When I moved to Edinburgh first, due to familial connection, I ended up staying for the first six weeks in a lesbian housing co-operative. It was in a very nice old house in a quiet part of town. Everyone had their own rooms, including me as a guest, all of which were big and high ceilinged.
There were two living rooms, both massive with bay windows looking out onto the front garden and furnished with worn, comfortable old couches. One room was for chilling, the other had an old TV and video recorder on a wobbly table in the corner. There was also a massive over grown back garden with trees and high walls.
The co-op was also vegetarian but occasionally someone gave into temptation as my relative did, getting up in the middle of the night to fry sausages. That time she was caught and nearly ejected saved only by the charm that is inherent to our family 😉
At the time I was there were were 8 residents. Everyone cooked one night a week over 6 nights with Sundays being a fend-for-yourself day. It was a wonderful setup but you had to be a gay woman to become a permanent resident. I enjoyed the stay there I have to say, everyone was very friendly. Sometimes, on coming out of the bathroom wrapped only in a towel, I got a massive good morning hug from one of them.
It seemed de rigueur at that point for gay ladies to own a dog, so the house was awash with dog hair and reclining, fighting or farting dogs. The dogs would come with us any time we went to one of the local pubs for a pint or two, a crowd of us ambling down the road, the acid orange of the street lights catching bleached, spiked heads and nose-rings, followed by a motley pack of animals, tails wagging, tongues hanging out.
I liked this crowd of ladies and apologies if I am offending anyone here but I have to say that compared to some of the gay women I had met in fin de siecle Ireland, who all seemed to be sporting short hair, denim and scowls, though in fairness this may have been because of feeling they were under siege, the sisters in Edinburgh were a friendly and laid back crew.
There was one resident, Helen I will call her, whom my Straightdar(as opposed to my Gaydar)immediately detected as heterosexual. Helen claimed to be bisexual but I suspect she was there because of the nice set-up and I suspect the sisters turned a blind eye as Helen was, and probably is, a willowy, doe-eyed blonde with a sort of fey free-spirited air.
Helen was also quite poor-as many of us were, and I remember one time, when she was cooking, having to feast on elder flowers she had picked from a tree in the garden, dipped in batter and deep-fried. (In case you are wondering, they tasted like batter.)I went to the chipper after that one.
Helen had a friend, Michael I will call him, who used to call around much to the delight of the ladies. It has been pointed out to me that many gay women love the company of straight men, and I guess they have a lot in common, but straight men are often not going to think of hanging out with lesbians. I suspect the only reason Michael called around was because he wanted to have his way with the lovely Helen and Helen struck me as the type to keep all the doors open.
Michael was tall with long curly hair and clad in North Face gear and seemed quite fit and healthy and outdoors and also seemed like a nice guy. I wasn’t particularly attracted but when, long after I had moved on from the co-op, he asked me to his house for dinner, despairing of Helen at this point I suppose, I happily said yes.
It was in his house though that I discovered something that made me realise that any potential relationship was going nowhere. Michael had a curious back condition which did not allow him to sit. He could stand, he could lie, but not sit. There was only one thing going through my mind as I watched him lying on the sofa eating his dinner(no mean feat), and this thought has crossed more than one womans mind when confronted by a man with a bad back. “Oh no”, this thought goes, “I would have to be on top ALL the time..”
I suspect there is a certain type of man who believes that regaling a woman with all his aches and pains will somehow make him extremely attractive to her and indeed it may work with some of my bossier gender-mates, who see in a sick man a chance to be in charge of somebody. My theory is that this erroneous belief was probably created by an over-weaning type of Irish Mammy who are doing their sons no favours. Let me tell you now, men, that for a fair few of us, admission of a bad back is a cue to run a mile.
I myself don’t mind doing my fair share in a relationship, pulling my weight so to speak, weight which tilts back and forth over the course of a partnership I suppose. I do not consider myself lazy (languid perhaps is a better term 😉 ) but to do it all?From the get-go?Like many women I am adept at seeing whole relationships flash before my eyes on a first meeting, so I saw myself and Michael 10 years down the road, me carrying him nightly up the stairs after a day of heavy housework, possibly after carrying him back from the pub, only to find my day was not yet finished.
It was no big thing though. There was no spark between us, if there had been, all that lifting and carrying could possibly have been overlooked, unlikely as that might seem. I am sure he probably found my lack of sympathy as unattractive as I found his back. Being an extremely nice guy with a fascinating ability to eat lying down, we remained friends and this is how I ended up at his birthday party which was the reason I sat down to write this before realising I would have to give you the back story.
