Scotland: Highlands and Edinburgh

This is how I’ll do it:

  • Us in Scotland, plus random trip fragments
  • How good it is, nonetheless, to be home


Was fabulous.

Jed was designated driver (well, more like only licensed driver), and went through periodic hell for our sakes on narrow single-laned roads (and one single-laned tunnel) with only the occasional lay-by and Jed on the edge of his seat muttering “The Scots are crazy” through gritted teeth to save us from collisions with oncoming traffic.

Luke was surprisingly successful navigator, champion of cheesy music (we burned some CDs to play. Some of Luke’s choices: Another Night, Eternal Love, When You Say Nothing At All. The pain, the pain.) on the car stereo, and incorrigible explorer of all things forested or clamberable.

I, er, researched stuff and snoozed in the back seat when I felt like it. And will fully acknowledge here and now that the collective efforts of Jed and Luke played a far more significant role in the success of our trip than my guidebook-thumbings did. Thanks, guys. :)

Day One: Started out from Durham, elevenish. Drove through Newcastle, shivered in fog at the border, couldn’t resist stopping for lunch and inane kicks in Jedburgh, which included places called Jedwater, Jedforest and Bonjedward, drove through Edinburgh and Stirling and spent the night on the…<resist…using…”bonnie bonnie banks”…Resist…Resist… >…shores of Loch Lomond. Had a humble and bloody awful dinner of miscellaneous Heinz canned concoctions, although Luke’s surreptitious inclusion of grapes in the chicken soup arguably provided a gourmet touch.

Day Two: Loved Glencoe. Hated Fort William. Got very stressed driving through Kyle of Lochalsh and Stomeferry, due to the earlier described road conditions; creep up to Jed and whisper “Passing Places” in his ear, and you might well meet a violent death. Photographed Eileen Donan Castle. Between here and Inverness I was asleep, but, er, I’m sure it was great.

Day Three: Lots of little stops to see Cullendon (I liked it. Newcastle John’s opinion, bestowed yesterday over the phone: “Michelle. It’s a field.”), Clava Cairns, the Bridge of Doulsie (where I fondled my first nettle while trying not to fall down a slope), Carrbridge, Glen More, Loch an Eileen and Dunkeld before reaching Edinburgh, where we said goodbye to Jed, who had to head back to Durham.

Day Four: I’m tired just thinking about it. Climbed Calton Hill. Little shopping stops along Princes Street on the way to lunch, which was Thai and excellent on Dalry Road. Walked the Royal Mile, popping in to St Giles’ Cathedral. And finally, the unleashing of Luke on the Salisbury Crags. I was perfectly happy with the idea of climbing, oh, a couple million metres, to Arthur’s Seat. I was less happy with struggling along the bloody Attempt Only With Sherpa route behind a gambolling Luke, along which my apparent fetish for thorny hillside plants was confirmed by my second nettle grope. Despite this, the view from the top definitely was worth the climb, and my fears about ending up as a pile of human haggis at the foot of the hills proved unfounded.

Random trip fragments:

Along the way, Luke managed to:

  • topple a stack of Kaifeng’s video tapes (Cambridge)
  • break the glass in Terence’s beloved sheep photo frame (Nottingham)
  • break Jed’s cassette tape cover (somewhere in Scotland)
  • get chocolate ice cream on the sheets and in the bedside table drawer in our B & B (Inverness)
  • break an L-torch while demonstrating how (not) to use it (a shop in Edinburgh)

Memorable exclamations:

  • Wunderbar! (Luke, uttered frequently)
  • LUKE TAY!!! (An exasperated Jed, also uttered frequently)
  • You are obviously drawn to mediocrity. (Me, on Luke’s taste in music. Also uttered frequently, usually in abject aural misery.)
  • Oooooookaaaae (Luke, attempting to sound Scottish)
  • This would all look so much better if not for the CHEE-BAI sky! (Jed, when the weather wasn’t great. I should explain for those unfamiliar with the Chinese dialect of Hokkien, that the above adjective refers to female genitalia, and is generally used as a swear word rather than an attempt at description or simile.)
  • Do you really have to wear that garish jacket? (Me, on Luke’s jacket, which is white with bits of red and black, and I think it’s awful)

Home at last:

We got back to London early Sunday morning, after a rather unpleasant 9 hour coach trip. I’d intended to have a relaxing and solitary Sunday: unpack, have breakfast, get some of the sleep that eluded me on the bus, and then go for evening mass, which always tends to be more peaceful than morning mass. Food would hopefully be avoided, after far too many Scottish meals involving chips with everything.

I certainly hadn’t planned on going a bit mad with the rest of the hall choir singing I Will Follow Him (complete with “I love him! I love him! I love him! And where he goes I’ll follow! I’ll follow! I’ll follow!”) after morning mass, playing football in Regent’s Park (I now sport a massive bruise on my shin, thanks to Father John’s knee), cooking dinner for some hallmates (tricolore fusilli with chicken, bacon, capsicum, onions, and sweetcorn, in sun dried tomato and herb sauce. Canned peaches and pears for dessert. Father John drank all the syrup.), joining the usual TV room rabble for Have I Got News For You and People Like Us, having a characteristically whimsical phone conversation with Newcastle John, finally deciding to go to bed, wandering downstairs to have some peppermint tea, finding Interview With The Vampire on in the TV room, and enthusing about Sympathy For The Devil and then the beauty of Axl Rose with Noelia and Emma.

