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Martin Metcalfe: Here He Comes Now

Why Banksy is wrong | Hey, Ho, it’s The Lumineers Scotland: The ayes and the naws | On writing a novel


“D. J. Weeks succeeds in providing a highly charged murder mystery that will keep even seasoned mystery readers guessing right up to its satisfying conclusion.” Diane Donovan, Senior Book Reviewer, Midwest Book Review, California, U. S. A. “The Very Eye of Night” is written by a real-life Cracker, fresh from his role in CSI style forensic psychology.” Sandra Dick, The Edinburgh Evening News

“His new novel is a class apart . . . an edgy debut novel.” Jack Mathieson, The Daily Record

Available as an e-book on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

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2 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98


Editor at Large

Contents 6

Dan Gray tries to suspend disbelief during a rare cinema visit (Sunshine on Leith) but is, alas, undone

10

Rodger Evans tells his – to co-opt Pete Wylie – Story of the Blues or, at least, the ‘country blues’

13

The work of Banksy, according to Charlie Brooker, ‘looks dazzlingly clever to idiots’. Jessica Taylor agrees

21

If you’ve got a spare few bobs, then Susan Linn reckons Kicks for Kids is worthy of your munificence

Against Oblivion T

owards the end, people (no, not people, heartless bastards) started stealing money from him. He never once begged you understand; passersby just gave him money unprompted. His name was Arthur… still is thank god. Rather I meant ‘towards the end’ of his time on the streets. The police staged an intervention, for his own good I guess. Let’s face it, he’d let himself go some and his tormentors weren’t just taking his cash, they were doing so with threats of violence. So it was that 20 years or more of fighting against oblivion on the streets of Edinburgh came to an end in the time it took to get him to the hospital where he would spend the next few weeks. And you know what? He loved it. The attention, the small kindnesses, I don’t know, maybe even the routine…the still peace. Essentially a shy, humble man, he blossomed under all that wellintentioned fussing and public goodwill. Turns out that for a 75-yearold man who had spent almost a third of his life adrift in the

capital’s urban sprawl, he was in pretty good nick. His signature (indeed identifier), impossibly long dreadlocks succumbed to the scissors – he was, apparently, quite taken by the new look! He’d come to Edinburgh from the Seychelles in, let us say, the late 60s early 70s. When I first encountered him (in the early 90s?) there was no shortage of characters on the street. Remember the ‘exploding man’ who careered around the Cowgate? He had the shape and look of a fully rigged Spanish Galleon whose sails had been shredded by too much cannon fire, as if he had somehow contrived to swallow a live hand grenade. God he was huge, if you wanted to circumnavigate him you were well advised to provide a forwarding address. Arthur was different, he always seemed of and within himself, drink and drugs were never his thing. In those days he used to check into the warm air vents outside the side entrance to John Lewis’s of a night – smart move if you’re asking me – offering, odd to say, a certain Zen like calm amid

the cancelled faces of the bargain hunting January hordes. Maybe that’s just me over projecting. Slice it anyway you like; did he come to Edinburgh for love (spurned) or was he trying to outpace the coming military coup (the family were politically connected) that was splintering his homeland? Both are probably true. No, they are true. What you have to remember about him is his stubbornness, or let’s best call it self-determination. In Arthur, as Nik Cohn would have it, ‘was never a shape to fit’. His (surprisingly extensive) Edinburgh based family constantly offered any form of shelter that suited his purpose, even a return to the Seychelles at the time of his choosing. Typically, he declined with a curt “Why? I’m a Leither now.” (Indeed as I write, back among us, in sheltered housing). He is a man given to few words, but we’ll try these out: he thanks all the NHS staff for their tender mercies and the people of Leith for making sure, no demanding, that he never became invisible. Arthur Williams, it seems, was never going to slip through the cracks. ■

Leither Published by: Leither Publishing Editor: William Gould ( 07891 560 338  billy@leithermagazine.com Sub Editor: Dot Mathie Design:  design@leithermagazine.com Photography: Ryan McGoverne  info@ryanmcgoverne.co.uk Advertising: Sue Glancy ( 07772 059 516  sue@leithermagazine.com Contacts:  info@leithermagazine.com 8 leithermagazine.com Cartoonist: Gordon Riach Illustrator: Bernie Reid Printers: Arc Printing Ltd ( 0131 555 5459  sales@arccolour.co.uk 8 arccolour.co.uk © 2013 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: advertising@leithermagazine.com

Cover: Martin Metcalfe by Terry

Adams 2013, Goodbye Mr MacKenzie by Martin Becker 1989 Issue 98 | leithermagazine.com | 3


Protempore … The devil is in the lack of detail A

s I write this, Hallowe’en has just evaporated into the winter sky and if we’re to believe the myths and legends, we should have by now, rid ourselves of all the evil spirits and bogeymen who float around trying to find a place to rest. One of my favourite folk stories is a Celtic tale associated with the jack-o’-lantern which is said to represent a soul who has been denied entry into both heaven and hell. . On route home after a night’s drinking, Jack encounters the Devil who tricks him into climbing a tree. A quickthinking Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thereby trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his soul. After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest. That wee tale and the whole Hallowe’en shebang got me thinking about how easy it is for us to become petrified by things which either don’t exist or have been implanted in our minds with the explicit purpose of paralysing us and keeping us in check. This in turn got me thinking about the independence referendum and the never-ending tumult of scare stories which have been emanating from the UK Government and the Better Together (i.e. No) campaign, which are designed solely to frighten and confuse people living in Scotland prior to the vote in September 2014. 4 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

It’s often said in politics that once one side begins to realise that they’re losing the arguments, they panic and that panic becomes visible in their propaganda. This is certainly true of the No campaign. And before anyone thinks that I’m not going to analyse the Yes campaign’s proclamations, well I am but unlike the No campaign, I’m going to wait until the White Paper on independence is published on 26 November. So until then, here’s some of the guff that has been seeping out of the No campaign’s self-titled Project Fear.

