Turning 35 in Edinburgh.

You know when you’ve been on the road a long time.

You have a birthday. And then another. And another.

Each time you’re surrounded by strange faces singing that universal happy birthday anthem, with the same tuneless clash when they hit that same high point in the song.

But with strange words. "Cumpleaños a ti..." in Spanish. And so on.

You know also when you’ve been going for a long time when you have a birthday and nobody at all sings for you.

You’re staring at the road, or at the sky, or at your reflection in a coffee in a place where you’ve sheltered from weather you’d swear you’d never be caught dead in at home.

Two months into my meander from the bottom of Britain to the top on a small folding bicycle, I rolled up to a phone box in Edinburgh. It was getting dark.

I scanned my WWW list for promising comrades under ‘Scotland’. WWW is a travel friendship organisation of women in 70 countries. The idea is that you decide where you would like to visit, look up the list, and contact the woman asking if you would be welcome to visit. It works both ways. It is a great organisation to promote safe travelling for the threatened sex. You can pick a seemingly dangerous country and travel there knowing that welcoming arms await you.

Armed with this list I had punctuated my masochistic cycling and camping regime with comfortable stays in members’ houses.
Now, I circled the name of a 25-year old girl who worked in marketing.

A young man answered the phone. I introduced myself in the same manner as I had always done. Australian, travelling through Britain on a small bicycle.

"She doesn’t live here anymore, " he said, "she lives in London and I’m renting her house".

"No problem", I said, not wanting to intrude, "I’ll go find a hostel".

He protested.

"Ah no, I’d hate to see you stuck ­ come one round!"

When I got to the house, a young and hunky Scottish lad opened the door. In case you think you are about to hear a tale of lurid and kinky travel sex involving a sporran, a bagpipe and a tin of scottish shortbread, I must disappoint you.

Anthony tossed me a bunch of keys.

"Here," he said, "sleep in my room I’m going to spend a couple of days with my girlfriend". We chatted a little, I gave him my spiel in fast forward, then he left.

I unloaded my bicycle and took it back down the four flights of stairs for a spin around that majestic old city, bumping my way over the cobbles.

I rode past cool bars full of well and warmly dressed Scottish yuppies, nibbling smoked salmon pizza and sipping beer.

I rode up to Arthur’s Seat, the peak of a chunk of wilderness complete with lochs and rocky outcrops, seemingly cut out from the far north with scissors and plonked in the centre of the city.

On the top of the hill, I turned 35.

I coasted down the mountain and got back to the empty flat.

As I shook out my things I noticed something different.

On the table was a small cake, a candle and a card.

Inspired by the tale of my first little travel fling with a young Scottish shepherd who turned out to be not-so-sheepish after a not-so-wee dram, Anthony had cheekily gone out of his way to find a card with a …. sheep on it.

Happy birthday from all of us at #242 Prince, the card read.

Now whenever we meet someone, most of us do a little calculation in our heads, which goes something like this: I am going to know you for this long, so I will give you this much of energy. And no more. We all do it. How much did Anthony give?

He walked in the door.

"Ach, I felt so sorry for you, alone on your birthday", he said, lighting the candle and cutting into the cake.

Up till that point I had forded streams, battled the wiles of the Dartmoor plain, ground my way up mountains and cowered in my tent in a dark field fearful of wierdos in distant campervans. Meandering through a strange country on a bicycle can be cold, wet, lonely and full of unknowns.

In that moment I felt as warm and as well known as a pair of fluffy old tartan slippers.

lynette euphoria 

Copyright 2004 Lynette Chiang All Rights Reserved