Went off through to Edinburgh last Thursday night, for the launch party of Alan Campbell's SCAR NIGHT. Surprisingly, I managed to make it to the event both on time and sober (well, it's bad form to make an overly, um, "dramatic" entrance at someone else's launch... so terribly gauche), despite originally going to entirely the wrong Waterstones. I didn't realise, ye see that Princes Street has two Waterstones, West and East. Needless to say, I show up at the East when the launch is in the West.
--Excuse me, says I to shop attendant, but can you tell me where the Alan Campbell book launch is?
-- Buggered if I know, matey bubbles, says shop attendant... or words to that effect.
Luckily it was only a quick jog through one hundred million Italian tourists (and why are they all Italians? do Italians get some sort of special deal? is this a cunning ploy to counterbalance the chill demeanour of the Edinburgh native with Mediterranean warmth? do they ever actually leave or is it just the same one hundred million Italians doomed to wander up and down Princes Street for all eternity, for scoffing at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby or some such?) to get to the right shop, a bit sweaty and smelly but on time.
So this is the name-dropping bit right... who was all there... which is to say, you can skip this paragraph and move right along if you want. Cause you probably aren't that interested in me wittering on about playing Luvvies of Scottish SF with Iain Banks, Ken MacLeod, Charlie Stross, Debbie Miller, Jack Deighton. Although you should pay attention as I name-drop the Edinburgh mob -- names like Andrew Wilson, Hannu Rajaniemi, Steff Pearson, Gavin Inglis which are going to be familiar to you very soon, I'm sure. Hannu in particular has, as I'm sure I've said before, a particularly kick-ass story in NOVA SCOTIA, sort of a Strossian Singularity yarn but with more, to my mind, of a focus on all those human emotions and shit (the things I look for most in a story, to be honest) along with the posthuman techno-godhood malarky. Hannu' going to be *very big*, as Alan and meself did our best to pound into the heads of Peter Lavery (our editor at Macmillan) and Simon Kavanaugh (Alan's agent and my comrade-in-childishness).
Anyhoo, the evening went well, with Alan doing a short (sort of deer-in-headlights, terror-stricken, oh-God-do-I-really-have-to-do-this short) reading from SCAR NIGHT (available in all good bookshops... especially in Aberdeen (for reasons known only to DHL who, in their wisdom decided to redirect a huge whack of copies bound for Edinburgh to Aberdeen instead)) and the rest of us quaffing wine and huzzahing.
After this we all adjourned to the Traverse Theatre bar, which is very nice but exceedingly expensive even by Edinburgh's standards, by way of some strange multicolour fibreglass cows that seem to have sprung up on the streets of Edinburgh for some reason. I seem to recall trying to ride one at one point. It was a stubborn beast, unfortunately, and refused to budge an inch. A quick expedition to a curry house was most fun because I got to chat a bit with Alan's girlfriend Kara's mum, who is absolutely lovely, (and make Kara jealous of my ability to swear profusely and not cause shock and horror... heh). Then it was back to the Traverse for more drinks. Some of the Glasgow mob -- Neil Williamson, Phil Raines, Paul Cockburn, Mike Gallagher (more names to look out for) -- had headed straight to the Traverse, having come through after work and had problems with travel which made them too late for the reading part. (I, being more committed to the concept of FREE WINE, had come through by train earlier in the day.) I had intended to cadge a lift back with Neil. Honest, I had. But, well, since Peter and Simon had a loan of a flat from Alan's mate, Dave (who was doing his best impression of a paparazzo with one of those huge-ass motherfuckers of a camera, snapping pictures all night (which I, as an attention-slut, loved, of course)), the prospect of calling it a night at only two in the morning seemed, well, such a waste. So I begged a place to sleep for the night and carried on in my role as ligger.
It all ended up in a rather scuzzy but, importantly, still-open pub called C.C. Something's, and then a taxi-ride back to Dave's flat to collapse.
I did mean to go home the next day. Really, I did. But, well... Alan and Kara came round for lunch, and lunch involved a Bloody Mary or three... and then a mate of Alan's (also called Alan, just to be extra confusing) walked past the pub where we were sitting outside, and decided to join us... and it was such a fucking gorgeous day... and, well, before I knew it we were all going off en masse like The Broons to see Greyfriars Bobby. I was wondering what Peter and Simon would actually make of it, cause the statue's not actually that impressive, ye know, but Peter's "Is that it?!" was still quite amusing. The funniest thing, though, was noticing the sodding big sign on the entrance to Greyfriars cemetary which says "No Dogs". Just to the left of the gravestone for the doggy. Oh, the irony of it! Still the cemetary was very nice, all grand, crumbly and ruinous, with the requisite mini-Goths and a good view of Hogwarts (sorry, George Heriot's) posh public school place.
