A day of highs and lows

Isaac
Isaac

Today has been quite remarkable, emotional, upsetting, beautiful and mysterious.

Isaac

Jane and I walked into the living room this morning to witness Isaac taking, what we now suspect may have been a petit mal, an absence seizure. Isaac was lying on the floor, staring into space, quite floppy, quite unresponsive but still breathing. We cuddled him until he came round after about 20-30 seconds.

He’s been fine for the rest of the day, kindly and carefully looked after by his grandparents.

At the time we’d simply assumed that was zoned out and heading off to sleep because he’d been up really early and it was around the time he would be going off to sleep anyway. Not to mention that his two older brothers were notorious for falling asleep on the living room carpet.

It was only in conversation with my Mum (retired nursing sister and midwife) on the phone this evening that she wondered whether it might be a petit mal. We’ll keep an eye on him and get him checked out at the GP on Monday morning.

Edinburgh

I then drove Jane down to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to allow her to visit her maternal Grandma, who is really very unwell. It turned out to be a most upsetting visit. Lots of prayers and lovely, caring thoughts for Jane, her family, and wee grandma please.

Meanwhile Reuben, Joshua and I had a lovely visit to Homebase at Straiton to buy an indoor broom, which Reuben chose (it was the red one). We were there for AGES while R+J asked “What’s that?… What’s that?… We’ve got one of those, haven’t we!… Can we go upstairs now… I need the toilet!”

Thank goodness for Sainsbury’s next door. After team wees we bought a few essentials (sausage rolls, pasta, strawberries, raspberries and two LEGO Ninjago warriors for two lovely boys who were just an absolute delight to be with all day. I love them all so much.

And now the boys are in bed, although Reuben has been sick (just as Joshua was last night), and I was feeling ready to sit and weep when I wandered through to the living room to watch Andy Murray beat Marcos Baghdatis at Wimbledon. Wimble-well-done Andy! A good ending to an unusual day.

I pray that tomorrow is less dramatic but equally full of cuddles.

Dodgy gig in Edinburgh

Dodgy playing live at Edinburgh's Electric Circus
Dodgy playing live at Edinburgh’s Electric Circus (L-R: Andy Miller, Nigel Clark, Mathew Priest)

On Wednesday evening I drove down to South Queensferry, teamed up with my brother Eddie, and the pair of us took the train in to Edinburgh Wavelery to see—what Wikipedia calls—’English power pop trio’ Dodgy in concert at The Electric Circus on Market Street (which is right next to the station).

The summer of 96

In 1996 I was working with homeless young people in London, and living in a very nice basement flat in Eccleston Square with my good friend (and former National Youth Choir of Great Britain member) Jonny Coore. We had a summer of beautiful weather. It was the summer of Euro 96, which was hosted by England, and the city was alive; the atmosphere was electric. It was the year that I got engaged for the first time. And the soundtrack to that summer of 1996 was Free Peace Sweet by Dodgy.

In many ways it was a strange choice of album for me. I was heavily into metal (still am), I was trying my hardest to avoid anything with the ‘Britpop‘ label, like Oasis and Blur, and yet here I was listening to Dodgy again and again and again.

But the song writing was fabulous, and I loved the use of acoustic guitars throughout the songs.

Live

I was always under the misconception that Dodgy were from Birmingham. Apparently they started out as a band called Purple, a trio from Bromsgrove and Redditch in Worcestershire, who moved to London had a few line-up changes and re-badged themselves as Dodgy.

So, they were in London in 1996. I was in London in 1996. How on earth did we never bump into each other?! I would have loved to have seen them in concert back then.

So I made up for it this time around. They were coming to Edinburgh on their UK tour. I live about 50 miles from Edinburgh. I bought a ticket. My brother bought a ticket. And on Wednesday evening, I stood about 10 feet from the tiny stage at The Electric Circus and grinned from ear to ear for about 90 minutes.

It was an intimate gig. Dodgy were fun, and professional, and played a fabulous set. Despite my dodgy back (no pun intended), which was really beginning to hurt by the end of the set, I could have stood and listened to them for another 90 minutes.

Guitarist Andy Miller stood stage left behind a lap steel guitar on a stand. His playing was intricate and delicate but never too much. At times his guitar sounded more like a keyboard and I loved it for that. Every now and then he would look out to the crowd and smile. He obviously seemed to be enjoying himself.

