The Leither - Issue 134

Page 1

Priceless Issue 134

Leither The Healing Power of Wild Swimming

Soho So Good | Bill Drummond & Truth Street Deidre Brock & Ben Macpherson | No Recipe Man | The Chains of Leith

VMH Solicitors and Estate Agents

2 | | Issue 134

“A selfserving, overprivileged, thick-as-mince parasite”

Protempore …


t’s traditional at this time of year for our esteemed editor (are you sure? Ed) to ask me to provide you all with a little bit of crystal ball-gazing and set out what might be ahead of us after Christmas and into the New Year. As ever, I’m happy to oblige but must warn you – what follows is a small snapshot of the country you currently live in, and the country that will become home following the general election and the Brexit denouement. And as you’ve probably gathered, it’s not pretty. But let’s kick off on a happier note. The royal family is in turmoil as the person eighth in line to the throne, Ponce Andrew, decided to give a television interview to the BBC to try and explain away his “friendship” with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Saying the interview was a car crash is like saying the Titanic encountered a bit of cold weather on its maiden voyage. The Ponce mumbled and stumbled his way through every question and made ever more fantastic stories up in order to try and convince us that he’s not a sex pest and just like all the other royals; a selfserving, over-privileged, thick-as-mince parasite. Apparently, he went through a period when he couldn’t sweat. This was probably when he thought he’d got away with everything and the FBI weren’t looking out their passports. He also claimed to have spent a night at one of his daughter’s birthday party’s in a Pizza Express in Woking when it’s alleged he was dancing the night away with some other teenagers in a nightclub in London while sweating like a suicide bomber driving over cobbles. The Ponce said “he had let the side down” and that Epstein’s sex offending with minors

was “unbecoming”. The guy’s a grubby, mendacious, oleaginous twat and I hope his mum’s really proud of him. Should be a hoot at Sandringham this Christmas. Apparently, the family like to play charades – it’ll be fascinating watching Ponce Andrew trying to mime “Teen Wolf” in under two minutes. What could be better just before Christmas than having an election result announced on Friday 13th December? Well, granted, almost anything, but that’s what we’ve got to look forward to in the next few weeks. Predictions? If I’m being honest, I think it will result in another hung Parliament which would deny Boris Johnson the majority he needs to crash the UK out of the EU without a deal at the end of 2020. Because make no mistake, that’s what he intends to do. There is a small band of people who actually think that Labour are going to cause the upset to end all upsets and oust the Tories with a majority of their own, but I sincerely doubt it. And what happens if there is another hung Parliament? Well, that’s anyone guess, but I suspect that the only way to break the Brexit impasse at that stage would be to let the people have the final say in another referendum. But what would we be voting for or against? Boris’s deal or remain or an alternative deal with the EU brokered by a coalition of progressive parties or remain? I’m going to stick my neck out here and say it’s likely to be the latter, but don’t put money on it. And so, as we approach the season of goodwill, we should really think about the gifts that we’d like to give to a couple of people who have graced this column over the past year. Here goes. For Boris Johnson, it’s a no-brainer, a vasectomy. That’s a win-win situation, as it will ensure that we won’t have to worry about any more floppy-haired charlatans emerging from a womb with a view in Kensington; and he’ll be able to finally tally up the number of children he actually does have and answer that awkward question once and for all. The vasectomy should be carried out by one of his former girlfriends wielding two bricks and wearing boxing gloves. For Jeremy Corbyn, a map showing him the electoral landscape in Scotland after the election to remind him that the Labour Party has never recovered up here since the SNP took over in 2011. It might just make him think that the way to revive his party’s fortunes north of the border would be for Scotland to gain independence, which would result in the SNP factions finally tearing themselves apart as their shared objective had been achieved, and allow Labour to become, once again, the real voice of the poor, vulnerable and disenfranchised. And, for our dear editor, another road map showing the way to the Carriers Quarters – a route that for some reason he seems to forget periodically throughout the year. Said map to be delivered in a fat, brown envelope. Happy holidays. ■ Protempore

Contents 6

Sally Fraser ponders the ever evolving shape shifting that goes towards making a life


The Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act 1920 is still regarded as an unfair imposition says Gordon Munro

Pentlands in winter


Carolyn McKerracher is seriously contemplating a call 
to the mountain rescue team, when a lone figure emerges from the snowstorm…

Leither Published by: Leither Publishing Editor: William Gould ( 07891 560 338  Sub Editor: Dot Mathie Design:  Advertising: Sue Glancy ( 07772 059 516  Contacts:  8 Cartoonist: Gordon Riach Illustrator: Bernie Reid Printers: Gladstone Media, Bonnyrigg ( 0131 663 5305 ( 07443 425125 8 * © 2019 LEITHER PUBLISHING. Reproduction in whole or part is forbidden without the written permission of the Publishers. The Leither does not accept responsibility for unsolicited material. If you have an interesting story we should know about, contact William Gould on tel: 07891 560 338. If you would like information on advertising or sponsorship opportunities with the Leither email: Cover: Edinburgh & Portobello Wild Ones Swimming Club photographed by Anna Deacon

Issue 134 | | 3

SandyCampbell Museums & Galleries Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh Council

Leith’s Chains of Destiny

On the Loose A story based on newspaper reports from the time


t lunchtime on Monday 7th of December 1953 a young couple strolled arm-in-arm into Huntly House Museum on the Canongate. The gentleman paid their sixpence admission fee to Mr McClure on the desk. Smiling politely, they made their way upstairs. No need to rush. They knew the other attendants were on their lunchtime break. McClure, downstairs, was all they had to worry about. They went straight to the cabinets on the first floor. Inside the main locked one and displayed either side of a pretty ordinary looking necklace, were the chains - plural. That was a surprise! The most glorious, and the purpose of this whole venture, were the Leith chains – the ones worn by Provost John Lindsay until 1920 – the year when Leith was dragooned into greater Edinburgh. The man recalled his dad saying he’d witnessed John Lindsay ceremoniously handing over the chains to Edinburgh officials, with the Leith Citizen’s Party demonstrating in the background during the run up to the first Greater Edinburgh municipal elections being held in November of that year. At the far end of the cabinet were the Portobello chains. The Leith chains were resplendent in beautifully crafted gold, together with the enamelled pendant showing the Persevere insignia of Leith in all its glory. His mind wandered back to his dad. He was always going on about Leith. “Those days are past now,” he nearly said out loud to the ghost of his Leith conscience. “Look; they’re solid gold! They’ll be worth a fortune.” “Stop dreaming. Get a move on.” She said, snapping him out of his dwam. The tools came out from under her coat and handbag and in a jiffy they were in. The Portobello chains came too.(Portobello was swallowed up by Edinburgh in 1896). “A bonus! Poor old Porty.” Together, they made for a good haul. They could hear McClure wandering about downstairs, probably heading for the cludgie. Now was the time to get the hell out. Heading for the stairs a gold snuff box caught her eye inside a smaller glass case. She tried the lid. It wasn’t locked. “Serves them right” he whispered whilst scooping it up. It was a wee beauty with Edinburgh’s fine coat of arms enamelled on the lid. “I bet they make more fuss about losing a poxy Edinburgh tobacco tin than they do about losing our chains” Moments later they burst out the front door into a bright sunlight winter’s afternoon. And off they bustled down the Canongate with two sets of civic regalia under their coats and a gold snuff

4 | | Issue 134

John A. Lindsay (1865-1942), CBE, Provost of Leith (1917-1920).

