United Kingdom

Beach Bonfire (Bucket List #24)

Arisaig, Scotland, UK • June 2016 • Length of Read: 7 Minutes

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“I know the perfect beach for us to camp on,” smiled Fry as he barreled the car around the single track road that hugs the banks of Loch Lomond; rear-ending other vehicles like he was a white van man driving around a Formula 1 circuit. “My dad and I found this really cool secluded cove once when open-water kayaking. It’s not too far from the little seaside town of Arisaig so should be easy enough for us to find from the land. Man, this weather is a peach. I’m hoping that there will be a host of foreign girls playing topless volleyball there when we arrive.”

Our original idea had been a bit more grandiose. Having walked the length of the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Fort William, we then planned to take the Jabobite steam train across the Glenfinnan Viaduct to its terminus in the port of Malaig, where we would be able to get a well-deserved pint of beer in The Old Forge, Britain’s most remote pub. Unfortunately, with the Jacobite having been used as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films, ticket prices for that particular route were substantially higher than for your standard Scotrail journey. Being lazy, Wolfy also point-blank refused to waste valuable vacation days from work to simply walk, so we scrapped the idea of re-enacting the famous scene where Ron and Harry catch up with the train in their flying Ford Anglia and opted for a weekend’s camping instead.

Fry’s optimistic delusions kept us entertained for the length of our five-hour journey, and distracted us from the impending death situations he seemed to place us in on every bend in the road. There is a cult novel within the Scottish mountaineering community by Richard Happer called The Hills Are Stuffed With Swedish Girls, which I guessed he might have recently read and mistaken for actual events. In the book, two lads decide that a week in the hills is exactly what their other best mate needs after getting dumped by his girlfriend. Convincing him that mythically hot European girls do actually come to Scotland on outdoors holidays, the three set off with their pet cat on what turns out to be a hilarious journey filled with more ups and downs than the hills they traverse. Being a novel, they do also bump into some rather charming Swedish girls along the way, of course. Only when we arrived in Arisaig and pulled over to pick-up some supplies did Fry eventually snap back into reality.

“We’re going to need matches, kindling, burgers, sausages, rolls, ketchup, marshmallows, and plenty of beer,” said Wolfy, compiling a mental shopping list as we entered the town’s sole convenience store. I wasn’t too optimistic, but with a little searching, we actually managed to tick everything off. The owner of the shop clearly knew his customer demographic and needs.

“Swedish girls, here we come,” yelled Fry as we shoved everything in the boot and continued on our quest. The guy was more excited than a kid waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and might have left burn marks on the road as the tyres screeched away. Five minutes later we were pulling into a beachside car park.

“Here we go,” he grinned, darting up a nearby sand dune with the nimbleness of a billy goat and leaving Wolfy and I lugging the tents and food behind. It felt more like we were heading to a music festival than on a boy’s camping trip. Reaching the top of the bank and casting his eyes presumably across the beckoning shoreline on the other side, Fry suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. “You won’t believe this,” he exclaimed, turning back to face us and shouting down. “You will not believe this.”

“If there are Swedish girls over this ridge,” I said to Wolfy, “then I’ll eat my hat.”

“You’re not wearing a hat,” he replied as we raced up as fast as the weight we were carrying would let us.

“My hypothetical hat,” I panted, gunning to find out what had excited Fry so much. Reaching the top, out of breath, we too were stopped dead in our tracks. “No fucking way,” I yelled. A couple stood on the otherwise empty beach throwing a Frisbee to one another. And both were stark naked.

“Check out the piece on him,” I said as he dived to catch the plastic disk, his rather well-endowed penis spinning around like a helicopter rotor blade.”

“Should we offer them some wood?” laughed Fry, teeing me up for the joke. “The fire they have going is an embarrassment.”

“I think the last thing you need to offer that guy is some wood,” I chuckled as we made our way down.  "His girlfriend definitely doesn't need any of our marshmallows, either," I added, commented on her  rather rotund physique. Spotting us, the pair absolutely shat the pants that neither of them was at that moment wearing and darted into the seclusion of their one-man tent.

