Category Archives: Scotland

Things I Learnt at the Edinburgh Fringe…

I was going to write something yesterday, because I really felt like I hadn’t made enough posts for July which, as we’ve discussed before, is connected to my long-standing obsession with my blog stats, but… well, I couldn’t be bothered last night, quite frankly. I got sucked into watching two episodes of ‘Damages’ instead and spent my evening mentally criticising Rose Byrne for being too skinny and congratulating Glenn Close on being terrifyingly creepy. 
So, anyway, I though I would start again in August and try to be a little bit more proactive and hard-working with the blog. So, here goes.
Today was my very first day at the Edinburgh Fringe EVER. I’ve been wanting to go to the fringe for a good few years and was really annoyed I missed it last year, but, anyway, never mind, I’m here now. It really wasn’t even a proper day, because, *technically* the Fringe starts tomorrow and because it was my Dad’s b’day this evening and we went out for dinner, which took 4 hours and by the end of it I was in no state to see anymore theatre. So, I’ve only seen 4 shows today, which my parents think is the most amazing and ridiculous thing they’ve ever heard ever (and they lived through the ’60s), but I know it’s pretty tame by Fringe standards.
However, after my extensive viewing experience across these 4 very different shows, I now feel that I am expert enough to start passing on lessons to those of you not lucky enough to have ever attended the Edinburgh Fringe.

1) Just because someone in the cast went to Central School of Speech and Drama doesn’t mean the show will be good. It also doesn’t mean that said actor can act. Also applies to RADA and LAMDA.

2) Sheets in a block colour are very arty. They are also very significant. They can be used to make all sorts of things. Ship sails. Water. Shrouds. Ropes. Sheets (on a bed). Do not underestimate the humble sheet. Do not underestimate the artistic kudos you can receive from using a humble sheet as a prop within your Edinburgh Fringe.

3) Creating a ‘standing-up bed’ (that is where the actors stand up and whilst other actors hold up pillows and wrap sheets around the ‘sleeping’ actors) is very ‘now’, is very ‘cool’. In short, I saw it in 50% of the Edinburgh shows today. Which means its either very ‘now’ or very ’20 years ago’.

4) Do not trust that Edinburgh shows will start on time. Do not leave 5 minutes in between shows, even if they are in the same venue. Because then you will be stuck in a position where you are waiting to see a production of ‘Shakespeare Over Breakfast’, which you weren’t really sure you wanted to see anyway, listening to Daniel Powter’s ‘Bad Day’ at full volume and hating on everyone in the show, the venue and the festival because your perfectly organised day is about to go down the tubes and it is clearly all their fault, and furthermore, they chose to do this deliberately, DELIBERATELY, I tell you, because they clearly dislike you (yes, YOU, specifically, YOU) so much.

5) Theatrical depictions of Australians by the British will inevitably involve either:
a) Racist comments (directed by a white Aussie towards another racial group)
b) Incredibly ugly clothes (think bright orange jumpers and cork hats)
c) bad accents
d) Surf Lifesavers
e) Jason Donovan and/or Home and Away references and/or Neighbours references
f) Very loud talking
g) Stupid and/or ignorant comments
or all of the above.
However, we should feel proud that Brits seem to think that we are the easiest way to bring humour and/or lightness into a scene. We’ve essentially become the Irish of the 21st century.

6) Just because a show includes breakfast in their ticket price does not mean it will be good. In fact, that’s probably your best indication it will be bad. They’re spending the money they should be spending on light effects and actors’ wages to provide you with stale croissants.

7) You will always miss out on something good. Also, you will always end up doing something you regret. It’s like a life lesson, but condensed so that you can experience it in the handy time-space of a day. Is time-space a term? I have a feeling its not, but I’ve been out drinking for my Dad’s 60th and I can’t remember anymore. Please leave suggested better terms in the comment sections. I may or may not take them on board depending on how amusing I find the term ‘time-space’ when I am sober. But, you will at least have the satisfaction of feeling superior and looking more intelligent than me by correcting me in my own comments section. Joy!

8) The Fringe is not environmentally friendly. There is not much you can do about this. People do not react well to you attempting to give back their flyers for ‘environmental reasons’. They think that you just don’t like them. Which is not true, you just want to give back their flyers for a person that is harder to convince or has a less sophisticated way of remembering which shows they want to see than you do (I fold down the top corner of the page in the Fringe guide where there are shows that I want to see. So far it has proved most effective). Really, I don’t see why they should be so offended. I’m saving them money! Making sure their flyers are most effectively used! They should be grateful!

9) Fringe chairs are uncomfortable. Always. You should take a pillow. Fringe venues are hot, despite the weather outside. Always. You should take a fan.

10) The Fringe guide book is overwhelming. The website is mildly better. Don’t try to plan things too far in advance. Pick a show at a time, go to it and figure out the rest later. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting there with the guide open on your lap, flicking back and forth muttering show times and strange venue names to yourself, grid references, attempting to create a cohesive whole out of something that is essentially the bargain bucket at a charity store (a BIG bargain bucket. The type that you end up dragging a paisley quilt cover out of assuming its a really awesome skirt).

11) Pretty much everyone has at least a 4 star review from someone for something. It is not a guarantee that the show will be good or worthwhile.

12) Female comedians like to have their photo taken in extreme close-up, usually with one eyebrow raised, possibly clutching strange objects like a brass horse, or a bunch of lemons. This proves how kooky and potentially amusing they are. Male comedians seem to prefer satirising CD covers and/or move posters and/or showing their penises (or pretending to).