Once we had the evidence that we were once independent and now that visual, almost regal evidence, is gone box in their pocket. Just as the door swung shut McClure emerged from the cludgie with yesterdays’ Evening Dispatch tucked under his arm. “I wonder if that couple are still upstairs?” He mumbled to himself, as he shuffled towards the staircase. And that was the end of Leith’s Civic Regalia. Edinburgh’s finest constabulary drew a blank in their search for the thieves. “It seems reasonable to assume that everything was sold for its gold value and would have been melted down” the City Archivist wrote to me in 2006 when I started my quest for the lost chains. I have always had an interest in understanding the symbolism of identities of place; those communities or peoples who feel they are not being rightfully recognised. Be it Scotland or Leith, or those geographies where loyalties are split, like Israel/Palestine or Northern Ireland. I have noticed the power of symbols in marking a place out for recognition. Flags, crowns, chains, sashes, even marbles or stones. Indeed the lost civic regalia of the Leith Provost Chains are our Stone of Destiny. Once we had the evidence that we were once independent and now that

visual, almost regal evidence, is gone. Those of us who are old enough will remember the ceremonial return of the Stone of Destiny to Edinburgh Castle in the dying days of the Conservative Government in 1996. By then it was too late to appease Scotland’s demands to be recognised. Only our own parliament would do. I was brought up on the story of how four young Scots ‘stole’ the Stone from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1950, only for England to ‘find’ it again after an anonymous tip off. Well Edinburgh: ‘find’ our chains. So how would that work? Well we could make a project out of it and involve the school children of Leith in creating new chains, using the compensation funds from Edinburgh Council. New chains to mark our history: the docks, the whaling, the demolition of the Kirkgate, the arrival of new Leithers; even the trams – old and new! And where would we display them? As if by serendipity, the Scottish Historic Building Trust is currently canvassing ideas for what to do with Customs House on Commercial Street. A Leith Museum is being floated. So, when our new chains were not being paraded around the burgh, they would be on display in a damn secure cabinet. Edinburgh lost Leith’s chains when they were in their care. Edinburgh should pay for us to replace them. And we’ll look after them this time. ■ Ê Help: What are YOU doing for Leith in 2020? Start by completing our survey:

When one door closes another opens Sally Fraser ponders the ever evolving shape shifting that goes towards making a life

South Leith graveyard and church


he sky looked like the sand this morning. You know, the swirly, patterned bits of sand on the edge of the shore. The bumpy stuff, where the tide has gone in and out, and where you get quite a nice foot massage if you walk across it with no shoes on. I have a similar pattern all over my belly, from stretch marks, and shrink marks, and stretch marks and shrink marks again. From when I had the babies, the tides of life, the changes, leaving their mark. And this morning the sky was like that, as if to say, the sun is up again, another change, over and over, coming and going. When one door closes another opens, people keep telling me. Like change is a good thing. I mean, I know it can be, but I don’t like it. As I look at all the various lines on my body; see my face change, hear the creaks in my knees. I wonder why nothing has settled yet. I am not sure if it ever does. I’ve been very lucky in that I get to talk to lots of very old very wise people all the time and one of the great joys of that is you appreciate that we are all always moving, always renewing, and in the same way no-one ever feels rich, no-one ever feels old or grown up. 6 | | Issue 134

People who can list all their houses and jobs, who realised long ago we don’t really get to cling to anything, we just have to hold on

I hear people say things like ‘and she was only eighty-six’, or ‘the thing is, I’m not a Leither, I have only been here sixty years’ and I question my right to feel settled at all. People who can list all their houses and jobs, who realised long ago that we don’t really get to cling to anything, we just have to hold on. Even though there will be times when that doesn’t feel very nice at all. When one door closes, another opens, but you meet hell in the hallway, someone else told me, and I thought yes, that feels more like it. I am very much in a ‘the hell in the hallway’ phase right now. I was sitting in the graveyard at South Leith church, taking advantage of the last few days before they start taking the wall down, feeling sorry for myself about that. A gentleman walked past who I first met doing outreach work, and sensing I was a bit fed up came to talk to me. “Does God talk to you?” He asked. It must be the question I get asked the most in my life. “Nah,” I said. “Not me. But I read recently that God only ever says Yes, No, or Wait, and most of the time he says Wait.” “Sounds about right”. “But it’s not easy” “No, it’s not.” So, wait I will do. I noticed the other day that I have been writing, dear reader, on these pages for seven years now. When I started, snatching the odd hour here or there when my children were at playgroup, I couldn’t have imagined

what the next few years had in store, what all the open doors were going to be. Remembering that, makes the hallway a little less hellish. I mean who knows what will have happened by even the next issue, never mind in another seven years time? Maybe I will still be sitting on the walls of Leith occasionally feeling sorry for myself but generally doing okay. Maybe I will still be working in the church, listening to God through the people I meet in the street and the amazingly wise old ladies I chat to. Maybe I will write another novel, or play or a sitcom – a bit like Fifty Shades of Grey, but with more incense, or Fleabag with less sex. Or Father Ted, except the person in the corner drinking and swearing is this little northern English woman rather than a priest. Maybe things will get better and maybe they will get worse, but hopefully I will get to notch up a few more wrinkles and a few more anecdotes to write about and one way or another I will still be finding blessings to count. We aren’t promised answers and we aren’t promised an easy life. Nobody ever said, take up your cross and follow me, but if it gets a bit uncomfortable put it down and have another slice of cheesecake while you watch The Apprentice. What we are promised is that we are seen and heard in our struggles and that we have hope. The tides will make their marks on the sand, the sun will rise and stain the sky however it chooses. n

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Your opportunity to show your social and environmental consciousness this Christmas without saying a word.

