jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

A camera obscura is like a sophisticated pinhole camera with lenses that focus the image. During the Victorian era, there was a surge of popular interest in camera obscuras (going along with their obsession with technology) and ours is one of the most famous of the large ones built as a tourist attraction. The Edinburgh camera obscura has a mirror at a 45-degree angle (like a periscope) at the top of a tower that reflects the light down through the lenses and onto a large white table. The guide giving the presentation (i.e. me for at least an hour each day) uses a pole to rotate the mirror.

The full name of the place where I work is Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, because we also have three floors of interactive exhibits about photography, light and illusion. "Guides" also sell and stock the gift shop, sell tickets and do some cleaning.

The people are pretty varied in Edinburgh, apparently the most un-Scottish city in Scotland. I see a lot of tourists from all over the world (but mostly the European Union) at Camera Obscura. Most patrons of the Queen's Hall are educated middle class Scottish and English people, older for classical and folk gigs and younger for other stuff; the staff are mostly a mixture of Scottish and English and mostly about my age. Slightly less frequently, I encounter working class Scots with broad accents and the full range of idiomatic slang--usually delivery or repair personnel and random people on the street. The most common foreign language heard in Edinburgh is Polish. Australians and New Zealanders are probably the most common non-Europeans. There's quite a visible Muslim minority too.
jaala: (music)
Oh yes, some musical news. The Old Saint Paul's church choir is probably the most exposed/frightening thing I have ever done vocally, and additionally probably the best learning experience. The amount of choral literature consumed each week has most certainly improved my sight-reading. I have to be quite vocally independent too. There are only two altos in the whole choir; we sat next to each other for a few months, but now we're on opposite sides so it basically sounds to me like I'm singing the part alone. There are times I get really frustrated and embarrassed when I just can't manage to makes things work properly physically--because it feels as if absolutely everybody can hear how terrible I sound--but I've also made some fascinating discoveries. The morale of the choir is apparently unusually low right now, mostly connected with various upheavals of personnel, but it's still one of the best with which I've sung. John made a lovely compliment the other day when he said that, even at our worst, we are still among the best parish choirs.

I'm growing quite attached to the Anglican repertoire and liturgy. On the other hand, I still don't entirely believe some of what I'm saying and I don't think I could abandon Sydenham Street United in Kingston. I've been thinking that perhaps a good compromise, if I can manage it, would be to join the Evensong Singers of St George's Cathedral.

I do get a sort of melancholy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about oboes, flutes, pit orchestras or wind bands, unfortunately. Acquiring an instrument, teacher and practicing space just wasn't going to work. But I do hope I can resume activities in that field when I return to Queen's.
jaala: (Default)
Now that I've had regular internet access for nearly a month, it's about time I started writing in my Livejournal again. I always get overwhelmed when I think how much catching up I ought to do, so I'll just go for a brief summary (for now at least).

I'd probably say Edinburgh is treating me pretty well. I enjoy my current jobs at Camera Obscura (which has virtually no website) and The Queen's Hall, I sing in a good (and quite social) church choir, and underlying friendliness usually smooths out turbulent episodes in my relationship with my housemates. And the days are actually longer now! It was crazy when it got dark at 3pm. Now that it's still light as I walk home from work, I often take at least half an hour extra walking through a scenic route. Quite possibly the most marvellous thing about Edinburgh is how extraordinarily beautiful and varied it is.

My major complaint is that I haven't been able to get out of Edinburgh or even out and about within the city to do much touristy stuff. My days off are almost never two in a row and everything is closed by the time I finish work. After having such an enjoyable time at the church Burns Supper and ceilidh, I'm bound and determined to start attending ceilidhs and/or ceilidh dance classes on some sort of regular basis; and the hope is that by writing it down here I will feel I've actually committed myself to the idea!
jaala: (theatre)
[I don't remember when I wrote this. February-ish?]

