Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Gear: T-Shirt Collection

A few weeks ago, I mentioned my interest in procuring a Mobile Infantry T-shirt. I actually love cool T-shirts, and they're part of how I express my distinct American-ness here in Scotland. I figured I'd mention a few of my favorites.

One of my favorites is from ThinkGeek, and it's a mashup between the Keep Calm and Carry On phenomenon, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Don't Panic and Carry a Towel. A couple of my other favorites are from 5.11 Tactical, and feature a couple of great quotes: "Ask Not for a Lighter Burden, but for Broader Shoulders"; and the classic George Orwell quote, "We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." Many of my shirts come from Ranger Up, which combines military and patriotic themes with a healthy dose of snark. I mentioned a few days ago that Landlady hooked me up with a Nobody Likes John Kerry T-shirt from Ranger Up in the care package she and Big Dave sent me. I brought a few others with me, including Live Free or Die, The Lord is a Man of War, and several different colors of St. Michael.

I have a Captain America shield T-shirt. I love wearing that one, particularly under my red, white, and blue plaid dress shirt.

One of my favorite web comics is Wondermark, and its writer, David Malki(!), sells shirts through a webstore on Topatoco.com. I have three of them: The Negotiator, after his comic of the same name; My Parents Never Taught Me Arabic, which I can actually read if you give me long enough; and a brown Steam Powered Heart shirt, which appears to be out of print.

When I worked in the Middle East, I started wearing regular T-shirts under my polo and dress shirts in lieu of a plain white one. When I get back to the States, I think I'm going to keep that up, if for no other reason that the motivational factor of knowing that, at any minute, I could rip open my dress shirt and scream at the top of my lungs: "Captain America!" Well, probably not, but you get the idea.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Debacle in Shetland: From Lerwick to Hermaness

After a good night's sleep on the ferry, the MV Hrossey deposited me at the ferry terminal in Lerwick on Tuesday morning. That was the point at which my adventures in Shetland began.

I waited around for a few minutes for the chap (Bob, if I remember correctly) from Bolts Car Hire to arrive to sort out my hire car. As I've insinuated previously, I'm going to have plenty of negative or non-complimentary things to say about Shetland, but I'm going to give credit wherever it's due. I have nothing but good things to say about Bolts Car Hire. They were professional, my car was exactly what I needed, and the price was reasonable. I would absolutely recommend them to anyone who needed to hire a car in Shetland.

My initial reaction to Shetland was that parts of it that reminded me of Wyoming. There was a valley that ran from Lerwick to right around Voe that reminded me of a stretch of territory north of Cody, Wyoming. That was a good thing - I love Wyoming. My goal was to head for the northern end of the Isle of Unst to find the United Kingdom's most northerly geocache. I turned north out of the ferry terminal car park and drove across half of the Shetland mainland, then took a ferry to the Isle of Yell. After driving up the length of Yell (and seeing signs for "Chinese Night" at the Mid Yell Boating Club - whatever that's all about), I took a second ferry onto Unst. Unst is the most northerly inhabited island in the United Kingdom, and is apparently famous for its bus shelter... ? During the brief (ten minutes?) ferry transit from Yell to Unst, I was able to get myself a few feet off of the main deck to snap a few pictures.

The foliage on the Mainland, Yell, and Unst was very brown, and the islands are literally teeming with sheep. They're sparsely populated, like most areas of Orkney. I've not visited many of the islands of Orkney, but I've hit a number of them - more than I visited while I was in Shetland - and Shetland's outskirts seem a bit less kept up than even the remote parts of Orkney that I've visited.

Aside from some vaguely interesting scenery, there wasn't much to see once I got to Unst. I drove through a little village called Haroldswick (or maybe it was Baltasound?), and took a westerly turn to get me nearer to the geocache I was seeking out, and parked at the Hermaness Visitor Center. I learned upon arriving that Hermaness is a national nature reserve, specifically providing a refuge for migratory birds. (All I saw there was seagulls and sheep - lots of sheep.)

The circumstances under which I almost lost my life in the Hermaness National Nature Reserve shall be the topic of my next post on my Debacle in Shetland.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

High Adventure in Edinburgh!

CN Homeboy is a great guy, but he gives lousy advice.

