A month with Mum, Dad, and Marnie

My parents recently came to visit with my grandmother and messaged me a few days ago to say they were safely back in Australia. To say the last six weeks have been busy is an understatement, but they have also been some of the most joyous times of my life in Scotland – I was so pleased to show them the places I loved, and to discover new favourites with them that I hadn’t seen before. I am so lucky that they are adventurous and healthy enough to be able to come and see me – I know not all expats are as lucky as me. They arrived in Edinburgh on a Thursday, and the very next day we left, up through the Cairngorms on Friday night before breakfasting in Aviemore the next morning and heading to Culloden Battlefield. Then it was back in the car to drive north, stopping at the Coffee Bothy in Golspie for lunch before heading onto Thurso where we saw the Old St Peter’s Church. That night we took the ferry from Scrabster to Mainland Orkney, before driving to our (spacious, lovely) AirBnb in Twatt. The next morning, a Sunday, Marnie and I went to a church service in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. After lunch we dropped into the Sheila Fleet Kirk Gallery and then drove across the Churchill Barriers to the Italian Chapel, and onto St Margaret’s Hope. The next day was spent in Stromness, meeting an old friend of Marnie’s and poking around the shops (including the library and an amazing bookshop) and the following day we embarked into the heart of Neolithic Orkney – Skara Brae, Skaill House, Maeshowe, the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Barnhouse Settlement, and the Ring of Brodgar. We stayed overnight on the boat back to Mainland Scotland, and waved to the Old Man of Hoy the next morning on our way.

We drove back down south via Wick (to see the shortest street in the world) and stopped off at the Whaligoe Steps (with bonus cat). After lunch in Dingwall we continued driving through the tempestuous Storm Ali to our accommodation in Kyle of Lochalsh. The next day we continued onto Skye, to see Sligachan, Talisker, the Fairy Pools (just to look, not to walk), and then to Portree for lunch and a visit to the Post Office dog. The next day we drove to BEAUTIFUL Plockton via Duirinish (we even saw a wee hedgehog while having our coffee), then down to Eilean Donan for photos. On our last day in Kyle of Lochalsh, we took a walking tour of Eilean Ban, home of the Gavin Maxwell Museum. The island has accommodation, a lighthouse, a wildlife hide, and a lovely history – but sadly we didn’t see any otters!

Then it was home to lovely Edinburgh, with a day trip to the Borders to see Melrose, the Leaderfoot Viaduct, Scott’s View, and Dryburgh Abbey. We wandered the Water of Leith (from Stockbridge to Dean Village), had dinner at Teuchtar’s Landing, met friends of mine that I wanted to introduce to Mum and Dad, and had a jaunt to Cramond Village and beach. I also took a lovely day trip to Glasgow with Marnie to see the Kelvingrove Museum and the Charles Rennie Mackintosh rooms. In the mean time, my guests got up to plenty without me while I was at work or resting, including a visit to the Japanese garden at Lauriston Castle and a trip to North Berwick, as well as various shopping trips into the city!

Then it was back to the Highlands – Mum, Dad, Marnie and I were booked on a Great Rail Journeys trip that took us via Glasgow to Ballachulish, where we stayed for three nights. We journeyed up the West Highland Line, past Corrour, the most remote station in Britain, and found ourselves in a lovely hotel just up the road from Glencoe, with idyllic views of a loch beyond our window. The next morning took us to Oban (where I visited a lovely little museum), and then on the ferry to the Isle of Mull where we visited the beautiful Duart Castle. The next day was spent admiring Neptune’s Staircase before heading to Fort William for lunch and a very rainy cruise along Loch Linnhe! We even saw a couple of seals – it made the windy and wet conditions worth it. Afterwards we drove back past the hotel and into Glencoe for some photo stops and a history lesson – Glencoe is very atmospheric in the rain. The next day – HARRY POTTER TRAIN!! We took the Jacobite Express (first class!) to Mallaig, and even the weather couldn’t dampen our spirits. The route over the viaduct is truly gorgeous – and then we took the bus back and stopped at the viaduct to get photos of the train crossing back over!

That night we transferred to Inverness where we stayed for the next three nights, and headed off to Loch Ness first thing the next morning – another cruise, in beautiful sunshine this time, and a wee stomp around Urquhart Castle, before returning to Inverness for some free time (a rest for me!). The next day was the Kyle Line – I think even more scenic than the West Highland Line – all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh, and then onto Eilean Donan Castle. We actually got to go in this time, and it was wonderful – a really interesting history to explore and such good photo opportunities. The coach back took us via Glen Sheil and the grave of Roderick Mackenzie – a completely new area of Scotland for me, and one I am desperate to return to! The next day, alas, we were nearing the end of our trip, and headed back to Edinburgh. There was one final dinner to enjoy however, to top off a week of lovely food and accommodation. We had traditional Scottish food and a piper who told us some fantastic stories about Scottish history and culture. We even had a Highland dancer to entertain us! It was a very bizarre thing to stay in the luxury hotel and get up the next morning to walk to work!

