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....