Haggis, Ex-Pats, and Kool & The Gang

26 Oct

My Landlord’s name is Hamish.

We met him on a Sunny Sunday in Glasgow last June.

We were in town for a week and had quite a few things we needed to accomplish, chief among them finding a place to live for my Midlife Crisis.  We had landed on a Friday red eye flight (7 am arrival) and our only goal that day was to stay awake until dinner that night with ex-pats, whom I’d met only through email.  After unloading in the hotel, we started walking a slow and leisurely pace towards Byers Roads, full of shops and cafes. A misting rain was falling and we turned down an alley, deciding that a wee dram in a place called the “Wee Pub” might actually be a sign from God.

scotland welcomes you

We chatted with the bartender, who had travelled to the US the previous year, taking his father on a Jazz-themed vacation that started in St. Louis, then to Chicago, then traveling to points south as they made their way to New Orleans.  He had regretted using Air B&B to book most of the accommodations, which outside of New Orleans, included one miserable night’s stay in a “share cropper’s shack”; from his descriptions of biting flies and leaking roof, sounded authentic enough to us.  We gave him a few pointers for the next trip he was planning to the States (to Florida) with the only other couple in the pub, who also wanted to know about the NFL.  Awake for more than 30 hours at this point, we went next door to (what we know now) is one of the best restaurants in Glasgow, the Ubiquitous Chip.

And here JP eats haggis(1) for the first time, falling in love; he would eat it at least five more times before the week was out, sometimes giving his parsnips to me, sometimes not.

haggisBurns Damn that Robert Burns.  If you’ve never tried it, try to wrangle an invite to a Burns Dinner.

We walk around. The sun comes out.  We have a pint or two.  We walk some more.  We breath fresh air and talk about our new lives until dinner.

These ex-pats are both professors at the University, and while nice in most every way, we quickly learn as they share their Moving Tales that we live well below their tax bracket.  Multiple homes in multiple states, now a flat in Scotland, their favorite furniture freighted and shipped. They love it here and assure us we will too, but the adjustments we are making shock them a little bit.   They clearly think JP has married a mad woman; they are clearly planners who would never do something so impetuous. They make faces when we ask about a local pub that shows sports and do not try to hide their snobbery, but they are gracious and honest and have helpful information to share about the University, traveling, jobs, cars.  Phoebe and her husband live in the (posher) neighborhood we most desire; it’s extremely safe, clean, and walking distance to the University.  We were jet lagged but miraculously energized still, so after dinner we walked the neighborhood with them, talking about pubs, restaurants, museums, and theatre, all the while taking photos of addresses and phone numbers on “TO LET” signs.

Saturday we make our now-zombie selves rise around 10, trying to adjust to the time change and the punishing day-light savings summer, in which the sun rises at 4:45 am and sets at 11:25 pm.  We walk around the University, snapping photos of the amazing buildings, making Harry Potter jokes under our breath, stopping in every third pub for a pint.  I eat steamed mussels in a white wine and cream reduction with leaks and beer bread at most every meal.

At Brel (a pub near campus) I am harassed by a large tattooed Lithuanian bartender named Lars who will not serve me a bourbon.  I’ve already had (in this pub alone) a pint of hard cider (that is unpasteurized and looks as cloudy as the jugs we used to buy as children at the Barber Apple Orchard in the Smoky Mountains) and a pint of Strongbow, which he calls a “girly cidre”, it not having the 6% punch of the former.


Why don’t I try a whisky? I am in Scotland; I should be drinking Whisky.
I don’t want a whisky.  I want two cubes and two fingers of that Buffalo Trace please.
(I point at the bottle.)
He crosses his arms, making them bulge and look even scarier.  I am not impressed.  I’ve seen this same bartender-bounder-bravado on the faces of tattooed dudes from LA to Atlanta.  I will spider-monkey over that bar and pour it myself, bitch.
Diplomatically, Hubby explains this very real possibility to Lars, which makes them both laugh.
He has an amazing laugh.
He says how would you feel about a whisky aged in a sherry cask? It’s not as sweet as bourbon, but I think you’ll like it.
Sure I say.
Lars and I will now be friends for life.

