I met my father by Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross. Dad is a born salesman, the sort of person who would not only stitch up the untapped potential of the Eskimo market for fridge freezers, he’d make a killing on the extended warranties too.
He was admiring the queue of Potter fans waiting to have their photograph taken with a prop trolley embedded in the wall of the station, wondering what the price point was, and making a note to check whether Platform 8 3/4 might be a going concern.
Dad didn’t go to Thatcher’s funeral but only because he couldn’t get hold of an ice cream van in time. ‘The Iron Lady,’ he said wistfully, looking out of the window as the train pulled from the station, ‘may she rust in peace.’
I love these annual Jolly Boys’ Outings. My side of the conversation usually has to be written down, but dad is very good company. Among the jokes (many of them vintage) are flashes of memory from a picaresque past: we whip through a station and he tells me about the days when, if you were on the way to work and had neglected to buy a paper, a nimble passenger could simply lower the window, lean out of the departing train and steal one from a fellow commuter waiting on the platform.
The journey to Edinburgh is just short of five hours, from the late flowering rapeseed of Norfolk through the light mist of Yorkshire and the east coast above Newcastle’s industrial sprawl. Dad had helpfully brought a bottle of red to pass the time, though the plastic glasses were cracked and instead we sipped from tiny tumblers more suited to mouthwash than wine.
I spent much of the journey reviewing footage of my speech for Friday, as well as going through feedback slips from a performance I gave of the speech last week. It’s a feature of Toastmasters that you chase up critical comments, and I was pleased to see a pattern emerging. It’s easy to fix one thing everyone agrees needs tweaking. These days I alternate between obsessing about the contest, and trying to take my mind off it.
After checking into our hotel on Waterloo Place, we went for an explore and I did a quick whizz around the highlight locations of the Everything is Purple show, including the Mile, the Dragonfly (closed this afternoon, otherwise I would’ve had one of their basil martinis), the Mosque Kitchen, Raph’s flat, and my temporary local. Dinner was at the Mosque Kitchen, and we strolled down the other half of the Mile to Holyrood, up Carlton Terrace and had a sundowner in the News Room, opposite John Lewis. A busy afternoon / evening of walking that left us tired, and though I’d like to peak Arthur’s Seat tomorrow, dad’s old knee trouble seems to have flared up again, so perhaps it’s not the smartest idea.
Over a pint, we talk about Scottish independence. We both feel the same: it would be a bit like losing a member of the family. We both benefit from each others oil and gas – what is it about them not mixing? – and we shouldn’t get to proprietorial over either: you can’t drink oil and you can’t burn water. England hardly exerts a stranglehold over Scotland, which has its own legal and education system. And exchanging a remote governance in London for a remote governance in Brussels doesn’t look like a hot sell to me. The Edinburgh tram fiasco – corruption or incompetence, I’m never sure which it is – makes the council look like an African dictatorship. But mostly, I think we like the idea of union for sentimental reasons, and the pro-independent crowd seem as happy to use anger as they are rational arguments (of which there are admittedly some). My father and I have never been attracted by the politics of anger.
I’ll leave dad with the last joke: he hasn’t been to Edinburgh for thirty years, and when he was here it was on business and so didn’t get much opportunity to look around properly. Every so often, he’ll look up at something obviously ancient like the Castle or the volcano and say with mild disapproval, ‘That’s new.’