Monday, October 30, 2006

I woodsed 'er

Work is not busy this afternoon; that is I'm the only one on duty and there is no one in the bar to tend to and supper doesn't start until 6pm. So I'm killing time on the computer.

I last wrote when I was in town on Friday on my day off. It was raining then, thus why I was in town and not out hiking or something. By the way, I have been unable to post to Blogger properly from the library in town due to problems with the computer browser caches and not being able to clear them, so I have been e-mailing my posts to my Dad and he's been posting them. So if the time stamp on the post doesn't match up to what I'm writing, that's why.

It rained pretty much Saturday as well, but it cleared up some yesterday. I worked an odd shift, 8am - 2pm and then was on again from 6-8pm. So when I finished at 2pm and had eaten my lunch, I decided to go for a long jog until I had run my guts out as I had cabin fever from being inside out of the rain for so many days. I was about 1.5km into my jog, at the base of the loch, noticing a strong flowerly smell around there and wondering what was in bloom this time of year, when I completely woodsed 'er as the title would suggest. I had just gotten back on to the asphalt after a car had passed and I saw another coming toward me so I jumped back on to the shoulder to get out of it's way. I think I must have lept onto a rock disguised as a patch of grass and I went down, banging my left knee and landing nearly face first on my right arm. There may have been an empty can of Red Bull involved in tripping me in some way as I kicked it when I got back up. I was so embarrassed about having fallen that I got right up again and fled the scene so to speak, so I didn't really check out what had tripped me. The car that I had been moving aside for stopped and asked me if I was alright and I told them that I was, just a bit banged up.

Anyway, my knee is alright, just a bit cut up and sore. I continued running after I tripped, and because I was moving and keeping the joint warm it only hurt me a bit. It actually hurts more today to bend it because it's stiffened up some.

I went down the road all the way to a place called Puck's Glen where I intend to go hiking some day when I get the chance. It's a bit over 2 miles a way I think. When I got there I took a woods trail back up to Benmore Botanic Gardens which is about a mile-and-a-half down the road from the Coylet. Then I ran back along the road. I think I did about 9 km round trip and didn't feel tired at all. Just being outside after so long (and it was reasonably warm out) was good enough motiviation to keep going.

There is a redwood forest across from Benmore Gardens and also some planted in the gardens proper. I have read that they are the tallest trees in Scotland if not all the UK.

I started work at 2pm today so went for a jog/walk this morning and "found" a long distance route (it's well marked with a sign at it's base) that goes up the mountain behind the Coylet and actually goes right around Loch Eck at a full distance of about 22 miles. Walked on it for a bit to see if I could see the Coylet from above but couldn't see anything and then there was a rain storm starting to blow in so I got down from being halfway up the mountain as fast as I could as it can get nasty quick around here and where I was at the time there were no trees for wind protection.

I have Thursday off this week; I'm doing an extra day (and getting paid extra fortunately) to make up for Emma leaving, and then Monday and Tuesday we're shut next week and all weeks thereafter so those will be my days off then.

Now I'm going to go cast on the stitches for a second sock. I finished knitting the first one yesterday.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dae It Yersel

I had a cool title thought up for this blog entry the other day but I now completely forget it. So I'm using the name of a hardware store in Dunoon that I saw the other day.

It's been rainy and windy and generally miserable for a few days now. Of course, two of those days have been my days off so that killed my plans to go hiking. It would have been swimming instead, as our chef Victor put it. This weather is, so I'm told, the typical "winter" weather for the Cowal peninsula. The weather that I've experienced before has been atypical - little rain and relatively warm, in the 15 degree vicinity. I don't think it's been ever much colder than 5 to 10 degrees with the exception of one night when it went down to a few degrees. Today it's about 11 degrees.

I have been surprised to find that I am living up to the stereotypical Canadian who doesn't find it cold when others do because I am a person who gets cold easily. I have been amused to hear people say that it's "freezing" when it's something like 8 degrees with a breeze and I have sat outside at night in short sleeves while Scotsmen and Englishmen huddled up in heavy coats and complained about the cold.

I went to Glasgow last Saturday to do some shopping and see the place. My primary shopping goal was to buy a pair of dressy black pants for work because the ones I've been wearing for work are too big in the waist despite the fact that the food here is keeping me at a solid 130 pounds, or 9 and 1/3 stone as the scale I measured myself on read.

