Friday, August 31, 2007

In yer niche in Inverness

The Gaelic for Inverness is Inbhir Nis, which is pronounced like "in yer niche". I think that should be Inverness' new marketing slogan, but I don't know if anyone else agrees.

I had the day off Wednesday, so I took the train from Kyle (across the water on the mainland) to Inverness to do some shopping. The first train leaves at 7:35am, which means catching the bus from here at 7:05am. Jamie was also catching the train to go visit his parents in Sutherland, so since he was finishing the night shift at that time, he kindly woke me up and fed me a breakfast of a bacon butty and Stornoway black pudding.

The journey was scenic; the train followed the coast for a while, then in through some hills and past lochs. It was sunny starting out, so the heather on the hills looked purpley-pink. Most of the lochs were still on their surfaces, so were reflecting the hills and clouds, a feat that amazes me still, being accustomed to sea water which never does that. Then the land got flatter as we got closer to Inverness - it was a marshy looking plain between more distant hills, very few trees and houses and many sheep. I didn't have my camera with me (not that I could really take pictures from inside a train), so unfortunately there are no photos.

Inverness I found to be a nice little city. Nothing too exciting about it, other than that there are shops! (that becomes exciting when you live where there are none). Got my shopping done and wandered around until the train back at just past 6pm. For photos, check out Undiscovered Scotland, or one I found of the High Street.

I ran into Alysha at the train station; she was coming back from Aberdeen from her days off, so I had company on the train ride back. It was rainy by then, and starting to get dark by 8pm, so the heather now looked a deep purple. We saw a lot of deer running away from the train up the hills.

Like blood from a stone

On Tuesday, I went up to the village hall to a blood clinic that was being held there. I donated blood once before when I lived in Edmonton, and at that time I had gotten quite faint mid-donation and they'd had to cut me off before I could fill up a full bag. So this time, in preparation, I had lunch, then a second lunch, and headed up about 4pm full of food.

I had to go through the extensive questionnaire about my health and "lifestyle", same as with Canadian Blood Services (over here it's the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, who must be affiliated with National Health Service as all the workers were wearing that uniform). They offer a local anesthetic over here, but since it involves an injection anyway it didn't seem to any advantage.

So I passed the questionnaire test, and the iron-blood-content test, and on I went to one of the beds so they could start draining me. Pretty much as soon as they had the tube into me, the nurse and blood worker started discussing how slow the flow of blood from me was. I was told to keep squeezing my hand, which I did until my wrist was sore and my little finger wasn't moving properly because it didn't have enough blood. The nurse commented that I just wouldn't give up my blood, and after some time limit (15 minutes, perhaps) they pulled me off and I think I'd filled about 3/4 of a bag. I inquired as to what makes the difference in blood flow (I thought it might have been blood pressure), and was told that it's vein size. I have small veins, it seems.

I went out to have my cookie and juice, and started feeling increasing hot and flushed (and drained, pun intended if you so desire), so I had myself led to a bed where I recuperated for probably half an hour before walking back to the hostel. I had actually anticipated that this would happen, based on before, and the fact that I just know that I don't react well to blood loss (probably why my body makes damn sure that it holds on to it). The nurses and blood workers seemed very concerned about me - I don't know if it's unusual for people to react the way that I do, or if the concern is just to ease me (it tends to make me feel a little uncomfortable instead, like I'm a burden).

I talked to a fellow from the village last night who I saw up at the clinic, and we compared stories. He has the opposite problem to me - once they finished taking blood from him and put on some gauze to stop the bleeding, it took a lot to get it stopped. He had to be re-bandaged because his arm started bleeding again. Whereas with me, I didn't bleed into my bandage at all. In terms of survival, I suppose that's a good thing for me, but it sure makes donating difficult.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

It's a small world afterall....

I've had a few incidents recently of meeting people who already know people that I've met on entirely separate incidents, and then yesterday I had two much larger coincidences. The first, smaller incidents involved me meeting people with a connection to Edinburgh that happened to know other people from Edinburgh that I met in different parts of Europe. So that reinforced the "smallness" of the world as it's referred to.

Then yesterday, Alysha checked in a guest for me while I was fetching some laundry. I walked into reception just as said guest was turning around to go out to his room, and there was a moment where the two of us were struck by familiarity before remembering who the other was. The guy was Nick from Oregon, and we stayed at the same hostel in Varna, Bulgaria, back in June. We had e-mailed once or twice because Nick had said that he was going to be visiting the UK at a time when I knew that I'd be back, but he had no idea that I worked at the Kyleakin hostel.

I had the afternoon off so we spent it taking a walk past the castle down the shore, enjoying the exceptionally warm, sunny day (I wore short-sleeves and no sweater/jacket!). The shore here is fun to walk along, as along parts the rocks are quite large so you can kind of hop from one to another and scramble on.

In the evening, Alicia, Alysha, Nick and I went to the ceilidh across the road, where I noticed a guy wearing an oyster shucking shirt referring to PEI (it read "Keep on Shucking" on the front). I asked him if he had been to PEI, and it turned out that he's a MacLellan from Kensington who's doing a backpacker tour of Scotland. We talked until we found someone that we knew in common, as one does when meeting a fellow Islander.