I watched "Pleasure At Her Majesty's" and bits of "Mermaid's Frolics" yesterday. I was impressed with several of the performances: Jonathan Miller (still his hilariously hyperactive self in the 70's), Alan Bennett's fantastic middle-aged upper-class twit composing a dirty telgram over the phone, and John Cleese remaning as energetic as ever with the parrot sketch. And it was nifty to see what Roger Wilmut was on about with Eleanor Bron, John Fortune and John Bird. (John Bird was so darn *young* then!)

But I'm afraid the predominant impression I take from it--"Pleasure At Her Majesty's" especially--is that of disappointment at its disorganisation and unprofesionalism, and of anger at the shortchanging of anybody not in Python, especially the Goodies.

Heck, Peter Cook seemed barely with it at times and he got significant parts in other people's sketches.

It makes perfect sense (and also fascinating viewing) to replace original cast members with other people--for instance, Terry Jones made a valiant stab at Dudley Moore's part in "So That's How You Like It"--but it seems massively unfair to actually *cut out* the original cast members from a sketch when they were fully present and accounted for: Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Jonathan Lynn for the custard pie sketch. And Surely Bil Oddie is a better deadpan actor than leering Terry Gilliam?

Bill seemed generally cheesed off at the proceedings (though he made an effort to appear cheerful on stage) and I frankly don't blame him. The Goodies were restricted to one song and they weren't even given a single chance to rehearse "Funky Gibbon" with the band. When they appeared with the rest of the cast in the Lumberjack song, no one provided them with the words so they appeared completely adrift. (No wonder even the cameraman seemed at pains to avoid getting their faces in shot.)

The pianist for the Lumberjack song completely trod on the toes of the end of Jonathan Miller's closing lines in "So That's How You Like It". Though, to be fair, it probably wasn't his/her fault, as evidently no one thought it worth their while to brief the pianist on the Lumberjack Song or even tell Michael Palin to give clear cues of where he was coming in for an encore.
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

> Have you gained any delightful Scottishisms or a lilt to your speech?

Unfortunately, not consistently. I do say things like "outwith" or "minging" occasionally, I know the names and reputations of Edinburgh's and Glasgow's football (soccer) teams, I've tried haggis, I can understand most Burns poetry and I can even usually understand the delivery people who speak in Scots dialect (using words like "ken" and "hame"). And I've learned more than most Edinburghers know about the history of their hometown, for my job.

I tend to experience cases of what I call "accent drift" depending on whom I'm with. The problem is that I'm not exposed to one specific accent: on a daily basis, I live and work with people from New Zealand, Ireland/Canada, Argentina and Algeria as well as Scotland and England. When I'm with my church choir, my accent tends a bit towards English because that's what most of them are. When I go home, I revert back to Canadian because of my Irish/Canadian flatmate.
jaala: (Default)
(Written offline and uploaded later.)

Today, I woke up at a decent time (hurrah!), bought some shirts and miscellaneous supplies, and went to see the Edinburgh Gang Show. The shirts weren't terribly exciting. The Gang Show, on the other hand, was. It was very definitely amateur and the quality of the performances varied, but it was still a unique cultural experience. It made one proud to be a member of Guiding/Scouting to see all the enthusiasm and hard work that obviously went into the production, not to mention all the people in the audience who were wearing uniforms.[1] Upon arrival, I immediately wished I'd thought to wear mine!

Highlights included numbers from Spamalot and The Producers, a number about money with little kids dressed up as different coins (with pound signs headdresses), the dance number accompanying "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and a mini-panto Cinderella (in tribute to the King's Theatre's 100th Anniversary) with drag roles and everything. And, of course, "Riding Along on the Crest of the Wave" (sung with the entire group in uniform shirts, Gang Show neckerchiefs and kilts) was a highlight because I'm a dork that way. Some of the comedy sketch performances were pretty good too. On the other hand, I could have done without some of the painfully un-PC "cannibal island" number.

