Old Daily Shows--September 2003

Find the archive of past entries at archive.htm. Today's entry is at daily.htm.

Saturday September 6, 2003 Napiershall Street

Irish polkas, played by Patrick Street as only they do, stream through headphones at two in the morning. A mug of hot chocolate sits next to me, cooling down to the point where I'll be able to drink it. The lights are on in the flat, and somebody's home: me.

It's been a while since I last wrote, and there are many, many things to mention. Supposing for the moment that I get through them all in one entry--unlikely at best--they're loosely organized into three categories: people, places, and things. People have been most important to me here, and so I was torn about discussing them first or last, but in the end, I don't think I'll make it through my list tonight, and people are more important, so I'll put them first, that they not be left out.

First to mention is Susan. Susan? Susan McGinnis, a fellow American, now a resident alien in Auchinloch, just outside Glasgow. Formerly a professional flute player in England, the USA, and perhaps elsewhere, now working as a counselor and therapist in Glasgow. Susan is probably the single biggest reason I've had such good luck while here. She picked me up at the airport, help me hit the ground running, and has given me all kinds of aid.

Her sister and my dad dated each other while they were at Oberlin. That's the connection, and all there was to go on. On the strength of that friendship, she took me in, made me welcome, and helped me out. If I sometimes rave about Susan, it's because she did a lot for me. She claims it's sort of paying her dues, and that it's repaying the kindness she received as a fellow traveler years ago. I like thinking of it that way, and hope that some day I'll help someone else the way she's helped me.

So what did she do? Well, she picked me up. Gave me directions around the city, drove me to look at a few flats, gave me insider advice. Suggested places I could look for flatmate listings. Let me use her phone to call people for flats--and call them I did. Sixty-three of them in a day, on one of the less good days. Let me help take care of her cat, Spooky, who's recently had surgery and wasn't feeling well. Gave me a place to stay for rather longer than I deserved.

Thank you, Susan.

Fast forward a good bit, to just after I found a flat. The next person you'll meet is Masud, or Masood. He runs the Oriental Foods shop that's just down Napiershall Street, where I live.

A lot of people who seem to have Indian ancestry live right around here, and so there are some grocery stores to serve them. Oriental Foods is one of them. My first night here, I wandered around the neighborhood, trying to get my bearings. I stopped into several grocery stores, checking out their produce. The next day, I decided to make pasta with sauce for dinner, and needed some green chiles for the sauce. So I went to Oriental Foods, and picked out some chiles. I'd been in there that morning, chatting with the owner, and I had explained that I was new in town, interested in seeing what he sold.

He remembered me that night. I brought my chiles up to counter, and got out money to pay for them. He quietly said hello in response to my greeting, bagged the chiles, and said "this one's on the house".

In a cynical sense, it was a good choice for him--a few pennies worth of produce, and he's made a lasting and positive impression in my mind. I don't think that was what motivated it, though, and even if it were, what's wrong with that? I try to shop there as much as possible, and I always say hello. It was one of my first roots here, and those are precious. Especially precious at first. Thanks, Masud, for making me feel like I had a friend in my new home.

One major change I've noticed going from Potsdam to Glasgow is that Glasgow has many beggars on the street. I've always been uncomfortable with people panhandling, and this is making me deal with it in a much more frequent fashion than ever before.

I try to give them some money, though, and this has led to some interesting interactions. Generally, I just reach into my pocket, pull out a coin or two, and give it to them. This is occasionally problematic because I'm only just learning the coinage system here.

As an aside, it's three in the frigging morning, and the people upstairs are playing techno music and shouting drunkenly to each other with sufficient volume that I can hear them clearly over the music playing on my headphones. I'm a bit afraid of them, though, so I don't want to go ask them to turn it down. Sociologists will have to tell me: what happens to a self-regulating society when some of its members choose not to regulate themselves?

Anyway. Beggars. One day, someone asked me for money, and I was feeling generous, so I pulled out a large coin and handed it to him. It was a two shilling piece, one of two that my grandmother and Byron had given me among other bits of UK money. He chased me down, explaining that it wasn't money. Apparently shillings are no longer used in the UK. He was close enough to my personal space that I didn't want to tie up my hands getting out more cash, so I just kept walking. For all that it wasn't money, he didn't offer to give it back. Ah well... A waste of metal to me, a lost bit of heritage for me, but also a small lesson learned.

