It was time to leave Harris for the second part of our trip: a week in Edinburgh, followed by a few days in Helsinki, and then the long, long journey home.
We’d said our goodbyes, stuffed things back into our bags, and negotiated the notoriously tricky security line at Stornoway Airport. We were sitting on a tiny plane waiting to taxi to the runway.
Ten minutes later… we were still sitting there.
Twenty minutes later… we were still sitting there.
The pilot came on the radio and said he was going to turn the plane off and turn it back on again, in an attempt to fix whatever mechanical issue was causing the delay. Unfortunately, the old on-off-on again trick doesn’t work as well on Embraers as it does on iPhones, and a few minutes later we found ourselves traipsing down the aircraft steps and back into the airport.
We did eventually make it to Edinburgh – via plane to Glasgow and then a minibus along the M8, where the driver laughed that he makes half his wages shuttling displaced Loganair passengers around Scotland. No lunch for us that day, although DorkySon ducked low in the back row of the bus, and stealthily crunched his way through a bag of salt and vinegar crisps. I opened the window to let out the smell, and pretended I hadn’t noticed.
That evening, we had dinner at Papilio – an Italian restaurant in Bruntsfield that’s probably our favourite place to eat in the world. Last time we’d been there, DorkySon was so small that a waiter carried him through to the kitchen, giving DorkyDad and me a few minutes to eat our pasta in peace. This time round, they greeted us like old friends, and smiled when we placed exactly the same order we used to.
It was lovely – so comforting – to be back in a place that had changed so little. DorkyDad and I held hands and grinned at each other, while DorkySon pulled faces and muttered under his breath. “Urgh, romance.” I teared up a little as I remembered the waiters pulling back the table to accommodate my baby bump, ten years previously.
After that, it was a walk across the links and back to our Airbnb. A return to tenement living, and all that comes with it. DorkySon was first frustrated and then enchanted by the noise of a stranger’s piano practice on the other side of his bedroom wall. We could smell what next door was cooking for dinner, and when we opened the living room windows we caught snippets of conversation from the bus stop below. We were staying around the corner from my old student flat, and I was reminded of the moment when I realised the foil wrappers left scattered along the landings were not actually because the neighbours ate a lot of KitKats.
I dropped off to sleep that night with the most familiar of sounds in my ears – the heavy clunk of a tenement door and echoes of laughter in the hallway.
To date, Edinburgh is the place I’ve lived longer than any other. It’s a city that I knew first as a teenager, catching the bus up from the Borders to go shopping on weekends. I explored it further as a student, and then as part of a couple with DorkyDad: we tried all the fanciest restaurants and skipped our way down cobbled closes, giddy under the weight of our own growing love. Finally, I got to know it as a mother, becoming intimately acquainted with every wide-doored café and pram-friendly shortcut.
This visit reminded us what an easy city it is to get around – the novelty of staying right on the 41 bus route didn’t wear off for DorkySon, and even if we were only heading up the road for groceries he had to be talked out of buying another ticket.
But what a great walking city it is too. In the same way that Mount Wellington orients us in Hobart, we kept catching glimpses of Arthur’s Seat and Castle Rock as we made our way around.
We strolled through what we still thought of as ‘our’ neighbourhoods – past the house we used to live in, through the hospital grounds where we’d taken a colicky DorkySon for midnight perambulations. We noticed what had changed – no more Peter Green wine shop, Katie’s Diner or Peckham’s Deli. No more Michael Field the Butcher. But it was also nice to see what had endured: Eddie’s wonderful Fish Market was still there, as was Bennet’s Bar, Toys Galore and the excellent playpark at the end of the Meadows.
As in Harris, our days mainly revolved around food, family and friends. We squeezed drinks, dinners, lunches, and afternoon teas into the schedule; we hugged former colleagues and kissed former flatmates; DorkyDad even managed a poetry reading, with his old pals from the Click Clack Club.
When we visited the Edinburgh University labyrinth, we marvelled at how tall the hedges had grown. DorkySon was delighted by the squirrels that ran across our path, and by the rock – painted like a shark – that we found on a wooden bench. Eight years ago, this was where DorkySon was baptised. He has no memory of it, but as he worked his way through the winding paths, much too quickly for any real reflection, DorkyDad and I considered how much love and kindness had surrounded our family on that day.
It served as a useful reminder that it’s people who make a place. More than Camera Obscura or the Harry Potter Shop. More than Viva Mexico or the Royal Museum. A city is only as special as its inhabitants.
This was my first time back to the UK in four years, and I was grateful to have DorkyDad and DorkySon alongside me so I could see things through their eyes as well as my own. I’ve read so many blogs and articles by people revisiting ‘home’ after living abroad and struggling to find their place there.
I know what those writers mean. There were parts about our trip that I found much harder than I had expected to. We tried hard not to compare our old home to our new home, but I was reminded that when we first moved to Tassie we said that everything felt ‘more’. The intensity of the colours, tastes, sounds and smells woke us up. Being back in the UK sometimes felt like the opposite – everything felt muted, like I was trying to see through a steamed-up window.
I missed the quiet calm that there is to be found in Hobart. Even in Edinburgh, a beautiful city of green space and seven hills, I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the masses of people. I found shopping for food difficult, because nothing – fruit, vegetables, meat – tasted as it should. It didn’t really taste of anything.
I looked at the countries of origin – avocados from Peru, tomatoes from Morocco, cucumbers from Algeria – and realised how lucky we are in Tassie to have so much seasonal, fresh local produce available. I also realised just how much the UK will struggle to feed itself post-Brexit.
Brexit loomed large over our entire visit: everyone wanted to talk about it; no-one thought it was a good idea. We talked to a farming friend who remarked that they’re planting crops right now without knowing if or how those crops will be sold when they’re harvested next spring.
Many of the things we loved about Edinburgh when we lived there – the diverse student population, the beautiful maelstrom of accents and languages you hear as you walk across the Meadows, the vibrant cultural and festival scene, and great restaurants on every corner – existed because Edinburgh is a truly European city.
For now, we were grateful to find that those things remain. But what does the future hold for one of our favourite places – which by definition also means many of our favourite people?
It pains me to say it, but I’m honestly not sure.