It has been a month of big changes. When we moved to Scotland — a return to home territory for me but a new country of residence for Frood— we initially lived in Fife. I was born and mostly raised in Fife (even if my most potent childhood memories are all of the west coast, Highlands and Islands), so the territory was one with which I was gratefully familiar. It’s hard enough making a change of job that significant without having to learn a new geography as well, at least when the job requires a good local knowledge.
After a year or so I transferred to Edinburgh, as Frood was working there and was tired of the lengthy commute and the seasonal rail fares taking up a significant chunk of his monthly pay. We’ve been living and working in and around Edinburgh for four years, which is by no means the least time I’ve spent in any one place, although it’s towards the bottom of the scale.
I am restless by nature, easily bored and always looking for the next intellectual challenge. I doubt I will ever be satisfied with going in to work to do the same thing day after day. My comfort zone is not static. It’s more of a bouncy castle, floating in a swimming pool on the deck of an ocean liner in the middle of a storm.
Fortunately, just as my feet were growing itchy again, the desire to get back to dealing with the technical specialisms of water pricking at their otherwise insensitive soles, an opportunity came along.
This month we’re in the process of upping sticks and moving to where granite rock glistens in the salt spray of the North Sea and radon seeps from the ground in quantities insufficient to have any significant health implications, never mind be enough to activate the Marveliser (dammit). Here the local tongue is the Doric and I will be as linguistically handicapped as Frood, for my knowledge of the Doric starts and ends with poorly-remembered episodes of Scotland the What? from an old audio cassette we used to have.
I have managed to get lost three times in the last week, a decent sense of direction apparently being insufficient when there is a complete lack of familiar place names and/or landmarks. I am learning that it gets dark damnably early, especially since the clocks went back, and that the warnings about it being cold did not take into account the preferences of a cryophiliac like me. My ride to work in the mornings is short enough that I arrive before I’ve really got going. The supermarkets have the same names above the entrance and yet their selection of goods is both entirely expected and unfamiliar: along with the dubious pre-packed pizzas and DVDs for £3 I can buy daikon radish at the Morrison’s on King Street —an item of exotica never seen in Granton’s Waterfront Broadway store— and, wondrous wonder, CR2032 batteries, yet I cannot buy gluten-free plain flour there. The Sainsbury’s in Berryden, in addition to the usual range of chocolate and teabags, sells special handles for poach pods but doesn’t have any Spanish smoked paprika or Clearspring white miso.
Cultural and consumable differences aside, what has struck me the most is something both more and less mundane:
That’s the view from my office window. This is my lunchtime run route.
I think I’m going to like it here. I hope Frood will, too.
Now I just need to find somewhere selling Celestial Seasonings Apple and Cinnamon Spice tea.
I returned from our soggy, windswept, noisy trip to Wester Ross to a couple of pieces of very good news. Firstly the contract for my new job arrived, so the reality of our impending move to the North-East has finally started to sink in. I’ve now got to start planning what is going to be a fairly hectic couple of weeks as we get everything sorted out for the move, and there is bound to be some toing-and-froing, which won’t be much fun as it’s a 3 hour drive, but has to be done.
Secondly I received notification that my story What the Water Gave Her has been accepted by Dagan Books for their upcoming Fish anthology. I’m very pleased and excited to have work included alongside that of such talented writers, and thanks to Carrie Cuinn and the team at Dagan for choosing my piece. The cover art, by Galen Dara, is beautiful, with a gorgeous dreaminess that was a big part of what inspired me into a feverish flurry of writing (thank you flexi-time).
Now Frood and I are off to the Museum, because we’ve only got three weeks to look at all the things in Edinburgh we’ve been meaning to look at since we moved here four years ago!
I took this shot when collecting Munky from Waverley Station on his way up for the Dumb Run. These double-layer cycle racks must be pretty new because I hadn’t seen them before. Mind you, I use Haymarket most of the time and am rarely at that end of Waverley even when I do use that stop.
I think this is a great way to store bikes. They can have a natter while their owners are away doing whatever it is their owners do, and the individual storage units keep them sufficiently apart to minimise fighting. Mine have a tendency to get into arguments when left stacked together and there’s no one around to keep an eye on them, which I assume is because they’re bored and have already said everything there is to say to one another. I’m pretty sure Blackbird has been chewing Fingal’s bar tape recently.
I notice there’s a bike there with pink wheels, which is rather swish. I’ll bet that one’s quite precious, in a princessy way. The sort of bike to complain about vegetables in the bedding.
I had to be in the city centre today, on business. For various reasons the bike was impractical (it takes a peculiar set of circumstances to render a bike impractical as far as I’m concerned, I can assure you) and so I took the bus to Princes Street and did a lot of walking. I think I’d covered several miles by the end of the day, as the still-controversial tram works have messed up the bus routes and I spent ages wandering around trying to find a bus stop that would allow me to get home again*.
