October 29, 2008

I've Converted to Nocturnalism

Nocturnalism: noc·tur·nal·is·m [nok-tur-nl-izm] - noun, the antitheistic religion of the night; belief in the practices of the shadows with a foundation in the twilight ceremonies; faith in the after hours; the dusk creed.
We just turned our clocks back an hour last week, so now the sun sets at 4:30pm! And when I say sets, I mean it's pitch black outside by 5:00pm. This totally throws my whole internal body clock off. Oh and the darker it gets here, the colder it gets. Yesterday I came home around 4pm, made myself a snack, snuggled under my covers and watched Garfield's Halloween (don't judge). I was asleep within minutes. I woke up at 10:00pm and thought to myself "now what do I do?" So I started doing work. Around 1:30am I started to get hungry... so I made dinner. I was up until about 3:30am doing work.
Just because I go to bed so late doesn't have any effect on what time I get up. I still woke up this morning at 9:00am and started to do work. And I'm not really getting any less sleep - it's just spread out now. It's like every day is really two days for me. The sunsets at 4:30pm, my bedtime is 5:00pm and my wake-up time is 10:00pm. Then my second bedtime is around 4:00am and my second wake-up time is 9:00am. So I don't have 365 days this year... I have 730 days! I'm always complaining that there aren't enough days in the week to get everything done that I want - well now I've doubled my weeks!  
I do love being a night owl. Staying up past 2:30am puts you into a whole other world where it is just you and the dark, silent stillness of the night. It's like that secret hiding spot you had as a kid that no one else knew about. It's when I get my best writing done - when I'm hiding in this other world - this latenight world. Being Nocturnal is not easy. It takes work to stay awake when your body, the moon, and society are telling you to sleep. But once you reach that point, it's like finding the second star to the right, and then I just go straight on 'til morning.  

October 19, 2008

An Epic Hike

At the top of Arthur's Table

Friday was Mark's birthday so naturally we decided to pre-game in the boys' common room. But instead of going out to the pubs afterward, we donned our hiking boots, packed our sleeping bags and flashlights (and Whisky), and marched down the Mile to Holyrood Park. That's when the adventure began. We were feeling good about the fact that there were 13 of us about to hike the Salisbury Crags, especially considering a student plunged 50ft down to his death only 3 weeks back. Lucky 13. But we went up with 13 and came back down with 14, so I'd call that a success! (No, we didn't pick up one of the Bush People... although that would make a much better story.)
We had decided ahead of time to take the gradual route up the backside, because it would be the safest and easiest climb. But as soon as we reached the bottom of the Crags, all of our careful planning went to boot. Liam and John saw the steepest, muddiest, slipperiest side of the hill and thought it would be a great idea to climb up that way. They just ran straight up. Since we didn't want to split up, we all followed, slipping along the wet grass and mud as we climbed. I was grabbing onto the long grass, weaving my fingers in between the shards, to anchor myself to the mountain. But we made it to the summit - huffing and sweating. The 13 of us pulled out the Whisky and passed it round for victory shots and birthday shots and warming shots - because it was bloody freezing at the very top. The views of the city were absolutely stunning, though. The pictures do not do it justice. There was no one else around (why would there be in the middle of the night at the top of an extinct volcano...?) But it was like we had the city all to ourselves. 
At the top of the Crags

After about an hour, we decided to climb back down and find the ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel that we had visited before on our daytime hike up Arthur's Seat. We thought the ruins, overlooking the pond, would be especially haunting at night. So Liam, part-man/part-goat, led us off the beaten path and down toward the ruins. As Rachel so perfectly put it: "he was born in the wrong century." We were walking through knee-high brush, and prickly plants were cutting through my jeans. Christina and Mark pretended they were on an African Safari... it kinda felt like one. We came across Pride Rock, slid straight down a steep hill on our backsides (like a shortened and muddy Summit Plummit on Mount Gushmore at Blizzard Beach) then scrambled up a steep cliff of rocks to reach the ruins. Don't worry, we made full use of the lone goose call to keep track of all 13 of us. We tried assigning everyone a number for a Sound Off, but no one could ever remember their number, so it was pretty useless. Of course once we reached the top, we then had to climb back down the extinct volcano and back up the Royal Mile, which, correct me if I'm wrong, is roughly a mile's walk back to our dorms. But it was definitely worth it. We found our 14th MC buddy somewhere between Pride Rock and St. Anthony's ruins... he had hiked the hill alone with a case of beer to meet us!

