Monday, September 20, 2010

Phil McBetts

Have you seen this man? 6’2”, brown-streaked-silver hair, blue eyes, novelty t-shirts, a beard that’s yet to hit puberty – hails from a town on the borders called Dumfries (pronounced ‘Dum-freece’), drinks Irn-Bru and uses the phrase ‘aye’ as an affirmation? If you haven’t yet had the privilege of hearing McBetts’s lyrical musings, there’s an easy DIY solution. Take a regular, garden variety Phil Betts of the non-Scottish persuasion, add copious volumes of fermented grains, soak for a few hours and bam - your humble Aussie will have transformed into a twat with a mangled accent and a propensity to lie to strangers in bars. Rare early footage of McBetts surfaced recently, where he appeared to have made his way from Glasgow to Galway, Ireland. Intrepid explorer Jacquie O’Lloydy from County Partick captured footage of this classically sozzled specimen doing what comes naturally: harassing street ducks.

Bastard kept avoiding the question.

So this was back in April. Not the best, but I’ve since spent another six months tailing people as they walk along the street, repeating their conversations under my breath and trying to nail the pronunciations. Weirdos walking uncomfortably close and muttering under their breath are not that uncommon in Glasgow, so it’s easy enough to blend in. Trying to speak in Scottish is stupidly, stupidly fun. Almost as fun as hearing it on a daily basis (and that’s pretty darned fun). And with that we come to the theme of this blog post: national identity. I’ve been over here for nine months now, and only recently have I come to really reflect on it. There are a number of reasons why it’s starting to hit me at this later stage:

  1. A sudden dearth of Australians with the departure of my former exchange crew.
  2. A realisation that I don’t say ‘G’day’ anymore.
  3. 8 bottles of single malt whisky sitting on my shelf.
  4. Spending increasing time with actual Scottish people.
  5. My exciting and embarrassing propensity to not only speak with a Scottish accent, but get away with it.
1. The Exodus of Studentia Australis and the Migratory Habits of Tourista Australis

As you know (because you read a large group of the home-slices I would frequently boogie with came from the daughter country: The Land Downunda. Or, as I call it, THE FUTURE! (AEST +10 GMT/AEDT +11 GMT). Jess and Jacqui were from Melbourne (aforementioned O’Lloydy, or just ‘Lloyd’ to the folks back home), Gowri was from Brisbane, and Niki was from NZ (which I’m including as part of Australia to confuse future anthropoligists, so when they look back they’re all like “what the hell? This was written in 2010, but Australia didn’t annex NZ until 2083 after the War of the Pav. WE SHOULD BUILD A SHRINE TO THIS SOOTHESAYING, SEMI-SCOTCH MYSTIC.”)*

As you also know (because you read, they all departed around June, having been here for a wee six month exchange. My field of Aussie influence held out though, thanks to a stream of Aussie visitors and a six pack of Aussie Princesses (plus a fairy who apparently doesn’t count because she doesn’t get a crown). It all began with Vivien, an academic pal o’ mine who had managed quite brilliantly to line herself up on a funded European conference tour with a day stop in Glasgow to see the sights, visit me and hopefully not get stabbed (not by me of course but by one of the friendly locals. Although a stabbing’s the good option compared to some of the more creative attacks that have occurred recently, but more on that another time.) With Viv in town I started to develop a bit of a guided tour, which by now includes a pretty decent trip around the West End where I live (and is stabbing-free for [5] days now.)

Phil’s Phantabulous Tours of Glesga have included these exciting locations:

The University of Glasgow, as demonstrated by K-Mul, a wonderful Gothic Revivalist university with a pretty darn nifty bell tower.

Nice ‘N Sleazy, starring Jamsy and Emelia, a bar which is exactly what it sounds like (not really – it’s like the premiere indie bar that’s always open and almost always lets you in.)

The Clockwork Orange, our absolutely hilarious three-carriage, 15 station, 6’ tall subway system with a single loop going clockwise around the city and another going anti-clockwise.

The Glasgow Botanic Gardens ft. an old abandoned train station, as frequented by Jennaface and occasionally eaten by me.

Exhibit B.

The Hillhead Bookclub, hipster central in the West End where Brydie and co. drank cocktails out of a gramophone.

A giant stone vagina statue outside a University building, seen here rebirthing Brydie.

And if you really play your cards right, my bedroom, with a clearly excited-to-be-there Brydie.

Not featured: Dean McLeod of Clan McLeod, Luke M and his lovely fiancé Em (who are going to let me wear a kilt to their wedding), Vivienne E (who knows her way around cheeses), and Sophie Brossard (an honorary French Aussie who did her PhD in AU and who I visited in Paris), all of whom have visited me here in this fair city.

Sandwiched somewhere in the middle of these hosting duties was the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where aforementioned Princesses and Fairy had rented a couple of flats and brought over their show Princess Cabaret, under the productive wing of one A. Jessup.

The Fool hanging out with all of your favourite Disney Princesses: Tinkerbell, Aurora, Cinderella, Jasmine, Ariel, Belle and Wolverine.

I had recently been spending a bit more time in Edinburgh hanging with Steve and seeing the sights, so I was getting fairly familiar with the city. For those of you that don’t know, Edinburgh and Glasgow have a bit of a rivalry. I’ve had it described to me once that if you’re going to visit Scotland, visit Edinburgh. Honestly, it's just amazing – there’s a castle sitting atop an old volcano in the middle of the city, a crazy Old Town where everything is 600 years old except for the hordes of students who call it home, and four giant columns on top of a hill that were going to be a Parthenon until they ran out of money and were like, hey, you know, whatever, if you kind of squint you’d maybe think there was more behind it. Everybody loves Edinburgh. Except Glasgow, and now me too, having picked up these noble townsfolk's disdain for their wretched Eastern kin. For you see, if you’re going to visit Scotland, visit Edinburgh. If you’re going to live in Scotland, live in Glasgow. Edinburgh is a city for tourists. Every third shop in Edinburgh is a twee tourist shop selling cheap kilts, bagpipe CDs and plush Nessies. You are likely to hear every accent other than Scottish there. That’s partly because Edinburgh people are stuck up dicks (or so I’m told) who speak with wanky British accents instead of proper Scots and want to be from London and probably kick puppies for fun. Bitter? No. Why would I be bitter just because I was originally looking into moving to Edinburgh and came to Glasgow because they were the only ones who’d take me? I can honestly say though that knowing what I know now, Glasgow was definitely the better option. Glasgow is beautiful in its own way, while Edinburgh is majestic. Edinburgh has amazing history, but Glasgow’s all about the now. Being an industrial city, Glasgow is grittier and dirtier, but more down to earth, with one of the best live music scenes in the world (it was UNESCO City of Music in 2008). The accent is cooler in Glasgow (and I’ve realised that in the past couple of months I’m starting to distinguish regional accents), and there’s just an energy about the place that’s pure dead brilliant. Of course Edinburgh folk will say the same thing about their city, between mouthfuls of caviar. It’s true, the Fringe is crazy, but it’s one month out of twelve – Glasgow’s always on. That said, though I jump on board the Edinburgh rivalry I find it hilarious – different accents, different attitudes, different people – and they’re less than an hour apart on the train, ie. what I used to travel daily from Mt Colah. Edinburgh is amazing, but I do think there’s some truth to the ‘visit one, live the other’ schtick. It just makes me try extra hard to sell this city to visitors that have come from Edinburgh the way I see it.

2. On Missing Contractions

Yeah, I don’t say G’Day anymore.