On my way back across town by foot, I felt it my duty to give Edinburgh-style chips a try, with salt and sauce. On balance, I don't think I like it. It was a good cap to an unusually Scottish evening though. Nice though they are, I didn't come here to learn about New Zealand, Australian, South African and American culture (the nationalities I encounter most of the time at the hostel and BUNAC). One of the nicest aspects outside of the actual content of the show was that it was done almost entirely in native accents.

Yesterday, I enjoyed my £10 under-26 discount ticket to see the Scottish Opera's fantastic production of Der Rosenkavalier. Whoa. One opera does not deserve to contain that much gorgeous music. Pretty much everything about it was really really good: singing, orchestra, chorus, staging, costumes, lighting, sets, everything. The chorus was especially delightful. My only major gripe is with the "surtitles": they were projected onto screen *beside* the stage, which made it really difficult to both read and follow the action. There was no differentiation between who was saying what either. Oh well... not every opera company can be the COC. *g*

A couple of the bosom-baring costumes made me slightly nervous for the singers too. Sophie was just a tad too ditzy as well. The singer playing Octavian very occasionally--just once or twice--seemed a tiny little bit out of her depth when compared with the level of everyone else. But she was really really good nevertheless, especially considering she was a stand-in for the original singer... and a student (or at least someone "continuing her studies") at that. Besides, she looked like a believable 17-year-old teenage boy.[2]

Tomorrow, I start work at Winter Wonderland. My plan to read all the way through my newly purchased First Aid book before starting has fallen through, but at least I've reassured myself by refreshing my memory somewhat. After work, I'll attend my second Old Saint Paul's choir rehearsal. When I warned the music director that Winter Wonderland might not allow me to attend practice on opening night, he urged me to come to choir for Sunday services nevertheless, which is nice.

[1] And to think that the first time I ever heard of the Gang Show was when it was being viciously (and hilariously) lampooned in a Goodies episodes. Though this Gang Show had probably more girls than boys in the cast, the two boys who got to wear makeup and dress up in women's clothing in Cinderella obviously thoroughly relished the opportunity.

[2] And yes, Octavian does quite a lot of making out with both the Marschellin and Sophie in this production. I loved that the over-65's in the audience didn't bat an eyelid.
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

I've attended one practice so far and I guess I'm in what would probably be called a "probationary period." Though I was invited to sing in today's services, I declined in favour of familiarizing myself with High Anglican procedure from the relative safety of the congregation. [Ed - I actually only attended Evensong and sang in High Mass the next week without having seen it before. A terrifying experience, especially since the other alto was absent.]

The description on the website is a tad out of date. The children no longer sing treble with the adult choir as far as I can tell. The women hardly "complement the male voices" either, since I and another young woman comprise the entire alto section--in contrast with the sizeable soprano section. (I suspect that's why I didn't have to do an audition.)

The musical standards are still quite high though. They breeze through sightreading and one can really tell how many of the members are experienced choristers.
jaala: (neutral)
Feeling a musical and social void in my life (despite a couple of lovely people at the hostel), I've been seeking a decent church choir to join. It's remarkable how few of the churches here have choirs--none of them in the denominations most closely resembling the United Church of Canada, United [Reform] and Unitarian.

Pretty much the only options located near where I currently reside are St Giles' Cathedral (Church of Scotland), Old Saint Paul's (Scottish Episcopal), St Andrew's and St George's (Church of Scotland), St Cuthbert's (Church of Scotland) and St Michael and All Saints (Scottish Episcopal). My email inquiries to Old Saint Paul's and St Andrew's and St George's were answered, inviting me to Thursday choir and Sunday morning worship respectively. (I did write a letter to be posted to St Giles but received the abovementioned positive responses before I got a chance to send it.)

