A Dose of Culture

My bearded, Scottish, other half, Michael said to me that he would perform guitar at an open mic night (something I’d been bugging him to do for ages, his Nicki Minaj cover is a classic) if I posted a blog. So here it is Michael, you’d better start practicing!

Image                    8am is a very early start. However a bowl of fruitloops, and a trashy tabloid with stories of two headed children and incestuous grandparents help to ease the burden. Michael and I climb aboard the hefty megabus for our two-hour journey down to Edinburgh to wander about on the first Saturday of The Fringe Festival. The Fringe is this absolutely massive international arts, theatre, music festival lasting over two weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland. With 2,871 shows from theatre, to comedy, to magic, to cabaret, it’s a bit of cram packed chaos in the absolute least.

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We clambered off the bus, and made our way down the Royal Mile, the main stretch of Edinburgh, coincidentally also the road leading up to the Royal Castle, an exquisite 12th century fortress casually perched atop the tallest hill in the city. And the attack began. Leaflets were thrust at us with vigor by men in drag, and women in blood soaked gowns, and we found ourselves promising to attend the show of a group of folk in rabbit costumes. There were street performers galore; magicians, some brilliant some still using the plastic thumb handkerchief trick, jugglers, banjo players and harp players, a bagpipe shooting flames, and a couple of students from circus school flipping about. And to top it all off, the sun was generous as we were able to slip our jackets off every twenty minutes, until the drizzle started again.

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Our first stop was a showing of the musical Avenue Q, a rather offensive production using hand puppets of Sesame Street characters. We were settled into the theatre, when Michael turns to me with a look of elation on his face, he doesn’t speak for another twenty seconds before loudly whispering, “Susan Boyle is in the row behind us!!” I swivel my neck to gawk as sure enough, crammed into the seats right behind ours is fifty two year old Britain’s Got Talent Star, Susan Boyle. I know that doesn’t mean much to inhabitants over the pond, but on the island of Britain, she’s big, like big big, like big big big! With the best selling debut album of all time in the UK, it might be worth your while to check out her first ever public appearance. She’s basically this 52 year old awkward frumpy bag lady who entered into a singing competition, and absolutely blew everybody out of the water when she opened her mouth. Being a couple of cool cats, we snuck a photo of her, so everyone can marvel at probably the only famous person I’ve ever sat a row in front of at the theatre, and probably the only one I ever will. Who knew Susan Boyle liked racist puppet Broadway musicals, I guess there’s a time and a place for everything.

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After the furry musical finishes, we dash over to another venue to see ‘Title of Show’. I was given a burnt copy of Title of Show by my best mate Danielle back in Sophomore year of high school, and ever since then have maintained captivated by the subtle, vampish, and moving lyrics.

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One of my favourite songs recounts, “If you shine a flashlight up my butt, you can see, that I’m dying inside.” I was giddy in the front row looking up onto the shoes of Jeff, Hunter, Hiedi, and Susan, so close I could hawk a loogie at them. It’s a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical, I defined it as genius, Michael defined it as kind of weird and without a plot, at least the bits he could stay awake for.

To make it up to him, we laced our way through the tourists and queued outside what was to be the climax of our day, Fudge Kitchen. Our visit had become tradition whenever we were in Edinburgh, and I’m not one to mess with sacred ancient rituals. Taking our free sample, we let the sugar dissolve into our mouths. And splurge of the day, we indulged in six pieces of fudge, carefully selecting our box of sea salt dark chocolate fudge, mocha fudge, strawberries and cream fudge (gag, that one’s all Michaels), snickers fudge, maple and walnut fudge, and after dinner mint fudge. Then came the part right after the best part of the day which was still pretty good too, plopping down on the street corner, and watching all the weirdo’s pace up and down the Royal Mile.

DSCF5108Comparing the paleness of tourists, checking out fanny packs, and floppy hats, watching with admiration the ones who took more photos per minute than breaths, and devouring our fudge.

