Saturday, 28 December 2013

DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY (so far) A REVIEW


Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin as Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Darcy.


I am a die hard Janeite, but one who only reads the novels,her letters and the various biographies, as they come along. I have visited Steventon, Winchester, Chawton. I live in South London and daily pass by  sites that are connected with Jane Austen. I do not, as a rule, watch Jane Austen films or TV adaptations, unless I am caught out.

Last night I was caught out. I walked into the living room and Marilyn said, “Sit down. Its just starting. You’ll want to see this.” “See what?” “Death Comes to Pemberley.” So I did, for what I thought would be a glimpse. The programme began, episode 2, of this three parter. The background music is understated and the scenery is what you would expect of a Jane Austen. All that is in place but I immediately got a sense of a darkness about the look of it all. The colours of this production are muted with a certain dark quality to them. I would have mistaken it for being filmed in Autumn for its sombreness. However, I am sure it was not.
The filmic techniques are at first disorientating. Everything appears to be happening quickly. We are drawn into the picture with camera angles, close ups and low down shots. We intermingle with the characters and it makes us part of the action, almost a character in the scene. It feels like a three dimensional experience but it isn't. I immediately thought, how clever.

And then, as the action progressed, I thought, I’ve seen all this before. Trevor Eve, an excellent actor, plays, Sir Selwyn Hardcastle, a local magistrate who, because of the lack of any viable police force in the early 19th century, deputises his own team of detectives . Sir Selwyn plays the part of the detective for this murder mystery. On one level this can be seen as a simple, who done it, a straight forward murder mystery. Sir Selwyn appears to be an intelligent, thoughtful, worldly wise detective along the lines of an analytical Poirot or a mindful Miss Marples, who goes through all the usual detective at a murder scene procedures.

Well that’s it then, I thought. I don’t need to see any more, but suddenly I was caught irretrievably, hook line and sinker. This is so much more than a murder mystery. It is a fight for the continued existence of Pemberley. It depicts the struggles within relationships that have developed during the years since the last paragraph of Pride and Prejudice. These are developing lives and relationships in all their subtle rawness and insecurities.

Matthew Rhys has a studied, dark, serious handsomeness. He is ideal for this Darcy.  Fitzwilliam Darcy is under pressure. The tensions and struggles in his relationship with Elizabeth are evident. He is being torn asunder in his destructive relationship with Wickham.  Honour and family are of prime importance to him. Wickham is always on the verge of destroying or damaging peoples lives around him, including those of Darcy and Elizabeth. The management of the vast unruly Pemberley estate, the continuance of his dynasty,  all weigh heavily. His relationship with Elizabeth is no happy ever after marriage as might be inferred at the end of Pride and Prejudice. He is married to an assertive, as well as a loving Elizabeth. .All these elements are intermingled and focus on Pemberleys existence and future development. His sister, Georgiana's, possible arranged marriage involves negotiations  about the continuance of a strong Pemberley. On top of all this,Wykham's association with Darcy  could mean the removal of credit at the bank. Elizabeth is fighting for Darcy's aristocratic soul.

Elizabeth Darcy is played  by Anna Maxwell Martin. Nobody dare tell me she is too old for this part. She is magnificent, subtle, strong, gentle, perceptive and intelligent. She is almost  Jane Austen herself. She fights for the rights of women, well, Georgiana Darcy’s rights as a free woman because she witnesses her sister inlaw being coerced into a loveless marriage with Colonel Fitzwilliam. She argues with Darcy over the question of , family, and the rights of the individual. There are some perceptive flash backs to her own courtship with Darcy and its ups and downs. We see the tensions between a married couple ebb and flow with strong undercurrents. 

Darcy under pressure.

 Lydia played by Jenna Coleman, is fantastic, grating, awful. She is the Lydia of Pride and Prejudice on steroids. She is sexy and gorgeous  but who on Gods earth would ever want to get near Coleman’s version of a pouting, ultra vain, over the top, attention seeking little hussy. Jenna Coleman has produced a virtuoso performance, but can your nerves survive?

Jenna Coleman as Lydia

 Mrs Bennet, who is played by Rebecca Front, creates a feeling of aversion too but not quite so much as Lydia. In the tradition of all great Mrs Bennets, she is a handful and the two of them, Lydia and Mrs Bennett, at one stage, are put in a carriage and driven away from Pemberley for their own sakes, and I suspect for the audiences sakes too, just to provide a little respite you understand, while the murder is being dealt with.

There are some laugh out loud scenes in this dark drama. The court scene, set in a coaching inn yard  has humour and pathos that creates a certain comic rustic quality such as the mechanicals in Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Nights Dream. There are also the cottage scenes which could be straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel, The Return of the Native or perhaps Far From The Madding Crowd. The coaching inn yard is where Wickham is first tried.  This local magistrates court decides whether the case should go to The High Court. The locals adamantly, vociferously and dramatically, in a country yokel sort of way, find him guilty. So, to the high court Wickham must go.


 Autopsy

It matters not a jot if some of you worked out who the murderer is in the first episode. There are so many rich layers to the relationships. References to the novel, Pride and Prejudice with accompanying meanings, swirl about this mini-series. It is very worthwhile. It is so much more than a murder mystery.

As I have admitted at the start I am not one to watch TV and film adaptations, but this is good, very good and I bet, for those aficionados of the TV and the films, it is up there with one of the best and one of the most inventive.

I have not seen the first episode. I will watch the second and final episode and then I will go back to BBC i-player and watch all three from the first to the last. That is something, coming from me.



Sunday, 15 December 2013

JANE AUSTEN born 16th December 1775

238 today!!!!! 238 today!!!!!

Happy Birthday Jane!!!!

Have a great one.






This is The Dolphin Hotel in Southampton where  on the 16th December 1793 Jane Austen celebrated her 18th birthday.

Fifteen years later, after moving from Bath and whilst living in Castle Square Southampton,with her mother, Cassandra her sister , Martha Lloyd her best friend and her brother Frank and his wife Mary, she attended another ball at The Dolphin.It was probably on 8th December 1808 because on the 9th December she wrote to Cassandra about it.  It was eight days before her 33rd  birthday. 

Writing to Cassandra, who was staying with Edward in Godmersham Park in Kent, she said,

"Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected,Martha liked it very much,and I did not gape till the last quarter of an hour.-It was past nine before we were sent for,and not twelve when we returned.-The room was tolerably full,and there were perhaps thirty couples of Dancers;-the melancholy part was to see so many dozen young Women standing by without partners,and each of them with two ugly naked shoulders!-It was the same room in which we danced 15 years ago!-I thought it all over- and inspite of the shame of being so much older, felt with thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then.-We paid an additional shilling for our Tea, which we took as we chose in adjoining,and very comfortable room.-There were only four dances and it went to my heart that the Miss Lances(one of them too named Emma!) should have partners only for two.-You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance- but I was- by the Gentleman whom we met that Sunday with Captain D'auvergne."




The ballroom in The Dolphin.


Another view of the ballroom today.


A view from one of the bay windows.

Monday, 25 November 2013

A visit to: GEORGIANS REVEALED at The British Library

This new exhibition at The British Library, “Georgians Revealed,” lasts from the 8th November 2013 until 11th March 2014.It has been curated by Moira Goff, head of British Collections (1501 to 1800) at The British Library.