First, to sum up St Andrew's and St George's so that I can deal entirely with Old Saint Paul's below: I attended Morning Worship today. Though I found the service a comfortingly familiar mixture of typical United Church and United Reform, I disliked enough elements that I don't think I'll return. The Georgian style and wall-to-wall carpeting of the sanctuary seemed very un-church-like to my tastes right from the start, and the acoustics make one feel isolated. The people were friendly but I felt out of place amongst the overwhelmingly older and... how to put this?... bourgeois/posh group. The sermon was slightly simplistic and (again, to my tastes) delivered in too much of an evangelical style. The choir wasn't responsible for much of the service and the pieces they did sing that day were decently performed but pretty uninspiring music. Additionally, they only practice fortnightly, which isn't particularly conducive to the social aspect. So that's St Andrew's and St George's.

As for Old Saint Paul's: I've attended one practice so far and I guess I'm in what would probably be called a "probationary period." The description on the website is a tad out of date. The children no longer sing treble with the adult choir as far as I can tell. The women hardly "complement the male voices" either, since I and another young woman comprise the entire alto section--in contrast with the sizeable soprano section. (I suspect that's why I didn't have to do an audition.) The musical standards are still quite high though. They breeze through sightreading and one can really tell how many of the members are experienced choristers. I hope I don't stick out like a sore thumb! After the practice, they insisted on taking me with them to the pub. (This also happened after Evensong; see below.) Though I didn't say a whole lot, I did feel more or less included, which bodes well.

Though I was invited to sing in today's Evensong, I declined in favour of familiarizing myself with High Anglo-Catholic procedure from the relative safety of the congregation. On the whole, I think that was probably a good move, since I would have felt uncomfortable processing, genuflecting and bowing without first seeing the choir do it. It was good to get the stupid mistakes out of the way too: neglecting to pick up a candle, dropping my bulletin out of reach and getting my hand caught in the collection bag! I think what really flummoxed me was having to juggle a lit candle, hymnal, order of service and bulletin--in two hands, standing, sitting and kneeling.

Despite all this, it was a beautiful service, though obviously much more formal than that to which I'm accustomed (even at the Anglican cathedrals I've visited). Given time to learn the customs, I think I could grow to really enjoy it. Though I am slightly uncomfortable with some orthodox proclamations in their services I'm not sure I actually believe, the High style of worship answers my long-held desire for a higher degree of dignity, mystery and silence in church services, if with some degree of overkill. I admire the sincerity of the congregation and choir members tell me they're also friendly and welcoming. High Mass ("Christ the King" with the bishop!), which I intend to attend next Sunday morning, ought to be more interesting still. Then, if I'm feeling confident enough, I think I'll try singing in Evensong.

Finally, I love the fact that the server is wearing sneakers in this photo.
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

I have a job now. It's not ideal but it's a source of income. I'm going to be a first aider at the Winter Wonderland skating rink. They told me that most of what the first aiders do is hand out "plasters" (band-aids), decide whether to call the ambulance when someone falls down and sit around sticking cloves in oranges. All staff also do tasks outside their official position, including serving mulled wine, patrolling the rink and... cleaning the toilets. Ain't life glamourous?
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

Me: So, exactly how much is one supposed to salt porridge? One can buy quite tasty oatmeal very cheap at grocery stores so, in the interest of cultural understanding, I've been trying eating it salted. Should one be able to actually taste the salt?

This is a matter of grave importance, you understand.


Dad responded: My only contact with this quaint custom is via newly-emigrated Scots twins who I knew in Grade 9 (the family had come over when his father became Pipe-Major of the local regiment). Among the treats they'd bring for lunch would be cold fried oatmeal and onion sandwiches, and I recall the question of salt on hot oatmeal coming up. The answer was that it just enriched the flavour but was barely noticeable as a "salty" taste.

Me: cold fried oatmeal and onion sandwiches Yeccch. Mind you, I'll probably end up trying haggis, tatties and onions or something like that eventually. I was sorely tempted by deep fried Mars bars the other day too. [Ed - I had one shortly thereafter. The first bite was gorgeous but by the end I felt quite sick.]