13) If sheer number of related productions is anything to go by, Shakespeare is still a really excellent choice of show to put on. As is anything to do with Jane Austen. Or Dickens. Strindberg’s good if you want people to think you’re a little bit left of center and a true theatre intellectual (who’s Strindberg you ask? Well, if you have to ask, then you probably don’t deserve to know…)

I think that’s probably it for the moment. I’m sure there are more lessons, but I can’t remember them right now. I will write them down later. Lots of love, kiss kiss, going to sleep now, Jen.

At the Edinburgh Fringe there is a severe chance you will lose your head and grown a letter in its place. Found at:—1-PLACE-LEFT



Filed under Scotland

War of the One-Eyed Woman

Here is another story I met in Scotland, and I’m using it as my creative post for today because I can’t be bothered thinking of something else.

So, for many centuries, the Isle of Skye was home to 2 warring clans, the MacDonalds and the MacLeods. Around 1600, it seemed that the rivalry would be ended, as Margaret, the daughter of the MacLeod’s clan chief, Rory, fell in love with Donald Gorm Mor MacDonald, the son of the rival clan chief. After much arguing and gnashing of teeth and threats, the clan chiefs gave in to their children and agreed to the wedding. They were kind of like ‘Romeo & Juliet’, except it worked out better. At least, it worked out better to begin with.

See, it was tradition in the Isle of Skye at this point, to have a one-year trial marriage before the marriage was actually formalised. So, Donald and Margaret had a wonderful year, they seemed to be a perfect match – he was handsome, she was gorgeous, they were the Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie of their day. However, Margaret failed to bear a child during the year (and overseas adoption in the 17th century was a nightmare, to say the least), and to make things worse, an accident took one of her eyes, making her less like an Angeline Jolie and more like… more like… more like Angeline Jolie without an eye.

So, Donald, being an upstanding and honourable young gentleman, decided that he didn’t really like his new wife as much as he had thought he had, now that she was kind of funny-looking and couldn’t make him any babies that looked like him to make him feel like a manly, virile, invincible and everlasting man, and so he told his dad he wanted to call the wedding off. This was much to the delight of his father, who hadn’t relished the idea of calling of all the warfare with his rival clan. He didn’t quite know what he was going to do with all the free time, quite frankly. Chief clan MacDonald said, ‘No worries, Donald. We’ll handle this in a sensitive and appropriate manner, to make sure that no-one gets hurt or upset, I mean, the last thing we would want to do is to provoke another horrific war with our rival clan.’ It was in this spirit that he sent his not-quite-daughter-in-law who had just lost her eye home to her family on a one-eyed horse, led by a one-eyed man, and accompanied by a one-eyed dog.

Surprisingly enough, chief clan MacLeod took offense to this treatment of his daughter and a huge bloody war ensued, which resulted in large losses on both sides and is now known as ‘The War of the One-Eyed Woman.’

