It’s 3 am and I am standing at the window peering out over rooftops artistically toned in grey and black and moonlight white. There is no sign of rain and there’s a bright glow across to the right beyond stone walls. Gulls call faintly in the distance in that plaintive way that must surely have reminded women of the spirit of their dead children in a more superstitious time. Hubby stirs and asks what I am doing, he takes my place at the window and we turn off the light for him to see the beautiful effect. It reminds us both of a painting by Paul Kennedy that Hubby was admiring in Leith Gallery yesterday.
A more superstitious time. My thoughts are thrown to our experiences exploring the Old Town and the Castle as this ancient land and the spirit of its people begin to assert themselves and tug on the silken thread that joins generations past with a prodigal child. Or perhaps it’s just the fatigue. Scotland has a powerful story. Maybe any visitor would feel the ancient spirit of this place. Maybe jetlag and manic activity and the harder than optimal bed conspire to turn the rational mind to mush. Maybe I’ve watched too much Outlander.
I complete the journal for day 2 with relief. The sun is up and the birds are calling, I can see blue sky among fluffy white clouds. Sun is streaming into our room and it’s got some bite in it. It looks like another fine day. I hope it’s not going to be too hot. We’d better get on with it.
I’ve been rude about joining folk in the kitchen for breakfast, but I do eventually turn up. The pastries have been heated today. A big improvement on yesterday’s cold offering. A plate of fruit and a yoghurt and the business of the day can begin. We are supposed to be doing a walking tour at 10:30. I’m thinking it’s probably not the best plan for Hubby's foot and I’ve been saying this for a while now but he has resisted canning it so far. After the debacle of previous days I’ve officially handed navigation and transport duties to him but it seems to me we’re cutting it awfully fine considering our propensity for stuffing up. I am consoled by not being the last to be ready to go. Que sera sera.
Yes. We do it again. This time it’s the panic about the time and the difficulty of interpreting stylised maps in an unfamiliar environment. We should have got off at Waverly, but I see we’re at Prince’s street and I thought the map looked like we were supposed to travel to the end of the route then change busses, so we turn the corner and run along Princes Street and the gardens. But look where we are going in relation to the castle. Oh SHIT. Get off!! We alight and cross the broad avenue and jump on a bus to run back the couple of stops to put us back near the National Gallery. We’ve only lost a couple of minutes. I just can’t see us making it to Greyfriar’s Bobby in time and we should probably just ditch the walk and explore where we are. Hubby insists on trying for it even though we’ll miss the departure time. ”…but your foot…” I say as I groan inwardly and pass on the opportunity to photograph a beautiful flowering thistle in the garden adjoining the Scottish Restaurant. I wish the thistles at our place were as pretty. “We won’t make it, this is pointless,.. perhaps we should just cut our losses and explore the gallery?” No deal. Hubby is walking on, determined. “Let’s just go and see.” No skin off my nose really so we rush along. It’s hot today. Too hot for sightseeing really. Too hot for a walking tour. My top is light but I wish I was in cooler clothes than jeans and enclosed shoes. I don my broad brimmed hat. That’s better, at least I don’t have the sun in my eyes now. Hubby’s google navigating is working pretty well and we travel to the pub without incident, feeling gratified that things are looking more familiar along the way. He wants to wait outside the pub but I persuade him this is no use. Look, just face it, we’re late and they’ve gone. I’m not that sorry about it. What shall we do then? I reiterate my alternative proposal. This time it’s agreed. Take us to 34 Market Street Dr Google. We retrace our steps for a while then turn and head down a long series of steps abutting a lovely swathe of moist lush green undergrowth in the dense shade of overhanging branches. Soon we emerge onto Market St and cross the road by the station and in no time we see a Tattoo banner advertising the entry of the ticket collection place. Hand over the credit card used for purchase. Sign here please. Done. I note the reminder to dress warmly and bring raingear. Hubby’s been browsing the souvenirs and we agree that we should pre-order the DVD. I find a nice plasticised bag in Royal Stewart Tartan with West Highland White terriers on it. I’m sure I can find a use for that.
With considerable relief that we have our Tattoo tickets safely tucked away we decide to walk down through the Prince’s street gardens and pick up some festival tickets from the half price hut. It’s a beautiful stroll and as we near our destination we take a seat on the garden wall to review the manifesto. As we chat I look around and notice that we are positioned with a particularly lovely aspect. That would make a great photo methinks. Snap.
We head up to execute our plan and Hubby suddenly announces he’s not standing in any queue. He’d rather pay full price. Oh. Right. It’s his foot. Walking is one thing, just standing is worse. OK. Just hang on a minute I need to photograph that thistle. Snap.
Then I wander across to the little hut nearby and buy a “showbag” for £1.40. I pay with a tenner and am delighted to get the change in coin. That’ll be really handy for busses and buskers. My showbag includes the Scotsman with its festival insert and we adjourn to the steps of the gallery to have a look and book online. Ring venue for Katherine Ryan due to limited ticket availability. Jo Brand? Review not so hot. Let’s just book Daniel Sloss eh? Done.