Mum and Dad headed off for a few days in the Central Belt and Marnie stayed the night at our flat. The next morning I dropped her at the bus stop and she embarked on a journey to Lewis (yes, in the Outer Hebrides), where she had a fantastic few days in Stornaway. Sean and I had a relatively normal week before they all returned to us, and we spent a lovely Sunday at the Botanic Gardens before a teary goodbye that evening! They made their way down south and flew home from Heathrow. I spoke to Dad yesterday and their jet lag has worn off, thank goodness!

(Am I the luckiest woman in the world? I think I’m the luckiest woman in the world.)

 

2016 hurtles towards a close…

…taking all manner of celebrities with it. Not nice news to hear about Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Liz Smith, George Michael and Richard Adams, especially after everyone else who has gone this year. By the end of this blog, we’ll probably have lost someone else.

On a lighter note, I have had a busy but wonderful month. Since London, I have completed Nanowrimo (50,000 words written in the month of November), been to Maison de Moggy (Edinburgh’s cat cafe), been to an evening with Jodi Picoult at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, celebrated Sean’s birthday with our friend Sophie who is his birthday neighbour (at Under The Stairs), had Xmas drinks and catch ups with good friends old and new, helped run a poetry trivia night for our volunteers at the Scottish Poetry Library, seen the weird and wonderful Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and headed to Dunfermline for a Jane Austen’s birthday do with the Scottish Branch of the Jane Austen Society (while there, I snuck in a quick but lovely visit to Dunfermline Abbey and Palace).

Oh, and Sean squeezed in a trip to Lisbon!

I finished work on the 21st, complete with some bubbles and pizza to send off the year, just in time for a well-earned break…but sleep is for the weak! My beloved parents and grandmother arrived that very evening to spend eight wonderful days with us. I haven’t seen these crazy kids since January 29, the day we left Australia, and after two minutes in their company, it was like no time had passed.

Edinburgh turned on her best weather for them, and by best weather I mean the stereotypically British cliche of sideways rain and wind bad enough to close Edinburgh Castle. Oh, we had fun. I can’t remember giggling quite this much since…ever! We traipsed up and down the Royal Mile and Princes St with our rain hoods up, braving the blustery Christmas Market, the slippery cobblestones, the sodden Greyfriars Kirkyard, and the very wet trek down Clerk Street to the delicious Carington Mouse’s Larder for lunch. I also took my guests to see the book sculptures, the Writers’ Museum (including the rare exhibition of J.K. Rowling’s annotated copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. We had approximately four hundred stops for coffee/tea/cake over the course of their visit and it was truly pleasurable. Scotland has some lovely places for refreshment, and Mum’s friend had given them a nice lunch at Eteaket for Christmas. Marnie and I even went to visit the sister of one of her church friends, who put on a beautiful spread for us with her husband. They were both so warm and generous with their hospitality despite having never met us before! We eventually got to Edinburgh Castle once the weather calmed down as well.

Christmas Day was spent at the AirBnb my parents had rented two streets away from our flat. Their AirBnb was a lot bigger and more comfortable than our flat, so we spent most of our time there actually! We took them to church on Christmas morning (the church I have been attending throughout the year – Pilrig St. Pauls) and then had our mates Sophie and Claire over to share all our food and Christmas cheer! Lots of food was consumed, laughter was had, television was watched, and plans were made.

Boxing Day was spent at the Royal Yacht Britannia (somewhere I had never been and had been on my list for months!) and the Princes St Waterstones store, before we awoke, FINALLY, to good weather for their final two days here.

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We picked up our hire car and hit the road, over the Firth of Forth to a tiny little place called Bandrum, up near Dunfermline. Back when I was a wee lass, my parents bought me a plot of land for my 21st birthday. It was five square feet of Scottish soil that technically makes me a Lady, purchased through this nifty website: http://www.scottishlandsales.co.uk – We found out approximately where we assumed it would be, and then trekked up and across the beautiful countryside to see the views. When we got up the top, Mum produces a crown and a flag to mark my place and many photos were taken. I can’t believe how good the weather was!!

We went to Stirling Castle afterwards, another place I had not yet been, and managed to get some photos before the sun disappeared. I will definitely go back for a longer visit next time!

The next day we drove north, stopping at Auchterarder, then Aberfeldy, then Dunkeld for walks, shopping, and more refreshments. There’s a wonderful cafe in Aberfeldy called the Habitat Cafe that Sean had recommended, but none of our choices disappointed. We raced the sun for photos, and then drove back to Edinburgh, in time to have one more meal together of authentic Scottish fish and chips.

