Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Scotland was in fact colder than Moscow yesterday. Fortunately not in Edinburgh, but it still felt damn chilly! So think of us freezing our wee tootsies while you are nursing NY hangovers at the beach in NZ.

Last night, to keep warm, we danced in the World's Longest (and most chaotic) Strip-the-Willow, along George Street. we seemed to be surrounded by non-scots, so there was a fair but of creative licence in the dancing. All good fun though.

Tonight is Hogmanay proper - more crowds, more cold, more record-breaking attempts (tonight I think it's something to do with singing Auld Lang Syne). All the Christmas winter woollies are coming in handy!

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Christmas in Scotland

Our Christmas kicked off on Christmas Eve with a bit of present opening (well, that's how Europeans do things, plus Christmas Eve in Scotland = Christmas Day in NZ). Also, we decided to open some in advance as we were heading across to Bellshill on Christmas Eve (no way of getting across on Christmas day, save a £120 taxi), and then going straight to Brussels on Boxing Day - it seemed silly to carry them all that way.

We got some cracker pressies from here and from home - a Bic Runga CD that has been played a lot already, plenty of winter woolies, books, cars (x2 - when Andrew opened his remote control one on Christmas Day he lost interest in the outside world and his only concern was which appliance in my uncle's house contained AA batteries!), and a paua necklace that was perfect for Christmas day. Thanks everyone!

Next stop was Joseph & Michael's (my uncles in Bellshill - where we stayed when we first came to Scotland) - we were staying at their place on Christmas Eve. Little did we suspect that this meant we would be up till 2am wrapping their neighbours' kids' presents! Apparently, this is an annual tradition, and as houseguests, we got roped in. It did mean that we got to see the latest toys and gadgets (all the same really - bikes, colouring books, dolls, games - but new ones to me were the eyetoy and golfclubs). And to marvel at the excessive volume and value of presents.

On Christmas Day we went to my Uncle George & Aunt Janette's for Christmas Dinner - back in Renfrew, my home town. Everyone was there (18 in total) - aunties, uncles, cousins, and even a brand new baby (Dylan) to keep everyone amused and clucking. It was like a family dinner back home, ramped up a notch or two. The Dohertys are renowned for their "gift o' the gab", and consequently, there is much gabbing. Usually at least 6 conversations taking place simultaneously, rich in dialect and colloquialism and family history/rivalries (inevitable at Christmas time and in a family of six). I loved it, even though I could rarely get a word in edgewise - love the verbal agility, the sparring, the storytelling, the laughs. Andrew reports that sometimes he had no clue what was going on!

After presents, food (a very trad Christmas spread, the highlight of which was definitely my Auntie Maureen's chicken soup) and much banter, we left in a different vehicle and in a different direction - this time to Ayrshire, with my Uncle Martin and his partner Ian. Martin keeps horses, so they have a place in the country. As it was dark and raining, we opted out of mucking out the horses before bed! Instead, we marvelled at the volume of stuff in the house, from fab paintings to more than 100 Royal Doulton dolls (the latter less to my taste!). Later, my uncle theorised that this was a reaction to an impoverished Glasgow childhood - because he now has the means to buy and surround himself with material possessions, he does. Interesting...
Brussels sprouts part two

Brussels highlights range from the obvious to the pleasantly surprising. The beer was varied and delicious, served in wood-panelled bars that haven't changed in a century, by aproned waiters (some even with the full-length Trappist-monk style apron) who seem pleased to see and serve you. At a place called A La Becasse, waiters as above serve your draught lambic in earthenware pitchers, and you're seated at long wooden tables. Very rustic! Here's Andrew enjoying a Kriek at La Falstaff:

The food in Brussels was tasty - winter is a great time of year for this kind of food - all mashed potatoes and hearty sausages and tasty stews. No Brussel sprouts, but that's OK, I had my annual quotient at Christmas-time. The Doherty Christmas. That's a whole other story... back to Belgian food for now... The street food was excellent - waffles, of course, and a great find at the Christmas Market were croustillons (sp?), deep fried dough balls with an amazing texture, served dredged with icing sugar in a paper cone. yum.

The Christmas market was a great discovery, 10 mins from our hotel. In the pretty Place Ste Catherine, you could skate, ride bicycles with oval wheels (well, Belgium is the home of surrealism), ride ostriches and flying machines and dinosaurs and other fantastical birds/beasts/machines on the gorgeous merry-go-rounds, ride the big wheel and enjoy spectacular views over the city (we did this at night - the christmas lights looked so cool), eat (and eat, and eat, all manner of tempting treats), drink (mulled wine, gluhwine, hot wine and other variations on the theme) and if you're bored of all that, shop. I could have spent hours there soaking up the festive atmosphere (actually, we might have spent a couple of hours there).

The Atomium was a place that had been recommended to Andrew, and with a name like that, a visit was obligatory (science is fun, he keeps telling me). Actually, it was a very cool place, quite unlike any other building I've seen, with a very fast lift that takes you up to the top sphere, and then skinny escalators taking you between the other spheres. It was all very retro, very 50's - captured the spirit of the age, I think. Up close it's a bit rusty and leaky, but apparently they are working to restore and renovate it to its former fifties' shine. Check out the Atomium website for lots of great pics.

Another surreal moment in Brussels (there were a few!) - the huge nativity scene in the Grand'Place, complete with neon-lit cows (pink, orange, purple) and real grazing sheep. Decidedly weird.

Andrew has a colleague who visited Brussels twice last year, and is going again soon. I can now see why - I would happily visit again (although maybe not with Ryanair!).
Brussels sprouts

The white Christmas didn't eventuate - warm (for Scotland at this time of the year) and wet instead. And now we're having a freezing (but the sun keeps it above zero during some daylight hours) Christmas/New Year hiatus.

I'm enjoying a couple of days of sleeping and reading and not much else - took a quick trot around the sales yesterday, but managed only to buy two things that under closer inspection in natural light need to be returned (a top with lipstick on it, and a pair of navy - not black - wolford tights). This was a rather pathetic effort. My shopping instinct/interest seems to be waning - maybe just a symptom of post Christmas retail exhaustion (although I kept my Christmas shopping fairly minimal this year anyway). All I managed to come back from Brussels with was a jar of chocolate spread from Le Pain Quotidien and some beer picked up at the airport for the simple reason that it's so much cheaper than here.

As you've probably gathered, then, we've just been to Brussels. Flew out from Glasgow Prestwick on Boxing Day to Charleroi (which despite what Ryanair says, is not really anywhere near Brussels), tempted again to fly into obscure airports by the promise of a flight for a penny (plus of course taxes and charges, which for the 2 aforementioned airports should be zero, given their state & services). Much confusion ensued, because the promised connecting bus to Brussels didn't really connect - at least not in the strictest meaning of that word. It was quite late, and when it did arrive, was mobbed by the huge hoard of passengers waiting to be whisked away from Charleroi. A bigger hoard than would fit on the bus. And we were practically at the back of the seething mass, not having developed very good mob mentality instincts. Uh oh. The bus was almost full, and it looked unlikely that we would get on, but then a bigger bus (twice the size) arrived - I suspect this was the one that was supposed to turn up in the first place. All those still outside headed for the big bendy bus, only to wait while the drivers of the 2 buses engaged in a heated and animated conversation. Probably about football. I looked at how many people (about 15) were waiting to get on the big bus, surmised that it was unlikely to leave with such a small load, and managed to blag our way back on to the almost full bus and take the seat of a small child. Our bus promptly left.

An hour later and we had been dropped off at the arse end of Gare du Midi - leaving a lot of people standing around looking confused by the complete lack of signage (or evidence that we were actually in a train station). We navigated our way to the metro, managed to buy tickets (yay high school French) and then discovered that the Metro we thought we were taking was actually an underground tram. Eventually we found our way to our hotel, having travelled by 4x4, plane, bus and tram to get there!

The getting there was the worst bit (getting home a bit of a pain too) - the rest of our time in Brussels was fab! More on that after lunch...I might even venture outside to buy a paper!

Monday, December 22, 2003

It's snowing again. This time during the day (and I'm at home, so get to stare out the window and be mesmerised. In between the various stages of baking an enormous Christmas cake.). Big, floaty flakes - it's so pretty! Now, predictably, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

It's snowing

Just had to share that exciting piece of news. It's been freezing all day, a stay home and watch movies on telly and drink pots and pots of coffee kind of day. And tonight was the final of Pop Idol - something that everyone has been talking about for weeks (months?), but I hadn't managed to catch yet. This was fine, actually, as tonight's 3 hr extravaganza had plenty of scope for flashbacks. If anyone is wondering, Michelle from Glasgow with an absolute belter of a voice beat the pants off cheesy-smile-for-the-camera Mark from Wolverhampton. It was scarily compulsive viewing - I even toyed with the idea of voting at one point!

After Pop Idol, for some reason I decided to take a look outside, and was delighted and excited to see a decent covering of snow on the cars, street, trees, roofs. It was so pretty! And pristine - our street's a cul-de-sac so not much traffic. Mad search for hat and scarf and gloves, and we went out to play - snowballs, a wee snowman and other snowy fun. This is defintely the good bit about winter...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003


Golly, it's been a while (and now Christmas is just around the corner). There have even been complaints about my poor posting form (which I suppose is in a way positive, as some people must actually read this blog).

