Phil’s Birthday Adventure in Edinburgh


The Saturday before last (10 April), Alicia and I went to Edinburgh, ostensibly for my editor Phil’s birthday. However, being girls with a great love of efficiency (and fun), we decided to turn the excursion into a proper adventure. In the morning we lazed around, drinking tea and chatting in the sunshine, sometimes on my bed, sometimes on hers. We decided that we would dress like tropical birds–grand going-out attire for the glorious weather. This is rather an easier task with my wardrobe than it is with hers, but we both managed. Alicia advised me on the combination and layering of my skirts, she donned her crazily-dyed llama fur vest, and we were ready to go.

We mosied down to the train station by way of the hostel (Alicia needed kisses from Aaron), and we were settled into the train with time to spare.

I love taking the train to Edinburgh. Even just pulling out of the Dundee station is beautiful–in this case, bedecked for spring with daffodils, which seem to abound in this country this time of year.


img_4157 img_4159 While we were settling in for what looked to be an extremely beautiful and relaxing train ride to Edinburgh, the conductor came around to check our tickets.

“Tickets, please!” he requested, taking Alicia’s proferred ticket. He marked it and returned it to her with a smile, “Magic! Is it the day for dressing up, then?” he asked as he took my ticket.

“Yes,” I grin.

“It’s spring!” Alicia offered.

“Yeah, we had Mr. T on the platform!” the conductor replied before moving on. This was without a doubt the most friendly and delightful interchange I have ever had with a train conductor, and it was only a preview of things to come.

In the seats in front of us, there was a family with two young boys, one of whom had been peeking over the seat at us. They were the most darling blonde and blushing creatures I have ever seen, and I desperately wanted a picture of them. However, I have been warned before not to take pictures of children here, and having occasionally read horror stories about people being arrested for such an affront the Daily Mail (which, I realize, is to good journalism what McDonalds is to good nutrition), I was too hesitant even to go my standard bold/cheeky american way of asking for a photograph. So, I did something more ingenious (and arguably much creepier), and photographed one of the little boys using his reflection in the train window.

img_4166 img_4167

Alicia and I had been conspiratorily fawning over the adorableness of the two boys while making attempts at being productive. We both mentioned how much more enchanted we had been with children of late, something that both pleased and terrified us. Alicia, however, in her infinite wisdom, summed the cause up succinctly.

“It’s spring!” she said. “You want to be birthing!”

This declaration was well timed, as we glided past several fields full of sheep with tiny frolicky twin lambs.

Meanwhile, the guy in the seat behind us is staring at Alicia. He’d been staring at us since he got on the train. In fact, while he was looking for a seat he stood right next to me as though he intended to sit where my backpack was placed. At first we thought this was strange. Then it began to reach into full-on creepy mode, as he starts whispering, “Take it off.”

I was leaning against the window when he first said it, and I jolted upright and nearly leaped out of my skin. And then he said it again.

Alicia, seeing my look of alarm, asked me a silent question and we passed notes back and forth explaining what was going and and how we planned to deal with it. (Best not to let your adversaries Alicia contemplated passing him a note that said something to the extent of, “Why don’t you move seats before you find yourself in a heap of trouble.” I allowed as how escalating the interaction was probably not our best bet–besides, I could have misheard him. And maybe his heavy breathing and leering and creepy whispering had a perfectly reasonable and not-alarming explanation.

We eventually decided to ignore him unless he escalated things, and were greatly, greatly relieved when he got off the train. This is Exhibit E of my argument that bright colors attract creeps.

But in general, the Scots seemed to be in fine form–the glorious sunshine brings out the best moods. Alicia folded the older of the two little boys (the one who had been peeping over the back of her seat) a paper crane. Upon his receipt of the crane, his little brother’s face crumpled. We assured his mother that we’d make a crane for the other little boy as well, and so I did. Apparently Alicia and I have very different styles of crane folding, though I think we both learned by watching Phoung or Hang fold them in high school. The little boys played happily with their cranes until they got off the train, and their mother thanked us (I think she intended for her boys to thank us, but they just blushed and hid). It was a near-Oklahoman level of interaction, and it made me happy.

As we pulled into Edinburgh, we listened to the conversation two couples in their mid-fifties or maybe early sixties were having across the aisle from us. They had finished a bottle of wine, and were nibbling chocolates (which they offered to share with us). They were having a lively and animated discussion about vampire porn and prostitution. One of the men was discussing a particular niche market German prostitute, who at 56 years old still got more bookings than anyone else. “You know how you have to hike skirts up to climb stairs?” he said, “She had to hike her fat up to climb stairs.”

