Tuesday, March 30, 2004

It’s A Funny Thing About Live Comedy…

I’ve always loved going out for the evening to see live music, or theatre, or cinema. In each case I’ve made a point of getting tickets for performances I’d like to see.

For some reason though, I’ve not made a point to see stand-up comedy. Furthermore, I really don’t know anything about the scene, and can only name a handful of performers based upon hype they receive from the odd magazine article I’ve read.

And I don’t know why that is. I’ve seen the odd show here and there over the last several years and have more often than not enjoyed it.

I certainly wasn’t in any hurry to book any tickets for this year’s Glasgow International Comedy Festival. Luckily, Fiona picked up a few tickets for a bloke called Dara O’Briain, an Irish comedian who didn’t have an act per se. It was more banter with the crowd and the odd anecdote, and it was bloody hilarious. Gut-wrenchingly pee-your-pants funny. When you can make sectarian and Old Firm football jokes (emotive subjects both!) in the heart of Glasgow and get the laughs, you know you’re good.

Live comedy - something else on which I can spend my evenings and money methinks!

Friday, March 26, 2004

A Couple Of Things

Looks as though I will be remaining in my current job for a little longer yet. My contract has been renewed for the remainder of the year, with the option to resign for 2005 along with a work visa should I want to stay past my original visa duration. Decisions, decisions.

I will also shortly be moving flats in Glasgow. Fiona's brother and his wife have bought a new house, and rather than sell the flat they are living in they will be renting it out to us. A nicer flat, with new furniture and a reduced rent? Suits me. And the bonus is that it's also a tenement flat so it will still have the ambience of our current flat (something I absolutely adore).

And we've now paid for and picked up our T in the Park tickets for this year. Look at this line up already. And there are still many more artists to be announced. How excited am I? Very.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Nature’s Fury

I’ve heard it said many times before regarding Scottish weather: It’s so strange! Four seasons in four hours. Burning sunshine to howling blizzard in a blink of the eye.

While I have experienced some quirky weather in my stay thus far, it wasn’t until recently that I can fully appreciate just how fast weather can change, and just how dangerous these things can be if unprepared.

It had been decided that we would go for a walk in a valley about 20 miles north of Loch Lomond. The original plan was to climb one of Munros in the area, but the fog was quite heavy so it was decided to stick to flat land. It was spitting with rain off and on, but the forecast indicated good weather for later on in the day so we weren’t bothered. Near the beginning of the walk there was a mid-sized stream with a raised bit where you could cross. After that it was flat pastureland alongside a riverbank, under the looming company of 3000 ft. mountains and amongst the sheep. All in all quite picturesque.

About an hour and a half into the walk the rain started picking up. Then the wind. Then the rain turned to hail. Considering we had at least another two hours to go before we could complete the circuit, the decision was made to go back.

But back seemed to be a different place altogether. The rain and hail was now blowing directly in our faces so we could barely see where we were going. Within minutes the pastureland had turned into swamp. The wind was blowing so strongly that we could barely keep our bearings. Waterproof clothing can only keep so much water out – we were soon soaked through. The temperature plummeted and we were freezing cold. We eventually made it back to near the beginning of our walk where, much to our surprise, the former mid-sized stream that we had initially crossed had now become a swiftly moving river. The only way we were getting across was to take a plunge into the water and hope we could keep our footing.

I remember asking the clerk at the outdoors shop where I had bought my waterproof boots whether or not the top part of the boot was waterproof. She (cheekily) replied that the only water they couldn’t keep out was water that spills over the top. I experienced this first-hand as the river water spilled into my boots to soak the last part of me that was still dry.

We made it back to the car, and shortly thereafter to the pub where we sat like drowned rats in front of the fire nursing our pints (perhaps coffee would have been better?). Hardly near-death stuff, but as one of our party pointed out (and as a very experienced outdoorsman I take his words seriously), if we had been forced to be out there for much longer with the temperature and the damp, it wouldn’t have been long before hypothermia could have kicked in. What would have happened if someone had broken an ankle and couldn’t go on?

Just goes to show that even for simple day hikes, you just never know what the Scottish weather might throw at you. Lesson learned!

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

“On ne joue pas avec la liberté”

Despite the drama that was last Monday, it was actually a brilliant long weekend away up to Glen Coe, in the (perhaps lazily named) village of Glencoe.

Glencoe plays a pretty significant role in Scottish history as it was the place where the 1692 Glen Coe Massacre took place. In a nutshell, the ruling monarch of the time, William III, had ordered that the MacDonald clan be punished for not giving an oath of loyalty to him by a certain date. The soldiers chosen to do the punishing were from another Highland clan, the Campbell’s. Due to a Highland tradition of providing hospitality to passing travellers, the MacDonald’s had innocently invited the passing soldiers into their homes. During the night, the Campbell clan ruthlessly slaughtered all MacDonald’s under 70. Over 300 years later, this still represents a sad chapter in Highland history. The story is still emotive today - the large monument to the MacDonald clan just down the street from our B&B was full of recently placed flowers and wreaths.

Glen Coe is also home to some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Scotland. Lush valleys, lochs, forests and mountains are all within a short walk of the village, and the only tough decision we had was deciding what we should do. On the first day we took a walk amongst the former grounds of one of the founders of the Hudson Bay Company. The story goes that after years building his fortune in Canada, he had taken his Native wife back to Scotland, and had planted the forest (which consists mainly of North American trees) in order to remind her of the home she had left behind. Though as the sign said, “unfortunately, despite being such a beautiful place, she was unhappy and the couple had to return to Canada”. I thought the sign sounded a bit bitter myself.