To get to Glasgow I flagged down the bus at the hotel by standing on the loch-side of the road so that I could see it coming around the turn and then ran across the road when it came whilst waving my arm to get it to stop. Round trip on the bus from the Coylet to Dunoon costs £3.20. I got off the bus at the ferry terminal and on to the ferry within 10 minutes as the buses are timed to meet it. The ferry return ticket costs £4.80 and the trip is about 20 minutes to Gourock. It's a small ferry compared to what I'm used to so it's pretty zippy. The ferry terminal in Gourock is right next to the dilapidated train station where all the signs that have arrows on them pointing to "Trains" have had the graffiti addition of "one" in reference to the fact that Gourock is the end of a single line and so there is really only one train that heads toward Glasgow. The return ticket on the train costs £5.60, so the grand total for the trip comes to £13.60 or under $30 which is pretty good for a trip out of the sticks.

I got off at Glasgow Central station and it's right around the downtown shopping. It was very crowded so by the end of the afternoon when I had to head back I was pretty glad, having remembered what it is that I dislike about cities. I think Scottish people must be even shorter than Maritimers who are shorter than other Canadians, because although I often feel tall when around middle-aged and older Maritimers, I felt tall around young and old people in Glasgow. Except for around the occassional giant man.

I accomplished my mission of buying pants, or "trousers" and discovered in the process that clothing sizes are different here. The pants from Canada that I was replacing are a size 7/8 and too big for me; the UK trousers I bought are a size 10 and I think equivalent to about a 6 in Canada. I also bought some sneakers in Dunoon the other day and my feet are now a size 6 here instead of an 8 at home. So I got bigger overall but my feet shrunk ;)

On the topic of sneakers: my Scottish and English co-workers laughed out loud when they first heard me call them that (they're "trainers" over here) and the English fellow, Matt, has since teased me about whether I'm doing any sneaking. I do keep frightening people by approaching them undetected, in particular our manager Karen, so I think they are learning that my explanation of the name - that sneakers enable one to sneak - is quite accurate.

I had my first Iron-Bru while in Glasgow because I was really tired and needed something to give me a boost. If you don't know, Iron-Bru is an "energy drink" - one of those sweet, caffinated things (with quinnine, whatever that is). Scotland's answer to Red Bull, and it seems to be the standard Scottish hangover treatment. Some of the guys I work with, the aforementioned Matt and the second-chef Pickle (yes that's a nickname, but no one calls him by his right name), consume at least one Iron-Bru daily, usually starting when they get up. It's orange in color and taste but translucent, unlike orange pop, and it's not as carbonated as I thought it would be but it's not thick and sirropy either. It tastes a lot better than Red Bull from what I remember of the one Red Bull that I consumed when in the UK 4 years ago.

That's it for my happenings, now some musing on language differences, since they're prevalent.

What I have always called "the royal we" isn't royal, it's British. I've heard both English and Scottish people use it so far, always when asking a question. A common use would be "Could you get us a ...?" when asking for a drink.

I am picking up more terms and phrases as I expected I would. I have on a few occasions asked customers if the wanted "to-mah-to" sauce (ketchup) with their chips (fries) instead of saying it my usual way. I still insist on pronouncing it "to-may-to" around Matt because he's so insistent on correcting my pronounciation, in a typical imperialistic English fashion ;)

I have also used "hoover" in place of "vacuum" a few times and I pretty much say "chips" instead of "fries" now and "crisps" in stead of "chips". I keep forgetting and saying "pants" which can cause confusion or just amusement since that means underwear here.

I also have a feeling that I'll soon be saying "cheers" or "ta" in place of "thanks" because I often hear those words in the back of my mind when thanking people. Ditto for the word "wee" for little", and for "aye" instead of "yeah", and "ach well" instead of "ah well".

Finally for today - I have been surprised at how many people in the UK know where PEI is. I am accustomed to Americans who never seem to have heard of it, so when I was first here and people asked me where in Canada I was from I would reply "the Atlantic coast". They would inevitably enquire for more specifics and many of them would nod when I said "Prince Edward Island" (some of them of course Anne of Green Gables fans). So I have now modified my response to saying that I am from Canada, then PEI when I'm asked "where in Canada?" and if I don't see recognition on their faces I'll add "on the Atlantic coast, near Nova Scotia" as they all seem to have heard of it (it's New Scotland afterall).

I've written a tremendous amount so that's me for now.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Day in the Life of the Coylet

Since some of you may wonder what it is I do at my job, I will now present a lengthy description of a day in the life of a Coylet Inn General Assistant.

The earliest shift starts at 8am. Breakfast is served only to hotel guests or "residents" as we call them. With usually two people to a room and only four rooms there's rarely more than 8 people for breakfast. The tables are set with cutlery, cups, side plates, jams and sugar the night before so all that has to be added in the morning is butter, jugs of milk and menus. I do this after walking around the hotel turning on all the lights, starting up the coffee machine and unlocking the doors.

