I spent the weekend in Edinburgh recently. The main feature was to take part in a sponsored walk to raise funds for the wonderful Maggie's Centre in the city. It provides support for people who have encountered cancer and also for their families. It has helped one of my oldest and dearest friends and her family, so that was reason enough for me to take part. The "Culture Crawl" started at the magnificent edifice that is Fettes College and from there it all went downhill. Not literally, of course; Edinburgh is quite a hilly city, which I had conveniently forgotten when I signed up for the event more than six months ago. There were cultural events along the route (which we only found out when we turned up to take part) - including Gilbert & Sullivan at Parliament Hall, an organ recital at St Stephen's church in Stockbridge, storytelling at the... yes, you guessed it, the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the High Street and singing in a hidden-away chapel at the back of George Square. Added to that lovely mix were some light refreshments, including paella (perfect walking fuel), homebakes and tea and even a few alcoholic beverages to spur us on. A good time was had by all. And I raised over £200 for Maggie's. Many thanks to all who donated.
It was good to be back in Edinburgh, where I grew up. I travelled by bus or walked, while there, which made a pleasant change from driving all the time. Nowadays, there are CCTV screens on the buses, so the driver can keep an eye on what the passengers are up to. It means the passengers can keep an eye on each other too. Quite disconcerting, really. I remember when the buses had platforms at the back. There were conductors who took your fare, then furiously wound their ticket machine, slung round their neck, to produce your ticket. They were printed on proper paper, those tickets, not the flimsy stuff you get now. Now, as I discovered from my friend, you can have an app on your mobile phone, so your ticket appears on the screen and you show it to the bus driver. I remember the days when you could smoke upstairs on the bus. I liked sitting upstairs, but didn't like the smoke (I still don't). My Mum could tell if I'd been upstairs on the bus by the smell of my blazer when I got home. I spent a lot of my childhood on the bus in Edinburgh. I had to take two buses to primary school; my big sister valiantly waited with me at the bus stop on George IV Bridge to make sure I got on the right one. By then she was at senior school and that was the end of her bus journey. There was a lollipop man at the end of my bus journey, to assist my crossing of a busy road. Then there was a walk along a leafy street with big sandstone houses on either side before reaching the sanctuary of school. Once I reached primary 6, I too only took one bus to school. The two-bus journey involved an overlapping stretch where I had the choice of where to change buses. I don't recall how I decided where to do this, but I do remember leaving my violin behind on more than one occasion and my poor mother having to go somewhere to collect it. I'm ashamed to say I don't actually know where she had to go; the bus depot, I assume. I still have that violin, and still play it, so thank you Mum, for mopping up my mess!
Happy New Year. I hope that 2016 brings you peace, health and happiness. I was fortunate to spend both Christmas and New Year on the west coast of Scotland with my nearest and dearest this festive season. The weather was mixed, as is to be expected at this time of year. The days seem to take turns; a day of solid rain and howling winds would be followed by mild, balmy air breezing in from the south. We know from long years of experience to head out as soon as it is fair. Fair mainly means not raining. So, we had some good walks on the glorious beaches; Big Sand, Gairloch Beach and Red Point on Boxing Day. The latter was a very windy day and we were sand-blasted as soon as we reached the beach. I love to stand and watch the waves crashing on the shore. The way they roll and break, the foamy whiteness moving along the crest as they approach. It was too cold to stand for long, however. Only long enough to take a few photographs.
We retreated to the south end of the bay and found shelter below the turf line where the sheep had formed hollows to lie in. We perched on the rounded sandstone rocks and drank tea, ate goose sandwiches (we had the good fortune to eat goose on Christmas day) and slabs of Christmas cake with marzipan and sweet, sweet icing. It was a good day. I hope to have more like it in the coming year.
Last week I was away on a tutored writing retreat, at Moniack Mhor, run by Arvon. I had never been on such a thing before and it was a wonderful experience. Not only did I have the opportunity to retreat from the responsibilities of running a home, I found myself retreating from all sorts of other things. The time away made me much more aware of all the time and energy-sapping activities I do while I am at home. I retreated from the internet (there was none available); ceased posting on Facebook, stopped tweeting, didn't post any photographs here on my website (or on any other websites) nor did I update my blog. I could Google nothing, Like nothing, pin no images on Pinterest. I answered no emails, sent only a handful of text messages (to say I had arrived safely) and spoke to no-one on the phone.
I didn't read a newspaper the whole time I was away, nor watch the television (there was none there to distract us), nor even listen to the radio. Funnily enough, it was the latter I started to miss first. But not the news, or the spoken word programmes which I listen to regularly at home; I suddenly craved hearing some music. We finally managed to persuade the CD player to work and so that was soon assuaged.
I didn't go to the shops for five days; didn't drive a car, cross a street or see any traffic lights. For 90% of the time, I didn't have to cook, or clear up, or wash up. Or do any washing or hanging out of clothes, or ironing (not that I do that much of the latter, if the truth be told).
Instead, I wrote, I read, I listened. I talked and walked; I looked, watched, noticed, listened some more and thought. I laughed a lot. I thought a great deal, in a space inside my head which I had almost forgotten existed. And it all felt in balance. Somehow I had retreated from all the mindless things and found all the mindful ones; having the opportunity to do so was a golden one and I believe that I made the most of it. Now the trick is to continue to carve out that balanced time within the days and months ahead.
This post has also been published on the "My Arvon Week" blog page of the Arvon website.