Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Vive la France!

Having now returned from France, I can safely report that les tabacs, croques monsieurs, Bougytel, moules frites, Zebda, Renaults and menus speciales are all still very much accounted for and thriving. Was it ever great to be back! All of the same sounds (a breathy “merci” and "au revoir"), tastes (non-refrigerated milk?), sights (that special way of tying a scarf), and smells (mais oui, les crottes de chiens) are exactly as I remember them from 2000, and I realise I still miss them so very much.

I spent 5 days of my Christmas holiday with Fiona and her family in a glorified cottage in the town of Tortefontaine, located in the region of Pas-de-Calais, literally a 10 minute walk from the border to Picardie. The place was fantasic, right in the middle of the French countryside and complete with wood burning stove and a patisserie just down the road. As I expected, there was much wine drunk (28 bottles among 6 of us, mostly red) and much cheese consumed (Munster, you still smell like les pieds des anges but taste divine).

And much to my pleasure, there was the chance to speak (and hear) the beautiful French language - at the fromagerie, the brasserie (the French cafĂ© au lait still is the best caffeinated beverage I’ve yet to taste) and even with the local farmer. This chap is friendly with Fiona’s sister-in-law (her family owns the cottage), so we were invited over to his farmhouse to meet his family and have dessert with them. Not only were the desserts fantastic (including homemade tarte-au-pomme, oh la la) but so was the wine, cidre and the conversation. As only Fiona and I can speak French, we did most of the talking from the anglophone side which was a great opportunity to practice our vocabulary.

Another opportunity to speak the language came during a walk we took around town on Christmas Eve. We were outside the gates of an old monastery when we came across an old man lying on the grass beside the road. We couldn’t get a word out of him, and since it was cold and approaching evening we decided to go back to town to get help at the local pub. A few of the locals came back with us to the spot to check on the man who at this point was responding to our voices. The locals figured the best bet would be to call the local authorities, so they left to do so while us anglos were left to watch over him. I can safely say it was the most surreal conversation I’ve ever had with someone, and in French no less. Turns out our new friend was quite drunk and had decided to spend Christmas under the stars, and I don’t think he quite knew how to take me with my (as I was told) Quebecois accent and "formal" grammar. He seemed almost sad to go when the cops finally came and took him away – but I imagine that’s more to do with the fact he’d be spending the night locked up rather than because of my company.

We also managed to do some fantastic daytrips. One of the best was a visit to the town of Montreuil-sur-mer, a beautiful old medieval town, complete with walled ramparts that we were able to walk around. This is also the town where Jean Valjean (from Les Miserables) was Mayor before he was forced to do a runner. One pub even sold a Cosette Bier – and why not? We also managed to get down to Berck-sur-mer to walk on the beach and see La Manche (a.k.a the English Channel), to have a wee walk around Abbeville and to spend an afternoon in Amiens – the town with the largest Gothic building in France. The building was in fact a gorgeous cathedral built in the 1300's, and while I may have seen a few beautiful old gothic cathedrals in my day, this one still had the wow factor. The town itself was gorgeous, complete with Christmas markets, old half-timbered houses (a la Rouen) and scarved French women with little poodles.

This was certainly a most surreal Christmas, but one that was thoroughly enjoyable and one which flew by far too fast (as these things can do). I unfortunately gave my family the wrong phone number to reach me so I was unable to speak to them until I returned to Glasgow. A proper apology was most certainly due….but it does sound as though all is well with the Canadian Wilson’s. Trusting the rest of you also had a great Xmas time, and that the New Year’s experience works out for you. I’ve found that New Year’s tends to be the most overrated and annoying time of year, so I’ve decided to avoid all the hype and nightclubs to go up north to try something very different. But that surely is a story for when I return. As such – I wish you a Happy Hogmanay and look forward to making the next update in 2004 – cheers!

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Christmas Wrap-Up

This will be the first Christmas I’ll not be spending in Canada, which is quite strange and sad for me. But at the same time, it is equally strange and exciting to be spending it in France. I haven't been back to France for a few years now, and am very much looking forward to the return. Ambitious plans include the consumption of copious amounts of red wine and cheese, walks in the country, dominoes and hopefully a small kir in a petite brasserie.

Last night I saw Return of the King, which was needless to say a thoroughly phenomenal movie. I really let myself be immersed in the moment to the point where 3 hours and 20 minutes seemed too short. Truth be told, there were a few blink back the tears (and pretend you have a bit of dirt in your eye) moments. Now it's sad to think that it is all over. I’ve looked forward to each of the movies in the trilogy for so long now that it's strange to think there are no more. Well, until they make The Hobbit anyway.

The Darkness didn’t quite get their Christmas #1 this year, but neither did any of the other favourites. Out of nowhere, the cover of Mad World by Gary Jules (as featured on the Donnie Darko soundtrack) received some serious airplay, and the single sold enough to get the coveted top spot. Despite the fact that it’s been out for well over a year. Fair enough.

I would like to wish all of you a very happy holiday season. And to my fellow Canadians, enjoy a cup of egg nog for me – I’ve looked everywhere for it in Glasgow and it’s simply nowhere to be found.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Merry Christmas #1

The UK appears to be the last place in the world where people seem to still care about the music singles chart. The only time I could imagine anybody considering buying a single would be if the song were clearly a one-hit wonder. If the single comes from a good album, why would you spend £3 for it when you could have the entire album for £10? Instantly, this ensures that any talented artist has negligible singles chart success. For example, despite the fact that The Thrills and Athlete have sold albums by the bucketload this year, they have had hardly any singles dent the Top 40. People own the album, why would they want the single? The result: a chart full of bubblegum pop and novelty garbage. Furthermore, why would you spend any money on one single when it is so easy to either download it (paid or otherwise) or arrange somebody else to burn it on CD for you? Since paid downloads aren’t included on the singles chart, the sale of only a few thousand singles across the entire UK could result in a number one.

Most people are quite aware of this fact. Single sales are down by as much as 30% from the previous year. The bands charting - by and large - do not represent the taste of the British music buying public. To quote The Smiths, they certainly say nothing to me about my life. Yet British institutions such as Top of the Pops and the Radio One Countdown still stubbornly stick by the dinosaur that is the official singles chart.

Even stranger is the Christmas #1 which is the best selling single for the week leading up to Christmas. The rumours of who might get this year’s Christmas #1 have been circulating since October. I’m told it’s more of a tradition rather than actually having any meaning. Regardless, the big race begins this week to determine who will get the coveted #1. I’m personally gunning for The Darkness and their retro 70’s -sleigh bells and falsetto and all - Christmas single. This band is the one exception to the rule – by in large they have accounted for a huge surge in 7” vinyl sales (of all things!) which has translated to solid singles chart success. Since their Christmas single does not appear on their excellent album, and I don’t have the hardware to properly download it, I just might end up picking up a single after all. I can join the ranks of a few silly thousands who buy a single this season. If nothing else, I’d help ensure the Pop Idol finalists don’t take the Yuletide crown.

Onto other things:
After weeks of bureaucratic shenanigans, I finally managed to get the paperwork through at work and now have access to my new flat in Inverkeithing, a town not far from my work in Rosyth. I can’t express how happy I am to leave the confines of a hotel to something that I can call my own. Though I will now have to pay for my own pints. I’d tell you more about Inverkeithing, but there really isn’t much to say. It doesn’t even register as a blurb in my Lonely Planet guide to Britain. I think there was a battle or something nearby though – I’ll get back to you.

I also went to see the extended version of The Two Towers this weekend. If you’re a real fan of Tolkien’s books, it really is impossible to go back to the original once you’ve seen the extended version. Granted, the added scenes and lines may not be integral to the core plot per se, but it adds so much to the motivations and stories behind the characters and flushes out the history of Middle-earth without feeling like overkill. The flashback scene with Faramir and Boromir is worth it alone. I said it before, and will say it again: I am SO ready for Return of the King! 6 more days, precious.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

An Extended Sunday

Long lies on a Sunday in Scotland can ensure you hardly see daylight. With the sun now beginning to set before 3pm, a sleep-in until noon represents less than three hours of sunlight. But now that I’m one year closer to 30, a heavy pub night on Saturday and the following sleep-in were the order of business.

My friend Steve informed me this week that he managed to obtain tickets to an advanced screening of Return of the King for the 15th. With my working away from the city, and a Christmas work party coming up, it is now likely that I won’t be seeing this film until at least the 20th. My envy towards Steven is great.

However, consolation came this Sunday morning as I searched the paper for movie listings for the afternoon. Turns out that one of the cinemas in Glasgow’s city centre was screening the extended version of Fellowship of the Ring. Needless to say, all other movie plans were put on hold. And was it ever brilliant to see this movie on the big screen again! In all its extended glory! It also turns out that they will be screening the extended version of The Two Towers next weekend. So not only do I not have to track the extended version down on DVD, but I can now see it in all its cinematic glory. I am now so psyched for ROTK it hurts.

As expected, Radiohead was excellent. They even played "Just" and "Fake Plastic Trees" this time. While their new material isn't as strong as some of their classics, it's made up for by Thom Yorke's crazy dance routine. Think epileptic seisures, but with rhythm.

Christmas shopping is nearly done, and all the packages that need to be sent overseas have been dropped off with Royal Mail. Which made me think – why is it that in Canada we get “mail” delivered by Canada Post whereas in the UK we get our “post” delivered by Royal Mail?