While waiting for people to come down for breakfast I start by vacuuming the bar ("hoovering" as they call it over here) and mopping up the floor behind it. Then the public toilets have to be cleaned up and the vacuuming done everywhere else that's carpeted - the entryway and hall and the "lounge" which is the more casual part of the restaurant. Generally by this time I'm waiting on breakfast people, so some of those tasks have to wait until I finish. While doing breakfast I bring out crockery (coffee mugs, saucers, jugs and side plates) from the kitchen to the "little" kitchen that is used by us front staff for preparing tea and coffee, "sauces" ( i.e. condiments), etc. Then cutlery for the bar and for people who come to the restaurant without a booking has to be "rolled" - that is you pair together certain items, like a knife and a fork or a butter knife and a soup spoon and roll them up in a napkin. The fancy restaurant cutlery has to be polished as well in the morning. So those tasks are good to occupy me while I keep an eye on the breakfasters.

At 10am another person starts on the front staff, or on many days I start at that time myself. At that time one person finishes up whatever's left to do downstairs. The following are tasks that have to be done that I haven't mentioned so far. Fires have to be lit in the fireplaces (always in the bar and sometimes in the hall and restaurant fireplaces duing cold weather). What's interesting to me is that they burn coal primarily with some wood, and that burning coal is common in this country. Then the bar has to be stocked with soft drinks, juices, wines and bottled beers. The ice bucket has to be filled up and fruit cut up for drinks.

While one person finishes up downstairs the other can go upstairs to do the rooms once guests have checked out or left for the day. When everything downstairs is finished the second person can join the upstairs work and just keep an eye on the downstairs from time to time. Cleaning the rooms is fairly straightforward. If the people are staying another night you make up the bed, change and really wet towels, empty the garbage cans ("rubbish bins"), replace any dirty dishes from the tea tray and wipe out the bathtub, sink and toilet.

If the people are leaving then you strip down the bed and make it up again. Beds are made differently here than I am used to. A flat sheet is folded around the mattress the way that a fitted sheet would be back home. Then a duvet cover goes on the duvet and that's put on the bed with the end of it tucked under the foot of the mattress. Then there's a bedspread that gets called a "bed cover" over here, that's put no over the bed and pillows. That's it, there's no second sheet to lie under.

Then the rooms need a general dusting, the wood furniture a polishing, and all the towels need changing and fancy folding. The toliet paper has to have that triangular thing done to it and there needs to be a spare roll with it's end tucked in underneath it. There's shampoos for the bathroom and then there's the aforementioned tea tray that has to be stocked with cups, saucers, spoons, a teapot, a clean electric kettle, water glasses and packets of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, sugar, milk, and shortbread.

That process is repeated for all the rooms and then they're vacuumed at the end. The bed linens get bagged up to be sent out once a week. The towels are washed by us staff.

Lunch service starts at noon and goes until 2pm or 2:30pm depending on the day. It's pretty straight forward as well - taking people to tables, taking their orders, putting those orders into the computers to send them to the kitchen or the bar as necessary, setting the tables with cutlery and butter and sauces, bringing out food and then clearing it away. When the kitchen shuts down after lunch they make the staff lunches. If I'm working an 8am-4pm shift then I take a quick break from work to eat once it's not busy any more. If I started at 10am then I'm on what's called a split shif and I'm off at 2:30pm and then back on again at 6pm for supper time.

If I'm working until 4pm then I'd set tables for supper - tables for the residents plus any bookings, set with full cutlery for a three-course meal. Then it's often quiet until supper starts at 6pm so there's usually only one person on duty in the late afternoon, mostly minding the bar since that's all that's open.

When people start arriving for supper they often start with drinks in the bar if they've booked a table and they order their meals from there. The people working in the restaurant see the orders come up and we'll set tables for what food has been ordered and remove unnecessary cutlery from tables that are already set. When a table's food is about ready we bring them through from the bar and then bring out the food. Then it's just repeat that throughout the night. Last orders for meals are at 8:45pm and then we wait around while people have their desserts and tea and coffee. The coffee machine has to be cleaned nightly and the floors swept and mopped in the back areas. Once the restaurant is empty it can be set up for breakfast and that's if for the restaurant for the night. The staff suppers are ready by then so if I'm working a split shift I'm done by that point and can eat.

One person has to mind the bar until close, which is midnight on Friday and Saturday and 11pm otherwise, or earlier if no one's around. I haven't worked an afternoon until lock-up shift yet but I'm doing one today from 2pm onward. All that's new with it is counting up the money at the end and then locking the place up.

And that's a day at the Coylet.

The scoop

I will no longer be looking for another job come November. Instead I will be staying at the Coylet Inn since another girl who works here is going back to Australia in November. She had been planning to stay through the winter and so they wouldn't have needed me before as the inn will be closing on Mondays and Tuesdays starting in November. Now that she's leaving they need another person and I'm all trained up and I like where I am so I've agreed to stay.