A week and a half ago, we were in Dublin, as guests of old pals from Wellington. Despite odd "Accenture reunion" moments during the weekend, we had a splendid time. In marked contrast to Italy our pace was quite leisurely, making the long weekend a welcome break from workplace frenzy (to give you a clue, in one month I managed to accrue 5 days of "TOIL" as it is appropriately known here - Time Off In Lieu).

Dublin highlights would have to include the obligatory visit to the Guinness Storehouse - yes it was shamelessly commercial, but the design was fab (love the waterfall and the typography throughout), it was sufficiently interactive (you got to touch and smell everything), and the prize at the end is a perfect pint looking out over the Dublin skyline, surrounded, funnily enough, by a fair few Kathmandu-clad kiwis [the Kathmandu logo, or even just the recognisable Kathmandu classics, make kiwi spotting an easy sport in these parts].

Another highlight was the Saturday organic market in Temple Bar. One word. Yum. The shopping was good too - much more interesting fashion, quite a bit of antipodean stuff in boutiques. My favourite shop was Avoca, a kind of Kate-heaven! Dreamy knitwear, big chunky scarves, quirky gifty stuff, kitchen gadgets, food (glorious food)...I managed to visit twice in three days. Star purchase was these pretty pink Christmas lights that look like flowers (look, we even have presents under our "tree"!).

It was great to stay with locals. Liz and James went above and beyond the call of hosting duty, sending us a dossier of detailed instructions and maps in advance of our visit, plying us with the local brew (as Liz works for Diageo, I'm sure she gets discounts), cooking us dinner...much better than a hotel!

We arrived back in Edinburgh to sub-zero temperatures. It's climbed back up to something more tolerable, but is still a bit hillbilly (as a friend of mine likes to say - think rhyming). Add that to the extremely limited amount of daylight (only properly light at about 9am, and certainly dark well before hometime), and the prospect of hibernating for a month or three is an attractive one. BUT, Friday's my last day at work until the 5th Jan (and half of it will be occupied by Christmas lunch anyway), it's the shortest day on Monday, and then Christmas with the Dohertys, a trip to Brussels, Hogmanay and a visit from Olly & Antoinette over the next fortnight. And there's still Christmas shopping (waaaay more crazy here than in NZ) and travel planning to get me out of bed in the morning.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Film stuff

Interesting times in the NZ film industry. Or at least, it looks that way from afar. The Screen Council has finally been set up, tax incentives are in place (the Large Budget Screen Production Grant), the world prem of LOTR:ROTK was held in Wellington. All stuff that was mooted, talked about, debated while I was working at Film NZ - it's nice to see these things come to fruition. Although, as always in the film industry, not everyone's happy. I was sad not to be there for the prem, looked like an amazing day. I haven't even managed to see a trailer for the film yet (and it's not like I haven't been going to the movies). I must just have been going to the wrong films.

I saw Love, Actually last night, which was, actually, quite entertaining. Sure, there were moments of implausibility (like that whole Wisconsin sequence - I thought at first it was a dream sequence) and schmaltz, but that's what Christmas is all about, isn't it?

I'm particularly looking forward to a new release here, Wilbur (Wants to Kill Himself), a Danish film set in Glasgow, which has had excellent reviews.

Off to Dublin tonight - Slainte!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Mangiare, bibere
Back in chilly old Edinburgh, after a week's glorious respite from the chill and the work and the mainly bad coffee, in the home of good coffee, Italy.

Coffee seems like a good place to start - it was definitely one of the highlights of our hols. No matter where you ordered it, the coffee was consistently quick (none of these 10 min long Pret waits) and consistently excellent. The best coffee, though, was at Sant' Eustachio -reputedly the best coffee in Rome. Their gran caffe is a real treat - sweet but perfectly balanced (I don't normally like sugar in coffee at all), and with a good centimetre of crema. Bellissima! Coffee is generally less that a euro for an espresso, about 1.20-1.30 for a cappuccino (no chocolate on top, smallish cup, not too much froth, more like a good NZ flat white), but that totally depends where you drink it and whether you stand or sit. Most expensive in Rome was Caffe Greco at 5.20 for a cappuccino (but in good company - once the favoured hangout of Casanova, Goethe, Wagner, Stendhal, Baudelaire, Shelley and Byron) and an interior of faded, comfy opulence.

In Venice we took things up a notch again, with coffee for 7 euros at Caffe Florian - admittedly, even more fabulous, and with an equally illustrious clientele (again Byron, Goethe, Casanova, as well as Proust, Dickens and Stravinsky - but now I'm just surname-dropping!).

In Florence we went more for cioccolato caldo (hot choc) - thick, slightly bitter, and served out of big urns. I bought some to make at home but the instructions are in illegible Italian, so the results might be interesting!

Food was good too - great pizza (thin and woodfired, tasty minimal toppings), pasta, pastries, pancetta, provlone, all the P foods are good. And of course gelato - in every flavour imaginable, handmade, delicious. I'm making myself hungry just writing about this.

Weirdest meal experience was defininitely a wee place in Rome called da Alfredo e Ada - run by 3 old Roman mamas who wanted to be your mama too. When we arrived front of house mama asked if we wanted wine, and if we liked cheese. That was the extent of the ordering system! Wine was white and from a big tap in the kitchen (but actually quite tasty), plenty of bread and pasta, and for our main course, she brought out 3 dishes and we got to choose which 2 we wanted (but could have the third too if we were still hungry!). Dessert was endless home-baked cookies, and some kind of port-y wine to dunk them in. No menu, no coffee, no prices, just food and wine as it comes. A low-stress, homely dining experience.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Do you realise....?

That attending a Flaming Lips gig is an easy route to a grin that you just can't peel off your face. We were lucky enough to attend such a gig last night - the last in their UK tour, and one of those rare, life-affirming experiences that will be with me for a long time. If I could pay my 17 quid again and see exactly the same show again, I would! That good!

It was an all-singing (through megaphone AND microphone, She Don't Use Jelly to Happy Birthday & White Christmas, with plenty of audience participation), all-dancing (in animal suits and as inflatable suns illuminated from the inside by giant torches), all-the-gimmicks (smoke, gigantic rotating mirrorballs, snow, balloons, strobes, video, aerobics....) extravaganza. Andrew even had a moment of fame as the only person who could propel the enormous balloon to the third tier of the Usher Hall - people had been trying all night to pull this off, but didn't have the necessary technique! Great music, great show, a bit of anti-Bush sentiment thrown in for good measure - an awesome night, one I'll remember for a long time.

This was a great high note on which to end an excellent weekend. A win for the AB's made getting up at 6:30 on Saturday morning worthwhile. Watched Roman Holiday to get us in the mood for Rome (as if I needed any help on that one!). Celebrated one year in style at the Stockbridge Restaurant, over a tasty meal and even more tasty bottle of NZ wine (Crab Farm 1997 Cab Sav). Watched Jane Campion's latest , In The Cut, and got to see the location that I couldn't find in NZ (a frozen lake surrounded by trees, for an Oct/Nov shoot - the dream sequences in the film). Learned some more Italian. Slept through Sunday's rugby. Bliss.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Broken boilers

There is no heating at my work this week. The boiler is broken and its manual is missing and the plumber is having no luck finding parts. My office is in a converted Georgian townhouse in the New Town, and sprawls over 5 floors (even though we have only 9 staff). I am lucky enough to work in the attic (lots of stairs, every day, every time I want to go to my office / use the photocopier / send a fax / get some stationery etc. I'd like to say the result is thighs of steel!).

Up in the attic is the coldest corner of the building, so today I was bundled up in a woolly hat, and many, many layers (too hard to type or hold a pen with gloves on). I'm sure there's a health & safety issue here somewhere. I'm tempted to just stay in bed tomorrow...

The wind went crazy today, whipping up a frenzy of leaves and blinded, battered pedestrians wherever it went. You'll be pleased to note that A didn't get blown off the scooter though.

MTV awards this week, and the stars are in town (all except Britney, who has a wee sniffle). They're being held in Leith, a slightly seedy part of town , quickly becoming yuppified, in a BIG tent. Shame about the wind.

I'm watching the match of the year unfolding in the theatre of dreams (never is a cliche more at home than in the mouth of a football commentator - oh and don't dream of calling it soccer). Rangers (supposedly Scotland's top team but not right now) are 2-nil down to Man-U at half time. Ah well.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

What the folk?

Andrew just started yelling at me & the TV simultaneously and with a distinct note of excitement in his voice. I rushed to see what all the fuss was about, and there on our wee telly were The Flight of the Conchords, doing their parody folk thing while advertising Phones4U. Weird! And kinda cool. I'm quite used to playing spot NZ in car ads over here, but kiwi talent is a first.

Hallowe'en passed fairly uneventfully - nothing too spooky happened (although my colleague did give me a big fright in an orange, face-hugging demon mask). There was a bit of dooking for apples at work, and some of those sour sweets that make your face feel like it's shrinking. We spent the eve itself with some pals at an old and cosy pub in Stockbridge, the Antiquary, where they serve Guiness with a thistle etched into the head. Nice. Crisps (not chips) and beer for dinner, I'm turning into a real Scot. Not quite so Scottish that I could face a bad kebab on the way home though - gourmet hotdog was a definite improvement on the stereotype!

