White Christmas

This is item number 7 in my Christmas Jukebox series, sort of like an advent calendar of posts about Christmas songs and what they mean. Read this then check out my earlier work, it’s fine stuff.

“Grab your pen and take down this song. I just wrote the best song I’ve ever written—heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!” – Irving Berlin

The year 1954
The band The Drifters

This list wouldn’t be complete without White Christmas, and though it hasn’t yet snowed much here in Prague, the song is about hoping and dreaming for a white Christmas, not celebrating the fact there is one.

The song is about memory, about tradition. The first version was by Bing Crosby all the way back in 1942.

That’s the 1947 version but I can’t imagine Bing changed it up too much like some remix or what have you. Given it’s about tradition and memory, why did I lead with the nontraditional and less well-known Drifters version first? Because it has a nice energy to it.

The Crosby version has a feeling of the Second World War to it. It’s got the pace of Vera Lynn. It’s not among my top 3 Crosby songs.

Well, did you Evuh? What a swell party this is.

{Digression: Part of this War feeling is maybe the fact that the writer was in a hotel that Frank Capra (director of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’) stayed at. How’s this for a fun fact, Capra ran the US army propaganda department during the Second World War and had a young Dr. Seuss on staff drawing pamphlets teaching US soldiers to protect themselves against malaria.}

During and immediately after the Second World War people were very keen on old traditions. People wanted to remember a time when the world was a lot less fascism and bombs flying and more gazing at snow falling. That’s probably why the song performed so well commercially. So much so that there’s at least 500 different versions of it.

It’s the best selling song ever. It will likely hold the record for physical single sales forever since there is no longer a mass market for CD, cassette, and vinyl. The closest competitor is Elton John with ‘Candle in the Wind’, and he’s 17 million singles short.

So, it’s a good and popular song and Crosby’s version is the natural choice. Nevertheless, I went with The Drifters.

My feelings towards the past is that sometimes we build it up too much. The present is actually fairly magical, given we can see it happen and notice our impact on it. I love historical study, all the fun facts, and I have a soft spot for certain traditions, but what’s the point of a good thing if you can’t touch it, edit it, interact with it?

I picked a nontraditional version of White Christmas because I support people interacting with the Christmas canon. There’s loads of songs out there, if you’d like, you can listen to all the different versions of White Christmas and tell me the best, so why stick with the well-beaten track?

I’ll get off my soapbox now. Enjoy the song and join me again tomorrow for another!

The writer of this piece would appreciate some snow, even though he spends a lot of time outside.

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Why I have (primarily) switched platform

It was with a heavy heart that I started a WordPress in the February of 2016. Opening up is painful and though I intended to keep it travel oriented, it quickly became my everything blog. A place where I could get personal, or talk about what I was cooking, or even some political noise. I built up my posts and got a bit of a readership, but now have realised it’s time to move on, slow these pastures to mellow as I explore fresher ground.

WIll I return? I will indeed! I will get into that shortly. But first, here is why I have moved to Medium.

Different strokes for different folks

WordPress is okay as a platform. It’s easy enough to get one and simple to share. There is 0 complexity in formatting or adding media to posts. It has the basics of being a platform down.

Where it fails is in really amplifying voices. In order to get your piece read you need to advertise repeatedly and draw in readers from your own social networks. Eventually you can build up a following, but it is a very slow process.

I’ve been on Medium 1 month and I’m already gathering a small number of fans, and garnering a decent number of views and reads beyond my own profiles. It’s a nice feeling. Which leads me to…

We live for the applause

Medium’s best innovation is giving people a clap button instead of a like button. This feature allows you clap up to 30 times for a post if you really like it. This lets users amplify the voices that they think really should be heard. This elevates those voices in an algorithm and spreads that writer’s piece further.

Responses on Medium are easy, and feel far more valuable than comments on WordPress. As WordPress is older, many accounts never respond. On Medium, comments mean higher rankings and so writers are incentivised to react to responders. It’s a useful system.

More eclectic fare

As I’ve suggested, my writing is eclectic. My topics are picked depending on what comes to my head first, and it therefore makes it harder to build an audience. Many people will only follow a person so they can big themselves up in that area.

Medium has an advantage in that it calculates what will reverberate wih you best based on what you’ve said interests you and who. You can follow a person for one thing but still see them for others. It’s a useful tool.