Back in January, I was planning to make a quick run down to Edinburgh to visit an "army navy store" - what we Yanks would call a surplus store - to buy a service sweater - or, as my Marine colleagues would call it, a "wooly pully". It's one of a handful of uniform items the Americans and Brits have in common, and they're fantastic. They're lightweight, warm, durable, go great with a pair of Carhartts, and can be worn under a light or heavy jacket. I had decided that, given my relative lack of intermediate warm clothing, I ought to get a service sweater.

I mentioned this to several of my classmates, and CN Homeboy informed me that instead of going all the way down to Edinburgh, I could go to McKay's in Aberdeen and save myself the trip. Unfortunately, McKay's didn't have a green or black service sweater - they only had light grey. I ended up getting one, but in all honesty, the thing's way too light in color, doesn't match any of my existing kit, and never gets worn. This was the third-worst advice that CN Homeboy has ever provided, following:

Second worst: "This cab stand's got a shorter queue than the one down the other way, and it's only a two minute walk." In fact, the queue was just as long, and it was at least a ten minute walk, uphill, at 2:00 AM.

Worst: "Scotland should secede." I've discussed this one at length.

Anyway, in need of at least one more sweater ("jumper") to give me some options as the weather gets warmer, I decided a couple of weeks ago that the time had come to visit Leith Army Stores/LAS Outdoors on Leith Walk in Edinburgh. On a Friday, on a whim, I decided that I had nothing I needed to accomplish, and gave them a ring to make sure they had them in stock, then had them put one on hold for me. I caught the bus down to the Aberdeen city center, got the noon train to Edinburgh, and was on my way. Once I arrived, I walked downhill, and eventually found the shop. I browsed a bit, then paid for my service sweater and was on my way back up the hill. I enjoyed lunch at the KFC in the Princes Mall in Edinburgh, mainly on account of the Pepsi that came with my meal - for some reason, I've been jonesin' for some Pepsi for a while now - and then decided to kill some time with a couple of drams in the Balmoral Bar, where I'd enjoyed some fine spirits when Gus visited last year. As I drank, I read from Imperial Grunts on my Kindle.

Edinburgh had one more afternoon surprise in store. I decided to use the loo - thirty pence, highway robbery! - before getting on the train to head back to Aberdeen. As I was washing my hands, I saw a guy walk in dressed as Waldo. I figured it was some promotion for a shop or something. When I walked back out into the main concourse, I saw four guys standing together, all of them dressed as Waldo. Then, in the distance, I saw a giant gaggle of them. So, I approached the small group, and asked: "Okay, I'll bite. Why are you guys all dressed up like Waldo?" One of them looked furious, then calmed down and explained that in the United Kingdom, "Waldo" is "Wally". Of course, I had to get my picture taken with these guys, who were getting ready to board a train from Waverley to Haymarket - Edinburgh's other station - for the beginning of a stag weekend (bachelor party in the American vernacular). Unfortunately, a couple of them - including the enthusiastic chap in the glasses who's standing right next to me in the picture - actually missed their stop, and had to stay on the train until the next stop, which was nearly an hour later.

With my high adventures in Edinburgh (which is normally about the most boring city in Scotland) complete for the day, I was glad to get back to Aberdeen. In CN Homeboy's defense, if he'd kept his mouth shut in the first place, I might never have gotten my picture taken with twenty guys dressed up like Waldo/Wally.

The Gear: Fun With a GPS

I used to love my Garmin eTrex. Now, I love my Garmin eTrex Vista. I got the Vista when I was working in the Middle East with the intention of using it for my work, but didn't get the opportunity. I started screwing around with it near the end of my stint, and ended up downloading EasyGPS in order to use the Vista's USB port connect it to my laptop. I ended up figuring out that the .GPX files used by programs interfacing with a GPS utilize XML, which is similar to HTML, which I'm actually pretty familiar with. So, while I've been here in Aberdeen, I've started screwing around with EasyGPS, the .GPX files, and the Vista.

During my recent trip to Shetland, my goal was to spend most of my trip finding geocaches. That's another story for an upcoming post in the series on Shetland, but I've written about geocaching in Aberdeen before, and one of the ways I've been learning more about the system is by taking the data off of the Geocaching website, creating my own waypoints by hand in the .GPX XML file, and then loading those waypoints onto my Vista. Since Wikimapia also uses the decimal coordinate system that the .GPX files use, I've used a combination of the Geocaching website's coordinate converter and Wikimapia to create waypoints.

