It wasn’t until noon or early afternoon on Boxing Day, that I woke up on the couch belonging to a south-eastern suburban Edinburgh family I’d spent Christmas evening with. We had coffee and tea and a small, well, lunch of bacon and eggs and talked just as pleasurably, if both sober and hungover, as we had the previous night. Then I said my goodbyes, and Sarah’s father drove me back to the hostel; she was already at work. And after probably spending the afternoon in my hostel bed recharging my hungover self and my phone, I decided to visit her at work; the cinemas by Edinburgh’s docks. And also scam a free ticket from her to see Life of Pi. Leith Walk, heading east, is probably one of the greatest foot journeys a traveller can take in any city in all the world. Impossible to explain why, so I’ll leave it there apart from saying that once I’d left all the discarded umbrellas and splendid Georgian architecture behind I’d found myself at Vue Cinemas, within the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre. Sarah got me that free ticket. So I went on to enjoy the most visually dazzling, and probably best post-modern film adaptation of a book I’d ever seen. (Excluding, of course, The Lord of the Rings (and including The Hobbit, which Peter Jackson clearly stretched cinematically thin in order to satisfy his greed at the expense of Tolkien spinning in his grave).) The only disappointment came after I asked Sarah what time she was finishing (not very subtle, I’ll admit), and she said she might see me in the theatre and in any event would see me after the movie. If she was trying to throw me off, it worked, and I left the cinema, with no sign of her, at about 11pm and walked home alone through the driving wind and freezing rain. It never ceased to puzzle me that despite the time of year, and the temperature, it never snowed while I was in Scotland. Then again, I came to realise the city had been made deliberately more pretty, for lack of a better word, in compensation for the horrendous climate. Thanks to the savage hangover, I slept wonderfully that night.
As previously mentioned, I missed the chance to climb to Arthur’s Seat, at the peak of Holyrood Park, with Stevie the Kiwi and the Thai Guy a couple of days before Christmas. So, on Thursday December 27, 2012, I woke refreshed, left the hostel and, with a cigarette between my blue lips and cup of steaming black coffee in my hands, eyed my prize to the south – 251 metres above sea-level, but seemingly much higher. This was actually the day I planned on visiting Loch Ness, but the forecast was “shite”, to say the least, so I settled on a more convenient goal. I set off not too late, about 1pm, through charming working class Edinburgh neighbourhoods under the shadow of the Royal Terrace Gardens. Then walked past the Palace of Holyroodhouse, along the Croft-An-Righ, and before crossing Queen’s Drive stopped one last time to crane my neck and look up at the peak. The mountain was deceivingly tall, and I remember feeling almost defeated in advance – thinking it would take all day to scale, that I’d left too late and that the hike might all but kill me, besides. But I could see ant-like people swarming in patches all over it and figured, as had proven to be sound logic in the past, what the hell. The pinnacle itself sits south of another hill that rises gently from the east to plunging cliffs on the west. So I started up this gradual incline first, before descending into a valley that separated it from the hill with the summit at its top. It was a typically cold, windy and ever rain-threatening day in southern Scotland. So naturally though it was necessary to be wearing many layers of clothes, the very same led to me becoming my own personal sauna after prolonged minutes of hiking. And then when I stopped for longer than five minutes, the freezing conditions would reassert themselves. Seemingly each step laid out for my enraptured eyes new and increasingly stunning vistas of surrounding Scotland. I discovered suburban and rural Edinburgh to the mountain’s south and west. And further beyond lay lonely snow-capped mountains I hadn’t realised existed while wandering the city streets.
I came to realise Arthur’s Seat rested roughly at Edinburgh’s centre, even though the city centre technically lay just to its north. Once reached, of course the summit didn’t seem as unreachable as it had from its base. The view, though, was almost magically rewarding considering the only moderate hike it had taken to be appreciated. In many ways, it seemed I’d literally reached the climax of my entire US and UK journey. So I lingered for almost an hour, up there, reflecting on the journey so far and the relatively little denouement that lay ahead. None of the trip had been inflexibly planned, beyond the flight from home, and back – and even the latter had been extended in order to allow me experience of the Old Country. Even when things had gone wrong, from being handcuffed in California, falling in love in New York and suffering heartbreak in Brighton, everything had still seemed to have gone right. It was John Lennon who said it best: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I believe he was mainly commenting on not planning for the future at the expense of the present. But I related it to my own circumstances at the time as commentary on not interpreting the present as necessarily influential on the future. That however pleasurable or painful life might seem, right now, the pleasure or pain you’re to experience in the future is entirely based on both the decisions you make, and how you perceive their consequences. Even the cold was a teacher, right then. It assaulted me from all sides, but I think others standing with me on that rocky precipice would have agreed: we would not have traded places with someone sitting beside a tropical, sun-drenched beach if we could. I looked down on Edinburgh and smiled. I looked toward a future that I would always interpret as pleasurable, even if objectively it might seem anything but. I saw my very mortality spread across Scotland; its streets and shops and pubs and homes and graves and fields and snowy mountains. And I realised: one day I would die, but before I did I would be able to honestly say I had lived. Then, introspection dispensed with, I ventured warmly back down the mountain.