Saturday, June 30, 2007

True-ish stories from Scotland's hostels

Overheard in Inverness Student Hotel:

Lee: Evan, did you book any girls into no. 7 last night? It was just boys right?
Evan: Just boys, yeah. Why?
Lee: Rene just found a used condom in there.


Evan: Ah. Erm.
Lee: Yeah, "Ah".

(Later Rene got a drink as a reward for dealing with it. Meanwhile Lee (an Aussie) was hassled by French people trying to book rooms).


Story from Brodies 2, Edinburgh

An Irish Lady in Room 5 rang Michelle in reception asking her to come in. It seems she'd gone to bed, but forgotten to turn the light off, and wanted them to turn the light off.

(This story had an unhappy ending, as the Lady in question got crazier and crazier and ended up threatening one of the staff, which meant the Polis were in the hostel taking statements when I left).

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Well, if there's been one recurring theme on this trip it's something notable about the showers. In order:

I was the first to use Mez and Sarah's en suite (shower hose didn't have anywhere to hook).

I was the first to use Ross and Boris' downstairs shower (the head points directly out the door, and pushes it open if you're unwary).

In Edinburgh, the showers aren't especially notable, except that in unisex showers the locks usually work, and the doors are taller than (say) five foot ten.

In Inverness, there were four showers in the hostel but only two worked (one more had been fixed when I came back south)

In Kirkwall, the men's showers, although hidden in an alcove from the washroom, were only guarded by curtains.

Update: Just realised I've broken my golden rule of not criticising peoples interior decor in public. I can only hope this doesn't backfire in an unexpected and amusing-to-everyone-but-me way.
2nd Update: I've not mentioned Stan's shower. Oh well.

Provisional Itinerary

15 June (Friday) - London (Stan) Done
16 June (Saturday) - Reading (Ross) Done
17 June (Sunday) - Edinburgh (A bitchingly long train ride) staying there for 3 nights then on Done
20 June (Wednesday) - Inverness Done
23 June (Saturday) Kirkwall Done, also fell ill
26 June (Tuesday) Inverness Done, now getting better
27 June (Wednesday) Edinburgh (Hopefully will soon be fully recovered)
29 June (Friday) London Home (Was going to be York, but York seems to be full)

... and that's all done bar the shouting. Thank You and Good Night.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Things to do in Kirkwall when you're ill

Orkney is really interesting - beautiful, the sun never really sets at this time of year[1], lot's of space, lot's of things to see. Right now the St Magnus Festival is going on and I caught a bit of it - vikings trying to invite you to their encampment out on the edge of town (past the supermarkets), openbacked lorries filled with people in warpaint banging drums and blowing whistles driving about, various music events going on etc.

As you might imagine, I was sick on Sunday, and spent Monday recovering. So much for going North. Now back in Inverness.

[1] Although it was a pretty dim twilight when I staggered down the corridor to the toilet at 2 am.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Scotish Hospitality

I held the door open in Inverness Tourist Information Centre for an American, who said "Gee, you Scots are friendly".

I replied "Och, Aye".

Monday, June 18, 2007

In Edinburgh

I'm touristy today; I've been to the Elephant House, the cafe where J K Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel and had the full Scottish breakfast which includes haggis. Good place for writing a novel; decent coffee, and only 50p for a refill.

I went to Edinburgh Castle and have seen the Stone of Destiny[1] and the other Scottish Honours[2], all kinds of swords, pistols, pole arms and a big gun called Mons Meg[3].

I inspected the castle from all angles, and determined that, rather unsportingly, the easiest approach is the most strongly fortified, and along the way went into the National Gallery of Scotland where my man-bag proved it's superiority to a rucksack, I saw, amongst other things, many statues of women with nice arses and a surprisingly graphic portrayal of the story of Cimon and Pero[4].

More touristy tomorrow; if it's good weather up Arthur's Seat, otherwise into the National and Royal Museums.

[1] Aka The Stone of Scone
[2] Aka The Scottish Crown Jewels
[3] Mons is latin for mount, so this would be Mount Meg. Jim, I insist on answers!
[4] If you don't know this story, don't go looking for it, as it will just disturb you.

Ravenswood Stories: The Woman Who Didn't Die

This trip to Scotland is already paying off for, some values of paying off. For Example:

The Story of the Woman Who Didn't Die

Once there was a woman who was abandoned by her husband. On her way to her family, she passed through the Ravenswood, and offered to help at the Inn, for her board and lodging. She got on well with the Landlady, and the arrangement was made permanent.