I only cried a tiny bit while saying goodbye. They are off to Windermere today, before they visit Flintshire, Hay-on-Wye, Winchcombe, and Salisbury before heading back to Australia. So I’m incredibly excited for them, but I also don’t want it to be another thirteen months before I see them! I know I’m lucky though. The fact that I am here, and the fact that they were all able to come and see us makes me blessed indeed. I’ve already started on the itinerary for their next visit…

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*SPOILERS* Harry Potter and the Cursed Child *SPOILERS*

DO NOT READ THIS BLOG ENTRY IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR THE HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD PLAY, BOTH THE SCRIPT AND STAGE PRODUCTION. I fully respect the #KeepTheSecrets movement and that is why I am attempting to hide my thoughts under a bunch of disclaimer-type layers. The reason I am even putting my thoughts on the internet is because a lot of people back in Australia have asked for specific spoiler-y feedback, and obviously they won’t be seeing the show anytime soon, so this is my attempt to provide that. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. DON’T READ ON IF YOU WANT SECRETS KEPT. Continue reading

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! And other things…

 

So quite a bit has happened since my last foray into blogging, the main event being that my beloved friend Michelle came to stay! She came to Europe for about three weeks and arrived in Edinburgh to visit us first. It was the best thing in the world to see her (and an excuse to revisit Edinburgh and Craigmillar Castles, as well as eat lots of cake and take a very jet-lagged guest to the final night of Harry Potter trivia)

She traipsed off to Austria and Slovenia to go paragliding(!) and other fun things and Sean and I got our tourist on again and went to several events that were fundamentally Scottish:

Neu! Reekie! Celts! – Neu! Reekie! Is a monthly showcase of music and poetry and film (all very avant-garde and interesting) and this one took place in the National Museum of Scotland to mark the end of the Celts exhibition. Highlights included Liz-freaking-Lochhead, fast becoming my favourite poet of all time; Charlotte Church – yes, that Charlotte Church – and her 10-piece electro-pop orchestra; free whisky tastings; and free entry into the exhibition, which we’ve seen before but did again because it’s amazing.

Doors Open Day – similar to Open Doors Day in Melbourne – we went to the Canongate Kirk and the John Knox House. I’d been to the John Knox House before but Sean had not, and it was interesting to see it again because I had the audio guide this time that told me a bit more. We had been to the Canongate Kirkyard before – it holds several people of note, including the poet Robert Fergusson and what is rumoured to be the body of Mary, Queen of Scots’ murdered secretary, David Rizzio. But the actual church I had not seen inside, and it is, surprisingly, strikingly modern inside. It actually felt a bit nautical with the colour scheme and the various insignia adorning the interior.

McGonagall nite – a night of bad poetry, music, and speeches celebrating the life of William McGonagall, fondly remembered as Scotland’s worst poet. It began in Greyfriars Kirkyard where he is buried (interestingly, it is his gravestone that J K Rowling was supposedly inspired by to name Hogwarts’ Transfiguration Professor and general all-round badass, Minerva McGonagall). The bagpipes played a lament, and then we followed the piper through the streets to the Captain’s Bar, a FANTASTIC little pub that sits below the flat he died in. There, we were treated to more bagpipes, many poetry readings of severely awful poetry, and speeches about his life. We were instructed to stand and toast everytime his name was mentioned, reciting the phrase ‘Sir William Topaz McGonagall, poet and tragedian, Knight of the White Elephant of Burma’ – the way he styled himself. What an unapologetic sweetheart. Loved every moment!

The Palace of Holyroodhouse – I finally went to see this palace with my friend Sophie. We wanted to catch the end of an exhibition of the Queen’s outfits, currently being shown around the UK to celebrate her 90th birthday. It was a smaller exhibition than I expected (the bulk of the collection being in Buckingham Palace), but the garments on display were incredible. They were accompanied with photos of Her Majesty wearing them, as well as information about the design and designers. The Holyrood Palace segment of the exhibition obviously included all the royal tartans and the robes she wears as head of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle – Scotland’s order of chivalry. But of course, we got to see the rest of the Palace itself. It is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, so still a working palace, but you can go through the historic State Apartments when they are not in use and even see the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots (including the rooms where her secretary was attacked and murdered in front of a heavily pregnant Mary). Intense and amazing experience. I have a yearly ticket now, so will go back another time and do it again. There was so much to take in at once, so, like Edinburgh Castle, if you can manage a second visit or multiple visits, it is worth it. There are also the ruins of Holyrood Abbey to see and the beautiful Palace grounds, overlooking Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags.

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Other things I have done that warrant a mention:

  • Bridget Jones’s Baby! Loved it! Was worried it would not live up to the first two, but I was happily reassured. Renee Zellweger is luminous. I laughed loudly. A perfect success!
  • Went to a launch of a literary journal, edited by a friend of mine. The theme of this edition was poetry in translation, so the launch included some beautiful performances of multi-lingual music and spoken word.
  • Went to Stockbridge with a friend and visited Golden Hare Books, potentially my new favourite bookstore in Edinburgh. A beautiful oasis of calm and quiet. Dangerous for the bank account.
  • Had a corporate induction at work! Not particularly exciting, but important nonetheless.