“This looks to be a good a spot as any,” announced Wolfy, dumping the tents he was carrying on the sand about 50m past the naked ramblers. “High enough to avoid the rising tide and a nice grassy knoll over there on which we can build our bonfire.”

"And close enough to cockblock your man over there from getting any action tonight," I smiled.

"Did you see her?" commented Wolfy. "I think we're doing him a favour."

Crobs Abroad: The Seven Wonders of Scotland

Scotland, UK • June 2017 • Length of Read: 7 Minutes

There are numerous ‘seven wonders of the world’ lists kicking about online, from the ‘seven wonders of nature’; to the ‘seven wonders of the industrial world’; of the ancient world; of the solar system; of the underwater world; to the ‘seven wonders of the modern world’, which we have pretty much agreed upon as being, Machu Picchu; Petra; Chichen Itza; Pyramid of Giza; Great Wall of China; Christ the Redeemer, and the Taj Mahal.  I’ve visited the South American pair so far, but still have another five to go before I can tick off bucket list item #57.

Albeit quite novel, these lists are pretty interesting, so I was therefore disappointed when finding out that nobody has ever come up with a set ‘Seven Wonders of Scotland’. The Scotsman newspaper did once run a public vote to find out what Scots thought some of the most wonderful things that their homeland had to offer were, with the impressive Forth Rail Bridge taking first place accolades, but I still feel that a definitive list needs to be compiled.

Now, caveat time. I am neither a historian nor a geographer, and I struggle to follow Lego instructions never mind architectural blueprints, so for the purposes of this list I have excluded all wonders of nature and engineering. Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and I could never separate what if feels like to drive through Glencoe; climb Ben Nevis; traverse Skye’s Cullin Ridge, or witness the wildlife of the Outer Hebrides. If you are looking for this then Visit Scotland have put together a list of the best walking trips throughout Alba. And with this in mind, here are Crobs Abroad’s alternative Seven Wonders of Scotland.

Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Having rambled around a large part of the globe, the most common response by far from the locals of foreign lands when finding out where I’m from is to simply exclaim, ‘whisky’. No other word can define Scotland in a nutshell other than the name of the country itself, regardless of where you seem to go. I’ve had Cambodian taxi drivers, Peruvian mayors, and Kiwi hoteliers all express their love for the amber bead, and each also was under the impression that we have been raised on the stuff from birth as if it’s a replacement for breast milk.

Now, as most whisky connoisseurs will tell you, to be a single malt scotch the whisky must have been distilled at a single distillery in Scotland using barley and then matured in oak casks for at least three years and one day. What many people get confused over, however, is how to spell the word. Is it ‘whisky’ or is it ‘whiskey’? Quite simple, really. In almost all cases, if the whisky is made in countries with no ‘e’ in their names, such as Canada, Japan, or Scotland, then it’s spelt as so. If it comes from countries with an ‘e’ in their names, such as Ireland or the good ole’ U.S of A, then it's spelt ‘whiskey’.

Golf

The first written record of golf is when James II banned the game in 1457 because it was becoming an unwelcome distraction to learning archery. Even the King couldn’t resist the allure of the stick and ball game, however, and lifted the ban in 1502 when taking up the sport himself. The Old Course at St. Andrews in the Eastern Kingdom of Fife has been labelled ‘The Home of Golf’, and has its place on The Open Championship rota every five years, the oldest and most prestigious golf tournament in the world.

My favourite story about the sportsmanship and camaraderie in golf comes from what was labelled the ‘Duel in the Sun’ at the 1977 Open Championship at the Turnberry course, also in Scotland and now owned by President Donald Trump. Two of the all-time greats of the game, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, found themselves streaks ahead of the rest of the field and in a tense battle all weekend, with Watson eventually pipping Nicklaus to the Claret Jug on the final hole by one stroke.  That night, the pair were reportedly sitting in the clubhouse knocking back drinks and talking about the epic display they had put on for the crowd. ‘You got lucky,’ joked Nicklaus. ‘I had you all day,’ laughed Watson. A few hours later, a security guard, noticing some unusual activities on one of the greens, ran out onto the pitch black course to apprehend what he thought were a couple of hooligans. Instead, he found Nicklaus and Watson drunkenly staggering about, Watson with the trophy in hand and Nicklaus holding their sole club. They had decided to settle their argument like men, with a three-holes, one-club, midnight shootout. I have no way of verifying this story, but I so hope that it is true.