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The end of Scotland

I am very tired. And I have so many other things to do. SO MANY OTHER THINGS.
But, blogging has become my new ‘Sex and the City’ re-runs, so I come home and think, ‘I have so much to do,’ and then I stare at my computer and forget all the things I have to do and instead open my blog page and do some public navel-gazing.
So, when I last left you, we were on the second night of the Scotland tour to the Isle of Skye. We packed up the next morning and headed out on the bus, after returning our fantastic gangsta costumes to the place we borrowed them (as a side note, we never actually got to the gangsta party, so we just sat, looking like idiots, in a pub where no-one was even attempting to dress-up).
I can’t even remember where we went first now, my mind is a blank. NO, that’s not true, my mind is a fuzzy screen of stress. Its like one of those black and white TV signals, where the TV can’t actually tune into anything in particular, its just going ‘bzzzzzzzzzzz.’ Well, that’s my brain right now. Its just going, ‘ssssstreessssssss, stress, stress, stress, stress, stress, ssssssttttresssssss……..’
I don’t know, do you even want to hear anymore? Do you care? Do you care, impersonal internet world? Or am I talking to nobody? Am I talking to thin-air? Is this modern-day equivalent of imaginary friends????
Ok, Scotland.
Umm… I can’t remember. We were on a bus. Oh, yes! Ok, we were on a bus! And we drove past Ben Nevis, which is the tallest mountain in the UK! It was very tall. Very, very tall. You couldn’t see the top. Though, that may have had more to do with the fog than the fact that it was so very tall (its not that tall, after all). And we went to a place that had whiskey tastings, but that’s not very helpful, because everywhere had whiskey tastings. I mean, it was Scotland. Oh, and I went to a little exhibition about the…. army people…. oh, they had special names. Commandos? No, that’s American, right? Oh, I don’t know, the hard-core dudes they flew into Norway and other scary, occupied territory during WWII. Yes, I could look it up, but I’m too tired, do it yourself.
Yeah, so I looked at that. But the only thing that I can really remember at the moment is that I bought two hard-boiled, peeled eggs from the supermarket there, and that just made my day. More supermarkets should have hard-boiled, peeled eggs for sale. I’d forgotten how much I liked eggs. Mmmmm… eggs. Ooh, I’m a bit hungry, actually.
Umm… yes, then we saw Glen Coe, which was a very beautiful place, but was the site of a horrific massacre in the… in the… olden days. This clan, the MacDonalds, were holding from signing their loyalty to the King of England, and they left it really late, and then the forts they were going to sign at were all closed (just like modern-day government departments, really), and so the King decided to make an example of them, and sent this other clan, the Campbells up to kill them, but when the Campbells got there, they were tired and hungry, so the MacDonalds took them in and looked after them and fed them for, like, 2 weeks, and then, when they were good and rested, then the Campbells murdered all the MacDonalds. Its more than a little crappy, and the locals in the area still spit when they hear the name ‘Campbell’ and you won’t be eating anything but Heinz soup up that way.
There was lots more lovely scenery, as well as Hamish the Hairy Coo (Cow in Scottish) with his girlfriend, Heather and their new born baby, Honey. Very cute.
Anyway, eventually we got back to Edinburgh, and that night I headed out in search of good folk music… on my own. Strangely enough, the other au pairs did not wish to join me. I am still at a loss as to why, but, oh well, their loss. I had gotten a recommendation from my guide (and the Lonely Planet) that the place to be was the “Wee Folk Club” at the… Royal Oak (I did remember that on my own! Be impressed!). There, in the downstairs room (it really wasn’t much bigger than someone’s living room), was packed in about 30 older folk, many with big beards or flowing skirts, listening to a group of older folk (with big beards and long skirts) sing songs about glens and birds and water and whiskey, all in 4 part harmony. Delightfully relaxing. It finished at the relatively early hour of midnight, so I headed back to the more commercial, but still lovely, ‘Whiski’ bar, for a change of pace, listening to some old-timey American bluesgrass music, where I did my usual trick of convincing myself of the love the band members had for me. Look, I had already had a Thistly Cross that evening, so you can’t blame me. After it became obvious (because they packed up and left) that this was not the case, I returned to my hostel, had a free hot chocolate, and read the start of a very bad sequel to ‘Pride and Predjudice’ (and when I say, ‘read’, I mean, I flicked through to the sex scenes, which a reader on the back cover had said, ‘made her blush’. Oh, ok, I probably would have skipped to the sex scenes anyway, but, it sounded much more intriguing after that).
The next morning, I woke to a lovely sunny Scottish morning and a full day ahead of me in Edinburgh. I started by walking up to the castle, but decided that I actually had no desire to go in, so instead, I went to the park below it, and admired it from that angle. I went to the Scottish Writers’ Museum, which was fantastic, and I discovered that me and Robert Louis Stevenson are, like, so the same, because, like, he liked to travel, and, like, I like to travel, and like, he used to carry around a notebook and write things in it, and I just started doing that when I was in Scotland as well (I finally caved and bought myself a red Moleskin – they’ve been calling to me for years. So beautiful). Then I went to see a 16th century tenement, which I assumed meant it was like a slum, but a tenement actually meant an apartment block. It was very interesting, not least of all because of the entertaining volunteer guides in each room who would greet you and tell you information about the places you were seeing. I like volunteers because the quality of information/presentation etc. is so much more varied than if you were paying them. My favourite dude was an old guy who told me about how they used to make stock in the old days and let me sit on one of the 400 year old chairs, even though the National Trust paper-pushes said I couldn’t, because he thought it was a stupid rule and it was a very well-made chair, as I could tell, because I was sitting in it. Then I headed to the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Theatre, which I have decided is probably the best place in the world, and I haven’t even seen anything there yet. I made friends with the guy at the counter (Jim), who told me he was coming to Cork in a few weeks, and so I invited him along to my Cork Midsummer event, which was all very amusing, and I hope he does come because he was nice and that would make a great story. I then popped my head into the Museum of Childhood, before sitting down to an incredibly lovely, organic lunch, which I had intended to follow up with a deep-fried Mars Bar (this, however, didn’t happen, as the chippy was closed. So, if you receive a postcard from me saying that I was about to eat a deep-fried Mars Bar, PLEASE IGNORE IT. THIS DID NOT OCCUR).
At a bit of a loss as to what to do, I went for a wander, and found myself a few streets away from Holyrood Park. After checking with Lonely Planet that this was not an area that I was likely to get raped and murdered in (my usual first step for new places), I decided to head into the park and go for a walk. I ended up climbing all the way to the top of Arthur’s Seat, the highest point in Edinburgh, giving me a fantastic 360 degree view over the city. I felt so fantastic after sweating and puffing and wheezing my way up there, I felt like a Norwegian Mountain Woman, gazing down on the land below and claiming it all for myself. I was reminded so strongly of how much I used to love hiking and how little of it I have done recently, and that made me sad and I resolved to do more.
After coming down the hill/mountain again, I decided to take out my trusty Moleskin and write about my wonderful mountain woman climbing, and that’s when I realised I had left the blasted thing, barely 4 days old, in the Museum of Childhood. I raced back, ignoring 3 fudge stores along the way, and just managed to get it back before the museum closed. I then went straight back into the fudge store next door and bought a silly amount of fudge (with a few notable exceptions, I have been hugely disappointed by the quality of fudge in Ireland, so the fact that Edinburgh has excellent fudge stores, as well as several of them, is another mark in its favour. Jesus… is everything I ever write about food? I swear I have other interests…. like…. oh, I forget).
By the time I had gotten the fudge I was pretty exhausted from all the walking and the running, so I decided to sit down at ‘Whiski’ again and have one last ‘Thistly Cider’. Those things are dangerous if you’ve been exercising all day and haven’t eaten anything more than a couple of pieces of gluten-free bread and some organic dips. I swayed my way up to the local chippy and bought vegetable pakoras and chips, seeing as I had not been able to get my deep-fried Mars Bar. After that I really only felt like curling back up in the bed called Guinness, but unfortunately, it was time to go. So, very reluctantly, I packed myself onto the airport bus and proceeded to sleep off my Thistly Cross in every place I could from then on – the bus, the airport internet desk, at the duty free store, at the gate, on the plane…
And therein endeth the story of Jenny in Scotland. Let us hope it continues again sometime soon… like in August, maybe.

Me and one of the Au Pairs. You can just see the side of the glorious, ‘Thistly Cross’ Cider

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In Scotland there’s no Bad Weather – only the wrong clothes.

