Friday, October 23, 2009

Are All Aussies This Rude?

So I was crossing the street early this morning and nearly got struck by an Aussie on a bicycle. I had 10 minutes until my next bus, so decided to check the newsagent on the other side of South Bridge for the latest Economist. I had just finished by 8th night shift in a row, so was functioning at limited capacity when I suddenly heard a crisp, “Watch yerself.” I stopped and stood there stupidly in the street while the Aussie zipped past. I mumbled “sorry” to the chap as he passed, but he was dressed all in black and it was still quite dark out. He did have one of those flashing lights on the front of his handlebars, but that could have been a distant car, a flashing UFO, a dancing will o’ wisp, Tinkerbell, or any of the other various hallucinations I am prone to after eight days of sleep deprivation. However, as this Aussie passed he continued with, “For fuck’s sake.” Well now, that was totally uncalled for and demanded a witty repartee. So the rusty, sleepy wheels of my brain grinded out an interesting amalgamation of random words and I hurled back the gem of an insult which appeared before my lips: “Kiss off… fuckhead.”

Hmm…. Interesting. A combination that has likely never been uttered by my lips and could only have been constructed in the workshop bowels of the sleepy subconscious. I decided it was a most glorious comeback, nevertheless. It reminded me of George Costanza’s jerk store. The Aussie must have been dumbstruck, because he kept on riding in silence.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Edinburgh Cavalcade

To kick off Edinburgh Festival 2009, the annual Cavalcade was held yesterday in Holyrood Park. The parade is usually run along Princes Street, but this year Princes Street is in utter chaos due to the new tram they are installing so it was instead in the Park - which I think was a great spot due to the massive crowds. They say that despite the recession, this may be a banner year for the festival. It seems like although we may be lacking in international tourists, lots of Brits are pinching their pence by taking their holidays within the UK instead of elsewhere.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cramond Island

This morning I volunteered with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, out at Cramond House in Cramond village outside of Edinburgh. From 10 to 12 I helped stuff envelopes with member renewal letters, enjoyed some tea and bisquits, and chatted with three friendly retirees. Cramond House is right next to the ruins of a Roman fort, and it is itself from the 1600s.

It was a beautiful day so after we finished at noon, I walked down to check out the beach nearby and discovered this lovely little tidal island. I was expected back at work so didn't have time to walk the 1 mile out across the walkway to the island, but I'll definitely be going back to explore. At high tide, the walkway is totally underwater so you have to be careful to not get yourself stranded. The walkway runs alongside a series of concrete pylons that were erected during WW2 as a submarine barrier. Below is a better perspective on the barrier.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Leith Street Junkies

I saw my first Leith junk dealer today. He was right there on Leith Street, near a Ladbrokes, trying to collect money from a junkie. The guy was about 5 foot 6 inches tall, and could not have weighed more than 120. But he had one of those crazy, wiry, junkie builds. I have no doubt he has the ability to call upon reservoirs of crack, heroin, and speed stored in fat cells to help him kick the shit out of anyone he jumps.

He was dressed in a white jumper and track suit bottoms. He had the hood of the jumper up, of course. Among Leith streeters that is the universal sign of, “hey I’m a badass, and I’m too cool for peripheral vision..” In the pocket of his hooded jumper was one of those large beer cans that look like soup cans. The kind that you have to rip the top off, like a V8 can. They must be really cheap, and really potent. I have never actually seen one in a store, usually just tossed in the gutter.

He was up in some junkie’s face (and he was short, so he had to look up), pointing with the finger of his right hand. All the fingers on his right hand had large gold rings on them. Not the kind you get in jewelry stores, more like the kind you buy from the counter of a tattoo parlor. He held a leash in his left hand, which was attached to one of those Spud McKenzie dogs. This one was a little leaner and meaner than Spud and looked like his idea of a good time was biting someone’s nads, rather than hanging out with beer chicks.

I couldn’t make out what he was saying to the junkie. He was being very expressive though. I suppose you have to be with junkies. The uniform of a junkie is this: dirty blue jeans, a hooded jumper with the hood either up or down, a used coat, probably from a local shelter, in decent condition, chin stubble, slightly mussed hair (but greasy enough that it is not sticking up), and a downward stare. Usually they are in their late teens or twenties. I am sure there are not many that make it all the way to thirty without getting clean, getting killed, or getting jailed.

I didn’t stop and stare. The junk dealer was sure to eye any passerby’s who didn’t pretend not to notice a mean, raging glare, as if to say, “you want some of this? I got plenty to go around.”

