My visitors are here. Flew in from Canada early yesterday morning. Very early for me, as I got to see the lark-side of this city: wide-awake, bustling, industrious. The sight of if would have made Edinburgh’s enlightened forefathers proud. “How are you feeling?” I asked between hugs on Waverley Bridge. “Fine!” came the universal response, that didn’t at all match ten red-veined eyes taking in their new surroundings. “We just gotta keep moving; power through and pick up the new time zone,” was J.’s plan. Right, so; I can do moving, I thought. Tea, coffee, eggs and toast was our propulsion fuel setting us up for an ascent of Arthur’s Seat. The forecast was for rain, but I told myself we could be lucky. We weren’t. We stood under the sycamores at the back of Holyrood Palace and its adjacent Abbey ruins, staring up at the Seat, which appeared and disappeared from view as bolts of rain moved steadily across a resigned sky. Time for some delaying tactics: give them a history lesson. I fell at the first hurdle of being asked, ‘why is it called Arthur’s Seat?’ I didn’t know, but I have since looked it up, so I’ll give it a run out today. Unlikely to have had anything to do with the legend of King Arthur, there is, instead, a body of opinion that the name may be a corruption of the Scots Gaelic, Àrd-na-Said, loosely meaning ‘height of arrows’, which, over the years, became ‘Arthur’s Seat’, perhaps via ‘Archer’s Seat’. Not knowing this at the time, though, I decided – after the fashion of all great politicians – to answer an entirely different, unposed question and display my impeccable credentials for classifying the many different types of rain. “This,” I explained to them confidently, and with erudition,“is really wet rain. It’s somewhere between bucketing and lashing.” Blank stares.
I have come to realise, that if you are not of these islands, you tend not to grasp that there are (at least) twelve classifications of rain: 1. soft; 2. spitting; 3. drizzle; 4. mizzle; 5. shower; 6. squally; 7. thunderplump; 8. downpour; 9. pelting; 10. bucketing; 11. lashing; 12. hammering. (Granted, I have omitted some of the less salubrious terms; you may fill in your own blanks.) Many of these, I explained to my guests (numbers 1-6) constitute the sort of rain where you might get away with leaving the washing on the line; where you would say the rain’s ‘on’, but know it’s temporary. Make no mistake, when you are in zones 7-12, you make a mad dash to line to retrieve those almost dry sheets; that’s when the rain is ‘in’, like a defiant squatter declaring, ‘I’m not moving!’ I finished the lesson by telling them, “This rain is ‘in’; it’s also 7+ territory, so shall we just take a tour of the Parliament instead?” I hoped my lecture might have done the trick but at least six sleep-deprived eyes were trained hungrily on the summit. I had my answer. I find that, with people from the new world, their pioneering spirit is never too far away, whereas I’m much more apt to pioneer myself towards the nearest café for a few hours.
We cut up the side of St. Margaret’s Well to a broad, well-trodden path up the east side, stopping every so often to turn and look back to where Fife used to be. “On a clear day you can see Brigadoon,” I told them. Yesterday we could barely see Leith. Rivulets of water, dyed by the churned-up earth to resemble a chocolate fountain, came rushing to meet us the higher we climbed. It reminded me of home – where it rains even more than it does here. The north of Ireland rears you in rain. Voices, accents, and languages from the US, Australia, Italy, Japan, France, South America all fused into a single translatable chorus of: “We must be mad, get us down from here!” Few people were at the top of the Seat when we made it. But there, placed deliberately, it seemed to me, was a single black telescopic umbrella: retracted, folded, secured, and consciously abandoned in a hopeless act of surrender: I give up my brolly to you, God of the elements, you win. M. saw this as his moment to pounce. “You’ve made it up here like a sure-footed Sherpa. I think you’ll climb Ben Nevis with us next week after all.” I looked back down the still-to-be-navigated slippery rocks. Mr. B. Nevis and I are not be become acquainted. And I have already made my excuses: I’m going to Brigadoon that day.
‘Irish Weather’, Tess Gallagher
Rain squalls cast sideways,
the droplets visible
like wheat grains
sprayed from the combine.
As suddenly, sunshine.
If a person behaved
this way we’d call them
neurotic. Given weather, we gust
and plunder with only
small comment: it’s
raining; sun’s out.