So I meant to write more about Scotland tonight, but I just took 3 hours to write my bloody National Young Writers Month daily post, so now I am wrecked and sick of the blog and just want to veg out and watch the TV again.
But I will not! I will triumph over this feeling! I will write and be creative and use my brain and not be a lump of good-for-nothing taking up precious living space and consuming non-renewable goods for no reason! I will repay the world with travel blogging and whimsical stories and nonsensical poems! I will!
So, as I said yesterday, Scotland was awesome.
We (we being me and one of the other au pairs I travelled to Scotland with) were worried the weather would be awful, and we were especially worried as the weather forecast for Ireland was wonderful. We were also slightly grumpy as the one weekend we had decided to leave Bandon, was also the one weekend that Bandon was going to be literally jumping with life and activity, due to the Bandon Long Weekend Music Festival. Still, we were certain we would still have fun in Scotland. Well, we were pretty sure we would.
After a long flight delay, during which we were able to lie on the grass in the sun outside the airport and wait for our plane, we arrived into Edinburgh around 11pm. It was ridiculously balmy, and we were able to walk to our respective hostels in short-sleeves. It could have been an Australian summer’s evening. I was utterly enchanted by the parts of Edinburgh I saw on the bus from the airport to the city and immediately decided I really liked the place (on a side note, I think its very important for city planners to organise their airports and public transport systems so that you get a good view of the city as you travel in from the airport – my first ever views of London in 2005 were disappointing due to the fact that the tube, as wonderful as it is, showed all the backyards of horrible little houses out in the suburbs around the airport. Better to cover that all up until you get nearer the sights everyone wants to see… Is that mean? Oh well, its true). My hostel was cute, cosy and also staffed by some very strange Australians, who seemed to both be stoned (it was 11:30pm), potentially in the middle of a break-up and therefore attempting to out-do each other with all the information they could tell me about the hostel. It began to get awkward when they started arguing about the value of the suggestions they were giving me. ‘Well, that’s not really relevant, is it, because she’ll be gone by 9:30am,’ ‘Yes, but, what he forgot to tell you, of course, is that you’ll actually need the code to be able to come back in…’ etc. I backed away slowly, attempting not to get their attention or anger them with any sudden movements, and went to get myself some food before I gnawed off my own arm in hunger. I found fresh vegetable samosas at the local newsagents, where I had a cheerful and bizarre discussion with the Indian owner as to how many samosas we could eat in one sitting (me=3, him=5 or 6), and I decided that any town surrounded by mountains, with medieval buildings, a castle, and where it was also possible to buy fresh samosas for 99p each from your local newsagent at 11:45pm was deserving of my adoration and I promptly gave my heart away to Edinburgh for good.
I had a decent sleep despite being in a room called ‘Fridge’ and a bed called ‘Guinness’ that actually felt like an oven and smelt like smelly socks, and woke the next morning ready to see the land of my ancestors. After a slight mix-up with the bus and the meeting-point, we met our very friendly guide and our other tour group members, and headed out towards the Inner Hebrides and the Isle of Skye.
We drove first on a not particularly interesting bridge, and up a not particularly interesting Motorway, made slightly more interesting for the names I recognised along the road, such as Fife and Kirkcaldy, where I knew some of my ancestors had originated from. There was also the turn-off to St. Andrews, not that I have any ancestors there, but, well, I’m sure you know the signifcance.
The first place we stopped at was a town called Dunkeld (as I have ‘remembered’ after staring at a map of Scotland for 10 minutes, just in case you had any illusions about my memory for these matters or that I noted travelling facts down in a book for future reference or anything like that). It was very pretty, with a river and a church and was ridiculously sunny and delightful. The locals, amusingly enough, were complaining that it was far too hot to be outside today and they kept commenting that they were glad to be inside wherever it was that they were, which just proves that… well, it proves something. That people live in places that suit them? That you get the weather you wish for? That nurture is more important than nature in the creation of tastes and preferences? That Scottish people are insane? Something like that.
We then drove through Birnam Wood, which is, as fans of the Scottish play should be able to tell you, a wood that is able to get up and walk wherever it wants to go, so don’t you ever be trusting any witches that predict you will be King until Birnam Wood gets up and walks to your front door. It may come sooner than you think. That’s a little tip from the Scottish King to me and you.
Our next stop was the magical, mysterious and mythical Loch Ness, which, unfortunately, due to the sun didn’t look very magical, mysterious or mythical. It looked distinctly cheery and as if it should be on the front cover of a tourism magazine for California or something. Jet boats and paddle-steamers with waving tourists went cruising by, and despite sitting on a rock in the Loch drinking whiskey for nigh on 20 minutes and numbing my feet in the icy-cold Loch water, I left with the distinct feeling that I hadn’t actually been to see Loch Ness at all. I was further confused by the complete lack of any monster-related sightings, and the sunny sunniness of the sunlight bouncing off the water even prevented me from imagining funny-shaped shadows on the surface of the water was actually Nessie swimming way below. That’s the problem with visiting Scotland during the only 4 sunny days it has in a year. You have a great time, but you leave feeling like you must have actually accidently gotten on the wrong plane and landed somewhere in Eastern Europe by mistake.
After Nessie we hopped to it and zoomed the rest of the way to the Isle of Skye, reaching it around 6pm. After I had dumped my bags, I went for a quick 45 minute walk around one of the small hills surrounding the town we were staying in, Kyleakin, were the weather obliged me by throwing down a couple of drops of rain, just so I didn’t feel like I was missing out. That evening, the other au pairs and I got dressed out and headed to the first of 2 pubs in the town to have a drink and a party to celebrate the birthday of one of the girls. The ‘live’ music turned out to be a man with a guitar playing over the top of synthesised drum beats, or so we thought. When, in the midst of a Jimi Hendrix cover, he put the guitar over the back of his head and attempted to continue to play, but it slipped out of his hands, and the music still came out of the speakers without a glitch, we began to realise it was time to go to the next pub. There we found a 1970s cover band, who used the opportunity of playing glam rock to wear very bad wigs and pleather pants and blue jumpsuits.
The next morning, after far too much screaming to Queen and the Nutbush, I awoke with a slightly croaky voice, but ready to see the Isle of Skye. I was not disappointed. Our guide likened Skye to a burlesque dancer, because she is normally covered in some form of mist or fog (hence her name, which comes from the Norse word for ‘cloud’), and only lets you see tiny bits at a time, keeping everything else covered up. However, on the weekend we visited, Skye was feeling pretty frisky and was laying, legs spread, in the sun, in her all-together. We first visited a river of eternal youth and beauty, where you had to dunk yourself face first into the water. If it didn’t bring eternal beauty, it at least woke you up after a night of cider and too many brightly-coloured flares. One girl on our tour, I think, took the whole thing a little too seriously and threw herself into the water fully clothed, so that she wouldn’t end up with just a youthful face and wrinkly old-lady hands and saggy boobs… either that or she slipped on a rock and tumbled in. Either way, it was pretty funny for the rest of us.
Our next stop was the capital of the Isle of Skye, a place called Portree, where it just so happened that the Skye Pipe Band was celebrating its 50th anniversary 30 minutes after we arrived. This meant that not only the Skye Pipe band, but 4 or 5 other pipe bands from the surrounding areas had arrived in their full get up and were about to parade around the streets of Portree playing marching music. Tourist snap-happy paradise!!!! The entire tourist population of Skye was totally enthralled, and we followed the band around like the rats of Hamelin, taking photos from one angle, running ahead to get another angle, running back to get another one and generally making a nuisance of ourselves as the pipe bands attempted to go about their ceremony properly. It was one of the most awesomest things I’ve ever seen, and I’ve come to the conclusion that everybody loves a bagpipe. And the only thing that people love more than a bagpipe is a bagpipe band complete with twirling, pom-pom decorated drumsticks and men in skirts. I think, from now on, all of my theatre shows will be advertised with a pipe-band. Just walk a pipe-band through the streets of Sydney and people will follow. Guaranteed.
After a quick trip to the local op-shop (unfortunately, I hadn’t packed with a tropical Scotland in mind, only rainy, miserable Scotland, and my one and only T-shirt had already been drowned in sweat the day before), I jumped back on the bus and we headed out to the local faery glen. Yes, yes, the local faery glen.
This was a beautiful little place, and when I say ‘little’, I mean, ‘little’. It was as if someone had taken the landscape of Scotland and recreated it in miniature in this one glen. You could completely understand why people had thought that faeries lived there. We spent a good hour wandering the faery hills, the other au pairs and I had a little dance and party up on faery castle in their honour, and then I plonked myself down on one of the peaks to write and be thoughtful and stare off into the distance in a meaningful way. I left the faeries a tiny ‘Hello Kitty’ doll which was in my bag as a present, and I hope they like it and grant the wish that I left with the doll in their glen (no, I’m not telling you what it is. And, yes, I did actually write the faeries a letter asking them to grant me a wish….Why, how do you get the things you want in life?)