2.a) On Missing Contractions Redux

I realised it as I was walking up University Avenue on the way to the student union. I used to say it a lot back home, particularly at work, now I don’t. It’s an immersion thing. It’s such a cliché, but when I came abroad I was all like “I’m not moving half way around the world to hang out with Australians. If I wanted to hang out with Australians I’d move to London. ” Or Edinburgh (see 1.) And yet... when everyone’s standing around and you head the slightly nasal accent, you just naturally gravitate towards each other. It’s inevitable. When you’re abroad, especially when you’re starting out in the same position as others, you have so ridiculously much in common, and are sharing all of the same experiences and revelations (I think every single Australian who has ever come to the UK ever - EVER - has at some point thought “wow, we don’t even drink Fosters back home.” I am standing by that unqualified ‘ever’.) And I’m very glad it happened. My home team I hung out with are a brilliant bunch of people who I remain in contact with and will continue to hang out with over the next 140 years in various parts of the globe (they’re going to be able to transfer intelligence to robots in the next 60, but then the Earth will be under threat from an asteroid and I’ll have to go and save the day by destroying it and a robot Liv Tyler will have farewell sex with me and my intelligence and robot chassis will explode as I detonate a nuke to try and stop the asteroid but that accidentally just makes it angrier and it ends up destroying the Earth anyway, which sadly includes my awesome SEMI-SCOTCH SOOTHESAYER STATUE.) And I also really loved hanging out with the fine ladies in Edinburgh, crashing their parties and private performers’ bars and getting massively, horrifically drunk, shouting at arts editors of The Scotsman, passive aggressively baiting comedians and generally making a dick of myself. Now though they’ve all moved on, meaning I am more likely than not on an average day to NOT hear someone who sounds like me. And I’ve stopped saying G’Day.

3. On being 91 Bottle Short of Having 99 Bottles of Single Malt Whisky on the Wall

This I’m going to save for another special feature on how I’m developing a habit that is going to financially ruin me if I choose to stay in Australia.

4. On Being a First Year in your Ninth Year

So the UK, from what I gather, has this thing called Fresher’s Week. For those unfamiliar with the term, Fresher’s Week is essentially O-Week (orientation week) at Uni with a couple of key differences:

  1. It’s the week before uni, so no-one has classes
  2. UK unis have really strong student rep bodies and unions

    but I would suggest more importantly

  3. The vast majority of people move across the country to attend a uni not within travelling distance from home, and thus live in halls.

    Now, couple this with:

  4. Insanely cheap alcohol prices at the Union (£1.80 for a pint, about $3.20, and that’s up from £1.50 last semester)
  5. No Responsible Service of Alcohol laws

You can kind of see where I’m going with this, no? At Glasgow Uni you pay £35 for a Fresher’s pass. It’s steep, but it gives you entry to loads of exclusive free events over the week which are basically massive, massive piss ups. Being technically a Fresher (in that it was my first Fresher’s Week, since I started at Glasgow in January) I thought I was entitled to join in the Fresher’s Week debauchery. In hindsight it perhaps wasn’t the wisest financial decision I’ve ever made, nor are my liver or kidneys speaking to me anymore. I did however have some rollicking good times with a bunch of Fresher’s helpers I knew before hand, met loads of new people, only half of whom never want to see me again, and generally learnt that drinking like an 18 year old and being an 18 year old are not the same thing. I feel it was a valuable life lesson. I spent most of my time hanging out with the Fresher’s Helpers rather than true Freshers, since I’m still unable to accept the fact that Justin Beiber’s hair is ‘in’.

Hanging out with folks who are only six years younger, rather than nine.

In addition this past fortnight I’ve generally been a social whore, inviting myself to neighbours' parties (who I met in Edinburgh at the Fringe and are very cool people), hitting up friends’ DJ sets at Sleazy’s (at 1am after 5 days of hard, and at times painful boozing) and generally mixing with the locals. I believe this leads into my last segment, which is:

5. On Speaking Like Other People (and Getting Away With It)

Accents. Friggin’ love ‘em. I used to not be able to do them at all. Everything, no matter what, would end up sounding Irish-Pakistani. I think legitimate Irish-Pakistanis must be constantly denying they’re trying to take the piss. I’ve also been told a number of times that I don’t really have an accent, that it’s not very strong. Back home people used to ask if I was British, either because I enunciated well, but more likely because I got lazy and clipped the ends off words (take that, 1/8th of a microsecond!) Recently that’s lead to working on all sorts of accents. Russian, South African, American, English – and of course my beloved Scottish-Weegie. The American is passable. It’s pretty generic and I can’t do regions, but I can get it close enough. I was (for some reason) speaking to someone in Scottish, when their friend who I’d met much earlier asked wasn’t I American, at which point I then switched to Yank, before switching to Aussie and having to show them my license to prove it. Dickish? Totally. But flippin’ fun. I get encouraged now. Nick, my partner in accent crime (that’s Dutch-Brisbanian Nick if anyone’s asking why his Aussie accent sounds weird) introduces me as Phil from Dumfries. Fraser and Ciaran kept it up for 15 minutes on a couple of Northern Irish Fresher lasses (“you don’t look like a Fresher... what are you, like, 22 or something.” “Aye.”) I think one of the consequences though is I haven’t really picked up an accent here. I do notice a difference when I saw ‘Scotland’ and ‘Glasgow’, but not much else. I’m not gonna lie, I was and am still planning on milking it when I go home, one of those losers who’s away for a year yet speaks like they moved when they were 12. Until then I’ve got 6-9 months to perfect my Scottish brogue, before I hopefully move to America where they can’t tell the difference anyway. Fook me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An injection of Class A Awesomeness

August, 2010. Wow. This is my eighth month in. That’s... intense. It still feels like I’ve only been here a month or two. Amazingly, I got homesick for the very first time recently. It was quite a surreal experience. There are lots of things I miss individually of course – people, places, parties. A car and 24 hour Maccas. This was the first time though I felt a little wave wash over me. Australia wove. I was woven. Of all the things to set me off, it was a Facebook group called “Things Overheard at Macquarie Uni”. I had a little tingle recognising places, seeing friends’ comments and remembering adventures on campus. It’s not surprising really – I spent eight years there, almost 1/3 my life, and for the past 5 years it’s been where I’ve studied, worked and played (not in that order), so it’s been a huge part of me. Considering how much it came to define me though, Glasgow could not have come sooner.

Wait, was that serious crap? BORING! I know what you came here for! That’s right, salacious rumour mongering and borderline libel (did anyone else learn the difference between slander and libel from Spider-Man?). I shan’t disappoint as I deliver another injection of Class A awesomeness, taking you on a tour of the seedy streets of Glasgow’s underbelly.

Incidentally, on the night Carl Williams died, a bunch of us (predominantly Antipodean) went to trivia night and named our team “The Ghost of Carl Williams”. Nobody got it. So much for Australian celebrities. I fear if I were to announce “Adam’s looking to open a restaurant in Sydney!” nobody would bat an eyelid (also incidentally, I haven’t actually watched any Masterchef Australia, I’m just going off the SMH news feed. They’re very excited.) If he really wanted international recognition, Carl Williams should have done a cameo on Neighbours instead of killing a bunch of people. Or done a cameo on Neighbours AND killed a bunch of people. It worked for Kim Valentine*.

So, arriving back from Barcelona at the end of June I was doing preparations for a conference paper I was presenting that weekend, last minute as usual. Uncharacteristically I already had the research done, so just needed to coalesce it into paper format. Ladles and jellyspoons, let me introduce you to Screen Conference 2010. Screen is both an academic journal and annual conference hosted by the University of Glasgow. Both are world class, and regularly attract academics that literally ‘wrote the book’ in their particular field of interest. If you’ve never been to an academic conference before, let me set the scene. Conferences (usually) run for 2 – 3 days, are (usually) held over holidays, and are designed around a theme that everyone tries to shoehorn their research into, no matter how tenuous the link. Each day of the conference holds a number of panels comprising of (usually) three speakers, whose topics (ideally) have some sort of overlap. This year’s theme was the classically ambiguous ‘Performance’. It’s so vague it’s practically useless. It’s like in Year 8 when that kid says “The theme of The Silver Sword is the futility of war.” Nice work, Lucas McDonald*.

