The night I moved to Edinburgh, just as I was falling asleep, it was gone midnight, there was a persistent knock at the door. I got up and found a tall thin woman and a short fat man outside, both dressed in black. I asked them in, but they declined, saying that they were only delivering a short message.
And what’s the message, and who is it from?
It’s just to let you know that it’s been decided to make you a gift of the Botanic Gardens.
I thought that it was jolly decent of whoever was responsible and asked my visitors to thank them, but I had a nagging doubt and expressed it.
No, the thin woman said, everything, the land, the buildings on it, the hothouses, the equipment, the flowers, all the plants, the American sequoias, the Alpine plants, the seventeen varieties of rhododendrons, the petrified log, the museums, the whole lot.
I blessed my lucky star, but suddenly I was assailed by another doubt.
Does it mean I am responsible for its upkeep, for paying the thousands of gardeners, horticulturists, the labourers and what not?
Oh,no, absolutely not, the short fat man assured me; everything will be taken care of, the maintenance and repairs, the new stocks, you won’t have to lift a finger, just enjoy!
And the thin woman added that it would all come from taxation.
What a lucky chap I am, I said happily, and the pair took their leave and turned their back on me.
I was going to close the door when they stopped suddenly and moved again in my direction.
We forgot, the thin lady said.
A sort of post-scriptum, the fat man added, and taking turns, they elaborated.
Also the Meadows, all the Commons, Inverleith Park, Princes Street Gardens, The Waters of Leith, Arthur's seat ...you get the picture? I did.
Did I mention the National Art Gallery? asked the thin woman. I pursed my lips.
Oh yes, the fat little man said, the National Gallery, the building and all the paintings inside.
Including the Skating Clergyman? I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
We said everything, the pair said a bit testily, I thought.
Pic: The hothouse in the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens.