How the Grinch stole my Christmas and New Year (The story of how Scotland made me cry)

I think I’m just cursed when it comes to Scotland.

The last time I’d been in the country, I’d had an absolute nightmare of a bus trip up from London, with flooded toilets and cramped seats, and spent the whole of my time in Glasgow incredibly sick, running between the toilet and my bed and subsisting only on the cereal and orange juice my hostel left outside my door each morning because I was too unwell to make it out and get any real food.

This time, I got sick in Edinburgh. But I wasn’t just sick – I had so much bad luck that it was like a comedy of errors.

I’d just arrived from Ruth’s, where I’d slept in a lovely bed, had nice hot showers and great food. My hostel in Edinburgh…..was not as nice.

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I was sharing my room with a strange man who spent all day in bed, either naked or in his underwear, I couldn’t tell, watching movies. The other inhabitants were a Brazilian family of four, where the elderly parents had apparently not realised that staying at a hostel meant sharing a room with other people. The father snored rather sonorously, and you could tell that they felt really awkward having us in the room with them.

‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘at least I’m with family.’

The first night was nice, with my little brother, hanging out and catching up. I had a lovely evening – then was kept up most of the night by the cacophonous snoring in my room. I usually manage to sleep through anything, but for some reason, on this night, I just couldn’t tune out the noise. I woke up the second morning feeling ill-rested, but I figured a nice hot shower would make me feel better.

Not so much. Two words: cold shower. Cold showers are never nice. Especially not in Edinburgh. Especially not in Edinburgh in winter.

We then went grocery shopping and tried to cook. That was a mistake. The kitchens were disgusting and terribly understocked (no oil, no spatula, no bowls). My inner clean freak had a little sob.

“Socialising will make this better!” I thought. “There’s nothing like good company to cheer you up even in the direst of conditions.” We went up to the common room at the long term accommodation where Dylan was living to see who was around. It was a bunch of guys watching the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and talking about how ‘those dirty sluts’ probably ‘all had herpes’. My feminist hackles went right up, and I wanted to desperately to tell them off and have a nice old rant. Then I took some deep breaths and reminded myself that my brother had to live with these people for a little while longer, while I did not, so I should probably just keep quiet and not cause trouble.

But it did leave me feeling down. I felt like I couldn’t go into my hostel room, the showers were cold, cooking here was really hard, everything was dirty, and the people we’d met were incredibly not my type. I really hoped things would get better.

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We did go watch a play at the Traverse Theatre, which was pretty rad – The Devil Masters. It had the best – and most complex – set design I’d ever seen. That cheered me up for the evening.

Christmas day was better. Thankfully. It started, once again, with a cold shower, but then we had our Christmas lunch, which was rocking. Venison steaks and grilled vegetables. Then Dylan got a message from some friends – Dee, Ashley and Gary – that they were doing a Christmas roast, asking us to join them. We ended up spending the afternoon with good company, and good food. The evening was great too. I met Dale and Zach, who I got on with really well, and we played ping pong and pool and had cocktails and it was a lovely way to spend Christmas night.

But then things went downhill. I started to feel really sick. My whole body was aching, and I had terrible headaches and – worst of all – my appetite was gone! We had a few really nice afternoons nonetheless. We went down to Stockbridge one day, which was a nice walk, and hung out at PekoeTea, where Dylan’s best Edinburgh friend, Rozzi, worked. PekoeTea is this really lush tea house, where it’s super cozy (gezellig, if I was speaking to a Dutch person), they have about a bajillion varieties of teas, and they serve them all in different pots and cups and according to various tea traditions, with a timer so that you steep it perfectly. It looks like the kind of place where you’d easily blow 20 pounds on tea but is actually quite cheap and best of all, they do unlimited free top-ups. We hung out there until close, joking with Rozzi and her colleague Jordan, and it was really nice.

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At the end of it though, I couldn’t manage the walk home because my feet were swollen and my shoes were cutting into them.

We also had a really nice night going to the Christmas markets, eating sausages and drinking mulled wine, then going out with Zach and his work friends afterwards to a local bar and ultimately ending up at a reggae night at this club called Bongo.

But apart from those brief periods of reprieve, I felt terrible. I had all the symptoms of the flu, and the daily cold showers were not helping me get better.

I’d convinced Ruth to come visit on the 29th, which was also the day I switched hostels to a much nicer place that did have hot water. I was really excited about having her up, and took some pseudoephedrine to feel better. I’d left the box back in my hostel so I wasn’t sure exactly how much you could take but I just popped another two pills every time it started to hurt to swallow again. Ruth came up and it started off well. We went to Henry Cellars, to the most fantastic open-mic night ever, with some of the most talented musicians I’ve ever seen and an incredibly smooth MC who could sing, dance, was really charimatic and could pull off triple denim with red leather shoes.

And then I felt like I was going to faint and throw up. Dylan walked me back to my hostel and I checked the box of pseudoephedrine. I’d taken way too much. I Googled the side effects and figured that I could just sleep it off unless I started getting seizures, but after a few hours of sleeping I was feeling worse. I was feeling so out of it, I couldn’t really think of what I should do. Instead, I asked for advice on Facebook.

I got some really good advice – call the poisons helpline! I’d gone back to sleep though, and only woke up again to have a huge vomiting session in the bathroom. I was starting to worry; I was absolutely drenched in sweat, the room was swimming around me and I was definitely only tenuously holding on to consciousness. I really should call the poisons helpline. For a while my legs just wouldn’t work though. I’d just collapsed in the hallway and couldn’t make myself move. It was so embarrasing, and it took a while before I managed to get myself up again and down the stairs.

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I thought going up to reception and calmly asking them if I could please use their phone to call the poisons helpline would be a fairly straightforward thing to do. Unfortunately, the Spanish receptionists had no idea what I was on about. The words ‘Poison’ and ‘pseudoephedrine’ just didn’t seem to ring any bells. ‘Are you having an allergic reaction?’ one asked me, confused. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I’ve just taken too many pills and I want to call the poisons helpline to ask what I should do to deal with that.’ No matter how I tried to explain it they just couldn’t understand! I was getting increasingly frustrated and upset. How complicated a request is ‘call the poisons helpline?!?’

At this point a bunch of Scottish people went by and I tried to explain it to them. ‘What’s pseudoephedrine?’ one of them asked. ‘It’s a medicine they give you for the cold and flu,’ I tried to explain, ‘and I’ve taken too much of it.’ They laughed. They actually laughed. ‘You can’t get sick off cough syrup! You’ll be fine!’

I started hyperventilating. I had such a simple request and nobody could help me and nobody could understand and I didn’t know what to do and then I just couldn’t breathe. The receptionists freaked and called an ambulance on me, while the Scottish people finally called the poisons helpline. ‘I don’t need an ambulance!’ I told reception, but the ambo’s insisted on talking to me to decide that for themselves. I literally had two phones in two hands – one connected to the ambos, one to the poisons helpline – and had to talk to both at once to explain what I’d done and that I was really okay and just needed some advice and bed rest and definitely did not need an ambulance.

The ambulance came anyway, and they insisted that I go with them so they could check me up and make sure I was okay. We were in there for hours, while they asked me the same questions five times, and chided me for using Google for medical advice. It looked, they said, like I had a fever and the flu. I also hadn’t really eaten that day and I was dehydrated, which was making the symptoms worse. I’d vomited out the pseudoephedrine so I seemed fine on that front, but they were really insistent on me going to the hospital or a night GP with them to get the flu checked out. I said no, of course. I wasn’t dressed appropriately, I didn’t have my wallet on me, and I’d have to make my way back to the hostel in the middle of the night, on my own, without knowing where anything was.

They finally let me go with a warning to call the ambulance again if I felt any tightness in my chest. I went back to bed and had only just fallen asleep when my brother came crashing in, waking everyone up, to freak out on me. I had to go outside and spend 20 minutes calming him down and convincing him I was okay.

Waking up the next morning was hard. I’d sweated through my sheets, I’d developed a rash on my legs, my face was blotchy, my hair was tangled, I kept having hot and cold flushes, my head ached, my throat was raw, I was nauseous and hungry and thirsty at the same time, and I was so dizzy and faint. I was also out of credit, and my hostel required a new code for the wifi every day so I couldn’t even contact anyone and just had to wait for my brother to wake up and come over.

When we finally went to the doctor, she didn’t have great advice. I had a viral infection and should get lots of bed rest and drink lots of water, and keep taking pseudoephedrine and ibuprofen and in a few weeks it should improve. Fantastic.

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I spent the next few days and nights just sleeping and eating mushroom soup and clementines. When New Years Eve came, I felt a little better and, since we had tickets to the Street Party, thought I’d go for a while and see if I could manage. I shouldn’t have. It was so crowded that we spent an hour literally crushed, unable to move independently at all and just getting carried down the street with the crowd. I could barely breathe, and I couldn’t move anything except my head because we were wedged together that tightly. Then to make matters worse, I lost everyone but a girl named Blanca who I hadn’t even known before that day, and who was really upset because she lost both her phones as we walked down. I gave up on it and went back to bed to watch BBC shows on iview instead.

And then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, I also got the runs. I had no idea how, since I literally hadn’t eaten anything but mushroom soup and clementines, but I did.

When the 2nd of Jan finally rolled around and it came time for us to go to Poland, I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t even mind that I had to wake up at 4am in the morning. I popped some immodium and was ready to go.

‘I’m so sad to leave Scotland’ said Dylan mournfully. “I’m really going to miss my friends, and Arthur’s Seat, and just how lovely it all is”
“I won’t” I said darkly. “I’m so happy to leave”
Dylan looked at me accusingly “Give it a chance. It’s just because you were sick, you didn’t get to do enough of the good stuff.” I refrained from making any further comments. “If I could live anywhere else in the world,” he continued, “this is where I’d like to live. I think I’ll come back someday.”
“Not me,” I said under my breath. “Goodbye Edinburgh, I’m never coming back again.”

Special shoutouts nonetheless deserve to go to:
Sarah Whillier, who was super incredibly nice and, despite being incredibly busy, made a huge list of things for me to do in Edinburgh, which unfortunately I didn’t get to get through much of, and who very kindly set me up with her friends from when she was living there, who unfortunately I didn’t get to hang out with.
Emily Ingram, Sarah’s ex-roomie, who was also exceedingly lovely, offered to look after me, invited me to her New Year’s party and was just super generous with her time, even though we never actually got to meet, due to my health.

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