Later that evening, I gave some money to a woman on the street. I pulled out two coins, and deposited them in her cup without looking at them. Turns out that I'd given her 2p, about $0.05. She screamed at me as I kept walking home, calling me a cheap bastard and criticizing me for being insufficiently generous.

I was somewhat upset about it, and I talked to some friends about it. They commented that the (high) taxes we all pay here include money for people like that, and that I shouldn't give them any money. That may be true, but sometimes I feel like giving them something anyway. I'm only here at all because the Watson Foundation decided to give me a lot of money, for no particularly good reason. Isn't it right and good to pass a little bit of that on to those it could help?

Still, though, it offends my sense of rightness to be criticized for miserliness by someone to whom I'd just donated money. She didn't yell at any of the twenty or thirty people who'd walked by her and given nothing in the minute before I got there. It was odd. I am trying not to judge, though--I am lucky enough to know nothing of what her life is like.

The other day, I gave money to one guy while I sat and ate my lunch. A sizeable sum--40p--so between 50 and 75 cents. That's what came out of my pocket. As I sat and ate my (cheap) sandwich, another man came up to me and demanded his share. "WHERE'S MINE?", he said again and again. He kept doing it, and got uncomfortably close to me as he did it. I couldn't think of what to do, but he genuinely was frightening me, so I looked him in the eye, turned away, and walked deliberately toward a pair of the Strathclyde Police who were walking their beat.

I didn't say anything to them, of course, nor did they take any action, but still I felt about as proud as a ten-foot hole in the floor. People here tell me that I can't let them get to me, that there are public services for them, that they're not as badly off as they seem, but part of me just won't listen.

I hope that doesn't change. I don't want to let this city make me hardened to need, if that makes any sense. I'll probably have to do less than I want to, but I don't know that I'll ever stop giving them something. I'm a sucker, I guess. Still. And then, there's the other argument--I'm not giving them enough that I should really be having this debate with myself. Honestly, the amounts I give them aren't small--most people give them pennies--but they're not enough to buy a healthy meal, or a drink in a pub, or a pack of cigarettes. Why do I worry about it?

I'm remembering a conversation Dale and I had back at Reachout this summer. Trying to paraphrase his statements: he always gives them something. For him, that's the best choice, because he never has to decide whether this one deserves it or needs it. His answer to the old objection--"Oh, you know they'll just go blow it on booze or drugs"--makes a lot of sense to me.

You or I may think that a lousy way to use the small amount of cash you've got. But if that's what it takes to get this one through his day, to make him feel like life is worth continuing, then that's what it takes, and who are we to decide whether that's right or good or acceptable?

It makes a lot of sense to me. I don't give them all money, but I try to give something to some of them. As the starfish parable goes, it matters to this one.

One time the decision is easier for me is the case of street musicians, who are typically less beggar-ish and more musician-y, if that makes any sense. I try always to give them something, partly because I've been a street musician occasionally, and I appreciated it, but rather more because they really make my life happier, and they're generous with sharing their music. Doesn't really matter whether they're good or not; I still appreciate it. So I give them a bit of cash. I gave the guitarist by the Cowcaddens Underground station a pound and change yesterday, because he'd brightened an otherwise not great day.

Yesterday, I learned that Chad Fuller, a sniper with the US armed forces, had been killed in active duty. This is significant because he graduated from my high school in the year before I did. I suppose, really, it's significant because he's dead. But it's significant to me because though I didn't know him well, I think he's the first person in my age group who's been killed. Eric killed himself just before our senior year at Swarthmore, and I didn't know him well either. Somehow being killed seems different from committing suicide. Not much different, really, but enough so that it feels like a first. I hope Chad's family is doing all right.

The guitarist helped with that day, somehow. So I gave him some money.

It would be really cool if these people would turn off their music by the time I want to go to bed.

Who else... the people at the Piping Centre! They've all turned out to be very nice, really. First is Roddy MacLeod, my "boss", who's the Principal of the Centre, and has a list of prizes won that's a mile long. He's very nice, and seems to keen to have this archive project work out. More about the project itself in future, I'm sure.

Then there's Gordon Walker, another phenomenal piper and a teacher there; Jimmy Banks, ex-Army, who helps run the RSAMD BA program in piping; Allan MacDonald, whom I've not yet met; Finlay MacDonald, another RSAMD guy; Paul Warren, who runs the National Youth Pipe Band, and with whom I share an office; Willie Beveridge, who teaches in the evenings; Chris Armstrong, who's my age and has the habit of winning all the professional prizes there are.

