Cake, then a walk, and then cake again. Yesterday was a day of belated birthday celebrations (actually, three belated, and one anticipated) and it all centred around cake, two types. K. and S. came over the day before to help bake them: a Victoria Sponge, so large it was borderline rude, and a less-shouty carrot cake. Lippy, sassy Mae West is quoted as having said, “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.” We all went one further than Miss West and tried both.
Our strategy, by way of building our appetite, was to sandwich a walk up Calton Hill between cake courses. It was a beautiful afternoon in Edinburgh as we made our way up the hill, swimming against the current of red and green football fans; Aberdeen (the Dons) were playing Hibs. I wanted to climb up on the National Monument of Scotland, stand between her pillars and have my photograph taken like an Italian Tourist (who, by volume, are the new Americans – by which I mean both numbers and decibels). E. gave me a footie to help me on my way, he made a stirrup with locked hands and hoisted me up, inelegantly (bad day to have worn a skirt). The five others followed and we took our tourist snaps against the soaring pillars, blue sky and scudding white clouds. Standing aloft, arms splayed, Arthur’s Seat in the background, surely it’s one of the quintessential Edinburgh snaps? We looked east to Berwick Law, picked out the top of the Bass Rock and wondered why there wasn’t more snow across in Fife. A. told us about the ‘three shames of Calton Hill’ which she listed as follows: the unfinished National Monument – on which we were standing; the City Observatory – usurped by the superior one built later on Blackford Hill; and Nelson’s Monument – a time instrument designed to signal to the ships in the port of Leith each day at 1pm, yet it can’t be seen from the sea. “Is that all true?” I asked her. She had jumped down from the monument and was off before I could quiz her on her sources.
Our next vantage point was under Nelson’s Monument where we stood on a ledge, supported by railings, to peer down the length of Princes Street. E. pointed out one of the big hotels and recounted stories from a friend who had worked there. “What time does Arthur’s Seat close?” was a common query from hotel guests, along with, “Why did they build the Castle so close to the shops?” I suppose it’s easy to know, once you know!
The walk did the trick, and we came back to a second helping of cake, washed down by tea, two types. Much as it was tasty, the last thing I want to see today is cake. I’m not a bit surprised Marie Antoinette got a bad name for suggesting that cake should be forced upon her starving subjects. After yesterday, her infamous epithet “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (let them eat cake), makes my stomach churn a little. No thank you. Today, I’ll be fine with some spuds and butter!