Tuesday, 18 December 2007


The first Monday morning of Alien Wally’s holiday dawned clear and frosty. It being the first Monday morning of Alien Wally’s holiday, he and Mags slept through it. Luckily for them, the winter sun, so weak that it only manages to raise itself just above the horizon at midday before giving up and sinking back down in the mid-afternoon, was also too weak to exert any sort of melting power and so the frost was still there to greet Alien Wally and Mags when they eventually got themselves up and out into the world. In an effort to remedy their laziness, the two decided to make their way to the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh for a bit of a walkies.

The two started by taking a bus to Bonaly, the plan being to walk from there to Flotterstone on the other side of the Pentland Reserve, a distance of some 4.24 miles (about 6.8 kms), enjoy some well-deserved refreshment at the Flotterstone Inn, strategically placed at the entrance to the reserve, and then catch a bus home from there.

The walk started out a bit chilly through the forest, but the exertion up the hill combined with being slightly closer to the sun at the top allowed Alien Wally and Mags to remove their beanies, gloves and the top layer of their fleeces. The reservoir at the top of the hill remained frozen, however, allowing Alien Wally to walk on water before settling down to a spot of lunch.

After seeing signs dotted around the reserve proclaiming “Sheep Worrying” and asking hikers to please alert the farmer if they noticed any such worrying going on, Alien Wally and Mags were concerned at the apparent anxious nature of these creatures. Was it the state of the world today that had got these woolly ones so worried? The reports of island cousins rolling down hills? Perhaps the ewes were nervously looking over their shoulders, wondering when, in the spirit of the current tupping (mating) season, a, um, horny ram would be sneaking up behind them?

By the time Alien Wally and Mags reached Flotterstone, the sun was beginning to go to bed and things were getting decidedly chilly again.

By the time they reached the Inn itself, thoughts of ice cold pints had long since been replaced by thoughts of hot coffee. The brew worked its defrosting magic, and the tired hikers ventured back out, only to discover that they needed to be on the A701, and not on the parallel A702, if they had any hope of catching a bus back home. Thankfully, their legs managed to carry them the unplanned extra mile or so eastwards to the comforting sight and seat of a Lothian Number 37 which bore them back to their flat and the MacNoodle, who looked suspiciously like she hadn’t gotten out of bed the whole day….

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Full House? Crowded House!

Way back in the mists of Mags’ youth, so way back that she couldn’t remember exactly when and had to resort to the power of The Internet to remind her (answer: August 1993), she saw a splendiferous band called Crowded House perform at the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town. South Africa had yet to experience its first democratic elections, Paul Hester was alive, and Alien Wally didn’t yet exist (well, of course technically he did exist in the world at large, just not in Mags’ own little slice of it).

Fast forward 14 years… South Africa is free, Paul Hester is no longer on the physical plane, and Alien Wally and Mags found each other, formed their own private universe, and moved to Scotland, where they went along to see the newly reformed and still just as splendiferous Crowded House perform at the SECC.

The place was packed, with fans old and new. The band was happy to be back together after about ten years apart, and their fans were happy to see them back. As you can tell, much happiness abounded. It was a happy night. A two-encore happy night! Even so, the band didn’t get to cover all their songs, but it was still all good. Very good. Two-encore very good! And thanks to the miracle of modern technology, Alien Wally got to take home an official live recording of the show not ten minutes after it had all finished! How cool is that?!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Walking In A Winter Wonderland

Christmas has come to Edinburgh, with East Princes Street Gardens transformed into an enchanting Winter Wonderland for the festive season. There's an outdoor ice-skating rink, a helter-skelter, a big wheel, a German market and a Highland market. The Christmas lights were officially switched on on Thursday last week, and Alien Wally and Mags (along with what seemed like the entire city) went along to watch Edinburgh get all beautifully bling-blinged.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Island Life

A long weekend on the islands takes on a whole new meaning when the islands in question are off the west coast of Scotland and the season is winter, but Mags and Alien Wally are nothing if not adventurous. No, not that adventurous that they took along their beach togs. The kind of adventurous that packs beanies, scarves and gloves. And some extra socks. Just in case.