There are the nice people in the restaurant: John, who's headed home to New Zealand; Gemma, who runs the hotel; Barbara, a waitress; various others.

And there's the people with whom I probably interact the most: the women at the reception. There's Jean, who'll be leaving for New Zealand in a week; Zoe, who runs things; Margaret, Irish and reticent but friendly; Elaine, who's 34 but doesn't look it; Helen, who helps run the National Youth Pipe Band. They're all so friendly!

Paul, in particular, is turning into a real mentor. He's sort of taking me under his wing and giving me lessons, as well as advising me on a course of study for myself. One of the first things I'm doing is ripping apart all my finger technique, and rebuilding it from the ground up--slowly. Frustrating, but I think it's beginning to yield results. Paul's invited me to try out for a band he runs, and I think I'll go for it. It's a long shot, but what the heck? Why not!

My connection to SCCS is being rather recalcitrant this evening, so I think I'll wrap this up for now with a little bit of what I did today. I'm sure the other things will follow in good time. I've been feeling very stuck about the webjournal thing, and I hope that having written something will make it easier to continue writing. Truth be told, I haven't been writing anything, anywhere, and that's unusual for me. It's been sort of like a block on creativity. I wonder if it will end...

... but that's for the future to discover. Today, I went to the Babbity Bowster for the Saturday evening session. I'd gone to the one last week, and it was my first session in Glasgow. My first session, really, in that it's the first time I've ever walked into one knowing nobody, made myself gather the courage to sit down, and done it. I had a great time last week, so I went back today.

Who was sitting there as I walked in but Hamish and Fin Moore? I had a nice chat with them. I hadn't met Fin before, but he seems very nice. I'm looking forward to getting my smallpipes (in April--such a long time off!) partly for the pipes but also because it'll mean going on a trip to Dunkeld and seeing Hamish and Fin to learn how to play them and treat them right. They seem so nice.

People remembered me today. Alistair said they'd missed me at the Sunday night session last week--someone had invited me to come along. People were nice, and my training with Susie paid off: I can learn tunes, at session speed, in hearing them two or three times. I sat fully in the circle this time, and played some good tunes. It was good fun, and good craic.

Came home and watched the end of Forrest Gump, and that's all I have to say about that.

I'm settling in.

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Sunday September 7, 2003 Music for a Sunday

"Thoughts of the future are dim, murky ones, full of glistening possibilities submerged in a fearful haze of uncertainty. After three years of wanting a Watson fellowship, wanting it so badly I could taste it, I am seriously considering throwing my application in the trash, for simple fear of the unknown.

And then something clicks. Memory and observation combine, and I notice that my room is silent. Well, not silent--the ever-present crickets in the trees outside my windows are singing to each other, and the overhead light hums its own droning note--but disorganized, chaotic, a mirror for my thoughts. A quick trip across the floor of my room sends the CD player into a quiet hum of activity, and then.

Music. Karen Tweed and Timo Alakotila, Scot and Scandinavian, accordion and piano twining and dancing together. Their CD, May Monday, is one that Susie Petrov, musical mentor and one of my closest friends, lent me for inspiration. Their playing has the things we strive to create in our own music--originality, good taste, compelling rhythm and drive, harmonic interest, good feel. The music flows from my stereo, and a feeling of peace and resolution overtakes me. Ordered music replaces the chaos of noise, and my fractured thoughts come back to me, repaired."

I'm listening to Karen and Timo for the first time in months, this Sunday evening as the rain pours down outside the windows of my flat. It's really Monday morning, of course, but it's Sunday still at home. The rain really is coomin doon sae hard the drains are overflowin, and the darkness has turned chill. As I walked home this evening, I realized that I was tramping through fallen leaves, once beautifully golden. The rain turns that gold into a damp and sodden yellow, nature running alchemy in reverse like a truly mad scientist.

I wrote those words up there almost exactly a year ago, for my Watson Personal Statement. A year ago, I didn't know whether I wanted a Watson, didn't know whether I could do it, didn't know how it would be possible to leave everyone and most things that I knew, pick up and leave, and go away for a year.

I'm still not always sure, but most of the time the uncertainty doesn't seem to matter. I'm learning that it doesn't always need to matter if I'm not sure how I'm going to get from today to next month. I'll get there, and that's really what matters, isn't it? These days, a new generation of Swatties is preparing those ten-page applications, trying to discover whether or not they could really do this.