The Exhibition Guide
  I have just returned from seeing this exhibition.  It comprises an amazing collection of artefacts and documents, providing evidence of Georgian life. Arriving at the library in the Euston Road, the red brick structure that comprises the British Library is in such a location it  competes with the Victorian marvel that is St Pancras Station next door and the more simplistic, Italianate Villa style that is Kings Cross Station. In some ways the library building includes aspects of both these iconic railway stations, icons of Victorian design and technology. The Victorians were the immediate inheritors of the Georgian world which they continued to develop, the style, architecture, technology, science, literature, art and societies mores. In front of the library is the massive bronze statue depicting William Blake’s, Newton, naked, seated, bent forward, his concentration entirely focussed on the pair of compasses in his hand drawing perfect angles and lines; using logic.An embodiment of the Enlightenment. The exhibition inside provides many more aspects of the Enlightenment period. It is an overview of  man’s creativity in science, art, and of society in all its forms.

Todd Longstaffe-Gowan's Georgian Garden

The exhibition spills beyond the limits of the exhibition space. Before we even get inside there is a Georgian style, formal garden of perfectly symmetrical arched hedges which you can walk through and around, placed on a smooth lawn located on the piazza in front of the library entrance. Landscape designer Todd Longstaffe-Gowan has created a Georgian garden entitled, “George Obelisk,” and which is loosely based on a design by Sir John Vanbrugh’s unexecuted entrance gate to the forecourt at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. The grass and the hedges are artificial but they create a Georgian ideal of the formal symbolic garden. As a centre piece to this garden is a tall pediment extending high in the air above the garden. On top of this thin, tall structure is positioned the head of George Ist. My first reaction was, what a strange thing to do. It immediately reminded me of those old prints depicting the Tudor and medieval London Bridge showing the severed heads of traitors stuck up on poles over the entrance to the Southwark side of London Bridge.


George Ist examining a miniature portrait of Oliver Cromwell.

 Once I had entered the exhibition proper the first item I came across were a series of portraits depicting the four Georges who spanned the Georgian era, 1714 to 1830. The very first picture, a cartoon by James Gillray, depicts George Ist, in profile, holding up a small miniature portrait of Oliver Cromwell in front of his eyes for perusal. He has a stoic expression but the message is obvious. Overthrow, civil war, revolution and perhaps execution is the message. All this was a possibility in turbulent times.  So the tall pediment with George Ist’s head surmounting it outside the libraries entrance contains some poignant messages. Those who guillotined the French aristocracy often held the severed heads up for display too.
The Georgian period was marked by revolution and upheaval; The Jacobite Rising in Scotland 1746,
The American War of independence 1775 to 1782, The French Revolution 1787 to 1799,
The Napoleonic Wars 1799 to 1815, The Peterloo Massacre in Manchester in 1819, The Industrial Revolution, roughly between 1720 and 1830, and an Agricultural Revolution was continuing throughout the Georgian period. George Ist may well ponder the possibilities as portrayed in this opening picture.

A great glass cuboid, basement to roof ,containing, The Kings Library.

 The British Library was founded on the book collection of King George III, who reigned from 1760-1820. As you walk into the library you are presented with a massive glass cuboid  column that plummets to the basement below and reaches up through all the floors of the building to the top. It encases The King's Library created for George III.  It is a soaring column of 18th century books, containing the knowledge of the world as understood when the library was created. The collection covers a vast range of subjects, from early printing and philosophy to architecture, topography and painting; from astrology and biology to agriculture and ancient languages. It included books by Jews, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants. It made me think of a sort of glass Tardis a time travelling brain or perhaps a type of Egyptian obelisk, or even a cenotaph, although this is no empty tomb. It is filled solidly with knowledge and understanding. It encapsulates the Georgian mind. The, “Georgian’s Revealed,” exhibition is a mere few metres from this extraordinary column of books. It is as though the exhibition has been created next to this monstrous Georgian ,”brain,” its power and influence overshadowing what is being done in its name.
The first thing I was handed when I presented my ticket at the entrance to the exhibition, which I had bought on the internet and printed off at home, was a copy of the exhibition guide. On the front is a scene from the ballroom at Brighton Pavilion, the Prince Regents south coast retreat from the attention of London society, overlaid by a William Hogarth sketch from the, “The Analysis of Beauty.” I unfolded the guide into one large A3 sized sheet. The front shows a diagram of the exhibition layout and a description of each part of the exhibition. The reverse side is covered by Thomas Tegg’s map of new London printed in 1830. The map picks out seven places, the site of the present British Library is number 1, Coram Fields is number 2 The Foundling Museum is number 3, Lincolns Inn fields is number 4, Sir John Soanes Museum number 5, The Hunterian Museum is 6 and  Woburn Walk, finally is 7. It as though the exhibition is already telling you to get out into the streets of London and see the Georgian world there.  Many Georgian houses and terraces survive. Sir John Soanes Museum is the home of the most prominent Georgian architect, the Foundling museum next to Corum Fields is where the poor children of London were taken  and cared for, Lincolns Inn Fields was one of London’s finest Georgian squares, the Hunterian, was where John and William Hunter changed the face of medicine in the Georgian period and Woburn Walk was London’s first pedestrianised shopping street. Jane Austen was most definitely a shopper. She wrote to Cassandra from London in 1811, “I am getting very extravagant and spending all my money.” The temptation arose to proceed no further into the exhibition and turn tail and get out and follow this enticing map. However that was to be for later. The exhibition really did beckon.


The entrance to Georgians Revealed.

When you walk into the exhibition the visitor is presented with a room introducing us to the four Georgian Kings. Their portraits are prominently displayed. Above your heads are a myriad of posters suspended from the ceiling on wires. Each poster depicts a scene from Georgian life. All subjects, themes and situations are massed above. It gives the impression straight away that there is so much, so many complex facets of the Georgian world to discover. Then there is a short wide stone staircase to the floor below where the exhibition starts.
It is interesting to note that the exhibition is designed on a simple square divided by partitions crossing the square from corner to corner like a Saint Andrews cross. Each triangular section displays one of the main themes of the exhibition, Section 1, Public places, private spaces, Section 2 Buying luxury, acquiring style, and finally section 3 Pleasures of society, virtues of culture. There is also a small room to one side that has its floor covered by an enlarged facsimile of Thomas Tegg’s new plan of London created in 1830. It occurs that this design is no whim. When you visit the Pleasures of society, section there are various types of dancing plans displayed.  Examples are displayed from the book, “For the further Improvement of dancing,” by John Essex, a celebrated dancing master during the early 1700s.  The simple pen and ink drawn dance designs  are reflected in the simple drawn plan of the exhibition.


A stylised ballet.

The first section is titled Public places, private spaces. It is about the homes and gardens of the Georgians. Some of the most exceptional items on display are the architectural pocket guides of William Paine (1730-1794) that include simple to follow floor plans and beautiful front, side and back elevation drawings. They were sold all over Europe and North America. There are examples of Sir John Soanes work and the work of Humphrey Repton, John Nash, and the designs for Stowe by Charles Bridgeman and later William Kent. This part of the exhibition continues, from the structures and designs of houses to what was put inside them. Drawings of Chippendale furniture, Wedgewood pottery, trade cards for wall paper hangings, cabinet maker’s book prices and reading materials including a 3rd edition of Fanny Burneys, Cecilia and a 1785 issue of The Lady’s magazine.


