Sunday, January 25, 2004

On Neeps, Noodles and Nudity

Today marks the birthday of Robbie Burns, Scotland’s classic poet, and is meant to be marked by drinking whisky and eating a full meal of neeps, tatties and haggis (no maple syrup though).

However, I did nothing of the kind today, instead going for a Japanese noodle meal at the newly opened Wagamamas in Glasgow which seemed appropriate after finally seeing Lost In Translation at the cinema. This film was excellent on so many levels – acting, cinematography, soundtrack. The way the central theme of the film is explored but without a set story - events unfold with a natural rhythm all while portraying the sights and sounds of modern Tokyo. Where no questions are answered and nothing really changes, but you’re happy to have experienced what you’ve seen. Funny and sad all at the same time. The film felt very real to me with its scenes of hotel living. Despite the obvious cultural differences, there were many similarities that vividly recalled to me my time spent living in a hotel during the latter part of 2003. In short, a wonderful film that I would highly recommend.

Happy to report that our old friend the Naked Rambler finally made it to John O’Groats, after having to spend several months in jail for public indecency. Dude must have been seriously cold for those last few days – Northern Scotland is a cold place even for the clothed.

Had a chance to catch an excellent band, Croft No. 5, as part of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival. At their core, they are a traditional Celtic band but combined this sound with funky guitar and bass and even a rapper for a few songs. One of our friends works for the festival, and managed to get us VIP passes which allowed entry into the after-party at the Central Hotel (right above Central Station) where we were able to see a few more acts work their fiddle and accordian magic, including an excellent duo from Cape Breton.
Make the sweat drip out of every pore

My ears are ringing and my head is buzzing as I have now seen (finally!) The White Stripes in concert. Many of the things I’ve heard or read about the band are true. Meg is quite cute in person, Jack does wear tight trousers, and the two of them can in fact do more with one guitar and a drum kit than many bands can do a whole arsenal of instruments (and band members). And I don’t think you can really appreciate just what a guitar god Jack White really is until you see and hear him do his thing live. The band quite simply is pure rock n’ roll, and undeniably have that “it factor” as they’re so compelling to watch. Things almost took a turn for the worse during the encore when some stupid punter launched his shoe which then connected with Jack’s nose during “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” (a Von Bondies fan perhaps?). But he shook it off, and after playing a few more songs he returned to finish “I Just Don’t Know…” – the crowd was simply rapturous with their applause. Rawk on, indeed!

Sunday, January 18, 2004

The Hardest Button to Button

Another step towards maturity perhaps? This past Saturday saw us “entertain”, which is to say have another couple over for dinner and drinks. A definite alternative to the norm for me, and a good bit of fun it was. We brought out the ol’ bruschetta/potato wedges/Vietnamese-style chicken curry combo. High on the impress-the-guests scale and low on the difficulty-to-prepare scale.

I’m due to see The White Stripes in concert next weekend. And at long last too, following the broken finger incident last summer which saw them pull out of T in the Park. However, it now seems as though Jack White has been charged with assault which reportedly may prevent the band from coming to the UK this week. This band may prove to be as hard to catch as a connecting train from Edinburgh.

I recently rented the Shrek DVD. I’ve always thought the movie was great, and I was pleased to discover that the DVD layout and special features are fantastic. But with recent experience in mind I can now safely say that Mike Myers does a terrible Scottish accent. And on that same note, I can never take Mel Gibson in Braveheart seriously again now that I know how the accent should sound. And don’t get me started on Groundskeeper Willie.

I had a reminder this weekend why it can be so great living in Scotland. The day was crispy cool and sunny, and after a quick 20 minute drive we were out of the city and into the proper Scottish countryside (glens and lochs and sheep). The route on this day was Ballageich Hill, more of a hike than a climb with stunning views of the city and the surrounding mountains. There has been a bit of snow lately, and I could clearly see the snow covered peaks of Ben Lomond and the Sleeping Warrior which is found on the Isle of Arran. After a few hours of letting it all sink in, we then grabbed a pint at a small country pub (The Swan in the town of Eaglesham) which could have come directly out of a cliched Scottish movie. Old men with big sideburns and jimmy hats (minus the shocking red hair) sitting around drinking pints of McEwan’s and discussing football. Fantastic.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

“Hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly”

One of things I always try and do at the beginning of a new year is send out an email to everybody in my address book in order to check in with friends new and old. Even with the convenience of electronic communication, it is quite amazing how lax one can become about keeping in touch.