I bet they can.

Today was, in some respects, not the most successful. I didn't get to sleep until after 4:30 in the morning, courtesy of our friends upstairs. If they do it again, I'm resolving to go play bagpipes outside their door at 7 am the morning after they go on a bender. I tried to make pasta with alfredo sauce, and remembered that I hadn't succeeded in finding Parmigiano or Romano at any of the shops I visited. What could I do? I figured I'd try it with extra-sharp cheddar (that's extra-mature cheddar here).

This was a non-wise idea. My cream sauce was lovely until the cheese went in, at which point it quickly became "Clumps of Gummy Cheese/Milk Concoction in a Limp Bath of Tasteless Whey". That was fun. Then there was the session tonight at the Ben Nevis, which was really crowded, quite smokey, and not very friendly. It was a bumch of RSAMD students who weren't really letting other people into the circle. I played a few tunes on whistle, then gave it up and went home. This makes it sound much worse than it was. I actually had a reasonable time, because I convinced Paul to come with me to the pub. So we chatted, and I gave him information about the way the session scene works. So that was good.

And now it's late again, and I should sleep. A year ago, I didn't know whether I could do this.

Whether or not I can, I am doing it.

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Monday September 8, 2003 A letter

This morning, I awoke with a start. I'd been sleeping fitfully already, tossing and turning for no particular reason. I think I slept on my knee a few nights ago, and it's been hurting a bit when I walk. I'm sleeping, for the moment, on a loft bed that leaves me close enough to the stucco ceiling--Artex ceilings, they're called here, presumably for ARTistic TEXture, says my flatmate--that I need to be careful sitting up too quickly lest I sand off bits of my head.

I think sanding, and sandblasting, will be the next big thing for beauty treatments. Oh people with too much money, step this way. For a nominal (cash) fee, you may sand your faces on my ceiling, and you'll look young and like you've recently survived a car accident again! Come one, come all, to Easter's Beauty Emporium!

Ahem. Anyway, I woke with a start, because I'd heard something falling, and crashing. A dull thud, followed almost immediately by a metallic, sharp sound. The sort of sound the teapot makes when it falls off the counter and smashes into seventeen billion pieces.

I jumped out of bed, nearly giving myself a beauty treatment courtesy of the ceiling, and went into the other room. Nothing. No broken glass, no former teapots.

It was the mail flap. The postman had put the mail through the flap, and there'd been a fair bit of it. Thus the dull thud. Our door has two mail flaps, really--one outside the flat, and one inside. The clank was the inner flap slapping shut.

Well, I was up anyway, so I figured I'd sort the mail. Thing for Paul, thing for Rob, thing for Rob, thing for Rob, thing for Paul, thing for Hollis, thing for Rob, thing fo... wait a second. Thing for Hollis? Whoa!

It was a letter from my dear David January, who must have mailed it immediately upon learning my address. Major kudos, let me tell you. Thanks, Dave.

I wonder how long it'll take other people to notice the change in my speech, the Scotification of my word choice. I see it already, but I'm watching carefully. Will I suddenly begin to speak of things being different to each other, speak to people rather than talking with them . . . ? Who knows.

I know this, though. If I don't wash my dishes before it gets too much later, it's going to be ugggggggggly, and I shall fall asleep.

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Thursday September 11, 2003 Honesty

"Sleep, sleep tonight, and may your dreams be realized."

I still refuse to call it "nine-eleven", too. Or "September the 11th". Both of them call to mind images of a President leading us boldly forth into war, beginning bloodshed that future deaths may be avoided. When I read those names in my head, I hear them in Bush's accent, and my revulsion is at least partly due to association.

I say "September 11th", when I say anything. When I arranged a memorial for Mixed Company to sing, it was "Early September", nothing more. Somehow, it almost feels like the only suitable memorials are small and quiet ones--not showy monuments or wars against half the known world, but small remembrances.

It still seems sad to me that the people who died at the Pentagon and on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania are often forgotten by the world media. Scotland's been talking about September 11th a lot lately, and it's always about what happened to the Two Towers. Are the others somehow worth less, or is just that our memories attach onto the largest point of reference?

