Come fly with me, it’s time for the annual Embra trip!

Day 1

The 3.30 AM alarm call was nae bother at all.

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With limousine service and tasty breakfast provided by this cheeky chappy.

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Delighted to meet Mrs Jaybroek and Milo (good try Milo, but I know that you are not shy), and unfortunately missed Tom who was at a wake-over at his granddad’s.

Then, as part of the restraint plan, and to fuel rumours of male emotional literacy, Jaybroek and I spent a delightful hour and a half in the company of Lady Findhorn and Magpie. The 780 people queuing in the sweltering heat outside Loudons would have preferred if we had kept the blether to a more reasonable 60 minute session.

What can I say, when in such delightful company, one sets up camp, digs the heels in, and orders more pots of hot water! (Thanks again Lady Findhorn for the treat!)

Rarely have double-decker buses and articulated trucks brought such noisy manifestations of instant gratification and relief. Magpie, it was a delight to meet you for the first time and sweat in unison by your side.

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But there is only so much restraint that one can manage, and it was soon time to really indulge into the fervent worshiping of the hoppy nectar. The Cloisters seemed like an appropriate place to start this almost religious endeavour, and 12 noon a suitably delayed start time.

I found the Meet the Brewer talk most captivating and learned all there is to know about in-bottle secondary fermentation.

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I also realised that getting 2.5 hours sleep and traveling hundreds of miles was well worth the effort, such was the quality of the banter.

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Then, stroke of genius, or years, nae, decades of experience, and following Pensioner’s advice we went to the very enjoyable Tuk Tuk to tuck into some seriously tasty Indian food, beautifully complemented by Insto’s seriously tasty creations. Pensioner’s Punjabi pronunciation was nothing short of amazing, as he expertly navigated his way around the menu and offered advice to the rest of the assembly. (I happily burped my lamb in spinach sauce well into the day/night, something that I would normally find unpleasant but which in this case brought back happy memories of culinary delights at regular intervals).

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It never occurred to me to photograph the lunch boxes overflowing with perfectly spicy goodies, my attention was fully focused on trying to sell a Chilean trip to the delightful Dwalletta who took full advantage of the narrow window during which we were merry enough to be companionable, yet not merry enough to talk utter pish. Your timing was superb D!

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Next is the famous last photograph of Insto, seconds before he got annihilated by an articulated lorry speeding round the bend. No, I’m kidding. We dragged him back onto the safety of the footpath, even though his manbag no longer contained any precious artisan ale.

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But the clock was ticking and it was time to move on, and blaze a trail of glory to our next stop, the Blue Blazer (Pensioner took the time to point the exact location of where his phenomenal financial acumen was born).

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Into the Blue Blazer so, for more hoppy merriment and stimulating conversation encompassing a wide variety of topics.

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We also got to witness the last 15 minutes of the Scotland-Australia rugby game when the home team managed to snatch defeat from the claws of victory.

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We knew that Red would be in need of consolation, and we happened to all agree on the ideal place for this: off to the Bow Bar we went.

From there on, things got a bit blurry.

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But Red arrived, displaying superb catching-up skills and he soon regaled us with his tales of country music concerts where the help of the police was required to tone down the enthusiasm of the punters for slide guitar solos.

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Things got a bit too hoppy for me at this stage, and I made the wise move to switch to stout. I was back in familiar territory, and ready for more.

Then disaster struck! Quick toilet stop (one of many dozens) before heading to the Ox, and the clip fastener on my shaggin camera bag was not properly fastened and my camera fell to the floor. Bang on the lens. Bits of plastic flying. Much much much cursing. The glass was not shattered, but… but… but would it still work?

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Yes it did! Sort of. I reassured my worried comrades (or whatever expression it was that was etched on Jaybroek’s and Insto’s faces), we managed to hail a cab, and off we finally went to the Ox.

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When we got there, there was condensation on the window, a sure sign of full scale merriment happening on the inside.

Except that it did not live up to my (fuzzy) memory of my last visit there. While the last time we had spent some quality time at the big table in the snug, laughing at the masons in full regalia nearby, this time the place had already been taken over by young, rather drunk and extremely shouty rugby fans who seemed to have fully put behind the disappointment of that afternoon’s defeat. It got so loud at one stage that I got a touch of tinnitus. Things couldn’t get worse.

Until hey presto a couple of stealth trad musicians whipped a guitar, fiddle and, more importantly, bagpipes out of nowhere and started an impromptu session that silenced the plastered ruby fans. Or rather drowned them under an even louder layer of sound.

Insto was positively beaming by that stage. Sadly enough, Red had to go and catch his train, but not before giving us a master class in yee-hawing at strategic moments during the trad session.

It transpired that the head barmaid in the Ox is as much of a trad enthusiast as Insto and she eventually came to the snug to tell in no uncertain terms the bagpipe-guerrillas that they could either pack their instruments or fuck off. It’s good to see tradition being jealously kept alive!

