September 28, 2008

Dancing with Frankenstein and Mounting David Hume

This was not your ordinary Saturday night. We flirted with literary figures - it was both educational and enlightening. The World Famous Frankenstein 1818 is a gothic style building that stands on George IV Bridge where it meets Chamber's St. It's a three floor pub/restaraunt that kind of turns into a dance club after dark. So it's a plub: a pub/club. At midnight, Frankenstein's monster is lowered on a gated-metal gurney to sound effects of thunder and lightening, and he sits up and looks around at all the drunken idiots. It's not a real monster, obviously, its just a mannequin, but the tourists love it. Locals love it too. Who doesn't love some quality theatrics every once in a while? This was not my first time at Frankensteins, but I enjoyed watching the rest of my group of friends react to the beast hanging above our heads.

The monster coming out at midnight

Their shock and awe at seeing the monster for the first time

On the way home, we stopped at the Clamshell... our new favorite spot for latenight munchies. As we climbed up The Mile back to our dormitories, we passed the statue of David Hume. The night before, some drunks took a highway cone and placed it on the statue's head. So we all stopped to laugh. Then, grabbing Hume's big toe I said "what would you guys do if I climbed this right now" and then mounted poor David. Others of course followed, because let's face it... we're drunk and climbing things is fun. I'm surprised (and greatful) that we did not get cited for something - anything. I'm sure there's some law that states "do not climb public statues of old dead guys" or something to that affect. Anyway, this is going on my list of "Things that I should have been deported for doing." I fear this may become a long list...   

Mounting David Hume

* I heard in a passing tour today that Hume's toe is a golden color because everyone rubs it for good luck. If only that tour knew that I used the golden toe to launch myself into Hume's lap... I chuckled to myself as I passed by the tour group, but no one was around to appreciate the humor in it that I saw.

September 25, 2008

Bank-Induced Paranoia

A week and a half ago I filled out the forms to open my RBS savings and checking accounts. The nice woman said I would receive my cards by mail in four to five business days. The following Tuesday, cardless, I go back into RBS to ask what the hold up was. The guy behind the plexie-glass tells me that my cards have been canceled. At this news I was a little put off and asked him why, to which he explained that if you do not activate the cards in a certain amount of time, the bank cancels them for protective reasons. Well this is just annoying, because how could I activate them if I never got them?! He doesn't know how to answer this question. Instead, he offers to order me new cards. Yes please. Duh. OK, done. New cards ordered. I should receive them by mail in four to five business days... and we're right back where we started.
I checked my address three times to make sure they were sending them to the right place. Then I asked him to check to see if my accounts were open, because if they were open, then I could withdraw cash from them without cards while I waited for mine to arrive in the mail. Yes, they were both open. Great, can I have an account balance of them please? Sure, £0. For both?! For both. Please don't tell me you lost $5,000. (Now I know why he is behind a plexie-glass shield). So I "calmly" explain to him how I brought a check with me for $5,000 to deposit into my new RBS accounts, to do the exchange rate only once. He went into the back room and came out with both good and bad news. The good news was that the bank didn't lose my money. Sigh of relief. The bad news wss that it takes five to six weeks for a dollar check to clear. Excuse me?!? It's a cashier's check from a Citizens Bank (which is you guys, in case you've forgotten!) RBS = Citizens... same bloody thing! So to sum up, I handed you a cashier's check, that was essentially from you, and then instead of depositing it into my account, you put it in a folder to collect dust for six weeks while you make sure that you are in fact a reliable source according to you.

...Right then.

It wouldn't matter all that much if the Citizen's Bank people didn't put a hold on my US credit card. After about three purchases over here, my card started to get declined everywhere that I tried to use it. I didn't tell them ahead of time that I was going overseas because I thought I would have an RBS card by this point. Citizen's suspected a stolen credit card, so to protect me they stopped allowing me to use it. If banks would only stop trying to protect me, then maybe I'd be able to actually spend some money, and eat and buy other essential things for survival...

The only conclusion that I can possibly draw from all of this is that Citizen's/RBS is out to get me.

September 22, 2008

Coconuts, Moviestars, and Gold Medals

Doune Castle

My parents still had their rental car, so we drove out to the countryside and visited Doune Castle, Stirling Castle, and the William Wallace Monument. Doune Castle struck a chord with me because it was the setting for the filming of the French Guard in Monty Python & The Holy Grail. I, of course, picked up a set of coconuts in the gift shop and road my steed around the castle grounds. My Mom took pictures of me as I perched atop the highest tower and taunted her, as only the French can.