Someone said to me the other day that we'd had it coming. This is probably true--we've bombed and attacked other countries for years, and were proud of our record of never having been attacked on home soil since Pearl Harbor--but it takes a rather striking lack of tact to put in that way. I'm learning that Americans don't have a lock on the "Ugly American" syndrome; there are lots of rude, bigoted people abroad, as well.

The cleaning ladies were here in the flat today. I'm still rather uncomfortable with the idea of having professional cleaning ladies, and a bit weirded out by how much they cost, but I was somewhat shocked by the conversation. I've been told for years and years that the UK is politeness and discretion made flesh, blood, and upper lip. Scots have told me that etiquette is very important here, far more important than "over there in America".

Even though I agree with the sentiment, I can't imagine walking up to a person I'd never met and saying "your President's an idiot, you know that?" I guess I should have responded with "yeah, and your Prime Minister's a toadyish lickspittle tool", but I was too surprised to come up with it, along with the fact that I can't imagine saying that.

When I was still flat-hunting, I had a chat with a bookshop owner. A friend of Susan's had brought me to him, thinking that he might know of people who needed a flatmate.

I introduced myself, thanked him for his time, and asked if he might have any ideas as to where I might look for flatmate listings. He never did reply to that, but did say "you don't think you're going to find a place to live sounding like that, do you? I'd work on changing your accent before you went looking for a place to live. Nobody's going to want to live with an American."

As it happens, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the accent thing, and I'm sort of intentionally keeping my own as much as possible. To put it baldly, I'm from Potsdam, NY. That's where I grew up, and it's where I live. I may be living in Glasgow right now, but I'm not from here. I sound like I'm from Potsdam; I can do an imitation "Scottish" accent that's good enough to fool Americans, but it just wouldn't work here. So I figure that it's most courteous to use my own accent rather than a bad imitation of theirs. Evidently Mr. Bookshop didn't agree with me.

I've had people who accused Americans of being short-sighted and self-centered about world affairs ask me if I might know their friend from San Francisco, and tell me that the US and Canada are functionally the same country. We're not exactly world citizens, but I sometimes wonder how much of the planet is any better.

This is not a comfortable line of enquiry, and I worry a bit that the Watson people will get hold of this and think I'm being a bad rabbit. Really, though, I'm here to learn the culture, and to ignore the flaws is as bad a decision as to ignore the wonders. So, Watson folk and others: Scotland isn't always a rosy picture. Sometimes I'm going to talk about that; other times not. That's the way it is.

I'm feeling somewhat down about the whole project right now. After four weeks--I've been here four weeks? wow--of trying, I still haven't gotten to meet with my piping teacher. Something about my body has changed since last year, and my bagpipes are no longer comfortable to play.

I can play for five or six minutes without lasting pain. Any longer than that, up to about ten minutes, and the pain will go away in forty-five minutes or an hour. Practice for fifteen minutes, and I'm still feeling it the next morning.

The last few times I've spoken to anyone about this, I've very nearly broken into tears, and only luck and willpower have kept me from falling apart right then. I can't really explain why this frustrates me so much, other than that it makes my project functionally impossible, and throws all of my latent musician fears into the forefront.

Wouldn't a competent musician have figured out a way to fix this problem by now? Would a competent musician, really, just not have this problem? Does the problem really even exist? It didn't hurt before--why should it start now? Shouldn't you just stop being such a whiny American and deal with it like everyone else?

The pain starts in my left hand, which starts to burn just after I pick up the pipes. The fire then spreads to my left wrist and jumps across to the right wrist. Thirty seconds more, just once through a section of a tune, and my arms are burning and aching. It takes slightly longer for my left shoulder to go, and a sharp, shooting pain spreads through the muscles of the shoulder.

At that point, I know I have to stop--it only gets worse from here. Most times, I do stop, now. But if I continue, even for a minute or so, the pain spreads outward. It lodges in my neck, and seizes my middle and lower back. Once it does that, I might as well give up, because it's going to be there tomorrow morning. One time, I kept playing anyway for a few more minutes, figuring that I'd already done everything that could happen.

For the rest of the day, I couldn't get my left hand to hold things. They would just fall out of my grip.

I'm terrified that there isn't a way out of this, because I know, deep down, that if this is what bagpiping requires, I'm going to have to give it up, and soon, and that I'll have to break all of the habits of fingering along with tunes I hear, and that I'll need to let go.

You'd think that, if I was to have a problem like this, the Piping Centre would be the place to have it. Several of the finest pipers in the world work next to me there; surely some of them can help?

