Sunday, April 27, 2008


There was a cheeky and irreverent article in yesterday's Guardian by Ian Jack entitled, "If Boris Johnson Wins Next Week..." - Just as alienated liberal Americans saw Canada as refuge from George W Bush and his minions, Ian Jack argues, so to is Scotland beginning to be seen as a liberal and socialist haven to people south of the border in England.

Back story: next week, 7 million Londoners vote for a new Mayor. The current Mayor, the leftist and Labour member Ken Livingstone, is running against Conservative Boris Johnstone. In addition, in the summer of 2010 (although a long ways away) is an election for Prime Minister and - God help us all - if David Cameron wins down South. Ian Jack writes: "If you live in London as I do that means living under a double yoke of old Etonians." (Note: Eton College is a private school for boring and extremely rich boys between the ages of 13 - 18)

From the article:

Just before George W. Bush was re-elected you would hear a certain kind of American say, "I can't stand the thought. If he wins I'm going to live in Canada." Like Scotland in English conversations, Canada is not a place much mentioned by Americans. What is it, after all, but some duller version of the United States situated somewhere to the north - fierce winters, lots of land and not many people, and the Queen's head on the money?

But with the Bush crisis and the feeling of liberal alienation some of its virtues were remembered. Canada didn't go about the world telling it how to behave or invading those parts of it that were behaving inconveniently, which the US was morally and economically less and less equipped to do. Canada had quieter manners, was more civic-minded, enjoyed enviable standards of healthcare and education. Shootings and muggings were far fewer.

In these new circumstances the hush of the arrivals hall at Toronto airport seemed less a gateway to a society of almost intolerable politeness and order and more like a welcome to an idealised version of the country the traveller had just left - that is, the US minus Bush, racial difficulty, manic Wall Street and the occasional high-school massacre. "Provincial" had its up sides.

So it is now with Scotland. To my mind, Scotland is the new Canada. Some clarification is needed here, because in the 19th century the opposite was true. With Lowlanders financing the transcontinental railway and Highlanders clearing the timber, Canada was the new Scotland - Nova Scotia, founded as long ago as 1621. What I mean is that Scotland is becoming to England what Canada has long been to the US, at the very least since the Vietnam draft-dodgers crossed the border.

The two northerly countries share several similarities: frequent bleak weather, low population densities (the Highlands have eight people per square kilometre to Canada's three), but it is Scotland's emerging character and relationship with its bigger southern neighbour that make the case more powerfully.

Read more here

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hey, Chris Malette Relax, You're From Belleville, For Christ's Sake!

One of the few "landmarks" of Belleville, the abandoned Doc's Palace

My step-father recently emailed me a snippet of an article/ op-ed from the Belleville Intelligencer, written by the City Editor, Chris Malette. Malette writes:

Trash Bash is this weekend in Quinte and it brought to mind something I noticed on a trip last week - Scots are terrific folk, their country is magnificently rich in history and natural beauty ... but, frankly, Scotland itself is peopled by slobs.

There was rubbish everywhere you looked, in parks, by the side of motorways and choking the shorelines in postcard perfect places like Oban. Recycling, if it's done at all, is negligible, trash bins are few and far between and no one seems to have the compunction to pick up litter at any time of the year.


To be fair, I have moaned about the litter and lack of recycling in Glasgow myself (and blogged about it too!) but having lived here for two years now, I'm beginning to understand the local customs.

Let me explain.

See, there aren't many garbage bins because a lot of them were eradicated (if they even existed in the first place!) in the 1970s/ 1980s mainly due to the threat of IRA bombings. Why the IRA would bomb Scotland, I don't know. Nevertheless, garbage bins (especially the old-school cast iron ones) are few and far between. Garbage cans are virtually non-existent on the subway and again, this is mainly due to "terrorist threats".

Secondly, many city people live in tenement flats and as such, have communal garbage bins and recycling containers. It's not like Canada, however, where you would have a scheduled pick up of recycling/ garbage from your front door. I have no idea when the garbage and recycling people pick my shit up because I have never seen them and quite frankly, pick-up seems as random as the weather over here. All I know is, the communal recycling containers empty themselves and for all I know, it's some magical elves that collect them.

In addition, I think that Canadians are unique in that we love to harbour guilt about the environment (and everything else) - which is why we are conditioned from a young age to "reduce, reuse, recycle". It's part of our culture whereas, it isn't so much in Scotland. Interestingly, however, Canada is one of THE WORST of the world's highest per capita greenhouse-gas emitters!

Chris Malette is correct in pointing out, however, that Glasgow (and Scotland at large) does have a litter "problem". As a Canadian (and decent human??) I see littering as a form of disrespect. To me, people who litter have no respect for themselves or each other.

