A fortnight ago, we escaped from the Edinburgh Festival, swapping media luvvies, Royal Mile flyer-hander-outers, litter, diesel fumes, guide-led tourist crocodiles and moustachioed unicyclists for empty beaches, clouds and sunshine, spouting whales, single-track roads, signs in Gaelic and some big stones that just stood in a field doing nothing.
This weekend we were back in the thick of it. The Shore looked like a seaside resort with a spanking new Crolla’s opening, serving ice-cream that outclasses Luca’s by a factor of, oh I dunno, lemoniness and pistachio-nuttiness x 100 (heresy to slag off Luca’s ice-cream but two cones cost us £7 in Princes Street Gardens and tasted like Mr Whippy).
On the water, the local birds were in a Saturday-Night’s-Alright-For-Fighting mood. We saw one of The Shore’s elegant swans lash out at a cormorant hunting for sticklebacks in amongst the crisp bags and plastic bottles bobbing round its nest. A tern dived on to a shoal of fish like a Stuka shot down by a Spitfire. When it surfaced, a second tern tore at it in mid-air, screeching and stabbing with its beak.
The tables and chairs on the No 22’s Water of Leith route had actual non-smokers sitting at them. Nae taps aff, this isn’t Glasgow (Glasgow, because of that drink-fuelled Scottish anachronism we call “sectarianism”, doesn’t allow any alcohol to be consumed outside). But the sunshine followed us from Lewis to its natural home on Leith.
We had plans to dip our toes back into Embra’s crazy Fringe Frenzy but we paddled in cautiously, sticking to Leith. (We nearly entered Venue 69 right next door to our flat and boasting “FRINGE ADVENTURES START HERE.” But the venue number put us off; we thought we might have to pay a heftier admission fee for that kind of adventure.)
Before we sailed off to Lewis, I booked us a couple of tickets for Neu Reekie’s big fundraiser. I’d never been to one before but I liked the idea and people said they were cracking nights out. It wasn’t until we met a mate outside the venue that I realised what a bargain the tickets were. We were about to be part of “The Best Night Out In Leith Since the 21st Of Gray 2016”. I couldn’t understand the crowds of Leithers, the smell of street food, and the desperate locals swarming around the handsome old Leith Theatre building trying to get tickets. What was the big deal?
My pal Trevor gave me the rundown: “Well Gerry, because you clearly didn’t read the small print on your tickets, it’s Trainspotting’s 21st anniversary so Irvine Welsh is throwing a party to raise funds to restore Leith Theatre. There’s two bars, eight-deep, serving Paolozzi’s Lager, you better buy two at a time, beats queueing twice, there’s pulled pork and kimchi rolls served outside by the boys from The Pit. At 8pm they’re showing the first Trainspotting film, it’s coming back to its spiritual home. But there’s no seats so all 1200 of us are going to be sitting on the floor.
“To make up for having to fold our legs into the Lotus position while trying to slurp beer from plastic glasses, we’ll be allowed to sing along to the soundtrack and whoop and clap or even dance. Nobody’s gonnae tell us to switch off our phones or say over a tannoy that it’s strictly forbidden to take photographs or videos.
“After that, Irvine’s reading from his new book DMT, should be a laugh, then Spud’s coming on to read a bit from Irvine’s finest novel, the book of the film. Should be an even better laugh. Mind The Fire Engines, just after punk? They’re reforming for one night, playing Candyskin, Get Up and Use Me, all their hits. After that, it’s Arthur Baker’s club set . . .”
I looked a bit blank. I’m not a discographer like you, Trev. “Never mind” he said. “Arthur Baker worked with New Order, Prince and The Pet Shop Boys, that’s all you need to know.”
And so it came to pass, we did indeed have the second wildest night out since we got back from Hampden last year singing Sunshine on Leith.
My specs appeal’s gone through the roof since turning 60
Okay, I promise I won’t moan. Men have it easy. Our hair falls out and our eyebrows turn into hawthorn hedges. But that’s all. As if labour pains weren’t nasty enough for our sisterhood, there’s the menopause, graphically described by Zsuzsa on this very page three weeks ago. There is no “manopause”.
Despite getting the jammy end of the stick, us chaps LOVE a wee chat about the rapid decline that seems to afflict us the moment we scan our bus passes for the first time. When I popped my own free public transport cherry, I swear I heard a scary crackle as some dangerous current shot up my arm and set about the essential parts of my physical equipment.
Suddenly I found myself in Specsavers more often. When I came back I had too many different kinds of eyewear. I didn’t have the wit to colour-code my spec cases. So I don’t just lose my specs, I don’t even know which specs I’ve lost. This has triggered some serious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder behaviour. Zsuzsa stared at me in disbelief last Saturday as I cut strips off a roll of fluorescent green gaffer tape, stuck a bit on to each spec case and wrote on these labels with a Sharpie, describing exactly which of my various Gregories were inside.
Genius, eh. Except it didn’t stop me leaving a pair at a friend’s house. I had to ask him which pair they were. “We’ve got them, Gerry” he said. “On the label it says ‘Dark-Blue-Framed Reading Glasses’.”
Phew! I thought it might have been the sunglasses labelled “Fishing Glasses”. (They cost a mint. They’ve got distance lenses so I can see my dry fly floating on the water 40 feet away. Plus a tiny close-up insert lens so I can thread my nylon line through the eye of a size 16 hook at the first attempt without swearing or drawing blood.)
I bet you’re loving this ailment chat, eh. Great! Let me tell you about my ears. I’m corn beef in the left one. Zsuzsa’ll say “Tonight we’re going home early” and I’ll say “Of course there’s Right To Roam nearby! “ Then she’ll look at me pityingly and silently wonder where the best care homes are in Leith.
The other night she made me lie down on my side while she dripped cold oil into my lugholes. The treatment kit costs £15. I’ve always resisted going private or accepting BUPA from my employers because why should anyone get better treatment just because they’ve got more in their bank accounts? Except once, I confess. When a bored Murrayfield Spire doctor siphoned an inch-long plug of black, hard wax out of my deaf ear then charged me £100.
Have I just over-shared? Was that “TMI”? Tough. The joy of being 60 is that you don’t have to care what anybody else thinks. You should start looking forward to your own sixth decade; it comes to most of us. And it doesn’t come alone.