Rugby was probably the other theme for the weekend - morning games mean that days get off to a slow start. I was sad the Irish didn't beat the Aussies , and relieved NZ managed to get away with a win today. Don't know if we really deserved to. A says the first thing we have to do when we get to Venice in a couple of weeks is suss out a friendly bar where we can watch the World Cup final.

We locked the keys in the scooter yesterday. You wouldn't have thought that would be possible, but it is ("in the scooter" = under the seat). Fortunately we were within walking distance of home (where the spare was) so no major drama, just serious annoyance and lots of "I can't believe I just did that!". I wonder what would have happened if we had to call the AA (how much they would have laughed).

Italian lessons on the couch are going quite well, although we're getting a bit concerned that we haven't been introduced to any nouns yet! Still, I already know the most important ones (vino, espresso, gelato, pizza). There was quite a weird bit on the CD today when Michel (we're on first name terms) explained to us the difference between "I want to do it" and "I won't do it" (ie. the English phrases). To me, they are not at all confusing (or at least, they weren't). But the way he pronounced them, want and won't sounded exactly the same.

Other than that, a fairly lazy weekend. A couple of afternoons whiled away in cafes (it's the autumnal chill that makes this so appealing, I think) - Saturday at the formidable Italian deli (been an Edinburgh fixture since 1934!), Valvona & Crolla. Anyone who thinks you can't find good food in Scotland would be instantly converted by this foodlovers paradise. This afternoon a short saunter took us to Kaffe Politik in Marchmont, for coffee (of course), cake and a swag of Sunday papers.

Edinburgh's looking quite lovely at the moment - trees are ablaze with autumn colours (and no matter how efficient the leafblowers, you get to crunch through leaves as you walk just about anywhere). The light at this time of year is gorgeous, early morning fog is atmospheric, the cold means you breathe your own fog anyway, it's great. As long as it's not raining. Here's a pic we took at the weekend, from Calton Hill looking out over Waverly Bridge and the Old Town.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Daylight wasting

Is that the opposite of daylight saving? Daylight is certainly increasingly fleeting. The clocks have just gone back, and it's dark when I come home from work now (although for now still light in the a.m.). I am struggling to resign myself to the fact that it will be like this for the rest of the year (and a bit of next year too). Meanwhile, all I hear from NZ are stories of the sunniest Labour Weekend in living memory.

Fitting, then, that it's almost Hallowe'en - which marks the end of the light half and the beginning of the dark half of the year. Hallowe'en is a big deal here (well it is a celtic festival - A took some convincing on that one, he was sure it was invented in America). In Scotland, people go guising rather than trick-or-treating, dooking for apples is almost obligatory, and many other messy food games are involved (I'll give you the full update after our themed team meeting at work on Friday - I'm busy carving turnips as we speak).

Speaking of Scottish festivals, I was excited today to receive my two free tickets to Edinburgh's Hogmanay, a big street party on New Year's Eve (or Hogmanay, as it's properly called). They allocate tickets by ballot in October each year. It promises the world's biggest Auld Lang Syne, not sure what else though - probably a serious chill to the bones and lots of general revelry to distract merrymakers from the cold.

We just received a copy of our wedding video - lovingly crafted by Richard Foy at Propellerhead Productions (aka his living room). I can't believe it was almost a year ago. Richard did a great job (not too long, not too much to cringe about, some nice touches with titles, music & graphics), and it was so nice to see faces and hear voices that we hadn't seen/heard for so long.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

It's snowing

Yep, it's October and it's snowing already (or at least sleeting - there's definitely some frozen stuff in those raindrops). 88% chance of snow tonight, -2 degrees. Brrrrrrrr! Fow a wee peek, check out these Edinburgh webcams. I'm so glad we have central heating.

I've just been in Dunfermline for 2 days - staff away days for planning and the like, but not too much in the way of teambuilding activities that are the stereotype of such days (no quadbiking :-( ). I suppose, being a charity, it's not a good look to spend on such frivolities. Still, the hotel we stayed at had a nice pool. Somehow I've come out of the two days with lots more work (including writing a communications strategy for the organisation!),

Here comes Andrew - I can hear the distinctive scooter drone. He looks VERY cold! cold in fact that he was unable to untie his shoelaces when he came in (his hands were that numb!). The poor wee soul.

My fascination with the telly is waning a bit - a fair amount of dross to wade through to find the good stuff. Some particular highlights tonight: Britain's Worst Driver, Wife Swap and Pornography: The Musical - an "operetta about the sex industry" where "porn stars sing about their lives". Apparently, the music's awful too.

There are some definite treasures though, some things that you would never see on TV in NZ (God bless the BBC and her public service requirement) - like the programme about this year's Stirling prize finalists and winner (an architecture award). Mind you, given the UK's obsession with real estate in all its guises, it's not really that surprising that architecture telly makes it to prime time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Golly it's Olly

Had a super weekend - one of those weekends where you hardly spend any time at home and feel all the better and more rested for it. We had a visitor, inspiring us to go out and do stuff - Olly the vet. He didn't even break anything while he was here (although there were a few touch and go moments).

Definite highlight of the weekend was chance spotting of group of Norwegian telemark skiers serenading girl outside Mellis' cheese shop on Candlemaker Row. This may sound way too farfetched to be true, but true it is. They even had a papier mache dog as past of their entourage (and quite a nifty trick involving a skipole that made it look like the dog was dragging them up the hill). They skied UP the cobblestone street in their short pants, long socks and funny hats, quite a sight to behold. Olly and I had great fun poking around in dinky wee shops - where they specialised in cigars (Olly, sucked in by the sales pitch, bought some of Fidel's faves) cask-strength whisky, maps, wine, kilts...

Finding Nemo's worth a look for some feelgood family fun.

Update on last post - we now have TV. ASDA came to our rescue with something cheap, good, and in stock. Why all stores don't follow that model, I have no idea. It's gotta be a winner. I feel a wee bit like they must have felt in the 50's (or in NZ, the 60's) when TV was new and exciting and different. I am particularly interested in ads, but I'm sure it will wear off...

Just been to the inaugural Morningside Wine Tasting (hence the stream of consciousness blog), run by our good friends at Oddbins. A very congenial evening, held in this weird building that looks dead modern on the outside but inside is all 80's bad carpet and disco lights (think all your worst ferry crossing and casino experiences rolled into one). One NZ wine in the tasting, Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2003. Yum! The best bit was all the stories about the winemakers (I think our host/guide Gareth had a soft spot for the underdog and Kiwi/Alsatian/Spanish battler). And the tasty wine, of course. He even recommended old fave Cuisine as the place for info on NZ wine. Much discussion about the merits or otherwise of Lindauer - seems to be quite popular here, sells for around £6-7/bottle. I also learned that aforesaid wine is NZ's 3rd most popular grocery item. Not sure how much truth in that, slightly scary, statistic!

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Sweeties, darling

Today I had a most enjoyable mission, which took me into just about every sweet shop in Edinburgh, and down memory lane as well. SALP (where I work) has a new campaign in November, called Bite Sized (all about reaching new learners by offering "bite sized" learning opportunities, short, sweet and free). I am writing to a bunch of people to encourage them to get involved, and decided to go with the theme a bit, and include a gimmick with the letter. My first choice, chattering teeth, were beyond our budget, but I decided that a couple of sets of Milk Teeth would grab the attention almost as spectacularly. So began my quest. I had no trouble finding penny shrimps, sherbet dabs, dolly mixtures, flying saucers, edible paper, drumsticks and kola kubes (yum, sucking on one now), but no milk teeth to be found. Still, I was pleasantly distracted. There's something fantastic about walking into a shop that can unlock so many childhood memories through its Pick n' Mix.

I have since tracked down some teeth - at the local UGC's candy bar (although it's probably called something different).

Andrew's busy listening to the miracle Italian CDs that he got from his work (they have a very comprehensive training library). "Michel Thomas" (the most sought-after language teacher in the world, apparently - he has taught Emma Thompson, Mel Gibson, Eddie Izzard & Princess Grace) promises "no pens, no paper, no homework, no memorising". 8 hours and we'll be set for Roma, I hope!

He's listening to it on our new home cinema system - we decided to get that rather than a stereo and DVD seperately. It makes a pleasant change from listening to everything on the PC or tranny - has everything, including radio, and can play MP3s and just about every other file format save .doc. The cinema part is a bit of a joke at the moment though - we don't have a TV yet. Not that we haven't tried. I have encountered some bad shop & restaurant service here, but so far, nothing compares to electronics retailers. They seem to specialise in stocking their shop with things that you can't actually buy, TVs without remotes, TVs without boxes, TVs that are "discontinued" and TVs that are out of stock. If you ask to see the picture quality, they show you a different brand and screen size and tell you that it will be just the same. Brilliant. I've actually lost track of how may TVs we have tried to buy.

Still, sans TV, we might get good at Italian!

Sunday, October 05, 2003

A gathering of the clan

There was snow in the air yesterday - it felt like somewhere in Scotland, it must be snowing. The skies were ominously leaden one minute, opened explosively to drench everything the next, and then blinding sunshine would reflect off every soaked surface as more grey clouds piled in...a three act play repeated again and again. A crazy weather day. A good day for a trip to Uddingston (home of Tunnock's, of teacake fame) and some family madness.