As it turned out she got on even better with the Landlord, and found herself pregnant. This not being in her Terms of Employment, she concealed this. Eventually the babe was born prematurely, and died the next day. To try and hide the body, the woman took the babe down to the river, meaning to throw it in. But overcome with grief, she just put it down in the reeds.

The body was found the next day, and was traced back to the woman. She was accused of killing the child, and, when found guilty, was sentenced to be hanged by the Black Lord of Ravenswood.

As it turned out, a Great Scholar was in the village, with his followers. After woman was hanged, he declared her dead and tried to claim the body for his anatomical studies. The villagers would not accept this, and a fight broke out between them and the Scholar's followers. Eventually, the villagers won, and prepared the body for burial.

On the way to the graveyard, a knocking was heard from the coffin. To every one's surprise, the woman was alive. This caused a legal dilemma - should they hang the woman again? As she had been declared dead, it was considered a miracle, and even the Black Lord of the Ravenswood would not challenge the judgement of Heaven. But as she had been declared dead, she was barred from the village, and from dealing with the living. And so she lived out in the forest, beyond the graveyard, looking paler and fainter as the seasons went by.

This story is stolen almost completely from the true tale of Maggie Dickson, known as Half Hangit Maggie, who was hanged under similar circumstances in 1724. I've made some changes, principally to the ending, which is now much crueler and stranger, and to the legal aspects (for example, Maggie was sentenced to death under the 1690 Concealment of Pregnancy act).

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Arrived in Edinburgh at 1930. Have just under 10 minutes left on the internet, so will type quickly. Have already seen a man in a kilt. He had an English accent. And a girlfriend with a Scottish accent and a violin.

Stan won the Go-karting yesterday. I was hardly injured at all. Next time I'm hoping the Go-karting will be less based on driving skill, and more on good looks.

And that's about it.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Packing with my brain in the off position

After packing, I realised that I'd unconsciously assumed I was on a flight, so had overpacked my shoulderbag (my "man-bag") with all the things most useful if I'm separated from my hold luggage (change of clothes, washbag, towel, medication etc. also electronic stuff to avoid my luggage being destroyed by a controlled explosion) as well as things wanted on voyage (books, sunhat, suncream, waterbottle, umbrella). As always this leaves no room for my jacket, which has to be tied around my waist, or slung over the shoulderbag.

Eventually I realised that separation from large bag is the keast of my worries and jammed the extra clothes, towel and electronics into the rucksack, which means the jacket is now in the shoulderbag. So it's just as overpacked, but I don't need a third hand to deal with my jacket. Unfortunately the weather begins to look dodgy and I'm rethinking my wet weather gear...

Sorry for the dullness of this post, but this sort of thing is what occupies my mind when I'm travelling.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Point and Laugh

Previously I've noted an Onion article that put my life up on the internet for everyone to laugh at. It turns out they're at it again, with Jim's life.

Over The Moon

I've found my sunhat. It's disturbing how happy this makes me.

I can't find my boot polish, but don't really give a toss.

Under the Weather

A couple of things have already gone wrong in my planning for the trip and now I can feel depression lurking just out of my sight (it's a shadow just out of my field of vision and a weight that can't quite be felt). This is what worries me; not that I might end up freezing to death on a Scottish hillside - that's okay, I can cope with that - but that when I get there, I find that I would have been better off staying at home. Now that's scary.

Update: having fixed a problem, I'm now feeling better. Turns out it was just common or garden disappointment.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Packing List (in progress)

Sleeping Bag (mostly for people's floors)
Towel (lightweight)
Sunhat * - can't find it so may have to buy a new one Update: Found it!
Travel sewing kit
Plasters, antiseptic cream, insect repellent, anti-allergy pills, strepsils
Wash Bag (check contents!)
8 pairs socks
8 pairs pants
6 T-shirts
3 shirts
3 trousers
2 shorts (one doubling as swimming trunks)
Other Reading material (intend to take the opportunity to read some Harry Potter)
Camera, charger, and USB connector + Spare card
Phone and charger
Pens and pencils
Notebooks and Paper (A4 plain for Parker Storyboards - I would take my sketchbook but it's a pain in the arse to drag about and doesn't fit in the scanner)
MP3 player
Water Bottle
Sweets and fruit for emergency supplies
Big Rucksack
Shoulder Bag ("Man-Bag")
Bag that attaches to Rucksack for when I run out of room (doubles as laundry bag)
Rain Poncho
Lightweight Jacket
2 Jumpers
Alarm clock
Travel Tissues (the sort sort that can double as toilet paper, or triple as a towel)
Waterproof Trousers (since I haven't been able to find these for about 5 trips, I probably need to buy some new ones)
Sun Cream

Update 1: In Green. Note also that I may have to cut down when I actually try and pack these things.
Update 2: In Red


Warning: This blog will be changing from a delirious assortment of links, stories, dreams, recipes and things, into a journal obsessed with minutiae and logistics.

