Something was wrong: it was a Thursday morning, and I was firing off a text to EBS President Ben Taylor before the meeting started, which perplexed me, because though ordinarily one might sometimes do this from the comfort of one’s duvet, today I had already peaked Arthur’s Seat.
Arthur’s Seat is the 250.5m extinct volcano that dominates the Edinburgh skyline, which I contrived to run around every day (with patchy success) at last year’s Fringe. My dad, having yesterday pleaded his dodgy knee, got up at five and decided that this was a fine morning for a climb. And, unable to lie in for thinking about tomorrow’s contest, I became his Norgay Tensing.
Part of what I love about Edinburgh is how it changes so dramatically. One moment we were walking past a row of hard-faced council houses, the next we were rounding a corner and looking down on Portobello silhouetted against a glittering sunrise. Rabbit tails flashed as we approached, and the sun climbed steadily, as we did, until we reached the top together and had the city spread around us.
Dad caught his breath, and I pretended not to have to.
‘This is good training for Jersey,’ he wheezed, ‘the coastline is all up and down like this.’
‘Don’t die,’ I gasped, ‘It’s too late to rewrite my speech.’
I sent my text message to Ben, and we descended. Easier on the lungs, tougher on the knees. Dad pointed out a little blue-headed chaffinch. ‘Aren’t they lovely? My Uncle Albert knew all the birds. On a walk like this he’d spot about twenty. He’d say, “Can you hear that? It’s a – ” whatever-it-was, and he’d tell you what their habits were and everything.’
We watched a couple of robins darting in and out of a bush.
‘Can you hear any linnets?’ He asked suddenly.
‘I don’t know, what do they sound like?’
‘I can’t remember.’
After that, we had a traditional Scottish breakfast. We plumped for the ‘small’ version, and it was still exhausting.
We took the bus down to South Queensferry, the village that lies between the Forth road and rail bridges. The rail bridge is huge, Victorian, looking ridiculously oversized for the tiny two-car trains that rattle over it. Modern bridges wear their physics a little more lightly. We went treasure hunting in the Deaf Action charity shop (‘You should’ve asked for a discount,’ I said on the way out), did a bit of beach combing for interesting bits of pottery, and settled in for a pint in the Hawes Inn, which lies opposite the RNLI pier and literally in the shadow of the rail bridge. ‘This is the best beer I’ve had in years,’ said dad two sips into his drink. ‘I love sitting here having a drink, passing the time, doing nothing in particular.’ It was very relaxing to sit quietly and not say very much. Partly because I’m conscious that my half of the conversation tends to be shared with the rest of the pub.
In the evening we went to Saigon Saigon. If this break sounds like a endless procession of eating and drinking, then, yes: guilty as charged. We did catch a glimpse of Scottish wildlife when I literally tripped over a live rat on one of the backstreets. Saigon Saigon was full of Chinese people: ‘A good sign,’ said dad, ‘though I don’t think any of them are eating anything off the menu.’ He was right: we had noodles and stir-fried lamb with mushrooms. The delicate-looking Chinese girls on the next table had about four times as much food, including a huge pile of knuckly meat that would’ve fed me for a week.
I packed my bag and ordered a taxi for the morning.
‘It would be nice to make it to Cincinnati.’
‘Why, what’s happening in Cincinnati?’
‘If I win the contest, that’s where the next round will be held.’
‘Oh. I knew it was America, but I miss the details.’
‘Its a big deal, you know.’
‘I know. That’s why I’m not winding you up about it.’
Perhaps this break wasn’t such bad timing after all.