Me: The answer was that it just enriched the flavour but was barely noticeable as a "salty" taste. Ah. I'm doing it right, then. [Ed - It didn't last long though. I eventually caved and bought brown sugar again.]
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

Did you know that the British use different First Aid terminology? For instance, they classify burns by depth rather than in degrees. Anyhow, as you can tell, I've bought a First Aid manual; I'm attempting to read all the way through it in order to re-familiarize myself with everything and learn the brand new CPR guidelines.

One can tell St John's Ambulance was involved (in co-production with the British Red Cross and St Andrew's Ambulance Association): the section on slings and bandaging is nineteen pages long! Other topics covered include hanging, impalement, flash burns, solvent spray injury, marine puncture wounds, childbirth, miscarriage, disturbed behaviour and vertigo.

Perhaps the most interesting bit in terms of its cultural implications is the description of the causes of hypothermia: "Hypothermia may develop over several days in poorly heated houses. Infants, homeless people, elderly people, and those who are thin and frail are particularly vulnerable. Lack of activity, chronic illness, and fatigue all increase the risk; alcohol and drugs can exacerbate the condition. (Paragraph break.) Hypothermia can also be caused by prolonged exposure to cold out of doors." Hardly surprising in a country where "central heating to keep you warm and toasty" (from the hostel company's brochure) means one radiator by the window in each room. The church choir room--in a building no older than Sydenham Street United, though the congregations has been around hundreds of years--where I spent much of yesterday evening was heated by two lamps, with the bizarre result that I was hot from the waist up but cold from the waist down.

Oh well, it's all part of life. ("Life... don't talk to me about life. Here I am, brain the size of a planet...")
jaala: (Default)
I got a haircut today. My goodness, my life is exciting. One of my two friends at the hostel (to whom I should really give pseudonyms) is a trained hairdresser. While she's intentionally taking a break from the industry, she's more than willing to give haircuts to friends. The charge was £10, which is an amazing deal considering that she says she sometimes charged $80 in Canada. I could probably have found something cheaper in town, but I figure I stand a better chance of a job with a really good haircut.

One thing I must say in favour of living without income: it simplifies one's life marvellously. All entertainment and leisure activities must cost between nothing and £5. One doesn't have to worry about choosing between foods at the grocery store according to taste, merely about which foods and which stores are cheapest. Currently, I'm alternating between Tesco and Lidl; I've heard Farmfoods is good too. I don't eat out, drink (unless other people give drinks to me, which happens), order takeaway or buy snack foods unless on the verge of collapse. Charity shops and pound shops are the place for supplies. I don't have to decide when to give money to buskers or panhandlers. The only charity getting money from me is the church I attend. And, of course, I never pay for internet access. Strictly speaking, I'm sure my parents wouldn't let me starve. But I'm determined to do my best to survive on the money I made over the summer.

I finally saw a concert today, PWYC of course. Though the selection of songs and piano music was excellent--Coward, Britten, Ibert, Poulenc, Menotti, Gershwin, Sondheim, Flanders and Swann--the soprano had a tendency to sing slightly flat. Oh well. It was basically semi-professional and fairly enjoyable nevertheless. Their finale was a marvellous F&S song I'd never encountered before (and I own their songbook!), called "A Word on my Ear" and concerning the singer's tone deafness. (Ever-so-slightly ironic...)
jaala: (rat)
[Adapted from message board post]

I regret to inform you all that Grace [pet rat] passed away some time during the night of November 8-9, 2006. Mum found her in the cage with Sophie. My parents, who have been taking attentive care of the two of them for the past couple of weeks since I left for the UK, had been keeping me up to date on the situation. From what I've heard, she showed continual improvement in her health up until a couple days ago, at which point she basically stopped eating and suddenly lost a lot of weight. (She'd been having Boost and mushed up Nutri-Blocks before.) The specialist vet in Toronto wasn't able to suggest anything and she died soon after.

