Gun Running, Bagpipes and Belgians on Bicycles: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The show gets underway as the sun goes down over the ramparts and the sound of the massed pipes and drums fills the air. Then there’s an almighty roar as a Eurofighter Typhoon flies overhead. The flags are raised, the castle gates open and the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo is underway. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Our road to the Tattoo (as it is shortened to by the people of Edinburgh) is probably not the most favourable, we’re actually only going because we have family friends staying and they wanted to go – we’ve all seen it several times before (despite the fact that there’re different acts every year there is a slightly predictably format) – and so I’d be lying if I said that I was excited. It is held in stands on the castle’s espanade, so is open to the elements, and I think it would be fair to say we came away a little damp when we were last there. Not a promising start.

The Royal Edinburgh Military TattooThe show started with the pipes and drums (with the odd trumpet thrown into the mix), but thankfully the new seating appears to funnel the drone upwards, meaning that my ears weren’t assaulted too much. This was closely followed by the first of the ‘overseas’ acts. The army of the Netherlands, dressed in tights and riding old WWII style bikes; there are no stereotypes in this show… I stopped being a grump at this stage and decided that this was an attempt at a cycle display team who also double up as a silver band at the same time, with a bit of slapstick thrown in on the side. Oh the crazy Dutch…

The Royal Edinburgh Military TattooFrom here I think it’ll be easier to ditch the chronological order, otherwise this will be intolerably long (it probably still will be, sorry). Apart from the pipe bands from random parts of the world (I think one came from Oman, or somewhere near there) the major attraction came in the form of the band of the Brazilian navy. These very energetic individuals in their red coats leapt about – in formation, obviously – playing a selection of upbeat numbers, including their naval anthem. There was a slightly awkward moment when they brought on their, rather cold looking, dancers and a couple of the band broke-off for some scripted flirting, but aside from this it was quite impressive.

The navy seemed to be taking centre stage this year as they were on virtually all the time. This started with a bit of gun running. Not in the illegal sense, I hope you understand, but as in a demonstration of how cannons on battle ships of old were run out (it was a bit of an idiot’s guide, but there was enough information to keep it interesting and to promptly forget immediately afterwards) and the risks that the sailors faced. It was then brought back to the The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoopresent day with a field gun race between a crew from HMS Raleigh (a navy training base on the South coast) and one from Faslane (where we keep nuclear submarines and other things over near the Clyde). For those of you who have never seen one of these it is essentially a race to see who can dismantle their gun, run it down to the far end of the arena, reassemble it, fire it a couple of times and then do the exact reverse. It is quite fun to watch (it’s slightly more exciting when there’s an assault course involved), but here there was – the seemingly unexpected, despite it being a fortnight in to the Tattoo’s run… – the extra issue that the Castle’s esplanade has a good bit of a slope to it. In the end my team (i.e. the team on our side of the esplanade) won – naturally – and there was much cheering and jubilation from the visitors in the stands.

We were also treated to a display from the crew of HMS Montrose. For those of you who aren’t aware of this outfit (I would have considered myself lacking in this knowledge beforehand as well) they are part of the ‘Anti-piracy boarding team’ (pretty cool name, I’m sure you’ll agree). More used to boarding ships to rid them of Somalian pirates than abseiling down the ramparts of the castle to save the illustrious MV Edinburgh Castle from the grasp of the pirates, lead by the totally-not-stollen-from-anywhere ‘Cpt. Jock Sporran’ (someone shoot me now, please) they promptly saw off the somewhat lack-luster pirates and saved us all (yay…). We were also treated to the drumming skills of HM bands of the Royal Marines, which is incredibly impressive, regardless of how many times you have seen it.

The Royal Edinburgh Military TattooOther acts that graced the tarmac with their presence were the Bravairan Band of the German army (I’m glad to see we’re not the only people to play up to the stereotype – think laderhosen, accordions and alpine horns) and the obligatory Scottish country dancers. If we ignore the fact that they were celebrating the traditions of fishing in the North Sea (I’ll save you the biologist’s rant about the merits of such things) I still can’t say anything good about them. This is probably because I find country dancing one of the dullest things around – it should be solely the preserve of events where it is done with good humour, not taken too seriously and with large quantities of alcohol.

