I’d made a few reluctant attempts at starting to learn Korean. The sounds were totally alien, I struggled to get my mouth around them, and of course there would be no familiar Romantic base to hang the grammar upon. The thought of struggling so much with communication was weighing on me a little… But then I got a call out of nowhere, offering me a job in Seville, Spain. I could abandon the Korean completely! And now, three weeks later, here I am…

Packing was difficult – I’m no stranger to packing but this is the first time that I’m going somewhere just to go. And not come back, or have to think about coming back, or where I’m going next, or what on earth I’m going to do with myself in six months, or a year, or whenever the current venture is up. This time, I can stay still. How unusual… In the end, due to the expense and impracticalities of trailing large amounts of luggage in my wake, I couldn’t really take any of the things I’d have liked to have taken for a life of staying still, especially books. I had to settle for my Spain guidebook, my Spanish dictionary, Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness, and Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, which I’ve only just read but have every intention of reading again as soon as I’m done with Bukowski. I think I chose well…

My journey over on Saturday was also notably unusual. For me, anyway… I stayed with a friend in Glasgow in order to catch my late-morning flight in plenty time. I did indeed arrive at the airport in plenty time, and hangover-free. I checked in my hold bag, 0.1 of a kilo below the weight allowance. I carried on through security without difficulty. The flight wasn’t delayed; In fact it landed 25 minutes early, which left enough time to catch the direct bus from Malaga airport to Sevilla. I had enough cash for my bus ticket (despite initially trying to pay the driver with Turkish Lira – thanks, Dad, for the bag of ‘Euros’). The bus got into Plaza de Armas station right on time, at 8pm. I walked in the right direction straight off and arrived at my new apartment within only a couple of minutes, where my new flatmate was waiting to greet me.

All this things going smoothly is unheard of for me. An airport experience, free of debacle? Naw… Either something is very wrong, or, just maybe, very right… Korea never had sat quite right with me (goodness knows, I’d procrastinated over it long enough). Now it feels like the universe has corrected itself. If it hadn’t been for an unexpected delay in getting my Korea visa documents sorted, it would have been too late – I would already have been there, away out East and unreachable. I don’t think I believe in fate – more often than not it’s used as an excuse or an empty justification, and that annoys me – but sometimes you need something to hold on to. It makes you feel nice…

I have long made known my vitriol against pandas: great, dim, pointless beasts who refuse to make an effort to procreate and insist on trying to live on an indigestible foodstuff. They clearly have no will to live and if the forces of natural selection could have their way, they would be long gone.

As some notable naturalists have pointed out, if all the money spent on ‘saving’ the panda were redirected it could be of huge benefit to other, more pressing, ecological causes. But us Westerners with our sentimentality and our weakness for insufferable cutesiness… I suspect the pandas may just have become the victims of my displaced rage towards these cutesy and unreasonably sentimental types, though. And this weekend, I became one of them…

I picked up a 2013 calendar of pandas, chuckling shamefully to myself, thinking what a great Christmas present it would make for my friend who also hates pandas. And then I looked at the pictures on the back and suddenly felt really, really, terribly guilty for all those vociferous, anti-panda rants I’d subjected my colleagues to. Look at them, wee silly bumbling things, just trying to make their way in this grim world. Ach they’re cute, are they no?

[image: chinapanda.org.cn]

You might say it’s not my right, sitting half the world away, to make known my tuppence on American politics, but the economies and foreign policies of the West are so intertwined that whatever happens there impacts us all directly.

I wept tears of relief this morning when I got in from nightshift and turned on the news to see that Obama had won. The thought of the greed-and-hate-pedalling Republicans getting back in had been making me nauseous these last weeks…

I turned on in time for Obama’s speech, and although the words were not revolutionary – were clichéd even – I felt inspired: far more than any British politician has ever done for me. It felt like he spoke from the heart (I still think he’s the only man in politics with a trustworthy face) and with all of my heart, I give him a second chance.

In his first term he failed to significantly change the direction of foreign policy, he failed to fight hard enough on health care reform and no doubt a host of other contentious domestic issues; he let ground slip to the incessant, brutish goading of the Christian Right, the corporate lobbyists, Israel… But when I turned on the television and saw the light and fire in that face, I forgave him all.

Here’s your second term, Barack, your chance to do us right: the Democrats, the Left, the workers and the middle class both, blacks, latinos, gays, every woman who values the control of her own uterus, the whole rest of the world, the very heart of the American allegory herself… Those moneyed, backward, conservative bigots (a reserved choice of words) are nothing compared to all that. And they’ll all be dead and gone soon anyway… Huzzah for changing demographics!

[image: guardian.co.uk]

A couple of posts ago I hinted at my rage at Halloween having become a commercial sham and an excuse for people to dress up in a fashion that is in no way relevant to anything, get shitfaced and behave disgustingly (damn I’m transforming into a grumpy old Scotswoman at rapid pace here).