Day two was the big walk, an eight-hour epic from Glen Coe village, past the historic Clachaig Inn (a rustic old inn that has been there forever, with very tasty home brew) and to the Lost Valley, the place where Highland cattle rustlers used to hide their coos. Somehow we managed to misread the maps and ended up not going to the Lost Valley at all, but a completely different route which actually took us up over 3000ft to Stob Coire nan Lochan, one of the Munros of the region. Regardless, the views were absolutely stunning – especially as the day was perfectly sunny and clear.

And while much of Monday was taken up with the drama of the break-in, the day was more than salvaged by the Stereolab concert that night (the tickets being something else the thief hadn’t taken, thankfully!). I’d seen the band play before a few years ago in Toronto, so I knew they were as brilliant live as they were on disc. Sadly, Mary Hansen - one of the key members of the band who sang most of the harmonies - had been killed in a road accident since then. The band had vowed not to replace her, and sure enough rather than hire another vocalist they had brought in a musician who plays the French Horn in harmony with the vocals. It was a very clever effect that worked incredibly well. Overall, the ambience of Stereolab’s music was the perfect antidote to the drama of the day.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Hail to the Thief (or, Climbing Up The Walls)

I’m sure Fiona’s 24th will rank amongst the more memorable of her birthdays. We had been away on a long weekend up to the beautiful Glen Coe region of mid-Western Scotland, and we were up early on the Monday so we could make the most out of the day before having to catch a coach back to Glasgow. When Fiona’s mobile rang early on, it was expected to be her family calling to wish her a happy birthday. Unfortunately, it turned out to be our letting agents who asked “sorry to bother you, but are you aware that your flat has been broken into?” Um, no actually.

At some point on Sunday, a neighbour had reported to the police that our back window was missing. A police officer had arrived on the scene to investigate, and concluded that it was likely an “unlawful entry” but couldn’t legally gain access to the flat without the permission of the tenants. After a bit of digging they finally managed to find the owner of the flat, then the letting agency who then contacted us. At this point nobody had any idea what had really happened, and we were still a good six hours from being able to get back to Glasgow. The worst part was definitely the unknown factor – was the flat trashed, fully cleaned out, or both? As much as one wants to avoid thinking about it, the brain forces you to speculate about things. Such as, “I can deal with losing CD’s but hope they didn’t take my passport, and if they did I’ll have to go to the embassy and…” Luckily, we were able to get the letting agency to give their keys to Fiona’s parents who would go over and inspect the flat. It took several hours before this all worked out, and after waiting several anxious hours we finally got the call Fiona’s father said people had definitely been in the flat, and that shelves and doors had been opened, but it didn’t seem too bad. We bombarded him questions – was this still there, did they take that? It seemed as though everything was still there!

We were able to get back to Glasgow by 3pm and finally saw the situation for ourselves. We live on the second floor, and it seemed as though the thief had climbed up the back drainpipe and had used tools to unscrew the bathroom window. We wandered around the flat and sure enough, stuff had been riffled through but it appeared that nothing had been taken. I’m still typing this from our home computer. Bank cards, passports, CDs, TV, mobile phone - everything was still there. When the police later arrived, they said we had been quite lucky. Usually if nothing is taken, the intruders would at least break things or leave “evidence” that they had been there (you can use your imagination on that one…). The worst that we had was the odd thing strewn about - the intruder(s) hadn’t even broken the window, they had set it down nicely on the bathroom floor. They had even moved the potted plant in the sill to one side, which I suppose was quite nice of them.

That all being said, it was hard to shake the sense of violation I felt towards my personal space. The thought of somebody walking around your place, going through all of your possessions and picking and choosing what they wanted really shook us up. We felt it necessary to do a serious bout of cleaning and laundry to get back the feeling that it was “our” flat. And then the “what-ifs” kicked in. What if we had been home? What if we were lucky only because they had been interrupted by noise from a neighbour? And now, a week later, it’s a case of moderate paranoia. At around 4am, a spoon from the pile of dishes fell over in the kitchen. We were both instantly awake, and I ran into the kitchen fully expecting (in a half-awake state) to confront somebody.

The police response certainly didn’t give me much confidence in law enforcement either. After the first officer who came on the scene determined that we weren’t home, he attempted to determine the whereabouts of the occupiers – fair enough. But in the meantime, our back window was wide open and was left as such for a full day and half until we got home. What was stopping anybody else from hopping in and helping themselves? It also took over three phone calls to the police after we got back to get anybody to show up to file a proper report. It wasn’t until the Tuesday before we had anybody come by to do an investigation and check for fingerprints. Their conclusion - “looks like the thief wore gloves”. Well, duh. Thanks Sherlock. We did get a formal apology from the police a few days later, which was nice, but I felt that they really should have helped us as opposed to us having to make so many calls to get them to do their job.

My most recent thought on the matter was my most absurd. Did the thief not take anything because they were interrupted? Or did they just walk around and conclude that nothing was worth taking? Did they browse through my CDs and think, crap? Should I be grateful, or insulted?

In the end, I know these things happen and I hold no ill will whatsoever towards the flat or Glasgow or Scotland. And at the end of the day, it was certainly the best possible result of a bad situation!