It's a shock because she'd been doing so well, but it sounds like she had a good quality of life pretty much until the end. On November 8, her breathing was shallow but not laboured and Mum left her lying comfortably in the part of the cage over the heating pad. I'm sad I wasn't there with her, but it's better that it happened this way rather than having to make decisions about euthanasia from afar.
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

I'm finally starting to get job offers.
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

After my job interview today, I took the opportunity (since I was in the neighbourhood) to climb Calton Hill to see the quaint/bizarre 19th century monuments, views of the city and the old graveyard. And, of course, I took my camera.

Calton_Hill_panorama - A stitched-together panorama of the view off the Hill towards the Firth (estuary). View its actual size and then scroll with the mouse. The pillars were meant to be a Napoleonic wars monument, a copy of the Coliseum, but the city ran out of money before completion. Next to that is the telescope-shaped Nelson monument. Then the former Royal Observatory, now the home of the Astronomical Society. Then there's the New Town and all the coastal suburbs. On the far right in the distance is Arthur's Seat in Holyrood park, the highest point in Greater Edinburgh.
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

> Good luck finding a job. I ended up working over the internet at my old job last year, because no one wanted to go through the hassle to hire someone without an EU passport to serve coffee. (But don't let that deter you!).

Ha! I'm already pretty deterred, having failed to secure employment even at a chintzy gift shop entirely staffed by people who couldn't put together a sentence in English. This is despite reassurance from a temp agency consultant that "there must be something out there [I'll] really want to do." She told me to come back to the agency for office work as an absolute last resort if I couldn't find something more fulfilling. I've got a work visa; does that make any difference?
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

I've applied directly for at least 16 jobs and speculatively for about the same number. One interview for a part-time weekend job (hrmph) took place today and probably went okay. Another interview, for work at the Winter Wonderland carnival type thing, takes place tomorrow. And a third interview for a sales position at a commercial art gallery--which would be lovely but seems pretty unlikely--is next Monday. For the moment, I've given up on leaving CVs and phoning places I'd *like* to work in favour of replying to ads.
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

> Don't get frustrated with the job search ... it can take time!

Thanks for the reassurance. Yes, it has been getting frustrating making so many inquiries and getting the impression that no one takes any notice. I've already started on retail ads and I'll probably begin answering advertisements for bar work out of desperation, despite the fact that I think I'd dislike it. At least they're not allowed to smoke in pubs and bars in Scotland. On the good side, though today wasn't fantastic in itself, I have got three interviews lined up for this week.

One girl in the hostel served lunch to Prince Philip, a.k.a. The Duke of Edinburgh, at the Palace of Holyroodhouse yesterday. Why can't I get jobs like that? (Actually, I'd probably be scared that I'd drop something.) Another guy works in a museum, as he always mentions casually like he really doesn't care where he works.

In the course of trawling around yesterday, however, I did get to see for the first time the lower (and considerably less touristy) end of the Royal Mile. Sights included the Palace mentioned above, the Canongate Tolbooth, a medieval pub or two, the controversial Scottish Parliament building and Arthur's Seat (a huge extinct volcano, from a distance).
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

I've taken to reading 'The Scotsman' in the morning and a feature article a few days ago roundly dismissed the commercialization and Americanization (which the writer thought basically equivalent) of Halloween.

I learned something new though. The term "guiser" appears to derive from the expression they say instead of, "Trick or treat": "Gie us oor Halloween." Of course, they wear costumes too...

I did dress up for Halloween, by the way, for the hostel's party held on the 28th. I went as a British police constable, with the funny little hat and chequered tie that women police wear. My costume--also including a sweater bought at a charity shop and a belt and handcuffs borrowed from people in the hostel--must have looked pretty authentic, judging by the number of people who asked if I was a real "copper".
jaala: (Default)
[Adapted from email]

> Enjoy Scotland and I am so happy that you took time off from school this year. Great move and may it bring lots of adventure into your life.

Thanks! Yes, I'm glad I took the time off. I still can't quite shake the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I'm playing hooky, but attempting to plough through another year without a break wouldn't have worked at all. As a matter of fact, I regret I wasn't able to do it last year.
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