The perfect jewellery, accessories, or homeware gift ranges for those special people in your life


E: W:

8 | | Issue 134

The revolution should be televised Christmas telly is now dog shit rolled in tinsel. Time for a yuletide revolution, says Colin Montgomery

are made to magically disappear in front of his very eyes; all tipped into an incinerator shaped like a golden top hat, including pets and his autographed rings. Will he take the plunge to join his goods and chattels? Or will he settle for a vertical sob?


f they could bottle nostalgia, the poppy fields would wither and die. I mean, who would need to surf the opioid waves, when the warm rush of selective memory gets to work? Memory Lane would be our shooting gallery – our Muirhouse, our West Granton, our Wester Hailes…all rolled into one. No spoon-burning, filthy contaminated works or local heavies to worry about. It’s odourless. It’s invisible. It’s free…well sort of (it does come with its own price). And the best gear comes to us from December’s crop. Ah, December…. It starts with the advent calendar. Well it did for us back then. No chocs or novelty mind (mother was a Church of Scotland elder don’t you know). T’was your standard nativity gig with the anointed one, regal retinue and holy menagerie. The shoddy clip art wasn’t the big thrill, it was the counting down – I should have worked at NASA. But full blast-off wasn’t achieved until you hit the week before the big day itself. For that period from around the 16th or 17th onwards was stuffed full like some scrawny gobbler with the finest telly in the land. It was real slobber-worthy stuff. We had the Radio Times laminated in our household. That may seem downright unhinged to your average twitching greeb today. Flicking away at their phones. Bumping into lampposts. LOLing and LMAOing through life. They can barely concentrate hard enough to have a wank. We were a stoical generation who could endure hours of a catatonic girl with a clown puppet teaching us algebra, and pictures of a kitten with Scottish dance music playing over it. Hear that you scrotes? Not a fecking app or console in sight! Three channels and the ‘national’ anthem at the end of the night! Are you hard enough?! Eh? Eh? But to be fair, these deprivations were all forgiven come Christmas. We had hour long Christmas light entertainment specials alongside classic movies, some of them as recent as four or five years ago. I remember fainting at the prospect of Herbie hitting the tube; I was brought round with some Cremola Foam and a Wagon Wheel. Cartoons on tap – I bet Glen Michael’s nose was right

Saturday 21st December, 10.30pm

Colin’s advent calendar from 1975, thank you eBay

I remember fainting at the prospect of the film Herbie hitting the TV screen; I was brought round with some Cremola Foam and a Wagon Wheel

out of joint: Paladin probably got both barrels. Plus the gash novelty-riddled Top of the Pops with your paedophile DJ of choice! A feast that would shame the ending of a Dicken’s novel. You could plan your festive snowballs round it. I say snowballs, but they were normally stony ice balls in my street, studded with gravel. Kids do the funniest things. “So, Christmas telly was great back in the day. And it’s crap now. Or so you claim, Col. Enough already. I’ve got a box set to watch,” and so on. Well, piss off and binge then. But just be aware that while your arse is whispering sweet nothings to Mr Sofa, you’ll be missing out on a TV revolution that will start right here, at least, in theory. We just need to fire this magazine to all of the UK’s major terrestrial television channels and ensure the top bods at programming read it. What could be simpler? Yes, here it is people, the sort of dream schedule that only a merciless and capricious deity could resist. And before I zip through it, I offer symbolic royalties to the genius of Charlie Brooker’s TV Go Home. Charlie. I thank you.

Friday 20th December, 7:45pm

David Copperfield’s Disappearing Topper Bouffant Vegas mountebank, Copperfield, is sat atop a 40ft wand, with no ladder, as all of his worldly belongings

Prince Andrew 2: Trapped in Central Park Following the success of the adrenalinefuelled fun ride that was ‘Prince Andrew 1: Spunking Other People’s Money’, things take a darker turn in this gritty sequel. The dundering boorish sociopath gets lost in NYC’s famous green zone and is fired upon from the vantage points of surrounding skyscrapers by dead-eyed teenage girls, wearing I ♥ JEFFREY T-shirts.

Monday 23rd December, 5.25pm Ray Winstone Punches a Fox Ray Winstone punches a fox.

Tuesday, Christmas Eve, 9.02pm Nigel Der Ubertwat Farage Swallows Gold An homage to John Heartfield’s iconic Dadaist poster, ‘Adolf Der Ubermensch’, which ripped Hitler a new one. We recreate it but with Home Counties Poujadist, Nigel Farage, sitting on a shoogly branch above a vat of steaming rat diarrhoea, being force-fed golden Brexit guineas by a Boris Johnson impersonator, until the weight of his avarice sees him fall.

Wednesday, Christmas Day, 3pm

The Queen’s Beach Lingering shot of a private beach in a tax haven, where the crystal azure waters lap gently; far, far, away from this shitstorm of inequality, poisonous populist dog-whistling and general fuckwittery. Land of Hope and Glory is played out on coconut shells while a hedge fund manager dry humps a sand sculpture of a screaming pleb face. For ever. And ever. Anyway… Merry Christmas folks. ■ Issue 134 | | 9

TheNoRecipe Man

Let’s get physical

Tom Wheeler


hen I was little, I was fascinated by physics – though admittedly I didn’t know it at the time, or for quite a while after. Specifically, what intrigued me was how things worked and, just as importantly, why. Why did the tide go in and out? What were all those shiny things in the sky, and what was holding them up when almost everything else eventually seemed to fall down? How could my parents’ car move so fast without any of us pedalling? (I gathered it had something to do with the stinky stuff they pumped into the car occasionally, but if anything that only added to the mystery.) How could Paul Daniels saw someone in half but fix them afterwards? (At least I found out a satisfactory answer to that one: “That’s magic!”) Not unreasonably, I imagined that once I got to Big School, I’d soon find out the answers to all these questions and more. The reality was far more mundane and distinctly confusing. Lessons always seemed to focus on the detail – shapes of valleys, types of rock, noble gases and simultaneous equations – with little attempt to link this to the more fundamental questions that had piqued my interest in the first place. If anyone asked about anything broader or more existential, this was casually referred up the line to the big dude in the sky, whose approval we were expected to seek every morning at assembly by singing bad songs badly in his general direction. It’s fair to say I wasn’t entirely convinced. This reductive approach to teaching reached its soul-sapping nadir in physics lessons. If you’ve ever wondered how best to suck every drop of curiosity from a classroom of precocious teenagers, may I recommend asking a hundredyear-old man in half-moon glasses to dictate interminable passages about semi-conductors in a low Geordie monotone. We forgot this information The upshot of this was that I came to dissociate the physics I was taught at school from the big questions of time, space and existence that had so intrigued me. When the time came to make such decisions, I unhesitatingly chose to specialise in arts over sciences, by process of elimination as much as anything. This hasn’t served me too badly overall – I doubt I’d have found my way into the glamorous, lavishly remunerated world of food columnism without it – but I do sometimes wonder what direction I might have taken had I been able to appreciate the connection

Will Hay – strikingly similar to Tom’s physics teacher

between what I was being taught and what I wanted to know. As an adult, and as the memories of those interminable physics lessons began to fade a little, my curiosity gradually returned, aided by the likes of Marcus du Sautoy and Brian Cox demonstrating on TV that scientific knowledge and effective communication skills needn’t be mutually exclusive. I’d even go so far as to say that I’m genuinely interested in physics again, even if my younger self would scoff at the notion. And while my knowledge of the subject might be largely homespun and wildly incomplete, I reckon it’s been essential to me becoming a half-decent cook. Long-buried recollections around heat transfer come back to me when deciding how to cook two steaks of differing thickness, even if the instructions on the packet would direct me, entirely wrongly, to treat them identically. Knowing that water can’t exceed 100°C while remaining liquid is unlikely to win me any science prizes; but applying that knowledge to regulate cooking temperature – for instance,

