12/12/17 Hearts v Dundee. A McDonald’s Dundee cake.

After a minus 6 frost, I carefully picked my way in the dark to the bus stop. I had visions of me landing on my rear end. We’d been covered with about 6 inches of cold, wet, white stuff on the previous Sunday and it had been compacted down to an uneven ice rink. I kept my feet and caught the bus. Town was a little clearer. I thought I’d managed to avert from any kind of drama. I needed money for my Edinburgh overnight stay so I went to the speedbank. I didn’t register the recorded message until it was too late. I’d already put my card in. I not only couldn’t get the screen to work but worse still, I couldn’t get my card back out. Then the screen flashed up that my card had been retained. It was 7:45, the bank didn’t open till 9 o’clock and my train was at 8:15. I felt physically sick. Had I’d eaten, I’m sure I would have produced a pavement pizza. I frantically looked inside the bank for any kind of life, of course, there wasn’t any. I spotted a helpline on a sign. I rang it, not for a second, thinking it would be answered. Amazingly, a woman with a north eastern accent came on. I relayed my plight. She put a block on my card and a note on my account. The bad news was that she couldn’t guarantee that I’d be able to get any money out of my account in Edinburgh. I’d only got £9 on me. At least I knew I could still pick up my tickets from Hearts because I’d already paid for them. I got on the train and found my seat. I dug the book I got for the train out of my bag. I’d forgotten that I was using a bank statement as a bookmark. It had my account number. A partial result. I felt a little more hopeful. My anxiety didn’t completely leave, so I didn’t really get to enjoy a journey that I usually do.

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I was expecting a lot more snow on Wainwright country

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A little more on the border.

I’d started to calm down a bit. That was until I got off at Haymarket. I felt sick with worry again. I went and got my tickets from Hearts first and then went into my bank branch just down the road from the ground. I related what had happened. No doubt that having my account number helped. I think both the cashiers were surprised and impressed that I was up there to watch Hearts. The one that was dealing with me asked for a signature. (No, not an autograph) She checked it with what she’d got on screen. I checked out. Did I want any cash? Was she kidding? I would’ve kissed her had it not been for the bullet proof glass. (Maybe that’s why it’s there) Once I’d stopped doing cartwheels round the branch, I thanked her and it was on to the last bit that needed to be sorted, the hotel. As it was too early to check in, I went to the Diggers first. I needed a drink to be honest. The Diggers is a nickname. The place is actually called The Athletic Arms. It’s known as the Diggers because it’s in between two graveyards. Three, if you count Tynecastle.

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The famous “heavy” on the right.

Cash was not a problem. The worry had been for nothing. Not only was I able to pay cash but I was told I was getting an upgrade at no extra cost as the room I had booked was being worked on. Talk about one extreme to another. At 7:45 that morning, the bottom had fallen out of my world and now I’d got a room upgrade. I’d text Jinksy to tell him there was no snow in Auld Reekie and he text back to say Dingle Dave was up for the next days Hibs v Rangers game. Meeting up with him was a too good an opportunity to miss. Jinksy gave Dave my number and we arranged to meet.

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The castle was still standing.

I was on a mission to do some of the bars I’d been told about. The Abbotsford Bar and Restaurant was first. The name points to something shiny and new but far from it.

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Whiskey anyone?

All dark wooden panels with a central island bar. The pub does use London prices though. It was my most expensive pint of the two days. The smell of the fish dish was strong. To the point that it stopped me being hungry. I moved on to the Oxford Bar. (And yes, there is a Cambridge Bar and yes, you can see it from the door of the Oxford.) This was the place frequented by Iain Rankin. He of the writing fraternity, Rebus and all that. You could actually see him in your minds eye, sat in the corner. Pen in hand. (Or is it laptop, these days?) I’d told Dave, I was doing The Guildford Arms. He said to do The Cafe Royal next door, so I did. I’m amazed that these two bars are so close. You seriously can not do one without the other.

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The Guildford Arms. Complete with revolving door.

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The Cafe Royal. The wow factor.

With the way we are so quick to grasp the new, I’m always on the hunt for the old. Don’t get me wrong, I have well and truly embraced the micro pub phenomenon but to step inside a well kept, well preserved, well loved Victorian/Edwardian gin palace, is a step back in time. You can almost hear the long passed conversations. Imagine ever changing clientele and their fashions. These little gems a working history. Is there anywhere else in the entire country where there’s two historical treasures of the the drinking world this close to one another? The next place wasn’t anywhere near as extravagant as the last two establishments but once I’d found it, and it wasn’t easy, I felt immediately at home in there. Maybe because it’s about as small as the place I live in. The Halfway House is tiny. As small as the Grey Horse off Piccadilly in Manchester, if not smaller. After a quick debate on whether Tom Hanks is any good at acting, with a bloke who was reading his autobiography, (I’m not a fan of the actor) I made for the Hearts ground.

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My Brother in law John once dared my Mom that she wouldn’t get to the top of the Scott monument as she had an aversion to heights. She did it, but I don’t think she’d have done the fair ride next to it.