Michael was famous for his parties. This one was in a cricket club on the outskirts of Edinburgh, I think on Ferry Road. The interior of the club, if I remember rightly, he had entirely covered in tinfoil for the occasion.(The more I think about this the more I believe that the bad back was a badly thought out ruse to gain some sympathy). All we had to do was bring some food.
I decided to ask my friend and colleague, Ciara, I’ll call her, to come with me. Me and Ciara use to enjoy going on the batter together. Ciara was petite with sandy hair, always cut in a way that could tuck it behind her ears, and bright blue, blue eyes. She was also gay, like everyone in Edinburgh except me and Michael, or so it seemed at the time, but in contrast to the co-op ladies she was a straight sort of gay person. In fact she claimed it was only an accident that the love of her life was a woman and if that woman didn’t exist she would have been with a man, and I think this was quite true. In fact due to my experience of the Sisters of Lesbos at the co-op at this point, I knew a lot more about being gay than Ciara or her partner and often used to give them guidance and tips, embroidering slightly here and there, just to see the looks of amazement and horror on their faces.
Ciaras partner lived in another country at the time so she was often free to go on escapades. I duly made a tomato and mozzarella salad, which I was mad for at the time, and carrying this on a willow pattern plate, we got a taxi cab out to the cricket club.(I call them taxi cabs because in Edinburgh, all taxis are quaint old-fashioned black cabs with forward and backward facing seats, like all taxis should be).
The music was thumping and the dance floor full, Michael whizzing around , generally having a good time. There was a bar there which we availed of and then retired to a booth with the mozzarella salad which no-one was interested in. More for me!It was a good night, plenty of drink, plenty of dancing and plenty of salad. What more could we ask for? Things began to wind down around 2am. We emerged out into the night, leaving the plate behind, pretty sozzled it has to be said and proceeded to try and flag down cab but as it was a Saturday, there were no cabs to be had for love nor money.
At this point I had that moment that many of you will be familiar with. You have had quite a lot to drink but you are happy and in an expansive, confident mood. You look in the direction of home which is far away. Usually there is some kind of marker that you recognise in the distance, in this case the orange glow of central Edinburgh, and you decide then, to go home in a straight line, allowing nothing to deter you from your path. And you know in your heart, that this is more than possible.
Ciara, being a pal of mine, instantly concurred with my proposal and off we set towards the city. I can’t say I remember too much of this bizarre journey I wish I had written this down at the time as some of the journey has faded with the years, though in truth, most had faded by the next morning. I am sure we would never be able to find some of the places we ended up in again. There are one or two things that stick with me. We found ourselves in a large cemetery, Warriston I think, though I can’t find it on the map. As we stumbled through it, the graves we passed became older and older. The trees were huge and old. There was a moon as I remember the light through the foliage dappling the angels and the crosses and lending a spookiness to the endeavour that began to freak Ciara out.
I was undisturbed though as I had, as is my habit, already developed a theory to move us forward. There were no ghosts back here in the old part of the graveyard, we had already passed all the ghosts at the new bit at the front. The old ghosts would have long gotten tired of hanging out here. Besides everyone they had been waiting for would also be dead. And as everyone knew, ghosts deteriorated over time. This was I useful fact I had learned in Amsterdam but that’s another story.
I was entirely confident in my rightness though I think Ciara remained unconvinced and by the time we reached the old stone wall at the back of the cemetery she was rearing to get over it. I climbed halfway up a tree to have a look over the wall to see what we would be jumping into only to find that the wall, 6 foot on our side was more like 20 foot on the other side. I explained this from the tree but Ciara, refusing to go back through the ghosts got her shoes and fucked them over the wall. “Now”, she said, “we have to jump”. And we did and no harm done either.
Buoyed up by our success we re-charted our path and determined that we had to cross a perfectly good path and plunge into a thicket, which we duly did. I don’t know how long we were in this thicket but it seems in my mind to have been like woodland though I can find none in this area on the map. It’s possible it was only a bush I suppose.
We emerged from the “wood” at some point. I know this because the next thing I remember is being back at my flat and dragging out a mattress for Ciara and “making up” a bed for her which I can’t imagine involved more than pointing and shouting. I do know I knocked over the television in the process, though it was none the worse for the experience.
Such fun, one of the best nights I had in Edinburgh though it doesn’t say much for Scottish night life I suppose or maybe I just can’t remember the other nights so well 😉 .
The shadowed graveyard and the high wall remain with me and the memory of Ciara throwing her shoes over the wall still makes me laugh. There may be no such thing as a short way home but that shouldn’t stop you from taking it.