However, the main purpose of this blog was to tell you about London. I’ve had this trip booked for months, but only found out when Michelle arrived a couple of weeks ago that she would be here too! So I’ve spent the last couple of days with Michelle again! We have continued our tourism-and-cake escapades, doing a walking tour of the Old City of London and finding the most charming little bakery (Primrose Bakery) to treat ourselves to some delicious cake-ventures. The walking tour included all kinds of historic information about the actual City of London (as opposed to Greater London) that boggle the mind, and finished by part of the Roman Wall. Definitely a solid recommendation from me! I also nerded out and went to get my one-year Reader Pass from the British Library – now I have no excuse! I have to return for study. I stayed at a hostel near to Kings Cross – six-bed dorm, free and simple breakfast, and GOOD SHOWERS for about 20 pounds a night. If you’re not afraid of roughing it in a hostel, I would recommend it (ask for a bottom bunk as the top bunks can’t reach the power points to charge your phone…)

But. But. The reason for my visit. A Facebook contact in Melbourne had mentioned months ago that she had a ticket to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child going begging. I had written off this experience, convinced when the tickets went on sale that I didn’t have the money or even the knowledge I would be in the UK when the play was on. I knew we were going to Edinburgh, but I didn’t know if it was going to work out, if I’d be in a position to get to London over six months after we had arranged to leave Australia. What if we had to come home and my money was wasted? But now, settled in Edinburgh, knowing this was happening for the long haul, I was able to seize the opportunity. I went to the launch of the play script earlier this year, got my copy, and DIDN’T TOUCH IT. I wanted the proper experience, seeing it onstage without knowing anything about the story and allowing myself to be surprised by the spectacle. I know this sounds smug – I’m sorry, I don’t mean to – and it frustrates me that this is such an exclusive experience. It’s a financial and geographical privilege that I don’t think should be associated with a story this popular. I appreciate that the script was released worldwide to allow readers everywhere to know what happens, but scripts are not written to be read, they are written to be performed. And that means that unless you have the means to get to London and pay for a ticket, you are excluded from seeing this story the way it was conceived to be seen. There are stage directions in the script that are just that – stage directions. They can’t possibly compare with the awesome and intense experience that actors, music, sets, costume, special effects, and the feeling of being part of an enraptured audience brings to the table. And enraptured we were. Spontaneous applause, laughter, audible gasping and (in some cases) swearing were all heard throughout the show from the spectators, and there was a standing ovation at the end.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show like it. It is in two parts – you are supposed to see Part One as a matinee and Part Two in the evening, OR Part One and Part Two on consecutive evenings. Both parts are just over two and a half hours long including a twenty minute interval in each, which leaves us with a show more-or-less four and a half hours long. The actors must be absolutely knackered at the end of every day. I don’t want to spoil anything, so this review won’t, but I am more than happy to discuss in private with people that have read or seen it, or people that don’t mind being spoiled. All I will say is this: the storyline was 100% not what I expected. I don’t exactly know what I expected, but it wasn’t that. I am so glad I stayed away from the script! But it was 100% more wonderful than anything I expected as well. The magic onstage was an interesting mix – half of it seemed to be more stylized – you could see how the magic had been created and carried off, but it worked as part of the show. The other half was just baffling. We were sitting five rows from the front in the stalls with a perfect view, and I was completely stumped by how some of it was done and I was looking very carefully. The casting – utterly perfect. Ron, Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Draco and all the other characters we know were up there on stage and I might have even shed a tear or two watching them deal with the crazy shit J. K. Rowling and the two dudes she wrote the show with put them through. It probably took me about ten or fifteen minutes to get used to seeing the actors as the characters – they are all very different from the portrayals we are used to for obvious reasons – they’ve aged. But the characterisation was nearly perfect. I suppose if I had one criticism it would be that Ginny was too similar to movie-Ginny rather than book-Ginny…but it is a small criticism indeed.

The ‘new’ characters (ie the ones we didn’t meet properly in the book or film series) were wonderful, the sets were a masterpiece, and the music by Imogen Heap put it on another level entirely. Most of all, it was entertaining. It’s without a doubt the longest show I have seen and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want this journey to be finished again.

I know some people have been disappointed with parts of it and that is understandable – this series and this world means so much to so many people. It is impossible to please everyone and to take the story in a direction that all the billions of fans would agree with. I feel very lucky that I was one of the ones who loved it, who will treasure the memory of seeing it onstage forever. I’m sure it will tour, and I’m sure it will end up on screen in some sort of format at some stage. I hope everyone who wants to see it gets the chance. I would thoroughly, heartily recommend it.