Pigticians illustration by Bernie Reid

Hague as turnip

Not long ago, the Home Secretary Theresa May put on her witches hat and screeched that should Scotland become independent it would be more susceptible to terrorist attacks and security risks. Her logic? The rest of the UK and its allies in Europe and the USA would only share high-level intelligence if Scotland could prove itself to be a ‘unique contributor’ in terms of strategic intelligence operations. What tripe. Does she really believe that the Americans wouldn’t want to co-operate on intelligence matters with a country that enjoys a unique geographic strategic position with the Iceland Gap to the north, the Atlantic to the west, and the North Sea as a gateway to Europe to the east? Of course they would. And in whose interests would it be for the government of the rest of the UK to refuse to share intelligence with a country on its border? No-one’s and May knows it. It’s hokum of the most pernicious kind. Another bogus scare story came from the distinctly ghoulish William Hague. This numpty (who, now that I think about it, looks quite like a turnip), suggested that Scots would be deprived

It’s often said in politics that once one side begins to realise they’re losing the arguments, they panic and that panic becomes visible in their propaganda

of their European Union citizenship if they voted for independence. This is, quite frankly, a bizarre claim for anyone to make because nobody knows what would happen in relation to EU membership should Scotland become independent because it would set a precedent which has never been dealt with before. David Grant-Lawrence, a former Director General of the European Commission, stated that Hague was “whistling in the wind” with his outrageous remarks. He also stated that anyone who holds a British passport is automatically a citizen of the EU making it inconceivable that a UK government would advocate taking passports from Scots should a yes vote materialise. Essentially more bunkum from Hague. The irony here is that Hague actually supports taking Britain out of the EU entirely. So let’s get this straight – he’s frightening people in Scotland by telling them that they’ll lose their EU citizenship if they vote yes; but vote for the Tories at the next general election and he’ll campaign to get you out of Europe completely. Barking mad doesn’t come close. And finally, the UK Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin has stated that should people in Scotland vote to become independent, the country would need to adopt a different set of colours for its traffic lights. This is based on his assertion that the current red, amber and green sequence is a uniquely British set of colours which could not be adopted by an independent state. Ok, I made that last one up but don’t be surprised if the No campaign pick it up and run with it. Nothing is beneath them except very shaky ground. ■ Protempore


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Daniel Gray’s Midget Gems No.16

Synchronised dancing in the Central Bar anyone? T

ime for the cinema, and some magic in the dark. The screen lights our faces and soon we see home – a wonderful, sky-sliding shot of Leith and Edinburgh pickled mustard by the early morning sun. The lump is already in my throat and I’m going to have lots of troubles with my contact lenses tonight, even though I don’t wear contact lenses. Sunshine on Leith. We’ve been waiting for this. Our world on screen, our words with cellos and dances. “Why did they numpties go tae the New Toon tae get tae The Shore? Bampots. Nae wonder they goat that other laddie killt in Afghanistan. Must’ve goan through Taliban Street tae get back tae base.” Says the lady next to me, unwilling to suspend disbelief for the next ninety minutes. Interestingly, she is not remotely perturbed during the film when pubs full of characters break into song and all know the same dance routines. “Ah’ve no’ been in that pub,” she says, “nae danger that’s in Leith.” “That’s no’ The Dockers! There’s nae radges in there for a start.” “What’s that fud up tae noo? Ah’d tell him tae get tae fuck if he turned up blootered and singin’ in ma stair.” And then, as if that was not enough, something in a nighttime scene dawned on her. “That’s…that’s fuckin’ GLASGOW!”

Paul, wherever I may find him

I’m stood waiting to cross the road when I see him on the opposite side – ample white hair and egg-shaped red glasses, his chin stroked by a goat patch beard. (Incidentally, he did have other features too, chiefly nose, mouth and eyes). I knew him and only stopped myself from waving because I couldn’t remember from where. Instead, I nodded from across the road. He ignored me, and then turned and looked behind himself to see who I was nodding at. How rude. How bloody rude. I’d definitely say something next time I saw him in wherever I knew him from. But where was it? A pub? Work? Football? Was he a friend’s relative? My own? I hadn’t seen my Dad in a few months, right enough. The Green Man awoke and we crossed, everything in slow motion, him the only person I could see in the throng like a beautiful woman with wavy hair and bouncy breasts in a shit film. As we came face to unrecognised face, I gave a nod

again and he looked right on through, possibly at the beautiful woman with wavy hair and bouncy breasts crossing behind me. For whole minutes as I walked the pavement home I wondered who he was and felt perturbed by the snub. Had I changed that much since last I saw him, whoever he was? Had I put on weight? Were these skinny jeans really too young for me like my cat had said? No, cats can’t speak and I don’t have one. I placed my key in the front door and finally it hit me: he was Paul, a character from my daughter’s Guess Who? game. To Chester Literature Festival, promoting the new book. My gig is in a grand old chamber of the Town Hall. The carpets have city crests weaved into them and a portrait of Lady Diana looks on, not exactly enthralled with my tales of travels in Luton, Burnley and all. It seems to go well. The audience asks a lot of questions. Afterwards I’m told about the 101-year-old lady in the front row. “I thought this was going to be about vaginas,” she had whispered to the ticket man during my performance, and sure enough tomorrow’s lunchtime talk is all about female regions. “Mind you, there’s not much I can learn about

them at my age,” the owner of Chester’s oldest vagina had continued. That she stayed for the entire hour of my talk says something, and I’m not quite sure what.

