I like to write in different places. Mostly I sit by the kitchen table. Sometimes I retreat to my box room where I have created a little study. There is no natural light in there though, so as long as I am writing in the daylight hours, I will avoid the study. I have some cafés that I particularly favour for writing, although many of them I can’t sit in for too long without feeling like a table-blocker. One spot where I feel I can sit for some time without table blocking (as long as it’s not lunchtime) is the Portrait Gallery on Queen Street. I have established my spot: under Ian Rankin’s portrait with Colin Montgomerie hanging to my left. I give Ian a quick nod before I sit down (always with my back to him) and then I nod across to Montie, so as he doesn’t feel neglected. I wonder if I’m going to make any friends in this city besides painted ones. I turn my head and ask Ian, “What do you think Mr. R.? Are the Edinburgh folk as aloof as they’re made out to be?”
I was scribbling in my journal at this very spot recently, when one of two gentlemen asked if they could join me. Glancing around I realised the place had filled up without me noticing. “Only if you have interesting conversation that I can write about,’ I told them, “something a little bit shocking, please”, I suggested.
“I think we can manage that,” came back a New York accent. “Gimme a subject matter and I’ll take it from there!” His eyes twinkled and he smiled across at me.
As someone who spends a lot of time alone, there is a split-second moment in cafés, as on airplanes, when you decide either to pull up the invisible screen and go back into your bubble, or to connect. On the whole, I think people like to be left alone, I know I mostly do, and I think I am good at reading the signs. It seemed that this was a time to chat, to enjoy some passing company.
I watched the New Yorker cut his scone in two (vertically, I couldn’t help noticing) as he apologized about Trump. “Let’s not even go there,” his friend said, “It’ll spoil our appreciation of the art to come.” The American didn’t butter his scone, just broke up small pieces from each incorrectly cut half. He nibbled half-heartedly as he spoke enthusiastically. “I’m a psychedelic artist. I met P., here, at an airport. We got talking, hit it off and now he’s my agent this side of the pond.” Turned out his agent was a solicitor. Having garnered that I was new in town, P. inducted me into some of the Edinburgh ways. “I was at La Bohème last night. It was stunning but a true Edinburgh person never says that. What you say is, ‘it wasn’t too bad’. Locals will understand the Edinburgh litotes.”
“So where are you from?” asked the New Yorker. I looked up and across to the portrait of Montie. He’s pictured standing at Turnberry golf course with the Ailsa Craig in the background, rising from the Irish Sea. “I’m from the other side of the Ailsa Craig”, I told him, a little unhelpfully for a man from Manhattan. “Not Islay, with that accent,” P. had me pegged. He tried to work it out. “I’ve relatives from Comber. I’d say you’re not too far from there. How am I doing?”
We chatted on. Talked about how the city was resting for a few weeks between the festival-goers leaving and the students arriving. “Will you join us for Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites? You are most welcome.” I shook my head. “Thank you, it was a pleasure to meet you but I’ll let you enjoy it in your own company.” We were on first name terms now. I shook hands with each of them and they took their leave of me. A twenty minute friendship. It’s a start.