Here's an example. On the western end of Aberdeen, you've got two different locations of note: SYHA Aberdeen, and the Gordon Highlanders Museum. Back in October, I went back to the SYHA hostel where I stayed in 2004 to get a grid on my GPS. That waypoint is listed below, with the pointy brackets ( > and < ) replaced by squared brackets ( ] and [ ) to keep Blogger from getting confused. That top portion in bold is the part with the coordinates.
[wpt lat="57.14252391" lon="-2.12983816"]
[cmt]04-OCT-12 21:23:53[/cmt]
[sym]Flag, Blue[/sym]
[type]Flag, Blue[/type] [extensions]
[label xmlns="http://www.topografix.com/GPX/gpx_overlay/0/3"]
So, let's say that I want to change the waypoint from SYHA Aberdeen, and use it to create a new waypoint for the Gordon Highlanders Museum, which I visited with Gus in November. I get the coordinates by finding the museum on Wikimapia (possibly with the help of Google Maps, which has a better search function for locations within cities). Here's the link from Wikimapia:
So, by taking that 57.137497 and -2.146432, and plugging it into that top line, and then changing a few more items, we get this:
[wpt lat="57.137497" lon="-2.146432"]
[cmt]04-OCT-12 21:23:53[/cmt]
[sym]Flag, Blue[/sym]
[type]Flag, Blue[/type] [extensions]
[label xmlns="http://www.topografix.com/GPX/gpx_overlay/0/3"]
I usually put in something standard for things like time, date, and elevation. Elevation's a bit tougher to get from online maps, and doesn't really matter as much as the coordinates themselves when you're trying to navigate using a GPS handset. Before I went up to Shetland, I loaded waypoints for ten geocaches. A couple of weeks ago, I went through all of the waypoints currently contained on my Vista, reformatted them for manipulation in Excel, organized them into categories (and identified a few of them with vague names/labels), and saved them to a text file for future use. The intent is to have a list of important waypoints - for example, seventeen geocaches for an upcoming trip to Oman - that can be copied and pasted into a .GPX file and then loaded onto my Vista as needed. It also allows me to both backup and store waypoints I no longer need (for example, my old apartments) without taking up memory in my Vista itself.

Next on my agenda to figure out is how the XML for tracks works. You set the GPS to record your movement from one place or another, and it creates a track. If I needed to pre-load a specific route between two or more waypoints, I'd do it by finding a bunch of locations and then stringing them together as a track. I need to figure out the order by which track points ("trkpt") and track segments ("trkseg") fit within tracks ("trk") to tell the GPS where to draw the line. It shouldn't be too hard, I just need to screw around with a sample track. This will also help me to understand how to do honesty traces, which I read about a few years ago and would really like to learn how to do for my risk management work. In the mean time, having successfully loaded those geocaching waypoints into into my Vista was a great step in the right direction.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Around Aberdeen: Gurkha Kitchen

I was hanging out with CN Bones on Wednesday, and ended up parting company near her place. I've been trying to walk more lately, so I decided to go for a bit of a constitutional. While walking down George Street - Aberdeen's second high street after Union Street - I made an astonishing discovery. What's that? A Nepalese restaurant? And it's called the Gurkha Kitchen? And they deliver? They have a website and everything?

Hachi machi. This changes everything.

I still love Lionel's, and eat there once or twice every week. And I've figured out how to order from Papa John's (spoiler alert, it's not that tough!). Even so, the ability to diversify a bit with Nepalese food - which is delicious - is a welcome change of pace. I checked out the Gurkha Kitchen's menu online (web/PDF), and on Thursday night I ordered the momo dumplings, some saag paneer, pilau rice, and two strips of plain naan. The naan wasn't the best I've ever had - more on that in an upcoming post - but it was pretty good, and the rest of my meal was fantastic. I will most definitely be ordering from the Gurkha Kitchen again.

I have a sort of unhealthy obsession with Nepal, similar to my unhealthy obsessions with Orkney and Oman. When I worked in the Middle East, one of my duties was overseeing a team of about forty guys, most of whom were from Nepal. I have never had a bad experience with someone from Nepal. They're extremely polite, efficient, trustworthy... I just can't say enough good things about these people. I'm about the most ardent American patriot that most people are likely to find, but I'll admit freely that I'm more likely to enjoy the company of someone from Nepal than I am to enjoy the company of other Americans. My Nepalese team (and their Indian, Bangladeshi, and Sri Lankan colleagues, though most of the team was from Nepal) always had my back, and I took that seriously then, and continue to take it seriously now. Someday, I will visit Nepal.