Wartime or just after

Chester’s oldest vagina

This month Dan’s been on 23 (vidiprinter: twenty-three) trains…enjoyed his Mum’s bemusement at a half-time pie…watched Wee Blue Eyes comprehend floodlights

6 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

Note Mr Gray’s shocked look at bottom left

What’s that fud up tae noo? Ah’d tell him tae get tae fuck if he turned up blootered and singin’ in ma stair

In a café on a corner near home. The dark evenings are here, clawing the days from us. The sky’s been up all summer and it needs some shuteye. From the stereo spills Billie Holiday singing Cole Porter. Autumn time and the listening is easy. I close my eyes because this music wants to take me somewhere. That somewhere is fifteen or seventeen years back and my Grandma’s house. I’ve walked in because, as always, the front door is unlocked (“Don’t worry, love. Mrs White over the road keeps an eye on the house.”) Grandma is in Her Chair, eyes closed, listening to the damp pianos and smothered saxophones of just this stuff. In turn, she is miles away, wartime or just after, living in her memories, always living in her memories. It’s a good place to be, a good skill to have. I open my eyes, look somewhere that might even be the sky and thank her for giving that skill to me. ■ ÊÊTwitter: @d_gray_writer ÊÊWeb: danielgraywriter.com


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Issue 98 | leithermagazine.com | 7


The Future is Another Country P

rotempore is not the first person to prematurely announce the death of the Labour Party and he will not be the last. That sentence, or verdict, has been clarioned since the party was formed in 1900. Using a mix of petty bile and invective, which Protempore claims Labour exhibits in Holyrood, to support both his verdict and his pro-Yes stance is to ignore completely the importance of both the Labour Party and the subject of the referendum. A definition of Protempore is ‘placeman’. It may be that in the real world his place puts him in close proximity to parliamentary politics, helping to make his view jaundiced. The increasing aping of Westminster style patriarchal politics (so last century) at Holyrood helps give credence to jaundiced views but those views only deter participation in the struggle against those who have real power. It was that struggle against real power that led to the formation of the Labour Party. The Taff Vale decision, the Osborne judgement, the collaboration of Tories and Liberals to keep workers in their place (some things never change) which brought socialists and trade unionists together in the Labour Party. The breaking of that link has always been the aim of those with power. Why? ‘Because we are many and they are few’, as Shelley reminds us. The last serious attempt at breaking the link was attempted by those, elected as Labour, who defected to form the SDP. This was of course encouraged by a mass media biased against organised labour and there was much talk of a ‘new politics’. David Owen even proclaimed that the SDP were a ‘left of centre’ party compared to Labour. Which sounds familiar and has recently been pronounced with a tartan accent. The remnants of the SDP can be found clutching ministerial bags whilst being wheeled out to deliver bad news by the Con-Dem government. The only thing that unites the UK and Scottish Governments is their hatred of Labour. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Protempore’s ‘leftist’ stance in support of a Yes vote, as it will give Scotland independence, appears to ignore the reality of the so-called ‘independence’ on offer. How can you still be a subject not a citizen? How can the Bank of England set fiscal policy? How can it 8 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

be the aim of extra tax powers to have a Corporation Tax rate lower than that of George Osborne? This is not independence but very close to what one tax exile supporter advocating a yes vote calls ‘a management buyout’. There is no challenge to power in voting yes on offer, which is why some who truly believe in independence will vote no, as they recognise that it is the same change of management offered by the SDP in the early 80s that is on offer from ‘Yes’ campaigners, rather than the independence they truly believe. This problem is tackled in the recently released Class, Nation and Socialism – The Red Paper on Scotland 2014 anthology. In the editors introduction Pauline Bryan and Tommy Kane remark that: “Impatience or sometimes despair at the lack of progress has led some on the left to see independence as the key to

The aping of Westminster style patriarchal politics is so last centurry

any progress. In so doing they mistake constitutional change for social change, projecting on to an independent Scotland radical scenarios more reflective of their own desires than political or economic realities.” This is I suspect is very close to the view of Protempore from his recent columns as well as those of ‘Radical Independence’. The recent pronouncement by the First Minister that an independent Scotland would be like the Isle of Man is a good example of the disparity between rhetoric and reality referred to in the quote. This is of a piece with the desire to lower Corporation Tax and the Council Tax freeze (formerly called rate capping in the 1980s) showing that this remark is nearer the truth than the false comparisons of the Scandic model deployed to show ‘left of centre’ Scotland. How can the Scandic model be achieved with US tax rates? This is why the editors go on to state that, “The Red Paper argues that any constitutional change must be measured against its potential to challenge the power of capitalism and bring the economy under democratic control.” This is no easy task. The challenge posed by the Red Paper collective is to ask both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns “to make clear why they want more powers and what they will do with the powers they have.” Now there is a debate worth having and one that is desperately needed. It is also one that is more nuanced and difficult for all than the recent columns by Protempore or the Brigadoon view that Scotland is more progressive than England. Owen Jones remarks in his introduction to the Red Paper that he hopes that ‘this book plays an important role in this mission’. He is not alone in that hope, as we need to move beyond the petty invective spite and bile that has characterised the debate so far. The Labour Party and the referendum are too important to reduce to caricature. ■ Gordon Munro


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Issue 98 | leithermagazine.com | 9


Dancing About Architecture No.20

On not purchasing iron chickens Arriving in the city with nothing but a suitcase filled with dreams and a James Dean with rabbit ears t-shirt, Rodger Evans soon finds the blues

T

o say my first Edinburgh abode was modest would be to make a statement to be filed under under-statement. It was a Leith Walk bedsit in gobbing distance of Robbie’s Bar in ye days when a trad jazz band played on a Monday night and the cathode ray flicker of Sky Sports had yet to provoke a rethink of the nicotine colour scheme. In my room the door was next to the fridge and the fridge was next to the bed and the bed was next to the window and a wooden clotheshorse monopolised the carpet and the space between the window and the door was shorter than the length of this sentence. Had I a cat to swing, its nine lives would have run out quicker than my monthly pay packet. And my first job proper lost its appeal half an hour into the first day when I was handed a glue pot and scissors. To say my non was plussed would be to create more filing. I had attained a degree and read books with big words on yellowing pages in hard covers and penned a dissertation about the Russian Revolution that made the examiner (when later we were introduced) laugh like Harry Secombe if Neddie Seagoon had fallen into a tub of amyl nitrate. Maybe the dissertation wasn’t so much the point, but still; glue and scissors? In an era pre-Dr Google, I selfdiagnosed my case as that of the blues. It wasn’t that my woman done gone left me or I’d met my ruin in The House of the Rising Sun or my dog – if I had a dog, for

