Tortoise sitting

I feel like Doctor Dolittle this week as I’ve somehow accumulated a kitten, two goldfish, four hens and two tortoise to look after.

I have to say I was most excited about hanging with the tortoise, as I’ve been slightly obsessed with them ever since I met these ones in Turkey.

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But turns out tortoise in captivity are quite boring creatures.

They’re also fussy eaters and will only down their daily dose of lettuce, cucumber, apple and dandelion leaves (if I can be bothered going to the park to be stared at by locals wondering why the hell is that girl picking weeds?) if they’re washed.

In the five nights I was here this one barely moved.

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In fairness it is 60.

And, even the younger one barely ventured from its favourite spot – wedged between the pot plant and the step.

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In fact, the only amusing thing that happened was when the kitten sat on the little tortoise, while it was trying to get its ridiculously small mouth around a slice of apple.

But looking after the tortoise did teach me that a turtle and a tortoise are not the same thing. Turns out turtles hang out in the water, tortoise on the land and then there’s a hybrid called a terrapin which does both.

But I remain confused as to what the plural is for tortoise, as the debate seems to be raging online as to whether it’s tortoise, tortoises or my favourite pick – torti (like cacti).

Can anyone actually tell me for certain?

Moving onto the kitten… I’m quite allergic to cats so I’ve been trying to keep my distance, but it hasn’t made it easy as it only has two moods: loving and cuddly or pyscho and scratchy.

It also does this weird thing with jelly meat where it only eats the jelly, no matter how fine you mash the meat.

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Then there’s the ladies.

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There’s four of them and each day without fail they lay three eggs, so either one doesn’t lay eggs at all or they have a shift work system going on.

And last but actually least, there’s the goldfish. I have nothing interesting to say about them.

As for why I’m kitten, hen, goldfish and tortoise/tortoises/torti-sitting, it’s all thanks to the wonders of housesitting websites on the internet.

I could hardly contain my excitement when I met the owner and she showed me around her amazing three-storey home in central London, which also houses an eclectic collection of antiques and nicknacks.

But it all comes to an end tomorrow when they arrive home from their holiday, leaving me exactly 30 days to find places to stay in London before I take off to Morocco and Spain.

I apologise to my London friends and family in advance…

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London town

I recall my Dad once telling me – ‘never fall for an Englishman.’

Not one for listening what did I do…

Brutal lesson I suppose, but the Casio Watch Boy I met in Naples and the Casio Watch Boy I met on his home turf of London aren’t the same Casio Watch Boy.

It ended badly, very badly, although I must say I’m keeping the watch, one because I can’t afford another one, and two because it’s quite handy.

Luckily, there’s been a lot of other stuff going on in London to keep me occupied.

For one, Wimbledon’s been on, and being a bit crazy I decided to try my luck on final’s day for a ground pass, though it took me a good hour to work out where ‘the queue’ actually began.

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By the time I found ‘the queue’ it was 500 yards long, I was given the number 3,465 for the day and told I could be waiting up to five hours to get in, meaning the final would be over.

This is as close to the action as I got before I gave up.

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I ended up settling for the next best thing, watching Wimbledon at a Wimbledon pub, where I got myself quietly drunk on Pimms and tried to sober myself up with a Sunday roast, though not in time to prevent myself from balling over Andy Murray’s speech.

If you missed it, it’s worth a watch.

Besides Wimbledon, I’m proud to report that I’ve been playing tour guide to a New Zealand friend and I’ve managed to not get either of us lost.

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We also wound up outside Buckingham Palace and before you ask, the massive bag I’m holding is a selection of clothes my friend kindly brought over from home.

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I can’t even describe how exciting it was to slip into my favourite dress, until I discovered it had a massive hole in the side thanks to my sister wearing it during her pregnancy.

To be honest I’m not mad, I’m more gutted my sister wore my normal clothes as maternity clothes.

I digress.

Back to my New Zealand friend, I’m pretty sure I’m not exaggerating when I say that she is the nicest, sweetest person I’ve ever met.

She’s the girl who when someone smacks into her on the tube she apologises and she’s the girl that stops to talk to homeless people.

Not that I’m cold hearted, but I’m naturally sceptical, so when she stops to ask a well dressed woman with nice jewellery sitting on the footpath crying on London’s West End if she’s ok, I’m naturally suspicious.