I got to bed some time around two. I had other plans for the day, but my hall got in the way.

Scotland: Final Update

The end is near, and more’s the pity, because it’s been a good trip. We’re in an easyEverything in Edinburgh, just in from our Highlands fling. We dumped our bags in the hostel, which is a charming backpacker place where every bed has a name (mine’s Trigger, Luke’s is Trainspotter), and headed out to see Edinburgh at night, eventually ending up here.

I’m not going to go into the details right now – my hand is a little the worse for wear after accidentally fondling a nettle earlier today, and it’s been a long day. We get back to London early Sunday morning, and I’ll probably manage something then, although I then have to start preparing for the finals of my senior mooting competition, which have conveniently been arranged for the day I was meant to be flying back to Singapore, at the time I was meant to be checking in, and I was only informed of this the day before I set out on this trip. This is obviously tremendously annoying in a multitude of ways, but I’ll worry about all that when I get back to London.

England/Scotland 2001: Snippets From Halfway

So much to write about, so little time trespassing in a Durham university computer room to write it…

I could write about Luke’s infrequent and reluctant observances of personal hygiene, or his frequent and enthusiastic attempts at cornball humour. There’s also his Sainsbury’s fetish.

I could write about our strange and irrational fascination with going to John O’Groats, despite knowing almost nothing about what is there, simply because we like the name. There’s the saga of the canned curry and accompanying naan. There’s the ongoing religious warfare. There’s our complete inability, even now, to bother making any plans whatsoever about Scotland.

I could go into daffodil ruminations – we pass fields upon fields of them in the bus (we’re National Expressing around), and the novelty of that strident yellow in the placidity of the English countryside still hasn’t worn off yet – but why are they there, and who plants them? Answers on a disgustingly touristy Sherwood Forest postcard…

I should definitely mention lovely friends who have borne our idiosyncratic impositions with patience and generosity. Kaif and Paul in Cambridge, Terence in Nottingham, Natalie in York and Jed in Durham: thank you, thank you, thank you. Apart from being wonderful, you’ve also saved us a lot of money, and that fact in particular really does make me love you more.

World Universities Debating Championships, Glasgow 2001

I’m back from Worlds. Exhausted, totteringly ill, and considerably more impoverished, but back.

I’ll do this like a debate speech, and break it down into four main points: :P
– the debating
– the socializing
– New Year’s
– Glasgow

The debating:

The debating was relatively satisfying. In general, apart from the first debate, I wasn’t unduly disappointed by the quality of any of my other speeches in the next seven rounds, although I wouldn’t say I sat back down after any of them amazed by my genius either. For posterity’s sake, I’ll list the motions we debated:
1. This House Would Give Europe Its Own Army
2. This House Would Put A Speed Limit On Human Traffic
3. This House Would Make Directors Criminally Liable For The Wrongs Of Their Companies
4. This House Believes That The US Should Get Out Of The Middle East
5. This House Would Make Pollution A Tradeable Commodity
6. This House Would Remove Patents On Pharmaceutical Drugs For The Third World
7. This House Believes That The WTO Should Make An Exception For Developing Nations
8. This House Would Legalize Performance Enhancing Drugs In Sport

What I’m proudest of with regards to our performance was probably our first ever win from first proposition, beating Trinity College Durham Law A (good team) in round 4. I feel we’ve finally managed to overcome the general self-disgust and public humiliation that has happened every other time we’ve had to first prop something. This time it was a simple but workable case, and a solid win over teams who were by no means easy to beat.

What annoyed me the most was what we felt were bad decisions in rounds 5 and 6, where we were placed 3rd and 4th respectively and felt our true performances had been worth a 2nd and 3rd. Our frustration was soothed slightly by the fact that other teams in the same rounds gave us exactly the same assessment and made a point of saying they thought the decision had been unfair, but that didn’t make any difference to the fact that we’d lost 2 valuable points in the team rankings.

We don’t know our final ranking yet, but are pretty sure we finished with respectable points, although, as I’ve said, we felt we deserved a little better.

The socializing:

The most important realization I’ve come out of this with is probably how awful these tournaments might be if I didn’t have a debating partner I get along so amazingly well with. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to say that there are extremely few debating partnerships, at least in Britain, that are as solid as ours from a friendship point of view. I guess a significant testament to the great thing we have is that after spending pretty much every waking hour with each other for a whole week, we’ve come out of it as good friends as ever, and possibly closer. We’ve had sprawling marathon conversations, violent but enjoyable arguments about anything and everything, hysterical laughter at our own inadequacies as well as other people’s, and gone crazy both on and off dancefloors to music we like. In general, Nick and me rule. :)

Apart from Nick, lots of time was also spent with Vish, who was at his irrepressible but lovable best. Aaron and Vikram were as lovely as they always are. I didn’t spend as much time with the Singaporean contingent as I would have liked to, but did get to catch up with Jean, Jonathan and Sid to a certain degree.