Talking about stealth and underhand maneuvers. When my turn came to get in a round in the Ox, I tactically opted to get a can of coke for myself. The intake of sugar and momentary break from the hoppy onslaught would prove to be a life saver later in the night.

And then, we reached that stage when time becomes truly elastic, and we realised that we could possibly fit in one last stop before the last train to Fife. O delight! Jay had hoped for some form of solid food at some stage, but no, he’d have to feed on a few breaths of fresh air between the Ox and Mathers. He was not impressed, I could tell.

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Emboldened by my Coca Cola break in the Ox, I felt strong enough to opt for a wee dram, and Insto’s choice of Laphroaig proved most apt. Its smokiness was delicious, and a wonderful finale for the day.

The barmaid offered to take our photograph (I reckon it has been a while since she last saw such of collection of eedjits and she wanted to capture the moment), and Insto gave her his phone, the one with the app that makes one look reasonably sober at the end of a whole day on the tiles. Pity it didn’t work too well for me.

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Then again time seemed to expand and contract in short succession.

I can recall that we were rushing for the train, but somehow managed to bag some chips and deep-fried haggis from the aptly named Station Takeaway for the long journey home.

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There was quite a bit of complaining from our fellow passengers.  Until they realised that we live by the following principle: he who shares his chips shalt never be short of a friend. We were very popular indeed when we started presenting our pokes of chips around for a free sample. Except my haggis. I wasn’t sharing it, oh no. Unlike some more upmarket products that I’ve had in the past, this deep fried haggis had a deliciously pronounced taste of the main ingredient: lung. It has also to be said that I had by then reached a stage where a piece of deep-fried Pirelli tyre would have tasted heavenly.

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I failed to photograph the last pint in the Ship Inn when we reached our destination. By that stage, the lack of sleep and marathon sampling of hoppy and malty products had finally caught up with me.

Day 2

Rusty seems to have finally decided to accept me.

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It took him a while to make up his mind. I think that my Deuchars-lamb spinash-deep fried haggis-overheated socks smell must have been a touch overwhelming for his spaniel nose.

After a hearty breakfast (great job Shakira, I love your work!) and two mugs of coffee, Insto finally took me for a grand tour of the Brew Shed. I wasn’t able to witness secondary fermentation in a bottle but got a great buzz from deeply inhaling over brew tanks, and furtively imbibing samples while the Master Brewer was analysing the alcohol content of a beer in progress with a fancy device (Ethanol bends the light on a graduated scale, providing a quick reading of alcohol content of a beer -and there was I thinking that it only bent my head).

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I was even treated to Insto’s special smile: the Brewshed smile!

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Then it was off to a bracing walk into the almost-no-rain weather.

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Without forgetting to thank Shakira and Kylie on the way, for their deliciously yolky offerings of the morning.

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Limekiln in the mist with a hangover is a most inviting place!

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After a quick stop to check the erosion of the end of the pier (which also enabled me not to die of bladder explosion in the middle of a most solemn crowd), Insto and I rejoined the kids who were taking part in the WWI armistice commemoration (Ewan, your flag holding was second to none, and Ellen, your marching was the most rhythmical of the gang, well done! Some of the others looked a lot more “free jazz”)

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I had not been at a memorial service since the age of eleven or twelve. It brought back memories.

Rusty was most impressive when he whined almost the exact tune played by the bugle player. A bit more dedicated training Insto and he could be the main act next year.

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But all too soon it was time to take my leave, much to Insto’s distress (I’m sure he could have listened to me yap on and on for several more hours). Thanks Insto and Mandy for your hospitality!

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It was then time to head to Dunfermline to catch the train (the kids had insisted on accompanying me to the station – it would have been rude to disappoint them).

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But not before bagging a quick shot of the play ground that makes the Chernobyl abandoned fun fair look like Disneyland.

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On the journey into Embra, I was able to properly admire the bridges over the forth (without being distracted by the distribution of chips to fellow passengers).

I do love the sight of ambition engineering.

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But the highlight of the day was to get a chance to spend a three hour exclusive audience with MrSmith. It was really really good to get a chance to sit down and take the time to take time. And have a proper chat. With only the occasional outburst from the shouty lads at the table down the pub, who fortunately had no concealed traditional instruments.

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It was also great to get to meet his eldest, and to hear her voice (that’s the one thing you do not get from online photographic journals, and pretend that I have not known her for years and seen her grow up. Into a beautiful, grounded young woman. With an unruly dad who overdid his allocation of pints on a Sunday afternoon, and who must have surely kept repeating “Ruby, I’m sorry” all the way back home.

I just hope that he did not puke on the train.
And that he shared his deep-fried haggis with his fellow passengers.

Meanwhile I narrowly escaped death by dumplings in Chop Chop, during their fantastically priced £11.95 pre-theater eat-all-you-can extravaganza.

With special thanks to:

Jason, Nicky, Milo, Caroline, Mags, Steven, Jim, Rex, Diane, Paul, Rusty, Mandy, Ewan, Ellen and Ruby.

What a brilliant weekend this has been!

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Edinburgh Pilgrimage – 2016 edition

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