The Fair Maid of Perth, Scotland

 

Perth city at Christmas.

 

Needing a break from the relentless beauty of Edinburgh, last week I took a few days away to visit pretty Perth, Scotland. The Scottish Landlaird and I weary of each other’s company, turning a wee snippy and unpleasant left together too long; it’s not a bad thing separating us by a few hundred miles every day or so few weeks. It can get unpleasant. He’s been a bachelor for decades, and I’m the American interloper. What was it Ben Franklin said?: “Fish and visitors stink in three days.” For the record, it’s been almost three months. It’s past rancid to skeletal, friends.

Plus, I’d never been to Perth. And it’s all decorated for Christmas:

 

Off the High Street, Perth

 

Nae Day Sae Dark (No Day So Dark) by David Annand

 

Why Perth? Why not. It’s less than two hours from Edinburgh by train, so not too expensive transportation-wise. And, nicknamed the “Gateway to the Highlands” translates into this is where the rolling foothills start.  I’d note the four days I stayed were too many from a tourist point of view, if you don’t have a car to roam the area. Since I needed time away, the excess wasn’t as big a nuisance; for the casual visitor, one or two days would be more than sufficient.

The old section of the city is charming – lots of churches and restaurants and shops – but most sites of interest are walk bys. You take a gander, take a photo, off you go. If you have a car, there are several castles and pretty little villages warranting another day or two using Perth as a hub. On foot, not so much.

While I’m thinking of it, I’ll recommend Cafe Biba (22 King Edward Street) for its tasty hamburgers. Tired of British fare, I popped in for lunch one day to treat myself. They put some sort of herbs in the meat, plus the cheddar cheese is glorious. Then, Murray’s Bakers (114 South Street) makes a mean apple crumble. They’re also award-winning, and the prices are surprisingly cheap. One apple crumble lasted me three days, all for under £2. For Americans, that’s about $3.50 or so.

Not shabby.

 

High Street, Perth

 

If I’d arrived a day earlier I could have been there for the lighting of the holiday decorations, as well as the gin and chocolate fair and peak of the Christmas market. Arriving Sunday afternoon was cheaper, but I was tired and didn’t feel like battling whatever was left of the crowds milling around the pop up shops still open. Surprisingly, the majority of the market pulled up stakes early. In most cities the Christmas markets are there for the duration. Not so Perth. By Monday there was a chocolate stall, a couple food stalls, and three or four other specialty places for jewelry and other gifts. Not much choice.

The weather was abysmal in November, not that I should have expected otherwise. The day before I left was so rainy I spent most of it in the Airbnb apartment (right on the Tay River, overlooking Greyfriars Church Yard – BLISS), in the afternoon walking around the Perth Museum & Art Gallery. Plenty of paintings and sculptures there, plus local and natural history. A nice diversion. It’s also free, though nice people give a donation.

 

I regret to say I burst out laughing seeing this.

 

And of course I shopped. Taking a break from the rain, I fortuitously ran into a convenient Waterstones, where I finally broke down and bought this book I’d been looking at a while:

 

 

We know I can’t abide book orphans, so I also bought this, mentioned in the book above:

 

No court will convict me.

 

A wool shop may have been involved in one excursion, along with a miscellany of holiday shopping. As the landlaird’s daughter is cooking for Boxing Day, to which I’m invited, I found some gin and liquor-filled chocolates as a hostess gift. Other bits and bobs, as well, for various naughty and nice people on my list.

The mental break was necessary, and Perth did its job. I didn’t schedule myself, didn’t hurry anywhere, and slept ridiculously late. While I got some reading done, unfortunately I did no writing, which had been on the original itinerary. I brought with me the leather journal I had custom made when I turned 50, not a mark yet in it, figuring at this point of my life I have a whole lot to say. I’ll get to it. I just didn’t in Perth. As for the Landlaird? It was time enough to reset the friendship, at least for a while.

This week I’m headed to London for a day, to meet up with friends. In a week and a half or so a long journey down to Penzance, in beautiful Cornwall. I’m looking forward to it immensely, never having been to that area. I expect the four days allotted may be too short.

Do I have room to complain, though? I don’t think so. No. I don’t think so at all.

 

River Tay, Perth. My last evening.

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Scotland: Settling In

 

The familiarity gained from last year’s three-month stay in Scotland’s shortened the re-acquaintance process with life here. It already feels familiar walking to the market to pick up simple things like milk and bread. There’s a small shop, a mini-mart we’d call it in the States, five minutes away. The nearest supermarket’s further than I can walk. A taxi would add a lot to the cost of buying just a few items, but there’s the British equivalent of Walmart anchoring the local mall. In that mall is, among other things, a Waterstones. I can take a taxi there when I have a longer list of needs than just vanilla and cake pans.

In preparation for making two pies with apples from the tree directly behind the house, I mistakenly bought “sponge” flour in place of self-rising, to go along with the folly of “caster” sugar in place of regular granulated, for my coffee. Thank God Chris put me in my place as far as caster sugar, since “no restaurant would ever serve caster sugar for my coffee.” As far as I can tell, caster sugar is more coarse than granulated, not so coarse as what we’d call “crystal” sugar, which is decorative. That’s used on top of baked goods to make them look more appealing and fancy, I guess you’d say.

 

We don’t have so many choices for baking ingredients in the States. There’s brown sugar, powdered sugar, granulated, and crystal sugar. As for flour, there’s self-rising, standard flour with no baking powder or baking soda (if you need to add specialized amounts), wheat flour, specialty flours made with other grains for the gluten-intolerant, but as far as I know, that’s it. For sponge cake, we’d use regular self-rising. If it needs a finer texture, we’d run it through a sifter. British bakers, you’re much more sophisticated.

Today I was looking at the flour and sugar I bought to stock the pantry, thinking as long as I had these maybe I should just bake a sponge cake. Exploring the kitchen cabinets for other critical ingredients, I found he had none. Add those to the list for a trip to the shopping mall. Heaven forfend I should have to go shopping, but what does what one must.

 

Lots of excitement two days ago, when the remnants of a hurricane barreled through southern Scotland. Growing up in the Midwest I’ve seen huge thunderstorms, but never an actual hurricane. Fascinating watching detritus hurtle past the windows, like a Scottish-set The Wizard of Oz. I half expected the Wicked Witch of the West to cycle by. I’m glad it came through so early in autumn. The leaves have only just begun changing; I’m crossing my fingers there’s no tree-baring repeat nearer peak color. I’d love to drive up into the Highlands for spectacular photos.

