12th September 2013
The fair city of Edinburgh is warm in the morning and I amble across town to the BBC in my shirtsleeves*, stopping fitfully at second-hand shops full of crap and ducking into what appears to be a women-only café. My coffee is so repulsive I immediately leave. It tastes like tar and acid and wormwood. The cakes looked good, I’ll admit. There’s a place next door that looks more promising. They have bacon rolls.
I don’t know Edinburgh, I’m a tourist here. I know ten other farther flung cities better. It’s a lovely town, utterly unique. It leaves Glasgow trailing in its wake for cosmopolitanism, institutional infrastructure and architecture. It feels international, engaged and on the go. It has deep roots in the Enlightenment, the historical Scottish establishment, finance, football casuals and mass heroin addiction. You can see how Scotland’s five cities could become a kind of country, centred here in the Athens of the North. And how someone with vision and passion could make that country possible. But politics is a grubby game and nationalism is a form of it freighted with filth.
I do a long interview with the formidable Edie Stark, a journalist who could get the truth out of a mass murdering despot from a Banana Republic. She has me waffling about things I’ve never alluded to in public before. It’s a singular skill that few have. A sort of predatory interest and cunning exercised with such charm that it’s a delight to be so cleverly manipulated. Unlike the Queen, I’m honoured to have been one of her subjects.
I walk back through Edinburgh’s wynds and closes to the gig which seems so much smaller than my memory led me to believe. Time does strange things to the mind. I remember it being a real big gig for Del Amitri in 1990. It looks tiny to me now. What happened?
We head back down the A1 to Durham in the morning under steely skies with hints of pale blue. Forward to England! The North Sea sits out to our left, placid and beautiful. An oil tanker slides across the horizon like a black snake and we pass Torness, the nuclear power plant, steam flowing innocently from a little chimney at the back. It’s grounds are verdant, it’s white walls sharp and clean. But in Fukushima they are desperately building an ice dam to stem the ragingly reactive seawater spilling out from one of the reactors. They don’t even know where the core is. Nuclear power is a miracle one catastrophe from an everlasting nightmare. The snake does not look so black and malevolent now.
Durham appears at the end of the route, it’s cathedral bold and strident upon its hilltop perch. The locals are friendly and smile on first contact. It’s like they knew you were coming and have fussed around the place a bit. I seem to have little time for anything on this tour. My book is still half read and I’ve three days worth of quick crosswords to do. Some tours seem to be endless expanses of idle hours. This one is so condensed. No idea why.
A lovely Italian journalist on a little working vacation in the north of England comes to interview me. His name is Iacopo Mielle and he comes from Firenze in Tuscany. After the show he comes backstage briefly with his lovely girlfriend and we talk about Tuscan wine and food. I have been living on sandwiches for a week. I want to go to Italy and hunt, kill and skin a rabbit and put it in a wine-drenched stew. I want to be a bunny boiler.
Tomorrow is Harrogate, which I have heard good things about. I refuse to look it up on Jimmy Wales’s peedia, font of standardised information.
I lie on my bed in my Radisson Blu, drained of gumption and full of bread. I shall consult the TV for news of the world – the wars and revolutions waged way beyond these walls – the sound of merry mayhem washing over me like cheap music from a beach bar.
*Also shirt with collar, cuffs and buttons.