Despair not, O fair Reader, lest the thrilling tale of my stay in Edinburgh may never be finished. Here it comes at last: part 4 — packed with culture, booze and comedy! In technicolor!
And now, let the show begin.
Just a minute, I hear you say: last time we ended on Tuesday, and now already Thursday? What happened with Wednesday? Well, the truth is, I don’t remember. Possibly, I had a quiet day at home with a book. I may have gone out in the evening, but maybe not. Probably plans were made for the rest of the week. In short, the day was good but uneventful. There, happy?
Thursday, I said. Time to run some Errands. First things first, getting some unusual whisky, of the kind which is hard to find abroad. Since an amazing variety of even rare whiskies is exported for fussy amateurs worldwide, this turns out to be something quite hard to find in Scotland. Fortunately specialist shops always seem to have a stash of exclusive stuff somewhere. This shop was no exception, and I was offered to choose from several of their finest exclusive liquors.
Now usually I am a peat man. I like peaty stuff like Laphroaig or Ardbeg, which means I tend to always drink the smoky stuff and miss out completely on the non-smoky ones. Since these form a large class of highly enjoyable and complex whiskies, it was time to broaden my horizon and buy a non peaty sort. (I decided on a 12 years old Deanston, bottled for Glenkeir Treasures: a smooth, woody, sturdily built nectar).
By then lunch time was approaching fast, and I had to stop in, surprise surprise, a pub, for a
pint lunch lunch and a pint. First stop at Rose St 100 (Deuchars), which wasn’t crowded enough for my taste (I was alone; people started coming in as I left). I went on to the Standing Order again (Old Empire IPA, Dark Island), after which I was ready for my second Errand: find a stone.
How now? A stone? Well, a friend of mine from home, upon finding out I was under these exotic skies, asked me to bring her back “a stone”. Intriguing, eh? A stone: what could she mean? Only a few possibilities seemed reasonable: it could be a heather stone, but she would have specified. It could be a stone from the castle wall, or even, speaking of the castle, the Stone of Scone. That one would have made my suitcase overweight anyway, so I decided upon just a simple ol’ stone from the ground, and to find one closeby, Calton Hill seemed the best bet.
Eventually I found a stone to my taste, small, black, at once edgy and smooth, a metaphor for the small and winding dark streets of Edinburgh filled with rough yet friendly people.
With the satisfaction of a job well done, I decided it was time to get a hot towel shave, an oh so old project of mine. I warmly recommend it by the way; it’s a very relaxing experience. The hairdresser also asked if I wanted my hair cut, and while that wasn’t the first plan, I thought, what the hell, let’s do it. And she asked how I wanted my hair, and I said shorter. I may even have said, much shorter.
At this point you should be told I wear glasses. I’ve tried contacts before, and while it is convenient at the hairdresser’s or in warm bakeries in winter (spectacles wearers will understand), it wasn’t really me and I swiftly went back to glasses. Anyway, without my glasses on, like at the haidresser’s, I’m blind as a bat. As a side-effect, I tend to just fade out all my environment and be generally unaware of everything, lost in my thoughts (or what passes as thoughts), not speaking to people, barely responsive to external stimuli.
So there I was, helplessly sitting in the hairdresser’s comfy chair, with an impressionistic view of my surroundings, when I noticed the hairdresser grabbing the electric clippers, and zzzzt! starting to shave away the sides of my head. My heart stopped beating for a moment and, having realised that there was nothing I could do anymore, resumed at a normal rate. So I just sat there, hoping for the best and enjoying the haircut.
As a matter of fact, in the end the hair wasn’t too short either, but without glasses there is no way I could tell what the hairdresser was doing to me (hence, no worries). Plus, according to those who said anything, the short hairdo suits me.
Las time I mentioned spending a little time in a professional’s kitchen, and sneaking out to the Oxford Bar. This was on Friday; now it is time to say what happened afterwards. I had a ticket for a comedy show, but still some time to kill so I went to the Guildford Arms (Clipper IPA, Bitter and Twisted). I like that pub very much, with its convivial atmosphere, a vast and very high ceiling, and a central circular bar which I was assured is typical of Scottish pubs. There was no music and no TV, so one would only hear the pleasant noise of people discussing, in a friendly and very crowdy atmosphere.
I love watching people while enjoying a beer in a busy pub. I hope people don’t mind. When I was young and still learning English, I think I tended to stare at people while listening to their conversations. It wasn’t out of nosiness (I didn’t care what they were saying), but rather I was just trying to understand what was being said. Later I realised it may have looked a bit weird sometimes.
On my way back from the pub I had a little nostalgia moment, when I realised I was almost twice as old as the first time I came here (ish: I am far enough from 36 yet). I was thinking of all those young people I was seeing, which were, like, toddlers in 1995? People come and go, old people got older, some I may have crossed as children holding the hand of their parents, unaware there would be there somewhere around fifteen years later. At that moment I somehow felt like a twig in a flowing stream, and I felt that pinch I occasionally get looking back at that first time I came here in 1995, the feeling of having missed something. “Doubly”, says my notepad — again, I have no idea whatsoever what I meant writing that down.
