On the Eve of the Referendum

Technically it’s the day of the referendum already, but I’m not counting it until I wake up in the morning. I’m in Scotland again until Friday, but I’m not a resident, so I can’t vote.

I’m staying at the newly opened Ibis Budget Hotel in South Gyle. It’s “budget” along the same lines as the Tune Hotel at Haymarket, but more generous with its space and facilities. Double bed with a high quality, firm mattress, and thick pillows. (And a single bunk above it, too, in case I get restless in the night.) There’s a shower pod, a sink, and a toilet cubicle with a Western saloon-style swinging door, which is odd. Some hanging space and a desk/dresser corner with a small plastic stool. The surfaces are all optimized for easy cleaning. Unlike at the Tune, the TV and shit wifi are included in the room price. There doesn’t seem to be an option to upgrade from shit to premium. Or a way to turn off the noisy air conditioning.

I went out for a quick drink with some folks after work. I left the pub just after 19:30, intending to take a long evening walk back to the hotel. On the bus into town this morning, winding through Stenhouse, Balgreen, and Gorgie I had seen lots of “Yes” posters in windows – far, far more than the indications of “No” support. I wanted to see if the view would be any different on foot.

It was: just across the Meadows, at the foot of Middle Meadow Walk, I ran straight into a Yes rally. I estimated around 500 people, lots of badges, flags (Scottish, Welsh, and even one Frisian), banners, and applause for a speaker I could neither see nor hear.

Rally on the Meadows

I didn’t feel like hanging around, so I carried on towards Tollcross. Last week, while searching for a good burger joint in Edinburgh I had noticed a place just called “Burger” in Fountainbridge, and without intending to I walked right past it this evening. Well, “walked past it” in the sense of also stopping off and ordering a rather delicious bacon and cheese burger with fries. The double burgers on the menu looked tempting, but a single was quite enough. The patty was rich and moist, on a brioche-style bun that absorbed a lot of the juices without going soggy. I had ordered a side of chili sauce, but it was more like a shrimp dipping sauce than something I would want to slather on a burger. Overall verdict: very tasty, and I’d gladly go back again.

Afterwards I walked on…briefly, and found myself at the Cineworld cinema at Fountain Park. I couldn’t resist checking what was on, and I found that if I hung around for another twenty minutes I could catch a showing of The Guest. I hadn’t even seen a trailer for it, but I’d heard it was fun and John Carpenter-ish, and I was intrigued to see Dan Stevens in something other than Downton Abbey. It lived up to the promise: it’s a hoot. Right from the shrieking opening title card, it feels like a throwback to a simpler era of psychological horror film. Without trying to be excessively clever or twisy, it just delivers a boat-load of thrills. Dan Stevens does an excellent five second friendly-to-menacing transition.

After the film, I saw a car driving around with an iluminated blue Statue of Liberty, draped in a Saltire.

By this point it was 23:30, and I figured it was too late to walk all the rest of the way back to the hotel, so I just took the bus.

How do I think the referendum will go tomorrow? I don’t know. That’s not to say that I think “it will be close” as the polls are predicting. It’s just that I can’t separate what I think will happen from what I hope will happen. I think there are good reasons to question the pollsters’ methodologies; flaws that might well underestimate the Yes vote. Or maybe the polls are good and accurate, and the outcome will be tight, within their margin of error. What I know, though, is that the polls have shown a big shift towards Yes over the last month. Also, from walking around Perth and Edinburgh, I have seen a lot more support on the ground for Yes than for No. I’m going to ignore Twitter for reasons of availability bias: I follow more yes supporters than no supporters, so I’m obviously in a self-selected bubble of blue and white.

To suck my teeth and say “well, it’s going be close!” may be giving in to wishy-washy thinking, showing an unwillingness to commit to a strong position based on my own analysis and observations. To say that I think the vote will go “strongly” Yes may be giving in to all sorts of psychological biases and fallacies. No-one likes to be wrong. The numbers say it will be close. I…just don’t know.

Normally on these trips to Scotland I bring back some sweets for Abi, Alex, and Fiona. This week, I hope I can bring them back a whole new country.

Casual triathlon

“casual triathlon”- like fancy trainers and knife fights?

Not quite. After walking a marathon two years ago, Abi and I have been doing more long-distance walks. We enjoy the time together and the things we see while we’re out, and they’re good exercise. We’re not athletes by any stretch of the imagination, but it pleases us that we don’t have to “get in training” to tackle a 26km walk.

When we go on holiday to France, we’re in the habit of swimming 100 lengths of a 10m pool: 1km, albeit with lots of turns. At some point over the summer, inspired by Alan, I checked the wikipedia article about triathlons and learned that the famed “Iron Man” is just the hardest and longest version. There is also a “standard” distance, which involves a 1.5km swim, a 40km cycle, and a 10km run. Hmm, I thought. That actually sounds quite feasible.

So yesterday Abi and I went and did one. Casually. Slowly. Crucially: without paying any attention to time. We did it because we wanted to do the distance, and show to ourselves that we could.

My original idea had been to get an early start, but it turns out that our nearest pool is reserved for swimming lessons on Saturdays, and isn’t open to the public. The Zaangolf pool on the other side of Zaandam was open for lane swimming between 12:00 and 13:00, so we decided to make it an afternoon thing. The Zaangolf is about 10km away by bike, so that would be a good warm-up.

We left the house around 11:15, and got to the pool by 12:00. We changed and started our swim at 12:14. I finished my 60 lengths at 12:52. Abi wasn’t done yet, though, so I carried on and did another twenty lengths. We got out of the pool at 13:04, so 50 minutes down. We dressed quickly, took a few selfies with our eyes ringed and bruised from the swimming goggles, and had a drink by our bikes before we set off on the second leg.

Cycle Zaandam style: standard “Dutch” bikes, kitted out for comfort, cargo, and commuting.

Our cycle route took us through the Zaanse Schans and along the Zuiderweg to Purmerend. Noord-Holland might not have any hills, but it certainly has wind (it’s famous for windmills for a reason) and it was directly in our face for that stretch. Going through Purmerend was slow as well, because it was urban stop-start.

With open bridges

We eventually made our way up onto the Purmerdijk, and followed the curve of the canal round to Edam, just past the half-way point. We didn’t enter Edam proper, but hooked back on the Edammerweg to the Oosterweg. At that point we were heading south-east, and had the wind almost directly at our backs. We flew down the that 5km perfectly straight stretch, revelling in the knowledge that the second half was mostly all in this direction.

Abi fighting the wind and peeling a hard-boiled egg on the Purmerdijk

We took the tiny ferry over the canal at Ilpendam, and almost before I knew it, we were back in Het Twiske. Our plan was to make it to 40km, park our bikes, and then do the last 10km as a big loop around the lake in Het Twiske. We headed for the Marsen Farm, and by excellent coincidence hit 40km almost exactly as we arrived there, in a time of 3 hours and 6 minutes. We parked our bikes, and set off on foot.

Not too much to say about the 10km loop, other than that it was a gorgeous afternoon for a walk: warm, sunny, and with a pleasant breeze. We were a bit tired after the cycle, but the walk gave us another change of pace and a different set of muscles to exercise. 10.23km and 2 hours and 3 minutes later we got back to our bikes at the farm, slightly sweaty and sticky, but happy and satisfied. It was 18:36. From that start of our swim at 12:14, it had taken us 6 hours and 22 minutes.


The sun hadn’t set, but was sinking in the sky. The leaves of the chestnut trees near the farm were starting to turn, and the golden light brought out all the warm tones in the the greens and browns. We’re enjoying a lovely nazomer right now. It would be great if it saw us through to the Dam-tot-Dam walk next weekend.

Yasiin Gaye

On my walk this morning I was particularly enjoying “Big Brother Beat” by De La Soul featuring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def at the time). When I got back home, I did a quick search to see if he had any new music out, and look what I found! Not a new album as such, but two amazing mashups, under the overall heading of “Yasiin Gaye”. Mixed by Amerigo Gazaway, they’re a perfect fusion of hip-hop and soul, mixing Bey’s vocals with the music of Marvin Gaye. For free! Go grab them now — they’re lush.