New Year’s (with Nick and Vish):

We’d sent off in advance for free tickets for the Radio One Hogmanay in George Square for New Year’s Eve, featuring David Morales, so that’s where we headed that night. At the outset I’ll say that it was a night of highs and lows, but was ultimately one I won’t forget. We’d stupidly forgotten to book a cab to get us to George Square, and no public transport was running. It took us one and a half hours of struggling along icy streets in the rain to flag one, during which time Nick narrowly escaped road death when he sprinted across the road in pursuit of a cab and a fast oncoming car caught the back of his heel.

When we finally got there, I was underwhelmed. Lots of drunk Scots generally standing around and not dancing while David Morales was spinning. It was hard to get into the mood for celebration when the atmosphere seemed particularly apathetic. Closer to midnight, though, things livened up considerably, and by the time I found myself up on Vish’s shoulders, doing whatever dancing I could over a crowd going wild to the admittedly overplayed but still enjoyable Sandstorm (Darude), I realized I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

The hour after midnight was crazy. Despite nearly collapsing from the inevitable alcohol-fumed kisses every time some strange man came along and yelled “Appy Noo Yeer love!” (Glaswegian loses a little in translation, I think…), it was all rather exhilarating anyway. Somewhere during all that, I lost my scarf, which I’m still sad about. After a while we moved a little out of the crowd to an area where there was more space to dance, and went a bit mad. Great fun. :)

After the event ended, we found ourselves roaming the streets in the freezing cold searching for somewhere to go. Everywhere seemed either shut, unspeakably cheesy or for over-21s. We finally found a little gem in 24-7, which had comfy booths, castle style stone walls, and black and white Marlon Brando films playing on plasma screen TVs, and spent the next couple of hours there very happily.

We’d acknowledged our general exhaustion and booked a cab for 4.30 am, but waited shivering on the pavement for half an hour. It finally transpired that someone else had apparently pretended to be Nick Connolly and stolen our cab. Go figure. It was another hour of frustrating effort to get another, where Vish deserves mention for doing most of the work while Nick and I huddled together in abject misery. I fell into bed after shedding my soaking, muddy clothes, too tired even to shower.

So to sum up how I spent New Year’s Eve, I’ve never been colder, I’ve hardly ever been more rained on, and I’ve never been so worried about slipping and breaking a bone. But I had a great time.


I should start with the snow. This was the first time I’d ever seen real snow in any significant quantity, and my general wide-eyedness and glee inspired much amusement in snow expert Nick. Unfortunately, my snow honeymoon came to an abrupt end when beautiful white snow increasingly turned to disgusting brown slush, all of which we had to trudge through every day. But I’ll still always remember Glasgow as the place of my first snow. :)

The trouble with going places on debating tournaments is that you never get enough time to actually see the place, but I have to say that what I saw of Glasgow left me with little inclination to really explore it further. It’s prettier than the industrial town I’d been expecting, but still seemed just like any other city with little to positively distinguish itself.

We did, however, manage to find some good restaurants and cafes where we sought refuge from cold and the exhaustion of the day. Little of what we ate was particularly Scottish in origin, though, since we were put off by the “when in doubt, deep fry” approach that the Scots seem to take to food.

Gibson Street, right next to the Glasgow University Union, yielded a number of gems. We spent most of the free day before the debating started in Offshore, a wonderful place filled with couches and cushions, with classic rock and jazz performances playing on the TVs. We ended up spending 7 (!) hours there, and probably more money than we should have. The next day we had dinner at Sal-e-Pepe, a great Italian on the same street, where the house wine was actually really nice, and the menu made me want to order everything on it. The day after we went to Stravaigin, an elegantish pub/bar, also good. New Year’s Eve dinner was at Shalimar, which had an excellent all-you-can-eat Indian buffet. All these places were on Gibson Street, one minute’s walk from the Union, which made them extra convenient.

Lunch on New Year’s Day was slightly problematic, firstly because it was New Year’s Day, and secondly because we were trying to look for lunch at 4 pm, having only just got out of bed just before that. We finally found Lemon Tree, a Chinese place, and went in thankfully. It was rather curious, serving Chinese tea in English teacups, with an extremely Anglicized menu and what Nick described as chip shop gravy in his special chow mein. The owner had problems with English, which made me wonder why on earth he chose Glasgow of all places to set up shop. When my questions about what was in the special chow mein yielded the answer “Oh…er…it’s very special…”, I decided we weren’t getting anywhere and started speaking to him in Mandarin, to his visible relief.

So I suppose I’d say the city was no big deal, but we ate and drank well. Drinking well was especially satisfying given the fact that most of the alcohol at tournament social events was either free or heavily subsidised.

So that ends this account of our Glaswegian odyssey. Was it all worth it? As a rational cost-benefit analyser, I’d probably have to say no, but as the quirky passionate human being that I tend to be, I’d have to say yes, simply because I had to go to Worlds once, and I’ll freeze even worse in Toronto next year if I go again.

Now that’s all over: Debating, make haste to the backburner. Law, present thyself. Please.