Friday, July 3, 2009

Haggis Tours: Day 1

A Three Day Tour
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a Scottish approach, to seeing an entire country in a tiny little coach. It started from the Royal Mile, the price didn't make me poor. It went to the highlands, and then to Skye: a three day tour. A three – day – tour.

“Rule number one, lads an lassies,” came the booming voice over the tiny coach's pa system, from a terrifying man who looked like Simon Pegg, if Simon Pegg were to have spent the last five months at the gym constantly working out rather than voicing the part for a CG mammal with an eye patch, “my name is Jonathan, or Jon. But don't you ever – EVER – call me Jonny.”

We had met our tour guide, and while slightly terrifying, there was a perceived comfort in knowing that if any of us got into any problems, he'd probably be able to sort them out right fast with a stern look, or glancing blow. As we set out, his nature began to show, as he quite calmly talked to the cars in front of us: “what does this idiot think he's doing, my god. Get out of the way man!” Every word dripping with Scottish brogue. You could see he was holding himself back, like a fifteen year old meeting his girlfriend's parents for the first time. Every off hand comment they directed towards him endured – every perceived slight taken in stride. Yes our tour guide, with simply a, “you sir, are an idiot, simply an idiot,” narrowly avoided being hit by oncoming traffic in our lane. There was, I must admit, a great sense of fun in being privy to these comments played over the loud speaker for all to enjoy.

Initial impressions aside, when he began telling his stories, well rehearsed after five years running tours, he had all twenty five people on the bus engaged. No longer were they listening to their iPods, or reading magazines. Instead they were looking out their window, and trying to take in the stories of death, betrayal, love, and despair that covered the highland. Each time he reached the punch line of one of his jokes, or the climax of a tale, perfectly lining up with the scenery around us, it seemed as if he was telling it for the first time. He had won us over, and though we were a less than chatty bunch, rarely shouting out, “aye!” on cue, we were all taking his words in. I thought, perhaps, I should try teaching with this style – lock all students on a bus, and keep talking and talking, it's not like they've any place to go! – perhaps there is something to it.

Robert the Bruce: Good Games for All
For some time I had heard the tales of Robert the Bruce. In fact, it's rumoured that Batman was partially named after him. But, as I stood in a church, looking over the tomb of one of his sons, I really had to question why. Oh sure, it was his son alright, in that he impregnated the mother – but he impregnated lots of mothers, you see. Some of them already mothers before he got to the too. It's said that he would simply knock on the door of a house (being royalty and all) and demand to sleep with the woman inside. If he was refused entry he would kill the men, and rape her. If he was allowed access, than he would only rape her. What a lovely gentleman, certainly someone worth of naming the Dark Knight after. But that was not all. As he had impregnated so many women, it was only a matter of time before one of them came to him claiming they needed money. That they couldn't raise the child, and wasn't it part his anyway? What did he do? Well, in a very king Solomon way, he simply sliced the baby's head off, and placed it on a stake outside his castle. There, the woman's financial crisis was over! Ahh, good games he played.

The cometary surrounding this tomb looked like one out of a Halloween display trying, but failing to emulate a real cemetery. The tombstones were rounded, squared, or crossed, bearing skulls and bones on them. They were placed in a church courtyard, the walls of which had been battered, and partially fallen over the last few hundred years. Were we only a few hours earlier, while the mist was still on the ground, it would have been a sight to see.

Haggis Adventures at Loch Ness
Just outside of town we stopped at a pub where I was to have my first haggis experience. I had pictured it to be a cultural experience like none other, worked up in my mind to be a moment of devouring such strange foods, and distressing parts of animals as I'd never had before. I waited, baited breath, for it to appear. Other people were delivered their cheeseburgers (which tasted like beef jerky, and were phenomenal!) but still no haggis for me. When it finally arrived I thought, well what is this? Where's the haggis? On my plate rested what looked like a Shepard's pie before it's put together. Leeks and potatoes were on one side, and what looked like ground beef was on the other. As I bit into it, it was not distressing or strange at all. It tasted familiar, and delicious. Something I would definitely have again. But not now, for Loch Ness awaited.

I had pictured Loch Ness to be something you could views from a concrete bridge, taking in the entire loch. I'm not sure where this idea came from, but my goodness what a foolish one it was. Loch Ness holds the most volume of water of all the lake in Great Brittan. And looking out at its black waters it becomes obvious why no one has every been able to prove conclusively that there is something mysterious out there or not. It's, simply put, just too big.

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