What I’ll stick with WordPress for

Regardless of my criticisms there are a few areas where WordPress is obviously superior. From what I can see, Medium’s openness facilitates easy movement between writers. Well, what if I want to keep them all in one place?

Perhaps there is a function that will perform this easily, but as far as I can tell it’s not automatically done like on WordPress.

The openness of the platform can sometimes feel eviscerating, as though the belly had been cut and the insides removed.

So for that reason, I will probably maintain a presence and some series’ on here. One benefit of the internet is that you don’t have to pick only one website for everything.

Coming up: 25 days of Christmas songs, what they mean, what they tell us, and why they make the season.

The writer of this piece is on Medium. You can find him here.

Shout a Bit

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Of course Johnny appreciated the blistering array of starlit expanse and the possibilities it seemed to offer, but he declined to mention this to Kathryn. It would be too much of a hassle to tell her that she was in a part of Scotland where sharing dreams was a bit like sharing needles; it seemed like a good idea at the time but it only served to fuck you up. – Glue, Irvine Welsh

When you’re looking for some modern Scottish wisdom there’s are few better places to look than the denouement of an Irvine Welsh novel. He captures so much of what it means to be Scottish, to have an uneasiness with the world. As a people, we’re actually pretty closed off most of the time. To my friends this would probably seem impossible, I talk quite a lot given the smallest provocation, but the truth is that, as with I hope everyone, there’s a lot more ticking away behind the eyes.

I shout from time to time to get things heard.

This is why I was so pleased when my old family friend Becca wrote a post on here. I can remember her talking about writing when we were younger, she was thinking of journalism at that point, but life gets in the way. It has this horrible habit of providing different ideas and inspirations, but then also dropping some immediate rent pavement or credit card bill through the post. Just when you want to do something great, an election or a family issue happens. Sometimes it’s your responsibility to do something else. It’s always gratifying to see people press on regardless. To shout in a world or a culture which suggests silence more often than speaking.

Maybe it’s a hangover from that whole Victorian idea of kids being “seen but not heard”. For women, it might be because they are told they are chatty and some of them don’t want to be stereotypical. For me, I probably keep some things to myself because that’s what being a man is, as I was taught. Guys are more often taught to be angry than say they are sad. If you’re sad, then you’re Some Crybaby or something, but if you’re angry, but the right kind of angry, not the silly sort of whinging angry, then you are being assertive and reasonable. Think Tony Soprano struggling with his anxiety attacks and turning it into anger because misery isn’t the sort of thing you express if you’re a boss.

It’s the same with dreams. They aren’t considered the right things to talk about in some parts of Scotland. In certain culture there’s a silence about that whole part of a person. It doesn’t feel like we talk about our wants and desires nearly enough. And so my reaction to this is that we all need to shout a bit more.

We need to do something.

There’s something about seeing others doing stuff that is inspirational. It’s the feeling that you aren’t alone, that whatever question you’re asking is also troubling someone else. It’s not schadenfreud, a love of another’s misery, but more of a kind of understanding, a spiritual connection with people searching for meaning. That’s  why people read. People absolutely should read, as well as possibly creating work for people like me, it also gives you so much more than it takes. And if people should read, then it also follows that they should also write. People should shout a bit.

Fortunately, we live in an age of mass production as well as mass consumption. Mass distribution is at our fingertips. For sure there are some people who create a lot more than others and some people who consume a lot without feeding back in, but we’re essentially now all at the level where we can easily use loudspeakers that connect us to a hundred plus people. We can share what we like and build each other up. We can shout together. This is the good side of social media. It’s now easier than ever to get your message, your world view, out there. It’s thrilling. The rush of shouting for the plain fun of it.

There are some massive downsides to it, of course. Things said on the internet don’t often go away, unless the company hosting that information goes bust and nobody saved a copy. But really this is a bigger problem for those who are viciously mean online than for others. If you’re not some dick you should shout!

Use these lungs that the internet gifted you and cry out!

Of course it’s terrifying at first to put anything out there. The fear of criticism is real. Worry less about other people. The biggest problem is usually the fear itself.  And conquering that fear is the prize.

The writer of this piece likes writing things telling people to write things but tries to only do it once a month.