The thing is though, Glasgow is a diamond in the rough, so to speak. On the surface, it might appear that Glasgow (and by extension, Scotland) is a dark, litter-ridden, mouldy, wet, and grey landscape but the truth is, Glasgow has more going on in one city block than all of Belleville, Ontario. I know this because I lived 7 years (7 miserable years) in Belleville and I can attest that it has little to no culture, atmosphere, downtown or unique identity.

Belleville is a McCity - a city with no soul and few prospects.

In the end, I do agree with Chris Malette but quite honestly, I would take dirty and litter-scattered Glasgow over clean and soulless Belleville anyday.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Living in Glasgow definitely makes me appreciate warm sunny days more.

Also, the air seems a hell of a lot fresher than Toronto's - which strikes me as odd.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Top 10 Glasgow music venues - courtesy of The Guardian. King Tut's is the obvious in the number 1 slot.
According to an article from Saturday's Guardian, Scotland's national instrument, the bagpipes, are less than 200 years old.

In a new book to be published by the National Museums of Scotland, Hugh Cheape, a leading Gaelic historian and expert piper, argues that the origins of the instrument have been deluded by decades of mythology and deliberate deception.

Contrary to popular myth, the great Highland bagpipe never led Scottish clans into battle against the English, nor did kilted pipers carry them around the castles of Highland chieftains, playing laments to the fallen.

The article goes even further: "In fact, Mr Cheape states that the bagpipe was actually invented less than 200 years ago, primarily for urban audiences. And what's more, it was largely created using money from wealthy Scots emigres living in London".

First Kilts (which were also "invented" in the 1700s) and now bagpipes?! What's next, people? Whiskey and shortbread?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mark Beaumont is officially my new hero.

Mark is the 25 year-old (yes, 25!) Scottish lad who recently broke the Guinness World Record for cycling around the world in a record-breaking 194 days and 17 hours.

Whereas Jan Ullrich was once my favourite cyclist whom I idolized, I was totally disheartened when he was fired from T-Mobile in the 2006 Tour de France amidst doping allegations. I love(d) Jan Ullrich because he was (is?) perhaps one of the most talented and gifted cyclists - behind Eddy Merckx - but he was human, privy to faults, and notoriously gained lots of weight during the off-season. Interestingly, Jan Ullrich recently agreed to pay a six-figure sum in exchange for German prosecutors closing the fraud/ doping investigation against him. On his website, he wrote:

"I was always a fair sportsman, the payment is not a confession of any guilt. The state prosecutor did not demand one either.

It cannot be considered an admission of guilt because no one was betrayed. A fight to get an acquittal would have cost me a lot more money. I was willing to accept a financial sanction only because the lion's share of the amount is going to charity."

Either way, I don't know what to make of it; I'm just sad that Ullrich was unceremoniously sacked from T-Mobile and has retired under a cloud of suspicion.

Getting back to Mark, he recently came into my work to introduce a sneak peek of the last two episodes of The Man Who Cycled the World (the second to last episode can now be seen on the BBC iPlayer here) and to answer questions from the audience.

During the screenings, he sat one seat over from me and oh my god, he is even cuter in person! Hard to believe, however, that he is only 25! I was desperate to ask him some questions about his trip and bike preferences but alas, I was too shy.

Anyway, be sure to check out the last episode of The Man Who Cycled the World tonight on BBC2 at 7.00pm. The last episode sees Mark crossing America before heading back to the finish in Paris.

Monday, April 14, 2008


It was another one of those amazing weekends wherein you find yourself in a totally surreal adventure unique to Glasgow.

If you ever move to a foreign country/ city, I highly recommend incorporating my philosophy of saying, "yes" to every invitation. If someone invites you out for a night on the town, say yes! If someone invites you to a party, say yes! If someone invites you to an art show, say yes! Honestly, you will meet so many new people and see the city for it is.

Right. So Saturday, Paul and I spent the day wandering around St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art and Glasgow Cathedral. Saturday evening, Paul and I met up with his friend, Jamie and his girlfriend who invited us to various art openings, which were part of the Glasgow International Festival of Contemporary Visual Art. I think Glasgow International, or Gi, is meant to be the Scottish equivalent of Nuit Blanche but instead of lasting one night, it's for two weeks.

Also, there is free booze at the openings.

The first exhibition we stopped by was a "performance" of Kalup Linzey, an artist from New York who makes videos in drag. At Gi, he (she?) performed a couple songs and to be honest, I didn't really get it despite having studied art in University? Basically, he's a drag queen acting under the banner of contemporary art.

We then went to a few exhibitions at the Transmission gallery but don't ask who the artists were because at this point, the free beer and wine was kicking in. We then managed to see an exhibition of Alasdair Gray's paintings.