The only fundamental question was this: if time is supposed to be a constant, how come time slows down dramatically during double physics on a Tuesday? 10 | | Issue 134

surrounding a terrine with water before placing it in the oven, then topping up the water throughout the cooking process – can be the difference between a triumphant end product and a ruined one. The knowledge that water will evaporate more quickly when exposed to higher temperatures lets me rapidly reduce a thin, insipid sauce into a rich, concentrated one; and my admittedly vague appreciation of what happens when particles collide at high speed reminds me to lift the meat and veg out of the sauce before I do so. I’d respectfully suggest that an evening of binge-watching science documentaries will do your cooking far more good than spending the same time poring over cookbooks and dutifully following the recipes within. The knowledge gained, and/or memories rekindled, can have a surprising range of applications next time you’re staring at an unsatisfactory-looking pot of food and wondering how on earth you’re going to sort it out. By contrast, learning by rote may have been a popular technique in certain school science departments of the early ‘90s; but it’s liable to leave you feeling much the same way about cooking as I used to feel as I trudged towards those double physics lessons. And I honestly wouldn’t wish that on anyone. n Ê Twitter: @norecipeman



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12 | | Issue 134


So Good

There’s nowhere quite like London’s Soho. But its disreputable status is under threat discovers Kennedy Wilson


oho, the square mile of central London that was once a byword for bohemian overindulgence. Sandwiched between Theatreland, Chinatown and Trafalgar Square this labyrinth of tightly packed streets and alleys was laid out in the late 17th century when landowners and developers built a mix of grand homes and workshops. Many Soho streets (Beak, Rupert, Compton) were named after the entrepreneurs who laid them out. In the 1960s writer PD James called Soho the most sordid nursery of crime in Europe. But it has also long been a creative centre. At its far eastern corner is Denmark Street the UK’s own ‘tin pan alley’. At its centre Wardour Street where all the main film companies once had their offices and screening rooms. It is in Soho that the British Board of Film Classification has long been based. In Frith Street in 1926 a certain John Logie Baird demonstrated his first television. Ever since the area has been popular with media people. The exclusive hotel and club chain Soho House started as a media people’s club in Greek Street in 1995. The area has always reinventing itself but now things are changing and the essential character of Soho is in danger of being lost. In recent years its countercultural spirit has been harder to detect thanks to the dead hand of gentrification. First came retro shops, juice bars, galleries, trendy eateries and hipster barbers, where creatives can get their beards buttered. The coming of chain stores and corporate offices meant skyrocketing rents and that has really threatened the devil-may-care Soho vibe of old. Once there was cheap office space – Private Eye and Spare Rib magazines started in Soho – but that’s a thing of the past. Current plans to demolish two blocks and build a new Crossrail train station could well change the area forever – and for the worse. Stephen Fry is leading a Save Soho

campaign. It was he who called Soho the most creative neighbourhood in the world. Once in tolerant, cosmopolitan Soho, anything could happen. The Photographers’ Gallery, a resident of Soho for nearly five decades, has reflected the neighbourhood’s ‘notorious history, creative legacy and openness to difference’, writes the gallery’s director Brett Rogers in a new book Shot in Soho: Photographing Love and Lawlessness in the Heart of London: Karen McQuaid and Julian Rodriguez (Prestel £24.99). The book coincides with an exhibition of the same name at the Photographers’ Gallery, which runs until 9 February 2020. More than this the gallery has consistently commissioned photography projects and artwork in and around the area. The book includes work by assorted art photographers including Corrine Day a fashion model turned photographer who discovered Kate Moss and whose work appeared in The Face and Vogue. William Klein, who made an overnight name for himself in 1956 after a remarkable body of work taken in the streets of New York is also featured – The Sunday Times Magazine published a notable set of colour images in 1980 of Klein’s sojourn in Soho. The 1950s was the heyday of modern Soho. Postcards in alleyways advertised ‘French lessons’ or ‘model’. The place has long exuded a wonderful seediness attracting runaways, drifters, potheads, rent boys, drag queens, sugar daddies, actors, sleazoids, media whores, hacks, cheapskates, aristos, refugees, chancers, criminals, punks, bent coppers… disestablishmentarians of every hue. They came in search of strip clubs and late night pubs, gambling dens and basement jazz bars. Ronnie Scott’s attracted big jazz names and the Marquee Club, which opened in 1958, hosted every rocker from the Stones to the Who. One of the most storied venues was the Colony Room Club on Dean Street (where Karl Marx once rented rooms),

Clancy Gebler Davies, The Colony Room Club 1999-2000

Attracting runaways, potheads, rent boys, drag queens, sugar daddies, actors, sleazoids, media whores, hacks, cheapskates, aristos and bent coppers

which had such regulars as Dylan Thomas and Francis Bacon. Matters were presided over by aptly named landlady Muriel Belcher who greeted regulars with a joyful “hello, cunty.” Bacon’s famous toast on ordering a magnum after selling a painting was “champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends”. Soho was also home to London’s nascent gay community, Glasgow born boutique owner John Stephen – the man who invented Carnaby Street – started off hawking nylon posing pouches. Thirty years later Old Compton Street was an out and proud gay heaven. By the 1970s Soho was best known for its porn shops and strip joints. Some of the neighbourhood’s seedy debauchery remains and looks a wee bit quaint. In the 1980s Soho gave birth to alternative comedy while YBAs like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin were hanging out at the Colony. Another magnet over the years was the 2i’s Coffee Bar, a haunt for both layabout wannabe beatniks and the famous (as varied as Tommy Steele and Jimi Hendrix). Before the Costas and Starbucks moved in Soho was famous for its cheap eateries. The Stockpot once attracted theatre workers after their day was done. And Crank’s was one of Britain’s first wholefood vegetarian restaurants. Where next for Soho? According to Julian Rodriguez, co-author of Shot in Soho the area ‘is bracing itself for the footfall explosion that will result from Crossrail’s new stations’. You get the feeling that somehow Soho will survive. ■ Ê Twitter: @KenWilson84 Issue 134 | | 13

Standing at the Sky’s Edge

Katy Nixon’s Short Story Illustration by David Lynburn


mind once me and Charlie, years ago now, skipped college and got the bus into town. It was before St Andrews Square had been opened up as a place everyone could enjoy. It had been a locked garden in the centre of town since I could remember. . Maybe someone in the council realised how messed up it was as a symbol of inaccessibility in a divided town like Edinburgh. Turning it into a public space was probably just for the tourists though. Me and Charlie were obsessed with all the locked places around town, it seemed mental to us that where we lived was just wide open space for anyone to do what they wanted to. Leave the kid’s park derelict, board up the youth centre, stop the buses from running all the way down there. Then we discovered these gardens that you had to have a postcode to get a key to enter. Just sat there, taunting us in plain sight. Places of beauty that weren’t for us at all. But that day we went to the Bank of Scotland across from St Andrews Square, stoned out of our boxes. Charlie needed to try and withdraw the last few quid from his account. We walked into the dome shaped building.

