There is a betting shop on every corner. Every single advertising segment has at least one betting ad in it and there’s a yung slot machine at almost every pub. I stay imminently bewildered at the gambling culture that seems be on every strata of the United Kingdom. Which is not to say nothing of the kind existed in South Africa, but it is certainly not as obvious. On one of my more explorative ventures into the city, I saw an old man with one of those grey, plastic, government issue type walking sticks with three little legs on the bottom struggle his way into the darkened interior of a William Hill. Hot on his heels was a coated up youth, one pocket jingling with coins. It seemed so part of their day to day that I couldn’t even really find some kind of rationale for how jarring it was to me. Before I left, a couple of people had a bunch to say about culture shocks, which is not a phrase I like. Still, this feels like one of those moments when the sheer difference and unfamiliarity of how people do things leaves one feeling overwhelmed and a bit gobsmacked.
The first thing to note about Edinburgh is that it is an incredibly Instagram-able city. I like to sing about time warping in the shower, but this truly feels like I’ve stepped into another era, cars and modern things like tattoo and piercing shops aside. The whole place is soaked in history, down to the way it looks and the curving, cobblestoned streets and pokey, tiny little pubs that seem to have been here since the old town joined with the new.
For these first few days, I did a serious amount of walking. Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that walking is really not my steez. I do it, but only because it gets me from here to there. The pleasurable evening strolls many people enjoy, and that idea of just wandering around somewhere with no real destination in mind, or any kind of purpose has never impressed my stay-at-home self. Yet just two days ago, I saw Stu off at work and then walked and walked until I had absolutely no idea where I was. Miles. I walked for miles. With no real purpose beyond getting to know the streets. And finding a coffee shop where the lattes didn’t cost the earth and tasted better than coffee-flavoured hot water.
The changeover at Hamad International was a uniquely stressful experience. By the time we stepped off the plane after eleven the other night, I had already been flying for nine hours — undisputedly the longest period of time I had ever spent in the air. And none of it had prepared me for the dash from arrivals to transfer security and the completely chaotic queuing system there, which seemed to involve everyone just doing what they want, and to hell with what I had come to understand as globally recognised queue etiquette (poor Stu had a nice older man stop and ask if he could step in front, which Stu interpreted as wanting to move through instead). Given that we only had an hour to move from one plane to the next, I spent most of the time five to tears, trying to understand how an experience like this happened at a world class airport. Which is a bit rich of me since didn’t a group of homies make off with millions of rands from OR Tambo International? Yes. Let me be silent then.