Torture.  The definition of … Saturday night on Scotrail.  For most, shopping in Edinburgh on a Saturday in December would suffice but to, voluntarily, travel there and back by train is total lunacy.  Never again!  I had done it the day before and, of course, been lulled into a false sense of security.  Things went swimmingly and, as I sat in my First Class seat sipping my glass of paint stripper – sorry, wine – on my return journey, I felt rather smug.  Yes!  It wasn’t so bad living out in the sticks after all.  Have railcard, will travel.  Have son morphing as a barman in a West End watering hole so … driving is not an option if one wishes to support.  Public transport?  Huge sacrifice but, in the words of 10CC, the things we do for love.

Day Two.  Why not?  Went so well on Day One.  This time, it was pouring down and miserable, admittedly, but that’s December in Scotland for you.  Major hangover from night out involving free bar was proving rather a problem for my travelling companion but this return trip was purely for her benefit.  Take a Recovery and shove a plastic bag in your handbag.  You’ll be fine!

The platform was packed, as ever.  Hate that.  Immediately instils tension as we, earthlings, wait, poised, to secure a seat.  Every man for himself (is that allowed?!).  Turns out Carriage A didn’t seem to exist and there was no time to query as, thirty seconds up, beep, beep, beep and the doors were closed.  Help!  Thankfully, miles down the platform, the guard detected panic and worked his magic.  Not exactly Mr Perks but it is a well-known fact that they don’t make them like that anymore, do they …

Who would have known that Carriage A, unmarked, was through what resembled a cupboard door at the end of Carriage B?!  Just why?  Anyway, sorted, we could relax on our old-fashioned leather seats suitably distanced from our fellow man.  Related?  Only to the chosen few …  A journey I know like the back of my hand, I never tire of the countryside from Leuchars to Kingskettle.  Short but sweet, that pocket is abound with childhood memories as I desperately wait to see Chapel perched on the hill.  A beautiful country house, it was once home to my best friend, Rowena – we were all of six – and it remains embedded in my memory: the long driveway, sprawling lawns where we used to have afternoon tea, the sound of the crows in the trees, the tennis court, the billiard room, the attic floor with its trunks filled with crisp white cotton petticoats and bodices the likes of which are coveted in vintage shops today and which gave us hours of amusement dressing up; the familiar smell of the house with its vast rooms, the bats, the tunnels beneath harbouring slime and frogs, the record player which seemed only to play The Seekers and the reel parties of latter years.  That old house is very special …   I always looked out for it when, as a student in Edinburgh, I used to travel home on the train for a snatched weekend or just when I was feeling low, in need of home.  I still do – look out for it.  Always will.

Beyond Chapel and Kingskettle?  Well, that’s heading for Glenrothes and the countryside changes.  There are very different parts of Fife …   Then, suddenly, we were approaching Waverley.  Back to reality and the throngs of bodies descending on an unsuspecting city drenched, by now, in heavy skies and equally heavy wet snow.  Whose idea was this!!

Climbing the broken escalator on the Waverley Steps, this miserable Saturday afternoon saw Princes Street bear witness to a march with meaning!  Hundreds and hundreds of people with banners and voices making known their opposition to COVID passports.  We stood for some time in support, heartened by the numbers to whom the mainstream media pays no heed; those dismissed so wrongly as ‘Anti-Vaxxers’.  To admit the truth would unleash the truth!  Here, though, was proof that we weren’t alone; proof that there are people courageous enough to fight for their beliefs; to fight for the right to choose.  Respect – and gratitude.

We fought our way through the crowds to the St James Quarter, the £1 billion new shopping centre which might as well be anywhere.  A characterless concrete monstrosity, it has denuded Princes Street of its remaining bastions of retail.  No more the spectacular backdrop of the historic castle as one shops, the sound of a lone piper serving to remind one of one’s ties to Caledonia.  Meanwhile, George Street, renowned for its architecture of class, has all but been reduced to a mosh pit of weekend hen parties from Newcastle!  Remember the little green men in search of intelligent life who, mistakenly, ended up in Tiger Lily?  They’re in therapy!

It was a miserable afternoon worthy of one of my mother’s favourite turn of phrase: the sights one sees when one hasn’t got a gun!  No arguing with that.  Come five o’clock, though, we headed to William Street and The Green Room to visit Manny and perhaps partake in a tipple or two.  Our train wasn’t until 21:47 precisely.  It was busy and we were beginning to fail but we gave it our best shot, eventually, sitting at the bar people-watching, all the while keeping Manny company.  It was a long night but at least we had reserved seats on the train home …  How naive!

Scotrail.  Saturday night.  Train to Aberdeen.  Shoot me now!  There was no First Class carriage.  There were no reserved seats.  Oh, no.  Instead, as the doors opened, those leaning against them – on the floor – nearly fell out!  Standing for the entire journey to Leuchars – I couldn’t believe that most didn’t disembark at Kirkcaldy – it seemed that most were destined for Dundee.  Of course.  That meant an hour, standing, in a carriage full of drunken middle-aged women – maskless, I might add – who seemed intent on continuing the party they had been enjoying in Tiger Lily for the previous ten hours minimum.  Oh, joy!  Meanwhile, the Scotrail employee who, during the day, is fastidious in his job of scanning tickets couldn’t get up and down the carriage fast enough, turning a blind eye to it all.  Definitely worth the £32.50 I paid for two non-existent seats in a non-existent carriage with, more’s the pity, the very much existing drunken divas in no danger of being considered intelligent life.  Too harsh?  Try spending an hour of darkness standing in the same carriage as them, listening to the continuous sound of cans of gin and tonic being opened in a bid to lubricate the whining choir of ‘Let it Go’!  Oh, and by the way, aren’t we supposed to be in the midst of a pandemic?!  Just asking …  As I write, my complaint and awaited refund is in the capable hands of Lee from Scotrail!  What do you mean?  Now, that’s just being unnecessarily cynical.

Tuesday, now, and Storm Barra is making her presence felt.  No ‘it’, no ‘they’, let me leave you with something I heard today – as if I didn’t already know!  According to William Hanson, the UK’s leading etiquette coach and expert, those who routinely wait until Christmas Eve to decorate their trees – real, of course – are considered top tier.  Moreover, only the ‘Fake Tree and Tinsel’ brigade would dare to deck the halls before the 20th December at the very earliest.  Yes!  That explains it, Dylan.  Nothing I can do, it’s just inherent!

Believing in the spirit of Christmas is … it’s believing in everything that you hold dear and everything that you’ve lost; sharing it with your neighbours; and it’s about family; families who stick together no matter what.  It’s about fathers – fathers who left and it’s about fathers who stayed.  Christmas is about family and love and hope …’

A Miracle on Christmas Lake (2016)

Never underestimate the schmaltzy Christmas movie …

This is Trish, signing off.