Wednesday, 31 March 2010

"Welcome to sunny Berwick-upon-Tweed"

I succeeded in getting home from Scotland yesterday evening on the East Coast Main Line. On the radio this morning the line was reported closed between Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed, owing to landslides.

I'm not surprised. I travelled through this area at about 4.30pm. On one side of the line the fields were filling up with pools of cocoa-coloured rain (the colour of the soil) and on the other side the sea was boiling beneath the lashing rain and driving winds. "We are now approaching sunny Berwick-upon-Tweed," the guard said.

I once said that if the union between England and Scotland were seriously threatened, I would move to Edinburgh and walk up and down Princes Street with a sandwich board campaigning to maintain it. (I think we all have a cause such as this that could make us behave rather eccentrically.) Obviously, I meant that I would do this if the weather were fine.

I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Edinburgh. I attended an academic workshop with the title "Another Europe is possible? The radical left and the European Union." This was my fantasy conference. (The phrase "one man's meat is another man's poison" might have been invented for just this moment.)

I meant to do some sight-seeing before I caught my train home on Tuesday but it was too wet and windy even for me. Instead, I spent the day profitably in the National Gallery of Scotland, in the Scottish artists galleries, looking at landscapes of lochs and glens.

However, I still had to shuttle between my B&B, the cafe where I ate my lunch, the gallery and, finally, the train station. I'm finally understanding why certain aspects of Scottish culture, the love of "calorie-rich" food, the whisky, the bagpipes and, most of all, the top-rate central heating have come about.

The food for an essential layer of insulating fat, the whisky to numb the pain of the chilblains, the bagpipes because it's the only sound that can climb above the sound of the howling wind and give you heart that you're not completely alone in the world, and the central heating to make you forget that if you venture outside you'll be frozen and soaked through within five minutes, so that you go ahead and do it anyway.

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