Edinburgh Waverley Railway Station
Today, Edinburgh Waverley is as gloomy as wartime blackout. Shrouds - to facilitate refurbishment - cover the thirteen acres of glass roof keeping light out and darkness in. Standing on platform nineteen waiting for the London train, I'm reminded of Ern.
Ern swore he'd never forget me and promised we'd meet in Edinburgh, at the station, when the time was right. I was sure he meant it.
Ern was five foot two and if he were here now would be lost in the crowd. Lost, that is, until he opened his mouth and let forth a comforting Canadian drawl. Ern had a voice as loud as a klaxon, a big nose and three fingers on his left hand; 'tabernacle' was his favourite swear word.
I should mention at this point, we're a family of first namers Ern was always Ern. There are no Gramps, Grannies, Nannies, Grandpas or - in Ern's case - Granddads in our family.
Ern was a war veteran. He would hold up his three fingers and fashion an uneven V. 'Victory,' he'd say 'and long live the other side.'
He passed through the station in 1952; London to Edinburgh Waverley and return; he was on his honeymoon. For Annie - Gran to you - it was a second marriage. But for Ern, a man of secrets, it could have been a first, second or third for all anyone knew.
Being Canadian Ern threw his ticket out of the train window - apparently it was the norm over there - and had to demand another if he was to get home. While waiting he was told the story of the infamous spy Werner Walti and William Merrilees - aka Wee Willie the pocket detective - and missed his train.
In September 1940, Werner Walti aka Robert Petter also missed his train. In his pocket he had a single ticket from Edinburgh to London along with a Mauser automatic pistol, a flick-knife, a compass and the wartime tools of espionage. He was arrested at the left luggage office by Sergeant Merrilees who with the flair of Sherlock, and disguised as a porter, had lain in wait. Merrilees went on to be Chief Constable; Walti was hung.
Ern didn't see action. He sang in the Salvation Army and played the drums; he wore his uniform with pride. Ern was no stranger to hope and glory. Hopefully he loved Annie, but Ern also loved the station. He loved knowing he could catch a train which would take him north or south.
I love the station because once Ern's Canadian twang echoed in the Victorian cupola as he demanded a new ticket; his slicked back hair reflected a ghostly green in the filtered light. How Ern lost his fingers is a mystery. Ern turned out to be A.K.A. someone else all together; luckily it wasn't a hangable offence. Annie flushed her wedding ring down the toilet and that was that. No-one ever again said tabernacle.
I'll never forget Ern. When the shrouding is removed from the overhead glass the station will return to normal. But Edinburgh Waverley will always remind me of Ern and of promises never meant to be broken.