Flashback - 1999: Expedition Scotland
Page 6

Day 5: Saturday - December 4th, 1999

One of the Great Days Continues.

Early that Saturday I treated Ina to a quick breakfast in the Jury's Inn restaurant before she snuck back into her own room. She told me that she was sharing it with some family members, but I didn't ask for any specifics, like if her family consisted of a burly, easy to anger, Scottish man who always carried with him either a pitchfork or a shotgun. After we parted I showered and then donned my heavy coat, my insulated gloves, and my thermal underwear (not in that order) and made my way out into the cold, brisk, and white Edinburgh morn (after stashing my luggage behind the hotel's front counter and making the hotel manager swear to Christ above that he wouldn't look inside [I made a layer of used tissues filled with phlegm on the top-inside of my main backpack — which any sane person would not want to touch — just in case curiosity got the better of him and he wanted to see if there really were any dead children or midgets in my baggage]).

Edinburgh by Morning Light.... Do I have an eye or what?!?!My initial view of the city in daylight was one of the most gorgeous sites I'd ever seen in person. I was in Scotland, and it was pure white! I could have been anally raped and then killed by the Hound of the Baskerville's at that moment and I would have died happy. I wandered around while taking pictures for about an hour — shooting every building and car and person covered in snow that I could see — and then I found myself at the front door of the Edinburgh Tourist Board HQ. I had but one question for the two ladies who'd just opened shop, "Where can I find Edinburgh Castle?" They both looked at me like I just brought in a small lap dog and ordered it to defecate on their clean carpet.

"Ummmmm, what?" I looked at them both like THEY were the stupid ones.

That's when the more wrinkly one turned around and looked out her window at the enormous castley complex up on the hill behind the building we were in. After a good 2 second comedy beat she turned around to me again with a look of "Are ye feckin' keedin' me, laddie?!" sprayed on her gaping maw.

"Soooooo you're saying THAT'S Edinburgh Castle? Nod once for yes..."

The less wrinkly bitty then blurted out, "Cannae ye see wi' yuir oon two eyes, boy?" I stared at her until she went on. "D'ye see ANY OOTHA' castles arou' 'ere? Eh?! D'ye?!"

That's when I opened up the door that I had just come in from and pointed to the structure on the other side of town that kinda sorta looked like a castle (at least at one point in the past). "Well," I started with some trepidation, "That kind of looks like a castle.... Sort of..."

Ugh... That's when they both started on me at the same time. "Wha' the blee'n 'ell r'ye talkin' 'boot?! Are ye plain stone daft, ye soddin' wanker? Do tha' loo' like a blee'n castle to anybo'ees sane eyes?! Those be RUINS, boyo! Aye! Bless me pipes, we got a sure'n weed sniffer 'ere today, don' we?"

I waited till they shut up before continuing. I just stood there, silently smiling for a good 30 seconds, thoroughly giving them the creeps, and then I said, "So, THAT'S the castle then?" I pointed out the window to the edifice up on the hill.

The less wrinkly bitty started to say, "Yes, and whatev--" but I cut her off mid syllable with "Well then, good day to you, and as we say in America, 'Lick my nuts, Marty.'" I tried to slam the door behind me, but it was set on one of those mechanisms that slows a door down the closer it gets to being fully closed. Even putting my whole body behind it still didn't move the solid thing any faster. I was able to satisfy myself by drawing a leprechaun with a giant exposed ding-dong on the dirty, frosty glass of the door after it eventually shut. The little man's word bubble said, "GUINNESS!" I tried to take a picture of it but some people were coming my way and I ran. That had to have driven those bitties crazy as hell (the front painting I mean)... All I could picture as I was beating a hasty retreat while chuckling to myself was Mike Myers dressed up as that crusty Scotsman shop owner in that old SNL skit where he'd yell "Tha's IRISH! Tha's no' SCOTTISH! If it's no' Scottish, it's CRAP!" at all of his customers. The best episode of that overused premise was definitely the one with Patrick Stewart as Phil McKracken, Scottish Therapist. I once wrote him into a movie script I partially finished a long time ago (before getting bored and eventually forgetting about it) based on his performance (and accent) in that skit alone. Patrick Stewart is a GOD..... But I digress.

