Monday, January 30, 2012

d'ye ken it?

Today's soundtrack:
"Sinner Man" by Nina Simone

Just when you think you've got this Scottish business all figured out, they throw Burns' Night at you.

Technically, this was my second Burns' Night.  The first was years ago up at Malaspina and resulted in one broken chair, several bad fake Scottish accents, and a propensity to sing "The Hundred Pipers" in the shower.  That being said, this was my first really Scottish Burns' Night and it was wonderful.  Our neighbours invited us over for a proper dinner of haggis, neeps, and tatties, alongside fiddles, good poetry (and some bad), and enough beer to keep everyone afloat.  Along the way I learned that neeps are turnips, swede is rutabaga, and tatties are potatoes.  Also, vegetarian haggis is delightful.

A few days later I was at the local knitting afternoon and met a woman who spoke only in Scots.  Now, I thought I'd be able to understand Scots because a few days earlier I'd done not too badly understanding Burns.  That was folly.  But with a fair bit of patience on the part of the knitters, I managed to learn a few new Scots words.  My new favourite is scunnert.

Scunnert means fed up and knackered.  For example, "I'm scunnert with this knitting pattern".  Sic scunnert is really fed up.  Replace "knitting pattern" with "hormonal teenager" and you're just about there.

Also, ken, which means to know (as a verb) or knowledge (as a noun), is a handy one.. well.. tae ken.

The real shame is that listening to BBC Scotland will not result in understanding the Scots language.  Scottish English, sure, but not Scots.  According to my local sources, Scots was the language of the playground while RP English was the language of the classroom.  As a result, Scots is considered a less-educated form of speech, which is a real shame because it's so much more evocative than English.  Could I be any more accurately described than as crabbit when I wake up every morning?  Devoted readers will already know of my admiration.. and simultaneous distain.. for droukit.  Is there a better word for a dreary, gloomy day than dreich?  While I doubt I'll ever be able to speak it (having a Scottish accent would help), I'm hoping that with a few more years here I'll understand a bit more of Scots.

At the very least, it'd be nice to read a Burns' poem without having to look at the glosses every other word.  And it'd do wonders for my daily rendition of "The Hundred Pipers".

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

how to understand your spaniard 101; or, shit my husband says

Today's soundtrack:
"Repatriated" by Handsome Furs
"End of the Days of Coal" by Christopher Arruda
"Requin Tigre" by Galaxie
"Are You Gonna Waste My Time" by Zeus

It's rather common for people to create their own patois, a set of phrases or words that make little sense to those outside.  Within couples, I think it's even more common.  And within couple in which two different languages are routinely used, a mish-mashed patois becomes the lingua franca.  Occasionally.. or perhaps more than just occasionally.. this patois slips out of the house, much to confusion of our friends and family.  Today, after years of study, I'm ready to publish my guide to understanding my particular Spaniard (NB: this guide is not comprehensive and may not apply to your individual Spaniard).


Innocent Gun = Innis and Gunn, a popular Scottish beer.  Although, you have to admit, Innocent Gun is a bit more evocative.

Flies' Water = Flyswatter, which is all fun and games until a giant moth attacks your wife and you grab the nearest spray bottle rather than the large, swatty thing hanging in the kitchen.

Warranty = Guarantee.  Admittedly, the nuanced difference between these two can be tricky, which is why when the Spaniard promises to have something finished, he "warrantees it".

EXTERMINATE! = "I had one too many Goldspurs"

Esugar hunt? = "Need chocolate, stat."

Got any to add, gentle readers?

I've invited the Spaniard to retort with the various Kateisms that have developed over the past few years.  My rather lazy approach to learning Spanish has given rise to phrases like "listamos" and calling Miguel "hippocratic" (as in the oath) during an argument.  I also cannot keep "cruzamos" and "crucemos" straight in my head, although this is not without some irony.

Also, if anyone has any idea what "dagully" might refer to, I'd love to know.