Uddingston's a Lanarkshire town not far from Bellshill (where we stayed when we began this wee Scottish adventure of ours)...our destination was the St John the Baptist Church Hall, where my uncle Joseph's partner, Michael, was celebrating his 60th birthday.

The hall was filled with Dohertys, Sweeneys, Gavigans and other branches of what I have come to realise is a fairly substantial family. My dad's 4 brothers & his sister were there, along with their weans (and grandweans x 2 on the way), and cousins galore. They all know how to party - lots of dancing, lots of drinking, lots of chat. Andrew & I were a star attraction ("all the way from NZ, mind?"), fielding many questions (some, overzealously bordering on interrogation) about our plans, impressions of Scotland, NZ, the Dohertys, families... Much debate about who looked like whom, many memories shared of my antics as a child... One uncle would talk to me, then another would want to know what he had said! They're a highly competitive bunch.

We have since been invited to Christmas at the godfather's (my Uncle George) for more family intrigue. Should be fun.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

East & West

I was in Glasgow twice last week - once to attend a conference at the SECC (right next to the gorgeous armadillo), and the second time to run an adult learners' forum in the Mitchell Theater - another architectural treasure, of an altogether different era. The interior is yet another contradiction - all wood panelling, orange and brown carpet and architectural steel light fittings (originals of course), that wouldn't be out of place in one of the ubiquitous "style bars" that are so popular in these parts. The fourth in this little architectural quartet was the depressing interior of the Western Infirmary's emergency waiting room (one of the learners had had a fall and I was designated taker to hospital) - old and tatty and covered in posters warning of the evils of drugs, drink, sex, and pretty much everything else. As some of you may know, I intensely dislike hospitals, and have discovered that the only way to survive the experience is to treat visits as a cultural experience. I watched family tragedies unfold, and lives teeter on the brink, in that depressing, antiseptic wee room.

I like Glasgow. It's different to Edinburgh in a way that's maybe summed up by my architectural experiences last week - bolder, brasher, tattier, trendier, more diverse, shinier. Not that I dislike Edinburgh - which is perhaps more conventionally appealing, prettier (although not without its rough edges). Maybe it's just that my roots lie in the west.

My Edinburgh architectural experiences this weekend (courtesy of the fantastic Doors Open Days, where you get to go into buildings that aren't normally open to the public or would normally have to pay to see) comprised the South Bridge Vaults - a labyrinth of chambers built beneath one of Edinburgh's oldest bridges, where, up till 1820, people lived and worked. They are reportedly haunted, and are in the Guiness Book of Records as something like "the most systematically investigated supernatural site". We also visited the Royal College of Surgeons, where we wondered at the opulence of the building and the intricacy of the cornicing, learned about the man who was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, and looked at lots of truly repulsive specimen jars (cancerous lungs, tumours, and many other body parts that had seen better days). For one so squeamish, I think I managed rather well.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003


My current shopping list has a slightly ominous ring to it - dad-style pjs, vests and other thermal wonders, a hottie. The air has a chilly crispness about it this week, there's a "central heating" van parked outside our building, and the coat and gloves and boots are all being hauled into action. Although the temptation is to make like a squirrel and hibernate (but no hottie squirrelled away yet to make that plan a goer), I probably just need to get better at layering.

Speaking of squirrels & other indigenous fauna, A's workmates have realised that NZ'ers don't know what badgers are. They think that this is the funniest thing in the world, and were absolutely delighted when they asked him what colour a badger was, and he replied, "sort of brownish".

That's all for now - a conference in Glasgow means an early train tomorrow...

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Mushroom Madness

This week's subject of fascination is fungi...

It's that time of the year when the possibility of foraging in the forest and finding food for free is a fabulous one (didya like all those Fs?). There is a likely woodland just down the road. But in the interests of not poisoning myself and other loved ones, I thought I'd better find out a bit more before I ventured into the woods (this is all sounding a wee bit Hansel & Gretel). Fortunately, help was at hand, in the form of enthusiastic mycologist Gordon Rutter, running a course this weekend at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

An hour of slides, showcasing weird and wonderful specimens from the fungi kingdom, and then it was off to the forest for a bit of a foray. I was quite delighted to find a common stinkhorn (phallus impudicus) - can you guess what that looks like? In the East, they are sold dried in markets, as aphrodisiacs. We also found a very pretty Fly Agaric (they're red with white spots, very Noddy & Big Ears, and also, apparently, very hallucinogenic). An old lady in our group decided to take it home because it was "such a nice looking specimen". Another very cool one is the beefsteak, which turns red when you cut it open and bleeds - possibly the only mushroom to spark a murder inquiry!

Moving on to movies, Belleville Rendezvous is worth a look. It's an animated feature by Sylvain Chomet, very French, very funny (in a laugh-out-loud kind of way), and completely bizarre. For me, the delight was in the gorgeous animation and intricate visual detail. And any film that can withstand a screening at Cameo 3 (tiny screen, sticky floor, smelling more than a little of wee) must have considerable merit. Will be interesting to compare Spirited Away, the other animated feature that's big news at the moment (I can already say I prefer the funky BR soundtrack to the Disney job done on SA).

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

More is more

This is the maxim followed by all good Scots b&b hostesses (as they invariable are - often with invisible, silent husbands who really don't get into the hosting thing). Decor-wise, the more stripes, florals, other patterns, doilies and embroidery the better - preferably in shades of pink or apricot (or both). Stuffed animals, small statuary and gilt are also good. Minimalism is not a word in their vocabulary (and nor, I suspect, is Ikea - not that that's a bad thing!). This does induce in the visitor an initial sensory overload, but it comes to be quite comfortable - a bit like staying at your granny's house!

More is also the philosophy applied to breakfast at such establishments, and especially, more grease. A heart attack on a plate is standard fare - bacon, eggs, sausages, tomatoes (all fried) - occassionally supplemented by fried mushrooms, fried potato waffles, fried bread. And lashings of brown sauce. Cereal too, if you go for that kind of thing, juice, coffee, toast, porridge, fruit, and even, my favourite, homemade oatcakes & marmalade. Phew!

I almost forgot to mention our nessie-sighting. But maybe in this instance, less is more. A picture says 1000 words, right?

Monday, September 15, 2003

Highland capers

Real life hielan' coos were indeed spotted - on the first night of our trip, happily grazing away (in perhaps a slightly art-directed way) outside the entrance to Blair Castle in Blair Atholl. It's a quiet wee town in the heart of Highland Perthshire, very much on the tourist trail as a result of the castle (which we didn't visit - you have to pace yourself with castles in Scotland, there are so many of them), but rather empty on Friday. With the cool highland air and the mist, this emptiness gave the place a slightly spooky air after dark - somewhat exacerbated by what sounded like the random detonation of a huge stockpile of ammunition (or someone's very big fireworks stash) just next to our b & b - nobody mentioned it the next day!

Blair Atholl's pub, The Bothy, was probably the best of the highland pubs we visited. It had tartan without tack, roaring fire, real ales , excellent pub grub (game casserole w juniper berries & red wine; Haggis, tatties & neeps - of course; steak & ale get the idea! - hearty, tasty stuff), and a kiwi behind the bar. A Johnny Cash tribute provided a fitting soundtrack for the evening. We'll all miss the Man In Black.

Real ales are definitely a discovery - there are hundreds of them, and different pubs serve different ales, so there's always something new to try. Sure beats drinking American beer (which is also reasonably common here).

The Clachaig in Glencoe, which is a CAMRA award-winner, comes a close but not too close second. It definitely wins on the location front - nestled deep in the glen, nothing else around for miles. With 120 malts to choose from, its whisky selection was pretty good too , and of course there was the ubiquitous kiwi behind the bar.

Our whole weekend wasn't spent in pubs. We discovered the delights of single-lane roads with passing places - taking us through tranquil glens, wooded grottoes and misty mountain passes. Scotland is very much a storybook kind of country, you can just imagine the faeries and goblins. We explored a bit on foot, too - no Munros bagged this weekend, and in fact the closest we got was 3/4 of a Graham but I don't think that really counts for anything. Still, walking doesn't need to be about conquest - we discovered some gorgeous wee lochs, a ruined castle on an island, a lilypond and yes, you guessed it, another kiwi (at the end of a fishing rod rather than behind a bar) on our ramblings.

Watch this space for insights into Highland decor and scottish breakfasts (gleaned from 3 nights in b&bs).

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Free range butter

My favourite thing from NZ at the moment - good ole Anchor Butter. It's marketed here as free range, from cows that eat grass all year round. In this hemisphere, cows eat feed instead - battery cows. What a weird concept. Anyway, Anchor is the only spreadable butter that spreads and tastes like butter - most others do neither!

While I'm on the subject of cows, on our highland adventure this weekend one of the things I most want to see is a real life heilan' coo - I haven't seen one yet (there not being many in Edinburgh), and for me they are the quintessentially cheesy picture postcard Scotland. Who knows, maybe next post I'll have aforesaid picture postcard image to show you all.

Congrats to Matt & Kirsten and their bonnie wee bairn.