Spotting the tram, I ran for it. I wasn’t aware that you had to get a ticket before you boarded. The guard tried charging me a tenner. I’d only got a twenty on me. He had no change. I told him I’d get off next stop and reluctantly, let me off. I wish I’d have walked anyway, as the evening rush hour traffic meant that the tram wasn’t really going anywhere fast. Deciding against going for a last pint before the game in the Diggers, as I hadn’t got that much time, I walked to the ground and had a quick look at the new main stand.

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Not quite the original, but still impressive.

I got a programme, got in and got a steak pie. The pie may not have been as good as the pies in the Diggers but it was so much better than the usual pukka pies you get at English grounds. The crowd was a bit flat. Still getting used to their semi new surroundings perhaps?

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New stand, complete with journalist area. They get wet when it rains apparently. Never mind eh.

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Yes, that does say Manchester Hearts.

The game took a little time to settle down. Hearts showed little bits and pieces but weren’t dominating. They were the better team though. A forward drive from the sixteen year old Anthony McDonald put him in the position to thread a great ball to Isma, who easily put the chance away to put Hearts deservedly 1:0 up. Second half and and Hearts sat back and allowed Dundee to come on to them. It left enough space for the boys in maroon to exploit when they broke forward. One sortie led to the ball ending up in the back of Dundee’s net. Good ball out the wing, good cross and good finish. However, the referees assistants flag went up and Cole Stockton has still to get off the mark for Hearts. It was a shame, as it had taken me a full half second for me to start celebrating as I just don’t get the opportunity, with watching Blues this season. Another good through ball, led to a one and one with the Dundee keeper. The certain goal didn’t materialise due to indecision in the Hearts man, and the Dundee keeper was able to save fairly comfortably. Would we get the second to kill the game off? Yes, was the answer to that. It came from a badly dealt with corner that fell to the Hearts captain Christophe Berra at the back post, who gleefully, smashed it in. I celebrated. So this was what it felt like to score twice in a game. We went close to scoring again. A third would’ve been the icing on the cake but at least I got cake for a change.

I went back to The Diggers and hugged one of the radiators to thaw out. A pint of “heavy” for company. It had been a strange day. I checked out on the Wednesday morning with the idea of going to The Roseburn Bar, but it was hammering down with rain, so I ducked into The Dickens Bar.

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Eye candy for the seasoned sports fan. Especially a Scottish one.

There wasn’t any cask ale in here but they had proper keg beer. Not smooth/cream flow rubbish. Once it had warmed up a bit, it wasn’t bad. I counted twelve people in here. It was before 10 o’clock on a Wednesday morning and not one of us was drinking coffee. Oh to be in there, when someone goes in there and asks for a coffee. My thoughts turned to the pub in the film, Trainspotting. With the rain abating, I started my ale trail for the day. Before I did, I made sure I took a couple of photos of a place that is very important to Hearts history.

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All gave some, some gave all.

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No other club suffered as many casualties.

If you’re not aware of the clubs contribution to the 1st World War by it’s players, staff and supporters, I suggest you find out about what they dubbed “The Hearts Battalion”. The first pub I wanted to visit, The Blue Blazer, wasn’t going to open at it’s advertised time of 11 o’clock but half an hour later due to stock taking. As I’d already waited around for just under ten minutes for the place to open at 11, I moved on. After a quick look on the internet on my phone, I went in The Black Bull. Now I don’t hate the people who do it but I do hate that they can walk into a pub and order a latte or whatever the stuff is. Go to a coffee shop for that kind of thing. After all, there’s enough of them. I also don’t like how some pub coffee drinkers regard me and my pint, with a look of disdain on their faces. Am I wrong to fancy a pint at 9 o’clock in the morning and then not have another one all day? The only thing that turned the locals heads in The Dickens Bar, was my accent. Certainly wasn’t made to feel uncomfortable though. I went on to The Bow Bar next. On the way there, I spotted this place below.

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I wondered if they were.

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Shame about the tin things with the wheels really.

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The Bow Bar isn’t very big but like pretty much everywhere else I’d been in Edinburgh, full of character. The range and quality of the beer, means I’ll be going back in there. Sandy Bell’s was next. Ditto with the Bow Bar. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re in the old town round the castle or the new town, the other side of Princes street. The place is class. I’m informed that Glasgow’s as good, if not better. It’ll take a lot to be better than Embra. I’m going to be coming back on a regular basis.

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Gerry Rafferty, Angie Dickinson and Billy Connolly to name just three, have performed in Sandy Bell’s. I found the Halfway House again and Dingle Dave was already in there. He told me of his previous day in Linlithgow. Apparently, they’d treated him like a returning rockstar. Judging by the photo he showed me, he had been too. He has got a certain charisma to him though. Same as Spoons or Badger. Forget the teams he supports, he’s a top bloke. If nothing else, he recommended the Cafe Royal. There we were though, a Blues/Hearts fan and a Wolves/Hibs fan drinking in a bar in Edinburgh together. I’d watched Hearts the previous night, he was watching Hibs, that day. Nine days previous, we’d been together in the Wellington in Birmingham, the afternoon of the Blues v Wolves game. Life is too short and the world is too small to waste it all, sat at home doing nothing. I’m back up in Edinburgh between Christmas and New year for my first Hearts v Hibs game. I can’t wait.

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