The C-19 Diaries. Duddingston Revisited.

Day 79

It was a grey, mizzly day today. Having noticed on my previous visit to Duddingston Kirk that, while closed for Sunday Services, they were open on Wednesday mornings between 10 and 10:30am for prayer, I decided to head over there this morning for some peace and solitude.

Duddingston Kirk was built in the early 12th century; accordingly it has witnessed a pandemic or two. In a season where everything seems uncertain, there’s something reassuringly unshakable about a building which has seen off the Black Death, the Spanish Flu and the Asian Flu. 

Given the damp underfoot conditions, and the Skechers on my feet, which provide excellent comfort and grip in dry conditions, but invite rain and any other water in like an old friend, and possess zero grip on wet surfaces, it was probably a curious choice to walk through the park. As I cut left off the road, onto a down-sloping grassy area, I did think the whole expedition might end in spectacular fashion.

But wet grass is surprisingly grippy, I discovered, and I made it all the way to the bottom of the slope without mishap. It was then that I trod on a bare patch of wet earth, and my right foot, and by extension, my whole right leg, disappeared underneath me in a south-easterly direction, at quite an alarming speed.

A hot millisecond after this began to happen, my ‘surefooted-as-a-mountain-goat’ reflexes kicked in, and I did whatever it is one does when one’s leg has disappeared to the SE, which I imagine is something like shifting my centre of gravity with an effortless core-shimmy, righting myself in a jiffy, before moving on, after a deep breath or two to gather my composure.

This, however, didn’t happen. Lockdown hasn’t been all that kind to my core, and whether it didn’t receive the message from the brain in time, or was unable to perform what was asked of it, matters little, as the result was the same, the result being that I continued in a graceful arc, landing quite perfectly on my side. The indignity of if it all was mitigated by the reassuring fact that no-one was around to witness it, and the sheer analogue fluidity of the parabola that I described through the air, which brought me great pleasure.

It also, it’s fair to say, reminded me of skiing holidays.

It’s the little things.

Duddingston Kirk was closed. I should perhaps have expected this, although I might also expected them to keep their information posters up to date. Covid-19 isn’t their first rodeo, after all, you’d think their pandemic communications would be finely-honed.

I walked home in the rain (via another route).

The C-19 Diaries. Mausoleums and Meanderings.

Day 61 [cont’d]

On the way home from the park, I notice that the price of a litre of petrol had fallen to below £1. I checked my records. Last time petrol was so cheap was in April 2009.

I would like to claim that I checked some sort of online archive to find out that particular stat, but no – I do indeed have records of the price I paid for fuel, and indeed the mpg of my cars, stretching back to 1999. It’s quite the spreadsheet. There’s a spreadsheet for every activity under the heavens, as a little-known translation of Ecclesiastes 3 reads.

Day 64

Fascinated by Christie Miller, I dig around on Wikipedia and find out that he was in fact the nephew of William Henry Miller, who owned the whole Craigentinny area of Edinburgh. I discover that old WH, towards the end of his life in 1845, commissioned an extremely grand mausoleum to be built over his final resting place. Now known as the Craigentinny Marbles, it has spectacular bas relief marble friezes (of those words I properly only recognise ‘marble’) on both sides, depicting Biblical scenes. He also stipulated that he was to be buried 40 feet under ground, in a lead-lined coffin, a task that took 80 labourers to complete.

It seemed disrespectful to not pay a visit, so today I did, on my way to my new Ghetto Squash venue in Seafield. At the time of its completion in 1856, the mausoleum stood in the middle of a windswept moorland. Now, it’s surrounded by 1930s bungalows, and is immediately adjacent to a bowling club. It’s a surreal sight.

Day 67

The FM eased the Lockdown situation today. We are now allowed to have furtive meetings with other households in our respective gardens.

Day 68

I miss Proper Lockdown already. I head to the corner shop to get some sausages, and have to wait actual minutes to cross the road it’s so busy. 

I surrender after two attempted corner shop visits. They’re both mobbed. Plus they didn’t have sausages. I consider a Morrisons trip, but I can’t face it. 

I return to the flat and make a lunch based on what’s left in my fridge. Last time I this happened I had a bacon, mushrooms and cheese toasted sandwich. This time I have no mushrooms but I substitute in a fried egg and all is well.

Day 77

I am on annual leave this week.

I considered a walk along the old Innocent Railway path, but I think it’s going to take more commitment to complete than I can muster right now. So I amble around Duddingston Village instead, where I discover a community land area complete with allotments and benches in the sun. 

I sat on one of those benches for a while, and tried and failed to listen to a couple of podcasts. I am hopeless at podcast-listening, and I’m not entirely sure why. It feels like I don’t have the requisite attention span, and yet I enjoy watching Test cricket. 

I wander round the Duddingston Kirk graveyard, and skirt round Duddingston Loch for a bit before climbing back up to the road through Holyrood Park. I walk past the fountain where I kissed my second girlfriend for the second time, and on through the little valley between Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags, which I’d never been through before. 

Stopped off at Usave and picked up some cream and bacon with a view to making a pretty decadent dinner. 

