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Edinburgh Days, or Doing What I Want to Do

Sam Pickering

Publication Year: 2012

Part travelogue, part psychological self-study, Sam Pickering's Edinburgh Days, or Doing What I Want to Do is an open invitation to be led on a walking tour of Scotland's capital as well as through the labyrinth of the guide's swerving moods and memories. Along the way readers discern as much from Pickering's sensual observations of Scottish lives and landmarks as they do about what befalls the curious mind of an intellectual removed from the relations and responsibilities that otherwise delineate his days. Pickering spent the winter and spring of 2004 on a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, making his return to the city after a forty-year absence. Edinburgh Days maps the transition from his life in Connecticut, defined by family, academic appointments, and the recognition of neighbors and avid acolytes, to a temporary existence on foreign soil that is at once unsettlingly isolating and curiously liberating. Torn between labeling himself a tourist or a sojourner, Pickering opts to define himself as an "urban spelunker" and embarks on daily explorations of the city's museums, bookshops, pubs, antique stores, monuments, neighborhoods, and graveyards. His ambling tours include such recognizable sites as Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Castle Rock, the Museum of Childhood, the National Gallery, the Writers' Museum, the Museum of the People, the Huntly House, the John Knox House, the Royal Botanic Garden, and the Edinburgh Zoo. The holdings of city and university libraries present Pickering with the opportunity to revisit the works of a host of writers, both renowned and obscure, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Samuel Smiles, John Buchan, Tobias Wolfe, Russell Hoban, Patrick White, Hilaire Belloc, and Van Wyck Brooks. "I have long been a traveler in little things," he muses, and it is his fascination with minutiae that infuses this collection of essays with the dynamic descriptions, quirky observations, and jesting interludes that bring the historic city to life on the page and simultaneously recall the very best of Pickering's idiosyncratic style.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press


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pp. 1-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xiv

I got to the dentist’s office early and, sitting down, looked at my fellow patients. Across the room a large woman sagged into a stuffed chair, the June number of Connecticut Magazine balanced on her diaphragm like a screen, on the cover of the issue the phrase “Summer Times” brighter than noon, beneath the words fat hunks of watermelon, red as sunburn. ...

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Up from Boston

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pp. 1-3

I flew from Boston to London on Virgin Atlantic. The flight was a children’s excursion. Classrooms raced around the terminal as if they were at recess, all the students enrolled in foreign study programs in Britain. Clots of students were so thick I felt like a hall monitor. No aisle seats were available when I checked my bags. ...

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pp. 4-15

“Dear Invisible Man,” the note began. I’d been in Edinburgh two weeks. Since the day of my arrival, Barbara Phanjoo, my landlady, had not seen or heard me. “I just wanted to be sure that you were well,” she wrote. In the old days when gods wandered the earth pursuing nymphs or during more restful times granting wishes, ...

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pp. 16-24

For dinner last Tuesday I slathered Coleman’s English mustard over a Scotch egg, toasted and buttered bread, brewed a pot of Earl Grey tea, and opened a can of Baxters Royal Game soup, this last containing, the label said, “Highland venison and pheasant in a rich stock.” ...

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Curio Shop

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pp. 25-41

At breakfast every morning I swallow four tablets: a small gel resembling a golden blimp fat with fish oil; a vitamin the color of red sandstone, the ingredients a gravel pit of mysterious, invigorating minerals, the print on the bottle too small for my eyes to sift into words; ...

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pp. 42-58

“I’ve seen you a lot. Are you a tourist?” the woman behind the container at Bonningtons delicatessen asked. “I am not sure,” I said; “I live in the United States, but I’m in Scotland for four and a half months. Is that too long to be a tourist?” “I don’t know,” the woman answered. ...

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pp. 59-70

“Have you become an anchorite?” my friend Josh wrote after I said I didn’t plan to leave Edinburgh. Anchorites were Christian hermits. In the fourth century they settled in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. By retiring from society they hoped to mortify the devil and control temptations of flesh and the world. ...

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A Traveler in Little Things

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pp. 71-81

At the beginning of the twentieth century the English writer W. H. Hudson spent a night in a commercial hotel in Bristol. The next morning he ate in the hotel’s coffee shop. A manufacturer’s representative joined him, assuming Hudson was also a commercial traveler. The man was successful. ...

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pp. 82-95

In “Little Gidding,” T. S. Eliot got things wrong when he wrote, “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Exploring does not weave experience into a carpet that enables a person to fly back through years into diapers and knowledge. ...

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Mind Ajar

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pp. 96-105

In THE RIGHT PLACE (1924), C. E. Montague described “knowing a road.” To know a road entailed more than “seeing it all once or twice from a seat in a car.” On the other hand, a person did not have to “learn it by heart, to the last house and tree.” “There is a mean,” Montague explained, ...

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Things That Interest Me

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pp. 106-119

In the 1920s Arnold Bennett, the British man of letters, published three collections of occasional pieces, all the volumes entitled Things That Have Interested Me. While the first collection contained 121 short essays, the second and third each contained 38. Almost nothing Bennett wrote about interested me: ...

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pp. 120-144

Eliza flew from Boston late Easter afternoon. She traveled to Frankfurt, cramped between “two gigantic German Goths who spilled over their seats and smothered the arm rests.” Because she bought an inexpensive ticket, she had an eight-hour layover in Frankfurt, after which she flew to Edinburgh, arriving at noon on Monday. ...

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No Place like Home

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pp. 145-154

Oceans separate Connecticut from Scotland, only one geographical. In part I came to Edinburgh in hopes that different surroundings would affect my thought. My ideas were weary, and my metaphors dusty. Political doings blighted optimism, and instead of bouncing through days marveling at the wonder of fall and winter, ...

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Fast Falls the Eventide

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pp. 155-165

“Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,” Henry Lyte wrote a month before his death. In three weeks I leave Edinburgh. As soon as my plane turns west, place and event will start drifting from thought. Experiences lodged along the shoreline of awareness will slide into the sea. Life is not shingled, and the tide will strip Scotland from mind. ...

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pp. 166-173

“You’ll regret it if you don’t travel,” my friend Jay wrote. “Go to St. Andrews and visit the Isle of Skye.” Travel would have shattered both budget and me. Shouldering the anxiety caused by visiting strange places alone was too heavy a burden. If Vicki had accompanied me to Scotland, I might have traveled. ...

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Last Runaround

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pp. 174-184

In February I registered for the Great Caledonian Run, a ten-kilometer road race held early in May. Training, I told fellows at the institute, imposed structure on days, a necessity when one was away from home. I said I planned to finish in the last 5 percent of the runners. ...

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pp. 185-193

The course of a person’s days, to draw from John Addington Symonds, depends less upon intellect and planning than upon “sentiment, emotion, involuntary habits of feeling and observing, constitutional sympathy with the world and men,” and “tendencies of curiosity and liking.” ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781611171792
Print-ISBN-13: 9781570036910

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Pickering, Samuel F., 1941- -- Homes and haunts -- Scotland -- Edinburgh.
  • Edinburgh (Scotland) -- Description and travel.
  • Pickering, Samuel F., 1941- -- Travel -- Scotland.
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