Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Graveyard of the Unknown

Albern Hafen is situated along the banks of the Danube and is one of Vienna’s not-so-grand industrial districts. Instead of grand baroque architecture we slowed the car down outside a large warehouse wedged between some industrial silos. The glare of floodlights hit us and that was briefly followed by the nip of the cold November-evening air. My aunt handed me and my cousin a pack of candles and we turned towards the only signs of life on this ghostly harbour. One by one we lit a candle and set them down next to each grave, I started with a grave simply named Mary. I did not know who Mary was. I did not know anybody buried here. There are some graves here that nobody knows. They are unknown.

 Vienna’s lesser known 'Freidhof der Namenlosen' means Graveyard of the Unknown as the many of the bodies are named with just a Christian name, if anything. The graveyard lies on the banks of the Danube at the place where bodies were washed up by the flow. Many of these bodies were from boating accidents but the majority were suicides and never got a proper burial.  In the late 1800’s bodies were buried in unnamed graves by the side of the Danube but from the 1900’s onwards a second cemetery was built which has been maintained to this day.

The cemetery had a brief appearance in the film “Before Sunrise” and gained some tourists hoping to lose themselves in Vienna like the film’s protagonists. The cemetery is one of Vienna’s hidden treasures and remains unspoilt due to it’s relative inaccessibility. There is only one bus that passes Albern Hafen, but beware that in the wrong context the word “albern” could mean 'foolish'. The harbour is relatively hard to navigate  even when you have a car. Despite the industrial surroundings, the cemetery is set in it’s own natural oasis by the river encased by trees. The cemetery is one of the few sites left in Vienna that does not leave you fighting for elbow space even in the height of summer. One visit leaves a lasting impression

On the first night of November, while the United Kingdom is busy preparing their bonfires and clearing away pumpkin residue, other parts of Europe celebrate All Saints Day. Poland and other predominantly Catholic European countries celebrate All Saints Day by lighting candles by the graves of the dead to remember them. This  produces a light display to rival the fireworks back home. In Vienna the ZentralFreidhof becomes illuminated by candles of those paying their respects to celebrated figures such as Ludwig Beethoven as well as many of their relatives. The Friedhof der Namenlosen may not appear as impressive as the larger graveyards in this grand city but there is something so much more touching about the celebration here. The thought that all those unnamed bodies still have someone there to remember them even though they are left with nothing, not even a name.  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Little Gems - Covers Special

Maxence Cyrin does melancholic covers a bunch of contemporary  and often dance, songs and makes them sound lovely. Songs that are made for either late night thinking or Sunday morning relaxing...

I've enjoyed a bit of Stu Larsen for a while, if you are a fan of Passenger you have more likely than not heard of Stu too. I recommended him some songs once and he sent me a copy of his album. Great guy. Enjoy his nice wee cover of Mr Brightside too.

Daniel Docherty was busking in Dundee a few weeks ago and spends pretty much all of his time busking around the country for a living. He has a beautifully distinctive voice as well as mad guitar skillz. I can't wait for the day he has it all recorded everything onto a CD so I can enjoy his songs away from just looping them on youtube.

I have recently been infected bythe most infectous disease around, One-Directionitis. Luckily this dibilitating condition can give you some nice side effects, like finding this cover by the singer known as Tich.

I haven't been that big an X-factor fan in the past but I saw Ella Henderson's bootcamp audtion and I thought it was amazing. I love nothing more than a cover that is compleltely different to the original and she did just that!

With the recent Mumford and Sons mania with the release of Babel and the announcement of their forthcoming tour I stumbled across this little gem from Kate McGill casually singing my favourite old Mumford track in the bathroom.

Ray Lamontagne is a folk genius and although his song-writing skills are brilliant he can also do amazing covers.

Kudos to First Aid Kit for performing this track infront of Paul Simon himself. These sisters capture that spirit of 1968 for those who wish they were there.

Many people in the UK were impressed by James Arthurs rendition of LMFAO's "Sexy and I know it". Few of those people will know that James Arthur has Noah to thank. Noah's version is amazing and I hate LMFAO but he makes me actually like this song.

Friday I am in Love is one of my all time favourite songs and I didn't think it could get any better but I am a sucker for a stripped down version. Scars on 45 are pretty unknown in the UK, despite coming from Yorkshire, but they are making a name for themselves in the USA.

If Dolly was a heavy smoker, this is what she would sound like.

I just found this today and it is an absolutely beautiful cover of Robyn's Dancing on my Own by a Danish Girl's Choir fro Mariagerfjord , a small county in Denmark. I really want to be part of a choir now!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Someone already living my dream!

Have a wander over to this blog by Marta and Raul who are cycling the length of  the Americas with real aim or plan other than to be on the road.

That's how it's done.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Memoirs of an Air League Scholar

On a New Year’s resolution style whim I applied for a scholarship from the Air League which offered 12 hours flying towards gaining your Private Pilots Licence (PPL).  Shortly after applying I got invited to an interview at Tayside aviation. I was petrified for technical questions or some mental maths but all they were testing me on was my interest in flying.  I was interviewed by Kate Watt who is the Scholarship manager at Tayside and Michael Todhunter from The Swire Charitable Trust who would be my sponsor. Although I was 15 minutes early my interview, it finished before it was even meant to start. I left feeling confident as the only note Mr Todhunter made was “v. good.”