The evening ended with the amassed bands of all the performers, with a few rousing pieces and some impressive projections onto the face of the castle. There was much marching up and down, singing and the salute. Then we were treated to some fireworks which signal the end of the show (if you live in Edinburgh you will be aware of their explosion as it happens every night, except Sundays, at approx. 10:35pm).

I came away feeling a lot better about the whole thing than I did at the start. Ultimately it is a spectacle for tourists, and as such it is incredible. The show itself is something to behold, but the fact that it takes place with the backdrop of, arguably, the most famous castle in the world, that alone is worth the risk of inclement weather. If you are ever in Edinburgh when it is on I would suggest you get a ticket (although they are sold out months in advance, so you have to be organised), and even when you live here, it is worth going every so often. I did enjoy it, but I think I have had my fill for the next few years…

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‘From Source to City’: The Edinburgh Farmers’ Market

I seem to have a problem with farmers’ markets; I never really get round to going. First there was St Andrews (see here for further details), and now Edinburgh. Again, it took someone else asking me to go before I summoned up the energy to get up ‘early’ on a Saturday morning and haul my lazy behind into town.Edinburgh Farmers' Market

The Edinburgh Farmers’ Market takes place against the stunning backdrop of the Castle, down on Castle Terrace and is there every Saturday (year round) from 9am until 2pm. For more information their website is here. Given this regularity I really don’t have an excuse for not having been until now, but then again that’s probably the reason I’ve never quite made it. Each week there is a variety of stalls selling everything from meat to veg, chocolate to sea food; some stalls are there on a monthly basis, others are there (almost) every week. For easy reference at a glance they have an online calendar, so you can know who should be there before you go.

Edinburgh Farmers' MarketWe started by wandering up and down, simply seeing what was on offer. My favourite stall at this sort of thing is always the ‘sea food’ people, simply because I love how their stalls look. There’s something really appealing about the freshness, their bilateral symmetry, a twitch of an antennae or bound mandible. Perhaps that’s just me. There’s also the ensuing silent hilarity in the crowd when someone discovers they’re still alive and there is a collective, internal response of ‘well, yeah…’ – this is especially true if it happens to be a five year old and the parent is then going to have to explain how to cook them…

Anyway, I digress. There seemed to be a lot of meat on sale on this particular weekend, everything from rabbit up to buffalo and it took aEdinburgh Farmers' Market lot of resistance not to buy quite a lot. in the end we settled for a duck breast so that we could transform into a ‘light lunch’. We thus decided that no more stalls sealing such items needed to be visited as we would only bankrupt ourselves (out of over-buying, I should say, not over-pricing). The hunt was then on for some potatoes and vegetables to complete the line up. Then we got distracted. There was a stall (Belhaven Fruit Farm, I think) selling soft fruits and even with a partially blocked olfactory system the smell was just too enticing. These fresh raspberries, strawberries and cherries (very reasonable at 3 for £5) was too good an opportunity and we rapidly came to the same conclusion that lunch could only be improved by the addition of cherries to the port sauce.

So this isn’t too long I will skim over the rest (leave some surprises for when you visit) and just mention two more stalls. The first was actually not food related but for Spokes Edinburgh Farmers' Market(Edinburgh’s cycling campaign), and encouraging people to ‘explore the city by bike’. We had a quick chat with them and got some very good little maps, but the people behind the stall didn’t really fill me with much confidence for their campaign (not helped by the fact I’d never heard of them before). The other was much more up my street, The ChocolateTree. The Bruntsfield based business was there with a huge range of chocolates – the mint and dark chocolate that we tasted was certainly delicious – and even had their mobile ice cream stall (an old fashioned bike with a modern cool box on the back) with them. Despite the slight chill in the air and a definite lack of sun we decided to make this our last stop before heading away in order to have lunch in reverse and start with dessert…

Edinburgh Farmers' MarketA quick wander through town (avoiding as many slow moving gaggles of tourists as humanly possible) took us back to my friend’s house and about quarter past one we decided it was high time we made lunch. Slight changes to our plans throughout the morning meant we had a changed lunch slightly, but still our duck with a cherry, port and dark chocolate sauce, served with new potatoes and fresh carrots, was absolutely delicious. Coupled with a bottle of red wine it rendered us both stuffed and sleepy by the end, resulting in much of the afternoon revolving round the sofa and not moving very far. So much for a ‘light lunch’.