I was in the last panel of the conference, which means by that stage everyone, myself included, was well and truly over it. I’ve included the first 10 minutes here in case you were curious what the hell it is I actually do. This is... not really it, but I needed to say something as I don’t know enough shadow puppet shapes to make with my hands to entertain the audience for the full 20 mins. I warn you, this is well and truly an unimpressive and underwhelming paper I delivered. If you had to say something nice about it, you would describe it as competent. When I woke up very early that morning to finish it off, if I delivered my paper as intended I had to read it twice as fast and it went for 27 minutes. Suffice to say most of that morning was spent cutting around 60% of what I was going to say, and I still speak too fast. You are well and truly wasting your time by watching it all, since after the first minute you get the important bits of information, like:

  1. I really, really, really am a gesturey guy like everyone’s been insisting lately.
  2. My T-Shirt features a robot.
  3. If you played a drinking game where you downed a shot every time I say “sort of”, you would be dead. However, instead of decomposing your body would be preserved in alcohol for the next 500 years until they can find a way to bring back the dead/you’d get eaten like a vodka melon at Freshers Week.
  4. Following on from (1.), if you watched it without sound it would look like I was describing someone with really, really big tits.
  5. Anyone can make their conference paper fit into the conference topic. My special skill is to fit the word ‘nipples’ into any paper.

You seriously don't need to watch this.

Anyway, I was expecting big things since it’s one of the top academic film conferences in THE WORLD. My conference experiences in the past had been fantastic, with fantastic food, fantastic drinking (respectable), and fantastic boozing (downright debaucherous) in a way that only people whose flights and accommodation are being paid for by the university seem to manage. I’ve made some great friends through conferences that I still keep in touch with, and, since I’d just said goodbye to two of my last Glesga friends in Barcelona, I thought it was probably a good idea to be sociable at this one also. The people did not disappoint, but everything else was pretty... underwhelming. I’d heard interesting things about the conference, that it was a pretty tough place with people itching to tear other people down. Screen has horror stories for making presenting students cry during question time, so I was expecting... I dunno, something. Instead it was all rather... meh.

Part of it was the conference panels only went for two days over the weekend (a weekend conference? Bizarre!), whereas my other ones had gone for three. There were seven panels on during each session, which meant there were a lot you missed (though this is fairly typical). The keynote speakers were rather average, though there were some excellent individual sessions and panels. Apparently organisers had made an effort to reign in some of the more confrontational types, and it’s true I only witnessed one blow up. Still, I think the vibe was largely underwhelming. It started with a lacklustre pre-conference welcome on Friday night, where food consisted of chips and peanuts. I am not kidding. Chips and friggin’ peanuts. Even high school debating nights get a crappy dip and supermarket cake! Previous conferences I’ve been to have dished out some amazing food, so we were off to a worrying start. (I’m happy to report it got quite a lot better during the main event, but still! First impressions!)

Usually at conferences you get a bit of segregation – there’s the kids table and the adult’s table, with established academics and professors entertaining themselves, while the only people in the world who could ever possibly be intimidated by them, PhD students, mill sheepishly amongst themselves, equal parts awe and disappointment on meeting their academic celebrity crushes who deliver papers they wrote eight years ago and couldn’t be bothered updated because hey, they’ve got tenure. Early career researchers are the worker bees that buzz between the groups, ‘networking’ and desperately trying to avoid having to take that job at the Royal Bank of Scotland because who needs money when you can be chronically underappreciated instead? The ghettos usually begin to break down on day two, dissolving over the conference dinner and turning into a massive brainy love-in by day three. At Screen though it never quite came together. The conference dinner was brief, everyone kind of went home after, and by what was essentially the second day (Sunday), people just split up and disappeared.

I was fortunate enough though to tag along with some Glasgow Uni based folk for an amazing post-conference dinner. Mel and husband Connor invited a few of us back to their pimped out penthouse apartment in the city centre, where Mel proceeded to whip up a multi-course meal that I would have to describe as pornographic. Seriously, it took about four hours to prepare, had upwards of 40 ingredients, and probably took the better part of a day to clean up after. I found it highly amusing sitting there with as blank a face as I could muster as conversation turned to British cartoons and schlock sci-fi from the 80’s. I would try and bring conversation back to familiar territory by chiming in with a pithy remark about Lindsay Lohan, but then I think she’s even more dated than Star Cops. We watched the first two episodes of said show, which I have to say was awesome. It’s odd though, whenever I hear an Australian accent on a show amongst foreign ones it always sounds so fake. The first time I heard Emilie de Ravin on Lost I thought she sounded terrible... until I found out she was from Victoria. At least she probably feels terrible too. I’m also terrible at picking when foreign characters actually ARE played by Australians, like watching the entirety of True Blood Season 1 before discovering Ryan Qwanten was from Home and Away, or thinking Dichen Lachman in Dollhouse did a great Australian accent in one episode and then finding out she’s an Adelaidy from Neighbours.

I digress. It’s kind of my thing.

All up, I think my experience with Screen was clouded by the fact that it was home territory, and I’d built up a lot of expectations going in to it. I’m sure it wasn’t the conference, it was me. The calibre of papers was quite impressive, I met a lot of great folk (though it was quite civilised this time, and unlike the last conference, we didn’t end up pole dancing at a place called Pop World). It was nice that when I presented I didn’t feel like a total fraud, but the interesting thing for me is that it cemented in my mind – This is not what I want to be doing. I’d been thinking for at least six months now that I don’t want to go into academia when I graduate, at least not for a number of years. Watching people playing the game; networking, publishing, reading, like, books and stuff, I was struck with a very strong conviction that it’s not the life for me. That was interesting considering other conferences have had the opposite effect on me.

Seriously though, chips and peanuts?!?!

Several weeks later, my alternative future vision became one step closer to fruition. After months of consideration, a resubmission and several increasingly snarky follow-up emails, I finally got approval to go to Hollywood! That’s right, thanks to the wonders that is Macquarie University postgraduate funding, the university will cover my airfare, cheap accommodation, food and some transport to interview film industry folks for three weeks! I still can’t quite believe my good luck, but it’s starting to dawn on me how much prep work I need to do, and how much schmoozing will be required. In celebration, I decided to buy some new clothes, since my wardrobe consists almost entirely of t-shirts with mildly ironic or amusing images. I did buy some clothes that you do up with buttons, but I really couldn’t go past an awesome dressing gown that had part of my tat printed all over it. I finally own something fine enough to be married in.

Do I want to be a Vegas pimp or do I want to be a wizard? WHY CHOOSE?!

There are a few more stories to tell, of visitors and Fringes, but that, as ever, awaits another day.

* I cannot verify these as facts as I was not there for these events. However, I can't deny them either on the same logic. I can also not deny that I've never seen Kim Valentine or Lucas McDonald in the same room at the same time. Think about it...

Friday, July 16, 2010

June Jaunts

Hohoho, what ‘ave we ‘ere? Another blog post? Suh-wish!

In this month’s instalment, I take you on a whirlwind tour of the last month in an uncharacteristically sunny, yet increasingly typically moody Glasgow. This crazy month included respite at three different residences (one was a couch), sojourns in London and Barcelona, and a trapped finch that I christened David Fincher.

We pick up the story on my return from Paris at the end of May, which can be summarised briefly as: cheese, bread, cheese, sunburn. Awesome, except for the sunburn (which wasn’t helped when I tried to fudge my French and buy some moisturiser, ending up instead with a bottle of under-eye makeup remover).

On my return I had less than a fortnight left of a contract at my hall of residence, plus a trip in the middle of that to London. Uni accommodation finished on June 11. The majority of my friends over here (introduced last blog post) had, for the most part, already departed on European adventures. Those responsible few in Glasgow who were staying on already had lined up new digs a month in advance. Sadly, that’s not the PhilBetts Way™. In my defence I had been to a number of viewings the week before I left for London. They included a crazy crack den party house that would have been unbelievably awesome fun but also thesis-destroying (one of the girls shared my birthday, and was having a party our birthday weekend when I was away), and this insanely amazing, three story, eight bedroom tenement complete with mural room, pool table and private community garden. I applied for there but was beaten to it (my grumpiness at the viewing and ‘Shake it Baby’ t-shirt probably didn’t help).

