Thursday, 8 October 2009

The weekend that was: pub golf, birthday's, haggis, and music

I apologize for the big gap in posts. We’ve had spotty internet access for the last several days so I have a wee (aside: this is an amazingly useful word) bit to catch you up on. This past weekend I stuck in Edinburgh again instead of traveling, and did a bit more exploring. After I got back from Rosslyn on Friday my flatmates invited me out to their triathlon club’s Pub Golf outing. For those who don’t know what this is I will give a brief explanation. The game consists of nine “holes” (=pubs). Each has a specific drink to purchase at that pub, and your score is based on the number of quaffs it takes you to finish. Par for the hole is adjusted by the difficulty of the drink and at the end of the night the lowest score wins an entire year’s worth of gloating and a nasty hangover. Requisite in the entire matter is traditional golf clothing, with extra credit for looking as ridiculous as possible. This is me and several of my flatmates out in the middle of the night. Many thanks to Blair Tweedie for outfitting me with all of that fancy dress. Unfortunately because we got to the game late I only competed in 5 holes but I am happy to say that I did you all proud with 4 hole in ones (Guinness, ale, vodka mixer, lager), and a 2 stroke on a rather difficult par 5 two part “dog-leg” hole which required 2 Smirnoff ice’s back to back.

Saturday was jam packed. I got up and traipsed around the city, finding the hostel we had stayed in the last time as well as our (Stoner, Helter, and I) favorite doner kebab shop. Had a coffee in the Elephant House which is famous for being where JK Rowling wrote much of the first Harry Potter but I think it should be much more famous for its unbelievable view of the castle. Sauntered down the royal mile listening to bagpipers, stopping for a pint or two, and then headed home. Unfortunately I forgot my camera on this outing so I have nothing to show for it but trust that I will not make that mistake again.

Saturday night was the planned celebration for Lisa’s birthday, but first I was invited out to dinner by Sarah and the vet school ladies for a traditional meal of Haggis and Tatties. I had never tried haggis before as I was scared to death to pay for an entire dinner of what I thought amounted to the Scottish version of hot dogs. I am man enough to admit that not only was I completely wrong about this dish, I am seriously considering petitioning the US to allow Haggis to be made back home (interesting fact: it’s illegal in the states because it contains sheep lung and that has been deemed unsafe for human consumption in the states). It’s incredible. It has a texture similar to ground meat but stickier so it’s easier to eat with a fork, and tastes a bit like a spiced combination of venison and buffalo meat. I loved it so much that I’ve managed to convince my flatmates to cook it for me before I go. After Haggis I returned to my flat where a night of American style drinking games was afoot and I captained my rag tag team of mostly first-timers to absolute domination in flip cup. Went dancing with the flatmates as well as Sarah and the vet girls after that at Garibaldi’s again (same place I was at before, and just as enjoyable).

At this point I should explain British dancing, or at least my experience with it. Brits don’t dance like we do. The club plays the same music, people dress the same, there’s a pole in the middle of the dance floor at Garibaldi’s…but dancing in Edinburgh is strictly a no-contact event. Everyone just bobs up and down in the middle of the dance floor doing their absolute best not to even slightly brush their fellow dancers. As far as I can tell there are only four acceptable times for you to touch someone else on the dance floor: 1) if the two people are dating, and have been for at least a wee while, but perhaps not even then; 2) the other person has essentially already agreed to “pull” with you (note: pull is the slang word here for kissing/hooking up/dancing); 3) the other person is a prostitute; 4) you are an American that several people are friends with and see as a sort of novelty, such that dancing with you is equivalent to a tourist experience for them; 4a) you are a Brit who has traveled to America and is nostalgic for frat parties, and find yourself an American in Britain. I describe these rules in detail in hopes that future travelers to the UK will understand why the clubs look so weird, but can also find a way to take advantage of their “novelty” status.
Sunday was spent taking it easy, editing the Mulholland Clerkship report, and watching the Pats-Ravens game at the Pear Tree with the fine gentlemen I met in the Meadows last weekend. Monday was a long day at work followed by a trek down the Royal Mile again and topped off with movie night at the flat (aside: Seven Pounds is a phenomenal movie, but almost more depressing that it is uplifting).

The gem of the week so far was Tuesday night. I have been searching for a great live music venue since I got here and was finally told about a FREE once-a-month live acoustic show at a small club called Medina. Result! (coupling reference, hope you enjoyed that one) This is no lame open mic night at your local pub. This a bunch of seriously great entertainers who perform proper gigs throughout the city and some of whom tour the UK, who decide once a month to perform a free gig in a small, intimate setting for people who actually appreciate their music. The experience there was outstanding, even though we only got to hear 2 of the 4 acts. The first was an African guy who performed modern versions of traditional folk songs from his village. He sings them all in the native tongue, but his music is so evocative, and his descriptions of what the songs about so detailed, that the language barrier is not a bother and is almost a benefit. You are free to seek your own visions of what he is singing about without the intrusion of lyrics. I only wish he had CD’s to sell or website so that I could share the experience with you.

Believe it or not, the headlining act was even better. They are a 3 piece band called townhouse composed of a male bassist; a female lead singer who also plays ukulele, guitar, and an unnamed accordion like instrument that I will describe later; and another guy who plays guitar as well as what he called a “corin”. It’s a plywood box that you sit on as you play it, and inside it has different sized chambers that give different pitches when struck. Very simple instrument but I’ve seen it twice before (Gaelic storm uses it during the dueling Bodhran piece and A Good Natured Riot, which plays occasionally at Maya, uses it as their primary percussion) and this one included snares in the top chamber. The girl was an absolute powerhouse and had she not mentioned during the show that she was engaged I would likely have offered to marry her on the spot. Her voice was incredible with a ridiculously wide pitch range and packed full of emotion. She performed a solo song on a crazy instrument she had picked up in a bazaar in Darjeeling that was so good that when she finished it took several seconds for the entire crowd to pick their jaws up, return to reality, and join in to thunderous applause. She instrument looked like a plain wooden box, perhaps 8 inches by 4 inches by 3 inches. The panels on the long side fold down to reveal a squeezing apparatus similar to an accordion or Irish bagpipes (if you’ve seen them). The smaller long side contained dials which would alter the pitch. The instrument produced a constant drone similar to a bagpipe, with the dials altering the upper pitches (as many as 5 different pitches at a time that I could count). I can’t impress on you enough how difficult this instrument looked to play as there were no “fingerings” per se. She had to squeeze the box with one hand and alter the dials with the other but without fixed positions for defined notes and with the need to alter more than one dial simultaneously to not slur the pitch. I’ve never seen anything like it. Apart from the novelty of their instruments they play very good music which I will hopefully be able to post a sample of for you later (though they do have a myspace page if you care to look: search for townhouse sound). It’s a combo of indie (but the good kind); funk, a little bit of the blues, and trad music that I’ve been listening to nonstop for the last day. Incredible.

1 comment:

  1. Few things:

    I sympathize re: non-contact dancing. Australia was just as bad.

    Medina was the place we hit at the end of the Literature Pub Tour - Amazing little venue. There was another place that I cannot remember the name of, but it also had a similar scene: Famous musicians going to a chill little bar, hanging out, and taking part in songs as they felt like it. Excellent sense of community and culture.

    Still - I'm quite jealous - as is everyone else reading this set of posts - enjoy it as much as possible, as the time there is going to fly.