2003, 11:30 a.m.
Edinburgh train from Glasgow Central
Another bright, sunny
Scottish day greeted me this morning at half past eight. But this was not
our wake-up call – that came earlier, six hour earlier in fact, at half
past two when all sorts of red lights and sirens started flashing and
roaring above my head in my room, and every single light went on.
Awakened from a deep sleep,
my startle reflex went into action: What had I done? How do I turn this
off? Oh, my goodness, I’m going to waken people up! What do I do?
After pushing bedside lamp
switches for the umpteenth time – still in my sleep state – and finding
nothing happening – sirens and red lights continuing to flash and spin and
lights still shining brightly – I started to waken up and thought, "Oh, I
know this from work. Maybe there’s a fire in the building. Could these be
fire alarms? Funny, no sprinklers dousing me, but maybe it is a fire." I
jumped out of bed and ran to the door. Poking my head right through the
door – without checking to see if it was hot or smoke coming in under it
as I had been taught at work in our quarterly fire drills (ah, well, I’ll
do better next time) – I saw a corridor of heads peeking out of the other
doors and thought we all must look like, in the words of my mother," Coos
looking ower a dyke waiting for milking time."
That’s when I realized this
must be real – what hotel chain in its right mind, like Holiday Inn, would
do such a thing as run a fire drill in a full hotel (filled with soccer
fans probably) after 2 o’ clock in the morning in a city where the
national soccer team had just triumphed over a hard fought international
match against Iceland and won 1-0? No, this had to be real.
Slipping on shoes and
throwing my coat over my jammies, I stepped out into the quietly empty
corridor, then realizing I was without passport, money, return tickets to
the US, I went back for these. (I realized later, when I was outside with
the other guests, that I’d left my journal, cameras, and rolls of film,
and was sorely tempted to go back in to get them – just like other people
go back into burning buildings for pets or children – but knew I’d never
get past the hotel people. So, I stood there and fretted and was hopeful
my memories of Scotland would be ok so longs as I didn’t see smoke or hear
Standing outside in the
cold, I realized the only other time I had every been near a fire was when
I was in my teens and I watched our local fire brigade unsuccessfully try
to prevent the old Dundee Rep in Ward Road, not far from Dewars auction
rooms, from burning down. That drew quite a crowd, too.
We were a very calm crowd,
filing down the stairs – because you know you don’t use elevators in case
of fire – and assembling outside the hotel. Right at the door, mind you,
exactly where falling debris could land on our heads if this really was a
fire. We were an interesting array of bedtime fashions. A couple of girls
were barefoot and in pajamas only with no handbags or other possessions.
They obviously had taken this thing seriously. Others, like me, were in
night things and coats. A third group, like my friend, Lia, were fully
dressed (right down to socks and lace up shoes and unmentionables – which
to me would have been the least of my concerns - with hair combed and
probably faces washed and teeth brushed and flossed. They must have been
the stiff upper lip crowd. I think the first group out was the one I was
numbered among – otherwise known as the "what the hell is going on" gang.
There was no smoke, no
flames, no evidence of anything unusual –which was just as well since all
the guests were gathered right under the awning and at the front door of
this building which continued to have lights flashing and sirens
We cheered (I think I led
that) the three fire engines when they arrived and the brave men who
shouldered their way through our multi arrayed curious crown into the
building in which, as far as I could see, absolutely nothing was
They weren’t in very long
before they were out again, gave cheery waves to our second round of
cheers and applause and drove off in their shiny bright fire engines.
When we were trooping back
in, I asked the hotel rep what had happened. He told me someone had been
smoking in a non-smoking room. I asked him if he knew who it was and he
said, "Aye, but we’re not going to tell you in case there are retaliations
against him." And I answered in my best Dundee, "Wha? Me?"
(Just a note here, I
remember one a well known Dundee writer used to write funny articles for
the "Tully" about Dundee, Dundonians and our dialect and he had a great
one once – that I wish I could get my hands on – called something like
"The Race of the Whammies". "Whame?" was a common Dundee phrase that I
haven’t used in a long time. But, every school morning when I get my ten
year old grandson out of bed, I waken him with, "Nathan, Uryupyet?" just
to keep Dundee alive in our lives.)