The Original 007

‘The name’s Bond, James Bond’. A famous catchphrase that Sean Connery almost never got to say. The anecdote goes that, when initially casting the titular character for this now world-famous spy and lady killer, creator Ian Fleming and the picture house production team didn’t want an already famous face to portray Bond. They, therefore, held an open call to which Sean Connery attended and absolutely bombed. In a stroke of luck, however, when discussing who they wanted at the end of the casting, Fleming happened to look out of the window of their offices and see Connery walking across the car park. ‘He walks like a panther,' said Fleming, commenting on Connery's  stride. 'Bring him back in for another audition’. The rest, as they say, is history. He nailed his second attempt and was given his license to kill.

The Kilt

“Is it true that you don’t wear anything underneath your kilt?” is one of the most frequently asked questions that a Scotsman gets from foreigners who are intrigued about our strange culture. Worn nowadays as a replacement for a tuxedo or a dinner suit at a black-tie event, no Scottish man is likely to ever look better than when donning the tartan skirt of his clan. I personally own one for formal use and have a second, more cheaply-made kilt, for partying and travelling. The looks that I receive when marching down the street in a foreign country with my pleats billowing in the breeze never get old, although most of them are unfortunately from people simply not familiar with what a kilt is as opposed to groups of girls getting hot under the collar. It is true, though, ladies. I don’t wear any underwear beneath my kilt.

Television

On 25th March 1925, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of televised silhouette images in motion. Cue the birth of the television. Within a year of this, he was demonstrating the transmission of the image of a face in motion and its popularity grew to a level that households around the world are now more likely to have televisions in them than hot running water. American’s spend on average five hours per day watching mind-numbing programming on the box, with hundreds of terrestrial and digital channels to choose from. Baird didn’t have this luxury, however. Rumour has it that he was pissed off after inventing it because there was nothing good on to watch.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival

For the entire month of August each year, the streets, pubs, clubs, and theatres of Edinburgh turn into a city-wide party when the world’s largest arts festival comes into town. The Fringe started in 1947 and there is no threshold as to whom can get involved and participate. All you have to do is rent out a performance space, come up with a ludicrous act, and the flyer like mental for people to pop their head around the door and watch your act. Categories of shows span across theatre; poetry; dance; circus; music, you name it.

What it’s most famous for, however, is the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, which has launched the careers of dozens of household comedy names. Previous recipients of the prestigious main prize include Stephen Fry; Hugh Lawrie; Al Murray; Steve Coogan; Dylan Moran; and Rich Hall but to name a few. There’s also acknowledgement for the funniest joke of The Fringe. Last year’s winner: “My dad has suggested that I register for a donor card. He’s a man after my own heart.”

Haggis

As much as we like to mess with far-too-enthusiastic Americans by telling them that a haggis is a three-legged creature that runs around the Scottish hills and Highlands, it’s actually just a savoury pudding made from the pluck of a sheep. That is, it’s the heart, liver, and lungs of the sheep minced with some spices and stuffed into the lining of its stomach. Sounds delicious, I know. When served with a side portion of neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes), however, it is absolutely delicious, and nothing takes me back to my childhood faster. It is the tradition for a haggis to be bagpiped in and addressed during a Burns Supper; evening events which take place on the 25th January each year to celebrate the birthday of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns.

So, in conclusion, what I’m really saying is that, if under some bizarre circumstances you happen to turn on your TV and see a kilt-donned Sean Connery driving a golf cart through the streets of Edinburgh on his way home from finishing an improv sketch show at the Fringe Festival, whilst washing down a mouthful of haggis with a bottle of Glenmorangie, then that’s pretty fucking Scottish.