Then it was a wee wander into the Grassmarket, which took us past a wee SF bookshop which (hurrah!) had both SCAR NIGHT and VELLUM, a wee stop for a quick pint and a wander down the Royal Mile, and a not-so wee stop for a not-so-quick several pints. There are some advantages in Scotland's No Smoking Inside policy, I discovered, as it did lead to the amusing spectacle of Simon and Alan waltzing past the window as the rest of us sat inside (followed by Me and Simon waltzing past the window (followed by Alan, Simon and me all doing the sodding Can-Can past the window)). Although, OK, some might not view the generation of such tomfoolery as an "advantage" per se. We ate fish and chips by some bins (or black pudding and chips, in my case), and introduced Simon to the glory which is deep-fried haggis, before once again heading back to Dave's flat for more drink. All in all, it was a fucking brilliant day, wandering round Deepgate -- sorry, Edinburgh -- and seeing the scenic sights in a scorching sun. There was some talk of hiding Peter's camera so we might actually get somewhere at more than half-a-mile-an-hour ("Where's Peter?", "He's not taking another photograph, is he?", "You're not taking another photograph, are you, Peter?", "But the architecture is so lovely!"... and repeat... and repeat... and repeat), but in truth it was such a swellegant day that half-a-mile-an-hour was exactly the right pace to see it at.
I did mean to go home the next day. Really, I did. Because Simon and Peter had plans to go through to Biggar to visit Alan & Kara and Kara's folks and stay for the night; and while I was enjoying my role as drunken ligging bum of a hanger-on, I was supposedly meeting up with some mates for Sunday brunch. And Biggar ain't exactly an easy place to get back to Glasgow from. But, well, as it turned out Peter and Simon were heading back to London on the 15:00 train... and it's only 45 mins from Edinburgh to Glasgow... and Sunday brunch as I know it is actually Sunday brinner (i.e. occurring at some point late Sunday afternoon, when you've had nothing to eat all day and end up eating something big and greasy enough that you're probably not going to eat anything else)... and Alan and Kara had an inflatable mattress... and so I thought, fuck it.
So, Alan came round and we all went through to Biggar. Well, no, actually, we all went to the pub underneath Dave's flat while we waited for Dave to arrive to pick up the keys to give to the Poles he was renting it out to later that afternoon. But after that we all went through to Biggar, a bunch of reprobates swilling beer and smoking out the windows of Alan's car as he drove us along the winding country roads, Simon and Peter gushing over the idyllic beauty of the countryside and me, well, barking at cows and sheep. What? Well, it started off as the usual "Are we there yet?" joke, but Simon insisted that was his role, so I decided that, with the window wide open and my head out, tongue lolling, I would much rather be the family dog than the pestering brat anyway.
We stopped off at Rosslyn Chapel (Me: "D'ye think they'll let me take my beer inside?"), bought tickets from a poor bloke who had to put up with our bad Monty Python American accents (Simon: "Is this Wined-sor Cas-till? Yeah, we just came up from Lie-cestor Square", Me: "It's not Lie-cestor Square; it's Li-chester."). We were actually quite well-behaved inside however, on a account of a tour guide person doing a proper speech thing in a confined space where any murmuring and immature giggling would have been bad form; hell, Simon even gave some Spanish tourists a row for blathering on loudly as the poor tour guide woman tried to not to be distracted from her lecture ("Excuse me, but would you mind shutting the fuck up"). Annoyingly I missed this, being busy decrypting the scratched symbols of the tomb and, yes, actually finding the Holy Grail. (Alan: "Simon, have you got a bag? Al's found the Holy Grail", Me, outside: "Yeah, it was just sitting there."). Really, it wasn't that well hid. No idea how you could miss it. I mean, if you didn't have a pick-axe, OK, you might have some difficulty getting at it... but I didn't even have to destroy that much of the Apprentice's Pillar to get it.
So we high-tailed it out of Rosslyn, Masonic Policemen in hot pursuit, me having decanted my beer from can to Grail (because drinking straight out of the can is so common, you know), shook off our pursuers and eventually arrived in Biggar, where, of course, we went to the pub. Originally the plan was to get some Fraoich as a carry-out to teach Simon the joys of heather ale, but the off-licence only had Grozet, so we thought we'd try Alan and Kara's local. It didn't have Fraoich either but, well, we were there now.
Dinner was curry back at Alan and Kara's, then we walked round to Kara's mum and dad's, an idyllic cottage with a beautiful garden and the even-more-beautiful Tess, a six-month-old collie pup who I immediately went into play mode with, chasing her round the garden, throwing her ball, running away with her ball, throwing her ball, crawling through shrubbery to find her ball, throwing her ball, teaching her that quick-snatch game where you sit the ball between you both, wait for her to make the first move and try and get it first, throwing her ball again, throwing her ball again and, yes, throwing her ball again. Tess really likes the ball-throwing game.
As the sun finally dipped beneath the horizon, we headed inside for more drinks, sausage rolls and music from Jim and Kieran, Kara's dad and brother on viola and guitar respectively. There was some attempts by the rest of us to join in, but as often as not their playing was just so fucking gorgeous that I know I didn't want to ruin it. I did however cadge a shot on Jim's viola and got to be all smug and superior as, after Simon's brief and inglorious attempt, I slide the bow back and forth across the strings and find myself, to my own amazement, actually getting something vaguely tuneful. OK, there weren't exactly chords involved, but just doing a sort of high-low-high-mid-high-low-low sorta thing, I found you could gradually speed it up and get something that sounded kinda cool in a punky-jiggy devil-on-the-fiddle sorta way. I'm seriously tempted now to get meself a viola and learn properly, as it's the first time EVER I've picked up an instrument and felt even remotely, well, comfortable with it. I think it's my diabolic inclinations, you know. If it had been an actual fiddle, I like to think, maybe I'd have really taken to it in a "my God, clearly this man is the spawn of the devil" sorta way. OK, maybe not, but hell, it was half-decent enough that Simon thought I was shitting him about never having touched the instrument before in me puff. Of course, the folk with actual musical skill were, I'm sure, cringing at my murderous travesty of a "tune", but I was well chuffed, well chuffed.
But the viola was, of course, very quickly given back to the real musician so's we could hear it played properly again, and played it was. Well into the night we carried on drinking and singing (or in my case, crawling around on the floor to play with Tess), until this evening of sheer bliss had to end, as all such evenings do eventually. Kara's mum and dad kindly put the three of us -- Simon, Peter and meself -- up overnight, and, Christ, even fed us the next morning with a stonking big fry-up, when we finally stumbled down, bleary-eyed and blissed-out. (Simon: "I'm not leaving.", Me: "Can we be adopted?")
Eventually, we left Kara's mum and dad with gushes of gratitude, poor Alan looking the worse for wear but soldiering on, bless him, to give the three of us a lift back to Edinburgh since Biggar is a bit out of the way (Peter: "Really, you could just drop of us off at the local station", Jim: "That would be Edinburgh Waverley."). Alan headed off camping (the madman), Simon and Peter headed off for the train back to London, and I made my way back to Glasgow. Needless to say, I missed any chance of brinner with me mates, but as it turned out Arthur and Meg were knackered (having just come back from a holiday up north) and were heading back to Portsmouth in the late afternoon anyway. So I just said my goodbyes to them and settled down for a quiet evening of responding to the backlog of emails, texts and answerphones, from folks who were probably beginning to think I'd vanished off the face of the earth (my mobile having died on the Friday or so, rendering me incommunicado).
Fuck, though... it was a great weekend. I mean, I'm a Glasgow boy when it comes down to it, and Edinburgh and the country are, as far as I'm concerned strange alien lands of "salt and sauce" on yer fish-and-chips (it's just not right; it's salt and vinegar, man, vinegar) and that green stuff they have in parks, ye know -- whatchacallit... "grass" (Me: "But where are the tenements?!"). But even Edinburgh can be... alright (he said, grudgingly)... once in a while, ye know. And as the pens given to Peter, Simon and meself by Kara say: "London's big, but Biggar's bigger". Judging by the folks that's certainly true if you're talking about people's hearts.
Anyhoo, a sincere thanks to all those who made the last three days so superb putting up with my wastrelry. Can't wait to see you all again.