Celebrations on Ice edinburgh, 20 January 2009

One morning early in Advent, Chris was working away at her desk as her beloved Geoff rummaged around in the back shed for the Christmas tree. Soon, Geoff's head and shoulders and the bobbing top of the tree passed happily by her window – then disappeared suddenly and vertically. Ice! But this was only our first lesson in living with ice. A couple of weeks later we had graduated to clinging on to fences, parked cars and each other as we navigated the five-minute walk to the bus stop and the warmer climes of the main road. Ian and Caroline, our intrepid friends from Canberra, visited us for lunch on the iciest of days and we passed on our new-found skills in ice identification to them. A few days later, Martin and Ruth from Oxford braved a freezing night to dine with us too.

Yes, Scotland had its coldest start to winter for some decades but, until yesterday, we hadn’t had a decent fall of snow here in Edinburgh. So, while the thermometer has rarely crept above freezing, the skies have been pretty calm. Only this week we learnt what "dreich" meant when it turned grey, drizzly and breezy before the snow arrived.

Anyway, we have been here long enough now to know why discussing the weather is a British pastime. So on to to other topics.

Fly fisherman on the River Tweed near Peebles on an icy December day

We hope you enjoyed your Christmas and New Year celebrations. We certainly have. On Christmas eve, we had our own tête-à-tête celebrations with holly from the garden and a candle bought at the German market, while relatives distant were preparing their Christmas lunches under the summer sun. Text messages went back and forth as we walked the icy streets to midnight mass at a candle-lit St Peter's. On Christmas morning, we worshipped with the Priestfield Parish Church where Chris was inveigled into being an angel and Geoff a shepherd. That night we had Christmas dinner with our neighbour, Netta, and her friends and learnt the art of solving "dingbats". Here's one for you to test your intelligence. R | E | A | D | I | N | G.

Boxing Day started slowly with a Scottish brunch and continued in a leisurely fashion until we made our way to the rectory for dinner with Fred, Anne and Sarah. We thought all clergy hibernated on Boxing Day, but not Fred and Anne. They opened their house and table to us and we spent a good evening swapping stories and finding connections.

Next morning, two weary Australians in the shape of Mandy and Geoff were deposited on our doorstep. Two Geoffs in one household were a challenge and so were born G1 and G2, on the basis of age. We celebrated Hogmanay (New Year) with them and thousands of others walking through the streets of Edinburgh with flaming torches. This was really a sneaky way of orienting Mandy and G2 to the city's geography as, in the days that followed, they set off on their own to browse and buy books, shoes and the like in shops with "70% off" signs. You have probably heard about the recession here. Even Woolworths has closed its doors. Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, has achieved near cult status and we are convinced he never sleeps.


On New Year's Day we did the Aussie thing and enjoyed a barbecue in the garden allotment of friends, Barbara and Penny. It was a lovely day. Blue sky, no wind and two degrees above freezing. Quite balmy, in fact. (Sorry, weather has crept in to our story again.)

With Mike, Mandy, G2, Jenny, Barbara and Penny at our winter barbecue

Being by now experienced Scottish tour guides, we introduced Mandy and G2 to same favourite old haunts, including Peebles, Musselburgh, Portobello, Craigmillar Castle, Salisbury Crags and the Innocent Railway. They quickly got to know our neighbours and friends too and enjoyed morning teas and conversation with them.

On 5 January we were joined for a few days by David from Perth. His visit coincided with the first anniversary of the death of his wife, Louise, whose ashes were scattered here. It was a privilege to have him with us at this special time and to share a meal with him and Louise's (and now our) friends.

Geoff's birthday, 11 January, dawned wet and very windy (weather again). After church, Mandy and G2 set off for some last-minute shopping and we for our daily constitutional. Cognisant of the generosity of the Scottish laws of trespass and protected by our trusty raincoats, we walked to the end of our street, through the grounds of Prestonfield House and on to the strangely deserted golf course and walked the “guilty railway”. That is, we battled through the wind along the other side of the wall that bounds the Innocent Railway to satisfy our curiosity about what lay there. This wall lies between our neighbourhood and Arthur's Seat, stopping us from going directly into the hills. G1's favourite food was the order of the day for dinner that night—mince on cheese on toast followed by vegetables for dessert, i.e. rhubarb, and custard. Netta came along too with even more dingbats, so here's another for you. Hell 2, Heaven 1.

Prestonfield House on the wet and windy afternoon of Geoff's birthday

The next morning, a London-style cab whisked Mandy and G2 away to the railway station and the house was strangely quiet after a wonderful two weeks of a house full of friends, animated conversation and eating.

We topped off Geoff's birthday celebrations with a concert of Mendelssohn's Scottish music played by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at St Cuthbert's Parish Church. This was a real treat after visiting Holyrood Abbey, where Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony had found its beginning.

Edinburgh at night on our way to the concert

Still the celebrations continued. We celebrated the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robbie Burns with friends Jenny, Mike and Becky. One hundred and fifty people crowded into a hall to eat cock-a-leekie soup, haggis, neeps and tatties, trifle, oatcakes and cheese, and shortbread, to listen to Burns's poetry and to sing Auld Lang Syne.

If you think we have spent most of the time celebrating since we last wrote, you are probably right. We did find time however, especially before Christmas, for Geoff to put together the Christmas issue of CCA News as guest editor, for Chris to put the final touches to the report of the WSCF senior friends conference, for Geoff to do the layout of the same, for Chris to do some more writing, and to go along to some more events at New College, including a seminar by friend, Paul, who we knew in Canberra. We have kept the local GP, podiatrist and osteopath entertained with minor ailments ranging from chilblains to creaky shoulders. We have added the goosander to the bird list and enjoyed the regular visits of a coal tit. Geoff discovered the bliss of macaroni cheese pie and Chris found the holy grail of mulberry jam.

We also enjoyed receiving Christmas cards and letters from far and wide. Thank you for your news. We enjoy keeping in touch with you.

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