We got tickets to see an up and coming comedian in the basement of a venue, and packed into the room to see the bearded ginger Canadian offend the entirety of the place. It was great. With only a couple hours left before our glamorous bus home, we piled into a pub to watch a magician, and challenged him to dazzle us. Even if every last card trick had failed, I still think we both would have been equally intrigued by the man, we were suffocating in his charisma. Thankfully we never had to find out as he left our mouths to the ground with his tricks; cutting lengths of rope in half only to have them rejoin again, somehow putting a coin into a closed bottle then taking it out again, and the cherry on top, getting a twenty pound note from a man in the audience, which the man had signed his name on, making the twenty pound note turn into ten dollars, which the magician lit on fire and burned away, only to have the man come onstage, and choose a fruit between an apple, orange and banana. The man chose the banana, peeled it, and broke it in half, to find his twenty pound note in the middle. I laughed at all those fools in the audience with their mouths dropped down, I’d already figured out how he did everything way back when at the beginning of the show, I started believing in magic.

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August 6, 2013 · 1:17 am

Happy Hogmanay to All, And To All A New Year!

Hogmanay is the Scots word for the New Years Celebration, typically celebrated with fireworks and a procession of carrying torches through Edinburgh dressed in kilt. Photo compliments of Edinburgh Hogmanay official site.

 

Walking barefoot up the driveway, knapsack slung over shoulder, and hair pulled up in a patterned red bandana, I trudged up the long dirt driveway Tuesday morning, the 20th of December after too many hours of cross-continental journey.

Didn’t bother to tell anyone that I’d make it home for Christmas.

I guess it was a bit of a shock to them all. Mom started crying, and she got all emotional. I think it’s a mom thing.

Back in Dundee, Scotland, I think it was right about my twenty-eighth listen of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” that it began to sink in.

The way in which my Christmas playlist included every known version of that song from Bing Crosby to Rascal Flatts, Frank Sinatra to The Carpenters, Michael Buble, Elvis Presley, Josh Groban, Sarah McLachlan, Kelly Clarkson, Johnny Mathis.

They all had a go at the carol.

I would know.

I began to think that perhaps there was something beyond just a simple fascination of the song, some sort of subtext I still can’t pinpoint.

Needless to say, I made it home.

Never did figure out about that song fetish though.

My To Do before trekking back to the land of the Scots includes primarily getting a tan.

If only for the sole intent of ceasing the incessant inquiries as to the quasi transparency of my white skin if I was supposedly from “California.”

Well that, and procuring a cheese slicer before I head back over, to make the production of toasties a relatively simper ordeal.

Just a wee while back, would be measured round bout a year ago on this Gregorian calendar of ours, I fought, and bit, and fought some more to get outta this star spangled country and cross over quite a few borders.

It was something I needed to do.

This year, I fought (with myself) to be back home, paid 600 pounds, traveled for 31 hours, took a month off work, and abandoned the opportunity of a White Christmas.
Just to be back home.

Because it was something I needed to do.

I hope I stop needing to do things.

It’s getting kind of expensive.

Looking back over my pale Scottish shoulder at where I was this time last year, I figure I’ve covered a bit of distance.

Quite literally.

And, I may have learned a thing or two, although I beg you not to ask of me what seeing as I’m still not all too sure myself.

Written in my journal a year ago, from January 1st, 2011 as I sat in the airport about to fly out to Thailand for university at 12:04 am, reads,

             “I have been anticipating this moment since the dawn of time and before, marking it my bridge to freedom and the gateway to independence. But somehow in my mind, I’d always envisioned it with a bit less jet lag, and there was definitely a significant increase in the flowery scent of my aroma and my hair had a bit more curl, and a bit less grease to it. I was to be self actualized, with a fully endowed D-cup, and pristinely decoupaged matching suitcases. There would also be a scarf gently drifting behind me, you know, daintily traipsing in the ever constant breeze.

