The Centre of Light – Signal Festival 2017

Going to write two of these things as there are so many photographs of light shows and I want to do them justice. Catch part II, maybe tomorrow or something

IMG_2163

“Constrained Surface” – Ryochi Kurokawa

One of the most fun things about city life is the sheer variety of events. The week just past was Signal Festival 2017. The Signal Festival is an annual exhibition of art installations, all of which are centred around their use of light and sound.

My fiancée and I were actually shushed during the above display, which was funny as the sound was primarily a type of industrial-ambient, the clanking of chains and the sound of a nut being thrown into a metal bucket. Eerie stuff. It’s somewhat like asking somebody to be quiet because you can’t hear the rain on the window.

IMG_2179

“#glass” – Tets Ohnarib

Before anyone gets to thinking I’ve become conscious of marketing, that hashtag was part of the title of this piece – I do my research.

It’s a really cool concept. So the two pillars look like they have shattered and spilled all over the ground, but the breakage defies physics. After all, it wouldn’t break in a full circle, that’s crazy talk. In addition, the pillars are still intact. It made me reflect on how things are not always as they might appear.

That’s the power of misdirection.

And the point of misdirection is normally stage magic. And what could be more magical than your audience becoming the performers?

This piece, “Heardt” by Anna Feyrerová, Bára Anna Stejskalová, Richard Dobřichovský and Tomáš Bukáček, performs precisely that. A piano connected to the lights to create different patterns based on the music played. Anyone could sit in the piano and create the show, though it seems most people who tried had at least some skill when we were there.

They also weren’t that drunk because, and this will surely shock some Prague people, did you know we can no longer buy drink in Prague 1 after 10pm? What is this, Scotland? I tell you, this city is changing. Not necessarily for the better.

Anyway, here’s a idea of me dancing with two tins at the “Beyond” (Playmodes) exhibit in Old Town Square.

You know how I like to tell a story, well what’s the story here? The story is that the true story is the light show you find along the way. Like, check this out –

IMG_2195

Prague Castle from across the Vltava

And to conclude, the festival is really cool, sadly a little short, and my bird likes expensive tins, but more on that next time.

The writer of this piece is a fan of art and light and hopes that he brightened your day.

Advertisements

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

IMG_2139

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.

IMG_2133

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

IMG_2132

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

IMG_2131

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

IMG_2134

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…

IMG_2036

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.

Slovenia

Vaguely related to our Dalmatian exploration, parts 12 3my fiancée and I travelled onward to Slovenia.

Holidays are a little different with my fiancée than my old family holidays. We would normally go to some resort or town or something. We’d go out a bit, travelling in the immediate vicinity or whatever, but largely it’d be one place. There was usually a sea. My fiancée likes touring.

It’s so American and I love it.

I feel like I could live in Europe for a hundred years and not learn everything about its realms. Of course, you can’t expect to ever see a whole country in a few hours, which seems to be the American euro-travelling way, but I appreciate the ambition of it.

So my fiancée, who does a lot of the planning and then “hits me up”, not violently, for my opinions on timing and my half of the money, likes to see a lot. Immediately after our holiday in Croatia, we’d follow up by going to Slovenia.

I imagine your imagination of Slovenia is probably pretty similar to mine – a gap. It’s not the sort of place I’ve ever heard much about. I can’t recall it coming up in any books or songs or movies. It all seemed a bit random.

There was actually quite a lot to it. Stick around, this is a country in a thousand words.

The Border of Dreadul Night

I talked in my last set of adventures about bus rides and borders, particularly part 1, the link is above in the italic subheader.

“Get off the bus.”

The flat imperative form aroused me from my groggy half-sleep and made me wonder why. Why do microphones exist on buses? Why are borders still a thing? What’s the deal with Slovenian border control and coming onto buses?

I figure the answer to the last one is probably something stupid. Something dumb like insurance. Most idiot things can be put down to insurance.

“Get your shoes on,” said my fiancée as she rushed out the door to get a good place in the queue.

Meanwhile, I struggled with hard leather. Not the best idea for travelling shoes, but I didn’t expect this inspection. I could have guessed, though. The Croatia-Slovenia border is unusually tough for EU countries.

I got into line. I was near the end. Everyone else had slip on shoes. Oh well, at least I looked good. And the bus couldn’t well leave without me now, could it? Though there’s a thought, if a border guard takes exception to your papers, what happens? The outpost seems miles from the closest town and it doesn’t look like they have public transport. A coach probably wouldn’t wait for one passenger.

I hope my travel documents are good.

Queues are annoying. It always feels like everyone else takes hours to sort out their problems then you fly by once you get to the front. Not on this guys watch.