Two of these later, we stumble down the street, into a grocery store where we buy a bar of dark chocolate and a bottle of Bourdeau for dinner.  Exhausted and positively punch drunk, we watch some British game shows and ponder the impossible commercials, one that involves someone in a large foamy costume shaped like the number four that walks his/her dog on a leash through a trailer park.  Another one involves a cartoon sequence in which monkeys race by on bikes, penguins drop from the sky and land in trees where they bark like seals, and hot air balloons plop what appears to be purple jam on picnickers in a park.  Another has a Danny Kaye looking fellow tap-dancing on the kitchen table of some poor family’s flat while they try to have breakfast?  We think this last one was an advertisement for marmalade.

We wake Sunday (after 10 hours sleep) and walk to one of the flats where we have an appointment tomorrow.  I’ve tried to book viewings in the same/close neighborhoods, so we don’t have to take many taxis. We sit outside in the sun, eating brunch (I have salmon, JP has haggis) and drinking Guinness as he looks at the maps and I look through estate agent emails on my phone.

Estate agents in the UK can’t just show you any damn property, like a realtor in the US; they can only show you a listing that their company lists (so a ReMax agent would not be allowed to show you a Prudential listing- or any listing not with ReMax).  They also don’t drive you around like they do in the States; you simply meet them at the property at your appointment showing time. I had searched properties in three different areas of town and booked appointments with 4 estate agents in order to see 6 properties over the next 5 days. We thought we might go visit a few early, check out the neighborhoods, maybe call some numbers from our first night’s walk.

to let sign

An email I sent the International Student liaison (Ellie, who we met later, on Wednesday) was returned with a link.  I had emailed her with the news that while we certainly weren’t in Professor Phoebe’s tax bracket, we were definitely not going to look at anything labeled “student housing”, having now arrived and actually seen some of them.  This emails says that there were two or three agents in West End (the neighborhood we wanted!) who often rented to Post Grads Only; it is rare but we could try.  I click on the link and there is a single listing.

“Should I call the number?” I ask.
“What can it hurt?”
“Well it’s Sunday; some people get pissed when people call them on their day off.”
“I’m sure it will go to voice mail.  Just leave a message that we’re interested in seeing it.  Look.  Here it is on the map.  It’s closer to campus than all the others we’re looking at.”
As usual, he’s right.

So I call.  I leave a message.

We order more drinks and plot out the path to the nearest flat.  Hubby had not been too keen on this idea until that morning, when he’d vetoed one of our appointments.  It was a fully-furnished flat that is newer construction, with modern fixtures and appliances, and a short bus ride to campus. It was promptly removed from the list when he stumbled on a reviewer’s post that included a photo of a dirty needle, with the caption “as seen in stairwell last weekend”

drug neighbors
Oh. Fuck. No.

So we walk towards another appointment/flat on the list, and the building is on the corner of a really loud busy street.  Not ideal.  But up the quiet street around the corner, there are TO LET signs.  We write down addresses, phone numbers.  I leave some voice mails.  I actually connect to one agent, who tells me the flat is top/3rd floor (that’s 4th floor to Americans) and 1200GBP/ month. (2) And all the carpets need to be replaced.  Um, No.

Fuck Fuck Fuck.  Surely there is something between crime scene cheap and suburban bankruptcy? We take Lamaze breaths, walk to the nearest pub and break out the map again to plot our walk to the next appointment location.

We are into our second round here when my phone rings. It’s Hamish.  My plans have changed, he says, I’m still in town (he lives in the country) can you meet me at the flat today instead? In about 45 minutes?  We consult the map.  Sure.

30 minutes later, we are by Kelvinside Park, consulting the map.  Construction on campus diverted us off our planned cut through and we were just south of where we needed to be.  Hamish calls.  Are you close? We explain we may be about 5 minute late.