The island of Mull is a big island, in small island terms. It is reached via a 45 minute ferry ride from Oban, kinda sorta just north of Glasgow. Let’s spend a few minutes in awe of the ferry, a boat so big that you can, wait for it… Drive. Your car. Onto the boat. Okay, okay, so there are bigger boats. And so people do this every day and it’s nothing spectacular. That’s the kind of blasé attitude Alien Wally and Mags tried to project to all the other passengers and crew, all the while gawking at how many cars could fit onto the boat and how novel this whole car-driving-onto-boat-thing was to them. Turns out the ferry to Mull was actually quite empty compared to the trip back, when there were not only more cars involved, but Really Big Trucks too, as you can see in the pictures on the two journeys below.

Some are Lord of the Flies. Others get to be Lord of the Rings. This ship… it is Lord of the Isles! Alien Wally and Mags spent the first few minutes of the trip getting lost on the multiple viewing decks, the shop, the cafeteria, the bar. It just went on and on… finally the two settled themselves in the coffee shop area and had some, well, coffee while watching the coastline go by. Since Mull is not that far off the mainland, one always has the comforting sight of land close by, and the views are certainly worth watching.

Upon arrival in Craignure, Alien Wally and Mags drove straight to Fionnphort (pronounced Finnafort/Finnyfort/Fennyfort, depending on how broad one’s accent is). Driving on Mull is an interesting experience – the road is a single track and the sheep have right of way.

Ah, the sheep, fixing all strangers with their beady eyes, following their leader and rolling down hills. Yip, you heard right… look closely at the sheep on the left hand side of the picture below – it tried to get up, failed miserably, and instead tumbled over backwards, executing a wonderful three-roll somersault, down the hill into the ditch. Dinnae worry, though, nerves of steel and a strong constitution ensured that it was back on its feet in no time, pretending like nothing had happened. It crossed the road and resolutely turned its back on the camera (see second picture).

Fionnphort is a tiny wee village on the west side of Mull, from which one can take a ferry to Iona, a small island, in smaller island terms. This is a popular trip in the summer time – evidenced by the fact that the tourist bus parking bays far outnumber the houses in the village itself. Fionnphort may be a bit quiet in winter, but Alien Wally and Mags are very happy that they didn’t have to fight for space with hordes of tourists – the Iona ferry carries 200 people across to the island in each of its many summer crossings! Since Alien Wally and Mags arrived in the late afternoon, they left Iona for the following day and decided to explore Fionnphort instead. Five minutes later they were done, and left twiddling their thumbs for an hour before the excellent village pub, The Keel Row, opened for supper.

The next morning, Alien Wally and Mags were on the first ferry across to Iona, a mystical island, referred to as a “thin place” in Celtic Christianity. This is a place where Heaven and Earth touch, a place of Saints and angels, druids and fairies… absolutely none of whom came out of their warm hiding places to greet Alien Wally and Mags. How disappointing.

Alien Wally and Mags started out by walking to the south of the island, to St Columba’s Bay. Columba was responsible for bringing Christianity to Scotland, sailing across from Ireland in AD 563. The walk to the bay takes about an hour, and in winter is a very wet and muddy walk.

The pebble beach is full of some of the most remarkable coloured stones. If ever you head out that way on your travels, watch out for the small green stones of serpentine, referred to as St Columba’s tears, which protect their bearers from drowning.

After the beach, Alien Wally and Mags headed back to the Abbey. This is a later addition to the island, built on the site of Columba’s original monastery.

Next to the Abbey is Reilig Odhran, the burial ground named after Oran, one of Columba’s companions who volunteered to be buried alive here in order for the building of the church to be completed successfully. Legend has it that at the start of the construction, each day’s work would be knocked over during the night by a supernatural force, which eventually demanded a human sacrifice to appease it. Brave man that Oran was, he volunteered for the task. Well, either that, or perhaps he just wanted to get out of the hard manual labour involved.

The burial ground is home to many illustrious names, amongst them many Scottish and Norwegian Kings. MacBeth, for example, is buried here, although one cannot actually pay homage to anyone in particular – all the old gravestones were removed to protect them from weathering further than they already had, but it seems no-one thought to make a note of which stone came from which grave…. The stones themselves are inside the Abbey museum, and are in various states of disrepair. Those that are still in quite good nick are quite spectacularly carved.

Back on Mull for their second day, Alien Wally and Mags decided to explore the south side of the island. From the car. It was a Very Rainy Day. A curiosity encountered during the day was the strange placement of telephone booths and post boxes… in the middle of nowhere! Later on in the day, another telephone box was found next to a waterfall. Just in case one feels inspired to phone home to tell people about the pretty water feature, perhaps?

