Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Travels with Muriel VIII: preparing for Hogmanay

Donald and I took two of his sprogs - Fergus, a charmingly musical 2-year-old (who hums 'Scotland the Brave' on and off throughout the day, interspersed with 'Away in a Manger' - a carol, he solemnly informed me, that is about 'Mary and Doofus and their son Jesus'), and Riona, already a diva at 4 - up to Princes Street last night to take part in a torchlight procession to mark the beginning of Edinburgh's four-day Hogmanay festival. It was bitterly cold but that hadn't stopped thousands of people - judging from the faces and voices, from all over the world - gathering there.

(I had an annoying interchange with another South African while we waited, along with throngs of others. This officious-looking woman with fussy hair instructed me to move out of the sightline of her camera - a digital one that she'd set up on a tripod - because, she said 'I've been waiting here for hours.' She was so unpleasant about it that I was tempted to tell her to piss off but I thought it beneath my dignity to travel halfway across the world just to have a spat with a citizen of my own country, so I did what she'd asked. I can't pretend I didn't smirk, though, when the procession began and the stupid woman and her camera were irremedially swamped by revellers.)

The sight of a floodlit Edinburgh Castle high up on its rock above the city was mouth-gapingly impressive, but more so - for me, still grimly amused by the Brits' obsession with 'safety first' - was the torchlight procession that followed. First down the mountain came two rows of vikings, resplendent in chainmail and roundy helmets (and some of them sporting suburban pot-bellies and wearing spectacles), carrying huge and clearly extremely dangerous flaming torches. Yay!

Behind the vikings came a marching band, followed by a slew of pipers. And behind them came several thousand people, most of them bearing very large wax torches - a more potentially dangerous gathering I haven't seen since I left South Africa, and it warmed my heart. Donald, kids and I joined the procession and in the hour or so it took us to walk along Princes Street and up onto Calton Hill, sparks flew into my eyes at least a dozen times and my hair was repeatedly almost set on fire. It was wonderful.

On Calton Hill was a huge sculpture of a lion rampant, constructed of firewood, which the vikings set alight by tossing their torches at it. By this time the sproglets were cold and tired, so we headed back down the hill. The climax of the evening, a spectacular fireworks display, we were able to view from the warmth of the back seat of a home-bound bus.

Fergus, not permitted to press the 'stop the bus' button (for the simple reason that Riona had already done it), expressed his displeasure by staging a sit-down strike that lasted just long enough for us to miss our stop. But we got off at the next one and enjoyed a bracing walk back home, Fergus recovered to the extent that he was once again happily humming 'Scotland the Brave'.

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1 comment:

Muriel said...

I've just received an email from a salmagundi reader who told me that the Edinburgh torchlight procession attracted TWENTY THOUSAND people!!! I don't know how many of those were carrying potentially fatal flaming torches, but it was a lot. You go, Edinburgh!