Me, in conversation with the faeries.

We then headed up to the tip of one of the peninsulas on Skye, which was used extensively in the filming of ‘Stardust’, the movie based on the Neil Gaiman book. That was pretty cool. However, it was not as cool as what we saw when we were coming back from our hike. Walking along with our guide, she pointed out 5 men heading to the edge of a cliff. She pointed out one and said, ‘Oh, that’s such-and-such, one of the other guides around here.’ Before we could ask what they were doing, they stripped off their shirts. This was pretty exciting. However, they then pulled off their trousers and their underpants, and stood on the cliff, completely naked, facing towards the mainland of Scotland and proceeded to give an almighty Highland scream to the wind. After a few minutes, they calmly picked up their pants, replaced their shirts and walked back to their bus. Hilarious. I had a good chat to one of them, a very gregarious Canadian lad who had moved over to hopefully work at the 2012 Olympics. I wish him luck. Perhaps a naked Highland scream will tip the London Olympic organisers in his favour? Couldn’t hurt, from what I saw.
We then headed back to Kyleakin, where us au pairs headed out ‘on the town’ again. We got into some ridiculous clothes as we had heard there was gangsta-themed party at one of the pubs, but after staring at myself in the mirror for a while, I decided that gangsta was far too removed from my usual theme of choice, and settled on plastic Harry Potter glasses (without lenses) and a ‘She’s All That’ Rachel Leigh Cook pre-make over look instead, which only earned me smart-alec remarks from locals that ‘you can see in 3D without the glasses, you know.’ We listened to a Scottish covers band called ‘In from the Rain’ (probably more appropriate on most other weekends in Scotland, but just plain confusing whilst we were there) and I discovered the best drink in the world, which is a highly alcoholic (7.2%) Scottish cider called ‘Thistly Cross’ which tastes like it has honey, good health and happiness mixed into it as well as the usual apples.
I’m going to have to leave it there for tonight. I still have two more days of the trip to cover, but its 12:30am and I’m tired and I still haven’t had any brain suck time. Though, I’m feeling less like watching TV and maybe reading a book of Scottish myths instead. What a nice feeling to have. Its like the feeling I’ve been having over the last few days that I’d actually like to eat vegetables again. Things must be looking up in Jenny’s emotional world. It only took 4 months.