Monday, September 08, 2003

We got up yesterday morning and the sun was shining, so decided to get out and enjoy it, by climbing Arthur’s Seat. So who’s Arthur, you’re probably wondering. I know I was – I had just assumed he was a giant because his Seat is pretty big, at 253 metres high. But then I read in the paper that:

 Legend has it that deep in the hill, King Arthur and his knights slumber, ready to defend Scotland in battle.

I thought that King Arthur and his knights were English, maybe they just like to identify with the underdog. Anyway, it’s nice to know that they are there should battle loom.

It’s a spectacular walk – starting from The Palace of Holyroodhouse – one of the Queen’s Scottish timeshares – up past the ruins of C15th (at least) St Anthony’s Chapel, a couple of wee lochs and generally a lot of wilderness for a hill right in the middle of the city, to the summit and amazing views. Then back around via the Radical Road (really just a path) along the Salisbury Crags.

Up on the hill, you get a good view of the New Scottish Parliament (three words that have inspired many jokes as well as much gnashing of teeth up and down the land, and have made some people very very rich). It’s not even nearly finished, by the look of it (even though it’s already 2 ½ yrs behind schedule), is the only building site I’ve ever seen with 2-storey Portakabins (an entire village of them), and has gone over budget by a whopping £300 million. The latest in the ongoing saga is that an inquiry into aforementioned overages will itself cost £1 million and not report until 2005!

Architecturally, it looks quite quirky and original, and Sir Sean approves. But I wonder if I will ever see it finished…

The scooter’s good fun – great for zipping around town with no parking hassles. We saw Respiro last night, which is an excellent scooter movie, a great ad for Vespas in particular, and has the most resonant film score I’ve heard in a while.

Next weekend, we’re off to the highlands...

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Berin says (in response to the scooter challenge):

  1) Jacqueline (sp?) Kennedy Onassis.

  2) Jake Dagger.

  3) Frank.

  I am working on the France=>Scotland angle, but apart from Old Mary, Bonnie Prince Charlie and a rumoured exodus of the Knights Templar, I am having troubles.

I wondered if "Jake Dagger" was some kind of reference to something meaningful, but Google says no. I guess Berin just liked that name.

Monday, September 01, 2003


This is now the second time I have written this post - yesterday, as I clicked the magic "post and publish" button our internet connection failed and my lovingly composed blog disappeared before my very eyes. This is an ongoing saga with our broadband provider (in reality, the connection speed is often slower than a dial-up) - I'm getting close to throwing a tantrum!

So, I'm giving it another go...

What's new in eh10? eh? I have one of those season-change-induced colds - yes, the heatwave is well and truly over! There's a definite autumnal nip in the air, and it wont be long before the leaves change colour. I have finally managed to book some flights for a wee jaunt this year - to Italy (Rome and Venice), in November. Easyjet's sale has cured my disillusionment with the online travel marketplace (see post back in July), temporarily at least!

I have been underwhelmed by the response to my scooter-naming challenge. So far the only responses have been from Dad (who suggests "Aggie") and David's "MacPac" and "outwith". So either the rest of you have had a very uncreative week, or nobody else actually reads this blog. Sigh.

Saturday night I saw the best fireworks I have ever seen - the finale to the festival, spectacularly located atop the Castle (I can't imagine a better location for a fireworks display), nicely accompanied by the chamber orchestra (Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, bien sur). It reminded me a bit of the concerts in the Auckland Domain - everyone gets into the spirit of the event, with picnics and much wine - very festive. Even a bit of rain didn't dampen the spirits (but I'm glad that the torrential downpour after the concert didn't happen during it - our entire group would have probably slid down the steep slope we were perched on). The definite highlight was the enormous waterfall effect over the length of the castle wall (especially exciting when bits of vegetation on the rock face below caught alight).

I've been researching Scottish music (not the hoodrum heedrum variety, something a bit more contemporary) for an award ceremony for young adult learners I'm organising for early next year. This means that we are currently listening to a radio station that specialises in new Scottish music. It reminds me of the bad old days of bFM (very variable, real gems lost amongst the thrash guitar). The music scene does seem to be quite lively here - loads of venues, loads of bands. I'm yet to establish my favourites, though. But we have secured tickets to see the Flaming Lips when they come here in November.

While I'm on a pop culture theme, I really enjoyed Pirates of the Carribbean. It was a good give your brain a rest flick, without being incredibly dumb, and, of course, I'll watch anything with Johhny Depp in it. I was quite keen to see Pirates, as it was a project I had worked on at Film NZ (not that it made it to NZ, but I was curious about the locations they chose in the end). We watched at our local picturehouse, the Dominion, where you are personally greeted and farewelled by the owners (it's a gorgeous old art deco cinema, that's been in the family for decades). Now that the weather is a bit cooler, I'll probably be a more regular visitor.

I was the lucky recipient of a stack of NZ mags this week, including the new Wellington title Staple - glossy and stylish and very cool in a kiwi way (there doesn't seem to be much like that here, or maybe it's just harder to find). Thanks mum!

Monday, August 25, 2003

What the kids are wearing

I got a letter from my wee brother last week (I like to call him that, cos he's much bigger than me). I got a letter from my granny too. It was a week of letters - a treat in these online days. The post is so much more satisfying than a post, like this one.

One thing Kevin wanted to know was what the kids are wearing here - well maybe not the kids, but you know what I mean. So I've been extra-observant this weekend, and identified the following looks:

*Tan suede slouch boots (obligatory), straight(ened?) bleach blonde hair, nasty tan (the oranger the better), blue eyeshadow, micro mini and anything skimpy on top. This one is sported by 14-17 year old girls who hunt in packs.

Actually, I can't have been very observant at all, as that's all I've come up with so far. The locals are obscured by the tourists a bit. Denim jackets seem to be popular, and white trainers and football shirts too. Have I mentioned tracksuits yet? These are generally sported by young men who are no longer allowed to be called "neds" (but are anyway, as the proposed PC alternatives, like "tracksuit ambassadors", were, frankly, ludicrous). Actually, older men seem to quite like them too. And whenever the sun's even sort of shining at the moment, we are treated to a mass display of pasty white (or sunburnt) beer bellies - the lads love to take their shirts off.

Immediately contradicting the above points, guys tend to be a bit more image-conscious here, so there are more shops for blokes. But more doesn't necessarily mean more variety - just more of the same.

Went to see a band last week, which happened to be 3/4 kiwi (although our connection was the other quarter, Stuart, a mate of Andrew's from work). They're everywhere, I tell you (easily identified by Macpac or Kathmandu backpacks). The band was called Bee Thousand, and was having an off-night (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt). I find it harder and harder to get excited about boys with guitars these days - very few doing anything other than derivative, I think. Cosmic Wheels excepted, of course.

Time for a wee dram I think - we're drinking Highland Park and the moment, all the way from Orkney (and very nice and mellow it is too, just like the sound fx on their website...)

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Hey Nostradamus!

That's the title of Douglas Coupland's new book. I've just been to see him at the Book Fest, in what was perhaps one of the funniest and weirdest and hippest (in a geeky kind of way) shows at the fest. He started by introducing himself as Troy McClure. Looking quite conservative in a pinstripe suit (there was a story behind it, but he ran out of time to tell it - one hour was over way too soon) and narrow old-boys-type tie, he then interviewed himself, based on questions he'd been asked in recent email interviews. Quite a good way to get to the meat (or paint the picture you want to, avoiding questions you don't want to answer) without the distraction of a chair/moderator. He put in a good performance on audience questions too, however - someone asked about the greatest coincidence he'd ever experienced, and his response was both elaborate, bizarre and banal (if you can imagine such a combination). There was also a reading from Hey Nostradamus!, one of the most aesthetically-pleasing novels I've seen in a while - nice heavy paper, tactile embossed cover (hardback), and now the added bonus of being signed by the man himself. I'll report on the story once I've actually read it. It's not in the shops till September. I bought another of his books too, "All Families Are Psychotic" - I liked the title. The other great moment in his talk was a mobile phone symphony - before the show you had to find out your neighbour's cell number, and then he asked everyone to ring the numbers, close their eyes, and listen to the chaos.

It's been a bit of a book fest weekend - last night I took my godmother Helen to see Candace Bushnell (Helen has recently discovered Sex and the City, and loves it). Checking out the audience at this gig was almost as fascinating as Candace herself - plenty of SJP lookalikes (although none quite so gorgeous as the real thing), and probably a few Manolo Blahnik's too. Never in the history of the Edinburgh Festivals has there been such a well-dressed (and certainly well-heeled, literally) audience. Candace of course was looking fab (Carrie's style was originally based on hers), and the audience loved her. I couldn't get excited about her new book, Trading Up - not really my thing - but she did have some memorable things to say (possibly paraphrased slightly, which she hates with a passion, but I didn't have my notepad out!): "anything a woman does is cool" and, when asked about the most and least important qualities in a husband, responded that he had to be nice (a quality she had, interestingly, denounced earlier as a kind of cowardice - maybe it's ok in men but not women?), and that it didn't matter too much about his shoes, because you could change those.

