Tuesday, February 28, 2006
We went to a football match between Hearts and Aberdeen some time ago, and it is an experience worth telling. Both these teams belong to the top Scottish division in soccer, and so the match promised at least a good game. It was scheduled to start at 3:00, and we went there to support Hearts!! (Direct dil se ;) Well, the real reason we were supporting Hearts was that three of our colleagues from Edinburgh (umm, not colleagues, really -- client system admin, client associate manager and project manager) were Hearts supporters. We met at 12:00 noon at a restaurant close to the Tynecastle stadium, and after some regular lunchtime 'activity' courtesy the project, followed by distribution of Hearts scarves and other memorabilia.
Before I proceed, let me tell you about how the football stands are organised here. Unlike cricket matches, the crowds are really shall-we-say, ugly, and so usually they split stands with very stern-looking strict security inbetween. Now, we had our tickets real close to the Aberdeen stand, rather on the border between the stands. Hence, we knew for certain that there was going to be action both on and off the field, and were really looking forward to it :) Before we went off, we were asked to shout and generally go wild whenever Hearts scored a goal so that we may not stand out amidst the crowd. Naah, I assured them that a Bengali does not need to be told how to behave himself in a football stadium at least!
Off we went towards the stadium. As we reached the gates, we noticed that the crowds gradually converged to the place. Walking along the footpath with a multitude of people wearing the same set of scarves as you towards a common destination was a novel experience. Security was all-around, with mounted horsemen and horse-women (yeah we did see them) guarding places... beefy guards summing you up and your ticket before letting you in... all of it seemed worth the wait once we went in.
We entered the ground. It was like suddenly bursting into a sea of humanity from beneath the water. Actually I have never been to a stadium to see a match before. So this was a very novel experience for me. We jostled and pushed our way to our seats. Well, I should not call them seats, as nobody around us was sitting and all the seats bore different kinds of shoe patterns amidst the layers of dust on them. We found our seats, and duly stood on them as everybody else. There was already a nice bit of swearing going on between the Hearts and Aberdeen fans, and we engaged ourselves in trying to decipher the rest of the messages from the abundant F-words ;)
The match kicked off. And so did the spontaneous singing of the 'Hearts song' by all the fans. It seems that each club here has its own anthem; so we could also hear a different anthem being sung by the Aberdeen fans. The level of noise suddenly rose whenever the ball came close to one of the goals, and at other times when the action on the field was somewhere between the two goals, the fans took it upon themselves to keep the action off the field going. People who might just have been in a high level corporate meeting the day before, all prim and proper, were now swearing and making gestures that would make roadside romeos go red. As the famous dialogue from Eurotrip says, "These guys have a completely different level of swearing over here". But we were all engineering college students --- it felt wonderfully at home :D
And then, sometime between all the hullaballoo, there was a goal scored. Hearts-1, Aberdeen-0. And that took things to the next level. I went mad with delight, jumped about, and put in a few choice expletives in chaste Bengali. Sanket, a friend who was with me, seemed to have taken the advice about going mad if a goal was scored to heart. So he started head-banging in a manner that might have made a hardcode rock party animal stand aside and take a lesson. But it was nothing compared to what the other junta were doing. That the Aberdeen stand right next to us had gone silent did not help matters too much. The fans here literally burst out cheering and swearing. First there was the HUGE round of claps, cheering and scarf-waving for the team. And then they attacked the Aberdeen fans with such a vitriolic combination of words, gestures, boos and caricatures that I actually saw a guy in the other stand go pale. He was the person cheering the most for Aberdeen.
At the end of the first half, the score read 3-0. And while we got some pies and some hot drink (which is best described as horse-sh**), the Aberdeen fans began to leave the stands gradually. And I learnt 3 completely new ways of saying good-bye in the little break-time. The second half went without a goal being scored. But the action was still on for all Hearts fans in this stand. And it never died until the game was over. As we came out, it seemed really nice to see so many happy faces. And the 'colleagues' were pleased, we were pleased, and so was everyone else. What more can you ask for on a Saturday?
P.S.- Don't you think this post was better than the regular 'Write an essay about a football match you went to' we used to write in school?
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
We had gone sightseeing this Saturday and Sunday... to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Royal Museum, the Edinburgh Dungeon, etc. and it was really then that I realised how much the term 'love is in the air' meant. Right from the supermarket to the footside store, everybody had prepared something special for the Valentine's day. In TESCO, the local equivalent of D'Mart, the entire row selling wines and champagnes (yes, there is an entire aisle with bottles on both sides at some lower prices) had a really huge heart-shaped placard on top. It had blood-red roses in the background and on it, written in flowing cursive white, was written "St. Valentine's Day, 14th February". In front of another wine shop, there was this special offer going for champagne, buy two get one free... any bottle! Offer valid only till 14th February. Marks and Spencers (the local equivalent of Shoppers' Stop) suddenly sprouted a new glass casing looking towards the road displaying red lingerie. There were suddenly bookings going on at restaurants for the special evening... and I think I also saw one sporting a "last 2 tables to be booked" sign. I had the camera along that day... but thought I'd click the snaps on the day itself.
