The people in my neighbourhood

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rob Hamilton, you were right. It's not about the things you see, it's about the people you meet. I've had a nice taste of this while hashing, which has turned out to be a perfect way to find friendly, like-minded people who enjoy the occasional pint. But this week in Edinburgh I had the great pleasure of meeting Nigel and Margaret (hashers, naturally) who turned out to be the best of a great bunch so far.

I was clever enough to arrive in Edinburgh just in time to run with The New Town Hash House Harriers (there are two hashes in the city: TNT and Edinburgh), where I met lots of friendly Scottish hashers, one Canadian ex-pat Nigel*, and his American partner Margaret. After toddling off on the bus post-hash, I got a text from Margaret asking if I'd be interested in going for a drink or dinner the next day, and confirming their offer of the loan of camping gear for the Gullane** hash weekend. So the next night I met them at a pub where we had a drink before moving on for dinner. The whole evening was just great. We got along famously, so much so that I had to keep reminding myself that we'd only known each other for about two hours. Perhaps it was the fact that are, all three, visitors to this country and so could bond over things like why the doors open in to shops instead of out, and why Brits insist on waiting to butter toast until it has cooled completely (even going so far as to employ little custom-made cooling racks designed to speed the process of transforming toast from a warm and tasty foodstuff into something resembling a roofing tile), and so on***. Whatever the cause, it was wonderful.

Nigel and Margaret

On Saturday, I made a long-ish hike (with an unintentional detour brought on, once again, by my failure to instinctively grasp the small scale of maps here) out to their flat in the engagingly named Comelybank area. They walked me along the Water of Leith, and we had a nice lunch in an exceedingly agreeable pub, and then wandered the high street so I could gather groceries for the weekend of camping. Finally we retired to their back garden so Nigel could show me how to set up the tent they were loaning me, and so Margaret could document the lesson for eternity:


And off I went to Gullane, fully equipped with a sleeping bag, therma-rest, and tent and provisioned with artisinal cheese, bread and sausages, all thanks to N&M. In a small attempt to offer some sort of kindness in return, I left them my external hard drive for the weekend, which is loaded with quite a lot of video content (thank you JBJ!), hoping that some of it might interest them.

Oh, and of course they invited me over for supper on Sunday evening when I got back from the beach. It was an offer I gratefully accepted, dragging their camping gear back with me, along with a backpack full of thoroughly smoked clothing for the washer and a significant quantity of Gullane beach sand. Sunday evening was outstanding too, and they made the highly astute and sensible decision to offer a big salad for supper, reasoning that I might be somewhat over-sausaged after a weekend of campfire cooking, and generally lacking in vegetables overall, which seems to be the default here in Scotland. Supper was lovely, as was the whole evening.

To top it all off, when they returned my hard drive they'd actually loaded it up with even more great stuff - movies, tv, music, and (most excitingly) digital versions of several books I've been craving. Oh, and Margaret gave me an old copy of her 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map**** of Ben Nevis, my destination for Wednesday. (Really, you guys are too much! It was perfectly wonderful meeting you, and I could not imagine a more welcoming, generous and fun pair of people to add to my address book. Please stay in touch! And I hope you don't mind playing a starring role in this post.)

When I finally departed their flat on Sunday night, with clean laundry, a full stomach, and twelve episodes of "Fawlty Towers", I walked back to the hostel in a warm glow, and with the happy realization that if this is what's in store for me in the coming year, then it will be a very very fine time indeed.

*Naturally, I got a down-down for being a visitor, and because he's also Canadian, Nigel got one too. So did a poor guy whose only transgression was to have the excellent hash name Canadian Club.

** For those who've been wondering, it's pronounced GULL-in.

*** And another thing - can someone please explain to me the purpose of the "washing up bowl"? Nearly every British household I've been in is equipped with one of these. They're plastic tubs that sit in the kitchen sink, in which one washes the dishes. Note that I said they sit in the sink. They're vessels designed to hold soapy water and dishes, positioned within vessels designed to hold soapy water and dishes. Most annoyingly, the presence of the washing up bowl prevents you from doing something simple like emptying the dregs of your tea into the sink without first removing the entire washing up bowl. Baffling.

**** To quote Bill Bryson on the subject of the brilliance of Ordnance Survey maps, from "Notes from a Small Island":

"Ordnance Survey maps are in a league of their own. Coming from a country where mapmakers tend to exclude any landscape feature smaller than, say, Pike's Peak, I am constantly impressed by the richness of detail on the OS 1:25,000 series. They include every wrinkle and divot on the landscape, every barn, milestone, wind pump and tumulus. They distinguish between sand pits and gravel pits and between power lines strung from pylons and power lines strung from poles. This one even included the stone seat on which I sat now. It astounds me to be able to look at a map and know to the square metre where my buttocks are deployed."


anne said...

I don't know why others use washing up bowls but I do because it can save water, and I can take said bowl out of sink in the middle of dish-washing if I want to wash veg, drain etc (I only have one sink). Another reason is I'm less likely to smash something in a plastic bowl!!!!!! Don't you Canadians have any 'odd' habits?

Unknown said...

As a Canadian, I'd have to say that I certainly hope we have many odd habits.

Pam- congrats on your trip and blog, I enjoy reading it and vicariously tagging along on your trip.

If you find yourself in Ontario at some point, look me up, I'll take a pass on the run, will be up for a pint.

Jeff Scollon

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