Colors become brilliant in Scotland later than the Midwest – between late October and early November. Colorful leaves are long gone by November in Chicago, and it’s not particularly stunning where I lived. Two charming possibilities in the Highlands are Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. I picked them out while researching hamlets with bookshops. These two fit the bill. Right next to each other in Perthshire, they’re approximately an hour and a half away. Chris mentioned Perthshire as a beauty spot. Cross fingers the weather cooperates.

 

I can’t escape without admitting the number of books I’ve bought so far – in just over two weeks. It’s not staggering – well, maybe to a non-reader – but decent. Charity shops netted me a few finds, but Amazon.co.uk has been no slouch, either. Considering a blog devoted to Ian Rankin’s Rebus series, I found several here and there. Edinburgh is his home town; no worries about finding all the volumes.

I may have picked up a sequel to Cold Comfort Farm I never realized existed, as well as the same Bloomsbury edition of The Brontës Went to Woolworths I used to own, once upon a pre-Scotland purge. Then, there’s Claire Tomalin’s autobiography, a book by an up and coming Edinburgh author named Sam McColl, Alexander McCall Smith’s first book in The Sunday Philosophy Club series, a book about bookshops, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for a book discussion group meeting in Edinburgh. And no, you may not see my Amazon shopping cart.

 

Speaking of the book group, I attended my first meeting last evening at a lovely little cafe called Nom de Plume on Broughton St. in Edinburgh. Jean Brodie provoked a brilliant discussion, and I was very interested in hearing what actual Scots thought about this iconic title written by one of their iconic writers. All sorts of fascinating points were brought up, lots of bits and pieces I’d never have picked up on my own. This is the wonder of book groups.

 

I’m looking forward to the weekend, hoping it brings travel – weather permitting. A Scottish author and friend recommended a couple of abandoned sites I’m keen to see. One’s an old manor, the other a railroad tunnel no longer in use. The manor sounds delightfully creepy, though potentially dangerous. There are beams perilously near falling, and a staircase in the same condition. She warned of drop offs, so if you don’t hear from me again, you’ll know why. It’s Chris’s chance to wander off, whistling innocently.

I’m still working out adding photos without the Windows snipping tool, and I have some lovely ones to show. If I must, I’ll post those separately. If you see photos in this post, I was successful. Yay!

If not, they’re coming. Gives you a reason to keep living.

 

Daily: Bits & Bob’s yer uncle

 

 

After a long stretch of feeling pretty okay, insomnia and that black dog depression reared their ugly heads once again. The all too familiar slide began before Christmas. I thought once the holidays passed I’d bounce back; a couple weeks later, I realized that wasn’t going to happen without intervention.

You can’t be proud when it comes to your health. I talked with my doctor, he prescribed a “nudge” medication, and I’m back to sleeping like a baby.

I can feel the slightest deviation in mood. My brain’s like a Stradivarius, without the market value. There’s no need to suffer when you don’t have to, especially when it compromises something as important as sleep.

 

* * * * * * *

 

Reading-wise, I’m accumulating a lot more books than I’m reading.

I know: GASP.

Five or six books joined my vintage Penguin pile (I’ll tell you later), along with publisher freebies and the fruits of several ill-advised visits to bookstores. I say “ill-advised” only because I’m carrying a balance on my credit card I’d theoretically very much like to pay off.

Among other things, I found this gorgeous copy of Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by Andrea D’Aquino:

 

 

Mistress Alice

 

The White Rabbit

 

The caterpillar & his hookah

 

ABSOLUTELY STUNNING.

* * * * * * *

What to do with five days off…

Poor me, I requested my birthday (March 28) and the four days following off work. Now I have to choose a destination. Don’t you even say Scotland.

Just NO.

One thing I neglected to consider: late March is prime spring break season. Anyplace warm will be packed with thousands of college kids vomiting their brains out in the streets. Outstanding. There goes Nola, for sure. Right before Easter, at the height of party season? Nice planning, idiot.

I need to pick a place kids don’t care about, far from the madding crowd. Something tells me they won’t be hunting things literary like I will. I know, I’m probably giving them short shrift. Of course American kids are erudite.

Nope. Can’t manage a straight face.

Here are the options I’ve chosen:

 

Native of Asheville, NC

Option One: Asheville, NC.

Asheville is on my shortlist of possible places to move. It’s roughly a ten-hour drive, so close enough I can zip back to the Chicago area to visit the kids with relative ease. It’s kind of in the South, along the Atlantic seaboard, so it’s milder. It’s also damned beautiful.

A towering figure in American letters – Thomas Wolfe – hails from Asheville, plus it’s roughly two short hours to gorgeous Charleston, right on the Atlantic. The drive there would be beautiful, and there’s plenty to see and do.

 

Harper Lee and Truman Capote

Option Two: Alabama!

A literary loop in Alabama, now that’s not a bad idea.

Yes, I said Alabama.

Harper Lee was from Alabama. Truman Capote visited her in Monroeville every summer, as a child. Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald owned a home in Montgomery, where Zelda was born.

The state’s actually blessed with literary connections. And losing Republican senators.

 

Burlington, VT

Option Three: Swoon.

New England. Lovely, lovely New England. Choices here are limitless. So limitless I can’t choose. What an awful problem to have.

But… And this is a very big but… It’s six hours further than Asheville. Thirty-two hours driving in the space of five days? I love road trips, but holy mother of gawd.

 

Sweet home, Chicago

Option Four: Staycation in Lovely Chicago.

I don’t take enough advantage of living next to this beautiful city. All the architecture, the Newberry Library, the Art Institute… It’s true you neglect what’s right under your nose.

And I don’t mean your mouth.

Hotels are expensive in the city, sure. But no more than I’d be paying on long road trips, not to mention gas – and wear and tear on the car. Of course, it’s also minus Asheville and Alabama and New England.

Blimey.

If you were me, which would you pick?

Reviews: One big ol’ pile of ’em

I’m tossing several reviews together, like a reading salad. This saves your inbox (or web visit) the agony of separate, multiple posts. It’s out of love. Don’t say I never do anything for you.

Resuming formal tracking of my reading has had the unfortunate side effect of inspiring me to read more. I KNOW.  Awful. My determination to fill this journal is a 2018 goal.

Because it SMELLS LIKE VICTORY!

 

Here are the first few I’ve recorded:

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Raven Books; 1st edition (2017)
  • Purchased via Amazon.co.uk

Where did I hear about this book? I don’t know. In some UK publication, probably. In that case, why didn’t I just buy it there? Was it not out yet? Did I not have time to beg a freebie?