Yeah, well, that didn’t exactly happen. This new years as the clock strikes twelve, I’m considering it beneficial to mankind on a whole that I’m not kissing anybody, as I run the tip of my tongue against the grit caked up in chunks clinging to the back of my fuzzy travel teeth. Travel teeth, in accordance with contacts so dry I’m considering soaking them in Head and Shoulders. Not entirely how I’d imagined it, in fact it’s a little left of center, a little lotta left of center. But I wouldn’t have it any other way in the world.”

So I hope this New Year finds you not quite exactly where you thought you were gonna be, but instead, exactly and precisely where you ought to be.

And for me, that was home.

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An Unconventional Feast.

“Wait….. I know this…..Thanksgiving…..so is that like with the cowboys, and the indians……right?”

So young.

So hopeful.

So idealistic.

And it was up to me to shatter their dreams.

“Not quite.” Was all I could muster, eying the can of Pringles someone had brought along as a contribution to our Thanksgiving Feast.

I suppose that was an improvement to the flat next door that turned up with a handful of plates insisting that I had said in the invitation to, “Bring a dish”.

Which, to be fair…I suppose I had…cheeky Brits.

I felt it my moral obligation to spread the word of the Yanks, peace, justice, goodwill toward men, and basically I just wanted an excuse to stab a knife into that pumpkin that had been sitting on our window ledge for far too long.

Pumpkin Pie just waiting to happen.

The day before the feast I decided it probably a practical idea to plan my menu, taking advantage of a horribly drab International Relations lecture on the nuclear dimension of contemporary war to get a game plan. Leaving the entire lecture hall seated behind me drooling as I surfed the web for the supreme apple crisp recipe.

Six hours and three grocery stores later, I lugged my many many multiple bursting brown bags up the steps, round the corner, and into the kitchen where I remained for the next twenty four hours.

I’d reserved the morning for pies, and I’d reserved my flatmates for peeling: potatoes, pumpkins, apples, butternut squash.

I’d contemplated a Thanksgiving Dinner Draft, but dismissed that plan on account of it not really fitting into the spirit of things, mandatory lettuce washing and all. Instead I resorted to merely wailing desperately every time a victim entered the kitchen, “HOW ON EARTH IS ANYTHING GOING TO GET DONE ON TIME???……….”

It proved effective as my flatmates harbor unique talents of picking up subtlety.

However I found with this tactic that they all tended to stay in their rooms starving themselves the entire afternoon, for fear of being allocated a duty dare they enter the kitchen to grab a breadcrumb, or two.

Susanna, pleading for mercy and camped out on the couch, exhausted by my slave driving tactics in order to create the most perfect, harmonious, idyllic Thanksgiving Dinner on the face of Flat Two!

But fear not, don’t allow yourselves to be deceived by that plastic bag in the picture, everything was, as can be assumed, grown, harvested, and prepared by *cough cough* yours truly. From ground to table. With MAYBE the slightest of detours through a supermarket aisle in between…

Susanna and Sarah, doing a wonderful job of pretending to be having fun.

And thus it began.

Everything at once. The oven was beeping, the fridge was humming loudly, the stovetop was boiling over, and the microwave was making never before heard sounds not unlike the Philharmonic Orchestra with a slightly more techno edge to it.

But this was not the time to sit and wonder.

It was the time to bake, and stir, and cook, and taste, and grate, and peel, and season, and mix, and pull things out of the oven, and rotate pots on the burners, and turn down the heat, and open the fridge, and peel off wrappers, and somehow…

Green Beans with Apple Cider, Mashed Potatoes with Butternut Squash, Brown Sugared Sweet Potato Yams, Dinner Rolls, Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing, A Green Salad, An Apple Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream and Two Pumpkin Pies.

If desired, one can memorize the aforementioned feast and repeat in alphabetical order, backwards, for entertainment on long car rides.

For the record, there’s about twenty witnesses the skeptics can contact.

I don’t have a photo, but I can tell you this; It was good, and it got eaten.

And we sat around the table and all tried to act as American as possible, this was achieved mainly by using the terms, “dude” and “gnarly” at frequent intervals, and emphasizing how the man was holding us down, and how the Fourth of July was by far our favorite holiday.

