I had a lonely breakfast in my room. My charges were to have a day ‘free for shopping’ and I simply could not go down to face them in the foyer. I could see it in my mind though; wrecked breakfast buffet, beleaguered concierges trying to explain the Edinburgh road system and cab drivers rubbing their hands with glee thinking about what ‘rip off’ level they could reach.
I stayed in hiding for half the morning and sneaked down when it was safe. It was not. There in the lobby was my Liberian absentee from the previous day wrestling with a multi fold large scale map of Scotland. It was spread over two tables and a stool and he was asking folk how to get to Edinburgh. “Your there mate” came a less than helpful remark from the waiter who was pointing at Aberdeen.
‘Ah, Mr Mike’ he beamed, ‘I have been waiting for you, shall we go now’? I could barely muffle my groan. Gone was the opportunity of a leisurely visit to the spa and instead the prospect of a shop from hell loomed. ‘First we buy a kilt, yes’? ‘Where is Marks and Spencer’?’ Do you have some Scottish money’? The questions came thick and fast as we left, dodging the eager taxi drivers.
The rest of the morning was a busy blur of shops, shops and more shops. I was loaded up with bags like a mule, following my guest up and down Princes Street until we finally got to a kilt shop. At least I will never moan about shopping with my wife ever again I thought as I brooded outside the changing cubicle. And then he emerged. He looked fantastic in his Royal Stuart tartan and spent a great deal of time preening in front of the mirror. ‘OK, I will take three’ he beamed. ‘Mr Mike, do you have a credit card’? He never took it off for the rest of the trip, sporran and all.
We all teamed up again in the evening and we looked a strange bunch what with our Ghanaian in tweeds and spats, my Liberian dressed like Bonny Prince Charlie and the rest in formal dining robes which were exactly the same as the clothes they arrived in.
Our meal was in a ‘traditional’ Scottish themed banqueting hall across town and we all piled into the eager taxis which had lurked around for this moment all day.
The evening was interesting. In came the haggis on a plate carried by a chef surrounded by pipes and drums, and the address to it began. ‘What is this’ one guest demanded in a loud voice. ‘Why is he stabbing it, is it alive’ shouted another? ‘Why does he not speak English’, demanded a third? Snore, grunt went another as he had dropped off.
Then they found out what was in it.’ I think it is against our religion to eat this’ moaned one. ‘You people are not civilized’ groaned another. So they drank the whiskey it came with instead on empty stomachs. They were all near to drunk when the main course of roast beef arrived. ‘More whiskey’ came the shout. Then the dessert arrived. ‘More whiskey’ they called again. By the end of the meal they, and I, were plastered.
‘Now we go to a traditional pub for a whiskey’ somebody said as we left a very relieved dining hall. ‘Let us walk until we find one’ another agreed as we moved deeper and deeper into the less salubrious part of the city. And then we found one. It was next to some very run down tenement flats and the outside walls and windows were covered in years of grime.
‘Hello friends’ my very bulky Nigerian shouted as he walked into a stunned public bar. I saw one person actually drop their drink. ‘Who would like to drink with us’ the other bulky Nigerian chipped in? There was a stunned silence, and suddenly the whole pub rushed to the bar to have a drink with their new found friends. Strangely they all seemed to be on double scotch although they had beer mugs in their hands.
It turned out to be more fun than I expected. We got some strange looks but the locals soon integrated with my group especially while my guys were paying. There were songs from Scotland, Africa and everywhere in between. The bar soon filled as people heard there were free drinks.
Then something happened. My Gambians were shouting and pushing a group of youth and the dreadful word ‘racist’ was shouted. ‘Oh no’, I thought. Some bigot has made a racist comment to my guests. ‘We must go now’, my whole group demanded. ‘We will not stay to hear these insults’ they said and out they walked. I was on my way after them until the landlord called me back. Apparently nobody had paid for their drinks or those they bought the pub and the bill was astronomical.
We got back to the hotel and congregated in the bar for a whiskey. I told them how sorry I was. ‘It is inexcusable to make racist remarks to foreign visitors’ I murmured. ‘Oh no’ a Gambian assured me, ‘it was you they were being racist about. They said you English should crawl back over the border where you belong’!
‘What an evening’ I thought as I slid into bed trying to ignore my queasy stomach. A liquid feast, a huge raid on my expenses and finally an attack on my nationality which was defended by a group of loyal foreigners. It can only get better I thought. But it didn’t as my final instalment will tell.