14 | | Issue 134

I’d never seen it before and as we wandered through the foyer into the main banking hall my jaw just sort of dropped. The polished ground seemed to fall away as my mind was lifted up towards the ceiling. It showed a huge painted sky with star shaped windows and pockets of light to let the real sky in. Charlie turned to see what I was doing, “mate... what you looking at?” I just pointed up and Charlie looked up and it was

Charlie looked up and it was like he’d been seeing it all his life, this ceiling, but never properly clocked it like he’d been seeing it all his life, this ceiling, but never properly clocked it. The two of us stood in our blue overalls and boots looking up at this universe that was just a bank, while people milled around us looking sideways as we turned slowly letting the dome of the ceiling rotate around our heads. Of course we got asked to leave by

security for looking like space cadets. I thought how mad it was that they built this beautiful thing to house money, to be a church to wealth. We stood on the outside again skinning up and I wondered what the dome and its artificial sky meant. I tried to imagine what the people that built it might have been like, would they have been men like me and Charlie, would they have got to stand under it when it was finished, looking up, like we did? We walked about for a bit not really talking then headed to the Foot of the Walk to mull our thoughts over, drinking cheap pints. Later when my card was declined at the cash machine and we walked a slow drunken walk home, I felt the imposed limits of my life. Charlie rolled us a single skinner to share before we parted ways. Near to a whitey, I was just glad to get through the front door of my Mum’s place, my feet felt so heavy, I couldn’t wait to lie down. I closed my eyes in my bed and the room started spinning. All I could see was the fake sky of the bank, deceptively more beautiful than the real one, which was limitless, like us. But always out of reach. ■

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Issue 134 | | 15

The healing power of wild swimming

Vicky Allan tells us about the Edinburgh and Portobello Wild Ones and others featured in her new book with Anna Deacon


f you’re having a moment when you’ve lost your faith in humanity,” Edinburgh swimmer Anne Altringham once said to me, “go and get in the sea with a lot of people who want to be there. It doesn’t matter if your politics don’t agree, or if you’re having a bad time, everyone is doing the same thing and enjoying it and you can reset some of your cynicism a bit.” They look like pods of sea mammals, those figures out there, diving and splashing in the waters not far off the shore at Porty beach or Wardie bay. I have thought that, now and again, when I have looked back on some crowd that I have just taken a dip with. Those could be seals or porpoises, it’s only the daft hats and the shrieks and squeals that give them away. Over the past year photographer Anna Deacon and I have swum with and documented swim communities across Scotland for our book, Taking The Plunge: The Healing Power of Wild Swimming for Mind, Body and Soul. We asked countless swimmers what brought them into the bracing, 16 | | Issue 134

often shocking, cold water. The reasons were many and varied: pain relief, mental wellbeing, mindfulness, solace during grief. One thing often mentioned was the company, what Cairngorms swimmer Alice Goodridge, once described to me as “the pod”. I’m convinced that there are real physiological benefits to be gained from simply taking a dip in cold water and we cover some of the research into that in our book. But, as important as these, is the pod. Many people have told us that what they have loved about wild swimming is the friendships formed, the support networks nurtured. It’s a fact that at times when you’re lonely, anxious, depressed or struggling, these groups are there, and they aren’t socially demanding in the way a visit to a pub might be. In the sea you don’t have to indulge in a lot of small talk – though, of course, you can if you want. “We all come to the water with our different reasons,” Jacky Morrison-Hart, a swimmer based in Callander, told me. “None of us

Vicky Allan enters stage right. Main photogragh: Anna Deacon

Many cite that slight element of danger involved in getting in the water as creating an extra sense of mutual support

have to have anything in common but the water. It’s all different backgrounds, all different ages, all different sizes. You’ve got the full range of genders, disabilities and abilities, but all that goes once you’re here. And the banter and the faffing is a huge part of it.” Jacky has only two percent vision and has been terrified of deep, dark water. “Sometimes,” she said, “we can be here for an hour afterwards and we’re all shivering trying to drink our drinks, shaking like mad. You’ve got that commonality that with some activities you don’t get. We say what’s said in the loch, stays in the loch. It’s cathartic.” We humans are social beings, wired to connect. Many studies show that exercising in a social group is better for us, in general, than lone exercise. One, published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association in 2017, found that those working out in a group experience more improvements in lowered stress and quality of life than those working out individually. Its lead researcher, Dayna Yorks, observed, “The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone.”

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Festive Dates  Wed 4th Dec: Ladies Night Of course, group swimming isn’t the only way to do this. You can go on a ParkRun, join a regular yoga class or cycling club. All these provide many of the same benefits. But many cite that slight element of danger involved in getting in the water as creating an extra sense of mutual support. As Stacey Holloway, a swimmer from Oban said to me. “Swimming is a vulnerable thing to do. It’s risky. We’ve always got to be looking out for each other.” It’s perhaps not surprising that tight bonds form. Something special happens when you get in the water with someone. You go on a small journey with them, from cold shock to finding yourself, on the other side, seeing the world a little differently, possibly even a little elated. People frequently talk about being able to offload, too. “You can have a good heart-toheart with someone out in the sea,” Anne Altringham told me, “in the way that you can do in the car when you’re both facing forward and there’s no one else around.” I’ve swum with many different pods across Scotland now and all of them are special, but I have a particular affection for the swimmers around Portobello and Wardie, and the culture that has built up around Edinburgh’s, The

Wild Ones. Laughter ripples out on the water down there. Most gatherings seem to revolve around some kind of daft mucking about – mass handstands, skinny dips, Easter bonnet swims, the so-called Fife salute (a baring of breasts while facing the paps of Fife), silly hats, spontaneous post-swim conga dances. This daft, irreverent approach has been there, by all accounts, since the beginnings of this group. One of its earliest members told me, “At the Wild Ones, we have always been about the fun – about doing handstands and silly synchronised swimming routines. The fact that we’ve kept that is really important to me, that it doesn’t get too serious. I’m really against the commodification and commercialisation of swimming. It’s always been really important to me that we are open to all kinds of swimmers, the ones that want to pootle around and the ones that get their heads down – that we don’t turn into a serious swimming group.” Now that’s my kind of pod. ■ Ê Taking The Plunge: The Healing Power of Wild Swimming for Mind, Body and Soul, Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan is published by Black and White £20 Ê Facebook: wildonesedinburgh

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DeidreBrock here’s a sense of wonder at Christmas, magic in the air, that tingle of excitement, children looking forward to the day, adults telling innocent lies about some podgy chap who’ll bring pressies, workmates exchanging little gifts. Even the shops full of folk jostling and queuing and fretting and swearing under their breath are appealing. Christmas is a good time of year; Yuletide – the rebirth of the sun – is about new life; Winterval (if you must, you curmudgeon) is about celebrating humanity in the cold. It’s a time to gather somewhere cosy and eat fabulous food, to coorie in around the ingle and enjoy the company of friends and family – perhaps even have a mulled cider or a hot port or even a Whipkull if you find yourself in Shetland. It’s a time to bar the doors and draw the curtains against the cold winds


what help you through the difficult times. Reach out, of course, spread your humanity and your kindness far and wide. Every year we see folk whose lives are in pieces, who have been trampled and left behind, and every year there are stories of heartbreak and loss at this time of year. If you can offer your neighbour some solace, a friendship, a helping hand you’ll make the world a little better. If you can offer yourself for an hour to help, volunteer to make some tea, or even give a few pounds to help someone else help others you’ll be entering right into the spirit of the season. We can do a little of that and still have plenty left for the people we treasure, those closest to us. I’m writing this in the middle of an election campaign that has coincided with a cold snap. We’re debating the future direction of our country and