All the time, having abandoned the podcasts, I was listening to Wiseman Wedding – a playlist I put together for the great man’s big day in 2012. I remembered this collection of great tunes as comprising some upbeat stuff followed by more laidback stuff suitable for dining to. 

Turns out it was 24-carat melancholy from start to finish. I think the most upbeat song was about the day Frank Delandry died. 

Sorry about that Wiseman. I guess my subconscious was mourning your loss to the ranks of the married…

The C-19 Diaries. A Tale of Two Christies.

Day 54

My sister sends me a video of my 7-yr-old nephew announcing “If you’re Uncle Andrew…” and then falling face-first onto the bed. 

I fainted once at high school, circa 1986. There were mitigating factors, including a freshly-painted door and a gas heater left on overnight. 

My sister’s version of this period of my life has been enhanced, embellished, and refined over the years, such that she will now regularly proclaim to any who will listen – primarily her children – that “Andrew was forever fainting at school.” 

Now Christie has joined in. I feel persecuted.

Day 56 

I’m getting fat. I go for another run. I am beginning to tire of running. I mean, it’s tiring. But also I am tiring of oncoming runners gliding serenely and effortlessly past me. 

While I am panting heavily up a slope (the slope is irrelevant), sweating hard, and sucking air in great ragged gasps, as though through a partially blocked straw.

I am tired of running.

Day 57

In a determined attempt to not run anywhere, I go for another epic walk. I wander down through Restalrig and on to Portobello.

Then along the coastline in a northwesterly direction, and I find myself seduced by what looks like a sort of causeway running round the outside of the sea wall. It looks adventurous, so I meander along it. Before long it becomes apparent – mostly via my sense of smell – that I am skirting the outer perimeter of the Seafield Sewage Works.

The aroma is not overpowering… but it’s there. And it’s there for quite a long time. I finally reach the end of the causeway-thing without my gag reflex kicking in, and head back towards where I think the main road must be, as in all truth I have no idea where I am and even Google Maps is failing to locate me.

I emerge onto the main road just across from Seafield Crematorium and Cemetery. On the footpath outside the gates, a trio of mourners are standing having a smoke. I am suddenly and forcefully reminded of Coco – a hard-drinking, chain-smoking swing bowler, raconteur and an integral part of the fabric of Holy Cross Cricket Club, who passed away last week. His funeral is also today, at a crematorium on the other side of town. Six Crossers have been permitted to attend – in more normal circumstances there would have been a massive turnout. 

The cricket season, like everything else, has been put on hold. Latest indications are that we might get to play some games in August. A memorial match for Coco is uppermost in everyone’s mind.

I deliver some nigh-on-unobtainable bicarbonate of soda (corner shop folks, the corner shop is always the answer) to my mum, and chat with her briefly, before heading up Broughton St and homewards through London Road Gardens, once again declining to put life and limb at risk by climbing a tree, but wanting to.

Day 61

It’s a blustery day. I go for a walk again. I am enjoying these rambling walks. Sometimes I take diversions down streets just because they have a nice name. For this reason, today I walk down Christiemiller Avenue, idly wondering who Christie Miller was.

Eugene Peterson wrote something interesting, that I read this morning.

“At our birth we are named, not numbered,” he wrote. 

The name is that part of speech by which we are recognised as a person: we are not classified as a species of animal… We are not assessed for our economic potential and given a cash value. We are named. What we are named is not as significant as that we are named.”

Later I would walk along streets and avenues named after Moira, Stanley, and others, still thinking about Christie Miller.

“The whole meaning of history is in the proof that there have lived people before the present time whom it is important to meet,” wrote Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy.

I make it to Portobello, where, despite the strong winds, the sea looks disappointingly calm. I like it when the sea is rough – reminds me of growing up on the County Down coast, and watching line after line of white-tipped waves pound the beach on stormy days. I guess the wind is coming from the wrong direction for that today. 

I stop at a kiosk and get an ice cream. Chocolate waffle cone, with butterscotch ice cream. Shortly after I walk away, the wind whips up some fine sand and showers both me and the ice cream with it. Thereafter it’s a grittier experience.

I think Benjamin Franklin, confident only of death and taxes as life’s certainties, could have added to his list the fact that – on visiting the beach – one will return home with sand in every known orifice.

I head for home, across a golf course, and stumble upon a park with a lake, an island, and a boardwalk, which extends out into the lake a little. I am reminded of boardwalk adventures shared with my friends the Robinsons – on the Gulf Coast of Alabama I think, and maybe Louisiana too. It’s fair to say the climate is not all that comparable.

Solo adventures are ok and fun in their own way. But sharing adventures with friends is better.

Looking forward to being able to do that again.

The C-19 Diaries. Late night snacking and long walks.

Day 48

Snacking, particularly late-night snacking, has become a thing. I am snacking HARD.

Also, I think I might be suffering from Delayed Onset Creativity Syndrome. On both occasions that I have owned flats, I wanted to do nothing to either of them for approx. three years, in fact, the very idea brought me out in a rash. And then, one day, I woke up positively brimming with creative intent.

When I say creative intent, I mean I wanted to paint a wall or two in the living room. But one has to start somewhere.