And at last, the evening’s highlight: comedy! The word always reminds me of a standup show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009: one of the comedians observed that inserting the word “comedy” in a dramatic sentence would make it look much more harmless. Let’s try with some actual news stories:
Comedy government rules out lower drink-drive limit
Merkel gambles credibility with comedy nuclear U-turn
When police arrived at the scene they found the bodies together in a pool of comedy blood.
See? It just takes that dramatic edge out of a grim sentence. Try it out by yourself, most excellent Reader, and please do share your creations with us in the comments below.
No festival this time, it was just a regular Friday evening at the Stand Comedy Club. Arriving very early is most advisable if you want a good seat, although the room is so small, all seats are good. Seeing the audience filling up the tiny locale reminded me of the crowded cabin scene from a Marx Brothers film. I managed to spot no fewer than four doppelgangers in the room (my university friend Littlestep, animator Jérémy Michalak, and my former landlady sharing a table with an respected hootizen). Two more bottled Thistle IPA’s later the show started, with comedians Quincy, Jojo Sutherland, Ben Verth, Ian Cognito, and the compère Joe Heenan. I definitely should do that more often. Actually, I wonder why it took me so long to start going in the first place.
Saturday – party time!
Surely J knows how to throw a party. I’d estimate more than fifty guests, food galore, all home made in a broad variety (traditional fare such as baked salmon, malaysian food like beef rendang, large chocolate cakes which no-one seemed to dare to cut into, and all drinks you could imagine), a pianist, and three butlers. Also present were ghosts from the past: a former waiter from K’s pub long long ago, whom I hadn’t seen for ages and was happy to meet again. Plus, among the guests was Jojo Sutherland herself, from yesterday’s comedy show! What a coincidence!
From the rest of the party I have little recollection: champagne bubbles must have taken them away. I dimly remember chatting up the lithuanian waitress with the whole extent of my knowledge of her language (“cheers” and “thank you”. She seemed impressed). I must have told someone about my collection of requiems, claiming that my oldest one is Guerrero’s (not quite true: I have a slightly older one by Richafort). And someone persuaded me to partake in an unofficial Highland Park whisky tasting, and give taster’s notes. While the first part was pretty straightforward, at that point (end of the party) I was way past any ability for the second task.
But food, atmosphere, interesting people, music, drinks a-plenty: even without the finer details I definitely remember having had a great time.
Last day, always a bit of a saddish one. Luckily the sun is shining bright, but it is reaaaally windy. Standard Edinburgh weather, says Z.
Once again, I do what I’ve never done since I came here the first time 15 years ago: to go and see the beach. A bus brings me to Portobello, and the beach is there, sandy, pebbly, wide, small waves quietly coming and going like they must have done since long before the city was built and will keep doing long after it has gone. The sound of the waves is strangely relaxing. But it’s still terribly windy. A group of teenagers is playing some ball game; they leave shortly after I arrive. The only people I still encounter are joggers, some people who walk their dogs, a couple of strollers, and children on a bike.
The stones on this beach are very different from the ones on Calton Hill – paler, polished, sometimes adorned with barnacles. They too tell a story about Edinburgh: the seaside, further away from the city centre, fishermen, holidays at the beach. I decide to take some back as well. I should make a game out of it, or an art project: capture the essence of your favourite city with a few stones gathered on site.
But it’s windy, really. I decide to walk back, all the way from Portobello to Leith via Seaside. It’s not very scenic, it’s bloody windy, but I like it nonetheless. I’ve always liked, in a city, the bits which are not meant to be visited, which are just ordinary pieces which exist because a city has to grow. I mean, not everything has to be picturesque; the other bits also tell stories, about people the who live there, or who go there every day to work, or…. You can feel quite close to a city in those parts.
Eventually I reach the end of Leith Walk, where I go for a last pint at the Central Bar (Mc Ewan’s 70/-. Possibly the first Scottish beer I’ve ever drunk, the very first day in Summer 1995 at K’s pub, unless it was Gillespie’s).
Last surprise waiting for me as I came back to my friends’ flat: one of the cats had shat in my (fortunately dirty) laundry!
With the usual sinking heart of departure day it was time to leave: bus till Waverley station, and change for the airport shuttle. I took the opportunity of yet more bright sunshine to sit on the upper floor of a double decker, right in front. I enjoyed it so much I nearly missed my bus stop!
I have little time left to mention the last coincidence, a passenger on my plane reading the same book as I was, before sleep seizes me, carrying me away from this blog, little time to polish up the posting I couldn’t write up yesterday because it was much too late, until the clock strikes midnight and my departure ends this last sentence.