And only two more working weeks until the holidays. Due to the timing of Christmas, New Year’s and a Scottish bank holiday on the calendar, I end up getting a full two weeks off work. Which is honestly the best gift I could have asked for!

Sunday, November 30, 2003

The Last Concert of 2003

It's been a busy year for live music, and after keeping my ear to the ground and pre-booking shows for up to 8 months in advance, I've finally come down to my final pair of tickets. And what a show to finish on - Radiohead at the S.E.C.C. in Glasgow. I have a very strange relationship with this band. I know their last few albums (Kid A, Amnesiac, Hail to the Thief) were critically acclaimed and all the rest of it, but seriously - does anybody really listen to them? They may be unique, but they don't exactly make for an enjoyable listen. I've always preferred their classic discs (OK Computer, The Bends) but that being said - Radiohead does rock live. I've seen them live twice now, and they have an amazing ability to reinterpret their material so that it really connects in front of an audience of thousands. I have no doubt the same will happen tonight - should be great.

I also treated myself to a new toy this weekend. Prices on DVD players have come down to the point where I felt I needed to get myself one. But when I saw that I could grab a Playstation 2 for a mere £85, I thought - hey! DVD's and video games! With my newly purchased hardware, I went out and rented a couple of great DVD's that I'd both recommend.

Happiness of the Katakuris - A truly off-the-wall Japanese film best described as Night of the Living Dead meets The Sound of Music. A family running a guesthouse confronts the mystery of dying guests by breaking out into song and dance routines. Fabulous.

Secretary - A nice boy meets girl story, with S&M. Despite the premise, a surprisingly touching story of two lost souls who find each other.

And speaking of toys, I now have access to an old PC that has been setup in my kitchen. It may be years old and crunch away every time you ask it do something, but it gives me access to the Internet. So goodbye Internet cafes, hello typing journal entries in pyjamas!

Friday, November 28, 2003

Scottish Vocabulary 101

Despite having known Fiona for well over three years now, I still find myself scratching my head at some of the vocabulary she comes up with. I think Canadian folk who call me have the same experience. It often comes to pass that when they speak with her first, I am subsequently asked for a translation of at least one thing that she said. So, without further ado, here are definitions of a few key Scottish (or British) words and expressions:

Faff – to procrastinate or dally (“Matthew, stop faffing about, we’re late!”)
Caber – the big log that men in kilts throw during Highland Games
Dead – slang for “very”
Chuffed – especially proud of something (“Och, I tossed the caber 20 feet – I’m dead chuffed!")
Chinwag – to chit-chat with someone (“I had a wee chinwag with Hamish on the phone”)
Blether – see “Chinwag”
Lovely – used to describe everything, from food to weather to mood to people
How? – slang for “why?”. Known to induce mass confusion among non-Scots
Gladrags – your best clothes (“I’m going oot tonight, I’ll wear me gladrags”)
Snog – passionate kiss
On the pull – trying to pick up someone at a nightclub in the hopes of at least a snog. Chances to pull improved by wearing gladrags.
Plonker, Bampot, Bissum, Daftie – terms for a silly person
Bollocks – slang for testicles, also means “not good”
Dog’s Bollocks – confusingly, the complete opposite of bollocks - means “really good”. Explanation: What does a dog strive for most often, and gives him the most happiness if reached? His bollocks.
Monkey Nuts – peanuts. Has nothing to do with testicles.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Sheelin Take A Bow

Right, so what else do I do these days, other than go to concerts?

I recently took a few days off work to jet over to Ireland to attend a wedding. We stayed in a country hotel on the banks of Lough Sheelin (Lough being the Irish spelling of Loch, with both pronounced the same way). Lough Sheelin is situated just outside the small town of Mountnugent, which itself is about a two-hour drive Northwest of Dublin. It was a nice ceremony, and a great party afterwards - complete with Irish and Scottish folk music and a lot of Guinness. And yes, it does taste better over there. Something to do with the lack of pasteurisation, to be sure.

Despite nursing the after-effects of the night before, I also managed to take a few hours to take a walk in the lush, green countryside that I still fondly recall from my last trip to Ireland. It did not disappoint.

For all of those folks who think I speak too quickly, here is further ammunition. One of the ladies at the wedding asked me what my surname was. Being that it is the same as Fiona's, I thought I'd be cheeky and said "Would you like to guess, perhaps?". She apparently heard something different, as she replied "What a strange name, Matt Regasopaps!". Word got around quick, and this was the name I was called all weekend.

I've also seen a few movies of late.

Das Experiment: Finally managed to check this one out after many recommendations from various people. It's a film based on the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, and really captures a mood of paranoia and claustrophobia while portraying the rapid dehumanisation of the guards and prisoners. Gripping stuff.

Kill Bill Vol.1: Visually stunning, great soundtrack, and Uma looking like a goddess. What more do you want?

Matrix Revolutions: Disappointing on so many levels. The best part about this movie was the trailer for Return of the King. Now THAT was good.

The Two Towers: Special Edition is now out (with 42 minutes of extra footage, hooray!) but none of the video stores in my neighbourhood appear to carry it. The hunt is on.

I also still live in a hotel over in the Kingdom of Fife (now THAT'S a name for a county). I was recently offered an extension on my work contract, so it appears as though I will be working in Rosyth for the foreseeable future. In fact, I'm currently looking for a flat in the area (to be paid for by work, woo!) that I'll live out of on weekdays. So yeah, two flats on either end of the country - this little journey of mine keeps getting stranger. But I'm loving the ride!

Also, a warm welcome to Ryan G for his entry to the world of web journals!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

“And it seemed to cause a chain reaction/It had momentum, it was gainin’ traction”

Three concerts from three great bands over one week – it really doesn’t get better than that. But only one show had that special magic that let it transcend into the realm of fantastic…

Up first – Manitoba, a band who is not actually from Manitoba but Ontario. Their recent album “Up in Flames” is a nice little piece of electronic pop, but it is their live show that really impresses. On stage they are a three-piece, with a guitarist and two drummers who alternate with keyboards. The result is a real fleshing out of the album, a full-on wall of sound that is excellent to experience in person.

Next up – Dashboard Confessional, a band from Florida that is really a showcase for songwriter and guitarist Chris Carrabba. DC have been accused by some as being far too melodramatic with their tales of heartbreak and love, but I’ve always thought their albums (especially “The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most”) have been poignant and the songs quite beautiful – “Screaming Infidelities” is a modern classic. But in a live setting, I found they just weren’t able to capture the magic. I don’t think it was the band so much as the crowd that dampened the vibe. I had no idea their prime demographic was angst-ridden, 14-year old art students. I don’t think I have ever felt so old. I think I’ll stick with listening to Dashboard on quiet weekday evenings on my own stereo, thanks!

But it was the final band that took the concert-going experience to a whole new level. In fact, concert does not do the experience justice – we’re talking a night of epiphany and euphoria that was the ultimate (and natural) high. My sincerest thanks to the mighty Flaming Lips for putting on what is undoubtedly the show of the year. You may have heard about the brilliant stage show (dancers in animal costumes, giant balloons, confetti, hand puppets) and you may have heard their equally brilliant music (I’d especially recommend “The Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots”). But it was how it all came together that, at the risk of being known as the guy who overuses his superlatives, made the show truly spectacular. Never have I seen a crowd have so much fun before (and I’ve seen the Polyphonic Spree live) – everybody was singing, dancing, knocking giant balloons about, and genuinely having a great time. Lead singer Wayne Coyne has charisma in spades – he’s compelling viewing, and between songs he’d have prolonged chats with the crowd who lapped up every word he said. When the band finally left the stage (after an impressive two hours, and a finale consisting of a rendition of White Christmas) I actually felt sad that it had come to an end, like the spell had been broken. Truly wonderful stuff.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

"Don't worry me or hurry me/Blow me far away to the Northern Lights"

This story sure has taken some time to spit out; however, without further ado, the gory details of the Iceland trip!

Things certainly didn't begin well, as an Icelandair flight wasn't the only thing I caught that day. I also came down with a nasty case of the 24-hour flu. I was feeling so rotten that essentially my first day in Reykjavik was spent in my bed. But I did stay conscious enough to notice that the small town outside of the airport reminded me a lot of a small town in Northern Ontario. It really isn't until you make your way into Reykjavik itself that you begin to realise that this place is going to be really different than your typical getaway.

I woke up the next day feeling a little weak, and still not ready to eat anything, but the adrenaline was enough to get me up and ready to explore the town. We started by making our way down to Perlan (the Pearl), a modern glass building on top of a large hill that houses exhibitions for the city, but more importantly houses great views across the city and the surrounding countryside. It also contains the fab Saga Museum which depicts Iceland's Viking roots using excellent full scale models. We also took a walk down to Nautholsvik Beach, an artificial beach where a portion of the ocean is actually heated in the summer for swimming. We then made the trip into 101 Reykjavik, the oldest and hippest part of the city. It's absolutely beautiful, with funky shops, cafes and pubs and museums (including the Phallological Museum - unfortunately closed while we were there ensuring that we left half-cocked). Many of the houses are painted wild colours, summoning a picture of a Scottish seaside village. 101 is also next to the harbour, allowing for a lovely walk by fishing boats and rock beaches, and providing an excellent view of the mountains and the ocean. We also took a look inside the amazing Hallgrimskirkja, a huge modern church that was built to look like an erupting volcano.

