Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Defeat of the Tartan Army

I was one of thousands who recently descended upon Hampden Park in Glasgow to catch a first round World Cup qualifier match between Scotland and Norway. We got our tickets early, and as a result had seats that were practically on the pitch. Unfortunately, not only did Scotland lose 1-0, but truth be told it was one of the most boring sporting matches I've ever seen. And that's coming from a guy who has been to more than a few baseball games.

Since this game, Scotland drew 0-0 with Moldova (who?) which effectively kills of their chances to qualify for the World Cup. There's a lot of talk in the papers about the poor manager, and the inexperience of the team, injuries, blah blah blah.

Quite frankly, this all bores me to tears. What I did find interesting though was the non-sporting elements.

First off, the game was at noon, but that did not stop at least half the crowd from getting totally pissed beforehand. We stopped at a pub on the way to meet friends and the pints and whisky shots were being thrown back like nobody's business.

Second, the number of police officers and security. Scotland international games are not known for their trouble. But that apparently doesn't prevent half of Glasgow's police force turning up to keep the peace. The section housing the Norwegian fans was completely surrounded by officers in bright yellow uniforms. Actually, maybe that's the reason there isn't trouble...

But perhaps most entertaining are the fans themselves. The chants, singing and general support for Scotland during the first half was incredible. After Norway scored in the second half, most of the crowd proceeded to turn on their own team, bombarding them with insults.

All-in-all, the football was a bust. But to witness the sheer creativity the Scottish football fan uses to incorporate the word "fuck" into every sentence - now that was worth the price of admission alone.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

He’s Playing Where?

The joy of coincidence. While my parents were over, we had been having a few drinks at the flat and listening to Hayden’s latest album Elk Lake Serenade. My father seemingly took a shine to it, so upon returning to Canada he took a look at Hayden’s web site where he noticed that Hayden would be playing in Darvel, Scotland in a few weeks time as part of the Darvel Music Festival. My father very kindly relayed this fact to me, and glad I was too because this was the first I’d heard of it. Not just of Hayden’s performance, but of the festival and the town too. Even after I found out, I tried in vain to find a single reference to this festival in any of the publications that I’d have thought might make mention of it (The List, the Scotsman, The Herald).

It turns out Darvel is a small town in Ayrshire, about an hours drive west of Glasgow. And so it came to be that a few Friday’s ago Fiona and I found ourselves getting a lift from Fiona’s parents (who strangely enough were convinced to attend!) to Darvel to see Hayden in what turned out to be his first ever Scottish gig.

The festival itself was being held in the Town Hall, and - much like the town itself – had clearly seen better days. There couldn’t have been more than 100 people there, most of them older locals who clearly had never heard of the artists but were just happy that something was actually happening in town. But looking around, I could see the odd person around my age who quite clearly was a Canadian backpacker or expat.

It felt very surreal when Hayden finally took the stage – part of me couldn’t be convinced that he’d actually be here of all places. And man was he ever good. The intimacy of the situation (it felt like a High School coffeehouse) made the music that much more beautiful. The fact that we were in the middle of nowhere Scotland in the most bizarre venue ever only heightened the special feel of the night.

But a tip for the festival organisers – if you're going to land someone like Hayden, you may wish to think about spending a few extra quid on some promotion.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

20 Months Later

It has been a while, but after a long time apart I’ve finally seen my parents in person again. We had just over a week to see and do a lot of things – but despite the time restraints I think it went brilliantly. There were many good intentions to see lots of historical sites and museums, but it seemed to be the case that a few (or more than a few) pints in the Scottish pubs always proved to be more of a draw. Aren't they always?

That said, we still managed to cover a lot of territory. Among the many highlights:

- A windy afternoon in St. Andrews to check out the Old Course and
to get a sense of the vibe of the town centre
- A beautiful drive through the Cairngorms to Braemar
- A great B&B and pub in the town of Braemar itself
- A cold and windy walk up Morrone Hill outside Braemar, with fabulous views all around.
- A trip to the Glenlivet Distillery, complete with our lovely tour guide Grace and her even lovelier Highland accent
- A stay in the town of Nairn on the Moray Firth where we had a delicious meal of chicken with stuffed haggis
- A visit to Inverness, and a drive along the banks of Loch Ness with another visit to Castle Urquhart
- A stay in the brilliant Clachaig Inn which contains one of the cosiest pubs I’ve ever been to – rafters and a fireplace and homebrew and whisky, oh my!
- The Buachaille Etive Beag circuit in Glencoe, 14 miles and 8 hours through both boggy and rugged terrain but with some of the most breathtaking views I’ve yet seen. I’m well impressed with my folks as they’d never done anything like it before.
- Learning that my mother is the worst back seat driver in history. Hmm, maybe not a highlight that one…

All that plus a few days to poke around Glasgow to take in all that it has to offer.

Hopefully they will be back before another twenty months goes by. Great Glen Way next year perchance?

Sunday, October 10, 2004

"The play's the thing..."

The power of teachers cannot be understated. A good teacher who is passionate about the subject matter they teach can impart the same passion to the student so that after the course is over and exams written, the subject remains as a lifelong interest.

I was fortunate to have two excellent English teachers in high school whose love of Shakespeare was such that it turned what could have been a dry exercise into something that I looked forward to on a daily basis. And so it is that years later I still enjoy the study of his work and seeing it performed on stage.

I was therefore very excited to finally be visiting the Bard's birthplace and the centre for all things Shakespearean, Stratford-Upon-Avon.

While naturally a touristy place, it still retains much of its Elizabethan charm. Many buildings dating back to Shakespeare's time, including his birthplace and that of his wife Anne Hathaway, remain and have been wonderfully restored.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage

Some truly excellent old pubs (dating back several hundred years) such as the Windmill Inn and the Black Swan were great places to escape the periodic showers. A visit to Shakespeare's grave in the 13th-century built Holy Trinity Church was necessary if only to read the epitaph on the grave that Shakespeare had written himself before death: "Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear/To dig the dust enclos├Ęd here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones/And cursed be he that moves my bones." Always the dramatist, even in death.

And of course, no trip would be complete without catching a play from the Royal Shakespeare Company in the old theatre on the banks of the Avon. In fact, we managed to catch two: King Lear, starring Corin Redgrave, and Hamlet (which was especially excellent).

The River Avon