And here we are, back after a brief winter break in Edinburgh, staying in a semi-posh hotel near Holyrood in Old Town just a few minutes’ walk from the picturesque Royal Mile, where Japanese tourists, like salmon, after travelling thousands of miles, swarm in multitudes and then, presumably, spawn and die.
Edinburgh makes a spectacular change from Wick at this time of year, with crowds, lights, funfairs, market stalls, shops, coffee, cake, lights, cake, culture and—let’s be honest—more cake. In fact I treated the visit like an Arctic ground squirrel facing a winter’s hibernation in Alaska, and decided to build up a layer of fat in the shortest possible time—only whereas the squirrel forages for nuts and berries in the forest canopy, I basically camped out in Starbucks and Costa Coffee.
Edinburgh also has an Apple Store, and we went there in search of a new phone and iPad. It’s a while since I’ve visited one of these emporia and I was struck by the fact that all the staff seemed to be about 12 years old; they smiled constantly with a creepy sort of inner certainty, as though they’d just been saved (“Eternal salvation? There’s an app for that!”), or as if their shining white teeth were a prototype Apple dental recognition software.
Stepford Female Apple Employee: “Hello sir, how can we help you today?”
Me: “I’d like to buy an iPad Mini, please.”
“Uh-MA-zing! Anything else?”
“Well, I was thinking of buying a new phone too.”
“And a case.”
“But I’ve just contracted a rare tropical disease and have only three days to live.”
‘Uh-MA—oh, bummer. Still, at least you’ll have a new phone to help make your last hours extra-special, yeah?”
‘Well, I suppose so—”
Across the street from the Apple Store is the German Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens (and with the crowds of people, the lights and the skaters on the rink, and the air heavy with the rich aromas of gluhwein and German sausage it was like being in the middle of Breughel painting, if only Flemish peasants in the 16th century had taken selfies with their phones).
There was a funfair with a giant Ferris wheel, and one of those rides consisting of a high pole with seats attached that ascend and spin giddily round and round, and I found myself wishing I’d paid more attention in maths at school so I could calculate the area my lunch would cover if I were ever so stupid as to go up in it.
Mind you, the turbulence of the return flight was about as much fun—when a British pilot suggests that there will be “a few lumps and bumps”, you know you’d better hang on to your fillings—but after 50 minutes of being shaken like a cocktail we were back in dear old Wick. (My stomach still hasn’t recovered, and makes such exciting noises I have to pretend I’m using the bathroom to make balloon animals for children’s parties.)
There’s just a week to the winter solstice now, but somehow it feels darker and colder up here after the warmth and light of Auld Reekie. Oh, well, the nights will soon start growing longer; and I do have, if I say so myself, a phone which really is “uh-MA-zing…”