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A Comprehensive Guide to Camping in the Wimbledon Queue [2016]

Wimbledon, England, UK • July 2016 • Length of Read: 12 Minutes

My friend and I camped over the middle-weekend of the 2016 Wimbledon Championships, in the hope of getting Centre Court tickets on Monday 4th July, when both men’s and women’s fourth round matches were taking place. For each day’s play, 500 tickets are available for Centre Court; Court 1; and Court 2, on a first-come, first-serve, basis. Due to outrageous demand however, in order to get these places in the queue, you have to camp for two nights prior to the day on which you actually wish to attend The Championships. Don’t think of it as camping though. Rather, think of it as a two-day-long pre-party.

Doug and I were coming from Scotland and, staying at a friend’s house on the Friday night in the upper-class postcode of SW20, arrived at Wimbledon Park, where the queue begins, at 9am on the Saturday morning. Our host had fed us with a delightful breakfast of poached eggs and asparagus on toast in anticipation of a hungry 48 hours ahead, and as we chowed down she busied herself by packing a cooler bag to take to the Henley Regatta, which was also occurring that sunny weekend.

“What exactly is the Henley Regatta?” I asked Doug during our taxi journey from the leafy suburb towards the grounds; eyeing up a leggy, tanned, Eastern European girl strolling swiftly along the pavement; tennis bag bouncing off her back as the stylish dress she wore fluttered gently in the breeze.

“I think it’s just an excuse for rich people to get super drunk during the day,” he mused, “with a little bit of rowing in the background.”

We had similar sized bags to this competitor ourselves, adhering strictly to ‘The Official Guide to Queueing’ published on the Wimbledon website, which stated: ‘There is a bag size restriction of 60cm x 45cm x 25cm (aircraft cabin size). We will not be able to accept bags larger than this recommended size. Also, due to space constraints, overnight queuers should use tents which accommodate a maximum of two persons.’ Joining the queue behind a father and son; two middle-aged Dutch men wearing blue jeans and pristine white blazers; and an English lad who looked like a cross between Gareth Bale and Tim Henman, it turned out that this rule is complete and utter bollocks. The first tent I saw was more comparable in size to the Sydney Opera House than that of what people slept in at festivals.

[QUEUE TIP #1 – Don’t worry about space. Bring as much shit as you want]

Because we had arrived on a Saturday, we were initially given queue cards for the Saturday play, and looking up from my bit of paper with #9745 on it, I couldn’t help but notice that there were more inflatables than in the swimming pool of a childrens’ holiday camp. People had brought blow-up mattresses; blow-up sofas; blow-up tables - I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were even a few blow-up dolls kicking about. As my 6’7” companion unfolded our barely-two-man tent, I looked over at the Dutch guys, each popping up their own individual home.

“I bet you the price of a ticket to Centre Court that you can’t keep that blazer white for the next 48 hours,” I challenged Pinot, the taller man of the pair.

“Why do you think we have two tents?” he chuckled. “One of them is acting as a closet to store our luggage and hang up our jackets in.”

Unfolding my camp chair, I took a seat beside them and cracked a beer. It may have only been 9:30am, but the sun was beginning to peek out from behind the clouds and, as Martin, Pinot’s partner in crime, so poignantly put it: “We’re on our holiday – where there’s no etiquette for drinking.”

[QUEUE TIP #2 – The Official Guide to Queueing states that you are only allowed to bring in two beers, or one bottle of wine, per person. This is a lie. If one reversed an 18-wheeler haulage truck into the grounds and started rolling kegs off the back, nobody would bat an eyelid. Stock up for the weekend]

We spent the morning talking complete nonsense, until a guy setting up his tent opposite got out a mallet and started hammering the ground like he were Thor from The Avengers. Unable to hear one another over the racket, the Dutch guys decided to head into Wimbledon Village for lunch whilst Will, the real name for the man who looked like Henman’s double, Doug, and myself, crowded around the radio to hear the remarkable news that Djokovic had been knocked out by Sam Querrey. Cheers erupted from all four corners of the park.

[QUEUE TIP #3 – If you’re a Novak fan, keep it to yourself]

Mid-afternoon, the Honorary Stewards wound their way down the lines of tents, which had grown to about 5 rows of 100, to replace the Saturday cards we held with queue cards for the Monday. We were given #290 and #291, comfortably falling within the first 500 needed to get the option for Centre Court. The line opposite had been getting nervous however, it being unclear as to where the final ticket would actually be falling. An Italian couple about five tents down from us on this opposing row dropped to their knees in delight when they were handed their equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.