We’ve got foodbanks and shelters doing excellent work but they’re charities and they’re plugging gaps caused by government policy. It’s little wonder that so many people think ‘a plague on all your houses’ when they look at that. We need a better politics. We need leadership that will build better lives. I think the Scottish Government is doing well at that but I might be biased. I also think that Holyrood is a better Parliament than Westminster, it operates in a far better way. There is, generally, a sense at Holyrood that they want to make things better and the disagreements about what would be better are made in better faith than they are in London. It can be even better and I think we should keep building and improving for the future. Holyrood might be Scotland’s salvation if we do it right. We’ve got to work for it though it

and the miserable de’ils whose mission in life seems to be spreading doom and dreich tidings. This year there are plenty of dreich tidings making the rounds and plenty of people willing to foist them on you – there are bodachs and nashgabs aplenty. Big political changes, boasts, bravado and some other B words have the potential to make us all a wee bit fleggit just now. Chase them! There’s a time for all of that but it’s not now. Enjoy the splendour of the season; those lights are promises of spring. Enjoy the glamour (in the original sense) because this time of year whispers of magical times. Enjoy the laughter and the songs – no matter how bad they are – because they’re as important as anything you might have to face later. They’re probably more important actually, because those human connections are

whether there might be an invisible bridge that makes the Brexit cliff safe. The whole debate is warped around huge claims and dubious statistics, spending from the magic money tree that we were told didn’t exist, and assertions that one side or another is acting out of malice. In the midst of that too many politicians seem to have forgotten that politics is supposed to be about serving the people and making their lives better.

Deidre’s fancy if she’s knocking on your door!

Illustration : Cecile Vidican

A Sense of Wonder

MP for Edinburgh North and Leith

We’re debating the future direction of our country and whether there might be an invisible bridge that makes the Brexit cliff safe

doesn’t come free. I do that through politics but people do it in all kinds of ways and many of them never get the praise they deserve. My tea is finished so I’m about to put on the scarf and gloves again and get back out on those frosty pavements to see who’s willing to open their door. Gather your blessings this Christmas and share them if you can, make sure your precious ones are held close no matter where they are in the world, and enjoy this darkness turning into light. There are more B words to come in the new year but this is a time for better things. Keep me a mince pie for will you? ■ Ê Twitter: @DeidreBrock Issue 134 | | 19

“A plebiscite has been taken of the Leith people, and we know they are against this attempt of the municipal maw of Edinburgh to eat up Leith.” Mr C Palmer, House of Commons 15th July 1920, Hansard


he Edinburgh Boundaries Extension and Tramways Act 1920 is still regarded as an unfair imposition and has passed into Leith legend. The story passed on from generation to generation inculcating a sensibility where people still talk about “going up to Edinburgh” and proudly declare “ah’m fi’ Leith” when asked their provenance. A valiant battle was fought by Leith MP Captain Benn (Tony Benn’s father) in the House of Commons to retain Leith’s independence as a Burgh established as a consequence of the Great Reform Act of 1833. Leith lost the vote in the House of Commons in 1920 but won the vote in the streets of the old port. So how do you mark those 87 years of independence from the ‘maw of Edinburgh‘? Well in true Edinburgh style the Council has a report that looks at how this can be done. A paper was put to a meeting of Full Council on 20th September, which proposed spending £100,000 for projects and a projects officer to devise a programme of events. In the end it was agreed that any spend beyond that raised by sponsorship needed the authority of the Finance and Resources committee. All very proper for a council that has made cuts of £240m and has 1600 less workers and is looking at a further round of cuts of £147m and another 1700 workers. I contributed to the debate by joking 20 | | Issue 134

that we wear black armbands to mark the anniversary with ‘Leith Forever’ and ‘1833-1920’ printed on them. But I also pointed out with some confidence, that there is talk of another referendum in Leith on amalgamation with Edinburgh and I felt sure the result would be similar to the last one where an 88% turnout of those eligible to vote did so (30,000 against amalgamation and 5,000 in favour). Whether it is Leith Festival and/ or LeithLate who make the referendum happen…the Council could help by making polling stations and ballot boxes available. This could also be a good exercise in civic duty and the need to vote – with extension of the franchise to 16 year olds and debates in local schools. It would certainly be tremendous fun! A few years back I found an excellent book in the city archives produced by the City Architect, which rather brilliantly had the map of the boundary and contemporary photographs taken at the time along the boundary. I used one of these photographs to resolve an argument that posited the controversial thesis that Leith Athletic were the Leith team and that Hibs were an Edinburgh team. One photograph from this book resolved it by showing that the boundary cut through at the side of Norton Park School making the Dunbar Road end, the away end in Edinburgh and the rest of the

stadium in Leith. A reprint of that book updated with contemporary photographs along the boundary would be a great piece of publishing. The boundary idea could even be taken one step further by marking out the border with a paint that wears away similar to that used on the Gretna project by Pilmeny marking the route from Dalmeny Drill Hall to Rosebank cemetery to mark the train disaster of 1915, or the work by LeithLate for Christine De Luca’s poem Leith Swing marking parts of Leith celebrated in the poem. Local businesses and institutions could also play a part, it would be great if Forth Ports could find resources to bring Leith sea cadets into this century by creating a purpose built facility beside Victoria Dock which could give them access to the water as a facility that would enable them to conduct their activities. Making the water active here would be an attraction in its own right as well as continuing the opening up of the Docks that has taken decades to be realised The Scottish Government too, has a role to play. They have sports facilities that were, in theory, supposed to be available for local use. Say as a training resource for local sports clubs especially Leith swimming clubs. The arts in Leith are particularly vibrant. A competition could be set for a poem, story, artwork, piece of music or dance, to celebrate Leith.

