The sun woke me just before six. We couldn’t figure out how to open the blinds, but somehow a little patch of flickering light appeared, playing over my eyes. I thought about going back to sleep but then I thought how seldom I get to travel on a conveyance with a club car, where I can sit on a sofa and admire the ever-changing scenery.
I was taking the overnight train to Edinburgh. In the dim half-light of the carriage, moving quietly to avoid waking the woman on the lower bunk, I dressed horizontally. I managed to jump down and swiftly leave through the door, throwing a beam of yellow from the lamp in the cramped hallway on the sleeper’s face.
Then swaying with the train I found the large windows of the lounge car and sat rapt in the crisp sunny morning, watching as we speed through farms and fields, past sheep and horses and cows. I felt the slight chill in the air, a relief after sweating through the night.
On boarding the train, the air in our cabin was still and hot, and to our dismay there was no way to open the window. Nothing for it but to be still and hope to sleep through it. I did manage to sleep, waking occasionally as the train jolted to a stop or leaned around a bend, me smiling at the adventure when I remembered where I was. It truly was a romantic train holiday, complete with lingering moon-eyed send-off and a kiss through the open window as the train pulled away from the platform.
I was going to Edinburgh with the design of working on my many writing projects (I am at present working on three books, two academic, one normal). Four days to myself, four days to just write. It seemed like an impossible luxury when I booked it. And yet there I was, full steam ahead towards my personal writer’s retreat.
We arrived in Edinburgh, blear-eyed travelers stumbling from the train and teetering up sunny hillsides. I found my Airbnb host’s house without too much trouble, took a shower to alleviate the sense of having been steamed in my own juices during the night, and then was faced with a dilemma.
I had come to write, but it was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, and I knew the weather would take a turn for the worse the rest of the week. To the writing table of discipline, or the meandering backstreets of exploration?
Naturally I chose the latter, heading out for a massive “I’m on vacation” breakfast and then to get the lay of the land a bit. I was also impelled to search for some of the landmarks I remembered from Edinburgh as a child, when we visited one summer.
Eventually I found myself having breakfast at the Elephant House, famed for its role as J. K. Rowling’s favourite place to go scribble while writing Harry Potter, where I glanced out the window at a view of the back of Edinburgh Castle. A grand monument indeed, but not the one I was hunting for. One of my strongest memories of that trip as a girl is riding on a carousel over and over and over, a carousel I hadn’t espied on my morning ramble. Funny how personal landmarks overshadow the ‘real’ ones.
Anyway, even though it was cheesy I found myself excited to be sitting in a ‘real’ writers’ cafe. I came on this trip to write and that is exactly what I was doing, in my poncy notebook at the rickety table with a cup of tea. I felt in that moment blissfully at peace. This is exactly how I want to spend my life; traveling about sitting in cafes and writing.
But it’s short-lived, for it will be back to my office job next week, and writing will once again become a background; a hobby of stolen evening hours, of weekends ensconced indoors typing and of hurrying home instead of going to the pub. Perhaps, though, having the restriction makes this time all the more special, and focused. Maybe if I had this all the time I’d stop appreciating it. (I doubt it, but maybe.)
At any rate I am now on my writing trip, scribbling away with gusto, which still seems like an impossible luxury. One for which I am grateful.