This year, three years after I moved in to my current flat, and before there were face masks, and painted lines at 2m intervals, I said to my Flatmate that we should really do something about the back garden. And we did.

After nigh-on seven weeks of forcing myself to run in order to get some meaningful exercise (besides stretching up to the top shelf to get a new packet of biscuits down), I decided to get more creative.

Today I played squash, by myself, against the wall of the local McDonalds drive-thru. I was going to use the back wall of the nearby abandoned car wash, but the wall surface was a little irregular, and there was a decent smattering of broken glass on the ground.

It was especially pleasing to do some exercise which didn’t involve running. I was initially worried that there would be an adolescent McDs manager lurking inside, who would come out all raging and fist-shaking and throw me off the premises, possibly calling the police, but nothing so dramatic happened.

I attracted almost no attention from passers-by either, beyond one guy calling out “Go on yersel’ bud”. I took this as encouragement.

I confessed to Nicola that I had violated a McDonalds drive-thru in this way. 

“That feels like you were dancing on one of my relatives graves,” she replied.

I knew I could count on her for a measured response.

I really need to step the McDonalds violations up to 3 times a week if I’m to continue with this level of snacking.

Day 50

Today I decided to go on an epic walk around Edinburgh. It seemed prudent to take the opportunity, while both motorised and pedestrian traffic is at a minimum, to explore. 

I found all manner of interesting closes and wynds. Some littered with broken bottles – remnants of late night revelry or attempts to stave off despair, I couldn’t tell which.

I walked along Royal Park Terrace, Royal Terrace, and up the Royal Mile. I ran up Calton Hill, or some of it, until I was fit to drop, and was concerned the family of four coming the other way might call an ambulance.

I ran up a flight of steps I didn’t know existed, connecting Greenside Row to Leith Street. The new St James Centre is finally beginning to take shape. Along Princes St to Waverley Bridge. It was about this point that I felt a coffee would be in order. But this proved troublesome. 

Williams & Johnson – closed.

Baba Budan – closed.

I found a place open on the Royal Mile, and bought my first takeaway coffee in months. It was terrible, and landed in the bin after a solitary sip.

Now on the High St, and under severe provocation from Disco Dave and Nicola, I tentatively swung around an historic lamppost, while listening to B*witched.

Cut down to Victoria Terrace, at the end of which I found the Edinburgh office of the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association.

Along the Grassmarket, up to Lauriston Place, and via a back lane to Brougham St.

Machina Espresso – closed.

Into the Meadows, where there was a kiosk selling lovely coffee to people at 2m intervals. The barista was playing reggae from his twin record desks, as well as making stellar coffee. I decided I want to be him when I grow up.

Sat on the grass for an undefined period. Sun was shining, mostly. 

Called my mum from Meadow Lane and its row of colourfully graffiti-ed lock-ups. On past some pretty sweet-looking new apartments. Buccleuch Place, George Square, a deserted Bristo Square. Back to the Royal Mile and a quick visit to the Castle Esplanade, also deserted.

The One o’Clock Gun is still working. I guess the One o’Clock Gunner can’t work from home.

Back home through London Road Gardens, where I almost climbed a tree. I found myself unsure as to whether this would be an offence or not. I resolved to come back and climb it another day.

19,046 steps and 15km. And sore feet. 

But it was great.

Almost New Year

We’re midway through the festive season, in that strange lull between Christmas and New Year, when some have gone back to work and some haven’t. It’s an odd time of year. All through December I look forward to the time off that comes at Christmastime, and then when I get there I’m not always sure what to do with it.

Late on the eve of Christmas Eve, I began packing for my early morning flight the next day.

Packing, I find a relatively straightforward business, when going somewhere for a decent length of time – heading to the US for 10 days, for example. Or when going skiing. In both of these scenarios there is a lot of underwear to pack, not to mention a shedload of compassionate chocolate for my American friends in the former instance, and thus the which-bag-to-take decision is an open and shut, er, case.

When one is flying down to London for only four and a half days, however, there is much opportunity for vacillation. And when there’s an opportunity to vacillate I like to grab it decisively.

It seemed easy enough, initially. I had the option of checking a bag into the hold for free. It was a no-brainer.

So I dragged out the big guy, and started to fill it. Got everything in, room to spare. Looked a little under-filled, frankly. Began to wonder if I could have got it all in the carry-on-appropriate little guy. 

Vacillated.

Got the little guy out. Decanted everything from the big guy into the little guy and packed it to the gunnels. It fitted, just. Although there remained the ‘morning of’ items that would need added. Would be tight. Decided it was going to be ok.

But now… all the toiletries needed to be in 100ml containers. Dug out some clear plastic bags and began to fill them. Realised my Travel Size tube of shaving gel is probably 4 years old now. Wondered if I’d made the right decision. Would I have to re-check in?

Vacillated.

What settled it in the end was the thought…

“What if I receive a gargantuan Christmas present this year?”

And that did it. There was simply no space for a gargantuan present. 

Everything out of the little guy, back into the big guy.

Arrived at London City Airport, and my sister picked me up, with my oversized suitcase, at what we both thought was the pick-up point.

Cue the arrival of an Official at the driver’s window.

“I’m terribly sorry, madam, but I need to inform you that you haven’t got a ticket YET, but as soon as you drive away you will incur a £400 charge. This is a drop-off area only.”

My sister protested her innocence. No signs, she said. This is where she’d always come to pick up people, she said, channeling a classic Northern Irish argument for right-of-way. I was waiting for “My father and my grandfather ALWAYS picked up people here y’know” but it never came.

The Official, as Officials are wont to do, failed to acknowledge anything she was saying and simply repeated the script.

“…as soon as you drive away you will incur a £400 charge.”

With the option of ‘driving away’ now effectively off the table, I began to think we might be spending Christmas there, just me and her, in the car. Maybe Deliveroo could bring over some turkey sandwiches to keep us going. I had some Christmas tunes on my phone. It might not be so bad. Just four and a half days, then I could leave the car – mildly odorous and slightly itchy I would presume – and go back into the terminal to fly home, and she could safely drive off, having legitimately dropped me off at the drop-off point.

Mercifully, a compromise was reached, which involved me guiltily exiting the car, walking a few hundred metres to the official pick-up point, where my sister picked me up again, legally, for £397 less than she might have had to pay, and Christmas was saved. Hurrah!

Christmas Day duly arrived. Christie (6) declared to anyone who would listen that he had seen Santa and his reindeer flying into the garden the previous night.

“I literally saw Blitzen fly down into the garden.” 

“Oh really?”

“He nearly crashed into the SHED!” he proclaimed, joyful and triumphant.

I need to have a conversation with Christie about his use of “literally”. Maybe next year.

Over Christmas much turkey and many pigs in blankets were consumed. 

Of course, no gargantuan presents were received. However, I did receive a triple-pack of white hankies with my initial embroidered in the corners, which made up for the slightly disappointing absence of socks.

After a muddy visit to the park, and a family outing to see the wonderful Mary Poppins Returns, having been warned in a dream, I returned to the airport by another route (the bus and the DLR). This foxed the Official completely.

Back in Edinburgh Friday evening, it being the last Friday of the month, me and the gang were at an unusually-quiet Akva for a festive G&T. Or two. Or three, in some cases, but no names will be mentioned.

Post-Akva, there was an ill-conceived and ultimately abortive attempt to go clubbing by a few of our number. Once again no names will be mentioned. On our initial foray into an establishment on Grindlay Street, we appeared to have stumbled upon an underground table-tennis club. For children. 

Bemused, we beat a hasty retreat and retired to a nearby bar, where there seemed to be some other over-16 revellers, and we shouted at each other at close range for a couple of hours. It was great fun, although I really don’t know what anyone said, and just nodded and smiled a lot. 

Last words of the year go to Over the Rhine

Happy Almost New Year. There is still so much music left to be made.

 

Shower Screens and Jim Reeves

’Twas the Thursday before the Saturday before the Saturday before Christmas, when all through the house, was heard a resounding crash as the shower screen collapsed into the bath. Came right out of its wall fixings, and took a couple of bottles of toiletries with it. My flatmate’s caffeine-free shampoo was almost severed in two.

Mercifully, I was not having a shower at the time, or my glittering sporting career might have been rudely brought to an end before it had even begun.

Thinking the crash had come from outside, I didn’t investigate at the time, and thus didn’t discover the scene of devastation until I went into the bathroom for a mild ablute (no.1 flush button only).

It did bring to mind an incident from student days, where, having failed to acknowledge – much less deal with – a burgeoning bulge in the ceiling directly above the shower, we were rewarded one Sunday morning by seeing a flatmate emerging from the bathroom, somewhat discombobulated, with remnants of plaster in his hair, the ceiling having collapsed on him mid-shower.

It wasn’t all that rewarding for the flatmate in question, naturally, but it tickled us greatly.

Anyway, I rescued the dented shampoo bottle, and washed my hands with some ADVANCED hand wash, the label of which promised would protect me for a full 3 hours, and contained MARINE MINERALS for extra reassurance.

I felt extra-reassured by the presence of the marine minerals, but really I was only wanting to wash my hands. Important thing to do at any time, but perhaps particularly when one is suffering one’s second cold of the winter. Even if one is being a particularly brave little soldier and trying not to complain too much about it to all and sundry.

It’s now 4pm on Saturday, and outside the windows of the Hideout, night has fallen. The hanging hipster light bulbs reflect dimly off the glass, nearly opaque with condensation.

Tomorrow it’s our final Carol Service at church, the final ‘big’ service of the year, the end of Carol Service Fortnight. Thus the workload will ease on Monday, and the wind-down for Christmas will begin.

Thursday night, driving home from a long day at work, I was tootling along Grange Road, quite the thing, dreaming up the culinary delight that I was going to treat my taste-buds to when I got home. 

Belatedly I noticed, through the evening darkness, a cluster of hi-viz jackets at the side of the road. The middle hi-viz jacket appeared to be pointing a contraption at me. I braked reflexively and checked the speedometer. After braking, I was coming down towards 20mph.

I suspect Lothian and Borders will be sending me something this week, and it’s unlikely to be a Christmas card.

There’s a Maserati driver in Edinburgh, who has made his or her feelings clear on the subject of our 20mph speed limits, by obtaining the registration plate

F20 MPH

I hear you Maserati driver, I hear you.