As we made our way through Holyrood Park, Mirit and John slipped off their shoes, rolled up their pant legs, and waded out into the middle of the pools in from of Parliament. I photographed the nonsense, but it was too dark for the pictures to come out well. But that is definitely being added to the list of "Things I should have been deported for doing": Wading in the pools of the Scottish Parliament.    

October 13, 2008

Wizards and Warriors

After all of the excitement on Saturday, ten Mylne's Courters woke up at 7:30am on Sunday morning to take an all-day bus trip with Heart of Scotland Tours called Wizards and Warriors. The tour traveled east and south of Edinburgh through parts of Scotland and crossed over into England. Ironically, we had the same tour guide that I had two years ago when I took a bus tour up into the Highlands. SUISS '06ers, you might remember our old buddy Tim! He told some of the same stories, but since we were traveling to a completely different area, he also had a lot of new ones. He's a great story-teller, very humorous. And he can recite Robbie Burns in Scots from memory, which is both extremely impressive and beautiful to hear.
We traveled through East Lothian which used to be an Old Keltic Kingdom ruled by King Loth (related to King Arthur). It was beautiful driving along the coast. We stopped at the border between England and Scotland and I pulled a "Walk To Remember" and stood in two places at once. Cheesy, but fun.

Stradling the English/Scottish border
The first castle we stopped at was Bamburgh Castle. It's technically in England, but it's North of Hadrian's Wall (built by the Romans around AD 125 to separate England from the Pictish tribes in Scotland), AND the football team there still plays in the Scottish league to this day. So it might as well be Scotland. Plus, it's a cool place, so I'm claiming it for the Scots! Thank you to the Armstrongs for letting us into your home (even though I paid handsomely for it). Do you have any sons I can marry? The castle is right on the beach and had fantastic views of the water. Laura and I trekked down through the dunes, which is no easy task, and I walked barefoot on the beach and dipped my toes in the North Sea. It was frigid. I even collected some seashells. English seashells look different than Jersey Shore shells.

Hiking over the dunes to get to the water

Bamburgh Castle from the beach
Our next stop was Alnwick Castle, the second biggest castle in the country, the first being Windsor. Alnwick is famous for being filmed in movies like Harry Potter 1 and 2 and Robin Hood, the one with Kevin Costner. I got to see the Dark Forest, Hagrid's hut, the spot of the Whomping Willow, the courtyard where Harry had his first flying lesson with Madame Hooch, and another courtyard used in the scene directly after the "wingardium leviosa" lesson where Hermione overhears Ron making fun of her to Harry and she storms off past a green lantern. I saw that lantern. Cool, right? Alnwick castle is also used as the basic skeleton for Hogwarts itself. All you have to do is CGI in a few extra towers and a cliff, and you've got Hogwarts!

Alnwick Castle
OK, so since I'm movie-obsessed I enjoyed all of the references, despite the fact that our tour guide sucked. But my absolute favorite part was seeing the interior of the state rooms. Thank you to the Percys for letting us into your home! I've fallen in love with your library! Who doesn't love a medieval castle decorated in Victorian style with upholstered walls, and intricately carved crown molding in the ceilings with gold filigree, and two stories of shelves housing over 14.5 thousand antique books, and big comfy chairs, a fireplace, a fooseball table, and a bar! Now that's my kind of library! Lord Percy, do you have any sons that I can marry? Although, then I'd have to live in England. All I do know is that if I lived in a castle, I wouldn't let tourists roam around it all day long.

Alnwick Castle Library

Alnwick is so big that we could have spent an entire day there, but we only had two hours. We did manage to go on the Knights Quest and the Dragons Quest, tailored for five-year olds, so naturally appealing to postgraduates. The Knights Quest pretty much just consisted of me making a fool of myself and all of my friends snapping pictures of it. They (meaning my friends, not the people who worked there) wouldn't let me put on the costumes, although they probably wouldn't have fit anyway, but I rode a stick horse, jousted, dressed in armor to slay a dragon and save my damsel in distress, and walk in on just the head of the late Emily Goetsch. Now the Dragon Quest was a bit scarier. It was like a haunted house, with a mirror maze, talking and moving skeletons, and a Balrog (according to Liam and his extended knowledge on Lord of the Rings) that breathed smoke.

