About twelve years ago, my first term in Edinburgh ended.
As far as I knew, I was the only one of my immediate circle who got the boat and train (it was rare I managed to catch the same flight or boat home as anyone I knew), so it was a long journey back on my own, and a bit of an adventure.
I woke up early to get the 33 up to Waverley Station. The train was easy to find and when I got on, I played my Game Boy Advance between Waverley and Queen Street until it ran out of battery, and negotiated the Queen Street-Central route in Glasgow on foot, popping in to Borders on the way to get my little brother a Christmas present. My bag was heavy, as I’d overestimated, as usual, how much to bring.
Then it was the long train journey to Stranraer. I had my CD player and a limited selection of CDs by Muse and REM. It too ran out of battery about half an hour in, and I was left with my thoughts (in those days reading wasn’t really all that high on my list of priorities). I remember thinking about the steak dinner I had told my mum I wanted when I got home, seeing my parents and Tayto Crisps and soda bread and all manner of things.
I’d met a girl that term, let’s call her Liz, and I was looking forward to seeing her again (this was before Facebook, and I hadn’t got her phone number). I kind of half wondered if she might be on the train to Glasgow I was on, but no such luck. I spent much of that leg of the journey wondering what I’d say to her when I saw her again. I knew she’d recently turned 18 so wondered if I could say something about her birthday.
I then had thoughts of the crackling fire at the manse as I gazed out at Ailsa Craig. Somehow, seeing it made my heart jump, and it felt like I was almost there. Despite that, there was a fair bit to go, and when Ailsa Craig faded out of view, I dozed off for a bit.
I woke up when the announcer declared we were reaching Stranraer. The short trip to the boat was unstressful, but at the same time I was amused by the number of people who’d rather stand near the door than sit down and wait to be called. Neighbours was on the TV. I was astonished by how little TV I’d watched that term at halls, finding that spending time with friends was preferable.
Eventually I got on the HSS and got my mandatory Burger King (who goes for Food City?). I remember thinking some more about Liz on the two hour boat journey but it was little more than idle dreaming. I did what would become the standard HSS tour, around the boat, through the duty free and perching at the front window to see when land would come. When it did, my heart jumped and i eagerly awaited for everything to come in to view. Kilroot power station. The Knockagh. Bangor. Newtownabbey. No Scrabo Tower, to my sadness, that was on the other side of the hill. The drivers were called to their cars and the foot passengers were alerted by the cheesy landing music they always played.
I saw the Tayto vending machines in the baggage reclaim area and almost cried. Then I saw my mum and dad at the door and I did cry. Just a little. I think mum cried too and I got the biggest hug I ever had. I was back.
The dark, cold, Northern Irish air smelled a lot different to Edinburgh’s brewery-induced stale bread smell and I remember thinking that I would remember all of this. And I did, but what mattered was home home home home home.