Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Glens, Lochs, Bagpipers, Castles and much more..

The scenic beauty of the Highlands, vast expanse of the countryside dotted with Glens and Lochs, picturesque castles, tales of legends, myths and history, music from the bagpipes, the Gaelic names and the enunciation of words in Scottish , all in all made for a very memorable trip. Apart from all this, I learnt quite a few interesting facts and trivia relating to Scotland, its people, language and culture, which I have tried to list below (before my ageing memory fails me) .

Pontius Pilate, the infamous Roman Prefect of Judea, who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion, is supposed to have been born in Fortingall, a small village in the Scottish Highlands.

Incidentally, it was the Romans who gave the name 'Caledonia' to Scotland which literally translates to 'wooded land', a reference to the vast tracts of forested Scottish highlands.

The Scottish legend, Sir William Wallace, immortalised by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart apparently died a death more painful and gory than that depicted in the movie (digest that!). Wallace was dragged naked through the streets of London, then hung slowly to ensure maximum suffering but not death. Wallace was revived back to consciousness after this painful ordeal and his body was cut open and his intestines were burnt in front of him (while he was still alive). He was finally beheaded and his body was cut into four parts, to teach a lesson to everyone in the kingdom about the consequences of rebellion. A punishment considered extreme even by 13th-14th Century standards!

Of course, all this could not have been shown in the movie. However, the movie I was told, has a number of historical inaccuracies (typical of any Hollywood period movie I suppose). For a start, the Scots never painted their face before they went into a battle. The tour guide joked about it saying that the only Scots who ever painted their faces (as depicted by Gibson) in the last millennia were probably Scottish football fans in the 70's. Also Wallace, was not a Highlander. Lowland Scots did not wear Kilts or play Bagpipes; a very basic error in the movie.

There are over 30,000 Lochs (Gaelic for Lake) in Scotland, but none more famous than Loch Ness, thanks to the legend surrounding its supposed inhabitant - Nessie or the Loch Ness Monster. The earliest known sightings of Nessie date back to as early as the 6th Century and was mentioned by St. Columba, the monk who brought Christianity to Scotland. The most recent sighting of Nessie was in 2005. Of course, the sightings always peak in the tourist season ;-).

Interestingly, there is just one lake in Scotland which is referred to as a Lake (all others are referred to as Loch) - Lake Menteith. Folklore has it that this water body was given a English name (i.e. Lake) to remind the Scots about the betrayal by Sir John de Menteith, a Scottish nobleman,who betrayed Wallace and handed him over to the English army.

As one travels further up the Highlands, it is quite commonplace to see signage in both Gaelic and English. It is estimated that there still about 60,000 Scots, who can speak Gaelic fluently. The names of most rivers, hills, Lochs, Glens (Gaelic for Valley), towns and cities in Scotland are derived from Gaelic. For instance, 'Inver' and 'Aber' are Gaelic words which mean "mouth of", hence the names 'Inverness' - at the mouth of river Ness, 'Aberdeen' - at the mouth of river Dee. The Celtic tribes preferred using 'Inver', while the Picts preferred 'Aber'. Most Gaelic names seemed to me like names of people and places in 'Lord of the Rings'. Would not be surprised if it really were!

We are quite familiar with Scottish and Irish surnames names typically starting with the letters 'Mc' or 'Mac', as in McDonald, McGregor etc. 'Mc'/'Mac' means "son of" in Gaelic, hence McDonald is a descendant of some dude called Donald. A quick and easy way to trace your lineage!

'Children of the Mist' was the colloquial name given to MacGregor clan, one of the many Highland clans. The MacGregors it is said, would come down from the Highlands to raid farms, pilfer cattle, waylay merchants and disappear swiftly back into the hills with the loot. The clan had built such a reputation that in fact at one time the surname MacGregor was proscribed in Scotland and anyone with that surname was simply executed without any questions asked.

Rob Roy was the most famous (infamous ?) of the MacGregors and is credited with the origin of the English word 'blackmail'. Rob Roy used to pilfer cattle and demand a ransom for them from the hapless villagers. The villagers had to a pay a 'meal' (Gaelic for Rent/Money) to get their cattle back from Rob Roy. Hence the term blackmail!

Phew! That's quite a lot of info to spew out in one post. Altogether, it was an unforgettable trip!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Viva La Vida

Coldplay released their new album titled 'Viva La Vida' back in June this year. Err.. I know this is old news but given the crazy schedule I had for most of the year, its only now that I had a chance to listen to all the songs in the album. My first impression...it's definitely the best Coldplay album till date!

I couldn't get my head around the meaning of the title 'Viva La Vida' and thanks to Google discovered that it translates to 'Live Life' or 'Long Live Life' in Spanish. Spanish , uhmm.. I should have guessed that at least given my 'incredible' proficiency in Spanish (Err.. I did attend 3 full classes learning the days of week and months of the year before dropping out.. :-)).

The album has ten tracks, five of which are simply outstanding. A 50% strike rate of outstanding songs in an album is quite a commendable feat. Among the other five tracks, three of them are quite good as well, though not quite outstanding.

The title track of the the album titled 'Viva La Vida' ( in case you found it terribly hard to guess) , is mind blowing. The song interestingly has allusions to the bible/biblical characters and there is many a discussion board trying to figure out the real meaning of the song. I guess only Coldplay will ever know the answer to that (hopefully)!

If I were to rank the top 5 tracks in the album, they would be:
  1. Viva La Vida
  2. Cemeteries of London
  3. Death and all his friends
  4. Lost
  5. Strawberry Swing

The chorus in 'Cemeteries of London' is quite haunting, making you want to listen to it over and over again. Each song is great in its own right and very different from the stuff Coldplay have released in the past.

Have a good time listening to the album!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Operation Blunt

Though it sounds like the title of a computer game 'Operation Blunt' is far more serious stuff. As the number of teenagers murdered in the streets of London this year reached 27, of which 18 were stabbings, the Metropolitan police (Met) came under increasing pressure to tackle knife crime. Operation Blunt-2 was a major initiative launched by the Met to counter this raising menace.

Worryingly, the perpetrators of knife crime are teenagers/young youth themselves and in most cases money is not even the motive for the murder. Among other things, the Met released a hard hitting advertising campaign warning teenagers about the consequences of indulging in knife crime. One such advert (click on picture) drives home the message clearly, hopefully its intended audience is listening.

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