Does it matter? Why am I asking so many questions?

I love creepy gothic books as much as darkly psychological portraits of murderous psychopaths. Makes you wish you could spend a night in my spare bedroom, doesn’t it? Don’t be silly. You wouldn’t wake to find me looming over you.

BECAUSE YOU WOULDN’T WAKE.

I relish the dark and brooding. Heathcliff is my ideal romantic hero, which explains the irresistible attraction I have to a certain type of man. I pursue the troubled ones, the mentally unstable. I can save you, angry man with a violent past!

Alas. Sorry, no one can save you but yourself. Seven years of therapy taught me that. Come back once you’ve graduated from therapy, balanced with help of medication. But then, I may not like you as well, because you’d be normal and – GASP – possibly kind.

It’s not me, it’s you.

In literature as in life, the grim attracts me. A very dark stripe runs through my soul – or the empty space it should be, where no sound is heard save the sinister creaking of an empty rocking chair, the tell-tale beating of a disembodied heart. But then, a lot of people must be similarly afflicted, because books like this fly off the shelves. Which makes me normal. Which I resent.

I didn’t enjoy The Silent Companions at first. For at least the first quarter, it irritated me I’d paid across the pond shipping, and an inflated exchange rate, to get my grubbies on it. A haunted house, a woman who’s lost her mind, strange and shifting wooden figures that resemble people she’s known …

Yet, I just wasn’t feeling it.

Tossed to the side of my bed in a huff, I read a couple other books while it lay there, gathering dust. Then I decided dash it! I’ve paid for it, I’m going to give it a few more pages. And you know, I enjoyed it a lot more after letting it sit and stew. Still far from the best gothic I’ve read, it got one hell of a lot better.

The wooden figures – the “silent companions” of the title – are ghoulishly creepy. It’s their shifting around that does it. You know how in horror movies every time a main character works up the courage to jerk open a door, hearing a noise in the hallway, it’s guaranteed as soon as the door closes the monster/killer/icky thing will be RIGHT THERE? That, but in a surprising enough way it’s not as cliché as it could have been. Still a bit predictable, but done well enough.

The heroine develops more fully as a character through the last half of the book, enough that I’d stopped hoping for her swift death, just so the book would be over. It bothered me the plot seemed lifted from Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, done less gracefully. If I hadn’t just watched the Netflix exclusive series, I’d have been blissfully ignorant of the similarity. Purcell is no Margaret Atwood.

If you aren’t familiar with Atwood’s novel, at its center is a woman in a mental asylum. Charged with murder, her mental instability and a lack of firm evidence are enough to keep her locked up, the prospect of execution looming. In The Silent Companions, the main character is unable to speak. Interviewed on an ongoing basis by a man determined to get at the truth, she communicates her story in writing. In Alias Grace, Grace is able to speak, spinning tales like Scheherazade. Grace is completely unreliable as a narrator, the story much more suspenseful. And the ending?

HOLY HELL.

The Silent Companions isn’t the smoothest book. The dialogue tends toward the stilted. The attempted replication of a 19th century writing style comes off cheesily fake. As a lover of Victorian literature, I’m far less inclined to forgive missteps as huge as this.

It was, as you see often in reviews, “readable.” I finished it; that says a lot.

The ending irritated me. Again, picking it up so soon after my experience with the phenomenal TV adaptation of Alias Grace, it did not fare well. The power of Atwood’s novel, compared with the slow fizzle of The Silent Companions, did it no favors. I wonder if Purcell’s read Margaret Atwood’s book, if the similarities were intentional. If so, my opinion drops further.

I don’t hesitate throwing books aside. It’s ridiculous feeling you owe a writer anything. They owe you, the reader. It’s their job. They’ve produced a product, and you’ve paid for an anticipated experience. The writer needs to deliver as promised.

Not a ringing endorsement, I realize. But if you’re into gothics and aren’t looking for something either too heavy or terrifying, this may be it. And if you haven’t read Alias Grace, and aren’t an afficiando of Victorian literature.

Sorry, this just went even further South. The more I wrote, the less impressed I became. Go figure.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Catapult (October 3, 2017)

Holy lyrical and technical perfection. No wonder many lovers of hard-core literary fiction felt this short-listed novel should have won the Man Booker. I own a copy of the winner – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – but have yet to give it a proper read (as opposed to skimming pieces). Which deserved the win, I don’t know. All I do know, this one’s a beauty.

The trouble so many readers express is nothing much happens. It’s about perfection of writing, not a story that progresses in the traditional sense. A young girl in a remote English village goes missing. For years, residents search for her. Clues are tossed in occasionally, but they’re so few and far between the trail goes cold.

In place of a suspenseful plot, there are stories about everyday people, human experiences and the drama of everyday life in the space of time a tragedy becomes a distant memory. The parents of the girl are silhouettes on the edge. Hard details about the investigation aren’t well-defined.

If you’re looking for another Gone Girl, this isn’t your book. It’s a novel to be read slowly and savored, appreciated for the beauty of writing executed with perfection. It’s the kind of book you can pick up and put down without loss of continuity. I read it at a snail’s pace.

Every word is a treasure.

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (July 11, 2017)

Another beauty, this one with a plot not fast-paced but progressive. And the lyricism, just breathtaking.

Drawn from the story of his great-aunt, native Mississippian Brad Watsons’s Miss Jane is about a woman born malformed, neither her female parts, digestive nor urinary systems intact or functioning normally. She could control neither her bowels nor bladder, her life made painfully difficult.

Participating in normal society required pre-planning, and the constant worry she’d have accidents. From childhood, she was ostracized. Always on the outside looking in, her yearning to be normal, to go to school and live the carefree life of a child was heartbreaking. Forced to wear a diaper, she starved herself to avoid humiliating accidents. She wasn’t always successful.

Eventually dropping out of school, she’d learned enough rudimentary basics to allow her to read and perform basic math functions. As she got older, the dawning realization she could never have a romantic relationship in the traditional sense was a slap in the face. A strong woman, she not only endured but made a satisfyingly full life for herself, not that she never regretted what she couldn’t have. It would have been abnormal not to.

Start to finish a beautiful book, it does have lagging moments. I’m not sure I’d edit them out, though. That’s the thing. I had to pull my way along for brief periods, but overall, very worth it.

Miss Jane has literary prize written all over it.

It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree

by AJ Jacobs

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (November 7, 2017)
  • Courtesy of AJ Jacobs, because friend.