William Kent's illustrations for a feature at Stowe.


As a teacher it was interesting to see examples of books written for children. Some of them miniatures. These covered such erudite topics as wholesome sayings, and exhortations to work hard and practice minuets. It was evident that there was a debate in Georgian times as to how children learn; was it through play or reading? Often a mixture of the two was achieved. It just shows that the way we learn doesn’t change.
The superb collection of flower prints captivated me. Explorers in the 18th century brought back seeds to be sold to the gentry. The wealthy wanted to develop the gardens on their grand estates and provide exotic vistas often designed to create moods. They also wanted beautiful sketches of these exotic flora. Robert John Thornton (1768-1837) tried to gain subscriptions for an ambitious project he had which was to produce artist quality prints of plants. An example in this exhibition is The Blue Egyptian water Lilly. Each print was to cost one guinea. Thornton financed the project himself. When he fell into difficulties he was able to get an act of Parliament to hold a lottery to raise finances. The Royal Botanical lottery was instigated. However it failed to raise the financial backing Thornton needed and he went bankrupt. His collection of drawings is still regarded as one of the most celebrated botanical books ever published.


One of John Thornton's excellent plant illustrations.

There is a whole section on Georgian shops. It was surprising to find that the Georgians had large department stores. Wedgewood’s Rooms and Harding, Howell &Co were vast shops if the illustrations of their interiors have anything to go by. There are examples of everything connected to shopping and much we would recognise today. There are hand bills advertising goods and shops, much larger advertising posters and numerous examples of sample cards. One particular salesman’s card I looked at had examples of his company’s lace products. Other sample cards had various pieces of silk, muslin and cotton swatches showing depicting the colours and designs a lady could buy.
There is a magnificent drawing showing the length of Kensington High Street with each individual shop illustrated in detail. An aerial view is drawn below. A pair of drawings particularly took my attention. One showed Smithfield Market, that is located just to the north west corner of the old city near the Barbican. It is an aerial view, perhaps drawn from a rooftop nearby but more probably from the artists imagination. It shows a crowded area full of penned cattle. However it was the Covent Garden market scene that really captured my attention. It shows Inigo Jones elegant market place dominated by St Paul’s church. The scene looks chaotic, stalls, people and fruit and vegetables, carts and horses. You can imagine the noise of shouting, calling, the clatter of horses and also the smells, human, animal and vegetable, which must have been pungent and sharp on the nose.


Inigo Jones's Covent Garden. Henrietta Street is on the left towards the back.

 And then I focussed my look to the left of the print and towards the rear of the picture and there indeed, to one side of this mass of commercial activity is Henrietta Street and number 10, where Henry Austen lived and had his bank and where Jane, his sister stayed. Sometimes we forget that Jane Austen, when she stayed in London was in amongst mayhem, the dregs of humanity, prostitutes, hauliers, servants out shopping for their masters, horses and the ordure lying in the streets and smells that she must have smelled and the noise she must have had to endure. She only mentions in her letters the genteel friends who visited her and Henry in Henrietta Street, going to the theatre and buying tea at Twinings in the Strand .  However she joke about London having an adverse effect on her, in a bawdy turn of mind, writing to Cassandra..
Cork Street Tuesday 23rd August 1796

“My dear Cassandra, Here I am once more in this Scene of Dissipation and vice, and I begin already to find my Morals corrupted_”

 Looking at the picture of Covent Garden and knowing where Henry’s bank was situated,it begins to become evident who might have banked at Henry’s bank. All of humanity is there, seething about like some human cauldron. Jane could well have eaten food purchased from the interest on investments from prostitution. 
The clothing fashion plates on display are wonderful but my favourite part of this section depicting Georgian fashion were a man’s red shoes. A pair of bright red shoes with cream coloured laces and silk lined interiors, tapered towards the toes that nearly reach a point. They stand out vividly from the glass case they are displayed in. They look soft in texture and were probably comfortable but perhaps not the best design for toes.


A pair of red Georgian gentleman's shoes.

Theatre and celebrity culture is thoroughly provided for. Drawings and paintings of theatres, portraits of actors   and actresses such as Sarah Siddons and Dorothy Jordan, theatre bills and posters, catalogues, theatre inventories and music sheets. Highway  robbers, such as Jack Shepherd and James MaCleane and courtesans like Fanny Murray became celebrities too. This material provides evidence for a good debate about celebrity culture and has it changed much since Georgian times.


The Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Museums and galleries were becoming accessible to the public. Leisure and pleasure was important to the middle classes who could afford these sorts of things now. The pleasure gardens at Vauxhall are mentioned and Ranelagh, which was seen as a more upmarket version pleasure gorunds. The one that caught my attention was Bagnigge Wells Gardens. Bagnigge was located near the site of The British Library  and I think because of this it got more attention in this exhibition than the other perhaps more famous gardens. There were many posters and drawings of the pleasures on offer there. The point that was got across was that these gardens provided for the general public an experience that only the gentry and the rich could have experienced in the past within the confines of their own landscaped estates. All the world could meet in these places, the beggar, the prostitute, the shopkeeper , wealthy merchants,  the gentry, the aristocracy and in the case of Vauxhall Gardens, even the monarchy. These new pleasure gardens were a leveller of society. They were places to see and be seen. Gossip would start, people would talk about who they had seen and with whom and this news might get into broad sheets sold on the streets. People could make a name for themselves in these pleasure gardens. Assembly Rooms were also being built in most towns where the local residents could attend balls and meet others, strangers included.


Bagnigge Wells Gardens

The coffee houses of London and their importance to the development of the Georgian world of science, literature, banking and insurance is dealt with. Sports were developed along more organised principles in Georgian times. The rules for playing skittles and the rules for cricket are displayed. A hand bill showing the from Nottingham races during the month of August 1781 lists the horses. Cock fighting and pugilism, stagecoach travel and tourism, spa towns and seaside resorts, European travel and travel to the wild and beautiful places of Britain, The Highlands of Scotland, the Lakes and the Welsh mountains; the Georgian period did indeed see the development of things that are now part of our own world and society.
Amanda Vickery writing in the Guardian on the 25th October explains,

“The Georgians revealed by the exhibition are elite and middling. The culture and consumerism of the polite predominates, while royalty, religion and the history of ideas, politics and protest, work and industrialisation are underplayed as themes. Nevertheless, that still leaves plenty of meat on which to chew.”

It is true that the exhibition does not obviously portray the lives of the poor and the working class in industrial towns. These are more alluded to than shown. Shops must have had shop assistants, and the lace shops must have had workers working their looms. The working classes would have attended the rougher entertainments, boxing and pantomime.  Amanda Vickery is absolutely right, this exhibition is aimed at the middle classes who were becoming wealthier during the Georgian times.
She goes on to write,

“The exhibition wants to recommend the Georgians to a new public by stressing the recognisability of the age, from its coffee shops to its celebrity news. But make no mistake, the printing press is the real star of the show.”

This exhibition is situated in the British Library whose reason for existing is the written word. 
 I  imagine an Industrial Museum in Preston would have an entirely different set of artefacts to tell another aspect of Georgian life..
Finally, there is a small part of the exhibition which is to one side of the four main themed areas. The floor of this cramped area is covered by an enlarged version of Thomas Tregg’s map of London printed in 1830. When I walked in I was met with the sight of a sober looking gentleman, middle aged, walking steadily and slowly along the winding course of the Thames. I smiled and looked nonchalantly at some of the prints on the walls depicting Georgian London Streets. The gentlemen reminded me immediately of children I have watched, in various schools I have taught in, following the sinuous twisting of a painted snake on the school playground or playing hop scotch. I hope he was getting as much fun walking the Thames as the children did walking the snake.


