Eventually, our fabulous first day of sightseeing in Edinburgh was eclipsed by encroaching twilight. Doug and I had managed to cross the entire length of the Old Town by foot, from the enchanting Castle to Calton Hill, where the chilling wind blurred our vision. We decided to wander into the New Town for a bit before returning to our hotel.
When our British co-workers found out we intended to spend the weekend in Edinburgh, they had numerous suggestions about what we must see.
“Aye, the Castle’s great,” Ian said.
“You have to do Prince’s Street,” Andy contributed. “That’s where the best shopping is.”
“No,” Roy disagreed. “Rose Street’s the best.”
“What’s on Rose Street?” I asked.
“Eh, about a million pubs,” he said, laughing. “Great beer. Some food too.”
Remembering Roy’s words, we headed west on Waterloo Street in search of forage. Parallel to Prince’s Street, Rose Street resembled a large block party when we turned the corner. Irish and Scottish fans filled the streets, the ‘million pubs’, and the outdoor beer gardens.
Voices raised in song came from a place we passed on the left. I recognized the familiar, “She-e-e-e, stoo-oo-oo-d, there laughing…,” of Tom Jones’ Delilah. Way back in the early seventies when the song was at the top of the pop charts, my mother worshipped the Welsh crooner and played that particular record until she wore it out. “…She saw the knife in my hand, and she laughed no more.”
I sang the “why, why, why-y-y, Delilah,” softly to myself as we moved on. Outside every pub sat men with legs bared by kilts and torsos sans jackets, seemingly immune to the cold, possibly an indicator of the recommended beverage they were raising in toast. Halfway down the street, it was evident that a warm indoor seat and food were not going to be easy to find in the crowd and I was too tired to try.
“Let’s go home,” I said, actually meaning the hotel, our home away from our home away from home. “We can get something to eat in the pub there. Andy said the food’s great.” I wondered if my tired legs could trudge the eight blocks back to Waverly Station, but they made it after only one wrong turn. Hunger is a good motivator.
I think my feet actually sighed when my exhausted rear end settled into the train seat for the ride back to Falkirk an hour later. Doug looked as weary as I felt, but I suspected it was a happy tired.
Our minds were filled with images our eyes had taken in over the afternoon, like children with sugarplums dancing in their heads. We were satisfied in silently reliving the best moments, thinking our day of fun had ended. My eyelids closed and I figured I would quickly nod off for the thirty minute journey.
We rode virtually alone until the next stop, Haymarket. Someone had told us earlier in the day how it came by its name, before the railroad age when horses were the only transportation. The ‘haymarket’ in each town was where horses were fed and watered after arriving in town.
Loads of ‘fed and watered’ Scottish rugby fans, some sporting blue and white jester hats with brass colored bells on the tips, boarded the train at the stop. They celebrated as if they were the winners of the heartbreak 19-18 loss the Irish had handed them. Obviously, local fans cherished the games as a social event rather than a win or die grudge match.
My short nap was over.
A group of men in kilts and their wives took seats a few rows ahead of us. One of the women kept urging her husband, who was holding a large aluminum case, to ‘get it out.’ Finally, he gave in to her pleading and did as she asked.
Suddenly, the loud scream of bagpipes warming up filled the car.
Everyone cheered as he started playing, while Doug and I looked around us in wonder. Men in kilts were dancing in the aisles to the player’s excellent rendition of an old Glenn Miller tune.
After that came Amazing Grace, followed by Auld Lang Syne and surprisingly, Dixie. Anyone who knew the words sang along and it was impossible not to join in the contagious happiness. The crowd settled down for the more solemn words of their unofficial national anthem, Scotland the Brave
Our fellow travelers clamored for the infamous Delilah, but since he didn’t know how to play it they sang a cappella. I sang it out loud this time, but don’t tell anyone.
While all this revelry took place, an attractive, normally-dressed young man seated across from us tried to act nonchalant, as if he were above it all. Four songs into the show, even he was unable to resist the enthusiasm of his countrymen. We watched him finally give in and smile while sneaking cell phone pictures of the revelers behind him.
A young Japanese couple sat two rows ahead on the other side of the car, grinning broadly and reaching overhead to capture pictures of the bagpipe player on their camera phones. One of the kilted dancers noticed them.
He stopped dancing, stole a jester hat from his mate, took off his own, and placed them on the couple’s heads. He took pictures of the laughing pair with their phones. After returning the hats to their original locations and handing the phones back, he asked where they were from.
“Japan!” they cried in unison.
“Nice to meet you,” he said, shaking their hands and grinning. The bagpipes whined on as they looked down the full length of him: from his reinstated blue and white jester hat, to his The Famous Grouse rugby shirt, to the pleated plaid kilt barely covering his knees, finally focusing on the thick white knee socks stuffed into running shoes.
“I’m Scottish!” he proclaimed.
I’d bet they had no trouble believing that.