Anyhow, here we are now on
the train headed to Edinburgh for a last day together, before the rest of
my friends leave to return to America. Robbie and Nickie are in England
with a planned side trip to Stonehenge today. I was looking forword to
joining them on the First to meet then to fly home together. But when I
checked my flight on USAir this morning I learned my flight had been put
forward an hour. So, due to my connection with British Air not getting in
until an hour earlier, I’ve been rerouted to a later flight back to the
We had a pleasant surprise
when we boarded this train – the conductor who helped us on with our
baggage refused the tip we offered – certainly, for any who read this,
should lay to final rest any misconceptions about Scottish generosity in
financial matters. I’m sure this wouldn’t have been turned down in the US
and probably not England either.
It was a funny sight, our
getting on the train. I went up to a Stationmaster type person before the
platform was announced to ask for help for Lia, Suzanne and me getting on
the train with our luggage. He called on his two way for help for us and
told me to go over to Platform 2. Now, the platform still hadn’t been
announced. I quietly went back to Lia and Suzanne and whispered, "Follow
me to Platform 2" and not only did they follow me, but it seemed every
waiting passenger who saw us move. This train is full, so it was a long
line – reminded me for all the world of my mother’s war stories about
shortages and when the word got out that batteries, or gas mantles, or
butter, or eggs or any other thing were available at a certain location,
then crowds of people, men, women and children, would rush off , tightly
grasping ration books, to queue up and make sure they got their share of
whatever might be available.
Watching all these people
follow us, I also gave a mind to my Granny’s descriptive phrase about
leaders and followers – "There goes the hens’ mad march to the midden."
Maybe that picture from my gran is the reason I’ve never been much of a
So, now here we are at
Linlithgow, and I’m going to sit back and enjoy the ride into Edinburgh.
Another wonderful day in
Scotland has now ended. We had a lovely Sabbath in each other’s company. I
was pleasantly surprised to learn that Robbie and Nickie had not yet left
for London, so we had one last reunion, the seven of us, here at Mingalar
in which our adventures of yesterday were recounted. I, of course, had a
new and improved version of the fire alarm events in Glasgow, the others
recounted their tales from the very scary Edinburgh underground dungeon
tour. Nickie told how she attempted to climb the Scott Monument – she got
up to the first level then called it a day for the rest of the 286 very
We all waved Robbie and
Nickie goodbye – of course, I’ll meet up with them really soon in Phoenix
to share our, no kidding, hundreds of photographs and hear about their day
in London and tour to Stonehenge –
(a little add on here as I type this in Phoenix – if I tell you that
Robbie and Nickie found out first hand that everything I had ever told
them about the English was pretty much on the mark, does that give you the
picture of which side of the border Robbie and Nickie learned offers true
Lia, Suzanne, Belinda,
Karie and I took some snooze time before going out and discovering a
wonderful moderately priced Thai restaurant near Mingalar where we had a
delicious and very convivial – my new word for laughter and lots of fun –
last meal of our trip together at "The Thai Me Up in Edinburgh."
Conversations turned again
and again in a natural manner to our trip. My friends say they are ready
to, reluctantly, close our adventure and go back to our various realities.
But they describe themselves as refreshed by the tour, very much impressed
by the friendliness, courtesies, and generosity of every Scottish man,
woman and child they encountered, and strengthened by the closeness we
created among one another.
They surprised me with very
lovely and thoughtful gifts that I will very much treasure as true
mementoes and tangible pieces of each of these special women which will
stay with me forever.
The trip was a success. My
friends are happy and I am happy that they have truly learned about our
country’s culture, history, character of the people and where Scotland
fits in the world perspective of yesterday, today and tomorrow. I feel as
though with these six women I’ve made a contribution in a people to people
way that will in some small way benefit this land that is my land and
whose people are "surely my own, flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone."
I feel as though I have
just one piece of unfinished business. That is my day at the Scottish
Records Office. It would be nice to find a new name and a new link of any
sort to my ancestors; but that’s not important. I will be in the home of
my ancestors’ records – no even my own record of birth and marriage should
be there , too – and, in a sense, touching the dust (emotional, spiritual
and national) that is the link, like a drystane dyke, that keeps my
eternal family together, each of us in our proper and appointed place.
I’m happy and proud to be
an American; I am equally proud and happy and appreciative to the God who
loves us all that he allowed me to be born a Scot.
Sunday at Central Station