I’ve put off talking about this book because I knew it would be both very personal and time-consuming. I wanted to go into the whole back story of how I’d gotten involved in AJ’s project from the beginning, our personal friendship, and the ways I’d supported him throughout.

Flying out to Manhattan for the Global Family Reunion – the event that is the crux of this book – right around the time my divorce was finalized, it was a defining experience. I hoped to throw in pictures, too, because I went to NY and it was cathartic.

Oh, what the hell. Here are some of the pictures.

 

9/11 Museum at Ground Zero, Manhattan – a child stares in wonder.

 

I’ve known AJ at least a decade. His book The Know-it-All, about his experiences reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica, helped bring me out of a deep depression following the loss of a soul-mated friend. Written in short bursts of his thoughts on specific entries, it was both funny and interesting enough to suit my all but non-existent attention span. Losing a friend similarly passionate in his devotion to books, I’d lost the will to and interest in reading. AJ brought me back.

I wrote a deeply personal review of The Know-it-All, which AJ had seen. Meaning to find and get into contact with me, he just never did. Years later, I wrote asking him for an interview following publication of another book. He knew me immediately, telling me then how much my review had moved him.

By the time he started his world genealogy project, we were friends who communicated regularly. An editor of Esquire magazine, a very big deal, he’s still a reference on my resume. I have his personal cell number. AJ is good people.

He described his vision: what if the world traced its roots and realized we’re all cousins. I was hooked. I joined Geni.com, the site virtually hosting the project. Genealogy began to consume me. The problem: once you start, it’s hard thinking about anything else.

My then-husband was furiously jealous of the amount of time it took up in my life, manifesting in hostility toward anything I tried sharing. The rift already there after decades of a terrible marriage, we’d be divorced by the time I attended the Global Family Reunion.

No, I don’t blame that on genealogy.

One World Trade Center.

Long story short, I followed AJ through what turned out to be a tortuously difficult project to get together this real-world family reunion, held in the summer of 2015. Though his friendliness never faltered, I could see the toll it took. He was still AJ, still kind and caring, frantically busy, but never so much he didn’t return my emails. This one nearly got away from him.

The book itself went months overdue. Intending to finish sometime around March of 2016, publication didn’t happen until November 2017.

The resulting book shows the strain. He doesn’t shy away from admitting he’d gotten in over his head, that pulling together a virtual campaign getting people to join Geni and dig into their roots enough to connect with him, plan an actual event with celebrities and publicity and all that goes with it, and gear up to write this book came dangerously close to breaking him. Normally a jovial writer with a sharp edge of self-denigrating sarcasm, the style of It’s All Relative comes off almost depressing.

This book doesn’t sound like AJ to me.

Ultimately, he drew together thousands who traced their ancestry far enough they realized he was right: we are all interconnected. Real life friendships were formed between total strangers of different races and ethnic origins, small celebrations were held around the world. People who couldn’t make the official reunion held their own.

Though it rained torrentially the day of the actual, mostly outdoor reunion, feet and chairs sinking into inches of mud, he pulled it off. Sister Sledge was there, singing “We Are Family”. I saw the celebrities backstage. That part was semi-amazing.

When I saw AJ that day, met him face to face, he was so distracted it didn’t register who I was. It didn’t help I was an unrecognizable drowned rat, caught in the deluge in Manhattan while tracking down a cab. By the time I caught up with him, the strain from all that had gone wrong had him so near distraught he shook my hand absently.

Leaving the event, I couldn’t find a taxi to take me the staggeringly expensive and long route back to Manhattan. In a shady area of Brooklyn, I wandered for hours. My feet were so sore from a poor choice in footwear – fashion over function – I walked the sidewalks barefoot, lost beyond hope. Returning to the venue, I tearfully asked for help. My phone dead more than an hour, the volunteers kindly ordered my taxi.

 

Times Square

Back at my hotel, I threw things around, irate I’d paid a tremendous amount of money flying out and staying in Manhattan just to have it turn into a virtual shit show. I tossed my backstage pass lanyard in the garbage. I couldn’t wait to leave New York City.

A few weeks later, once I’d cooled a bit but not completely, I fired off an email to AJ. It was a little ranty. And god, he was sorry. So sorry we set up a Skype call so he could talk to me, apologizing as face to face as technology allows.

Fences were mended.

I guess I did wind up writing a personal review about the book, after all. It was a life experience I won’t forget – not a completely great one, but all’s well that ends friendship intact.

 

So ends a quick summary of the first few books I’ve finished thus far in 2018. I’m close to finishing more. Hopefully I’ll have time to discuss those singly. We’ll see. Lots of other book-related thoughts, but time has been kicking my arse lately.

Either way, I’ll be back soon. Until then, happy January reading.

On the horizon: the next big thing

When you haven’t blogged for a fairly significant amount of time it’s all the harder writing a new post – partly due to the drag of guilt. Falling terribly behind, in this and obligations in general, embarrasses and discourages me. The longer a thing lies dormant, the bigger it looms.

Ultimately, it’s a goddamn blog, FFS. JUST WRITE SOMETHING.

I’ve been up to all sorts of things, the majority related to the settling back in process. Between furnishing my home, re-training for my job, reading and reviewing and getting myself out there socially, there’s not a lot of time to spare. I’ve reconnected to people and organizations, building new connections as well.

I’ve wasted no time.

What self-reflective time I have is taken up planning my future. Keeping new possessions light purposely, I’m unwilling to put down permanent roots just yet. Lessons learned in the process of moving to Scotland are still fresh. Previously inhabiting a two-bedroom apartment roomy enough but not overly large, I was shocked how long it took emptying it out.

So, so much stuff is a hindrance. It’s a lifestyle I won’t repeat.

I’m unwilling to settle where I am. Living someplace as beautiful as Scotland fed rather than quenched my wanderlust. What’s next is the question, what’s firing my excitement the knowledge I have no idea what the future holds. This time last year I’d have laughed had anyone suggested I’d call Scotland home for several months. It came from the blue, and no matter the ending I’m extremely grateful it happened. I wouldn’t exchange it for the world.

Given half a chance, I’d do it all over again.

Ten months remaining in my current lease, I’m busily plotting not just where I’ll go next but what I’ll do. The options are dizzying. Tempering it are the dull but necessary realities of life.

My ex-husband would roll his eyes, declaring it a result of my impetuous nature fed by the milder form of bipolar, but I have a good head on my shoulders. Sorry, pet, I don’t do boring. I’m glad for you that you found the conventional life you were dying to have all those years, but grateful beyond words you never managed to kill my fire. Points for effort on your part, though. It wasn’t for lack of trying.

