‘The thing is’, I huffed to myself as I pushed Henry’s pushchair up a steep incline, braced against the handles and sweating into my sodden coat, ‘Edinburgh is a huge hill with a city on it’.
It is, too: all hills and cobblestones, and sweeping flights of steps. It’s not pushchair-friendly, especially when your pushchair is flimsy, your baby is strapped to your front and the rain is working its steady way through your clothes. It’s ok, though, because I’m quite a lot in love with it. I come over all dreamy and romantic in Scotland, collecting folksy-sounding village names and rolling the r’s round my mouth. Easter Howgate. Flotterstone. Silverburn. Path. (This last turned out to be a sign for a footpath, but who’s counting.) Edinburgh itself is elegant and austere: grey stone buildings, gardens carved into deep hollows far below the hulking castle on the skyline.
It was the castle I’d promised to Henry when I’d told him we were going away for a little holiday. A long drive in the car, a night in a special bedroom and after that, a castle. I thought as I said it that it’s the sort of thing you might say to explain a divorce, but actually we were accompanying Tim on a day’s business trip. We’d split the driving, and while he had his meetings I’d take the boys around the city. Henry didn’t know what a castle was, and it turns out they’re hard to explain. ‘People stood on the top of a – a big house, and shot arrows over the wall’, I said. ‘They did fighting with arrows and wore metal clothes’.
Well move on over, Tony Robinson. I assume this was why Henry sprinted towards the front door when Tim came home, yelling ‘Come on, Mummy! People fighting! People fighting now! Come oooooon!’
(That’s the second thing you might say to explain a divorce. We really were only going to see a castle.)
We’ve been to Edinburgh before, Tim and I, for our first anniversary, and it was wonderful. We stayed in a fancy red-walled hotel, drank fizz left over from our wedding and took a photo from inside a giant cannon. Now I was bumping up the Royal Mile, wet and brittle from a tempest in the John Lewis parents’ room, and I felt like the years in between had not been kind to my hair or my temper. Henry had a head cold, and so far had taken exception to having his nappy changed, taking his boots off, going back into the pushchair, and my face. The lady behind the desk told me I had to keep my pushchair with me, so after flashing some warning eyebrows I let Henry out to walk, and pushed it one-handed.
He was delighted. And delightful. I started to breathe again. He ran everywhere, gasping dramatically at swords and medals, and all of the hurried photos I managed to take have Henry’s red hood somewhere in them, like Where’s Wally. We had a lovely time, with the only moments of panic being the point at which he tried to sit on a twelfth-century prayer cushion, the bit where he attempted to climb inside the giant cannon, and the weird five minutes he spent licking rainwater off a bench in front of a crowd of curious Japanese.
By the time I’d finished wrestling him back into the pushchair, talking lightly over the ear-splitting screaming and keeping Teddy well out of range of his brother’s flailing feet, I felt like a ninja. We dried out over a huge sticky muffin and Where the Wild Things Are, and he remembered all the sound effects. I remembered that it wasn’t all tantrums in a disabled toilet: he had a cold, which wasn’t his fault, and there was history here and now he’d seen it. He liked to read books and got excited about museums. Also that sometimes he behaved like a little toad, but that didn’t mean he was one. And so I sailed out serenely past a woman’s dirty look – plotting exactly what I might say about her on Facebook, and how it would all be in caps – and bumped down over the cobbles; down by the red-walled hotel I had loved, back when I had a hand free for an umbrella and not much else to worry about; down with our two children to meet Timothy in his sharp grey suit.
Victorious. Metal-clad. Arrow-proof.