Celebrating The Big Five-O #3: Edinburgh

After my last two posts recounting my Liverpool jaunt on the cusp of my fiftieth birthday, I’d intended to do this final, third post concerning my follow-up trip to the Scottish capital. But (how dare it), life got in the way!

I wanted the trilogy of Big Five-O posts shared before the turn of this year, and so to meet that deadline I’ve decided to do the final one this way: a pictorial guide to my three night stay. It obviously won’t contain the usual eccentric conversations that seem to plague me wherever I go, but at least it will give you a little flavour of my time there.

My first night on the Royal Mile, looking all Christmassy. The lights draw you up towards the castle.

Dramatic, eh?
Its ghosts shut away behind those walls.

From the cold and the bustle, I took some welcome respite inside St.Giles’ Cathedral, movingly regaled by a practising choir.

The castle was that impressive I decided to do it again, the next day, in daylight. Not because of ghosts or anything . . .

Down the barrel of a gun
From the inside out

I might have been in Scotland, but I turned down the chance to hold a Golden Eagle to instead give my change to an American busker who was covering the Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman.

Then, after that bird of prey, I saw another Scottish symbol.

Not sure what he was playing, but it wasn’t the Stones.

I hope he made it back.

I had a spare twenty minutes so I thought about nipping in here to become a wizard.

On one of the Christmas market stalls:

Obviously I had no money left after that busker.

When I’d been up at Edinburgh Castle I’d spotted this extinct volcano, known as Arthur’s Seat, in the distance, and decided the next morning that I’d climb it. Like you do.

Problem was, Storm Barra was forecast to hit that very day. What could possibly go wrong?

So I decided to take another path. In a storm. How Radical is that?

It wasn’t too bad when I set out. A little breezy. It got breezier as time went on.

The cap was swapped for a woolly hat. The zip of my waterproof coat went higher as I did. The view was worth it, though.

Any which way but down.

I spent twenty minutes or so up there, offering to take a few photographs of couples and groups who’d likewise risked the weather.

There was a larger group, a Spanish class, who made the summit a little after I did. I offered to take a photograph of them all for posterity. One of the students was a girl with an expensive looking camera around her neck. I’m not sure exactly what was being said between her and the teacher, but she seemed very reluctant to hand her camera over to me.

Eventually she did do, motioning me to ensure the strap was around my neck as we took position on the summit edge. “Back a bit . . . “

Of course, the damn thing wouldn’t work, or I wouldn’t. After a couple of attempts, handing the coveted camera back and forth, the teacher handed me his phone instead. “These I can work!” I said. Thankfully it did.

The clay-coloured rain pools at the top.

With the weather worsening, my eyes streaming in the wind, I decided to begin my descent. After around ten minutes I noticed that corvids were gathered on both sides of me, maybe amazed at my foolhardiness.

Were they a bad omen? Nah, they might be carrion crows but I’m Jackdaw, don’t forget. I see my feathered totems wherever I go.

Shit! I’m outta here!!

I made it down okay, which you know, because, well, this post that’s been written . . .

(Oh yes – I stopped by the ruin of St.Anthony’s Chapel along the way.)

I even had time to visit Easter Road, home of Scottish football club Hibernian, which I’d spotted from my vantage point.

And that was about it, my friends. A brief summary of my stay in Edinburgh. There was more to it, of course, but hampered by both space and time I’ve given you the bare bones.

Heading back to the Royal Mile from Easter Road the storm finally unleashed some of its fury and I had to make my way through a snowstorm. I think I’d got my timing spot on.

I dried out in a Starbucks, passing the time writing a poem and talking to a couple from Yorkshire. I also kept an eye on travel disruption updates and was able to journey home the next day.

Fifty. Let’s do it all again.

Yes, it’s Manchester, alright.

Claws For The Weekend: The Circus Doesn’t Come To Town

I took this photograph a few weeks ago in my town centre, just before nightfall.