Thomas Tegg's map of London.


The map reminded me of my first thoughts when I was handed the exhibition guide.  It occurred to me that I really must begin on the, “Georgians Revealed walking tour,” delineated in the guide. And so I did. I had to get back to Waterloo Station for the local train to Wimbledon so I decided to stop by the seven places highlighted on Tregg’s map. The only place I had not visited before was the Foundling Museum.


Corum Fields where the Foundling Hospital was originally situated.

 I have walked past Coram Fields on occasions to get to Russell Square but never stopped to explore the park or the Foundling Museum. I have been to Sir John Soanes Museum a few times so I knew that well.  I walked along Burton Crescent which is next to Woburn Walk and enjoyed the Georgian terraced crescent which is a little like a smaller version of The Royal Crescent in Bath. Georgian terrace houses are easy to recognise when you are used to them. Their structure is dictated by the social hierarchy and designed to create a safe environment in the society of the day.This exhibition is rich and complex and full of wonderful things. I could easily pay another visit there. I might do that after Christmas, before it ends.



Burton Crescent near Woburn Place. Examples of fine Georgian town houses.

Friday, 8 November 2013

EDINBURGH LOG (How do you find anything out?) (Part 3)

A piper.

As the Easyjet airliner came down low on its approach to Edinburgh Airport I felt quite excited. I had never been to anywhere in Scotland before. I feel that Scotland is part of my spiritual home. The British Isles over the centuries has seen a cross migration and integration of people. This is a separate issue to immigrants coming into Britain from further afield. The Irish have come to England in search of work and polarised around the big conurbations because of the building skills they have predominantly brought to the mainland. They have also come with their poetry, their Guinness and their airlines. The Scots have infiltrated England through banking services, whisky, salmon and of course the world’s best football managers. The Welsh have provided coal, the power source of our industrial growth, fantastic singers and beautiful poetry. The United Kingdom has been for centuries a close and perhaps, not always,seamless joining of these four nations. I am an example of this cross pollination. I have a lot of Irish blood a little Anglo Saxon blood from my mother, my wife is Welsh but more noticeably, my surname, being Grant, I have some Scottish ancestry through my father’s father. Hence the partial spiritual connection to Scotland. I feel that part of me comes from Scotland. However, my recent visit to Edinburgh was my first crossing of the boarder. My first touch of Scottish bedrock.

The Forth Rail Bridge opened in 1890.

As the jet reduced its altitude and the very substance of Scotland came closer I got a clear view of The Firth of Forth and then the magnificent Forth Bridge, the looped railway viaduct designed and built by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker and opened on the 4th march 1890. There it stretched across the width of The Forth all 2,528.7 metres of it like sound waves on an audio monitor. Just behind it arched the great Forth Road Suspension Bridge. All around  and off into the horizon were the humped and rolling Pentland Hills. I had never imagined Edinburgh’s surrounds. I have seen pictures of Edinburgh’s iconic buildings and places over the years but I had never tried to imagine its location and setting. Perhaps I had never seen or been provided with that sort of information. Nobody I know, knows Edinburgh, so nobody had described it to me.

Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat

Maps, books and photographs and TV documentaries have been my only contact. The maps and atlases have given me a sense of Edinburgh’s location in relation to Scotland as a whole, what is near it and what is further away. Its landscape has been only brown and green patches on a map and perhaps the backdrop to the film Thirty Nine Steps adapted from John Buchans novel. Its communication network have appeared to me as spidery lines, blue, yellow and black on a map. Atlases have shown me Scotland and Edinburgh’s  relationship to what I already know and have experienced of England and also its far distance from my birthplace, Southampton, on the south coast. All these things have informed me about Scotland in the past. I also know facts about its history and facts about its industries, its landscapes, its sports, its language and its myths and legends. All this was garnered from books and a variety of other secondary sources. These are very important sources of information when you are engaging with a place but to actually go there, look at it personally, talk to people, to just be physically present is another level of learning about a place altogether.

The airport is not inspiring. A collection of glass cubes and girder boxes. I caught the airport bus into Edinburgh. The stops were displayed on a computer screen as we drove along. Edinburgh ZOO appeared on the left and Murrayfield Stadium, the home of Scottish rugby, came up on the right. Many houses made from stone and corner shops selling familiar products passed and Edinburgh itself began to appear. The bus driver announced that we would not be driving down Princes Street; we would travel parallel to Princes Street along Queen Street. We rode through the elegant Georgian town houses of the New Town. This was my first realisation that there are two parts to Edinburgh. There is the New Town, designed by James Craig in 1766 and built between 1766 and 1850 and then there is the old town on the other side of the N’Or Loch high up on the escarpment ridge that slopes eastward from the massive volcanic plug on which Edinburgh Castle is situated.

Edinburgh Castle with Princes Gardens in the foreground.

I felt excited at my first site of Edinburgh Castle high above me, dominating the whole city, the angular lines and points of its rugged buildings, sharp in silhouette with the sun behind its massive bulk. I had a Berlitz pocket guide to Edinburgh in my pocket and I had my i-phone with its satellite navigation. The bus stopped at Waverley Station, Edinburgh’s main railway station, deep down in the N’Or Loch which extends eastwards from Princes Gardens. I had worked out by using Bing Maps where the guest house I was going to stay in was located in the Priestfield area, south east of the centre of Edinburgh right next to Holyrood Park with Arthur’s seat behind it. However standing next to Waverley Station I could not see Arthurs Seat and I felt a little disorientated. I set the satellite navigation on my i-phone to locate the guest house I was going to stay at. I put in the post code. It placed a blinking marker for me on the screen. I could see a flashing point showing where I was standing too. However I didn’t know which way to turn. The surroundings didn’t at first fit the map on my screen. I couldn’t work it out straight away. I tried walking up towards the castle and it showed me on the the screen that I was walking in the wrong direction. I then stopped a little old lady and asked directions and in her lilting Edinburgh accent she was able to give me directions to Nicholson Street and Dalkeith Road. Once she pointed me in the right direction then the satellite navigation was fine. I walked and walked and began to discover Edinburgh. I was carrying a small back pack and my Samsung SLR camera around my neck so walking wasn’t a problem. It was a brisk walk of about a mile and half. The last part was downhill, sloping away from the centre of the city.

The Mercat Cross


I took three tours whilst I was in Edinburgh. I had seen in The Royal Mile, next to the city cross called The Mercat Cross, just behind St Giles Cathedral, stalls and signs advertising Edinburgh walks. Gentlemen in black top hats and ladies in long black capes hand out leaflets and tell you about their tours if asked. It is the traditional place where the people of Edinburgh receive news of great events. It is still used to make pronouncements of historic importance. You can choose a night time ghost walk, a walk through Edinburgh’s hidden underground chambers or perhaps you might choose a walk around Edinburgh’s historic sites. At the entrance to one of the Closes, named Mary Kings Close, another walk was advertised to the hidden underground streets of Edinburgh. A visit to Edinburgh Castle is lead by guides too. Each guide has a different approach.