When narratives break – Thoughts on the Czech election

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic – As the dust settles and clears following the recent Czech election, nobody looks especially cheerful. This is part and parcel of the normal Czech attitude to life. The country is pretty good, it’s culture satisfying and beer cheap, but corruption is an acknowledged issue, and there are complaints about the food quality and relatively low wages by European standards. Still, people don’t walk around with big smiles and don’t shout their political affiliation from the roofs.

Looking at the newspapers it could be tempting to look at the recent election gloomily. Indeed, ’Is the Czech Republic Turning On the West?’ by Jochen Bittner in the New York Times is keen to fit the Czech election into the narrative of Europe veering to the far-right and anti-establishment figures taking hold around the world. Though the ascendant far-right is a problem in Europe, the Czech Republic is neither distinct in this category nor especially pronounced. The far-right AFD got more of the vote (12.6%) in Germany than the far right SPD got (10.6%) in the Czech Republic. Furthermore, there is a real problem in how newspapers are reinforcing a broken narrative – that of the anti-establishment.

It happened in America with Donald Trump. He framed himself as somebody different and the news ran with that angle. Where was the criticism about the billionaire schmoozer sucking up to all kinds of political power? That gets hand-waved as “Just business”. He got painted as anti-establishment despite the fact that he’d made fat stacks from that very system. Where is his motivation to change it? A true anti-establishment candidate would have fewer riches and less grease on their palms.

This is a problem with Bittner’s take. He tells the same story about Andrej Babis (last name pronounced Babish), the winner of the Czech elections, framing him as an anti-establishment underdog. How Bittner accomplished this feat while noting that he’s a billionaire and the former finance minister is anybody’s guess. In truth, Babis is as establishment as Emmanuel Macron. He’s as connected to the political elite as anybody. Just because the guy under investigation for corruption says he is against corruption, doesn’t mean you should agree with him.

In fact, journalists more than anybody should be prepared to speak truth to power and call out politicians when they attack the status quo while embodying it.

Too many news sources have gone with this angle. The Guardian and The Independent have also fallen for this narrative. It is an extremely narrow read of the situation. The Financial Times is much more measured.

In addition, Bittner is extremely uncharitable towards the Czech people, most of whom didn’t vote for Babiš or Tomio Okamura of the SDP. Bittner is prone in his NYT piece to suggest the election results are some failing in the Czech electorate. He makes out that they are somehow unequipped for democracy and have illiberal minds. It’s a particularly offensive mischaracterisation of the Czech people, a people for whom freedom is so important. If the Czech seem not as eager to grasp further EU integration as others it probably has something to do with their history under Communism. The Czechs have fought vigorously for their democracy and independence and are hesitant to give it away quickly.

As it stands, I can only comment so far on this subject. My Czech skills are limited to finding simple objects and basic conversation. This being acknowledged, I can see a narrative and can smell when it’s wrong. It’s evident that even newspapers that are normally very good are pushing a narrative of right-wing and anti-establishment victory, probably owing to the current US situation. More people should counteract this because it’s spreading mistruths and making right wing dominance seem an inevitability. It is not an inevitability and people need to rise up and create a non-horrifying political party that can win votes.

How to work with people

Yesterday I had a wee chat with my friend Roisin who told me that she has worked with me more than anyone else. Here is a song to celebrate.

Thing is, just the other day my friend Teddy told me that he’d worked with me more than anyone else too.

Am I uniquely easy to work with? Not really, but there are definitely a few principles that make me a useful and easy person to work with which you can cultivate in your own life.

1) The work in itself

So a bit of critical theory here, I believe an infinite number of things can be created. Some of those things are better than others. Though objectivity in your own creations is extremely difficult, it is of absolute importance. You already know what the fuck ups are. It is already in everyone to solve them. Sometimes it needs a nudge.

What I mean by that is that in every creative endeavour it isn’t hard to see the fractures and flaws. Some of these are structural and necessary. Style is another name for mistakes. Other times problems should be ruthlessly cut out.

Working from this base is the foundation of collaboration.

Understanding that an objectively better piece of work is possible from whatever you’re reading is fundamental to providing decent, usable feedback.

2) Letting visions meet

Part of working with people is understanding that you have your own idea and they have their own idea about what should happen. It depends who is helping who.

If they are helping you; respect that they are giving you their time to make your work the strongest it can be. Also understand that you can make mistakes and their input is valuable to fix some of them.

