There is no “Welcome to Stirling” sign. Whether it got blown away during the hurricane or covered in snow that followed the hurricane – I don’t know. Or maybe people of Stirling see no reason/ no suitable weather conditions to waste money on such a sign. Walter meets me on the platform, takes my suitcase and we head for the hotel.
In my room, Walter surprises me with a box of chocolates and a little something that, thanks to its transparency and area of coverage, should be described as ethereal rather than material, but is, nevertheless, called the jewel knicker (no prizes for guessing why he wanted me to have it). The knicker itself is barely visible but the jewel is there (in Newcastle I had a client who used to kiss his way down my stomach and say: “And here’s my little jewel!” Once he even clapped his hands. I’d be lying there looking at the ceiling and thinking: “I really need to change my name!”) and this jewel is set in just the right place and it does not freak me out. We set off to explore all the possible ways of using it.
A couple of hours later we go downstairs for a dinner, and then Walter is gone. I return to my room to find the barely touched box of chocolates. I’m so stuffed and tired that the box goes into my suitcase straight away.
In the morning I move into another room in the same hotel (for reasons only known to the management), fix my hair and meet another client, W. (First of all, isn’t it great that Walter has a name! Secondly, Walter and W live pretty much next door to each other (Oh I’d love to see their faces as they read this! Will they be able to leave home without looking over their shoulder now?) in a place which is so far away from Edinburgh that it’s only fair for me to make an effort to meet them half way at least once). Believe it or not, W also shows up with a box of chocolates. But somehow, although I know that he loves them even more than me (read it whichever way you like, it’s still true), two hours later, when he leaves, the box is still full. And it’s a large box!
This is my first time in Stirling, so I pop a few chocolates into my handbag and jump in the cab that takes me to Stirling castle. I’m just in time for the last guided tour, and I’m the only one there. The first 15 minutes are disconcertingly intimate, with the (male) guide asking me all sorts of personal questions, until two (male) American tourists join us and start doing it for him. Isn’t it funny how by replying “I’d rather not say” you provoke even more questions? The guide professionally explains it to them that Mary prefers keeping herself to herself and at last the tour starts.
The tour over, there’s still time to explore the rest of the castle and we go in opposite directions. But on the relatively large castle grounds it’s impossible to lose two American men. I give up eventually and we walk together which is great, because when at 5pm the castle is closed and we’re outside, I realise that I’m in a bit of a trouble. I am on top of some hill, most probably miles away from civilization, it’s darker than in the Middle Ages, I didn’t take the business card of the cabbie who’d given me a lift here and apart from the two Americans there’s no-one around to ask for the number of a local cab service. In fact, I’m desperate enough to ask for directions to the nearest bus stop (and for instructions on how to use buses in Scotland) but the large square in front of the castle is empty except for me, the Americans and their car.
The Americans offer me a lift. My mother would go grey at the thought that I can get in a car with two strangers. Their wives would go grey at the thought that their husbands are not even half as gay as they would like them to be at that moment. I go grey at the thought of a possibility of a bus and searching for it in the dark. In high heels. Besides, the Americans are harmless, so they clear the back seat for me and Larry starts the engine while Jerry turns to me:
– Look, Mary, we opened this box but only had one chocolate each and now that we need to get on the plane, would you like to keep it?
And he passes me a box of chocolates. The first chocolate I don’t even chew; it meets my “you’ve got to be kidding, guys” on its way out and both stay firmly inside.
My saviours are only passing Stirling on their way to Edinburgh airport to catch a late flight to London. They don’t know this place at all, and the first ten minutes are spent driving up and down dark narrow and winding cobbled streets looking for any sign at all. Eventually, luck brings a passer-by who’s not particularly sure of his own whereabouts but nevertheless points in a vague direction and soon we find ourselves on a motorway with signs for both Stirling and Edinburgh. If not the 2 boxes of chocolates left in my suitcase in the hotel, I’d have gone with the Americans all the way to Edinburgh. With the chocolates in mind, I ask Larry to drop me off anywhere that resembles this village’s green. 10 more minutes and we hit a place with street lights and people. The guys drive off and I go in search of a taxi rank.
Early next morning a train brings me back to Waverley with 3 opened chocolate boxes in suitcase and a firm desire to never leave Edinburgh again. At least not this year.