Map of Easter Road area 1888, location of Hibernians’ park shown

A book written by a local teacher for Primary school children – and used in local schools back in the day – gave a potted history of Leith and helped stoke the fire in older generations. A new version, bringing it up to date for local children would be a great way to mark the anniversary and add to the work by Leith Primary pupils who have trained as guides at Trinity House. The Council itself could a play part. The heavy hand and some would say malign intent of Edinburgh to Leith is an open wound. In his speech to Parliament defending Leith Captain Benn quoted one of Cromwell’s men who, in 1652, informed Speaker Leventhall that his impression of Leith was “that town having been under the greatest slavery I ever saw” in defence of Leith So the grudge has been held a lot longer than 1920. In my speech I suggested that restoring more of the rose and half rose Leith lampposts still to be found around Leith could be continued, similar to the work done at The Shore. The Leith bank of street names could also be used to name new streets in Leith. 2020 brings an opportunity to commemorate, commiserate and even have a bit of fun. ■ Gordon Munro

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Less heat and more light

MSP for Edinburgh North and Leith


here’s an old adage about not talking about religion or politics if you want a party to go well, whether that’s on a work Christmas night out or at a Hogmanay celebration. But these topics - religion and politics - are at the heart of how we feel about the human condition, who we are as individuals and where we want to get to as a society. Yes, it’s easy to fall out with friends, family or colleagues over such issues, when views are passionately advocated and defended. But, together, we need to be able to talk – and listen – respectfully about what we believe in. And that is particularly true when it comes to politics in the UK at the moment. Unfortunately, in our public sphere, vitriolic attacks feel like they are growing more common than sharing and learning from each other. Nastiness on social media can gather more attention than constructive online activism. And there is an increasing amount of heat when what we need is much more light! Women politicians, in particular, have been increasingly targeted, receiving despicable sexist abuse and threats. And worryingly, polarising and aggressive language has crept into mainstream political discourse. Whether its on Brexit or Independence, or any other political or social issues, we all have a responsibility to keep our debate and dialogue out of the gutter, otherwise we’ll be on a slippery slope together. Yes we should criticise what we disagree with, but let’s do so courteously and try to offer solutions and ideas. Some of the most refreshing and thought provoking discussions I have in the course of my work are with young people, when I visit schools in the constituency. The excellent Modern Studies departments in the high schools encourage young people to look at issues from a variety of angles, to get below the surface of the arguments and explore the complexity and nuances which inform all aspects of political decision making. Younger children can be equally as informed. They ask me questions about Brexit, Climate Change and Independence in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do at their age! And generally young people understand that the world is a messy, complex place where compromise, collaboration and tolerance are both necessary and beneficial. In the next months the Scottish Government is setting up a new Citizens’ Assembly to help us all discuss the challenging issues of our time – like how can we overcome the challenges Scotland faces, including Brexit. These new initiatives will create an opportunity for adults to talk about

Kate Wimpress and David Martin, Co-Conveners Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland

Some of the most refreshing, thought provoking discussions I have are with young people when I visit schools in the constituency important matters of the day with purpose and respect. I am very proud of our Scottish Parliament, where I represent all of the people of Leith. But democracy does not stand still, and we have to keep reinventing our structures in order to keep growing. The Citizens’ Assembly will provide a place to move beyond our political allegiances and to find new ways to bring politicians and people together - to resolve what can feel like intractable divisions, and to make the most of our shared futures together. Assembly members will be randomly selected and be broadly representative of Scotland’s adult population according to age, ethnic group, socio-economic background, geography and political attitudes. I am genuinely excited to see what results this new way of doing politics can achieve. Citizens’ Assemblies have been used in other countries, including Ireland, and are increasingly recognised as places where mature democracies can engage with contested issues from an inclusive, informed and respectful base. That is what we want for Scotland. A Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change will also be created as part of the new Climate Change Act, to make

recommendations to the Scottish Government on how Scotland’s netzero transition should be achieved. As we head into 2020, we have to be honest that this has been a challenging year for public life in the UK. The Brexit debate and the General Election have shown some of the worst of politics. And while we cannot, and should not, pretend that we don’t have differences of opinions; we must agree together that respectful dialogue is key if we want to take our society forward. We can all disagree from-time-to-time but when we do so let’s try to disagree well. When I first spoke in the Scottish Parliament as Leith’s MSP I talked about the unifying hope that we share for a better Scotland and a better world - even when we disagree over important issues, I strongly believe that we share that hope together. So, whatever happens in the New Year, as we consider the direction of our country, let’s try to agree on that shared sense of hope and show respect to one another - for the sake of auld lang syne and whatever the future holds for us, together. ■ Ê Twitter: @BenMacpherson Issue 134 | | 23

Bill Drummond & Truth Street David Cain took the testimonies of the fans, the survivors, friends and families of the bereaved, and from these created an oral history of the events: a timeline of first person accounts put together as poetry. The language used is often matterof-fact reportage. Nothing flowery or poetic, the poem on page 23 is simply titled…

Column #2 for The Leither by Kevin Williamson


hat is Poetry? It’s such a straightforward question you’d think anyone who spends the best part of a lifetime reading, writing or thinking about poetry would be able to answer it in their sleep or at the very least off the top of their head. Not so. I was interviewed recently by the artist Bill Drummond for one of his 40 Minute films, which he publishes on his Penkiln Burn website. We got ourselves comfy in the Scottish Poetry Library, in a pair of adjacent armchairs, mic-ed up by our director Glenda. There was no prearranged structure to the interview, bar a few general questions that Bill said he’d intersperse through our chat. Bill Drummond may be best known for his KLF activities, or his free-ranging artistic projects, but he’s also a clever interviewer. He understands that an open-ended observation, or a short general question, invites more thoughtful chat than a specific one. This is something TV and radio programmes tend to steer clear of, feart as they are, where a freewheeling discussion might end up! Bill opened up with that sly minefield of a question: ‘What is Poetry?’ Greater minds than mine have pontificated at length about this. Academic libraries are full of such books. Rather than look as glaikit on camera as a Tory politician in a housing scheme I waffled on about poetry and the nature of language. I’d thought about the question before. You can’t not. But no matter what you think about poetry, at any given moment, every answer, and every variation on every answer, can be chipped away at by experts. Until all you’re left with is the scattered dust of exceptions and qualifiers. My favourite poetry book published this year, Truth Street, was written by a first time author. This guy didn’t write the words in his poems. He found them, cut them together, created something new. This is a different territory to most poetry where the words emerge into an artistic space in pursuit of truth, as historical witness, organised as language. When Truth Street was shortlisted for the 2019 Forward Prize First Poetry Book 24 | | Issue 134

It was unbearable I have never felt anything like it in my life. It was hard to breathe. I wanted my big brother to help me.

Kevin Williamson

it raised a few eyebrows. The book was an outlier. The author, David Cain, wasn’t perceived as a poet (whatever that is). His poetry drew from a sphere of life not normally associated with poetry. Truth Street is a sequence of poems, or one long poem, depending on your perspective, written in chronological order, which begins on the afternoon of 15th April 1989 as Liverpool fans arrive at Hillsborough Stadium in Nottingham. The fans are in good spirit. The rest of the story is well known. 96 adults and children died in a crush as they entered the stadium. How can this be the stuff of poetry?