Monday, January 23, 2012

bookcases and teacups

Today's soundtrack:
"Northern Air" by Elliott Brood
"I Don't Know" by the Sheepdogs
"Derby Girl" by the Gertrudes
"Long Distance Call" by Tokyo Police Club
"Good Day at the Races" by Hollerado

When Miguel was offered the job in St. Andrews, my main concern wasn't getting an entrance visa or finding a place to live, but how on earth we were going to move all our books.  Thankfully, a generous moving allowance was offered, so we packed up all our books in 20 or 30 bankers' boxes.  We had more boxes of books than anything else, combined.  Priorities, people.  Books are so high on our list of things we cannot live without that our first goal after moving into our place in Cellardyke was to find bookcases.  Not linens or a television.  No, no.  Bookcases.

And, of course, the whole bookcase organization is fraught.  Fiction and non-fiction are separated, but should they be?  After all, all non-fiction is written with a particular bias and slant on the truth that can be seen as fictive.  Take King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild.  A clear, journalistic bias is at play throughout the book, going so far as to characterize the King of Belgium as some sort of demon/devil.  No nuance at play there.  Undoubtably, you recognize my concern, even if Oprah, the great and powerful arbiter of literary taste, does not.

Of equal importance, but of far less discussion, are the various trinkets that litter our shelves.  I've never really been one for clutter, but everything non-book on these shelves is there for a reason known, generally, just to me or Miguel.

Take, for example, this teacup.

Sure, it's just a teacup, one that I should probably use for afternoon tea, but I don't.  This teacup spent the past few years in a box, not having anywhere to display it, and I was so relieved when it made the move to Scotland in one piece.  It belonged to my Aunt Cora, whose collection and varieties of teacups was as eclectic as, well, my Aunt Cora, and after she passed all of us distant relatives were given a teacup.  On a purely superficial level, this teacup reminds me of those big family dinners up in Qualicum and how very grown up I felt the first time I got to use a teacup, even if it was only filled with milk.

But this teacup also reminds me of Sproat Lake, where a teacup wouldn't really last all that long. In fact, I can't remember ever having tea out of a teacup up at the Lake.  What I do remember is that one long summer when Laura and I would drive up to the Lake whenever we had a few days off at McDonalds.  We had the Lake to ourselves, more or less, and spent untold hours deckslugging, floating around, and trying to get the McDonalds' smell off.

It's warmer than it looks.

Those who've spent anytime up at Sproat Lake know about the 4 o'clock breeze.  It ruins waterskiing, chills you a little on the docks, but it does push the wasps out of the way long enough to make dinner.  So when the 4 o'clock breeze would pick up (anytime between 3:30-5pm, of course.  This is Island Time, after all), Laura and I would make our way up the hill to our campsite, but we'd pass by Aunt Cora's camper on the way.  She already had the impossibly massive kettle boiled and the tea steeping.  So we'd sit down for a cuppa with Aunt Cora in the cedar tree shade and listen to the Lake quiet down.  After we'd eaten all the cookies and drank all the tea our bladders could stand, we'd finish our trek up to the campsite and make dinner.

Call me hopelessly sentimental, but this fine china teacup on my shelf is perhaps the most tangible memory of how I spent one of my last summers on the Island.  Each afternoon when I sit down with my cuppa, I'm up at the Lake with my sister, drinking tea with Aunt Cora.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

report on the leggings situation in saskatoon

Today's soundtrack:
"Ciao Monday" by Emm Gryner
"Kiss Cam" by Arkells
"It" by Rich Aucion
"When I Write My Master's Thesis" by John K. Samson

Apologies in advance as parts of this post will only be intelligible to those few U of S alumni... and even then it's iffy.

After the New Year I flew out to Saskatoon for a few days.  I'd not been on the University of Saskatchewan campus since jeggings became an acceptable substitute for proper trousers.  As a result, the U of S became this oasis of pants in my mind's eye, unspoiled by the ridiculousness of campus like the University of Calgary which has mounted a thorough, although not effective, "leggings are not pants" campaign.

Still, expecting Saskatoon and the U of S to remain frozen in time is childish, so while I was working in the library (with its new Starbucks - there's coffee in the library!  Grad students rejoice!) I kept an eye out for what's changed and what's remained the same.

In a lot of ways, the U of S campus hasn't changed too much at all.  There are still magpies, chickadees, and that guy that works at the Copy Central as you go into the North Wing of the Murray Library.  I still found my beloved focaccia sandwich, although they are no longer made at STM (pro tip - go to the Arts Buff).  I think the unicyclist I spotted outside Thor is new, as is the bike maintenance station, but I suppose both were inevitable.

