Everyone here’s so friendly. They – and their dogs – always say hello when we pass. I called the local tour company – which doesn’t have tours on Monday so I’d need to get a tour for tomorrow. No response. I called about fifty million other times, and still no answer, so no tour for me.

And since there’s no real way to get anywhere on this island without a car, I think I’m going to rent one on Monday. I was hoping to go scuba diving since it’s apparently really good here, but the season ended this weekend, so the best I got was that if something comes up they’ll call me. But I haven’t the faintest idea what I’ll do tomorrow. There’s not much more in town to see, and I don’t particularly feel like doing that walk again.

Of course, it could also be hurricane-style weather (see: current weather), which will mean that I’ll run to a pub, and spend the day there.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

They must really not want people to visit Orkney from Edinburgh, because holy hell that was the longest trip ever. I left my house at 6am and checked into my hotel at 8:45. PM. Nearly fifteen hours of traveling. Three trains, a walk, and a ferry. Here’s how it went:

Train from Edinburgh to Perth. I went to Perth, you may remember. It was the town where, when I asked what there was to do there, people frowned and said, “In Perth…?” This is also, I’d failed to mention, the land of no trash cans. I mean it. None. Not even in the bathrooms. Even the women’s bathrooms! I asked about this, and the reason, apparently, is security. So people don’t throw bombs disguised as trash into one of the trashcans.

My question is how that stops people from just leaving, say, a paper bag with explosives in it on a bench. But what do I know?

Then I took a train from Perth to Inverness. It was on this train ride that I’d woken up enough to do something other than just stare. So I started reading the book I brought with me, because I learned a while ago that one should never, ever, travel without a book. And the train was late getting in, so I booked it to the next train, which was:

The train from Inverness to Thurso. Thurso is way (way) up north. I had quite a layover there – three hours until the bus to Scrabster that the Train Information Man told me about, that I couldn’t find. I asked him twice, and he sent me the wrong way the first time around. Said to go right when I needed to go straight. Jerk. The only bus times I could find were for 6:18pm, and an alleged 5:55pm (one bus station said that’s when it would show up at the train station, but the train station didn’t agree).

Or I could walk – Train Information Man said it was about an hour walk. There was very little to do in Thurso – a few shops. I stopped in a bakery and asked what kind of soup they had. “Broth.” Oh! Yes. Broth of some variety. And so I had that, and ascertained that it was, indeed, broth of some variety. With carrot and onion bits.

I got bored after about an hour and a half of walking up and down the same street, wondering about bus times and trying to figure out how the hell I was going to spend another two hours there. So I decided to try and walk. And it was a fine walk, the only problem being that while Thurso has almost nothing in the town, Scrabster has less than nothing.

See, the thing about Thurso and Scrabster is that they’re both towns that you go to in order to leave them. Unless you live there the only reason to go there is to catch anything you can to get out.

Scrabster has the port, a seafood place, two closed restaurants (rumor had it that they were opening later in the evening), and a hotel (for whoever misses the last train, I’m guessing). And a really terrible name. Lovely sunset, though.

With this dearth of, well, anything in the towns I have to say that the ferry is ridiculously swish (isn’t that the greatest term? I thought so!). It’s like walking into a hotel. There’s a restaurant, a bar, a game room (gambling and video games), a shop, lounges, couches, and tvs. I watched the Simpsons for most of the 90-minute trip. Okay, drinking beer on a boat? Crazy weird. The boat, being on water, rocks back and forth and you start to wonder if it’s the boat or the beer that’s causing the weave in your step.

It was dark so I didn’t get to see any of the sights that one is rumored to pass while on the journey, but I wasn’t totally keen on doing more than sit and watch tv so that wasn’t a huge deal.

I didn’t feel like a B&B – I wanted a hotel with my own bathtub (if possible) and food and – okay, I just really wanted to crash. Not much else mattered. It being dark I wandered around the one lit street that I could see, where I did indeed find a hotel and was thrilled to check in.

“What kind of room would you like?” the clerk asked. I blinked at her.
“One with a bed in it, I think.” Unless they have a dining room free. That’d be cozy.
“One with a bed in it,” she repeated loudly, clearly not interested in my attempt at dry local humor.

The distinction she was making, and I know you had this figured out ages ago, was whether I wanted a bath or a shower in my room. Ohhhh, right. Silly me.

Food, bath, tv, sleep, and life is much better, thank you. But all I could think after, oh, noon was “This had better be a fucking impressive place.”

