I have been neglecting the RF, and for this I can only apologise. The Project is occupying all of my attention these days; that, and gallivanting around Europe like I’m some sort of crazed middle-class professional determined to screw the environment with high-altitude CO2 emissions before this sort of irresponsible behaviour is outlawed for the good of future generations.

Oh, wait. That’s not like what I’m doing — that is exactly what I’m doing.

* * *

Leigh was in the UK a couple of weeks back for a conference down in Durham, and so I caught the train down there to meet up with her on the Friday evening. I gave my Dad a call on the train down. He answered and said: “Oh, good. You’re alive. We thought you might be dead.”

Apparently, about a week previously a 32-year-old cyclist had been killed in a collision with a bin lorry on the road to my work. My parents’ frantic phone calls to me had gone unanswered; unbeknownst to them, I was in the air on a flight to Istanbul at the time.

“Maybe next time you’re planning to be abroad, you could let us know…?” he suggested, and I agreed.

Central Durham is, it turns out, astonishingly picturesque. On Saturday we had coffee in the sun by one of the old stone bridges across the Wear, walked up the hill to the ancient, massive and intricately decorated cathedral, and finally descended to the riverbank to visit the endearingly amateurish archaeology museum, complete with a laughable/unnerving mannequin dressed untidily in the manner of a Roman soldier. I’m being flippant, but Durham really is worth a visit.

That afternoon we got the train to Newcastle to meet up with a old friend of Leigh’s, and again I was amazed by how pleasant a place central Newcastle is. Let’s face it, this is not a city which presents a particularly attractive prospect to passing train passengers, but having spent an hour or two pottering around in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge I was converted.

We were back in Edinburgh in time for a drink in the Basement and then dinner at l’Escargot Bleu on Broughton Street. It was an excellent meal. This particular Saturday evening was apparently the culmination of a week-long visit to Scotland by a load of student chefs from Breton, and the menu was devised for that one night only. We started with mussels with white wine and lardons (Josh would, I suspect, have been rendered teary-eyed with untrammelled joy), followed by an enormous pot au feu and then some entirely unnecessary and entirely awesome crêpes with ice cream. It was faultless. Go there.

On Sunday I’d planned to drive us to St Andrews, but this plan faced a succession of ludicrous obstacles. First, the car wouldn’t start. It was parked nose-in to the pavement, rendering a normal jump-start impossible. No problem, I thought, I’ll pop open the bonnet and charge the battery with this portable battery charger, bought with just this eventuality in mind. Unfortunately, having opened the bonnet, the battery was nowhere to be seen. Surely it’s hidden by one of these bits of plastic cowling for which I don’t have the correct size of screwdriver. I’ll borrow one from the cafĂ© down the road. Oh, I see. Now that I’ve removed the plastic panels I see that the battery is not, in fact, in the engine bay at all.

At this point Leigh looked up from thumbing through the GTV’s maintenance manual and said, “It’s in the boot.”

I opened the boot, found the bit of carpet concealing the battery and hooked up the charger. We sat in the car to wait for the battery to charge, Leigh wearing an expression of amused contempt the whole time. “Let’s give it a go,” I said after a few minutes, and turned the key.

The engine cranked sluggishly but did not catch.

“Alright, let’s let it charge up for a few minutes more”.

This time the engine turned over with a little more vigour, but it was clear it wasn’t going to start up.


I caved in and called Neil. He and Vanessa were in town with their own car, and they agreed to drive by and help us jump-start the car. A jump-start was possible, of course, only because of the car’s nose-in attitude and the situation of the battery in the boot. Irony is my co-pilot.

Neil & Vanessa rolled up fifteen minutes or so later. “Thanks, guys. This is amazing,” I grovelled, “I’m really sorry to have to drag you over here.” They were gracious, and Vanessa indulged only slightly in the mockery to which she was entirely entitled. Neil, however, fiddling with the bonnet of his own car, was perplexed.

“How do you get the bonnet open?” he wondered. We all attempted to help, and I was reminded of the scene at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The scene with the monkeys.

Eventually we got the bonnet open, hooked up some jump leads and started the car. It turned over and caught almost immediately. I was overjoyed. We arrived in St Andrews about 3pm, after a…spirited drive, and spent a couple of hours wandering around the castle and the ruins of the cathedral. I’d been to the cathedral innumerable times as a kid but had never really appreciated its scale, but having visited Durham’s own cathedral the day before I was suddenly able to visualize how it must once have been. It’s a shame that so little of it is left; it must have been huge in its day.

We drove back via Anstruther, stopping for some fish & chips — again, excellent food, if less studiedly so than at l’Escargot Bleu — and then home to Edinburgh. On Monday we met up with Austen, Maria and (for the first time) Leo for breakfast at Peter’s Yard, then spent the rest of the day pottering around to no great effect. It was, in short, a fantastic weekend.