Not so much. Everyone's busy, and my rank on the priority scheme is barely on the page. I feel quite undervalued there, and need to do something about it before it poisons things for me. But nobody's really had time to help. Paul and Finlay suggested that a new bagcover and blowstick would help. I've tried the new bagcover; the new blowsticks are theoretically coming into the shop "sometime".

New bagcover doesn't help at all. Yesterday, I ignored the pain, and spent most of the day tinkering with the fit of my pipes, trying to find something that wouldn't hurt me. I tried all the Alexander Technique things I know for finding a way to hold the instrument in a way that didn't cause pain, and I couldn't find one in hours of trying. I modified the tie-ins of every single stock, to no avail. I tried the lightest reeds I could find, in case it was a problem of reed strength. I tried holding the bag differently, holding the chanter differently, holding the blowstick in my mouth differently.

And after hours of it, I had tears and little else to show for it.

So, to sum up my whining: I can't practice in my flat because my flatmate hates bagpipes, and the practice chanter sounds the same. I can't practice full pipes at all, because it's debilitating. I see no resolution to this problem, because I'm not a priority at the NPC despite having already donated something like $1500 worth of archiving services to them. I have no teacher, because I can't get in touch with the one I was supposed to have and the one I found has been too busy to help. I got glared at for playing in an open session on Sunday night. I can't use my US bank account because the UK banking regulations are so stupid. I can't get a UK bank account because I don't have a UK bank account. A shop this afternoon charged me more than $1 for a single apple because it weighed more than half a kilogram, and I didn't catch the error until I'd eaten the apple and walked home. The Piping Centre can't decide whether I qualify for the employee discount or not. People keep stealing my pens and dumping random stuff on my desk so that it won't be on their desks. Etc., etc.

And all of that pales in comparison with the fact that I am alive today, on a fantastic fellowship in a foreign country, and a lot of people who had lives and families and futures aren't alive right now. There's a self-indulgent sort of response to that, too--feeling worse about yourself because not only is your life filled with fortune but you're also whining about it--that I dip into and out of.

I have letters and notes from more friends than I can count. People care that I'm here, and I care about them. I want, very much, to write back. But I can't do it right now. I need to have something positive to say, first.

The Watson materials say that you have to want to do your project so much that when everything you can think of goes wrong, when your equipment breaks or is stolen, when your best friend is getting married and you can't go home for it, when all of that happens, you'll still want to do your project. That's how much you have to want it.

They don't tell you that frustration is part of that. I do want it--that's why I'm spending as much time as ever on the practice chanter, playing exercises, and playing them slowly. I'm just hoping that wanting my project that much will return from the land of habit into the land of active enjoyment sometime soon.

Thanks to those who've comforted me, and those who've cared. You're great. Miss you lots, and I hope to speak to you soon.

"And if a thundercloud passes rain, so let it rain down on me."

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Thursday September 18, 2003 I lost my religion somewhere...

Every whisper of every waking hour I'm choosing my confessions

Two random tidbits from today:

1. I've been rather shocked at how poorly some Scots treat their children. It just amazes me that people would treat anyone this way, let alone a member of the family.

Case in point: the other day, as I left the Piping Centre, I saw a woman, probably 30, with a 5 or 6 year-old child walking toward the Piping Centre entrance. The young one was clearly upset, and had been for quite a while--I saw tracks of old tears running down his cheeks. Mom was dragging him toward the door, against his wishes. She leaned down and said something to him, and he started trying to kick her feet, to show his distress.

Like a hurt lost and blinded fool...

She pushed him roughly to the ground. He fell quite hard, and I worried that he would hit his head. He was fine, though, and soon enough he was back on his feet, kicking again. She screamed at him "if you ever do that again, I'm going to break your bagpipes!".

I kept walking, trying not to thrust my own ideas of proper conduct onto these people.

Life is bigger...

A bit later on, I saw someone doing it right. Another pair, about the same ages, waiting for the bus. Young one was playing with a small stuffed creature, obviously well-loved and firmly on the path of being Real. There was a postbox for Royal Mail there, and the creature kept hiding from Mom behind the box.

Consider this...

Her response was especially striking in juxtaposition with the earlier: "where's he gone? he's disappeared!" A moment later--"oh! there he is! where'd he get to?". Both were clearly delighted with the exchange.

What if all these fantasies come flailing around...