6 months after I arrived, let me set the scene for you at the Queen Margaret Residence (which I should have done for you 6 months ago when I arrived.) There are a few student residences associated with the University of Glasgow – Cairncross, Kelvinhaugh, Murano and the Queen Margaret Residence. Each of them has its quirks. Cairncross is kind of the party residence, where undergrads hook up in shared bathrooms and the sweet dulcet tones of kids evacuating their stomachs ring out through the night. Murano is the stabbing residence, bordering a slightly rougher neighbourhood with a seemingly never-ending supply of Buckfast. I don’t know anything about Kelvinhaugh ‘cause I don’t know anyone from there, but I assume it’s much the same. Queen Margaret is the newest, and supposedly the nicest of the residences (which is a worry). Unlike the others the rooms have en suites, which are, for the most part, a plus.

Despite a reputation for being the nice one, this is literally copied and pasted out of a weekly email update: "We would also like to remind students that rubbish must be disposed of in the bin sheds provided. Litter or rubbish being thrown from kitchen windows will not be tolerated."

However, the buildings weren’t really set up for human interaction. Legislation in Britain for rented apartments means that all doors are considered fire doors. This means they’re heavy, and have very strong self-closing attachments on them. The result at QMR is that with en suites, the rooms become self-contained cubes cut off from the rest of the rest of the world (though high speed broadband brings you back). It’s more like staying in a very crappy hotel, because there’s not a lot of socialising between rooms. There was a shared kitchen, but no lounge room or couch to go with it. My four flatmates, an eclectic bunch of mostly postgrads from Canada, California, Germany and Saudi Arabia, would occasionally chat in the kitchen while preparing a meal, but considering one never ate at the residence and another’s entire diet consisted of tomatoes, bread, tuna, shrimp, cans of Orangina and take out Margherita pizza (I am not kidding, this was literally all he ate. I don’t know how he’s still alive), there weren’t that many opportunities to interact. With the kitchen door closed heavily behind it, you had to literally be in the same room at the same time – no casual greetings through the doorway as you headed out of the flat.

This was a little bit disappointing, as one of the things I was most looking forward to about living in a residence was the social aspect. However, this was far from the crappiest aspect of the place. The location, while pretty, wasn’t all that convenient. It was a 25 minute walk to Uni and about 15 to the shops, which meant you didn’t just casually duck out, you kind of had to plan it. Thankfully one of the routes took you right through the Botanic Gardens, which redeemed the location immensely. Still, the 50 minute uphill walk back from the city was daunting, and I faced it several times circa 3am after last drinks and last busses (one time I decided to break into the Gardens, for reasons I can’t quite discern).

Flippin' paparazzi.

If we’re examining the scale of QMR crappiness, the physicality of the place takes the penultimate prize. QMR was clean because it was new. However, accompanying its veneer of newness, it felt and was cheap. Having worked in a hardware store for the past 8 years, I feel I’ve got some appreciation of the art of construction. I can speak with some authority then when I tell you that the walls were made out of three sheets of cardboard glued together, and these walls were painted in a mix of flour, Clag and food colouring. I could touch the ceiling with bent arms, and what passed as a single ‘mattress’ was actually just six springs loosely assembled with a towel draped over them. It didn’t help that with the priorities of a 1990s disaffected grunger, one of the first things I bought in Glasgow was a set of speakers to enjoy my music, DVDs and all five seasons of The Wire in less than a fortnight (that’s 60 hours of TV from a total 366 for those playing at home). Considering that rolling over in bed was likely to wake the neighbours, they didn’t really get a proper workout.

2 nights into the wire and I was well on my way to a balanced Scottish diet.

However, all of these things are forgivable. It’s everyone’s obligation to live in a crappy flat, so that when they finally get their own four storey mansion with fireman’s pole, bowling lane and secret entrance behind the waterfall they can appreciate how good they’ve got it. I think it’s the same reason people agree to go on dates with me. However, what’s inexcusable is this privilege of living at the Queen Margaret Residence set me back £105 per week (bills included). That comes in at an obscene £450 a month! For those in Australia with no sense of perspective, £450 could get you a top storey penthouse apartment in the heart of the city. The most you’d typically pay as a student for a flat in the neighbourhood would be £350 plus about £30 for bills, and that would get you a schmick-as pad. Charging £450 for a small, poorly built box almost half an hour from the Uni is criminal. Of course, they get away with it because it’s really quite daunting for people on the other side of the world to translocate without having a place to dump their stuff on arrival. That said, Jacquie from Melbourne did just that and got an amazing cool apartment with a legend/dick of a housemate (love you Lyall!) in her first week here, and Trond from Norway (which sounds like a cheesy 1970s action film) found a sweet bachelor pad complete with whisky loving, internet TV-ing medical nerds. Of course, before arrival the University makes you sign a six month contract that’s almost impossible to get out of, so you’re stuck paying a 50% mark-up for a shitty, isolated little box with a horrible mattress until June 11.

So there I was, just over a week until homelessness, and heading to London.

London for me had been a long time coming. I had been there overnight in May last year on my initial conference and scouting trip to the UK. Then I had stayed in Wimbledon with my Club Mac friends Steve and Sarah, before finishing the next day at Euston and wandering aimlessly for 3 hours in Camden. For those in Sydney that are unfamiliar with the area, imagine someone getting off at Central station and wandering around Surry Hills/Redfern for a couple of hours. Sure, you’re in Sydney, but you’re not really getting the iconic side of it. You’re missing out on the Harbour, Bridge and Opera House, Darling Harbour etc. and instead getting prostitutes offering handjobs for heroin (which sounds like a failed UN project). On my return trip I was looking forward to the Themes, Big Ben (and its housing tower), and royals dressed like Nazis.

My initial trip scheduled in April was one of the last flights to be cancelled because of this:

I must say though it was refreshing to be in a place where the ash in the sky was from a volcano and not bushfires. This trip was the rescheduled one, with Ryanair taking me there and back. Even though the London flight landed at Stansted, an hour out of the city, and with a £20 return connection, it turned out cheaper than the 6 hour train, and only slightly more expensive than the 20 hour bus. That said, I think it’s the last time I’ll fly within Britain. I have this uneasy tension between the cheapness and convenience of low cost flights, and the incredible damage they do to the environment. It’s difficult balancing the freedom they present with your conscience. Since I’m not planning on changing my current routine in that sense, I think I’m just going to have to accept the responsibility and hypocrisy of flying around Europe, and try even harder to minimise my carbon footprint in other areas.

London was pretty much what I’d hoped for. I was fortunate enough to stay with a Sydney-originating theatrical friend Angus, who was living in Islington and working in the West End. Free accommodation saved me a bundle, and the added bonus of killer waffles sealed the deal. It’s funny, for my complaints about housing in Glasgow, London flats are literally twice as expensive, which is kind of surreal. This time in London I made sure to do all the proper tourist-y things. Friday I crawled along the Themes, starting with a beer in the sun next to the Monument, mixing it with the banking crowd, then basically wandering along the river to the West End, stopping at a couple of places for a beer over the water. The bar scene in London, and the wider UK is brilliant, as there are a lot fewer boundaries between bars and the public, so people just sort of spill out on to the street and surrounding area. British beers rock, and I’ve got another blog in store for the culinary state of the nation.

"I'll meet you by the giant penis for drinks after work."
"But David Cameron's at the G20 summit in Toronto?"

I did a Red Bus tour which was useful, and took up various suggestions to visit GOSH Comics (thanks Can and Sarah), Camden Markets (a leather jacket for £10 which would have cost about $90 back home means I’m ready to go as a Matrix castoff to 90s themed parties) and a hilarious stage comedy adaption of 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre (thoroughly recommend it). Hyde Park received plenty of Phil time, where I literally stopped to smell the roses and made a hasty and crappy sketch of the scene. A day and night trip north of the city introduced me to a bit of the English countryside, a catch up with an old Mac friend Luke and his lovely fiancé Em, and a trip to visit another Mac friend Jenna at her pub of employment, replete with amazing vista. Jenna informs me one of the locals asked if I was her chap, to which she laughed, and was scolded for being mean. Thanks Jenna. Luke decided to get his Australia on and lined up a BBQ in the rain, which was cleverly punctuated with an impromptu fireworks display from the neighbours, the ones next behind the psycho, car-keying neighbours and next door to the ones where the wife celebrates 8am with a daily berating of her good-for-nothing husband.