Apparently she’s an overstayer who’s going to be deported next week. I have to bite my tongue as I’m pretty sure if you’re caught overstaying you’re on the next plane home…

Anyway, she goes onto reject every offer of assistance we can think of: helping her locate her embassy, a homeless shelter, a hostel. Nope, it’s clear she wants just one thing – cold hard cash.

We give up.

It was a bit of a downer on an otherwise amazing night seeing the Broadway musical ‘Wicked.’

Thanks to queuing up at 9am we managed to secure ourselves front row seats.

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Although, we didn’t realise they were front row until we asked the lady at the counter where the seats were.

She gave us a look of you must be f$&@ing kidding me and grunted – ‘front row, that’s why you’re queuing.’

We just thought we were queuing for good stall seats. Bonus. And, we were so close to the action you could see the actors spit when they sang.

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Apart from that I’ve wasted a lot of time on life admin of late.

Turns out not having a fixed abode makes setting up a bank account and going to the doctors a particularly painful ordeal.

Take going to the doctors for instance. Because I can’t register with a GP I had to wait four hours to be seen at a Drop-In Centre to get some routine prescriptions.

Then when it’s finally my turn, the doctor says to me after I politely query her advice – ‘frankly, I don’t really care about you, this is just my professional advice ok.’

I walked out slightly demoralised and clutching a one month’s prescription, meaning I’ll be doing it all again next month.

I decided the only thing to cheer me up was to go and watch half naked men in the new male stripper movie ‘Magic Mike.’

It worked, although it would have been better if it was in 3D.

The best and rest of Scotland

Of all the accents I’ve encountered, Scottish is by far the one that bamboozles me the most.

I blame their knack of mangling and rolling all their words together for my walking around in torrential rain in Glasgow searching for ‘Kings Street’ train station.

Turns out it doesn’t exist, it was just my misinterpretation of a Glaswegian saying ‘Queen Street.’

Same goes for training from Inverness to Edinburgh.

I thought I was on the right train, until a voice came on the loud speaker announcing – ‘this train is for Inverwaverley.’

I’d never heard of a place called ‘Inverwaverley,’ so I hurriedly grab my gear, get off the train and go find the conductor.

But when I ask him where the train for Edinburgh is departing from, he points at the train I’ve just just got off, so I explain that the loud speaker said it was going to some place called ‘Inverwaverley.’

He laughs and says ‘aye, Edinburgh Waverley.’

Awkward, but not as awkward as when I get back on the train and nearly stand on a blind man’s guide dog.

In fairness, it was the same colour as the carpet.

But I dug myself a massive hole when I apologised – ‘I’m sorry my eyes aren’t great.’

Luckily he saw the funny side, chuckled and replied – ‘mine neither, I’m blind.’

Apart from that, I don’t have much else to write about Scotland.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the place, but the weather was atrocious, particularly for castle exploring in Stirling and Edinburgh.

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Luckily, before the weather totally packed itself and my umbrella lost its structural integrity, I did manage to get a photo with my ancestor (gonna claim it) Robert the Bruce, at Stirling Castle.

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And, before you ask, no, I’m not wearing sneans, they’re just very clean Converse chucks.

I’ll admit that my standards have dropped backpacking, but not that much.

As for how I filled my days in Edinburgh, I visited the new Scottish Parliament buildings, which are renowned for being very expensive but not looking like it.

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And through utter luck, I stumbled across guests arriving for the Queen’s Garden Party at Holyrood Palace and decided to rubberneck it from the Crags.

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Apart from that I spent a lot of time in my friends’s kitchen.

I even cooked my first bacon and egg pie since ages ago.

Turns out bacon and egg pie drowning in tomato sauce is a very New Zealand thing.

I was amazed, I thought pies with bacon and egg filling and a crap load of tomato sauce were universal.

As for why I found myself in the kitchen – according to my friend’s fiancĂ©e (who’s given himself the nickname ‘Swesley’) she has meat dehydrating skills.

But she makes up for it in the fact she has ultra-marathon running skills.

What that means is one marathon just isn’t long enough for her, she prefers to run about three of them back to back.

She’s a freak – but in a good way.

And as an end note, she recently joined the bloggersphere and you can check out her blog here.