Nepal is perhaps most famous for the Gurkhas, legendary soldiers - probably the best soldiers on the planet - who most famously fight for the British Army in the Brigade of Gurkhas, but also in the Indian Army and the Singapore constabulary. One of today's best independent journalists, Michael Yon, spent time with the Gurkhas back in 2009 (I, II, III; warning, Yon's website has been subject to malware attacks in recent months, don't click unless your virus software is up to snuff), and noted not only their professionalism and effectiveness as a fighting unit, but also their ability to communicate with Afghans by speaking Hindi. In recent years, Nepalese/Gurkha soldiers have been subject to criticism for allegedly causing a Cholera outbreak in Haiti, and for beheading a dead Taliban commander. I prefer to focus on the legends surrounding their tireless service - and more recent stories, like Sergeant Dipprasad Pun winning the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross by fighting off thirty Taliban single-handedly, at one point by beating them with his machine gun tripod after he ran out of ammunition. The Nepalese are eager to exploit the reputation of the Gurkhas, but the truth is that every Nepalese person I've ever met has embodied the character that makes the Gurkhas so legendary in the first place.

As it turns out, CN GBU-16 is also a pretty big fan of the Nepalese. In conjunction with the St. Machar Rotary Club (Aberdeen has multiple Rotary clubs!?), GBU-16 and some of her colleagues raised nearly £1500 (their goal was £500!) at a casino night at one of Aberdeen's churches-turned-pubs, Soul Casino on Union Street in the Aberdeen city center. About a week later, GBU-16 and two of her colleagues left for a month in Nepal to deliver the funds and oversee some of the initial construction of a library for a Nepalese primary school. I was in regular contact with GBU-16 during her trip, and although it was a great challenge for her, she had the time of her life. (She was also gracious enough to bring me two gifts: a 7th Duke of Edinburgh's Own Gurkha Rifles pin from the Gurkha Memorial Museum in Pokhara, and a Gurkha hat with a Brigade of Gurkhas pin from a shop in Kathmandu. In the very near future, I foresee the two of us having an SND study session in the SOC while eating chow delivered from the Gurkha Kitchen.

Oddly enough, another Nepalese restaurant turned into a pivotal element of the recent debacle in Shetland... But more on that later.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Debacle in Shetland: Travel by Ferry

Before my trip to Shetland, I'd taken the MV Hrossey twice: once in 2004, and then again back in October. The Hrossey and the MV Hjaltland constantly rotate on the run up to Shetland, stopping at Kirkwall on some of those runs. For this trip to Shetland, I elected to get a cabin on both legs of the trip so that I could get some sleep and a shower before arriving in Shetland, and back in Aberdeen. I was on the Hrossey ("Rossey") for the trip up on Monday, and on the Hjaltland ("Yaltland") for Wednesday's trip back down.

Many years ago, my family took two cruises aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship MS Viking Serenade, which Wikipedia (the undisputed and infallible source of all knowledge) claims was built as a "cruiseferry" in the first place. At any rate, the cabins aboard the Hrossey and the Hjaltland remind me of the ones my family slept in aboard the Viking Serenade. The Hrossey and Hjaltland are considerably smaller, of course, with only two decks of space available for passengers to move about.

Deck five consists of berths and the reception desk, while deck six has a forward lounge, movie theater, gift shop, midships bar, and aft dining room. An observation deck on deck six, abaft the dining area, overlooks the mooring gear on deck five, as well as the area behind the ship. In addition to other available menu items, the dining room makes a point of showcasing Orkney beef and Shetland lamb. Another observation deck, possibly on deck eight, gives a much more extensive view restricted only by the ship's exhaust stacks and bridge. With camera in hand, on both the sailings, I was the last man standing on the upper observation deck once we'd departed.

The service is operated by under the Northlink Ferries brand, the contract for which was taken over by Serco Group PLC, which submitted the winning bid to the Scottish Government in what has become a somewhat controversial development among the Islanders. Regardless, the Northlink crews provide a great service, and although my October sailing to Orkney left me pretty nauseous, my other three passages have been excellent. My first cabin had two berths and a porthole, while my second cabin was internal and had four berths. I know what you're all asking yourselves, and the answer is: "Yes, of course I slept on the top bunk. Who wouldn't?"

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Care Packages from Home

Care packages from home are a great thing. They arrive very rarely, and only generally when solicited. I've gotten a couple of them lately, one solicited, and one unsolicited, and I want to take a moment to thank those who sent them.