In happier news, my sister has already sent me my first Christmas present of the year – Jim Reeves’ 12 Songs of Christmas. On vinyl. I am made up.

Growing up, until the release of Phil Coulter’s Christmas, Jim Reeves was the definitive Christmas soundtrack for us as a family. 

I was mildly surprised to discover later in life that there were in fact more than 12 Christmas songs out there, and initially viewed any of these pretenders with suspicion.

Too late for another coffee now. Time to head home. It’ll be 19 mph all the way…

Saturday at the Hideout

And so I wake in the morning // And I step outside // And I take a deep breath and I get real high // And I scream from the top of my lungs // What’s going on?

It’s Carol Service week at our church. Carol Service fortnight, really. In my world, this means longer hours – prepping, planning, emailing, video editing, and picking up kit. Crossing task after task off the to-do list, without the Tasks-Still-To-Do figure seeming to reduce at all.

It’s late morning on Saturday. Nicola is probably at the Cameo watching a foreign subtitled documentary about a year in the life of a rural French primary school teacher.

Money’s too tight to mention // I can’t get an unemployment extension // Money’s too tight to mention.

I am ensconced in my new favourite coffee shop, in Leith, having picked up some hired sound equipment from the nearby Warehouse. Another thing off the list.

My new favourite coffee shop has those hipster lightbulbs hanging in the window, slightly oversized, with filaments glowing brightly enough to emanate a sense of warmth, without, probably, any actual warmth, and very little actual light. But they look great.

I just wanna dance the night away // With señoritas who can sway // Right now tomorrow’s lookin’ bright // Just like the sunny mornin’ light

The coffee is decent, and the almond croissants are epic.

Nailed to the wall are a cluster of box-shelves, housing a variety of historic museum pieces. There are a couple of old alarm clocks, an old telephone with one of those rotary dialling mechanisms, a gas lamp or two, and a hand-operated coffee grinder sitting alongside a stovetop espresso maker. It brings me a perverse sense of pleasure that I am using a museum-worthy method to make my coffee every morning.

It’s just a little crush (crush) // Not like I faint every time we touch // It’s just some little thing (crush) // Not like everything I do depends on you // Sha-la-la-la, sha-la-la-la

The place has an unmistakable whiff of nostalgia. It’s winter, and in the middle of the room, contravening all manner of health and safety regulations I imagine, is something I haven’t seen for a serious number of years. It’s what I want to call a Calor Gas heater, although I daresay that’s like calling all vacuum cleaners Hoovers.

But by far its most prominent nostalgia-inducer for a child of the 80s such as myself is a wall-full of stereo cassette decks. Some single, mostly twin, there’s even a TRIPLE for maximum-efficiency mixtape-making. And on another wall, sitting atop an emptied-out TV cabinet (now jammed full of cassettes), is the cafe’s working model, a white plastic Sharp with stickers proudly advertising its main features.

Continuous Play™. 2-way 4-speaker. 14W PMPO, for goodness’ sake. Made in Malaysia.

That’s what is providing the tunes. Right now it’s a Simple Minds number which I can’t quite remember the title of, and can’t quite hear the words to Google them, because they’re just a touch too muddy.

None of your digital multi-room wireless bluetooth remote app-controlled streaming devices here. Proper music, without too much bass OR treble to speak of, and, Continuous Play™ notwithstanding, the periodic need for a staff member to come and turn the tape over. 

Wake up it’s a beautiful morning // The sun shining for your eyes // Wake up it’s so beautiful // For what could be the very last time

I had a Sharp twin cassette deck myself, back in the day. Featured hi-speed dubbing as I recall. But what sold it to me way back then in 1989 was a fully separate subwoofer speaker, positioned on top, slightly off-centre, pointing upwards. “X-BASS” proudly emblazoned on the speaker grille. This speaker could be activated by pressing the almost magical X-BASS button, which brought a definite and noticeable additional boominess to the music, without any extra bass as such.

It was such an amazing machine that someone’s made a Youtube video about it.

Billy, Billy don’t you lose my number // ‘Cause you’re not anywhere // That I can find you // Oh, now, // Billy, Billy don’t you lose my number // ‘Cause you’re not anywhere that I can find you, oh no

It cost £100, and I saved up for it with my own pocket money. I remember using it to play Def Leppard’s Hysteria on repeat, and used it to record U2’s 1989 New Year’s concert – broadcast live on Radio 1 – as they brought in a whole new decade at the Point Depot, Dublin. Heady days.

So take, take me home // ‘Cause I don’t remember // Take, take me home // ‘Cause I don’t remember // Take, take me home // Oh Lord, // ‘Cause I’ve been a prisoner all my life

It now seems to be Phil Collins on repeat. Nostalgia can put a gloss on only so much. Take me home, indeed.

Highlander and the Christmas Market

– Stop procrastinating and go write a blog! scolded my friend Nicola.

We had been discussing the recent bombshell that a remake of Highlander is slated for 2019. This has, apparently, been on the cards for around 10 years, but now it seems is coming to fruition. I am simultaneously excited and dismayed by the news. Highlander is one of my top five films of all time. The potential for ruining the memory of a classic movie is huge.