I’m unafraid to leap, but careful to make sure there’s as soft a landing as I can manage waiting on the other side. The chances I take are measured. What looks whackadoodle from the outside is actually quite safe. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit that, as it takes away the appearance of magic. But then, it’s still nuts measured against conventionality.

At least there’s that.

I wouldn’t expect any grand pronouncements just yet. I can say with a measure of confidence the planning will take a while. This time, I’m hoping for a longer-term commitment to whatever it is I choose. And I do have a few things in mind, she said, cryptically…

Until then, back to books, back to reading, and back to writing. Reviews are in process, my library is building up nicely, and I have all sorts of bookish opinions to share.

Here’s to great adventure. Never, never, never settle for less.

Sidetrip to Chester, England

Lovely Chester – from Eastgate

Needing a break from the arduous task of living a semi-retired existence in Scotland, I took a few days away to re-visit a city I haven’t seen since I was a teenager: Chester, England. An all-too-brief tea stop en route from London to the Lake District my first time there, Chester is still, decades later, one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen – and I’ve traveled a lot, visiting most countries in continental Europe, Ireland, and all countries in the UK save Northern Ireland.

This city had been making guest appearances in my dreams for decades. To a 16-year old Anglophile, it was heaven: half-timbered buildings, cobblestones, a cathedral, castle and remarkably complete city walls… I’d never gotten it out of my head. Given the opportunity to take a side-trip for a few days, when I saw it was only a 3.5-hour train ride from Edinburgh I knew it was time.

The risk was it wouldn’t stand up to my idealized memories. In reality, Chester surpassed them all.

Eastgate Clock (1899) – city walls.

The luxury of planning a four-day stay gave me the chance to get out and roam: plenty of time to see everything touristy, with leftover luxury time to get well and thoroughly lost. That’s when you find quaint little corners that didn’t merit even a footnote in the guidebooks; even better, opportunities to irritate the locals by showing up where they aren’t expecting tourists. Bumbling my way into a private event at a church that sure as hell looked like fair game to me, I experienced a legitimate Withering Look from a legitimate Proper Englishman. I beamed, brushed past, and diverted to take exterior photos of the architecture.

Sod off, Nigel.

St Mary’s Centre (formerly St Mary’s On-the-Hill) – with Nigel (left).

As a teenager, I recognized Chester’s distinctive Tudor architecture. I now realize how grotesquely nerdy that makes me sound. I’d pretty much figured out other kids weren’t sitting home Saturday nights flipping through well-worn picture books about Great Britain, mooning like star-crossed lovers, but I had zero interest in much else save history and literature. In retrospect, it does explain my almost exclusively sober memories of high school, but I’m unrepentant:

I’m sitting in Scotland right now, bitchez!

Streets of Chester.

Preparing for this trip back to Chester the internet – annoying little prig – showed me everything I thought I knew about the city was wrong. The buildings I’d smugly assumed were of Tudor origin are, in reality, mostly Victorian – some facades stuck onto structures destroyed by fire in the Middle Ages. A few are original to the 15th and 16th centuries, but most were rebuilt hundreds of years after.

The Pied Bull Pub – 1535

Roman Chester

I never dreamed how much Roman history Chester holds. Busy coordinating a packed reviewing schedule, I only stumbled on that little detail as I was throwing my clothes in the suitcase. Scratching the surface a bit, I saw it was massive:

Roman Amphitheatre – 1st C.

The largest found in Britain so far, Chester’s Roman Amphitheatre was re-discovered in 1929 during a construction project. It was excavated between 2000 and 2006.

A guide dressed as a Roman soldier was giving tours in the rain the day I visited. It was cold and miserable, alternating between mist and harder rain – a day much better suited to purusing Waterstones than gadding about.

The amphitheatre could easily seat 8,000 people, and around it, a sprawling complex of dungeons, stables and food stands were built to support the contests, while a shrine to Nemesis, goddess of retribution, was built at the north entrance to the arena. The unusually large and developed amphitheatre complex has led historians to speculate that Chester would have become capital of Roman Britain had the Romans successfully captured Ireland.

Wikipedia

Roman Garden – Chester.

Relics in the Roman Garden were arranged there to create a lovely park space. It’s all original to Chester, just not original to the site.

Roman Baths – Chester, in Roman Garden.

Roman Garden – Chester.

Parish Church of St. John the Baptist

Huge fan of church and castle rubble that I am, I was thrilled when, walking through Grosvenor Park,  I saw a sign for the St. John’s Ruins. It’s another site I hadn’t seen the first time around:

St. John the Baptist – Ruins (1075)

My DSLR camera died simultaneously with finding the ruin, a sign which didn’t portend well. I took a dozen or so photos with my phone, but then a miracle happened: my camera started working again.

St John the Baptist – Ruins – divine light descends.

St John the Baptist is an active parish, just not the ruined bits. Not all the church collapsed, at least not all at once. There were a series of collapses, and subsequent repairs, throughout its history:

In 1468 the central tower collapsed. In 1572 the northwest tower partially collapsed and in 1574 there was a greater collapse of this tower which destroyed the western bays of the nave. This was rebuilt on a “magnificent scale”. There were restorations to the church in 1859–66 and 1886–87 by RC Hussey. While the northwest tower was being repaired in 1881 it collapsed again, this time destroying the north porch. The porch was rebuilt in 1881–82 by John Douglas.

Wikipedia

 

The guide inside St John the Baptist related the church’s history from its Viking burial markers to how to tell if a knight’s been on Crusade from details on his effigy, everything between and after. He rattled on in the very best sense, so interestingly and quickly I wished I had a memory to speak of so I could share it.

The ceiling of the church was funded by Elizabeth I. The price? The lead on the existing ceiling, as the English were hard at work on the Spanish Armada at the time, and needed every bit of scrap material they could lay hands on.

St. John the Baptist parish church

 

Between the ruins and the working parish church, I spent at least an hour and a half there.

Chester Castle

I captured the castle at the golden hour of the day, the sun illuminating the side. Open only for tours two days a month, I wasn’t able to see inside. Disappointing, to say the least. Rumor has it inside lay all sorts of interesting historical artifacts, as well as paintings, etc.

Ah, well. Maybe next time.

Chester Castle (1070)

Chester Cathedral

Other charms aside, it’s Chester’s cathedral I found most bewitching. After circumnavigating it more than once while looking for the entrance, twice passing a confused Englishwoman doing the same, it was one astounding visual experience after another.