By Day 3 I was fully good to go, and decided to not bother with the bus tours we were going to try and instead rent a car and do our own exploring. It was a bit of an ordeal finding a car with automatic transmission (should have learned to drive a stick shift before I came over to this part of the world) but we finally managed to get one - a cosy little Skoda. A type of car which has come a long way since last I rode in one (eh, Dad?). We first drove out to Pingvellir National Park, where we saw Logberg - the first Viking assembly site used from 930AD - and the massive rifts in the land where the North American tectonic plate is tearing away from the Eurasian plate. Very dramatic landscape. I really enjoyed the drive on the small Icelandic motorways, marveling at the countryside where you can see steam arising from cracks in the ground, Icelandic horses running across the plains, and the barrenness of the old lava fields. That night we took a night walk around 101, in particular to see the wonderful City Hall which is built so that it appears to be rising out of a lake. As I mentioned previously, I was quite excited to find out that we were in town to be able to catch part of the Iceland Airwaves music festival. That night we caught a show at the Art Museum where we saw three amazing bands - Tenderfoot, Gisli, and the Album Leaf. My only regret was that I wasn't feeling better on my first day as I could have caught Leaves and SKE, the latter in particular a great band from Reykjavik whose music I heard on the plane. Take a look through the website to hear some of the tunes from these bands.

Day 4 we took the car out to Geysir, the home of the famous water spouts that gives its name to similar spouts across the world. Words really don't do justice to the experience as we stood there for hours watching Strokkur (the most active geysir). First the water bubbles, than rises into one large blue blob before bursting forth into the air. Fantastic. We also drove down to Gullfoss, a massive waterfall equally as impressive as Niagara Falls minus the tourist tackiness, and well, the tourists. We shared the view with only a few other people, and were really able to appreciate the ferocity of nature as the water roared over the cliff. That night we went to the Red Rock Cinema where they show a quirky documentary on volcanoes. We were the only folk there that night, and were chatting away to the guy showing the film when we realised that the guy was in fact the volcano filmmaker Villi Knudson, who both shot and starred in the film.

On the last day we took our little Skoda down to Lake Kleifarvatn, a lake that used to be the deepest in Iceland but has since drained substantially after an earthquake. Nobody knows where the water went to. This drive was my absolute favourite as we literally drove for hours without seeing a single person, past bubbling mudpools, hotsprings, lava fields, ocean beaches, and old churches. Surreal. We finished the day by visiting the Blue Lagoon, which is the most famous hotspring in Iceland, situated near a geothermal powerplant. The water was incredibly warm and it was an amazing experience to be swimming outside on a day where the air temperature couldn't have been more than 3 degrees. We watched the sun go down while putting natural clay onto our faces and paddling about in the pool.

And yes, I finally did see the Northern Lights - albeit, faintly in the skies over Reykjavik. We jumped into the car, and drove as fast as we could to the countryside to get a better view. But by then, the skies had become cloudy. But it was still thrilling to see the eerie green clouds fly by overhead, if only for a moment.

Iceland - certainly not a typical getaway, but one that I'll never forget. Truly a magical experience, and I now better understand where the Icelandic reputation comes from for being a home for elves and pixies. Certainly if there is a place where such mythical creatures may still live, it must be here!

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Iceland 101 (or 101 Reykjavik)

Perhaps before I launch into the finer details of this trip of mine, I should give a quick introduction to the country that is Iceland.

Iceland is closer to Scotland than I would have thought, as it is less than a two-hour flight from Glasgow. With a population of only 280,000 (over 50% live within greater Reykjavik), only one real highway outside of Reykjavik that circles the island, and a large portion of the interior of the country completely uninhabited (and uninhabitable), Iceland is certainly not a busy place. But what a place it is. How best to describe it in a nutshell? I felt like I was vacationing on the moon. But this isn't a bad thing.

Icelandic people and their culture also appears to have originated from a different world. I don't think there is an official index on this, but I reckon there are more cool people per capita than anywhere else in the world. Everybody seems to be attractive, have a good wardrobe and haircut, and good music is played at every coffeeshop and pub we went to. Yes, you will hear Sigur Ros at least once a day.

An Icelandic surname consists of your father's first name suffixed with "son" or "dottir" depending on your gender. Therefore, members of the same family will not have the same surname. Best real-life example seen in the newspaper - a lady with the surname of Frododottir.

Iceland is bloody expensive. A modest meal of two pizzas and two pints cost us 5000 kronurs, the equivalent of £40. Alcohol is so expensive that I could not afford more than a pint or two on a given day. A pint could run you about £6-8. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Iceland has only had legal access to beer since 1989? Imagine that...

Despite a small population, there is an Icelandic music festival (on during our time there too - yay!) that took place over 4 days and 10 venues. There is even an Icelandic Idol, complete with the Icelandic equivalent of Simon Cowell. Almost every Icelandic person can speak English and German on top of their own language. Icelandic is a language that is wonderful to listen to, and despite the fact that you can't really understand it, certain words sound English with a Scandinavianan edge. My favourite example was the "Bloodbanken" outside the local hospital.

Iceland also is a geologist's wet dream with more volcanoes, geysers, earthquakes, and continental drift fissures than you could shake a stick at. In 1963, the island of Surtsey was literally born from the ocean after a massive underwater volcanic eruption. There is so much geothermal activity going on that the entire population of Reykjavik gets their hot water from hotsprings, and it isn't uncommon to come across bubbling pools of mud while walking around in the country. Surreal.

And yes it is cold - but not nearly as bad as you might have thought. A simple winter jacket sufficed.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Juxtaposed With U

Despite Thanksgiving being over, I find myself with many new things to be thankful for.

First off, to the Super Furry Animals. Everybody's favourite wacky Welsh band released one of this year's best albums in the form of Phantom Power (not to be confused with another band's album of the same name) which adds to their already brilliant discography. They also put on one cracker of a show this past Friday. SFA have got the "show" portion down to an art - we're talking a stage full of characters from their latest album (including cartoon ghosts, horses, and smokestacks - complete with working smoke), a full multimedia presentation to accompany the songs, big dance beats to get a groove during the encore, and the obligatory final encore performance of "The Man Don't Give A Fuck" dressed as yetis. And of course the music was outstanding. What more can one ask for at a rock show? Go and see them if you get the chance.

I'm thankful to my buddy Kevin for recommending that I spend some cash on comfy Gore-Tex hiking boots. I followed the advice, and hill-walking is ever so much nicer.

I'm super thankful to my buddy Mike for his much-appreciated package from Toronto, featuring fab compilations of tunes that I hadn't heard before. But most importantly, a Stars concert T! I was representin' the Soft Revolution last night on the streets of Glasgow.

I'm also thankful for Icelandair for the seat sale that made it possible to head over to Reykjavik. In a nutshell - Iceland is a bloody amazing country. But that story is surely worthy of a separate entry? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

It was just one of those things/I needed to do

And that thing was to attend the Athlete concert this past Tuesday night at the tiny stage area of The Garage nightclub (pronounced "Gare-ige" in these parts). With music as catchy as the flu, this band could do no wrong. They had about 500 people singing along with every word, for every song, to the point where it was more group karaoke than a concert. Even the band, who surely must have experienced it before, looked incredulous. Overall a great night, and an amazing chance to see a band in a small venue before they make it huge. They've already booked a return gig in the much larger Carling Academy for January.

In anticipation for our upcoming trip, Fi and I rented 101 Reykjavik, a fab art-house film set in Iceland. It's a heart-warming tale about a young man who falls for his mother's lesbian lover - one for the kids really.

A belated Happy Turkey Day to all my fellow Canadians. It is a real shame the Scots don't celebrate Thanksgiving because it is a great excuse for a good meal, red wine and getting folk together. I called my grandparent's place and managed to speak to many members of my extended family which was nice. It also turns out my brothers both got together in Ottawa for a mini-turkey dinner of their own. To think of them only a few years back fighting tooth-and-nail, but now enjoying a hearty meal together really does bring a smile to my face.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

The Golden Elixir

Heartbreaking news as it turns out that my first Scottish love, the beautiful actress Kelly MacDonald, has gotten married. To the bass player from Travis too, the lucky devil. Perhaps the lovely Kelly is best known as Diane from Trainspotting - ah, how many student housing walls did her poster adorn back in university circa 1996?

Move on we must, but perhaps a pint to dull the pain? Well my friends, luckily Scotland is home to many a delicious beer. Now, like any country it contains your bland, mass produced variety (ahem, Tennents). But Scotland is also home to several unique microbreweries that produce a pint to which they can be proud.

Orkney Brewery is based, unsurprisingly, in the Orkney Islands which are 6 miles off the north coast of mainland Scotland. Orkney Brewery produces a range of beer which is branded using ancient Scottish and Norse imagery - the latter due to the fact that Orkney was ruled by the Norse between the 9th and 13th centuries, and the Orcadians still celebrate their Scandinavian roots. Two of my favourites are Raven Ale which is a rich, dark ale and The Red MacGregor which is a red, malt flavoured beer and named after the famous MacGregor clan (the most famous of whom is Rob Roy).

Caledonia Brewery is based in Edinburgh, and their most recognisable beer is their Caledonian 80/-, a malt-flavoured ale that is fire brewed "using Britain's last remaining direct-fired open coppers". However they brew it, it makes for a tasty pint and is one of the easiest microbrew beers to find on tap. Caledonia Brewery also makes an IPA called Deuchars. Now, as far as IPA goes, my heart will always belong to Keith's. But Deuchars makes a good mistress until I return home to Canada.

