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.

Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne is the most famous of English-language New Year's songs, sung around the world throughout not only the UK but also the US, Canada, and Australia after the stroke of midnight. You may not recognize the title, but the first verse will surely bring the proper tune to mind, particularly on this, the first day of 2008.

Well, it turns out the song is Scottish! (Mark always thought it was German; one look at the lyrics below illustrates why.) No one really knows how this ballad - with words partially collected from an ancient oral tradition and partially written by Scotland's poet Robert Burns, then set to the tune of an ancient Scottish song - became so widespread. The title, like much of the song, is in the Scots language, and it translates literally into modern English as 'Old Long Since' or more poetically as 'Long, Long Ago.'

Considering the scant population (~5.1 million) of this remote, wilderness-dominated country, it's impressive to learn of the various influences it has had elsewhere in the world.

Auld Lang Syne

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp
And surely I'll be mine,
And we'll tak a cup o kindness yet,
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes
And pou'd the gowans fine,
But we've wander'd monie a weary fit,
Sin auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl'd in the burn
Frae morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roar'd
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o thine,
And we'll tak a right guid-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.