I say this as if I have some sort of aversion to getting drunk and behaving badly – I don’t, I do this all the time. My revulsion is at something once culturally significant being turned upside down and its insides squeezed out for commercial gain, to the point where it really does mean nothing to the ignorant souls donning their ‘pirate wench’ and ‘zombie cowboy’ outfits, other than another excuse (as if they needed one) for a night of debauch.

There’re two aspects that bother me, one being the Americanisation. When I was little (cue grumpy old woman), there was no such thing as ‘trick or treating’. Halloween/All Saints Eve/Samhain, whichever name you care to give it, religious slant or otherwise, was a pagan, Celtic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season and the commencement of the dark half. It is firmly rooted in Scottish heritage.

 

Guisers on the Isle of Uist [image: angusmcphee.blogspot.co.uk]

‘Guising’ would see you go round your neighbours with your wee pals in your wee witch or warlock costume, tell a joke, a ghost story, or sing a wee song, and get a sweetie or a few pence in return. The custom originates from the belief that dressing your children to blend in with the evil spirits abroad on the Eve of the Hallows would protect them, and it was considered prudent to give them small gifts to help ward off ill will from the souls of the dead.

 

Kiss front man Alice Cooper, who was disappointed with the Halloween celebrations growing up in the US [image: nndb.com]

The Americans in their true, naïve, culture-crushing style, have taken away any element of lore and replaced it with, well, that great American virtue – greed. As Alice Cooper, who now always celebrates the date in the UK, said of Halloween growing up in the States – “It was all about the candy”. This is the attitude that the global corporatisation of traditional events and holidays has succeeded in supplanting over here in the years since I grew up.

And it was turnips, not pumpkins…

 

Proper neep lanterns [image: blog.makezine.com]

The infamous harlotty Halloween costume which has now become the norm has also come to grate on me. That other renowned American virtue, vanity, comes to mind. It goes beyond vanity though. We all want to dress to look our best (I shall be doing so at a Halloween-themed cabaret night tomorrow), but Halloween outfits for women have transgressed into the downright degrading. A friend’s work colleague was apparently dressing this year as a ‘slutty skeleton’. A slutty skeleton. I could certainly see that being thrown as an insult at some of the sights you see on a Saturday night, but actually – a slutty skeleton. I have not words…

 

Oh yes, it really exists [image: thebroccolihut.com]

This has even less to do with Halloween than trick or treating, and is in fact part of a wider trend of sexism, pornification, and the division of genders that is happening across the board in the West, and which has been on my mind a lot over the last year but is so huge that I’m unsure where to even begin writing about it. I’ll leave that one at that for the moment…

The state of what Halloween is fast becoming is only one facet in the list of traditions and festivals that have been slaughtered by a market-driven culture. With Christmas marketing having begun before Halloween was even over this year, expect a follow-up rant soon…

Yesterday’s sunny Autumn day offered a fine opportunity for a hilltop stroll…

The onslaught of Arctic winds (in all seriousness – straight from the NNW) froze my fingertips and made photographing a little challenging, but the images I came away with really capture the fluidity and drama of the light (and the weather) at this time of year…

Mmmm, desolation…

From desolate to picture-postcard in 5 minutes…

I have a couple of panoramas from the top of the Caterthun I’m going to try and stitch together.

And it was the last day of Autumn indeed – today, snow arrived on the wind…

We like our lore in Scotland, traditionally at least, and this be peak faerie season. Lock up your babies!

The Enchanted Forest event at Pitlochry plays on this, and of course tourists it up, but you can’t deny the fun in creeping through an artfully lit forest staffed by druids and unicorns, on a calm, cold, moonlit night in the days surrounding Halloween (or Samhain, to give it its Celtic name). A good and proper way to celebrate the passing of this ancient festival (rant about commercialised, americanised ‘trick-or-treat’/harlot-y costume abomination soon to follow…)

The tree-based light installations surround a small loch, making for stunning reflections on a still night. Turn these images sideways, however, and the faces of the Faerie Folk come out! –

By all accounts, if walking out at night during this high season of supernatural activity, it is best practice to wear your clothes outside-in and back-to-front. Centuries-old established method of faery-mischief repellence…

 

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Elliott Smith.

For those who don’t know: American musician, addict, depressive who ultimately came to stab himself (or be stabbed by someone) in the chest on 21st October 2003, aged 34.

My obsession with Smith has lasted nigh on two years and shows no sign of abating. In general these days I’m quite bored with guitar-based music, but  I just don’t tire of Smith’s fluttering, dynamic chords and layers of melancholy vocals. More than that, he is my favourite thing: a storyteller.

It would be impossible to pick a favourite track, always getting to know different songs better, or fall out a little with others (or have them become too painful to listen to any more when they become associated with a time). Pitseleh is definitely a favourite though. It shows all of Smith’s best qualities: rolling, compelling guitar work accompanied with piano, harmonised vocals, and sad, cutting, ambiguous lyrics… Elliott, you were truly the most exquisitely depressed human being…