So yeah, I didn’t really sleep after seeing it. Was too excited, with it all running through my head. I should also mention that the two girls I saw the show with were lovely. They were obviously friends of the girl back in Melbourne that I had bought the ticket from, so I didn’t meet them in person until I was at the theatre. But they were great, and took me to see the House of Minalima between shows, which is the shop set up by the graphic designers of the film series. It’s like a kooky little museum of all the different designs used in the Potter franchise, from the textbook covers, to the letters, the ‘Wanted’ posters, and the Marauders Map. It is insanely expensive so I didn’t buy anything, but you are permitted to take photos! We went for Spanish for dinner, briefly saw Michelle who brought me hazelnut and carrot cake because she is brilliant, and I stopped on my walk back home to help two tourists whose phones weren’t working and apartment wasn’t open. I should have slept really well! But I was too busy thinking of Harry.

I checked out after breakfast the next morning and met Michelle at Kings Cross where we stored our luggage and browsed the Harry Potter shop (of course). Then we had a cup of tea and visited the Treasures of the Collection exhibition at the British Library. This exhibition is one of the best in London (says me, a librarian, of course) and includes original books and documents that pretty much shaped society as we know it. I think the earliest item I saw was an 8th century Qu’ran, but there may have been something(s) older. Obviously the main attractions for myself were Jane Austen’s writing desk, a draft of Persuasion, letters from Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I, and the Brontë material, which include a mini-exhibition on Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea.

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There is so much else in there though – the Magna Carta! Gutenberg’s Bible! Handwritten documents from The Beatles! Beowulf! DaVinci’s notebooks! I would definitely see it if you have an interest in history. And it’s free! After we left the library, there was time for one final cake date at Kings Cross before I had to say goodbye to Michelle. I will miss her so much! But seeing her and spending the time with her that I did was good for my soul.

The train ride home went fairly quickly – I was devouring the Cursed Child script, finally, with the memories of the night before playing through my head as I read. Back to reality now, but a pleasant reality it is. I really doubt my next blog is going to be this exciting….

August in Edinburgh

I have had a very busy month. It’s been wonderful, because I have also done my best to prioritise sleep and getting enough rest in between enormous amounts of running around, so I haven’t become ill or crazy. In my previous blog post I mentioned the things I’ve done this month thus far, and I’ve done even more since. So, in-between work and even some social events, here is what I have been up to since…

Night at the Museum – went to this with a British lass I met in Paris at the start of the year! She had popped up to Edinburgh for the fringe with some mates and we had a quick drink before seeing several comedians pretend to be experts in artefacts found throughout the National Museum of Scotland’s collections. Pretty nice improv, I must say.

Dr Neil’s Garden – not a fringe show, but a nice visit nonetheless with an Edinburgh friend of ours. This is a beautiful little oasis in the middle of Edinburgh, situated in a corner of the enormous Holyrood Park, just near Duddingston Loch. Beautiful garden, peaceful environment – definitely a place to go back to!

Best of the Bohemians – a variety show by a local theatre group. A friend from work was performing in this and it brought me right back to being involved with theatre back in Melbourne. Very nostalgic, and some beautiful voices on display.

Northanger Abbey – with puppets!! This little company is brilliant, with the two actors adapting the material, performing, and making all the puppets themselves. It was entertaining and polished and showcased immense talent as the performers moved between their own characters and the puppets they were using.

Austentatious – this is a fringe favourite for a lot of people and had been recommended to me multiple times. It definitely lived up to the hype, mainly due to the mad improv skills of the ensemble cast. They are obviously well-matched and have worked together enough to achieve a really seamless style of performance, despite improvising an entirely new show from scratch, every performance, being prompted by a title suggestion from the audience.

Eimear McBride – My first ever Edinburgh International Book Festival event! A Girl is a Half-formed Thing remains one of the most interesting (and devastating) books I have ever read, and Eimear was at the festival to talk about her newest book, The Lesser Bohemians. Hearing her read her work, and talk about the process of writing it – such an honour. And I met her in the signing queue afterwards!

Half Blood Prince trivia – our monthly Harry Potter pub quiz and we won! A 30 pound bar tab to spend 😀 These questions are HARD WORK and I am very proud of us!

Philippa Gregory – The way this woman talks about feminism and women in history makes me so happy. She is so knowledgable and witty, and a really passionate defender all of kinds of women that history has deemed either unimportant, stupid, evil, sluttish, or prudish. She spoke about what she calls the ‘she-wolf/dolt’ complex and pointed out the many double standards that exist in the reporting and interpretation of the personalities and actions of historic men and women. A wonderful experience (and I met her in the signing queue!)