This is to say, the border guard was really into checking everyone, not just thoroughly but completely. He looked at the main page, compared details, felt the surface for any malfunctions, counted the pages, ran it through his computer system, counted the visa stamps, ran it over with a UV light. For all 50 or so people. Given gloves I think he’d’ve gone deeper. He must’ve been new. Most security could tell you they don’t need to check every detail every time.

Maybe he was lonely.

It took far too long for the bus to get moving again. Then again, it’s not like we had many plans for the instant we got to Ljubljana.

The City of Early Morning

All the above pictures were taken 4 hour so after getting into Ljubljana. That’s right, there is a bus from Split that gets you into Ljubljana at 2 in the morning. Just in time for almost everything to be shut and with none of the cashlines working. (For the benefit for my American audience, a cashline is what you call an ATM.)

Still, traveling is about hiccups. If absolutely everything goes to plan and schedule it is a very uneventful trip.

We did eventually find money and get to a 24 hour kebaberie at 4 in the morning. Other notable culinary delights of Slovenian include horse burgers. I had one. It’s kind of like a more potent beef, if that makes sense.

Cities are interesting in the early morning, too. The only people around were mad ones on bicycles. It seems no cafes opened until about 9 or 10 in the morning. My fiancée has remarked on this as strange. She said she’s noticed that in Europe, cafes don’t open to get people coffee on their way to work.  Maybe Slovenians start later.

We’d had a run of good weather for a couple days, so of course it started raining.

A12A8B99-A306-4ED1-B184-E4E2808F1C24

The Writer, slightly wetter and less shaven than normal

My thoughts on the city in the rain and my take on our hostel would be frightfully unoriginal, who’d expect a place called Simple Accomodation to be a little basic but comfortable enough?, so I’ll skip to the best part.

The Splendour of Slovenia

Slovenia is not a city-country, it is a nature-country. Ljubljana was nice enough but is kind of a village compared to most urban places in Europe. I think Edinburgh may well be twice as big, and Edinburgh is famously like a large village.

Still, nature-countries are grand.

That there is Vintger Gorge, a beautiful, or gorgeous, place.

Amazing sight. We took far too many pictures though and they all look more or less the same. Such are the perils or gorge photography.

IMG_1966

There’s also Lake Bled looking all huge with a castle perched atop a cliff overlooking a big lake.

There’s more. It’s all just so sumptuous.

We were going to go back to Ljubljana and see the castle there but we missed the optimum bus trip back because the “bus station” of Bled, more of a bus stop, didn’t accept cards and the machine was 15 minutes from the station. Oh well, nature.

Instead of going back and seeing Ljubljana castle, we went back to our hostel to collect our things then ran back to the bus station. We wanted to catch a bus to a small village with a castle. A few many buses for my liking but totally worth it.

The bus to Postojna was pretty impressive, up some mountain sides through some dense woods. It’s proper Alpine stuff. I fancy it’d be impressive in Winter but you’d need some specialised gear to navigate it.

Postojna was a quite small and sleepy town. We didn’t know what to do so went into a tourist info centre. It turns out the shuttle to the castle was off. It stopped the week before we went there. Their tourist season is only to the end of August. Fair enough, really. But what could we do?

Turns out there was a local taxi driver who took us there and back for the price of only one direction. Really nice guy, and a brilliant deal. The shuttle would have probably cost the same were it on.

Predjama castle.

It’s a castle in a cave in Slovenia. An amazing sight. It looks a lot more defensible than most castles, too.

 

To wrap up my trip to Slovenia, like, so many kebab wraps that I seemed to eat for every second meal, I had an amazing time. It wasn’t a trip I expected to like as much as I did. I’d heard it was beautiful and amazing but Slovenia just wasn’t ringing any bells in my head. It seemed very distant and far off. It’s amazing how close you feel to somewhere when you see two castles in a day, and so much of the wilderness. Definitely going to return some day.

The Bathroom Review

IMG_1963

Slovenia presented a pleasant surprise here too. Public bathrooms that were reasonably well-maintained and clean and which cost nothing.  Not a common thing on this journey and well appreciated. For this, Ljubljana does  far better than it might’ve done left up to the hostel. Both the men’s and, I’m told, the women’s were lacking seats. A bit bizarre, that.

Slovenia gets a fairly solid 7/10.

The writer of this piece is currently picking bits of a fraying leather sofa off of his skin. It is much less sensual than it sounds.

A Dalmatian Exploration, Part 3 – Leaving

This is the third part of our Dalmatian Adventure,  Part I and Part 2Thanks for reading! There may come some later updates as the journey continues on to Slovenia and Austria. Even fewer pictures in this one as we were on rails for much of it, but I have tried to paint you word pictures.

So all good things, breakfast, ice cream, and holidays, must eventually end. There’s a rule as old as gravity. Then again, that doesn’t mean it has to all end terribly. Sometimes an end is just another sort of beginning and from time to time it has its own special character.