Tip learned too late: If you want to go to Orkney from E-burgh or similar, go to Inverness for a day or two and then go to Orkney, then go and spend some more time in Inverness. Because, and note how I come full circle here, holy hell.

Monday, October 24, 2005

An exciting day, y’all! Not for you, for me!

I slept in lots, which was kind of ridiculous because I went to bed early, but apparently my body was really into having 12 hours of sleep, and so I did! There were weird dreams.

Anyway! I decided to go out and try a new wireless internet place which was located in a shopping centre, in a bagel shop. Nearer to my house than the pub, which would be really thrilling. Free wireless internet! Plus bagels!

Except only four of those words were true. The free bit? Not so much. I could get onto AIM and AOL just fine, but it wouldn’t let me browse the web without paying £5 for the privilege. Per session, and it didn’t specify what a “session” was. When I saw this I said HAH to the shop in general, finished my bagel and left. Making me pay. Ridiculous.

And I went off shopping for things that I’ve been needing and haven’t gotten around to purchasing, and y’all, here’s where it gets awesome:

I found trousers. Oh yes I did. I found them! And bought them and they are now mine to wear.

This might be not interesting to you, but I’ll explain.

I have spent literally days going through shops trying to find either 1. the same trousers that now have three giant holes in them, only two of which are patched, or 2. some kind of nice new European-style trousers with the embroidery on the leg which are the rage here and do, indeed, look very nice. Or, if I get really lucky, a pair of wide-wale cords which do not exist in this part of the world, even for men.

But after many trips the pants trousers that I’ve found have been 1. much too tight to wear, 2. loose to the point of falling off, 3. just plain not in my size ever, or 4. hideous beyond belief.

I am unable to just walk into a store and find trousers that fit. I complain about it often. You may have noticed. But if you can do this thing, appreciate it. (I feel like one of those 80-year-old people who tells angsty teenagers to appreciate their youth. Bleah).

And so I found trousers that fit into category 1 and snatched them off the shelf, along with some others. And they fit and they were cheap and I knew that if anyone tried to separate them from me I wouldn’t be totally adverse to killing them. The only problem was that they were for “tall” people, which I am certainly not. So I have to chop about 5” off the bottoms, but I certainly don’t care.

Trousers! Yay!

Right. And I looked up places to go next and think I’m just going to have to ask someone who knows things about travel, because the relevant travel search websites suck. I’m thinking Orkney islands which are north of the northern bit of Scotland, which will make it seem much warmer here when I get back, or Wester Ross, which is northwest, where it is rumored to be totally photogenic, or somewhere else.

I bought other fun things like cleaning stuff and thumbtacks, so my windowsill is clean(er) and my map is finally up on my wall, bringing my wall-decoration count to 2 (the map and my dress, which, since I don’t have anything silly like a hanger, is hanging on a nail above my bed).

Oh! And did I tell you? I came out of the bathroom the other day and looked down to see a dog looking up at me. There’s a dog in the flat! Former Contra Dancer Tam’s wife has moved over here and brought her dog with her – apparently the quarantine rules, while expensive, no longer require your pet to die before attempting entrance to the new country. So there’s a dog! Who is sweet and lovely and spends all her time in their room, so I don’t get to see her much, but still! Dog!

And my number of books read since departing America has been upped to nine. And I’m out of books again. Oy. I’m not looking forward to bringing them back home with me.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

I have a few days and not much news to catch up on. Let’s see.

Last Tuesday, which would be the 18th, you may recall that I tried and failed miserably in an attempt to find Jamie. I managed to succeed on Wednesday, when he was opening for folk singer/guitarist Mark Silver at the pub at which I’d twice found myself on the previous evening.

Before entering the two gentlemen assured me that Jamie was indeed playing that night. I threw my hands up in relief and the older of the two men imitated me with a laugh and said “Thank Allah!”

You won’t find a comment like that in America. I fully appreciated it.

I babbled a minute about my grand search the night before and the younger man winked at me.

I went in and bought a Magner’s (cider) and sat down. The younger gentleman, whose name I now know to be David, came and sat next to me. We had a nice chat for a while. Jamie came out and gave me his usual look of surprise at my attendance.

David got up as the show started (he’s the secretary for the club, which apparently involves holding the door for latecomers), and when Jamie was finished he came and sat next to me. We watched Mark, who reminds me either of Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel, play, chatting during the breaks between songs. During the intermission he jumped up to do some business or other, and the woman sitting next to me started chatting about music and musical ability.

I started to wonder if this club was so lacking in walk-in audience members that the arrival of someone new caused a stir. I think I’m right.