A few days later while I was passing Dundee on the train  I got a phone call from Tayside Aviation telling me I had won the scholarship! I couldn’t believe it and I spent the rest of the train trip smiling like an idiot.

Three months later at 8:30am on the 21st of August I was starting my training. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what to wear or what to bring except for sunglasses. I was training alongside Air Cadets who had travelled from all over the country to carry out their Air Cadet Pilot Scheme training. It turned out even though they were 3 years younger than me, they all had gliding scholarships under their belts.  The other Air League scholar was a girl who had already done the ACPS course and was also studying Aeronautical engineering.  Even the introductory lecture made me feel like the dunce of the class.

The next day I got to meet my instructor and get into a plane for the first time since a Groupon trial flying lesson. I was both petrified and excited.  I can’t say I got on amazingly well with my instructor as I don’t think he was quite aware that I was not as clued up as everybody else. However his cruel-to-be-kind tactics got me studying harder which in retrospect was very useful.

On my first day in the sky I had to get taught all the basics of flying and there wasn’t really time to run over things twice. The amount of work I had to do in the first three days of my scholarship was more than I felt like I had done the whole summer including climbing Kilimanjaro and working at Wimbledon. Even though it was hard work and I dreaded what my instructor was going to tut at next, when I was up in the air I enjoyed every minute! Remember that buzz you had during driving lessons when your instructor stopped clinging onto the edge of the chair? Well try that buzz 3000ft in the sky.

In the first few lessons we flew out of Dundee airpace to practice climbing, descending and stalling out of harms way.  Once we had ticked the boxes on the basics we spent time learning the circuit around the airport for landing and take-off. The cadets and myself were aiming to go solo within 12 hours of flying which involved doing one of this circuits without the help of an instructor. I wasn’t thinking hopefully as I just couldn’t catch up as quickly, I would rather get hold of the basics properly than rush them just to go solo. After seven days  I had clocked up my 12 hours and I had learnt more in the past few days than I had in two years of a degree, as well as realising a childhood dream.

Pretty much anyone is eligible to apply to a scholarship as long as they show enough enthusiasm and can afford the annual members fee(about £30 for students). The current price for getting your PPL is currently around £6000-£7000 and if that scares you don’t even think about the price of the full commercial licence. Other than entering through the RAF, becoming a pilot is a posh boys game and those with access to Mummy and Daddy funds. However scholarships are becoming more readily available and the RAF Air Cadet scheme is also a great way to get a foot in the door.

If anyone wants tips or advice on applying for a scholarship then please leave a comment and I will get back to you!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chocolate French Toast

Don't knock it until you've tried it...

To Grab:

Cocoa powder
Chocolate chips

Dissolve some cocoa powder is some warm water to form a thin paste.

Mix the paste up with some eggs and cream until smooth and runny.

Dip those slices of brioche all in there.

Heat up a frying pan to a medium-high heat and melt up some butter.

Fry one slice of brioche and flip after a few minutes.

Put a few chocolate chips on the cooked side.

Immediately add the next slice of eggy brioche to a seperate part of the pan.

Once one side is cooked place it on top of the chocolate chips.

Carefully flip the sandwich and cook the other side, nobody likes burnt chocolate!

Add some more chocolate chips and continue stacking in this way as high as you want to go!


Bizarre Orcadian Traditions

Travel brochures and guide books cover most things to expect when visiting Orkney, but there are a lot of traditions that they miss out that leave many tourists simply bamboozled.


If you see a group of men or women covered in treacle banging drums on the back of a truck, it is most likely that you have just seen your first blackening. A blackening usually occurs at some point the week before a wedding and the bride and groom are taken on their seperate trucks and the aim is to get the couple as drunk, and as dirty as possible. All the while you are being driven around the town trying to make as much noise as possible. Local policemen describe blackenings as an "acceptable breach of the peace."  A blackening usually ends up with the bride or groom either in the sea or tied to a local landmark with clingfilm - which would you prefer? The origin of this tradition is fairly uncertain but has thought to have something to do with ensuring the bride/groom is dirty before the washing ceremony before a wedding.

The Orcadian Dialect

"Beuy, I'll tak a peedie swadge as me puggie is affie full o' wind."
This is roughly translated as "I need a rest after this meal because I have flatulance."

