Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Things that have made me smile today

  • A red-headed, knee-socks and T-bars girl (7?) dancing away with her reflection in the bank window, whileher mum used the ATM. She even did the chicken dance.
  • The sunshine, making the North-East coast sparkle on my trip to/from Aberdeen.
  • Being able to run a wee bit further than last time (which was over a week ago - I'm very intermittent!)

Monday, August 30, 2004

edge of the earth part 2

So, Baile Na Cille. A rambling sort of place, with big comfy beds, Harris tweed curtains, a dog (deaf Lord Bertie), a cat, thousands of books, bar billiards, a tennis court, and a certain shabby chic. The Blairs have stayed there - subtly referenced on the Baile Na Cille website - "Escape world tension, politics, work, the kids, royalty, reality." Why not just say "better than Balmoral"? While we were there, we enjoyed the company of Clive Anderson and his family - complete with big black (Newfoundland) and small white dogs. They were good at Balderdash (the family, not the dogs), but not as good as another guest, who cheerfully admitted that this was her 18th visit to BNC - twice a year for 9 years!

The food was good - Stornoway black pudding (and eggs, bacon, sausages, fried bread, tomatoes, toast, fruit, cereal and coffee) and creamy porridge for breakfast. No need for lunch. Dinner at 7. You are told where to sit (around two big tables, for good craic), and the food keeps coming. We thought our fellow guests were joking when they told us after our main course that there were three more to come!

Luckily we managed to fit in some walking around all that digestion and some pretty dramatic weather - rain in the night like machine gun fire, gale force winds, sunshine, rainbows, everything except snow. Our photos might give a flavour. From BNC you could walk along the Uig Sands for at least an hour before turning around - as long as the tide was low enough and you crossed the burn at the bridge. Plenty of good walking elsewhere too - the Castle Grounds for a tree fix (Lewis is notoriously tree-less...the father of one of our fellow-guests was from around Uig, and was 12 before he saw his first tree!), endless sparkling beaches, peaty moors and even some mountains in Harris if you're that way inclined (I'm not).

Lewis is also home to some pretty amazing sights. Top of the list would have to be the Callanish Stones, an impressive 5,000 year-old (or thereabouts) stone circle / avenue /radial arms combination that makes a slightly skew celtic cross. Our photos don't do them justice, but part of the magic of the site is that it is impossible to capture / fix - with your eye or with a camera. There's a mystery and majesty about the place (how did they get there? why? whom?), augmented by the isolation. Despite being Lewis' top tourist attraction (I guess), when we visited there was no-one else there. Complete isolation allows you to contemplate the bigness of it all. Better still, it's free to visit, no tacky tourist trappings, dramatically situated and exposed to the elements.

The Broch at Carloway is also impressive. They were quite good at arranging stones back in times BC. And imagine living there!

You stumble upon archaeological treasures all over the place in Lewis. Even cows make archaeological discoveries (or owners of cows, depending on which story you believe). The enthusiast at the Uig community museum up the road (well worth a poke around) told us that the site where the chess pieces were found has not even been properly excavated/investigated. An opportunity for any archaeological enthusiasts out there.

The black house village at Gearannan was cool too. You can even rent out some of the houses as self-catering accom, although I'm not sure I'd fancy having tourists wandering around all day. And the Iron Age "jelly baby" house, Norse Mill, galleries, potteries...so much to see, and we didn't even make it to Harris (although I did pick up some Harris Tweed in pretty colours straight from the mill, at (hopefully) bargain prices).

Have I sold you yet? If you get a chance, in this lifetime, go to the edge of the earth.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The edge of the earth

Just spent a relaxing three days on the Isle of Lewis - my home from 1981-1987. It was my first visit since leaving all those years ago, and I was particularly interested to find out how the memories would hold up, how much had changed.

We flew up there and hired a car (about the same price as taking a car on the ferry, and much quicker). Lochs Motors proved to be a relaxed outfit - no insurance excess, extra drivers at no extra charge, and to drop off the car at the airport on Sunday, we just had to leave the keys under the sun visor (and the car unlocked). Almost like being in a different, more honest, decade.

Our first stop was to Aird, Point, where I lived and went to school all those years ago. On the drive out to Aird, I was pleasantly surprised to recognise houses and remember who lived where. My school seemed smaller and grimmer than I remember, and I later heard from my neighbour that it is due to close soon. The distance between home and school also seemed to be shorter than I remembered...funny how memories of size and distance are invariably inaccurate. We parked up outside my old house (more or less as I remembered it) and visited my next-door neighbour and former Brown Owl (I was a Brownie, once) for lunch. The Atkins diet has even reached Aird (and has in Betty one of its staunchest supporters!), but fortunately she had some bread in the freezer for visitors! All in all a surreal meal experience.