(I’m not brilliant at this sometimes, one time I wrote that a horse had cloven hooves then refused to correct it because I liked the sound. Horses, famously, do not have cloven hooves.)

If you are helping them, it is important that you understand where they are coming from then be respectful in elbowing them in the right direction.

One time, I advised Roisin on taking the cannibalism out of the first scene as it’s kind of unrealistic when the guy ate only a few hours ago. She did and I believe the work benefitted.

If either of you are to make the best piece of work possible from the material, it takes respect and honesty.

3) Seperating people from perspectives

If you look in a mirror for a while you can sometimes notice the image reflected back does not concur with your own vision. There is a good reason for this involving bending light and the ocular nerves of the brain but I think it suffices to say that true reflections are sometimes more evasive than they appear.

Inscribed above the oracle of Delphi was the expression “Know thyself”, the first part to wisdom is to know where you are coming from. Sun Tsu said something similar, about battle being between knowledge of yourself and the enemy.

When it comes to working with people, you must be able to divorce their perspective from them as an individual. The fact is that our relation to every person on the world is different, there is a different energy to every connection. This can impact how you take on their feedback. It can also impair how you give it.

Most people don’t want to hurt or be hurt by those they hold close.

Accepting that there is a better standard of work just out there which they can help you secure, you must find a way to seek it uncoloured by predispositions.

And that is how you work with people. You form your vision, let your vision and theirs mingle, and then you decouple personality to truly let your minds merge. It is a magical process at the end and it’s always an honour to be involved so intimately in the process.

The writer of this piece could do with a tin and a cigarette

Superficial – Why to tell the truth more often

You have the love of humanity in your heart

I see it all the time. The Facebook pictures of nights out and the delicious food and the funny story, and people having great times all the time. It’s weird how social media encourages everyone to run around and say how great they are all the time.

It’s a truism, we live superficial lives. We are disconnected from everyone, communities are disintegrating, but in the midst of it all we all shout out “I’m fine” and don’t invite anyone else to care. This is a huge problem. Today I’m going to write about the problem, but also about some potential solutions.

The main problem with saying we live superficial lives is actually not that it’s true, but that as a statement it lacks all nuance. We must dive deeper – beneath the surface. We must dare to behold things as they are.

There are more methods of communication freely available to us than ever. Technology allows us to communicate with almost anyone via video call. Communities are easier to find and form than in previous ages. We have facilities our ancestors of 50 years ago couldn’t have dreamt of. The issue is not with possibility.

The superficial problem goes deeper, in that it is a crisis of consciousness. People don’t stop and think. Not with the good part of their brains, anyway. You can see this with the whole fake news and echo chambers thing. It works like so; you make people feel threatened, they retreat into their survival instinct lizard brain, reliant on thoughts they formed in their early years to survive, which goes back further into their collective imagination. From here it’s just a matter of writing addendums to their lizard thoughts. It’s dangerously enticing. It reaches across ideas, almost everything ever written has an agenda, but micro-targeting and algorithms have made these poisons so much more dangerous. Our ability to share quickly and easily spreads bad ideas quicker than good ones. Attractive lies are always easier to write. Our inability to think using our higher processors is making us worse than apes. It is the worst form of superficiality. The type of thin superficial philosophy encourages us to hate by charming our lizard minds.

What makes this more terrible is the fact that people are less receptive to new ideas, are quick to hate, block, and delete, and when they communicate they don’t do so wholeheartedly. We’re scared of being hurt. I was terrified p, I still am a bit, of someone coming up to me and tell me to drop the act. Now I’m pretty open and honest about who I am, so many of my stories end in some embarrassing situation for me, but the fear that somebody will discover the truth is frightening. Getting past these sorts of fears is essential to open communication.

I’m not perfect, but part of me is okay.

So the problem is twin. It is multiplicity and it is the closed off thinking that lies encourage. How do you combat lies? Honesty.

The Facebook posts that I really like but which can become too much are the ones where people admit they aren’t having a great time. Why’s that? It’s not that I hate my friends, far from it!, but because I get to see friendship in action. I go to see how they are but they already have 50 or 60 people seeing to them. That’s the power of being emotionally honest right there. It builds a network of people who really care.