This is a different territory to most poetry where the words emerge into an artistic space in pursuit of truth, as historical witness

David Cain double spaces the lines, perhaps to allow the reader time to slow down, to breathe. The irony is not lost. By the time you finish the book you’ve walked in the footsteps of the damned. You’ve listened to their words; felt their shock, their panic, and their pain; wanted to put your arm around the shoulders of mums. If you’re a stronger person than me your eyes haven’t welled up in tears. I was familiar with the Hillsborough tragedy before Truth Street. I’ve added my voice to the JFT96 campaign. I watched the inquest live on TV. I cried when the court finally over-turned the lies of the police cover up. 30 years later I still refuse to buy a copy of The Sun newspaper for their disgusting manipulation of truth. Yet reading these poems - which bear witness in the words of those who were actually there - took me to a different plane of understanding. The cumulative effect was devastating, heart wrenching, yet also liberating for those who wanted justice for the dead. The truth must be heard. I’d recommend tracking down a copy of Truth Street for anyone who loves poetry, or football, or simply wants to try to understand what it was like at the epicentre of Britain’s worst ever sporting disaster. Which brings me, callously, back to the original question: Is it poetry? Readers will have to make their own mind up on that. I think I’ve indicated where I stand. ■ Ê Info: Truth Street by David Cain,, £7.99

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0131 555 5550 @braidburnbookk1 Issue 134 | | 25

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Due to the festive break there will be no surgeries 23 December to 5 January


The Pentlands in Winter

Carolyn McKerracher


Carolyn McKerracher

hey keep promising snow. Snow by the weekend. Snow for Christmas. Worst snow

ever. Now, I’m not praying for another Beast from the East, a three hour walk home from work, or vulnerable people stranded in their own homes - and nobody wants a thick layer all the way from the Shore to the Abominable Roundabout at Picardy Place - but I do like a bit of snow. Every time there’s a flutter of white in the air, I promise myself I will stop whatever I am doing, take a day off, cancel all other engagements and head out for a snowy walk. What’s not to like? The cold crunchiness of compact snowflakes beneath your feet, sharp spikey shards of freezing air numbing your face, your hands turning a bluer shade of white? OK, there are downsides, but a walk in the snow, or simply getting outside on an icy day, must be good for your mental health. A bit like wild swimming, but in this case, you can keep your thermals on. The hills are great in the snow – but always take care, check the weather forecast, know how to use a compass and don’t venture out alone unless you are an expert. Sadly, I am not. One Hogmanay, a few years ago, a friend and I decided to end the year with a snowy walk in the Pentlands. To keep things safe and simple, we settled for a low- level linear walk from Castlelaw car park, off the A702, to Dreghorn car park and back. We drove to Castlelaw, but the website www.pentlandhills. org has a great leaflet on how to get to the Pentland Hills by bus and it also has information on short walks around the area. Anyway, the forecast was great – sunshine and light flurries of snow. The car park was full of families setting off with sledges, snowboards and even a few prams. What could possibly go wrong? For a start, the snow was much deeper than we had anticipated and the path was almost impossible to make out. However, we knew where we were going and we could see as far as forever. Or so we thought. The pace was slow, as we plunged our soon-tired legs in and out of knee-deep soft snow, which meant we hadn’t actually gone very far when there was a sudden and total whiteout. I’m talking blizzard. Suddenly, heavy, mesmerising snowflakes bombarded us from every direction, so much so that we became totally disorientated and unable to set the map and compass. As time went on, we tried in vain to follow the sound of the traffic on the A702, but soon we became stuck in thigh-high drifts – or waist-high in the case of my five-foot friend.

To cut a long story short (and one that involved tears, recriminations and frantic digging), just as we were losing hope and contemplating a call to mountain rescue (seriously), a lone figure emerged from the snowstorm. With barely a break in his stride, this giant snowy hero (pause to bury all my feminist independence deeper than my boots) checked his compass and map and pointed us in the right direction. As the blizzard closed in again, the shadowy figure vanished once more. After an hour of slow trudging back through the snow, we finally emerged from the blizzard, only to be greeted by a sunny car park, still full of families, children on sledges, snowboards and even a few prams. Every single one of them, completely oblivious to our near death experience. So let that be a lesson to you. It certainly was for me. The weather on

Look out for rare soft rime attached to winter branches

the Pentlands can change in an instant, even at low level and in spite of a good forecast. And although you may only be a few hundred yards from the car park, there’s a good chance that Nobody Will Hear You Scream. Today I ventured out for an icy walk in the Borders. Leaves coated in soft white fur, frozen puddles, crunchy grasses and low sun casting an orange glow through the trees. I don’t always make room for a walk in the snow when it comes, but I’m going to try, because that icy white duvet can revive the soul – and won’t stay for long. Stay safe. Stay warm. But don’t stay indoors! ■ Ê Info: Follow on Instagram

A giant snowy hero (pause to bury my feminist independence deeper than my boots) pointed us in the right direction Issue 134 | | 27



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28 | | Issue 134

Mrs MacPickle Solves All Your Problems! “I don’t want to receive a ton of crap that will end up in landfill” Dear Mrs MacPickle, At risk of sounding like Leith’s answer to Ebenezer Scrooge, I really can’t be bothered with Christmas this year. I don’t want to spend a load of money I can’t afford on things people don’t want, and I don’t want to receive a ton of crap that will end up in landfill. I don’t want to consume 20,000 extra calories on things I don’t even like, such as chocolate brazils and stuffing, and if I even have to look at a Stollen ring I think I might cry. Is there any way of opting out? Nicholas Saint Jnr Oh dear oh dear, I am sure you are not alone my friend. Many of us object to the consumerist merry go round that the festive season has become, but few of us have the confidence to opt out all together. My thoughts are this: you may

not be able to do away with Christmas in one go but little by little you may be able to edge out of it a bit. Try just giving rubbish presents, a jar of pickle here, a fridge magnet there, and you may find you receive slightly less next year. Say no to food if you aren’t actually hungry; develop a new allergy so that you have to avoid marzipan in all forms, and, whatever happens, if anyone asks you if you would like a Pannetone decline with all the force you can muster. Within a couple of years your cupboards will be emptier and your wallet and waistline healthier. Good luck! n Mrs MacPickle Ê Got a prickly problem? E-mail Mrs MacPickle at

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Issue 134 | | 29

CrosswordNo.109 Win a coffee & your choice of cake across 1 5 10 11 12 13 15 18 20 23 25 26 27 28

Instruction to get China out (8) Digs 1 of 4 in 52? (6) Hip cafe, a lantern burns for big beast (7,6) Annoys, to contend within Greek letters (7) Keep right in and get off (7) Gnats eat to become inactive (8) So! The bad character (5) Lazarus or bacon? (5) Send call not hard; or put it off! (8) Bad rail of one wing (7) Trip over tumbles out (7) Mammal, nine hope scaling it, will reveal it (7,8) The old potent or the old English (6) Metal coated, a son died horrendously (8)

1 2

Roof with PM that cut Queen (6) Fire trail smoking could be found in combustio engine (3,6) Cha infused with monarch enters computer subversively (7) Beauty queen in Estonia imprisoned, so got dolled up to this (5) Smoker dry with Eastern measure (7) Couple of tots with a play (5) At mass, in confusion of devil-worshipping (8) Bloody primal climbers that squirt (8) Horrified by the apple lad shot off (8) Workers arrest Clinton for ads (9) Nervous surround the 200 who surround rodent, croaking (8) Of the church disco with drugs maybe (7) Dived, soft gun led astray (7) Pastis to ponder maybe (6) Horn I smashed for another (5) Going for a spin maybe in Iberia (5)

down 3 4 6 7 8 9 14 16 17 19 21 22 24 25

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winner crossword 108 John Hoeness, Nottingham Take page and proof of name to Embo for prize, enjoy! 30 | | Issue 134

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