It looks like the circus was in town. It wasn’t. Those gazebo-marquee thingies were put up to encourage people to still use the local cafés when Covid restrictions wouldn’t allow people to sit inside.

We do have a few clowns though.

Hope you all have a great weekend, juggling (😆) any commitments you have.

See you on the flip side.

To Conker Her Fears

It was maybe an hour from dusk. A little girl was running ahead of her mother, kicking all of the yellow and brown leaves out of her way as she came.

“Where are all the conkers?” she asked me.

“Conkers?

“Yeah, there’s all these leaves but no conkers!” Her cheeks were red with either all of the running she’d been doing or the cold air. Maybe a combination of the two.

I gestured towards the bottom of the hill. “There’s a conker tree down there, on Wood Street. Right to the bottom then turn left.

She whirled around. “MUMMY!” She didn’t have to shout as her mother wasn’t really that far behind. “THERE’S A CONKER TREE DOWN THERE!”

Maybe her mother didn’t really need to hear that. I shrugged apologetically. “It’s about ten minutes away.”

She nodded her thanks and they went on their way. Or rather the girl did, speedily, and her mother followed the trail she left through the foliaged pathway.

That was one thing I missed. When my kids were primary age we used to pass the horse chestnut tree that I’d referred to on the school run, and at this time of year we’d forage for any fallen conkers along the way. Especially after a previous night’s storm.

But the kids are older now. High school age. When I was in high school conkers were still a thing. The playground was the battleground, and the more fair-minded (or more likely the naive) among us would come up against the devious cheats who had strengthened their conkers by baking them in the oven or coating them in nail varnish. Ways and means, with the assistance of conspiring adults.

That was in the days before the schools went on a health and safety overdrive and either banned them outright or insisted safety goggles had to be worn when playing.

So now they’re not a thing.

The last time any interest was shown in conkers in my house was when my daughter had come across the claim that spiders were scared of them. Before you could say show me the scientific proof there was a defensive line of them along her window ledge and more strategically placed upon her bedside cabinet.

They lasted until the night she encountered a spider that was big enough to juggle them.

Confessions Of A Conversational Vampire

I’m a conversational vampire.

I absorb snippets of conversations from total strangers that later find a home in the mouths of fictional characters or the middle of a City Jackdaw post.

It’s not intentional. It’s not as if I’m a professional eavesdropper or anything. It’s just that I seem to pick things up when out and about that stay with me. The people out there are just great.

‘This train is the Northern service to Leeds.’ That was the announcement that kicked off the latest episode.

Then, despite the next statement stating that the next stop would be New Pudsey, one half of the young couple sat facing each other at the table opposite mine, on the other side of the aisle, jumped into life.

“Shit we’re in Leeds! Is this Leeds?” she asked in alarm. Betraying zero trust in her male companion, she turned wildly to catch my eye.

I shook my head. “This is Bradford.”

“Well, where are they goin’?” she asked the lad, now dismissing me as I’d served my purpose. She was referring to a group of girls that had just left the train and were walking across the platform outside of her window.

“On holiday?” he replied, sounding bored.

“On holiday? Dressed like that? They look like they’re goin’ to a festival!”

It was obvious that that was where these two were going. The Leeds and Reading festival was about to start, and she was sporting the festival look. Doc Martins with stockings, topped with a garish, tie-dyed shirt and silver-sequinned wings stuck to her forehead. Her boyfriend (I presumed) had similar artwork studded above his eyebrows.

“Who would actually holiday in Bradford anyway?” she continued. “Nothey’re dressed for a festival.”

If that was the case then those girls had exited at the wrong station, despite this carriage being crowded with other young . . . what? Was there a term for these kids?

I googled what do you call a person who attends a festival?

Answer: one who attends a festival.

Genius.

I tried to get on with my book but now I couldn’t help feeding. Like I said, I’m a conversational vampire.

