P. and E. hosted dinner in a city centre restaurant last night – right in the heart of Edinburgh. We were a party of about a dozen; of all ages, connected by blood and friendship. “Don’t we scrub up well?” E. declared, surveying the table. It was a night for best Indian shot silk, velvet devoré, shimmering gold lamé, embroidered lace on tulle, pearls and diamenté, Windsor knots and bow ties – anything goes at Christmas! We had marvellous food to match: Champagne, Fleurie, Chablis, haggis, neeps and tatties, duck paté, luscious soup, lamb stew, flaky salmon, chicken with puy lentils, and – the best course of all – laughter and stories. Conversation bounced around like an out-of-control game of tennis doubles: tales of holiday larks in Tunisia (“they thought we were resting actresses”); eight years as a London commuter on The Flying Scotsman; the truth (or otherwise) about ley-lines; the tragic demise of ‘Badger’ the cat (“what a confusing name for a cat, we called ours ‘Cat’ the cat”); the most flattering shape of sunglasses for a narrow face.
Stories rotated, as did we – moving around the table and switching places with coffee. Unflappable, serene and ever-composed K. listened quietly as anecdotes were traded by the generation above. All the while, she quietly fashioned Christmas Angel mini-masterpieces from pieces of folded paper. S. (in an audacious and visionary move) had brought his own pudding – cornflake buns. My new measure of an excellent restaurant is that they don’t bat an eyelid when you bring your own cornflake buns for afters. Especially if you are a ten-year old. Every moment was a joy.
But walking home at the end of this fantastic evening is when I felt it: confirmation of the love affair. It wasn’t late, but walking the length of stately Regent Terrace I did not meet one other soul as the city kept me company. The temperature had dropped to below freezing, the pavement sparkled, and the stars were out. A bright, low moon – just five days from being full – shone on me. It gave the sky an air-force navy glow, the perfect backdrop for the dramatic silhouette of Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat – a benevolent presence cradling the city. I say that the moon shone on me because I felt that way: that it was shining and blessing me, especially. And I thought to myself, I love this city. I love it as much in the full shining sunlight of a June day as I do in the nighttime darkness of mid-winter. Like any love affair, how long we will be together, I know not, but I am enchanted and am in full agreement with Sir Walter Scott, who said of Edinburgh, “Piled deep and massy, close and high; Mine own romantic town.”
I woke this morning to the silence of thick flakes of falling snow. Looking out, I wondered if last night’s champagne had turned my head a little and if I was still as enamoured with the city today. And, yes, I am. Even under slush, she (for surely Edinburgh is a she) is resplendent. Jack Kerouac said, “Paris is a woman but London is an independent man puffing his pipe in a pub.” I wonder what he would have said about Edinburgh? Perhaps that she is a constant and steadfast companion of unfaltering charm, that she has many devotees, and, whilst she knows many love her, she is never smug about it.