By the time we got to our friends gallery on the south side and the exhibition of The Last 3600 Seconds of Wasp by ZATORSKI + ZATORSKI, we were pretty much toast. Awesome thing about the gallery though, is that there is an outdoor clay oven and when we arrived they were making pizza for the art festival crawlers...
Clay oven baking said pizzas (sorry, dodgy photo, I know)

See that dude on the far right wearing the orange tie? He's part of the ZATORSKI duo who made the Wasp installation. When we first arrived, he turned to me and in the most POSHEST English accent I have ever heard said, "I looooove your hair. Do you find that quite hard to cultivate in Scotland? Hrm? Are you an artist? Is this your studio space? Hrm?"

At one of the exhibitions - again, no idea which one.

At the outdoor studio/ exhibition with pizza and beer! Contemporary art rules when there is pizza and beer!

Towards 11.00pm, the exhibition warmly welcomed the arrival of some party crashers - Czech gypsies from next door. I guess they heard that there was a sweet exhibition next door and had to see it? Or perhaps it was the promise of free slices and wine? Either way, a whole extended family or two showed up and everyone plastered them with pizza. Apparently they had only been in Scotland for two months and it's satisfying to know they received a warm Glaswegian welcome.

Gated off license selling booze; what is this? Compton, LA or Glasgow? So weird.

Saturday afternoon, we checked out Glasgow Cathedral and St Mungo's (Patron Saint of Glasgow) tomb.

Glasgow Necropolis.
Exhibition inside Religious Museum; note the orange drum on the lower right side. Whatever, y'all know what I think of orange marches.

Friday night, we went to one of my favourite restaurants: Stravaigin.

Paul, not looking impressed about having his picture taken. Whatever, dude; that is what happens when you're too fucking cute!

Friday, April 11, 2008

When I first moved to Glasgow, I was shocked by the destitute poverty in some parts of the city. Much of the poverty and social housing schemes affected by such poverty, however, are often located on the outskirts of Glasgow. Interestingly, I have rarely seen homeless people sleep on the street - a sight that is all too common in Toronto unfortunately.

I didn't understand how such poverty could exist in a Western society; by many standards, people living within social housing schemes had the basics: shelter, electricity, food, access to free education and health care. However, the poverty I have seen in Glasgow is a lot different to the poverty I knew back in Canada.

When I lived in Canada, I used to think that if you were born a white male, you had everything going for you in this world; I would not accept that growing up poor was a hindrance for a white dude to not be successful in life.

Let me explain.

Although I grew up in a nice middle-class suburb of Canada, I went to the local primary school - an excellent primary school - that was attended by kids from all walks of life. Poor kids, middle-class kids, wealthy kids, handicap kids and so on. As such, children from various income brackets had access to the same education that I had. Towards the end of high school, some of these childhood friends did not seek post-secondary education which, in this era is almost a standard, and I didn't understand why that was. To me, education was like quenching an essential thirst and despite not having *any* money towards university, I was desperate to go. I mean, who doesn't want to sit in a dark theatre hall and watch Orson Welles films or learn about Baroque art? Maybe I was just a nerd.

Right. So my understanding of poverty was, perhaps, quite limited and sheltered when I moved to Glasgow. I did not understand why the cycles of poverty continued from one generation to the next over year.

However, the more I have lived here, the more I realise that discrimination against the poor is systemic. I have found that all too often, poor children are marginalised in Glasgow and in fact, do not have the same access to a decent education as that of his/her middle-class counterparts.

It is well documented that clever children from poor families face being overtaken by less bright children from affluent homes. In addition, new evidence shows that faith schools are siphoning off middle-class pupils and are failing to take children from the poorest backgrounds nationwide. Even when they are situated in deprived inner-city areas, religious schools have fewer poor children than local authority secondary schools.

Since living in Glasgow, I have found that one of the main differences between Canada and the UK is social mobility. That is, I think it's easier for people in Canada to move in between classes and have access to the same educational system despite their financial backgrounds.

I wish I knew the answers - besides the obvious that schools in poorer areas need more funding and better teachers - but I don't. I want to believe that it will get better; it must get better.

Monday, April 07, 2008

I had the ultimate and quintessential Glaswegian weekend.

Friday night my friend, Kate, was celebrating her two week Easter holiday break (she is a teacher) and accordingly was drinking in a pub near my flat. After dinner, she came round to watch EastEnders (a show I do not watch but Kate does) and pestered her with questions about it:

"Why is she homeless? Why is everyone working class on this show? Did they used to date? What happened?"

At first, Kate calmly tried to explain the intricate plot details of the last twenty or so odd years, but quickly gave up and replied, "Argh! It's like watching it with a Gran!"

Admittedly, I have never been into soaps. It's interesting, however, to note the cultural differences between American and British soaps. From my limited exposure to American soaps (I have always been averse to them), the characters seem to be quite glamorous and have sexy professions such as doctor and entrepreneur.

