Sunday, September 14, 2008

14/09/08 Faggots and fried eggs ...

Which are, apparently, vital constituents of that culinary masterpiece which is the full cooked Scottish breakfast, the others being, in no particular order, toast, baked beans, greasy bacon and a potato scone. But I digress ...


This is, in fact, another in my series of trips from Hell which actually started off innocuously enough on the TER. Went a bit titsup though once Malyon and I installed ourselves on the TGV and a couple of beautiful people settled in across the aisle. He was French, in his 40's, bilingual, and she was English, in her 30's, and they were so much in love it was sickening. Between laughing inanely at their private jokes and sucking one another's faces off and swapping bodily fluids, it was a relief to all when they finally fell asleep, with her head in his lap. Depressing.

It didn't get much better when we got to Paris 'cos when we arrived at Gare du Nord we discovered that there'd been some sort of accident and we couldn't actually get to Eaubonne from there, so we had to schlep our 60 kg of obstreperous suitcases to Gare St Lazare, go up hill and down dale before catching another train that did - finally, about 90 minutes later than planned - get us here. To top it off it was stinking hot so by the time we arrived I'd lost about 5 kg and could have supplied half Paris with hot running water.

(Later learnt that there hadn't been just one accident but three - sort of a perfect storm. A suicide - inconsiderate sod, an "object" on the lines - not the body, and finally the overhead lines came down on another section of track. Bloody marvellous.)

I just hope like hell we don't have too many problems getting to the airport tomorrow.


So as usual, we were prepared for the worst and left Eaubonne at 9:15. As a result everything went smoothly and we turned up at Roissy one hour later, with more than an hour to kill before check-in opened.

And on top of that, by strategic loitering we managed to be first in line for check-in and had a charming and cheerful person at the counter who asked to speak English, said not a word about our "hand" baggage, and cheerily ignored our excess kilos. (I'm talking baggage here, not fat. Thank you.)

On the other hand, we're still sitting on the tarmac as I write, 25 minutes overdue for take-off and we've not even taxied out to a runway yet.

Well, despite that we still managed to get in only 10 minutes late, which isn't too bad. We also cleared customs quite quickly, being amongst the few with non-EU passports. Although for a while I wondered if we were going to be allowed in at all, as they wanted proof that Mal had been confirmed at University, and of course all that was in her checked baggage ...

Then when the guy found out that she had French nationality as well he asked why the hell she hadn't just breezed through on her Frog ID card, in which case he'd have asked no questions. And he nicely put her through like that, asked no more questions, told her not to forget the trick, and wished us a nice day. (At least we didn't get the official I'd feared we were headed for - she looked very much as though she'd been fired by US Immigration for being too surly, and liked to start her day by biting the heads off chickens. Although I may be mistaken, appearances can be deceptive.)

After all that we finally managed to find our fleapit and settle in, despite dragging the anthropophagic killer suitcase from hell what felt like miles east along Renfrew Street, and then more miles back the other way. You'd think they'd put street numbers up, wouldn't you - and before you get all sarcastic, I did ask where the place was. But no-one seemed to know - or perhaps they didn't understand me.

For it is undeniable that the accent around here is pretty impenetrable. I don't think I've heard so many "fock"s in my life.

Whatever, we wandered off and found the University, which is a truly monumental pile, and then along Sauchiehall Street (I think it's pronounced like a sneeze, but I'm not sure) being touristy and looking for somewhere to eat. Although I gather that the weather (or climate, call it what you will) around these parts is quite mild - and in fact we found that to be true - this is achieved despite an apparently perpetual light rain or heavy mist, take your pick.

Tomorrow is a big day: have to open a bank account, try to organise a student loan, get her a pre-paid SIM card to start off with, get her the basics for her apartment and move her into it - and of course she's got a meeting with her course adviser to fit in somewhere. And I have photos to take, 'cos Glasgow is a lovely city, at least in the Victorian centre and around the University. Lovely old terraced apartment buildings and huge redbrick civic buildings.

Good thing I thought to take the spare memory card for the camera. Although I'm not sure how much time I'll have for that, as I have to fly out on Saturday and leave poor Mal to fend for herself. It's a bit worrying, I must admit, but I know she'll be alright. Still, it feels funny.


Well, that was a busy day indeed. Went off to a couple of banks and discovered that the only one that would even consider letting her open an account was Natwest, and even there a student loan was out of the question. So that's something I'll have to look into in France when I get back. Bummer.

Then we went off to get her SIM card, and she was pretty taken with the idea of a 15£/month deal, but we found that you have to have been a resident for at least 3 years before anyone will accept you for one of those so she's got a prepaid card instead. At least that's allowed.