Outside of books and the larger-than-life personalities behind them, the big happening this weekend was getting the scooter. We now have wheels, and have had great fun playing in the traffic (except when Andrew almost took out some pedestrians, but he promises never to do that again!). We haven't got a name for the scooter yet. When I said maybe it should be something Scottish, A's immediate response was "kilt". This doesn't have the best connotations (reminding us of those poor pedestrians again). Maybe one of you has a brilliant idea for a name that will suit the wee Peugeot Vivacity...if so, get in touch, and I'll publish the best suggestions right here. Here's a wee reminder of what she looks like (and what A looks like too, with his racy helmet!).

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Wheely good fun

Golly! It's been a week!

I didn't bother with my Ewan-stalking plan (see post on 7th August) because I would have had to travel a bit further than the UGC down the road. All the way to Australia, in fact, because he's busy with Star Wars. George Lucas has a lot to answer for.

Instead, A & I saw what would have to be my Fringe highlight so far - Demetri Martin's show, If I. You got a good sense of what the show was going to be like from the programme handed out beforehand. It comprised 2 poems, one composed from the words on a bottle of Rolling Rock beer, and the other, a 225 word palindrome. He's obsessed with palindromes, and puzzles, and in finding mathematical solutions to things that are not remotely mathematical. It was clever (which meant, sadly, that not all of the audience seemed to get his jokes, if you could call them jokes) and witty and philosophical all at the same time. The Scotsman had a good review. Incidentally, I think the bike he is photographed with in this pic is one that I wanted to buy...

A couple of weeks ago, when seeing Nick & Ingrid off at Waverley Station, we discovered a great way to find a cheap secondhand bike. There was a big queue outside what looked like a door to nowhere (solid steel, flaky paintwork, no signage, in the middle of the station). People also seemed to be holding tickets. I thought maybe this was some kind of weird Fringe show that I hadn't heard of yet. I don't like to be out of the loop, so I asked the chap who let everyone in on the dot of one what this was all about. It turns out that down there in the bowels of Waverley is a bike workshop that reconditions donated or salvaged bicycles. That explains the chap in the queue with the bike with buckled wheels. Every second Saturday at one, the public can descend into the cave and possibly nab a bargain (on a strictly first come first served basis - explaining the queue, and the tickets - you get 15 mins to look at the bikes first, and then they start calling out your number and you can choose the bike for you). As I hadn't queued, there was no chance of me being able to buy anything, but there was this great bike like the one in the pic, very Anne Frank, black, curved handlebars, chainguard and mudguards (very skirt-cycling-friendly), and even three gears and a Dynamo light. Remember them? I fell in love, but the object of my desires was snapped up by a cool (in a nerdy kind of way) guy that in hindsight looked rather a lot like Demetri Martin. Maybe he's going to take it back to NY with him. I've been biking to work, but find the mountainbike we are borrowing from my uncle a bit impractical and uncomfortable (saddle feels like a plank). And I have a thing for retro bikes at the moment - I'll keep looking.

Speaking of transport of the two-wheeled variety, we bought a scooter today. I can't believe I got this far before I mentioned it! It's a Peugeot Vivacity, silver and quite spunky. Only 50cc, which means that we don't need any special licence to drive it, but fits the two of us no prob. It's mainly for A to commute to work (rather than 2 buses twice a day), but will also be handy for scooting around town whenever we feel like it (rather than being wedded to bus timetables - which are mainly a fiction anyway, some kind of joke Lothian Buses play on hapless travellers). We pick it up next Saturday, and then we'll be freeeeeeeee!

The bus service is quite good in theory. From here, you can bus to pretty much any corner of the city, quite often without having to change. There are about 5 routes that chug along Morningside Road. Which should mean that you never (or hardly ever) have to wait for long. The reality is somewhat different. Buses travel in packs - 3 or 4 together, then none for 20 mins. And bus drivers never let you on if you are running for the bus and they are about to leave the stop. It's not in their disposition to be so kind. This is probably also why they all have a preference for sudden braking, jerky steering, and other driving methods guaranteed to make the old lady in the aisle fall over. The other annoying thing about buses here is that you have to be ready to alight as soon as the bus stops or you'll miss your stop - which can be hazardous given the driving techniques outlined above, and the fact that most buses are double deckers. You also have to have exact change, which for a ride pretty much anywhere is 80p. I am constantly emptying A's pockets and looking down the sides of the sofa to make up my 80p. Having said that, today I rode seven buses (scooter shopping, rugby watching, all over town) for the princely sum of 1.80 - yay Daysaver tickets!

More kids online - welcome to blogdom, Berin and Nic. I look forward to reading about your existential adventures in Godo.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Outwith the box

Do you know the word "outwith"? Chances are you probably don't, unless you've lived in Scotland or are a keen linguist. I don't recall ever hearing it before I came here (although I'm sure I must have, first time around). Having recently noticed people saying this strange (and I thought, made-up) word quite a lot, I looked it up in the dictionary. It's not even in every dictionary, but the Oxford has it, as a Scottish preposition. It means "outside", and now that I'm tuned in to it, I hear people using it all the time.

There really is a distinct language here (although Glasgow is a more fertile hunting ground for linguistic delights - but there is a bit of Glaswegian spoken here too). People describe things at exhibitions as "pure gallus", on the way home after a few bevvies they're steamin and probably stoap at the chippie. I love it.

It's early Sunday morning, too hot to sleep. Why is it that, when it's hot like this, you have nae bother sleeping during the day, but come nightfall (when it must be at least a few degrees cooler) you just toss and turn and get entangled in your sheets. Yes, the heatwave is still going strong. Last night we were at an outdoor concert (always a risky proposition, I would think, in Edinburgh) in Princes Street Gardens. The setting was magical - a hot, clear night, the castle rising up in the background, lit up and encircled in flaming torches, and the rest of the Old Town skyline looking equally impressive. The day before we had been in the gardens and a haar came in at about 6 (it had been gloriously hot and sunny up till that point). Within 5 minutes, the Castle (literally only a few hundred metres away) disappeared before our eyes, and the temperature dropped what felt like 10 degrees. It was quite a magical thing.

The concert was a charity gig, in aid of a Landmine Free World, and comprised an impressive line-up (especially if you like things a little bit folk, a little bit country!). Emmylou Harris was the leader of the band, more than ably accompanied by Steve Earle, Joan Baez (St Joan to many singer-songwriters), Billy Bragg and Chrissie Hynde. It was an acoustic gig, where they all sat on the stage together, playing a mix of solos, duets, all-together pieces, oldies and just-made-up stuff. One of the highlights was a song Billy Bragg had just made up that afternoon, called "the Bush War Blues" (to the tune of Leadbelly's "Bourgeois Blues") - with lines like "better watch out what you say/ else you might end up in Guantanamo Bay". The last verse, describing Tony Blair as Bush's poodle, brought the house down. Steve Earle's Jerusalem was a gorgeous end to the evening.

As I said when setting the scene, the Castle formed the backdrop to this concert. And as you might know, at this time of year, the Castle is home to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo - a spectacle of military bluster, pomp and ceremony, and quite a bizarre contrast to the peace-loving songs of revolution being played down in the Gardens. It does have great fireworks though!

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Yep, from "sunny Monday" to a full-blown heatwave in just 4 days. The UK hasn't seen a summer like this in a while, and the media are finding every possible angle on the story. Bookies have been panicking because of the rush on bets that temperatures will reach 100F. Ice cream sales have rocketed. And Tescos report that "people are going mad for disposable barbecues". Crazy!

It really is hot, I wish I was at the beach. One positive spin-off from the heatwave is that I get to go home from work early. To quote my boss, "we don't get weather like this very often, so we might as well make the most of it." A good philosophy. She went on to remind me of the number of days in winter when I won't actually see the sun. Best not to think about that just now. Judging by the hoardes on the streets, it seems like we're not the only workplace to make the most of a sunny day (and quite a few people don't even make it to work in the first place when the weather's like this).

I also discovered today that we finish work at 4pm on Fridays. Every week of the year (apart from the 6 weeks of holidays of course). Things are looking better and better.

I spent my bonus afternoon time today outside (of course, making the most of the sunshine), in Princes St Gardens until I got bored of the hoardes and then in the peaceful oasis of our back green, poring over festival programmes. I think that a great part of the pleasure of festival time is the anticipation when the brochures come out, and the delight of reading and re-reading and choosing things to see. Making lists. Choosing is also the most agonising part, though - especially when you're still waiting for that first paycheck. There's always going to be a split between what you want to see and what you can afford to see. And, if you have a job, there's never enough time to see all that you would like to. I also discovered yesterday, if you linger too long on the tagging and highlighting phase, you sometimes miss out on the real action.

I must have read the film festival programme about six times, each time finding something new that I kinda wanted to see. But was never quite compelled enough to actually book tickets. I blame the programme. The NZ International Film Festival programme was thick and glossy and fitted in your handbag and had a picture and lots of info about every film (but what's the story with the orange and pink website this year???????). It got me excited about the films. The Edinburgh programme, in contrast, is tabloid size, printed on newsprint, and has not nearly enough pictures (only one for every 3 or so films) or info (although their website is quite nice). Summer also seems like the wrong time of year for a film festival and for spending a lot of time in darkened theatres. So, what all this design analysis is leading up to, is the fact that I didn't get tickets to the two films I was most keen to see - NZ feature Christmas (because it's the only NZ offering this year, looks kinda interesting, and is probably less likely to screen again any time soon) and the festival opener, Young Adam - a Scottish film, and Ewan McGregor's latest. I'll just have to enjoy the sunshine instead (and maybe hang out at the theatre where Young Adam is screening, to try and catch a glimpse of Ewan!)