Another of my favourites is Arran Blonde, a light beer brewed in one of my favourite places in Scotland, the Isle of Arran. Arran was one of the first islands I visited upon arriving in Scotland, and I still fondly recall the three days spent there. The Arran Brewery Company is one of the more successful local businesses. I thoroughly enjoyed tasting Arran Blonde in the pubs at night after a day of hiking, and was very excited to see that I could pick up bottles back in Glasgow.

The Heather Ale Brewery is based in Strathaven (an hour west of Glasgow) and first came to my attention back in Canada when by brother bought me a special 4-beer sample pack for Christmas. Now that I'm here, I can now come across their range of beer easily at the stores, and in several cosy, smoky pubs that I frequent in the city centre of Glasgow. One of my favourites by this brewery is their flagship beer, Fraoch Heather Ale (where Fraoch is Gaelic for heather). The purple-coloured heather is one of the more recognisable plants of Scotland, and has been used to make ale for four thousand years, and is (according to the back of the Fraoch bottle anyway) "the oldest style of ale still made in the world". Fraoch gives off a heather smell, and has a strong peat taste to it. Highly recommended. The Heather Ale brewery also produces a gooseberry and wheat ale called Grozet (Auld Scots for "Gooseberry") and a Scots Pine ale called Alba (Gaelic for "Scotland").

Finally, there is the Wychwood Brewery which albeit is not Scottish but English (based in Oxforshire). But since I've been drinking it regularly since I've arrived, I'll lump it in with the rest. At it's heart, the company brews a tasty range of beer, but perhaps what really sets it apart is the imagery it uses to promote it. My personal fave is Hobgoblin Extra Strong Ale that not only tastes great, but has a killer label of a devious hobgoblin running through a medieval town. I think it especially appeals to the little boy in me who grew up with fantasy novels and medieval literature. I've also tried Wychwood's Fiddler's Elbow, a refreshing ale.

The next round is mine. Cheers!

Sunday, October 05, 2003

You can check out any time you like/But you can never leave

Week Four living out of a hotel is set to begin in a few hours time, and weekends with the creature comforts of home have never been so precious. That being said, it has been quite an experience working and living with the various consultants who have been brought in from all over the UK for this project. These folk have been working and living hard for many years, and have many incredible stories to tell - all of which go down well with a few pints.

Saw The Thrills play a sold-out show on Friday night at the Carling Academy. I've previously sung their praises, and this show has only (if possible) increased my adoration for this band. They have become a tremendous force live, and the entire 2000+ crowd was singing and dancing along all night to their songs. There really is something about the noise and passion of the Glaswegian music crowd that really adds to the live experience. The bands themselves tend to look like they are having a hell of a good time on stage when they take a Glaswegian stage, and the set is that much better for it.

We went to what was billed as "Britain's Largest" Heilan Coo exhibition this past Saturday at the always lovely Pollok Park. There was a great crowd on hand to witness the proceedings, and I'll freely admit I loved every minute of it. The sheer quantity of the coos, in a myriad of colours with a clamour of mooing, made for a brilliant spectacle. Moreover, Heilan Coos don't get crappy names like Daisy or Bill. The cows winning the awards had names such as Malcolm I of Glengarnock and Eva the Twentieth of Milngavie. I confess I don't remember the proper name of the cow who won "Best Bull", but after taking one look at him he was quickly dubbed Big Bollocks III of Buckfast.

We also went to see the film that has been hyped in the media since it debuted here back during the Edinburgh Film Festival as "the greatest Scottish film since Trainspotting" - Young Adam. Like Trainspotting, it stars the always excellent Ewan McGregor (save for the dire new Star Wars sequels). It is based in Glasgow during the 1950's and was filmed throughout the city so several landmarks were instantly recognisable. The cinematography is excellent as it really captures the grit and roughness of 1950's Glasgow, and perfectly captures the dark tone of the movie. The film is also wonderfully acted and perfectly encapsulates the disturbed life of the protagonist. That all being said, after leaving the cinema I felt similar to how I feel after seeing a classic painting. I appreciate the technical merits involved, and am impressed by the inherit beauty - but at the end of the day do not feel emotionally connected to it. Perhaps it was the atmosphere created by a rainy Sunday afternoon, or the fact that the film had been so hyped that my expectations had already been set. However, I didn't leave with that "wow" feeling I get after seeing other films. Take that for what it is worth.

A little piece of Scottish culture may have died this week. For many years, the Scottish neon orange fizzy drink known as Irn-Bru has been the top selling soft drink in the country. This is unique because Scotland was one of the few countries where the top selling soft drink is something other than the battery acid marketed as Coca-Cola. This has all unfortunately come to an end as the latest sales figures show Coke outsold Irn-Bru in 2002. I don't typically go for soft drinks, but I may just start picking up an Irn-Bru for lunch from time to time just to correct this injustice for 2003.
The Soft Revolution Passes Me By

My greatest fear has come true. When I heard that Broken Social Scene was on the way to Glasgow along with "special guests", but during the time I am to be away, I think my heart already knew the truth. But after a look on the Barfly Club website today, it was confirmed:

SAT 18th Oct (£5)
Broken Social Scene
Freeform club 11pm-3am

Oh Stars, why now? Could you not wait a mere three more days? Two of Toronto's greatest bands, at one of the best clubs in Glasgow, on a Saturday night, for £5, and I can't be there? Oh fate, thou art a cruel creature.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

It's All About Timing

After months of discussing the idea, a trip to Iceland has finally been arranged and booked. In a few weeks time I shall be on a plane to Reykjavik to see first-hand the home of Bjork and Sigur Ros.

However, no sooner was this trip booked than I was given an opportunity to take a 6-week contract to work in the Falkland Islands. Granted, the Falklands were not high on my list of places to visit, but if one is offered an all-expenses paid trip to go and a salary, it is certainly something worth considering. But since it conflicts with the Iceland trip, it proved to be a no-go this time. But I am told there might be another opportunity in November. We shall see.

And just the other day, it was announced that Toronto's Broken Social Scene is coming to Glasgow for a gig in October. This, much to my chagrin, is also occuring during the time I will be in Iceland. If it turns out that Stars are opening for them, I may just weep. Och well, you can't have it all!

Last Monday, I came across a strange sight - that being a bottle of Labatt Ice at the hotel pub. I couldn't resist ordering one, and while it still tasted like gnat piss, I felt I had to represent the homeland. My sacrifice.

What's old is new again! According to this article, the toy expected to sell the most this Christmas in the UK will be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures (apparently "Hero Turtles" no longer). The Real Ghostbusters are surely next?

Friday, September 26, 2003

On The Road Again

I have just returned from another week in Rosyth where the novelty factor of living in a hotel has more than worn off. Words do not express how happy I am to be back in Glasgow. My contract was due to end during the middle of next week, but over the course of the last few days my employers have discovered that I am the only one who knows how to use key parts of the system that is being implemented. Result: short term contract renewal! It looks as if I'll be employed for a few more weeks yet anyway.

During his recent stay over here in Scotland along with Kevin and Kathleen, Troy took to the streets armed with a keen eye and a digital camera. The first results of these shots are being posted on his website and can be seen by clicking here. He has also posted a section outlining, in his term, the "crazy signs of Scotland", which can be seen here. Very funny stuff.

Be prepared Canada! My favourite Irish talk show host Graham Norton has signed a deal with Comedy Central, which means Mr. Norton will be soon be gracing televisions overseas very soon. I have no doubt the King of Camp will be huge.

That's enough for today methinks - I fancy a shower and my own couch to lie on.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Sauce of Chaos

Mike's journal has lately been an interesting source of material, not least of which was the discovery of House of Hotsauce, a brilliantly designed site by a bloke who clearly knows his music. What really struck me however are some rather amazing coincidences between myself and the mysterious "Sean". He too has recently left the shores of Lake Ontario to have a go at life in Scotland (Edinburgh rather than Glasgow), has attended several of the same concerts as me and impressively has at least once used a Smiths lyric to title an entry. He also has (had?) something to do with the amazing Global Pop Conspiracy, a site to which I was introduced by my friend Christy and was a constant favourite of mine before I left behind the comforts of a computer and broadband Internet at home. At a quick glance through the House I wasn't able to spot a contact point so I'll have to see if an email address will materialise through our four degrees of separation. In the meantime, I'd say a link is certainly warranted.
Drinking on the Company Tab

Just as my work contract has nearly come to an end, my employer gives me my first overnight road trip. I was sent down to the office in Rosyth, a town located just over the Forth Bridge near Edinburgh. Due to the previous employers I have worked for, I have little experience with the "post-work get together paid for by the company" thing. You can therefore appreciate my surprise to find myself consuming smoked salmon and roast duck for dinner and then hitting several pubs from North Queensferry to Rosyth to Dunfermline and not getting back to my hotel bed until 3am after consuming more than my fair share of drink - all without spending a thing. Is this what my fellows with posher jobs than I have been up to for all these years?

After giving Mike’s journal a read, I noticed he has tracked down the site where they have posted the half-marathon results. Now my Mom can have conclusive proof that I ran this thing by clicking here. I also read the news about the imminent reuniting of the Pixies, one of the greatest bands ever. Though I must confess I do have some reservations. When a band was that good, you don’t want the memory of their brilliance and the quality of their catalogue to be sullied by a dubious comeback. That being said, the work produced by each of the band members since the break-up has been solid, and I always thought that the Pixies were more than the sum of their parts anyway. So fingers crossed. Perhaps this also gives hope to a rebirth of other 4AD bands such as Lush and the Cocteau Twins?

