What Pegman Saw : The Vaults

The Vaults (of Leith)

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My Grandad would often tell tales as we shared a glass of malt, basking in the heat from the crackling fireplace.

As a Cooper, he would regularly inspect the Whisky puncheons held in the Vaults of Leith.

Before each round, he would prise out a bung and help himself to a glass.

One day a Master made a surprise visit.

“Do you always take a glass before your inspection?”

“I do Sir, because there is always a strong smell of whisky and foul air and I would soon turn sick and be unfit if I didn’t harden my stomach.”

They started their inspection together, but the Master, feeling a little squeamish said, “I think ye are no far wrong, a wee dram would fortify my stomach also.”

So my Grandad gave him a drop from the best cask in the vaults and henceforth they became firm friends. (147 words)

The weekly What Pegman Saw is a fascinating weekly flash fiction challenge based on a Google Street View location, somewhere on the planet.

My story is culled and contextualised from the histories of Leith.

This week’s challenge comes from a street view in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland. A city I lived in from 1968 to 1978. Fond memories.

The Lone Piper

The Lone Piper

As we left the North of England and headed towards the Scottish Borders, the grey skies turned increasingly sombre and heavy. My wife and I looked at each other and glanced towards the sky. I grimaced but she concentrated on the road ahead and just smiled.

Behind, our daughter and her husband were silent, numbed by the voyage and half-asleep.

The road winded up a hill that wanted to be a mountain pass and we crossed the border into Scotland. The first drops of rain splattered onto the windscreen and the automatic windscreen wipers jumped into action.

We didn’t stop at the lay-by that sits right on the frontier between England and Scotland. It’s a popular tourist attraction and stirred memories of the times we had stopped there in the past to take photos of the rollings hills of the Scottish Borders and listen to a Piper who plays there and sells his CDs most days.

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We’d driven up from Humberside the day before and had stayed overnight at a nice hotel in a small village to break up the five hour trip into two. I’d bought tickets to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and didn’t want us to be too tired in the evening.

As we entered the forest south of Jedburgh, the rain became fierce and insistent and we looked at each other in silence, sharing our foreboding and anguish for the evening ahead. The Tattoo is an all-weather event and come rain or shine the show would go on. The prospect of having to watch the spectacle under the pouring rain was on all our minds but we avoided talking about it in the car for fear of provoking fate.

I had lived in Edinburgh when I was a teenager, and each year in late Spring and early summer the Castle Esplanade would host the tattoo and seats would spring up for the thousands of spectators that flocked to the Festival every year. It is so popular that I would recommend purchasing yours well in advance, to avoid disappointment.

The rain seemed to increase in intensity the nearer we got to Edinburgh and at one point the windscreen wipers, even at maximum speed, could no longer cope with the downpour. My wife slowed the car and the sound of the rain on the roof of the car was deafening.

She pulled over to the side of the road and we waited, hoping the rainstorm would desist.

When we set off again there wasn’t much difference in the intensity of the rain but the tattoo would start whether we were ready or not and we still had to find somewhere to park the car and walk to the Castle.

As we left the car park, armed with plastic ponchos, and blankets to keep warm, the rain slowly stopped. Above us the sky was heavy and laden and all around us was drenched. Where the ground could no longer absorb any moisture and where the drainage had failed, large puddles had formed and we treaded daintily to avoid them.

We joined the throngs of people converging upon the castle and waited patiently for the doors to open.

Everyone seemed to have an eye on the sky and although it looked certain too rain any minute we began to wordlessly hope that perhaps some of the spectacle would be dry.

The Tattoo is organised in military manner as you might imagine and it wasn’t long before we were led to our seats.

Then, on time as always, the show began. I’d seen it before and had even been once with my wife but my daughter and her husband were seeing it for the very first time and I was excited for them.

We listened to the massed marching bands and the invited performers from all over the world but just before the firework display and the end of the evening came the most moving moment.

A lone piper, high above on the castle ramparts, played a solitary lament that soared into the Edinburgh sky and echoed all around the castle.

It’s a spectacle that always brings a discreet tear to my eyes and reinforces my attachment to Bonny Scotland and to the city of Edinburgh; a unique and marvellous city that I can never really leave behind.

I will always carry a part of them with me.

Haste Ye Back!