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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

I was FREEZING! And then I saw a guy walking along the bank in a singlet
and pair of shorts!

SCOTLAND - Dundee/Fife/Edinburgh (1 week)
Week 19 of World Tour

1. Arctic Wind In Scotland

I flew in to Edinburgh from Amsterdam late on Sunday night. My instructions were to catch a train or bus to Dundee, but due to a flight delay, it looked like I would either get to Dundee around midnight, or maybe not even get out of the airport at all! So as I was waiting for my suitcase to come out on the luggage carousel, you can imagine my delight when I heard a voice calling out …

“Is there anyone from LETS here? LETS? Anyone from LETS?”

Doug and Elaine from Dundee LETS had driven down to Edinburgh to meet their son for the day, so rather than leave Edinburgh on their own, they thoughtfully volunteered to pick me up from the airport and save me a possible, or probable, headache.

And once we got into Dundee, Doug even made time (for a few minutes) to show me the city’s most popular tourist attraction, the ship that took Scott to the Antarctic, the Discovery.

The next day was a public holiday, Tattie Howking Day, or potato-picking day, which is traditionally a day when Dundee’s children are encouraged to go potato-picking. And although there probably wasn’t any of that going on these days, I’m sure they were still grateful for getting the day off.

George and Anne were my sight-seeing guides for the day, and drove me around Dundee. It wasn’t to the places the tourists usually go to see, but I’m always interested in seeing the real township whenever possible. But the 2 most memorable images I have of that day were …

Walking around Clatto Reservoir while the chilly wind blew right threw me, even though I was wearing jeans, a long sleeved jumper and a light jacket. After that day, I decided to wear my blizzard gear which included a scivvy (polar-neck jumper), scarf, gloves and a long, thick black overcoat.

And the second image I have is of a guy walking around the reservoir at the same time as me, wearing only a pair of shorts and a singlet! But he did have a lot of hair on his body and he was extremely fat too. So maybe both of those provided enough insulation against the arctic wind.

2. Stag Inn And Stagger Out

I thought that North Fife was a city. But it’s not. It’s a region. And I was going to be hosted in a hamlet called Luthrie. Now for those of you who don’t know what a hamlet is (I sure didn’t!), it’s a very small village. In fact, there were only 23 houses in Luthrie. I stayed with Elspeth (co-ordinator of LETS Link Scotland) and her 2 children, and just for a bit of fun, one morning I timed how long it took her son, James, to get to school. He wasn’t as keen on the idea as I was, so instead of a sprint or a quick walk, I only got a dawdle. But even so, it still only took him 10.5 seconds to walk the 10 metres across the lane from his front gate to the school’s gate.

So what is there to do in such a tiny little village? Well a popular activity is driving out of it! (and into a much larger town) But a popular past-time is simply having fun at home with your family and friends.

Their fridge was covered with hundreds of magnetic words which was very popular for a while. In fact, I was told that James got very creative with it. I imagined they were talking about poetry.

And one night, after a few glasses of red, they had a ball playing Alphabet Polar Bear. A simple game where each person (in turn) had to think of a word (in alphabetical order) which had to do with a polar bear. I couldn’t imagine what they could possibly have thought of apart from body parts. And as soon as I started thinking of an ‘A’ word, I realized how funny it must’ve been. Although I’m sure that the ‘reds’ were an essential part of creating the fun atmosphere.

When I heard that one of Elspeth’s friends was a puppeteer, I immediately asked if I could meet him. After all, now that I was in the entertainment industry, I thought it would be interesting to meet with some of the professionals whenever possible. Steve was a real joker. Literally! And the jokes flew every which way all night long. But he was also an true artist. And I was happy to perform part of my play to him and Elspeth at a moment’s notice (which is how long I gave them!) I chose to perform the Homer and Oddyseus monologues because they were the most motivational parts of my play. And it was very pleasing to get Steve’s admiring approval after my performance.

To cap off the night, we drove to the Stag Inn (and stagger out?) in the nearby town of Falkland to have a quiet beer. But there was a live band performing that night, so it was pretty crowded. Nevertheless, we stayed and mingled (everyone knows everyone in a tiny town).

Australia doesn't have any castles, so we're constantly fascinated by them.

But I really enjoyed having a coffee with Elspeth when she took me sight-seeing in St.Andrews. She suggested we stop for a coffee and cake at the North Point Café. We both had the carrot cake (which was delkicious), but the thing which caught my attention were the cup sizes on the menu. In Melbourne, I’m used to seeing long black, or short black, on the menu (which translates to normal or tiny). But these people went totally the other way, offering large or huge. We both opted for the large cup, because the huge size came in a soup bowl!

3. Scottish Hit Squad

I love it when I come across a bloody good idea, and the North Fife LETS (NFL) Hit Squad is about as good as they get. Phil Beaumont, co-ordinator of North Fife LETS, borrowed the idea from a TV show.

“The Hit Squad in this show goes to a person’s house and transforms it all in one day, while the owner is away,” he said. “So I thought we could do the same thing in our LETS group.”

And in the last 12 months the NFL Hit Squad has been a big ‘hit’ with their group, completing 22 projects including 13 gardening, 6 catering and 3 decorating projects.

The secret to this success is their Hit Squad Co-ordinator (HSC). Obviously every project requires a different type of expertise, so it’s the HSC’s job to ring around and find a suitable team for the task. The HSC is paid in points for her efforts, and rightfully so.

I’ve never seen them in action, but the image I got was of a team of people dressed in black with LETS Hit Squad emblazoned across their chests. Maybe green would be a more appropriate colour, but either way I’m sure it would attract a lot of attention and possibly be an ideal recruiting tool.

The Hit Squad was just part of a boom year for North Fife LETS which had a turnover 100% greater than the previous year. But this small group of only 87 active members has one of the most positive attitudes I’ve come across on my travels. A great inspiration.

4. Living With Ferrets

Have you ever lived with ferrets? I mean the animal kind. Well, I did in Edinburgh, and I was surprised to find them as docile and friendly as cats.

One of them was a small polecat ferret called Honey, and she had the run of the house. She was a grayish white colour and loved to walk around your feet. So I was told to be careful I didn’t step on her.

The other 2 ferrets were albinos and even though they were younger than Honey, they were much larger than her. But they never got along. So they were confined to a 5-star wire cage in the lounge room, and were allowed out for an hour or two every day while Honey was kept safely away in a separate room.

By Sunday morning Honey was getting a little more comfortable with me and she even let me tickle her tummy as she rolled over on to her back like a puppy dog. But when she showed off her shiny sharp teeth, I decided to stop. Later on I was told that she was only being playful and she wouldn’t have bitten me. But my motto is, “It’s better to safe than sorry”.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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