Forgot to mention that I had seen Har Mar Superstar work his magic again this past weekend. This time he had three go-go dancers accompany him on stage, and as gimmicky as he is, the man can sing. I don’t imagine that I’ll have any need to see him again, but if you haven’t seen Har Mar perform yet, I strongly recommend it. Ensuring you keep the tongue firmly in cheek, mind you.

I also recently witnessed the reuniting of The Scottish Girls. This was a name given to the five girls from Bonnie Ecosse by other exchangers during our university term abroad in Rouen, France three years ago. I had seen each of them at some point over the last few years (and of course I live with one of them too) but this was the first time that I had seen all of them together since early 2001. Though I couldn’t help but think that the name The Scottish Girls isn’t quite as appropriate here as it was in France. Regardless, a good night was had by all. Turns out we had additional reason to celebrate as Debbie is now engaged to boyfriend Chris and are getting married next summer. How the time flies….

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

I Think I’m Turning Japanese

The tone was set while mindlessly watching Saturday morning TV over a bowl of cereal. Rather than the usual kiddie fare, I happened across a news program on BBC2 discussing the rise in popularity of sushi in the UK. I was entranced by images of sushi chefs skilfully preparing maki and nigiri, and was bowled over by a wave of nostalgia as I fondly remembered the excellent sushi restaurants that I frequented in Toronto. The craving had set in.

Part of my Saturday ritual involves stopping into the local coffeehouse (the most excellent Bean Scene) for a latte and a read of the paper. The first article I came across profiled a cult television programme that was sweeping Japan. Later I accompanied Fiona to a gift shop, and the first thing that struck my eye was imported incense from Japan.

After returning home, while burning my newly purchased incense, it was decided that we would hit the town on Sunday for a movie and a sushi meal. The latter normally wouldn’t be such a big deal, but finding affordable sushi in Glasgow is not the easiest of tasks. Luckily for us, Fiona had discovered a restaurant called Oko in Glasgow’s Merchant City that has an all-you-can-eat-in-one-hour sushi deal on Sunday for £15. A little expensive, but I took all the previous Japanese references of the day to be a sign that we could not say no. Or an excuse by which I could justify the expense to myself. Whatever.

Regardless, the next day we were off to the cinema, and what better flick to catch than the Japanese anime Spirited Away. I think it would be out on video back home by now, but in the UK it has just started showing on the big screen and the papers have been full of glowing reviews. I thought it was a visually beautiful film, though I felt that perhaps some of the story was lost in translation. However, it was still highly enjoyable, a perfect Sunday afternoon film, and fit ever so nicely into the Japanese theme of the weekend.

As for the buffet, Oko is modelled after the modern, fast food variety of sushi restaurants in Japan where you sit around a counter by a conveyor belt and take small plates of sushi as they go by. When it is all-you-can-eat you don’t have to worry about the usual “blue plate is more expensive than green plate but less expensive than red plate” concerns, and really go for it. Maki, dumplings, teriyaki chicken – it all danced by on the conveyor and I was in what could best be described as sushi heaven. Though perhaps I should have paced myself better as I was bursting at the seams half-an-hour into my hour allotment. With about five minutes left to go, and well after the point where I had thought I could eat no more, all of a sudden a mysterious purple plate came around the bend. And what do I see on the plate but four pieces of salmon sashimi. As this was the first sign of sashimi that I had seen this night, I could not resist. Despite a few grumbled complaints, my stomach kindly made some additional room and I finished my meal off with the sweet texture and taste of sashimi and waddled home a happy man. Arigatou, Japan - you made my weekend.

Friday, September 12, 2003

“Oh, I can smile about it now/But at the time it was terrible”

Our landlord finally arranged for a contractor to come out and fix the damage caused to our flat by the pipe leak we experienced several weeks back. Imagine our surprise when we got home Monday to discover that the contractor had locked us out. The landlord has a key that we don’t have a copy of, and he has already used it to inadvertently lock us out before. This time, he had mistakenly given this extra key (along with the regular keys) to the contractor who had then used it to lock up the flat when he left. Whereas before a quick call to our letting agent resulted in us getting back into the flat within half an hour, this time we were informed that the landlord was nowhere to be found. With the landlord missing, the only other copy of this cursed extra key was in the hands of the contractor – who of course had left for the day and could not be reached. The letting agent was now on the case, but it wasn’t until hours of hanging around our neighbourhood killing time (and later on a few hours in the pub killing brain cells) that we finally got a resolution. The letting agent said that they had decided to send out for a locksmith to get us into our flat since they could not track down the landlord and could think of no other option. It then turns out that the lock in question was some heavy duty super-lock, so after ten minutes of picking and prodding the locksmith gave up and used a crowbar to pry open the door. We later found out that the landlord had actually gone on vacation without telling the letting agent. To be honest, the thought of him returning from vacation to a locksmith bill of £200 (!!!) and several angry phone messages from the letting agent makes me happy. Call it a surcharge for being a bloody moron. But needless to say, all these shenanigans were not the best way to start a week.

What happens when you combine some of the best aspects of Thai cuisine with the freshness of seafood? You get a delicious meal of Thai Green Curry Mussels, which I enjoyed recently at the always-excellent Mussel Inn found in Glasgow’s city centre. This restaurant is owned and operated by a consortium of shellfish farmers from the west coast of Scotland, resulting in some of the most affordable and fresh seafood I’ve ever had.

Saw a clever spy flick the other day called Cypher. While you can see some of the twists coming, it is the mood set by the cinematography and the incredible acting of star Jeremy Northam that really makes it stand out. I also had a private thrill when at one point, as the camera panned out in a scene supposedly set in Washington, saw what was clearly downtown Toronto.

The cooler nights of autumn are now upon us, so a quick profile of the album that I think best captured the mood of the summer of 2003 seems apt. This would be the brilliant debut from The Thrills titled “So Much For The City”. The Thrills are an Irish band who relocated to California in order to inspire their songwriting, and the result is a wonderful mix of sunny melodies and wistful harmonies that recall images of pints on patios, weekends at the cottage, and road trips where both the windows and the motorway are wide open. But the themes and lyrics have just enough of an edge to ensure the album is more than just a sugary treat. Strongly recommended…and if you have a chance to see them live, don’t miss the opportunity. They were brilliant at T in the Park, and I can’t wait to see them again in October when they play Glasgow.

Speaking of The Thrills, they were nominated for this year’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize which honours the best British album of the past year. Also nominated were Coldplay, Athlete, Radiohead and The Darkness. In the end though, all of them lost out to rapper Dizzee Rascal. I though that was a piss-poor decision, but then again historically speaking the Mercury Prize gets the nominations spot-on but blow it with the winner. I mean, Roni Size over Radiohead's OK Computer in 1997?

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

High Spirits, Sore Legs

An exhilarating mix of mental euphoria and physical pain was my reward as I finished the 2003 Great Scottish Run half-marathon. I must reluctantly admit that I did not quite meet my ambitious goal of 1:40, but did finish with a respectable time of 01:51:28. Of the 6000 who ran the half-marathon, I finished a decent 2294.

Sunday morning was an absolutely gorgeous sunny day, which perhaps were not the best conditions for a long-distance run as the sun had the lot of us sweating within minutes of starting. The course was equally as gorgeous as we ran through the streets of Glasgow’s city centre (where traffic was banned for the morning), through George Square, past historic buildings, and through the fields and forests of several public parks. A nice touch was the lone bagpiper who was stationed at every second mile marker, belting out Scotland the Brave and the like.

I think I knew going in that I hadn’t properly trained for this challenge. A typical run for me is about 7-8 miles, so needless to say shortly before the 9-mile mark the energy reserves began to wane rather dramatically. I had been keeping a steady pace of 8 minutes per mile, but that pace promptly disappeared as my legs starting turning into the texture of jelly. I watched the runners who I had coyly passed a few miles back smugly return the favour. I couldn’t even calculate what my next time benchmark should have been as my brain had decided to shut down all logic thought processes and focus on more pressing actions - namely that of getting one foot after another. After the 11-mile mark I felt I had been running so long that surely I had not noticed the 12-mile marker pass by and that I was making for the finish. When the big, neon green 12-mile marker promptly appeared in my vision, I thought I was going to cry.

On a typical run, I turn on the sprint jets to finish off strong and this had been my plan for a grand finish here as well, ensuring that I would make up any lost time. However, that was not to be since: (a) I was too busy concentrating on not passing out and (b) let’s face it, there were no jets to turn on.

Apparently Fiona had procured a prime spectator spot right near the end where she was cheering me on. I couldn’t tell you though – everything was a blur save for the most beautiful thing in the world at that moment: a sign with the word “FINISH”. I think Fiona put it best when she said “I was going to take a picture of you as you crossed the finish line, but you looked sick and white as a ghost and I didn’t think you’d have wanted that picture”. Too right.

But what an experience! Afterwards, while feeling my life’s essence seeping back into me while sprawled on the grass, I decided I actually felt pretty damn good and vowed I’ll be better prepared for the next one.

By the way, Robbie finished only a few minutes behind me, and he had trained even less due to his recent move to Edinburgh. Much respect.

And Mike – you weren't kidding about post-race stair climbing.

