The 2020 Staycation Diaries. Sunrises and Smugglers.

Saturday 5 Sep

After yesterday’s full and busy itinerary, with its 6:17am start, I resolved to take things a little easier today. I gave myself an additional two full minutes in bed and got up for the sunrise at 6:19.

I can’t quite remember the last time (before yesterday) I witnessed a sunrise. And the thought of having seen two on consecutive mornings is frankly mind-boggling.

Singing along to Justin Townes Earle in the car later

Ain’t seen a sunrise
Since I don’t know when

I (with, I admit, a dash of smugness) change the words to


Which doesn’t, I confess, fit the song rhythmically or thematically, but I’m on holiday.

Faced with a plethora of beach choices, I settle on Balmedie Beach, on the basis that it’s the closest, and thus will maximise the good weather beach time, given that the forecast is for it to cloud over by the afternoon.

Walking from the car park, I crest the final sand dune to discover a massive sandy beach stretching away to the north and south, but my heart sinks just a little at the eleven wind turbines rising up out of the sea just offshore.

I am not entirely proud of this reaction, since I know that wind-generated energy is clean and green, and therefore A Good Thing, and also subsequently discover to my dismay that my views are momentarily aligned with Donald Trump on something, finding out that he complained to the Scottish Parliament in 2012 that the turbines would spoil the view from his golf resort.

And, what’s more, just yesterday I was eulogising over the beauty of a lighthouse in the middle of the sea.

I kick off my flip-flops and carry them, walking northwards through the fringes of the surf, away from the turbines. It’s breezy, and clouds frequently obscure the sun, but it doesn’t rain.

I come across a bunch of sandpipers scuttling backwards and forwards with the incoming tide – it looks like they’re playing chicken with the water.

After a few miles, with the beach still stretching endlessly off into the distance, I park myself on a sand dune once again, make coffee, and eat my lunch, pondering the difference between wind turbines and lighthouses.

It’s a curious one. Both the lighthouse and the wind turbine are entirely man-made. Both are there for laudable reasons. Both are brilliantly conceived and (especially when built in the middle of the sea) genuine feats of engineering.

But the lighthouse is somehow more beautiful to me. The achievement of the lighthouse engineers is also considerably more impressive when one considers that they were built in the 18th and 19th centuries, without the assistance of modern shipping and helicopters. But, purely from an aesthetic perspective, the turbine is too sharp, too angular, has too many edges for me. But like them or not, I guess they’re here to stay.

I walk back the way I came, with the wind getting up and the tide coming in. The beach is deserted. I take the opportunity to run, and fling my arms wide, and sing at the top of my voice. And maybe even skip and dance a little. Then I notice there are two people sat back on the dunes, watching the antics of a crazy person, no doubt preparing to call the police if I turned in their direction. Ah well, I’m on holiday.

I drive a little further north, to Collieston, purely on the basis that it has an ice cream shop called Smugglers Cone, and in doing so stumble across perhaps the most glorious find of the trip – another gorgeous little seaside fishing village, built in a natural cove, flanked by cliffs on one side and dunes on the other, with a great little harbour and a rich gin-smuggling heritage.

In the late 1700s an estimated eight thousand gallons of foreign spirits were being landed here, and the surrounding area, in a given month.

I eat ice-cream and read a book, sitting on a bench overlooking the harbour, where wet-suitted youngsters are jumping off the harbour wall, and a young family paddle-board their way around the cove.

In the evening I attempt to eat local (at Brewdog!) but they’re fully booked, and so I walk along Union Street to the familiar surrounds of Pizza Express, a chain in some trouble even pre-COVID.

With sparsely-arranged tables and furniture stacked in the corner, it looks like they’ve just moved in. With so few diners, it was a fairly soulless experience, if I’m honest. Made me wonder: how much of our enjoyment of a meal out is conditional on the atmosphere?

More toilet tribulations

“Would you like a bit of egg?” asked mum, proffering some chocolate.

I was down chez mes parents, sharing some post-prandial conversation. My sister Alison and the wean Maggie were there too. We suggested that, it being July, it was the wrong season for chocolate eggs and was it not actually a Terry’s Chocolate Orange anyway. Dad, or The Lord Cecil, as we like to call him – after a Hackney pub defunct since the day a double decker bus drove into it – whose chocolate orange it was, was graciously unperturbed at it being shared around. Tell the truth, he seemed a little put out that there was no ice-cream to go with it.

Met Wiseman for dinner in PizzaExpress tonight. After some slightly disappointing exploratory main courses (exploratory in that we both deviated from the reassuring familiarity of our customary pizza choices), learning the lesson along the way that spiced beef and mushrooms are not a number ONE topping combination, the thoughts turned inevitably to dessert. Here we often differ. Wiseman regularly goes for the Chocolate Glory. I find the tiramisu keeps me more regular. Tiramisu, indeed, is an old and faithful friend. A bit like a dog. A dog is slightly better, in that tiramisu is sometimes off the menu – this fate befell me, distressingly, on two consecutive visits to PizzaExpress. A long time ago, but it has lodged in the memory. Dogs, on the other hand, are never off the menu, at least not in Hong Kong. They are sometimes asleep, but you can wake them up and they’re not even grumpy about it. How do they do that?

