Monday, November 9, 2015

I'm pretty sure I could be a Scottish history teacher now.

OMGYOUGUYS. Right now as I write I'm listening to the soulful grooves of the amazing singer-songwriter Xandra and it's putting me in such a chill place I don't even think I'll need a nap this morning. And that's pretty impressive given how dark it is outside, how the wind buffets this house on the hill so powerfully it sounds like thunder and the sheets of rain pound like they might just tear this place down.

(Another lovely day in Scotland.)

Yesterday I whimsically jaunted into Edinburgh like it's just next door (only an hour train away, so basically) and while I waited for Marie to join me, I decided to join one of those free walking tours. Why not, right? It's free, it's entertaining, and it would take me to a load of places I've never been and teach me some delightfully gruesome history at the same time.

And the weather was perfect for it. 

One of the first places our guide took us was St Giles Church where we learned the story of the riot-starting Jenny Geddes, who was apparently pretty pissed when the English king at the time gave them a new prayer book that was all worship-God-and-Also-Me and she was like 'Oh hellllll no with this Anglican BS, I'm a good PresbyTERian, dammit' and went on to prove it by throwing her stool at the minister. 

We've all been there, Jenny. We hear you.

We also learned about the Heart of Midlothian, which apparently has its origins from a heart that was carved into a prison door that stood here a kazillion years ago. This prison was where they held their executions and their most depraved criminals - 'the Alcatraz of Edinburgh,' I'm sure they called it - and people who walked past used to spit on the door's heart. Also they had to pay taxes there? So another reason to dislike the place? Don't quote me on this stuff. Anyway, the prison eventually came down but since they saw no reason to give up the beloved tradition of spitting on a heart, they put this one on the pavement and now you're expected to give it the ole treatment when you walk by. For good luck/for bad luck/for tradition/because Scottish. 

So it's hellattractive. 

About this point in the tour we're interrupted by a procession in honor of Remembrance Day so that just made everything better:

Scottish processions are never half-hearted affairs.

Then we went into a courtyard and talked about Famous Scottish Writers and Things.

Super interesting.

After that it got real (read: gross and exciting) again when we got to Grassmarket, which was the most popular site for hangings back in the day because it was the biggest open space in which you could pack the most people. Since execution was QUITE the entertainment of the day - the X Factor for the brutality generation - you wanted to give everyone a good show. There's a pub in the pic below called The Last Drop where they used to take the condemned for their last drink (who doesn't love a good death pun) before they hung. Maggie Dickson's, another pub seen below, is named after a woman who was condemned to hang for the crime of concealing a pregnancy (wouldn't we all) except after they hung her and took her body off in a cart, she revived (no doubt giving the driver a heart attack) but the authorities - rather than leap to the obvious conclusion ('she's a witch!') - just brought her back to the gallows (if at first you don't succeed...!) to try again. It was there a lawyer in the audience pointed out she'd already served her sentence so they couldn't make her do it again. And so she was released! Way to go, Mags.

 Charming square, hey.

Okay, so sidebar-confession-time: I am a terrible person on an organised tour. I am easily distracted (look at that plastic bag in the tree!...Wonder when we'll get a break? Will it be long enough for a pint?...All I need to get the perfect angle for this photo is to stand in the middle of this road...) and sometimes I'll take so long trying to get a good shot (most if it spent waiting for the rest of the tourists to GET OUT I DON'T WANT YOUR NEON YELLOW JACKET AND CAMERA IN MY FRAME) that by the time I catch up with the group again, a story is half-told and I'm all, 'Covenanters wh-?', panting, hands on knees as the tour guide glowers at me.

So I missed a lot of the story about the origins of the Wicked Wicked Cruel Cold Death Prison (official name, entrance pictured below) ran by Bloody MacKenzie who was apparently a bit of a fan of torture. However, I *did* arrive in time to hear that in recent history they've had to lock the gates because MacKenzie's haunting caused visitors to get bite marks and scratches and black out and other such fun-for-the-whole-family adventures when they toured the vaults and tombs.

Right behind those gates in the corner. Go check it out!

Here's the photo I was taking that caused me to miss the Covenanters history:

Our guide was quick to point out this was NOT a zombie cage, but rather a dully-named mortsafe which your family hired out after you died to house your remains for a couple of weeks until you reached such a state of decomposition that the Resurrectionists (isn't that a sweet name for a grave robber?) wouldn't steal your body to sell to the anatomy college, who paid QUITE WELL for back-door body drops. In fact, it paid so well it inspired two entrepreneurs, Burke and Hare, to go on a serial killing rampage because that is SO MUCH EASIER than digging up graves. It was partly down to their brave efforts, along with that of the Resurrectionists, that Edinburgh Medical School is still one of the best to this day. Science for the win!

 I just liked this corner of the church. The pouring rain makes it look all smudgy and watercoloury. 

