6 Months In

Had a recent realization that I’ve been in the UK for almost exactly 6 months.  This seems like a good time for a blog post. These 6 months have flown by… I am already a quarter of the way through my 2-year visa!  Thoughts on my time so far:

  • I have appreciated the relative amount of stability I’ve been able to find.  My travels in between have been fun, but it’s nice to be able to settle in and feel a bit more grounded, both at the flat in Glasgow and my caravan at The Lazy Duck.
  •  It’s so easy to settle into a routine and take things for granted, such as my freedom from significant responsibilities, spending most days outside, and the host of new experiences at my fingertips.  I need to remember that this is such a unique time in my life, and make the most of it!
  • Sometimes I forget I haven’t always been here, and then it’ll hit me: I’m living in Scotland!  My closest neighbours are sheep and chickens! I am a percussionist!? It’s all just a bit surreal at times.
  • God is so good.  I have everything I need and more, and have come across people, places, and things at just the right time too often to be a coincidence.  For example, the time I was having a rough day and a lovely couple invited me to their house after church for tea, a chat, and feral wildcat kitten socialization.  Need I say more?
  • It really stinks to be this far away from my people back in Canada.  Anyone who has ever moved or had someone move away from them knows that things will inevitably change.  Yes, I know I chose to come here, and there is Skype and email and even real paper letters (which I love), but it’s not the same as being together in person. 
  • Despite the challenges, it feels very right to be here but I’m not exactly sure why.  Regardless, I feel deeply grateful on a regular basis.
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The Lazy Duck

Here commences a greatly overdue post about The Lazy Duck.  I arrived on April 19 and now, three months later, feel very much settled in and thoroughly grateful to be here.

The Lazy Duck is a rather magical place with accommodations (huts, private hostel, camping), animals (sheep, chickens, ducks), and various extras such as a wood-fired hot tub, infrared sauna, and bush bucket shower.  I’m here as a volunteer, the arrangement being I get free accommodation and a weekly allowance in exchange for 25 hours of work per week. Any extra hours are paid at an hourly rate. The work is varied, which I appreciate, and my tasks include cleaning, laundry, animal care, guest check-ins, maintenance, gardening, and making the occasional sign. 🙂

Here’s where it gets even better: my accommodation is a 6.5’x16.25’ caravan, cute and cosy with everything I need and plenty of charm.  I mean, the dusty rose velour curtains and yellow wood paneling aren’t exactly my style, but you can’t beat the location – a polytunnel garden and chicken coop on one side, a forest on the other.  There’s no running water and only an external composting toilet, but I’ve made the necessary adjustments and am loving living the simple life. 

I have also come to love my chicken and sheep neighbours, and get much enjoyment from observing the lambs play-fighting outside my window or the chickens sticking their necks out as they run full-tilt towards me at supper time.  A couple times a lamb has gotten stuck in the fence when its horns catch as it tries to pull its head back in after munching the greens on the other side. Selfishly, I love when this happens because it means I get to have a brief lamb cuddle as I assist in its extrication.  They are Soay sheep, a very old breed which has never been fully tamed or domesticated, so they are quite shy of humans.

In addition to hanging out and working with the lovely Lazy Duck team, I’ve also been involved in a couple local events, including orienteering and the Cairngorm Community Orchestra.  Orienteering was great fun and I made friends with M, who was just as uncertain and unconfident as I was, so we made a great team.  We even participated in a competition and hit most of the points with 10 seconds to spare! This is not actually impressive, but it was much better than we thought we’d do, which made it a personal win.

As for the orchestra, because they were too full of flautists, they asked if I’d be willing to help out with percussion.  This is how, with 3 rehearsals to go before the spring concert, I became a triangle player! A bit later I also found myself playing the cymbals.  It all felt ridiculous, but was great fun and everyone was very encouraging. The main percussionist was especially grateful for the help. As it was, she had about 3 instruments to coordinate at any given moment.  My percussion debut was an overall success, although of course the star of the show was cello soloist Katy Bell, who was phenomenal. Being on a roll with learning new instruments, I also ended up having a trumpet lesson from french horn player T, but ultimately decided there were too many other things I’d rather spend my time on.  Still, it was fun while it lasted, and I made a new friend to boot. 

I think I’d better wrap this up for now.  But seriously, if you are ever in Scotland, The Lazy Duck is well worth a visit!

Portugal

Operating on the principle of “better late than never”, here are some reflections on my time in Portugal:

 

April 6: After a very early start and a frantic rush to catch the bus to the airport (my tired morning brain realized too late that my tired night brain had set the alarm wrong), I still had a long day of travel ahead of me.  Thankfully, all went well and I was happy to be greeted by two smiling faces at the Lagos train station. My new travel companions C & A then drove me to our airbnb in Sagres, an unassuming surfing town on the western tip of the Algarve region.  

