Friday, 7 January 2011

The Emily Times

Emily came! And went. Cry.
It seemed like a whirlwind visit. It was like no sooner had she arrived and I was sleeping on a rapidly deflating mattress on the floor, than she was leaving again and I was back in my own bed.
The weather during her trip was pretty depressingly awful. Not that it was particularly rainy or even snowy, but it was dull, grey, cloudy and oh! so very cold. Blue skies in winter can be quite pretty here:
Actually that's an evening shot. We can look nice in the day, too.

Still, Emily is not one to let the weather put a dampener on her ill-warranted irrational exuberance. After subjecting her to bowling and pizza with my friends on her first evening, we hit the town on the second day.

We spent most of our time in Edinburgh's Old Town, the originally-titled oldest part of the city. After wandering by the castle (see top of page) and through a shop that promised more armour than it delivered, we went to the Camera Obscura. A Camera Obscura is a contraption that projects a live image of a location via a series of wicked things like mirrors. You go into a darkened room and a guide rotates the image around the city and 'picks up' people on the image with pieces of card. I remember going once when I was younger, though I remember the image being clearer then, it being summer and the light being brighter. After the display on the top floor we made our way down through the different levels of the building which each housed a set of displays and things you could play with, all connected with optical illusions and the like. Here is a ladder to Australia:
Of course, any ladder going to Australia would have to pass through the molten layers of the Earth, so I have to assume this display is an attempt to murder unwitting Australian tourists passing through the museum.
Other highlights included a mirror maze and a gangway that has rotating lights around it that make you want to vomit.
The place is a bit like the Dublin Wax Museum PLUS that I visited last year, with the difference being that the Camera Obscura isn't shit. Hooray for that.

After grabbing lunch/dinner at a bar on Potter Row (after giving up on the excessively busy Elephant House, famous for being the place where J.K. Rowling apparently wrote some of the early Harry Potter stuff) we ventured out to investigate taking part in the Torchlight Procession. As far as I can tell, this event is part of an attempt for the City of Edinburgh to stretch its money-spinning Hogmanay celebrations beyond the night of the 31st. Thousands of people buy overpriced torches (for charity, in fairness) which are later lit, then everyone walks through town, carrying their flaming brands, like a rather indifferent lynch mob. Emily and I thought we were late to the party, but after getting our torches, which were a roll of coarse fabric coated in wax, we found that we were quite near the front of the procession. A voice over a PA system told us at various intervals, as we were waiting to be lit up and allowed to move off, that there were 10,000, 15,000 then 20,000 of us in total. A record-breaking year. Somewhere around 6.20, the Up Helly Aa vikings from Shetland started the show and the gift of fire spread like the proverbial throughout the waiting crowd.

Fire starts to arrive:
  
I am given a light by this kind lady:
The Savages song from Pocahontas:
A while after being lit up, with the wax dripping down our sticks and only a bit of card to protect our hands, we were permitted to proceed. We walked down from St Giles Cathedral and round The Mound, by the National Galleries, then right onto Princes Street and up to Calton Hill. Once there, we waited a while for some of the thousands of people behind us to catch up (though not all made it) and then we were treated to a Viking ship burning

and some fireworks
And then we all headed home, covered in wax. I have a pair of gloves that are probably ruined now because wax leaked through the gap between the guard and the torch and soaked its way right through the fabric. I didn't notice at first, except that there was a pleasant warming sensation in my left hand.

The following day was New Year's Eve, or Hogmanay as we say in Scotland. I can never be bothered doing anything for New Year, but I did book something for the daytime. Panto! It's a British institution. Pantomime is a stage performance of a traditional, well-known story but usually with a few modern elements and cultural references added. Often the cultural references are very local and specific. Each pantomime takes up residence in a particular theatre between December and January, and features one or two celebrities, former celebrities or other washed-up sorts. Many theatres seem to have exclusive deals with particular washed-up stars to do their pantomime every year, whatever it may be. Allan Stewart, Scottish comedian, has been playing the pantomime dame (read: transvestite) at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh for so many years that I doubt anyone can remember how he looks as a man. This year he was back as the mother of the eponymous Jack in this:
I was a little worried that I'd grown too jaded to appreciate this kind of family-oriented entertainment, but I really did enjoy it. The story wasn't as well constructed as it could have been, but it was fun and even Emily could appreciate a good number of the cultural references, having been subjected to many of the trashier elements of British culture by myself.