Monday, August 04, 2003

Sunny Monday
Yes, after weeks of feeling that winter was definitely on its way, and now that all our visitors have gone home, the sun has come out to play again. Yay!

This all adds to the festive atmosphere, and makes things like free live music in the park very attractive lunchtime distractions. It also makes it hard to go back to my office in the attic in the afternoon.

Last night we saw Daniel Kitson's show, a made up story. I thought it was going to be stand-up, but it wasn't (guess I didn't read my programme in enough detail). It was funny though. Not hilarious, but funny, and quite clever. And an amazing feat to perform - an elaborate tale of interconnected lives, precisely timed with a filmed backdrop, and with some quite complex linguistic moments that any lesser mortal would have surely tripped over. And the venue is circular ( a bit like a big top) so he was constantly whirling around, but managed not to fall over or tie a knot in his microphone cord. I was quite impressed.

And now something I'm less impressed with. When you pay for things by SWITCH (what is commonly known as EFTPOS in more advanced civilisations), you don't enter a pin number. No siree. You just sign the till receipt and walk away with the goodies. This system seems way too easy to defraud - steal someone's wallet and you can really go shopping! The banks have seemingly just cottoned on to this, and there are rumours of PINs being introduced this year. What??? No!!! That's a crazy idea! In an effort to win the public round (they really don't want to change), there have been lots of articles in the press about how PINs are actually a good thing, and with a wee bit of effort you might just be able to remember the number. Mind you, Ingrid and Nick weren't even issued PIN numbers on their SWITCH cards (I'm not going to get into the inefficiency of banks here, it's too long a story), so they would have been a bit stuck.

Speaking of inefficiencies, gotta go do some (laborious, painful) internet banking. See ya!

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Festival madness

This city is manic at the moment! The population has probably doubled or trebled since last week, the Royal Mile is crammed with jugglers, pamphleteers, performers of every shape, size and description, and of course tourists. Pianos on street corners, a man who looks half-Mexican, in a kilt, with the skinniest legs I've ever seen, on top of a police box. It is, of course, festival time.

Things started officially today, although there have been previews the last couple of days. Tickets are cheap just now, before anyone has figured out how to tell the brilliant from the crap amongst the 1500+ shows you could go and see, so we decided to check a few out. Hanging out at the Pleasance, we scored free tickets to two shows. The first was in the Fringe's smallest venue, the Lift (a real lift, parked on the lawn in the Pleasance courtyard). Audience and actor crammed into the lift, which got hotter and stuffier as the actor told her story - a NYC firefighter on the way to see her lawyer in Tower One when the plane struck on Sept 11. Very intimate, intense stuff - but not at all trite or sentimental (as anything dealing with this kind of subject could potentially be).

The second freebie was Gavin & Gavin - two sisters (you can tell from the pic) playing a bunch of different characters on a positive thinking course. Very funny stuff!

We forked out to see a couple of other shows this weekend - both from home. Flight of the Conchords, NZ's "bad boys of folk", were droll, deadpan and folking good fun. They played in an ancient underground dungeon/cave, complete with authentic mouldy smell and dripping roof. Another show from Wellington this morning - Pickle (known in NZ as The Pickle King I think). It played in quite a big venue to a reasonable-sized audience, and received a delighted response. Nice combination of comedy, slapstick, philosophy, music and masks.

Perhaps more amazing than any of the shows we have seen, however, are the outfits sported by Edinburgh girls for a night on the town. It's been wet and chilly this weekend, but it doesn't dampen the spirits or lengthen the hemlines of these hardy lassies. Negotiating ancient, well-worn cobbled streets in 3-inch stilettos, with bare arms, legs, chests, backs, they turn going out into a high-performance (or should that be endurance) sport. In my coat and sneakers, I'm quite obviously not a local (and certainly not yet acclimatised to "summer"). The weather forecasters promise two weeks of sunshine are imminent, though, so it might not be all over yet....

Thursday, July 31, 2003


ah yes. Until quite recently, a distant memory. Now a daily reality for both of us. For those who have been asking, here's what we do (sort of, anyway):

Andrew is a senior analyst/programmer (still figuring out what that means) for Intelligent Finance. He works in an open plan office the size of a football field or two, and has daily Dilbert moments - lots of office politics and territorialism. There are two other kiwis on the football field - one of whom was a year above me at EGGS. Small world.

I am the campaign & events co-ordinator for the Scottish Adult Learning Partnership (yes, I work for another acronym - SALP), a voluntary org that does a bunch of stuff to get people who wouldn't normally be interested or able, into learning. I work in an attic, but reception, the photocopier and other useful things are at the bottom of the building. I spend a lot of time going up and down stairs, trying to cajole the receptionist into ordering me stationery (just asking nicely doesn't seem to work, for some reason).

All those stairs have worn me out today - I think it's time for bed.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Victory is sweet

Inevitably, after signing off my last post like that (see Friday July 25 below), I did end up watching the rugby - A. got us up bright and early on Saturday morning, and we headed to the only pub we were sure would be open and screening the rugby at 10am. Unfortunately, it was Bar Oz. But fortunately there were more than a few kiwis there. And even more fortunately, as you will all know by now, the game was a cracker. By the end of the match, you wouldn't know that there were any Australians in the place at all, they were that quiet. Which is indeed an unusual phenomenon.

In good cheer (because of the result, not the Lion Red available at Bar Oz - at 10am, Irn Bru was a much better option), and glorious Edinburgh sunshine, we made our way through the cobbled streets of the Old Town, passed by a Mardi Gras parade of New Orlean's-style jazz bands - it's Festival time in Edinburgh and the Jazz & Blues Festival kicks off the fun. Coming up we also have the Fringe, Film Fest, the Festival proper, the Tattoo and the Book fest. Phew! There's always something to do in this town. We were on our way to see an exhibition of rare Marilyn Monroe pics, which was only in town for three days. A spot of shopping (it's sale season) and a wee jaunt to Bellshill rounded off Saturday.

Today, more jazz. Jazz on a Summer's Day in Princes St Gardens. Inevitably, it rained (I've learned never to go anywhere in Edinburgh without a brolly), but it was hot and sunny in between, and the music was good. On the way home, A. had the chance to indulge in some nostalgic tastes at Ndebele, an African cafe here in Edinburgh. The coffee was strong and the melktart, lekker.

Tomorrow we're looking forward to the arrival of the round-the-world doctors, Ingrid & Nick.

Friday, July 25, 2003

My first weekend in a while...

First real weekend that is, after a week of work (actually, week is a bit of an exaggeration, since I only started on Weds). So far, so good - I'm not feeling too daunted by my 35 hr weeks and 6 weeks of holiday per year. Ooh yeah. I'm getting a little closer to figuring out what I'm going to be doing too - it seems that I get to decide rather than be told, which is kinda nice, but leaves me a wee bit lost right now. Achievement of the day: successfully transferring a telephone call (especially since my colleague advised me not to touch the phones if I can help it - he never does!). Said colleague has slightly amusing character trait of using the word bog where others might use something a bit less, well, celtic.

Having a look at Mike's site just now, I alerted A to the fact that there might be rugby on this weekend. Indeed there is, 10am tomorrow morning, ABs vs Wallabies, we don't have a TV, and now he's champing at the bit to get online and find somewhere that's screening the game. Even if we did have a TV, we probably wouldn't have Sky Sport (25 pounds minimum per month, still can't figure out how to make a pound sign).

Back to Bellshill tomorrow (it's been a month!) to pick up a bike and drop off a bag, before my uncles go off to Ibiza for their annual fortnight's holiday. Actually, holidays are like that here - anyone and everyone heads to the continent - Malaga, Magalouf, Majorca, Cyprus - for their two weeks of sun, preceded of course by intensive tan-time in the local salon. Glasgow has more of these per head than any other city in the UK, and little old Bellshill has at least 7. Consequently, large chunks of the population in the west of Scotland walk around emanating a vaguely nuclear orange glow.

Speaking of nuclear, had a bit of a deep fried Mars Bar last week (although not of my own volition, I hasten to add). KT and her flatmate were convinced that this was the quintessential Scottish cuisine experience, despite my protestations (I never had one when I was young, nor had I even heard of them). At Stefano's, our local chippie, when they ordered said delicacy, they were quizzed as to their nationality. When KT replied that she was from NZ, Stefano said (in a Greek or maybe Italian accent, he has both flags in the shop) "Always New Zealanders ask for deep fried mars bars. Nobody else. Only New Zealanders." What's with that? If anyone can shed some light on this one, let me know.

Go the All Blacks! (Funny how I'm only interested in rugby when there's little possibility that I'll actually have to watch it).

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Tourist trappings

The airbed has been christened (and by all accounts makes for a good night's sleep) - we have just said goodbye to our first houseguests, A's sis and her man. Having visitors proved a good excuse to do some seriously touristy things, like visit Edinburgh Castle. We arrived just in time to get a big fright from the one o'clock gun, and a super-enthusiastic tour from one of the smiliest guides in town. We also got to see Mons Meg, a really big gun (I know some readers will be interested in this!), the Scottish Crown Jewels and Stone of Destiny (what a cool name!), and the most amazing war memorial I've ever seen - a whole building, inside which is a steel casket atop a marble plinth on top of the highest point of the volcanic rock on which Edinburgh Castle was built. Sealed inside the casket are the names of those who fought & died in WWI.