Alison Weir – a historian and novelist that tortures me with the amount of work she has written that I haven’t had the chance to read yet. Her latest book is about Katherine of Aragon and the breadth of her knowledge and research is staggering. She also has some interesting things to say about the age-old question of the legitimacy of Katherine and Henry VIII’s doomed marriage and whether her marriage to Arthur was consummated or not, but more importantly, whether or not it actually mattered in a scriptural sense. And I met her in the signing queue 😀

Tracy Chevalier – the problem with going to these events to see authors you admire speaking, is that you leave them with an urge to buy every book of theirs and that is an expensive impulse. I resisted – just – but as I don’t yet own Tracy’s new novel At the Edge of the Orchard, I will need to save my pennies in order to get my mitts on it asap. It sounds amazing. I asked her to sign my copy of Reader, I Married Him, an anthology that she edited of stories inspired by Jane Eyre.

This afternoon I am off back to the book festival to see Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, and then first thing tomorrow I am off to Manchester for a weekend with The Bronte Society for their annual conference, this year celebrating Charlotte’s bicentenary. This month has been one of the best of my life.

Fringe!

Okay, now for something a little cheerier than my last post.

It’s August! Which means if you live in Edinburgh, it’s the most expensive time of year! (But also the best time of year.) It’s the FESTIVAL. And when I say “the festival”, I mean it’s actually a whole bunch of festivals including but not limited to: The Edinburgh International Festival, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and The Edinburgh International Book Festival. And I have spend hundreds of pounds on tickets. I tried to save some money in July to prepare, but I still managed to catch up with some good pals from Aus (Picks, Amy, Alison, Tim, and Helen), go to the Real Mary King’s Close (finally! A super cool underground Edinburgh tour), and go to the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child launch party at Waterstones (insanely fun. Totally worth the $ and nerd points).

But now August has begun, and with it, the Fringe! So far I’ve seen eight shows. I’m going to summarise them super briefly because I aim to do the same for every event I go to this month and it’s going to get real lengthy real quickly if I’m not careful.

Paper Hearts: The Musical – really sweet musical set in a bookshop, jumping between today’s world and the world of the novel that the protagonist is writing (war-torn Russia). The music was outstanding, and the cast doubled as the orchestra, a bit like in Once.

S’Pun – pretty much an hour-long stream of puns. Look, it was great. We sat in the front row and got roped into lots of good bits, and I didn’t want to throw myself out a window when it finished which is how I usually feel about puns, so well done Darren Walsh.

Jane Eyre: An Autobiography – a one-woman version of Jane Eyre by a truly consummate actress. Her energy amazed me. I often find it a little awkward when so many characters are being crammed into one space, but she pulled this off with aplomb.

Rhapsodes – saw these guys in Bath earlier this year and fell in love, so I took Sean along with me this time and they were just as brilliant. They improvise a new “Shakespearean” play, making sure they stick to all sorts of complicated rhyme schemes and using material suggested by the audience. Sean and I became characters in the play (represented by masks) in a segment on Brexit…

Dolly Wants to Die – with Helen Monks aka Germaine from Raised by Wolves!! She plays a doll who is suicidal but can’t kill herself because…she’s a doll…actually had some poignant things to say about the state of the world today and the poverty and anxiety currently bulldozing our generation.

The Bookbinder – creepy, Gaiman-esque fairytale about an apprentice bookbinder and his adventures, with some truly beautiful props to help tell the tale. So nice to hear a New Zealand accent as well! Done by Trick of the Light theatre.

Nzinga, Warrior Queen – Mara Menzies is an amazing performer and I was sitting next to her mum in the audience! This is a true story about a seventeenth century African queen who defended her people from the invading Portuguese forces.

Leaf by Niggle – this was recommended to me by a dear friend because she has read the short story it is based on. It’s by Tolkien! One man tells the story to us, but before he does, he shows us all the beautiful props and artefacts that he’s going to use and tells us their real history, all from his family attic. Just gorgeous.

So that was a full weekend, and it’s back to work tomorrow. There are plenty more events to fit in over the next few weeks though…

Six months away!

A few days ago (the 29th of June) marked the six month anniversary of leaving Australia. In some ways, it has absolutely flown by. I never anticipated time would move this fast. And then other days I wake up and think back to Melbourne and it seems like a lifetime ago! The only thing for sure, is that it has been so much easier than I thought it would be. I steeled myself for a really difficult emotional transition that just…hasn’t happened. I am certainly not complaining, it’s been really nice to not have a hard time.

For those playing at home, we sort of killed it at Harry Potter trivia. By “sort of killed it”, I mean we got 32 out of 35!! But we still came fourth (winning team got 34, and two teams tied at 33). This competition is fierce and bloody and I love it.

I’ve leeched all the money from my bank account to buy tickets for the Edinburgh Book Festival, and, after a few days consideration, forked out an atrocious sum for the Bronte Society annual conference in August. I don’t regret it – it is Charlotte’s bicentenary this year and it will be amazing – but it is more money than I would ever usually spend on a two-night holiday. I also now have to wait until the end of July to buy Fringe tickets/extra book fest tickets/anything at all, because I need to conserve my cash!