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Scotland the Brave!

I’m completely blogged out, as I have just spent the evening catching up on posts for NYWM, where I have pledged to write ‘something creative’ on my blog every day. Tall order. Much taller than I at first thought. 8 foot, at least. Certainly too tall to date. I mean, I could only kiss him whilst standing on steps.
It was an especially tall order when I went off on a jaunt to Scotland for an extended weekend last Thursday.
Anyway, I’m going to force myself to sit and write some more about Scotland before allowing some brain suck in front of the TV. Oh, but I’m so tired.

Ok, in a nutshell, Scotland was amazing. Screw Ireland. Scotland is the best, best, best, best place on earth. I’m moving to Edinburgh the minute I can. The city is gorgeous, the people are fantastic, the scenery is astounding, the history is fascinating and the stories are magical. Amazingly, I was the only person on my bus tour who had Scottish ancestry (though more than 3/4 of the bus was either German or Asian, so that may have had something to do with it), and it gave me this strange sense of ownership over the place. I really had a feeling of ‘coming home’, which is bizarre, considering my family left the place many decades ago, and my father wasn’t big on his Celtic heritage. He was more down with the Welsh – we had to say ‘Happy St. David’s Day’ on March 1st and make jokes about leeks and listen to Bryn Terfel. He threatened my mother with calling me Myfanwy and we had to participate in eisteddfods from a tender age. I was 19 before I went to a Robbie Burns night. That was also the first night I had heard of Robbie Burns (and haggis, incidentally. Hard to ignore haggis when it is plonked down in front of you in all its steaming, intestine-spewing goodness). Though my first boyfriend was a Macauley, so maybe that counts for something. Anyway, there is actually a lot of Scottish heritage in my family. On mum’s side, we were Bruces, which, as I was told on my tour, is a very important last name in Scottish history – Robert the Bruce saved Scotland, as you should probably all know.

So, despite the fact that all my Scottish relatives came out in the mid-19th century (and as far as I am aware, none of them were convicts, so they all left Scotland willingly, its not they were flung out of their mother country and spent their days pining for it), I felt this strange feeling of belonging when I went to Scotland. I felt like things ‘made sense’. I think its a feeling a lot of people with Irish heritage go looking for when they go back to Ireland, and which completely passed me by, as I have only one Irish ancestor, and feel no connection to her whatsoever (having only discovered her existence last Christmas).

This may be a made-up feeling. I’m at a point in my life, as you will tell, if you’ve been reading my posts, where I am desperately looking to make things into some sort of order. Where I’m desperately trying to make my life and the lives of others, ‘make sense’. Whether this is because I have finished full-time study, or because I have moved countries, or because I can’t see where my ‘career trajectory’ is headed, of because its my ‘Saturn’s Return’, or because I’m almost 30, or because I’ve been single for a long time, or because I am currently not romantically in love with someone (unrequited or otherwise), or because I’m depressed, or because I’m overweight, or a combination of all these reasons and hundreds of other, who knows. The point is, I can feel that something is missing in my life. Its probably been missing for a very long time, but I’m only just now becoming aware of its absence. So, at the moment, I am looking for big feelings, for a sense of a narrative, a coming-together of strands and themes, a ‘Oh, this is what its all about’ feeling. And, for whatever reason, I found it in Scotland.

So many things just seemed to come together for me, and I kept getting really emotional all weekend, crying over mountains and music and stories. I felt an instant love for Edinburgh (not hard, its gorgeous), and an instant love for the countryside, which is much more rugged and mountainous than England. Its the landscape I’ve always loved – wild, rugged and remote. The people were great fun, and I got along so easily with every Scottish person I met, sharing jokes, sense of humour, way of thinking. The stories of the various warring tribes – the Picts, the Normans, the Vikings, the Celts – suddenly made sense to me. I’ve always wondered why I’m a natural blonde, with blue eyes, and a very Scandanvian look, when all my heritage is in the UK. Dad always explained it away with distant (possible) German ancestors on my mum’s side. But, I think now that it could have just been inter-marriage between Viking raiders with the Scottish folk. It also gave me this strange looping connection back to Norway again. Everyone looked kind of familiar, and there were so many blue eyes! So many names were familiar, in terms of surnames and places, and they were often names or places that meant a great deal to me. I may be talking out my arse, but I just felt like this was a place I was meant to be. One of my all-time favourite shows is ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ and there was an element of me living out my own version of that show all weekend, remembering bits and pieces of songs that Dad had sung me or stories I’d heard, putting it all back together in Scotland.

And, on that note, here is the story of one of the songs that my Dad always sang and the proper explanation of which had me promptly dissolve into tears, on the tour bus, no less.

The lyrics Dad always sang were:

‘You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
But I’ll be in Scotland afore ye,
For me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.’ 

I always remember Dad singing this song very jauntily, and I certainly used to sing it very jauntily too, thinking it was about a competition between two men as to which road was the best to travel on. This, of course, didn’t make much sense with the rest of the lyrics, but I figured lyrics in folk songs often made no sense, so I didn’t think too much about it. Its actually a very, very sad song. The low road they are referring to is the road of the spirits, the road you would take back home to Scotland from battle if you died. So, the story goes that during the Jacobite rebellion (when many in Scotland were fighting against England, because England had removed James II of England, who also happened to be James VII of Scotland due to the fact that he was massively Catholic, see and this made many Scots pretty grumpy), two Jacobites were caught by the English and put in a cell together. There was an old man and a young man. The English told them that one of them would be executed the following morning, and the other would go free, but that the English guards weren’t going to decide, and the two Jacobites had to decide who would die and who would go free. Then they shut the door. There was a silence in the cell, until finally the young man said to the older, ‘Let me die. I believe in my cause, I want to die for my country. Please, you are old and have worked many years, you deserve rest. Go home to your beautiful wife and spend the rest of your days in peace.’ The old man said, ‘No, my son, let me die. You are young and have so much life left, let me die and you go home to your new wife and your young children and look after them for the rest of your days.’ The argument went back and forth, back and forth all through the night, but a decision was never made. Eventually, the two fell asleep.
The next morning, the young man awoke to a silent and empty cell. He looked across to where the old man had slept, but found only a piece of paper, on which were written the words:
‘You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,
But I’ll be in Scotland afore ye,
For me and my true love will never meet again,
On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond.’

