Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Scottish Adventure

A first ever visit to Scotland last weekend for a friend's wedding. The wedding was on in Kelso but rather then do the sensible thing and fly to Edinburgh, I decided to get a ferry from Larne to Stranraer and drive across the bottom of Scotland. That way I could get a taste of the country before I fell into the maelstrom of the wedding.

This was an adventure that I would only recommend to those who are not in a hurry. I knew when I saw the sign telling me to beware of peacocks outside Moffat that this was no main artery. The road was single lane most of the way and progress was slow. When I did pick up speed near Selkirk I hit a very plump pheasant and did serious damage to my front bumper. The pheasant didn't fare much better.

So I limped into St. Boswell's (near Kelso) in the early evening and set up camp in the very elegant Dryburgh Abbey - near the site of an old Cistercian Abbey destroyed during the Reformation. Walter Scott is buried there as is that old fraud Sir Douglas Haig - buried under a grave stone identical to those that mark the graves of the British dead around Ypres. His sense of fellow feeling with his troops came a bit late one felt.

And so to the wedding. How poignant these events are. The bustle, the optimism, the ridiculous outfits. Everyone acting. Some quietly seething. It's a woman's trip I suppose. The wrangle for a ring over. Most will never look as well again - and probably don't care.

We were handsomely catered for and well entertained. Good quality champagne on tap and substantial canapes before the main meal. The speeches were a mixed blessing. The father of the bride showed a lack of warmth bordering on the abusive; the best man lacked wit, the sine qua non of being a best man I feel, the groom and bridesmaid rescued the day by at least showing some feeling for the bride on her special day.

And then the dancing; followed by the Elvis impersonator; and then of course the flirting; and bless my soul the fight (a non-event that); and so to bed.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Fianna Failure

The Soldiers of Destiny have ruled this country for most of the past 30 years and a fine bloody mess they've made of it. A party that started out representing the under-priviliged against the might of the merchants and large farmers is now in thrall to the building trade and large corporate interests. Their recent craven submission to the pub lobby over cafe bars is par for the course. Haughey's populist posturings don't bear scrutiny and Bertie for all his plain oul' Dub act is a bird of similar plumage.

Let's see what we've got from these guys:

1. A collapsing health system where only the rich get any kind of service.
2. An under-funded education system where 1st, 2nd and 3rd levels are all in crisis.
3. An irredeemably corrupt and inefficient Gardai.
4. A growing violent under class.
5. Living costs escalating out of control through massive indirect taxation and unbridled profiteering.
6. Filthy cities.
7. Unmanageable traffic. The building industry build where it likes and the implications for traffic and other infrastructural matters are neglected.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Hungarian Goulash

OK, OK, so it's been a while. I've been away in the South of France and in Budapest. Firstly for an idyllic forthnight in the bosom of my family tasting the fruits of the Provence; and secondly for a hectic boy's weekend being chased around Budapest by hookers.

I wasn't too impressed with Budapest. OK, it was pleasant to enjoy a meal on the banks of the Danube with the Castle looming over us. The food was very ordinary but the setting was superb. And the constant stream of hookers passing up and down made a passable cabaret. Another enjoyable experience was a visit to the baths - the one near the zoo. Here on a Sunday morning it seemed that all of Budapest was out for a soak. There were hot baths, warm baths, steam rooms, plunge pools and even conventional swimming pools - a vast expanse of bathing options housed in a huge tiled palace. Here there was no cruising or cult of the body beautiful - all shapes and ages paraded around in an unabashed fashion. I felt right at home.

The architecture of the city is a mixture of grand remnants of the glory days of the Hapsburgs interspersed with the worst excesses of Soviet brutalism. The streets are even dirtier than Dublin. Its taxi service is entirely run by gangsters it seems so you never get into a cab without agreeing a fare first. We made that mistake once and once only. The food is mediocre - they don't seem to know how to make bread and a vegetarian could well starve to death.

The public transport system while dirty seems regular and efficient. we got buses and trains as much as possible. Buy a ticket though - checks are very regular.

If you're going out to clubs, be careful. Most of the girls are professionals and the bouncers are animals. Also, the crowd gets rougher as the night progresses. I made my excuses and left early.

The main Gallery of Art is impressive. Two works by Lucas Cranach the Elder are worth the visit. They are both called "Unsuitable Marriage" and feature an old man and a young woman; and an old woman and a young man. Ahead of his time was old Lucas. There is also work by Goya, El Greco, Durer etc.

While any country that gave us Puskas, Durer and Za Za Gabor can't be all bad, I won't be going back. The abiding atmosphere was one of seediness and bad faith. Coming straight after the peaceful ease of a village in Provence, the contrast was dramatic.