‘Remember, remember the fifth of November’ young children sang sweetly amongst themselves as a dummy was cast into a giant bonfire. Standing in it’s glow I can’t say I wasn’t a little disturbed. On that fateful day in 1605, a fellow called Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellar of the London Houses of Parliament. Found with 36 barrels of gunpowder he had every intention, but no chance, of setting them off. So what did Britain do?
They thought, hey? This ’guy’ was stopped in his tracks before he ever had the chance to strike up a match… Let's get together every year, put on extravagant firework displays and thrust an effigy of Fawkes into the flames! Of course. For most people it’s more about a lingering fascination with a madman than choosing to celebrate his execution or honour an attempt to do away with the government. Wrapped up like Michelin men, my friends and I huddled together, with what seemed like the whole of Stirling, on the local field for the occasion. Over a carnival like atmosphere, 401 years after Fawkes was arrested, the skies exploded with colour in his name. For a convicted traitor charged with plotting to kill the King, royal family and the aristocracy, he’s got to be happy with the legacy!
Scotland have a great many historical figures to which they pay immense homage. I am constantly reminded of one man in particular who, after some intense ‘tutorial discussions,’ I’ve found, arguably does live up to the heroism graced upon him by a particular Hollywood blockbuster. Yes, every morning I draw my blinds only to look up and see the William Wallace monument on the hill across the loch. It is my one proud moment, each day, of adopted Scottish patriotism. Mel Gibson eat your heart out. To see his more of immediate legacy as a brave warrior here in Scotland you just have to experience a Halloween where the trademark blue and white ‘face paint‘ donned by at least one in five boys. All this being said, I can’t help but wonder if maybe he was not a better candidate for an all out fireworks display?! Oh well, there’s no questioning tradition! Once in Scotland - do as the Scottish do! The face paint, monument, pride and mythological stories will have to suffice…
With sincerest apologies, I’m going to assume poor social form and turn my attention to the weather. It can’t be helped. I have definitely failed in ’doing as the Scottish do’ in this area. I have not been able to cultivate the state of denial most of my friends use to get by when going out at night in next to nothing! Whilst everyone around me seems to grin and bear it, I feel like I’m living in the arctic. My body goes into a small state of shock every time I walk outside and we are still in the ‘balmy positives!’ I was not built for the cold. It has been raining for a week straight. In a stubborn attempt to try and get by without investing in a pair of sensible boots, I can be seen hopping around campus from one patch of ground ‘above puddle level’ to the next. However, I have finally adopted the local sensibility in one important way - I’ve given up on umbrellas. At first I didn’t understand why people darted about with only hoods and coats to protect them from the sheets of rain. That was until I had my first serious Mary Poppins experience of being just about taken away with the wind.
But! Just as the skies exploded with colours a few short weeks ago, they hills and countryside have been coated with magnificent autumn hues making the cold, just about, all worth it. Every now and then when the sun peaks through the clouds everything sparkles. Even against the angry grey sky, fluorescent yellow leaves stand out like little beacons of hope. Oh, I do sound quite dramatic! With the first smatterings of snow falling up in the highlands, the last determined leaves now cling on for dear life. In no time the winter will have officially arrived and stark black branches will twist their way into the sky.
You might not believe me but this state of damp, grey cold is not without its charms, really! Apart from watching the landscape change, what better excuse is there to cosy up in a small sandstone pub at night or drink hot chocolate in the local village coffee shop. With the continual comforting pattering of the rain on the roof and some very powerful heaters it’s easy to feel snug and warm. At this stage, the heat of mid summer Sydney on my return might be all too much. I will need a good ‘thawing out’ period! I just hope I get some snow to go with the chill. I’m off to the Baltic - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - in a few weeks where I’m sure I’ll encounter some of the sparkling white… This little venture is going to call for some serious rugging up!
My usual trick of arriving in a city with only a vague idea of where I’m going, repeated in Paris last week, might not go down so well in the minus temperatures. Stepping off the airport bus in the ‘city of love’ I found myself alone, in the middle of a giant intersection, with the twinkling lights of what seemed like the centre of the city, some way in the distance. After hot tailing it across what was possibly the busiest road in France, looking for street signs in the dark, approaching unsuspecting French men for directions and pouring over a map - I was on my way! A few metro changeovers and some highly entertaining en route busking later I had made it to the hostel. Arriving in a dishevelled mess just in time to get to the local supermarket I remembered one of my friends asking me, after announcing I was again, indulgently getting on a plane to Europe, ’how do you travel?’ It struck me then. I’d never even thought there was a way to do it. For me, the logic has been - arrive, explore and see what happens! Paris unveiled itself to me as a city to be wandered through with no plans or pace. Stopping off at small patisseries, getting lost in the maze of streets and suddenly finding myself back on one of the grand boulevards, sauntering through the produce markets, buying fresh fruit with what little French I have and marvelling at works of art that for years I’ve poured over in books, was wonderful.
Back in Stirling the weeks are ticking down. Semester will be over in three weeks and I will be on a plane home within five. This experience has flown by quicker than I could have ever anticipated. With some of the best times in my life behind me, I’d urge anyone who is even considering an exchange (while thoughts of uni are probably a far distant memory now that it‘s officially summer holidays) to absolutely go for it! Until next time - enjoy the sun!
Here’s a little snap shot of my home for the past few months - you can’t miss William…