“I’ve read they’re gonna have stalls set up where you can have your Covid jab while you’re there,” she went on. “Are you gonna have it?”

He shrugged, still looking disinterested. I began to suspect he was hungover.

“I don’t know either. I mean, I get it if you’re old and that. If you’re a certain age, say over forty, it’s a risk. But we’re young. Nearly everyone at the festival’s young so what’s the point? And you know that it can make your kids disabled? And it alters your DNA. Apparently.”

Old – over forty? And that last bit, like a disclaimer: Apparently.

I realised I was shaking my head and tried to immerse myself in my book once again, re-reading the same lines in an attempt to drown out this endless soliloquy. I slowly began to build up a wall of resistance and finished my chapter by the time we rolled into Leeds station.

I left the train and that young couple somewhere behind me to join other commuters on a busy escalator. We rose up to a walkway which took us high over the railway lines to then get another escalator which took us down to the ticket gates.

Those should-have-been unremarkable seconds were enough to feed again. It was a male voice, immediately behind me.

“Social media has given people too many mental issues, man. There’s men dressing up as women, women dressing up as men, aliens dressing up as children. Everyone’s lost their identity. They don’t know who they are.”

Well, of course I was curious. Who would be pursuing that line of reasoning, most of which I could go along with? Except . . . aliens?

Turning around would be too obvious, so instead, after reaching the end of the escalator, I took a few steps and then hung to the side on the pretence that I was getting my e-ticket up on my phone. I had a quick glance as they passed. These weren’t two young naive festival goers, they were a couple of professional looking men around my age.

Totally not what I was expecting. It just goes to show that you can never predict the type of thing that goes on in a person’s head.

As often happens when in a transitory place, I wondered where these two were heading, and more beguilingly where their conversation would lead too. But I had to let them go, I had my own destination to reach. And anyway, by now I was fully sated.

Do The Bots Have No Sense Of Humour? Free The Manchester One!

Well it had to happen sometime, didn’t it? I mean I must have been on Facebook, what? Ten years maybe?

I woke up this morning to discover I’d been slung into Facebook jail for twenty-four hours without parole, unable to post or comment or like anything.

Why? I was informed that it was for a comment in reply to a friend’s joke post making a request.

I can’t even remember which friend it was now, nor exactly what his/her post was, but it was done with humour and went something like: ‘Has anyone got any (something)? Asking for a friend’.

So I’d commented ‘Has anyone got any crack cocaine? Asking for my Nanna’.

It seemed that the Facebook Police really thought that I was trying to procure some crack cocaine for my Nanna. I was given the right to appeal and so I did – under their criteria that Facebook didn’t understand the context of my comment. There was no place that I could add that, not only was I joking, my Nanna had been dead for 31 years. And no, it wasn’t by overdose.

I failed my appeal in five minutes flat. I wish that our justice system was that fast.

They also cited a previous comment of mine from back in January. It was in a Jack the Ripper group. I’m in some groups you wouldn’t believe. My wife Jen says “You know, on paper, you sound a right boring bastard.” 😂

Anyway, this was a Ripper group, and a researcher was trying to access records that had been denied him on the grounds of the Official Secrets Act. So all I’d commented was: ‘They’d let you have them but then they’d have to kill you and hide the body. That’s how Jack the Ripper started out’.

It now appeared that the Facebook Police believed that I was 1, trying to score some crack cocaine and 2, inciting a murder.

Not only do they not have a sense of humour, I don’t think I’ll ever be free again.

I wonder now why some of my earlier posts haven’t been flagged. Like the Jenisms my wife comes out with. I posted one once when she had a heavy cold, and wanted me to get some menthol crystals to help with her breathing, but instead asked “Will you go over to the chemist and get me some crystal meths.” Up here on Langley there very well could be chemists that sell that kind of thing.

But anyway, for future reference, I’ve now learnt that the Facebook Police allow crystal meths but not crack cocaine. Life’s a learning curve.

Free the Manchester One.