Jamie invited me out the next day (Thursday) for breakfast and a little shopping. Something we were planning to do in Greensboro, which fell through. After the show Jamie went to pack up and chat to some people, and the bartender – apparently the other young member of the club, came over to talk to me. Remember what I said about the group being really excited about new people? I think the younger members were even more thrilled that I was under the age of fifty.

We trooped out to some little bar where they were having a music session. I, being the clever, clever young woman that I am, had brought my knitting with me, and sat and knit and listened. Because let’s face it: if you don’t play an instrument or sing, a session can be god-awful boring. I have tested this theory a number of times and I am so totally right. Yay music and all of that, but damn.

Quarter of one rolled around and I found myself a nice headache to latch onto, and so told Jamie I was going to head out. I had to walk home, after all, and wasn’t sure how long it was going to take me. He said if I waited another ten minutes he’d give me a ride.

Awesome, right?

I keep forgetting that I need to take Jamie’s concepts of time with a grain of salt. Maybe even a cup or two. We didn’t head out until after one – which was actually fine, since now that I wasn’t walking time was less of a factor. But we were also dropping off one of the other musicians. Who lived far enough outside of the city that his street didn’t show up on my city map.

But car! Driving! No worries! Much. I got home around two, and Jamie and I decided that meeting at 10 was silly, and 10:30 was far more reasonable. In retrospect I probably should’ve walked.

Waiting on the sidewalk for him the next morning (he was right on time, I was early) a Hari Krishna-style nun came by to ask me if I was happy and you know religion makes you happy and do you have any money? As I was telling her I wasn’t interested Jamie came up and put his arm around me, and we gave each other giant grins. I looked at the nun, confident that I’d answered her question about my level of happiness. Neener, neener, neener.

Y’all, Jamie and I have been trying since we met a year and a half ago to hang out without interruption and this was the first time we’ve actually accomplished it. It was fantastic.

We went to a café and sat for over an hour, talking about life and such things. I think he’s trying to get revenge on me for telling him that he would love living in North Carolina, because he spent some time telling me that he could see me in Seattle, or Boston, or at least not somewhere I’ve lived before. Now is not the time to settle, but rather to try something new and different.

His ambition for me to try things was contagious, and that bastard has me thinking about going back to school, a thing which I have been staunchly against since graduating.

I paid for breakfast while he was in the bathroom, and when he found out he tried very hard to repay me at least part of it. I refused, despite his repetitive urging, and he gave me a long hug.

We visited every shop along the Royal Mile that sold sweaters, as he was searching for one for his new sweetie, if you will. (Girlfriend isn’t the right word, and this is definitely more than a friendship, so I’m borrowing a term from a friend of mine). She has similarly colored hair to me, so anytime he found something he liked he would hold it up to me.

In the middle of our hunt we stopped for a beer and discussed sweater-and-gift options, his Scotland tour next September, and more of life.

He ended up buying her a ring, too, and as per our new custom, asked which I liked. I pointed out one, and he asked if I would like it. I turned a violent shade of pink and said no. He asked why I was blushing, and I told him it made me shy when people bought me things. But he did, because he can be ridiculously charming.

He departed suddenly after staying an hour and a half later than I thought he would. Since we’d spent so much time wandering he had to take a cab back to wherever he was staying, and our goodbye was brief. His cab drove past me and he turned to wave and blow kisses.

It was heart-achingly sweet, and an unreasonably fun day.

And now Jacqui is ten minutes late picking me up for today’s swing dance (as she predicted), so I’m going to finish getting ready and hopefully have a more entertaining entry later.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Yesterday! Yes. The plan:

1. Dinner
2. Go to Jamie’s concert since he’s in town, according to his schedule
3. Either go swing dancing or hang out with Jamie.

Easy, yes? Ha ha! I laugh.

I went and had dinner; that was fine. I finally went to the Royal Theatre pub, but they’ve had almost complete employee turnover there, so Graham was the only one I knew. I left there at ten of seven to walk to the Pleasance, or possibly the Edinburgh Folk Club, where Jamie’s schedule had said he would be. Fine!

Made it to the relevant street faster than expected and walked past the address and had to turn around to find it. It’s in a cobblestone courtyard off the street, and there were no major signs. I went into the first door (they weren’t marked, of course, with street numbers or anything silly like that), and they seemed to be showing some movie. I didn’t see any of Jamie’s posters, so I went to the place next door and asked at the bar. They gave me a seriously confused look.

The folk club, they asked? That’s tomorrow night. And Sunday.

Good! What?