Orkney – 12,875 miles away from home

“This bloody town’s a bloody cuss
No bloody trains, no bloody bus,
And no one cares for bloody us
In bloody Orkney…

All bloody clouds, and bloody rains,
No bloody kerbs, no bloody drains,
The Council’s got no bloody brains,
In bloody Orkney…

Best bloody place is bloody bed,
With bloody ice on bloody head,
You might as well be bloody dead,
In bloody Orkney.”

That’s how a sailor posted at Scapa Flow during World War Two viewed Orkney.

Luckily I don’t hold such a dim view, though my reason for visiting Orkney was pretty bleak.

It all stems back to a murder case I covered in my reporting days – that of 26-year-old Orcadian backpacker Karen Aim, who was tragically killed in New Zealand in 2009 by 15-year-old Jahche Broughton.

Something about that case always haunted me, perhaps more so now, as I, like her, find myself on the other side of he world, living out of a backpack and relying on the goodwill of others.

As for being in Orkney, you really do get the sense that you are a million miles away from home.

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Given Orkney’s remoteness, I opted (very reluctantly given my track record with tours) for a day tour from Inverness.

Unsurprisingly, when I board the bus it’s me and seven golden oldies, two of whom discover during the day that they share the same fetish of dressing up and pretending they live in a Jane Austin book.

But this tour strays from my previous tour experiences in that our guide actually likes people.

He was a Scottish chap who pretty much didn’t stop talking the whole day and broke up his encyclopaedic history lesson on Orkney with a series of one liners, including:

– ‘The Orcadian farmers pour whiskey on their grass… That way it comes up half cut.’

– ‘The Chinese just released a new cook book… 100 ways to wok your dog.’

– ‘Here’s where the old pig hospital was… They used to come here to get cured.’

He also told us there’s no trees on Orkney because it’s too windy and that Orkney’s only chicken farm was an epic failure as all the chickens blew away.

I’m not sure if he was lying about the chicken story, but it honestly wouldn’t surprise me given I visited in summer and this was the forecast.

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Not being one for researching a place before I get there, I didn’t realise how bleak the weather was going to be, so I spent the day freezing my arse off and wishing I’d packed my puffer jacket.

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I hate to imagine what it’s like in winter!

As for what to do in Orkney, luckily it’s dripping with history.

It’s home to Skara Brae – a large stone-built Neolithic settlement dating back to around 3200BC.

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It has its own Stonehenge, called the Ring o’ Brodgar, which is actually older than Stonehenge.

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And as much as I’m cathedral/temple/mosqued-out, Orkney is home to my new favourite place of worship.

It’s called the Italian Chapel and it was lovingly built by Italian Prisoners of War during World War Two.

The building itself is a simple bang together of two Nissen huts.

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And inside, the chapel is decorated with whatever the Italians could get their hands on – the candleholders are made from old corn beef tins, the floor is from leftover concrete from their work constructing the Churchill Barriers, the walls are painted to look like bricks and the church bell was salvaged from one of Orkney’s many shipwrecks.

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While I’m on the subject of shipwrecks – Orkney is littered with them, including the remains of the scuttled German fleet after World War One, the British battleship HMS Royal Oak, and many others that poke out of the water around the Churchill Barriers.

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All in all I found Orkney to be a ruggedly beautiful place where you well and truly feel like you’ve reached the ends of the earth.

In many ways I imagine that’s how Karen Aim must have felt when she was in New Zealand.

I just pray, I, unlike her, will get to go home.

A spot of Nessie hunting

Inverness is bloody lucky there’s the legend of the Loch Ness monster to draw tourists here, because that’s really the only thing it’s got going for it.

It’s a grim place, as I soon discovered on my first night when I was hopelessly walking around in the rain trying to find a place to eat.

The first prospectus pub I found had a woman yelling at her man outside – most likely over the fact he was blind drunk at 7pm on a Saturday.

A few minutes later I stumbled across a mother and son having a similar scale domestic outside another pub, over whether or not she was a good grandma. Given the fact she too was blind drunk at 7pm – I think the answer is no.

And, because things happen in threes, a couple of minutes later I witnessed a group of local lads drag one of their friends onto the road, downtrowl him and start yelling – ‘look at it, it’s like a toothpick on an apple.’ Poor lad.