Chester’s cathedral is majestic.

Chester Cathedral (1541) – not the entrance.

 

The choir, Chester Cathedral.

 

One of several magnificent ceilings.

 

The Cathedrall is Large and Lofty, ye quire well Carv’d, fine tapistry hangings at ye alter, a good organ: The Bishops pallace is on the Right hand of it and the Doctors houses, all built of Stone.

 

Modern Stained Glass.

 

Cloister Garden – ‘The Water of Life’ by Stephen Broadbent

I spent four days in Chester. One day was pouring rain, limiting how much I was able to get out and about. Turned out, three days were exactly enough. I left knowing I hadn’t seen everything, but content I’d seen enough.

From a guidebook I bought at Waterstones, I learned just enough about the history to know how much more I want to know. Serendipitously, there’s a plaque inside Chester Cathedral dedicated to an ancestor I found branching off my own family tree during my Mad Genealogy Period. He’s the father of a woman George Washington proposed to before Martha, the woman who rejected the man who’d be the first president of the United States.

A man with his own Wikipedia page.

Wait… What?

I knew nothing of his association with Chester, but I recognized his name and where he’d lived in New York, and from that little curtain twitch funnelled back more than 240 years, I could just make out a young lady with burning cheeks standing in awkward conversation with the first president of my country:

“I’m sorry, George. Daddy says no.”

Of the hundreds of marble slabs dedicated to thousands of people in Chester Cathedral, I happened to plant myself directly in front of his. Go. Figure. Things like this happen to me all the time – not very distant relatives found honored in huge cathedrals, but too many little coincidences to recount.

I find these things because I read and research, I’m curious and I travel. Odds are, if you travel enough you’re bound to run into parts of yourself elsewhere. I went looking for my 16-year old self in Chester, and ran smack into my Dutch great-great-great-grand-something – the last person I expected to see in the last place I expected to see him. It happens sometimes, if you keep your eyes open.

Once again, Chester, so long. And thanks for all the fish.

Old Dee Bridge (1387)

 

At the End of ye town just by the Castle you Crosse over a very large and Long Bridge over the River Dee wch has the tyde Comes up much beyond the town; its 7 mile off yt it falls into ye sea, but its very broad below ye town, when at high tyde is like a very broad sea: there they have a little Dock and build shipps of 200 tunn, I saw some on the stocks.

Live, from Scotland!

 

Edinburgh Castle, as if you didn’t know

Coming to you live from Bonnie Scotland. I’ll be reviewing for UK publishers and venues through the next few months, up and running here at Bluestalking. You’ll find me at the Edinburgh International Literary Festival in August, attending events, standing very close to authors, reading and buying books, enjoying the roar of the grease paint, the smell of the crowds.

I’m getting settled in my new situation, setting up my digs.

Since I’ve been here I’ve attended the Boswell Book Festival, and am currently reading the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction Shortlist, in preparation for attending the Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival, Melrose, for the presentation of the award.

Exciting stuff!

Meantime, I’ll be bringing you all the British – particularly Scottish – book info I can fit into my schedule.

Slàinte, and all that.

photo: amsterdam

amsterdam street: august 2016.

amsterdam street: august 2016.

 

My experience in Amsterdam is that cyclists ride where the hell they like and aim in a state of rage at all pedestrians while ringing their bell loudly, the concept of avoiding people being foreign to them.

  • Terry Pratchett

meanwhile, back in edinburgh: Part the 1st

Dusk, over the Atlantic

Dusk, over the Atlantic

As I was saying, I flew to Edinburgh on the spur of the moment, staying nine days from the end of August through early September. In my earlier post I covered the generalities: the whys and whats and wherefores. I went because I could, because I had the time and the freedom and the money. I went for the Edinburgh International Literary Festival (which expanded to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as a bonus) and out of love I’ve nursed for Scotland as close to all my life as it interests me to relate.

What makes this remarkable isn’t just that I upended my life and left; it signaled the end of one very, very (very) long married phase and the beginning of the rest of my life.

Dull. Let’s get to the fun bits.

 

Appin Guest House, Edinburgh

Appin Guest House, Edinburgh

I have no reason to lie to you; the trip cost a fucking fortune. Nervous breakdowns are expensive. I’ve been using the bank statement listing all my foreign transactions as note paper; I can’t bear turning it over and facing reality. I know what the plane cost (ouch) and roughly the hotel (oucher). Food, cab fare, festival tickets, souvenirs, beer… Not like I can return any of it for a refund or would even want to.

Note paper. All note paper.

Flying into a European city at the height of its festival season (books, the arts in general, the military tattoo and films: four separate affairs) without having pre-planned to do so, at a time when hotels are booked to capacity, is nothing short of foolhardy. In any case save duress, this would be a very bad idea. Duress, in my case, meant if I didn’t get the hell away I would risk losing the last bit of my goddamn sanity.

I had all of two hotels from which to chose, two with rooms available so late in the festival season. One was a guest house/B&B  so expensive it gave me a nose bleed, the other a mansion far out of the realm of reality even if I’d knocked over a bank. Because I’m too pretty for prison, I went with the nosebleed, a beautiful little B&B – Appin Guest House – off Dalkeith Road, in a residential area to the southeast of central Edinburgh. I was by Arthur’s Seat, not far from the Palace of Holyrood, the walk to the Old Town roughly half an hour to forty minutes depending how many wrong turns I took and how many distractions.

Arthur's Seat

Arthur’s Seat

Now, the B&B was expensive but it was ungodly amazing, like walking off the streets of 21st century Edinburgh straight into the Edwardian era. Have you seen that horrendously saccharine time-traveling film starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour? Something something in time? That but without the gagging, a sort of time warp, space/time anomaly, timey wimey wibbly wobbly thing. Step outside and I’m a tourist in rumpled, not fresh as they could be clothing, dragging luggage. Step inside and my high-fashion silk dress squeezes me into a perfect hourglass, lace-up leather boots with sharp toe ringing on the floor, all topped with a hat nestling my well-coiffed hair – as opposed to flat and somewhat frozen locks on the one side, from resting it against the wall of the plane, sticking straight up in front because Edinburgh’s more than a little bit windy.

The floors of the hotel were marble, broad stairway showing gracefully well-worn wood, crystal chandeliers hanging from coffered ceilings, tastefully muted tartan carpeting throughout and general gob-smacking splendor. Fresh from navigating the streets of Edinburgh, dragging my worldly belongings behind bumpity bumpity down cobble-stoned streets, reaching that foyer I wanted to fall to my knees and kiss the floor. And this before I’d even experienced their Full Scottish Breakfast.

