I was brought up in the Scottish Highlands. The first city holiday I had was in Edinburgh when I was fifteen. That was the first time I was on a double-decker bus too.
Our mum loved history and in advance of the visit she told us about the murder of Rizzio, secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots – how he was dragged from her chamber and stabbed by jealous courtiers. The bloodstains could still be seen in the Palace of Holyrood House – a thrilling true story (although perhaps the ‘bloodstains’ weren’t really four hundred years old …). Edinburgh seemed to be full of stories.
And there were so many shops – some huge, full of hitherto undreamt of delights – and restaurants and Princes Street Gardens and the floral clock and the Museum of Childhood and the colossal Scott monument … and … and …
I remember peeping out from behind the curtains in the guesthouse and watching people go by under the streetlights, and seeing other houses all lit up, so different from the country at night. I’d like to live in Edinburgh one day, I decided.
Fast-forward three years and I was studying for a Diploma in Book and Periodical Publishing at Napier College of Science and Technology (as it was then). After meeting three girls in digs in Grange Loan (does anyone still live in ‘digs’?), I shared a flat with them in Grindlay Street for the remainder of our time as students. Fab location two minutes from Princes Street, and very cheap even for then – because it was grotty, not to mention unhygienic …
There was one bedroom, sleeping three, and the box-room. There was no bath/shower/wash hand basin in the loo (there was the kitchen sink … and we regularly visited a long-suffering friend in comfy student halls, clutching soap and towels). We were besieged by hordes of mice when buildings in nearby Lothian Road were pulled down. Our landlord suggested we get a cat so we acquired Tigger from a pet shop in Fleshmarket Close. Happy days!
The girls and I went our separate ways geographically but are still close. I lived in London for seven years before feeling the tug of home. By chance I found a maternity-leave job in a publishing company in Edinburgh and there, near the top of the telephone list, was a surname I’d never heard before. Reader, I married him.
Thirty years on I can’t imagine living anywhere but Edinburgh – and I still think it’s a thrill to sit upstairs, at the front, on a double-decker bus.
My story, An Ordinary Joe, in Capital Writers’ recently published anthology, shows another side of the Capital, far off the tourist trail.