The auto-responses from some web domain stating, “this email account is no longer active” are usually the saddest. This year I got back two of them, both from work colleagues of yesteryear. Without another means of contacting them, they officially join the list of people I’ll probably never be in touch with again.

However, this year I received some of the best pieces of news from a batch of folk. I was very happy to find out that my oldest friend in the world Lisa (in terms of how long I’ve known her, that is – I first met her at the age of 4) is getting married! Her future husband Randy unofficially lived with us when we were roommates back in Toronto and is a fantastic bloke. I wish them all the very best.

I also received three emails from former work colleagues from the infamous BrandEra stage of my working life. All have gone on to much better things, have married and have their first child. With the wonders of digital photography, I was able to see a picture of each of their new bundles of joy. I know people always say this, but each of them are extremely cute and adorable. A fourth colleague also announced that he too has a child on the way. I knew things would be better once we got out of that place!

And as always, it was great to hear the latest from the Ottawa group. The nostalgia was high on my end when I read the stories of their holiday get-togethers. I’m also happy to report that Mike and Drew appear to have returned to the world of blogging after a short sabbatical.

It also sounds like the Toronto group had an enjoyable holiday and are doing well. I see there is one serious freeze going on over there at the moment. Relatively speaking, it’s almost (as Steve put best) tropical in these parts at a respectable 10 degrees.

With upcoming weddings (three mates getting hitched this year), new jobs and homes and babies by the barrel full, it really has hit home that I and my peers have indeed hit a new stage in life. And so it goes!

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Great Balls of Fire

Ah, New Year’s Eve. For some strange reason, this night always brings an air of expectation for huge amounts of partying and fun - and more often than not it ends up being most lame. Think of all the bad house parties or overpriced and overcrowded nightclubs.

So when the invite came to check out the Stonehaven Fireball Festival in Aberdeenshire, I thought – now this is something a bit different. The Herald newspaper summarises this festival as follows: “The traditional procession of 60 local men, swinging fireballs above their heads before hurling them into the sea”.

Stonehaven is a small town about 2 hours northwest of Glasgow, and just south of Aberdeen. The weather was unfortunately not very co-operative on Scotland’s east coast this night (snow, driving rain, high winds – the works) to the extent that Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay celebrations were cancelled. But much to Stonehaven’s credit, the fireball procession went on. It was cold and I was quite damp, but I must admit it was a whole bunch of fun. Picture this: a small Scottish street with a reasonable number of spectators crammed alongside. You’ve got a bagpipe marching band, and then a great flare as the participants light up their fireballs. The “fireball” is a large mesh ball filled with timber and other flammable items attached to a chain which can be swung over the head. So to recap - we’ve got balls of fire swinging in the air, sparks flying everywhere, and bagpipes. We then all followed the procession down to the sea where the balls were flung into the deep. And then we got drunk. Now that’s what New Year’s should be all about!

We were also lucky enough to run into the local celebrity, Mark “Big Ball” Anderson, who reputedly has the biggest (fire)balls in town. They sure seemed big to my untrained eye.

So 2004 is here. Another cliché of the season comes in the form of New Year’s Resolutions. But they proved to be the incentive I needed to finally get on the shorts and hit the streets of Glasgow for my first jog in months. I feel like someone clubbed me in both of my legs and then punched me in the gut, which is probably my body’s way of saying that perhaps I’ve had my fair share of beer and holiday food delights. Point taken.

How two weeks fly by...Monday morning, and back to work. I hope everybody had a great holiday, and here’s hoping for many a good time in 2004!