Friday, September 05, 2003

An Ode To My Docs

Thy leather so nice, thy cushioning so sweet
The durable boots which cradled my feet
But holes did appear, and padding did die
So my dear Doc Martens, I must tell you goodbye

Fare thee well, you have served me admirably these past few years. Though I must say, your replacements are quite nice. I think I may now be a convert to Clarks Originals. It’s like walking on cotton and bubble wrap, draped in clouds.

Speaking of footwear, perhaps I should also have sprung for some new and improved running shoes. This thought came to me after seeing the map for the half-marathon that I’m running this weekend, which can be seen here. 13 miles sounds reasonable until you see how much territory it represents. Have mercy on my soul.

By the way, for those who live in or have visited Glasgow, you may well recognise some of the streets and areas the route covers. Turns out it goes straight through Pollok Park (down the street from my flat and home of several heilan coos) and then down the main street through my neighbourhood. Though humorously the map has spelled “Pollok” as “Pollock” for both Pollok Park and Pollokshaws Road on the map. This was, after all, designed and published by the City of Glasgow. Och - heads will roll, so they will!

Guilty pleasure of the month: The Darkness. Unabashed big-hair, cock-rock 80’s metal revivalists, led by a signer who sounds like a cross between the guy from Spinal Tap and Freddie Mercury. The music contains the right mix of tribute and irony that ensures the music is fun and accessible rather than lame and cliched. The band also doesn’t take themselves too seriously and put on a hell of a live spectacle. Result? The Darkness is now the biggest band in the UK with a #1 CD. Look out Canada – they’re coming for you… Check out the tracks “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, “Friday Night” and the appropriately named “Growing On You".

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Songs From Northern Britain

It was back in the early 90’s when I first started developing a love for guitar-based music, starting with Nirvana and then the Smashing Pumpkins. This was during the time when the so-called “grunge” revolution was getting into full swing, and Seattle was the city to name-drop in music conversation. While certain bands ruled the roost (Nirvana, Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam), there were many other bands that were lumped into the “grunge” label that were slightly under the mainstream radar – bands such as Dinosaur Jr., Mudhoney, and Teenage Fanclub. It really was a great time for music, but as these things do, the scene soon fizzled out and we were left with the void that is mainstream pop music. Nowadays, a lot of the grunge era bands are long gone. Some have quietly endured but no longer have the same relevance they once had. But one, Teenage Fanclub, has quietly become one of the best bands in the world.

I “rediscovered” the Fannies earlier this year after catching them on a triple-bill concert in Edinburgh, along with Travis and Arab Strap. To be honest, I hadn’t really heard any of Teenage Fanclub’s material after their 1993 album “Thirteen”, but I was quite curious to see what they had been up to since. You can imagine my surprise when the Fannies confidently came out and proved that they were still an incredible band with a tight set that showcased the best of their catalogue from the past 14 years. I revelled in the straight-up power-pop with the beautiful 3-part harmonies and hook-laden choruses. And this was not a revel based in nostalgia, because the most brilliant material they were playing came from their most recent two albums. The crowd was suitably impressed, and even Fran Healy from Travis couldn’t help but gush that “the Fannies were my biggest influences” and that they were “brilliant”. I saw Teenage Fanclub play again at T in the Park, and once more they put on a show that left 'em begging for more.

So how best to experience the Teenage Fanclub catalogue if you’re starting from scratch? They have a great compilation disc out now, "Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty Seconds: A Short Cut To Teenage Fanclub" which highlights 21 of their best songs. I also recently picked up Songs From Northern Britain which is a brilliant example of their newer, more mellow sound. After one listen to songs like “I Don’t Want Control Of You” or “Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From”, you may just be a convert too.

I could have said “you’ll want to join the Fanclub too” but that would’ve been a bit much. And yes, the Northern Britain they refer to in their album title is Scotland, as the band is from and still based in Glasgow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

News and Coos

While most tourist paraphernalia is utter rubbish, I did see one the other day that provided a valuable piece of knowledge without costing a penny. This came in the form of a t-shirt emblazoned with a cartoon picture of everybody’s favourite shaggy Scottish bovine, complete with the proper spelling of its name: the Heilan Coo. So now we know.

Enjoyed a nice day out in Edinburgh where I caught a few shows at the Fringe Festival. First up was All the Great Books – Abridged from the excellent Reduced Shakespeare Company. The first show I saw from this troupe was a few years back in London when I saw The Complete Works of Shakespeare – Abridged which sees three actors perform all of Shakespeare’s plays in just over an hour. Very clever, very madcap and very funny. Admittedly the Great Books show, which follows the same format using classic literature as its base, wasn’t quite as funny as the Shakespeare show, but this may have just been due to the fact that I already knew what kind of show to expect. Still, funny stuff and many pat yourself on the back moments when you understood some of more obscure literary jokes. And the dancing Trojan Horse scene (while recreating the Iliad) set to the Pink Panther theme was priceless.

Keeping with the “whole bunch of stuff abridged” theme, we then caught a show called Great Scots! – Scottish History in 69 Minutes. It was a one-man show where the actor played a professor who could go back in time to various points in Scottish history in order to illustrate a particular era. It was funny enough, and surprisingly informative. But it was bloody hot, as there were about 50 of us packed in an unventilated basement theatre. A case of suffering for the arts?

The last show we saw was Shakespeare’s Italian Job, which was a recreation of the 1969 Michael Caine movie but using Shakespearean characters and dialogue. It was incredibly clever, and often very funny (after observing his mate grab his girlfriends backside, a thief remarks “Aye, there’s the rub”, and suchlike). I confess that at the time some of the humour went straight over my head as I had yet to see the movie the play was recreating. But then the very next night, the BBC movie of the night was, you guessed it, the Italian Job. Ah, so that’s why they had the three Mini Coopers on stage…

I came across this excellent article in The Observer the other day. I think it describes perfectly how many people, including myself, feel about the “good” ol’ USA these days.

Rented a great film the other day – Dirty Pretty Things – which stars Audrey Tautou (from Amelie) in her first English speaking role. It is a great suspense flick about the illegal trade of human body parts in London. And it stars a hot French actress. Enough said.

After months of living with a wee 14-inch TV, we finally opened up the coffers and bought ourselves a more respectable 21-inch set. Perhaps the best feature of this new set is the retro chic that is Teletext, which can best be described as the Internet circa 1993 on your television screen and controlled by remote. This new addition to the house has also arrived just in time to be able to give The Two Towers some justice when I pick it up, as said film came out this past week in the UK. I wants it, my precious.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Early Morn in the Cairngorms

When work is busy and the weather is warm, what better time to leave the city behind for a weekend and escape to the Highlands? Specifically, the town of Aviemore situated in the Cairngorm Mountains.

After work on Friday, Fiona and I grabbed a bus and took the three hour journey north. It was reasonably late by the time we arrived in Aviemore, so we decided to find a nice local pub and take it easy. We rose early on Saturday, but we made a poor decision to start the day. Fiona and I mistakenly bought into the hype that surrounds the Cairngorm Mountain Railway and thought we should check it out. The railway is actually a funicular train, which is ironic really because the word “funicular” contains the word “fun” but not the word “shite” (it assuredly contained none of the former but a lot of the latter). £8 brought us the pleasure of taking a railcar up the side of the mountain to a peak-top station that hawked overpriced food and assorted crap (a.k.a. souvenirs). And the train didn’t actually go up a nice part of the mountain, but up a section that is a ski hill in the winter. Disused snow making machines, chair lift cables and the like do not make for a pretty mountain view. We also could not leave the peak-top station for "environmental concerns" so we all squeezed into a small viewing balcony to try and get our money’s worth. The kicker was on the way back down when, after hawking guidebooks, the train operator announced “in order to help you appreciate the view, please enjoy some traditional Scottish music” and then proceeded to play some Generic British Folk Music © over the intercom. What a farce. The Cairngorm Mountain Railway now ranks number 2 on my all-time list of Crappy Tourist Attractions, narrowly missing out on the top spot currently held by the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, BC (which is a whole other rant).

Redemption came in the form of the beautiful Loch an Eilein. After a beautiful forest walk of about two hours, one arrives on a beach where you can see the Loch and the island within it which contains the ruins of an old castle. Stunning.

Later that day we met up with Kevin, Kathleen and Troy and their two friends from Germany who had all rented a cottage in Aviemore. In fact, the cottage was a corporate chalet complete with every amenity you could think of, including satellite TV and a gas barbeque. It was fantastic. I think even they were amazed how nice it was.

On Sunday, a few of us decided to climb the Cairngorm peak which gives the Cairngorm Mountain range its name. "Cairngorm" is Gaelic for “Blue Mountain”, though this one is a wee bit different than the one in Collingwood, Ontario. After walking through fields of heather and passing by cairns which had been made to show the way through the rocky terrain, we came across a path that ironically goes right by the funicular peak-top station. Turns out that you are allowed to walk around outside the area where the train goes, but only if you walk from the bottom and not use the train. Serves me right for believing touristy hype. After passing the station, we proceeded to the top of the peak which gave us amazing views of the surrounding terrain. Beautiful rocky valleys, fields of heather, the nearby lochs - it was all rather breathtaking.

Fiona and a few others had decided to avoid mountain climbing that day, and instead took a steam engine train into the town of Boat of Garten. Much to their surprise, they ran into the Naked Rambler on one of the secluded streets outside of town. The Naked Rambler is a naturist who has been walking (naked, of course) across the UK, starting from Land’s End in the south of England and looking to finish at John O’ Groats, the most northern point of Scotland. He’s had a tough time of it with 10 arrests so far (and counting) and has made the news many times already. The chances of running into him when they did was one hell of a coincidence. An interesting tourist experience to be sure. I’m told he has nothing to be ashamed about either.