As more and more people embrace the idea of eating local and seasonal produce farmers’ markets are growing in popularity and popping up all over the place. Yes, our carrots were more expensive than a value bag would be in Tesco, but I can tell you they certainly taste a damn sight better as well. I do feel in many cases that there isn’t a huge price difference in much of what is on offer and I would implore people to go down and at least have a look. Being there every week may be an excuse not to go, but once you’ve been once, it’ll be hard not see its regularity as an opportunity. It was an excellent and enjoyable way to spend a Saturday morning – and that’s before you even get to how good lunch tasted. ‘From Source to City‘ could well be how many Saturday mornings will be spent in future.Edinburgh Farmers' Market


A Random Evening Out at the Fringe

As I live in Edinburgh I have the annual dilemma: the throngs of ‘artsy’ tourists are quite annoying, but at the same time I want to experience some of the Fringe. With the world’s largest arts festivals on my doorstep it would almost seem rude not to. Friday evening seemed like the time to do it, so a couple of friends and I headed out – camera-less for a change – for a free cabaret show…Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011

We were in a dimly light room, in some venue I had never even heard of before a few days ago when we picked our show (or rather, my friend produced the idea and I agreed, somewhat foolishly, without really reading the show’s blurb).The dark room wasn’t very big, and had this been pre-smoking ban I imagine it would have been the sort to have an internal fog of the stuff. I tend to stick firmly to comedy during the festival, so I was on completely new territory, and quite excited to see what would happen.

It didn’t take long for it to get weird – this being the fringe, that’s hardly surprising – as the first act was a bizarre combination of singing and burlesque. I cannot claim to be an expert on the latter, but even I could tell it wasn’t the best. The singing was not bad, but the fox scarf that was draped lazily around her neck made the whole thing even weirder.

So far, not promising.

The second act, Mat Ricardo, described himself as a juggler and I began to wonder what I’d let myself in for. But he was as much a comedian as a juggler and an all round ‘performer’. Basically he did a couple of tricks (very impressive), but spent a large part of his set chatting; I feel we had similar levels of sarcasm so it was all ok. A lot of it was about his continuing refusal to go on Britain’s Got Talent (I’ll save your ears from his actual description) and the emails he gets from them every year asking him to come on and how he replies. We were either laughing or in suspense for the next trick almost all of the time he was on, so I would consider it a success.

There was also a sketch group, whose few minute reenactment of Street Dance 3D was amusing enough – but I don’t think I could sit through their whole show – and there was much plugging of other shows before another burelsque dancer (it was rapidly becoming obvious why my friend had desired to come to this show, she’s a bit obsessed) who was substantially better (and didn’t look half dead; always a plus). The last full act was a band called Patti Plinko and the Maddening. Introduced as a drinking band – this certainly got my attention – the rag-tag bunch got on stage and started having technical issues. With a few changes of mic they finally got going and it was one of the best bits of live music I have heard in a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed it, who doesn’t like quasi-Bravarian drinking music crossed with passion and a gravelly voice, but it’s probably quite a good job they didn’t have a full set and we didn’t have pints. That could have ended badly. They thoroughly deserve all the five star reviews they’ve got.

As we went outside one of the many flyer we were offered was for a free comedy gig, happening round the corner in about 45 minutes. Well, why not, it wasn’t like we had anywhere to be. It turned out that we had to go into a youth hostel (which I’m not convinced wasn’t at least partially a half way house) and then through some interconnecting doors into the main room of a masonic lodge. Yup, you heard correctly. Welcome to the Fringe.Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011

The guy who gave us the leaflet happened to also be the host. I’m not always a fan of ‘take the piss out of the audience’ comedy (it always seems slightly lazy to me, and I can be judgemental about people, doesn’t necessarily make it funny) but it worked for him. The funniest moment for us had to be when he told one of my friends to start the clapping for one of the acts. She’d been involved in a minor accident earlier in the day and (whilst I agree that that is distinctly un-funny) she couldn’t clap. His face when she explained was a priceless piece of awkward.