From time to time I can seem pretty terrible. I think I’ve got a bit of a cynical streak about the way people are, but it’s because I envisage better. So please, get out of your lizard brain and stop spreading lies. Tell people you love them and care about them instead. The way it’s marketed can sometimes make love seem the most superficial thing in the world but anybody who actually feels it knows that it’s actually the most substantial.

The writer of this piece has stream of conscious’d most of this piece after a night involving some sauce and a couple of cheeseburgers. The burgers are the bigger problem.

via Daily Prompt: Superficial

A Love Story – What you learn from paperwork

In our increasingly global world it’s easier than ever for people to fall in love, regardless the colour of their passport. In the past it feels like a lot of these relationships would have been merely sexual, but it is stunningly common to find someone who isn’t from your country. I am one of three Scots that I knew in their 20s in a long term relationship with a non-Scot they met in another country. It’s brilliant, but it does present a challenge – borders.

And not just borders. The men and women who police borders.

Strangely, borders don’t come up in many love stories. I hear love story and I think dramatic death. It’s weird because if anything borders are far sadder. Imagine being stuck behind a basically invisible line, the person you love on the other side, and not being able to embrace or kiss them. With death, it’s just over. With borders you coninue living, but separate. It’s brutal, and it’s been the case for millennia.

Today is a nice time to live, relatively. It’s easier than ever to be with people you want to. It’s not always amazingly quick and it’s rarely totally simple, but with a few strokes of a pen you can be together. Treaty of Westphalia, be damned.

What this means, though, is that you have to do a lot of paperwork. Sometimes it’s in a foreign language, but I imagine it’d also be a bit of a pain to do in your own. It often involves going to several offices and waiting behind a different interminable queue of sweaty, irritated people in every one. It almost always has the impassive face of an office worker at the end. She sees hundreds of cases a day, from a thousand different tired faces, and she doesn’t like to bend very much.

All this paperwork has made me realise two contradictory thing. First of all, a form cannot express everything about a relationship. How could I explain to them that they should let my fiancée stay in Europe because I love it when she sings The Proclaimers in the kitchen and it’d please me greatly if she kept doing it?

These forms are obviously made to protect the border from being crossed by people they don’t trust to have good intentions or whom may become burdensome on social service skills or whatever, but at some point they realised they had to let people in love be together or lose some of their humanity, but if the form cannot encapsulate such information then how can they tell anybody is really in love and is justified in having one by such precepts? I’m sure less than reputable characters are willing to dive into the morass of bureaucracy. It’s a problem and it’s why borders are policed so heavily. People will do dangerous things to get into or out of some places.

Secondly, however, and in total contradiction, the process proves I love her. It’s quite apparent I love her. I am willing to do the paperwork. I can wait in the queues. I can go to offices staffed by Ukrainians and demand updated forms of a contract to prove we are together. I can be very persistent and light fires under bureaucrats to keep the process moving because I know she has a time limit so I also have a time limit as we are sharing our life and if these office sloths don’t stamp a little quicker it’s not just their time and not just my time but our time they are wasting.

Paperwork signifies commitment, and it teaches you to be true in your choices as well as your signatures. You don’t want to have to do more than you have to.

The writer of this piece is bristling with italics and has decided to itch them out on the end here for catharsis.

Scotland vs Catalonia

What’s fir ye’ll no go by ye – Scots proverb

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The referendum in Catalonia today brings up a few memories. I remember the promise that we might manage to break away from the UK and do something different, we could be something else. I remember how right it felt casting my ballot, and the anticipation. Could it happen? We now know that it didn’t quite happen that time, but it was a lot closer than it had been forecast a few months before. Catalonian today is a very different situation. We don’t know if there will be any international respect for the result, but I think it may be yes. The Spanish government seems so much worse at keeping an unnatural construction together than the British government is.

The Scottish brain is deterministic. We take it for granted that things just are, like they’re set in stone and don’t change. They never change. They can’t change. It’s not fate, or even some sort of divine will, necessarily, it’s just the nature of how we are. We like dark humour. Pretty sure it comes, in part, from the philosopher, John Calvin, who was so influential in the Scottish Kirk (‘kirk’ means church in Scots, for my international audience). Part of it may also be the Catholics with their guilt. We got all the most miserable religious traditions in Scotland, nothing too life-affirming.

When presented with an opportunity for change we are shy to take it unless it seems totally natural and necessary. It would alter natural laws if necessary change didn’t happen. Gravity prevails. Momentum grows until some force shrinks it. That’s probably why the independence referendum failed back in ’14, the change didn’t feel necessary enough for half the people.