As for my hostel, the only thing it had going for it was that it was right next to the bus station. Apart from that, my lasting memory will be that the toilet on my floor (which they claimed to inspect every two hours) had crusty blood droplets dotting the walls.

As for why I decided to come to Inverness, I’ll admit that it was for a spot of shameless Nessie hunting, which in fact dates back to 565AD and a Irish monk called St Columba.

But I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how quaint the little town of Drumnadrochit (which straddles the lake) was, given all the hype.

I happily spent several hours eating scones, sipping tea, writing tacky Loch Ness themed postcards and watching this young lad play the bagpipes.

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He was actually pretty good, especially compared to some of the monstrosities I witnessed on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

Back to Loch Ness… the lake itself is a hauntingly beautiful stretch of almost black water and I was fortunate enough to visit on a day when it was not raining (it always rains in Scotland).

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Unsurprisingly, I can’t say I spotted Nessie during my hour-long boat cruise, but I was in my happy place when a group of ducks turned up for their afternoon tea.

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But I suspect I fell into the tourist trap of visiting the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, which I did solely to kill time while I waited for the bus back to Inverness.

It was a terribly tacky half hour journey through a series of themed rooms (one complete with dry ice bubbling out from vents in the floor) where you play detective, judge and jury on whether or not Nessie existed.

Yes I admit the thousand-or-so documented sightings of Nessie are probably a mix of people seeing bobbing logs of wood, seals, swimming dear, shadows on the water’s surface on a rough day, and a few photoshopped hoaxes.

And of course, over the years technology and modern day science have pretty much confirmed that.

But I for one like to believe there is a monster down there and I hope for Inverness’ sake curiosity in it continues, because without it they’re really a bit screwed.

Speaking ‘Glasgowigian’

God help me if I even manage to find a Scottish man who’s not pasty or ginger.

I love their accents so much I must just abduct one, get him back to New Zealand and force him to marry me.

I can’t say I’m altogether suprised to feel like that – Scottish does run through my veins.

So that said, I was pretty pleased to have hit it off with the first true Scots I met.

I found their accents as funny as they found mine and in exchange for teaching them such kiwisiams as ‘yeah-nah,’ ‘aye’ and the definition of the word ‘puned,’ they taught me this brilliant new vocabulary:

‘That’s so Ken’ = that’s so shit.

It was ‘ample’ = I had an awesome time.

‘Foos yer doos n hoos yer coos?’ = how are you and where are you from?

‘Out to get my winch on’ = out to get some action from a member of the opposite sex.

‘Dingied me’ = as in you left me up shit creek without a paddle.

And last but not least – ‘Yawn rape’ = the phrase used to describe, quite literally, putting your fingers inside someone’s mouth when they yawn.

As for the sights of Glasgow, it’s not really a tourist destination and even the Glasgowigians (yes I know they’re called Glaswegians but I honestly thought they were called Glasgowigians to begin with and it just stuck) struggled to think of things for me to fill up my three days with.

So in lieu of better ideas I went to the necropolis (morbid I know) but it is reputed to be one of the most important cemeteries in Europe – where the wealth and vanity of the bygone era is shown, quite literally, by how impressive their tombs are.
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My favourite tomb was that of actor John Henry Alexander, who died on the 15th of December 1851 and I found his tomb inscription to be particularly moving.

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Apart from that, I spent my days eating a lot of soup and sandwiches, soaking up the mint central city apartment my sister’s best friend ever so kindly shared with me, and after many near misses (thanks to my ongoing issues with left and right) I finally managed to locate what the locals affectionally call the ‘Squinty Bridge.’

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And, as much as I’m museumed-out, the weather was so terrible on my last day I headed for the sanctuary of the Kelvingrove Museum, which I soon discovered is home to an eclectic collection of art, Scottish heritage and these giant taxidermic animals.

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Of course, a trip to Glasgow wouldn’t be complete without sampling its famous nightlife.

The night started out normally, over drinks at the pub watching the football, but it soon dissented into the downright bizarre, when we went to watch a friend’s friend in a burlesque show.

I’ve never been to one, so I didn’t know what to expect.

But I can tell you now, I sure as hell wasn’t expecting to see a show packed with gothicky, vampiry, Twilight-gone-wrong acts and creepers in the audience to match.

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