Yeah, those two bitties made me feel a bit stupid, but my mood was still riding high. The streets were just starting to come alive at this time, and I got a few more pictures of an old man walking a GIGANTIC (and equally old) horse Great Dane (with an equally gigantic and sad limp), parents with hilariously over-insulated toddlers (if there were actually any children in those layers of coats and hats), some of the really gorgeous local ladies out for a stroll, and some insane Scottish runners who were tearing through the snow and ice in just shorts, a T-shirt, and mufflers around their necks. I guessed they were like an actual athletic version of the Polar Bear Club. After a bit of wandering and photography I figured it was time to check out the fabled castle. My uncle, my brother, and my parents had all been to Edinburgh Castle before (in the Summer months, so none of them could have warned me about the frigid blasts of air from the North Sea), and so I knew what I had to do with my time (and money) there: See some of the sights from on high sure, but most importantly buy the family shit from the main Castle Gift Shop.

Pure Scotland (tourist trap)

I made my way up the slick, icy hill to the castle's main gate, got some more pictures of some of the statues out front (I, for some reason, thought that the statue of the Duke of Wellington was hilarious in my frozen delirium... I could not tell you why. I was actually caught pointing a finger at it and laughing hysterically at one point), and then waited. I had gotten there at around 9:20, in time for the 9:30 opening, but due to the ice and snow they were delaying the opening of the Castle grounds until 10 o'clock, in order to give the work crews enough time to spread some salt and make the outside stairs and walkways a little less litigious. I spent the remaining 40 minutes getting people to take dorky pics of me in front of the castle's main entrance (in front of the likenesses of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace), and then I made my temporary mark on the short wall overlooking the city declaring that yes, in fact, the Rossman was there. Perhaps my greatest picture ever taken (see title graphic, moron).

After 40 minutes had passed, the gates were opened and the frozen mass of people waiting patiently to get in displayed their tickets and were allowed to pass into pure Scottish history... Okay, it wasn't that awe inspiring or existential as all that, but it was really cool to walk under that giant entranceway arch and into something that old, that historic, that white with snow. I got a few more pictures taken by other tourists (the Japanese ones who had no idea what was going on, or what any of the local Castle employees were saying [even if they did take English lessons before departing from the Land of the Rising Sun for their wintery European vacation... but it was my guess they didn't] were the absolute best shutter buddies a lone traveler like me could hope to find), and started my tour among the many old small and large structures that made up the "castle" with my rented headphones and electronic tour guide.

Rossman At The Gates
Yeah, I know that Edinburgh Castle is nothing but a giant tourist trap now... But it's still so damn cool! You can see the statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce to either side of the main archway behind me, the Rampant Lion crest above, and a 1/2 Scottish American goof right in the middle. Let me tell you something, Edinburgh Castle was even MORE awesome that day. Tales will be told to little children some day about how the Rossman first came to Scotland in the middle of Winter and made the motherland his bitch!... Well, you know how the stories always grow taller on down the line... I promise that in the near future people will be swearing to their grandkids that they saw me kill some Neo-Nazis on the premises with my bare hands, stuff them into the One o'clock Gun, say, "Time's up," and then blast their remains into the sea while the whole population of the city started cheering and selling "Rossman: 1/2 Scottish, ALL Man" T-Shirts.

I love history; history is the only subject in college in which I actually audited classes that I didn't need to take. Edinburgh Castle had history coming out of its ass. It was quite impressive to mine eyes. The little audio escort kept spitting out trivial facts about the ancient stone constructions — the people who lived there years and years ago, shit that happened around and in the edifice over the millennia — and I was intrigued the whole time... Even when the fact voyage took me back outside into the cold and winterized grounds after toasting myself up nicely in the main buildings of the compound. I did make a stop in a little gift shop (apparently not THE castle gift shop) off the Regimental Museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (which later became the tank troopers of the modern army, just fyi), and bought myself a nice warm muffler (a "scarf" for all you raging illiterate morons out there who've never read a British book that took place in the winter before) mostly because I needed something to wrap around my mouth and nose, and to wipe my nose when it dripped like a faucet (which it had been doing for the past 2 hours and which already made my coat sleeves as crusty as an old sailor).