It was brutally hot — at least as far as I am concerned — and I was dressed for work and on a schedule. The streets were furred with the inevitable tourists. At this time of year there are lots of tourists, and it will only get worse as we move further into Festival season. It reminds me of fat-clogged arteries: there is only so much space on the pavement, and when there are lots of people standing there gawping at the architecture, taking pictures of each other next to the Scott Monument, waiting to get on a tour bus, or trying to decipher street signs and the complexities of our public transport system there isn’t enough room for those of us who are trying to get somewhere in a hurry.
I dislike very warm weather unless I’m in the sea, spoffling sea creatures, and my temper was fraying after I’d walked the entire length of Princes Street three times and been up and down Cowgate, Lothian Road and George Street. My feet hurt — that’s the furthest I’ve walked since I injured my plantar fascia — and I was hot and bothered and grumpy. I decided to take a breather before I melted into an angry puddle and went to find some soft grass in Princes Street Gardens.
There’s a children’s playpark at the west end. It has the usual slides and some interesting climbing structures, but what caught my eye was the Victorian Merry-Go-Round.
I find funfairs creepy at the best of times. The scents, sights and sounds of the carnival don’t inspire me to think of excitement and the thrill of wurlitzers. There’s something scarily superficial about funfairs. Perhaps it’s their itinerant, temporary nature, or the way the high gloss, gaudy colours, candyfloss aroma and loud, brassy music never quite cover up the cables and motors, the stale grease and spilled beer and the racing thud-thud-thud of the generators. They are the buzz of a brain fried on sugar and caffeine and adrenaline, hiding behind a painted mask polished to a high sheen.
I’ve never trusted them. They are shiny and they smell bad. The attendants always look bored. They give me the same sense of disquiet as some adverts do: the explicit message is at odds with the implicit.
I took this picture of the Victorian Merry-Go-Round. I didn’t mean to include the only people riding it at the time. They arrived in the middle of the shot as the shutter snapped. I like this image, however. The small child, face blurred beyond recognition as he or she looks towards the camera, expression unreadable but certainly not one of thrilled delight. The way the movement of the horses makes their outlines and painted decorations blur as if at any moment they could disperse, perhaps to reform as something else; perhaps to dematerialise, taking the riders with them. In the centre the hub is still and sharp: here is the only safe place on the Merry-Go-Round, where the attendant sits. What does he know, to sit in there while everyone else rides the glimmering ponies?
The colours are hot and unnatural. The fence looks to have been added later, an afterthought to disguise the ephemeral character of the ride and make it look less like it will fly away at any moment, should the attendant choose to press a particular button.
Come one, come all, come for the ride. Who knows where you will land? Perhaps here, perhaps there, perhaps somewhere no one has ever heard of…
On occasion I’ve thought I’ve caught something in the expressions of funfair attendants that was slightly too sharp, too predatory to be pure boredom and I’ve wondered, as I do so often, how to peel back the superficial layer to see what is really going on underneath.
And then I remember that I live on Planet Sam, where the creepy polar bear isn’t there simply to offer helpful advice on frozen food but is on an infiltration mission, and nicotine patches cause you to hallucinate giant cigarettes. I am the sole inhabitant of Planet Sam (although Frood has a permanent visitor’s pass), which is probably for the best.
It’s always the same at this time of year. The snows come, drivers behave like a pack of lemmings infected with the Rage virus, and I do the sensible thing and leave my car at home. I get to work by bike.
Yes. That is the usual response. As it happens, I feel safer on the bike. It’s smaller — at the end of the day I can throw myself off the bike onto the verge and drag it with me if I have to. I can get off and walk. More to the point, I can manhandle it around in a way I can’t do with my front-wheel drive Ford Mondeo estate, which, in these conditions, behaves like a river kayak on a sea crossing. Once it goes it goes and there’s no stopping it.
Winter cycling has its own precautions, of course. There’s triple insulation required and I even wear a lid for commuting because I’m more likely than normal to come a cropper involving a sharp fall sideways onto a kerb at low speed, the only incident for which a cycle helmet is really designed; and, more importantly, because it keeps my woolly hat on my head.
The other thing, of course, is visibility. While I refuse to dress in shades of radioactive custard, I do like the shiny. Spielberg Close Encounters Award several years running, don’t you know.
This year Fingal is rocking two CatEye LD610s, two LD170s and a Blackburn Mars 4, while I complement the ensemble with a pair of Fibre Flares on my backpack and some green rope light, just for the lulz. Up front we have a four lamp cluster comprising two Lumicycle heads offering around 50watts of in-your-face halide splendour and a couple of EL400s, because you can never go wrong with an Opticube. With a set-up like that, there’s no point in hi-viz, although I do have some reflective bands at wrists and ankles for the confusion effect (and signalling).
I took this picture on my way home tonight, outside Real Foods on Broughton Street, one of my favourite Edinburgh shops. I love the surreal colours of the evergreen on the shopfront, the Christmas decorations and Fingal’s frankly bonkers lighting.
If anybody knocks me down and says “Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You” I may have to punch him on the nose.
