The Rites of Spring on Portobello Beach

On this, the first warmish weekend of the year, I’m in Edinburgh, visiting my mother in law with Laura and the children, seeing Spring being welcomed in with a raw, ritual Celtic lustiness. The curtains of mist have only just withdrawn from the city, the temperatures may have risen by only a fraction of a degree, but on Portobello beach the trunk-and-bikini-wearing lads and lassies gather to demonstrate their gratitude to the weather gods by gleefully hurling themselves into the still-wintry waters of the Firth of Forth. In various states of undress they milled about on the sands conducting the various rites of the British spring – shivering, writing names in the sand, taking a chips-and-lager eucharist amid the briny breezes.

I am watching them when Violet, newly turned 8, tugs at my hand and asks, “Why has someone drawn such a big hat on the beach, daddy?”

I looked to where she was pointing. There was indeed a drawing scratched into the sand, but it was not a drawing of a hat. It was a drawing of a very large penis and testicles.


“I asked mummy what it was, and she said it was a hat. But why would someone draw such a big hat here?”

I wondered if such primitive fertility symbols had caused similar embarrassment to parents of young children in older, pagan times.

Probably not in Scotland.

“It doesn’t really look like a hat,” she said.

“I don’t know what it is,” I replied, and took her off to buy Granny a cappuccino from the new upmarket coffee van next the the amusements.