I pick up the story of my trip to Edinburgh on Sunday morning.
Tom and I were going to see Ashley Storrie on Sunday afternoon. He had plans to meet someone around Sunday lunchtime; I had plans to try to catch up on a little sleep.
However, the hostel was so noisy and I can’t sleep past a certain time in the morning so I went out on my own. I popped up to the shop for breakfast and when I’d eaten enough, I headed for Greyfriars Kirkyard. I daresay the Kirkyard – churchyard or graveyard in English English – is quite a creepy place at night. Well, it must be. They run ghost tours there. I don’t believe in ghosts but I also believe I probably couldn’t walk through the kirkyard in the dark. By day, though, it’s pleasant and I was surprised to come across a little flock of birds of prey. They had three owls – a teeny-tiny British Tawny Owl called Haggis who was just sixteen weeks old, a Bengal Eagle Owl called Flokey (“Indian owl, Norse name. Of course.”) and a twenty-year-old European Eagle Owl called Beethoven. Then they had a Harris Hawk whose name I’ve forgotten, a jerfalcon and a kgfdgu. Finally there was Lenore, a raven. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a raven up close. Huge things they are, much bigger than crows and rooks.
You’re not usually allowed to touch the birds but as long as we left his wings alone, we were free to stroke little Haggis, who didn’t seem to mind at all. And for a small donation, we could hold any of the birds we liked. Well, Beethoven was big and beautiful and also a lot more placid than the hawks. Heavier, though. He probably weighs about six and a half pounds and you soon start to feel that in your arm. You wear a specially thick leather glove for protection against two-inch talons and then Beethoven sits quite calmly on your wrist, staring at you with enormous orange eyes. It’s very intimidating to be nose-to-beak with the biggest species of owl on the planet. I’m at least 90% sure Beethoven could have killed me if he wanted to.
What did I do later? I definitely scurried along to the Counting House to meet Tom for Ashley Storrie’s show – that was good fun! Then we went looking for food and ended up at the City Restaurant, which is kind of like a cross between an American-style diner and a chip shop. We were seated and ordered our food – being a non-normal eater, I felt like I’d had more than enough meals for one trip so I ordered a chocolate brownie with ice cream and nutella. Then a man came in on his own so we were moved onto the table for four by the window so the man on his own could sit on our table for two.
My brownie arrived and I started eating it. But Tom’s chipotle burger didn’t arrive. We sat and waited and then a steak pie arrived. That wasn’t what Tom had ordered. But it showed up what had happened. The burger had arrived on the table we were originally sitting at and the man on his own, who hadn’t ordered it, had started eating it anyway. Now, to be fair to the man, his English is not very good (and this drives me crazy because all these people saying “my English isn’t very good” speak it so much better than 99% of Anglophones speak any other language!) and he thought he’d messed up when he placed his order. The poor waiter stood there, pie in hand and you could see him wondering if he could take the burger and pop it onto our table before deciding it was just a bit too eaten. A fresh burger finally arrived ten or fifteen minutes later. The brownie was flawless. The burger seemed fine. But no tip for the Fawlty Towers-style service!
I didn’t plan to spend the next hour and a half running round various bars in George Square but that happened. I got my Explore My World section of my Voyage Award signed off, so that was good, and then I went and found Tom and we headed out to find something to watch.
We happened to wander into the Underbelly, which is my favourite venue – I love the staircases and the creepy vaults and the bare stone and the darkness and the fact that it’s entirely vertical. We stood and stared up at the huge banner that lists shows and Tom, on the basis of a poster he’d spotted out in town earlier, went for The Prophetic Visions of Bethany Lewis. We bought tickets and scurried up the winding stairs to the room where you queue – and at this point, I still had no idea what I was going to see.
Actually, I’m still not entirely sure what I saw. Puppets. Pigs. Social commentary. Supernatural. Satire. Hilarity. Filth. Definitely in my top five things I saw at the Fringe this year. We giggled about it all the way down the road and Tom continued giggling about it for at least another week. I don’t know if it’s going anywhere else after Edinburgh but if you get a chance to go and see it, do.
What did I do on Monday? We went to Funny Women at the Gilded Balloon (which was… not the best show I saw). Tom went off to see Sofie Hagen but she was sold out so I couldn’t go too, although I would have liked to see her. So I wandered, I dithered a bit and then decided it was time to climb Arthur’s Seat. That was on Tom’s list of things to do but there just wasn’t time to squish it in together, so off I went on my own.
It didn’t go particularly well. I still don’t know what’s wrong with my legs but my calves started cramping or stretching or doing something extremely painful when I walked uphill. A lot of Edinburgh is on a hill so I’d had leg pain quite regularly for the last few days and now it almost finished me. I was genuinely convinced that at some point I was going to just snap a muscle or a tendon or something on the way up – well, actually, I was pretty certain I wasn’t going to make it to the top. Arthur’s Seat has never been climbed so slowly. I stopped every half a dozen steps to try to get the pain out of my legs. Just get to that rock. Just get to that bush. Just get to that step.
And I made it! It was so windy at the top! It was windy last time, it’s always windy but this was so windy I could hardly stand up. Well, I could stand up, but I couldn’t walk. It’s very hard to lift a foot off the very uneven ground when you are literally leaning into the wind so as to not fall over backwards.