Auld Reekie Tours

First of all  I took the  Mercat Tour. Mercat being a Scottish form of the word, Market. The guide began her talk and walk next to the Mercat Cross. She announced to us, standing up on the steps to the cross, some of the gruesome Medieval and Stuart period practices of retribution and punishment that the cross was witness to. Interesting facts delivered with emphasise and relish. How much was she exaggerating? I am sure an unfortunate person being punished or executed at that time would agree with the powerful sentiments of the guide. A good guiding technique and trick to keep the facts vividly remembered by the people on the tour is to assault their imaginations and senses and put ,"the fear of God into them." The lady leading the Mercat tour took us to the Blair Street underground vaults. These were chambers created under the foundations of the South Bridge which was built in the 1780’s. Business men used the vaults for storage and they were also used as workshops for craftsmen. Taverns often created oyster cellars in these chambers. They were used for illicit whisky distilling and finally for criminals and squatters to hide in.Prostitution was also known to occur in these dark vaults. As with all deep dark damp vaults, ghost stories are bound to emerge,stories of strange sounds, lights and whisperings. The guide did not dwell too much on ghost stories, she probably wanted to keep her tour group from running away. She told stories of actual goings on in these cellars. A room displayed artefacts found in the vaults from various periods which we could view and some we could handle. She was very good at explaining the research and archaeology that had taken place and that was continuing, and which was uncovering the story  of the vaults and of course we were all asking questions.

The Blair Street Vaults

The young lady who took myself and a group around the Mary Kings Close was dressed for the part in 18th century maid’s costume. She played her part and used her actors skills. Mary King Close is situated in a different part of the Royal Mile from the Blair Street vaults. These underground rooms were created in the late 1750’s when the old town of Edinburgh was dilapidated and disease ridden. The new town across the other side of The N’Or Loch designed by James Craig was now the place to live. It was suggested that a new Royal Exchange be built on the site of some of the ruinous tenements that branched off the Royal Mile. They cut the buildings down in height by half to make a level area for the foundations of the new building , which was designed by James Craig the designer of the first phase of the new town. The fine new exchange dominated the Royal Mile next to St Giles but the old streets including Mary Kings close still existed, reduced in height, under the new building. The chambers and streets were abandoned and people were not allowed to live there underground. These chambers, as in the Blair Street Vaults, could be used for storage and in some, craftsmen's workshops were located. Our actress guide, in her flowing 18th century maids attire acted the part of an actual historical person, Mary King, who had been the maid to a wealthy family when the Close was an open Edinburgh street.We know about her through law court records because her master was murdered in the house by his mother in-law over a debt and so Mary King’s name appears in the court papers as a witness. We therefore have written proof she lived in the close. It is interesting to see the remnants of rooms in the truncated houses from this hidden and once forgotten underworld. In one room the remains of plastered walls made from wattle and daub are still there with their 18th century patterns and designs. You can see fireplaces, and doorways. There are some artefacts to examine. The guide dramatizes the story superbly and with passion. We hear about the  plague in Edinburgh both the Bubonic plague and the Pneumonic plague. We learned which of the two plagues it was preferable to get. Apparently it was preferable to get the Bubonic Plague.There was a gruesome, painful cure. The buboes could be lanced and the wounds cauterised with a branding iron. You had no hope with pneumonic plague. We learned about people being prone to arthritis, rheumatism, tuberculosis and lung conditions and both  wealth and poverty existing in the closes of Edinburgh cheek by jowl; the rich and poor, the criminal and the priest, side by side. One particular set of facts all guides loved to emphasise, to horrify and fascinate us in equal measure, were the sanitation problems of old Edinburgh. All those on the tour, came away with thoughts of the streets as foul smelling open sewers with piss pots being emptied from windows out onto the closes and wynds below with the shout, “Gardyloo,” which derives from the French ,”prenez garde a l’eau (mind the water), to warn passers-by. So lots of vivid descriptions and enthralling stories and a sense of humour is always needed.

 The guide at Edinburgh Castle added another approach. She told us the stories about the castle, its development, its uses and its present use but she also asked, us, questions. How many gates had we passed on our way into the inner ward of the castle? Which building did we think looked the oldest? She encouraged us us to observe and question. She also set the scene very nicely. She spoke with a French accent and was obviously French. She related how she was married to a Scotsman and now lived in Edinburgh but also pointed out that Mary Queen of Scots was brought up in France, spoke French and had a French accent just like hers. This guide used her attributes well.

The oldest part of Edinburgh Castle. St Margaret's Chapel.

Before I embarked on this adventure in Edinburgh I went into Wimbledon Town one day and went into Waterstones to find a guide book about Edinburgh. There were various ones but I chose the Berltiz pocket guide, partly because it was a pocket guide and was small enough to fit into my trouser pocket. But mostly, however, because it had two clear maps of the centre of Edinburgh and it laid out its sections in an easy to follow  format. The photographs were good, illustrating the various articles about, festivals, history, the act of Union, the old town, the new town, The Royal Mile, Holyrood, entertainment, sports, where to eat, galleries and museums. It was all there, described succinctly. And although I did not go into the restaurants illustrated in the guide book, it gave me a good,"flavour," of what to expect. It allowed me to explore for myself. Apart from using the maps, to begin with, I did not actually use the guide book while I was in Edinburgh but it has been a valuable tool to find answers to some of my questions since being there and has given me a deeper knowledge of Edinburgh since I have come back. It has helped and informed me in retrospect. The front cover of the guide book shows a picture of Edinburgh from Calton Hill and in the foreground is the Dugald Stewart monument, like a small round Greek temple. I went up onto Calton Hill, took out the guide book and tried to replicate the same picture. I got close, but it is almost impossible to replicate a picture exactly. You need the same lens, camera, lighting, time of day and weather conditions, but I did get close.

The Dugald Stewart Monument roughly the same view as on the front of my Berlitz Guide Book.

I love taking pictures. I have had a number of digital cameras over the years, some small pocket ones and two much larger single reflex cameras. I feel the need to take pictures wherever I go,   and definitely out on the street. I took a few hundred pictures in Edinburgh. Taking photographs makes me look carefully. I compose the picture in the view finder. I think about what the information is I am capturing. My eyes and thoughts  begin to focus on something carefully. Looking teaches  so much. We learn from looking. I certainly have. I find myself beginning to create stories and observations when I’m looking through a lens and I certainly did about Edinburgh.

Tweed suits!!

Walking about, looking and sometimes randomly taking a chance in the direction or the street I turn down always provides a learning experience. I want to be surprised and find the unexpected. I use past experience to  age buildings.  “This one is modern with its steel and glass construction. Those are 18th century town houses with their vertical social structure. Over there is a Victorian intrusion, copying neatly, Tudor features. What is a Scottish architectural style? And then of course there are the plaques and labels on things “ John Knox House, Enter Here,”  “Tweedle Court,” “Architectural Design Centre,” (this way arrow sign), “Welcome to the Scottish Parliament,” ”Abbey Strand,” “Horse Wynd,” ”Welcome to Holyrood Park,” “Highland Tour Departures,” “Greyfriars Bobby,” “Jenners,” “Coppers Coffee Bar,” “The University of Edinburgh Old College,” “North Bridge,” “The Royal Mile,” “Auld Reekie Tours,” “ “NEW ASSEMBLY CLOSE, Mansion of Murray of Blackbarony c1580 Ancestor of the Lords Elibank  In courtyard were dancing assemblies hall 1766-1784, commercial bank of Scotland and later children refuge, ” ”Riddles Close, “ House of Cashmere,” “Gladstones Land 1617,” “In a house on the east side of this close, Robert Burns lived during his first visit to Edinburgh 1766.” “The Scott Monument erected 1840-44 Sir Walter Scott bart 1771- 1832” Labels and signs are found everywhere, down every nook and cranny of the city,  increasing your interest, your knowledge, your curiosity. It’s just lovely to say the words on the signs. There is a sort of lyricism, a sort of musicality to them.