After that we stocked up on kitchen gear for her (the flats in the residence are self-catering, with a common kitchen for 8 or 10 flats), and by the time we'd collected pots and a decent frying pan and a good knife and Teflon implements and stuff, then eaten it was time for her to head off to her meetings.

So I headed off to take some more photos, and of course I forgot to actually take the spare memory card with me so I had to stop off and buy another one. In self-defence I'd like to point out that the City Corporation Building (in what they call the Merchant City, Glasgow being apparently founded on trade) is bloody impressive and fully merited every photo I took. As, indeed, did Central Station, and lots of other places. It also turned out beautifully fine, so I should really retract my previous comments on that subject.

Mal is planning on doing quite a bit of crowing to all those of her friends who are stuck at university in Grenoble: it's true there's no real comparison. The university looks like what an institution of higher learning should do, only damper than Oxbridge, and the city is definitely bustling. And big - biggest metropolis in Scotland, I gather. With about 20 000 students, apparently.

Whatever, when she'd finished with meetings and finalised her courses we lugged the suitcases one last time off to the residence and got her settled in, made sure she had internet access and all that. All done, all sweet. And she's really pleased with it all - the city, the uni, her courses, the flat and life in general. Which is good.

Then we went off to have a pub meal and a pint apiece, mainly so I could say I'd done it. It's an odd thing - maybe because it was a Friday night - but everyone around us seemed intent on getting as drunk as possible before 9pm, and then the pubs emptied. No idea where they all went - off to throw up in a doorway somewhere perhaps (reminds me of the Billy Connolly sketch and the diced carrots) or maybe the beer had run out - but it seemed odd.

Tomorrow it's back to the bank with her definitive address to finish opening her account, do a last bit of shopping and then I'm back off to Paris on my way home. At least I shan't see those suitcases again.

But right now I'm going to bed: I've been walking for about 5 hours solid today and my poor old legs aren't used to it. Glasgow has more hills than Wellington, if you can believe it. Malyon's at her flat: don't know exactly how much sleep she'll get as of course today counts as the unofficial start of fresher's week as all the new students move in.


Last day today, and just a few loose ends to tidy up. Back to the bank (where they asked for yet another paper!) and a bit more shopping. We finally ran out of time (given that I was rather planning on catching my plane) so I finished by pressing £30 into her hands, uttering a few fatherly admonishments which she'll of course ignore, and got her on to the bus back to the student halls to finish her shopping at Lidyl.

Now that the deed is done it does indeed feel a bit sad. I know perfectly well that she's closer to us now than she was in NZ, but it still feels further away. I also know that she's a competent, capable young woman, but abandoning her to spend her birthday alone amongst the heathen Scots doesn't feel right either.

(Not that I need have worried on that last point. I rang when I got back to Paris, and she told me that she'd met all the others on her floor and they'd decided to go out together to celebrate. One of them, oddly enough, had just come back from a gap year in New Zealand. How's that for a coincidence?)

As an aside, you have to worry about the mental state of furnishings in the UK. Everywhere I went I saw signs saying "Warning! Alarmed door!". Which makes you wonder. Well, it makes me wonder anyway.

Whatever, getting back to Paris proved uneventful, if slightly more boring than usual. An hour's boredom on the bus out to the airport, just to get into the spirit of the thing, then another 90 minutes of mind-numbing tedium in the departure lounge before being allowed to board in a frantic 5-minute scrum (the plane was late arriving, but they were damned if they were going to let a mere detail make them miss the take-off slot). Unfortunately, having only hand baggage, I missed the opportunity of having my neurons stunned in the check-in queue.

Anyway, I got safely back to Paris, spent the night with Ian & Marie, woke up this morning with a monumental hangover and arrived back at Chambery under a rather sullen, rainy sky. And that's it for my trip to Glasgow. Beautiful city, and I'm sure Malyon will get used to the accent soon enough. But should you be planning on heading over there, just a couple of tips - the buses accept correct fare only and give no change, there are no bus route maps at the bus stations, and McLay's Guest House in Renfrew Street has cheerful, helpful staff and fleas.

In other news, Jeremy's started at his new college - Notre Dame du Rocher at Chambéry. Yes, it's a private Catholic school, but it's not that expensive and has an excellent reputation. We're rather hoping that the scholastic support that they give, and the universal high expectations they have of the students, will help him shake off his self-adopted persona of "incapable slacker" and do the work he's capable of. So far he seems to enjoy it, likes the teachers and appreciates the fact that the European English classes are taught exclusively in English (how could it be otherwise, you ask? You've obviously never visited the French educational system) which is good - we'll let you know how it gets on.