The Bulging Package

Being on average 25% stronger than women, it tends to fall to men on holiday to carry the really heavy things. It’s fair enough and I’m no martyr, but this is useful info for setting the scene.

Due to some kind of annoying noise that I can’t fully remember the quality of, it could’ve been music from the streets below, it might’ve been crickets, or may’ve been the fridge fan making an awkward noise on one point of its rotation, I didn’t really get down to sleep properly on our last night in Korcula. Not for as many hours as would probably be necessary to properly reset all my joints. Nor enough for muscle pain. Gladly, the first leg was all downhill. To the port.

IMG_1936

I really like ports. They smell of salt, fish, oil. There’s always a lot of frayed rope hanging around mooring hooks. The old European ports of the Adriatic are pragmatic, they had to be open to Mediterranean trade but also defensible. Korcula was a little strange in this respect for the port seemed to circumnavigate a peninsula. My guess is that they defended the area from the fort perched on top of the hill, instead. It’s narrow alleyways meaning sure death for invading marauders without sufficient number.

IMG_1935

This, but full of dead pirates and covered with blood

But back to the port. We got there reasonably early. Before I met my fiancée I thought I was fairly responsible. I either arrive exactly on time or early. I now know that I’m probably somewhat responsible as opposed to fairly responsible. She has recast the average. Where I’d be 10 minutes early, she insists on 30. It’s fine on most occasions, where seat availability is affected it makes sense to get there early. For the ferry, though?

There was tons of space last time!

Ah well, don’t mind me, I just like bitching to my quasi-anonymous audience from time to time.

Boats are not like theatre or weddings in that they aren’t on time. On this occasion I can’t tell whose timeframe was better. On the one hand, the ferry was 30 minutes late so we ended up waiting almost an hour for it. On the other hand, the queue was gigantic by the time it got there so we’d have just been standing around like dicks for longer and might have got bad seats if we’d gone with mine. Ah well, her way eased our tensions over missing the boat.

The ferry was fairly uneventful. I was quite annoyed this time though as the seats felt a lot less sleep inducing than the last ferry. Maybe I was somewhat revived after a couple good nights in a bed. The ferry was a lot busier than the one before as well. Dubrovnik to Korcula is evidently a less popular journey than Korcula to Split. For some reason, we were not permitted out onto deck at all on this one. I therefore had to alight at a port but stay very close in order to smoke.

So, if anyone asks if I ever saw Brac I can answer yes with confidence, sporting a wry grin.

The City of Time

We arrived in Split with 4 hours to wait. No sense spending it on land when we were by the sea, so we settled a plan in motion to go swimming. FIrst, we had to find bathroom stalls in which to change. Ideally we could do this without paying.

A Czech complained to me about Croatia saying they liked to charge for everything. I think those who live in glasses houses should be wary of throwing stones. From my journeys in continental Europe I can attest to the fact that bathrooms, museums and tap water seem to have some kind of fee in most of Europe. Travellers should adopt a liberal attitude to nudity and are advised that their choice is between carrying s large bag of change in different currencies and pissing on trees.

I miss free galleries, tap water, and bathrooms.

Miraculously, we found a bathroom that did not require currency. This is rare in pretty much all of Europe near bus stations. Well done, Split.

Dragging a massive suitcase behind me and with a fairly small backpacks for a week’s clothes, we made our way up hill. We made our way up hill as her map suggested the sea could be seen from there. It could.

But might I just say it was a fairly disappointing beach. See, it was covered in people from the nearby hotel. It was a little too deep, in dimension terms, and not wide enough for the capacity. It was also a sand beach instead of the stones I’d become accustomed to. We settled our luggage on the one square of sand not covered in a sunbather and got in the water. It didn’t even reach my ankles.

Adding two and two, it was clearly some package hotel’s beach. They shipped in the sand because some focus group liked it and also levelled out the seabed towards the beach so that it wouldn’t be too deep for children unless they walked a mile out. Clearly not my type of beach. I prefer it a bit more natural.

We didn’t have time to locate a better beach as we were by this point getting hungry. We went back towards the complex with the free toilet, it being more towards the city, and grabbed a cevapi, a kind of sausage kebab type meal. It was quite delicious and we gave ourselves a high five on successfully finding one of the big popular Croatian dishes by chance.

Standards suitably lowered by being a bit tired and bleary eyed and unhappy with the beach, I was a little mixed on Split at this point. Free bathroom and good food versus a bad beach and tiredness. Tie maker, what’s the old town like and was it worth the trek?

IMG_1942

Fuck yes.

History time, promises I’ll keep it short as I haven’t got any books on me. Diocletian was a Roman Emperor, the one before the Empire went Christian from Constantine hedging bets on his deathbed. Much of the old town developed around his palace as he apparently was as the happening guy to know. Also interesting for a Roman emperor is the fact that he abdicated instead of the usual murder.

