Thursday, January 29, 2009

Daily life

I know I said that the next post would be about our trip to Inveraray, and the next one will be, but today I just wanted to write about something current and not a month ago.
For the past two weeks, I have had a bit of temp office work at a small company that runs a training program to help people set up their own businesses. The work itself I was doing was easy if a bit tedious, but I didn't mind a bit. Because I felt, for two days out of the week, like I was a part of the fabric of Glasgow working life. I was participating in a well worn routine of coffee breaks, office banter and 3:30pm chocolate fixes. Its a routine I've become fairly familiar with over the past 8 years and my sporadic bursts of temping. And in the past two weeks its been very comforting. In fact in the mornings, after a crowded, but short, subway ride (they call it the subway here, not the tube like in London) to Buchanan Street and a block walk to George Square (pretty much the heart of the City Centre) I was so ... happy. I was very possibly the ONLY person smiling as I walked to work in the rain.
The people at the office where I was working were so very very nice. Dead friendly. And genuine. I think it was also really good for me to be in an environment like that, listening to everyone talk to each other casually all day, to be able to further get used to the accents. Just like there are Mississauga or Scarborough dialects in Toronto, there is a Paisley dialect in Glasgow. Two of the people in the office were from Paisley, and so is someone I volunteer with at the Heart Foundation Charity shop. So I'm starting to recognize some key sounds.
Yes, I'd say I'm settling in . And one of the most important things about settling in that I really realized this week, was how much I have underestimated my need to feel I belong. To a community here. To daily life here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Exploring Glasgow

A good part of our lovely Christmas/New Year's holiday was spent just hanging out with each other, both curled up at home with our cats and exploring our new city. There are many parts of it still unknown to us, so we ventured further east and further south on a couple of occasions.

Our easterly visit took us to Glasgow Cathedral, the Necropolis and to the Museum of Religious Life. Across from the Museum is also the oldest standing house in Glasgow, the Lordship Provender, where legend has it Mary Queen of Scots stayed for a few nights and wrote some rather incriminating letters that linked her to her second husband's murder. We were hoping for a tour of the house, but it was unfortunately closed due to lack of staff, said the note on the door. So we started out with the Museum, which is well worth a visit if you come to Glasgow. Not only does it have a floor devoted to religion in Scotland, and the wide varieties thereof, and the interesting and intense history thereof, but it has quite a few lovely artifacts and displays of religions of the world. Once through, we ate some homemade sandwiches we packed along, and then headed over to the Necropolis. Its a large cemetery opened up in the 1800's when Glasgow's population was starting to boom. It is clearly a cemetery for the gentry however with its large family mausoleums and giant monuments. Very beautiful as it spirals up a large hill with spectacular views of the city. But this was clearly not the resting place of all the Glaswegians who were living in the slums of the 1860's and dying of dysentery and cholera. Sorry, I guess I just have to get political about everything, but that's not hard to do here. There is such a strong leftist history to this city that is very interesting - parliamentary fears of a Bolshevik uprising in the late teens, famous labour strikes in the 30's and 70's, trade unions as major cultural supporters throughout the 70's and 80's giving rise to some strong political theatre and art, just for some examples. But I digress. I was talking about the beautiful monuments...
Then there is Glasgow Cathedral, with its ancient origins, the tomb of St. Mungo (who died in the 6thC) in the lower crypt, the 14thC Sacristy with its original oak door (a plaque on the wall points out the bullet holes which it gives as evidence of "troubled times", namely Reformation related sectarian violence, which continued on and off for about 300 years, actually more like 500+ years if you consider the Rangers/Celtics football rivalries. Rangers are the Protestant team and Celtics are the Catholic team, both Glaswegian, and there have been some pretty nasty things happen to fans caught alone in the wrong neighborhood.) (Another diversion, sorry.) My point was that the Cathedral is not very big but it is very old and very interesting, another must see for visitors.