We also visited a pub on the Grassmarket (where people used to get hanged but now a favourite haunt of hen-night hoardes in matching t-shirts, and of course the ubiquitous tourists), the White Hart Inn. It's one of Edinburgh's oldest pubs, so not without its charms. Robbie Burns stayed here back in 1791 and composed Ae Fond Kiss to his lover Clarinda during his stay. We were greatly entertained at the White Hart by Graeme E Pearson, clad in tartan troosers and tam o'shanter, with a great repertoir of crowd-pleasing celtic classics and banter. Much clapping and whooping and singing along. Cheesy, definitely, but fun nonetheless.

I'm starting to sound Scottish. A bloke from Christchurch we met, while I was sporting my "kia kaha, nga titties o te whenua" T-shirt (thanks mum!), asked how long I'd been in NZ for. He was gobsmacked when I said 16 yrs, was probably expecting me to say 2 weeks or a month.

The holiday is officially over - tomorrow I start work, although since I just have to show up at "around lunchtime" it might not be too much of a shock to the system just yet!

Sunday, July 20, 2003

A trip down memory lane...

Two posts in one day! Could it be that A's not here and Kate has some uninterrupted computer time?

Last Sunday we took a trip to Renfrew, the town where I was born and spent my first 5 years. It's a place with a lot of history (besides the personal) - one of Scotland's oldest burghs and it is known as the "Cradle of The Royal Stewarts". We took some pictures of the places I used to live (4 in 5 yrs), and visited familar old haunts like the swimming baths, swing park and my first school. It's funny how places like that are so much more memorable than shops and other parts of the town (I guess because they are the centre of a child's universe). And none of it had really changed.

Thanks to Aunt Bel & Uncle Jim for the guided tour and barbecue to follow!
Stair life

One remarkable thing about our new place is the cleanliness of the stair (I'm not sure why, but the communal space in these tenement buildings, including the stairs, is always referred to in the singular). It was one of the deciding factors when choosing this place - so many other places we had seen had grotty, litter-strewn stairs (with flats that were sometimes little better). Yesterday, we were let into the secret of the clean stair...

There's a wee card that hangs on the doorknob of one of the flats on our floor each week. It reads: "Notice to Tenant. It is YOUR turn to SWEEP and WASH the common Tuesday this week. Note - Please hand this card to the householder next in rotation after having completed your turn. Environmental Health Department." (the scary caps. are like that on the sign). On the back are the quite detailed "Bye-laws for the Cleansing of Common Property". A & I were not looking forward to OUR turn - being a bit unsure of what constituted "the common" and hoping like hell that it wasn't all 4 floors of the building.

This week it is our turn, but fortunately our neighbour Margaret explained all as she handed over the card. We just have to put a bucket of water with 1 pound 50 under it on our doorstep on Tuesday morning, and someone comes and cleans it for us. Phew!

All this communal living and the rules and etiquette that go with it are new to me. We also have a communal back green where we can hang out our washing, but I'm not sure whether we're only supposed to use certain lines, or certain days. Mum says you used to be allocated a day of the week when the back green was yours. So far I've been quite random about it, and haven't been told off yet.

Apart from being fascinated by this domestic minutiae, I also learned a bit more about Ultimate this weekend (although I still keep calling it frisbee - I suspect this is a terrible faux pas). The frisbee is actually a "disc", there are no referees (it's all amiable good fun really, right down to the inter-team bonding rites (don't ask!) at the end of each game), and, for those interested in such stats, approx 7:3 male:female ratio. I guess these details are important in such a devoutly "social" sport!

Friday, July 18, 2003

London invasion

Our first visitors arrive today (technically tomorrow, actually, since it will be some time after midnight) - A's sister (another Kate), plus three other international frisbee folk. Yes, frisbee, or more accurately, Ultimate. Apparently it's an "elegantly simple yet fascinating and demanding game". Tomorrow I shall see for myself - they're here for a tourney or some such. Watch this space for my findings.

If you would like to visualise where the kids will be staying, we've put together something that will help you out - some pics of our little corner of EH10. I should point out that the slightly befuddling text on this site is all Andrew's work - I make no claims to even understand it. He calls it bĂȘtise - French for nonsense.

That's all for now - off to see some docos at Cabaret Voltaire.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Rude awakenings

One nice thing about living in Scotland is having the post delivered to your door every morning. Somehow being there when the mail arrives is more exciting, hearing it fall on the floor inside the front door and gauging by the sound what delights have been delivered. But in order for this to happen, someone has to let the postie into the building. We seem to have been woken from our peaceful unemployed slumber more than our fair share of times by the drone of the buzzer (16 flats in the building, we've been here 19 days so far - of which only 16 were mail delivery days - and yet we've had 5 wake-up calls).

But sometimes nice things are a result - it's not all incomprehensible letters from the Dept for Work & Pensions telling me that because I had not "signed on" for the jobseekers allowance they had already advised me I wasn't eligible for, I would not be getting any more of the jobseekers allowance that I had never received anyway. Huh?

Yesterday I got to unwrap (and unwrap, and unwrap, for it was a many-layered thing) a birthday parcel brimming with goodies from home - including The Listener and other mags, chocolates from Mangawhai, socks with toes to wear with my jandals (a word of advice, don't ever type "socks with toes" into Google), kiwi and sheep fridge magnets, a kete (woven flax bag) adorned with paua, a merino top in baby blue and a corrugated iron pukeko. It was enough to make a girl teary and homesick (in a nice kind of way). Actually, this parcel had arrived days in advance, because, inexplicably, it takes less time to send a parcel or letter from Auckland to Edinburgh (3 days) than from Auckland to Wellington.

It was sort of strange to be having a birthday all the way over here, far from many friends and whanau. But it did feel quite good to reflect on the action-packed year (got married, left job, left Wellington, left NZ, travelled through Africa, landed here, found new place to live, found new job...). It's also with anticipation that I look forward to plenty more new experiences and surprises.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Hot in the city

Who would have thought it? 24 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, 2 days in a row. We are still in Edinburgh, and it's a much better summer than I thought it would be. Might need to get some jandals after all.

In honour of the sunshine and the date (14th July, Bastille Day - any excuse really!) we picnicked on brie and baguette in the Royal Botanic Gardens (one of only two in the UK that are "Royal", not sure why). Then an offer of an afternoon in the sun at Oloroso was too good to pass up - 4 floors up on George St, with an expansive rooftop terrace (that's likely seldom used, but was positively buzzing today) and spectacular views in every direction. Oloroso is also famous here for refusing to serve John Byrne, Scots artist and playwright and MBE, because he was too scruffy. Seems to be a recurring theme with Edinburgh bars.

All this sun means the aroma of barbecues and sunscreen fills the air. Shut your eyes and you could be in NZ.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

The price of a pint in Morningside

I have that typical person-in-a-new-place fascination with how much things cost. As I type that, I suddenly wonder whether it IS typical, or whether it's just me. But then I remember that Mike has reported the price of a BMX and jandals in Tokyo, and don't feel so bad. I've no idea how much a BMX costs here (although I do want to get a bike), and it has been barely warm enough to develop an interest in "flip-flops" (as they're called here).

All nested-out after the Ikea experience, we have made a concerted effort this weekend to explore the neighbourhood pubs (there are at least 5 within 5 mins of our flat). We had heard mixed things about The Canny Man's - TimeOut says "This Morningside establishment has a reputation for rather unpredictable service - encouraging regulars-only at certain times and refusing some drinkers altogether." I think this stems from a time when someone with a disability was refused service - never a good PR move. It was a bit posh for a pub - bar staff in shirts, ties and long aprons a la Logan Brown (and like Logan Brown you get snacks with your drinks, nice touch), but friendly nonetheless. And it was well worth a visit for the decor - manuscripts as wallpaper, a whisky gantry sporting hundreds of bottles, taxidermy, and plenty of other treasures to keep the eyes busy for hours. Price of a pint: 2.80, you pay for the ties and snacks.

Bennets around the corner is an altogether more down-to-earth experience - picnic tables on the pavement to make the most of the afternoon sun (which we've seen lots of!), small boy with translucent legs (guess he hadn't seen so much of the sun) waging war on all of the punters with his new gun, ageing chain-smoking hippies, office workers on the way home, a mixed bag. Price of a pint: a steal at 1.80 for Belhaven 80/-.

Third on the list was The Waiting Room - in what used to be the Morningside (train) station before the trains stopped stopping there. It had been recommended to us by one of A's recruitment agents. Enormous place, offering pitchers of cocktails at bargain-basement prices, I can imagine Friday night... Late afternoon, familes, people reading the papers, terrible music, but again tables in the sun where the music's less in earshot. Price of a pint: middle-of-the-road at 2.40 for a Deuchars IPA.

Plenty more ales and pubs to be sampled, and that's just in EH10. There's a whole city out there (with apparently more pubs per capita than anywhere else in Europe).