Next stop was Stornoway...I was on a shopping mission, only to be cruelly thwarted by Stornoway Communion (the shops were mostly shut). This is a place where, more than anywhere else in the world, religion (in the form of strict Free Presbyterianism) rules. The sabbath is strictly observed, in some households to the extent that meals are not even cooked on Sundays. No-one was allowed to come out and play on a Sunday, riding your bike was frowned upon, and as a child it was definitely the most boring day of the week.

Some things have changed. You can now fly on a Sunday, buy petrol, and a Sunday newspaper. But at our guesthouse, no cooked breakfast today as there were no workers, and guests were asked to make their own beds if staying on!

While in Stornoway, we checked out the Great Book of Gaelic exhibition at An Lanntair - a touring exhibition that brings together the work of calligraphers, poets and artists from Scotland & Ireland, and that will ultimately be bound in book form. Apart from that, and discovering free parking (nice) and closed shops, the squally rain made more of a look-round an unpleasant prospect. Instead, we hit the road, headed for Uig and our lodging for the next three nights, Baile-Na-Cille.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Enough is enough?

What's happening in NZ these days? What's with all this enough is enough Destiny Church stuff? Quite disturbing, from what I have read (although being so far away and out of the loop, NZ-wise, it probably snuck up on me more than it would have at home). I like Tom Scott's cartoon take on things.

Even though we are permanently connected, always on, NZ news is quite often old news by the time I catch up with it. I'm obviously not a dedicated-enough Herald/Stuff et al reader...in fact the only NZ news site I manage to regularly keep up with is Public Address (although that might not be such a bad thing...). Even with email, it's hard to remain connected to people when your telephoning window is only a couple of hours a week if you work and have some sort of social life (and the person on the other end does too). I was chatting to Fern about this a few weeks ago, and agreed that it's the time difference, more than anything else, that makes NZ so far away.

Too far away to import bread from, too. I'm still on my Edinburgh Vogel's quest. They just don't do good bread here. Mellis' at the end of the road does quite a nice 5-grain at £1.69 a loaf which seems a bit steep (plus they're not open before work and the bread is stale by day 2). Marks & Spencer do a good Irish bread, but it's not very handy either. I hear you can get Vogel's at Sainsbury's in London, so if you're heading this way from there, pop a loaf in your bag for me :-)... (that's me drooling!)...

Monday, August 23, 2004

why I'll never be an olympian

It's not that I lack the requisite strength, endurance, speed, and talent to be a great Olympian (although certainly, these are all factors standing in my way). Nope, the main reason I could not be an Olympian is that I'd probably be arrested for punching a commentator not too far into my career. Like maybe the first time they said "that was a poor race. You ran/swam/cycled too fast/slow in the first/last 100/400. The whole country's disappointed," or something of that ilk. The BBC commentators are brutal, especially the trackside athletics lady - so mean, curt, evil headmistress, "could have done better"-ish. I feel sorry for the athletes. Seconds after their Olympic hopes and dreams have been dashed, she makes sure she rubs their noses in it.

Otherwise, I am enjoying the Olympics...all the sports you never get to watch are on primetime TV and sometimes surprisingly fascinating.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Book thing

I went to a book thing last night. There are always book things in Edinburgh, but before I moved here I don't think I've been to a single one. Maybe NZers are not so into book things. And I suppose Edinburgh is currently bidding to be the first World City of Literature.

I realise that my terminology is a bit unspecific - but so are such events. A reading, and author talking about their work, an author signing their work, an author in conversation with someone else about their work, or some combination thereof. So, a book thing. Last night was Louise Welsh talking to Jamie Byng about (amongst other things) her new book, Tambourlaine Must Die, at the Fruitmarket Gallery.

Louise Welsh was quite delightful - short, cute, funky and smart. Her comments and observations were modest and to the point...a definite discipline with language. Her publisher was altogether looser (to match his flowing locks and fidgeting), but still charismatic for it.

I was at this book thing quite randomly. I was reading Tamburlaine Must Die at the time, and got an email at work saying it was on. I was also kind of interested to see the head of Canongate, as I'd recently applied for a job there.

So, I listened to them chat over a bottle of wine, was too shy to ask any questions (as usual...for some reason, despite being quite used to public speaking , I am always afraid my voice will come out like a squeak), and queued up afterwards to get my book signed. I somehow was feeling a bit nervous then too...what will I ask her to inscribe, what will I say? It's quite ridiculous. An unassuming author, who told me she gets so nervous at book signings she sometimes forgets how to spell her own name. A queue of nervous readers. What is it about human interaction with an unknown (and especially a famous unknown) that is so scary? Maybe we're just out of practice.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

more festival stuff

My definite festival highlight so far has been my favourite kiwi parody folk duo, Flight of the Conchords. They were great last year, even though they played to a half-full, half-wit audience (well maybe the last point's a bit harsh, it just went with the other half I guess, and they did seem to struggle to get the show), in a leaky, smelly venue. They went on to get good reviews, sell some more tickets, and get nominated for a Perrier. They have evidently developed a bit of a fan base too - they have a fan-site, a lot of girls in the audience (many of whom had bought their album), and a sold-out opening night at the much more classy Reid Hall.