I’m not sure I should be allowed even an imaginary dog; not after what happened to my figment-al cat deceased as of two paragraphs ago – was a road-kill. Neither was the coffee cold nor my toast burnt. Are these I wonder the tropes of the blues or country music? The country blues then. Yes, here I was with the country blues in the Big City, working in a job I despised for a sulphurous boss who gave ogres a bad name – I believe he called them effing ogre c-words – and detested most things you can think of and some you can’t, but reserved much of his daily opprobrium for three categories of human in particular: graduates, those of an English persuasion, and me. Only the fact that, despite my Oxfordshire burr, I was Elgin-born prevented a maximum score. If I didn’t have the blues, looking back from a vantage of two decades, it was likely something Truman Capote figured more acute: the screaming reds. Fortunately I had also my weekly fix of Lynchian oddity in Twin Peaks, the company of John Peel’s Radio 1

Stephin Merritt – Rodger worships the water on which he walks

If I didn’t have the blues, looking back from a vantage of two decades, it was likely something Truman Capote figured more acute: I had the screaming reds

graveyard shift, Henry Miller’s Rosy Crucifixion trilogy, plus my girlfriend’s hallowed patience when enduring 12” remixes of woe-is-me-ness, unelectable 3am manifestos, and plans of not-sogreat escape. Today I sit in the house in the littlest room that isn’t an under-thestairs cupboard or the lav, cradling a John Lee Hooker LP to be put on after the Stephin Merritt record – let me confide I worship the water on which Merritt walks – and being hectored by an iron chicken. Well, I say that – actually it’s a steel sculpture of a rooster, an ill-thought out early noughties anniversary present which Her Outdoors banished from the living room to its current home where it sits atop a Technics speaker, guarding those blind purchases that prove to be vinyl turds – A Way Of Life by The Family Dog for example; a cod country number of such appalling-ness that the UN Security Council will never be able to agree whether it happened or not – and critique-ing my musical taste. But Erzil, the name of said music fascist bird, didn’t have to reside in a bedsit with a psychotic ex-squaddie opposite or the Aussie couple in the room next door who bathed rarely but, when they did, made it known they liked to share the shower. Erzil may approve of JLH and turn up his beak at Subway Sect but what says he in response to Vivian Stanshall’s query of whether blue men can sing the whites? I sense too his disapproval of my literary choices. He doesn’t rate Terry Southern (befuddlingly wrong) or Auden (again) but gives the metallic feathers up to Chekhov (but of course), mostly (I suspect) because of the peerless short story, The Student, with its allusion to Christ’s promise of the crowing rooster and the thrice denying Peter. How right Erzil is on that score, I can’t overstate. Now, for the benefit of myself 22 years ago, a memo: leave that job when the time is right; don’t worry about the Russian Revolution again – not until the next one, and in the future your cat needn’t be of the proverbial kind. Listen though, boy, if you heed just one thing: please oh please don’t purchase that iron chicken. ■ ÊÊ

10 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

Twitter: @RodgerEvans


After Leaving Mister MacKenzie We talk to Martin Metcalfe ahead of his upcoming multi-media Art Launch at the Voodoo Rooms Speakeasy

M

artin Metcalfe is probably best known in this country for a song about a travelling home-wrecker who never finds happiness (The Rattler – Goodbye Mr Mackenzie) and in other parts of the world, particularly the American college circuit, for a song about his slightly warped take on intimacy and sexual relationships (Suffocate Me – Angelfish). As a songwriter his lyrics were strongly observational so it is perhaps no surprise that he has lately turned his artistic talents to painting, at a time he says “when painting is probably the one medium the mainstream art world is most condemning of!” This could be true as the art world has shown a propensity for diamond studded skulls, video installations, and turning a light bulb on and off to the detriment of plain old painting. Recently though Martin feels there are signs that we are in a Post-Post Modern world “where the ‘what is art’ question is becoming irrelevant. After all if painting is dead why has the UK’s biggest artist Damien Hirst recently returned to it as a medium?” (Albeit very badly – Ed) “I think Hirst is answering the call of nature,” says Metcalfe. “It seems to be in our DNA to respond to lines and colour, we’ve been drawing in the sand and painting on cave walls for over 25,000 years. For me it’s really the way to speak to the soul. Of course songwriting is a fine outlet too and I’m very proud of some of the songs we’ve created over the past 30 years.” So why did you bring a halt to the musical side of things? “We haven’t stopped but this painting thing has kind of taken over my life in the last two years. I knew I was quite good at drawing at school, maybe if I hadn’t been drinking so much on tour with the various bands I’ve been in then I would have turned to drawing as an escape. Excessive drugs and alcohol drowned that creative voice inside, I try not to regret those days though all that bad stuff is now fuel for everything I do – songs and paintings both. In a way it was songwriting that brought me here. I was going through a phase of listening

to a lot of Bob Dylan and I read a quote of his saying he could learn as much about songwriting from Cézanne as he could from Woody Guthrie. So the idea that I should paint grew from there.” For Metcalfe, Dylan’s early political stances seem to have helped complete the connection between painting, music and politics. “I’ve been activated in a political way too recently and although that political edge won’t be present in my first exhibition I feel it has to come through soon. In these days of austerity and extraordinary corruption I would be letting my self down if I didn’t find a way to express the deep anxiety I feel