Museums and galleries are a rich source of artefacts often displayed in a time line which portrays the story that the locals want to hear. Each artefact , every painting has its own intricate story. They provide a source for interpretation that can continue forever and these collections develop over time and into the future.
I walked around The Scottish National Gallery and came across a beautiful painting of a young girl which struck me forcefully reminding me vividly of Abigail my youngest daughter. It provided a personal moment for me.


The young Scottish girl that reminded me of Abigail.

Learning about Edinburgh or any place occurs in so many ways. Some we are aware of, some we might not be aware of, unless we stop to think.

Friday, 25 October 2013

EDINBURGH LOG( Coffee time) ( Part 2)

A cup of delicious coffee.

Edinburgh has many cafes. The chain shops such as Starbucks and Costa are there, in fact, recently when I was in Edinburgh, I discovered one of each. They were hard to find. I came across them unexpectedly. It appears the big chains have not been successful in dominating the café world in Edinburgh, at least. Edinburgh, has an abundance of cafes. They are mostly individual businesses and some of them family run establishments. Some were begun as what is termed,” pop ups.” The Edinburgh Festival held each year, during the month of August, attracts people from all over the world to view artists work, performance art, new theatre productions, comedy and music shown at various venues around the city. The cafes thrive. Their use continues throughout the year, being frequented by locals and the large student population who attend Edinburgh University with its campus sites situated in the heart of the city and further out in the suburbs.

I was walking along Princes Street towards Calton Hill. I passed, Princes Gardens, The National Gallery of Scotland, with its multi-coloured Ionic columns, Waverley Station down in the hollow of the N’Or Loch and the cathedral like gothic spire of Walter Scott’s memorial, all on my right. In front of me I could see the iconic memorials high on Calton Hill, Nelsons Tower, The Dugald Monument, like a small round temple from Ancient Greece, and ”The National Disgrace,” or so it is termed by many Scots. The National Monument is a row of Greek columns, reminiscent of one side of the Parthenon that is situated high on The Acropolis in Athens. It is unfinished and nobody intends to complete it. The money ran out so it remains in its present state today.


The, "National Disgrace."

At the bottom of Calton Hill, before I was about to make my way up the steep road to the monuments, I saw a small café called, “Pep and Fodder”. There were a few tables and chairs on the pavement outside and some clean deal tables with harp back chairs inside. The ceiling was high. It was an old Victorian shop and by the tiles on the walls it looked as though it had once been a butchers shop or maybe an old dairy. A young couple were behind the counter. The girl, with tattoos up her arms and a neat workmanlike striped apron, asked me what I would like. I looked up at the menu behind her on large blackboards, painted carefully in bright white paint. I chose an Americano with milk and decided to try one of their delicious looking cheese and ham paninis. She heated the panini for me in a grill. I chose a table inside by the café window so I could look out at the world. A couple of other people came in and ordered coffees and sat down at one of the other tables. It was a welcoming place, warm and fresh and new. I noticed on the pavement outside that a sign had been stuck to the pavement saying, “pop up.” I asked the waitress what this meant. She explained that a pop up was a small business that is provided with a premise for a short period at a low rent to enable the business to get established. If the business took off, became popular, made money then a more substantial rent could be charged and the business could continue. This café, the Pep and Fodder was fresh and bright and seemed popular and what it was offering, good coffees and freshly made food seemed to be a winner. I noticed new pieces of art work on the walls. The bloke behind the counter informed me that they were painted by friends, art students who were trying to make their way too.
I left the café and explored Calton Hill and took photographs of Edinburgh from on high. There was a fantastic view of, Holyrood Palace, with Arthurs Seat and Salisbury Crags, massive, behind the palace. Edinburgh stretched out towards the castle and I could pick out many famous Edinburgh sites now that I had got to know Edinburgh.

Holyrood Palace from Calton Hill.

On my walk each day from and to Priestfield, about a mile and half from the centre of Edinburgh, I passed many local cafes. As I walked down Nicolson Street each day I always got attracted by first, the sight of The festival Theatre, glass fronted and modern which is the main venue for the Edinburgh Festival every year and followed by the Greek columned and porticoed Surgeons Hall on my right and the domed edifice of Edinburgh University on my left. At first, little did I know, that just before the university entrance and across the street from it, was, SPOON, a very famous Edinburgh café. I walked past it a few times and didn’t even look in. This was one of the cafes JK Rowling sat in while she penned Harry Potter. Being so close to the old and main part of the university it is often full of students with their Apple Mac laptops open, writing essays. But I will come back to students in cafes and the clientele of Edinburgh cafes later.

The Hula Juice bar in the Grassmarket area just down behind The Royal Mile, was one of the friendliest and heart-warming cafes I went into. It too, like the Pep and Fodder café had a sign on the pavement outside announcing it as a pop up business. It was immaculate inside and the people running the shop were so warm and friendly in their welcome. The coffee was freshly roasted and ground, it smelled and tasted wonderful,appealing to all the senses. The food was delicious and made right in front of me. I sat down at a table near two ladies discussing their children. A brash young man with his girlfriend sat two tables away but he spoke so loudly in his American accent, I knew all about his business in no time. A student at Edinburgh he talked about Paris and Amsterdam, Rome and Berlin, places he had been to while in Europe and he talked on and on, laughing at his own witticisms, about where he was going next when the university term ended at Christmas. I wondered what his degree could be. The girl with him didn't say much. A couple of free newspapers lay on the table next to me and I picked one up. It was a local student paper. It had articles about new music, art and new places to go in Edinburgh. It had interviews with students asking about their experiences of Edinburgh. Some of it, the arts pages were analytical and thought provoking. There was an article about  a sex club just set up in Edinburgh based on a club that somebody had come across in Barcelona; bondage and mild forms of pain, that sort of thing. I turned a page and there was a full page about the Hula Bar itself. The girl behind the counter I now discovered was the owner and she was interviewed on the page and there was a photograph displayed on the page taken of her, taken just about where she was standing as I looked across at her.  In the article she spoke about the, “pop up,” schemes in Edinburgh and the ethos and philosophy of the Hula Café and her plans for the development of the cafe. I was most impressed and mentioned the article to her. She smiled and was pleased. She told me about another place I should visit, which a friend of hers had set up.


The Dugald Monument on Calton Hill overlooking Edinburgh.

On another day I was walking up the cobbled street of The Royal Mile between high sided shops selling kilts and tweeds. I walked past The Whisky Centre and a restaurant or two, and just before the entrance to the forecourt of Edinburgh Castle there is a tall 18th century church with a high steeple that is now called, The Hub. It is the offices and organisational focal point for The Edinburgh Festival. I walked inside and it discovered that it has mostly kept its church layout with gothic arched windows and its vaulted barrel ceiling with wide oak beam arches. There is a café and restaurant to one side and various offices and performance and display spaces spread around. In the entrance there was a wonderful display showing sketches, finished watercolours and hand written text with annotations. It showed the development of a children’s book called Ruffled Russell; a collaboration between Mary Paulson and Audrey Grant the artist. It is the existential journey of a dog called, Russell, who is in search of a soul.

