Elections, Old Friends, and Media Rows

The old college of the University of Edinburgh.

I’m going to assume that, publishing this on November 4, many of you are nervous wrecks and not interested in reading anything not directly relating to elections. Funny thing is, people in Scotland feel the same way. I can’t believe how much attention this election is getting here. Incidentally, my mom, dad and sister visited for a week, and it was great to spend time with them.

The UK, as you may have guessed, is “in the tank” for Obama, as Steve Schmidt might say. When drunk women on the line for a club hear our accent and begin to loudly blame us for electing George Bush, saying “but we’re going to elect Obama!” usually engenders some good will. When the waiter at the Indian restaurant asked us of Obama, “but isn’t it true that he’s a coloured man?” I was nonplussed. One storekeeper told my mom and sister that they couldn’t trust this newcomer, but he appears to have been an outlier, like a Zogby poll.

My family arrived on the 25th and encountered possibly the worst weather I’ve yet seen. Usually it’s rainy for part of the time and windy part of the time; when it’s both, it’s really not fun to be outside. We bore it out and I showed them around Parliament. We went to a tearoom for my mom and on a whiskey tour for my dad. On Sunday we climbed to the top of Arthur’s Seat to find the world bursting into quick rain amidst wind that made it difficult to stand. While I worked, they went on tours of the city and country with friends and groups.

The UK is having a major election of its own. On November 5, there will be an election in Glenrothes, a Scottish district, for an open seat in the House of Commons (the UK’s legislative body — Scots elect members to Scottish Parliament, British Parliament, and European Parliament). It’s apparently kind of a big deal and has been getting a lot of coverage in the press, and I’ve had the pleasure of distributing campaign literature, once to all houses on a street and once to voters thought to be pro-Labour. Sadly, I did not get to meet Sarah Brown, but maybe another time.

On my way home from a day of electioneering, a representative from the department of Veterans Issues asked me if I had voted. I was thinking about saying that, no, I hadn’t gotten my act together to register absentee, primarily because I think that there is no conceivable scenario under which my vote will impact the election’s outcome, and therefore registering was way down on my priority list. But looking at him, I calculated that he wasn’t interested in a debate about the merits of democratic participation, and would probably end the conversation if I shared my opinion. So I just said “yes, for Obama.” It left me feeling conflicted. I guess my life is pretty simple because this is the most difficult issue I can remember navigating since high school. I later shared my opinion with some running buddies, and the last 20 minutes of our eight-mile evening were somewhat combative.

Over the weekend, my mom, sister and I took a train to Greenwich, England, to visit our former au pair. Alannah had come to the states in her early twenties to look after me and Rebecca, when we were 7 and 10 years old, when my mom still worked full-time. It’s a kind of a fuzzy period. We had just moved up-county, to escape the snobbishness of Scarsdale, N.Y. I remember little league soccer, my 2nd grade teacher’s frizzy hair, eating a jumbo bag of Skittles at a movie with Alannah, and not much else. She remembered that once, in line at a theatre – we watched a lot of movies, which might explain why my sister and I continue to eat up blockbusters like 13-year-old boys – I asked, “What’s a manatee?” She responded, “It’s kind of like a dolphin, but a bit bigger.” “Well, they’re selling them here for $6!” Looking back on it, that seems a bit expensive for a 1996 matinee, but it was an understandable mistake, considering I used to read the back of soda cans and announce, “this drink has 43 carbodehydrates!” Times were different.

Alannah has a baby now, a quiet, not-so-little guy named Noah, and she’s happy. I’m turning 20 and can now read unfamiliar words without switching the middle letters; I haven’t a clue where my life will go, but neither did she. I returned to Edinburgh, my family flew home, and I dressed like “that guy at a frat party” to meet Carey Pietsch ’10 and Johanna Bond ’10 (visiting us from Dublin!) for a university Halloween party. It was like a swat party with more bars, dancefloors and people. Halloween is still pretty new here, so most of the costumes were ostentatious, whereas I didn’t have the motivation to buy anything, so I just pulled together a minimum effort outfit and called it ironic. It was fun, and relatively tame.

The same cannot be said of my MSP’s recent weekend, which was filled with shenanigans. Apparently a football match between MSPs (as well as researchers, and some ringers they called in) and some sports journalists got very ugly and was abandoned by the referee early, because he thought it was going to break into a brawl. Frank, as Scotland’s former sports minister, got a front page mention in the Daily Record, right next to a peculiar and peculiarly British row over lewd phone calls made by some BBC commentators on-air. That easily overshadowed the football row, though Frank was still happy to laugh it up in Parliament, reciting some of his best lines throughout the day for laughs. He even made me colour photocopies of some of the best tabloid coverage. At dinner with my parents, he kept the conversation more civilized. I got really lucky.


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