 

Foyer, Appin House

Foyer, Appin House

 

Grand ceiling, Appin House

Grand ceiling, Appin House

Many more photos of Appin House here on Bluestalking’s Tumblr

The absolute silence of the place was a bit spooky. I’d forgotten hotels in Europe aren’t like those in America, they all but close down for several hours between breakfast and check-in time. I knocked on the “Employees Only” door, receiving no answer. I strained my ears to hear even a whisper of human noise, even the scurrying of a mouse. The quiet was almost oppressive but there was a chair to rest my weary bones, an outlet to charge my phone and little else I wanted aside from that. Half a sandwich from a New York layover sufficed for lunch with water from the Edinburgh airport.

I could wait ’til Doomsday, if need be. Communication with the outside world re-established, weary self safely and warmly ensconced in a luxurious setting frankly too good for me, it was time to start texting bragging pictures home.

 

Edinburgh Castle, In Yo' Face

Edinburgh Castle, In Yo’ Face

Eventually, it was the maid who came along to save me, tsking both that I’d had to wait so long and also that the gardeners had left the front door unlocked, allowing me to come inside in the first place. I’ve never received such a warm and assuring, flustered and disbelieving welcome before in my life. Welcome! And how did you get in here… ? Oh, and your room isn’t ready, did I mention that?

My room hadn’t been cleaned but she took care of it in less than an hour, while I sat unmoving in the foyer, alternately texting madly and cackling at the consternation of friends I’d awoken at an ungodly hour back home in Chicago. For all I cared she could have repainted and tiled the walls, while she was at it. I had Facebook! Twitter! Text messaging! Pictures I’d already taken! THE WHOLE DAMN INTERNETS!

But breaking eye contact with my phone screen long enough to – with no small degree of annoyance at the interruption – look up at her antiseptic-smelling self hovering above me, I fell in love instantaneously. As the clouds parted, she handed me the key. “You must be so tired,” she said, in the way soothing, ethereally beautiful angels must, at the point of our death. I’d been bright-eyed and more than a little manic-looking, eyes evolved huge and staring wide from gazing at the flickering blue screen in the almost dark, but her eyes were so kind, her raw need to see me rest so urgent. Pulling the charger plug for my phone from the ancient socket in the wall, cord whipping behind me, I charged up the stairs into my newly-cleaned room, peeked to see that there was in fact an en-suite bathroom (it’s Europe, you can’t take these things for granted) and threw myself into sheets so white and starched I thought I’d never crawl out again.

The angel left quietly, soft clouds caressing my cheeks in her wake. To sleep, perchance to awaken and shower before nightfall. “Sleep, my precious… Sleep.” she whispered.

Three minutes later I heard her above, vacuum roaring away. My angel.

 

Room 6, Starched and Ready

Room 6, Starched and Ready

 

Thinking back, I’m not positive I ever once set out in an intentional straight line from the hotel to central Edinburgh. Lie: I did but never made it without streets changing names and buildings popping up where they hadn’t been the day before. Greyfriars Cathedral alone must have gone poof and re-assembled itself in a different location a good dozen times before all was said and done. For one solid day it was there every time I turned a corner,  like some sort of twisted-ass Harry Potter wizarding trick. I could set out with it at my back, make a beeline in the opposite direction, then find myself smack in front of it again in half an hour without having made a turn.

It was not rational; it bent the laws of physics in half.

It got to the point I found myself ecstatic to recognize places I’d gotten lost previously. It’s not that I remembered how I eventually managed to get where I was going from these points. Rather, I was disproportionately gleeful I came to find streets I hadn’t meant to be at least once before. If I’d been anyone else tagging along with me I’d have ripped off my head, shoving the map down my neck as blood spurted from my arteries like a sprinkler. On my own, I just slapped myself on the back – a bit too sharply, at times -laughing it off.

In my peripheral vision, Greyfriars stood sentry, biding its time.

 

Couldn't find it again if I had to

Couldn’t find it again if I had to

So, I spent these first couple days wandering, getting my bearings and memorizing every line of Greyfriars Church. I had no agenda save book festival events a couple of days hence, leaving fate to take me where it would. Putting a foot out the door each morning, I had no set plans. I picked a direction and followed my nose, which also seemed to pop up in unexpected places several times an hour. My map and smart phone were in my backpack for emergencies but the only real need I had of them was navigating back home at the end of the day. Because, well, they weren’t going to get me anywhere I actually intended seeing, anyway.

 

I do not know

I do not know

I floated through the city, embracing my own discombobulation, getting lost cutting through dark alleys, taking photos of details.

 

Damned if I know

Damned if I know

Uphill and downhill… Up and down, each up more steep than the downs, I swear to God. Defies all laws of physics. Or geography. Or geological who’s it.  But you cannot tell me it’s not so.

Cowgate - this one I figured out

Cowgate – this one I figured out

Thank goodness for those huge breakfasts on subsequent days. I didn’t need to eat all day, not until dinner.

So I walked.

And got lost.

Walked some more, got tired, sat, got up and walked. Found a pub, had a pint.

And walked.

 

Sword Swallower - Fringe Fest

Sword Swallower – Fringe Fest

Finding myself in Princes Street that first day, I blended with the crowds watching street performers.

And cringed along with them.

015

 

Found myself in the square in front of St. Giles Cathedral.

St. Giles Cathedral

 

I gawped up at the architecture.

Still St. Giles

Still St. Giles

Gawped some more.

You guessed it

You guessed it

A bit more.

Yip

Yip

The cathedral was emptying out for the day, whisper quiet as I walked around taking photos. Just me and a handful of other tourists.

Interior, St. Giles

Interior, St. Giles

St. Giles, Interior

St. Giles, Interior

Then…

Yes

Yes

One last look, before they closed for the day.

Outside again, dusk had begun falling, travel weariness dead on its heels. All the early excitement walked out of me, I started coming back down. I dreamed again of starched sheets, dreamed of dreaming on starched sheets.

Just as I’d begun drooping, the Fringe Festival was revving up. Actors and comedians and singers passed out handbills to lure in well-fed and watered tourists looking for entertainment. At any given time I must have held thirty advertisements in my free hand. Not sure why but grabbing papers from strangers became almost giddying,  all those hands stuffing things at me at once, elevator speeches chattering full force. I found that manic smile on my face again.