This is actually the most normal photo of Jenna I have on file.

I would have to say the absolute highlight though was my return to the Bree Louise. For those that have never heard me wax lyrical about this doorway to Olympus and the ambrosia that lies within, I can assure you there’s enough waxing for a life sized replica at Madame Tussauds. Words fail to describe the utter brilliance that lies encased in a flaky pastry crust at this little pub behind Euston Station. I happened upon it by chance on my first visit in 2009, and proceeded to rant and rave and insist that everyone in the general vicinity of the Northern Hemisphere visit this pub and sample the pies and cask beverages that lay within. I was a little hesitant on my return, since I’d built it up in my mind so much. I’d had other pies throughout the year, but none of them had ever come close to the pork and apple cider pie with vegies and mash that I’d merged with that fateful May afternoon in 2009. What if I didn’t recognise it? What if they’d changed owners, or worse, menus? What if it gave me gastro?

Happily, and somewhat remarkably, I can inform you that it was every bit as good as I’d remembered it. From the first bite I knew that wherever we were in the world, we’d always have a special connection that transcended time, place and expiration dates. I proceeded to take about 2 dozen photos of the pie, me eating the pie and the location, in a vain attempt to capture this fleeting moment in my life. This was also followed up with a sketch of the view, accompanied by four different pints of cask cider to ground myself. Absolute heaven.

π > cake

So, returning to Glasgow I’m back where I began before the diversion: less than a week to go at the QMR before I’m out on the streets selling the Big Issue in front of Waitrose. I inspected a half dozen new places, where most of them were good, but not great, and averaged about £300 plus bills. One did capture my imagination more than the others. The location was perfect (20 minutes walk to the city centre, 10 minutes to Uni, 10 to Byres Road), and unbelievably, inexplicably cheap at £250 plus bills, almost half the price of my uni accommodation. Despite the lack of loungeroom (the room is actually the converted loungeroom, so it’s huge!), I took it. The present occupant was moving out Sunday and my contract expired Friday, so an English mate Ben who happens to live two blocks down volunteered his couch. Everything was good to go, until Sunday I got a call from Rob – he hadn’t been able to get in contact with the landlord, and didn’t know what to do. Sunday dragged on until next Friday, which turned me into that slightly awkward vagrant who sets up shop in someone’s loungeroom, who always responds “soonish” whenever people ask when he’s moving on. Thankfully Ben’s housemates Jayne and Andy didn’t complain too loudly – I tried to distract them with entertaining lies about the homeland (“yep, we inject ourselves with spider venom from birth to gradually build up an immunity to the 9 of 10 of the world’s deadlies spiders that live in our walls.”) I also wasn’t the only squatter, with aforementioned Melbournian Jacquie spending a few weeks with boyfriend Ben before she headed back to Australia and a life of bridge assessment and water management. Cannily, my residence in Ben’s lounge room coincided with a little event known as the World Cup, which meant I got to enjoy most matches from my makeshift bed/lounge.

Finally the landlord was found in India, and arrangements were made for me to move in. You can see more pictures and comments at, though there's more to come. The move was relatively smooth, though I was there less than a week before heading off once more. During one of the sales I’d booked a trip to Germany for my birthday on June 24. I figured since most of my friends at the time were leaving and I wouldn’t know that many people in Glasgow, I’d simply up and off to another country. Germany seemed as good as any, and so it was set. I’d since found out that Melbourne Jacqui would be joining Kiwi Niki and Melbourne Jess, who had been backpacking across Europe for a month, and were meeting in Barcelona on Midsummer’s Day, AKA my birthday. With Jacqui’s help I decided instead to head to Barcelona and surprise them, spending my first summer birthday on the Mediterranean. The whole birthday experience abroad was quite surreal, starting at lunchtime on June 23rd as the Australian Government leadership spill was unfolding on my laptop screen. The birthday wishes started trickling in as the clock ticked over to midnight in Sydney, 9 hours in the future. Midnight BST and the start of my birthday here coincided with 9am back home, and the announcement that Australia had a new PM, our first female leader.

I’ve watched with a lot of interest people’s reactions. Personally, I thought it was an amazing birthday gift! I’ve digressed and made a massive post on it, which you can read below or safely choose to ignore.

Anyhoo, I decided not to go to sleep as I had a bus to catch to the airport at 4:30 that morning, and so it was I found myself in Barcelona later that day. Has anyone ever used Google Maps? I have used Google Maps. Often. It’s Good. Usually. It does have one major flaw though. There’s this computing principle we learnt in Year 8 Computing, in those naively heady days when, thanks to emerging technologies like ICQ, people were starting to think the internet could be used for more than just porn. Anyhoo, the golden computer rule we learned was GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out. If you input an error, it will output one. With that in mind, behold my map I cunningly printed out to Itica Hostel:

Anything unusual?

That’s right. This is where I actually wanted to be:

View Larger Map

The classic Itica/Itaca switch! There was probably a Seinfeld episode about it. I literally spent over an hour walking up and down Bogatell Av trying to find the hostel, or even the building that it was supposed to be in (there were no number four about 4 blocks, and I sure as hell didn’t think I was staying in the unnamed giant hotel with classy restaurant out the front). I ended up being a few hours late and worried I would miss Jess and Niki, who were supposed to get in around lunch time. Turns out I needn’t have worried, since they were muuuuuuuch later. It seems the French were being all Frenchy and doing what they do best – going on strike. French airspace was closed, and so they weren’t sure they’d make it at all. The girls arrived the next day to much rejoicing, after somehow having spent the night in a five star hotel in Zurich (if you’re going to be put up in a hotel, may as well be in the country where supervillains hide the economies of small island nations).


Many other things happened, blah blah, it was great. Stories I think for another time. An absrubt and unplanned ending, sure, but I've ran out of steam (and frankly I'd be surprised if anyone made it this far anyway). Yet to come is the rest of my Barcelona trip, Screen Conference back at Glasgow Uni, and David Fincher; worlds between windows. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of June, and the less exciting but still awesome because it's in Glasgow July.

Friday, July 9, 2010

We interrupt this program for a special bulletin...

I got about half way through a 4,000 word blog post covering my life over the last month, and a funny thing happened. What was supposed to be a brief diversion on the changeover of Australia's prime minister developed into a longwinded, ranting and in places rambling critique of the events leading up to and including June 23/24th (a spectacular, truly wonderous day marking the ascension of Australia's first female PM AND my birthday). I know many will disagree with my assessment, and that's totally your right, but I guess at the end of the day I'm still comfortable in my belief that you're, well... wrong. What's that about hubris?

So enjoy me trying to inadequately express my beliefs by putting them into words, and rest assured that you can look forward to my irregular scheduling of less meaningful crap a little later tonight.


The changeover from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard is fundamentally a good thing for Australia. Kevin Rudd was doing a terrible job as leader. I was very excited when John Howard’s government was defeated. I don’t consider myself a rusted-on Labor supporter – I certainly haven’t voted for them in every election. There’s a lot to criticise, and obviously I’ve been unhappy with the performance of the Rudd government, after all it promised and the potential it brought to office. Yet under Rudd’s leadership, the Government were losing the hearts and minds of my friends, and, as the polls suggested, the Australian electorate.

The main problem as I see it falls back to a number of issues with Rudd’s personal style. Not him as a person and his beliefs, but the way he communicated them. Error #1 was to elevate himself above all others – remember all that talk about “The buck stops with me”? Unwise. It took them a while, but people increasingly saw through the inflated rhetoric (“the most significant”, “the most important”, “the biggest” blah blah), which was subject to the law of diminishing returns. Hyperbole is a very dangerous thing in government, and like the boy who cried wolf, people declared that the emperor had no clothes. This is to say nothing of the particular quirks that absolutely shat me (the convolution, the “working families”, the church posturing, the insincere smile etc.)

#2 was the policy decisions. The ETS is obviously a big one. I find it absolutely ludicrous that there is still a question in people’s minds about climate change. I can’t even begin to comprehend the scale of the science behind it, but the fact that the arguments against it hinge on such miniscule and specific contradictions, and that people fail to grasp the quite clear logical arguments and exploitations going on here, absolutely terrifies me. Even if anthropogenic climate change turns out to be bunkum, the achievements we gain in trying to prevent it more than outweigh the costs. Who can possibly suggest that the way we use the world now is sustainable? Who can legitimately argue that we don’t need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, that our lifestyles don’t cause irreversible destruction to the planet? Tony Abbott and the Coalition’s position terrify me. So much media coverage over the past six months has centred on authenticity, conviction, and honesty. Can anyone honestly hear Abbott’s words about ‘believing in climate change’ and taking action against it, and not absolutely cringe in revulsion at their insincerity? I’d like to believe that he doesn’t feel comfortable stating his true beliefs because they’re unacceptable to a vast majority of the Australian public who do want to see action. Even then, how can anyone possibly suggest that Abbott has more credibility than Rudd or Gillard? It blows my mind.

I very much doubt the ETS was anywhere near the best solution for the problem of reducing our carbon emissions. I know there’s an immense amount of criticism of it. However, my oversimplified view is that from a pragmatic position, if the left is criticising it for not going far enough, and the right is criticising it for going too far, it’s probably a good starting point that Australia will go for. I think the Rudd government was stupid in the handling of the original proposal, and absolutely squandered the good will and wishes of the Australian public, plus the bipartisan support of the Coalition. In not communicating the idea to the public and selling the concept properly, the Labor government set debate back in Australia five years. I had honestly thought we were past that. The decision to then dump the legislation was unbelievably cynical on behalf of the Government, and demonstrated a lack of conviction not in what they were doing, but in their ability to communicate it. To them I’m sure it seemed like the easier option than trying to convince the public it was the way forward. I hope the backlash against this is as much because people believe it’s an important issue that needs action as it is about conviction, though obviously the situation was poisonous as a result of Rudd’s overblown rhetoric about the problem (which may or may not be true, but certainly was the wrong way to go about it).

The hospitals issue was poorly managed, but to me the ultimate clincher was the handling of the Resource Super Profits Tax. I was totally for the original model as it was proposed, though obviously not how it was presented. It secured a stronger future for Australia. How the Government managed to let the mining industry COMPLETELY reframe the debate in their favour is stunning. It simply boggles the mind that ordinary people thought they’d be significantly worse off under the proposal. Let’s start with the immediate reaction. Of course the announcement immediately wiped off the value of the sector - it's a totally understandable reaction that occurs in any industry whenever there are changes and uncertainty, especially if they’re changes that will increase costs. This is common sense. Increase tax = lower profits = bad for shares. I don’t think anyone disputes that. However, the logical assumption goes a whole lot further in suggesting it’s permanent damage rather than something the sector will recover from, that investors will pull out, mining will collapse in Australia (no pun intended) and the Australian economy is DOOM-ED!

This is utter crap, and total manipulation by the mining industry. The reality is supply and demand - we have it, the world needs it. We produce twice as much iron ore as Brazil, the next largest supplier, and even if our supply immediately drops to half what it is now, in time it will rise as the market adjusts. There are a lot of advantages to working in our relatively advanced and stable country, with an industry and infrastructure that’s well established. Yes, we might have lost investments in the short term. In the medium term though, and I’m talking 10-20 years as a starting point, we’d be back to where we are now. I would suggest there’s simply not enough capacity in the world to fill the gap that would develop from pulling out of Australia. The halted Xstrata project in Queensland, for instance, was utter cynicism and a total political stunt, which I find disgusting. I would speculate more investment had already occurred on that site than what the new tax would have cost them. If they had cancelled the project and taken it to Canada, they probably would have lost money. It was an empty threat that a lot of Australians fell for.

Whatever changes were made to the industry, in time they would have adjusted and stabilised. The mining industry would protest about anything that wasn’t in their favour, but in the end they’d adjust to it and continue with business as usual. What we’ve essentially done is deprive the public of untold billions in future income, and the fact that Rudd’s government with Rudd at the helm so monumentally cocked up what should have been an easy sell to the public (and they probably thought it was going to be) beggars belief.

For these reasons, Rudd had to go. You could see how personal the vitriol was getting, and if he’d continued on in charge there was a very real possibility that Abbott would have gotten in and taken Australia back even further. Even if you’d prefer to see the Coalition in government, you can’t possibly suggest it’s in the country’s interest to have someone in the leadership who’s an ineffective communicator, and who alienates both the public and his own government. For those harping on about how it’s unfair, he should have been given a fair go, he should have served out his first term etc., can I just say: grow up. This nonsense about backroom dealings and nameless powerbrokers making deals is ridiculous. First of all, his name is Bill Shorten: his Wikipedia entry is, his web page is Shorten did not single-handedly construct Rudd’s demise. The reality is, you could see this coming ever since he backed down on climate change. The pace of the transition was impressive, but the seeds of it were obvious, and had been lying very close to the surface for months. Rudd was losing his mandate with the people, reflected through poll after poll, and he was doing real and visible damage to the Government. I suspect a lot of the harping comes from people who have never voted Labor in their life and never will, though a lot of it would likely also come from people who just aren’t familiar with politics outside of a 10 second sound bite.

I accept that people feel they’re voting for a presidential style leader in elections, though clearly this is not the case. I can’t stand the hypocrisy though – remember when Tony Abbott ousted Turnbull less than a year ago, or when he undercut and beat Nelson not long before that? It’s politics, it’s dirty, but it’s (in theory) how we ensure the most suitable people lead the party. I immensely dislike that Abbott is leader of the opposition, but I begrudge the Liberal party’s decision to put him there, not their right to make it. I don’t understand why people are worried about Gillard not having a mandate when we’ll have an election in a matter of months – if you don’t want her as PM based on her party’s policies, you will be able to exercise your right to do so. In a sense the Labor party installed her in position to lead in the next election, not to run the country. My criticisms of Rudd meant that I didn’t want him to lead the party into the next election, and I’m happy that Gillard will now do so. She’s far from perfect, and I think questions about her involvement in key decisions in the Rudd government as a member of the Kitchen Cabinet are totally legitimate, and bear consideration. I think the BER criticisms, while valid in some cases, are an absolute beat up on the whole. I think overall Rudd was the architect of his own demise in making everything personal and about him, which he did so in particular through hubris and lack of consultation with the full Cabinet. I believe that he carries more responsibility for the direction of the Government than would normally be attributed to the leader. I hope that under Gillard there is a wider range of wisdom that informs the Government, and that it can communicate that effectively with the nation and get them on side.

I respect that you have a right to disagree, but if you do, disagree for considered, thought out reasons, not sloganeering. Ask yourself where your beliefs come from, and how you formed them.

Be excellent to each other. Party on dudes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Do I Know You?

Ummm... hi. Remember me? You would be very much forgiven if you did not. I’ve not been the most... erm... prolific blogger during my time in Glasgow, though I promised I’d keep everyone informed and super up-to-date with my comings and goings. In my defence I’ve maintained fairly regular Skype contact with the family, and everybody else has been bombarded with Facebook updates that usually contain phrases like “GLESCAAAAAA!” or “I *expletive* LOVE THIS PLACE". Over the past five months that just leaves those who aren’t family or don’t have Facebook in the lurch. ie. Ronica. Sorry Ronica.

There are other reasons to keep a record of my adventures of course. There’re the memories I seem intent on destroying now and then with excessive combinations of whisky, beer and cheap gin (OK just that one time, but I was staying in a CASTLE, and there are many photos that will never see the light of day, so even if I forget I’ll never forget.) There’s the whole narrative element to my time here that doesn’t quite come across in status updates of 450 characters (I haven’t even bothered with Twitter - I can’t even say ‘hello’ in less than 150 characters). There’s the shame that Niki and Jacqui put me to with their constant updates. And of course poor Jess, who has almost given up with her “Dude, can you PLEASE upload those frickin’ photos?!” So that’s what I’m going to try and do: fill you in on the past five months; piece together the adventures I’ve been on; and not write my thesis. Sounds like a plan.

