Foundations

I'm going on the Camino again tomorrow. 500km of walking and 25 days of space. I'm looking forward to the distance from the intensity of London.

When you haven't written in a while there's an urge to acknowledge that absence. I last published something here in January last year. Since then, the main bullet points were getting severely ill in Edinburgh, surviving my final uni exams, recovering through manual labour in Italy and then building a new life in London where I've been for the last 12 months. Through all of this, writing seemed like a luxury that I couldn't afford. I was clinging to any energy I had left and was reluctant to spare it on anything deemed extra to the immediate challenges in front of me. In hindsight I think this was a mistake; Creating, even something small and simple, helps you feel alive. While it takes energy, it often gives back more or gives back something different. 

I was travelling through Washington and California earlier this year and ended up in a hostel in San Francisco that Joe and I went to 6 years ago. About 30 of us went to a local Indian restaurant for dinner and I was sat next to a group of 'lads' from Melbourne. Most of the chat was about where people were travelling to next and reflecting on the pros and cons of American and Australian sports. Towards the end of the evening one of the guys said something accidentally profound that stuck with me. He was talking about his life in Melbourne and said no matter where he goes and how long he's away, Melbourne will always be home for him. His friends, family, the culture, the way of life, the beaches, the food will always be what he came back to. Some people appear to be comfortable settling into a completely nomadic lifestyle but the thought of having somewhere relatively consistent to return to is appealing. 

The constant moving of the last 6 years have been great but also disorientating. The four 'homes' of Rome, London, Sydney and Edinburgh are in continual rotation. Overall, however, London is becoming the place where I return to. It's big enough to keep exploring but with individual pockets of community that you can eventually settle.

Belhaven

Belhaven

An obligatory NYE walk at Belhaven Bay in Scotland sparked the usual planning for the upcoming year. As much as possible I wanted to try and build foundations here. London has its challenges, it can seem like seeing your friends is a once a quarter battle rather than a regular involvement in each others lives. That's not always the case though and when two people are both willing to make the effort there will always be time to connect.

New people too. I'm joining a new lacrosse club, I go to a board games club (lol), being regular at Church and home group, getting more involved in my livery, joining the squash ladder. You have to keep trying, keep putting yourself out there. The people you naturally connect with will be obvious. One of my closest friends is someone I didn't know this time last year and we have played squash every week for the last 7 months.

I'm excited about this time away and equally excited about coming back with hopefully new energy and fresh ideas.

A presto,

TJP

Edinburgh Hang Outs

One of the best things about Edinburgh is the wide selection of independent cafés/bistros/coffee shops. Can you do a blog about coffee without sounding a bit pretentious? Probably not

Credit goes to Mike who helped me over a lazy evening in the flat.

This list is focussed on places near George Square and a few places near to where I live around Bruntsfield. There's 15 here but there is easily 40+ places around central Edinburgh if you're looking. Explore!

Selection: One safe thing or can you experiment?
Atmosphere: Comfortable/relaxed/chilled, could you stay for long?
Personality: Is it interesting/unique/weird?


Brew Lab - S 8 A 7 P 9 = 24/30
Love it or hate it, Brew Lab is something different and I'm a fan. It's always full but worth it if you can locate a table. Famed for it's scruffy interior some claim it's a bit too 'try hard'. Great food, great coffee and it even has its own app - what more could you want?
Brew Lab in 3 words: Packed, Pretentious, Happening

Artisan Roast Bruntsfield - S 8 A 6 P 8 = 22
It's a small little place tucked away in Bruntsfield. Originally meant to be a temporary pop up in the fringe, it has persevered due to a loyal set of regulars and a unique atmosphere. It's small and quirky (check out the Lord of The Rings makeshift wallpaper) - ideal for a chilled afternoon chat.
Artisan Roast Bruntsfield in 3 words: Indie, Low-key, Interesting  


Black Medicine Bruntsfield - S 7 A 7 P 8 = 22
Black Medicine Bruntsfield is the cooler younger brother to Nicholson. It's quieter and doesn't have the same rushed vibe. Go up the stairs to the balcony and you are in a cosy corner with a tree house feel. One of my favourite places to go to.
Black Medicine in 3 words: Calm, Solid, Tree House