And now the moment we've all been waiting for: TOM RIDDELL'S GRAVE. Youguys, it turns out JK spent a lot of time in Greyfriars Cemetery - I mean, why not, you've seen how cosy it is - and this is where she got a few of the characters' names. Like Moody, and McGonagall, and Tom Riddell:

In previous times, everyone went to Greyfriars Cemetery to see Bobby the dog's memorial stone (don't ask) but now everyone wants to see Voldemort's grave so you can find it pretty easily because it's the part of the graveyard destroyed by footfall. The approach to the stone is basically a giant mud field. So the church is pretty thrilled about that. Probably Tom Riddell's family, too.

Here's Bobby the dog, beloved for loyalty and sitting by his dead master's grave for 13 years. Tough competition, Tom:

Fun fact: JK (we're close enough I can keep calling her that) actually wrote the first Harry Potter at a cafe called Spoon (though it's changed names since she was there) but since she worked on later books at Elephant House and they paid her for the honour, they are officially allowed to claim themselves as 'the birthplace of Harry Potter' in all the atrocious fonts they want:
Dot biz, yo. 

Right about then the tour ended (to much applause and flinging of cash at the tips-only tour guide) and that is when my new friend Rachael (probably the best part of the tour, excellent at the witty sidebar) and I wiggled around the city on our way to meet Marie at Bon Vivant.

We naturally had to detour by way of the Castle, just in case we weren't wet and cold enough, where I made Rachael jump in the air to recreate this scene with Aya from years past. So be warned if you ever go up to the castle with me. This may happen to you:

I would like to point out a few things here: she did get airborne in this shot, but I wasn't quick enough on the draw and there's got to be a limit to how many times you can ask a friend you've only had for three hours to jump 'one more time!' Before we attempted this shot, Rachael asked me to show her what the jump should look like and - another confession - no matter how hard I tried - and I was jumping as high as I could - I couldn't even get my feet to leave the ground. Like, at ALL. The only possible explanation is that gravity was, like, really strong yesterday. Either that Aya is made out of clouds, because if you check out that link above, she is basically flying. 

We also passed this place called The Witchery, and while we have no idea what it's about (remind me to take The Dark Side tour next time I'm in town, I'll bet they cover it) I think it's safe to say it's about witches. Probably dead ones. So that's something to look forward to:

I feel like I made Tartan Lady happen with the power of my mind. Maybe I'M a witch. 

Oh! Before I go, our tour guide told us another good story, about the Stone of Destiny. You're welcome to quit reading here if you already know this - but BASically, the Stone of Destiny is Real Important to the Scots, because it's the Coronation stone where all the monarchs are crowned, and it also has a prophecy attached about how Scotland will be ruled wherever the stone is. And apparently ages and ages ago, like the 1200s - the Scots' king at the time, a less-than-productive Alexander Something, died without an heir (or at least one that would survive long enough to count) and they asked the English king, Edward the Dick, to help them decide who the new king should be and - to be fair, they should have known better, he had JUST finished grabbing Wales like a kid in a candy store - he was all, 'ME. Your choices are rubbish. Unbiased arbitration DONE, YOU'RE WELCOME' and then, just to put the nail in the what-an-arsehole coffin, he took their Stone of Destiny down to England and stuck it under his throne so he could sit on it. I like to imagine him perched on top, feet not quite touching the floor, swinging his legs, bouncing his heels against it, perhaps enjoying a lollypop, humming 'neener neener neener.' And there it sat until NINETEEN FIFTY. NINETEEN FIFTY YOUGUYS. That's when this law student Ian Hamilton was all, 'eff that' and he went down to Westminster and broke in and took it. As you would if you were a true patriot and tired of waiting for people to talk it over for centuries. What a ledge. That's way more than I accomplished in college. Anyway, adventures happened and adventures happened and he finally got it into Scotland and the authorities were like, 'We're obviously not going to prosecute you because you're a national hero but we've got to take it back for centuries more paperwork' and so they did. It wasn't until the 90s when the English government was like, 'The Scots are getting restless, let's throw them a stone' that it was officially returned. Isn't that fun? WHAT CRAZY SHENANIGANS THAT STONE HAS HAD.

After all this excitement, it was time to meet Marie (and defrost our wet, frozen selves) so we headed straight for the cosiest joint in town: Bon Vivant.

Don't you just want to stay here forever?

King and Country, babies.

The day ended with a glorious ride back to Glasgow courtesy of Knight Robert, Marie's husband, where the weather blustered on. See those mountain-looking shadows on the bottom? THOSE ARE CLOUDS. The sky was like a cloud sandwich and we were driving straight into the middle of it.

Like so many Scottish hellmouths.

Okay, so I've officially broken my word count for the day - I generally aim for about six - so I'll leave you here so I can eat pizza for lunch and pack for our return to London. It's been real, Scotland! See you again at Christmas!

Big hugs and lots of love,


  1. The Witchery is the coolest restaurant...

  2. Laughing *gasp* so hard *gasp* I can't *gasp* breathe! I cannot wait till we can do this tour together!