Because the temperature was well over 0ºC all week, U of S students were showing more skin than usual.  Well, I saw well over.  We reached a scalding 5ºC one day.  Positively tropical, although I didn't see anyone in shorts or flip-flops, nor any frisbee in the Oval.  Instead, there was a firm refusal to wear winter jackets and scarves.  Throats and hands were visible!

And no leggings.

Now, maybe I was visiting on the 5 days all of Saskatoon was busy washing its leggings, but I didn't see any leggings-as-pants up on campus.  And the January weather, for the first winter a while, would've allowed it.  Starbucks?  Leggingless.  Arts Building?  Leggingless.  Place Riel?  Leggingless. 2nd Floor of the North Wing of the Murray Library?  Leggingless.

Okay, my search may have been less than comprehensive.

My point is that even though some things have changed or shifted, the U of S can safely remain my oasis of trousers for another year.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

christmas knitting

Today's soundtrack:
"La fille dans la vitrine" by Les Breastfeeders
"I'll Bring the Sun" by Jason Collett
"Lose It" by Austra
"Let's Talk" by Hannah Georgas

Now that Christmas and Reyes Magos has both passed, I can finally post all the holiday knitting I cobbled together this year.  Not a particularly varied group of gifts (socks, scarves, and sweaters), but lovely nonetheless.

First up, my mother-in-law's new scarf:

The pattern is "Kernel" by Bonnie Sennott (Rav Link).  I used Wollmeise 100% in some sort of rust colour that arrived in a We're Different grab-bag last year.

Mom also received a scarf this year, after years of promises (and one drunken elf mishap):

The pattern is "Claire" by Lynn Anne Banks (Rav Link).  I used Fiddlesticks Knitting Zephyr Lightweight Wool-Silk in black.  This scarf was originally due for her birthday a few years ago (I believe she was turning 39 again) with a more intricate lace pattern, but I developed a severe mental block about the whole project.  Also, I found this yarn particularly finicky to work with.  I'm happy with how the whole scarf turned out, but I'm glad to see the backside of it.

Then there are my father-in-law's socks, specially requested for their length:

The pattern is "Gentleman's Fancy Sock" from Nancy Bush's collection Knitting Vintage Socks, my favourite sock pattern book (Rav Link).  The yarn is Zitron Trekking XXL in 455 (not a particularly evocative number).

Dad also got socks this year:

The pattern is "Gentlemen's Plain Winter Sock with Dutch Heel," also from Nancy Bush's Knitting Vintage Socks (Rav Link).  Yarn is Zitron Trekking XXL in 326, or as I like to call it, Canucklehead.  These were quickly pronounced camp-life acceptable, which is about as good as it gets.

Pablo, who is all of 2 now, has a brand new sweater to help him through a Madrid winter:

The pattern is "Fisherman's Pullover" by Veera Välimäki in Cascade Ecological Wool (colour 8049) (Rav Link).  I made the age 4 version simply because it appears to fit a little small and the Eco Wool isn't a bulky yarn in the truest sense of the word.  I was right to do so, as it appears the sweater will last him the winter and spring, but no longer.

Owen, who trails Pablo by a mere 6 months, has a new cardigan:

The pattern is "Wonder Year Cardigan" by Elizabeth Smith and I used Cascade 220 in white, green, yellow, red, and blue (Rav Link).  I took inspiration from the HBC point blanket.  In a fit of quasi-homesickness, I visited the HBC website to see just how much one of those point blankets would be.  After I picked myself up from the floor, I decided that the next best thing would be to recreate the look on wee Owen's cardigan.

As for me, I've been working on the "Squirrel Sampler Mittens" by Adrian Bizilia for the past two months (Rav Link).  First there was the gauge issue, in which I did not have it.  Then there was the running out of yarn issue (I used Garnstudio DROPS Alpaca in 100, 403, and 7240, but I needed just slightly more than one skein of the background colour 100).  Finally, there was the lack of time to knit in the evenings as writing deadlines swiftly approached.  But on Christmas Eve, a few hours before Midnight Mass, I cast off the last few stitches, weaved in the ends, and gifted myself a pair of impossibly warm mittens.