Mosque Kitchen - S5 A 6 P 9 = 20
There are 3 mosque kitchens, all of them claim to be the original and all are slightly different. Loosely separated as the 'mainstream' one on Nicholson Street, the more 'sophisticated' one as you enter the Mosque on the right and my favourite of the three, the back alley kitchen in between the previous two.  Massive portions and great vibe. 
Mosque Kitchen in 3 words: Substantial, Quick, Easy

Café Gourmand - S 7 A 8 P 5 = 20
This is a solid place to go to if want somewhere a bit quieter that lacks the pretentious buzz of some of its close neighbours. Its menu revolves around its selection of pancakes but also has a few choice milkshakes. Good place to get some work done.
Café Gourmand in 3 words: Plain, Pancakes, Productive


Snax - S 6 A 4 P 9 = 19
Snax is another polarising favourite of mine. The rough, bustling atmosphere combined with a killer breakfast make Snax a must visit location. It is in no way a refined venue nor is it somewhere where you should attempt to do work. It's designed for the hungry not the aloof.
Snax in 3 words: Hi-Viz, Irn-Bru, Glorious

Elephants & Bagels - S 7 A 5 P 7 = 19
It does bagels which is enough to make it stand apart but coupled with a quirky interior and it's a place worth going to. Possibly a little expensive for what you get but it's surprisingly filling.
Elephants & Bagels in 3 words: Lit Student, Elephants, Chilled

Project Coffee S 7 A 7 P 5 = 19
Project Coffee sits in the centre of Bruntsfield and is owned by the same family as Press, Rotato and Kilamanjaro. It is light and fairly spacious with an expected selection of drinks and snacks. Think business meeting rather than friendly chat.
Project Coffee in 3 words: Efficient, Light, Open


Tea at 94 S 7 A 5 P 6 = 18
A little place on Buccleuch Street, it has a huge selection of tea if that is your thing but also enough for a quiet lunch. Perfectly pleasant without being exciting.
Tea at 94 in 3 words: British, Tea, Cake


La Barantine - S 4 A 6 P 7= 17
A little French café in Bruntsfield. It's different to anything around it, the staff speak French and it offers a more refined breakfast than snax.
La Barantine in 3 words: Cosy, Relaxed, French  

Café Kilimanjaro - S 6 A 6 P 5 = 17
It's in student central and delivers chunky, home made food, it's good just not especially noteworthy. They do notable paninis and good selection of smoothies.
Café Kilimanjaro in 3 words: Student, Standard, Casual


Black Medicine Nicholson - S 7 A 3 P 6 = 16
If Brew Lab is literally at capacity and it is raining then Black Medicine is where you would end up. It's like Snax but you can't laugh at it. Plus points are vaguely interesting furniture.
Black Medicine Nicholson in 3 words: Aggressive, Woodland, Average


Brazilian Pancake Hut - S 5 A 2 P 8 = 15
It's a little hut at the top of quarter mile which is definitely worth a visit. Go for the signature steak pancake and chat with the friendly couple who run it. There's some outdoor seating but we are in Edinburgh...
Brazilian Pancake Hut in 3 words: Tasty, Meaty, Friendly 






Rotato S 4 A 3 P 8 = 15
They have 4 things on the menu and I barely change from my regular choice. Basically a jacket potato with a few tasty fillings, it's a worthy place to drop into in between lectures. Check out the collection of Mr Potato heads on the window sill. 
Rotato in 3 words: Simple, Tasty, Cheeky

Press S 5 A 4 P 3 = 12
There isn't really anything exciting about Press apart from the fact it's the shortest walk from DHT and if we are in routine Edinburgh winter weather, location is key.
Press in 3 words: Convenient, Small, Pleasant

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Honourable mentions go to Peters Yard (expensive but decent), Beetle Juice (quality food but tiny), The Library Café (on necessity), The Edinburgh Larder (more expensive but relaxed), Teviot (nachos, pizza, library bar), Two Thin Laddies (Tollcross business scene, good food), Beanscene (average but spacious), Bees (now closed but it used to be the go to place), Affogato (for ice cream...)

