(When I'm not writing games, I love to travel foreign lands and write snarky and occasionally helpful journals about what I saw. This is the second of five articles about my recent two-week trip through Britain. Some of the content is a little more adult that what I put on this blog. If you are below sixteen or so, you should go here. Anything offensive should be blamed on a hormonal imbalance caused by too much haggis.)
General Notes on Britain, Set the Second
People in Britain have an accent. And, by that, I mean that they have about 400 accents. While watching the telly (or, as they call it, the "Looky Box"), I saw a comedian do a bit about how everything sounds more reassuring in a Manchester accent. So there is a Manchester accent, and that means something. Societies that develop on islands can get a little bit odd.
Still, just listening to people talk is one of the funnest things about coming here. I simply can't get tired of it. My main attraction is going to a pub (which is not difficult, as every building is a pub) and listening. I also try to talk to people, but I have to be careful and not say any of my opinions about the ridiculousness of soccer or how cute it is that they have, get this, a queen. Otherwise I might say the wrong thing, and someone might hear me and be feeling all drinky-punchy, and I'll hear someone behind me shout, "Oi!" Which is British for, "Pardon me, but I am about to give your ass a truly extensive kicking."
The language on this island is an intriguing dialect of English. They have lots of funny words for things. For example, the primary currency is the "pound", but they will often refer to it as a "squid." A sample conversation might go: "Can you give me change for this squid?" "Sure, luv. Here are one guinea, three farthings, two bob, a crown, six ha'pennies, a half crown, a mega-crown, a mecha crown, and a pennywhistle." "That's not enough! There should be another farthing. You have cheated me, m'lord." "Oi!" "(Sound of face being punched.)"
Also, the British, like most of the rest of the world, love a sport called soccer. I got to watch them watch a World Cup match where their team fought Algeria to a scorching, hard-fought 0-0 tie.
I know. I know. While I'm there, I'm supposed to call it "Football." But, if you live in the U.S. and are in the U.S., calling soccer "football" is truly affected.
Also, football sounds like it should be the name of a cool, kick-ass, exciting sport. Any sport where a 0-0 outcome is not only plausible but, in fact, common isn't sweet enough to have an awesome name like Football. Soccer isn't even cool enough to be called Soccer. I think it should have a more appropriate name, like "Fancy-pants grass-prancing."
I also got to be there when Germany beat England 4-1 in what was, based on the media reaction, the worst thing to ever happen to anyone anywhere. Apparently, England scored an unquestionable goal that would have tied up the game, but it was disallowed because the referee wasn't close enough to get a good look at it and there is no goal referee and no instant replay review. Hey, just because it's the most popular sport in the world doesn't mean they should drop a few extra bucks to actually get the thing officiated properly. After a couple weeks of exposure both to the alleged entertainment of World Cup soccer and to the people who love it, I've come to the conclusion that I could like soccer, except that I don't hate myself enough.
Stop 2 - Edinburgh
Before I start, I have to send a quick message out to the Scottish people.
I can't understand a goddamn word any of you are saying.
This is not to be taken as a criticism. I love ya', baby. Don't ever change. I am instead saying it as a way of fostering greater understanding between our peoples. I would only point out that the Scottish crime thriller Sweet Sixteen, which came out in 2002, had to have subtitles, and it was entirely in English.
I may be exaggerating here slightly. Most of the time, I could kind of understand what Scottish people were saying. But there is something about that accent that just lends itself to being dialed up to 11.
But I still completely love listening to it. I could listen to Scottish people talk all day, and since all of them that I met seemed inclined to talk all day, we were a good fit. For example, when my wife and I were sitting in the park, a crazy old woman just in from her tiny village in western Scotland, sat down next to us and started telling us all of her racist terrorism conspiracy theories, I just sat, back, relaxed, and let her brogue wash over me. Sure, her thick accent made it impossible for me to tell exactly what she was saying about the Jews. (My guess? Not a fan.) But it was still lovely until she started explaining how Barack Obama was a secret Muslim terrorist. Then we lied about our urgent dinner reservations and ran off. Sorry, crazy Scottish lady. We get enough of that particular shit at home.