Sorry, Scotland...

Eventually I made it up and around the castle grounds, past St. Margaret's Chapel (the oldest building in the city) to a large building with huge, heavy wooden doors, and high stained glass windows all around the outside. I went in and continued doing my retarded touristy thing without paying the least bit attention to anything or anybody around me. I nonchalantly started looking around at the friezes and the stained glass and kept raising my camera to my eye to snap flash pictures of everything that impressed me, which turned out to be quite a lot. But then, as I lowered the camera back towards the entrance from whence I came I saw a very angry museum guard-like man approaching me in a quick march and with a very angry look on his military chiseled face. I wisely did not take his picture as he hustled toward me.

"Wha' inna 'ell d'ye think yuir DOIN', boyo?!?!?!" I could hear every question mark and exclamation point in his sentence.

"I, er, um, what, you, I, uhhhh, hmmm?" was all I could get out at first. I gained control of my brain and speaking ability relatively quickly though, staring up at the 6'6" monster in some sort of well tailored army uniform who was glaring at me like he wanted me to pull out a gun and shoot myself in the mouth right then and there in order to save him the trouble. "Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiii was just taking, you know, some pictures of this beaUtiful building that you people, uh, meaning you 100% pure blood Scots, had here... I, er, I'm kind of part Scottish too you kn—"

"Yew stupid boyo! Take a lewk aroun' ye! This inna museum, ye daft bollocks of a mongrrrel! This is a WAR MEMORIAL! Show sem fookin' respect!" He then removed my hat for me and shoved it into my hands. He was possibly more angry after doing that.

"Oh... My... God....." I managed, with what could only have been a look of horrified retardation on my own face. "I am so fucki—, I mean, I am so sorry... I, I, I didn't know and.... I, I won't take any more.... I, really, I'm just..." That's when I noticed the donation box just a couple of feet away from me. "Here," I said as I pulled out about £6 worth of assorted coins from my pocket and proceeded to noisily drop them one by one into the box. I kept looking at the military man with a hopeful expression as if I was asking, "Say when. Tell me when I make up for my asshattery! Please! This is getting expensive!" When I had two coins left he finally shook his head in disgust and turned away. The clinking of the moneys stopped and I booked it out of there. I have to admit, that was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life... But despite all that I still felt pretty damn good.

Scotland Raped My Wallet

I followed the audio tour for a bit longer (viewing the Scottish Royal Jewels [which were a bit of a letdown after the name of them got my hopes up to expect something much funnier], the Stone of Destiny [which apparently doesn't make one the King of Scotland if one just sits on it and breaks wind, despite what that one laughing guide might have said], and a whole lot of tapestries [which are pronounced "tap-ehs-trrrrrrrrrees"]) until it finally led me to the Crown Gift Shop in the middle of what I assumed was the biggest building in the complex. I think it was the Kilt Room or something equally Scottish in the past, but that may have just been my own wishful thinking.

So there I stood, in a fairly large and fairly crowded room filled with sculpted and carved trinkets and statues, each one costing more than any knickknack, ornament, or bauble should have any right being... But I was there, and I had a duty to my clan — only I had no idea where any of the shit I was going to get them was located in the shop. That's when the nice blonde lady behind the counter noticed my confusion (at the expanse of the place, the huge variety of objects offered for purchase, and most importantly the price on the stickers and tags on everything on every shelf and hook) — I am totally drawing a blank on her name, so I'll just call her Jan. Jan came right up to me and asked if I needed any assistance. I told her yes, I was looking for some small statuettes that my family back in the States collected that could only be bought here. When I described the little pewter replications of historical figures and generic men in kilts her eyes lit up and I could have sworn I saw little British pound signs glowing in her pupils. I groaned... This was going to cost me even more than I thought it would.