I will begin by cheating and simply putting up some unpublished material I wrote a few months ago but never got around to finishing. That way it looks like I’ve written more. Note that it too starts with apologies for not writing more frequent updates, and promises to do better. At least I’m consistent...

Well here we are, three months in Glesga, less than a year to go. 20% done. There’ve been adventures aplenty, friendships forged, Scottish pride, Scotch whisky, a night in castle, and many others ending at a place called Nice ‘N Sleazy. Of course these activities have likely escaped you, poor neglected reader, as my blog here so far made it to... my arrival in Glasgow on my first day. Clearly I’m not spectacular at keeping you updated with all the goings on here, but I’ll persevere nonetheless in the naive and self-deluded assumption that people somewhere find this stuff interesting.

My time in Glasgow has been spent with a motley cast of characters from all corners of the globe. Admittedly there are a disproportionate number of Aussies, but at least I didn’t meet them at Walkabout (yes, there’s one in Glasgow. No, I haven’t been (although I’ve considered it – they sell Coopers (nested brackets are totally unnecessary.))) I present to you the core crew that made my first semester so memorable:

Arttu – One of the first people I met at Orientation, I had the good fortune of witnessing Arttu explain the pronunciation of his name to every single person he met here in Glasgow. Though it’s pronounced ‘Arrt-o’ (with a rolling ‘r’ and emphasis on the first syllable, ‘a Finnish version of Arthur’), ignorant foreigners (ie. all of us) happily pronounce it ‘Artoo’. You know, like the robot. From Star Wars! Friggin’ awesome! Arttu has the most amazingly ridiculous BBC accent you’ve ever heard, speaking in (and joking in) English better than us native speakers. Though they apparently outlawed smiling in Finland in 1978, Arttu allows himself the occasional curving of the lips in amusement when observing us Australians do something ridiculous like: frolic around in the snow, be loud and boisterous, speak etc.

Cliff – Cliff is the loudest, craziest, most enthusiastic Okie I’ve ever met (resident of Oklahoma – also, I believe, the only Okie I’ve ever met), who does terrible accents but has an amazing ability to get into top list gigs by turning up at the door and waiting around for someone to offer him a spare ticket. Cliff is kind of like a young Wes Anderson, full of thrift shop funk. He totally knows music. I mean, he knows it. He’s all over any obscure band playing here, and a typical week in his diary looks like:
Monday: Hangin’ out at the coffee shop.
Tuesday: Seeing a band.
Wednesday: Coffee Shop.
Thursday: Coffee Shop.
Friday: Band.
Saturday and Sunday: Inter-city trip with Victor (to see a band or hang out at a coffee shop).
Likes his women like he likes his booze: buck fast.

Gowri – Gowri Atticus Chandrashekar is concerned that, in the sun’s absence up north here in Glasgow, she’s slowly losing her colour and turning into a whitie. A Cadbury who goes a bit crazy on her second glass of vino, in addition to introducing Awkward Turtle’s stablemate Pun Panda, Gowri is the namesake of the legendary Gowri Moment™. You can feel the atmosphere in the room electrify as Gowri begins one of her anecdotes, characterised by an enthusiastic start, awkward punchline, confused silence and then rapturous applause. Gowri Moments™ are highly anticipated and seldom disappointing, a real treat for the audience.

Jacqui – Jacqui is the most Aussie girl you’ll ever meet, in a good way! She genuinely and non-ironically uses Aussie colloquialisms and rhyming slang, much to the delight of her Scottish-ish housemate Lyall (who’s from Shetland, where they’re more Viking helmet than tartan) and the rest of us city-dwellers. On moving to Glasgow she promptly armed herself with Aussie tea towels, stubby holders, lagerphone, and full Surf Lifesaving regalia, which was nicely contrasted with Scottish-ish housemate Lyall and even more marginally Scottish-ish boyfriend Ben. A mad keen water enthusiast, Jacqui is the only one crazy enough to have not only hazarded a trip to a Scottish beach, but waded out up to her ankles!

Jess – Jess is the resident chic Melbournite, and has had every cool job imaginable. From retro clothing outfitter to Empire Records-ish stint at an independent music shop to sandwich artist at Subway, Jess is keen on her tunes and even keener on a boogie. Equally at home at a swanky restaurant as a dive bar, Jess is assembling a portfolio of hamburger photos as she samples her way through the delicacies of Glasgow’s fine dining establishments, located in dodgy curbside vans circa 3am. A bit of a local celebrity, Jess is also much admired for having a boyfriend who featured in the airport montage scene of Love, Actually.

Niki - Niki is a Kiwi. I mean, she’s a lot of other things: pilot fish (who scouts ahead and finds locations), national geographic presenter (armed with an Encyclopaedia of historical and political minutiae), Celtic folk enthusiast, flaming redhead; but first and foremost, Niki is a Kiwi. You notice it in the hilariously silly accent she deploys; her trip to Shetland, which she pronounced “Shitland”, provided hours of amusement, though her urging DJ Lyall to “Get your decks out” was awkward for all involved. She’s characterised by a fierce pride and noble struggle for independence in the face of Australia’s international, cultural and spiritual superiority. Though she valiantly defends New Zealand from the overbearing threat of an amusingly indifferent Australia, she has been horrified to hear that thanks to her association with us here, her accent is sounding increasingly Aussie to the folks back home. Niki also has what’s reported to be the best phone in New Zealand, and an affinity for a weird concoction called ‘Kiwi Dip’, which is essentially cream cheese and onion powder. Explains a lot.

Trond – Have you ever seen Coming to America? You know, that amazingly awesome 1988 movie starring Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones? The film that features two of the best insults of all time? (“Freeze you diseased rhinocerous pizzle!” “You sweat from a baboons balls!”) Well that’s Trond’s story. Trond, AKA The Crown Prince of Norway, is undercover at the University of Glasgow as an unassuming, whisky loving Norwegian/viking. Unfortunately, attempts to blend in are often negated by appropriating very bright blue pants and conspicuous crown. Yet despite his royal burden, Trond manages to live a relatively normal life characterised by relentless and merciless mocking of various mobile phone technologies. (cf: Niki)

Victor – Victor is gifted with one of the coolest surnames in the world: Zsuper. Yes, that’s ‘Super’ with a ‘Zed’. A resident of New York, Victor joins Cliff in representing the yanks (even though technically he’s here through his studies in Canadia) and can often be found somewhere in the UK that’s not Glasgow. Reportedly a dynamite in the sack (a rumour he refuses to deny), when he’s not running marathons Victor can often be found in the corner quietly plugging away at a bottle of Uncle Buck.

Me – Hey, I know you!

Not present, but occasional collaborators: Deborah the Canadian (AKA ‘Dib’, thanks to being introduced to everyone for the first time by Niki), and Rowan the... words cannot begin to describe Rowan.

(Relatively) Locals: Lyall, Ben and the rest of the Shetland crew, Gen the bonny Irishwoman who is fond of rolling her eyes at me when I insist that I am also Irish-ish, and Bec the Jordy who thinks that her accent is normal, it’s everyone else’s that’s weird.

The Film and Television Crew (as in group of people that hang out, not professionals that work in production): To be featured at a later date.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Does Yer Mother Sew? - The Prequel, Part II

We meet again.

Gather round, gentle readers, and huddle in close. The moon is in hiding and a fell wind howls in fury into the night. It is a darkness of ill omen.

Actually, nah, it’s pretty normal. Bit cold. Bit wet. 5 °C. Sprinkles. Partly cloudy. Nippy. Here in Glagsow, Scotland, in the middle of winter, we have weather that not only sounds delicious, but is slightly racist.

Welcome to the thrilling conclusion of the prequel (with maybe just a taste of actual adventure).

When last we met, a not-so-young but still-wet-behind-the-ears kid from Sydney, Australia, was about to board the last leg of his flight to Glasgow. Glasgow, Scotland. You heard me.