I still didn’t see any of his posters and left, confused. His schedule definitely said today. I checked my phone to double-check that it was, indeed, the 18th (it was). So I guess I wasn’t going to catch him. Since he doesn’t have a cell phone and his computer is broken I didn’t have a way of contacting him – finding him at the gig was it. Blast.

It was over an hour until the swing dance, so I walked back to High st, where the dance was, found a pub, and nursed a beer and read my book until it was time to go.

I walked down the street, thinking it was a shame I couldn’t catch Jamie, but swing dancing is always good, and I’ll go back to the club tomorrow to see if he’s there and then suddenly I was at the end of the street, and I hadn’t seen the club.


I walked back up. Surely it’s on this street, right? Of course it is. It looks right. Isn’t it? I checked my map – neither Calton st. nor Holyrood st. looked right, and they were my other options.

So, having wandered too damn much today, I called Jacqi and asked her. It was Holyrood st. Bah. Made it to the club and went into the bathroom where I ran into Jacqi. I told her about trying to find Jamie, how he was supposed to play at the Pleasance/Edinburgh Folk Club and I didn’t see him. Oh yeah, she said, that’s just right up the road.

What? No it’s not. I walked way too much for it to be right up the road.

Another woman in the bathroom with us said that she’d just passed it – there had been people gathered outside.

Now. This means that I was in the wrong place and the concert’s over and if I don’t catch him then I really won’t see him.

So I ran. I ran up the road (with periodic bursts of walking quickly – I’m not totally insane) and up the hill and some stairs –

and found myself where I’d been not two hours earlier. I’d gotten the address right, and it’d been right around the corner from the dance place the whole time. Only this time I was sweating and panting. Lovely!

Just for fun I walked into the first place again, but it was no more promising. So I went into the bar – not the one I’d been in earlier, a different one – to see if they had any different ideas. I waited for the bartenders to stop talking to other people, thinking that Jamie could be anywhere, and if I don’t catch him before he leaves – you get the idea.

And I waited. And looked to my left, and recognized the person standing next to me as a drummer I met in Inverness when I was hanging out with Jamie and Hans.

What the hell.

If this was a novel I’d have less respect for the author’s ultra-convenient deus es machina.

I said hello and asked if he knew where Jamie was – oh yeah, he’s in town this week. But he’s been really hard to reach on his phone.

He has a phone here now?

Oh yeah, he just got a British SIM card for it.


So it turned out that the Folk Club was in the bar that I’d been in on my first trip here, and he didn’t know if/when Jamie was playing, but he was definitely around this week.

And then my head exploded. By which I mean I gave him my email address and asked him to let me know about music sessions and went back to the swing dance.

The dance was fun. And I got a ride home from Jacqi and went to bed. And since there’s a swing dance Sunday I think I’ll stay in town this week, though I’d been hoping to go out west.

And today? All the thrills and chills of going to the grocery store! Ooh, aah.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

So yesterday I decided I was done with Inverness and was going to go to Kirkcaldy. It seemed, from the train ride, that I’d get some fantastic views of cliffs meeting the ocean. I wasn’t positive that I was going to do it, but checked out of my B&B this morning anyway. As I was walking to an ATM to get some cash I had this exchange. See if you can make some sense of it.

Scene: Walking along the footbridge crossing Lake Ness. At the end of the bridge two people are setting up what seems to be a video camera. The theory is that they’re doing some news thing.

Guy: Looks like we’re going to be on TV.
Me: Yep. (chuckle).
Guy: [Babbling about tv].
Me: Mm.
Guy: Where are you from?
(Golly, never heard that line before!)
Me: The states.
Guy: I was going to go to the states once, but I had to get a 60-day visa. I can’t even remember my own name and I have to fill out a visa form!
Me: …?

Then he asked if he could buy me a drink some night and I said no. One thing is that’s just a little weird, but second, can’t remember his own name…? That’s confidence-inspiring!

What do these people expect? That I’m going to turn to them, flip my hair, and say “Oh yeah, baby, take me now.”

I went to the train station and got into a very nice conversation with an old woman in line. She’d lived in Inverness for 50 years and said that it tended to be a city unto itself. Even she, after so long, felt a little bit like an outsider on occasion.

On the train there were kids sitting across from me. Three kids, and two mothers. The kids couldn’t have been older than seven. The kids yelled, cried, kicked my chair (and they werern’t even sitting behind me, they moved into the seat behind me and then kicked my seat), whistled and left a mess. Thus I have decided that kids should have their own car. A special kids-and-their-parents railcar. And I have also decided that that car should not be attached to any train that I happen to be riding.

