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.

Celebrating The Big Five-O #2: The Cavern

“Let’s see a show of hands,” the tour guide said. “Put your hand up if Ringo is your favourite Beatle.”

No hands. He nodded, both sagely and sympathetically.

“George?” There was one hand. “You know what? It’s always the George fans that come up with really deep snippets of information that nobody else knows.”

“Paul?” Five hands went up which, as there were only thirteen people on this midday tour, meant that for “John?” seven hands went up.

So Lennon nicked it, but, as Millie voted for him and is only just on the start of her journey, things can change. You don’t have to have favourites (though of course everybody does) as the group truly was the sum of its parts.

I watched an interview last night from 1988 when George and Ringo were on a chat show together. The drummer explained their following (when the group was still active) as thus: “I got all the mums. And the kids. George got the mystics, John got the intellectuals and Paul got the teens.”

Our tour finished and Millie and I headed for the place that this selective following first started.

Matthew Street, dark and grainy in the old sixties film footage, was now neon bright but empty as the pre-Christmas afternoon crowds sought the bars and restaurants as refuge from the cold.

You can see from this photo that the place is a bit more swish now.

Our tour gave us free entry to the legendary Cavern. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s mostly the same. John’s murder marked the beginning of Beatles-based tourism, but the original Matthew Street buildings above ground had been demolished. But of course below ground buildings aren’t demolished but filled in.

In 1982 it was excavated and the above ground section rebuilt using the original bricks. I once wrote a Jackdaw post called If Walls Could Talk, Concrete Confess, about a pub that used to be run by ancestors of mine, a pub long gone but holding ‘that which is valued in meaning’.

I like to think that those Cavern bricks have somehow soaked up to hold every note that has ever been played there. Not just by the Fab Four but also all of the other legendary performers that have graced the place too.

Imagine one day having the ability, along the lines of our DNA technology, to extract that trapped sound and being able to replay it again. Wouldn’t that be cool? Doing it in this same place – The Beatles playing the Cavern all over again.

Today the Cavern occupies 70% of its original space, and as far as I was concerned, when my daughter and I descended those steps, we were following in the footsteps of The Beatles and all.

It’s The Cavern, guys!

There was the enclosed space; there was live music; there was a performer recounting his time when he once met Paul McCartney; there were other artists waiting in a line that stretched back decades.

And there were us – an eager audience sat drinking, singing along to Beatles covers and generally soaking up the atmosphere.

Just like those bricks.

I had a beer and my daughter a coke, before having to set off to catch our train back to Manchester. We gave our seats to a couple of women who’d just arrived from Sheffield and seemed to know every song word for word. Words that had returned to source.

I fancy coming back again one weekend to spend a bit longer here. Have a few more drinks and maybe stay over. I might even do the tour again.

I think someone else is tempted, too.