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…

Leaving Nashvegas

“Weather conditions for our arrival in Edinburgh are slightly cloudy, 63 degrees, with light winds from the north east,” announced the pilot.
Didn’t sound too bad. I guess I might need to get used to saying “not bad”, and “ok” more often and using excessively positive words like “freakin’ awesome” in moderation.
Both flights had gone smoothly. On the second leg, from Newark to Edinburgh, I had employed my usual tactics to trick my body into thinking I was already in my destination’s time zone – essentially putting the clocks on all my devices forward to Edinburgh time. However, this tactic was somewhat thwarted by the airline’s insistence on serving a meal not long after take-off, which was either at 10pm or 4am, depending on your viewpoint, neither of which is dinner time, unless you’re Spanish. Of course I could have refused the meal, but that would have taken self-discipline, and I’ve been living in America for 9 months. Halfway through said meal, of course, I wished I had more self-discipline. Anyway, it takes them a long time to serve a whole aircraft with pointlessly bad meals, which means it’s considerably longer until they switch the cabin lights off and tuck you in, which is my main point. Once they had, I got to sleep quickly and apart from a few times waking up and realising I had the whole wide-open mouth and possibly snoring thing going on, I slept right through until I was woken up by the ‘ping’ that accompanies the seat belt sign being switched on, and the lights coming back up. Touched down on Edinburgh’s tarmac, to a view of greyish skies and the Pentland Hills punctuating the horizon. I’d forgotten about the Pentlands. And realised I loved that view, and was glad to be home.
We went back to mum’s flat so she could use the bathroom (hanging out with my mum may not be so different from hanging out with the Robinsons), and also so I could call the family in London from the landline. Landlines. Still alive and well in the UK. Praise Him. Arrived home to ‘welcome back’ pictures on my bedroom door from my niece and nephews. Nice to feel loved.
After a coffee and some tray bakes (TRAYBAKES! Praise Him again) I drove down to Newhaven harbour to Instagram the lighthouse, and have lunch with mum. The roads are so narrow here. For lunch I had sweet potato soup, which reminded me of America, and some incredible bread, which didn’t 🙂
Mum has asked me to pick up one of her friends for an event on Tuesday, as she will be tied up elsewhere. So she insisted we do a ‘dry-run’ yesterday. Only my mother could make picking up someone from their house into a military operation, complete with pre-arranged parking spots and coded signals from the window. We did the recce, and I think I’ve got the hang of it.
She then dropped me in the West End, and I had a British customer service experience for the first time in a while, acquiring a SIM card for my phone. Couldn’t help but feel the guy wanted me out of the shop as soon as possible. Walked along Princes St, sat for a while in Starbucks, more for the view than the coffee, then wandered home via Leith St and Broughton St. The sun was now fully out and Edinburgh looked just beautiful. Felt like Instagramming something every 5 minutes, but I restrained myself.
Got home, and watched the important plays from the Red Sox walk-off win the previous night over fish and chips and a Hoegaarden Grand Cru. Felt like Instagramming everything again.
This morning I headed to my closest coffee shop for some alone time. Being a Saturday morning, it was quite busy. On discovering I wasn’t looking for lunch, the proprietor offered me a seat at a table which was quite clearly reserved for a large group.
“When do you need the table?” I asked.
“Not until 11.30, so if you’re only in for coffee and cake that should be plenty of time.”
I looked at the clock. It was 10.40. Coffee and cake in 50 minutes? Unrealistic. I can’t blame him, he couldn’t tell from looking at me that I am accustomed to loafing in coffee shops for extended periods of time. Which I guess is a good thing. I thanked him and moved along the street to Coffee Angel. It might take me a while to find a replacement for the Jam in my life. Not that I feel ready to move on just yet, after Thursday’s painful break-up 🙂
The sun shone again today. I miss my Nashville family, but tomorrow I get to see my St Mungo’s family again and have lunch with Wiseman and Mrs Wiseman. At PizzaExpress, obviously. Cannot wait.