Fiona and I had to leave early Monday afternoon, so a few of us rose at 7am to do a forest walk along the banks of Loch Morlich, just outside of Aviemore. It was a beautiful morning, with the air still crisp and fresh. Nobody else was about which really added to the tranquility. All I could think of was how much I’d love to stay for the rest of the week.

But we did have to go, for Fiona and I were going to see Ash in Edinburgh that night! Ash is a fab 4-piece pop/punk band from Ireland who put out the masterpiece that is the Free All Angels album. This was to be their last show before taking some time off and going into their studio to record their next album. The set was amazing, playing all the songs you’d want to hear, as well as debuting several new tracks which all sounded great and bodes well for the new album. The place was full, and the crowd was in rapture of the band so it made for a great night. And their guitarist Charlotte, apart from pumping out great guitar solos, is also a certified hottie.

K,K and T are back from Aviemore today before heading home to Canada, so I'm looking forward to hearing how the rest of their week was. Tomorrow Fiona and I are back in Edinburgh to catch a few plays as part of the Fringe Festival.

Phew – it’s been a busy last week or so, but I guess that is what the summer is all about!

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Boom, Bust and Echo

The latest UK census figures have recently been released, and many of the findings are similar to that of other Western countries. Namely, that the population is growing very slowly and that most of this marginal increase can be attributed to immigration. Based on the natural birth rate alone, the population increase is almost nil. In Scotland specifically, the situation is worse in that the population has actually decreased. Granted, the percentage decrease is quite small but if this continues the population of Scotland could fall below the 5 million mark within a few decades. The reasons for this are varied, including an ageing population, low natural birth rate, and a tendency for new immigrants to settle south rather than north.

So, what does this have to do with anything you may ask? Well, before the census data was released, there had been rumblings that the UK government would be limiting Working Holidaymaker visas (the visa that I currently have) to only one year (rather than two), getting in line with the visas offered by other Commonwealth nations. Instead, I recently received a notice from the British Home Office indicating that my visa status is to change in a different way starting the 25th of August.

Not only is the maximum age limit for the Working Holidaymaker visa being raised from 27 to 30, but all employment restrictions have been removed. Prior to this change, I would have legally not been able to work after one year in the UK but now I can work full-time for the entire duration of my visa. Even more interesting is that after 12 months in the UK, I can apply for a full work permit as long as I am sponsored by an employer. This comes as a huge boost to my future employment opportunities. I can personally attest to the fact that it is difficult to gain any long term (or meaningful) employment with the current restrictions in place. With these restrictions removed, it makes the Working Holidaymaker (as we are so lovingly called) look that much more employable to UK companies.

So did the census data prompt these new changes on Working Holidaymaker visas? Is it a means to fill in potential employment shortages within the UK? Potentially increase population by encouraging holidaymakers to stay? Or could it be a total coincidence? Most likely the latter, but I felt compelled to observe.

Anyway, on to other things. Kevin & Kathleen and their friend Troy arrived this weekend, right in the midst of a continuing patch of amazing weather. I had arranged to meet them at Glasgow airport, but unfortunately for us all their flight was heavily delayed. I can now attest to the fact that spending a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in an airport is not the best way to pass the time. As good as The Herald newspaper is, you can only glean so much from it before you are sick of the sight of another Edinburgh Festival review or editorial on the ongoing Blair vs. BBC row (coming soon to pay per view).

But it all worked out Sunday, as we spent a great day in Pollok Park under cloudless skies. Highland coos (aka cows) and a baguette picnic lunch, you cannae beat it. On Monday, Fiona and I got ambitious and prepared a full haggis meal for our guests. And we're talking the real deal - haggis, neeps and tatties. That's haggis with turnip and potatoes for the rest of us. And this haggis came in an actual sheep's stomach - white and with veins - and it looked positively revolting. But after cooking it for an hour and bursting the stomach, it was actually quite delicious. Granted the term "bursting the stomach" and good meals are not usually synonymous - you'll simply have to take my word for it.

Friday, August 08, 2003

"Summer’s in the city/do what you’ve gotta do"

30-degree weather in Glasgow is strange. For it to last past 3pm on a Friday is uncanny. Folks, we’re talking about a hot summer weekend in Scotland! Och aye, ‘tis true!

Since I'm in a summer spirit, why not profile the ultimate summer album. Actually, it's just the ultimate album period. The band is Athlete and the album is Vehicles & Animals. This album is so addictive I call it musical crack. A day has yet to pass where I don't put this one on at some point. I mean, look at the elements covered: sweet, sweet pop songs, killer harmonies, big choruses, clever lyrics that get into your head, beats, guitars, AND casio keyboards. It doesn't get any better than this. Track this album down, you owe it to yourself.

I was going to write more but it's very hot today and this internet cafe is quite stifling. Plus I hear a pint out there calling my name - who am I to deny it?

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

"Oh, it's getting hot in here/must be something in the atmosphere"

It really is starting to feel like summer as the UK is in the midst of a heat wave. Glasgow is due to reach 26 degrees today, which is sweltering relative to the usual 17-19 degrees we typically get this time of year. Since offices, buses, and trains don’t have air conditioning (because what would be the point, normally?), it makes for a stifling working day.

So - a few weeks ago, over a few pints, my friend Robbie (he of Rouen fame for those who were there) and I decided to sign-up for the half marathon in the Great Scottish Run to be held on the 7th of September. I thought at the time the idea may have just been alcohol-fuelled bravado, but it now seems that we’ve both committed to running this thing; moreover, we’ve even started some sort of training by doing a large run on Wednesday evenings. This will be my first organised running event since the 10K Calgary Road-eo (their joke, not mine) that I ran with Bob (another friend I met in Rouen appropriately enough) last summer when I was out in Western Canada. The Glasgow registration form asked me to estimate my finish time, and I perhaps over-optimistically wrote down 1 hour and 40 minutes. Hopefully I don’t embarrass myself, but if I do at least it will make for a good story.

Next Saturday will see the arrival of the next Canadian travel contingent in the form of university friends Kevin and Kathleen. They will be spending two weeks in Scotland - one in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and one up in Aviemore (which is up in the heart of the Highlands, near the Cairngorm mountains and just east of Loch Ness). It should be a very busy time as August in Scotland is jammed full of events, the biggest of which is the Edinburgh Festival. The “Festival” is actually several individual festivals that take place at the same time – the biggest being the Festival Fringe – but it also includes the International Film Festival, the International Book Festival, and T on the Fringe. The latter is another musical festival brought to you by the letter T after the success of T in the Park (T representing Tennent’s Brewery for the uninitiated). The choices are truly mind-boggling, with over 1500 different events one could try and see. I expect I’ll be doing what I did two years ago when I was Edinburgh – grab a guide, wander the streets, see what is available and throw caution to the wind and go with what sounds interesting at the time.

Rented a fantastic film this week, Love Liza, the story of a man coping (or rather, not coping) with the suicide of his wife. Not exactly a “snuggle up with the girlfriend on a Saturday night” kind of movie, but utterly compelling in a depressing kind of way. Three reasons to see it:

1. It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is awesome in every movie he is in.
2. The music score was written and performed by Jim O’Rourke, the man who produced the last few Stereolab albums and who is an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right. I saw him live on a fateful winter’s day a few years ago in Toronto and it was magic.
3. The film was written and directed by Todd Louiso, the guy who played the serious and timid record store employee in the film High Fidelity (Jack Black being the other).

Due to a combination of T in the Park, having a little extra disposable income, discovering an amazing indie CD shop just outside of Glasgow’s city centre, and being especially inspired by the quality of music being released in the UK at the moment, I’ve been on somewhat of a CD binge over the last few weeks. And as you may know, I do love to spread the word about great new bands and/or albums. So I’m going to post a few mini reviews over the next little while. I apologise in advance if the bands and albums I list are already well-known back home and in fact are already despised due to over exposure.

And while on the topic of music back home, and hearty thanks to Mike for keeping me in touch with the Toronto music scene - though it does make me pine for Kazaa more then ever before.

Friday, August 01, 2003


It came to pass that I needed to describe a person who comes from Glasgow in one term in the same way I would say “I’m Canadian” or a “Torontonian”. Imagine my surprise when I was informed the proper term to use was “Glaswegian”. Now I’m sure there is a logical English grammatical rule explaining why this is so. But personally I can’t see how both Norway and Glasgow, each ending with a distinctive syllable, both become “wegian”. Regardless, I’d rather be a Glaswegian than someone from Edinburgh. Imagine having to refer to yourself as an Edinburgher…

And before you ask, yes - many a witty Scottish restaurant already has an Edinburger on their menu.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Much Ado About The Weekend

The CCA came through for me again this weekend as they screened Japanese director Hideo Nakata’s latest film, Dark Water, which I caught this past Saturday night. Nakata is the fabulous director of Ringu, a film which was remade for English audiences as The Ring. He has the gift of being able to create truly frightening movies that never resort to shock tactics or gore. I liken it to a well-told campfire-side ghost story that raises the hair on the back of your neck. When the story is over, you think “Ha! What a great story!” but then find yourself especially aware of strange noises coming from aroung you. If you haven’t seen the original ‘Ring’, seek it out, and keep your eyes open for ‘Dark Water’ as well. Strongly recommended both.

