It’s an Australian rite if passage; when you reach your twenties, you travel to the England on a working holiday. I went to Scotland instead and I kept a small diary (these were the days before blogs). There’re a lot of gaps in the diary and there’re a heap of memories in my head that I’d probably forget sooner or later, so I thought it prudent to write them all down – this way I can keep them for longer…
Diary entry – 28.10.98
“Only a couple of days till I go! I’m so excited and scared all at the same time! The biggest problem, however, is that I can’t get this bloody song out of my head! “I’m leaving on a jet plane…don’t know when I’ll be back again…” its starting to get bloody annoying!”
It was a mild October morning when I stepped off the plane at Heathrow. I’d been sitting in the flying coffin for the past 24 hours or so and was very happy to be able to use my legs properly again!
Being my first time on a plane I was nervous and excited at first, but the novelty of it wore off before we’d even reached our first destination, Kuala Lumpur, and so the last leg of the journey seemed to drag on for ever!
But finally! Here I was, making my way through a crowded airport surrounded by strangers from all over the world, trying to make my way to the out side world. A world I’d only dreamed about until now. I was so close to making that dream a reality my patience was wearing thin with every hold up. But, after dealing with a surly immigration officer with a thick Indian accent I could barely understand, it was done. My passport was stamped and I was officially in the UK.
Now it was time to start panicking!
I’d realised as I was following the crowd that Lucy and I didn’t organise this part of the trip very well. All she said was I’ll meet you at the airport. I didn’t expect the airport to be so big! Eventually a crowd of people came into view who appeared to be waiting for us. My heart started beating hard with relief and excitement as I looked around the sea of expectant faces.
There she was! Waving at me like a mad thing! We did that silly thing you see in the movies where you run to meet each other and embrace, only we weren’t being silly, we actually meant it. I don’t actually remember a great deal about those first few days. My body was in sensory overload. So much to see, so much to do and I was trying to do it all with a nasty case of jet lag!
Diary entry – 02.10.98
“Everything feels so familiar, even the local pub in Derbyshire (where I’m staying at the moment) feels like a pub back home!”
It was strange. It may have been the jet lag but I honestly felt like I was still at home in Australia. Everything seemed so familiar, the country side, even the people (with the exception of the accents). I suppose it all comes down to modern technology really. One day I’m at home in Australia, the next I’m walking down the street in Derbyshire.
Back in the old days you had six months or so worth of sea life between the two countries which no doubt allowed you to get over the feeling of still being home….But there was one thing that was nothing like back home. English beer. It think it was this one factor that helped me adjust. After all, the first few days in England I did nothing but drink
Diary entry – 03.10.98
“English beer still tastes like virgin’s piss, but I’m starting to get used to it…”
Once I’d gotten over my initial feeling of familiarity with everything, I started noticing just how strange and different things really were. The further north we went the more trouble I was having understanding the locals.
This really became apparent as soon as we crossed the border into Scotland.
We stopped at the first pub we came across and ordered an Ale or two. To this day I have no idea what the old bloke behind the bar said. Lucy & Alistair seemed to understand but all I heard was something like:”Aye! Shootin footin Och Schlootin Bluten!”And that was a Lowland accent! How was I gonna cope with a Highland accent? I was very soon to find out!
Diary entry – 04.10.98
“Ballathie is a fantastic looking place! Very Old looking and the staff are so friendly…I think I’m gonna take a bit to get used to the lingo. They pronounce thins funny here…it wont be long before I’ll be talking like a true Scotsman! Och Aye the Noo!”
The mix of people working at Ballathie House Hotel was fantastic. There were Scots, French, English, Irish, Sth African, and of course, Australians. And even though we all came from completely different backgrounds, we all seemed to get along famously. It was like one big (almost happy) family.
The Scots were absolutely mad, literally!
Take Kev for example. He came from Inverness and had the thickest accent I’d ever heard. Every so often he’d go home to see his folks and when he returned, it would take a couple of days for us to be able to understand him again. Even the “locals” had trouble. It was almost as if he reverted back to Gaelic.
His best mate was Neil. I’m not sure where Neil came from, somewhere close by I imagine, judging by his accent and he and Kev were some of the roughest people I’d met in Scotland! Even though they were both best mates that didn’t stop them getting into a punch up when they were drunk. A few times I’d seen them try to kill each other only to be best mates again the next morning laughing and joking about the black eyes they’d given each other.
Then there was Jill. Jill was (and still is) the sweetest person I’ve ever met. She had a really soft Scots accent which just melted my heart. She’d come in from a hard shift and sit down in the common room and sigh a little “och aye!”