And this is when the kids are being quiet. When they’re being noisy I say they can stay in the same train, but they should be dangled outside of the train by their ankles. Or duct taped to the roof. I’m flexible on the matter.

It was a lovely day in Inverness – bright, clear, cool. And ten minutes into the train ride it was gray and cloudy and foggy. I wasn’t sure until the last minute whether or not I really was going to go to Kirkcaldy. Would it be worth it with the gross weather? I didn’t want to go back to Edinburgh just yet, and knew now was as good a time as ever (since I plan to go west next), so I jumped out at the station.

This town… It’s pretty sad. It has a severe need of a good cleaning. The architecture seems to be suffering from bad contractors and insufficient funding. Whatever is in the classic European style is filthy and in bad disrepair, and whatever isn’t is classic 1930’s – 1960’s ugly.

You know in Inverness they have a horrible 1960’s building that they knocked down a house of Mary, Queen of Scots’ to build? Sheesh.

Anyway. I have yet to find anything manmade that’s really interesting here. I’m staying in a fantastic B&B, though. The room is huge, the owners are incredibly friendly (they let me use their computer to check my email), and for what I’m getting (en suite, satellite tv, two twin beds – I really like to stretch out – breakfast and lots of space) £30 is really rather good. But aside from that? Not so much. I’ve only been here a day, so I won’t damn the place based on just what I’ve seen in town, but man… I’m not optimistic.

And then I did what I came here to do: I went walking along the shore. They have an esplanade along the beach – an ugly cement and brick walkway that was built in the 1930’s and 1940’s so that some people could have employment. A good thing, I think. And I think it might also be a good idea to provide some more employment and give it a facelift. The sea was choppier than usual and waves slammed against the cement wall with sprays that sometimes reached 30’ (I’m guessing – I didn’t have a tape measure or anything). Since the wall was curved if you looked to the left you could watch the spray move up the length of the wall as the wave progressively crashed into the barrier. Highly cool.

The esplanade ends and then you can walk on the sands (when the tide is out, of course). Eventually the beaches become rocky, and if you keep going there’s a ruin of some old fort or lighthouse or similar. It has a fence around it, but the path just makes its way carefully around it. And it’s there where great slabs of rock jut out of the sea and OH it’s spectacular.

And – this is where it gets interesting – I saw a seal! Yeah I did! On the rocks! I wasn’t sure at first, but watched carefully for a while and then I saw the head move. And even though I’d been ready to head back (this had been going on for some time, but I kept thinking I’d see “just what’s around the next corner”) I clambered over beautiful red striped sandstone filled with pockets of water just to get a closer look.

It was cool. S/he had a sweet little face and watched me as I walked in closer. Being on a rock surrounded by water I could only get so close, but man. So neat. The odd thing was that s/he was lying with her/his tail sticking up in the air. I’ve never seen such a thing. A surprise, given all my experience with seals. Which consists of seeing them at the zoo a couple of times. I’m almost an expert.

I took pictures and headed back. A lot of people were out walking – many with dogs who would trot up to me and say hi and ask for a skritch before heading off again. Everyone I passed said hi, which is highly encouraging.

Then I got Chinese takeout and beer and sat in my room. No, really. And it was great.

This morning (it’s now the 18th, by the way – I’m a little slow with this update) I had several hours after breakfast until it was time to catch my train. I walked up and down the main shopping drag because there just wasn’t much else to see. Here’s what’s listed in one of the town brochures:
1. Old Parish Church
2. Beveridge Park
3. Fife Ice Arena (not in town)
4. Kirkcaldy Museum & Art Gallery (the brochure wasn’t terribly inspiring)
5. Library
6. Theatre
7. Sailors Walk (an old house not open to the public)
8. Town House (headquarters of the Kirkcaldy District Council).
9. Pan Ha’ Dysart (apparently a street with old houses, not featured on the map)
10. Ravenscraig Park (not in town)
11. Ravenscraig Castle (near the park, and so not in the town, damn it, because I would’ve liked to go there)
12. Swimming pool
13. Shopping streets/malls

There you go. Those are the highlights of this town. Oh, and 14. the esplanade.

With exciting prospects such as those I spent an hour at the library. I joined their ranks so I could use their slowest connection ever, then hopped my train and went home.

And oh lordy what an evening. But I’m going to bed.
I’m back in Inverness. It’s again weird to go to a place that should be totally unfamiliar and yet have an idea as to where I’m going, and recognize things around me. Weird!