About a week before Easter, I got an unexpected package. Inside the wrapping was some tin, and in all honesty, I can't remember what its original contents had been. When I received it, it contained both children's artwork and cookies - two different kinds of molasses cookies, to be exact. My friend Jenny had asked via Facebook whether I would eat raisins, and had offered no more information after I'd answered in the affirmative. She made me two kinds of molasses cookies - with and without raisins - and sent them. They had sort of a pumpkin spice quality to them, though I don't know how they were actually flavored. They were delicious; but, more than being delicious, they were a great reminder of my friendship with Jenny and her husband, and out many great adventures together as undergraduates.

The other great care package I received a couple of weeks ago was sent by Landlady. I needed two items: a Nobody Likes John Kerry T-shirt, and a copy of The Bear Went Over the Mountain by Lester W. Grau. Landlady shoved a bunch of additional stuff into the box, to include a can of Spam(?), a bar of soap that allegedly smells like beer, and several other sort of "hometown" items that I'll leave up to the imagination. In exchange, by the end of this week a box full of "FORIEGN STUFFFS" - the original exchange rate for sending the John Kerry T-shirt - will be winging its way back across the Atlantic to thank Landlady (and Mr. Landlady) for their generous contribution.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Physical Training Plan

A while ago, I noted in this post that some of the items I intend to read in the next couple of months include the following:

  • Naval Special Warfare Physical Training Guide
  • Naval Special Warfare Injury Prevention Guide
  • Special Operations Nutrition Guide
  • Ranger School Prep

    One might look at all of this and assume that I intend to pursue a future career in special operations. No, certainly not. What I do hope to do at some point, however, is complete the BUD/S Warning Order workout, which is designed to prepare guys for initial Navy SEAL training. I don't ever expect to get to that level of physical fitness, mainly because I hate running (love swimming, sort of enjoy hiking) and I'm addicted to eating as many empty calories as I can shove into my face in a given day. I would, however, like to be in better shape than I am now, and to feel better about both my physical appearance and my health. Hopefully, between slightly improved weather and less time taken up with classes, I'll be able to make it happen over the summer.

    I also suggested to CN Warden that we might be able to organize a group to exercise together. CN Ness exercises, and CN Homeboy is a pretty avid runner with a half marathon or two under his belt. I'm always more likely to hit the gym when a little accountability is involved.
  • Friday, April 19, 2013

    Debacle in Shetland: Jokes About Shetland

    Several of my friends, whom will remain nameless, have some experience with Shetland. When I began planning my trip, one of them provided me - quite unexpectedly, in fact - with some jokes about Shetland. Once my adventure took its biggest unexpected turn, I started making some up for myself. Here are some of the highlights.

    * * *

    Anonymous Commentator #1: Here's a joke you can tell up there. Questions - How do we know that ET is a Shetlander ? Answer - Because he looks like one.
    Tom: You're going to get me thrown into the North Sea, aren't you?
    Anonymous Commentator #1: Or - Why do Orcadian like to see a nice sunset ? Because they can imagine that Shetland is on fire.

    * * *

    A Shetlander walks into his bedroom with a sheep under his arm while his cousin is lying in bed reading. The Shetlander says: "This be the cow I spend me nights with when ye've got a headache." His cousin replies: "Ye be daft, beuy! That be a sheep!" The Shetlander replies: "I wasn'a talkin' to ye!"

    * * *

    Q: If a group of Shetlanders is about to attack you, what do you do?
    A: Distract them by shouting, "Look! Someones's attractive cousin!"

    * * *

    Anonymous Commentator #2: I'm in a quiet cab on a train to Glasgow. I'll give you a call this evening if that's okay?
    Tom: Perfect. Be prepared to chortle and guffaw.
    Anonymous Commentator #2: It better be worth the call back!
    Tom: Let me put it this way: you'll get to laugh at my expense!
    Anonymous Commentator #2: Not if I ring you. And you've certainly put the pressure on yourself by saying I'll laugh. I might not. I'm in a poor mood. I took my Mac to Glasgow this morning. At the Apple store for 9 am. The chap said it could be up to ten days and would probably be two days minimum. So I came home. Walked in the door, sat down, rubbed my eyes. My phone rang! Apple saying the work was done. 3 hours. So I'm now on a train back up!
    Tom: Now that I've laughed involuntarily at your expense, I promise no Mac jokes during the phone call. Trust me, you'll laugh. It involves a blister, a change of trousers, Unst, and Oklahoma.
    Anonymous Commentator #2: I've heard it!
    Tom: No, not that one. This story doesn't involve incest.
    Anonymous Commentator #2: All Shetland jokes involve incest.
    Tom: One that Anonymous Commentator #1 told me involves fire but no incest.
    Anonymous Commentator #2: I've heard that one too.
    Tom: Then you'll LOVE this story and I'll only have to explain it to you twice.
    Anonymous Commentator #2: Ha! If it's good, I'll laugh. If it's poor, I'll change my phone number.
    Tom: Empty threat. You don't know how to change your phone number and --'s off at Uni. I'll let you get back to fuming at Apple. Speak with you this evening.
    Anonymous Commentator #2: Okay but it better be funny.