After a brief and uneventful stopover in Dubai, I was ready for lap two. Lap one, if you’ll recall, had seen me sandwiched between Sam the Steriod Man on one side and an aisle that people seemed unable to walk down without bumping into my leg and stirring me from my pitiful attempts at slumber. Not only had I given up my emergency exit row for seat 84D; other patrons had then proceeded to occupy seats 84E, 84F, 84G and 84H. Bam, bitch, five hits - they sunk my Battleship. (I’m going to be saying ‘bitch’ a lot more now, as I crammed all 5 seasons of the The Wire into the past 2 weeks. 60 hours? Yes, I’m making productive use of my time watching TV until 6am.) On a smaller flight (only one storey? What is this flying hunk of junk?), what would the second instalment hold for me?

Awesomeness. Absolute awesomeness. Row 42, baby! Three seats to myself, window side! I could tell it was gonna be a gooooood trip. And it was! I researched (and by that I mean watched Post Grad by Fox Searchlight – seemed uniquely appropriate, though was inappropriately sucky.) I ate. I slept. By Zeus’s Beard how I slept!

“Excuse me Miss Flight Attendant. Could you please take a picture of me so that it looks like I'm really sleeping? Thanks!”

On this lap I got a little camera happier. Of course, all of the neat-o views from the sky out a tiny window seem like they’d make a sweet photo, but in reality, do not so much.

The alien grandiosity and time-ravaged sculpture of the earth, and shit.

Flying over Iraq, I once again see a huge billow of smoke coming from the ground below (this happened last May on my flight from Dubai to Liverpool.) Way less cool.

There’s part of me still hoping this was just a giant wood-fire pizza.

I remember looking out the window and thinking “Gadzooks! Snow-capped mountains! Just like Lord of the Rings”.

“Now I know how Gandalf felt as he soared atop Gwahir the Windlord over the Misty Mountains of Middle Earth. And shit.”

The next few hours were spent drifting in and out of sleep. I can’t really remember much of that stretch (and yes, I had room to stretch), until I awoke and looked out the window:


“Is it a dog? Is it a rabbit? Is it a king sitting on his throne, or a monkey eating an apple? Cloud watching is a fun hobby for children and adults alike.”

Hold on a sec, double take. Not clouds. Not clouds at all.


Yes, I’d woken up to temperatures below -0 outside. My first real snow! Sure I’d seen it on the television, but it’s always been removed from reality, behind a glass screen. Here I was seeing it with my own eyes, in real life, totally unaware of the irony of the previous sentence. Snow-capped everything!

If this were California Games 2, I’d totally be parachuting down to the mountaintop and snowboarding down the slopes. Also, it would be 1993 and be afraid of skating near tunnels.

I was pretty darned excited. I literally have over a dozen photos I took of mountains covered in snow, the majority of which I’ll spare you (I have to save something for the Does Yer Mother Sew: Special Edition).

“Hmmmm, this one’s got trees. That’s definitely worth another photo!”

“Gasp! There’s a city out my window. Covered in snow! This will never get old!”

At T minus 1 hour to Glasgow I did what any cliché loving hipster with a sense of poetic fate would do: played Tonight by Franz Ferdinand.

iPod Minis: huge in 2004, comically huge in 2010.

“So is the sky always this clear and blue in Scotland...? What? Why are you laughing at me?”

Following the advice of my dear family, 20 mins out I went and got changed into like 6 layers of clothing. Mobility schmobility – with 3” of cotton between my newly fashionable white chest and the outside world, the only thing I was scared of was static electricity.

And so we landed.

Finally I, Philip G. Betts I of Sydney, Australia, had travelled in an aeromobile all the way to the other side of the world to Glasgow, Scotland. Sure the trip only took 24 hours, but for me it had taken over a year. The landing was smooth, and before I knew it, I was checking through customs.

There was only one small problem. No, one major problem. Catastrophic problem. I couldn’t find Duty Free.


I'd been putting off buying grog until I got to Glasgow so that I wouldn't have to cart it around, and now I couldn’t get any ridiculously cheap-as gin or bourbon or vodka or anything of the sort (though you can only bring in 1L to the UK anyway). I was doomed to a life of £1.25 G&Ts (more on alcohol in another post.) Ordinarily this would be devastating, but, upset as I was, I was just too darned excited to let that get to me. In my mind that pretty much says it all.

*NB – turns out there is and I just didn’t see it. My advice to you though: when you come to visit, pick up your alcoholic gifts for me before you arrive.

I took my first step outside into my new city and found it was... cold. Sunny, clear, blue and... cold. Not freezing. Not arctic. Just... cold. Ok, technically it was freezing at -7º, and there were areas in the north of Scotland that were only -2º warmer than the North Pole, but seriously, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s not that bad. I actually kind of like it. Of course, if -7º is not your cup of tea you may be interested to know you’re not alone. You know who else thought it was cold that week, and was obsessed with complaining about how cold it was? The entire population of Scottland. For a country that prides itself on hardy people, a country that, might I add, is fairly notoriously cold and miserable, the Scotts sure do act surprised when it snows. And from what I hear, it’s not that uncommon. Yet it was pretty much all Scottish people could talk about on my arrival, and they seemed to take great delight in complaining about it. Despite having had a university for over half a millennium with some of the most enlightened thinkers in the world (CF: The Scottish Enlightenment,) and featuring Lord Kelvin amongst its alumni, the dude who developed the concept of Absolute Zero, Glasgow still hasn’t figured out how to manage a cold snap. It seems I’d arrived in the middle of a salt shortage for the roads. A salt shortage! And they had to ration out gas for heating. It was like living in a Ken Loach movie. Of course, you can kind of forgive them. After all, the British Isles don’t usually look like this:

NB: I did not take this photo from the plane.

Besides, their accent is the best in the world, so even when they’re complaining you still want to high five them for being so cool.

While I’m at it though, do you know what else they’re totally ill-equipped to handle here, despite having had a lot of practice? Change. As in, notes and coins, change. Not only do they still use pennies which are an absolute nuisance (copper coins? So 1991), nobody ever seems to have £5 notes or £2 coins. This means it’s not uncommon to get £9 change in £1 coins. On the coach from the airport to Glasgow Central I tried to board with a £20 note. The fare was £4.50, so it’s not like it was a blue Travel Ten. Also, it’s an international airport, so it’s not like they can expect passengers to carry a lot of change. Despite these two facts, the bus driver looked totally alarmed when I tried to pay with such a large and fearsome note, and I had to get change from a second bus (while lugging around 4 bags wearing clothes that granted me the mobility of an astronaut in a vat of porridge). The driver still gave me a funny look when I came back and paid with a tenner.

The final leg of my trip was a cab ride from the city to my residences. Now after more than a month of living here, I can tell you that one of the few groups of people you meet in Glasgow who are actually from Glasgow are taxi drivers. Everyone else seems to be a blow in from England, Edinburgh, the west coast, Europe etc. But not taxi drivers. Born and bred Weegies, they lay it on thick and they lay it on fast. It was my first true encounter with a native, and, much to my delight, we couldn’t understand a word each other was saying. After clumsily shoving my notebook with address up against the glass barrier and gesturing enthusiastically, we pulled away from the curb. Slowly, painfully yet beautifully, we built up a conversation, forging a true intercultural bond (“nah, I’m not American, I’m Australian.”). He’d visited Sydney in the 70s, and remembers Kings Cross fondly. He has a daughter who lives in San Francisco and is coming to visit later in the year. We swapped knifing stories as he pointed out the best places to score heroin (just kidding, Mum). On the way we passed the Òran Mór, a popular nightclub that just happens to be in a beautiful old converted church. I swear, everything seems to be in a beautiful old converted church. My office is in a beautiful old converted church. I’ve dined at a soup hall in a beautiful old converted church.

Finally, we arrived at my new home, the conclusion to this, the prequel to my adventures in Glasgow, Scotland. I’ll leave you with this video of me, jetlagged and acting like a 6 year old on my second night abroad:

Coming up next on Does Yer Mother Sew?:

  • Meet the rogues and miscreants here who tolerate my inanity
  • An introductio - "OH MY GODS. IS THAT A CAN OF CHERRY COKE?!?!"