Dawn’s Birthday —

20 08 06

Dawn’s birthday, and up here for the weekend, now sitting at Prestonpans railway station waiting for the train in to Edinburgh. H and D came up on Thursday night and I left work at 4 on Fri and cycled through the teeming rain to Kings Cross. I sat with two blokes from the City, something about statistical analysis, and drank Stella with them until Newcastle where they ended their journey for a stag do. I got in to Waverley at Ed.burgh at 9.30, still not sure whether to stay with Lise & Graeme or to travel on out to Gifford to T & D’s to join H & D. I had been confidently assured that I’d be met at the station by Tim or by H in Tim’s car.

By about York that plan had changed and I was to get a train from Ed.burgh to Drem, where I’d be met.

By the time I crossed into Scotland the text messages carried updates: I should get a cab from Edinburgh, and Dawn would text me directions, as their exact address is Next to Howden Farm, beyond Humbie, beyond Bolton, beyond Gifford, beyond Haddington, beyond Edinburgh. Beyond a joke. The dwindling enthusiasm of those already installed in their warm weekend to meet me or to arrange any sort of sensible transportation for me was, I guessed (and later confirmed), directly proportionate to the intake of red wine and the attendant jostle of priorities elbowing each other to the bottom. The top priority, getting me there, had sunk without trace in a bottle of Bordeaux, but lived steadfastly on in my own mind. Good thing too, or I could have entered some sort of travel limbo from which I might never have reappeared.

I gave the taxi driver a description of my destination on a need-to-know basis. I wasn’t going to give him the full details, or he would never have accepted the challenge, and whilst it was admittedly a little disingenuous to say “Haddington” rather than “well… it’s quite near the moon but I can’t be any more specific than that” I had my interests to look after.

And, in the event, I made a good choice. He picked up a laminated card with a list of destinations and a flat rate for each, and I could see that everywhere in Scotland outside of Edinburgh City was pretty much the same fare, so I figured I had the perfect right to tweak my destination when the time was right. In fact, for forty nine pounds and fifty pence, I had bought a seat on the board of directors of whatever company operated this service, so I quickly saw haring off into the driving rain in the random black countryside of East Lothian merely as one of the perks of my position. Luckily my dour, burly, unintelligible driver seemed none the wiser, probably distracted by his own sense of pleasure at having successfully palmed me off with the ‘Prices for the English at Festival Time’ flat rate for an eight quid trip.

I knew that if I got to Haddington I’d just need to read out Dawn’s forthcoming text message for the home stretch. Except, of course, that the text message wasn’t forthcoming. It is plainly documented through scrupulous research that there is nothing worse under God’s heaven than to fish out one’s mobile phone from one’s rain-sodden pocket in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere to retrieve final instructions to end a five-and-a-half hour journey after a week at work in a place quite adjacent to Hades to read No Network Coverage. Naturally this was the exact message now displayed on my screen, and was not in a hurry to be replaced by anything more useful.

If I had both a better memory for detail and a keener sense of destiny I’m sure I would forever recall this moment as a defining milestone in my life: the moment I made the choice between consigning myself to an eternal haunting of the nameless country lanes of Caledonia and that of a firm hand on the tiller to pilot me safely into the bosom of my family and their archaeologist friends. I chose life, but to be fair to the fates, it was touch and go for a while. It was only after we arrived in Gifford (which we reached in an arc though Haddington, but which admittedly only involved Haddington at all because I knew they lived not far from it and despite the muttering of my Celtic chauffeur about “going ’round in circles” I mannered to allay his suspicions about my lack of intimate topographical knowledge of the area by muttering something back about “orientation, and anyway I own you, Jock”) that the enormity of the task revealed its full and ugly profile: everywhere looks exactly the same in the pitch black. My twin challenges were successfully to navigate the vast and void expanses of identical and invisible rural Scotland with nothing more than a famously unreliable sense of direction and a notoriously capricious memory, and to retain my driver in a sufficiently placated stupour by announcing, at suitable intervals, such useful phrases as “no, it’s a little way off”, and “just over the next hill the road bends around”, and “nearly there”, and – my triumph – “cor, you wouldn’t want to be lost out here on a night like this”. I reckoned that if we drove for long enough we’d run out of either petrol, roads or faith, ad I was pinning my hopes on it being roads first.

I can’t say I recognised anything, but I did spot a sign to Bolton, and one to Humbie, and I fancied the shape of a particular hedge looked familiar, and then a junction I swore I’d seen before, and then, inevitably, I came clean. “Mate”, I said, “I haven’t got a clue”, and suggested he flash the oncoming car and ask for Howden Farm.

Eleven seconds later we pulled into the drive. The reception party was comprised of Heather repeatedly asking me why I didn’t phone, and a drunken Dawn, remonstrating with the hapless driver that it’s only thirty quid from the airport. I had done it. And no one was more surprised, and damp, and tired, and skint, than me.

For the record, I was sitting on the doorstep playing my guitar yesterday morning when my phone beeped that it had received a text message. It was from Dawn.

Tell taxi driver Haddington then out 2wards b6368 through bolton 2wards humbie. At cross roads after bolton go straight over. You will know where u r then.