I’ll just come and get you, no worries.  Where are you?
Just south of Kelvinside Park.
Just south of Kelvinside Park. On Patrick Bridge.
Where the fuck is Partick Bridge?
Across from the entrance to Kelvinside Park.
What do you see?
I am standing in front of the entrance to Kelvinside Park.  On Saucheihall street – big street, 6 lanes.  I am looking at a stone bridge with a sign on it that reads Partick Bridge.  Down the road, east from me, is a large building under construction.  Large, like it could be a museum or an old hospital or something.
Where are you?

partick bridge1

For fuckssake. (says Hamish) I have lived in Glasgow my whole life and I have never heard of Partick Bridge.
Well I can’t fucking help you dude if you’ve lived here your whole life and don’t know where this is.  It’s clearly fucking labeled and there are loads of people walking into the park who have found it with no problems.
Right.  Do me a favor.  Hand the phone to someone there, ok?
At this point, I tell JP what Hamish has asked. He says, this guy is crazy, but then points to a nice-looking couple pushing a pram.  I approach her and explain that my landlord is on the phone and needs directions to our location.  Can she help?
She smiles.
Right.  No problem.  She takes my phone and says:
Hello?  Yeah, Hiya.
Partick Bridge on Sauchehall.
Right near the entrance to the park.
No. Down a bit from Kelvingrove main.
Yeah Partick Bridge.
(At this point, she looks at me and shrugs, feeling my pain.)
Right do you know where the old train station is? The one they’re gutting? Been under construction for ages?  Across the street and a few meters from that.
Right. Sure, okay.
She hands the phone to me with a look of sympathy.  I thank her.

partick bridge2A view of Partick Bridge (crosses the Kelvin River) from the north

Hamish tells me he’s on his way, he thinks he knows where we are. His instructions are to go into the six lane street (INTO THE STREET) and look for a blue Audi, and wave at him. WAVE. (3)

We walk east to a stop light, thinking if we get lucky, he’ll get caught by the light and we can jump in.  Five minutes later, this is exactly what happens.   We have a harrowing five minute car ride in which Hamish goes on about the damn bridge he never knew had a name; we are both in the back seat, JP on the left, me riding the hump, as an enormous child carrier seat combo takes up the right. He yells at motherfuckers to move! And get out of the fucking way! and drives partially on the sidewalk at one point, all while alternately engaging in friendly banter with us. Where are you from? How long will you live here? What’s your program at the University? How many kids do you have? (He is genuinely shocked when we say ‘none’ and asks if we plan to share the flat. We say no, we want a spare bedroom for guests. Or for an office.)

The flat is about 1000 square feet of simply perfect.

It’s a crescent shaped building on a hill, containing 30 units, all of which were either designed or converted to be private flats in the mid 1830s Renovated in the last five years to save as much of the old plaster work and wrought iron trim as possible, it is freshly painted with new carpets; it’s open and airy and has big bright floor-to-ceiling windows. And a 10 foot mantle in the great room with 15 foot ceilings.

This is Selma.
Her twin sister, Patty, flanks the other side of the kitchen.

Listed as Fully Furnished, it has the basics.  Couch, table, chairs, beds, dressers. We telepathically agree that we can buy any missing pieces. A towel heater in the bathroom, a tub shaped like a coffin, a tiny garden in back.

Sold. Sold. Sold.

Hamish jumps around like he’s all coked up.  He may, in fact, be.  He is wearing dark blue track pants, with white Adidas stripes down the legs and Forest Gump tennis shoes.  He is slightly taller than me, but it’s hard to tell as he won’t stand still. Even when he says “right, look around, see what there is to see” he keeps darting his eyes around like someone is going to leap somehow from the behind the mantle. Hubby and I are talking telepathically, saying “done and done” but aloud we’re asking questions that annoy Hamish.  How old is the building? When was the plumbing installed/updated?  I run hot water from every tap. Hamish keeps saying that he could probably get 1200 for the place, it’s a steal, you love it, it’s a prime neighborhood, it’s cool, it’s a fucking amazing flat, amazing views, you love it, it’s cool.

We verify the actual price.  We were prepared for this (though dreading it) that we may have to “double up” for a few months until our house sells, but Hamish confirms it.  It’s now or never.  Hubby and I exchange looks that say we are in agreement without discussion.

We agree to meet Hamish the next morning at 10 to sign the paperwork.   He gives us his card, thinking only then to shake our hands and properly introduce himself (which had been previously accomplished through the rear view mirror of his car).

MacLeod.  His last name was MacLeod. Hubby’s lips are pursed and his eyes are dancing.