Your father was a hamster and your mother smelt of elder berries
The next stop we made was at Stirling Castle, which sits upon volcanic rock. This country is covered in extinct volcanoes! The castle was huge, with so many places to explore. There was actually a film crew and actors hanging around the castle. They were filming scenes for a movie re-make inspired by the book 39 Steps which took place during WWI. We saw them shoot a scene where a man and a woman rush out to their motorcar and Scottish soldiers are muffling about in their kilts. Yes, I have a few pictures of the actors and extras. I tried to get in the background of a shot, but that would have been far too anachronistic and thrown off the whole aesthetic of the film. It's set to air on BBC on Boxing Day 2009, the day after Christmas.

Stirling Castle
Our final stop was at the William Wallace Monument. To put it in the words of Mr. Mark Longbottom (and for those of you who don't know him, say it with a South African Accent)... "Oh my greatness," this was a difficult task. First we had to climb a large hill just to get to the base of the monument. This monument was like the obelisk to the apes. It was just a sliver of a steep circular stairwell that kept spiraling up and up and up, 220 feet high! As I was attempting to walk up the steps, people were trying to pass me on their way down. This was a recipe for disaster and I would press flat against the stairwell and cling to the wall for dear life and let others pass by me. I could just feel the walls closing in on me as I climbed up and I had to keep reminding myself to breath. I kept my eyes downward to make sure I didn't lose my footing and slip, but after a while I would get dizzy so I'd look out the slits to try and calm my nerves, but then I wasn't watching my footing... it was a vicious cycle. I also have this strange sensation when I'm up really high, that I want to jump. I have obviously restrained myself thus far in life, but I've always been curious and find the thought of jumping from high places both exhilarating and freeing. So basically this Monument made me sick: it was like an 'effed up acrophobia with a side of claustrophobic vertigo.    

Wallace Monument

Me at the top of the Wallace Monument

I eventually made it to the very top and the views were breathtaking. I had a nice lady snap my photo at the top to prove that I did it! Back down in the gift shop (when I started breathing again) I bought a medal that says "I have climbed the 246 steps." You might have won eight gold medals this past olympics, but I have a silver medal in the William Wallace Tower of Death... so suck it, Phelps!!

View of the River Tweed from the top of the Wallace Monument

I'm as Fleet-Footed as a She-Goat

Mylne's Court at the base of Arthur's Seat

Yesterday, Mylne's Court conquered Arthur's Seat. A sizable number of students from the three dormitories that make up Mylne's Court, where I live, set out to climb an extinct volcano that sits at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Holyrood Park. Of course we live at the very top of The Mile on Castle Rock (another extinct volcano). So it took about 30 minutes just to get to the base of the Ben (Scottish word for mountain). The whole trip took around three hours to climb down The Mile, up the 251 meters (823 feet) to the highest peak of Arthur's Seat, back down the mountain and back up The Mile. Lucky for us, the weather cooperated, and we were able to see spectacular views from the top.

I'm pointing to where we live, right next to the castle

September 21, 2008

Spitting out Shakespeare

Last night, my parents and I went to the Royal Lyceum Theatre to see Shakespeare's MacBeth, complete with authentic Scottish accents. We sat in the first row, dead center - couldn't ask for better seats. The actress who played Lady MacBeth was sincerely maniacal! What an outstanding performance! It was the perfect combination of a title-hunting, blood-thirsty seductress plagued by absolute insanity. I was sure I'd have nightmares starring her.
You know the old saying about great seats at the theatre that goes: we sat so close we could see the actors spit... well, our seats must have been marked off as the Splash Zone at Sea World. You haven't seen an actor spit until you've seen a Scottish actor spit. I mean, the Scots invented spitting (they invented everything else). I couldn't help but think of the episode of "Friends" where Joey and Professor Remus are doing a WWII scene and spitting all over each other.
There was a great sword fighting scene between MacBeth and MacDuff, where each man had two swords, one in each hand, and they moved about the whole stage spinning, dodging, climbing and ducking. It was impressive choreography and a magnificent sight to see. Not to mention that the theatre itself was a work of art; a beautiful crystal chandelier at the center of the high dome ceiling. I'm sure I'll be going back to the Lyceum again considering it's great performances, extremely cheap concessions, and close proximity to my flat.  