Clockwise: Pandora Farms, Bomb, Portrait of Artist as Young Sucker

about such things. Where are all the protests? We live in an age of terrible apathy.” He finishes with a typical flourish: “We need ‘RE-MODERNISM’! We need Punk Rock! We need a new civil rights movement and yes we may even need some Hippies! We need their fire. (And a riot or two maybe?)” ■ ÊÊInfo: Art Launch Event is at Voodoo Rooms Thurs 28th Nov – Picturemaker/ Images by Martin Metcalfe will be at Whitespace Gallery, 11 Gayfield Square from 13th to 19th Dec – Metcalfe & The Fornicators play Bar & Fly Glasgow on Frid 6th Dec (7.30) Issue 98 | leithermagazine.com | 11


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12 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98


AmericanGraffiti Jessica Taylor

Banksy: Hiding in plain site, unfortunately! T

he work of Banksy, according to Charlie Brooker in 2006, ‘looks dazzlingly clever to idiots’ (some would say that Charlie Brooker has a similar appeal). The key part of that sentence is ‘2006’. Why is Banksy still considered to be newsworthy? Street art, or at least the genre that Banksy represents, is over. The proof is in the Guardian masterclass that took place at the end of last year that offered an insight into the ‘hugely developing art form that’s becoming a mainstay of popular culture’. Surely everyone is well aware that street art didn’t start when Banksy started painting walls; but he might have been the start of the commercialisation of street art. Everyone wanted to see the back of graffiti until this, we can presume, white male turned it into something else, and even now there’s a perceived difference between graffiti and street art. Banksy is of course part of the longer historical tradition of people communicating their opinions by painting highly visible spaces and he’s done so very obviously. Banksy will never knowingly be accused of subtlety, using imagery that is familiar to the masses – policemen, balloons, a scene from Pulp Fiction – in ways that seem clearly to articulate something, even if it’s sometimes a bit vague. These, supposed temporary wall paintings are often allowed to remain, and even coveted! Oh, the art market…

Tony Rosenthal

The Alamo, by Tony Rosenthal, was only supposed to be exhibited for a month in 1967, but remains in place to this day

But graffiti (not street art) is different; graffiti signifies a fight to reclaim the city by those that feel excluded. Graffiti, by its very existence, proves that there are people who feel excluded, who want to show that they’re here, that these walls and streets are theirs too. In response, we paint over their voices, power wash them away, buy special chemicals to eradicate their very reality, but works by Banksy, and probably others of a similar ilk, who of course have lives and have equal right to be arting in public areas but probably (I’m just taking a stab in the dark) weren’t one of the marginalised and excluded groups in our society, are permitted to stay. While the above is the main reason Banksy is so offensive (the art he

Jessica’s proposal for the Foot of the Walk

produces is OK, not something I’d necessarily bother to gawp at if stumbled upon), he also manages to be patronising and ineffective all at once. Does he think he’s making a difference by plonking a Ronald McDonald figure outside a fast-food restaurant (guess which one!) in the Bronx and having a real man polish his large, red, clown shoes. Who is he trying to teach with this piece? It’d probably be better to ask, who is he trying to impress? And it isn’t the people who will walk around Banksy’s display to buy their lunch inside. While he’s making all these comments, he is a global commodity who has exploited the work, life experiences, and history of others. However there’s plenty of other art on our streets that’s amazing, and it would benefit our built environment to have a splash of colour daubed on an external wall here and there, just not of the patronising, making a comment variety. A few years ago I attended a lecture on public art at a university. The speaker gave a history of public art, breaking the field into three separate factions: pieces made with the community, pieces made with the community in mind, and pieces made completely independent of a community. The examples the speaker gave were many, but the only one that remains memorable for good reasons (and I can remember the location of it)

is The Alamo, a giant spinning cube in Astor Place in New York City. The Alamo, by Tony Rosenthal, was only supposed to be exhibited in the chosen location for one month in 1967, but remains there to this day because local residents petitioned for it to stay! I have yet to hear of an example of the community petitioning to keep public art made in conjunction with the community. The Giraffes – Dreaming Spires, as they’re called – at the Omni Centre are another example of this. As far as I’m aware, there’s no apparent link between giraffes and Edinburgh, but the giraffes remain, with slight tail damage, and appear to be quite popular. They have become a comfortable part of the townscape. Maybe public art done with the community or with the community in mind – bear in mind that you don’t often see public art in well off neighbourhoods – reminds us where we are and who everyone thinks we are, which is why it sticks out like a sore thumb; maybe life is enough of a reminder. Something done by committee is never going to be as good as something done by a professional with a singular focus about which he or she is passionate. Some nice, non-discriminate, irrelevant public art is very welcome on my street. ■ ÊÊTwitter: @reddotbluedot Issue 97 | leithermagazine.com | 13


We Were Promised Jetpacks Tom Gregorson is showing the tell tale signs of upgrade fatigue

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here will come a point in everyone’s life when they decide that they have reached their limit in dealing with technology. This limit varies enormously from person to person, of course. My father, in his late seventies, recently upbraided me for sending him a fax, when I should clearly have scanned and emailed the pages. My mother, on the other hand, threw in the towel with the advent of the video recorder and was completely unmoved by any further advances. She treated her mobile phone as a sort of electronic distress flare – only to be used in dire emergencies, and certainly not for such frivolities as chatting. This always amused me, since she could tie up a landline for several days given a decent supply of coffee and a capacious ashtray. The mobile remained at the bottom of her handbag, battery flat and collecting lint like a half sucked sweet. I am already showing signs of upgrade fatigue. I’m no longer interested in buying the latest, fastest or smartest, and prefer my technology to be reasonably proven and tested. This probably dates back to a period when I worked for an internet start-up who bought into a major piece of software that was still being developed. The resulting carnage nearly brought the company down and proved to me the value of the adage: ‘never buy version 1.0 of anything’. One of the reasons for this caution is 14 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