Ruffled Russel in search of his soul.

I sat there looking at the various elements of the display and actually began to think about my own soul and what it’s essence was. As a teacher of young children, over thirty three years, I believe you must challenge children with the deepest of concepts and they respond in many surprising ways.

One afternoon it began to rain and I escaped into a café called the, Brew Lab, situated again on The Royal Mile. Two nice young ladies served me a coffee and I took it upstairs. There were a lot of people up there, mostly students with their Hewlett Packards, Acers  and Apple Macs flipped open in front of them. They sat singly or in pairs. Most of the tables were taken except one small table by a window. A bespectacled girl sat at the table close to the table I was aiming for. The back of her chair was touching the rim of the table I wanted to sit at. She was totally focussed on the screen of her Apple Mac. She had a couple of weighty looking books open on the window sill next to her. She had marked pages by placing post it notes sticking out with page numbers and an annotation on each. Without looking at me or removing her gaze from the laptop screen she muttered, “sorry,”  and shuffled her chair sideways to allow me room to get to the table I wanted to sit at. Her focus on her bright screen never wavered. I couldn't help look over at her screen. She had got to the end of her essay. I could see she was working on the bibliography and she was formatting the essay. I glanced at one of the books. It was a book on theology. I tried hard to glimpse the first line of her concluding paragraph. I wear glasses and my eyesight isn't great. I squinted. I didn't want her to realise I was looking at her work. She couldn't see me. I was slightly to one side of her and behind. I managed to work out a sentence, something about Jesus as a philosopher. I couldn't quite get the full gist of it. I looked around me and noticed that all the other people in the café appeared to be working on essays too.

The Elephant House where J K Rowling drafted some of Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone.

It made me think of what I had heard about JK Rowling who as an unemployed mother with a baby, living on government benefits, worked on writing her first Harry Potter novel The Philosophers Stone, in Edinburgh cafes. Indeed, The Spoon, opposite the Edinburgh Festival Theatre was where JK Rowling wrote some of her first Harry Potter.  I came across The Elephant House, another JK Rowling haunt. The Elephant House is interesting, because the rear of the café, where JK Rowling is supposed to have sat, overlooks the back of Edinburgh Castle High on its rocky outcrop. I have never seen anything more like a vision of Hogworts School, high on its rocky outcrop. Just across the road from the Elephant House is the National Library of Scotland. A library member can study and research any subject they choose. JK Rowling, if she had been a member, would have been able to request every book written on witchcraft, black magic and the dark arts. Close by, The Elephant House, there is an old, well renowned Edinburgh School called George Heriots. It is a very high achieving school and pupils do very well there. It is a mixed, boys and girls school and in the late afternoon I watched the pupils on their way home walking past The Elephant House in their smart dark blazers, striped ties and white collared shirts, the boys in grey flannels, the girls in tartan skirts. The pupils of Hogwarts, no less!!!!

The cafes in Edinburgh are places to read papers, to enjoy reading novels, for students to write their essays, for Mums to relax and for authors to set themselves on the way to fame. They often display art work, live music is performed in some and next to John Knox House not far from Holyrood Palace is the Story Telling centre, which is a café and restaurant but it is where poets and story writers come to perform their work to the public.

John Knox House with the Story Telling cafe next door.

 These varied and inspiring uses for cafes in Edinburgh reminded me of the cafes of the 18th century that first of all sprung up in Oxford and a little later, in London and their importance to all forms of public, artistic, scientific and economic life.

Coffee houses began in earnest in England during the mid-17th century. Oxford was the first place in England where coffee houses began. A Jewish gentleman named Jacob began a coffee house called the Angel in 1650.A distinctive coffee house culture grew up. They were places where scholars could meet, debate and discuss new ideas openly. They were not restricted by the codes of the university. Christopher Wren and other famous illuminati gathered in Oxfords Coffee houses such as John Evelyn, Thomas Millington and John Lampshire. These Oxford style coffee houses which acted as centres for social intercourse, gossip and scholastic interest quickly came to London.. Pasqua Rosee, the servant of a Levant Company merchant called Daniel Edwards, set up the first of the London Coffee House in 1652. In 1656 the second coffee house began in Temple Bar set up by James Farr.

       Tom in The Rakes Progress outside of Whites Chocolate House. St James's Palace is in the background.

Coffee houses spread. Each had its own character and style of clientèle.
Lloyds coffee house in 1692 was home to England’s insurance brokers. Jonathans Coffee house in Change Alley was the start of London’s Stock exchange. The Chapter coffee House was renowned for its clientèle being voracious readers and also authors and aspiring writers went there to read their works and gain inspiration. The Grecian Coffee House was an upmarket place for scientists, philosophers and classical scholars. Isaac newton frequented this establishment. White’s Chocolate house near St James palace was the haunt of gamblers, whores and highwaymen. Hogarth depicts his dissolute character Tom from The Rakes Progress, in Whites Chocolate House.
Comparing Edinburgh’s coffee shops with London and Oxfords Coffee houses in the 17th century little has changed, well perhaps the whores are not around, or not obviously, but as places of gossip, news, education, discussion, art and literature, nothing has much changed. A day shopping for me is finding a good coffee shop to sit, be invigorated by a good draft of coffee, to read and to observe people. If a bookshops has a coffee shop attached to it all the best.

Roasted Coffee beans.

A cup of coffee, depending on its strength, has 20 to 100 milligrams of caffeine in it. Caffeine has been proven over the centuries to be a mild stimulant that reduces tiredness and can make people more alert. It is easy to see why from the 18th century right up to the coffee shops of Edinburgh and indeed The Elephant House, coffee shops are places for discussion, debate, writers, writing, thinkers and academics. The other sort of place for social gathering, the pub, which involves the drinking of beer can very quickly cause a situation where thinking clearly is not the foremost attribute to be stimulated. Caffeine can also help remove headaches, increase heart rate, the metabolic rate and blood pressure; just the things to promote exciting performances from poets, debaters, musicians and comedians. But of course it has its down side restlessness, nausea, sleep disturbances and cause the heart to have an arrhythmic beat, so it needs to be drunk responsibly!!!





Friday, 11 October 2013

EDINBURGH LOG (Feeling alone) (Part 1)


Edinburgh from Calton Hill.

I have spent the last four days in Edinburgh, by myself.
After I had registered at the Priestfield bed and breakfast, just a little out from the centre of Edinburgh I walked into the centre of the city. The bed and breakfast was situated just off the Jedburgh Road and close to the base of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags, a great volcanic shelf of basalts and granites tilted up like a rough lop sided table top, savage and rugged, reminding Edinburgh of its volcanic origins, 

I was in the High Street, the Royal Mile, just by the road that slips down to the North Bridge. The Royal Mile sloped down to my right, grey cobbled, hard granite buildings, four or five storeys high. St Giles Cathedral with its granite crown surmounting its main tower to my left.
I was on my own, in twilight Edinburgh, and the streets were full of people, partners, families and groups of friends, talking, laughing, being together and I was on my own. I began to have that dull feeling, slightly panicky feeling, when you have nobody to talk to; you stand on your own; you try not to be noticed and make people think, he’s on his own. You try to look as though you are about to meet somebody or you are stopping for a short moment before you go to meet somebody. You have a nonchalant air and look about you as though  you don’t care about being on your own, because it won’t be for long. You try to portray that image and I very quickly found myself doing that. It was a subconscious act; a survival tactic emerging from a natural human impulse. I felt uncomfortable and the thought seeped into my brain that I have three more days of this feeling. What should I do?