In what was probably the most unconventional Thanksgiving ever.

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Tastes Like Uni. (For all you yanks: Uni; University as abbreviated by our kilt wearing, haggis eating friends across the broad broad bay)

A (really, really exciting) Interactive iSpy Activity:

Seven Things To Be Found Floating About Our Kitchen

1.

If you weren’t already convinced as to which land mass I happen to be occupying, here’s a hint.

One can simultaneously toast/bake/warm/reheat/broil/grill eight pieces of bread in our flat at a time.

Coming from a country in which toast and tea is reserved primarily as food for the sick and bedridden (all right, potentially a wee bit of an exaggeration, even by my own standards, but we’re trying to get a point across).

I found that endlessly impressive.

Our flat is stocked with not only a toaster, but also a, and I quote, “toastie maker.”

Other popular outlets for toast preparation include the oven, in addition to the microwave.

However my flatmates have incessently shot me down whenever I’ve offered to just warm up a batch of microwaved toast for them, describing it with harsh adjectives such as, “stale” “rubbery” and “unappetizingly chewy.”

Pretty cruel critique when divulged in a British accent.

2.

Skint.

(North Americans, this is Scottish for, “broke” a friendly term with the 18-25 age group)

Cliche?

Potentially.

Nonetheless probably the most common cupboard landscape round campus halls is the very spitting image before you.

3.

No one’s quite sure what this is. What it’s for. How to use it. Nor how it appeared in our flat.

So, we did what all other practical uni students would do in this situation, threw it in the drawer of wonders and waited it out till it proved it’s worth.

Which surprisingly came in an impressivly short amount of time the very next day, and the next day, and the next.

Seeing as it has no use, we have managed to use it for just about everything there is.

We’ve set this awkward stick to work grinding, crunching, stirring, smooshing, flattening, rolling, and wrecking general destruction.

4.

Seeing Jonathan eating food is never an odd occurrence.

In fact, that is a very, very natural occasion in the kitchen of Flat 2, one that happens most essentially on the hour, every hour rain or shine, more rain than shine, never fail.

The only impressive, and therefore relatively odd happening in this photo is the way in which Jonathan is avidly (and may I note successfully) consuming a Tesco bought lasagna meal pack meant for four.

That gorgeous trophy of a college student’s dinner was devoured in one single sitting.

In a span of about fifteen minutes.

Only under the strictest supervision of peer pressure of course.

5.

I could probably write a novel about the chickpea incident.

Screw that, I could write encyclopedias, as in multiple, about the chickpea incident.

Or at the very least a couple of semi-decent blog posts.

However I now present to you, the debut recounting of:

The Chickpea Incident; Abridged Version.

It has something to do with me coming home from lectures right about dinner time, absolutely starving as always, if I were a twelve year old boy, the hunger would most certainly be attributed to an inevitable growth spurt just minutes down the road of maturity.

But I fear I’ve far out-aged the good old days of growth spurts and must now face the reality that all that food I’m consuming really isn’t going to make me taller, and I’ve got nothing at all left in the world to blame my hunger upon.

Anyhow, it’s the type of evening when everything smells delicious, like really, really good.

And all I want is some sort of insta-meal to just appear before me, you know, the way that food would just sort of, materialize whenever mum was around back home.

Rummaging through the echo of my roomy kitchen cupboard, the results weren’t promising.

The options looked to be a can of beans for the third time that day, or the untouched economic sized bag of chickpeas I’d picked up from Tesco a couple of weeks back.

Chickpeas it was.

Now, I’m not really sure what a chickpea is, neigh how to cook it, the more important thing however, is that it was on sale.

And such a bargain it was (moment of nostalgic recollection).

With the simplest of calculations, I figured that the mere two pound investment would then feed me for the next couple weeks solid based on the size of that bag.

Besides, they were practically peas right, just like, attractive, womanly peas, “chick” peas.

Yeah, not.

After a short flat debate, I decided to treat them like pasta and throw them in a pot to boil, expecting, like pasta (minus the pest0), in ten minutes time I’d have a steaming plate, and fork in hand.