that, as the speed of innovation increases and new products flood the market, the actual advances seem less and less useful. I don’t really need my phone to connect me to my (non-existent) Facebook page so that I can spend even more time telling a load of people I don’t really know things that they don’t actually care about. I can see the usefulness of Twitter in terms of business and marketing, or for serious people to impart words of wisdom, but most of it appears to be narcissists with megaphones screaming “me, me, me”. I wouldn’t mind, but the actual ability of the phone to fulfil its original purpose seems to decrease the smarter they get. Has anyone actually tried to make a call on an iphone4 outside a major metropolitan area and succeeded in getting a connection? One of the reasons I keep my £10 Nokia is that it makes and takes calls even when I am in the Highlands or out on the Islands. Plus I can get Radio 4 on it by plugging in headphones. I don’t want to end up like a friend, who recently looked at her phone as she completely failed to get it to answer the incoming call and said mournfully “When did my phone become smarter than me?” All of this development of items to deliver e-mail, receive the internet and play apps and games on means that pubs, homes and offices are very different places from a decade ago. Watching four people round a table, drinks untouched, heads bowed over their phones as they silently communicate with everyone except the ones they arranged to meet has got to be one of the most depressing things I’ve seen recently. Back in the mists of time I did have a premonition of what was to come. Driven to distraction

She treated her mobile phone as a sort of electronic distress flare – only to be used in dire emergencies, certainly not for such frivolities as chatting

by everyone in an office meeting fiddling with their Blackberries (not a euphemism, I hasten to add), I finally lost it. I took my shoe off, put it on the table and announced that the next person who touched their phone would have it percussively re-engineered for them. I hasten to say I am not a Luddite. There’s sat-nav in the car (because as a man, I am legally required never to ask for directions) and I am writing this on a pretty fast laptop and saving it in Cloud storage while playing music via Spotify. Even the dog has a microchip. It is only that I am trying to identify which bits of new technology will be useful and relevant to me amidst the snowstorm of product being thrown at me every day. I want things that make my life easier, save me a little time and increase my productivity, so that I can bunk off early for a picnic with my girlfriend. I don’t want things that mean that I spend my time staring into a small screen. If I have nothing else to do, I’ll read a book (ok, a kindle, then). I might actually learn something. I don’t want things that reduce my human interaction, or even prevent it. There are many technological advances that I love. Try and part me from my iPod or my laptop and you’ll be sorry. But I am starting to hit my limit. I see many of the current ‘improvements’ as being part of the law of diminishing returns. I’ll stick with what I have for the moment, and wait for the next technological step-change to see what benefits that brings. Oh, and one final question for the technocrats: Where’s my jet pack? You promised me one 40 years ago, and I’m still waiting. Get that sorted before you upgrade my phone again. ■


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FoodReview Tom Gregorson

The Littlest Hobo or the Prince of Bistros? Bijou Bistro 2 Restalrig Rd, Edinburgh  0131 538 0664  bijoubistro.co.uk

W

hen I first suggested to our esteemed editor that I wanted to write some restaurant reviews for the Leither, I was told, pretty pithily, that I needed to find somewhere to be rude about, as he always ends up going to places he likes so the reviews are invariably good. I was a bit put out by this, as the thought of finding a crap restaurant, spending good money finding out just how crap it was, and then having to write about the whole miserable experience seemed well, crap. I did decide that if I was going to write about somewhere, I wasn’t going to muck around with lukewarm praise, or mild scoldings. There are plenty of places that do a pretty solid job of feeding people, and good luck to ‘em. It either needed to be one of those restaurants with pretensions that failed to make the grade, or somewhere unpretentious that was way better than expected. Much to my surprise, it was an example of the latter that appeared first. At first sight, Bijou, sitting at the junction of Restalrig Road and East Hermitage Place, looks like one of those corner cafes that tries to be all things to all people, and that usually falls into the cracks as a result. They are open seven days for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with coffee, cakes and takeaways fitted in around the edges. All of this is served from a tiny kitchen to a dining room that seats about 20 people at most. The owner works full time, and is backed up by a somewhat variable collection of part-time front of house staff. He seems to manage to keep things from getting 16 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

too chaotic, joking cheerfully with the regulars as he keeps the drinks and food coming. And although you have probably realised that we are not exactly talking about a fine dining atmosphere, the food is why I will keep going back. The menu consists of a selection of solid bistro favourites, such as hot smoked salmon fishcakes, a couple of burgers, rib eye steak, and haddock and chips. Most of these are offered in either two or three different portion sizes, priced between £4 and £13, which is a clever move. In the evenings, these dishes are supplemented with a monthly changing list of specials, all of which are available as starter or main course. These are considerably more adventurous and more accurately reflect the kitchen’s capabilities, because this kitchen punches well above its weight. The simple dishes are not only perfectly executed; they also show a confidence and an ability to produce top quality dishes that far smarter places in town would do well to emulate (you know who you are). The fishcakes are stuffed with fish rather than potato, and are served with a nicely punchy sweet chilli mayonnaise and a delicate chive oil dressing. The haddock comes with an almost perfect home-made tartare sauce and is quite simply the best I have ever had – the lightest imaginable batter enclosing a perfectly timed chunk of Haddock loin that breaks into large pearly white flakes under your fork. On top of that, the chef will cook your burger any way that you want it, which makes a change from the ill-educated pillocks who confuse Food Standards advice about cooking bought in frozen burgers with what to do with a decent home-made item, and insist on telling me (wrongly) that serving a burger