Now Catalonia is having a referendum too, and I wonder how it’ll go. So far, it’s going badly. There’s violence reported on the streets, as the Spanish government has properly cocked it up. While the UK decreed a referendum could be legally run, the Spanish have decided to send in armed police. It’s neither a good look nor a good tactic.

It seems like the Spanish government have underestimated the appetite for a referendum. Referendums can be useful for putting matters to bed for a few years, or going disastrously wrong, so it’s diappointing that they’ve decided to go for the route which reeks of the Spanish dictator Franco. Catalans and the world will make these parallels quite easily.

What’s more, police violence – and I reckon it’s the police doing most of the hitting, the Catalonian independence movement is famed for its non-violent nature – suggests that there is no good reason to be part of Spain other than not being hit. That’s not a brilliant argument. The police violence makes Independence seem like the more natural choice. People are not normally for those who hit them with sticks.

Against a backdrop of police violence on the streets, I could even see how a deeply pessimistic people like the Scots could be brought to support independence. As for the Catalan mentality, I cannot comment. I have not met any Catalans. I am saying on this based on a fundamental understanding of people: You catch more flies with honey than with seizing their budget and hitting them.

The Wigwams

Here is a picture of me taken in Edinburgh in 2015.

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I’m about to carve into a birthday cake, I believe it’s a Colin the Caterpillar. I have just finished my last day at a department store. I am leaving one retail for another, but this retail has a key difference and permit me to explain in detail!

I was to start working at a wigwam campsite in the West Highlands. Strathfillan Wigwams, a campsite on an active farm, on the West Highland Way, on the River Fillan. It was definitely an interesting move, neither lateral nor strictly speaking a step up. This is the story of how I left the warm bosom of my mother city for the wetter experience of the West Highlands.

Leaving 1

It all started out a couple years before when I went to visit my friend Cat. She had been working there for a couple, months and I was keen to visit her. I fell in love with the wildness of it all. I loved the epic mountains and the river, the mystical nearby ruins of St. Fillan’s monastery which still held some strange religious energy, the openness of the fields. At that time, I wrote about 3 poems a day, crazy prolific. I wanted to go back.

Fast forward to my last year of uni, I began working in retail. It was OK but department stores famously lack windows and Scotland has famously dark winters. On days working the bureau de change it was required to go in half an hour early. In December the shop opened an hour earlier for the working shopper. Guess who worked the shortest day?

It was brutal. The day was essentially dark to dark. I saw maybe an hour of sunlight, if I’m lucky, obscured by cloud. I couldn’t hack it. I love the Sun. About then I got to thinking of next moves. It wasn’t till about February or March that it occurred to me I could go up there, with the long hours of sunlight and the open air.

After some email communication, a face-to-face meeting, and additional demand for staff, I got the job. It came with a caravan.

I’d still be in a shop, but with additional maintenance responsibilities which let me go outside for much of the day.

Finishing up at the department store, I worked till the end of my contract plus an extra couple weeks to help cover some short days. It felt a bit hard leaving them as we’d become quite close in the short contract, but I knew it was right.

The hardest part was saying goodbye to my friends. People who had got used to being able to see me with very short notice would suddenly need to wait until I called them for a fortnightly visit. The hardest person to leave was my Norwegian pal, Karianne.

We’d been living together for about 9 months after having known each other for nearly 10 years, primarily online. She had only ever had short visits to the UK, really. It took a while till she could move to Edinburgh. It was not fun breaking the news that I was leaving.

She told me, “There is no Edinburgh without you!”.

It was a difficult part of the decision. We had a brilliant flat together, I had stayed there for several years as it was right below the castle and at a good rent. She was very easy to live with and we had a lot of fun times. But I needed to do something else and I was sure the wigwams were it.

She had a support network. She has this brilliant ability to make easy allies wherever she goes. And I’d be back frequently.

The New Place

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A wigwam, a type of wooden tent, set against a very green backdrop of trees with a clear and bright blue sky above with limited cloud cover, pinched from the Facebook page

I was a general assistant at the campsite, but I liked to think of myself more as a Wigwam Merchant and Purveyor of Exotic Meats. Which is to say, I did some of the bookings and upsold a lot of bison. Got to love a farm shop that sells elk, buffalo, camel, and kangaroo in burger and sausage form.