For a change of pace, I also caught a performance of Much Ado About Nothing, performed by the Glasgow Repertory Company in the Botanic Gardens of Glasgow's West End. The acting and performance was fantastic, but I was especially impressed with the stage direction. It was held alongside the River Kelvin on a nature walk path which, during a performance, is limited to the performers and the audience only. This alone added a great touch of charm as actors would hide behind trees and would ride bikes down the path. After a major scene, the stage director would have the audience walk down the path towards the next "scene". A great touch to a great performance. Plus – there is just something about the British accent that brings an added touch of credibility to a Shakespeare performance.

This weekend also marked the end of Big Brother 4 – and thank god for that too. I can now get my life back between 10 and 10:30 on weekday evenings, and hopefully can salvage some personal credibility after allowing myself to get hooked on reality TV rubbish. My favourite housemate did win though – Cameron, the 32-year teetotal virgin from Orkney, Scotland. “Jings, I didnae think I could win!”, said he.

Could it be that some of my favourite bands (who always seem to break up on me) are starting to get back together? First the Super Friendz release a new album, and now rumours that the mighty Pixies might make a comeback. Cocteau Twins, are you listening?

Is it just me, or did July go by really fast? Remember when you were in grade school, and the summer was amazing and never seemed to end? Now it’s amazing and ends before you even realise it started. Quite sad, that.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

As I mentioned last time, my friends Steve and Rachel made it up to Glasgow to pay Fiona and myself a wee visit. After having lived here for almost 6 months (!!!) I now get the same excitement showing off Scotland to my Canadian visitors that I did showing off Canada for Scottish visitors.

One of the great Glasgow daytrips is to take a 45 minute train up north to the town of Stirling. Now Stirling may be a relatively small place, but much like the rest of Scotland contains an amazing amount of history. Stirling was the site of many a battle between the feisty Scots and their auld enemies the English. Our old friend William Wallace – yes, Braveheart – led an army which defeated the English in 1297 at Stirling Bridge. In 1314, Robert the Bruce sent England’s Edward II packing after the Battle of Bannockburn. This was a key battle towards maintaining an independent Scotland, and is still referenced in the unofficial Scottish national anthem, ‘Flower of Scotland’ (“And stood against him/Proud Edward’s army/And sent him homeward/Tae think again”). On a side note, I think the Braveheart movie made Robert the Bruce look like a real wuss. In reality I think HIS story should be made into a movie. But I digress.

Anyway, we were in Stirling and had a chance to walk about town and see the castle which has an amazing view of the surrounding countryside. Our next destination was the Wallace Monument, which according to my guide book was only about 2 miles away from the train station. Unfortunately the guidebook meant 2 miles as the crow flies because it ended up to be quite the hike. The weather had been rainy off and on, so we really should have known better then to tempt nature by walking down country roads without any shelter. Sure enough, about half way to the monument, the skies opened up into one of those downpours that have no mercy for even the most prepared. Of which we were not.

Fiona and I had umbrellas, but this was not a rain that fell downwards. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn the rain was shooting out from the ground and the trees because I was soaked in minutes. Steve and Rachel, despite being good tourists and having bought bright yellow rain jackets, got equally as soaked as those clever Scottish raindrops seemed to find every possible opening into the clothes. Just as quickly the rain stopped, and we couldn’t help but laugh at the ferocity of the soaking. Welcome to Scotland!

The Wallace Monument was great, with a good account of the history of young William, and the coolest gimmick ever - the talking head (not to be confused with the Talking Heads). A hologram face is beamed onto a mannequin dressed as Wallace shackled to a chair, and it is rather spooky how realistic it looks.

Fiona also introduced us all to some swanky restaurants in the West End of Glasgow (University of Glasgow territory), including one selling £2.50 cocktails. Nice.

The MacMillans are now off to France, no doubt enjoying the pleasures of that most wonderful of countries (despite the pathetic American propaganda which claims otherwise). Fi and I tried to join them but not even the cheap airlines were able to cough up tickets that we can afford this time of year. I wish them well on their travels, and can’t wait to hear the stories!

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Bits n' Bobs

A quick update for those who are keeping score.

Just spent a fantastic last few days with my good friends Steve and Rachel. They had been in Manchester visiting family and made the hour flight north to spend some time in Glasgow. It's always tough to do too much travelling in a short period of time, so we decided to keep it relaxed with a few mini trips around Glasgow, and go heavy on the gin and tonics. Works for me!

Glad to see Drew back in blogging business. The poor guy always seems to have trouble getting from Ottawa to Toronto though. Mike also checks in with a fab article on communication and journals. Keep up the good work gentlemen.

My girlfriend Fiona made the valid point that I have yet to make mention of her in this blog.

After attending a great barbeque this past Saturday, I realised I could never be a vegetarian, despite the more than valid moral arguments in favour of it. The house the barbeque was held at backed onto a cow pasture. Somebody couldn't finish their burger and tossed it into the field, using the logic that maybe the cows would like a change from grass. I suppose drunk people forget where burgers come from.

Friday, July 18, 2003

"Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day"

Maybe it's just me, but lately there has been nothing but shite debuting on the big screen. Solution: movie classics at rep cinemas!

I think the idea of seeing a classic movie in its big screen glory is a great idea. You don't pay much more than the cost of a rental and you get to go out and have the cinema experience. Plus, if you're a big fan of the movie to begin with you will be surrounded by fellow fans (a.k.a. fellow obsessives) who will know the in-jokes and quote the best lines with you.

I think my love of the big screen re-issue started when I saw Monty Python and the Holy Grail at the sadly deceased Eglinton West cinema in Toronto (not the multiplex, the old school cinema circa 1950 that was shut down because they couldn't afford the mandatory upgrades to make it wheelchair accessable. Political correctness gone too far me, IMHO). This was quickly followed up by The Godfather at Bloor Cinema, a cinema which fortunately is still up-and-running. (I hope? I haven't been in Toronto since early February).

The latest and greatest classic I've seen at the cinema was last night, when I saw Withnail & I again. I won't rave too much, but this quite possibly is the best movie ever made. After the Lord of the Rings trilogy mind you. Glasgow may not be the largest city in the world, but it is well represented by rep cinema in the form of both the CCA and the GFT , and they have both done a great job of screening old school classics.

My faith in cinema is restored.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The Top Five

T in the Park ruled. If I'm still in Scotland this time next year (I can hear my Mom cringing already), I'll definitely be back. I mean - reasonably priced (and cold) pints, beautiful mountain views, and chicks showing off their assets. Oh, and kick-ass music too.
The top five bands I saw, and in no particular order, are:

1. Har Mar Superstar
The Concept: Fat, balding dude with a mullet who strips down to his underwear, sweats like a madman and sings 70's funk. At the end of his set, he humbly told us to "give it up for me, I'm fucking awesome". And we did.

2. The Polyphonic Spree
The Concept: 24 guys in white robes who sing happy music about sunshine and positive thinking, with a Brian Wilson vibe. I went for the hype. I came out a convert. If you have a chance to catch their show, don't deny yourself.

3. Super Furry Animals
Great harmonies, killer hooks. Listen to the brilliance of Juxtaposed With U and you'll love them too. Plus they dress up like yetis.

4. The Thrills
An Irish band who wrote their album on the beaches of California. Sounds a little like Sloan, but with more of a dream-pop vibe. And they're gonna be BIG!

5. Teenage Fanclub
Veteran guitar rock band with killer harmonies who do pop songs that bring tears to the eye. And they are Scottish, so they were honoured (rightly) as gods. Brilliant.

Oh yeah, and Coldplay was good too.
T in the Park

A music festival is a funny thing. When the initial list of bands appears, you begin to make mental schedules of those you plan to see. Then you receive the actual time schedule which ensures you need to make several cuts. Among my cuts (tragically): The Streets, The Music, Turin Brakes, The Roots and The Flaming Lips.

I suppose in theory I could have caught part of these sets. With five stages, I could have legged it away from one stage halfway through a set to catch the second half of another elsewhere. But music festivals are like travelling. Do you want to see a lot of places in a short period of time? Or see less but have more time to appreciate what you are seeing? I took the latter approach.

One choice was made for me. The day before they were scheduled to play, the White Stripes pulled out. Ostensibly this due to a minor car crash where Jack White broke a finger. Apparently nothing to do with weeks of a rumoured split of the band says the Record Company.

Hold on - I thought a seven nation army couldn't hold you back?

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Wet, Wet, Wet

It was bound to happen.

I currently live in a tenement flat in the south end of Glasgow. I couldn't tell you the exact age of it, but I reckon it's close to 100 years old, complete with old school furniture built into the walls, squeeky floors and a ceiling that has to be about 15ft. high (great change after the 6ft. ceiling of my last flat). I love it. I could never do modern again.

However, with an old flat comes problems. Some inept floor tiler was working in the flat upstairs and punctured a water pipe. Lovely! Water from the roof, through the walls - I especially loved the water bubbles that formed behind the wallpaper. I think things may have been different if the place was a little newer. Still, this is nothing but a slight inconvenience. Nothing beats the atmosphere of an old flat!

And hopefully the trend of "wet" doesn't continue this weekend in Balado for T in the Park. But this is Scotland. As Mike can attest, the weather can change rather dramatically around here, so I expect to experience all four seasons over the next few days. Bring it on says I.