Oh, Edinburgh! Dearest city mother with too many children; lady of grace with so much to do; cherished nursemaid laden with contracts of responsibility. Yet you tend to it uncomplaining. You raise your progeny consistently, watchful over everyone who lives here and passes through as you sleep lightly, keeping one eye half open. I know it is your job as a mother, but it would be OK to complain once in a while, and you never do. You never stagger under the weight of it all, you never lose your footing, you never lock yourself in your bedroom and shout through the door – “Leave me alone! Do it yourself!” Always, you remain poised and elegant and well turned out. Even (and this only happens occasionally, and many don’t even notice) if you wear one of your old cashmere twinsets and it turns out to be a little moth-eaten; even then you still look amazing.
When the grandchildren came along, twice as many as the children you’d had, you did the same thing: nurtured and cared. By example, you showed them how it should be done. Many of them scowled at you and dismissed your advice. Some of the very youngest had the audacity – or foolishness, that might be a kinder interpretation – to tell you, you were wrong, out of date, all washed up. How did you stay so calm? How did you not react and explain that through the years you’d seen it all before and more besides? How did you not boast about your history and knowledge? How did you hold back from saying: ‘l’ve witnessed and come through’? I would have.
Did you ever think you would get a break from it, I wonder? It comes around so rarely, this breathing space. When was the last time? The war? But even during the war, there must have been more activity than there has been this past spring. It was as if all your children and grandchildren had left home at once. Was it a disturbingly empty nest, or did you embrace the opportunity for rest? No one calling for urgent help and needing your attention. It was good to see you resting, reclining, breathing in cleaner air as the days lengthened. Your veins – the streets – unclogged. Your bones – these old stone buildings – still. Your flesh – green parks and gardens – wild and free. You loosened up; allowed yourself to be tended by nature alone.
And now it is August and still they have not returned, your enormous family, who usually bring back hordes of friends, interlopers, raggle-taggle stragglers for the height of summer. Where are the duffle bags, the guitars, the vintage clothes, the muddy shoes, the stay-up-laters? What’s happened to not knowing who’s going to turn up at the door needing a bed and a hot meal and a shoulder to cry on after a duff review? Where have the street performers gone? Where is the lady with the dancing dog; the old man and a puppet; the young men dressed as sailors who’ve never been to sea; the conjuring magician calling, ‘roll up, roll up, I’m free!’
This ought to be the month you stay awake all night, and yet, this year, all is quiet. There are gulls and pigeons and swallows, and buses that are a quarter full, and parks where the grass has begun to be cut. There is a little outside revelry where locals sit in circles sharing picnics, popping corks as babies lean to walk. You might not be in the deep sleep of April and May, or the gentle stretching, slow waking of June, but you are still relaxing, unburdened of the annual frenzy of August. You are lighter.
The light, ah yes, the light! They lit you up last night, your profile shining in the dark, your beauty illuminated, reminding me that age can be radiant. And I was there in the darkness, on high Calton Hill, where strobes lit up the sky as we stared up in silence at your light shining on. Enjoy this rest, your children will return.