Although the Orcadian dialect is dying out there are still many phrases and words in circulation today and is a large part of the identity of the county. The strongest accents can be hard enough for me to understand let alone a poor Frenchman who has barely got the gist of English. Many words are nearer the Norwegian equivalent than the English. The Orcadian dialect comes from Norn, which was a mixture of Norse and Scots and provides Orcadians with a "sing-song" accent of the same tonality as Norwegian and an accent not a million miles from Welsh.
Some of my favourite Orcadian words:
Peedie - Small
Pugie - stomach
Swadge - A rest after a meal to let your food settle so you can continue eating.
Gansey - Jumper
Throughby - Next door

Shopping week

The Queen and her Attendants
In the middle of July every year my hometown of Stromness has it's main calender event which used to be the week of the year where traders were attracted to sell goods within the town and beyond. Nowadays it is more just an excuse for a bit of a party; for the whole week there is a programme of events to keep all ages happy. Most notable events are the Yard O' Ale, three legged beer race around the town and the parade followed by an open air dance on the Saturday. One of the strangest traditions as an outside must be the "Shopping Week Queen." On the opening Monday there is a ceremony in the morning, not unlike a wedding ceremony, where a girl in a long white dress accompanied by two "attendants" and led through the town in a horse and carriage. The "Shopping Week Queen" is elected by fellow pupils in the local secondary school and often has to spend their first Shopping week as an eighteen year old by being respectable and keeping up with their duties.

59° North

Other than the Shetland Isles, Orkney is as far north as you can get in the UK. Located on the same latitude as St Petersberg and Alaska we should experience temperatures similar to that of a freezer but thanks to the North Atlantic Drift we get a much milder, wetter experience. However we do get to take advantage of about 20 hour daylight during the summer solstice and the occasional glimpse of the Northern lights in the winter months. Unfortunately this comes with darkness from 1pm to 4pm in winter. 

Orcadian Strip the Willow

Throughout the year there are several "barn dances" that have grown from a get together in a barn to celebrate a good harvest but are now major gatherings for locals. It has also lead to the development of our own versions of Scottish dances. Our version of Strip the Willow has become popular on the Scottish mainland too as it is much more fun as it involves more people and much more spinning!

Ploughing Match and Festival of The Horses

The Horses
I don't know how many of you will be familiar with the concept of ploughing matches but they are normally done by horsepower or on tractors and are meant to demonstrate precision and skill in the art of ploughing. However in the town of St Margarets Hope the ploughing is all man-power, well boy-power. The horses are not forgotten though as other children dress up in elaborate costumes to represent horses with harnesses and straps. These costumes are often very beautiful and handed down generations with each generation adding something to the costume.

North Ronaldsay Sheep
Yup, we have sheep that eat seaweed because they somehow got stuck on a beach on the wrong side of a six-foot wall. Confined to Orkneys northernmost island of North Ronaldsay this exotic feral breed of sheep are bred for their wool. They have evolved a unique method of extracting sugar from seaweed and graze and ruminate in-sync with the tides.

The Ba
The Ba is notoriously hard to explain to people. It's is essentially a massive ball game with no rules where beefy men fight for a leather ball.  Oh yeah and it all happens in the middle of winter. There are two teams, the "uppies" and "doonies" and their allegiance is decided by where they lived but is now mainly through family loyalties. Orkney's biggest town, Kirkwall closes down on Boxing day and New Years Day and shops board up their windows as the streets fill with spectators. There is also a 'Boy's Ba' which takes place earlier in the day which is just as brutal. Each side has a goal; the uppies head inland whereas the doonies have to end up in the sea. If you are still confused this video might help give you more of an idea:

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Hoy Tape

My playground

Every Friday I would run from school and straight onto the ferry that would take me to the island of Hoy: my muddy childhood paradise during the summer. My family had a cottage on the island that sat high up on a hill. Heated by peat that my Dad had dug up and dried earlier in the summer and water came from a homemade pump up the hill. The gas stove was just about functional to cook some tins of soup for dinner and the porch was cold enough to function as a fridge so I could have my bowl of coco-pops in the morning. The hill was home to miles of heather which provided my sister with berries for jam and my granddad with the pink flowers he used to make his infamously intoxicating homebrew of heather ale.  The cottage provided me with the best playground a child could ask for: there was a beach with a sea to swim in, sand to search for treasure, endless animals to draw and keep as temporary pets, and endless places to explore and conquer.

The house, the dog and the Lada.
 Over the years, our cottage in Hoy became a bit of a graveyard for cars as my parents inability to throw anything out progressed beyond the boundaries of the house walls. Most of the cars still actually worked but although failing an MOT means something in most places, Hoy is not one of them. One by one our family cars ended up there. As a child my favourite car was our tough Soviet Lada Cossack 4x4 which was white with black zebra stripes. Every time I got in it I felt like we were about to embark on an epic adventure deep into the rainforest. The thing didn’t even have seats in the back but was so full of things that it wasn’t much of a problem and we didn’t mind cuddling up to the dog. The car had a single green and white cassette tape that I would play whenever we went anywhere in that car and those songs will forever remind me of driving around Hoy with my family. More so it reminds me of my real childhood, the one before computers appeared. The one that instantly makes you remember the smell of mud in your hair and when car journeys really did seem to take a lifetime.

‘The Hoy Tape’ as it became to be known had songs that at the time I had no idea what they were but later in life I heard them and was instantly transported back. My mum recently found the Hoy Tape and wrote down the eclectic mixture including soul from The Drifters, country in the form of Neil Diamond and Glenn Campbell and even some 70s glam rock from Marc Bolan. However even with modern technology, they will never quite sound the same as they did on the crackling tape player while I wiped sand out from between my toes and seaweed from my hair.