Vocalist, guitarist and bassist Nigel Clark stood centre of stage, armed for most of the evening with an acoustic guitar, occasionally taking bass for a few of their earlier hits. The rest of the evening bass duties were handled very comfortably by a friend of the band. There was a warmness and confidence about his stage presence that suited the venue.

Drummer Mathew Priest has a fabulously simple drum set-up but he plays it so melodically and with such space. If I was a drummer he’s the kind of drummer I would want to be. I enjoyed his between songs chats, and we all marvelled at his knitted drumstick warmers in what I presumed were Aston Villa colours.

Thank you Dodgy.

New album

Dodgy released a new album Stand Upright In A Cool Place earlier this year, from which this is a track

Playing live

I don’t get out much these days. That’s my choice. I have three small children and a wife to support. So when I do get out to see a live band it’s a real treat. I’m glad I made the effort this time. Dodgy live were more than I expected. The venue was much smaller than I had expected but as a result there was an intimacy and a relaxed feeling to the gig that I relished.

The gig also reminded me how much I miss playing in a band live. Maybe one day I’ll get back to it. I sure hope so.

As my brother and I stood on the platform at Edinburgh Waverley to catch our return to Dalmeny, Eddie asked me “So, have you got any other bands you’d like to see live on your… bucket list?”

If you don’t already know, a ‘bucket list’ is a list of things you’d like to do before you kick the bucket (die).

“Why?” I asked, “If I don’t are you just going to shove me in front of the next train?”

Dodgy were definitely on my list. I’ve scored them off now… but do you know what? I think I might just write “Dodgy” on that list again.

Epilogue

A few weeks ago I got a phone call from my Mum.

“Hello Mum!”

“What’s this I hear about you going to a dodgy gig?”

“The band are called Dodgy.”

“Ah… right,” she said, obviously sounding quite relieved.

Postcards of old Edinburgh (in 1824 and 1845)

This afternoon I came across these few postcards of old Edinburgh.

Edinburgh from the West End

1824

Edinburgh from the West End of Princes Street, 1824
Edinburgh from the West End of Princes Street, 1824. Aquatint by T Sutherland, after J Gendall

I thought it would be fun to compare that image with the same view captured in Google StreetView.

2008

Edinburgh from the West End of Princes Street, 2012 - Google StreetView
Edinburgh from the West End of Princes Street, 2012 – Google StreetView

St John’s, Princes Street

St John's Chapel, Princes Street, from Castle Terrace. Coloured lithograph by Nicol after W Mason, c.1845
St John’s Chapel, Princes Street, from Castle Terrace. Coloured lithograph by Nicol after W Mason, c.1845

There wasn’t much to see in the Google StreetView of the image above: mostly trees.

Edinburgh from the Castle looking east

Edinburgh from the Castle looking East. Coloured Aquatint by T Sutherland after J Gendall, c.1824
Edinburgh from the Castle looking east. Coloured Aquatint by T Sutherland after J Gendall, c.1824

The thing I find most astonishing about this view from Edinburgh Castle is the space once occupied by the Nor Loch, to the left of the picture. The Nor Loch was filled in and the land reclaimed to create Princes Street Gardens. The road up The Mound, and the Waverley Bridge are quite prominent in the absence of other buildings, particularly the Scottish National Gallery and the National Gallery of Scotland. And how few buildings to the south-east of the castle, south of the Old Town.

View of the Old Town from Princes Street

View of the Old Town from Princes Street
View of the Old Town from Princes Street, looking West. Coloured aquatint by I. Clark after A. Kay, c.1814

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

Room 106 at The Bonham, Edinburgh
Room 106 at The Bonham, Edinburgh

On Sunday afternoon Jane and I drove to The Bonham hotel in Edinburgh and enjoyed a blissfully quiet afternoon, evening and morning in the company of one another. It was our first night away together without any children since, I think, May 2010.

The Bonham is a gorgeous hotel on Drumsheugh Gardens, a stone’s throw from St Mary’s Cathedral on Palmerston Place and overlooking the Dean Bridge. It fuses traditional with modern quite effortlessly.

We got a fabulous deal through itison.com: dinner, bed and breakfast, with unlimited movies for a bargain £140 (for one night). To give you an idea of how much we might have been saving, a Scottish cooked breakfast costs £14.00.

After booking in we climbed the stairs to the first floor, unlocked the door to room 106 and were welcomed with a bottle of champagne (or whatever the Italian equivalent is) and the TV was on showing… F1 Grand Prix. Now that’s my kind of hotel room. None of this patronising “Welcome to room 106 Mr and Mrs Saunders” nonsense message on the screen.