The thaw has come to Edinburgh, and what was a glorious, sparkly, clean landscape has turned muddy and rutted and ugly. It’s like the aftermath of trench warfare out there. I’ve been trying to retain my festive spirit by wrapping some presents today, and the weather forecast suggests that there might be another freeze coming next week. I hope so. I know it has caused a lot of bother to people, and it wasn’t always pleasant — especially when our heating broke down and it was -20°C out there — but I’ve enjoyed the cold weather. I’m not much of a summer person, I don’t like the heat. Summer is great if I have easy access to a nice beach and can spend all day spoffling crabs and sploshing around chasing sandeels. Otherwise it’s a case of hiding from the sun and trying not to burn to a crisp or dehydrate into old boot leather.
The other thing about the recent cold snap that I noticed was the quality of the light. With all that highly-reflective snow around everything looked crisper. It reminded me of the difference between DVD and Blu-Ray. Edges were neater, Fife was closer, seagulls were more graceful, the crows were bigger, the magpies shinier and the sunsets were glorious.
I took this picture coming back from the shop, one of a number of attempts to capture the fleeting softness of refracted light at sunset. It was a gamble, with the framing, and I think it paid off. The setting sun reflects gold in the windows of the neighbouring apartment building and the darkening eastern horizon is a beautiful rosy hue. The steel grey line to the left of centre is where the sky meets the North Sea.
Having synaesthesia means that I see things differently from others all of the time. The very word “see” is generally inappropriate. Light hits the retina, electrical impulses travel back along the optic nerve, and about there the similarities stop. In me that signal is processed by the brain through a weird amalgam of all my other senses. My synaesthesia even includes one of the senses not considered in the usual five: proprioception. Is it because I lost an eye at a critical age, rather than being born blind in one, or losing it much later? I don’t know. Sometimes I think that could explain many things about me, from the way I smell colours and inhabit the shapes of sounds to the way I have to do some things right handed and some things left.
On the whole, though, I think that what I am probably doing there is looking for a reason. And, a lot of the time, things just are. They’re not purposeful, they’re not meaningful, they’re not deliberate, they’re not fair or unfair… They just are.
I get a special thrill from experiencing a similar sense of wonder and joy at a particular thing to that of someone else. While I know it’s terribly unlikely that the other person is excited by the shape formed by that particular aroma, or the soundscape that whispers and hums in the background to a piece of scenery, the sharing of that childlike marvel that the world can be so astonishing and wonderful is more than enough.
Last night the temperature was -15°C and the skies were clear. Outside the snow froze surface-crisp. And how it sparkled! We have a rough patch of waste ground out back, and there’s a car park surrounded by a chain-link fence. It’s not beautiful. It’s no Midnight. Yet, even so, it was astonishing, because a myriad diamond glitters danced across the snow. For a moment I could imagine that stars have a spawning cycle that includes a terrestrial phase, the way coral has a planktonic larval stage, and these were the babies fallen to Earth. Frood also thought it was brilliant and we stood in a darkened room with our noses pressed against the glass, staring.
I decided to photograph it. Sadly the battery on my camera died and I was forced to use my phone, which doesn’t have the optics to do it justice. Although, of course, for me the synaesthetic response is different when looking at photographs. I see the photograph, not the thing in the photograph. So no photograph can ever capture the moment, despite what the camera adverts say.
Doesn’t stop me trying.
There can’t be many people in the UK, possibly the world, who are not aware that we are having our earliest severe snowfall for around 20 years. It started on my birthday and hasn’t let up since, although we’ve had one day when there was no new snow. That was yesterday.
This morning at 6am the sky was still clear, as far as I could tell in the darkness. By 8:30am, when I was leaving for work, the snow was falling in earnest.
I took the car, because I’m still recovering from flu. It took me about an hour and a half to get 5 miles. Sitting at the junction of Quality Street (no chocolate) and Queensferry Road and seeing the traffic at a standstill in my direction of travel, which meant it was probably backed up from the Maybury junction, I turned left instead of right and spent another hour getting home again. Just getting the car into the street and out after finding no parking spaces, then into the car park out the back, took about 20 minutes. The snow is lying on sheet ice.
This is the view from our window:
It has actually become even worse in the time it has taken me to download from the camera and write this much.
For the past week or so we’ve been experiencing problems with the communal boiler, which means there have been a few days when we’ve had no hot water or heating for more than long enough for it to get very cold indeed. I think they’re coming to fit a new part today. As I’m now snowed in — at least until I get the mountain bike kitted out in appropriate tyres and discovered whether my chest can take the exercise — I’m really hoping they don’t have to turn it off today. It’s already chilly in here.
Talking of cold, I ventured out to the shop in my Vibram KSOs late yesterday afternoon. Previously I’d been out in the Bikilas, which are made of a thicker material and have more robust soles (and really are that pink), and that was fine. While I am so enamoured of the VFFs that I never want to wear “proper” shoes ever again in my life, I can honestly report that I thought I’d managed to get frostbite wearing the KSOs on a mixture of packed ice and snow. I think it might be time to get some of the Ininjis or Lizard socks to keep my little tootsies warm if it’s going to be like this all winter.
Here’s the view from the window now. The trees are disappearing. The gas works vanished hours ago.
I hope Frood gets home okay. He’s got cross tyres on Spartacus. He should be fine.