“#490,” the man screamed at the top of his lungs. “YES!” I ran across and gave him a hug as Martin started chanting.

“Are you excited for the Italy game tonight?” I asked him, his national team scheduled to play against Germany in the quarter finals of Euro 2016 that evening.

“What game?” he replied, looking slightly confused.

“The football game,” I laughed.

“Alas, Federer is the only one for me,” he responded, emotionally.

I turned to look at his girlfriend, a sense of disappointment spreading across her face, and wondered how much longer it would be until she would be requesting: ‘new balls please’.

[QUEUE TIP #4 – To be in the first 500 persons, and get tickets for Centre Court, arrive by 12pm at the latest, two days before]

Once the Dutch guys had returned from a three hour lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon playing card games and drinking further beers. Getting peckish, we decided to get some dinner. Phoning the local takeaway, we placed an order, told them our location, and simply waited. You read that right. At Wimbledon, you can get fast food delivered to the campsite. Unbelievable.

[QUEUE TIP #5 – You can get takeaway food delivered to your tent]

Just in time for dessert, as we polished off our pizzas a kid came round selling cupcakes; the expression on her face one of: ‘my parents have forced me to do this in order to complete the requirements for a Girl Guide Badge’.

“Would anyone like to buy a gluten free treat?” the fourteen year-old asked, meekly.

“Do they come with weed in them?” I joked.

“Oh sorry, are you celiac?” she responded, concerned. “Because they do have wheat in them unfortunately.”

As Pinot burst into hysterics, tears rushing down his face, she looked at us with a blank waxwork-like demeanour.

Eventually composing ourselves, we only managed to squeeze in one further game of cards before yet another kid came round; this time a little boy selling chocolate bars to help raise funds for a school trip.

“Are you off to build mud huts in Kenya, or something like that?” I queried, handing over some coins and gesturing for him to keep the change.

“No, we’re going skiing in Courchevel.”

Great, I’d just given a rich kid further funding towards having a jolly in the Alps. We polished off the beers, and as people started tucking in for the night on their luxurious inflatable beds, I curled up in my sleeping bag next to Doug, tossing and turning on the cold, hard, ground; my sunburn flaming up.

[QUEUE TIP #6 – Regardless of the weather forecast, bring sun cream and an umbrella. This is the UK we’re talking about after all]

I awoke extremely early the next morning with a dead shoulder blade, bruised hip, and wet jumper. As I unzipped the awning to reveal another baking July sun, I noticed Martin was already up, and shuffling around outside.

“How was the pub?” I asked. Shortly after we’d been conned into buying chocolate off the kid, Martin and Pinot had headed to the Auld Fields for dinner and to watch the game. This pub is only a five minute walk from the campsite and its food is absolutely ace.

“Great,” he beamed. “We met a gorgeous Swiss girl who is staying in tent 102 with her father.” By this point, everyone outside our little group had started being referred to as their ticket number.

“What was you opening line?”

“Can I use the charge socket by your chair?”

“And did it work?”

“Well I’ve now got full battery on my phone if that’s what you mean,” he giggled, before picking up a towel and wandering off to the nearby Boat Club, where there were showers available for £5 between the hours of 5am-8am.

[QUEUE TIP #9 – It is heavily warned that, if you leave your tent for more than 45 minutes at a time, the Honorary Stewards will remove it and your ticket will be confiscated. In reality however, they are also there to have a good time, and unless you take the piss by going to stay in a hotel for the night, they won’t really care. Loads of people went out for the whole afternoon, and some even went night-clubbing on the Saturday. None got kicked out]

I followed Martin twenty minutes later into the dilapidated building at the perimeter of the park, hanging up my clothes in a locker room which seemed to have maintained the same décor and amenities since The Championships began in 1877. He was still there in the communal showers when I arrived, and only after I’d washed, got changed, returned to my tent, and had breakfast, did he then eventually appear back.

“Where the hell have you been?” I asked, genuinely puzzled as to what took him so long.

“Getting my money’s worth,” he winked. “Plus, there are some areas of your body that are just simply inappropriate to wash when others are present.”