The walk to Uni

Edinburgh Sunrise | Revision Zone Out

Here is a link to some of the background revision music I've been listening to.

A few of my friends had birthdays last week and we decidedly to go up Arthur's Seat at 4am to see the sunrise.



Memories and nostalgia are more powerful than we realise. We can selectively remember the good or bad, polarising whatever was the overriding feeling. Looking back in a few years I don't think I'll remember that morning from the cold temperature or how I felt having 2 hours sleep but I think I'll remember it as a slightly surreal experience shared by 20 people who were all experiencing the same thing for the first time. 


                                                                              Credits to Rachael Gilfillan
The year finishes in one week. After negotiating Boccaccio's Decameron and some tricky Italian grammar next Friday, the whole Summer will lie ahead. I'm looking forward to it.


Edinburgh

Surreal Films

Sometimes you leave the cinema with this surreal haze over you because you are still lost in the reality you left behind. You watched something powerful that changed the way you look at the world. It made you want to experience new things, it gave a new edge to the things around you and it gave you a glimpse of something that is removed from ordinary.

Often a casual trip is cinema is nothing more than a brief 2 hour jolt to your week before returning to the standard routine. But sometimes you experience something more. A world that lingers on.

Here are 5 films that left me with this feeling of separation:



Not an easy film. I watched this with a couple of friends and I remember the near silent car journey back as we tried to absorb and understand what we saw. It's about a young woman's experience of a cult and her attempt to rejoin the society she left behind. It's tense and makes you think about how you see yourself and how others see you.


The best soundtrack you will hear. Ryan Gosling in impeccable form. A lost character drifting through danger and him finding something that he valued enough to question the meaninglessness of his current existence. Essential to watch, turn the sound up.


I loved this and having only saw it last week it's still fresh in my thoughts. Ryan Gosling along with Bradley Cooper. It makes you think about human character and how and why we make our decisions and the unexpected consequences to the people around us. 


A gruelling Danish film that examined injustice and how brutal it can be. It forces you to think about the assumptions we make and how dangerous that can be. Worth watching, be prepared to lose any feeling of joy for 90 minutes.


You can't not be overwhelmed by this. Six 30 minute stories all inter wound and connected with various powerful themes of hope, love, war. Edinburgh is featured and it made me want to do something and to do something important. It's probably one of the most underrated films, ever.

I hope this encourages you to watch a few of these. Let me know thoughts!

Plans

It's 01.12am on a cold Sunday morning in Edinburgh. I often claim to have writers block but I think it's more a case of trying to wait for something concrete before wanting to commit to anything. But I think if you wait for that then you will struggle to write anything at all. So I've decided to try and write more often even if it feels a bit more scattered and unrefined.

I'm quite good at spending hours reading various travelling blogs, going through the 8,000 odd photos from my gap year and checking out the crazy things that all the people I met on my travels are doing. No doubt it's a form of escapism but it helps to sharpen my focus in terms of what I want to do both now and in the coming years.

When people go travelling it is easy to get in the habit of doing 'little and often'. Most people spend only a couple of days in Edinburgh, but 6 months on I'm still discovering strange and interesting places to this incredible city. I'm enjoying getting to know it properly and there are still so many places that I have yet to explore. The idea of focusing in depth on one place is something that I'm looking forward to do in practice when I travel to Italy this summer. Current plans are to spend 5 weeks in the country, starting in Venice and ending in Sicily. There are 5 of us going from my Italian class at university and I'll update on this when we have sorted out more of the details.

Despite this, there is obvious intrigue with how wide and far people have gone. By trawling through various articles, I came across the 'Traveler's Century Club' which have their own definition of 321 countries, territories and islands  and accept membership to their club when you have reached 100 of these. I worked out that I've only been to 28 of the 321 they list which seems like a fairly weak effort. You can check your score here. The club is, unsurprisingly, populated by wealthy Americans in their 40s and not 19 year old students studying philosophy. This got me thinking about how realistic it would be for a broke student to reach 100 before they graduate in 3 years and 3 months?

