30 August 2011

Whisky & Bears

Also known as: A Continuation of the Tale of My First Trip to Scotland, otherwise known as Part 2. See here for Part 1.

Having finished the last draft (I hope) of my thesis, I find myself with what is known as "a breather," in which I intend to catch up on all the things I've let slip. Such as you, dear reader. This breather will quickly be cut short, sadly.

I have to move out of Opal next week, and though I'm a little sad about that, I'm excited about my new place. Then I have to look for work. I know, I know. Work's for suckers.


It feels like ages ago that I sat on a train from Glasgow to Prestwick, anxiously brushing my hair and re-applying my eyeliner and mascara. My nerve was unravelling like a spool of thread hurled down a stairwell.

I was worried about meeting Mark's brothers. To be fair, one of them (Paul) is Mark's identical twin, to whom he is very very close, and the other (Steven) is his older brother, to whom he is also very very close. I'd already met Mark's parents (in a fluke accident involving strange timing and a Wetherspoon's), so I was only a little bit nervous about meeting them again. But Paul. It struck me then, and I might not be right, that Paul's opinion might matter more to Mark than anyone else's. Excepting, of course, his own. Or so I hoped.

And all that ugly nervous energy was completely wasted. Mark's brothers are super nice, friendly people who didn't take some unreasonable dislike to me at all.

During the next few days in Prestwick, I had such a lovely time walking along the coast in Troon, hanging out with Mark's friends and family, and drinking the occasional gin and tonic, that I didn't take a single picture.

There was a lot to think about. Riots had broken out down south, and we were glad that Paul was on holiday in Prestwick, rather than in his little apartment in London.

But other people (well, one person) took some pictures. I reproduce them here, without permission, but hopefully with gracious post-facto approval...

Mark and me at a bar called Caprice. Bonus: some people we don't know in the background.

Mark, his brother Paul and their friends. I'm sure you can tell which is Paul. If not, go read the beginning of this post again, you not-very-comprehensive-reader, you.

I didn't get any beautiful Scottish landscape shots. Next time. Until then, I will tell you this. The western coast of Scotland is gloomy on a rainy day, a beautiful kind of gloomy. Prestwick is a pretty suburban town with an international airport, charming little houses that all seem to have back gardens. The McWilliams back garden is especially pretty.

Okay, it's the only one I saw.


On my last full day, Mark and I visited Edinburgh. It was a gorgeous day, and we visited a tartan-facturing place. A tartanmill? A tartantuary? Tartanactory? I'm not sure.

I watched Mark do that thing that white people do, where they relate their surnames to ancient things, and know fairly well that they actually are from those ancient things. Weird. Brown people simply don't do genealogy like this, readers. We don't. We definitely do not have different patterns of cloth that are officially registered by the national government that once (and still do) represent our families. It's just another one for my "White People Is Crazy" list. Don't worry. My "Brown People Is Crazy" list is way longer. Stay posted for examples, coming forth in the next few days.

Then, we met up with his absolutely flipping hilarious friend Eric, and Eric's girlfriend Ailidh. She had to return a text, so she's in the background, holding the red jacket.

We saw the Scottish Parliament building, which is very strange looking on the outside. Mark suggested it looked like the opening titles of Saved By the Bell. From other angles, the likeness is more obvious.
But it's stunning on the inside. 

And I truly love that they put whisky bottles into the wood panel patterning. Design genius.

And Edinburgh is a beautiful town, with lovingly preserved old buildings and streetnames like "Fleshmarket Close." It's a charming place, and I can see why so many of dearest friends have, at some point in their lives, called it home. I wouldn't mind calling it home... but it is a bit hillier than Manchester. That took some getting used to. After a life in hilly cities, just one year in a flat one, and I've completely lost my hill-ankles.

Since the Fringe Festival was on, the whole town was busy and vibrant. We saw two men sitting at a card table outside a bar, offering free custom sonnets, written while you wait. They called themselves Whisky and Bears. I could not pass that up.

One of the guys was tall and jovial, with a funny moustache an apron and a hat. He told us how it worked: we pick three things, tell him our names, and he writes a sonnet. Right there. Then he reads it to us and hands it over. For free.

I hope that I will never in my life be able to pass that up. 

I noticed his accent and asked him where he was from, and he said he'd escaped Texas 10 years ago and was living in Munich now. My best memory of Texas is from a road trip my family took when I was about 7. We shared a bottle of Big Red soda, a failed attempt by the Big Red chewing gum company to make a foray into carbonated beverage.

The guy, Rob, exploded with a big huge laugh at the idea of Big Red soda, so we chose Big Red.
We chose E.T., because I have a zine about E.T. that makes me laugh everyday right now.
And we chose tartan, because we had tartan on the brain.

Rob's friend Matte stood by with a coffee while Rob wrote the sonnet, mumbling to himself and occasionally laughing at his work. And when Rob was finished, he spoke it for us, while Matte played the accordion!

Did you know, reader, that the accordion is one of my favourite instruments? 

This was a beautiful, beautiful moment. We tried to get it on video, but we were unsuccessful, so instead, I present you this:

Big Red is really chewy, also hot!
Unfortunately the weather here is cold.
I'd hoped it would be sunny, maybe not,
But it is nice here, just like y'all, is that too bold?

That tartan that we see here on the street

Is wonderful and me feel so glad,
Some people like to wear it head to feet,
Just don't let them hear you call it plaid.

I left my daughter just to do this show,
And every day she keeps on calling me,
And asking, "Papa, when will you come home?"
A little like that foreign guy, E.T.

I hope you find your sonnet quite a lark!
Good luck to you sweet Nija and good Mark.

cheers, Rob & Matte, Whisky & Bears
(right before he wrote that line about the tartan, we had actually *just* seen a girl band fully dressed in tartan dresses. And get this: they were from "Gallery Serpentine," an Australian goth shop that was on Enmore Road in Sydney– the same road I worked on for two years! What a coincidence, right?)

Despite our best-laid plans, Mark and I only left ourselves about 10 minutes to eat dinner, so we decided on a takeaway. Now, I will be honest with you, reader. I am a student. I live in the UK. And I had not yet eaten food from a kebab/pizza/chips/burgers takeaway. Hell, I had not eaten from any takeaways. This was my first.

It was actually a pretty delicious pizza. Mark got some chicken thing. We ate sitting on the footpath, on some concrete steps. And when I say "we ate," reader, I mean "we scarfed." We scarfed takeaway food on a footpath.

It doesn't sound romantic, does it? Well, to be fair, it wasn't.

The Richard Herring comedy show was hilarious. Entitled "What is Love, Anyway?" as an homage to Howard Jones and to the question we all start asking ourselves the moment someone we don't really even like says they love us, this comedy show broke my face. I couldn't breathe. He read us some poetry about love he'd written when he was 17. That is always funny. Always funny. I liked his comedy... it didn't do a lot of making fun of anyone but him.

After the show, we ran to the train station, hoping to catch the early one back to Prestwick, but we didn't make it, because I am short. So we sat in Glasgow Central, re-telling Herring's jokes to each other, laughing, yawning, and not thinking about the next day, when I would get on the train to Manchester.

We didn't know it yet, but the riots had already spread to Salford, Manchester's poor conjoined twin sister...

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