“Lovely.”

[QUEUE TIP #10 – Pay the £5 for the communal shower. You don’t want to be that person on Centre Court sweating out three-day-old body odour, especially when most others around you are dressed like they’ve just stepped off a private yacht]

The rest of our Sunday followed similar suit to its predecessor; by which I mean we sat around in the sun, drank more beer, and talked more gibberish. In the words of Ron Livingston from the classic comedy Office Space: I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.” Will was camping on his own, having made friends in the queue in previous years, and we were already planning our visit to The 2017 Championships. I was initially skeptical about spending 48 hours stuck in a queue in a field, however at that moment I would happily have spent 72 hours, and we hadn’t even reached the reason for us all being there yet.

[QUEUE TIP #9 – Make sure you go to the bathroom before entering the main queue on the day of play. There are minimal opportunities to go again until you're actually in the grounds. Don’t bother bringing toilet roll, as the latrines are kept well-stocked, however I’d advise you pack some hand sanitiser]

On the day you wish to enter the grounds, you are woken up at 5am by the Honorary Stewards. Campers are given an hour to get their shit together, deflate there inflatables, put their tents into luggage storage, and line-up back in numerical ticket order. Then begins the long, meandering, journey out the park and along the edge of Wimbledon Golf Course; passing entertainment-lit stands; welcome signs; and overly-buoyant employees, until your ticket is exchanged for a wristband at the security gate: The golden lettering of ‘Centre Court’ glistened off the solid blue background as I fastened it on tightly. It was 7am at this point, and we had to wait until 8:45am until the metal detectors were turned on. After what felt like only minutes however, we were sneaking in our cans of Pimm’s which had been purchased from the local supermarket; not willing to pay the £8.30 per glass they were charging inside.

At the turnstiles, we lined up at those offering tickets for Centre Court whilst hordes of fans looked on in jealousy. Handing over £104 each, we then entered the hallowed grounds and immediately looked up at the giant yellow board which showed the order of play for Monday 4th July 2016. First up on Centre Court was Roger Federer; followed by Serena Williams; followed by our compatriot, Andy Murray. What a time to be alive.

Climb A Mountain (Bucket List #54)

Ben Nevis, Scotland, UK • July 2011 • Length of Read: 2 Minutes

Living in Scotland, there is not exactly a shortage of hills to climb; with 282 peaks that clear 3000ft. Collectively these are known as the Munros, so named after the gentleman who first produced such list, and since this is the Epic Bucket List there really only was one option to choose.

At 4,409ft, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles, attracts an estimated 100,000 ascents a year, and is only a three hour drive from my front door. Setting off at the crack of dawn on a beautiful Saturday morning, Twiggy, Ally and myself stocked up on rations at the local supermarket before hopping in the Honda for a winding journey north along country roads that connect Glasgow to Fort William.

Beinn Nibheis, as the mountain is known in Scottish Gaelic, may be the highest mountain in the country, but it is certainly not the most challenging. A nice pony path runs up its east side which makes the climb accessible to those of all mountaineering standards who have a moderate fitness level; the ice axes and crampons could be left at home. We arrived around noon; put on our gear; hitched up our bags; and set off after a strategic toilet break. The climb was wonderful and the Scottish weather brought with it the need for sunscreen and plenty of fluids. Despite ascending in the height of summer however, as we approached the top patches of snow were still visible; a reminder of the altitude we had reached. On went the gloves and woolly hat and as our competitive spirit took over we raced the last couple of hundred yards to the cairn that signified the completion of our summit. It was victory for Crobs!

Once we had regained our breath it was time to break out the packed lunches and have the highest altitude picnic available in Britain. Whilst tucking into our sandwiches a woman appeared dressed as a banana and tried to warn us of the environmental impact that littered fruit is having on the world. At first we laughed at the stupidity of her claims, but now realise that a banana skin takes two whole years to fully bio-degrade and is a visual pollutant, if nothing else, to the unmatched scenery that surrounded us. A lovely day out in a truly magnificent part of the world that makes me proud to say I'm Scottish.

