There is no doubt that Copenhagen is a lovely city, but it is a city full of trip hazards. Like Edinburgh, the Danes love their cobbles – theirs are square – but they also love their cycle lanes, carefully curved upwards about two inches from the road surface, which then themselves curve up to the pavement. Plus there are the hundreds of rental scooters, just abandoned everywhere, and the parked bikes themselves, jutting out at all angles. Plus innumerable other indentations. So, on our first night there, returning from tasting ‘Denmark’s national dish’ (I caution against it) I duly tripped and bashed my head, destroying my specs, my favourite trousers and my peace of mind. We were close to our hotel, so Mr F fled to the pharmacist, who, doling out bandages, soothing creams and sympathy said, ‘It happens all the time.’. We did wonder about the lack of elderly people in Copenhagen. Had they all tripped? Or were they merely hiding away against the possibility of tripping?
Anyway, come the following morning I had a large contusion on my forehead and an astonishingly black eye, which over the next few days faded into a variety of hues like some painting by Rothko executed at the height of his depression. Thus disfigured, we walked about this sunny city, with its very happy people, an astonishing number of whom, regardless of age, are very attractive, which didn’t make me feel any better. But like Miss Brodie I was not downhearted.
It was our first time there, so we did the tourist things. We went on a canal tour, masked and socially distanced, which was great; we had to duck at the low bridges. In this very clean but graffitied city, I was pleased to note, painted under the final bridge, some enormous male genitalia – I have no idea how they were achieved, but they would have been the envy of Sunny Prestatyn. We observed The Little Mermaid, which is very little. We went to the Tivoli Gardens where Mr F lost nerve with regard to the roller coaster but won the “horsey game” we always play at Great Yarmouth. We climbed the Rundetaarn. We went to the National Museum (ok) and the National Gallery (better) and took a train to the Louisiana Art Gallery (spectacular, particularly the Sculpture Garden). Apart from the ‘stegt flaesk’ on the first night, we ate extremely well, just not thinking about how much everything cost – pleasingly Denmark retains its own currency, so the horror of the £5.50 cups of coffee can wait for October’s credit card statement. Mainly, we walked and walked and walked.
I think to be like Denmark would be a reasonable aspiration for an independent Scotland. Denmark is a lot smaller in terms of land mass but very similar in population and climate. But I do wonder if we could manage it.
Obviously I know that the other man’s grass is greener , but my goodness, how green is that Danish grass. Intensely emerald. The border guard at the airport – a woman of my years – greeted me like her long lost brother; we were ushered away by a beautiful young person to an optional but recommended COVID test when we arrived (why is this not happening here?); the lady who dispensed me arnica for my vast purple eye left me wanting to hug her; everyone treated everyone well, or so it seemed. The drunks, the beggars, the litter, where were they? And yes, I will pay all the necessary income tax, thank you. Everybody was on a bike, all dressed in normal clothes, cheerful, thoughtful, not Lycra maniacs dinging at you on Portobello Prom and claiming ownership as they wheeze past. Yes, we were on holiday, yes the sun shone non-stop, yes the city was very quiet and peaceful because of the virus, but it wasn’t just impressions that made me long for Scotland to be Denmark. Let me give you two, very different, examples.
We saw lots of grand architecture, but the thing that impressed me most was an incinerator, a beautiful silvery building 85 metres tall, the pride of Copenhagen. It disposed of 65 million tons of refuse a day – all of Denmark’s and a great chunk of that from other EU states. It was very ecologically designed, puffing out little whiffs of smoke. And you could ski down it; and it had the world’s biggest climbing wall. It was glorious. Would we have that?
And then there was the public lavatory. Like many of you I always like to know where the nearest toilet is when I am abroad, but in Copenhagen there are actual manned public conveniences, like we used to have lots of here. In one of the city’s many squares I went underground to a wood-panelled loo; coming back out into the sun I noticed the beautiful brass banister, polished to a high shine. The attendant, an old man, smoking at the top of the stairs, seemed perplexed when I said how beautiful his banister was, as if to say ‘well, that’s my job, isn’t it?’ I was moved by that banister – please tell me that, when we are independent, we will have public lavatories with shiny banisters. Please.
We return to Edinburgh. At the airport, the machine does not recognise my passport picture; I am referred – by a gesture from a joyless guard – to a cubicle. A harried woman asks for my Public Health Passenger Locator Form, which, until Mr F did it for me, I had no idea was required (how am I supposed to know this?). But it will, alas, not download from my phone because there is no signal in that cubicle. ‘Just so long’s it’s there,’ she says, waving me through. The parking machine – we had paid in advance – asks us for £280, and we wait while this is sorted out. On the bypass, the sky grey, we pass a drainage company van with the number plate ‘WHO SHYT’, which, somehow sums it up.
So when independence happens, let’s all try very hard to be a bit Danish, maybe with a bit of Finnish in our schools, and let’s try very hard to smile more.