Why's that again: This blog is basically things coming out of my head and, after some light editing[1], put onto the page. As you might imagine, when I'm at home, my head is full of exciting nonsense. When I'm having adventures, I'm mostly thinking about schedules, lists, photo comments, weather, costs and timetables. See?

Oh: Oh indeed

[1] Also censorship, although you don't get to see those bits

Monday, June 11, 2007

Coq au Trice on hold

The Coq au Trice project continues in turnaround. However, here's how we aren't going to do it, in a video of how not to deepfry a Turkey.

Update: A much more concise demonstration on what not to do, as part of this news bulletin about camera-hogging Ohio State fans, and Nazi Gingerbreadmen.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Sun Tzu's rough draft

Just an amusing link:

A rough draft of Sun Tzu's Art of War.

Dream Diary 10

I dreamt that two of my friends, and their two cats, and a dog I don't recognise, and two of one of the friend's sisters came to stay. The reason why was not specified. The area behind the house was filled with cars. Despite leaving the french windows open, neither the cats or the dog escaped. The cats had been here recently, and so remembered where they got fed and watered. The dog hadn't been here for ages, but also remembered and got in a fight with the cats.

Also I dreamed I visited Warren Ellis in a flat, which looked very like university accomodation.

(I'm not going to try and pick these apart)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Beaten to the draw by mainstream media

I was going to say that Springwatch is reality TV done right, and go on at some length over why watching Simon King dig through a cowpat is more interesting than watching Big Brother contestants being racially abused. Aggravatingly the Independent had beaten me to it, so here's the link to their article Natural celebrities: The true stars of reality TV.

(Last year, one family of Great Tits, which had a nest like Kate Humble's hair, were named "the Humble family". Watching Bill Oddie concentrating on not saying "And now we're going to take a look at the Humble Tits" is what Television was made for. In my opinion.)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Boy meets Girl

This invitation has now been presented by two separate mothers to offspring with (and I quote) "lacklustre social lives".

With a lacklustre response generally. Personally I'm away for the last two meetings and, um, er... Jim, want to go to the pub next Wednesday?

No really, I'd rather wait for a star to fall than go. I'm not far enough down my honesty and clarity path to say why, but be asured, there are reasons.

Special Bonus Question: What is the difference between losing and loosing your heart? Best answer will get a piece of touristy tat from my trip.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Summer Holiday

I don't give straight answers to questions, I don't volunteer information and I lie all the time. All of this to avoid confronting parts of myself and my life I'm too lazy to deal with.

But you know this[1]. This introduction is here because, for this post and the project it's about, I'm going to break these habits and generally act out of character by being as clear, transparent and straightforward as I can.

So. A bunch of my friends are going to Glastonbury, which I didn't apply for as I was too apathetic and depressed back in February[2]. Rather than hang around watching it on TV, I'm going to head north, looking for longer days and shorter nights and generally having adventures.[3]

Dates: The minimum period I intend to go for is from Saturday 16 June (when I'm booked to be in Reading) Friday 15 June to deliver a ticket in London, then go on to Reading the next day, until Friday 29 June when I will return in triumph to London and/or Kent to be bored and confused by enthusiastic and incoherent Glastonbury stories. I may yet extend this from the start or (more likely) the end.

Places: Reading (16 June), then Edinburgh and Inverness. Other than that:

I may call in at York (especially if I can get Bod to take me out on the town);
It looks remarkably easy to get to the Orkneys, which would be cool;
A highland Whiskey Distillery tour does not seem unfeasible;
Update: Carlisle to see Anna appears to be on the cards.

I'll be researching and booking this week.

Contact and Real Time Tracking: I'll be available on my mobile most of the time I expect. Apart from that, I'll probably use some combination of this blog, facebook, twitter and Stan's photo website to keep you all updated when I get internet access. As clearly, transparently and straightforwardly as possible. Once I've figured out a way to integrate them. Update: There's now a facebook group called Neil's Travels, which gives people somewhere to gossip about me.

Suggestions: Send via email or the comments below which are open.

Note 1: This is an experiment in acting out of character, as my current one seems too predictable, and, honestly, isn't as healthy as it should be.
Note 2: I'll be updating and moving this post back up to the top of the blog until such time as I leave. This may cock up the RSS feed for the two of you who follow the blog that way.

[1] Unless you're a random internet stranger who's come across this atypically confessional post, obviously.
[2] Maybe too truthful? It may take me some time to get used to this.
[3] Also probably watching Glastonbury on TV in a hostel in Inverness.


Facebook has a status bar, allowing you to put your current status, so that, for example, mine might say "Neil is sleeping" or "Neil is on the lash", or anything that comes to mind, beginning "Neil is...". A friend of mine has joined a group which states that the status bar is too grammatically restrictive.

I write poetry[1] occasionally. Poetic forms are restrictive. Sonnets have 14 lines of iambic pentameter[2]; Haikus only have 17 syllables; a Sestina is almost too difficult for me to describe, let alone write. Are these too restrictive? The popularity of free verse suggests so[3]. But does that mean that writing Blank Verse or Limericks is pointless; that the restrictions stifle creativity and freedom? Pretty clearly, I don't.

More generally; the three minute pop song is a restrictive form. It is the dominant western pop music form. Can you name five pop artists that don't rely on it[4]? Yet it can produce an enormous variety of music, such as She Loves You, Eleanor Rigby, Get Back, and The Ballad of John and Yoko. Has it stifled other forms of expression? Sure. Should we get rid of it? No way. It's dominant because it's easy[5] to perform, to learn, write and, most of all sell. But because it's easy, it's a good learning tool. And the best practitioners use the restrictions rather than push against them.

So I wish the group For those who think the F'book status bar is too grammatically restrictive! well, but I won't be joining them. I like working around "is".

Talking of "is", there's a mildly interesting project called Twitter. Essentially, it asks the question "What are you doing?" and puts the results up in a variety of ways, so you can tell just your friends, just one person or everyone who is interested.

It's fascinating seeing what hundreds of people are saying they're doing. There's people who do things with the feed, such as use them to write stories, using only the words in the tweets[6] but even better is Twittervision which puts the twitters on a map. Go see. It's cool.

Did I mention Twitter is available as a facebook application? That lets you put your status up without insisting on the word "is"? It's almost like someone is one step ahead.

[1] But it's not an obsession; I can go several hours at a time without scribbling down a limerick.
[2] There are several rhyme schemes.
[3] I'm amused to discover on Wikipedia that Robert Bridges thought that Free Verse was too limiting, which kind of makes my point for me.
[4] Well, yes you can, especially if you use google as a memory extension. But I can only think of three off the top of my head.
[5] For certain values of easy.
[6] Now there's a restrictive form.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Corvette v Hummer

While watching Borat, the question came up - which do women find sexier, a corvette or a hummer? A straw poll of one[1] gave us the answer - a courvette[3].

Well, in celebration, here's a video of some one's corvette, called "Covette"; an excerpt of Prince's Little Red Corvette; and here we allow the Hummer to make it's response.

[1] There simply aren't that many women we can disturb with this kind of question at 0100 on Sunday morning and get a quick response[2]
[2] In this case we didn't get the response until 0230
[3] Which, I'm guessing is a green corvette

Friday, June 01, 2007

Saints Day

Apropos nothing much, I decided to find out what my Saint's Day is.

I don't actually have one (no Saint Neil, Neal, Niall, or even Nigel - should I be concerned or proud?), so we cycle through to my middle name, the nice and biblical Thomas.

So the original Thomas, is, as we all know an apostle (Feast Day - July 3). Being an Apostle he also gets another feast[1], St Thomas Sunday, better known as the Octave of Easter. This is the first Sunday after Easter Sunday (and thus the eighth day hence octave) and is also known as White Sunday, Whitsunday and Quasimodo Sunday.

Spooky. Weren't we talking about Whitsunday, albeit a different one, just the other day?

Anyway, this Thomas is the Doubting Thomas of biblical fame, the man who refuses to believe in the resurrection without proof. I have much sympathy for his position on this[2], as he's trying to use the scientific method. He then goes on to found churches in Syria, Parthia (Persia) and India[3]; as a result of this, India had a Christian community before Europe. All impressive achievements.

Well, he's okay as a patron saint. I'm hardly going to find any other saints of that name with any links or interests to me, am I?

[1] Why? I don't know. Maybe the Pope could explain it for us.
[2] Unlike John:

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have
believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have
John 20:29

[3] Also China, Japan, and Mesoamerica if all the stories about him are to be believed.