Telepathically we have another conversation:
There can be only one! he is saying.
Damnit if you quote some 80s movie here and now I swear I will leave the flat.  I may even leave you.
But there can be ONLY ONE.
Yes, Highlander, I get it.  Can you focus on the flat please?

I say (aloud) let us walk through again, real quick?  Hamish follows us to the master bedroom and points to the garden we share with three other flats. There was a lawyer, he is saying, lived her for years, and she kept really good care of it, but no one has since she left about a year ago.

Hubby’s expression is unreadable. Hamish’s fevered dance begins to make more sense as he tells us that his wife is mad at him, because she and his kid are waiting for him outside; it’s glorious day and the West end Festival is today.  The streets are blocked off and vendors, ice cream, music, and parades, all getting ready for the big day and his kid is all worked up over a live pirate stage show starring David Hasselhoff.

Hamish all but flees as if the building is in flames.

We stand on the front stoop, looking at our new view, a little short of breath. We defied death in Hamish’s car less than 30 minutes ago.  And now he’s gone to a pirate show and we desperately need cocktails.

pirate hasselhoff

We are late to another dinner invitation of an ex-pat we’ve met through mutual friends, this time through social media.  We apologize, trying to explain the Hamish whirlwind, recalling all the details to our new friends over a tremendous dinner, complete with champagne and after dinner bourbon and cigars.

In the morning, Hamish asks Hubby all kinds of questions about the U.S. as I cruise through the tenant agreement information.  Every time I sign, or initial something, he says “I’m cool, it’s cool”, the refrain of which expands and crescendos to “I’m cool, you’re cool, we’re kool and the gang”. We have no idea what this means, but he says it with such conviction that we are all smiling.

kool and the gang

“I’m cool, you’re cool, we’re kool and the gang” became a well know mantra for us over the summer.  

We drink, eat, walk our way through the rest of the week, imagining and planning our new life.  We have mild adventures on the bus, we stumble upon a period movie being filmed (nuns drinking and smoking on their lunch break) and make more Hogwarts jokes.  We have meetings on campus; we make new friends who love the way we talk.   In one of the neighborhood pubs, Chef Neil drools over the way I say “curry” and tries to explain cricket to me. And women bend an ear to hear Hubby, too; after a 20 minute conversation with one Scots woman, she offers Hubby use of her coastal cottage. What is as common as red clay in the Carolinas is somehow exotic here and this is endlessly entertaining to us.  We fall asleep each night entwined and exhausted, recounting the day’s sights and sounds, taking in the enormity of it all in small, delicious, digestible bits.

Hamish, unknowingly, was the pace car for our summer.

glasgow sign

Our Glasgow transition began and ended with him, and when he met us again in September, and told us to call Scottish Power and “say we’re here, we’re the motherfucking Shropshires” we were not shocked or offended.  (He might actually be disappointed in us that we didn’t, in fact, use that language with the power company.)  Hamish was quite kind, in fact, helping us with our bank, even loaning us linens when we were newly arrived. It’s Hamish, after all.  There can be only one.

I’m cool, you’re cool, we’re kool and the gang.

*************************                    *******************************               *******************************

(1) Haggis is essentially lamb meatloaf, people. Get over it.  It’s spicy sausage lamb meatloaf, served traditionally with mashed potatoes, mashed parsnips, and chips (fries). It’s not prepared inside a sheep’s intestines, modern Scots use pork casings and Pyrex like the rest of us for fuckssake. And blood sausage is made fresh, its ingredients not nearly as scary as your average American hotdog.  And if you’ve ever seen my sister-in-law’s meatloaf, you’d chose haggis without hesitating.

(2) GBP = Great Britain Pound£ (1£ = $1.60)

(3) Everytime we are on Sauchiehall Street now we make jokes about wading into traffic in search of a blue Audi


Posted by on October 26, 2015 in BLOG DEPOSITS


2 responses to “Haggis, Ex-Pats, and Kool & The Gang

  1. Double Dutch Mom

    October 26, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    Hey now… My meatloaf is NOT scary!!

    • tomboydebutante

      October 28, 2015 at 5:56 am

      The other SIL… but good to know you make it too :o)


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