I continued to Scot Mid and bought some beer and wine.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Can

I stayed up last night to watch the election coverage. There has been a lot of it here, during the primaries and the presidential race. I've regretted missing certain aspects of this hugely historic period for America, such as the political commercials (which surely would have grown torturous to me months ago were I living in the US!). But there's been no dearth of news here; the UK's interest level in the US election has been a clear demonstration to me of just how disinterested the US is in the affairs of other countries, by comparison.

Last night, after 11pm here (6pm EST) the BBC had constant coverage of the election results. I watched the BBC on my TV and MSNBC's live streaming coverage on my laptop, switching back and forth between which was muted.

After Pennsylvania was called for Obama early on, I dozed off for a while during the lull around 2am, sleeping on the floor in our lounge (that's the living room in Amerispeak). I woke up shortly after 4am, just in time to witness McCain's concession speech... barely able to believe what I was seeing.

I stayed up for Obama's acceptance speech at 5am, and again I could barely believe what I was seeing. Beautiful. Look at our new first family.

Today, I am proud to be an American.

Monday, November 3, 2008

1 Year - Moving around but staying put

Over the weekend we celebrated our 1-year anniversary in Scotland. It came at a good time, a week or so after a scare during which we thought we might have to relocate to Oxford (due to reorganisation in my company) passed; we got word that we're safe here for now - no end to our stay in sight. We commemorated 1 year by having over five friends, a cosmopolitan group of whom none is Scottish but just 1 other is American - the rest are from Canada, Singapore, Italy, and England.

We've just put a deposit on a new, penthouse flat, one with incredible, too-good-to-be-true views of Arthur's Seat, as well as Calton Hill, plus very limited views of the Firth of Forth from two (of three!) bedrooms. We'll move at the beginning of December, right after we return to Edinburgh after a trip home to St. Louis (and a Thanksgiving vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico).

After spending a year living, literally, across the street from my office, I'm looking forward to calling a different neighborhood home. It's hard to feel settled living nextdoor to work; it creates the sense of just being on a very extended business trip. Our new 'hood is the one around Easter Road Stadium, home to Hibernian, aka the Hibs, one of Edinburgh's two pro football (that's soccer in Ameri-speak) teams. In fact, our new building is immediately adjacent to the stadium, and from our lounge you can look down into the east-facing stands.

1 year in and all is well. We are loving life here, and after facing the prospect of having to leave due to decisions beyond our control by the higher-ups of my company, we're able to appreciate the gift of being here all the more. I feel very, very fortunate.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Irn-Bru (pronounced iron brew) is a carbonated soft drink produced in Scotland. It has been, in fact, the most popular soft drink in Scotland, and it is the only soft drink to out-compete Coca-Cola in its home market.

One of Irn-Bru's slogans is "Scotland's other national drink," referring, of course, to whisky. On a related note, it's often used as a mixer with whisky or vodka, and it's also reputed to be an excellent cure for a hangover, perhaps thanks to its generous measures of sugar and caffeine.

In my visit to the UK in August I ordered an Irn-Bru on board a train from London to Edinburgh. I mistook its bright orange can to mean it was an orange soda. Instead, it tastes a lot like liquified Sweet Tarts. That is to say, it's damn sweet and rather tart. I like soda - I love a good Coke - but I'm not sure how I feel about Irn Bru.

What I do adore, however, is Irn-Bru's Christmas ad; it is, as the Brits are so fond of saying, 'brilliant.' Please click the snowman below to watch. Keep an eye out for glimpses of Edinburgh's Forth Bridge, Edinburgh Castle, and the Christmas-time ice rink in Princes Street Gardens, and be sure to listen to the lyrics.

Not all of Irn-Bru's advertising over the years has been so endearing and beloved as this particular ad. Indeed, according to Wikipedia:
Over the years, advertising campaigns for Irn-Bru have caused upset. One billboard featured a young woman in a bikini along with the slogan, "I never knew four-and-a-half inches could give so much pleasure". Another featured a picture of a cow with the slogan "When I'm a burger, I want to be washed down with Irn-Bru". This billboard received over 700 complaints but was cleared by advertisement watchdogs. A billboard which featured a depressed goth and the slogan "Cheer up Goth. Have an Irn Bru." was also criticised for inciting bullying.

Irn-Bru clearly knows how to get attention. Considering their success, they seem to support the old marketing adage that "any publicity is good publicity."

To our friends and family back across the Atlantic, fear not - Irn-Bru is sold in the States! It doesn't appear to be available in the St. Louis area, but keep an eye out for that distinctive blue and orange can if you've ever wondered what would happen if you crushed up Sweet Tarts and added some water and carbonation.