(Final Scotblog. All others have been edited to the correct dates. Hope you’ve enjoyed it.)
Edinburgh Waverley station combines an interesting location with a lovely name (one I first knew from the paddle steamer – which I first learned of in A Journey Down the Clyde.) The old drained Nor Loch left a valley between Princes Street and the castle, cleanly dividing Old Town and New, and as well as the beautiful but always jam-packed Princes Street Gardens and the sudden slab-sided interruption of the Scottish National Gallery, rails connect the Forth Bridge to the East Coast Main Line. The station itself is a hundred thousand square metres of glass and wrought iron nestling in the valley like a greenhouse for growing trains. Time was, the two long ramps up to Waverley Bridge provided wonderfully logical road access the station (one up, one down) but for whatever reason they’re now both two-way, leading to all kinds of unfortunate traffic-wrangling at the far end and a much less pedestrian-friendly (which is to say, human-friendly) atmosphere at the bottom. I saw Mum hanging out of her train window and sprinted to catch up with it; we all drove to Ormiston in quiet darkness.
Ulrich and Francesca, old friends of my father, live in a converted farmhouse. Their old section of the house (a place of many good memories for me; Easter treasure hunts and mouse-nibbled chocolate, curling up drawing by the big woodstove) is now inhabited by their intrepid hydro-building son Adrian, his wife and their children Lewis and Hamish, and they’ve moved into the building adjoining it, after several years of doing it up inside out. The stone shell is part of a much larger and older complex, some of which is still inhabited by their neighbours, some lying in ruins in the surrounding woods (with a haha!). But the beautifully crafted wooden interior was built, more or less, by their own hands. The lives and livelihoods of almost everyone I know and respect come down to, in the end, shuffling bytes around. These are people who make things, physical things with value. Ulrich only recently closed his sawmill, and has several tonnes of high-quality machine tools on his ground floor; bits of violin wood are stacked all over the house. Francesca keeps their huge vegetable garden beautifully and makes the most amazing, wonderful things from it; I am inspired to grow things in my garden in Birmingham next year. Their children, following in this fine tradition, are currently building a small hydroelectric plant – and have made a really good devblog about it (start from the beginning.)
Constructive Things were done. Nick and I tore up a patch of garden for growing things with wild and gay abandon while Mum helped clear, roof and creosote a new firewood store and Dad murdered trees with an axe. With Hamish (a crossbow-making product of Youtube how-to videos and woodwork-related ingenuity) I made a little launch pad and bottle rocket and fired it much higher than expected (as you may have seen.) Alone, I went down the dell and built a dam – a serious, well made, raise-the-water-level-a-foot dam – in the heavy rain, from the weird assorted building flotsam that have ended up at the bottom over the years. I was very proud of it, but by the time anyone else came down to see the water had washed the best part of it away. Later, when I brought brothers down, Hamish showed us the remains of a mine, moss-covered stone and metal things and gaping black holes to forgotten places, but it was too dark and wet to explore, and we a bit too attached to life and limb. Over delicious soup, Francesca told us about the burglar that had been preying on the neighbourhood, but we didn’t see him at all. Dinnertime conversation was always wonderful. Ulrich ( check those credentials) will talk about biodiversity and the science of GM crops and things in the same effortlessly assured, boundlessly enthusiastic way as I’ll talk about guns, and with about the same level of audience understanding.
On the 11th, I got a call from Dorothy saying I had managed to leave my wallet at her house. Francesca was going to Edinburgh to listen to a concert anyway, so I joined her on the trip out. The Lothian bus stops are roofed with orange-tinted glass, giving everything beneath them the colour of Irn-Bru (speaking of Irn-Bru, it seems to taste much better in Scotland, just as Orangina tastes much nicer in France and tea is… well, equally wonderful in Sri Lanka. Beverages in their homelands – share your stories,) but the buses work just fine when they’re not like bricks in a wall. I rode out to Corstorphine Road again, picked up the errant wallet and walked back to Princes Street, the raincoat I had remembered to bring this time acting as an anti-rain talisman and ensuring that not a drop fell from the sky.
I had been meaning to learn to chainsaw (Dad has been on and off teaching me how to operate an axe, which is all well and good but as a dyed in the wool fa/tg/uy the repeating sword has a special appeal to me) but both he and Mum were a bit iffy about it. I’m inexperienced in the handling of power tools in general, and to go straight to the chainsaw without having a feel for the forces involved is reportedly a bit ill-advised, as if you mess up it cuts your face off. On the last day, we explored his archives (full of weird old machinery and pre-war ephemera, looking for a case of medals and a sheaf of Great War aerial photographs that were supposed to be buried in there somewhere (Ulrich’s grandfather flew with the Luftstreitkrafte) but we didn’t find them in the end.
On the 14th, we picked up Oliver and drove back south in beautiful sunlight, stopping to look over Morecambe Bay and buying dinner from a chippie by a railway bridge. The fish and chips were fantastic, but it felt strange; there were no chipsteaks on the menu, and the accents were Northern, not Scots. In the darkness, sleepy and happy, we arrived home.