I'm a lone child facing my fate

Me, rescuing the damsel from the dragon

Ladies on the Dragon Quest

Next, we stopped briefly in Kelso to see the ruins of the abbey. It was closed, but we could see it from the outside. Then we went to see a monument of William Wallace. I looked up his kilt to see if he was a 'true scotsman' and was appalled to find that he was completely hollow! Utterly shocking. Our last stop was at Scott's View, named for Sir Walter Scott because it was his favorite place to come in the evenings to write. He is also buried there in Dryburgh Abbey. We were fortunate enough to see a beautiful sunset over the River Tweed (which flows along the border of Scotland and England) and over the Eildon Hills, which are said to be magical. The hill on the right is a fairy hill that contains a secret entrance to another world. Tim, our tour guide, told us the tale of Thomas the Rhymer as we watched the golden sun set behind his magical kingdom.  

Abbey ruins in Kelso

Checking to see if William's wearing underwear

Sunset at Scott's View

Me and Leigh

I Survived a Glaswegian Bar Brawl

This is a long one, so brace yourselves. A quick shout out to Paige and Becky... happy birthday girls (you can't see me, but I'm making moose ears)! Friday at Odd Fellows was fun!
Saturday morning, I woke up at 7:30am to get ready to take an early train into Glasgow. There was a big football game (Scotland vs Norway) happening that day at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Football (aka soccer) is like THE only sport in this country, apart from maybe rugby or cricket (and golf, as Tim pointed out, although you rarely see bar fights break out over golf tournaments). So this game was a huge deal, and the fact that it was at home made it even more exciting. Since we only live about an hour away, we decided to hop the train to Glasgow, not to watch the actual game (because it's near impossible to get tickets), but to watch it on TV in an overly-crowded pub. This is something we obviously couldn't have done at a pub in Edinburgh, or even in the comfort of our own common room. Also, you're not allowed to drink at the actual football game... and now I know why.
There were Scotsman tailgating the game in Waverly train station in Edinburgh at 8:30am, getting ready to go to Glasgow to watch their team play. That should have been our first clue...  
We rode the train with a few Vikings, but mostly everyone who got on was decked out in a red tartan kilt, a blue Scottish football jersey, Balmoral caps and Glengarry bonnets with a long golden eagle feather. Every man who got on had his own six-pack of Tennents (or Budweiser). That should have been our second clue...

Glasgow Central Station

It was a gorgeous day, sunny and not cold (notice how I never really use the word "warm)", perfect for seeing the city and doing some shopping. We all met up at a pub called Red Lizard in Merchant City to watch the game at 3:00pm. The place was packed, but we all found standing room in view of one of the flat screen TVs on the wall. It was really fun to watch the game with so many passionate Scotsman. We actually had two Norwegians with us, Katie from Mylne's Court and Liam's friend from home, so it was a fun rivalry.
Sunny Glasgow

Shout out to Jamie Dunn!  I'm glad you could come all the way to Merchant City to see me. Gotta love the Wissahickon presence in Scotland!

Me and Jamie at the Red Lizard

The game ended around 5:30pm with no score: 0-0, which is worse than losing. A couple of us were just gonna grab the train home because we had to get up early the next day for an all-day bus tour, but were somehow convinced to stay for dinner. Fun fact about getting dinner in Glasgow... you can't. We tried three different places nearby and none of them had seating available. Ok, so there were eight of us - but still. So our local friends told us of a place closer to campus (they go to Glasgow School of Arts) where there was sure to be seating for a cheap price and great food. What they didn't say was that it was about a fifteen minute trek to get there. It was right around the corner from where a drive-by gang shooting had happened recently. That should have been our fifty-seventh clue...

But they delivered as promised. Tate's had cheap food and places to sit.  
I was starving at this point, so I ran to the bar and ordered first, and I ordered a LOT of food. Then we all sat and watched the drunk Glaswegians' terrible dancing. We actually moved to a different table because the music was so obnoxiously loud (I can't imagine what would have happened had we not moved...). All seven of my friends got their food and were finished eating... still no sign of my food. I went to the bar twice to remind them that I was infact still starving, and had paid a boatload of money for a boatload of food.  