I descended, I showered, I ate and then I went looking for Tom. This was the point where not having the EdFringe app really began to drive me crazy. I’m so used to just scrolling down it, finding something at the right time and booking it and my phone is so useless that it won’t open, so I was reduced to booking tickets at the various box offices there and then. And on Monday, with a lot of shows taking their day off, there wasn’t as much choice and everything was booked and I eventually asked the nice folk at the Underbelly to recommend something that was on and available in the next half an hour. They gave me a ticket for Rhys Nicholson, it began in less than fifteen minutes’ time at the Med Quad, which is not at the Underbelly. It’s next to the Gilded Balloon. I made it with maybe three minutes to spare. And it was good and I enjoyed it. Rhys Nicholson was not who I thought he was – not that I know who I thought he was. I’m bad with people who have the same name. I spent far too many years not realising that Neil Armstrong (of the moon) and Neil Buchanan (of Art Attack) were different people because they’re both called Neil. So I thought Rhys Nicholson was Rhys Something-Else.
On Monday evening we met another school friend, Byron. He comes up most years and this year it coincided with our trip up, so we dragged him down to Holyrood 9A in the pouring rain. Oh, how it rained! It was hard to see the rain from inside so we could convince ourselves it had stopped, until we looked up at the pelting rain in the light of the streetlamp outside. For me and Tom, we only had a minute or two to get home (actually, I could see my kitchen window fifty yards and one storey away from the pub but you can’t just go in through an upstairs kitchen window) but Byron, his youngest brother and their friend had to take an Uber back to their flat.
The next day was Tuesday – the last day. Tom’s train home was quite early in the day – possibly earlier than I might want to be up but I found myself up, packed and checked out in plenty of time to get to the station to see him off – particularly as the train turned out to be twenty minutes later than he’d realised. And then I was on my own. I hadn’t done the Usual Traditional Bus Trip to a Random Place yet, so I did that (bus to Ocean Terminal via the suburbs, bus back into city centre, continue on bus until it gets alarmingly far from city centre at which point hastily return on next bus) and then I went to see Eleanor Tiernan who had chosen the Tuesday rather than the Monday for her day off! I’d planned all of Tuesday with the intention of seeing her mid-afternoon and then I couldn’t! I knew that straight after her I’d have to go and collect my luggage and hurry off to the airport and there didn’t seem any point wandering aimlessly around Edinburgh much longer – that show was pushing my flight schedule a bit; I didn’t have time to pick and watch another random one.
So I collected my luggage, hauled it up to Princes Street, barged straight into people who didn’t have the sense to get out of the way of someone carrying a heavy bag (I had no maneuvrability – I can’t suddenly turn, I can’t suddenly stop. I am a tank and I will crash into you so move!), got on the tram and then, to my shame, got a trolley to carry my luggage. It’s hand luggage. How many times have I said “if you can’t carry it, you shouldn’t be travelling with it”? I swear it was lighter when I arrived. It definitely closed more easily when I arrived. I’d used up two mini bottles of conditioner but I’d acquired three miniature jams. I’d given Tom a book but acquired a big hardback. Was I just carrying more clothes rather than wearing them?
Further evidence that my hand luggage was just too much, apart from the red mark in my shoulder, the muscle pains all down my right side and the resulting tension headache – the bag didn’t fit in the bag sizer and it had to go in the hold. I didn’t mind. I never mind. I prefer it like that, only it was so expensive. Fortunately, when Flybe take a bag off you at the gate, they do it for free, so that made the flight easier.
We boarded. We set off. We got to the runway. We switched on our second engine. I looked back at my book. And then we were back at the stand. I’d noticed the crew running up and down the plane, I’d thought they should sit down before they end up falling the length of the plane on takeoff but we didn’t take off. We returned to the stand. There was a nice lady sitting next to me – sleek in a Jenny-Agutter-in-Spooks way, with a designer purse in her seat pocket, looked like a different species to me in my jeans and checked shirt and plaits with an I Heart Iceland bag. But she turned to me and murmured “We’ve got a medical emergency so we’ve come back. It’s easier to deal with here than in the air. You wouldn’t want to have to land again.” Well, I do entirely agree but how did she know? I’d been watching the running but I hadn’t figured out what was going on. Had I fallen asleep for a moment and missed an announcement? I was glad she knew, however she knew it, because this medical emergency was dealt with by airport fire & rescue and I might have been a bit alarmed had I not known why a big red fire engine had turned up outside my window.
When it was dealt with, we set off again. As per regulations, for every push-back there must be a safety briefing and the pilot apologised for the fact that we’d already seen this less than twenty minutes ago but they didn’t have any choice but to repeat it. This time there was no medical emergency and we were soon in the air and when the crew began to walk up and down the plane again, distributing food and drinks and fetching things from the overhead lockers, they paused by my row to mutter about diabetic problems, not enough food etc. I assume this was the medical emergency we’d been stopped for. On the other hand, surely they both knew this was the problem while it was ongoing and didn’t need to be informed of what happened half an hour later.
You’d think that was the end of my Edinburgh but not quite. The airport is about an hour from home, straight down the motorway, straight down the dual carriageway, straight home. But four-fifths of the way down the dual carriageway, the road was closed for roadworks. It was late. It was dark. I’d never even considered alternative ways home from here. Alternative ways home involved narrow country lanes, cars coming the other way with their main beams on and an old stone bridge on a hairpin bend where cars semi-regularly end up in the stream. I was glad to be home.