This mittens also happen to look very cute on Mom and Dad's wilderness-themed Christmas Tree.  Yes, you read that right - a Wilderness Tree.  The tree topper is a moose.  Beat that for cuteness, I dare you.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

wandering about bristol

Today's soundtrack:
"Black Day in December" by Said the Whale
"Life on Mars?" by David Bowie

At the beginning of December, Miguel and I stole down to Bristol for a few days to visit Miguel's friend, former roommate, and former Saskatoonian, Sri.  Initially, I was hoping that we'd have time to visit Tintern Abbey in the nearby Wye Valley; however, my understanding of distance was deemed decidedly Canadian and so we put the visit to Tintern off until the next trip.  Besides, there was plenty to do in Bristol and we only had one full day in the city!

First, Sri took us up to Clifton* for brunch where I was able to have my first bagel in 7 months.  Oh sweet carbohydrates, how I'd missed you!  Next, we went on a wander about the city centre.  We passed by the Llandoger Trow, a 17th century pub, but as it was before noon we kept on walking.

Later on, we ended up back in Clifton and walked across the Clifton Suspension Bridge (1864).

Well, I say walked.  Miguel and Sri walked.  I panicked and crossed as quickly as possible while trying not to make to much movement in case the whole thing crashed down into the river far, far, far below.  

The crossing was worth it, though, because we ended up in Durdham Down, a beautiful park on the edge of Bristol.  There are deer, although they are kept behind a fence.  I'm still not sure if that's for their safety or ours.

The park is full of cyclists, joggers, walkers, and confused motorists.  It took us about an hour to leisurely walk just a small portion of Durdham Down.  And after a day of walking around 15 km, we arrived back at Sri with just enough time to watch Potiche and get ready for a house party where we got to visit with Aoife, who I'd also not seen since she lived in Saskatoon.

The next morning, after nearly 48 hours since landing in Bristol, we were heading back to Scotland, the relative calm of our small fishing village, and my real coffee.

Ah yes.  The coffee.  You know, for a country once dominated by coffeehouses (some schools of thought suggest that the Enlightenment was mostly caffeine-fueled), I cannot believe people willingly drink freeze-dried instant coffee.  Apparently, this freeze-dried instant coffee is better than the powdery version, although I cannot taste the difference.  If the British had drank instant coffee rather than real coffee in the 18th century, we'd still be living like it was the 17th century.  And you don't want Cromwell to come back, do you?  No?  I thought not.  Well, drinking instant coffee is like cheering for Cromwell.  Case closed.

* For those Burney scholars, Evelina, whilst recovering her health, visits Clifton with Mrs. Selwyn in Evelina.

stormy weather

Today's soundtrack:
The dulcet tones of the Canucks defeating the Bruins (4-3) on 1040 am
"Piste 1" by Galaxie
"Lose It" by Austra
"We Used to Wait" by Arcade Fire
"Since When" by 54-40

We've been lobbying Miguel's parents for years to come and visit us.  First, when we lived in Saskatoon ("you'll be amazed at how flat it is here!"), then when we lived in Calgary ("you'll be amazed with how slightly bumpy it is here!"), and now, as we live in Scotland ("you'll be amazed with how watery it is here!").  Finally, late this past November, Miguel's parents came for a week-long stay at the Ivory Tower.

Looking back, I think our first mistake was booking the flights for late November.  These people are madrileños. For them, November weather is a brisk 12-15ºC.  November is not hovering below 10ºC with a gale coming off of the North Sea and damp cold that comes up through your feet and doesn't leave.  No matter how amazing the Firth of Forth looked with the waves kicking up over the breakwater, there was no escaping the icy wind, cold rain, and overwhelmingly dreich sky.

And the Firth of Forth did look amazing.

The Isle of May

On the afternoon we came back from St. Andrews, I noticed that the tide seemed to be pretty high.  Peering into the harbour, I saw that the usually dry walkway was under a few inches of water.  The Forth had surged up a few extra feet.  No one thought to warn the locals of Shore Street, who had already put their laundry out for the day.

Miguel's dad made the best of his vacation.  Every afternoon he walked into town, ordered a coffee at the local shop, found someone who spoke a smattering of Spanish, and preceded to spend the next hour chatting.  Miguel's mom, who does not like the wind at all, spent most her time indoors with me, making croquetas and other Spanish delicacies, and catching up on her reading.  And I learned a new Spanish word:  Vendaval = gale.  Or windstorm, for you Vancouver Islanders.