One quick word about the female folk here. There are just so many blondes around!! And brunettes, and the dark-haired fair-skinned ladies! And they seem to have walked out of the hollywood movies! I mean, because I don't see them around my home a lot, almost every time I step into the street, I feel like I am suddenly in a movie. My friends and I even have discussions about why they look so attractive, with case in point examples directly at hand when we walk along the streets. Now, the details are for select audiences, and not for everybody ;)
Along came 14th February. And like most people, I woke up and came to the office. And then, amidst conference calls, function rationalizations, SQL logic maipulations and endless debates as to whether the surrogate key calculations should happen before aggregating data or after, I seemed to lose focus of the fact that it was Valentine's day. Also, the people here were not wearing all red. I dunno why, but the girls appeared as they do everyday, nobody brought any red balloons along or heart-shaped chocolates... nothing of that sort. So when it was finally 6:30 in the evening and I was leaving, the thought came back to me like a sudden wild bolt --- hey, I was supposed to go out today!! It felt like one of those moments when you suddenly discover that one of your bags, umrellas, etc is missing when you are travelling --- it was a horrible sinking feeling. One of the friends readily agreed, and we set off on a trot for the streets.
Alas, it seemed that the action was over. Actually, most of Edinburgh's shops close by 7:00, and this day was no exception. The only places that looked geared up were the restaurants. One of them which I examined closely seemed to have dressed for the occasion. Dimmed candle lights and red heart-shaped balloons making canopy covers over little tables where you had to huddle together even if you didn't want to. And there were a cheery lot of people inside all merry with the wine, cakes and desserts. And again, I could not take the snaps, because it was dark and because you don't take snaps of unsuspecting couples sitting cosily in the restaurant. But the caveat was a message put outside one gift shop that was closed: "Men, take home a gift now and make it appear that you did not actually forget that it is Valentine's day today". Yeah-yeah, we do forget... but it is your responsibility to keep us informed :)
Thursday, February 09, 2006
"Edinburgh is", someone had said, "what Rome should have been like". This place is indeed beautiful... with all the old-era buildings and statues and monuments, I get a fairly good idea what that man meant. A couple of weekends back, we had set out for the castle at about 12 noon (now, don't squirm please... even in Scotland you cannot do without a 12 hour sleep on Friday nights). But outside, it was still cold, windy, and as good as a 6:30 a.m. morning at home. Take a look below -- that is how it looks at 12 noon here:
At the top of the hill is the castle... and the fountain you see in the foreground is situated in the midst of an amzing garden, called the Prince's Street Gardens. They look like this (below) The person in the picture is Lalit, and I post this because his hands shook when he took my snap... :(
What you see behind him at the far end of the view are the National Galleries of Scotland. The pictures inside are really good... and although I understand art and its different genres as much as you might understand ghosts, I could appreciate the various eras of art --- Reniassance, Impressionism, Victorian war art. Please don't ask me the names of the artists, though... I cannot spell or pronounce them ;)
We decided to climb up the hill to the castle, instead of the usual circuitous route up there via the main road. Now, please don't picture us climbing up that hill face on the first picture... the road we took is a narrow one up the side of the hill. Somewhere up on that road, we looked down, and saw this train passing. Behind in the pics are the gardens we passed through.
Up on the road to the castle, we happened to glance up towards the castle, and suddenly we knew why attacking the castle was a foolish thing to do. Take a look at this:
Now, imagine being holed up there... you take a peek, or even move an inch, an arrow comes crashing out of the nooks of the castle walls. It is dar and cold (cold as in -15 degrees, a nominal estimate), with chilly winds blowing across your hungry, soiled and weather-worn and ill-clad body. How would you like to hold a siege like that for 3 years? Well, some Scotsmen and Englishmen did that some years ago. You see, taking a castle by storm is not a job for the faint-hearted.
Never mind.. lets see what the castle was like. The cost of admission (the ticket, dear) was 10 pounds and 30 pence. And the latest conversion rate is 81 rupees to a pound. Umm... to say the least, it was expensive. On the terrace in front of the castle, we had some bright sunshine for some time. Apparently, this very place is transformed into a awe-inspiring open air theatre for the annual Edinburgh festival every year.
and boy... they sure did fire far in those days... take a look on the right below!
We went to the Royal War Museum inside the castle. Unfortunately, snaps aren't allowed inside, so you must see the place through my words. There was a very nice depiction of the evolution of the dress of a soldier over the years. From the kilt-wearing sword-weilding Scotsman to the modern day soldier with the gas mask and Chemo- Nuclear- Biological warfare enabled suit carrying an ultra-light machine gun. But that was not the touching part. The touching part was the section where on a glass wall they had put up what different soldiers wrote back home at different times from the battlefield. I remember one letter there, written by someone in the First World War. The guy writes,
I am not allowed to tell you where we are... but I am all right. We are going to charge into the enemy trenches uphill and try to finish them. It begins in a few hours and you know as well as I do what is going to happen.
Below that letter, in a small plaque, was written... 'he died in the charge to the German trenches that day in 1915'. I was quiet for sometime after I read that, silently saluting the brave Scotsman. And he was just one in a million who have died at war. Well, we'll talk about this later.
After the museum, we went to the other sections of the castle.. like the old soldiers' barracks, the jail, etc. And we also had some coffee up there! But well, after a trip like that, you don't feel satisfied with just a tea.
So after some posing for the camera, we came down for some more food, etc., and then finally trudged all the way back home. After coming inside the house, I realised how cold it was outside: really numbingly cold.
Ok, before I close, let me tell you about all the things I have been planning to write about but could not: one post is coming about how it feels to spend in rupees and to earn in pounds (you know what I mean :D), another about the food at Edinburgh, a post about how it felt to be in a football match we went to (in the Tynecastle stadium where Hearts beat Aberdeen 3-0), and a very special post coming up for the Valentine's day celebrations here in Edinburgh. This place is already agog with posters, chocolates, wines... oh boy, another post about the run-up to the day, maybe? :D