On New Year's Day I was dead to the world, having burned out from being sick with fluey coldishness and lack of lying around doing nothing. So my parents took Emily on a merry jaunt somewhere. I hope she didn't feel intimidated by them.

The next day we all went to Stirling to visit the castle there. It was ####ing freeeeezing, and the skies were grey and depressing. It's probably a nice place to visit in summer but gawd it was gloomy. Then we went to the Wallace monument, which is dedicated to Scottish heroism and patriotism as personified by psychotic Australian actor/director Mel Gibson.

That evening we made a quick decision to do one of the many ghost tours offered by companies in the city centre. We phoned up to make sure there would be space, and were told that only the 10pm tour has spaces free. Of course, tramping around the spooky Old Town of Edinburgh at night is an opportunity any tourist would jump at, so we made our way into the city. I have to say I was a little disappointed by the tour. The speaker had a tendency towards the melodramatic, and while he had the moody tone of intrigue school of storytelling down pat, I thought he could have used more variation in his style. I also think that when the guides act more normally, and engage with the audience in a light-hearted way, it helps to bring them in more and accept more willingly the dramatic, spooky parts of the stories. When we made it to the underground vaults - lost and buried between the late 19th century and 1985 - we were finally told that Mercat Tours (the company organising our tour) didn't go in for gimmicks like people jumping out at you in costumes, so anything you saw or heard that you couldn't explain was potentially a spirit of some kind. Personally I thought the tour could use a gimmick or two. The kind of stories he told of the various criminals, witches, tortures and executions were very familiar to me - I've heard them all on tours before. A good scare from a guy wearing a rubber mask would have livened up the whole thing, in my opinion. I'm not sure if Emily was of a similar opinion.

The next day, after a rather long lie following our late night ghost walk, we decided to visit Holyrood Palace, official Edinburgh residence of the Queen and site of a fair bit of Scottish royal history. With our ticket we got an audio tour guide including a welcome by Prince Charles. I actually hadn't known until a few days before that the palace was a tourist attraction. I didn't know you could go inside, even though one of my friends used to work in the cafe there. One thing that struck me about the interior of the palace was that there were no corridors with rooms leading off them; each room followed the next so that to walk all the way around the house, you had to go through the various bed chambers and waiting rooms.

Part of the audio tour deals with the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, and in particular the murder by her second husband of her Italian secretary. We had been informed, by my friend who worked at the palace, that the site of the murder had a patch of red on the floorboards. She said it was meant to suggest that the bloodstain of five hundred years ago still remained, but was actually the result of some enthusiastic polishing from the cleaning ladies who worked there, who get a kick out of tricking people into thinking it's real.

After the palace, which was a nice place to get in out of the cold, we had cheap dinner at a scummy pub called Shakespeare's (presumably because of its proximity to several theatres) then went to see an advanced screening of The King's Speech. We both really enjoyed it. I noted again how the King had to pass through every other room in his palace to get to where he was going. Must be a thing with British palaces.

The following day was Emily's last day in Edinburgh, so we went, at last, to Edinburgh Castle. Once again the weather was freezing, so we spent most of the time diving in and out of the various buildings. I'm not convinced the experience is worth the £15 it costs to get in, but it is at least nice to have a commanding view of the city. It's probably nicer in summer, as with most things. After tourist shopping and then normal shopping, we went for dinner at an Indian restaurant and had curry foods, which was important for us because we used to go for a curry together every week in Japan. I think Emily's been kind of deprived since I left.


Emily left in the middle of the night and I moped about wondering where all the time had gone, all too aware that I had a creative writing submission to make, for which I had zero motivation.
Emily made it home safely, however. Her home was guarded by deer in her absence. Also, bears.

4 comments:

LostGeekGlasgow said...

ahem - you omitted the most important fact about the Wallace Monument.

Jimijam said...

Yeah I left that out cos I couldn't remember what year you got married in.

LostGeekGlasgow said...

Your respect for the importance of historical accuracy is noted. Your uselessness at it equally noted.

Chie* said...

Hello, James.
Did Emliy like your place and country?

By the way, you can use the ladder to come over to Australia! Why not!?