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).

Friday, July 11, 2003

Swedish Disneyland

Today we decided to visit that temple of consumerism and Scandanavian design, (or, as Shara calls it, the Swedish themepark), Ikea. The list of things our "fully furnished" flat was missing was getting quite long, and by all accounts, Ikea is the very place to remedy such a situation. Plus they have the irresistable lure (for a pathological bargain-hunter) of a sale.

Being carless, two bus-rides were involved, and by the time we got there, we were hungry. Luckily, Ikea have thought of this, and there is a cafeteria onsite, serving swedish meatballs and lingonberry juice to add another dimension to the Scandanavian experience. It's school holidays right now so lots of meatballs on the floor and a fair amount of screaming.

We have been once before so were wise to their floorplan - you don't actually have to follow the arrows around the shop (doing so can take hours), and you can definitely cut the showroom experience. Even so, there's a fair bit of ground to cover. You'll be pleased to know that as a result of our themepark experience, we now have a whiteboard (so Andrew's ideas have somewhere to go), coffee mugs, a pink duvet cover (shown here in blue) and bedside lamp (not sure how they made it past A - the meatball effect perhaps?) and more towels. An airbed and pillows picked up on the way home made us somewhat hazardous to other bus passengers, but we are now geared up for visitors :-)

A cup of Swedish coffee (you can buy that there too) out of new mug completes the themepark day, but a slice of banana cake is a more kiwi accompaniment. It would be great if someone put the Edmonds cookbook online, for those craving tastes of home.

I'm listening to Ang Lee talk about his latest film, Hulk, and am reminded of childhood Hallowe'en parties. One year my brother Neil went as the Incredible Hulk - he was painted green from head to toe. Neil and I had a reputation for creative and quite extreme constumes, and I wonder who had more fun - us wearing them or mum and dad creating them.

Off to the pub...happy weekends all round...

Thursday, July 10, 2003

To travel or not to travel?

New job day one looms ever closer - less that two weeks till I stop bumming around and start earning money. I wanted to put the pound sign in there but this keyboard only has $s.

These being the last few days of freedom, thought I might explore the oft-feted online travel marketplace to see if I could snap me up a deal. I was pretty flexible about where and when to travel, just keen for a cheap and cheerful flight to somewhere new. But it was not to be. What I discovered is that you can waste hours (days, if you have the patience) looking for this holy grail, and still be no closer to a wee holiday. Despite that panopoly of sites offering travel services, few are comprehensive, and you end up having to trawl through budget airlines as well. The most useful site I found was the Scottish Flight Guide, which at least tells you who flies from where to where.

Then I thought I might take a trip to Stornoway, but to fly or take a car on the ferry is more expensive than travelling to Europe, and any other way takes a whole day, involving at least 3 modes of transport. It all seems a bit complicated. And inertia-inducing.

So looks like I'll be staying home, discovering Auld Reekie and her environs instead. It's not a bad prospect, actually (if you manage to avoid the hoardes of tourists). I'll let you know what I discover...

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

EH10 - my corner of the world for now

Everything can be pinpointed by two numbers and four letters. Everything has a fixed and mappable location. People look at you funny when you fill in your previous (NZ) address and leave the postcode field blank and then tell them that postcodes aren't really used in NZ. Things are more formal here.

Scotland is very regional, Edinburgh very local. Suburbs have a distinct identity. Like Morningside, where I live now. It's a village in the city (in fact, it really was a village once). It has a reputation for being quite posh, but the reality is somewhat more eclectic. We do live next door to a retired army colonel (who runs the neighbourhood watch scheme with military precision), and I've spotted a few "ladies who lunch" but there are plenty of students and families about too.

There are also a lot of antipodeans. So said the cable guy who installed our telephone. I've noticed it too - definite Aussie drawls in the aisles of Safeway, Kathmandu jackets are sighted daily, and if someone asks you to complete a survey, they usually start with "g'day". I have heard (from a very reliable source) that the upside of this antipodean influx is a definite improvement in service around town. It's definitely better than London (but that wouldn't be hard).

There is no name for people from Edinburgh. Glasgow has Glaswegians, Liverpool Liverpudlians, Orkney Orcadians, but nothing for the people from this city. They remain nameless. I don't know why "Edinburgers" hasn't caught on...