Friday, March 30, 2007

Round and round the roundabout

Just to be clear, a roundabout is what I've been taught to call a rotary, which I guess is short for rotary junction. It's when several roads meet and instead of putting up stop signs or traffic lights, the traffic is made to flow in a circle with exits to the roads at various points. In Canada, rotaries are infrequent and used only for major roads like highways (with the exception of Sherwood Park, Alberta). In Scotland, the are frequent, and in Ireland it seems to me they are even more frequent.

Let me put it this way. In Dunoon, there is a street called John Street, on which lies my bank and the supermarket. John Street forms a T-intersection with Alexandra Parade, a street that runs along the waterfront. In any Canadian town of Dunoon's size, this intersection would have a stop sign on John Street. Or perhaps given that John Street is busy enough, there would be a three-way stop at the intersection. This is not the case. Instead, there is a little concrete circle, only about 3-4 feet in diameter, in the centre of the intersection. It is a roundabout, albeit a tiny one. There is another roundabout farther down Alexandra Parade by the ferry where the street merges with Argyll Street (the main drag) to form a street called Victoria Parade. And according to my map of Dunoon, there's another roundabout farther down that street. So Dunoon has three roundabouts in a town of about 9,000 people.

Roundabouts are even more frequent out on the highways, known as motorways in this country, and to my amusement, dual carriageways when it's a divided highway. I picture horse-drawn carriages zipping along at 70 mph. Another similar out-of-date term is "telegraph pole" for any pole, be it telephone or electrical. Anyway, from what I've seen of the motorways in Scotland and Ireland, instead of using a ramp-exit system with over/under-passes like is used on Canadian highways, roundabouts are used whenever roads meet. There are sometimes over/under-passes, but they are still part of a roundabout. These large roundabouts don't have little concrete circles in the middle obviously, instead they have raised banks of grass with plants and trees.

On a bus from Dublin to Kilkenny, near the town of Naas, my bus went through three roundabouts in succession. I'm not joking - through one roundabout, then a few hundred yards of straight road before another, and then repeat. I have no idea how much the bus' direction of travel was altered from its original course after all that whirling around - we could have been going back again for all I knew.

Betcha didn't know

I'm not entirely sure about all the sports betting laws in Canada, but what I do notice is different in Scotland is that you can walk into a bookies in the middle of town and bet on any number of sports. In fact, I never realized that "bookie" was short for "bookmaker" until I walked by a business labelled as such in Gourock.

There is one major chain of bookies called Ladbrokes - there's one in Dunoon, and there seems to be one every few blocks in cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh. They do not use the term "bookmakers" at all on their signs, and so when I first arrived in the country and saw these Ladbrokes all over the place I was perplexed by them. From their posters I gathered that they had something to do with money but the language was not that of banks and seemed to be aimed at men only. It wasn't until someone at work mentioned Ladbrokes, some many weeks later, that I discovered what they do and it all finally made sense.

Ladbrokes presents a very clean-cut sort of business - not the grotty, secretive image of a bookie that I've always held. An outlet in central Glasgow even had a fancy brick storefront and stained-glass windows with images of football players, race horses and other sports. Classy.
In Ireland the presence of bookies is even greater. In addition to Ladbrokes there is another chain, Paddy Power. Even the smallest of towns, consisting of a little more than on street with a few shops, would have at least one bookies.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Sporting Life

So today I thought I'd write a bit about sports - or what I shall refer to from here on as "sport" because it's never pluralized in the UK, unless you were to say something like "Football and rugby are two sports that I play".

Sport is incredibly important to people in the UK, or at least to the men. I daresay it is more important than it is to men in Canada. The sport section of most newspapers is often as big as the entire remainder of the newspaper - news, business, arts and entertainment all combined (except on Saturdays and Sundays when those sections get expanded and the newspapers go section-crazy to deliever you a phone-book sized paper).

If one judges popularity of a sport based on the number of newspaper pages devoted to it, then football (soccer - apparently that name comes from some bizarre shortening of "association football") is the most popular sport by far. I haven't revealed anything startling as most people have probably heard something about the football obsession in the UK. Even knowing that, I found the extent of the obsession surprising when I came here. There's at least half-a-dozen leagues between England and Scotland that have to be reported on, in great detail, every day in the newspapers, and these teams are somehow entwined into various European leagues in ways that I can't figure out. People say that Canadians are obsessed with hockey, but the English, Scottish, and Irish make the Canadian obsession look like a passing interest. I'm not exaggerating - you should see how much written-word is devoted to every match that is played. What's funny is that all these countries are obsessed with a sport that they're not even very good at, as World Cup results will show.

