Monday, 12 November 2007

Remember, Remember.... to bring some gloves

...And a hat, and a scarf.

Recently it was the 5th of November, and here in the UK that can only mean one thing: Guy Fawkes Day! People celebrate by shooting off fireworks and going to bonfires. Around the middle of October all of the grocery stores started selling all kinds of fireworks and soon after every night was punctuated by little Pop Pop's and flashes of light. Malcolm and I felt like we were back in Jamaica, except the gunshots had been replaced by harmless lights in the sky. We decided to get in on the action and bought two shopping bags worth of fireworks.

Once Guy Fawkes Day arrived I was excited to shoot off our very own fireworks on the beach near our house. First, though, we decided to go to a bonfire in a community near our house. We arrived around 7:15 and the bonfire was finally lit around 7:45. Now, half an hour may not seem like a long time to wait, but it was FREEZING! I said to Malcolm 'now I appreciate that America's big firework holiday is in the summer!'. We waited and waited, huddled together outside the barrier that was keeping people about 50 feet away from the actual bonfire. It was a huge pile of pallets and wood about 20 feet high with an effigy of Guy on top. There were about a thousand people waiting for the fire to start. Slowly we began hearing bagpipes, and eventually the pipers walked past us and the fire started. Hearing the pipes and watching the bonfire burn was very cool; it was a totally authentic Scottish moment.

As we watched the fire burn everyone around us was commenting on it: 'Oh, Guy is on fire now' 'There goes Guy!' 'He's done for now!'. I realized that years ago people would have stood around a similar fire and watched a real person burn! Maybe even right where we were standing! Bizarre.

Malcolm and I left as the fireworks show began. We both had frozen feet, and we were ready to light our own fireworks. After a quick stop home to warm up we headed down to the beach. As we got there we noticed a bunch of Neds (Non Educated Delinquents) standing around their own 'bonfire' (really a pallet that gasoline had been poured on). We picked our spot well away from them and headed down to the beach. Instantly we were frozen again, and it was so windy we couldn't get anything lit. We moved back by the car and decided to light things in the parking lot. Meanwhile all the Neds had left and the fire department had come to extinguish the pallet. We set up and began shooting off fireworks. It was lots of fun, but I couldn't feel my fingers after a few minutes.

After shooting off most of our fireworks we decided to call it a night and go home. We drove past a few other people shooting off their own stash.

Once home we turned up the heat and huddled under blankets. All night we heard fireworks, and it hasn't stopped since. Every night I hear a few pop's....

Friday, 2 November 2007

Up North

And I mean really far north!

Last weekend Malcolm and I took a trip to Inverness and Aberdeen. For those of you who don't feel like looking at a map I'll just tell you that Inverness is at a similar latitude to Anchorage Alaska. So this trip officially pushed my borders, and I have a new record for the farthest north I've ever been in the world. Now I've almost conquered the Northern Hemisphere. Years ago when I was on a cruise with my family I achieved my southernmost point, the island chain of Kiribati (pronounced Kirabas) which is only a few hundred miles north of the equator. Maybe one day I'll make it to the Southern Hemisphere...

But I digress. Our first stop was at Urquhart Castle, some beautiful ruins on the banks of Loch Ness. I can't tell which I enjoyed more... looking at the castle or searching for Nessie. A few times I would say 'There's the monster! Disguised as a swan!' or some other foolishness. People started looking at me funny after awhile, but I was enjoying myself and have long grown accustomed to people's weird looks.

After the castle Malcolm and I continued to drive up the shores of Loch Ness. We stopped at one touristy place that had a 'monster exhibition', but we found it a bit overpriced, so we just bought a souvenir and left.

Next stop was Culloden. Any one familiar with Diana Gabaldon's 'Outlander' series or Scottish history in general will know the significance of Culloden. Here's an explanation for the rest of you: There once was a guy who thought he should be the king of Scotland, and he did have a direct bloodline to royalty, but the evil English king didn't want to give up half of his island to someone else. The 'pretender' (called Bonnie Prince Charlie) decided to round up some Scottish Highlanders and try and recapture the Scottish throne. After many years of struggle and a few battles here and there the final conflict between the Pretender and the English Regimentals took place at Culloden. It was a landslide victory for the English, and most of Bonnie Prince Charlies forces were slaughtered either on the battle field or as they lay wounded after the battle. There are some pretty horrific stories of the English setting fires to barns where the wounded Scottish hid, or killing women and children indiscriminately. The battle field was very somber to wander through, and very very cold. Anyone who loved the Outlander books as much as I did will appreciate this picture:

After Culloden we went to Clava Cairns. This place also figured prominently in the book series above. Yes, I feel like a dork, but I also found it pretty cool to go to these places that I had read about.

Clava Cairns are 4000 year old stone circles. They are similar to Stonehenge in feeling, but different in construction.

Below: I imitate a character in the book who 'falls' through the rock here and goes back in time...

Our day concluded with driving to Aberdeen and meeting up with one of Malcolm's old friends. We had a very pleasant evening in the pub.

The next day we continued our tour of the area's historical sites. We saw more old stones and a really cool stone circle:

We also drove past Balmoral, the Queens' Scottish castle. It was closed so we only got to see the gate. It was quite pretty.

Overall our trip was fun, informative, geeky (for me), and beautiful. The trees had all turned fall colors, and it was a treat just to look out the window at the world passing by...

Here is a picture of Malcolm and I at Clava Cairns, just to prove that he was there too: