Starting out as a brief respite from a typical traveling consultant work week, and in an attempt to do something other that stare at the walls of my modest hotel room on the Firth of Fourth, this writer took it upon himself to venture into the city to see what a typical tourist could see.
Light rain had begun at the outset, but with bumbershoot in hand and a fistful of Scottish Pounds in my pocket, I headed to the bus stop to find out how I could make it to Edinburgh city center. A parked bus remained at the stop, with driver standing at the door enjoying a smoke, waiting for his own scheduled departure. He began to describe how I might be best suited for something he called a "Dee Pass". As I asked how I might purchase a "D" Pass, he interrupted me. "No, you need a Dee Pass", he said with a strong emphasis on the "Dee". Once my brain started to put together the bits and pieces of his accent translated into American English, and I know from my British co-worker friends that they hate when I describe our adopted language that way, I was able to understand that the driver meant "Day Pass".
With a Dee Pass in my other pocket and new film in the Nikon, I took the bus ride to a shopping district near Edinburgh Castle. By the way, I hate the whole forced adoption of digital photography, where some engineer has determined for me, just how my image should be captured, enhanced and stored. The whole photojournalistic perspective has been lost. You only capture what you actually see, in a properly calibrated film image. Digital images, even before you feed them into an editor, have been enhanced based on a pre-determined mathematical algorithm. Its Disney's enhanced version of every picture you take. Rainy, gloomy days look like a vividly colored cell from the Little Mermaid.
That's how my brain works sometimes. Casual storytelling and harmless folly, followed by a diatribe on some social, technical or political injustice. This explains a number of things about my own personality actually.
I found a plaid shop just down the street from my bus stop and ventured in to find my clan's colors. That said, knowing I come from a rich European ancestry whose distant relatives managed to sleep around a bit between countries before coming to the new world. Though a mix of Welsh, German, Irish, Polish, Scottish and probably a pinch of Nordic ancestry courses through my veins, I knew my Irish and Scottish lines well enough to ask the shop owner for some help in determining the family clan pattern.
We found it. Given my American girth and the cost of hand woven, wool plaid fabric, I chose to take a pass on having a custom Kilt made, in favor or purchasing some water front property back home for around the same money.
Traveler's tip. Cobble is much easier to walk on with flexible bottomed shoes.
Turning another corner around noon, I happened across a number of uniquely named pubs that might have trouble getting approval from our local authorities based on the name alone. "Filthy McNasty's" might successfully lobby for an alcohol license, but "Dirty Dick's" might have a more difficult time. The conservative folks in our little home town just wouldn't get the humor in that naming convention. Chilled Kilkenny and chips were the perfect combo and enough of a sugar boost to carry me up the hill towards the Castle entrance.
Somehow, our little mixed group of tourists drew the actual Sergeant of the Guard at Edinburgh Castle as our tour guide. A still active military man, Angus McTavish looked exactly as your mind's eye might paint him, regaled in full Scottish uniform, Sporn and sheath, knee socks and Kilt.
He started by asking if anyone was familiar with the evening Bag Piper traditions at the castle. One in the group replied in the positive but asked how the piper manages his Kilt on windy evenings while standing up in the open tower.
"Ah yes", replied McTavish. "You are referring to the old question about the lack of undergarments".
"And the wind", replied the young lady.
"Well, we've adopted an old technique there, sewing in a heavy length of chain into the bottom pleats. If you watch closely, you won't even see the Kilt flutter."
With smiles and nods all round, McTavish opened him palm towards his left and told the group to "Follow me".
Light conversation during the walk helped to identify and separate Americans from British accents, Irish from German, and a couple from Australia helped to round out our mostly English speaking group. Following NATO rules (I'm kidding really), the individual nationalities segregated themselves and tended to stick together throughout the tour.
That explains a number of things about modern society I think. Quite subconsciously and unintentionally, maybe even consciously for some people, like-speaking people or people from similar backgrounds and cultures will simply gravitate towards one another. Not sure what Freud would say about that, but I think you would have to say something, and confront that situation with the observation of segregation, before people would consciously mix and blend.
It was still a friendly tour, up until we entered the chamber containing the Scottish Crown Jewels. Sergeant McTavish made it a point to describe them as the "Real Crown Jewels", not knowing then that he may have intended to get a "rise" out of the British participants on the tour. And just like that, in the blink of an eye, one nice gentleman objected.
"You mean Scottish artifacts don't you? The real crown jewels are governed by the royal family and housed in the Tower of London."
You could almost see McTavish licking his lips, figuratively of course, while he masterfully delivered a soliloquy on the history of the Scottish Crown, and age of the collection of royal jewels. It was well rehearsed, and the orator was experienced at the turn of a phrase, with proper voice inflection, and a well placed wink and a nod.
The Brits kept quiet for the short remainder of the tour, while the Crown Jewels were really the finale. The group said a polite "thank you", and many of them ventured off to the gift shop while McTavish stood in the open courtyard looking up at the sky. It had started to clear.
I found myself with two other Americans remaining behind, one of which had a follow up Crown Jewels question for the Sergeant of the Guard. He answered it happily, then offered a little insight on the general demeanor of the Scottish people, that up until that point, I had taken for granted.
My whole stay in Scotland was quite pleasant actually. I had just assumed that it was because the Scots were friendly and worldly and tolerant of Americans. That they knew with regard to world events and international relationships, that we try our best to elect the right governing leaders who make those decisions, but that they often turn out to be complete assholes. The Scots seemed to have a special kinship with us, though I never figured out, nor did I put much thought to what the root cause of that kinship might be. And then, McTavish let the cat out of the bag.
"We tend to get along well with our American friends", McTavish said. "Then again, it might be because we both told the King to get the hell out of our country, now didn't we?"
"Aye, Sergeant McTavish. Aye".
That might explain why I received the cold shoulder during my short stay in London, and why the further north I got, the friendlier the people seemed to be. One of the best collaborative and socially enjoyable months I've ever had was working for an accounting firm in Nottingham, except for the fact that I was the only non-smoker in the building.
To be fair, I need to return to London and give them a fair shake. Working with their residents for 15 years doesn't count, and 48 hours was not enough time in London to truly evaluate the people and the culture there.
But, having said all that. If you are looking to ease yourself into an extended visit to the British Isles, start with Scotland but skip the plaid.