And then, our tour guide played this for us: 

Cue Jenny dissolving into tears.

There will be more stories of Scotland over the next few days, but I’m tired and sick of staring at this blog screen. In the meantime:

Towering in gallant fame
Scotland my mountain hame
High may your proud standards
Gloriously wave!
Land of my high endeavor
Land of the shining river
Land of my heart forever
Scotland the brave!

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The Five Sisters of Kintail

This is a story that our tour guide told us on the way back from the Isle of Skye, and I’ve taken the bare bones and added my own flourishes and will use it as my creative post from 05/06/11, as it really grabbed me. I’m a pathetic romantic, with many an unrequited love behind me, so I felt the pain of these girls…

Once, many centuries ago, on the shores of Loch Duich, there was a little village called Kintail. In the village, the clan chief was blessed with 5 wonderful daughters. The eldest was Margaret, a wonderful cook. The second was Moira, and she was a talented dancer. The third was Maisie, who had a beautiful singing voice. The fourth was Morna, and she was skilled at weaving and sewing. The youngest daughter, Molly, was kind and sweet, with a bright smile, sparkling, mischievous eyes and a joyous laugh. They each were as beautiful as each other, with black hair and green eyes and the local people thought that 5 more wonderful women could never have existed in the world. However, the years passed and despite their beauty and talents, none of them were married. It became a sore point with the clan chief, for, though he loved his girls, it was expensive to look after them, and he was often mocked by other men for living amongst so many women. They told him he was getting soft and feminine, and the villagers began to gossip about what could be wrong with the girls that nobody would want to marry them.

Eventually, one night at a great party, fed up with his friends’ mocking and teasing, and full of far too much whiskey, the old clan chief stood up and took a vow on his sword.

“Within the next year, I will marry all my girls to men that are worthy of them, starting with the eldest, and then in order to the youngest.”

So, the next day, tired but determined, he set out to travel over Scotland, to find men that were good enough and handsome enough and talented enough for his wonderful daughters. But, though he travelled far and wide, and met some good men, or some handsome men, or some talented men, he met none that he considered of the required skills, beauty and morality to be decent enough for his daughters.

It was coming to the end of his self-imposed deadline, when one day, the clan chief was sitting on the shores of Loch Duich, watching his beautiful daughters playing in the water, chatting and laughing amongst themselves. Towards the shore, came a boat, in which a young, attractive man was standing and waving to the girls on the shore.

‘Help! Help me!’ the young man cried.

The clan chief hurried down to the shore, where his daughters were now pulling in the boat with the young man inside of it.

‘Thank you, thank you, I am so grateful to be on dry land!’ said the young man, as he jumped out of his boat. ‘My name is Connor, I have been sailing for many days. I come from country of Ireland, and I have been blown off course on my way home. Where is this place that I have landed?’

‘This is the country of my clan,’ said the chief, ‘This is Loch Duich, and the village of Kintail, in the land of Scotland. I am the chief of this area, and these are my five daughters. You must be tired and hungry, please, come back to my house and we will look after you.’ 

‘Thank you,’ said the young man,’ That is very kind of you. My boat is full of holes and will need to be repaired. May I stay with you until it is fixed?’

‘Of course,’ said the chief, ‘You are very welcome.’

So, the young man, Connor, began to live with the clan chief and his daughters, and each day he went down to the shore to mend his boat. As is so often the way when an attractive young man lives with attractive young women, the clan chief’s girls began to fall a little in love with the Irish man. They took special care of him, each secretly hoping he might look at her kindly. Margaret cooked him all his favourite food, Moira and Maisie would sing and dance with him in the evenings, and Morna mended his clothes and made him much sturdier ones to take home. But, it was the youngest daughter, Molly, who would sit on the end of his boat and tease him and swing her legs in the sun and laugh when he dropped his hammer or blushed in embarrassment that eventually captured his heart. The love between the two of them grew and grew, until Connor knew that he must ask for her hand in marriage. But the days passed and the right moment to ask the clan chief never arrived. Connor’s boat was almost finished, and he began to feel anxious that he would never have the opportunity to ask the clan chief. 

However, the clan chief could see that Connor’s boat was almost ready, and so he asked the young man to accompany him on a hunt in the woods to say farewell properly to the boy. Connor thought this would be the perfect moment to ask the clan chief for Molly’s hand in marriage. But, a rival clan was also hunting in the woods that day, and they spotted the chief out with Connor, and decided to follow them, attempting to find an opportunity to murder the old clan chief. Coming to a glen, the clan chief dismounted from his horse and put down his shield and weapons. The rival clan knew this was their chance and sent their best archer forth, who aimed an arrow straight at the old clan chief’s heart. Luckily, however, Connor heard the arrow, and jumped straight in front of the old clan chief, stopping the arrow with his shoulder. The rival clan were scared by the young man’s crazy action, and decided they did not wish to anger a clan with such fierce and extreme loyalties, and they turned quickly on their heels and ran away.