Nicola seems unperturbed. She’s never seen Highlander. I am shocked and horrified by this. Granted, she’s more into her daytime visits to the cinema to watch high-brow subtitled Japanese releases, at which she is usually the youngest viewer by a margin of several decades.

Discussing Highlander didn’t seem like procrastination to me, but might have for her, since she should really have been tending to the sick and the infirm, however I gave up on trying to convince her of the merits of a film which cast the Frenchman Christopher Lambert as a Scot, and the Scot Sean Connery as a Spaniard, and resolved to write an overdue blog post. 

But first I headed up town, on the 44, and made my customary December visit to Edinburgh’s Christmas Market. Shrugging off an auditory Bublé assault, I marched onwards, defiantly passing the purveyors of glühwein and hot chocolate, resolutely past the waffles and crêpes, ignoring even the aromatherapy bath salts and anti-ageing face cream.

The organisers of the Christmas Market now have signs up, arrows here and there and warnings to KEEP TO THE LEFT. These are being blithely ignored by all. 

I find a stall selling pottery-related items, and score another thing off the Christmas list.

Back out of the Market, Santa Baby firmly embedded in my head, and onto a 23. Up the Mound, southwards along George IV Bridge, and eventually to Bruntsfield. 

The December sun, despite its best efforts, is unable to reach the heights required to bathe both sides of the road in its watery light. I get off the bus in shadow and cross over to the sunny side of the street.

Pick up some coffee beans and a quick double espresso at Artisan Roast, and on to Kenny’s for a haircut. Kenny’s been cutting my hair for 20 years now, I reckon. I used to live in a nearby neighbourhood, and have continued to frequent his establishment ever since, despite now living on the other side of town.

Freshly shorn, I jump on an 11 heading for town. One of the joys of getting an all-day bus ticket is that you can, provided you’re not in a desperate hurry, jump on an unfamiliar bus number, and if it doesn’t go quite where you expect, you can jump off and try again.

I get off at Tollcross and try a 47, which lands me in Newington, so I nip round the corner to Meadows Pottery, and cross something else off the Christmas list. It’s fair to say that I’ve drained the Pottery-Related Items Fund of my 2018 budget today.

Back onto the 49, which I’m confident I’ve never been on before in my life. It takes me along streets, though, that I absolutely have been on in my life. Past Record Shak, and Vogue Video – a film rental shop – both of which have been there possibly since the dawn of time itself, but certainly since I was a Newington-based student in the 90s. I was actually a card-carrying member of Vogue Video, and am mildly astonished that it is still a going concern in this digital age.

Then past South Side Community Centre, which I have only ever visited because it was a polling station for the Scottish Regional Elections in 1994. I went along to vote with my flatmate Tom, and he absolutely insisted, since we were intending to vote for different parties, that we toss a coin and vote for the same candidate. Otherwise it was a wasted vote, he maintained. 

I seem to remember I lost the toss, and our block vote of two didn’t help our candidate all that much against the relentless red Labour tide that year. In those days, the idea that Edinburgh as a whole might not back Labour at every available opportunity would have been a fantasy.

Off the 49 onto the now re-opened Leith Street, and briefly back into the heart of the town, breaking rank with lines of hesitant kerb-bound tourists, timing street-crossing by traffic and traffic lights with confidence born of local knowledge. 

On Princes Street I look up to see an oncoming 4, with a 44 hard on its heels, both a suitable ticket home, and me caught neatly at the point where they diverge, equidistant from both stops. I missed both, but catch a 26 shortly after.

Brunswick Street, Abbeyhill, Meadowbank Stadium, home.

A slice of choc chip panettone, a reckless late-afternoon coffee, and I go to work on this year’s Christmas playlist.

Now about that blog post…

Snowmageddon and Bacon Rolls

Tuesday 27 Feb

Went into town to see the movie Lady Bird. With the internet promising apocalyptic weather over the next few days I wasn’t sure when I would next get out of the house. The Beast from the East was on the way, they said. Freezing temperatures and shedloads of snow, they said.

Not likely, I thought. Winter after winter we get these predictions, and they do happen, somewhere in the UK, I’ve seen it on the news, all those drivers stuck on motorways and whatnot. But never in Edinburgh. Too close to the coast. Snow doesn’t really lie here.

I exited the flat into a shallow carpet of tiny hailstones. Drove into town. The Beast, it seemed, had made a preliminary foray into Edinburgh, and the old girl was clad in a thin veil of ghostly white. The wind was gusting a little. I parked up on London Road, and walked/slid up to the cinema.

Lady Bird was a great film. At some stage I experienced the gradually-dawning realisation that I was watching an American teenage girl’s coming-of-age movie. However, it was frequently hilarious, and often touching, and only spoiled a little by the fact that it was subtitled. This is the second Tuesday in a row I have been ambushed by unwanted subtitles at the cinema. Is Tuesday Subtitle Day at Vue?

I left the cinema. Some fresh snow had fallen in the meantime. Scraped the windscreen clear and headed home.