The following day, a good one weather-wise, Alien Wally and Mags drove to Tobermory via the scenic route. Here they came across some more Mull wildlife – the (in)famous Heilan Coo. Unlike the sheep, the coos cannae exactly give you the beady eye from behind their wild hairdos, but they certainly try. Here are some trying to work out whether Alien Wally and Mags are food or are bringing food, followed by your daily dose of cuteness.

Further on down the road, Alien Wally and Mags met he whom some call… Tim.

Tobermory itself is a picturesque harbour. With a distillery! It being Sunday when Alien Wally and Mags were there, the distillery shop was closed, but the pub next door did have some samples of Tobermory and Ledaig (pronounced "Led-chig") whisky, and liberal tastings of the product were made.

It being winter, many places in Tobermory were closed until March, a common practice in them thar islands it seems. Aah, island life… where you only work in the summer, where the mobile cinema comes to you every few months, the mobile library a little more often, and where “bank hold-up” takes on a whole new meaning when one finds oneself stuck behind the RBS van as it heads off for its weekly half an hour in each village along the single-track road….

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Quality Control

Here's a quick behind-the-scenes peek so that all you fans can see where your favourite blog is produced. As you can tell, strict quality control measures are in place as the MacNoodle scrutinises every entry carefully. Only the best for our readers!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Vusi! And More!

The sounds of Africa graced Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall last week as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Vusi Mahlasela came to town to teach the kilted ones a bit of rhythm and harmony. Alien Wally and Mags are big Vusi fans, and fully admit that it was just terrible that they didn’t know much of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music prior to the show. But Mr Shabalala and his group can now claim Alien Wally and Mags amongst their fanbase. We’re sure they’re honoured to have such esteemed fans….

But not as honoured as said esteemed fans who got to act all fan-like when some of the guys and Vusi came out after the show to meet the audience and sign CDs. Alien Wally dug deep into the recesses of his brain, found the file marked “Old School Subjects”, and was thus able to employ his Sotho skills to have a wee chat with Vusi, while Mags resorted to shaking his hand, looking pretty and hoping that Alien Wally wasn’t bartering her away in exchange for more CDs.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Shiver me timbers, hand me that scarf!

Last seen attempting to revive his suit, our more astute readers may have noticed Alien Wally's lack of further contributions. In order to ensure that the macnoodle blog maintains its high standards of balanced commentary and unbiased reporting, he returns now to offer a completely unbiased review of his new scarf, knitted coincidentally by Mags.

When reviewing scarves, it is important to highlight the key aspects that any quality scarf worth its wool should include. Firstly, pattern. A classic pattern with versatile colours ensures your scarf will survive this world of fickle fashion. Nothing like a splash of colour to cheer up the long winter nights of Edinburgh!

Alien Wally gives his dual-tone striped pattern a fickle-free 5/5.

Patterns are important only as far as they go, which is often not far enough. Quality scarves require a good length in order to allow the wearer to adopt a variety of styles, such as
The Traditional Look:

The European Look

The Winter In Edinburgh Look

Alien Wally rates his scarf's styling abilities a lengthy 'leven out of ten.

Most importantly however, a scarf of true quality includes a hidden insignia. Let's view that scarf from a different angle. Now you see it:

Now you don't:

Now you see it:

Alien Wally rates his scarf a skullduggerous six out of five.

If his maths is correct, this means Mags has created a scarf scoring 22/20 in Alien Wally's scarf review, a haarty score which shall now need to be celebrated with a yo ho ho and a bottle-or-two of rum.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Eggs Or Potatoes, KT?

KT Tunstall – not so drastic, but absolutely fantastic!

Alien Wally and Mags went along to the Corn Exchange to see KT perform last night. At the start of the concert, Mags was concerned that “see KT perform” was going to be a bit of a contradiction in terms – can one claim to have “seen” someone if one in fact did not see said someone because one is too short and the stage is too low? Alien Wally and Mags had been warned that the Corn Exchange was not the best venue in which to watch live acts, and unfortunately the person sounding the warning was accurate. But, thank goodness, Alien Wally and Mags did find a spot after a wee while in which they could see much more of the action on the stage. Phew!

KT rocked! She is fantastic! Wait, Mags already said that… Okay, she gives up – two very late nights in a row mean that Mags’ brain is a bit tired to start thinking of synonyms right now. Instead, all that remains is to ask the profound question: eggs or potatoes?

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Officially The Best Place To Live

Yes, folks, Alien Wally and Mags’ arrival in Edinburgh has clearly raised the tone of this city – last night it was officially announced as the best place to live in the UK. Channel 4’s Location Location Location, responsible for compiling the list of best and worst places, was broadcast live from the city last night, and your intrepid reporters braved the cold weather to be there to witness this great event.

