When this whole thing is over

It’s October. Summer in Scotland has waned, the light has gradually faded, and with it, gradually, many of our social freedoms. In the process, ‘normality’ is being gradually redefined.

At the onset of the COVID-inspired restrictions in March, it was broadly understood that there was a need to keep one’s head under the duvet for a few weeks, after which we would re-emerge like hibernating hedgehogs, get ourselves a proper haircut, and then gleefully put into place all the sous-duvet plans we had hatched on Zoom and WhatsApp, for “when this whole thing is over.”

But autumn has brought our burgeoning freedom to a shuddering and slightly traumatic halt. Proper lockdown is back on the agenda, and there are reports of alcohol panic-buying in the New Town.

I ordered one of those armband-phone-holders the other day, like those real runners wear.

I should have ordered one months ago, but have finished every run breathlessly reluctant to countenance the notion that I might ever go for a run again. Thus I was reticent to spend money on something that was about to become an ex-hobby.

When this whole thing is over, I will never go for a run again.

Today there was a noticeable chill in the air. I put on a thermal base layer and it felt good. I embarked on a sortie into town on the bus, to get a proper haircut, and fired up some Christmas carols in my ears. They sounded great.

This marks a turning point. Last week I tried listening to Christmas music while in the queue at the Post Office. It just wasn’t working. The air was too warm, the light wasn’t quite right.

Today the sun is lower.

I make it to Bruntsfield and get my haircut. I’m Kenny’s last appointment of the day. It’s 10.30am on a Saturday. This should not be. I knew something wasn’t right when I called on Thursday for a Saturday appointment and was given a choice of times.

“How’s business the rest of the week?” I ask.

“Up and down,” he says, grimacing. “Hard to predict.”

On my return journey, I jump off the bus on Princes St, and get a lemon-and-sugar crêpe from a van at the bottom of the Mound. Then I sit in the sunshine in Princes St Gardens, and eat it while listening to In the Bleak Midwinter. It’s just like being at the Christmas Market. 

Except that they would be playing Santa Baby at high volume, and the crêpe would have cost £3 more.

Speaking of which, it was a little rubbery, perhaps because it quickly became saturated with lemon juice, and by the time I was done my hands were a sticky mess. In days gone by, this would have been a great annoyance. But now I have a handy mini bottle of hand sanitizer, oh yes, and the stickiness is quickly vanquished.

When this whole thing is over I will never be without hand sanitizer. For crêpe-related emergencies.

What will normality look like, when this whole thing is over?

The C-19 Diaries. Facemasks and colouring within the lines.

I confess to being uncertain to whether I should continue with the C-19 Diaries. Here in Edinburgh, we are no longer under lockdown, strictly-speaking. But Glasgow has just been shut down again. And life is still not back to normal. So I will persist.

Some of the more cynical among you might be muttering into your facemasks to the effect that I haven’t continued with the C-19 Diaries a whole lot lately, since June in fact, and you’d of course be right. If it’s any comfort, I feel chastened.

But here we are.

It’s September. Facemasks are everywhere. Everyone looks like either a bank robber or a theatre nurse. When I smile, I try to make a conscious effort to let the smile reach my eyes. And I have learned to recognise the slight crinkling around the eyes as meaning that I’m being smiled at. 

This is important to know. Some days all I need is a smile.

It’s September. The fair weather of spring and early summer has been chased away, tail between its legs, by the bullying storms Ellen and Francis. But I’m not ready to close the door completely on summer just yet. After an evening sortie to North Berwick on one of the nice days, I remarked to a friend that I was determined to squeeze every last drop out of the summer this year. I’m not sure I have managed that. 

Cricket has restarted, in a shortened and slightly neurotically over-sanitised way. Most Saturday nights, post-cricket, I have driven out to Longniddry, and eaten fish and chips in the car with a John Lawton book and a sunset – sometimes spectacular, sometimes not – for company.

Eating a fish supper in one’s car on a Saturday evening means that the in-car fragrance is still there on Sunday, and usually Monday, and occasionally Tuesday too. I console myself at these times that at least I know I haven’t contracted COVID.

Day 127 

I complete another longish Edinburgh walk today. The Royal Mile is getting a little busier. Tourists are a thing again. I pass a Japanese girl getting her photo taken in front of the Fringe office. Felt like she might have been settling for the consolation prize of a photo instead of a bunch of now-cancelled Fringe shows.

Day 141

One of my favourite Lockdown discoveries has been the bay window in my living room. The sun slants in from the east until it’s time for elevenses.

I’ve taken to having breakfast there every morning. Bay windows being as they are, I can see anyone similarly-positioned in the adjacent flats. Our bay window neighbours in an easterly direction have a small dog. On a chance encounter in the street I discovered that she is called Emma. (Her owner pointed this out, Emma herself was unforthcoming on the matter.)

Emma, like me, loves to sit in the bay window and watch the activity on the street. I wave and say hello every morning to her, which she largely ignores. Tonight we had an epic thunderstorm, which Emma and I watched, fascinated, from our respective bay windows.

Day 163

Today I take breakfast, once again, in the bay window. There is no sign of Emma.

The angle of the sun slanting in betrays the season. Summer is on the wane.

In the last few months I have rediscovered Sarah McLachlan and Natalie Merchant. Am so envious of their voices. Sarah McLachlan, in a 1998 interview referred to her voice as “always there… it was a constant friend to me… I knew I had control over it.”

Envious of their mastery of the vocal art, of the seemingly effortless way they take a deep breath, open their mouths, and throw a melody line into the air knowing that their voice will land pretty much perfectly on the notes they’re aiming for.

It feels like a kind of elastic control, where the path to the note is organic and analogue, not precise and accurate and anodyne, but pregnant with risk, and yet always – just – under control.

A similar control to those shown by masters of other arts – the driver who throws their car into corners sensing, without perhaps knowing, the limits of its road-holding.

Or the skier carving down a mountain, sometimes on the very edge of control, banking right and left, creating exhilarating sweeping arcs down the slope.

For all – the singer, the driver, the skier – the freedom, and the creation of something beautiful and unique while knowing that pushing the limits just a fraction too far would spoil the beauty. And in some cases be life-threatening. 

The risk. The reward of taking that risk. No reward if the risk isn’t taken. Colouring within – always within – the lines, but too far inside the lines and there’s no appeal. 

Colouring within the lines. Just. 

Tomorrow I am heading north, doing what I’ve long wanted to do – waiting until the last minute, checking the forecast, and heading for where the sun is going to be shining. Going to squeeze out the very last drop of summer.

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…