The clan chief was hugely impressed by Connor’s action, and as the lad lay on the forest floor, recovering from his wound, the chief told him, ‘You have shown such loyalty and selflessness towards me, and I wish to show the same to you. Whatever of mine that you wish for yourself, it is yours. Whatever you want in the world, I will get it for you. Whatever is your greatest desire, consider it granted.’

Connor hesitated only briefly before saying, ‘Molly. Your youngest daughter. I wish Molly to be my wife.’

The clan chief’s face fell. ‘My son, I would willingly give you Molly, but I have sworn on my sword to marry my daughters from the eldest to the youngest. Would you not prefer Margaret? She is just as beautiful as her sister, and a wonderful cook, she will keep you strong and healthy for all your days.’

Connor shook his head. ‘It is Molly I love and it is Molly I will have, or no-one at all.’

The clan chief frowned and wrung his hands, ‘My boy’, he said, ‘I cannot go back on a vow made on my sword. I must marry Margaret first, and then Moira, then Maisie and then Morna. I cannot marry Molly first.’

It was then that Connor was struck with an idea. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘Sir, I have 4 brothers at home in Ireland. They are each of good character, intelligence and bravery and each is in want of a wife. If you let me marry your daughter Molly before I leave, I will go home, and bring back my brothers for your other daughters.’

This plan delighted the old clan chief who thought he had finally found eligible men to marry his daughters to. He and Connor shook hands on the plan. The young man was brought home and the happy news was conveyed to Molly and her sisters. The girls cared tenderly for Connor’s arm and it was soon mended. The wedding ceremony took place and a huge feast celebrated the marriage. Connor and Molly spent a week together as man and wife. However, it was then time for Connor to leave for Ireland in his mended boat and bring back his 4 Irish brothers. He waved a tearful farewell to his beautiful bride, who stood waving and staring at the point her husband’s boat had disappeared from view for many hours afterwards. She would return there every day, joined by her sisters, to wait and watch for the first glimpse of the returning boat and their new husbands. But, as the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and the months into years, and the boat still did not return, the girls began to lose their beauty in their loneliness and disappointment.

The old clan chief, however, never lost hope that Connor would one day return with his brothers. ‘His action in the woods could only be that of a truly brave, honest and righteous man,’ said the clan chief, as he watched his sad daughters return home after one more disappointing day watching the waters of Loch Duich. But, as he looked at the worry lines that were being etched over his daughters brows, and the grey that was sprinkled in their hair, he began to fear the Irish brothers would no longer be attracted to the girls and may refuse to marry them. So with great reluctance, he sought the assistance of a magic-man, who lived in a cave, high in the mountains.

‘Magic-man,’ said the clan chief, ‘ My daughters wait on the shores of Loch Duich for 5 Irish men who will make them their wives. But, each day my daughters grow older and sadder and the fresh bud of their beauty is fading. Can you cast a spell so that they keep their beauty until their men return?’

The magic-man stared at the clan chief for a long time, until the old man began to feel he should never have sought the magic-man’s assistance. But, just as the clan chief was about to return home, the magic-man nodded slowly and began rocking back and forth. He chanted and mumbled a strange spell, over and over and over, until the very earth began to shake, and thunder and lightning was pulled from the sky and the clan chief cowered in fear at the terrible magic that was being conjured by the magic-man. With a great scream, the magic-man finished his spell, the earth rumbled and the magic-man fell down in the cave, sweating and shaking. He croaked, ‘it is done. Your daughters will never lose their youth or beauty until their men return for them.’ The clan chief quietly thanked the magic-man, and left the cave in the full darkness of the night, feeling a great sense of unease.

When he returned home, he called to his daughters, but there was no answer. He looked in their beds, but they appeared not to have been slept in. Running outside with a torch, he looked all over the fields and the surrounding areas, calling out their names. The village was roused and each man and woman took a torch and joined the search. As the sun was coming up over the houses of Kintail, the clan chief looked into the sky and noticed 5 new beautiful mountain peaks surrounding the village. Each had black rocks the colour of his daughter’s hair and were covered with greenery the colour of their eyes. The old clan chief broke down in tears as he knew for certain that his daughters had been changed into 5 mountains to preserve their beauty for eternity.

To this day, the sisters still stand and watch in all their finery over Loch Duich, waiting for their Irish husbands to return. It is said that if anyone with the blood of the faithless and feckless Connor and his brothers runs to the top of the mountains and places a kiss on the top of each peak, the girls will appear again, as beautiful as the day they were first seen by Connor as he sailed towards Kintail in his broken boat.

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No Ball Games Allowed

Inspired by another series of signs I saw in Edinburgh, in the most depressing suburb around. It was sad because I really liked Edinburgh and found it a very friendly place, apart from this miserable collection of houses. Entry for yesterday, 06/06/11

No Ball Games Allowed,
No Fun Permitted
Loud Noises (Laughing) Frowned upon,
And Dogs also STRICTLY Prohibited.

No bicycles, or skating either,
No scooters or anything with wheels,
(Well, with cars, of course,
We’ve made an exception,
They’re grown-up, serious and a different deal)

No teenagers allowed in shop,
In groups of 2 or more,
No Caps, no hats, no carry-sacks,
Or you’ll be shown the door.

No sneers, no jeers, no open beers,
No cackles and no foul language,
No singlets, shorts or bright flip-flops
(they’re most especially dangerous).

The fact is we don’t know you,
And, quite frankly,
Don’t want to, either.
We don’t like the looks of you,
Or the smell, the sound or feel of you, neither.

Just bugger off, would you now?
We don’t want to ask again.
In short summary:
We don’t trust you as far as we can throw you,
And we don’t like to throw things very far.

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