Edinburgh, je t’aimerai toujours

Wiseman attempts to focus on his glass of wine. Varifocals, y’see

Thursday, 27 December, 3.45pm. I emerged (I would like to say blinking into the sunlight, but, seriously) into the cold, damp twilight of Edinburgh’s Waverley Bridge. It was 2012, but it could have been 1992. I was a student, returning from spending Christmas with my family, and gazing across the train tracks to the National Gallery and Edinburgh Castle, I was struck afresh how much I love this town.

The next morning I got up early, and after a visit to work to say hello to the post-Christmas skeleton staff (although no-one looks like a skeleton post-Christmas), I checked off a few favourite haunts – haircut at Kenny’s, coffee at Artisan Roast, brunch at Indigo Yard. Last night saw the continuation of another personal Christmas tradition – the festive Subbuteo match. Note to American readers: Subbuteo is a table-top football game (football, yes football) whose heyday was probably in the 80s, but is kept alive by a few anoraks/”enthusiasts” who may well enjoy a spot of Fifa 13 action on their Xbox or whatever now and then but still retain a fond affection for flicking small plastic figures around a large green mat chasing an oversized ball.

Approximately 30 minutes before leaving for the “stadium”, I realised I had failed to include “Subbuteo stuff” on the Spreadsheet of Destiny I created when leaving the country, and thus had (and still have) no idea where/in whose basement/attic I packed it away. Accordingly, I was unable to bring my usual team (Northern Ireland) to the game, and my contribution to the atmosphere of this festive fixture (three sections of terracing, complete with approx 23 plastic fans in various stages of apparent undress, depending on how much of them I had painted) was also missing.

Surprisingly, the atmosphere seemed largely similar to previous years, and I got round the lack of a team by borrowing Argentina from my opponent. He went with Brazil, and they got hockeyed 11-7. We used to play games 20 minutes each way, until we realised we had to play a few games to justify the hassle of getting it all out and set up, and so since 2010 or so we’ve just played the full 90 minutes + Fergie-time. Brings on a sore-ish back, mind, bending over a table for that long.

Tonight was a long-awaited reconciliation with Wiseman, at PizzaExpress. We went to the Holyrood venue, possibly the coldest restaurant in the British Isles. I wore one more layer than I typically wear when skiing, and all was well. He warmed himself with several large glasses of red wine. We shared our respective news. He has acquired varifocals since we last met, which provided more ammunition for age-related jokes, not that the ammunition cupboard was exactly bare. I found it amusing to bob up and down in my seat, although whether the resulting blurring effect for Mark was varifocal or grape-related remains unclear.

Tomorrow I get to worship at St Mungo’s again for the first time in several months, and I’m greatly looking forward to it.

Thanks to all of you who have posted ‘welcome back’ type messages on Facebook and the like. And seriously, if anyone is reading this and they think they might have a battered box of Subbuteo stuff in their attic or basement, please do get in touch. There may be a reward.

Life’s Rich Tapestry

It’s a Saturday in September, and the cricket season is over.  Saturdays feel a little empty without cricket at this stage, and I didn’t fancy taking part in International Burn a Koran Day, so I headed down to Arboretum Road to help put the cricket square to bed for the winter.  A football match was in full swing, however, and so the remedial work was postponed for an hour.  I took the opportunity for a coffee down at Ocean Terminal.  Stopping off at the news stand on the ground floor, I interrupted the proprietor, a middle-aged lady, having a chinwag with the cleaner.

“That’s me going to be a grandma again”, she says.  “For the fourth time.”

“I’ve got five”, says he.  “You’d better get a move on.”

Distinctly put out that she was lagging behind in the grandchildren count, she paused for a moment before declaring

“Had my first at 36.”

I too paused for a moment, to consider this.  I am now 36, and haven’t managed to have a child yet, never mind a grandchild.  I paid for my newspaper and moved on.

It’s remarkable what you overhear in conversations, without deliberately eavesdropping.  Only a week ago, a bunch of us were in Princes Street Gardens, watching the Festival Fireworks close-up.  Just to the left of our picnic blanket was a group of middle-aged people with, if it’s possible, an even more middle-class picnic selection than we had.  I was quite impressed with our effort, comprising as it did olives, white wine, paté and a cheese board, but they were in a different league.  Behind us, slightly further up the slope, were a couple of girls, getting gradually more and more hammered, and discussing recent visits to the hospital.

“Looks like it did during the Lang Siege in 1578,” declared a gentleman’s voice to our left, as some fireworks landed on the Castle Rock and continued to burn for a while.

“So, I wis thinkin’, right, is ma gall bladder f**ked?” came a voice from behind.

All part of the rich tapestry of life…

Back in Edinburgh’s chilly embrace


And I’ve missed it. Not so much the chilly embrace (although any embrace these days is a bonus, ha ha) as Edinburgh itself. I walked to work yesterday (my car was back with Edinburgh Audi recovering from 4 weeks in the custody of my colleague Matt), and it was a crisp Edinburgh winter morning. The sky was a dusky pre-sunrise blue, and I loved it. I would miss days like this if I lived somewhere hot like Australia, although by all accounts I haven’t missed very many of them over the last month. And it has been toe-pinchingly cold and damp today, which makes me gaze in wonder at my bottle of Factor 40 suncream. Only a week ago my right leg, having not been sufficiently introduced to the same bottle of Factor 40, was getting sunburned through the non-existent door of a Mini Moke on Magnetic Island.

My apologies in taking so long with this post. I have been meaning to write the final chapter since I arrived in London on Saturday, but it hasn’t happened. People, you have to realise that delectable prose like this takes a bit of crafting and can’t be rushed. And what’s more, I have been jetlagged to the point of falling asleep straight after dinner the last few evenings. Although I confess I’m not sure whether to blame that on jetlag or age.

It is, genuinely, good to be back. I really enjoyed Australia, with its blazing sun and irreverent attitude. I enjoyed a whole new take on Christmas Day, having lunch outside in balmy temperatures, and going to the park afterwards to play cricket. Especially the cricket bit, which also featured on New Year’s Day and other days in between. I loved coming back from a hot day in the city and jumping in my cousin’s pool to cool off. My family over there were more than kind to me, and I very much appreciated their kinship and hospitality. I went to a carol service wearing shorts, and had ice-pops afterwards. I even ate some fruit when I was over there – mango, strawberries, nectarine, watermelon. And others, believe it or not. The food in general was really high quality.

On my last afternoon in Sydney I climbed the harbour bridge, which was a fantastic experience, and the luxury of a beautiful clear day brought home to me just how much of Sydney (never mind Australia) I haven’t yet seen. Maybe one day I’ll go back and see more of the sights, and revisit my old friends the mosquitos, cockroaches, lizards and spiders. And the ants. Everywhere there were ants.

On my last day in Sydney my Powerbook, faithful friend for over 3 years now, died. I feared heat exhaustion, but in fact it was only a minor problem, so minor I was able to fix it myself and not have to phone Jones in a panic.

Just one or two thank yous and personal comments.

The Australia trip was made possible by Mrs Robbo’s suitcase, and the generosity of my employer and my Australian cousins. I am grateful to them all.

DC, I fear that my blog assumed chatroom status some time ago. My posts have long since become a sideline to the main event… I suspect that all this unseemly clamouring for another update is to present you all with a fresh canvas on which to air your comments 😉

Kenny D, I am flattered by your comments on behalf of the ‘Public’, but I regret to say this is my last blog post, unless I weaken and decide to dip my toe back in during my ski trip in three weeks’ time. I have enjoyed blogging immensely, and am very grateful for everyone’s comments.

Must be time for an Empire Biscuit.