Healthy, nutritious, and delicious.

In hindsight, it’s almost adorable. How innocent and idealistic I was.

Ten minutes turned into half an hour, which turned into two hours, which turned into ten hours, which eventually became a twenty-four hour span, which is how I met chickpeas.

Thee absolute most high-maintenance pea on the planet, at the most aptly inopportune moment of college student starvation.

6.

Only in a flat with medics do we have poetry and artwork regarding the corpse they’re dissecting in anatomy class gracing our fridge tops.

Expressing their deepest darkest sentiments about slitting flesh with scalpel.

Great. Sure works up the ole appetite.

7.

The relatively gruesome result of what was, I believe, appropriately dubbed, “Epic Meal Time.”

It involved eight male freshers (scottish slang for first years), forty quid of meat products, and some sort of bacon weave, from what I could determine.

Feel free to skip over this next part under the pretenses of preserving your stomach if you wish.

However I feel it necessary to comment that this photo was taken the morning after, and moments following this endearing image of processed meaty goodness was captured, the contents of this picture were consumed, instead of Corn Flakes, for breakfast by my lovely male flatmates.

I’ve never known a better time for being vegetarian.

 

 

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Oh, To Be A Brit!

I must admit, I was a bit disappointed upon coming to the UK, to discover that my dreams didn’t immediately have accents.

If my laptop (moment of silence in reverent memory of Steve Jobs) could change time zones without my assistance, and my Ebay account show only UK listings, then surely my dreams would get the message that it was time to Britanize the settings.

But, rude awakening to reality, I’ve still got that horrific California drawl of an OhMyGod! accent…even while I’m sleeping.

The adaptation processes is currently underway.

The one where I’m consistently in the wrong about how to say, and how to spell, and how to eat, and how to dress, and how to cross the street.

And have got to start adding a ‘u’ to color and eating french fries with a fork (and calling them ‘chips’ while I’m at it) and making the word ‘you’ plural (as in, “Would yous like some butterscotch pudding?”) and getting made fun of when I pronounce ‘garage,’ and ‘tomato’ like an “American.”

Or if I use the word ‘pickle,’ or ‘pants.’

Or ask for napkins in a restaurant.

Or inquire as to how many touchdowns were scored in a rugby game.

Or try to read the weather report, or bake something, only to discover I have absolutely no idea how hot, or cold anything ever is.

As my terms for heat and frost have been reduced to just that, “hot” and “cold.”

Numbers and temperatures have gained a liberating sort of insignificance.

Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

But despite all those desiccately dry British jokes (the majority at my own expense…) that I simply just don’t get (because there is nothing TO get).

There’s something I absolutely can’t help but admire about a country thats’ trains are faster than their busses.

That loves Jaffa Cakes almost as much as they love their queen.

And that dress their policemen up in such cute little outfits.

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The Great Cracker Challenge.

  

Living in Apartment Number Two of the largest student-housing complex in town means that we get a lot of visitors.

Mainly due to the lack of flights of stairs required to scale in order to reach our front door. After a mere literal hop and a skip, you’re in the building.

News Flash: A rainforest genocide has taken place and the results are apparent by the twenty seven odd pamphlets slid under our door each half hour. Advertising new salons, an Indian food buffet, this Friday’s jungle themed rave, and a free bag of chips with the purchase of a new printer.

Believe me, there is quite a party going on beneath our doorframe.

And those are just the notices from those either to respectful, or just to lazy to knock.

There’s another whole genre of PR folks who’ll pound down your door with their various rhythms of knocking until you open it up and listen to their spiel.

We always glue our faces against the peephole and give the knocker a thorough once over evaluation before deciding whether or not to let them in, at the high stake sacrifice of giving them a couple minutes of our lives that we’ll never get back again.

But I’d take the PR staff any day rain or shine over the man who tests our fire alarms. He has this tendency to barge in at all hours of the wee morning, and put off the fire alarms under the pretenses of “testing them.” I’ve come to the sole conclusion that as a youngen he had many a sleep cycle interrupted by intrusive fire alarms, and from a psychological standpoint, he now seeks to make amends by persecuting countless other meager seekers of knowledge.