    * * *

    Poor Anna... I mean, Shetland. "All Shetland jokes involve incest"? Harsh.

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    The Songs That Remind You 6: Taylor Swift Special Edition!

    Truth be told, I'm just a scoche sweet on Taylor Swift. I realize that she's crazy, and that her entire career is based on a long string of failed relationships, but she's adorable, and I enjoy a number of her songs. She's been promoting her current album, Red, since shortly before I arrived in Scotland. I've been enjoying some of the songs off of the new album, but perhaps moreso, I've been enjoying some of the parody versions even more.

    For example, there's Trouble...

    ... which led to the viral parody involving a now-infamous goat...

    ... which, in turn, has gained perhaps as much notoriety as the original version, as evidenced by this audience performance before some other band's concert.

    During my recent trip to Shetland, I heard Taylor's new single, 22. I have to admit, I initially misinterpreted the title of the song. I figured that she was singing about acting like she's younger than she is, but since she's only recently turned twenty-three, I guess she's actually singing about acting wild and crazy because she's young.

    I think she's great, but when she sings that line, "You don't know about me, but I bet you want to", I can't help but think to myself, "Run, dude! Run for your life, get out of there, you have too much to live for!" Funnier than that, perhaps, is another parody video that I caught when a friend posted it on Facebook. I've taken to acting much younger than my age here in Aberdeen, but I can remember a time from 2007 to 2010 when this version rang uncomfortably true to my own lifestyle!

    In the long run, these two songs in particular will be among the growing list of popular musical offerings that will remind me of my time in Scotland on Operation Highlander. Thanks, Taylor!

    Monday, April 8, 2013

    Separated by a Common Language: Part 2

    Following up on one of my early posts, here's another edition of more words that cause confusion by being different from the words we use in the States.

  • "boot and bonnet" - The "boot" of a car is its trunk, and the "bonnet" of a car is its hood. Something you'll see advertised over here is a "car boot sale", which is like a rummage sale or flea market.
  • "casualty" - The emergency room at a hospital is called "casualty". They also use the word "hospital" slightly differently - not the word itself, but the syntax involved in discussing it. Perhaps the best example is that one goes to hospital, not to the hospital; someone is in hospital, not in the hospital.
  • "chemist" - A chemist is a pharmacy, or maybe more accurately what we'd call a drug store. It always reminds me of the Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet.
  • "chips" - "Chips", in British vernacular, are what Americans would call "fries". What Americans would call "chips", Brits call "crisps".
  • "college/university" - In America, we tend to use the word "college" a lot more frequently. Here in the United Kingdom, "college" is different from "university". I think the easiest way to explain it would be to say that in the United Kingdom, "college" is about the equivalent of what Americans would call "community college" or "trade school". It's much more vocational than the concept of "college" in American parlance. By comparison, "university" in British vernacular is pretty much exactly equivalent to what Americans would refer to interchangeably as "college" or "university", with an American "university" being a large college, or a major state college, or perhaps a college that includes research and postgraduate programs.
  • "dual carriageway" - A dual carriageway is what Americans would refer to as a "four lane highway" - it's a street or road with multiple lanes going in the same direction. In conversation, CN Chatti has occasionally judged locations based upon whether or not they had any dual carriageways.
  • "hamper" - Several times, particularly during the Christmas season, I was offered several chances to enter my name into a drawing for a "hamper". I finally figured out that they were talking about a gift basket.
  • "industrial estate" - I'm not sure that we really have an equivalent to this in the American dialect, other than maybe an "industrial park". It's an area that's sort of zoned for business or industry, but maybe not so much in a retail sense of those words.
  • "inverted commas" - For some reason, the Brits (or at least the Scots) call quotation marks "inverted commas".
  • "invigilator" - You might think that an "invigilator" sounds like someone who's going to disembowel you. In fact, it's the word for "proctor" - someone who supervises students while they're sitting for an exam.
  • "revision" - The Brits call review, as in reviewing for an exam, "revision". It drives me absolutely crazy.
  • "paper round" - Paper route.
  • "scheme" - Programs, and particularly government programs, are referred to as "scheme". For example, the government might have an "employment scheme" or a "housing scheme". This is sort of unsettling for me, as "scheme" tends to have a negative, almost conspiratorial context in the American vernacular.
  • "lie in" - In the United Kingdom, if you sleep late, you're "having a lie in" - it's basically the equivalent of sleeping in.
  • "sick" - Vomit. This works in a couple of different contexts. For example, if you've just vomited, you'd say, "I've just been sick", not "I just puked my guts out". If you're holding a baby and it vomits on you, you might say, "I've got baby sick on my shirt".