There's obvious dangers and dilemmas in setting such a outlandish target:

  1. It sounds expensive
  2. 72 countries is a lot of countries
  3. You're meant to be doing a degree
  4. You're possibly reducing travelling to just a number
  5. You're only 19, chill out
  6. Are there better things to do with your time and money?
Each point is probably valid but not enough to totally dissuade me. That said, it is still currently merely a hypothetical suggestion. Sometimes in life, the crazy ideas are the ones most valuable in pursuing. In the meantime I'm going to focus on depth. Visits last week to Calton Hill, parliament and Holyrood Palace were long overdue and I'm looking forward to doing a week of volunteering in April on the Isle of Skye. That is with the charity Trees For Life which work to regenerate Scotland's forests.

So, only 72 countries to go...

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Being Perfect

"The truth isn't what I said, and now it's gone - this story was so perfect for so long. And I mean that, as I try to take myself out of the situation and I look at it. You overcome the disease, you win the Tour de France seven times. You have a happy marriage, you have children. I mean, it's just this mythic perfect story, and it wasn't true." Lance Armstrong

It's such a powerful quote and it sums up much of what we try and do with our lives. That is: project out some kind of happy image and then just hope everything else will naturally follow on. As if somehow by looking good on the outside (with good grades, good lifestyle etc) we will be content and fulfilled on the inside.

My old school also believed in this awkward bias to outside achievements instead of inward development. Succeeding at extra-curriculars was good because it allowed them to put a press release in the local  paper and allowed us to put it on our UCAS forms. Good grades were a means to an end, something that allowed you to continue to the next stage of life.

Are we doing what we're doing because we actively enjoy it and prefer it to the alternatives or are we simply meandering along trying to live up to the expectations of others while trying to show we enjoy it? We should choose more closely where we want to be successful. Prioritise personal character and relationships.

There are two problems with how Lance presents his thoughts:
1) Firstly, his thinking that it was the end destination and not the journey that was important
2) Secondly, his thinking that once he had completed his "perfect story" that he would be satisfied.

You can have two people who look similar on the surface but their journey to that point will often dictate their different outcomes in the future. The house built on the rock and sand look the same on the surface but one will crumble at the first sign of trouble. This is because the house on the sand hasn't gone through the journey of building solid foundations.

A person who steadily becomes successful in business over a number of years is likely to be more prudent and wise with the money than someone who received a similar amount of wealth by an overnight windfall. The famous example of Michael Carroll shows the need to grow in financial wisdom in order to be responsible with money. 

We put celebrities on pedestals generally because of some kind of worldly success. But behind this front of achievement are some of the most broken people in our society. If this is true why do many people still aspire to this level of notoriety? We need to find a way to get past the vanity. To put things in perspective. To get context.

Lance believed in a 'win at all costs' scenario. Yet when he 'won', he realised  he hadn't actually won. Because hadn't done it in the right way, it seemed meaningless to him. Achieving the goals in themselves wasn't enough.

I think 'being perfect' is much more about using the talents that we have been given and being humble and respectful of that. If you are an awesome baker and love nothing more than making a fresh batch of pain au chocolat at 5am, don't be resentful you're not the next George Clooney and instead concentrate on using the talents that you have been given to the best of your ability.

This one of my favourite videos on TED. Watch to the end and be challenged be it.

Priorities

What we value most in our lives determines and shapes both our actions and our attitude. Getting a balance of my priorities is something that I find increasingly hard. Nerding away in the library 24/7 is as equally unhelpful as an over dedication to a party lifestyle. Without fully knowing what you want it is hard to make progress.

I'm used to getting the classic question of whether 'I found myself in my gap yah'. I think for most of the time I lost myself. The luxury of being in so many environments is that it lets you be almost different people at different times. You get used to throwing yourself into situations, letting yourself be washed over with new people and new expectations. Whether it was the intense extroverted time with Richmond, working long hours on demanding projects with Boodles or immersing myself in the altruistic hippyesque atmosphere of Pisco. 

