Close Encounters in Tartan

One would think, having just returned from Germany and having gone through a travel nightmare the day before, we’d be traveled out. One might think we’d be happy spending the last couple of days in Scotland just wandering the streets of Edinburgh, finding cozy cafes to wile away hour upon hour in. How mistaken one would be! The day after our return from Germany did see us spending our time exploring nooks and crannies in Edinburgh. But we also had one or two more bus trips left in us before all would be said and done.

We took our time waking up that morning. Our first waking hours were spent putzing around the room getting things organized for the flight home. Then it was breakfast, where we enjoyed toast and sipped from steaming mugs of tea. When we reached the last bites we began to formulate our plan for the day. The only real goal was to drop off donation copies of Goodnight Brew to the library. A simple enough task. There were a couple locations to pick from, and after visiting the National Library I decided to leave the books with the Central Library (National felt a bit too uppity).

After leaving the library, Mom and I made our way back up the Royal Mile. One right turn later and we were in front of the same vendor stalls we’d passed on nearly every other visit to the Royal Mile. Often when we passed, I found myself seriously eyeballing one stall displaying a variety of shirts with images of all sorts printed on the front. I was captured by the style of the artwork, so finally I stopped to take a closer look. After a few minutes deliberation, and a nice chat with the man running the booth, I left with a cream colored tank covered in blue clouds sprinkling rain into an assortment of glasses gathered below.

We then rather unexpectedly (or not unexpectedly at all) found ourselves at the Scottish Family History Society. We had passed by the same sandwich board we’d seen when Peter was with us over a week ago. It was surely to blame. I should say we eventually found ourselves there as it took a bit of searching to find the place. The phrase ‘nooks and crannies’ is an apt description of the streets of Edinburgh. After popping into a restaurant to ask for directions, we found the History Society office down a flight of steps in an alley.

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The culprit.

It was a productive visit. Mom was taken to the far side of the main room to be helped by an older gentleman. She was hoping to discover the names of the closes (narrow alleys) where her ancestors had lived. I planted myself at a long table just inside to door and began to get a bit of note taking done. I’d only been at it for a few minutes before the man sitting at the table with me struck up a conversation. This time around I didn’t mind. Eventually I’d run out of travel notes to make and then where would I be?

The man was visiting from California with his family. Like us, they had come to Scotland partly for genealogical reasons. We shared stories about our time in Scotland and the successes and failures his wife and my mother had had in their genealogical endeavors. Finally, Mom returned with the location of two closes where her relatives had lived. I said goodbye to my tablemate and we left to find our first close.

Both closes were located along the Royal Mile. Long, rectangular placards mounted above narrow entryways made it easy to spot them. Even the copious amounts of souvenir displays lining the sidewalk weren’t enough to hide these modest portals to more secluded parts of the city. The first we found was Chalmers’ Close. I snapped a quick photo of Mom beneath the plaque, and then we descended the ramp into the close. At the bottom we found Forsyth’s Tea Room. Had we not already gotten our morning beverage we would have stopped in for a cuppa. Instead, we spent a few moments taking pictures and gazing up at the looming brick walls of the surrounding structures.

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The brick on our left looked positively worn compared to what I was sure was a new exterior on its next-door neighbor. Exposed piping snaked from inside the building out and up the walls. The shop fronts on the High Street were just the first layer of a much deeper world beyond. When we’d finished, we walked back up the water-streaked pavement to the street level and headed to the next close.

Trunk’s Close was a ways up the High Street from Chalmers’ Close. We each cast a lazy eye over the tourist shops with all their trinkets on display as we walked by, more enjoying the colors and energy of the street than looking for anything to buy. The entrance to Trunk’s close was set adjacent to a stairwell, and several sandwich boards were placed around it. Once again we followed the slopping path down into the depths of the city. The rough rock walls were covered with slim, dingy windows, and more exposed piping.

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The first break in the buildings gave way to a small courtyard. Here there was a circular planter and a few benches. Set to one side was a large bronze statue of a rooster with a thick comb set proudly atop his head. It was rather peculiar, standing there in this modern city built on so much history. And here we stood in front of a bit of our own history. Our ancestors could’ve looked out those same grimy windows onto the flat stones Mom and I now occupied. I felt haunted and exhilarated all at once.

After we’d had our fill of the hidden depths of the High Street, Mom and I reemerged to find our next adventure. We began walking back the way we had come, toward Chalmer’s Close, when I looked over and saw a full-length, red tartan dress on display in a shop window. I hadn’t yet purchased anything tartan, and I’d been in need of a good ‘going out’ outfit for a while. A sexy red tartan dress seemed a good choice to fill both needs.

I expressed my desire for the dress to Mom, who was equally thrilled by the idea, so we stepped inside. There was a single clerk working, a young man who I think was from somewhere in Eastern Europe. We found the display outfit on the rack and discovered it was a two-piece deal. The top was a corset, and the full-length skirt came separate. This worked better, because who’s gonna wear a full-length skirt every time they go out for a night on the town? No. Instead, I ended up getting something I was just as unlikely to wear out. Instead, I got a mini-skirt.

Let me just say that I rarely even wear shorts that don’t reach my knees, so a mini-skirt was way outside my comfort zone. But, it went with the corset, and one mini-skirt never hurt anyone, right? So, I stood patiently while the young male clerk very awkwardly tried to measure my bust to find my size then took the pieces into the dressing room to try on. As if trying on a corset and mini-skirt weren’t enough to make me sweat, the dressing rooms were right on the sales floor and had a curtain rather than a door. So that was fun. Also, like an idiot, I struggled to loosen the lacing on the corset for about ten minutes before realizing, of course, there was a zipper.

Once I figured that out and we found the right sizes for everything, I stepped from behind the curtain in all my red tartan and pale-skin glory. I must have run my hands over my butt 20 times while modeling for my Mom and the clerk. After they assured me several times I looked fantastic, I scampered back into the dressing room to get my all-covering pants back on. We left the shop a few minutes later, a big bag of tartan clutched in my hand.

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Our spontaneous shopping excursion finished just as it was rolling around to lunchtime. We headed back to Spoon to eat, mostly because I wanted another pot of their delicious lemon ginger tea before we left for home. We took our time eating and sipping our tea. There was one day left in our trip, and it was going to be a day full of bus rides. I think we each felt a minimum amount of guilt deciding to spend most of that day relaxing. When our teapot was empty and our bellies were full, we left Spoon and stopped by Sainsbury to shop for that night’s dinner.

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Back at the flat, we spent some time lounging about, checking email, tidying the room and making sure our suitcases were orderly. Hunger finally caught up with us again so we cooked up our last bit of pasta for dinner. Maya and Malc popped into the kitchen while we were eating, and we spent some time chatting with them. We finished and washed up so the kitchen was free for someone else and retreated back to our room. Next morning we would have an early start for our back down to the Borders, so it wasn’t long before were both slipped into our PJs, snuggled under the covers and fell asleep.

~Ren

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