    I realize that it's basically been six months since I did one of these, and I'll try to do at least one more before I leave. I'm probably getting used to a lot of the linguistic nuances, so it may be more difficult, but it's worth the effort. I'll admit, the accents still give me some trouble every now and again - probably moreso than the words themselves.
  • Sunday, April 7, 2013

    Around Aberdeen: Batman @ The Belmont

    I was on the verge of going up to Shetland during the last weekend of March, and ended up delaying until Monday the first because of a really cool event that took place in Aberdeen on Sunday: a marathon viewing of The Dark Knight Trilogy. I enjoyed all three of Christopher Nolan's Batman films, and I loved the finale. As I was doing some errands during the last week of March, I happened to see a poster out of the corner of my eye, and decided that it was worth delaying my trip for.

    Aberdeen - or, at least, the Aberdeen City Center ("Centre"), has three movie theaters - "cinemas" in that British vernacular. (It's always really amusing to see when American accented characters, like the M&M characters, saying "cinemas" when they should actually be saying "theaters".) The biggest is (probably?) the Cineworld at the Union Square mall, where I've gone for most of the movies I've seen in Aberdeen. Next is the Vue, which is where I went with CN Sister, CN Warden, and a couple of CN Warden's friends to see Les Misérables (against my better judgment!). Finally, there's the local semi-independent/art house (which is to say, recently purchased by Cineworld from what I hear) cinema, The Belmont Picture House, or "The Belmont" for short. It was The Belmont that hosted this event, and they nailed it. It was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

    The staff were all dressed in costumes from the franchise, and I got my picture taken with a few of them. (If I'd been able to get a hold of a Tom Hardy-esque Bane mask, I would have participated in the costume contest for the attendees. I didn't start snapping pictures until right before the third movie started, so I didn't get my own pictures of several of the employees in costume, but The Belmont has a Facebook page, and they've got pictures of the whole staff here. They got pretty creative with their costuming, and I have to say that it was really impressive. Another highlight was that the employee playing Batman - who did a great job of co-hosting alongside the Joker - was spotted from Union Terrace Gardens, photographed having a cigarette behind the theater, and it was posted to Twitter with this caption:

    Batman spotted nipping out the back for a fag

    Another highlight was that CN Constable, who hasn't been mentioned yet but will be mentioned in the next Dramatis Personnae update, texted me right before the second film. He'd seen that I'd posted about the event on Facebook, and was tending bar down the street, so he invited me into the pub for a pint. I took him up on his offer during the second intermission, and discovered that a pub I'd walked past a number of times is actually a really cool little venue called The Tippling House. I intend to drag the other Strategists in there the next time we hold a pub crawl.

    Back at The Belmont, they had a number of promotions, such as the aforementioned costume contest and a Batman-themed quiz in which the contestants won fabulous prizes, except for someone who won the booby prize - a copy of Batman and Robin! Everyone who made it through to the end received a little gift bag with some promotional materials (mainly just advertisements for future events at The Belmont, as well as a certificate congratulating participants in making it all the way through. You'd better believe that the certificate will make it back to the States with me as a souvenir of one of the coolest events I've attended during my time in Aberdeen.

    Saturday, April 6, 2013

    Debacle in Shetland: My Initial Reaction

    I've enjoyed both of my trips to Orkney, far more than I probably should have. As a result, I've developed a sort of fixation on the Northern Isles. Part of the reason why I was interested in coming to Aberdeen was for its transport connections to the Northern Isles; so, in addition to visiting Orkney again, I wanted to visit Shetland. I was about ready to do it in mid-March, but ended up having several different academic and social commitments that took precedence. In early April, I got things sorted out and went north.

