The girls are burned out on castles, history, foreign languages and pizzas from Tesco, leek soup. I buy a box of corn flakes to tie us back home, we leave the house in search of lunch in Edinburgh, but the weather deteriorates along with Charlotte’s mood, she won’t wear her coat or reveal why, she’s mad I wouldn’t let her lock herself in the bathroom and now she’s getting cold and wet and will sabotage the day, anarchist’s logic.
But nothing like a good Indian meal and a glass of Coke to turn things around. The Starbucks are set like mousetraps on the street corners and we get caught by the cheery baristas, the promotional marketing promising everything is going to be just perfect, and it always is — ducking in and out of the rain, in English-style pubs for meat pies, bitters, elderflower lemonade.
And the castles are perched on high hilltops, or Edinburgh’s, a bulge of volcanic rock, a castle the guide explains has never been taken by force, although it has been besieged, which is different, and sprays us with dates and name-dropping and the girls start to flop around and look elsewhere.
And after using our imaginations for weeks now trying to picture William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, we watch Braveheart and Mel Gibson’s hair, the castration scene at the end — and our imaginations are ruined, leaving Hollywood to fill in the rest.
How Scotland was part of a different continent millions of years ago and pushed together with England, ran right into one another, buckling up the earth to form mountains once the size of the Himalayas, now crumbled down to no more than 4,000 feet. A mash-up of angled rock and valleys gouged out by glaciers, lochs — the “Firth of Forth,” a bridge over an estuary separating Edinburgh to the south, the start of the Highlands facing north.
We started our 90 day trip in Scotland with the logic the weather would be the worst here, the greatest chance of snow early season, and we’d zig-zag our way counter clockwise back down to Ireland, to Wales, ending in England come January.
We came in via Newcastle to Arbroath, up to Inverness, the Orkney Islands, back down to Oban in the west, and returned to where we started back east, for nine days in Edinburgh. This week, we’ll leave out of the southwest from a small town called Stranraer, and ferry to Belfast.
In the royal dining room at Holyrood, the palace where the Queen resides when she visits Scotland, there’s a painting of King George IV in a kilt, important because the wearing of tartan patterns had been outlawed since the last Scottish uprising of 1746 — the king wearing a kilt signalled the start of a new national Scottish dress, helping to restore an important piece of their identity.
Charlotte says the music reminds her of home — I ask which home, and she says home-home, the music I used to play in the den, and puts den in air quotes, with attitude.
Dawn and I sit on the sofa in front of the fire in our Edinburgh flat, trying to penetrate an early Genesis album, but it’s cloaked in the 1970s and I don’t get it.
I’ve been keeping a list of whiskeys and beers I’ve tried with stars by the ones I like, but it’s become so jumbled and confused it now feels like too much work to untangle it.
We sit in the flat pretending we’re peasants or artists, trying to stretch our money, using bouillon cubes and making modest soups, drinking the single malts on special at the Tesco, eating every last piece of bread, finding creative uses for fresh herbs and then blogging about it — time passing through our hands, what little we save is no better than what we leave behind, it feels like an offering of gratitude for just being here.