It’s really gorgeous around here, sunny and clear. I got in and found a place to stay for a bit. Dropped my stuff and walked around for a while, which was a big part of why I came back here. The clouds were pink and lovely and you know what I did? I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with “left my camera in the room.”

Had dinner, and then enriched myself culturally and definitely did not sit around for three hours watching Zoolander and various Scottish tv programmes that I didn’t fully understand but laughed at anyway. Ahem. And I signed up for a tour. Oh, I’m a tourist now!

I didn’t quite realize it’d be so focused on Nessie, but whatever. Went to Loch Ness (a different beach! Wowsers!) then went on a boat ride on the lake, and up to a cairn (circular rock grave-style thing). The guide was funny and I got some information about Scotland that will inevitably leak out of my brain at the first sight of television.

As the guide was talking about the Nessie legend and one theory is that it’s a fish. A big fish, certainly, but a fish none the less. He said that there’s one person on the tour who might know what kind if is. He looked around. And then looked at me.

Fish? Some kind of potentially American fish? Not a shark, not a whale… I turned red and said I wasn’t all that familiar with fish. Koi? He said I might be kicking myself when I found out what it was. Do you know? Cause I sure as hell didn’t.

He showed a photo of a close up of something that was, as far as I could tell, gray and slimy.

Give up? I did.

A sturgeon. Of course! Why in heavens name didn’t I think of that? So entirely possible it’s a giant old sturgeon. And not a plesiosaur, as the classic finned Nessie is represented.

Also, every picture you’ve ever seen of Nessie is a fake. Just so you know.

Now I need to decide what I’m doing this afternoon and also what I’m doing tomorrow. Going to Kirkcauldy? Going back to E-burgh? Staying here? I’ve got nothing. But it’s nice to get out again.
Train ride (good pictures this time!)

The tour:
A different view of Loch Ness

On the road

Some cairn

Friday, October 14, 2005

Another day spent inside! Whee!

I actually did get out today. I had three things planned: 1. top up my cell phone (this means to put more money on my pay-as-I-go plan, which takes 2/3 of my daily budget – rock!), 2. see if I can’t return my recently purchased copy of Deception Point because I thought it was Digital Fortress (as I’ve already read Deception Point and thus have read every single book in my room – oh yes. All six of them), despite not having a receipt, and 3. buy me a rail ticket to get back to Inverness because the leaves are almost done changing here, and I need to move fast if I want to see them up yonder. Plus there are walks where you might see seals up there! Seals, guys!

I was about a quarter of the way up the hill to Prince’s street, where all these things were located in a highly convenient fashion, and I was already sweating and hot and gross and cleverly thinking to myself that hey, I don’t think I’m fully well yet. I am nothing if not observant. I made it though the irrationally slow line at the Carphone Warehouse and was about convinced to just go home when I passed the bookstore and decided it would be in my best interest to go in. This would surely be a quick exchange, if they let me exchange it at all!

I spent over an hour in there. Erk. They let me exchange the book right off and then I spent ages wandering the shelves, and ended up purchasing a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Bill Bryson’s Notes from A Big Country. I didn’t mean to get both, but I must’ve not been at full brain capacity yet because I thought I was 5p short of buying P&P because I forgot that I had pennies (or whatever they call the copper 1 and 2p coins here) in my pocket and a £10 note in my wallet. And I couldn’t very well put £1.50 on a credit card (yeah it was that cheap – I win), so I grabbed another book.

Isn’t that interesting? Not really, no, I apologize.

And I didn’t buy rail tickets because the line was stupid long and I decided instead to just check it out tomorrow, which is way more sensible. If, you know, I’m well tomorrow. But I need to go out of town again.

Today’s notes being that 1. it is ridiculously impossible to find chicken noodle soup here. I went to two corner stores and a fancy-pants mini-Italian-style grocery store and all I could find was cream of chicken soup. Heinz brand. Did you know Heinz made soup? I didn’t. 2. Heinz brand vegetable soup is gross. 3. I’m teaching Introduction to Blues on the 27th. Oo. Aah. They want me to advertise for it. I have about one idea as to how to do that, and it doesn’t go beyond opening my window and saying hey, I’m teaching a blues dancing class. I’d yell, but I don’t want to make my throat hurt anymore. 4. I haven’t been to the Royal Theatre Pub in ages. I keep intending to do that, and get sick or make other plans. It’s no good. 5. I’m just babbling now. I’m so bored.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sick. Can't get computer to internet. Am using flatmate's internet. Will post later. Back to bed.

Friday, October 07, 2005

In which I talk about being sick! Yay!