*Brief Intermission - you've been reading for a while and there's still the whole Second Act, so feel free to use the WC or grab a drink.*

After about a half hour, I just asked for my money back. The girl behind the bar was walking toward me with my £8 when all of a sudden these four or five guys started to wrestle right next to me. There was no warning sounds or sights of an argument - no shouting. They just went at it. I was so shocked that it took me a moment to register what was happening, but I quickly moved out of firing range. These guys, like the rest of the country, had probably started drinking at 8:00am, so there was no adherence to the accepted rules of a bar fight which I constitute as: punch the guy who offended you while all your friends try to hold you both back. They didn't care who got in their way, innocent bystanders, girls, the pool table... they hit anything and everything that came near them, probably including their own friends. No one even tried to break it up. Or if they did, it was a lost cause because they just got the shit kicked out of them by one of the unnecessarily angry Wegies (Wegies = a Glaswegian = a person from Glasgow).
The fight grew exponentially. Now there are about ten guys battling each other, a few of them picked up bar stools and the fight swelled toward me. I move back as far as I can, but I'm trapped next to this pillar, all alone. In order to make it to the door I'd have to step out into the line of fire. Bar stools crash to the ground and splinter into pieces. This one fat guy, who's shirt had come off in the tussle (what a pretty picture), pinned another guy to the ground and was just pounding on him, punching him over and over and over. I really thought that guy was never gonna get up again.
All of the bartenders disappeared out into the back room, and were able to take most of the pool sticks with them. But now the group of little twerp seventeen-year-olds at the pool table decided they should join in the fight, so they used the pool sticks as bats. Now there were about twenty-five or thirty guys. That's not a bar fight - that's a war. It gives a whole new meaning to the football fans as "Tartan Warriors." To retaliate against the pool sticks, the big guys picked up pint glasses and beer bottles and starting chucking them. They shattered and glass went everywhere. Some guy took the full blow of a tumbler to his back. A bald guy had a huge gaping wound on his forehead and blood was dripping all down his face. But they just kept throwing glasses and bar stools and smashing each other with pool sticks. When the first glass went flying, I said fuck it, and made a run for it. I made it out the front door and onto the sidewalk. It wasn't until I ran, that anyone else in the bar thought to run - many people followed me out, but all of my friends were still trapped in the far corner of the bar.
Finally, the police arrived, but half the guys who were in the fight had fled the scene. My friends made it out safe and we high-tailed it out of there as quickly as possible. Just in case you've forgotten after that long description: I am still starving and am now out £8. That's $15. It was terrifying to be in that situation where you are separated from your friends and feel helpless. If they had gotten any closer to me, I would have had no control over my own safety and could have been severely injured. If we hadn't of switched tables, my friends would have been directly in the center of the "battle field" and they could have been badly hurt - not that they were any safer trapped in the corner.      
My heart raced for the rest of the night. We trekked back to the Red Lizard where the rest of Mylne's Court was, and of course they were finished serving food. But my wonderful friends, who felt sorry for me, bought me three beers and an apple sour shot. Which I wholly consumed in approx. 20 minutes (not an exaggeration). So now my heart was really racing, the combination of anxiety and drunkenness on an empty stomach. But Leigh bought me two bags of crisps (which I jokingly called my appetizer and my second course).

My dinner
So the eleven of us headed back to Glasgow Central to catch a train home. But made a necessary stop at Tesco for a 12-pack of Tennents. When we got to Central we realized that the only train heading to Edinburgh was leaving from a different station. So we all had to run through the streets of Glasgow to Queens St. Station. We hopped on the train on platform 7, and were so proud of ourselves for making it in time that we took a victory picture. Yeah - we were totally on the wrong train. But the conductor told us, so we easily jumped off and got on the right one.

We couldn't be more excited to be on the wrong train

On the train home we enjoyed the musical talents of four Scotsman sitting next to us. They sang their original hit single "Smoking on the Train" again and again. They were drinking boxed wine sans le box. No one was up for a game of slapbag though (which really isn't much of a game anyway). They referred to their red wine as 'pig's blood'. It was actually really entertaining. Although, if I had been sober I would have been so angry that they were actually smoking on the train. I was coughing and gagging the whole ride home. But I have some fun videos of them singing, which I've posted below.
Smoking on the Train

Smoking on the Train Encore

We finally made it home around 12:00am and the boys went with me to the Clamshell so that I could get a pizza. I fully enjoyed my midnight feast! I had earned it after my near-death experience.    

