Sunlight streaming through the arched window of the tower beckoned me early. A procession of the kings and queens of history passed before my eyes; poetry on walls and in the air; modernity and the murmur of a thousand conversations; the smiles of the many now looking to better post-lockdown outdoor days; Italian made coffee-to-go … weekend living on park benches, in café queues, spontaneous history lessons and Spring flowers appreciation, on foot, roller skates, bicycles and tricycles again …
click photos once or twice to enlarge
I’ve been standing in the courtyard of the Royal Apartments once occupied by Mary Queen of Scots and her second husband (of three) Lord Darnley – prompted thereby to early-hours follow-up on their extraordinary story. Mary squeezed more into her 44 years than, well, more than most of us – Queen Consort of France, Queen of Scots, and an alleged would-be Queen of England. The weight of history here in Edinburgh sometimes roots me to the spot – and possessed already of the mind of a magpie, the synapses of my ‘hard drive’ flash, flicker, and sometimes overheat as I mentally flit from one point of fascination, horror, awe or delight to a stream of others.
Hours later I bought coffee at Starbucks! An early evening amble for groceries (via the University’s School of Law, as one does) is a real-life stepping into Dr Who’s Tardis and travelling through time. One moment you’re thinking of an assembly of surgeons in 1697 and the next you’re using a computer chip to pay for bread and milk. ‘We’ve got a lot to be grateful for’ proclaims the modern Festival Theatre – and I’m instantly reminded of the extent of my ignorance. There’s so much to be grateful for in Edinburgh that most of us ordinary mortals couldn’t begin to enumerate for what or how much.
One of many things I’m mulling over with friends is the extent to which happenstance and the choices we make, or have made for us, lead onwards to unfathomable heights and breadth and depth – and entirely unexpected life-consequences … ‘time like an ever-flowing stream …’ There is a very real sense in which, the more we learn to ‘go with the flow,’ the more we begin to see the unlimited possibilities of an ‘eternity’ – what John V Taylor described many years ago as ‘tomorrow’s bread, today.’
And now I’m listening to the mellifluous voice of Merlin Sheldrake reading from his ‘Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures’ whilst the images hereunder remind me of venerable history’s being juxtaposed with modern art; the collaborating hands of nature in earth and sea and sky and plant and flower, of humankind, of the animal world, of an extinct volcano, and (even) of fungi (!) making and remaking us all, moment by moment.
Aye. We’ve got a lot to be grateful for …
It’s a surprise to me, as someone with a lifelong allergy to alcohol, that a world of non-alcoholic spirits has been busy in the making while I haven’t been paying attention. And in late and warm fireside evenings in Edinburgh, with a glass of the marvellous and extraordinary Feragaia and Ginger in one hand, and a book in the other, the memory of my beloved old Dad comes to mind. And here lies the origins of my hankering for the occasional glass of Scotch I was never able, in practice, to aspire to.
Dad enjoyed the solitary quiet of the early hours sometimes. And in the way of such things, I found these quiet hours a good time to borrow from his time and attention. He’d often have a glass of Scotch near to hand, and a book. I remember once wondering how he could tackle the enormity of Edward Rutherford’s Sarum whilst his mind was slightly mellowed! These are special memories now. The warming of spirits that came with a glass of Scotch would call up songs Dad had known by heart for years, sung softly in the night.
And there’d sometimes be a little notebook to hand into which he’d pen the stanzas of poetry he’d long loved well. So as I can now enjoy a glorious late evening glass, here’s one of the songs I recall him singing; and as I revel always in books, old ones and new ones, many of them poetry, here, too, is one of the poems I remember him adding to the pages of that well thumbed notebook.
Remembrance doesn’t just come to us at set times and places. Sometimes memories are sparked by the way the light catches crystal, or the amber in spirits, or on the breath of a song, or the flight of a poem, or the wild blooming heather. Cheers Dad!
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew –
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, The Royal Canadian Air Force
I’m re-reading Elizabeth Falconer’s 1996 novel The Love of Women – and earlier this evening felt moved to share with a friend:
‘What I so love about Elizabeth Falconer’s writing is the intense imagery – in virtually every sentence – which sets fire to my imagination, taking me to the room, or the market etc., allowing me to experience being there …’
‘She put down the basket on the round fruitwood table standing in the centre of the red-tiled floor, and unpacked her supper. She took the waxed paper wrapping off a pork chop and laid it on a green ivy leaf embossed plate, ground some black pepper and a trickle of olive oil over it, and covered the dish with a white net dome which she took from a meat hook hanging from a steel pole above her head …’
‘I want to be there. Am there!’
It’s lovely to think that a writer’s powers of evocation may still be touching the lives of readers long after they themselves may well have all but forgotten writing something.
Imagine … 🌱😊
I wonder if, like me, you’ll thankfully feel that this is about so much more than ‘just’ a new year’s eve …
I’ve heard Edinburgh described as ‘an achingly beautiful city’ and wondered what such an ache might feel like. But that was before I came to live here. Now, I ache too – owing, paradoxically, to the kind of being surprised by joy that brings tears to a person’s eyes, peals of laughter, stunned silence, and animated, deep, and fascinated conversations.
Every single yard one walks, and corner one turns, and flight of steps taken, up or down, there’s so much history, and story, and art and science, and engineering and architecture and craftsmanship, one comes, properly and fittingly, to feel both small and gratefully enlarged at one and the same time.
Edinburgh is, literally, extra-ordinary, and something about its very air imbues confidence. Yes, confidence – all around the city, and in persons; something I’ll think upon, over and over, as I revisit this growing collection of photographs, which, in every case, and in an instant, bring back precisely what it felt like to be there, then, awed, as I pressed the shutter button …
Odd, and really rather lovely that, here in Edinburgh, I’ve had three separate conversations about Cornwall today – one of which began, ‘didn’t you write a piece about Apple Blossom and Bay Rum?’ I did. The couple are still in my mind’s eye, beloved characters then, as now. So here, as a brief deviation from Edinburgh, let’s head to Cornwall and …
A warm sunlit bay-window overlooks the ocean. Between two chintz covered wing armchairs a mahogany pedestal table, sweet smelling, polished daily, is an elegant exhibition stand for a large blue and white striped milk jug, a wedding present filled with bright flowers, daffodils preferred in season, for sixty-seven Springs.
Apple Blossom scent, Bay Rum cologne, Toffee pipe tobacco, baking smells wafting from the Aga in the mornings, casseroles and dumplings in the afternoons. He slept, smiling, thankfully home again, in his beloved chair. She read, quietly, overwhelmed with relief, in hers. Thank God for that lovely young surgeon.
From morning to this late evening I’ve revelled in the kind of day I love best – corresponding with, speaking with, or reading, or holding the work and gift of friends who are able to express themselves exquisitely. Home here, some days, whilst it’s still a bit chilly outside, is a lovely place to snuggle down on the sofa, surrounded by books and letters, phone near to hand – and just ‘hear’ and converse with the life and lives I’m fortunate enough to have a share in.
Today’s family and friends all know who they are, some very near, some very far from here, and I thank them for being who they are, and for the myriad ways in which – expressing themselves through writing, or painting, or sculpture, handiwork, hospitality, culinary skills, or deep, honest, fluid conversation about their passions, their present, their remembrance, their enthusiasms, their histories, doubts, joys, hurts and sorrows, their likes and loves, great giftedness, and so much else besides – they touch my life deeply, and ‘raise me up’ daily.
Oh, how we need each other – and it’s good to celebrate one another, every day …