Anyway, there's my two coincidences (if you can call them that exactly) from yesterday.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Hostel Life

In the last year or so, having discussed hostels with people who speak English with different accents than myself, I have come to realize that I pronounce the words "hostel" and "hostile" the same way, with stress on the first syllable. People from Australia, for example, put stress on the second syllable of "hostel", so it's quite clear which word they are using. Anyways, enough of that digression (can I digress when I have not yet begun?).

In an earlier post, I mentioned three of the people that I am working with: Pat the manager, Alicia, and Alysha. I'll finish up by mentioning the other people that I work with, whom I hadn't met at the time of posting before. On cleaning duties is May, an older woman from the village that comes in for a few hours a day. On the night shift is Jamie, a young fellow from Sutherland (Highlands).

And then there is Henry. Actually there are several Henry's. I've spent a lot of time with that wee fellow, as May prefers cleaning sinks and toilets to hoovering, so when we clean together I do the hoovering (which is fine with me since I'd rather do that than clean sinks and toilets - we have a symbiotic relationship). Henry's alright, except that he manages to catch himself on every corner or doorframe that is near him.

So work involves taking bookings at reception, answering inane questions, cleaning, folding laundry (I find that oddly soothing), serving meals when we have groups book them, and occasionally in the afternoon and evening, sitting around surfing the internet or reading.

Between working some extra hours, getting outside when the sun shines, and going to listen to music and the two neighbouring pubs, I've been fairly busy. I've walked down to the castle ruins, walked across the bridge from the supermarket in Kyle of Lochalsh with Jamie one day (that's the nearest supermarket, to which you can catch a bus as well, although it's under a 30 minute walk), and walked down the shore and under the bridge as well. There's ceilidhs at one of the bars, the King Hakkon every Wednesday and Thursday, then the other bar, Saucy Mary's, has bands come in on Friday and Saturday night and traditional music on Sunday night. As Alysha #2 put it, there's only two nights of the week, Monday and Tuesday, that she has off from going out. I've been taking more nights than that, though, or else I would be really suffering from lack of sleep (oh to be 19 and energetic again!)

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Mad Day

I've been real busy this afternoon with checking in people and helping serving dinner to a group, so I haven't had time to write up a post. But I did put up a bunch of photos, so I will direct you to my Kyleakin photos that have captions explaining them. These photos were taken on some of the nice sunny days, of which there's been a few, but there's also been some quite rainy days so the place looks a bit different then.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Heads up

Just a quick post to let you all know that I haven't forgotten my blog. I've just been waiting for the opportunity to put up some photos, needing to take some photos, and otherwise been spending my time living my life instead of documenting it. Anyway, I'm intending tomorrow evening to be the time to put up a post, so hold your breath until then if you wish.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Started work

I came up from the Gaelic college yesterday to Kyleakin, and I've started work today. Did a couple of hours this morning and then will do some more this evening in order to get a sampling of what needs to be done on the different shifts. It's not going to be too strenuous a job, I think.

The people I'm working with seem like good fun. The manager is Pat, and he's been here for years. He's got a "weird sense of humour" as he puts it, but since I have have a fairly odd sense of humour myself I imagine we'll get on well. He tells entertaining stories too.

There's two other live-in girls, Alicia from Australia and Alysha from British Columbia, both name are prounced the same. So we've decided to tell people that my name is Alisha, but that we've decided to call me Megan to make things easier. Or Alisha 3, since the other two are referred to as one and two, respectively. The girls have been good fun so far; we went over to the bar down the street last night and I met probably half the people in the village plus tourists.

I think there's a few hundred people who live in Kyleakin, with the population growing some in the summer since there's so many inns, B&B's, and hostels. There are 4 hostels in town, which is very odd for a place that has only one tiny shop and no major tourist sites. The hostel I'm at, which belongs to the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) is the largest, with about 70 beds. I'm not sure how many beds are in the others, but judging from the building sizes I'd guess anywhere from 10 to 40 beds in each of the others.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Twirling kilts, fiddlers and midges

Yesterday my Gaelic class took a field trip to Portree. It was finally sunny after days of heavy rain and wind (on and off). I went up to the Skye Games (of the Highland variety) with Kirsty from my class, whose brother was competing in the dances. I watched the sword dance and chantreuse (spelling?) competition (we had arrived to late to see the fling) as well as the "heavy" competition that was going on at the same time - that is, guys chucking stones.

To throw the stones, the competitors generally twirl around through one-and-a-half rotations (3 pi - I had a physics moment that just had to get out), which causes the kilts they're wearing to billow out. All I can say is that in the days when people didn't wear anything under their kilts, there would have been no secrets regarding what was under their kilts. A lot of flashing would have been going on.

There was actually a woman competing in the stone-throwing, although she had a lighter stone by the looks of it. We were informed by the announcer that she was from Ontario and competed in the women's Highland Games circuit in Canada, which I've never heard tell off. She was one big woman, but she still couldn't throw the stones any where near as far as the men.

