A Wee Pause

pause buttonThis week was the first time I’ve failed to get my blog out on the appropriate day.  Obviously, I’ve taken myself outside and given me a thorough thrashing for my ineptitude. In my defense, I can only say that there’s a lot to be done in preparation of the End of the World.

Earlier in the year I wrote a post entitled  Where’s My Placard? all about people who believe in the alleged Mayan prophecy that the world will end on 21st Dec.

It turned out to be one of those topics that kept me amused for days so, to cut a long story short, I recently launched another blog called Apocalypse Mebbe  with my Geek pal Mook le Mook where we are undertaking some very scientific research into the preparations and beliefs of those who are gearing up for the  Mayan apocalypse.  Our blog is interactive in that you can vote for the answer that best suits you or if our apocalypse studies have not covered your particular mind-set, then you can add your own.  So far we’ve covered three very important questions:

Where is THE place to be during the Apocalypse?

How would you rate your survival skills?

How will the Apocalypse Manifest?

I hope you will join our very scientific study and cast your votes!

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The Great Bullshit Divide

There’s a famous quote, of uncertain origin that says  Britain and America are “two nations divided by a common language.”  I was reminded of this after talking to my Uncle Simon who has recently returned from his first visit to the United States.  We were swapping our impressions and our likes and dislikes.  Like me, he really enjoyed the general positivity of Americans, compared to Europeans. who tend toward the more pessimistic end of the spectrum.

The first time I was in States it was for work purposes.   One of the older men I was working with said to me during the course of a very casual conversation that he lived in Santa Monica.  “Oh, I’d love to go to there” I said to which he replied, “If you came to Santa Monica to visit me and my family it would be dream come true for us.”  I was just about to burst out laughing, slap him on the arm and call him a cheeky bastard when I noticed he had a look of complete sincerity on his face.   It was at that moment I realised that between Americans and Brits, there lies a Great Bullshit Divide.

When you’re speaking to a nation who like to look on the bright side, bubble over with optimism at the slightest provocation, it’s really tricky to figure out where the sincerity ends and the bullshit begins.

There is just no way a person would say this to you in Britain after meeting you for a few days unless they were taking the piss.  After the “dream come true” comment, I frantically looked about for a translator to no avail; I looked back at the American,  my mouth opened and closed but no sound came out.  All my sarcastic, cynical, down beat personalities had a confab but came up with no advice on how to proceed.  I had no idea of how to respond to such unabashed enthusiasm. I had been lulled into a false sense of security, not realising that while we shared the same words,  we definitely weren’t speaking the same language.

And if you have any of your own cultural observations based on huge sweeping generalisations, it would be a dream come true for me if you’d share them.

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Declining Guising Standards

When I moved into my current home about three years ago, I figured one of the added bonuses to living in a street full of children would be I’d get a lot of guisers* at Halloween. I thought it would be fun to have a few kids trooping into the house to do a wee turn**.  In fact, the number fluctuates wildly and I’m not sure why.  However, I am sure that the standard of guising has dropped considerably since I was a kid and consequently it’s not half as much fun as I thought it’d be.

For a start, the kids all tend to have costumes bought from shops, I guess because they are relatively cheap now.  I miss the sight of children staggering about in old sheets with a couple of holes cut out for eyes, or broomsticks made out of collected tree branches and twigs. These off the peg things make the whole thing a bit sanitized for my liking.

The worst development is the complete lack of care and attention paid to the performance part of the tradition, with some kids even trying that  ‘trick or treat’ nonsense on me for which they get short shrift.  “You’re not in America now,” I told them sternly “You’ll do a wee turn or get nothing!”  Call me old-fashioned but ‘trick or treat’ is just a fancy name for begging if you ask me.

On the whole, the turns are really terrible.  You’d think in the era of shows like  The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, most kids would be up for a bit of performance, but you’d be wrong.  Me and my friend Kay used to rehearse for hours in the lead up to Halloween; our finest hour was a spirited version of ‘Do Your Ears Hang Low’ complete with actions. Most of the children who came to my door told terrible jokes.  It was a crushing disappointment.