Next on our new agenda is a combination of getting ourselves in position for our Tour of the Scottish Parliament Building via lunch and absence of rushing. Eventually Hubby is persuaded that we should just eat here at the Scottish Restaurant and make it the main meal for today. We get a lovely indoor table for two and for a change I insist Hubby takes the seat with the lovely view of the gardens. He usually lets me have the premium seating in any venue. Our waitress has dark hair and blue eyes. Such a pretty combination. But down to business. Hubby starts with a cappuccino and I indulge in hand pressed apple juice. There’s a couple of meal deal options two courses for £17.95 or three courses for £20.95. We start with two. I think we can see where this is heading ;-) We each seem to be in a particular food mood. Hubby opts for the Cream of phantassie organic leek and garden pea soup with herbed toasted breadcrumbs followed by Cullen skink: traditional smoked haddock, potato and leek in a creamy stew served with bread. I on the other hand clearly crave carbs and cheese. What’s new. I start with Borders boiled ham and Isle of Mull Cheddar crumbed potato cakes with East Lothian beetroot salad and Uncle Roy’s Peppercorn Mustard Dressing and follow that with Macaroni Cheese with East Lothian leeks and tomato, Isle of Mull Cheddar and mixed leaves.
The food is as delightful as it sounds. Hubby’s soup could use a little seasoning. Easily fixed. My potato cakes are so prettily presented and that Uncle Roy’s dressing has a perfect level of piquancy. First round to me.
Our eyes widen as our mains approach. They seem very large. The Cullen Skink is thick and full of tender smoked fish pieces. The potato and leek are provided in just the right proportion. Good choice. My macaroni cheese is rich and creamy and the sauce strings out as I lift my fork. The fresh burst of an occasional half of a cherry tomato refreshes the palate. Effectively we share this round. There’s plenty to go around. I'm still in front.
The restaurant is light and airy and clearly very popular. These people know what they’re doing that’s for sure. As the restaurant fills the service is not diminished. Hubby asks to see the dessert menu. I don’t need it. I know what I’m having. Hubby toys with the chocolate option but ends up going with the Knickerbocker Glory. I’m glad. I was tempted by that myself because Knickerbocker Glory is something my mother has always talked about having when she was a kid. I of course am committed to trying the Cranachan. We were wondering whether we really had time for dessert but Hubby was confident and luckily our choices are quick to prepare and deliver. Both lovely, but I think I won. It's nice when it happens.
Hubby pays while I head up to collect our tickets for tonight’s show. We meet up again and he leads us off. Gosh I’m full after lunch though. I’m pretty confident the route we took was speedy though not necessarily the most scenic, but pretty soon we’re back on the Royal Mile and enjoying the walk down the hill. We’ve timed it perfectly this time. We pass through security and check in at the information counter where the assistant issues us with a lanyard identified for our tour group. We’ve got about 12 or so minutes to wait. My back is a bit sore so I adjourn to do some back stretches for a bit and we join an overwhelmingly international collection of people to find out about the design of the building and the working and powers of the Scottish Parliament. A major feature of the design is the choice of materials. As much as possible all were sourced from within Scotland which is particularly appropriate given the architect wanted the building to have seemingly grown organically from the Scottish earth and its people, past and present. There’s an abundance of Oak, more than could be sourced domestically so they had to supplement with European Oak however the floors are all Scottish. Look down, some of our cohort are from Aberdeen. Our guide anticipates that they will recognise the stone on which we stand that is such a feature of the flooring throughout the building. It’s stone that is local to Aberdeen. I look down like everyone else. I feel a strong connection to this stone and this building. It’s part of me. My Dey forbears were all stone workers in and around Aberdeen, quarriers and granite polishers common among them. This twang of connection is not something I had anticipated here. More food for thought. Never was a program more appropriately named than Who Do You Think You Are? Looking into my family history to find veteran relatives in preparation for a visit to the Great War battlefields and England in 2012 sparked a quest that has quite literally changed who I think I am. Visiting the “home country” has greatly multiplied the effect. I am a child of Scotland and a child of England too. Of course I am obviously a child of Australia first and foremost, raised in a more culturally homogenous time. It’s been very surprising and enlightening to discover the extent to which that means I was raised in a British culture. Exiled? Mostly not. Economic migrants mostly, which back in the 19th century when life was such a struggle was, I suppose, a form of exile. And here we are today, standing in the new Scottish Parliament building, on the stone the dust from which no doubt shortened the lives of my family’s men generations ago. Here under my feet with its pepper spots of black and subtle drifts of reddish brown among the sparkling white. I shift my position to see the light play on the sparkles. Aberdeen stone.
The commentary provided seems to me to reflect the excitement, idealism and optimism of new democracy. A huge investment has been made in establishing an open, accessible democracy within Scotland. That’s what we need in Australia. A new commitment to democracy and democratic principles. A national conversation about, and engagement with, the features and elements of government “by the people, for the people.”
Our tour concludes in a committee room and I along with others, head back up to the public gallery to take some photographs of the chamber while Hubby returns the little portable chair provided to assist those who find standing for long periods difficult.
It’s again very easy to retrace our steps home noting along the way that someone seems to be making a lot of money from Scottish widows. The night is mild and it's pleasant to be out and about. We’re in the door by about 11 o’clock or so. No dinner. We didn't miss it after that enormous lunch - which was entirely the point of our approach to lunch today. We figured this is what would happen. Now sleep.