Classes are going along alright this week. I can now describe things that I'm doing or have been or will be doing, but it's harder to speak it on the spot since there's lots of new vocabulary and grammar.

One thing I'm not liking as much this week is the atmosphere in the college. There's over 120 fiddlers here for a fiddle week, and there's only 8 of us learning Gaelic. So first of all, we're hearing no Gaelic outside of class, unlike last week. Secondly, I find many of the fiddlers to be very cliquey. I've chatted well with some, but with others the banter is atrocious. Since they don't know me they won't bother to talk to me at the ceilidhs in the evenings, or if they do talk to me once they find out I'm not a fiddler I'm sort of shoved aside. As one girl put it, "Oh, you're that Gaelic one". So the music has been good, but the friendliness of last week has been lacking.

Also, since many of the fiddlers are teenagers, and some of the fiddlers who will talk to me are around 18 or 19 years old, but hanging out with the younger ones, when I have gotten some conversation I've also felt like I'm crashing a summer camp.

I've been getting to experience the delight that is midges this week, although they haven't been too bad (from what I've heard). First of all, I'm not sure exactly how you pronounce "midge". The folks I worked with at the Coylet tended to say "midg-ie" so that's how I say it, but I think I've heard other Scotsfolk saying it without the final "ee" sound.

Anyway, I don't generally notice that I've been bitten by a midge until well after the fact. I can see them about but I've never seen one on me when it's biting, and I never feel it like I would with black flies or mosquitoes. I do notice the bites afterward, as I react a little bit to them - some of my bites swell a little bit into something like a hive with a dent in the middle of it. And they itch, of course. I won't complain about them too much though, as they haven't been that thick here and I've had far worse experience with mosquitoes.

I might get some photos up soon as it's been a while.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Some songs for ya

At the ceilidhs this past week (and I assume it will continue this week), it's been common for people to "give us a song", as the request goes, in amongst the banter (chat). There's been a number of Gaelic songs, of course, but I did hear two new (to me) Scots songs, and since they're in language intelligible to English speakers, I thought I'd share them.

To the tune that you may know better as "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain", here's the lyrics to the first one (it seems to be traditional):
Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus,
Oh ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus,
Ye cannae shove yer granny, for she's yer mammy's mammy,
Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus.

Ye can shove yer other granny aff a bus,
Ye can shove yer other granny aff a bus.
You can shove yer other granny, for she's yer daddy's mammy,
Ye can shove yer other granny aff a bus.

The other song is apparently to the tune of something I don't know, and the words were then written by Billy Connolly, a very funny man. So check out this YouTube recording I found of The Welly Boot Song to hear it for yourself. A note for my Canadian readership: "wellies" (plural of "welly boot") are rubber boots. The name is short for Wellington boot. They are generally green over here, not black with red soles like at home.

Level 1 completed, waiting for level 2, and employed

I was up to Kyleakin (link 1, link 2) today (near where the bridge from Skye to Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland is) to visit the youth hostel there to see about a job for a couple of months. I'm going to start there next weekend as just a general assistant. It's a fair-sized hostel, about 70 beds, and besides the manager there's 3-4 other people working there plus a chef who does meals when there's groups that book it. Kyleakin's got a lot of hostels for a village of its size so it will be busy in terms of backpackers passing through.

I've also made some friends who will be at the Gaelic college as full-time students in September, so I'm determined that I will get down to see them and go to some of the ceilidh's even if I have to acquire a bicycle or hitch a ride.

This week at the college, the only language course on is the Level 2 class that I am taking. Instead of Gaelic learners, the place is filled up with over a hundred fiddlers here for a course with Alisdair Fraser, who is apparently well-known in the fiddle world. With all the fiddlers here, it means that the impromtu ceilidhs that get held each night are certainly going to have a lot of music. But since few of the fiddlers speak any Gaelic, it also means I don't get to listen into coversations that I may not understand but are good for picking up the sound of the language and a few words. I've been walking around all week hearing Gaelic songs in my head that I don't even understand, so just hearing the language is obviously good for me. So I'm missing that right now. Plus I can't really talk shop with fiddlers, so I can get left out in the cold in that sort of coversation. Once classes start tomorrow it should be better.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Uill, hallò

(That's "well, hello" for you there. And it sounds pretty much like that, just vowels are a bit different. There's no "w" in Gaelic.).

It's the middle of day 3 of classes. We're up to having conversations of a sort now. My teacher, Cailean, is a youngish guy (I'd guess a bit over 20) and he's quite fun. As he put it, you're never going to need to know how to book a train ticket in Gaelic, or go to the bank, or any of the types of conversations that you usually get taught when learning French or German or Spanish. So he's teaching us how to speak about the fun stuff, as he put it. That involves where you're from, what the weather's like, do you have a car and can you give me a lift to the pub so we can get a pint, etc.

At the end of each day, we've been getting a short play recounting the adventures of Calum-Alig who is attempting to chat up a good-lookin' girl, Trixibelle, in various bars around Portree. So if you read just plain ol' "well hello" in my post title, you now need to stretch out the words so that it sounds like some fellow greeting the object of his attention in a bar.