April 10: One tourism website writes of the Sagres area that it is “a region for the adventurous, the intrepid and those who seek to pit themselves against the wild environments”.  This is generally not how I would describe myself, but I very much wished I was that sort of person as I sat in the van on the way to our sea kayaking departure beach. Because I was the most [outwardly] nervous of the group, I earned a tow rope behind the guide for the first bit until we got past the breaker waves and out to sea.  Once out there it was actually quite fun (except for when it was a bit scary)!

April 13: After a sad trip to the airport to see A off, C and I wandered the Feira da Ladra flea market for several hours, and thoroughly enjoyed the selection of antiques, jewelry, tools, and miscellaneous trinkets.  

April 15: Day trip to Sintra, a town littered with castles.  We opted to pay for entry to the park surrounding Pena Palace, but not the palace itself.  The park was basically a forest, with trails everywhere leading to vistas, stone benches, ponds, and even a farm.  Approximately 23,000 steps and 9.5 hours later, C and I were back in Lisboa and ready to rest!

 

A note on my travel companions:

I have known C for several years now, but only met A for the first time in Portugal.  Although slightly apprehensive about how well we would all travel together, it soon became obvious we were a great team, and it was a glorious luxury (in contrast to traveling solo) to have people to share the logistical/decision-making burden and generally hang out with.  For those familiar with Myers Briggs and/or the Enneagram, you’ll get a pretty good feel for our group dynamics from the following: A: ENFP/4 C: INTJ/1 me: ISFJ/9

Paris

It is difficult to know what was going through the heads of our younger selves at any given point in time.  This means although I know it was a childhood dream to visit France, I am not entirely sure why. Still, the desire has stuck, and now it has been crossed off the list!  (Yes, this is an actual list and not a metaphorical one.)

One day, I would love to go back and see more of the country, but this time around was all Paris, and I really only just scratched the surface.  If I go back I am determined to try out one of the electric scooters everyone else seemed to be whizzing around on. Mostly I was just too nervous, but when I finally gathered up my courage in Lisbon there were app-related complications and it didn’t work out anyway.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Paris really is a little bit magical, whether it was all in my imagination, the result of a heady realization of a childhood dream come true, or simply the cherry trees blossoming everywhere I looked.  Besides all the classic stand-bys (The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, etc.), I saw too many unidentified beautiful buildings, statues, and gardens to count.  Speaking of the Eiffel Tower, it was one of my favourite places. I walked up as many stairs as I could before the only option was an elevator; needless to say, the view from the top is incredible.  

Some other favourite places included The Petit Palais (a gorgeous museum, and free!), Jardin des Tuileries (gardens between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde), and the Latin Quarter (a quaint area through which I wandered with my Couchsurfing host).  I am also so thankful I had the chance to visit Notre-Dame, just over a week before the fire.

 

Stay tuned for a report on my travels in Portugal, coming soon!

A Few of My Favourite Things – Part One

I hereby start a list of some of my favourite things, in no particular order.  

  • Glasgow Wood Recycling.  One of my favourite volunteer locations to date, this place not only creates furniture from reclaimed wood, but also promotes a culture of sustainability and inclusion.  I was actually encouraged to work slowly and carefully, an admonition basically unheard of in my related work experience.
  • Delightfully creamy Scottish yogurt.  I don’t know why or how, but it is far superior to Canadian yogurt.  The plain Greek-style stuff I buy is not too sour and overall delicious enough I can eat it on its own without flinching.
  • Locavore.  One of the few places in Glasgow where I can get food (and cleaning liquids/toiletries) in bulk.  Part Bulk Barn, part Generation Green, it is the sort of place I have always dreamed of where you can bring your own containers and get all the basics without individual packaging.
  • Roald Dahl’s Going Solo.  As always, delightfully written even when dealing with heavy content.  What a life! No wonder he was able to come up with such fantastical stories.
  • Rainbows.  A couple weeks ago I did some hiking (or, hill-walking here) in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, and the blustery, rainy weather yielded a lovely rainbow.  I also received a brief lesson on rainbows from a gentleman I chatted with, but it didn’t really stick – all I remember is something about a fancy full-circle rainbow with a scientific name which has escaped me.
  • The elderly gentleman who stopped in at the Govanhill Suffrage Exhibition while I was invigilating (a case could also be made for the word “invigilating” becoming a separate point on my favourites list).  He is a retired teacher who humbly said he had written quite a bit of poetry in the style of William McGonagall (ie. horribly).  Despite this uncomplimentary description of his work, however, he produced a wad of photocopied pages from the depths of his jacket and proceeded to read every single one, with anecdotal stories in between.  It seems he wrote a poem for a student once and then his poems became constantly in demand – it was obvious he had been a committed teacher with genuine affection for his students. He presented me with two of his poems to keep, and I include one below for your reading enjoyment and in honour of the bravery it takes to share one’s work with strangers.