Given the bus timetables, Alien Wally and Mags arrived at the venue early (about 19:30), although they weren’t the first in the queue. Luckily, Edinburgh’s weather played along for the night and stayed clear, as it turned out to be a long wait in the queue. Luckily, too, Alien Wally and Mags had dressed warmly, as clear weather also means crisp, fresh (i.e. cold) weather! Thank goodness for those scarves that Mags knitted – she is pleased to report that they work very well! The reason for the long delay in getting inside was a result of the pre-show checks and preparations running late – this was the first live show that the Location team had done and it seemed that there were a few unexpected issues that crept up on them. Finally, at 20:30, the audience was allowed into the building. All in all, the crowd was smaller than expected, and all the people on the “reserve” list, who had come along in the hopes of getting in, made it through the doors. Next year, if (when!) Edinburgh wins again, the show’s producers may want to consider broadcasting the show at a time that doesn’t clash with a football match (Scotland v Georgia) – they may get a bigger group….

Once inside, the audience was treated to drinks and canapés, in a cocktail party-like atmosphere. As the best place to live was being kept a secret from the viewing public, the kilted barbarians (yes, there were some!) and other audience members were kept in a separate room until the end of the show when the reveal took place. Along with said drinks and food, the show’s producers very kindly provided a big screen TV for the audience. But they forgot the chairs…. After standing in the queue for an hour, Mags was not going to stand for another hour and a half to watch the show, so she sat down anyway. On the floor. She dragged Alien Wally down with her just in case no-one else had tired feet, but she needn’t have worried – her action started a trend and soon about 90% of the group had joined her.

Shortly before the end of the show, everyone was given a glass of champagne and herded back outside for the big reveal. Champagne! Mags likes champagne! Want to know how to torture Mags? Place a glass of champagne in her hands and then tell her, “For continuity purposes, you are NOT allowed to drink your champagne.” What?! Were they kidding?! Nope, not kidding, though everyone was allowed to finally slake their thirst once the show’s credits had rolled.

So there Alien Wally, Mags and the other audience members were, waiting patiently outside, listening (via speaker) to the presenters inside announce, “and the best place to live is…”. There was a brief pause. Oh, yes, that’s the cue everybody! Champagne glasses in the air! Yell! Edinburgh!

During the brief period of revelry, the presenters made their way outside to join the crowd. Kirsty! And her stilettos! Phil! And his suit! Some interviews with some members of the crowd about why they love Edinburgh, and then it was all over. Bar the drinking of the champagne of course!

Was the evening fun? Hmmm, Alien Wally and Mags would probably have to say no, given that they would have been more comfy on their own couch. But was the evening interesting? Hmmm, yes. TV, she is not so glamorous behind the scenes, but it is nevertheless interesting to get a glimpse of what goes on. Most importantly, did Alien Wally and Mags get their 15 minutes seconds nano-seconds of fame? Hmmm, they don’t know yet! If you saw the show, please send fan letters to Alien Wally and Mags to let them know (clue: Mags would have been the person with the red nose, rosy cheeks and frizzy hair courtesy of standing outside in the cold. The handsome man next to her, pretending not to be affiliated in any way with that crazy lady, would have been Alien Wally).

Sunday, 7 October 2007

O, it’s Damien!

On Thursday last week, Alien Wally and Mags toddled off to the SECC to see Damien Rice in action. He was brilliant from the first note. And then he stopped. In the middle of the first song. “Excuse me, but is everyone late or something?” he queried in his lilting Irish accent. “I’ll just leave the stage for a few minutes until everyone is actually in the hall and settled down in their seats. See you soon!” And off he went to loud applause from those members of the audience who did get there nice and early and whose viewing and listening pleasure was being interrupted by the latecomers. To be fair, though, the latecomers weren’t actually late. Damien was in fact early. A whole half an hour early. The SECC’s website clearly stated doors at 6:30pm, support act at 8pm, interval at 8:30pm and Damien Rice at 9pm. Since Alien Wally and Mags ended up missing the support act when they arrived at 8pm in time to see the band leave the stage, they figured that the SECC and Damien were operating in different time-space continuums, but it appeared that not everyone got the message.