Although they had a lovely time visiting, I do wonder if we'll ever be able to persuade them to travel back up to Scotland again.  Still, it could have been worse - they could have visited us in Saskatoon during the annual cold snap in February.  At least there was never any risk of people going home with frostbite.  A little windblown and damp, sure, but with all their fingers and toes.

a november day in edinburgh

Today's soundtrack:
"Synesthésie" by Malajube
"Crown of Love" by Arcade Fire
"The Stand" by Mother Mother
"Drinking Games" by Library Voices
"The Choke" by Austra
"Creep On Creepin' On" by Timber Timbre
"Northern Air" by Elliott Brood

I know.  I'm woefully behind.  The past two months have been full of writing, visitors, and traveling.  But now I have a minute to pause and go through my photos.

So, where did I leave off?  Ah yes, Hallowe'en.    Well, a few days after that Miguel and I took off to Edinburgh for the day with the main goal of seeing the Castle.  We're doing Edinburgh piece by piece, you see.  I think the next pleasant day in Edinburgh will mean a hike up Arthur's Seat and a tour through Holyrood Palace, in which Mary, Queen of Scots once lived.  On this trip to Edinburgh, however, we visited her son's birthplace instead.

But before heading up to the Castle, we wandered about town a wee bit.  I spotted another baked potato shop, but this one has unique claim:

I also was keen to see the Heart of Midlothian, which I'd missed during our first trip into Edinburgh.  It can be a bit difficult to spot during the Festival, as there's generally a lot of people milling about, but it's just past the St. Giles Cathedral as you're heading up the Royal Mile.  If you hit the monument to Walter Scott (but not that Walter Scott), you've gone to far.

We took a bit of a detour past Greyfriars' and wandered through the graveyard.  Part of the Flodden Wall is still standing, checkered with gravestones.  What caught my attention, however, were the grates overtop some of the graves.

These mortsafes deterred potential bodysnatchers, usually anatomy students from the local medical schools, in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The Greyfriars' graveyard has some of the only remaining examples in Scotland.

The Castle was crawling with tourists, albeit significantly fewer than in the summer, which made taking people-free photos of the architecture a little difficult.  This was balanced out, however, by a brilliantly sunny day and a funny guide.  What I didn't realize was how the Castle is its own little town.  It's not one building, but a collection of them, all built (and some destroyed) at different times and on different levels.

View from above Foog's Gate (17th century).  To the left is the Governor's House (1742).

Up near the top of the Castle is St. Margaret's Chapel, which we unfortunately couldn't visit as there was a wedding.  Also, could you imagine getting married in this chapel?!  It's the oldest surviving building, having been spared demolition in 1314 by Randolph, Earl of Moray.  It dates back to the early 12th century, having been built by St. Margaret's son, the future King David I of Scotland.

Our guide told us this venue is very popular with brides' fathers (it only sits 30 people).

We also visited various halls on the top level of the Castle, one of which includes a small closet off to the side, in which Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to her son, James.  The room couldn't've fit more than 2 or 3 people, besides the very pregnant Queen Mary.  The view of Arthur's Seat out the window, however, is quite lovely.

We also saw the Honours of Scotland, which includes the Stone of Scone (which will return to England when the next monarch is crowned, but with "a very long elastic attached", according to our guide), but for security reasons we weren't allowed to take pictures.

Edinburgh Castle, aside from housing an army regiment and, occasionally, royals, also functioned as a prison during the late 18th century.  They've kept some of the art created by the prisoners, as well as the etchings they made on the wooden doors...

Can you see the masted ship complete with cannons?

... and stones.

And, of course, no trip to the Castle would be complete without visiting the Mons Meg.

I do not envy whatever poor soul had to load those cannonballs, as each one weighs around 400 lbs.  And yes, those are fully-grown adults standing beside the cannon.  The cannon dates from the 15th century and was only useful for battering walls from about 2 miles distant.  In other words, the Mons Meg could hit the broadside of a barn, but not with any real accuracy, and could only be fired 8 or 10 times a day.

A tour of the whole Castle took us a few hours, but we do like to dawdle.  And with our short winter days, there were only a few hours in which to take photos.

I still cannot believe I live in a country that has proper castles.  And with cannons!  We're completely ready for whatever the 15th century can throw at us.