Score ««««««««««

Damage: Well under 50 quid for two

anything less than well-done is against the law (again, you know who you are). Of the current half dozen evening specials (also served either as a starter or main at either £7 or £13), the warm fig and gorgonzola salad was a lovely combination of sweet and tangy flavours, although the inclusion of fried quails eggs didn’t seem to me to add anything to the dish apart from colour. Fillet of red mullet with chard, confit tomato and a roasted garlic purée was right on the money, the smoky pungency of the garlic contrasting beautifully with the sweetness of the mullet. Mains of long-braised veal with crisp rice noodles and an aromatic broth (served, rather sweetly, in a separate pot. Nice to have the customer getting involved with their own dinner, rather than just passively accepting what arrives at the table), and fillet of red deer with kale, dauphinoise potatoes and a blackberry jus, were both interesting in composition and perfectly judged. The sauces had real depth and the accompaniments, including a bowl of skinny chips that I swear just turned


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A main of longbraised veal, crisp rice noodles and an aromatic broth was perfectly judged Issue 98 | leithermagazine.com | 17


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hat’s your favourite view of Leith? The Shore from Coalhill, when there’s a little mist or muted light you can imagine yourself in a European port, which of course you are. And your ideal afternoon in Leith? A fishy lunch followed by a cycle along the Water. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done? That mountain bike rocky slab descent near Bonar Bridge. The X-ray clearly shows the triple fracture to my shoulder. Actually no … that was the stupidest thing I ever did. Dogs or Cats? Cats. But I’d change my mind in an instant if you didn’t have to pick up after the mutt. Create a law applicable to everyone: Drivers made to use a bike during rush hour once a week. That would teach them! If you could be teleported anywhere, where would it be? That house with its own pool in Double Bay in Sydney still evokes fond memories. Yeah, there. Best quality in a friend? They don’t remind me of my mistakes too often. Magical power? Be able to properly drive the 1973 Chevron B19 sports prototype that I covet.

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I love Leith because: It’s not just for Auld Alliances. (I didn’t read that anywhere Adam Wilson.) Best James Bond actor? Timothy Dalton. Met him once and he offered me great champagne, chat and a seat. Nice guy. Hidden talents? I can guess someone’s Porn Star Name… Otherwise I just get on with cooking the odd tasty curry dish. Greatest lesson learned? I can say “no thanks” when they tell me their budget. What would you do in another life? This is a supplementary answer referring back to my magical power. Fireproof overalls, as you’d find me at Leguna Seca Raceway in California. (Which reminds me it’s a rollover tonight). Who’s your hero? My profoundly deaf son who has to put up with shit every day. Ever been told you look like someone famous? In a car rental in Nerja, Spain I was mistaken for a local bigwig. It was only when I spoke that they cottoned on. I wish I’d let my wife talk as there was a lovely Merc outside and an upgrade would’ve been great! ■

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The Crisis in the Spanish Kitchen Charting the debilitating effect the recession has had on traditional eating habits through a year in the life of a supermarket magazine

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hopping at Aldi in southern Spain is a surreal experience for someone accustomed to the third-world-style twilit cave in Musselburgh. Ronda in Andalucia boasts an ALDI facing sun-baked mountains; it is brightly lit, with wide aisles, smiling staff, and even – if you know where to look – foie gras at €4.50 for a 200gms tin. They sell a magazine called Cocina Facil or Easy Cookery. It’s monthly and runs to sixty-plus pages in full colour with none of the fashion and lifestyle rubbish that pads out UK supermarket magazines, but only recipes aimed at ordinary Spanish cooks. For a Leither who loves cooking, it’s fascinating. What do ‘real Spaniards’ eat? Not the glamorous telly chefs, but someone with access to the stuff on Aldi’s shelves and to the produce in markets? Not only what do they eat but how well do they cook? Every recipe is rated and in the ‘Very Easy’ category the cook is expected to make yeast dough from scratch, skin and chop up an eel, use a bain-marie, kill and crack up a live crab, blind-bake a flan-case… I considered looking for the Spanish equivalent of the Curriculum for Excellence to see what they learn at school, but on holiday, some things are just a tad too difficult. But back to, what do they eat? The answer has always been lots of pork, lots of fish, lots of salads and egg-custardbased desserts. For example, in July 2012, a typical menu could be an ‘Easy’ cream of seafood soup, finished with a sprinkle of mixed chopped parsley, garlic and tarragon, a ‘Very Easy’ beef braise with an ‘Italiana’ sauce of wine, cream, herbs and capers, and a ‘Very

Easy’ apricot mousse (fresh apricots, cream, lemon juice and gelatine). Other possibilities might have been carpaccio of beef with a drizzle of pureed red peppers, mustard and reduced port, chicken casserole with chillies and those onions halfway between spring ones and grown-up ones, a salad of frisee lettuce, cooked turkey breast and grated carrots, finished with a cluster of pomegranate seeds and a peppery vinaigrette; precede the lot with smoked salmon canapés and top off with a hot chocolate Brownie with an orange and orange-liqueur sauce. For the piecebox, what about eggy crepes layered up with prawns, young garlic shoots and mushrooms cut into wedges? And for the kids, what about some deep-fried little tuna pasties? Or a peach ‘flan’ which is in fact a crème caramel with a puree of fresh peaches instead of the caramel.

The title translates as Easy Cookery (cheers Maggie!)

The Spanish identity

These are the sort of ideas that keep a foodie on holiday very happy indeed. But then this summer, everything changed. The July front cover of Cocina Facil gives it away. ‘Cheap menus that will please the eye’ and… ‘Entertaining eight guests for €2 per person’. The ones to please the eye are; courgette fritters accompanied by chopped mixed tomato and parsley, a tomato, carrot and goat’s cheese lasagne (no sauce, just cooked veg and raw cheese layered in sheets of cooked pasta to serve cold), a timbale of salmon and apple where 600gms of salmon is stretched to feed eight, and filleted sardines (one each) with mixed shredded veg cooked en papillote. Yes, they do all look very colourful, but this is cooking ‘en la crisis’. The meat, the cream and the langostinos have all gone. It gets worse. Legumbres en verano? Claro que si! Translates as, ‘Dried beans in summer? Of course!’ Legumbres are soaked and cooked in big hearty pots of cassoulet-style stews. But for winter,

