The Edinburgh Files: Kaylee
March 6th, 2009 by Ice Cream Jonsey

The Encyclopedia Sherwinia defines a ceilidh as:

“From what I understand, Scottish people – look, Lex said this – they need, like, help in getting together and pairing off and having the ice broken so they can make more Scots. Right? So the ceilidh (which is pronounced, “kaylee”) helps them with all that: it’s sort of like square dancing, but the music is better if you’re not from the south. … OK, I, ah – I’m just telling you what I’ve heard.”

They are also a lot of fun. 

I went to one on the first Tuesday of my trip with Lex and Nik. The idea is, people start pairing off, and you have the dances, at first, called out for you. Everyone gets the basic idea of how to do them. There is a three-piece band up front: a guitarist, a violinist, and a dude on… er… kongas, I think. The caller (who played guitar) will introduce the dance, and familiarize everyone with it. He then turns it over to the mass of Scots and foreigners in attendance: invariably, we all mess it up and laugh and laugh and laugh and reset it. 

The place that held the ceilidh was a church, which meant that they were serving wine there, because it’s Europe and not this twisted and sick Fundielandia. There are very few things that aren’t slightly better if you’re buzzed on wine – the best thing in the world is to play the arcade version of Spy Hunter, because when inhibitions are lowered, I feel all right about shooting the pedestrians cars and motorcycles, along with the eponymous spies. If that’s at the top of the list, and I think it is, then let me submit that dancing for three hours is clearly at the bottom. The bartender dispensed gallons and gallons of water… wholesome, delicious water, and I was knocking them back whenever I could. GOD I DRANK SO MUCH THAT NITE

In retrospect, the dances were pretty easy to do, and you sort of had to be a social gremlin, foreign or stupid to not get them after the third or fourth time the caller/guitarist slowly explained them. I’m not saying I wasn’t some or all of those things on the trip, but the ceilidh we attended was mostly populated by a bunch of Swiss, and look… they’re just not joiners.

The Swiss kids left during the intermission, leaving a small group of us to do the remaining dances. This meant that nobody got a break, but that was okay, it ended up being a fairly pleasant work-out. 

At the end, the final song the band performed was the Scottish song that everyone in America only hears when it’s New Year’s Eve. You know the one! It’s the one that nobody truly understands, because it has that lyric regarding whether or not old acquaintances should be forgot - Auld Lang Syne. The performance of this song came out of nowhere, too, I mean — okay:

I’ve never had any sense in my life that I was actually far away from where I grew up. With e-mail, and bulletin boards and web forums, there isn’t a lot of difference between living several states away from most of your friends (as I do) and the weather simply being so rotten that you don’t want to go out. I’d physically see most of my Rochester friends, what, twice a month, ideally, if I lived back home? So, the difference between “Colorado” and “having mono” or “unreliable transportation in an endless east coast winter” is fairly low. The same mentality picked right up with this Scotland trip: I got on a plane, watched some movies, had better cooking than I’ve ever made (I tried cooking tonight, March 5th, for the first time in a month, and failed to set auto defrost for some hamburger on my microwave, meaning it just cooked it until I smelled what was happening, so I am not really exaggerating here) … and then got off the plane and found myself in a new place. But seriously, the weight of travel didn’t hit me.

Until the band played Auld Lang Syne.

Until the band played Auld Lang Syne and a roomful of Scots formed a circle and took each other’s hands and all started signing the song. Till it struck me that I was the only person there in the room that didn’t know the words to the song, and here I am, an outsider, an interloper in a real, actual, foreign culture, and in and among people who were born on this island, and who went to school at this island and who may travel and visit exotic locales… but are nevertheless of a different nationality, and happy (but not smug!) to be so.

It struck me. I wasn’t home or anywhere near it. I was in a beautiful place with history and its own customs and I got a small sense of what being part of “the world” meant. I think it’s time for an interlude.


“I’ve just got to go to the ATM and get some more p.”

Don’t say that. Yes, you grew up on graphical text games, and 23 years after you played Tass Times in Tonetown, you understand why the currency of the game (guitar picks) was referred to as p. Mike Berlyn, the designer, knew what pence was. OK, cool – this does not mean that two decades later, you can refer to the pound note as p. Even though you so desperately would like to. 















… OK, I’m back. There’s just one last story to tell about ceilidh night.

After Nik and I got out of the church, we had a short walk back. Downtown Edinburgh smells like a fry cooker, and sure enough, we happened upon one of those places where they will fry anything. They had something called “white pudding” there: I had a bite and it was totally evil, I would have eaten it every single night of my life if I had grown up in the UK. (I’d also be on my second heart, like Jean-Luc Picard, and on my second heart because of terrible choices as a young adult.) It was Nik’s idea to get a Mars bar fried, and the guy just nodded and did so. The guy would fry anything: while we were waiting, Han Solo showed up and got pushed behind the counter and went OH HELL NOT AGAIN and etc.

I had one bite of the fried Mars bar, after hours of dancing, and one bite was enough. Dancing kills my appetite, so I felt like I was going to vomit out my actual brain. I think I successfully kept this thought to myself, because there were more adventures that week to be had, and I was able to have them in the company of, like others.

One Response  
  • Garth's Equipment Shop writes:
    March 6th, 200911:19 amat

    Haha – awesome man! You can never have too many analogies and references to retro games. That’s one of the reasons your my favorite writer. That and the fact that there is never any discernible references or analogies to the totally lame pop-culture of the new millennium. As far as I am concerned it just doesn’t get any better than the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. That forms a triangle with the 80’s definitely being the pinnacle. In other words it was uphill during the 70’s and downhill after the 80’s. Anyone disagree?

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