I'm a muddled mess of all those different periods and despite what I said, I think overall I did find an ideal. I discovered who I wanted to be even if I still had a long way to get there. I don't think I'm any closer from my first few months in Edinburgh. Too many distractions; pride and egoism get in the way.

I guess I struggle with ideals. Knowing you will never fully reach a goal makes it hard to persevere. Pursuing an ideal also presupposes you know where you're going and that is also rarely the case. Maybe there is different ideals for different moments. Spontaneity and recklessness make life more colourful and interesting at times but can be exhausting if a daily habit.

I've recently come back from a weekend away with the church I go to in Edinburgh. It was a great time to get to know more people from the community there but also to re-evaluate some of the priorities that I have consciously or subconsciously put into place here. My faith gives things perspective and justification. It is the glue that keeps things in place. 

Being blessed with the right people at important turning points in my life is something I am always grateful for. In my second week here I bumped into an old friend who I met several years previous at a scripture union camp. Apart from sharing an appreciation of obscure films (my top 3 films from this term so far being Anna Karenina, Skyfall and Rust and Bone) he has allowed me to really consider where I should invest my time and thoughts. I need people with such integrity to help prod me in the right direction.

Being vulnerable to other people is one of the best ways for you to grow and develop. Relying on your own strength will often leave you falling short. Our best qualities are shown when we are with people.

I'm trying to finish this now and I haven't really got to any sort of end. I'm shaped by the people around me, by experiences, by ideas. Most people go through life still searching, I'm not sure whether that is a bad thing..


Autumn Walk
While writing Wild Nothing have provided the best background music, Beach House a close second. 

Adjusting

My last blog was in August and between then and now I have several unfinished posts lying in my dashboard that I always said I would go back to but have never found the time. I guess if I'm being honest, university was always the logical next step and because of this I never really sat down and considered what it would entail.

I love life here. Edinburgh is a fantastic city and with a certain degree of tenacity you will be able to find a wide range of opportunities that align with your interests and passions. But it's easy to underestimate how much it is a radical change from the previous 12 months and I think it will take some time to adapt to the environment here.

How 'good' humans are in adapting and adjusting to their environment is an idea that has been playing on my mind over the past few months. We are remarkably successful at teaching our brains to accept the current environment as normality and once we've made this step then our tastes and preferences within this environment will change accordingly.

The 3 main things that I did when travelling (photography, reading, writing) are habits that I've struggled to maintain in my life here. Instead my time here is focussed around my studies, people and the various new commitments that I couldn't do while motorbiking through the Vietnamese countryside. You learn to focus on these things and when you put effort into something, an emotional connection naturally follows. That's why caring about something new is one of the best ways you can move on from something you once cared about.

A continued observation from travelling is that while the people might change, character traits are pretty much ubiquitous. The priggish Swedish traveller you met in Cusco is replaced by the guy who nonchalantly asks "what A levels did you get?" and "what does your father do?" in the first 5 minutes of conversation in freshers week. Of course that's the minority and most people are just trying to find their place in a foreign, daunting environment.

Despite all this, I'm not sure I want to completely adjust to life here. I don't want to lose the person I was or lose the experiences I had. Of course that is overly dramatic but it's scary to see how the people and the culture here are already influencing my thoughts and actions. I'm more materialistic, I have more long term aims which affect my ability to contemplate the present and it's harder to have a grasp on what's truly important with all the distractions going on around you.

You can combat this by focussing on what is constant; have a long term view on character. If you can control your attitude and your motivations then your actions should naturally follow. Build the house on the rock and not the sand.

Pisco Sin Fronteras was the best and most inspiring part of my trip. Sadly the organisation recently announced that it will be closing in a few months and that revelation was a stark reminder of how much we need to savour what we have in the present. I can't go back there now but I can remember my time in Pisco and the lessons learnt will stay with me as I continue on my next steps.

Before I close I'd recommend checking out this post by Jules who was the project manager during my time volunteering at PSF.

Hopefully I will have more to say soon.

Edinburgh