Shopaholic Syndrome: Glasgow Could Learn From the Dutch Way of Living

Glasgow, Scotland, UK • May 2014 • Length of Read: 3 Minutes

On a crisp Sunday morning’s stroll along the well-trodden cobbles of Maastricht, I couldn't help but be amazed as to the tranquillity and beauty of it all. If this city were a restaurant, critics would be quick to complement its ‘heartfelt ambience’. Pacing the streets of Glasgow two years later, following my stint living in the southernmost Dutch province, I reminisce back to these times, the accompanying emotions lost for reasons scarily apparent.

The tranquillity, I believe, primarily came from the welcome absence of the horn honking symphonies permeating from monstrous multi-story car parks. Instead, this had been replaced by the rather more pleasant spring-chirping of Dutch wildlife. The beauty not only pertained to the cultural landscape - brought to life by the basilica spires and Roman architecture fortressed within medieval walls - but from the vibes emanating from the locals. The vox populi laugher of Pickwickian residents, shooting the breeze in one of the main square’s numerous independent cafes, was music to the ears that could only have been rivalled by the orchestral talents of Andre Rieu, the city’s favourite son.

Transport forward to present day Buchanan Street however, Glasgow’s premier shopping real estate, and a scene from Shawn of the Dead presents itself; overweight shopaholics and Saturday night’s walk-of-shame residue creeping in their swarms from shop to shop. This is sound-tracked not only by the aggression of angry motorists, but by the endless slurping of 480 calorie grande-chi-cinnamon-mocachinnos - 55% of an adult's GDA saturated fat intake. "But it's OK", you envisage them protesting, "I've requested they use skimmed milk." Well congratulations. Good for you. I think that the council could put taxpayers’ money to great use by purchasing additional street-sweepers with which to vacuum up these degenerates. At 11am every weekend, the kerb crawler's flashing amber lights would be a warning beacon for culprits to either leg-it or be collected like refuse; dumped into landfill sites among all the crap they probably used to own before questioning, in a rare moment of sanity: “Why the fuck do I have this?”

Daily, thousands of people return from the shops with piles of shit they will never use and never really wanted in the first place; suckered in by discount stickers, multi-buy savings and in-store promotions. Linda from customer sales saying that your life would be drastically improved if only you owned a Remington NE3150 Nose and Ear Trimmer, or a Black & Decker X500 Surface Patio Cleaner, is not an excuse to stick one in the shopping basket. Consume. Consume. Consume. Same cheques we’re always cashing, to buy a little more distraction. Worst of all, everyone appears to be in a sense of urgency over the matter, panic buying as if the government has re-introduced rationing and their book coupons are about to expire. As they 'make it rain' on cash registers, I ask myself: How did society end up like this?

Nothing ever appears to be closed in the British Isles, like we are scared someone will chuck the keys into the Channel once we've locked the door. Should one be awoken from a sweaty nightmare at two in the morning with the urge to purchase a new chrome toaster and matching pedal bin, they would merely need to glance out the window for the closest neon sign polluting the starless sky. 24/7 shopping – maximizing the time available to purchase the shit you don’t need, to impress the people you don't like.

Next time you're walking through the town centre, stop for a moment and take in the people sharing your space. Armies of clones can be seen marching military style from window to window, uniformed in this season's latest trends. The mannequins behind the glass may as well be reflections in a mirror, those on the street already carbon copies of these dolls. But the shoppers are still not fulfilled, so they carry on, stooped not only by the weight of carrier bags but in a deliberate effort to avoid any eye-contact with strangers; seemingly repelled by one another like a defective leper colony. Never has the population appeared so aesthetically similar, but so individually alone. How did society end up like this?

Waiting for the train, I grab a juice and involuntarily slip back to that fresh morning in Maastricht. Here there is no such travesty and commotion, just the odd bus load of pensioners disembarking for a glimpse of the surroundings and some tea and scones. Content in the clothes they are wearing. After retailers’ shutters are rolled down on a Saturday evening here, doors remain firmly locked until Monday afternoon. The same goes for supermarkets, which also close at 5:30pm every week night. Cafes and restaurants take centre stage; time spent relaxing with friends and family prioritising all forms of consumerism. People truly happy in their own (well-worn) shoes. Why couldn't our  society have ended up like this?