Yasiin Gaye – The Departure (Side 1)
Yasiin Gaye – The Return (Side 2)

Loncon3 trip report: Day 3

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

(Day 3 of our trip being day 2 of the Con: Friday 15 August.)

Friday was Abi’s big day: she was moderating one panel, and speaking on two others. The first one, “The Deeper the Roots, the Stronger the Tree” was a discussion of how non-genre authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Jane Austen have inspired and influenced science fiction and fantasy. Abi was really nervous about this one. Despite all her experience moderating online communities, this was her first time in charge of a real-life panel. The kids and I didn’t go along to it (it was a bit early, and a bit out of Alex and Fiona’s sphere of interest), but Abi said it went well.

While Abi was moderating, the kids and I got ourselves ready and wandered over to the Con. We planned to attend Abi’s second panel, “Settling the Alien World” at 12:00. Before then, we had a quick look in the Dealers’ Room, located the Tiki Dalek, and hung out in the Fan Lounge again for a bit.


The “Settling the Alien World” panel was neat: a bunch of authors, scientists, and fans talking about the practical and social issues surrounding humanity’s potential arrival on three different types of planet. Lots of good discussion.

On the previous day (Thursday) Fiona had taken part in the first session of the Tardis build. Before that first session, Abi and Fiona had gone back to the hotel for Fiona to change out of her Merida costume into street clothes that would not be a problem if they got dirty. However, that did leave her in normal clothes afterwards, which was a bit of a let-down after having had so much attention in costume earlier. This was one of the reasons that we went back to the hotel at the end of the afternoon – so that Fiona could change back for the evening.

For the second Tardis session on Friday we had a different plan: I had Fiona’s spare clothes with me in my bag, and she just changed into them in the toilets at the ExCel centre.

Fiona painting a corner of the Tardis.

Fiona’s new best friends were all involved in the Tardis build as well. After they were done with the day’s painting, five of us (Emily, her mom Kristen, Alex, Fiona, and I) wandered up the concourse to the Indian restaurant and had a curry for lunch. Well I say “curry”, but Alex and Fiona both only wanted a plate of rice. Eh, it’s Worldcon. Whatever.

One of the cornerstones of Alex’s Worldcon experience was the role-playing in the gaming tent. At 16:00, Garry Harper of RP Haven ran the workshop “Design and Playtest your own Tabletop Game” to teach tricks of the trade to both new and experienced GMs. Alex felt a bit shy, and wanted me along. I sat in on it too, and it was great. Garry is an excellent and enthusiastic instructor. He got everyone thinking about plot and momentum, characters and crowd management. His most imporant message, though, was: make sure the players are having fun. No matter what your planned outcome was for the session, if everyone had a good time and a laugh, that’s a win. Very valuable advice. Alex lapped it up, and it even gave me some ideas for a Chthulhu scenario…

The gaming session overlapped with Abi’s third panel of the day, “Saturday Morning Cartoons: The Next Generation” at 16:30. I snuck out of the gaming workshop for a short while to find Fiona and take her up to the panel. (She’s perfectly capable of making her own way there, but I’d said I would go with her.)

After both the gaming workshop and Abi’s panel were finished, we all met up again to try and figure out a plan for the evening. The kids and I had already had a look at the programme, and hadn’t seen anything that really fired us up. One of the alternate proposals was to go out to the cinema to see Guardians of the Galaxy (which hadn’t been released in the Netherlands yet). Alex wasn’t interested, but Fiona was. There was an early evening showing at the CineWorld West India Quay that we could make if we hurried. Alex practically shooed us off.

We had to run through the ExCeL centre to find a working cash machine (because London taxis don’t take cards? WTF, London, get with the century), but we made it to the cinema on time. We bought some sweets and drinks for dinner (eh, it’s WorldCon, whatever) and had a blast watching the film. Afterwards we found our way to the nearly DLR station, and took the train back to the hotel. Half an eye on fellow passengers, trying to figure out which were con-goers. Mostly easy to tell.