Pacing The Cage

Very short days have arrived in Edinburgh. For the next two weeks they will be the shortest of the year, and night time will arrive in the afternoon. Even if I manage to get out during the day, the low sun means I’ll have to make an effort to walk towards a wide-open space, or to a height, like Calton Hill, where I can reach the low sun, and where it can reach me. Today, we’ll have just seven hours of daylight. Sunrise: 08:29; Sunset: 15:39. And if I can’t make it outdoors between those times – and I suppose there are many working people who can’t – then it is a long time to be stuck in the house of an evening, pacing the cage. Bruce Cockburn must have written his song in winter, the one that goes:

“Sometimes you feel like you have lived too long

Days drip slowly on the page

You catch yourself pacing the cage.”

Maybe I should walk in the dark. Dickens undertook his famous nocturnal peregrinations through the less salubrious parts of London city at night. He wrote a book about it. Called ‘Night Walks’, it chronicles his time as an insomniac, when he decided to cure himself by walking through London in the small hours – hardly a cure, more of a management strategy. This is when he saw – up close and under darkness – homelessness, drunkenness and vice on the streets, subjects and manifestations of the human condition that were to form the backbone of his literature. Pacing the streets turned out to be his inspiration.

Pacing the cage is the last thing I want to be doing. Yet, neither does pacing the streets, in the manner of Dickens, appeal to me much. Not in this cold. Being so close to Christmas, though, Edinburgh is especially pretty under darkness. Dressed for the season, a cloak of decoration takes ones eye away from the Dickensian homelessness that’s still prevalent on our city’s streets today. Yes, on these December nights, Edinburgh is wearing her best sparkling jewellery. The old buildings are adorned; draped with glistening strings of pearls, pillars wrapped with garlands and studded with festive wreaths, reminding one of a wealthy dowager coming down for dinner in some Agatha Christie Christmas special. This evening I might brave the Christmas shoppers and take a walk after dark, joining those determined to break free from pacing the cage.

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