October 6, 2008

Dussehra Hindu Festival

Hindu Festival

Yesterday was sunny and a bit less cold - perfect weather for the Mylne's Court Manglers to take to The Meadows for our weekly football kickabout. We had enough people for 7-on-7, quite impressive for a pick-up game of footy. It got a little more serious this week, but it was still all in good fun. Team Super Awesome beat Team Super Cool in sudden death 11-10. Per tradition, we stopped in Doctors on the way home for lunch. After all that running about, I took a well-deserved nap. Around 6:00pm I woke up to a small group of people with tambourines, singing Indian songs outside my window. I watched them dance up and down the Royal Mile, and thought it was a kind of pathetic parade of only nine people...so I went back to bed. About a half hour later, I woke up again to a full-fledged fleet of bagpipers and drummers. I looked out my window and saw a real parade going by: horse-drawn carriages, floats of Indian Idols, people dressed up as Indian Gods and demons... I had a great view, only three stories up form street-level, overlooking the parade route.

Dussehra Parade

This reminds me of "A Little Princess"


Then I get this text from Laura: "wanna go see some fireworks?" I believe the correct answer to that is always yes! The parade was ending at the top of Calton Hill for The Hindu Festival of Dussehra, so we met up with a few other Mylne's Court residents atop the hill. The views from the top were incredible of the castle at sunset with this orange glow about the whole city. There were three 25-foot-tall efigies at the top: they represent the evil King Ravana and his two brothers. FUN FACT:  The efigies were constructed by the inmates of Saughton Prison in Edinburgh (three years ago, they ran out of funding for the statues, so the prisoners made them for free, and have been doing so every year since). The festival celebrates the story of how Lord Rama and his army rescue his wife, Sita, and behead the evil King Ravana.

View of Edinburgh Castle from the top of Calton Hill

Burning the effigies

We all sat on the National Monument...which was not an easy task. There are no steps, just a 12 foot cement brick wall. It's about seven feet up to the first big block step, with the only thing to help you climb being a tiny little ledge, no more than 2 inches wide, and that ledge is about 5 feet off the ground. The monument is an unfinished imitation of the Parthenon (because Scotland is known as the Modern Athens). As it got dark, they lit the three efigies on fire and set off fireworks. Our seats on the Parthenon gave us a fantastic view of the burning efigies and exploding fireworks above the pillars of the monument. Then we all dismounted the Parthenon and filed into a tent for some dancing to Indian music. There was also Indian food, but it was too pricey for us.
Fireworks over the Scottish Monument

After a good deal of Indian dancing, we walked back down Calton Hill and then back up the hill that is The Royal Mile, to our home. Instead of stopping at MC we went all the way up to the castle Esplanade. The castle is so haunting at night, all lit up and quiet, free from all the tourists bustling about. We walked all the way up to the castle doors and then a coin was thrown at Derek. We joked about ghosts, but discovered that the guards were just inside the doors, chucking coins at us. They found it amusing how the starving students scrambled for a 5p coin. One guard opened the door and simply said "boo" and we all laughed. They continued to throw money at us, which we gladly scooped up, and they made ghostly "oooooooooo" sounds. Mark asked them for a job. I asked them for a picture. So four large men dressed in camo, with huge machine guns stepped out from behind the castle doors and posed for a picture with us. I jokingly said "don't worry, I'll tag you all on facebook."  

MC and the Castle Guards

Finally, we walked back down to MC, but the fire alarm was going off, and had been for 15 minutes. Everyone was gathered in the courtyard and firemen were running about. Apparently, the tenants of ES 813 had left a pot of food on the stove.. tsk tsk. They weren't around to own up to their mistake. After they turned off the alarm, most everyone went back inside, but we remained in the courtyard catching up with friends about the festival and waiting to catch the culprits of ES 813...while we were out there, the fire alarm went off three more times. No one evacuated though, because the fireman quickly disabled the alarm each time, but it was rather humorous.  
At this point in the evening, 9:00pm, I was starving, and scrounged up some dinner. Then, we ended the evening with our weekly movie night in the common room. We watched "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"... really funny, but seriously messed up. It was a pretty eventful day, and the best part was that I didn't have to plan any of it! And it was all free! In fact, I actually made 5p!