I marveled at the fact that I was overhearing this conversation from a Scottish person, in a public space. Alicia and I scribbled notes furiously, like good ethnographers, and attributed the loose lips to the springtime, sunshine, and wine.

Edinburgh, for those of you who haven’t been there, is bustling–and, from the sounds of it, mostly with tourists.


We walked Princes Street a bit, so that I could pick up a couple of things that I can only get in Edinburgh. We marveled at the window displays. Normally, I love store windows. One of my favorite pastimes in Berlin was to walk down Kurferstendamm and window shop. However, the window displays in Edinburgh did not inspire in me anything approaching desire. It was much more a “Sweet moses, what have they done to that poor mannequin?” Take this outfit, for example:


Fashion in this country, I have concluded from both what they’re selling and what people are wearing, is completely off its nut. Leggings are not pants, guys, and there are only so many patterns you can put together at once. The horror.

We meandered lazily through Edinburgh, investigating what places and things interested us. We saw a little boy playing Godzilla on a bronze model of the city. I snapped a picture, as surrepticiously as I could, and hope that his parents wouldn’t hunt me down for it. Stomp, little boy, stomp!img_4171

Nearby the Boy-Godzilla, we found a band rather unlike any I had seen before. If someone could help me identify the instrument that the fellow on the right is playing, I would be appreciative.


We climbed an utterly stupid hill, heading towards the castle, where we found this church. I photographed it because Alicia said it looked like a dragon. Dragon Church

I whined about the hill a bit (Kate would call it winging). Alicia said that I needed to embrace it, to become one with the hill. I pointed out that I really gave it a pretty good shot when I first arrived in Dundee, and got a set of strained extensor tendons for my trouble. I loved the hill, but the hill didn’t love me. Her response?

“The hill is autistic! It knows no love. You must embrace it in spite of its unloving nature.”

We took a brief look at the castle, discovered it was 11 quid to get in, took the obligatory, “I visisted Edinburgh Castle” picture, and then moved on to the gardens, which were much more interesting to us anyway.

img_4178 img_4174 Castle Park in Edinburgh Alicia Dancing in the Daffodils Alicia and Edinburgh Castle

Hip Check

At the bottom of the garden, we found this fountain, which we photographed because of the decidedly well-proportioned rump the lady on top is displaying.A Well Proportioned Rump Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life

We walked until we were tired, and then walked some more. We chose a random direction and began walking that way, hoping that we would just run into the bar we were supposed to meet at for Phil’s birthday party. This was folly, of course, but we had time to kill. And, we found Paper Tiger, a stationary shop that Catriona raved about on our first day of class. At the time, she said something about becoming an ethnographer being a way to justify an unhealthy love of stationary. Already possessing an unhealthy love of stationary (though perhaps not as unhealthy as my brother’s–he used to have us drop him off at office supply stores so he could browse for hours), I felt I would fit right in. Well, Paper Tiger is all Catriona said it would be and more. I bought Phil a birthday card that read, “Men do not grow older. They just grow more important.” I could spend large quantities of money there on delightful cards and books and journals and so forth. As a result, I am going to avoid it like the plague.

By this time we were getting hungry, and pondered with interest a place called “Illegal Jacks”, which claimed to be a southwest grill. We investigated the menu–standard tex-mex. Enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas, etc. However, having now lived in Europe long enough to get a clue, we did not partake; we knew that it would only disappoint us. Finally, we decided it would be wise to give Phil a call and get a handle on where we were going. Phil, the dear, was in great spirits on the phone, but possibly had already been drinking for a while and was therefore not so helpful with directions. He texted me the street name, and with that information in hand we trudged back to the station, where I knew there was a map we could use to locate the bar in question. (As it turns out, if we had continued along the road Paper Tiger is on, it would have intersected the road the bar was on, and saved us a lot of backtracking, but it all worked out in the end.)

All day long Alicia and I drew stares and comments. Possibly this is because of the springtime and the sunshine–possibly it was because we were largely surrounded by tourtists as opposed to Scots. As we walked back to the station, a tall black man with a long goatee and a round hat that framed his face like a medieval painting of a saint’s halo looked me up and down and said,

“Very colorful, man! Going blind now.”

A few short moments later, a girl came up to Alicia and began petting her vest, saying “Beautiful, so beautiful,” before chattering something in Italian to her friends and dashing off. After that, Alicia hissed to me, “That girl just petted my boob!”