CRAIGIE AND BELLY

(a roundelay for mandolin accompaniment)

‘Twas the seventh day of March in 1989.
The girls of Craigbank had took on the Bellarmine.
Craigbank were the favourites in this trial of skill and wit.
The spectators flocked in hundreds,
when they read the advert bill.
The pie-eating contest was on the point of commencing.
The fans jostled for view-points
and clambered on the fencing.
The stewards on these occasions
will tolerate no foolery;
Likewise the gallant officers
of the local constabulary.
A flourish of trumpets, and silence reigns.
Adults stare in wonder.  So do the weans.
Seven big girls in Bellarmine strips
Enter the hall with a wiggle of the hips.
They take up their position
before the towers of pies.
They’re the centre of attention
for a’ the Pollock guys.
But the rivals have arrived,
and the trumpets sound again.
There’s a flutter in the hearts
of the boys and of the men,
For the maidens of Craigbank
now appear upon the scene,
Led by their captain,
the teenage Annie Green.
The two sides sit at the pie-laden table.
The rule of the game is to eat what you are able.
A whistle is blown to signal the start.
No one must belch and no one must eructation.
Amanda Lennox gets tore right in.
This winsome wench has the will to win.
Her white teeth gnash at the succulent mutton.
Though usually dainty, today she’s a glutton.
Karen Docherty, barred from every Pollok pub,
Despite her shapely figure, she can fairly shift the grub.
Amanda Weir, yes, she’s here, dressed in punk
and hippy gear,
Draws from the crowd both tear and cheer.
As she munches at the mince, man, you should see her,
As an eater you can’t beat her.  That much is clear.
Nicola McRoberts is a champ at the chomping,
Though a scamp in the hoose or in discos a-romping.
Avril Bannerman is the spectators’ darling.
The Bellarmine camp are jealous and snarling.
A Bellarmine girl with her boil newly lanced
Starts at the cheating, eating two pies at wanst.
But the Craigbank girls go into the lead.
They’ve got brains; they’ve got beauty; they’ve got skill;
they’ve got speed.
Yvonne McCuish is splendid and cool,
A credit to country, to church and to school.
At the sight of her dining in this pie-eating test
Stewart McJaggart, a supporter, is deeply impressed.
He is heard in excitement as he stands with his ma,
“Jolly good!  Simply spiffing!  Hip, hip, hurrah!”
And so at the end of the chewing and swallowing
There were victory cheers from the Craigbank following.
Mr. Docherty of maths added the totals up
And presented Craigbank with the medals and the cup.
There was dancing in the streets from Nitshill to Inverness,
As the news came on the telly of the Craigbank girls’ success.

What am I doing here?

I have come up against this question in various forms many times since arriving in the UK (basically every time I meet a new person), and it’s not as easy to answer as you would think.  I mean, sure, there are the quick answers which carry a certain amount of truth…

“Why not?”

“A love of travel and adventure!”

“Just needed a change.”

… but they are all woefully inadequate to cover the full truth of it.  Struggling to answer this question has given me cause to reflect, and there are actually two separate questions which I will attempt to flesh out more fully here – in list form, because I love lists.

 

Why am I here?

  • It’s been a long-time dream…  For years, I have wanted to live in another country for awhile at some point in my adult life.  This is because of adventure, enjoyment of experiencing new cultures, and because I figure it will help me expand my worldview with a sort of cross-cultural education.  
  • Scotland is amazing…  Last year I spent a glorious month in Scotland, and the people and countryside captured my heart and imagination.  On that trip, a fellow Canadian told me about the Youth Mobility Scheme Visa, which is only an option from age 18-30, and being 30 at the time, I thought “it’s now or never!”
  • A need for change…  My life in Winnipeg had been feeling unsatisfying for a couple years – just little realizations and occurrences which had added up – and it felt like I needed to do something; perhaps force a change of some sort which would hopefully lead somewhere good.  This is a tough one, because in many ways I was living the dream: part of an amazing church community, enjoying kindred-spirit friendships, cultivating creativity, volunteering and contributing to people and places I believed in, and yet… It’s hard to explain.  Through studying the Enneagram (after finally figuring out I’m a 9), reading Parker Palmer’s ‘Let Your Life Speak’, and countless conversations with good friends, I realized my life needed some adjustments. Perhaps this could have happened in Winnipeg, but refer to points above.  🙂

 

What am I doing here?