2. The thing earlier today really made me grin. You know how Americans will sometimes feign Scottish accents? I've done it mysel', when advertising Scottish Spring soap for men, among other things. In most cases, the impression is good enough to get the idea across, is sometimes sufficiently good to convince fellow Americans, but would never convince a Scot.

Well, here, singing is nearly always done in "American" accents. I say "American" here, and I should say "Scottish" in the previous paragraph.

Today, on my way to the grocery store for lunch, there was a guitarist playing and singing. His singing was in this interesting mix of a Scottish Canadian living in Texas trying to speak like a New York Jew. I recognized the chords he was playing, but it took me several minutes of listening to get past the "Southern" accent to figure out what he was singing:

That's me in the spotlight losing my religion -- R.E.M., "Losing My Religion"

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Monday September 29, 2003 Wandering about

Went out for a walk today, since the Piping Centre was on skeleton crew for the bank holiday. Went to James Begg's bagpipe shop to buy an electronic practice chanter, only to find that they were closed, and that James hadn't been answering his phone because--duh--he wasn't there. So no dice.

I had a nice walk around the city, though. It was blazing sunlight when I left, so I brought my raincoat, and sure enough, when I was 40 minutes walk from the flat, the skies opened and poured down sheeting rain. I guess I really was an Eagle Scout, wasn't I?

So I stood under a balcony and ate my sandwich while I waited out the worst of it. I gave a pound to a street musician--a respectable wage--who was out playing accordion, because he made me happy. And I bought the best book ever in a charity shop! It's In The Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food. What a great book!

"Chocolate," wrote the English poet Wadsworth "t'will make Old Women Young and Fresh/Create new Motions of the Flesh/and cause them to long for You-Know-What/If they but Taste CHO-CO-LATE!" Scientists say this is nonsense, because while chocolate contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, the amounts are too small to have any significant effect (aside from which, the only sexual enhancement attributed to caffeine is it tends to make sperm swim more vigorously).

And then later, In one case a teenage American girl was put on a diet of two green salads a day by her psychiatrist to "cure" her lesbianism. "I was on a schedule of green salads interspersed with prayer," wrote "Whitey" in the collection Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives. "I was full of expectations that . . . it would solve all my problems and make my mother happy." When this prescription failed, her parents locked her up in an insane asylum for four years. It was while in the asylum that she had her first lesbian experience. - Stewart Lee Allen, In The Devil's Garden.

I don't think the whole book is as sex-oriented as those, but even so, it's a hilarious read. Not bad for 2.50 in a used bookstore!

Two other things, less pleasant. First: it is impossible to find teaballs or tea strainers in this country, despite their fetishistic love of all things brewed in cups. Well, not impossible. One shop in "Chinatown" had a tea strainer that was part of a very expensive set of cups. Every other shop had no idea what I was talking about. You'd think that a thing into which you put loose tea leaves for brewing would be somewhat self-explanatory, no? But they have no idea, despite the fact that most shops sell loose tea, and teapots don't have screens or anything. Chinatown groceries offered to sell me their strainer from the set (a piece of bent wire screen that sits on your cup) for only 35--cheap at only $58 in today's exchange rate. I think I will have to get someone to mail one to me.

The annoying thing was the Ned next to whom I was walking earlier today. We passed a woman, coming the other direction. Her face, while not unattractive,was not the most beautiful I have seen. But then, my face is not the most beautiful face I've seen, either.

But the Ned gave her a once-over as we walked past, turned to her, and yelled "Man, you are one ugly bitch!". I wanted to slap him, but I kept walking, as did she.

But then he ran a bit to catch up to me, and got my attention. "Did you see that shit? I mean, her face could fucking melt steel!". "Excuse me?", I said, in that tone of don't even think of going further, bud. You're done. I kept walking. After a bit he said "dude, I'm sorry, I shouldn't be getting you all mixed up in other people's business." I walked faster.

Why are people like that?

On a more positive note, I've been reading trashy novels at great speed! I read Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain on Saturday, and Congo yesterday. Hurrah for actually reading! And I have band practice for Lomond & Clyde tomorrow, which is cool, and I got in touch with Ian Duncan so I have a teacher, and things are looking good! And I made nifty fried rice with egg for dinner, and had a nice Czech lager (Granát) given to me by my new friend Tony, the bagpiper who lives downstairs.

I seem incapable of going to bed before 4 am. This is not entirely good. Oh well!

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