Wednesday 28 Feb

From 3pm today until 10am tomorrow, a red weather warning is in place from the MET Office. I normally drive into the office around lunchtime on a Wednesday, but today it seemed sensible to stay and work from home all day.

Working from home has benefits, some of which are bacon-and-egg-roll-shaped. I followed up that lunchtime benefit with a simpler, more austere second course of bacon-only-roll. One has to take one’s bacon roll opportunities when they present themselves.

Just recently I found myself in town on a Friday morning. A narrow window of bacon-roll-opportunity presented itself, so narrow it was more like one of those windows you get in castles, just wide enough to shoot an arrow through, but it was enough. I marched, expectant, into the New Town Deli.

The barista had tattoos. I was reassured.

“Do you do bacon rolls?”

She looked unsure. I scanned the blackboard. It was all smashed avocado and crushed fennel seeds.

“No, sorry,” she explained, after a short conversation with her supervisor. “That was yesterday.”

That was yesterday? Is Thursday Bacon Roll Day? I’m an Anglican, and thus primed to celebrate feast days on the appropriate occasion, but have now missed Bacon Roll Day AND the memo about Subtitle Day.

Anyway, back to the present. My boss has also decided to work from home today. We communicate via email, with Snowmageddon updates via WhatsApp.

14:17 Definitely worsening here. People are panic buying at the local shop. 

My boss lives in The Sticks. If the local shop gets cleaned out they might need to do food drops by helicopter.

I put it to him that he wouldn’t know they were panic buying there unless he was there panic buying himself. He is unable to effectively deny this. Meantime I am quietly panicking myself, as my coffee beans have almost run out.

14:59 One minute until Snowmageddon.

The wind picks up. Within an hour the snow is coming down hard. I do what work I can from home and eventually stop for tea. In the interests of a balanced diet, I eschew more bacon, and instead have sausages. And potatoes.

Flatmate returned from work with the disturbing news that our local McDonalds had shut.

Thursday 1 Mar

More snow overnight. Car looks like it’s not going anywhere for a while. I pulled back the curtains to see neighbours pulling their kids along the middle of the road in sledges.

No buses running today. Fresh coffee beans now gone. Had to make an emergency raid on the reserve coffee bean jar this morning.

Sky cleared a bit in the morning. My flatmate’s work is closed today, but he was asked to go and put up a sign on the door to say this. He wrapped up and walked into town.

Main roads are ok. Just passed one guy on skis!

He asked if I wanted anything. I realise that I have bacon, but no rolls, so ask him if he could stop off for some at Sainsbury’s. Apparently the panic-buyers have got there first.

Brioche only!

A bacon brioche doesn’t sound terrible, and he agreed to bring the brioches. Meanwhile I decide to revisit Morrison’s to see if it was open today.

It was. I stocked up on bacon, rolls, and other essentials.

Climbed the steep street back towards my flat, and say a cheery “Hi!” to a snowboarder going the other way.

Safely back in the flat, I reestablish WhatsApp communication with the boss.

Local shop is out of milk and bread…

And I used up all our bacon for breakfast

He sends a picture of his back garden, complete with snow ramp, and sledging daughter. It’s all happening in The Sticks.

After lunch the Rector’s Administrator emails. She is working from home in Morningside, and all is well – she has plenty of Prosecco and Waitrose hasn’t yet run out of quinoa.

H texts. H loves the snow, but not the cold. The heating in her flat has two settings: Clay Oven, and Old People’s Home. I suspect it’s on the latter today.

The blizzards continue all day. Looking out on my back “garden”, I realise that if the snow continues, it won’t be long before even the weeds are completely submerged. This is a non-trivial amount of snow.

I put the kettle on, and pop some brioches under the grill. Get momentarily distracted and before you know it, the brioches are smoking.  Who knew brioches toasted so quickly? I flip open the kitchen window, and the Beast makes short work of the smoke in the kitchen, before it even has a chance to reach the nostrils of the Loudest Most Sensitive Smoke Alarm in the world.

I have Blackened Brioche with marmalade. Surprisingly tasty.

Followed that up with a bacon-based tea. One has to keep one’s energy levels up at times like this.

Stay safe out there, Britons.

Slowing Down to Catch Up

When you walk into a coffee shop for the first time, and they have 3 grinders, a La Marzocco espresso machine, and both baristas have beards, you know everything’s going to be ok.

And it was. I made my first visit to Century General Store this week. I have no idea how long it’s been there, and I may have never even known it was there, if the kindly City of Edinburgh Council hadn’t rearranged the roads again, such that my bus into town is diverted up Montrose Terrace past its characterful front. Thus it was that I spotted it from the top deck last week, and resolved to pay it a visit at the earliest opportunity.

The coffee was outstanding, so I had another. I think I sat there for a couple of hours resting, reading, and journalling. As well as coffee, they sell food and wicker baskets. And other things, but I was particularly taken by the wicker baskets.

There’s a particular joy in discovering something great organically, without having first being recommended to go there by the internet.

My post-coffee bus wended its way into town along London Road and up Leith Walk. Onwards, slowly, onto Leith Street, where a proliferation of signs forewarned the impending closure of the street for a whole year. A whole year. The closure of this main artery into town for 12 months has provoked strong opinions from locals, to the point where someone stood as an independent candidate in the recent Council elections principally to oppose it. I voted for them, too, not because I’m particularly invested in getting along Leith Street easily, but they seemed like they cared about the city and would work hard on behalf of people. They didn’t get in.