His house looks swell against a blue sky.

The Road of Beauty

Right, so beauty is an overused word and I can’t show it with pics but bear with me. I know Beauty, well. I was saturated in it from a young age. I have seen the Coasts of Fife in the afternoon, the Winchburgh Shale Bing in the evening, all the delights of West Lothian.

Now there’s a joke with a fairly limited audience.

Okay, instead here’s a bit more. I have seen the Pyrenees as my plane descended into Barcelona. I have felt the bends of the train track as it cuddles the mountains of the West Highlands, curving high up above Lochs and streams. I too have visited American wonders, Yosemite, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon.

While the road away from Split was maybe not quite as good as all of that, it definitely has a brilliant range. It was urban, but leafy. Flat but hilly. Lots of bends. Vast flat panoramas while going uphill. You’ve got to love a bus ride when a number of passengers start taking pictures from the windows.

This was at a late time part of the journey too. The earlier parts of the journey were equally lovely. Split appears to be in a valley. The bus had to rise from the sea level of the port up to the top of the nearby cliffs. This while driving through the whole urban area stopping numerous times.

It amazing amount to see and my eyes feasted on as much of it as I could bear, drifting in and out of sleep as
I was. The sunset was right in front of the bus once we had made it to the top of the cliff and were driving off towards the border. I fell asleep quite happily then.

So all good things, breakfast, ice cream, and holidays, must eventually end. There’s a rule as old as gravity. Then again, that doesn’t mean it has to all end terribly. Sometimes an end is just another sort of beginning and from time to time it has its own special character.

The Bathroom Review

Split performed quite admirably in this category. It lost out a little due to the bus and ferry toilets being as mediocre as you might expect, but it gains a lot more from the fact that all the bathrooms I saw were reasonably clean and pretty well supplied.

Giving Split a solid 7 out of 10.

And with that all covered the writer might say that’s about a wrap. The writer of this piece would like it to be known that he appreciates all the feedback and plaudits he gets, as well as the interaction of readers in other ways.

English(es)

This morning I stumbled upon something amazing. The BBC has a pidgin English section, have a look for yourself. It’s very interesting to read a few of the articles and see if you can work out how the language functions. But there’s always a lot more to it so I invite you to read on as I write a little thinkpiece.

Pidgin languages developed when people wanted to trade but could not communicate using formal language, as they didn’t have equal knowledge. They were missing important words or didn’t have the form. But money finds a way. Instead of not trading they developed a language which blended elements of their languages together. When used in a wider form this ended up changing the way language was spoken, and sometimes even became a ‘creole language’ when it became the native language of pidgin speakers children.

Evidently, West African English has its own unique grammar separate from English and hence they have their own section. It’s extremely interesting as it causes us to question what is English?

I don’t mean this in a whole nebulous “what is art?” kind of way, art is stuff people make, it comes from the word ‘artificial’, let’s move on. I mean how do we decide what is correct language and how do we decide what is incorrect? As an English teacher, this is an essential question.

The fact is that there are so many ways to use English, and there are many separate Englishes. Consider the difference between British and American. These differences arose from separation between the speakers, and because Noah Webster really hated the English (England English, not language English). Interestingly, American English keeps the u in ‘glamour’ because it came to American English via Scots. They drop the u in all other similar French root words because they came via English. These days, the rule in most writing and in most institutions is that either English is fine but keep it consistent. There is only a disagreement between British and American English in memes.

Still, Pidgin English has some detractors and a lot of people have complained about the BBC funding the service with British money. The fact of the matter is though that West Africa is on the up and will probably soon pay the BBC back in full through increased consumption. There’s nothing like respecting somebody’s lingo and voice as a way to get into their heart. It’s a very personal thing. Nigerians have spent year being told they need to speak ‘proper’ English. It must be very liberating to have institutional recognition for how they speak.

The truth is, proper English may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Mark Powell, a writer for the business English textbook In Company, wrote an article called ‘Unnatural Selection’, sadly paywalled, about how in the business world German type English pays dividends. While native speakers tend towards idioms, “butting in”, “talking at cross purposes”, “circling back”, second language speakers tend towards simple constructions which get the most results. Often these come from German-style noun phrases; “one solution is…” “the basic problem is…” “our proposal is…”. These phrases are very easy to understand, and it could be argued that business English is going in the direction of simple and direct communication. Business English is an English German pidgin.

Having read lots of poetry in Scots and Scots English, I can understand other spellings and styles of English a bit easier. It is a real difficulty to use the BBC pidgin service, but I think I will try a bit more. Trying to understand the different ways people use your language is an extremely useful skill. Whether that be their dialect or just how they reflect their mentality in speech.

The writer of his piece is somewhat shocked at the low response rate he got yesterday to what he thought was a banging post but understands this to be a marathon rather than a sprint.

Pigeon English