    While politically and geographically independent of one another, Orkney and Shetland are inextricably linked. They share a common history - for example, Shetland is mentioned repeatedly in the Orkneyinga Saga - and there are plenty of similarities between the two. They're only separated by about fifty or sixty miles of ocean. I expected Shetland to be fairly similar to Orkney, but with some of its own local history and culture to enjoy.

    At this point, I'd like to fall back on an anecdote. I went to high school with these two sisters, whom we'll call Lauren and Anna. The older sister, Lauren, was very popular, gorgeous, a varsity cheerleader, had a very effervescent personality, and dated several of the most popular guys in school. I think her younger sister, Anna, had a hard time measuring up to that example. She had a reputation for being a lot more prudish than Lauren, she wasn't as pretty, and had a more severe personality, which meant that she sort of fell into Lauren's shadow. You just knew that if you wanted to have fun, you should hang out with Lauren, not with Anna.

    In case you hadn't figured out where I was going with that story, Orkney is Lauren and Shetland is Anna. That's not to say that Shetland's horrible - it's certainly not! - but it just sort of doesn't measure up to its neighbor to the southwest.

    There are plenty of things in Shetland's favor. First and foremost for me is that it just plain happens to be out further than Orkney - as great as Orkney is, there's further to go. Second, even though Shetland's landscapes and vistas aren't really as pretty as those in Orkney, some of them have some charm - for example, there are places in Shetland that initially reminded me of Wyoming, and that's a good thing because I love Wyoming. Third, and probably more important to the Shetlanders, is that the people of Shetland were phenomenally friendly and helpful, and even though I didn't interact that much with them, they lived up to their Orcadian cousins' example for hospitality.

    Unfortunately, Shetland seems to fall short in some other areas. First, as far as I can tell, there's nowhere near as much for visitors to do as there is in Orkney. Second, Shetland's scenery just isn't as pretty as Orkney - much less green, a lot more dark brown foliage that makes it look like Shetland suffered from some scorched earth attacks. In fact, at times, the landscape's appearance (though not its actual composition) began to remind me of Oklahoma in a lot of cases, and Oklahoma is hideous. Third, there were several incidents that were such a hassle that it really made it hard to like the place.

    I judge my vacations ("holidays" in the British vernacular) against two or three extreme examples: Orkney and Muscat on the good end, and Beirut on the bad end. Shetland falls somewhere in the middle, probably leaning more toward Orkney and Muscat. I'm very glad that I went, and it certainly wasn't the worst trip I've ever taken, but it really didn't live up to my unreasonably high expectations following my two euphoric trips to Orkney. The result was that the second day became sort of a running joke in which I began keeping track of all of the weird, silly things that I saw or did. Shetland became a sort of Bizarro Orkney.

    So, over the course of the next few weeks, I'll recount my two days of adventures - or, perhaps, misadventures - in Shetland.

    Thursday, April 4, 2013

    How to Wear a Kilt

    I've gotten a lot of grief over the years - and possibly even more respect - for wearing kilts from time to time. I have to admit, I've never actually worn a full kilt, but I've made a pretty good effort at it as I've been able. My buddy Chops (who's reading this) helped me quite a bit, and we some kilted adventures back in '07 - much to the amusement of his Japanese wife and my Okinawan girlfriend at the time.

    Anyway, a lot of effort goes into wearing a kilt properly. The other day, completely by chance, YouTube gave me an advert for Slater's, which is apparently a kilt shop. For those of you who are curious about what goes into wearing a kilt - and those of you who are interested in seeing some dude in pink boxer-briefs - this video will be of interest to you.

    "How to wear a Kilt - Slaters"

    So, there you have it. I'm a descendent of Clan Cleland on my dad's side, and Clan Crawford on my mum's side. I'm hoping to get a Clan Cleland kilt to take home with me, but I've run into a bit of trouble with it, so I suppose we'll see.

    Monday, April 1, 2013

    IRN-BRU Adverts

    I continue to drink IRN-BRU, the national soft drink of Scotland, which I first mentioned soon after arriving. IRN-BRU has some pretty entertaining commercials, so I figured I'd share a couple of them with you folks.


    "New Fella"

    Plus, it tastes pretty good. My buddy the Man of Steel wants me to bring as much of it home to him as I possibly can... I'm not sure how that's going to work, but whatever, I'll figure something out.