  • Logistics: picking up my residence card, setting up a UK phone number, applying for a National Insurance (like a Canadian SIN) number (and waiting impatiently for the letter to arrive so I can open a bank account), registering with a doctor, acquiring a library card (probably the most important item on this list!)
  • Exploring: figuring out public transit, wandering around various areas of the city, getting lost, browsing copious amounts of charity (secondhand) shops, finding lovely coffee shops, visiting churches, making discoveries such as the fact The Mitchell Library has music practice rooms and sheet music…
  • Socializing: meeting up with new and old friends, co-hosting a pancake party with my flatmate, and attending events such as ceilidhs (pronounced “kay-lees” – Scottish traditional dances), a swing dancing lesson, and hearing Gladiator “Ace” share his story (I only went because I was invited by a friend, and assumed it had something to do with the gladiator movies, but instead I was introduced to the very 90s UK show ‘Gladiators’.  Also, for the record, the event was much more interesting than I assumed it would be.)
  • Daily life: re-discovering the joys of cooking/frustrations of learning new grocery store organization systems, unclogging the shower drain, writing & mailing letters, drinking tea, reading books, mending things, enjoying the absence of responsibilities and trying not to feel guilty about not being constantly productive…
  • Volunteering: I will be attending a volunteer induction at Glasgow Wood Recycling, and I have been helping out with a couple projects at Govanhill Baths, a wonderful organization in a character-filled area!

 

So that’s about it, in a nutshell.  This information will probably be more or less accurate until the end of March, after which there should be new and exciting things to report!

London

I have now been to London two times in three weeks, which feels like some sort of appalling confession of extravagance, but really, when it’s less than a 5-hour train ride away, why not?  The first time was at the start of my working holiday adventure when I flew into the UK, and the second time was because I had some leftover birthday money to use up and there was a play I regretted not seeing the first time.  Anyway, I’ll lump it all into one post. Here is what I did in London:

Some regular touristy stuff:

In addition to spending time at Camden Lock Market, Little Street of Treasures, The British Museum, Hyde Park, and the East End (markets and street art galore), I also stopped by Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace for old time’s sake – they were my two favourite places when I was in London for the first time – a glorious week in 2001 with my family.

 

Choral Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral:

This was a recommendation from a friend who said it was a way to get into St. Paul’s for free, and it was well worth it despite not being allowed to take pictures and the toilets being closed (thank goodness for McDonald’s across the street).  This evening service was almost entirely sung by the choir, and the beauty of those voices singing ancient words of the faith – of my faith – in such a majestic setting touched me deeply.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

 

Made new friends:

Through the handy Couchsurfing website, I met up with new friend O, through whom I met L, who in turn introduced me to N.  Although Couchsurfing has its flaws like all social networking sites, it has been a fairly effective way of meeting people so far.

Eating lunch with L. at Boiler House Food Hall (street food market)

 

Mastered the Underground:

I love that the map is all colours, lines, and shapes – it is probably the most comprehensive public transit system I have encountered!  Of course, a downside is that diehard exclusive underground users are restricted to a relatively small core area of London.

Mosaic in Tottenham Court Road Underground station

 

Celebrated my birthday:

Highlights of the day included lemon cheesecake, riding the London Eye, and meeting up with Couchsurfing friend O. for the quintessentially British burger and beer at a pub.  I have been told since that the London Eye is a waste of money because The Shard is cheaper, has a better view, and no time limit, but having not known that at the time, I quite enjoyed my London Eye experience!

 

Went to the theatre:

‘Home, I’m Darling’ was an insightful and humorous reflection on life in the 1950s.  The set and costumes were superb, as was the Duke of York’s Theatre building itself, which opened all the way back in 1892.

Set of ‘Home, I’m Darling’

 

Got “off the beaten track”:

Couchsurfing friend N. graciously showed L. and I around Crystal Palace Park, London skyline views from residential streets, a couple of petting zoo-type areas, and Greenwich (pronounced “grin-itch”) Royal Park, from which there was a wonderful dusk view of the skyline and Meridian Line Laser which shines from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, illuminating the path of the Prime Meridian Line across the London sky.  Of course, my first thought was what would happen if a person gets in the way of the laser, but apparently it’s not that kind.  Oh, and we stopped at Fabulous Ice Fires for some of the best ice-cream I have had in my life (my favourite flavour was the blood orange cinnamon!) and at Old Spike Roastery for a hot drink.