The show started with a ballad of mistaken identity, with Jemaine playing the guy who doesn't remember meeting the girl (Bret) he has in fact never met (while she thinks they have a child). Hard to convey in prose, great as a musical double-act, funny stuff. Other musical highlights included an instrumental action song with an Egyptian theme, a little bit of ragga, and some tales of seduction (with socks on, on a Wednesday night). There was of course some classic Conchords banter, and a great story about Bret's imaginary children (one named Mildred, to rhyme with children). Throughout it all their timing is classic and their delivery deadpan. Very, very funny.

For some reason Bret reminds me of Paul - the Scotsman reviewer picked up on this vibe too, describing them as looking like "mildly bemused supply teachers".

Last night was more comedy - this time of the less quirky, more mainstream variety, in the form of Danny Bhoy. It was a nice show. A bit slow to start, a bit light on belly laughs, a bit of over-familiar territory, but well-crafted and nicely delivered nonetheless.

Monday, August 09, 2004

It's that time of year again...

It's the silly season in Edinburgh. A taxi driver said to me yesterday that if he could afford to he'd take off to another country for the month of August every year, eschewing increased profits in exchange for escaping the traffic, the gormless tourists, the general hassle of the Festival. And it's only just begun! They do like to whinge, though, the Edinburgh cabbies. And the populus in general - a national (UK wide) pastime.

So what of the Festival so far? It does feel a bit strange, second time around (can't quite believe it's been a year). I've lost a bit of the wide-eyed wonder, but there is always something around the corner to rekindle it. On Saturday night, after watching Macbeth, appropriately enough, it was the haar that did it. The city centre was transformed into an eerie, otherwordly place...the kind of place Burke and Hare would have inhabited. You couldn't really see the old town from the new town, just some light suggestions that there might be something up there on the hill.

Macbeth itself was an uncomfortable experience. Hard, short-backed seats, too close to each other, and sweltering, sweaty atmosphere. There I go, indulging in that national pastime again. The play itself was visually strong. The minimalist set featured only a stage full of swords, suspended by their hilt from the ceiling, and lowered, raised, clattered amongst and lit to suit the dramatic action - to spectacular effect. The gals were all heaving bosoms, the lads sported almost architectural leather jackets, both suitably Shakespearean but with a modern edge. Performances were good, too - apart from Macbeth, whom I found unconvincing - but as a whole the play seemed to lack something. Or maybe it was just the lack of air-conditioning.

Sticking with the sticky heat for a bit takes us to yesterday, perhaps the hottest, sunniest day of the year, and a fine day for the Edinburgh Festivals Cavalcade - a big parade of floats and dancers and pipe bands and transvestites and other exhibitionists (the Ladyboys of Bangkok were my group's favourite - you probably don't get to see many Ladyboys in Dumfries), watched by 185,000 people. I was working, trying to wrangle a 50-strong group of adult learners and their families, make sure that they had sandwiches that they liked (no mean feat), shared the cameras, and collected lots of good ideas...so that they can build an award-winning float for next year. By which time, hopefully, I will be doing something else!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

16 Years of Alcohol

Went to see this at the Cameo on Friday. It was on Screen One, quite a grand old-style theatre, complete with pillars, ornate plasterwork, italiante statues and velvet curtains, but with a very shallow slope (not good for shorties like me). The screen is of a decent size and the red velvet seats are plush and comfy, but somehow the cinema still seems to smell like old men. I don't know what it is about the Cameo, but all its theatres smell like this. Maybe something to do with the Tollcross location?

The film was a looker - especially for something shot on digi. Director Jobson wears his stylistic influences on his sleeve - not the grim social realists that the subject might suggest, but rather east-Asian cinema (his next film, The Purifiers, is a martial-arts flick), and in particular, Wong Kar-Wai. He calls it his "hymn to the city" (of Edinburgh) and indeed she has never looked so cinematic - from the National Monument on Calton Hill to the closes and wynds of the Old Town and the smoky pub interiors. It's quite poetic, too, with its narrative meditation on hope, and the performances (especially Kevin McKidd as Frankie) are convincing and at times explosive.

I did find some aspects of the story quite annoying though. It at times feels like an excercise in self-justification (especially give that Jobson is quite open about its semi-autobiographical nature). All the dreadful things that Frankie does (and there are a lot!) seem to be attributable to an external force rather than to the character himself...as if the director is trying to convince you that all this stuff really wasn't his fault. Perhaps I'm being uncharitable...but any sympathy with Jobson I might have had was destroyed by the post-screening Q&A...never have I heard a film director more in love with the sound of his own voice! He repeated himself, repeatedly, for a good 45 mins after the film.

It's been a hot weekend, but the sun has struggled to burn off the summer haar. Still, it's sunny now...off to enjoy it while it lasts!