I lived in a caravan near the shop, which cut my commute time considerably. 2 minutes from my bed to the shop’s counter. People criticise caravans as being some kind of trashy place to live but I must say I was quite comfortable. Though basic, it had a cooker, electricity, plumbing though an unworking shower, I got free wifi, and paid no bills at all to stay there. Rain also makes a lovely noise on a caravan roof. Soporific, sleep making, is the best word I’ve heard to describe it.

The Challenges

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I wouldn’t say everyone is cut out for wigwam life.

Those clouds are not rare and in fact are often a touch darker.

What nobody tells you about being a one-man shop runner is that everything gets filthy and needs daily cleaning.

We made bacon rolls on a very hot plate, over 100C, which isn’t nice i) in Summer, ii) to the touch.

But at least I discovered egg shell membrane (the inside of an egg shell) makes for good blister bandages.

It turns out, glamping sites also need to be really, really clean. Not just the wigwams and bathroom blocks, but the paths, and the foliage.

You cannot know how blocked plug hole at a wigwam campsite can get. It’s amazing how many long distance walkers have dreadlocks.

It was a lot of sweaty and hard work. Only some of it fun, like “liberating”, i.e. breaking into, a wigwam because a boy had dropped the key.

It was mentally and socially demanding though. Loneliness is a fixture on a farm. I took to buying in boxed wine so I could always get a glass.

Then again, when I sat by my caravan with a roaring log campfire, I felt at peace. When I had some tins with a guy whose dog was terminally ill in the campsite, I felt like I understood more about the world, and the pain that’s in it. And when I made connections with guests, some of whom would keep coming in to say hello, I felt like I was doing something worthwhile.

Social

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Something you notice with fewer people though is how valuable these connections are. The picture above is me chasing after my niece (technically second cousin, but she has no uncles so I think of myself more like that) when my mum and my aunt brought her and her brother along.  It was nice that though you could be at what seemed the edge of the world people could still make it out to see you.

My friend Adam also visited, as did my friend Tom. And then there were my trips home.

I expected there’d be more of a demand for me coming in as the prodigal son of the city, but truth is people were still busy with their own stuff. What amazed me is how quick the city seemed, how much prettier its inhabitants, after a short time away in the wilderness.

The barometric pressure was different too. The city is far lower, it’s oxygen thick in comparison. Edinburgh’s heady airs kept me awake till 4 in the morning. It felt so much more varied than the countryside, since my area of the West Highlands had only two pubs.

Leaving 2

My time at the wigwams was extended, nearly doubled I think. It was supposed to just be for the season but it lasted until the end of September. I needed out. I needed a break. For parts of the season, I was working 70 and 80 hour weeks, stretching the legal limit. Then again, I’ve always been a “will work as long as you’ll pay me” kind of guy, emphasis on pay.

I couldn’t stay there forever. That much was pretty apparent. They didn’t need a permanent shop assistant and extra member of staff. So I made to get out while the getting was good.

I’d been inspired by my city jaunts to do a TEFL degree as it seems everyone and their mum had one. Instead of catering for travellers on the West Highland Way, and the drunken revellers who on occasion invited me to join them*, I would become a traveller and drunken reveller but somewhere else.

29th of September, 2015 was the day I took that decisive step and left.

As an experience, I learned a hell of a lot. Quite a bit about business. Lots more about keeping things clean. A lot more about how to be cool when you aren’t surrounded by people. In addition, I earned quite a lot of money which I spent mostly on travel and alcohol, after squandering the rest on my TEFL certificate.

*This included one great revel where everyone was dressed up like Disney characters and they dressed me up in Minnie Mouse ears as it was all they had spare.

The writer of this piece feels like it’s fairly good as it explains a bit more about why he is where he is and why he is who he is, but cannot help feel it doesn’t explain why he is why he is. A soul is a very dangerous thing to harbour. 

 

Euroshit

This is the conclusion to the recent trip I took with my fiancée. You can read more about it in three parts of Croatia 123, and also Slovenia

Vienna is a city of culture, fine architecture and a history of great minds. They congregated here as it was the seat of power of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and earlier a major city of the Holy Roman Empire. If you needed money and had something to get out this was the place to do it. My experience was somewhat different.