Other news since I've updated: Just pretty much been working. Had Thanksgiving day off and was in town and updated the blog, then we had a staff party that was supposed to be a goodbye party for our manager but she had already left abruptly on a vacation so we just had it without her. Had the next day off and then was back to work since. I have tomorrow and Saturday off and I'm going to Glasgow Saturday to do some shopping and generally just to poke around and have a change of scenery.

In grim news, a fellow that was good friends with many of the staff - he even came to our staff party - died as the result of a car accident last week. His name is Lyndon Dash and he was about 40 I think. He had been at the Coylet visiting with Emma the Australian girl and hanging around the bar. I was talking with him about helping him figure out how to do a pH test on some vegetable oil for his diseal engine (he was a mechanic) and then he headed to town. He got in an accident less than a kilometre down the road - was going to fast around a turn, just clipped a stone wall and the car rolled into some trees which kept it from going into the loch. He most likely wasn't wearing a seatbelt and he was driving a BMW M3 which could certainly go. He died the next day in hospital (Friday October 13) and what made it more shocking was that we had heard the night before that he was injured but was going to be ok. His funeral is next week so the Coylet will be closed for it. Tomorrow our manager, Karen, is picking up some flowers and all the staff is going to walk down to the accident site, where there's already flowers left by other people, and leave the flowers and a pint of Guiness for Lyndon. There's been 10 accidents on this road in the last week - only the one fatal fortunately. It's really winding and people drive very fast. And just in case any one is worried about me because they know I jog along the road, well I leap onto the shoulder as soon as I hear a car coming from either direction, and I run on the shoulder even if it's rough. I'm not trusting any one on it to go around me.

Next up is a big write up on my job. That's all for now.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Finally an update

I tried to update my blog on last Tuesday, but due to computer problems it was all lost. I can't really remember what I wrote then but I imagine it was just stuff about working at the Coylet Inn.

I started working here Thursday, September 28. I'm a general assistant so I do everything from waiting tables in the restaurant to serving drinks in the bar to doing laundry and cleaning the rooms. I felt pretty useless and stupid the first few days of work because I didn't know how everything was done, but now that I've caught on things are going pretty good. Most people are surprised to find out that I've only been in the country for 2-and-a-half weeks so I guess I've adapted alright. I still need some work in knowing how to mix drinks since over here they drink all sorts of weird things involving combinations of soda water or flavoured soda water and alcohol or juice. I did, however, manage to pour a reasonable pint of ale and a half pint of lager all on my own last night so I'm getting better at that as well.

I'm living in the hotel itself. There's three double bed rooms upstairs, a room with two twin beds, and those rooms are for guests. Then my room is also upstairs which has a twin bed, a dresser, a chair, and a sink. I share a bathroom with another guy who lives downstairs. My meals are cooked for me with the exception of breakfast for which I can grab some cereal or toast if I like.

The hotel is right in the middle of a mountain range of sorts. The tallest mountain in the area is Beinn Mhor at about 700 m (2100 ft). I hiked up it last week, almost to the very top where I stopped because it was so soggy that to continue I would have been up to my knees in mud. There are sheep grazing at the top of it. I was following tracks that looked like they were made by a four-wheeler so I guess that's how the farmer gets up to check on them. I've also done a shorter hill walk on another mountain, Stroncullin Hill I believe it's called, and I've been jogging along the road as well.

Despite seeing the mountains and the loch every day it still seems surreal to me that I'm living in amidst it all. I'll look out the hotel windows while I'm working and the view is entirely filled by the loch and the mountain across it. If there's not much wind then the mountain is peferectly reflected in the water. In the early morning, and often even later in the day depending on the weather, there is mist rising off the mountain. When it's cloudy the sun will poke through the clouds in really pretty, interesting ways that I can't really describe without showing a picture.

I'm pretty much isolated from the world. There's not TV's at the inn so the only news I hear regularly is on the radio or if some guest leaves behind a newspaper. I'm 9 miles from town so I've only been here on my days off. There's a bus service that goes by 4 to 6 times a day which is also outstanding to me since there's nothing like that in PEI.

I am gradually learning the nuances of the Scottish accent and can now understand the more difficult accents on some of my co-workers up to 60% of the time. That is actually an improvement ;) That also means that I am getting better understand customers with heavy accents which is more important. I am also picking up some of the lingo of course. I'm getting accustomed to calling ketchup "tomato sauce" (and it's pronounced "to-mah-to sauce" I've been told, not "to-may-to sauce" as I say it. And yet, "potato" is pronounced "po-tay-to" over here.). I'm starting to respond to questions with "aye" instead of "yeah". And I'm learning to convert all my distances into miles and to think in pounds instead of dollars, and to convert weights from pounds into stone (stone = 14 pounds so it's a pain to convert).