After football, rugby probably gets the second-most number of sports pages, but it's a distant second. Then, depending on the season I guess, and whether it's a Scottish newspaper or English one, there can be articles on cricket (more in English papers), tennis, hockey (field hockey), horse racing, track events. There's actually articles on snooker (pronounced snooooh-ker) and darts which I consider to be games rather than sports. In my opinion, if the participants can actually smoke and drink during the activity then it's a game, not a sport.
Then on a general results page, you'll often find brief summaries of North American pro sports game scores, including the NHL under the heading "ice hockey". I find that remarkable, as it's an obscure sport over here and it's not like I've ever seen anything in a Canadian newspaper about a Scottish sport like shinty (something like violent field hockey).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Newspapers and Toilets

It seems to me that there is a plethora of choice in newspapers in this country. Ones from Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, other English cities, "national" newspapers, and then the little local ones. Perhaps this is the result of several nations being united as one, the United Kingdom. Maybe it's a result of there being 60 million people in the UK compared to Canada's 30 million. But then there's only 5 million people in Scotland and it has two newspapers claiming to be national ones - Edinburgh's The Scotsman and Glasgow's The Herald. Canada only has two newspapers that claim to be national - The Globe and Mail and The National Post - and they're both out of the same city.

Given that there are so many newspapers in Scotland, I'm inclined to believe that Scots (and you can extend this to the English as well) simply buy more newspapers than Canadians. That's not to say that Scots are more interested in the news, as there is, in addition to the "broadsheet" newspapers, an astonishing number of what I would term "trashy" newspapers. These papers boldly proclaim that they cost only 10 to 15p (broadsheets cost from 65p to £1). The "trashy" newspapers pretty much focus on a few news headlines done sensationally (murders are a favourite topic), then there's celebrity gossip and sport.

These papers also inevitibly have a page 3 girl, like any newspaper called The Sun in Canada does (and many are called Sun over here as well). The difference is that the page 3 girls over here are photographed topless, a sight that astonished my innocent Islander eyes when I first flipped through a copy of The Scottish Sun. I expected that from certain magazines, but not from anything claiming to be news that you could just buy at the supermarket. The Scottish Sun even ran a competition with a spread of topless photos of contestants for page 3. To my amusement, next to each girl's topless photo they printed a smaller photo of her wearing a bikini top, which seemed rather pointless in an after-the-fact sort of way. Then there's the Scottish Sport, a paper that doesn't limit itself to page 3 for toplessness. It also presents little sport news, and much more of the topless news.

The UK often gets a reputation for being a bit old-fashioned and stiff, but their newspapers make Canada look prudish. Another way that Canadians seem prudish compared to Scots is that we always ask where the "washroom" or "bathroom" is, instead of the "toilets" as is done over here. Signs are labelled with "toilets" on them, or just the singular form. You say "I'm going to the toilet" even in polite conversation, whereas I was trained from the time I was a child to say "I'm going to the bathroom" and it seems a little inproper to me to say the former.

I remember learning how to ask that in French class. All us nine-year-old kids were a bit taken aback at asking to go to the toilet as it seemed too direct on such a taboo subject. Canadians, I think, don't like to say that we're going to the toilet because that tells everyone exactly what we're going to do: use the toilet. By saying that we're going to the "bathroom" (even when there's no bath in it) we can pretend that we're going to do something else other than use the toilet, even though all parties involved in the conversation know otherwise. Scots, on the other hand, have no problem admitting that they're going to use the toilet.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Trailer Park Girl in The Return of Winter

Since a week-and-a-half ago I've been living in the hotel's caravan at the park just up the road, a caravan being a mobile home. The park is a holiday park so there's not really anyone else staying there in the other caravans other than on weekends. The reason for my move is that we have a new 2nd chef, Chris, who's worked at the Coylet more than a year ago, and he took Matt's room and Matt took my room. At the moment I have the caravan to myself, but by next weekend we have a new girl starting who'll be living with me, and then at the start of April there will be another girl. The school Easter holidays are in April this year and for about two weeks, so tourism picks up at that time and we need more workers.

In other news, it had seemed that winter had passed by here as there's daffodils popping up everywhere and buds on the trees. Then this weekend there was hailstorms, and snow on the hilltops. It's been chilly yesterday and today - above freezing since I can't see my breath but still cold enough feeling.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Watch out for the elderly!

Sign along the A815 into Dunoon.