Game of Thrones has finished for another year and I am BEREFT. This television show just gets better and better as it goes along. The only other show I can think of that does that is Parks and Recreation. So much to talk about. So few friends who want to talk about it at length. The struggle is real.

Huh. Brexit. The less said about that the better, because Mum asked me not to swear so much on social media and I don’t want to disappoint her. Similarly, regarding the Australian election. I’m writing this at 3am Australian time while they are still counting those DARN votes and everyone has embarrassed themselves and the whole country is going to hell in a handbasket. Hooray.

HAPPIER STUFF THEN:

  • We had a lovely day with a friend from Melbourne trooping up and down Leith and the New Town
  • I went to the Isabel Dalhousie Lecture at the National Library. Juliette Wells, an American academic who I have seen speak before, talked to us about the 1816 Philadelphia edition of Emma, the only edition of Jane Austen’s work to be published in America in her lifetime. The lecture was also introduced by Alexander McCall Smith (the fellowship being named after one of his characters) so it was cool to finally see him in person.
  • I had proper haggis, neeps, and tatties for dinner last night, and it was so delicious but WAY too much food. I should not have finished the entire thing.
  • We had another free ticket to a film festival event but we arrived late. Instead, we revisited a lovely wine bar that I’d been to with the book club and had a couple of drinks and had a super evening!
  • We ended up in a parade for Pride Edinburgh 2016 today. It was fabulous – so many people, dogs, rainbows, musicians, dancers, and organisations showing support for the LGBT community, including churches, banks, unions, and political parties. Love, love, love.

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An update on #Edinburghlyf

So much has happened since Denmark! I’ve tried to summarise the high points below, though I will undoubtedly forget something. I’m loving Edinburgh. I’m loving its people and its places and its character, charming and rough-round-the-edges as it is.

I have a job! An actual paying job in a LIBRARY! It’s at Queen Margaret University and it’s wonderful. I started my career in an academic library that was far bigger than this one – working for a smaller university with a smaller team is a breath of fresh air. It’s very quiet at the moment because it’s summer holidays, but that gives me plenty of time to get used to how things run before the crazy September new year madness. We went on a work outing to the National Library of Scotland the other day to do a behind-the-scenes tour (a fascinating place!) and went for a cream tea afterwards. The team is lovely, and the job is two days a week, giving me plenty of time for sightseeing. Obviously I’ll need to find something else to supplement my income, and I am 99% sure I’ve obtained a casual job, but I have to wait a couple of weeks to find out, so we’ll see how that goes.

We are making some good friends over here, and have been catching up for dinners and gatherings and book clubs and Eurovision nights. (Walking home from Eurovision we saw an actual hedgehog, which is perhaps the highlight of my life). I’ve also been a bit lax with Skyping home due to starting so many new things and suddenly being (somewhat) busy again, but the other day I Skyped with my bosom chum Alfie and it made my day! There is a pub about a one-minute walk from our place and they run Harry Potter themed trivia nights. I went to the last one (Prisoner of Azkaban) and these quizzes are HARD. I have to reread Goblet of Fire properly before the next one (which is handy, as Stephen Fry has been rereading them to me over the last few weeks). They do a mean boozy milkshake as well.

I went to my first Jane Austen Society Scottish Branch event and met a whole lot of lovely people, including the speaker, a brilliant scholar named Nora Bartlett. We bonded over children’s literature and libraries and creative writing, and I want her to adopt me (no offence Mum and Dad, but she could give me UK citizenship that way). I’ve also finished the first draft of a new manuscript I’ve been working on. It’s nearly 76,000 words, and it the fifth novel-length manuscript I’ve finished in my life. One of these was the greatest masterpiece to ever grace an exercise book (80,000 words of piratical adventures I wrote with my bestie in high school), one of these came close to being represented by a literary agency last year, one of them is utter shite, and one of them was 50,000 words spewed out over Nanowrimo. This latest one is…not awful. It needs a good polish, but it’s not awful. Anyway, I am thoroughly sick to the back teeth of it and need to put it away and not look at it for a year. This week I’m planning to start work on one of the many half-finished things I have floating around my hard drive. Unemployment and having no friends is a great way to get stuck into those creative projects! Now I have gained a job and friends, so hopefully I can keep the practice up…

We’ve also been doing important things like watching Parks and Recreation. I’ve seen it before but Sean hasn’t and it is a joy to rewatch. Amy Poehler is a perfect human. We also experienced the absolute mania that overtakes people when their football team wins. We live not far from the stadium where there was some sort of important sporting event, and walking through Leith that night was like walking through the end of the world. People EVERYWHERE. Most of them very drunk and joyous and singing at the top of their lungs. They held up the traffic until the police arrived, and used the actual entire weekend to carry on celebrating. It was pretty amazing.