Chocolate Glory is more like a girlfriend. It’s great to start off with, but you soon start to feel sick.

Speaking of regularity, some seagulls appear to have no problems in the waste pipe department, as my car can testify. They have managed to deliver several consignments onto the driver’s door, one of them right on the edge of the window, nearest to the handle. So every time I get out of the car I push the door shut and… yep. If you meet me in the street avoid shaking my hand.

And while we’re on such matters, I believe Broon has recently had to purchase a new toilet seat for her house to replace a broken one… it would appear that the phantom toilet-seat destroyer has struck again. The Admin Supremo has been recently spotted in the North Fettes area carrying his own toilet seat around with him. It’s all very curious. Perhaps we could make it into a TV mini-series. (Q. Do they still have mini-series on TV or is it all mind-numbing “reality” stuff nowadays?)

Room 65 kicks off this week, which must mean that I’ve been numbing your minds, those of you that are still reading, for over a year now, since I remember mentioning it in the blog last time around. Am guesting on piano again, which means more ill-timed glissandi and misleading introductions. But I’m sure we’ll all muddle through. Feel free to drop in to the café at 65 High Street if you’re bored of an evening.

And with that I’ll bid you goodnight.

Scenes from an Italian restaurant

Well, I’ve made it to Sunday. Yesterday was another of those hectic Saturdays that seem to keep cropping up during the summer. Work in the morning, cricket in the afternoon and Room 65 in the evening.

It’s now Sunday lunchtime, and I am firmly installed in my favourite PizzaExpress in Stockbridge. The doughballs have arrived, and the La Reine-with-no-olives is on its way. Some days change is a good thing, but other days a well-worn routine is very reassuring…

Yesterday’s cricket followed another well-worn routine, in that I got out LBW (I can hear Mark Robson groaning all the way from Australia), which was frustrating because I was well set on 28 and could’ve gone on to make a biggish score. Realistically, 28 is a biggish score for me (!), going by the last few seasons’ form, but it was still disappointing to get out. Although also a slight relief, as I needed to be at the Room 65 café for 8pm at the latest, and sometimes our matches don’t finish until after 8… I had visions of me still batting at 7.30 and torn between staying in and trying to ensure a much-needed victory for Holy Cross, and honouring my commitment to Room 65. However, my inability to play the swinging ball ensured that I had no such dilemma in prospect.

For those of you who think that cricket involves a lot of standing around doing nothing and can’t be very energetic, I would like to point out that all my muscles ache today, and I have a bruise on both thighs where the ball hit me. Am grateful I am not facing 90mph bowlers.

It’s now 3.30pm and I’ve outlasted almost all the lunchtime diners in PizzaExpress. The tiramisu is settling in my stomach and I am pondering a cup of tea. I have now been here long enough to consider putting some of my own pictures up on the wall beside my table. Am looking forward to going to Bellevue tonight after sleeping through both morning services. As in, sleeping in and MISSING both services, as opposed to going to both services and falling asleep. After a non-stop week of work immediately followed by Room 65, I am savouring the chance to recharge the batteries today. Hopefully next week will be a little more restful too.

Last night was my last night playing at Carrubbers, although the café continues to run for another 2 weeks. It was great fun playing with their band, and I am sorry in many ways that it’s now over for me. We sat on the stairs in the hallway after clearing up and restoring the auditorium to look more like a church again in time for today’s services, ate chips (from the legendary Clamshell chippy on the High Street) and tried unsuccessfully to get the tune of “You raise me up” out of our heads… nice way to end the week.

Hopefully I’ll get a chance to pop in next week and see how it all sounds from the punters’ viewpoint.

There’s a buzz you get from playing with a band that’s hard to describe. Even the apparently simple task of all coming in together on the same chord, at the same time, is liable to bring a grin to my face. Perhaps that’s because, with me in a band, this doesn’t happen very often 😉 It was noticeable during the week how a slight change in personnel can make everything sound so different (at least on stage). I played with the same guitarist the whole week, but 2 different drummers, and 2 different bass players. Different bass players use different instruments, play the same songs in a different style and at different levels. Some drummers hit the drums harder than others, and some have more precise timing than others. For my part, I don’t think I played an intro to any given song the same way twice. Some of my intros were corkingly bad, which was amusing, at least for me. I also continued to display my penchant for playing a glissando and then landing heavily on the wrong chord 🙂 To their credit, the singers coped admirably and graciously with my idiosyncrasies. Perhaps I avoided too much criticism on account of being a ‘guest’ pianist, or perhaps they’re just an unnaturally kind bunch of people. Kind enough, in fact, to offer to fix me up with some of Carrubbers’ unattached young ladies, an offer which I politely declined. I was only there for the music, after all…