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.

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