Just the other day after a bit of habitual knocking, I swing open my door indignantly to reveal probably the most intriguing triumvirate to ever grace the carpeted hearth of Flat Two.

They labeled themselves as architecture students, raising money for their new project of outdoor classrooms.

I wasn’t sure how pleasantly this would pan out with the harsh and icy Scottish windy weather. But I wasn’t there to interrogate them on the practicalities of their scheme, I was present merely to cock my head in wonder at the sign strung round the young mans neck, reading,

“Can YOU Eat Four Crackers In One Minute?”

I don’t know, could I? Surely four crackers wouldn’t be too difficult for a bigmouth such as I.

They all held uniformly mischievous smiles and a single orange bag of seemingly innocent crackers.

The challenge was thus: Consume four crackers in one minute, and win a bottle of Irn Bru (a type of strong orange flavored soda, so popular it’s practically the national drink of Scotland…and nowhere else…).

It was a tempting offer.

And I’ve never been good with temptation.

Reluctantly, I shoveled over a pound, and came to the realization that those elementary school wrapping paper fundraisers never really come to an end, they are just revamped to create a college rendition of the door to door give me all your money tactic of acquiring funds.

So I began.

One cracker at a time.

Liquids not permitted.

Biting through the stack of parched cardboard, the crackers crumbling beneath each other in their crispy shards of dry.

I chewed.

And chewed.

And choked.

And all I could hear was the sound of my relentless salty chewing.

I paced the hallway to the recurring sound of the architects dull counting down of the seconds.

And I heard behind me the muffled expectant cheering of my flat mates.

And then came the loudest sound of all, the dry chortle of sawdust spewing from my mouth as I bent over the bathroom sink gasping through splinters of wheat as failure glared at me in layers from the depths of my bathroom drain.

Most likely a photograph is neither necessary, nor appreciated, and I’m quite certain your imagination is vibrant enough to conjure up it’s own mental picture. However I’m never one to waste a perfectly good photo….

 

Trust it to students to come up with a fund raising idea of such ludicrous proportions, and leave it to students to actually participate in, and enjoy (relatively) said activity.

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All Moved In And Eating Lots Of Toast.

My new best friend.

Couldn’t think of any better way to say: I’m moved in.

On average, we consume about five toasties each per day.

Six flat mates in total.

Now, I’m not much of a math person, but that is a lot of toast and cheese.

Simple. Brilliant. Delicious.

A very global, British-esque version of a quesadilla.

I suppose it’s safe to say, I made it over. I made it moved in.

And am currently in the involuntary process of becoming everything British.

One week down, and hot toast and tea has become my primary staple. 

As if on cue, just to remind me of where I am, Jonathan yells across the flat in distress at Gordon, “How do I tie these bloody laces round my ankles?”

It seems getting dressed for a fancy evening out becomes a bit more complicated if you’re required to wear a skirt.

Especially a plaid one.

With no underwear.

Gordon and Jonathan, both medics, are headed out to a “Caleigh,” a type of scottish dancing ball, this one specifically for doctors.

Jonathan has been griping all week over the sixty pounds he had to spend to rent his kilt. It was the cheapest one in the shop and he had to buy kilt insurance as well, a concept I found to be ridiculously entertaining.

Gordon, the only son in his family, owns the kilt with their specific tartan that had been passed down for ages, well, at least from the sixties. He occupied himself with firing rapid complaints over the length of the sleeves, which to be fair were about three inches shy of fabric. As well as the avocado color and “lame” pleat of his very vintage kilt.

All I can do is thank the lord almighty that my flatmates where graced with considerably much more patience than I myself possess. As they tolerated the stupid blonde American, as she photographed literally every moment of their existence as though I was a proud parent taking pictures of prom night and the pinning of the corsage.

I couldn’t help it.

They were wearing kilts.

It really doesn’t get much cooler than that.


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