Beltane! And other news

You will never guess what I have just done. I, Emily Prince, self-professed sleepyhead and lover of beds, gave myself just three hours of sleep last night, WILLINGLY. The reason, was Beltane. The Beltane Fire Festival held on Calton Hill in Edinburgh is world-renowned, and I did not want to be missing out. The gates open at 8pm and the festival officially closes at 1.30am, but plenty of revellers continue on into the night. This morning, as part of Tradfest (festival of traditional Scottish culture involving music, dance, storytelling, and film, which includes Beltane), a Dawn Rising walk was held at 5am up Arthur’s Seat, the traditional location of ancient Beltane. Which to choose? I decided to choose both.

The festival was INSANE. First of all, the queues were horrific, but I was somewhat prepared for that. I have also been schooled in the art of racing all over the hill to get the best vantage point, a skill I will put to use next year. I spent a lot of the festival looking at the backs of people’s heads, but for those moments where I could get a half-decent view, it was entirely worth it. There’s fire – lots of fire – and amazing costumes and make-up. The procession starts on the National Monument where the May Queen is revealed before it roams all over the hill, taking a couple of hours in total, before culminating in the death and rebirth of the Green Man. Then the bonfire is lit and everyone dances the night away. Luckily, there are plenty of roving performers and things to see when the procession is not in view, though the perils of being a bit of a shorty are still apparent when watching the smaller performances. I left the festival just after midnight, when the bonfire had been lit. I could hear the drums and shouts all the way home as I walked back to my apartment. I got into bed at 12.45 and set the alarm for 4am, wondering if I would make it. I totally did. I got up, ate an apple, dressed up warmly and walked down to Arthur’s Seat just in time to meet up with the group. There was only six of us, but we met many revellers along the way who had pulled an all-nighter, lots of them still in costume and full make-up. Along the way, our guide told us stories about the hill and about the mythology of Beltane. Unfortunately, the sunrise was obscured by cloud, but we did get a beautiful view all the same. We reached the summit in our little group, with three other people present. We stood and listened to more words and poetry, before our guide gave us seeds to sow for the new summer. Completely spontaneously, a woman we met at the top sang a song, her voice quavering in the wind and we saw she was crying. It was quite magical. We made our way down the hill, stopping at the ancient well of St Anthony to anoint ourselves with Beltane dew – thought to bring beauty and maintain youthfulness. I was kindly given a lift home by two of my fellow climbers and walked in my door at 6.45am.

Sean is currently in Abu Dhabi for work, so he missed the fun (but I know he’ll be having a good time over there). At the time of writing, I am not yet comatose, but I can feel myself flagging. I think a nap may be in order later today…

But that is not all I have been up to! There is so much to update you on. Some of it is relevant even to the above. On Friday night I went to a monthly storytelling event, Guid Crack, and the host for the evening was the same gentleman who guided the Dawn Rising walk this morning. It was a night of music and stories and poetry, based around the theme of ‘Bloody Edinburgh’, and I saw some renowned storytellers in action, including Mara Menzies and Ana Lines. It was Mara and Ana who came on the walk this morning and gave me a lift home, so it was lovely to meet them in person and here about their storytelling experiences.

I have been keeping busy with a bit of market research temping work that I picked up. It involved standing in the freezing cold asking people exiting shops if they would do a survey about their shopping experiences, so it wasn’t the most fulfilling of jobs, but it earned me a bit of money. I have also signed up as a volunteer to the Scottish Poetry Library and helped out at my first event – a reading and talk by the poet and translator Sasha Dugdale, which was a real treat. I have also been studying – I signed up to do a free, six-week online course on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, so for the past two weeks I have been elbow deep in actantial models and Propp’s Morphology, which has proved extremely challenging and very interesting. And I’ve been plugging way at my own creative writing, currently writing 1000 words a day which is quite manageable on days I don’t have work.

I have been making new friends – a surprisingly strange experience in your mid-twenties when you’ve up and left all your own back home. This has meant lots of coffees and walks and chats with new people and it’s been really pleasant actually. We had a small group round to our place to watch the new Game of Thrones season premiere and had lots of pizza and drinks. Excellent topic of conversation to utilise! And I’ve joined a book club, a lovely bunch of ladies who like to read and have a drink and a chat. My second meeting is this week and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve also just started my annual Harry Potter reread, once more using the audiobooks because Stephen Fry is just so damn good at it, and this way I can listen while wandering the streets of the city where the story first came to life. Yes.

We’ve had some epic Skype sessions with family back home (and Mitch in Japan!) and its always nice to hear news from Australia. I miss everyone so much, but it really helps having the internet, as well as gifts from brilliant mates like Alfie and Cara who sent me packing with a whole bunch of mystery envelopes containing various tasks and presents that have been entertaining me for weeks. The final thing I will say in this blog is that I’ve been watching a brilliant TV show called ‘Flowers’, and I recommend you look it up and watch it. It’s the best writing I have seen in a long time, and made me laugh, cry, and shiver with its utter relatibility. It’s a very black comedy, quite dark and twisty, but so, so touching.

Happy Beltane!

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