The Royal Lyceum Theatre Ceiling

September 20, 2008

The Lone Goose

On Tuesday, we decided to actually attend a Fresher's Week activity that wasn't food or booze related. We went to the Postgraduate Induction Ceremony held in New College. Now, New College is actually connected to our building, but the doors that link the two are kept locked. Our Wardens (kinda like RAs) gathered us all in the common room and lead us through these doors down a long hallway with tiled floors and high ceilings and into a room at the back that looked just like the Great Hall in Hogwarts (complete with three longs rows of tables). We joked about having a Thanksgiving feast in there and each house of Mylne's Court can sit at their own table, since there are three: Patrick Gedes, Edward Sylvesan, and Philip Henman (mine).
So at this Induction Ceremony, Tutors just welcomed us and dragged on and on about rules and other boring nonsense. Then this Science Tutor got up to speak, and obviously he aspires to be a creative writer, because he went into this whole bunch of analogies... complete with a stellar slide show. First he called us "the flock of geese that flies home in the fall", and a picture of geese flying in a V popped up on screen. Then he compared us to a fire burning and fueling the school, complete with a picture of flames. Then we were traveling through troubled waters, so up flashed a picture of a babbling brook, and we were supposed to collect the pebbles as we walked along...or something. Next there was a bee sucking nectar from a flower, just as we are to absorb knowledge from our tutors. I don't know where he comes from, but I'm not sucking on any tutors while I'm here! He just could not keep his analogies straight. We couldn't understand if this guy was for real or not, and it was difficult to hold back the laughter.
The flock

Finally, he went back to the geese analogy and said that "sometimes, a goose will stray away from the flock, and he will cry out for help"... and then... yes... he made a loud goose call. At this point we lost it. Just when you think it couldn't get any worse, he made the lone goose call again... and again. We were in histerics. We've carried this joke on with us and have reenacted the lone goose crying out for help while out at the pubs. It tends to come in handy when Mark wanders off in search of an ATM or a bathroom... now we know that if he gets lost, we'll just stand on the street listening for the lone goose call and the flock will swoop down to his aid.  

Liam and Mark doing the Lone Goose call

September 19, 2008

Holy Fire Alarms, Batman!

So I packed up my entire life into two large suitcases, and two small carry-ons. I was so anxious to get past security, but my Mom ended up checking my second carry-on for me, and my Dad carried my computer bag as his second piece of carry-on luggage, so it all worked out. I have no idea how I'm going to get home... but the important thing is that I got past security and into the UK just fine. Turns out I'm not a terrorist, afterall.
As soon as I stepped onto Scottish soil, rain drops greeted the back of my neck. It was wonderfully chilly. I'm a cold-weather person, so I'm actually looking forward to Scottish weather. I'm living at the top of The Royal Mile on a stretch of road called Lawnmarket, just below Edinburgh Castle. Everything in the city is downhill from me, which should make for some awesome late night drunken stumbles back uphill from the pubs. I share a flat with three other girls, with two bathrooms, and a kitchen/common area. 
This week was orientation - what the Uni calls "Fresher's Week." Even though I'm not a First Year, I'm still technically a fresher as a postgraduate. I've been taking advantage of all of the free food and alcohol events thus far. Free booze and snacks in the common room of Mylne's Court the first two nights, a "Mature Student's Social" in the postgraduate common room with free beer/wine/pizza, free wine at the reception after registration for classes... so far I haven't had to cook a thing! I've just been hanging out with friends and shopping during the day, then drinking and eating for free at night, and heading to pubs after. It's kind of like orientation at Bucknell, but with castles, ghosts, and free beer! It's the best summer camp ever! I'm in for a rude awakening once classes start.
Speaking of rude awakenings, the fire alarm has gone off every day! I'm sorry, am I in Scotland, or am I still living in Vedder?? When I arrived on Saturday, I decided to take a little nap in the afternoon and was woken up by the fire alarm. I was so jet-lagged and out-of-it from not sleeping in 24 hours, that I stumbled into my hallway and asked my flatmate what it was. She was locking her door and putting on her jacket, explaining to me that it was the fire alarm. I then asked her: "how do we make it stop?" - and she politely said: "I think we have to evacuate." In my sleepy-stupor I recalled how in my apartment in NYC, when the fire alarm went off in our kitchen, we were responsible for making it stop - but even though I was living in my own flat in Scotland, it was still structured like a dormitory so when the alarm went off - it went off throughout the entire building. The buildings here are so old and the wiring isn't that great, so even the shower steam sets off the alarms. We also have a scheduled fire alarm for every Wednesday at 10:00am. We're not required to evacuate, it's just a test of the system... but I guess there's no sleeping late on Wednesdays.

When we evacuate, all three buildings spill out into the courtyard in the middle. So essentially, 150 or so people stand in a gated and locked courtyard surrounded on all sides by 8-story high cement buildings. If any one of them were truley on fire, then that is the WORST possible place for us to evacuate to. We're trapped. And yet, over the course of the year to come, during every fire drill, not a single person thought to mention this obvious fact... or suggest that we continue walking out to the street in front of our building (The Royal Mile) for a proper evacuation. And we call ourselves Masters...