Also, I have pretty much fallen in love with Scottish women. Bear in mind I am only writing based on my own personal observations, but they are all completely punk and scary and thoroughly tattoed and hot and ready to cut you at a moment's notice. I'm not saying I want to be 20 and single again but, if in some horrible Twilight Zone future I was, I would save up my pennies and hop a flight to Edinburgh. Then, in a bar somewhere, I'd catch the eye of some pierced lass and we'd talk and I'd swoon and the next three days would be a blur and I'd wake up in a bathtub full of ice with a broken heart and no kidneys.
Yes, the northern half of this island is pretty scrappy. Their women all look ready to get to it and breed the next generation of Scottish warriors. And yet, Scotland's birth rate is very low. Perhaps, inspired by the arachnid, they eat the livers of those they love in moments of unguarded coital enthusiasm. The theory sounds crazy until you see these women. They're pretty awesome.
And believe me, the Scottish don't mess about. Edinburgh Castle isn't just some frou frou toy castle where nobles ponce about at each other. That's one of those ancient occasionally-razed-to-the-ground spires where the shit gets real for real. And the National Museum of Scotland is a glorious and unapologetic monument to all things Scottish. Not just Roman artifacts but plants and stuffed animals and the curling stone they used to win a gold medal but also plenty of swords and thumbscrews and The Maiden, a big alarming pre-guillotine contraption used to behead people for several productive centuries. See, if you're going to build a big shiny expensive history museum, by God it's going to be full of the remains of Pictish human sacrifice and machinery used to kill hundreds of dudes. Scotland is a serious place.
Fortunately, I passed three days without referring to anyone as English. The Scots and the English have a ... complicated relationship. I'll put it this way. One display in the National Musuem mentions that Scotland's largest immigrant group is the English. Think about that one. Look at it this way. When someone moves from California to Seattle, they're not considered an
(I might want to call them that, but that doesn't make it true.)
The guy who ran our B&B was a loud, boisterous, opinionated Scotsman straight out of central casting. We were the only people staying there, so, based on the odor in the hallway, our innkeeper divided his time evenly between looking after us and smoking joints the size of my forearm.
Scotland's primary scary local delicacy is, of course, haggis. Based on what I could tell from those I talk to, it does get eaten. Not a lot, and often with other things (chicken stuffed with haggis is a common dish). I mean, they're not dumb, and they know Pizza Hut exists, so they aren't eating it every day. But it does get eaten, and the canned haggis I saw in the supermarket proudly proclaims that it is 45% lung.
We ate at one truly superb modern fine British cuisine type restaurant, where I had Scottish venison with venison haggis. I asked our loyely young waitress what parts they use in the haggis. She looked at me like I'd just asked her what the color blue smells like. "So what is in the haggis?" "It's ... haggis." "I mean, what organs go into the haggis?" "It contains haggis." She then braced herself for me to ask what the ingredients of the salt were. I guess, when you mince all of an animal's internal organs and boil them in spices for long enough, they are transmuted into a new, indivisible base element.
(And, in case you were wondering, haggis tastes like boiled, heavily spiced meat with that unmistakable tinge of organ meat flavor. Whether you would like it depends entirely on your opinion of organ meat. But, considering that they have no shortage of McDonalds, their willingness to tolerate lung meat in any form should be taken as an inspiration to us all.)
Also, you can walk into any pub and get a shot of 16 year aged single cask whiskey that will blow your face off with its awesome for four bucks. That alone would be enough to make me completely fall in love with this city.
It's gorgeous and the food is good and the people-watching is great and the accents are gorgeous. Pretty much took dynamite to blow me out of that place. But I had to go back to England, the only place on this island where you can say anything nice about England without getting beaten up.
Fun British Fact #2
The British words for 'crisis' and 'opportunity' are the same. And that word is "cripeitunity."