Christmas had been wonderful, laid back and close. Besides some hiking, we cooked or went to restaurants around Leith. Thankfully, many serve oysters. Ship on the Shore and Chop House had the food and ambience down so well, we went back to both. We also had a memorable gift exchange due to Charles finding our favorite colors in Scottish Tartans at the Christmas Market.
But, now Hogmany was here and we had a plan. It included 2 big events, The Johnny Walker Street Festival and The Torch Parade. The tickets were ordered online a few weeks before and we were psyched, although my crowd apprehensions were alive and well.
For the Torch Parade, Charles begged off, "I do not do processions." While in ASDA, a few days later, I solved that issue while asking a young woman behind the meat counter where to find the best mint sauce. She came around and walked with me to locate the right one. We started talking and she struck me as being very cheery. I like spirited people and we now had an extra ticket to The Torch Parade and a spare torch. I asked her if she wanted to join us. To my surprise, she said, " I would love to go." We exchanged numbers and on the 30th of December she met us outside of The Balmoral Hotel on Princess Street.
Jeanette is 23 and I am old enough to be her grandmother. Yet, it was like we were back at the meat counter, only she was much prettier than I realized without her hairnet. We never ran out of things to talk about from politics to the environment, goals and love lives. What!? It was fun and we shared life details that sometime you only do with relative strangers.
All of a sudden torches were being lit up in front of the crowd and slowly we all received a light from the person in front of us and then lit up a person's torch in back of us. Wow. For some reason, to the background of bagpipes and towering 16th century buildings, that moment of lighting my fellow processioner's torch was very moving.
More bagpipe music started, a tsunami of a roar from the crowds, and we began to move. We turned left off of North Bridge and walked down The Royal Mile. People were waving and taking our picture, all 22,000 of us, from their flats above the shops and restaurants. And then we walked past The Parliament and the stunning Hollyrood Palace's majestic gates, once the home of Mary Queen of Scots, and onto the open meadow of Hollyrood Park. We kept walking through rope corridors and finally we formed the outline of Scotland. Once the photograph was taken from the helicopter above us, we were free to go or stay for the fireworks and a concert. We had been either standing or walking for about 3 hours. So, we decided to leave and.... Jeanette stayed right with us all the way back to Charles' flat where her father met her.
Joyful is the best word to describe this night. It felt so potent and looked so beautiful. Everyone's faces against the torch light, while walking down this infamous cobblestone mile, glowed. Above all, we felt very lucky to be joined by a young, pretty, and amiable Edinburgh student, whose mere presence, gave us comfort in these crowds. Close feelings all around, visual moments that never seemed to stop, and the music of the bagpipes added up to this incredible feeling. We were tired and I wanted to keep the feeling and memory for a long time.
Back home, that wish happened when, during the Midwest polar vortex, I could look right down at my big heavy snow boots and see on the toes, drops of wax from my torch. Those spots of wax remind me of a night that I joined a celebratory procession with people from all over the world and one special young person who seemed to be just as happy to be with me as I was with her.
Oh.. and about being squished. Well, that happened the next night at the Johnny Walker Street Party. With over 65,000 attending, it is ranked as the largest New Years festival in the world. Only son Charles braved this one with me. We arrived on the late side, 10 ish, and walked easily in, mesmerized by all the people,performers and the lights, especially the ones showing off the iconic Edinburgh Castle to our left. We walked along, going North on Princess Street to meander, to get the lay of the land, to get to the other side of the festival, and to take in all the performances on either side of us. At this point, I didn't really notice how jostled and close we had become and that we were kind of being moved forward. What I did notice is that unlike last night, there was almost no one my age in this throng. Charles is 6'4" and explained that he couldn't push because a fight would break out. Say what? I just wanted to get to the other side and get out. Then it happened. We couldn't move. No one panicked and so I held in my crowd phobia which had now turned into a 100% claustrophobia. All I could see and feel on either side forward and backward was about 40 people in all directions. ( According to Wikipedia, they now limit the number of tickets sold due to safety reasons. Yeahuh. It turns out there were 65,000 people at this event.) I wasn't squished so that it hurt, but I was scared. Out of the blue, a super attractive young women spoke from the crowd directly to me, " Now don't you worry Miss, this will start to move in a few minutes. Just give it some time." Charles tried to clear out a few inches for me without offending anyone else's space. Yes, it did move and we eventually got to the side. Upon entry, we never got our free flask of whiskey. So, we went up to a pop up bar near where we had made our escape and ordered one to share. We sat on the ground, made a toast and decided to high tail it on to somewhere else. We found a special exit and they got us out and we ended up on pedestrian only Rose Street where we saw a welcoming place called Dirty Dicks. I couldn't believe it, but they had a table and seats for us. Everyone had gone out
Everyone had gone out to watch the fireworks at midnight. Charles and I became our table's "host" to a group of musicians from Manchester and a family from France who didn't know that I understood their language when they complained about us taking over their table while they were gone. We were now a group of 7 that later became 5. I was so thankful that Charles was no longer stuck with just his mother on Hogmanay. Conversations, mostly in English, were easy. I relaxed and really took in the scene. After the New Year rang in, the bar filled up. I bought a round for Charlie and his new friends from Manchester. Then he bought a round. I switched to club soda and bought another round(s?). Interestingly, rounds for 5 cost only about 25 dollars. I was not being a big spender, but just secretly happy to be in this bar full of ambience (about 100 sawed off golf clubs hung from the ceiling above us like a giant chandelier), and sharing the table on Hogmany with creative, inclusive people. Then, it became 4:30 am and we thought it was time to get an Uber. Amazingly, one came in minutes and we headed for home.
P.S. Now wait, there is a true p.s. to this story. The following day we all woke up in the after glow of a great evening...only Charlie could not find his wallet. He thought he had left it on the seat at Dirty Dicks. We called. True, maybe a hundred people had spotted that wallet on the bar from 12:30, (when Charlie had paid for his round), to 4:30 am, when the barman had found it at closing. But but no one had lifted it.. simply because it was not theirs. Score 1 for Scotland!