There is a betting shop on every corner. Every single advertising segment has at least one betting ad in it and there’s a yung slot machine at almost every pub. I stay imminently bewildered at the gambling culture that seems be on every strata of the United Kingdom. Which is not to say nothing of the kind existed in South Africa, but it is certainly not as obvious. On one of my more explorative ventures into the city, I saw an old man with one of those grey, plastic, government issue type walking sticks with three little legs on the bottom struggle his way into the darkened interior of a William Hill. Hot on his heels was a coated up youth, one pocket jingling with coins. It seemed so part of their day to day that I couldn’t even really find some kind of rationale for how jarring it was to me. Before I left, a couple of people had a bunch to say about culture shocks, which is not a phrase I like. Still, this feels like one of those moments when the sheer difference and unfamiliarity of how people do things leaves one feeling overwhelmed and a bit gobsmacked.
It’s been a month since I landed in Edinburgh, unsure of what to expect but ultimately keen, my whole entire life packed into a suitcase, the best man I’ll ever know at my side.
There’s something distinctly different about the way you visit a place and the way you live there. For one, there isn’t as much pressure to see shit. Days aren’t really numbered, and the focus is much more on settling in, which is an experience that holiday-goers etc. don’t have. A lot of my time has been spent settling in, and doing unwelcome but necessary administrative things like getting a functioning phone and acquiring a bank account, not to mention some kind of income to go into it. There’s been a distinct amount of wandering around, with Stuart and on my own, the occasional journey with my mother-in-law and a great deal of enjoyment taking the bus. Then, a while ago, Stu and I were walking home from a drink at the Brass Monkey, a pub close-by, and he observed that things were starting to feel familiar, and that being here in Edinburgh was starting to feel like our life. In some ways, I agreed.
It finally sunk in the other day, though, while I was sitting in a patch of sun on the couch, reading. Looking up, I recognised the entire space around me. Half an hour later, I set off for the shops and recognised the kids playing on the grass in front of the block we live in. I bought crumpets and used my card to pay and then strolled back home listening to Jeremih. This is it. This is life now. And I thoroughly enjoy every moment.
Edinburgh, to put it bluntly, is old as fuck. It’s steep and stretted and filled with many Scottish-themed curio shops, odd little pubs, streets interlinked by many steps and closes. Every squashed little building is packed with history and legacy, a story from hundreds of years ago. There is a castle bang in the middle of the city that is astonishingly easy to capture, if the records are anything to go by. Beautiful parks and gardens present these amazing green pockets in the midst of a place that straddles the line between old and new somewhat drunkenly. It makes any journey through Edinburgh a wild swinging line between the modern and the truly vintage. The Royal Mile is awash with tourist, Leith Walk dotted with cool locals. London Road is long and dotted with every kind of shop imaginable. Princes Street is filled with bank-breakers and a stupendous four-floor bookshop that shakes me to my core every single time I go in. The public library is filled with all this beautiful light that shines through the high windows — walking through the bookshelves is this beautifully lit experience.
Home is a haven where the internet is fast, the shower has different taps for pressure and temperature and the food is cooked with love and grace. There are Marvel movies and a bookshelf with more Ian Rankin than I’ve ever seen in my life. There are rounds of tea and lively conversation and sleepy goodnights and a sun that doesn’t set till after ten. Stu and I have been made to feel incredibly welcome by his mom and her fiance. In all honesty, I have spent a great deal of my time at home, enjoying the limitless potential of my own company, pottering around, planning projects and doing some freelancing.
Out of all of that, some kind of life has shaped itself. I haven’t really burdened myself with an ideal of what it should be like, nor do I have any particular #goals I want to achieve. Outside of perhaps sleeping more, which has been made increasingly difficult by the fact that the sun sets so late at night. For the first time in years, I’m just going with the flow. In some ways, it feels like self-care because this kind of studied casual has seeped over into everything I do. It even infects the way I write. There is, at the same time, a grander plan in motion, a larger scope of things I can use to focus when I occasionally feel adrift, which also helps me settle into this somewhat freer approach to things. It’s hard not to put pressure on yourself, for so many reasons.
But it’s also hard to not feel like the days are long and the places are new and when the sun does come out, it comes out brightly and warmly. It’s hard not to feel a mixed sense of burgeoning lightness and excitement. I imagine that is what it feels like when you make a change and every little bit of it is right. As things slowly start to fall into place, life in Edinburgh is equally starting to feel more and more like home. And I’m glad.