Jan led me to a large shelf with all the statues that I was looking for standing side-by-side at straight attention: There was Robert the Bruce on his warhorse, the regal Mary - Queen of Scots, soldiers in battle garb, a chieftain of a clan, etc. There were more than a dozen different of them. I ignored the ones my parents already had and splurged in buying the giant Robert the Bruce for my dad and Mary for me mum. I got the chieftain for myself. By this point I figured "fuck it... My budget's already way blown." So then I went around and picked up some ornaments for my sister Jaime, a clan Cameron coat-of-arms keychain for myself (Jan informed me and then showed me on a very complicated family tree that my grandmother's clan Taylor came from clan Cameron — everybody in my family already had something with the Ross coat-of-arms on it... I need to be original, bitch!), a tartan blanket for my brother, and while I was at the counter having Jan ring everything up (with a gleeful glint in her eye, and while she softly said "ka-ching!" with every item sold) I noticed a bunch of Scottish music CDs in racks set up as impulse buys... Well, it worked. I impulsively bought one called Stone of Destiny by Steve McDonald... And wouldn't you know it, that turned out to be one of my favorite impulse buys of all time (and led me to become an avid fan of the main man McDonald and his music too... The man knows how to bang the hell out of a drum and blow a bagpipe!). Mock the pipes as much as you want, but take a listen to "Boadicea," "The Stone of Destiny," "The Painted Men," "Freedom," or "Green Alba" (just from this album alone) and tell me that Scottish music sucks. And if "Fallen Flowers" doesn't make you tear up then you are a mother fucking robot.

Muy carro
Jan, or whatever your name really was (I can't read your nametag, my camera really sucked), you may have broken my bank account, but you mended my family... Well, we weren't really disfunctional or broken, but they owed me big after visiting your little shop. BIG. BIG big.

Anyway, after all was said and done Jan was very happy to report to me that my purchase came to over £150... Holy shit. I don't even want to do the math for what that equals in real American money, but I assure you it was a lot — but I still left happy (not as happy as Jan, but happy nonetheless).

I walked out of the warmth of the old building and back into the windy and frrrrrreezing Scottish afternoon. I noticed that a ton of people were gathering around an area of the (I believe) Northeast corner of the complex. I am a curious fellow, so I followed suit — just like a lemming.

"What's going on? What's happening? Why are we here? What are we looking at? Do you like my new keychain?" I asked a bunch of other tourists crushing against me.

"It's time for the one o'clock gun, yeh stupid sodder," responded one asshole.

"What's the one o'clock gun?" I fired back, leaving out the insults I felt like throwing back at him so that I could hopefully get a proper response without any cheek. I hoped in vain.

The douchebag looked at me like the shit for my brains was leaking out my ears and nose, then he said, "It's the big GUN that they fire at ONE O'CLOCK."

One o'clock and all is fucking well!I said, "Thank you very much, asshole... And don't look all superior and act all high and mighty to me — you know you only read about the gun yourself about 10 minutes ago in a tourist pamphlet or something. Lick my goddamn nuts." Then I began winding up my right fist like Popeye about to punch Brutus really hard in the jaw, but instead kneed the dickhead right in his own royal jewels. I then ran around to the other side of the crowd, hunched over a bit, hid my hat, and put on my scarf again while making sure that it fully covered my cheeze-beard, thusly hiding me like a gay, stinky hippie in the middle of San Francisco.

I jumped to the part of my audio tour where they talked about why they fire a 1 o'clock gun and not a nooner, and they jokingly said, "Ho ho ha ha ha, because we Scottish are sooooooooo flinty and cheap, we cannea afford to fire TWELVE rounds each day, so we just wait an hour an' fire one." And if I remember correctly, they actually fire a live round out into the bay every day. Damn, that's hardcore. And LOUD. When the high-stepping soldier man came out to launch the shell I thought it was just going to be a ceremonial display or something. It was real, and it almost blew out my eardrums. After it went off (at 1PM on the dot) everybody around me was cupping their ears and screaming in pain. A few fell to their knees, their eyes crossed and some urine stains on their pants, and one lay on the ground with blood pouring out of her ears. I would have stayed to help, but that's when it hit me: "GODDAMN!" I said. "It's bloody one o'clock!" My train back to London was at 2, and I still had my shit stored at the hotel. I had to race down the icy slopes of Edinburgh Castle's entryway, through the city, back to my hotel, grab my stuff, make sure all my snot was still in them, and make it back to the station before departure.