Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Scotland in a Fiat 500: Glencoe



In which I sound like I'm having a go at outdoor clothing but I'm really not

It's a truism, but no good writing comes from sentimentality. I frequently refuse to give an explanation of why I love a certain film, track or book, because words destroy it. But good articulators move past that stage. This is why "wish you were here" postcards are purposeless. Stunning as the photo of the place on the postcard may be - and it almost never is, photoshopped in lurid HDR or squiggled over with blown-up Comic Sans text, at worst - the author of the postcard does not explain why you should visit. 

Why should you visit Glencoe in the Scottish highlands? Why drive out of Edinburgh for three hours, to see some waterfalls and green hills? Why risk blisters? These highly reasonable questions were fired at me, if not explicitly, then in the arched eyebrows of my flummoxed 17-year-old sister, wearily sinking deeper into the bed with her book after a long day of hiking. The sadist in me smiled, and said nothing at all. 

The next day, we got into the Fiat 500.

I guess one reason to visit Glencoe is that you will not find one image on the internet or in books that does it full visual justice. The photo will not include the drive up, or the two hour climb to the Lost Valley or the Devil's Staircase, or the sound of bagpipes as you step out of the car, or the weather which changes approximately every five minutes - and so does the light. A castle, church, ruin, city hall, monument or other architectural landmark is compact; it can easily be contained in a photograph and slapped on a travel guide. Glencoe, on the other hand, will only slap you for trying.

Hang on, aren't those photographs tryhardism defined, Dina? Oh, sorry while I scramble for my Trespass fleece and North Face gloves. I do not scorn the above clothing at all, but how could one possibly visit a place like this and position themselves as this fluoro purple or turquoise fleecy waterproof blob as the centrepiece in the photos and proudly declare: 'this is me at Glencoe, loving life!'?


And while you still shake your head and dig out your hiking boots, I will tell you with a smirk that there is a waterfall crossing involved, and that hiking up hills in wellies is not only doable, but also not sweaty or uncomfortable in the slightest. The only thing I am lying about here is my Barbour, which I swapped because yes, the day for feeding my failed modelling career bitterness had finally arrived. 

On a serious note, though, comfortable, waterproof footwear is a must as the ascent is steep, with a fair bit of scrambling up rocks, as passers-by on the way up will breezily inform you. You may get slightly lost, depending on whether nice people leave towers of rocks for you to follow, but in general, the path to the Lost Valley is fairly straighforward. The postcode for the car park is conveniently nowhere to be found, so just keep driving until you see several large buses and plastic tourist maps on the left side of the road, and a bagpipe player or two.

And, having extracted all romance for you, I disappear into my own bed with sweet memories and giggles while the Braveheart soundtrack plays on loop. Ok, more tips: 

- Take time to read about the Massacre before you go. Really imagine it. Tell your companion/s the story when you get to the top, and you'll all sit there in silence taking it all in for a while feeling slightly goosebumpy.

- Take plenty of songs - it is at Glencoe that I had the epiphany that soldiers in the war sang songs because, as well as fill the soul with fortitude, they help with breath when you walk for long periods of time.

- Take an original lunch, for the hilarity. I chose cashews and courgettes. How quirky and funny.

Tweed swing coat, H&M, thrifted
Shirt and jumper, thrifted
Cords, GAP
Wellies, Hunter c/o Cloggs
Beret, Cath Kidston

P.S. Because I think it's really unfair that my sister gets zero credit for taking such good photos, I would be extremely grateful if you could listen to her band's music here.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Ten Edinburgh Fringe Festival Hacks

Quick-fire Fringe tips

There will be nothing ground-breaking about these, but I feel like the Edinburgh Fringe requires some serious hacks, otherwise your dollar flies out of the tube relatively quickly.

Pay attention to well-reviewed comedy... And little attention to all other reviews. Everyone is a reviewer, almost no-one is a critic. At most, glance over a few if you wish, but sometimes there is just no way of telling how good something is, or it divides opinions: the disparity is huge. Reviews for one show can range from 2 stars from one publication and 5 from another.

Two things that will make your decision-making life easier are:

Listening to your friends - i.e. if a certain show name comes up repeatedly in conversation, it's worth checking out. That said, being a sheep helps not, so only listen to friends who have good judgements. 


The Half Price Hut next to the Scottish National Gallery on Princes Street. Pretty self-explanatory - lets you buy half price tickets for shows. You are more likely to get tickets for a show you want to see for another day, but booking ahead is good - or just try your luck. The selection of shows changes daily, if not more than that, so make the Hut a regular stopping-point when you're in town.

If a show is sold out and you are near the venue, try going anyway - there might be tickets on the door. Or if you show up between an hour and half an hour early, venues sometimes release extra tickets, or press tickets that haven't been collected. Make sure that you call up the venue beforehand to check though, as all of them have different rules about this.

If a show is really, really sold out, check social media channels for floating spare tickets. Simply type in "[name of show] ticket/s" into Twitter - someone might well be giving one away, maybe even gratis!

Enormous Fringe brochure that is free: it's there for a reason. Use it. If you don't fancy lugging it around, spend an evening going through with a fine-toothed comb and pick/tear out pages that look interesting. Pay particular attention to the 'Events' section - this year, it included some extremely interesting talks with famous people (sometimes for free), and more obscure stuff like 1-day taxidermy workshops. The brochure can be found everywhere: if you haven't got one, cafes are a good place to look, or ask any venue for a spare or pilfer from a friend.

Enormous breakfast (and/or packed lunch) - eating becomes an annoying necessity and is expensive. My solution to this was eating as much food as I could physically stomach in the morning. I lasted until around 8pm each day, and even then my dinner was tiny. You might need to alter this diet to include a packed lunch, though - no fainting on unsuspecting flyerers, please, their job is hard enough as it is.

Speaking of flyerers:

Don't ignore them some of the time. If something they say grabs your attention, let it. Stop and have a chat (even if just to make their day), if you have time. You can quickly tell who is doing it to get extra cash and who genuinely cares about getting people to see a good show. Remember that most shows are more or less in the same boat marketing-wise, regardless of quality. Few people pre-book tickets, so each day performers face the challenge of getting a decently-sized audience afresh. Unless it's someone well-known who has sold out months in advance like Caitlin Moran last year, in which case you won't get flyered at anyway.

Be one? Finding work at the festival is a great way to experience the Fringe on the cheap. You can flyer, work at a venue, be a reviewer (if you're good), photograph shows in exchange for tickets, etc etc - the BBC and the Fringe website are good places to check for vacancies. 

Yes, cheap accommodation means emailing half of Gumtree: a must if you're stuck for a place to stay. You will find your "almost perfect" home if you stay up that little bit later and email everyone. Search for "short term let" and "festival let". Look out for university students letting out rooms in flats. They will all be doing exams/dissertations. They will be nice and quiet and chances are you will not see them (or you'll become BFFs over instant porridge). My room last year cost £75 for a week. Or go friends' floor cruising, because it's shameless and fun.

I don't have many recommendations this year, partly because I was so busy and spent a lot of time in various other places in Scotland, which you'll hear about very soon. This, however, is a wee list of things I've either seen or heard good things about:

Pioneer  (Zoo Southside)
No Strings (The Caves, Cowgate)
Out of the Blue (Assembly George Square) 

Bianco Circus (this one is 2hrs long, but apparently worth it)

If you've never been before, the box-tickers:

Shit-faced Shakespeare
The Red Bastard

If all else fails, escape. I am updating my Edinburgh guide from last year, but for now, this post should give you an idea or two.