Not so many entries lately. First not a whole lot has happened, and second, I have caught death. Bad death. Serious, mean, cruel, body-aching death. I am not altogether pleased about this.

Well. Okay. So. This weekend Andrew Sutton, an American swing dance teacher, came to teach workshops. Good. Came all the way over here to learn swing dancing from an American. Fantastic.

I missed Saturday’s workshops because I felt that sleeping in was the better option. I had not yet acquired death, but was thinking about it, what with having some Tireds and Vague Sore Throat.

That evening, however, I took a cab to the rendezvous place. Taking a cab? So expensive! £6 to get across town. Crikey. But I couldn’t walk there fast enough and I still don’t get the bus systems here, so that was my option. Unless I wanted to run across town, and really, not so much. I piled into a car with some dancers – only one of them local – and headed off to Galashiels, where a big band was playing. For dancing! Yay dancing! I dance.

All the dancers felt off in their leading or following that night – except Andrew, being so professional that he never has an off night. Which is not cool.

And guys, they played a waltz and I had no one to dance with. Do you know how long I’ve wanted to waltz? So long! So I cried. Not really. But I looked enviously out at the people dancing and got myself into a huff.

Huff huff huff.

Excuse me. I’m sick. I’m working at about 20% brain power.

I started feeling decently about my dancing at about the time that we were getting ready to go. And I got dropped off and went to bed. Oo, exciting.

Sunday I hauled myself up for dance workshops and was exhausted by a quarter of the way through. I got good information, so it was worth it, but man I was tired. When it was over I went home. Sensing another trend here? I am! Thanks, 20/20 hindsight!

And Monday I had level 3 death. Lots of tired. Managed to get out of the house for a bit to try and find trousers and –

Okay, y’all? I am fated to never, ever, ever find well-fitting trousers. Ever. I have spent two days searching – even searching at places where I find trousers at home – and my options are 1. too tight (I have plenty of options here), or 2. humorously loose. I hate women’s sizes. Sometimes 14 is fine, sometimes 16 is fine, and sometimes 18 is too tight. Explain that one too me.

I’ll explain it – it’s a conspiracy. Bitches.

Anyway. I went out to see Pride and Prejudice with a friend of mine and realized that I was feeling of level 3 death, which seemed, at the time, to be level 2 death. So I went home after the movie and went to bed. And all was well.

Tuesday! Was fine! Felt fine. So went dancing, naturally. Oh. I felt good about my dancing and I was having fun chatting with people and working on my balboa and I was sure that all was right with the world. I even got a ride home from Jacqi who very conveniently lives around the corner from me.

And then I got home. Cue stomachache. And achies. I went to bed and woke up early-early with miserable stomachache, splitting headache, stuffed nose, and body aches. And I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I tossed and turned, occasionally dozing. Noon rolled around and I couldn’t be bothered to drag myself out of bed. Eventually I worked up the energy to put on a movie (thank god for my computer and movies) and stayed mostly comatose all day.

I got out at one point to get meds, because I didn’t really have anything with me. Had worked through all my advil and boy howdy did (do) I hurt. I spent £11 on meds and crawled back home. And I’ve been in bed since. I’ve had crackers and grapes today. And the Scottish equivalent of Gatorade, which is called Lucozade. Hee. I’m completely dehydrated, which is likely a key source of my problem.

The cold/flu meds I got don’t let you take other painkillers with them. That is so not cool. I want to drug myself until I sleep through the sickness and wake with sunshine and bluebirds and little deer strolling around my room.

And now I hurt and am tired and have been complaining to various people all day. And now I’m complaining to you folks! Hi guys! I feel like crap!

I’m running out of movies and things to watch. This is a problem. I feel like reading would make for more headache (writing isn’t doing me so much good but god I’m bored), and I’ve seen all my movies a million times.

So tomorrow, more cabin fever and no dancing for me. Man. Someone come over. Bring movies.
How can so much happen when I don’t really do anything?

I am, to start, not altogether convinced that I am completely healthy. Remember how I felt like lead? Apparently that feeling also went on holiday in Inverness, and now it’s back. Hi!

Having the same mindset as I did last time I felt so tired I walked halfway across town. I’m ignoring Wednesday. I didn’t do anything. Seriously. The day’s highlight was finding a new grocery store.

My place is located in the northeast section of the city, and I walked all the way down to the southwest part of the city. Why? To try and find a knitting and/or embroidery store. I need an embroidery hoop. Stop looking at me like that.