As for our southerly excursion, that was after New Year's, and we went to Pollok Park, which is near the districts of Crossmyloof and Strathbungo. Its true.
The park is a very large estate donated to the city of Glasgow in the 60's and features lovely walking trails through various meadows and fields where giant long-horn Highland cattle graze (in the middle of the city!!) and two buildings of interest, Pollok House, which is a 18thC manor house (which we didn't go inside, because we were a bit short on time and hungry) and the Burrell Museum which houses the extraordinary collection of artifacts collected by William Burrell, a rich Victorian guy who really liked tapestries. He has a lot of other things too, but his medieval tapestry collection is really amazing. It is just such a lovely place to walk too. Aaron says it was voted the best park in Europe. Thus another highly recommended place to take visiting family and friends.

Pictures: Top Left - View to the south-west from the Necropolis, Top Right - Gateway to Pollok Park, Bottom Right - North Kelvin Meadow on a misty late afternoon

Next post: (working backwards here) Our pre-Christmas trip to Inveraray.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Its a New Year!

I had a chat with my mother-in-law on the phone the other day, who commented on my post about how difficult a transition this can be sometimes, moving to a new country and trying to settle in and all. And she said she thought it was good that I didn't try to avoid the truth that sometimes it isn't all wine and roses. (well, no wine at all for me these days actually...) I appreciated this feedback a lot. Now I don't feel I have to, or even could for that matter, stick to a particular portrayal of our/my experience here, which would frankly be pretty difficult seeing as something is always changing, both circumstances and perspectives.

After our Christmas and New Year's holiday for example, I felt a kind of peace or settled-ness that I had been wanting to feel since I arrived. I attribute this partly to the really good times I got to spend with Aaron, some of our new friends like John and Vibeke (who is from Norway), and a friend from my high school/university days in Edmonton, Sheila, who is doing a post-doc in Bristol, but came up to Glasgow for Christmas holidays.
We only hosted Sheila in our flat for a couple of nights since our couch is short, she has cat allergies, and she was spending Christmas proper with some other friends, but she was playing part of her vacation by ear, and we ended up spending much more time together than anticipated and had a really lovely visit. One day, we saw a play at the very interesting city centre venue called The Arches, which makes use of a huge and varied space beneath the Central train station, then we window shopped in some Goth-y stores, found our way to Winterfest in George Square where we had hot chocolate and marshmallows, and then topped it all off by going for sushi!!! (nothing raw for me of course, but still it is one of my favorites...) Aaron and I then the next day took Sheila to a small, slightly hidden tea house in the University area called Tchai-ovna, which, as it outlines is their 16 page menu, compiled in a small binder, was inspired by popular student tea houses in the Czech Republic and Hungary. Their variety of teas is overwhelming and it is truly a bohemian atmosphere where 3 hours can pass quietly and quickly by in easy conversation and comfy chairs. Sheila and I had to go back again the following day.

Then there was Christmas and Hogmanay (New Years) with John (a fellow student Aaron met on his first week here and who quickly became a real "mate") and his girlfriend Vibeke. John is from Yorkshire, in the northern part of England, and is doing his degree here in Economic Social History. He has been a welder by trade for years, and welded Aaron's broken Oilers key chain for him. His lovely girlfriend from Norway, and who is doing her PhD in Middle English, is named Vibeke Jensen. John apparently chuckled the first time Aaron told him what my name was. I have been tempted recently to call her "Veebs", but I don't know how that will fly.
We were invited over to John's flat for a fabulous (and apparently traditional) Christmas roast beef dinner, which also featured a traditional Norweigan snack - a kind of lamb jerky, which Aaron really tucked into. I was a little surprised when Vibeke told us about it and then proceeded to pull an entire leg (hip to heel) of dried lamb out of a sack, but I think Aaron enjoyed the carve-your-own approach.
We also spent New Year's with them at the Park Bar, a Highlander/Islander's pub which we had been to before, and which John favours in his preference for traditional "Old Man" pubs. There was live music all night, some classics played like "Dirty Old Town" and "We will die or be free cried the Bruce",and there was even some impromptu country dancing. Then at midnight, lots of kissing, and "Auld Lang Syne" played on the bagpipes. This might have been a time when I could have had that one glass of wine that people say you can have once or twice during your pregnancy, but I still feel weird about it so I didn't. But I had a grand time any way with my three gingerales!
It was a really great and fun night, and was a good way to start the New Year, with friends, with music and with a lot of laughter.

Next postings: Some holiday outings around Glasgow with Aaron, and our pre-Christmas weekend in Invarary.