Crowds don’t usually amuse me, much less crowds popping out with hands. Must have been over-exhaustion making me slap happy. It got to be a game: how many papers can I grab?! I must have all the papers! GIVE ME ALL THE PAPERS.

So many venues, so much to see and quite reasonable. Dirt cheap, most of it. Had I not enjoyed so much free sampling on the streets earlier I may have been tempted, myself, on the first day. But I was growing exhausted.

 

Fringe Festival - 2015

Fringe Festival – 2015

And evening was coming on quickly.

Human Statue

Human Statue

Performance artists posed.

Fringe Event Posters

Fringe Event Posters

And all the posters and posters and posters glued everywhere.

St. Giles, Square

St. Giles, Square

Buildings grew dark as street lights began to glow.

A Close

A Close

And while the excitement of the revelers was palpable and alluring, gearing up for a long night, I’d just flown in from the States. Already awake more than 24 hours, I hit a wall.

Hungry for the first time since that hours’ old sandwich consumed at the B&B, dinner was another cold sandwich from a shop. Quick and easy. The forty to fifty to three hour walk back was exchanged for a cab.

Day one – a mere late afternoon and evening – was done. The next would be my first full day in the city.  What little energy I had left I’d use reading that guidebook I packed, to research what I hadn’t made time to before, leaving in such a rush, and study a map more for ornament than anything. Then shower dust and sweat and the palms of dozens of people I’d brushed from Chicago to New York to Edinburgh, falling asleep on sheets ironed by an angel.

Grateful I’d fought against every excuse to not, yet came, anyway.

Back to Edinburgh.

 

Night falls on Edinburgh

Night falls on Edinburgh

 

’round edinburgh in nine days: preface

Edinburgh: City of Eternal Rain

Edinburgh: City of Eternal Rain

“Adventure should be part of everyone’s life. It is the whole difference between being fully alive and just existing.” ― Holly Morris

 

If my Grand, Impulsive Excursion to Bonnie Scotland were a book, it could best be described as pitch perfect, the work of a writer at the height of her powers and, that perennial favorite of mine, readable.

It was a solitary endeavor, a lone wolf journey abroad made by a newly-single woman with an abiding love of a good, cold stout served up at a dusty, dimly lit pub and a post-divorce chip on her shoulder the size of, well, a really big chip. And yes, it was a little scary going it alone, thanks for asking, though not so much as it could have been had I not just last year flown to Ireland on my own. My 2014 trip proved I can rely on myself, plan and execute a solo vacation and not at all blend in with the locals because who am I kidding, I scream American from five miles away even in English-speaking nations.

I’m a strong woman who can handle herself, a perfect candidate for solo travel. I also enjoy my own company more than that of most others. Disagreements with myself are few, seldom resulting in violence. At only one point in the trip did I become so aggravated I stopped speaking to me, a brief period which flared and subsided as quickly as it came. I bought myself a drink, we laughed, it was soon forgotten.

Ah, the memories!

Edinburgh isn’t just awesome and beautiful, full of history and bagpipes and beer and whisky and beer but also a mecca for all things arts and literary. A  safe city for a woman alone, during my nine days there not a single murder was committed: not in Edinburgh, in Scotland or the entire UK. Meanwhile, back here in the USA not only were there violent killings in the Chicago suburbs but my very own street was staked out by a SWAT team, shite you not. So, for those considering a trip abroad but concerned with personal safety, shut up and go, for fuck’s sake. Quite whining. You’re more likely to be harmed here than there.

God bless the NRA!

In fact, the closest approximation to a traumatic situation I encountered was a man urinating proudly and profusely through a wrought-iron fence near the Sir Walter Scott monument. Despite his vigorously healthy stream, at no point did I feel endangered. In fact I envied the man, as I do all of his gender, his possession of equipment enabling urination while standing up, in a set direction no less, a feat nary a female could accomplish without impaling herself and making a huge mess. And if that’s the worst that happened to me I count myself lucky.

Ostensibly, my official “reason” for flying over was to attend the Edinburgh International Literary Festival, that most deservedly lauded celebration of books and authors and books and authors, coupled with a deep love for Scotland I’ve enjoyed more than half my life. Abroad on a student ambassador program at the tender age of 18, I proclaimed to no one in particular, “This is where I will spend the rest of my life!” Then promptly didn’t, because hey that’s how 18-year olds are, dramatic and pretty well powerless.

Not that I didn’t give it a noodle. I entered college with every intention of studying abroad a semester at Edinburgh University and would have, too, had my then boyfriend (now ex-husband, IRONY) not popped a diamond on my finger as a sort of insurance policy I would not dump him and hook up with a man in a kilt. And how’d that work out for me. Believe me, not a year goes by I don’t regret that.

Worse, to this day I still do not know for certain what Scottish men wear underneath their kilts. Suspicions, yes. Verifiable proof, no, despite having visited during a particularly windy week. Hopes dashed, I default to a firm belief it gets pretty windy under there.

Och, lad, tell me true!

Och, lad, tell me true!

Sadly, many literary festival events were sold out before I arrived. Things had been going on full-swing a couple of weeks before I showed up and though I bought tickets online before I left pickings were quickly growing slim. Let this be a lesson for anyone planning to act on impulse. Always pre-plan your unexpected adventures.

 

Ian Rankin interviews Stuart David

Ian Rankin interviews Stuart David

I wound up attending only two events: a Michael Frayn talk about his new compilation of tiny plays, Matchbox Theatre, and an Ian Rankin discussion with singer-songwriter Stuart David – of Belle and Sebastian – upon publication of his new biography, In the All-Night Café: A Memoir of Belle and Sebastian’s Formative Years. Though I had tickets to see Denise Mina, I’d exhausted myself walking around that day and couldn’t bear the thought of dragging arse back to Charlotte Square. Instead, I stayed in my hotel room watching really bad British TV and eating takeaway fish and chips, followed in short order by horrendous indigestion and a bad case of insomnia by saturated fat.

All in all the trip was, technically speaking, amazeballs.  Ireland and Wales last year, Scotland this… Which was the better trip? The trip would have to go to 2014, since my daughter was with me and if she reads this she’ll be really pissed off if I don’t say that. However, which city is better? God  I‘m sorry Dublin but it’s Edinburgh. Purely Edinburgh. Just remember I love you, too.

So I have loads of pictures to share, as well as a strong possibility of anecdotal bloviating. I’ve prefaced my adventure here and will continue telling my story in subsequent posts. Hope you’ll tune in.