We, my fiancée and I, were making use of a deal on long bus trips. We had used this to get down to the bottom of Croatia and back up to Prague, with a spare ticket for a really long night bus to Amsterdam later. A good deal, but for reasons tiresome to explain it meant we had to stop off in Vienna for a few hours. It wasn’t really long enough to see much or get invested, and by this time we were a bit broke, having been somewhat rinsed in Dubrovnik and Ljubljana. Ah well, still exciting to see a new place.

We stepped off the bus into our new world for the next few hours. The public transport was easy enough to work out but pricier than Prague. Everywhere is pricier than Prague. We headed to the centre.

The centre was cool, very spacious and quite modern, almost futuristic buildings wrapping themselves around the older numbers. The future tends to grow on things. It gives me a funny feeling, sometimes. A feeling quite like the poem ‘Ozymandias’, that as much as was accomplished by anyone in the past, eventually they’re just the story of a broken face in the sand told to some English dude who wasn’t as impressive as his wife. It’s a city of great minds, so I made my higher processing centres at home.

This funny feeling morphed, however, became something else. This feeling didn’t come from around me. After all…

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Vienna is gorgeous. This feeling was visceral.

Not just visceral, but deeper. I realised I hadn’t dropped anchor.

I needed a poo.

I had no change on me so the nearby public WC weren’t going to do, but this is the centre of a European capital so surely there’d be hotels. I tried one.

It had a turnstyle and was looking for €0.50. Not happening.

I moved out, with as cool a saunter as a guy who needs to shit can do while moving both non-suspiciously and quickly. I nimbly darted into another hotel.

This one had no clearly visible direction to the bog. It appears you were supposed to go into the lift and move floor to find it. Too much time.

Outwards I jogged a little, checking my watch as I headed into a cafe. I like to present a story to the staff of cafes so they don’t think I’m just in to steal their toilet water and wifi connection. Some people are strange and possessive of such things. It’s funny, like they’re worried the boss’ll take it out their pay check. But no time for levity, this shit’s about to get heavy.

The cafe had a bathroom, clearly marked, but upstairs and next door. A very different setup but maybe Viennese cafes are weird like that. I bolted up, three stairs at a time, and smacked into another turnstyle.

At this point, I thought it was getting truly ridiculous. What do they have against people dropping solid waste indoors? Do they want people to do it in the street instead?  Does Austria really have the reputation to burn, what with Hitler and all, by forcing people into crapping in an alleyway?

Well, that wasn’t going to happen to me. I’d say the number of disgusting things I’m willing to do in an alleyway are probably limited to one.

I tried a McDonald’s. Sometimes you need a code off a receipt but normally you can find a spare receipt and get in. Normally.

In Vienna, even McDonald’s bathroom has a turnstyle. That same annoying €0.50.

Philosophically, I almost understand paying for bathrooms. Somebody has to clean them, after all. Hell, that person has at one time been me. But my problem with paid for bathrooms in Europe is that they never justify it by being good bathrooms. They are worse than free bathrooms such as you find in much of Scotland. It’s a shameless cash grab for something which should be considered a public good. Either that or they should pay the cleaners all the money on top of their salary.

Times were desperate hence the philosophising. I find my body holds waste far easier when I’m deeply concerned about some other topic instead. What is philosophy but the Toilet of the Soul?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. We were still basically looking at the buildings and my fiancée saw an angle on the church tower that she wanted. It was harder to see the scaffolding of the reconstruction work.

Reconstruction. That means portaloos.

We found one, in which I did my Wicked Foul Business, and then I found a shot clear of scaffolds.

So what did I learn from this? Well, I have learned that as much as I complain about Europe’s lack of free toilets, some places are worse than others. I have also learned that sometimes it might be easier to take the €0.50 hit, even if it means going to a bank and breaking a note. Principles are these things that seem important when you’re young but as you age it seems more important to go to the toilet than shit yourself. Luckily, I didn’t have that sort of distress and I found a solution. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked and I felt so much lighter by the end.

And so that concludes the story of our recent European travails. I have dragged  suitcase from Prague to Prague, via Dubrovnik, Adriatic Islands, Ljubljana, and Vienna. It’s been big and fun and exciting, and I wanted to end on something like this because I think it captures more of the human experience to get all primal. Incongruous, maybe. Fun, extremely.