Dinner was utterly fabulous in the critically acclaimed Restaurant at The Bonham. I would happily eat there every night!

All in all, a wonderfully relaxing 24 hours in the company of my favourite wife, reading, watching telly and enjoying the silence.

We drove back to Anstruther yesterday afternoon just in time to pick up Reuben and Joshua from nursery, having first bought the boys a present (Star Wars lightsabers for Reuben and Joshua, and an Ikea chair for Isaac) and treated ourselves to a new kingsize mattress. (Hopefully that will help my back mend.)

Daddy’s taking us to the zoo today

Reuben beside the Penguin Cow sculpture at Edinburgh Zoo
Reuben beside the Penguin Cow sculpture at Edinburgh Zoo
Joshua beside the Penguin Cow sculpture at Edinburgh Zoo
Joshua beside the Penguin Cow sculpture at Edinburgh Zoo

I had a day off today so that I could meet up with my old National Youth Choir of Great Britain friend, and former flatmate, Jonny Coore and family in Edinburgh.

Around 10:00 we set off (in the rain) to Edinburgh (in the rain) to visit Edinburgh Zoo (in the rain).  But what a great day (in the rain).

The first time I visited Edinburgh zoo I was in primary 3, so probably about 6 or 7 years old.  The last time I visited was for a funeral tea for a former member of the zoological society.  So this was my third visit.

I already knew quite a bit about zoos because I’ve listened to The Mighty Boosh on the radio.  Unfortunately, Edinburgh zoo is disappointingly not like Bob Fossil’s Funworld, so I did feel a little out of my depth as it turned out.

Animal magic

First up we saw the sea lions (not seals, those are different) which I explained to Reuben and Joshua look a bit like cats (cos they’ve got whiskers) that live in the sea.

Next up: flamingos. I explained to Reuben and Joshua that flamingos are a bit like pink cats, who stand on one leg. After an introductory talk by someone from the zoo’s education centre he invited questions from the public. Jonny had a question: what do they taste like?

Further up the hill we passed what I thought was an emu. I ignored the ’emu’, he used to scare me with his pink windmill nonsense. Emus aren’t like cats.

The next talk we heard was about lemurs which I explained to Reuben and Joshua looked a bit like cats.

Reuben and Joshua don’t have a very wide experience of animals so I was trying to relate these new, exotic animals to something they do know about.

Before heading to the picnic area we saw a Malaysia sun bear.  My Mum used to have a bear in Malaysia.  No word of a lie.  I think she called him Joey.

Lunch

We then had lunch.

It’s nice that there’s a section of the zoo set aside for people to bring their own picnics.  It reminds me of a restaurant I visited recently that had a section set aside for diners to leave their pets.

The highlight of lunch had to be that Jonny ate a Club biscuit.  The lowlight was discovering that 500 ml bottles of Coca Cola cost £1.30 at the zoo.

Thundercats and a revelation

After lunch we climbed the hill to discover the giant cats: a leopard, a tiger, a jaguar, another one that I can’t remember, and another one that I couldn’t see.

I couldn’t think of an animal that Reuben and Joshua know about to compare the leopard, tiger and jaguar to.

I also learned at that point to run a zoo all you need really is a very large estate and cages with photographs of animals on them.

If the accompanying text also informs visitors that this particular animal is quite shy which explains why you might not catch sight of them then you don’t even have to go to what must be the troubling expense of actually buying the animals.

So Jonny, his son and I started to think about the kind of zoo that we could realistically open.  It contained cages with — amongst other things — plasma TVs, paperclips, a chest of drawers and sticks.

We went to look for lions but found gibbons. The rain started to pour down so the gibbons took refuge in a custom-built cave-like shelter. We took shelter under a custom-built shelter-like shelter. And then for a moment I wondered if it was us who was sheltering so that we could watch the gibbons, or whether the gibbons were sheltering so that they could watch us.

I then remembered that we had chocolate biscuits in my rucksack and forgot all about the gibbons.

Penguins and monkeys

We trotted down the hill again towards the penguins enclosure for the Penguin Parade. The parade didn’t happen, for some reason, but we did watch a few small penguins feeding. They eat fish.

The monkey house provided more shelter from the rain and plenty of entertainment.  Did you know that monkeys … actually, I didn’t learn anything new about monkeys because I spent most of my time in there trying to prevent Reuben from poking a baby in a pram. Or stealing my glasses.

And that was our visit to the zoo today. Tomorrow I go back to work.