I walked up and down the Royal Mile, just looking. If I kept active, looking and thinking about things, learning as I went, that could occupy me and create a way of interacting and learning even if it was just with my surroundings. My time would not all be, feeling alone.I was going to be positive or as positive as I could. This would be a good experience
.
The time was getting on towards eight o'clock on that first evening and I hadn't eaten. I started looking at places to eat. All the pubs, their bright glossy fronts, red or green or blue areas of gloss paint, had their menus displayed prominently. The prices didn't matter. How was I to get inside, get a table, order some food? That was what concerned me. On my own in those packed establishments heaving with people who all knew somebody, who all had somebody to talk to, how was I going to do this? I didn't have the courage at first to just go in and brave it.

Deacon Brodies on The Royal Mile.

I saw a pub called Deacon Brodie’s that had a garish life size portrait of the deacon on the outside in his 18th century attire. He looked coarse, a little worse for drink with pink cheeks and his black bushy prominent eye brows. He was not judging me anyway. I thought, if I just go into this pub, find a quiet corner at the end of the bar, out of the line of sight of everybody, just order one pint, drink it slowly and then leave, maybe that’s what I would do. It would be a start. So I walked in and sidled past people and said, “Excuse me,” to get past a couple and then three tall young blokes parted to let me continue through the middle of them and eventually I got to the end of the bar. There were two bar maids dressed in black blouses, black pencil skirts and black tights. Their costumes fitted the dark sombre feel of the place with its dark brown stained panelled walls and leaded windows looking out on to the street. I called to one who was standing waiting. To be truthful she had already spotted me and was making a gesture towards me.

“Could I have a pint, please?”

“What would you like sir?”

Her voice sounded bright and welcoming, a smile split across her face parting her lips, bright red with lipstick. Her eyes showed friendliness. Her voice, a mixture of that gentle Scottish lilt and an element of  toughness, a confidence against the world, underlying the softness that shows the Scottish character. She was not judging me because I was on my own.

“I’m a southerner as you can tell.” 

She smiled  some more.I began to smile too. Her look encouraged me, lightened my mood and I asked.

“What would you suggest?”

“Nicholsons is a local brew. Would you like a dark beer or a light beer?”

”I don’t mind, which one you would suggest?”

“The brown beer has the best flavour.”

“I’ll have the brown beer.”

She smiled again. I could see the other barmaid smiling at me too. They were both welcoming and made me feel relaxed.
I noticed there was a menu. I asked them about food. The taller of the two barmaids, the one who had served me said,

“If you want to sir, just go upstairs to the restaurant and our colleagues will sort you out.”

She made me feel, after my earlier apprehensions, that I could do that. So I drank the brown pint. I enjoyed it very much. The beer tasted slightly sweet, but it had a hoppy smell and flavour to it. The pint went down very nicely. I said thank you to the two barmaids and they looked at me.

“I’m just going upstairs to try my luck,” I said. 

That feeling of nervousness made me seek reassurance again.

”OK,” said one.

The tall barmaid said.

”Enjoy your meal.”

“Thanks.”

And upstairs I went. The staircase was lit dimly with lamps on the walls as the stairs twisted to the right. Wood panelling lined the walls of the stairwell and large ornately framed prints of old Edinburgh hung at each stage.
When I got to the top there was a small lobby area before the restaurant room opened out in front of me. The lobby was brightly lit and a young couple stood waiting. In front of us a red rope looped between short posts barring our way. The young man said in an Italian, accent,

“If you wait here they will see you.”

His young lady looked slight in build and shy with a gentle unassuming prettiness about her and she stole a glance at me and smiled. She didn’t say anything.

“Are you from Italy?”

“Yes, we are from Rimini, do you know it?”

“I’ve been to Rome and Naples and Venice but not to Rimini, I hear it has a beautiful coast. I will go there one day.”

A young waitress, small, slim and neat with red hair cut in a short tight Joan of Arc crop came and asked me if I would like a seat.

“There is only me. Can you fit me in? I’ll understand if that is difficult. Don’t worry. “

“No trouble sir, I’’ll find you a place. Don’t you worry now. You might have to wait a minute or two.”

“Thank you. That would be nice.”

I was beginning to feel good. The two barmaids downstairs, the Italian couple and now the the waitress. It wasn't so bad being on my own. I could talk to people and feel good.
The two Italians went in first.

“Enjoy your meal. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” said the young man. His girlfriend smiled again.

The Royal Mile.

It wasn’t long before the little waitress came back and showed me a table by the window overlooking The Royal Mile and St Giles Cathedral.She gave me a menu to read and left me to it. I sat in a position so I could look out of the window and also into the room at all the other diners. I could see the Italian couple ordering their food on the other side of the room. They looked happy. They looked in love. They looked so easy together. I thought of home and Marilyn and Abi and Alice and Sam and of course Emily in Cardiff. I wished that they were with me. Marilyn would have enjoyed being here.

The little waitress came over standing in front of me talking with fun and happiness in her voice. I’d overheard her at other tables. She appeared so happy to meet everybody and to talk to them and she was being happy and fun with me too now. I loved the experience of ordering my meal. I could feel my mood becoming lighter and a good feeling was coming into my voice and I could hear myself sounding light and funny.

“This is my first time in Edinburgh. This is my first time in Scotland. I must have a haggis.”

“Haggis and tatties, sir?”

“What are tatties?”

“Tatties are mashed potatoes. They traditionally go with haggis.”

“Yes please.”

“What gravy would you like? There is a lovely gravy we do with whisky in it.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

She had been writing down the codes for the different things I had ordered and I felt tempted to try another pint of the Nicholsons brown brew, so I ordered another pint.
I was warming to Edinburgh and Edinburgh people and Edinburgh eating places. This was going to be alright. My feeling of apprehension when realising the consequences of being alone were beginning to dissipate.
The haggis and tatties with a jug of the whisky gravy arrived. The brown pint came and I began on them. I was hungry.

Now, haggis is a mixture of things and if I was to describe what went into a haggis, a lot of unmentionable parts of a sheep, my description might make you utter the expletive,”Ugh!!”  All I will say is that it tasted wonderful, meaty, aromatic with herbs and the texture was like warm porridge and the gravy indeed had a tang of whisky to it and the, "tatties," were soft and fluffy. The eating of it all and the drinking of the pint was a real joy. The meal filled a space, I can tell you and this second pint of the brown stuff began to make me feel a warm comfortable glow inside.

When I paid the bill and walked out into the night air I was beginning to feel good about this whole adventure, this whole escapade.

Holyrood Palace in the dark.


I thought I would walk to end of The Royal Mile in the dark; there was some moonlight. I gazed at Holyrood Palace through the railings of the gate and saw the massive hump of Arthurs Seat looming behind it. I spent a moment looking at the modernist architectural confection of the Scottish Parliament building across the way and then walked all the way back to Priestfield and sleep.