There was unexpected turn of events during the first year I had guisers coming to my house.  There was a group of girls who looked to be aged around 11.  I invited them in and two of them had stuffed padding up their fronts to make them appear heavily pregnant and they all also carried dolls over their arms.  I was a bit puzzled by this and asked them what they were dressed up as and they informed me that they were ‘naughty schoolgirls’ which by their interpretation meant pregnant and already mothers to infants.  My idea of naughty schoolgirls is something along the lines of plugging*** school or sticking chewing gum to the underside of my desk; the fact that the definition seemed to have changed so radically in the 21st century was quite horrifying to me.  I guess the fact I was horrified was ‘job done’ as far as the spirit of Halloween was concerned though.

*Guisers – a Scots word given to children who dress up at Halloween and visit other people’s homes to do a wee turn and collect some nuts and sweets in return

**A wee turn – a small performance, usually a song or a poem

***plugging – playing truant, usually from school

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Let the People Decide

There’s a chip shop in my local town called ‘The Fountain Cafe.’  Over the years it’s had different owners and each new incumbent has changed the name but they needn’t have bothered, all the locals stick to calling it The Fountain Cafe, or actually The Fountain Caf – that last ‘e’ is just too much bother all together.  It didn’t matter if it changed its name to reflect it was now selling kebabs, or Indian food, us locals remained un-moved by their desire for reform. Eventually, they gave up and went back to calling it The Fountain Cafe and thus it has remained ever since.

The same thing happened to the Glasgow Clyde Auditorium and Conference Centre.  Now there’s a name thought up by a committee if ever I heard one.  You can just tell a bunch of marketing types sat around chewing the ends of their pencils in deep branding contemplation before coming up with that yawn- inducing name.  Glaswegians took one look at it and declared it ‘The Armadillo’ on account of its shape.  The marketing types were not at all keen on this turn of events and valiantly stuck to the original name for some time.  This is a pointless stance to take with Glaswegians; you can just imagine the pains taken by the marketing types to ensure all staff answered the phone with the full ‘Glasgow Clyde Auditorium nd Conference Centre,’ only to be met with a ‘Aw naw hen, I wis lookin fir the Armadillo.’  Eventually the marketing types had to concede defeat and started using the name themselves.The Armadillo

More recently I’ve been in the newly built and snappily titled Commonwealth Arena and Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.  Even worse, we’re now supposed to call it The Emirates Arena until 2014 when the Commonwealth Games are on in Glasgow, where we have then to revert to the first name that I’m frankly too bored to type out again.  Emirates Airline have obviously paid huge sums of money for this nonsense.  The building itself is amazing though, even a non-sporting type like myself can see that.  It has an athletic track that moves to an angle; a badminton area that can be dismantled to press a button where a sandpit emerges from the bowels of the building; huge areas of seating can be moved in and out to created different kinds of spaces.  As I was being shown around it suddenly found myself thinking of those maddening toys my nephew used to play with where you could turn a robot into a sabre tooth tiger or something.  ‘This is like a giant transformer!’ I blurted out, which got a laugh from those present.  This also got me thinking that this is a building ripe for the Glaswegian view on life and I’m very much hoping they come up with an entertaining alternative to the dreary names currently on offer.  To kick-start the debate I’m suggesting ‘The Transformer’ which over time will become too much effort so we’ll slip into saying ‘The Tranny’ for short.  I’d love to see the marketing types wrestling with that branding dilemma.  Any other suggestions people?

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Stereotypes

I once met a Professor who had really long hair, a bushy beard and glasses.  You’ve got to admire a person that embraces their stereotype. Actually, it’s pretty amazing to come across someone who fits a stereotype, despite the images we are fed in various forms of media.  It’s kind of like meeting the one person which someone, somewhere has unilaterally decided personifies a particular type of person.  Ironically, I think it takes a particular strength of character to stick with a look and/or behaviour even if it makes you a stereotype. Maybe this could develop into another lame activity that the British could become famous for, like train spotters*?  Stereotype spotters could be out, lurking in various urban and rural settings, trying to spot librarians with glasses and  buns, accountants in a pin-stripped suits and bowler hats, matrons with ample bosoms and jotting them down in notebooks to discuss later with on their online forum where debate rages about extremely boring details like whether someone  can be considered a dumb blonde if their hair is, in fact, dyed.   

Some years back I was working in Washington DC with some students for a few days, around the subject of what makes a culture.  They were having a bit of a social on the Saturday night and asked if I would teach them some “Scottish dancing.” This was quite ironic as I usually avoid ceilidhs** like the plague. However, I agreed to teach them the Dashing White Sergeant. It just so happens I can do a slip-step like a near professional due to a misguided enthusiasm in my formative years. The Scottish dancing went down an absolute storm with the American students and appeared in most of their evaluation forms as their favourite thing about the weekend. You could tell they thought they were doing something authentically Scottish and were under the impression this was the sort of thing we did most evenings when we took a well-earned break from roamin’ in the gloamin’. I’ve got to admit, sometimes embracing my cultural stereotype is irresistible.  Have you ever embraced yours?

* train spotting is undertaken by amateur enthusiasts of the railway system.  This usually involves men standing at the end of railway platforms dressed in parkas for hours on end while writing down the numbers of the trains coming into the station.  I believe this is an activity peculiar to the UK and why someone might find this a good way to spend the day is a mystery to me.

** ceilidh means social gathering, which usually involves traditional Scottish folk dancing and music (pronounced kay-lee)

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Skinny Dipping

I once led a 20-women skinny dip into the sea, off the coast of Italy. It was a proud moment, marred only slightly by the realisation that it turned out to be illegal in Italy. Ooops. Skinny dipping was on my bucket list; spending time in an Italian jail, or any jail, most definitely was not. We had all gone down to the beach for a midnight picnic, just near a café we had been to during the day. It turns out there was an elderly man who acted as night security guard at the café and it was he who ran down to the shore waving and shouting as 20 Scottish women shrieked with laughter as we bobbed about in the sea, wearing not a stitch. Even in the semi-darkness you could tell the guard was torn between enjoying the spectacle and panicking at the possible consequences. Fortunately, he didn’t call the police, but the next day word had obviously spread amongst the café staff as there was much nudging and sniggering when we arrived for lunch. I think I enjoyed our brief notoriety almost as much as the skinny-dipping.

When some of the skinny-dippers are together we sometimes reminisce about this incident if we’re feeling nostalgic.  I should mention at this stage that they sat about for hours talking about it but never actually moving.  So, while we’re reminiscing, you’d think I’d at least get credit for leading the charge? Do you think they mention I leapt up and stripped with abandon, calling them to arms?  Do they remember that I kicked off my knickers then spent a few moments twirling them around my finger in true burlesque fashion while making a ‘this is how you get your kit off’ speech?  No.  All they remember is I crashed into a sun lounger as I broke into a run and nearly went arse over tit before I even reached the sea.

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Sugar Junkie

I’m a devotee of a series on TV called ‘The Great British Bake Off’ at the moment.  It involves a group of amateur bakers making any number of mouth-watering cakes, torts, scones etc. and being judged on who is the best.  As a major sugar junkie,  this is basic masochism on my part.

I’ve known I’m a sugar junkie since I was a child but it took me a good twenty years plus to actually address the problem.  Now I manage it better and come off it completely for four weeks, once or twice a year, depending how out of control I am.  The first time I ever did this was the worst.  I had terrible cravings, my skin broke out in a rash, experienced constant headaches and I was so  incredibly crabbit* I was lucky I had any friends left by the end of it.  What’s worse was I had very vivid dreams that involved bowls of unidentifiable gloop.  In the dream, I’d know the gloop was sweet and delicious but that I wasn’t allowed to have any.  Waking up with cravings is no way to start your day.

The problem with being a sugar junkie is it’s so accessible and other people just refuse to take it seriously;  people think nothing of giving me chocolate as presents or talking me into eating desserts. My world is full of unashamed drug pushers.   I can’t imagine them bringing me wine if I was an alcoholic.  On the upside, it could be worse and I could be addicted to crack cocaine which I’m led to understand is quite expensive, illegal and can lead to all kinds of ‘life spiralling out of control’ scenarios.  If processed sugar was made illegal I’d definitely be one of those people meeting my dealer up a dark alleyway, or taking to the main road with a short skirt and a luminous hand-bag in order to make some money to fund my next bar of chocolate. 

*crabbit is a Scottish word meaning bad-tempered

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