I’ve lived in the Scottish Borders for over thirty years, about fifty miles south of Edinburgh. We visit Edinburgh a lot and I couldn’t count how many times I’ve walked along Princes Street – usually on the gardens side as it’s (fractionally) less busy than the shops side. It’s a rather attractive setting – Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat in the background, the castle and the old stone tenements of the Royal Mile towering over the sunken gardens, the Walter Scott monument (yes I’ve climbed it, several times), and the Art Gallery at the foot of the Mound. At the East end, Carlton Hill dominates the skyline, while at the West on one corner there is St John’s Church and opposite it a rather impressive red sandstone hotel. In December there is a Christmas Market and ice skating and at New Year the fireworks display in the gardens is a sell-out. During the festival in August, Princes Street and the Royal Mile buzz with street performers and stalls of every kind and every few yards someone thrusts a flyer into your hand for one of the hundreds of performances taking place in venues across the city.
What does all that have to do with Battenberg for tea? There is one constant on Princes Street whether the sun is shining or the rain is pelting down onto the pavements and only a handful of people scurry along, heads bent against the wind. The piper. Sometimes you will find one at the entrance to the gardens opposite Waverley Station, sometimes in front of the Art Gallery, but it is rare to walk along Princes Street and not hear the sound of the bagpipes swelling in the background.
Combine that thought with a little café near the foot of the Royal Mile, a shop sign I saw once for ‘the support of Indigent Gentlewomen’ (what a wonderful phrase) and a cake that I loved as a child, but which I don’t often see nowadays and the character of Jean was born; along with her economic problems and the rather sad and unintended consequences of the solution that her lawyer suggests.
For me that is often the way stories come about – a fragment here and a fragment there that put together make a completely new whole.
Battenberg for Tea is one of the few stories in the collection Dust Blowing and Other Stories that I’ve never tried to place anywhere, so this is its debut. Signed copies of the collection (UK only) can be ordered here. They are also available in both Paperback and e-book format via Amazon, Kobo, Nook, etc and bookshops.