Jonathan Field - Maker of Random Stuff

Monthly Archives: June 2005

Part Two of a Three Part Series (Orkney Report 6/13-16)

The Orkney Islands… just a few degrees short of the Arctic circle. In June the the sun only sets for a couple hours. And even then it doesn’t get completely dark. This kills the hip and trendy farmland nightlife, but we made up for it by downing a whole bottle of wine between the two of us every evening.

Actually, we started our visit with a tour of Highland Park, the world’s most northerly whisky distillery, where we saw and touched fermenting grains on the basement floor. Yes, in 18 to 40 years someone will crack open a bottle of scotch and notice the fine flavor that can only be achieved by passing the grain through my fingertips.

We rented a car while we were there, which was fun. Driving on the left side of the road and all that. Though I must say that much of the the road didn’t even have sides, being barely wide enough for one car. So I spent much of the time driving in the middle, and pulling off-road to the left when someone came the other way. They have little “passing place” signs alongside the road where you can best do this. There’s so little traffic it works out fine.

The islands themselves are mostly covered in rich farmland. Cows and sheep wander alongside nearly every road. Oftentimes while we were looking at some attraction or other, they’d come right over and stare at us. The sea along the west coast was as blue as I’ve ever seen, and it played against some lovely cliffs and shattered stone. Orkney was basically the exact opposite of Vegas, which I guess was the point.

Continuing my fascination with the dead, we visited Maes Howe, a chambered tomb from around 4500 years ago. No remains; it was broken into by the Vikings thousands of years later and covered with runic graffiti. The finest collection of runic inscriptions in the world, in fact — we spent much time on the tour appreciating them. So here’s to those of you who annoyingly scratch your initials and whatnot into public property at every chance: your day of appreciation will come.

The castle we stayed at was lovely, and our jolly chef Fiona kept us very well fed. To the long list of things I’ve eaten I can now proudly add pigeon and pheasant. Dinner was served around a family table where all the guests ate together. A very nice newlywed couple from London was there for a couple nights; he was Scottish, she was French.

One night the Canadian Secret Service stopped by. We couldn’t tell right away of course, but we were curious… they seemed to be getting a bit of special attention. And we learned they had just flown 18 hours for one night in the castle and planned to go back home bright and early the next day. It seemed odd that three middle aged men would do this. We asked about their work and at first they just said “the government”.

Over dinner we chatted, and after a little wine we asked exactly what it was they did for “the government”. After joking they’d have to kill us if they told us, they said they ran security for the prime minister. He was set to arrive in a couple weeks and they were scoping the place out in advance.

They were very friendly. I guess there aren’t enough attempts on the CPM to grind them into the hard humorless bodyguards that we have around our own head of state.

Each night after dinner we’d relax with tea in the library. And each time the tea appeared magically without us ever bumping into any of the staff coming or going. The night the secret service was there we finally spotted the secret passage — one of the bookcases was actually a door, and the staff had left it open a crack by mistake.

I pointed the secret passage out to the secret service guys and asked if it would effect their security assessment. They said no, but they thought it was neat and that one of them might hide in there to jump out and scare the prime minister for fun.

There were several other ancient sites and prehistoric ruins we visited — there are so many on the islands that some of the lesser ones are hardly marked. My favorite was the 5000 year old village of Skara Brae; a collection of several furnished houses that were abandoned and then covered for millennia by a sandstorm. The people left no writings, so we know little about them, but one can get a sense of a fairly advanced and comfortable life by walking around their little homes.

Of course all of this was documented on film by Sophie.

We saw so much but the time raced by and then we flew off to Edinburgh. Hold your breath; more to come.

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Scotland photos online! (Glasgow Report 6/10-13)

Well, after a week back I’m finally caught up again. Meaning I’m no more behind than usual.

Sophie put up a nice collection of pictures from our trip. There’s four photo albums total, broken down by locale, with links at the top.

Glasgow was nice, though it’s a combination college/industrial town. I was a little disappointed that there weren’t street vendors with kilts the moment we got out of the taxi in the city center. I didn’t get the sense that they were trying to exploit me as a tourist… it was really unsettling. I was all ready to buy one immediately so I’d have the maximum amount of time to make an ass of myself. But all we saw for kilts in Glasgow were in a tuxedo shop, and they were as expensive as they were handsome. I put it off and hoped to find something later in the trip…

We only had one full day there, so we didn’t get to see everything we were interested in. The main site we checked out was the Glasgow Cathedral. The cathedral is huge, and despite my lack of personal faith, it is humbling to see such an effort to symbolize the divine. Plus, there’s just something about buildings with dead people in the walls.

Speaking of dead people, the Glasgow Necropolis was immediately behind the cathedral; literally a mountain of graves. As we approached it was raining, and the sight of a foggy old wooded cemetery towering behind the spires was chilling. We hiked up top anyways, and as soon as we made it the sun popped out, making for a bright and jolly old time on the sacred ground. I did a happy little dance to secure myself a place in hell.

We also hit a couple restaurants, the botanical garden (amidst some kind of street festival) and the museum of modern art. Oh: at the street festival I learned that white people in Scotland can’t dance either.

Then we slept like fish to make up for our long travel and the time zone switch, and flew up to the Orkney islands…

More hard hitting reports to come.

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Back in Vegas

Scotland was incredible. There was so much stuff packed into the past 10 days that I’ll have to elaborate later, but I think the following picture sums up the trip nicely:

I’ve been traveling for the past 20 hours and will now collapse.

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Hey kids: “Tha mi a’ sgaoil am leathar a’faighean ràinig thu a bhàrr”

So I’m off to Scotland today… in just a few hours, actually. Sophie and I should be in Glasgow at 6:50 PM tomorrow evening. A day in the city there, then four days in the Orkney Islands up north. At a friggin’ castle! I plan to look out over the top wall and do my best John Cleese in the Holy Grail impersonation, which I’m sure will go over really well with the locals. The Orkney Islands also have some impressive ancient ruins and much natural beauty. Then it’s off to Edinburgh for the last few days. We’re back in Las Vegas the night of June 20th.

Yes, I will be wearing a kilt.

No, I won’t be eating haggis.

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Serenity Anyone?

At the risk of turning this into another fan-boy journal where I just post lame reviews about TV shows, movies, and the girl that won’t sleep with me, I’ll go right ahead and mention that Firefly was a damn fine sci-fi show.

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Okay, finally saw Hitchhiker’s Guide, the movie I alluded to earlier with the head-bumping action. It was exactly as bad as I’d feared. Which is a bit sad, too, as it was obviously made with care. I watched the film in complete silence. I may have smiled once or twice, but that was it. Sophie fell asleep, and she just doesn’t do that at the movies. A bad taste in my mouth, I came home, grabbed the book, and read the scene where they talk to Deep Thought. It had been a while and I wanted to see if the book was actually as enjoyable as I remember. It was. And it was amazing how every single funny and clever line was cut out of that scene in the movie. It’s not that the book would ever work that well as a movie anyways, but can’t they at least keep the things that work in place? If only Terry Gilliam had directed…

Speaking of Gilliam, I’m looking forward to The Brothers Grimm.

Revenge of the Sith was surprisingly good. By that I mean it wasn’t exactly as bad as I’d feared.

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