When Sean left his job in Australia, they gave him a ghost tour as a gift! We used the voucher last week and went on a tour of the historic vaults beneath the South Bridge. It was fun to be down there, but there was so much emphasis on ghosts (go figure) and not enough on the actual history of the vaults. They are fantastic, and I wanted to know more about why they were there! Speaking of Sean, he’s a good egg. I’ve had a couple of down days, anxiety being a heartless horror that strikes when I really don’t want or need it, and he has been patient and lovely as always, and I’m feeling much better now. So relearning a few keys aspects of self-care has been important as well!

 

Finally, I’ve just come home from my third volunteer shift at the Scottish Poetry Library. This. Place. Is. Amazing. As a volunteer, I help out at events (setting up chairs, serving drinks and the like) and also take Saturday shifts to make up staff numbers so the library can be open. On Saturdays there is lots of shelving and working at the front desk and ad hoc jobs like labelling books. It’s a peaceful job in a beautiful building, and the events are always vibrant and fun to watch/take part in. I initially wanted to sign up as a volunteer to keep my foot in the library industry door, but I have found it to be such a welcoming and comfortable place as well as an interesting library. Last night I went to the retirement event for Robyn Marsack, who has been Director of the library for sixteen years. The place was full to bursting, crowded with brilliant and creative minds. Hearing about Robyn’s career was inspiring and had made me want to jump back into studying (alas, money). I’m looking forward to many more hours of work there.

Hopefully I’ll blog again soon! It’s one more thing that has fallen by the wayside now that my life is marginally busier, but I don’t plan to neglect it too much. xx

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!

Edinburgh – the city of never-ending things to do!

The benefit of not having a job at the moment is the amount of sightseeing and exploring I have been able to do in Edinburgh! While I’d love to be working, being a lady of leisure has its perks, and I’ve made a list below of some of the things and places I’ve managed to check out over the past couple of weeks:

Walking the Water of Leith, Warriston Path, and the Botanic Gardens – long, peaceful walking tracks among beautiful flowers, a vast range of community gardens, and peppered with the occasional glimpse of squirrels! There’s also an old, run-down cemetery in Warriston that is unbelievably pretty. I’m looking forward to doing these walks again as it heads further into spring.

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The Writer’s Museum – its housed in a beautiful old building that used to be the mansion of Lady Stair, and it contains artefacts related to the life and career of three of Scotland’s most famous writers – Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Robert Louis Stevenson. It also has the BEST gift shop I’ve ever come across for rabid bookworms like myself.

‘Plague!’ exhibition at the National Library of Scotland – a free exhibition on the history of plague and sickness in Scotland. It sounds disgusting (it was) but it was really interesting as well!

The Scottish Storytelling Centre – I am yet to go to one of their events, but I checked out the centre itself and fell a bit in love with the idea of it – an institution devoted to the art of storytelling! It’s also connected to the house of John Knox, famous Reformer, and that’s a really interesting glimpse into the history of architecture and religion in Scotland in the one place.

Museum of Childhood – just passed this one day and decided to check it out (because it was free, hooray!). It was crazy! Five floors of exhibitions, mainly toys, but all related to the history of childhood in the UK. So many weird and cool things to see (some terrifying, like a room full of dolls), but I think my parents would love it when they come to visit – lots of model cars and Ladybird books!

Checking out landmarks on the City of Literature map – Greyfriars Kirkyard with its stories of grave robbers, Harry Potter names, and gorgeous little Greyfriars Bobby; The Deacon’s House Cafe, site of infamous Deacon Brodie’s former home and workshop where they serve hot chocolate with whisky; The Elephant House, famous for its claim of being the ‘birthplace’ of Harry Potter and its HP graffiti-filled bathrooms; Parliament Hall, where Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson used to stroll in conference; and the various closes and areas that feature in books and novels.

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Easter at St Giles’ Cathedral – after receiving a chocolate-filled care package from Mum and Dad, I went to St Giles’ for a Good Friday service. It was just hymns and readings, for 45 minutes instead of the usual midday 15 minute service, and it did my soul good.

Scott Monument – the worlds largest monument to a writer (287 steps to the top!). The views were absolutely incomparable, but I would counsel against going on a weekend or holiday. It takes a long time to climb when the staircases are so narrow that you can only fit one person in at a time, and it gets real squashy up the top!

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Rosslyn Chapel – a half-day trip with an Australian friend of mine. An utterly beautiful (unfinished) 550-year old chapel, with the most intricate stone carvings and a fascinating history. The visitor centre is brilliant, and (I had completely forgotten about this) it featured heavily in The Da Vinci Code, so was part of the film and had it’s visitor numbers boosted considerably. A really interesting place in a gorgeous area of countryside.

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I have been a busy bee. And I’m off to the Scottish Poetry Library today, and then to a contemporary choir rehearsal, so I’ll have to dash. Thank you all for reading this far and for the response to my post about meeting J. K Rowling. Still the most exciting thing I’ve done!