There are things that are only visible from the top deck of a bus. It’s a marvellous place for people-watching, observing new places, and even new views of the city. Today it afforded me an excellent view of the rubbly concrete-and-rusted-iron remains of the St James Centre, which is partially demolished already. The Centre will soon be rebuilt, and has already been rebranded, as Edinburgh St James. As we passed the mounds of rubble, I found myself wistfully remembering good times at the St James Centre, until it occurred to me that I didn’t have any good times there, apart from getting a few keys successfully cut.

On up onto Princes Street briefly, and then onto the Bridges.

On North Bridge we pass the shop that used to be H Samuel, back when H Samuel was a thriving jewellery chain, before its owner famously explained to a business conference that the reason why their products were so cheap was because they were “total crap”. H Samuel actually survived, but the group lost £500m off its share price, and 300 of the group’s jewellery stores closed within 2 years. So much for the belief that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

More importantly, I got my ear pierced there in Freshers Week 1992, much to the consternation of my parents. I subsequently discovered that the ear one chose to have pierced (presuming only one was pierced) was a way of communicating one’s sexual orientation. Added that to the Things-I-Should-Have-Checked-Before-Acting-On-Impulse list.

Onto South Bridge, past what used to be Ripping Records, which was in existence until surprisingly recently. Ripping was the place to get concert tickets when I was a student. Concert tickets, and overpriced CDs and records. I remember buying a Little Angels CD single there. Can’t remember what its main track was, but it had a decent cover of The Mighty Quinn on the B side. Not that CDs have B sides, but you know what I mean.

Turned right onto Chambers St, and more student-related memories aplenty if I allowed my mind to go there. I decided not to. This part of town has been a hub of the Edinburgh Fringe for the last 3 weeks. Last night was the fireworks concert that marked the end of the Festival and Fringe, and there’s a distinct morning-after-the-nights-before vibe in the air.

Left onto George IV Bridge, up Bristo Place, and then a right turn onto Lauriston Place, past George Heriot’s School (where the BBC set up shop for the duration of the Fringe) and the old Royal Infirmary, where I had a broken wrist put back together in 1996.

I got off the bus, and met Wiseman on the steps of the Edinburgh College of Art.

“Ah, the smell of fireworks and singed squirrel…”

I couldn’t smell anything myself, but you have to doff your cap to his word-pictures.

The ECA café is a great place for a cheap lunch, and at this late summer pre-semester stage, is deserted, and we have the place more or less to ourselves.

We share some thoughts, on a yearning for a simpler life, and the importance of quietening down, finding God in the silence. And slowing down to catch up with God.

“You only see thing things that are moving at the same speed as yourself,” offered Wiseman. You miss those travelling slower, they tend to be the old, weak or those hurting.”

Was reminded of how parents of young children find their walking speed dramatically reduced when trying to get anywhere with the youngsters. Not to mention the time it takes them to get out of the house. Strikes me that, while this must be frustrating at first, there’s something to be said for it. Without these natural braking systems in life, would we continue charging onwards in the pursuit of greater efficiency, and getting More Things Done In The Time Available?

One summer I paid a visit to my sister in London. I flew to Stansted, and got the Stansted Express into Liverpool Street Station. There I found the entrance to the Tube, and joined the throng of London commuters through the turnstiles. It was busy busy busy. After a minute or so I became aware that my walking pace had quickened to match those around me, and realised I was rushing to catch the next train. Even though I was on holiday, and had no need to rush anywhere. I gave myself a good shake, and deliberately slowed down.

A variation, perhaps an extension, on Wiseman’s gem is that you’re inclined to move at the speed others around you are, unless you make a conscious choice not to. Not a fresh revelation I realise, but something I, as a city-dweller, need to actively remind myself of from time to time, as I drive past billboards encouraging me to post all the details of my life on social media.

Technology has dramatically assisted our drive towards greater efficiency. Once, a movie could only be watched by making a trip to the cinema. Then we got VHS rental stores, which still necessitated a physical visit. Now you can download and watch a movie without leaving your seat.

Playing music in your home could once be done only by getting up and putting a record on the turntable. And getting up again to change sides after 20 minutes. Now, again, you don’t need to leave your seat.

Same for switching on and changing channels on the TV. Not to mention not having to watch programmes when they’re aired anymore – they can be squeezed in anytime you have a spare 30 minutes.

Much is made of the inactivity all this technological wizardry promotes, but consider also how the time taken to do the thing is reduced. Much more can be done in an evening. Rather than essentially devoting a whole evening to going out to a movie, it can be watched while eating your dinner, and then you can get on with something else.

Is this helpful? I wonder sometimes. I’m a practiser of most of these things that I’ve described, and I’m not about to sell my car, buy a horse and cart, and move to the hills. And 20mph speed limits are still anathema to me.

But I am also consciously trying to slow down, notably by taking a proper day off each week, and choosing to rest. And discovering great coffee shops, and blogging a bit more, ha…