Not all was lost though, and Damien returned to the stage a bit later, although still, technically, early, and continued where he left off. From then on out, all went well, until Damien started performing a short one-man “play” to accompany a specific song. No, the problem wasn’t his acting (excellent), nor the song (also excellent), but the fact that the act was about a man smoking in a bar, and he nearly, so very nearly, lit up until the audience’s oohs and boos brought him back to the reality of the situation and the terrible offence that he was about to commit. Phew! That was a close call!

With an amazing sense of humour, a propensity for story-telling (especially in a Scottish accent), and, of course, a gift for making incredible music, Damien Rice in concert was a fantastic experience, and Alien Wally and Mags are happy that they bought tickets way back when they first arrived in Scotland, before they even had any work… Job? Music? Job? Music? No contest really!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

In Life And In Death

How did Mags get here? Is this what happens when you make jokes about sitting on the Queen’s throne? Well, since it appears that Mags is still laughing, it cannae be all that serious now, can it?

Let’s take a step back to the start of the day, specifically the start of Doors Open Day, an annual event in which many of Edinburgh’s finest, oldest and most interesting buildings throw open their doors and allow the general populace in free of charge. Since many of the participating buildings are either not usually open to the public or usually charge a hefty fee, this is an incredible opportunity to get to know the city much better.

Alien Wally and Mags started the day on Calton Hill, with a tour around the old observatory, where the ancient original telescope had been especially dusted for the occasion (though the guide bravely, but with embarrassment, pointed out that he had missed a few spots). The next stop was intended to be the Nelson Monument, but since this proved popular with everyone else as well, causing a long queue to form, Alien Wally and Mags decided to give it a skip. The monument is usually open to the public for a fee, and Alien Wally and Mags decided that they’d just get over their thrifty Scottish heritage and pay the money at another date. However, they would like to ask readers of this blog to support them in this and, in the tradition of that great Flying Circus poet, to “lend [them] a poond till Thursday…”

As skipping part of their proposed tour left them with a wee while to spare, Alien Wally and Mags decided to wander around Calton Old Cemetery, also part of the Doors Open Day. Now, while Mags likes a good ghost story as much as the next, and especially loves those spine-chilling ones set in macabre cemeteries, the reality just doesn’t match the hype. Well, either that, or Mags is just weird. See, Mags finds cemeteries peaceful – either the residents are long gone, or if they remain, tend to be gentle souls. Either way, cemeteries are interesting historical places to visit. Alien Wally and Mags were excited to see a memorial to Rabbie Burns in this one, until they spotted the spelling mistake and did a bit of research – turns out that Robert Burn was the architect of the Nelson Monument and is not to be confused with the other famous Robert!

While on the subject of cemeteries, Alien Wally and Mags visited another one later that afternoon – Greyfriars. First, homage was paid to Bobby, though Alien Wally and Mags hadn’t thought to bring any dog food with them, unlike a previous kind visitor.

Then Alien Wally and Mags joined in with the tour going around the graveyard. Lucky us, they thought, we’ve just made it onto the next tour – what timing! It was only at the end that they realised that they’d made assumptions and actually joined in with a walking tour of Edinburgh that happened to go around Greyfriars as part of its route. So, they slunk away quietly, with Mags trying to achieve a level of nonchalance always aspired to but not yet achieved by someone who waves at policemen when she feels guilty about something….

So, while Greyfriars Churchyard is peaceful, there is a locked section in the back corner that is alleged to have bad vibes about it. It is known as the Covenanters’ Prison, where those people who had signed the covenant denouncing allegiance to the English King were held until they recanted or were hanged. This area, along with a mausoleum nearby, is the site of the MacKenzie Poltergeist, a very active entity who leaves scratches and bruises on people who come at night to do officially sanctioned tours of the area, and in many cases causes people to collapse. All Mags could feel in the area was peace, but then again, she doesn’t seem all that keen to let Alien Wally test her by taking her on one of the night tours ;)

Inbetween the two graveyards, Alien Wally and Mags visited The Caves, the vaults under South Bridge which have been (and are still being) restored. As with other underground areas in Edinburgh, these vaults were put to good use by past residents of the city, and once housed things such as a whisky store and stables. Today, The Caves are home to a bar and concert venue.

The last stop on the tour for the day was the Sheriff’s Court, actively used by Edinburgh’s current baddies as well as those more concerned with law and order. After being shown the very smart courtrooms upstairs, the group of visitors was led down to the cell area. With each step, things got less sumptuous and more functional. And bleak. Down there, you’re not a human being, you’re not a person in custody, you’re simply “a custody”. Mags may have been smiling in the picture above, but she knows that she never wants to see the inside of a cell ever again….