October 3, 2008

Master of Writing, Queen of Literature

The first two weeks of classes are behind me, and I'm already starting to feel like a Master of Writing and Literature... feel free to call me "The Master"... it'll catch on. I almost wish I went to undergrad here - British students take courses so much more seriously than Americans. Serious in a good way. In the way that they are passionate about learning, and don't take it for granted that they are here. Not once in any of my workshops, seminars, or option courses did the discussion lag or fade. Not once did the tutor have to pull a comment out of someone and force the discussion. Oh, and my classes are all very small - very intimate. We're talking nine as my smallest class and twelve as my largest. And these kids weren't just saying whatever came to mind - they were actually saying intelligent, thought-provoking things. Maybe they are just naturally brilliant here, I dunno. I rather enjoyed it.
The great thing about my schedule is all the free time I have! I have a workshop Tuesday from 11-1pm where we workshop three peers' creative works (I present my own work every third week). Thursday, I have a creative writing seminar from 2-4pm where we study the craft of writing, examples from the greats, and put it into practice during quick in-class exercises. Friday I have my literature option course called Madness and Sexuality from 9-11am. We read one British Victorian novel a week. I was kind of hoping to avoid a class before 11am, and classes on Mondays or Fridays... but I think I can live with a three-day weekend and Wednesdays completely off. It gives me so much time to read other books for inspiration and spend afternoons, and even whole days, in coffee houses writing. It's absolutely fantastic.  I couldn't ask for more... except maybe to travel. But those trips are in the works already!
One thing that's taking some getting used to, is how to address my tutors. All of my tutors insist that I call them by their first names. First of all, they are tutors - not professors. If you call them Professor So-and-so (insert Sirname), or even just refer to him or her as simply Professor, they look at you as if you've just called them King or Queen. 

October 1, 2008

Princess My Ass!

This has no direct correlation to my time or travels in Scotland. It does have to do with the fact that I was writing a parody on princesses for a potential flash fiction piece to turn in for class. The good writer that I am, I did a little research on my princesses, just to make sure that I had all of their stories straight before I went ahead and made fun of them. Lucky for me, I came across The Official Disney Princess Website, and all the regulars were there: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc. etc. But there was also Mulan. Excuse me, but she is not a princess. Her parents were not royalty, and she did not marry a prince. She married a military captain...not a prince. And don't give me that crap about how all little girls are princesses. There are seven actual Disney princesses and one poser. Some were lucky, like Belle, who married into royalty. Cinderella really had to work for it, literally had to work scrubbing floors for her evil stepmother, but she married the prince. Others were fortunate enough to be born into it, like Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Snow White, Jasmine, and Pocahontas. And Ariel is actually a double princess because she was King Triton's daughter and then she married Prince Eric. Now, Mulan? She dressed up like a man, fought in a war, and talked to a miniature dragon. She's like a mix of Hilary Swank and Dr. Dolittle (neither of whom are a princess).
I wouldn't be this outraged if it weren't for the fact that one very important Disney Princess is missing from the list - possibly my favorite! How about Princess Tiger Lily?!? Just because she doesn't star in her own movie doesn't make her any less of a princess. Yeah so it's a movie all about a boy, Peter Pan, and she plays the third supporting lady after the lead: Tinkerbell, and the second lead: Wendy. Don't even get me started on how Disney loves Tinkerbell (and pairs her with Cinderella's Castle for all of their advertising... they're from two totally different fairy tales - what's that about?) But give the girl some respect. She's more of a princess than Mulan will ever be! Is this because we can't have two Disney Native American Princesses? Or maybe because we have to fill our quota of Chinese Princesses, so they just threw in the first Chinese female cartoon that was drawn? Is Disney trying to be PC and not offend the Asian community by excluding Mulan from the Princess list? So instead they give her the princess pity vote? Whatever, Disney, just get TIger Lily on that list and maybe I'll forgive you for your Mulan slip. Next thing you know you'll be putting Alice in Wonderland up there, or Bambi, or Mary Poppins!