I walked up Prince’s street (the main locals’ shopping drag), listening to my music, and then a woman with blond hair and a nose stud stopped me. I knew her. My brain went into overdrive, trying to figure out HOW THE HELL I KNOW THIS PERSON! DEAR GOD, QUICK, BEFORE SHE NOTICES!

I haven’t the faintest idea what her name is, but I met her in Inverness of all places. She was playing at the Ceòl Beò1 sessions and was at the big dinner following. We had a lovely talk about Edinburgh and I highly enjoy her. She was in Edinburgh for the night, and now shopping for a half hour before heading to the airport to go to Sweden, where she’s from.

Y’all, it is so weird to run into people I know. The other day I saw Aussie Swing Dance Ben but didn’t say hi because I’d forgotten his name. Yesterday I saw what’s her name from the Royal Theatre Pub.

You know what this is like? It’s like the end of my freshman year at Guilford where I barely felt like I knew anyone, and as my parents and I were driving to lunch every single person we passed knew me and waved. And I was all, where the hell have you people been?

That is what this is like.

So I continued on my way and walked down into a churchyard and admired the old, old graveyards that were split into small sections and are now being used for storage of things like plywood and road barriers.

And then I ran into a man who talked my ear off about something that I couldn’t quite figure out but he was staring at my shoes and telling me about his life and parents and how he has been walking and is now away from home and woe and now he is starting to have a bit of a panic attack and so I stopped him and asked how I could help. He was asking for food or money. Nice. I gave him some change to make him stop talking and let him continue on to the church.


I finally found the store I was looking for, and boy was it crap. The good part of the wandering was that I found a theatre where, on Oct 30, they’re playing the original Nosferatu with live organ music! How cool is that? So cool!

And I walked back and slept for some undetermined amount of time, then went out for dinner and internet. And on the way back I ran into Rita in front of a little convenience store.

What the hell.

She was there with a friend of hers. They were coming back from the swing dance class where they’d gotten kicked out. Turned out to be a complete beginner you had to start those classes four weeks ago. Oops. We stood and talked a while about swing dancing and other such things. A man came out of the store carrying a pizza. He came over to us and said something I didn’t quite catch.

“How much?” he asked again.

It took me a second to figure out what the hell he was talking about, but when I did I punched him in the face and then kicked him in the nads.

I didn’t really, but that’s way more interesting that what I did, which was to say “No,” in a variety of stern and disgusted ways. As he walked away he turned back and said he was kidding, ha ha!

So I bought a car and ran him down.

If the three of us had looked even remotely like we might’ve been in the sex business (if we had, for instance, been wearing gobs of makeup – or any, even – and/or had been at all scantily clad, or perhaps been wearing some sort of “Prostitute” badge) then I might’ve understood why he thought that, but we were all wearing trousers and long sleeved shirts and sneakers and generally thick jackets.

Maybe that’s what they wear around here when they’re strolling down the streets, looking for customers. I wouldn’t blame them. It’s cold here.

Anyway. I went to the swing dancing class (the third of three on Thursday nights)(I can go because I have the basic down). I got to talk to Ben and Helen (the couple from Australia and Sweden, respectively)(I think she’s from Sweden).

Dance, dance, dance.

When it was over I saw Jacqi – the woman who showed interest in me teaching a blues class. She asked if I’d said anything about it to anyone, and I said I hadn’t. She took my hand and tucked my arm under hers and brought me over to Michael and oh… um… damn. L--? …Liam? Some British name like that. She said I wanted to teach a class, and they said great! How about next week?


I mean, yes! Of course next week would be just great! I am not at all terrified!

Ben and Helen invited me out to get food with them. I agreed, even though I was a little tired because I would like v. much to get to know them better. Turned out there were 10 of us going. So much for a personal invitation, but whatever. We piled into cars and drove to – get this – the southwest of the city. Yes, right where I’d walked earlier that day. Har har har.

I ended up sitting next to the aforementioned Michael and the Norwegian, whose name we spent the car ride trying to figure out. All the younger swing dancers that I was hoping to get connected with were sitting at the other end of the table. Blast.

Kathy gave me a ride home. Ben and Helen rode in the back seat with someone, and they laughed and chatted. I talked with Kathy in the vein of “Those Kids Today,” referring mostly to the drunk people wandering about the city. And yet I wanted to be one of the kids in the back seat. But it was good to talk to her.

Aaaand… yes. Swing dancing this weekend. That's all for now.

1 I would like to note that Gaelic is a weird, weird language. Ceòl Beò sounds like Kill Bill. Ceilidh = Kay-lee. Eilidh = Ay-lee. How is that at all ever logical? It’s not, that’s how.

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