Whereas the American soaps glamorise the lives of the rich and beautiful, British soaps romanticise the lives of the working class. Or so it would appear to my limited knowledge. I mean, just compare the names of American soaps (The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, As the World Turns) to British ones (EastEnders, Coronation Street, River City).

Anyway, Friday night. After Kate left, I met up with my friend, Claire, for a few drinks at McPhabbs. After all the bars/ pubs closed, Claire and I were wandering around Sauchiehall Street, debating where to go, when we received free passes to a semi-new club, The Beat Club. We decided to give it a go and upon entering the club, were faced with this sign:

£1.00 drinks!!!

Glaswegians + £1.00 drinks = total chaos

After all the clubs let out around 3.00am, Sauchiehall Street (and indeed this city) become other worldly and no longer resembles Glasgow. It is pandemonium; people drunkenly weave through the streets clutching chips and Irn Bru. In fact, as Claire and I left the club, some dude was being arrested but that didn't stop him from trying to chat up Claire and I.

"Evening ladies" the young man said to us as he was being cuffed by about five cops.

"Um, dude? You're being arrested," I replied.

A male cop quickly intervened and told us to "keep moving".

"Whatever. I'm not even interested"

As Claire and I came to the street corner, a dude across the street from us was talking on his phone when he suddenly stopped, held his phone out to one side, and puked into the sewer. Afterwards, he put the phone back up to his ear and continued chatting away.

Now that is hardcore.

Saturday afternoon, Paul went to the Celtic game with his Dad while I went shopping with Claire. As usual, Paul and his Dad went to the pub afterwards to no doubt, debate the game or whatever it is men talk about when they talk about football. Around dinner time, Paul called me to say that he and his Dad would pick me up in a cab to take me to his Nanny's for dinner.

As I walked towards the cab, I could see three heads sitting in the backseat. Strange. As I climbed into the cab, sitting in between Paul and his Dad, was a Japanese dude.

"Jennifer, this is my friend, Nori", Paul's Dad said.

The Japanese dude said "hello" and continued to stare at me.

I thought perhaps it was a friend from work but Paul's Dad continued:

"Nori is from Japan and came over last night to watch the Celtic match; he's a big fan of Nakamura. He goes back to Japan Sunday night."

Holy shit.

Apparently Paul and his Dad saw him drinking alone in the pub and after finding out that Nori was a Celtic fan (and, more importantly, alone) they invited him back to Paul's Nannys for some good ol' Glaswegian hospitality.

Being a Canadian and having lived many years in Toronto, I was initially a bit apprehensive about it all; I couldn't help but think the worst. Turns out, however, he's just some shy Japanese dude who loves football and travelling.

Paul and his wee brothers, sister, Grandmother, step-Mom and Uncle openly welcomed him, gave him whiskey, and asked him a million questions about Japan. Poor Nori, whose English was limited, probably had no idea where Paul and his Dad were taking him and went along with it all in good faith anyway.

After about 3 hours, we dropped him back off at his hotel and upon getting out of the car, Nori faced us and gave us a huge bow (which, apparently, is a sign of respect).

To be honest, I don't think it would have happened in Toronto. In fact, you'd be lucky if someone even talked to you in a bar (who wasn't trying to pick you up). That isn't to say Torontonians are cold and distant; it's just that we can sometimes be a bit standoffish.

Nevertheless, you just know that Nori is going to go back to Tokyo and tell everyone how friendly, lively, and hospitable Glaswegians are. And you know, he'd be right.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Look what I almost stepped on last night : AIDS!!! Keep it real, Glasgow!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Scotland: Get it up Yae!
This kid looks about as enthused as I am about Tartan Day in Toronto

Apparently today is the first-ever Tartan Day in Toronto.

How gauche.

Interesting how the SNP have been paying lip service about expanding the image of Scotland - beyond the plaid, whiskey, and shortbread - around the world and to encapsulate the cultural and artistic wealth that is Scotland. Instead the event looks to be the standard highland dancing, kilted-dudes singing "Oh Danny Boy" and "Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond", and loads of white-haired ladies fondly remembering the days of yore.

How about creating an exciting image of what Scotland is really all about? Get rid of the bag pipers and bring in a chorus of drunk dudes singing The Fratelli's song, Chelsea Dagger, all the while jumping about as they drunkenly sing along? Or what about bringing Paolo Nutini to town to sing with a legion of girls screaming at him in Glaswegian slang? Or better yet, set up an outdoor pub in Nathan Phillips and have some real, live, proper Glaswegians sitting around having a blether and chinwag about the weather, World Ward Two, the merits of The Smiths, and how shit Franz Ferdinand are.

After everyone has had a right good piss up, get Toronto's Finest (a.k.a. the cops) to chase everyone out of Nathan Phillips Square and to top it all over, finish the night with curry and chips (french fries).