But like most Scots, when she was pissed off or angry it was best to keep out of her way. But, unlike Neil & Kev, when she was drunk her sweetness seemed to be amplified.
One night we all decided to go out into Perth and hit the clubs and pubs. We were all drinking Aftershock, the foulest drink known to man! It was this disgusting aniseed potion that left blisters on your tongue. The idea was to take a shot, swirl it around your mouth until you can’t take the pain any longer, swallow then take a big breath in through your teeth. If you were still standing, your were meant to repeat the process. Amongst our group the record was about 4 rounds before they either gave up because of the taste or passed out.
This particular night we jointly reached 6 rounds and poor wee Jilly was feeling slightly worse for wear. I was non-to-healthy myself and so I offered to escort her home. It was more like carry her home.
All the way to the Taxi rank she kept saying in her soft little accent “Oh Brrad. I’m sorrry, I’m no norrmally like this! I didnae mean tae git sae peshed!”.
I assured her everything was alright and guided her into the taxi.
We finally got back to Ballathie (which is a few miles out side of Perth) but poor Jilly had long since passed out and I had to try and get her out of the taxi and into her room. I don’t really know how I did it, seeing as I was fairly close to being in a similar state myself, but I somehow managed to carry her to her room and put her to bed. All while Jill mumbled “I’m sorry Brad”….
Diary entry – 08.10.98
“I went into Perth today, had a few pints, got completely lost and met some great people! We had a few more pints (I got completely drunk actually) and totally lost my Aussie accent for the night! It was weird!”
I very quickly discovered just how contagious the Scots accent is.
Living and working with so many Scots it wasn’t hard to slip into. I tried my hardest to keep my accent and for the most part succeeded, with the exception of that night I got lost in Perth.
But one of the big turning points of my stay in Scotland was when I first said “Aye” with out thinking of it.
We were all sitting in the small common room having dinner when Muriel, my boss, came in and asked if I had done something I was meant to do before I finished my shift. Instinctively I said “Aye, just finished it now”. Realising what I said I quickly tried to correct myself but it was too late. Already “yes” started sounding unnatural.
Diary entry – 24.10.98
“Today was meant to be my day off, so Lucy and I had a few drinks and stayed up till the wee hours of the morning chatting…Muriel rang and asked me to work because one of other porters had called in sick. I explained that I hadn’t been to my bed yet and I was still peshed, but she said she was desperate so I agreed!”
It was not uncommon for those who had the next day off to get completely written off, safe in the knowledge that you had an entire day to recover. This was the plan one fateful night. Lucy and I hadn’t had much of a chance to catch up since I arrived. Sure we’d been drunk together MANY times since I landed, but there was always other people around and Lucy and I had a lot of personal history together that we like to talk about (it would have bored other people not involved).
So this night we did. We got a couple of bottles of wine, a fresh pack of “fags” each and settle in for a night of drinking and chatting.
We ran out of smokes at about 6am and decided to wait until the hotel opened at 7 so we could grab another pack, get some breaky and then make our way to our beds.
Unfortunately, the porter who was meant to be working that morning called in sick and so Muriel rang and asked me to do his shift. After explaining that I was still pissed and hadn’t been to bed yet, I reluctantly agreed and proceeded to undertake a day of living hell!
It just so happened that on this day Ballathie was the busiest it had been in a very long time and here I was struggling a long, very tire and VERY hungover once the drunkenness had worn off. I don’t know how I got through that day, I’m sure if it wasn’t for Mikey’s help I’d have been screwed!
Ah Mikey! Now there was a character if ever I met one! He came from London and he was an absolute hysteric! Some of the things that’d come out of that boys mouth would have us rolling in stitches!
Because things between the Scots and English have always been a bit “strained”, Mikey was unfortunate enough to always manage to get into a bit of a biff with the locals on a semi-regular basis. To combat that, whenever we went out drinking he’d try to put on an Aussie accent and pretend to be an Australian. It never really worked, but it was always good for a laugh!
Diary entry – 10.11.98
“I want to go home! I know its only homesickness, but still…..”
It didn’t take very long for homesickness to kick in. I was on the phone to Mum & Dad nearly every night and Mum had this amazing ability to hold off right to we were about to hang up and let out a little sob and say she misses me. As soon as I heard this now familiar sound, my heart would break and I’d make up my mind to book my ticket home next pay day.
But of course, once I slept on it I’d wake up calling myself a big jessie and go on enjoying Scotland!
The biggest problem with homesickness though was that it was very fucking expensive! I’d waste nearly half my pay (of £600 a month) on phone bills! Usually to Mum & Dad, but occasionally to random friends just so I could hear a familiar voice, or more specifically, a familiar accent.