Thanks to Alicia’s superior 3D manipulation skills, we were able to figure out the utterly stupid map on the wall in Waverly station. I had trouble with this map before, the last time I was in Edinburgh. Apparently the trick is that you have to imagine the map having a hinge at the bottom side, and falling over flat so that it’s on the ground. Then, you can understand it. This is diabolically poor information design.

Onward, to the party! We passed some interesting things on our way, including a place called Elephants and Bagels, which I hope to explore in the future.

Colorful Murals in Edinburgh img_4208

The party itself was a blast–far more fun than it could have been. I ripped my favorite skirt going up the stairs, and then felt supremely awkward in a room full of men, the only one I knew being Phil. Alicia quickly put a stop to my initial intention of taking the corner table, and we shuffled around chairs and belongings until there was room for us with a group of men sitting by the window. Those men, as it turned out, were a physicist and an engineer, who knew Phil from a tabletop gaming society, and they had actually forgotten about the party until people started showing up. Apparently they had just popped in for drinks, like you do.

They were pleasant and engaging company. The physicist insisted that he liked sensible things within a predefined limit of ridiculousness. We discussed mathematical models for the progression of drunkeness–the engineer suggested that for people with fast metabolisms, the model is tangential. He was from Australia, and drew pictures of Australia for me, complete with a list of places to visit, scrawled drunkenly in my field notebook. The physicist could scarcely keep his eyes off Alicia (subtly, thy name is not man), but when she left the table periodically, he recommended a few books and movies. His recommendations for science fiction from the seventies include: Andromeda Strain, Dark Star, Brainstorm, and The Great Storm. The book recommendation was Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve.

Alicia and I ordered food–burgers both, but mine made of lentils. I ordered it with bacon, but somewhere along the line that got borked. (I suspect someone in the kitchen read the order and said, “What? Bacon on a vegetarian burger? This has to be wrong.” And they are wrong, but they’re wrong about bacon not being a vegetable.) It was a really fantastically interesting legume burger, though. It was flavored with green chile and ginger (maybe with some coconut and lemongrass as well). It was so thai! A completely different experience than the southwest-flavored veggie burgers I am accustomed to. I have a kilo of green lentils to use, so perhaps I will give it a shot myself.

The engineer took played with my camera, and took one of the best pictures of Alicia I have ever seen. I think by the time he got to taking pictures of me he was a bit more drunk, so they are significantly less in focus.

Alicia Smiling

Out of Focus Chill

This one is of me and the engineer. If I look a little terrified, it is because I am. He kept doing this thing where he would leap at me and–for lack of a better term–schnorgle my neck. (It’s like what you would do if you were playing monster games with a small child. Kind of a om nom nom move, but fuzzy?) This is one of those things that he does that gets him decked on occasion, apparently. However, I was raised not to deck people for slight infractions of polite behavior. On the other hand, being highly protective of my neck, which I perceive to be vulnerable, this sets off my predator alert system, in the form of ear-splitting “drop me, damn it”-style shrieking. In this picture, he had just pounced at me with a particularly prolonged schnorgle, from which I attempted to escape by shrinking under the table. I lost my bandana in the process. I’m sure there’s a moral to this story, I just don’t know what it is. Possibly, “Beware strange engineers.” I suspect that if I had a less expressive face/less satisfying squeaks of terror, people would screw with me less. Maybe it’s time to look into Botox after all.Out of Focus Escape from the Schnorgling

We caught the last train home, and share our seats first with a retired seaman, and then with a couple who had just gotten engaged the day before. Their happiness was infectious, and Alicia was in fine form, bold and American. By this time in the evening, my boldness and talkativeness had subsided, leaving me in the quiet place that I am sure no one believes exists for me. I sipped my juice while Alicia talked and joked up a storm. It was all right juice, I suppose, though perhaps not everything it says it is. Apparently it has a very honest taste.Just Juice Honest Pure Juice Taste

I came home with blisters on my feet (like I always do after walking for hours in Edinburgh, regardless of my choice of footware), but in spite of this it was an undeniably it was a lovely day.

Phil’s Birthday Adventure in Edinburgh

5 thoughts on “Phil’s Birthday Adventure in Edinburgh

  1. sean says:

    Check out Bill Baileys ‘dualing banjos’ on the sitar I believe its on the Tinselworm DVD. That’s some awesome sitar playing

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