The first stand up was dull; funny at the time, yes, but I cannot remember his name, nor any of his jokes. Not the best start. The second act was an improv group (most of their name escapes me, but cats were somehow involved) which is something I can never make up my mind about and in this case was thoroughly unoriginal. In fairness to the performers, I think I was the only one in the room that knew at least half of them used to be in Blind Mirth (St A’s  improv group) and so I was the only one who’d seen most of the ‘games’ before. But for a 9 minute slot, or whatever it was they had, it was entertaining.

One of the things I quite like about the Fringe is its way of finding new talent, and this so happened to happen on this exact show. A few days earlier the third act had been in the audience and had, apparently, some hilarious heckles, so the promoters had decided to offer him a 3 minute slot the night we were there. He was, unsurprisingly, nervous, but he was also pretty funny. I’m not going to talk about the last act of the show – Jollyboat – passed to tell you that they did two songs (one on ‘pirate pop’ and the other a love song with visual aids pertaining to computer keyboard shortcuts). These might not at first fill you with gales of laughter, but here’s the link to the a video of the first of those and I will tell you more after I’ve been to see their proper show this afternoon.

It was a very random evening, but then that is what the Fringe is all about. We had a laughter filled evening and it was, on the whole, thoroughly enjoyable. The Fringe will end this weekend and I’m slightly sad I’ve not been able to see more. Hopefully this time next year I’ll be gainfully employed and I can enjoy being able to go to a lot more.


Ps. I borrowed the photo of this year’s fringe mascots from here:

The Big 100

I have no idea how this has happened, but this post is my 100th!

I feel this is some sort of milestone and should somehow be represented, but having thought about it I’m not really sure how. Should I bake a cake? Throw a party? Go out for dinner? They all seem a bit redundant for something electronic, and a bit elaborate – even if I’m going to write about them afterwards. Perhaps I could just do a long rambly post (no change there then) and mention that it’s the 100th post 100 times. Or not.

Maybe I should write about what Contemplating means to me, but do I really know? That then would seem rather pointless and something I would only do to procrastinate. Here goes then…

Contemplating the Clouds comes from when I sat at my desk in Nelson St and continually stared out the window, contemplating the clouds (see what I did there?), instead of working. The blog version was originally set up as a procrastination, to provide a diversion from academic reading, but has now turned into a conduit for my procrastination. So I guess in that sense the title is a euphemism for procrastinating. Aside from that I still have no idea why I do it.

If you were looking for something deeper, sorry to disappoint. Perhaps this isn’t the blog for you…

The other thing it seems fitting to do is to explain the header photo. Every time you go onto the homepage it’s there, but I’ve never explained it. That is, until now…

That photo comes from my trip to Tanzania in 2009 when a group of friends and I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro for ChildReach International. It was taken about 5am – not a time I’m particularly accustomed to seeing – and it is of me standing at Stella Point – the edge of the crater at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro – having just climbed through the night to get there.

Not only is it, in my opinion, a stunning photo, but it will always remind me of how tough that last part of the climb is (they make you do it during the night so you cannot see the steep shale slopes, as many people would not be able to make them self do it) and how painful and exhausting it was. Pardon the self indulgence here, but it is one of the things I am most proud of and for me this photo sums everything up. It proves to me that I can do whatever I set my mind to as long as I persevere, but also fills me with a wealth of memories, all wrapped up in one simple photo. It also happens to fit in with the blog title as well, which is highly convenient.

Me at Stella Point, Mt KilimanjaroIt is my favourite photo in the entire world.

Here’s to the next 100, may they be better than those that went before them.


Photos in the Garden

Whilst not doing a lot the other day I took my camera out to the back garden and played around for a bit. There’s very little to it apart from that.Photographs of the GardenThe hosepipe’s been lying in our rusty old barrow for a while.Photographs of the GardenThere’s lots of plants and flowers, it being a garden and all that.

Photographs of the GardenYou’d never guess that this is the dog’s rugby ball, would you?Photographs of the GardenThe swing’s showing its age, not been much use for it recently.