Recipes rated ‘Very Easy’ include making yeast dough from scratch, skinning an eel, using a bain-marie, killing and cooking a crab and blind baking a flan-case

with huge chunks of poultry, chorizo and other sausages all stirred in along with the jamon. These summer recipes are cooking for poverty, without a doubt. First up, beans with an aromatic salsa uses soaked cooked butter-beans, mixed with tomatoes, olives, chopped onion and garlic, dressed with olive oil and given the ‘aromatic’ bit with chopped basil. Next, a mixture of cold, cooked green lentils and rice with little cubes of carrot, tomato and cheese in a vinaigrette served on lettuce leaves. They try hard with photography, but are defeated by the third recipe. It’s a black and beige stack of cooked aubergine slices layered with a goo of chickpeas mashed up with oil and garlic. The coulis of coriander and the grilled tomato on top lose the battle to make this one attractive. Then there are lentils with carrots and mussels, and a veggie burger of mashed butter beans, onion, garlic and (far too) many breadcrumbs. In July 2012, there were fourteen recipes where pulses, rice and veg were the main or central ingredient, excluding desserts, but in July 2013, thirty-nine. And how do you entertain for €2 a head? Have your guests for high tea? This must be a shocking notion for people who sit down to dine at ten at night, consume vast salads covered in tuna, followed by large slabs of meat, poultry, seafood, all with wine and chips. Food is central to the Spanish identity, where vegetarians are understood not to like beef, but meals without pig or seafood are unthinkable. It’s so sad. ■ Maggie Cuddihy Issue 97 | leithermagazine.com | 19


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Kicks For Kids D

olls, cars, trains, model aeroplanes: we probably all had a childhood obsession. Mine? The cabbage. The Hibees. Hibs. The Arsenal of the North. OK, I’ve probably taken that too far but you get the drift. Yes, I am 100% madly in love with Hibernian Football Club. I am not ashamed to say it and I am definitely not ashamed to let you know about a wee fund I’ve set up, Leith Links, to help enable children to join the Hibee family. Hibs have run a scheme called Kicks for Kids (KfK), since 2002, to enable businesses and individuals to purchase season tickets for children who wouldn’t normally have the chance to attend games at Easter Road. However, the one downside to this worthy endeavour is that you need £150 upfront to buy a ticket for the child and one for their adult companion to take them. So I, the pushy female Hibs addict, approached the club and

Maggie’s Centre, a beneficiary

asked for their permission to open a bank account so one-off donations/ Direct Debits/standing orders could be accepted. The idea is to pool all monies received and when able, purchase the corresponding number of KfK season tickets. Hibs thankfully agreed and Leith Links was launched. So, since August this year, we have raised an astonishing £1800 and have so far purchased 20 season tickets. The support has come in green bucket loads from the Hibs family, far and wide: Australia, Qatar, Norway, the US of A and

even Engerlund. In other words, the Hibbies have done themselves and their club proud. Our plan is to continue collecting and to purchase even more season tickets next season. The beauty of the scheme is that contributors can suggest an organisation they think may benefit from the tickets and Hibs will contact them. So far, the Multi-Cultural Family Base (MCFB), Richmond’s Hope, Maggie’s Centre, Kids in Care, the Canongate Youth Project, Magdalene Community Centre, St. Ninian’s Youth Club and the

Pentland Community Centre have all benefitted. Only last week, an email was received from the MCFB, advising that ‘one boy said it was the best day of his life and went to school on the Monday still clutching his ticket’. Fair warms your green heart. Susan Linn So, how do you find out more and how do you donate? ■ Susan Linn ÊÊInfo: www.leithlinks4kids.com ÊÊEmail: leithlinks@live.co.uk ÊÊfacebook: /leithlinks4kids ÊÊTwitter: @leithlinks4kids

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Issue 98 | leithermagazine.com | 21


“We are minimalists at heart, the basic idea is constructed around piano or guitar and a voice, that’s what we live and die by” I

f you’re not familiar with the name The Lumineers, you will instantly recognise their hugely catchy track Ho, Hey, which seemed to be on TV and radio constantly at the start of the year. The group come to Edinburgh at the end of November to show us why there’s much more to them than simply ‘that group that did the hey ho tune they used in that advert’. Much has been written about Wesley Schultz (lead vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, percussion) struggling for years to make ends meet in New York, and then a few years ago moving out to Denver where they recruited Neyla Pekarek (cello, vocals) via an ad in Craigslist, which is closer to Gumtree than the musical press. Although much of their debut self-titled album was written before the move, its feel is more rooted in Americana than the Big Apple. The Lumineers are riding high as part of the rise to prominence in recent years of Americana influenced rootsy, folk-tinged, singer-songwriters and bands, such as Avett Brothers, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, and in particular they’re often compared to the all-conquering Brits Mumford and Sons. “I’m sensitive sometimes because people say we’re a Mumford rip-off and that we’re doing something that’s in vogue and therefore it’s working,” Fraites says. “But you can’t just stomp your feet and clap your hands and shout ‘ho’ and ‘hey’ and make it work.” I find it curious that less people reference a group like Carolina Chocolate Drops, even though both are drawing upon American folk traditions to create a modern version for the itunes generation who are looking for something a bit more ‘authentic’. It’s a tad obvious to compare them with fellow articulate, good looking, white folks from the city, but their approach is done with sincerity. “We are minimalists at heart,” says Schultz. “The basic idea is always constructed around piano or guitar and a voice, that’s what we live and die by, because if you build up from that foundation, it’s going to be strong. But if it’s shaky at that most basic level, it’s never going to be a good song. And we try to say the most with the least, the fewest instruments, the fewest words, instead of cluttering everything up with too much sound, too much information.” Ironic, given this, that they were to discover that their ‘made 22 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

ÊÊInfo: The Lumineers play the Corn Exchange on 23rd November

Their set at T In The Park was a sensation; The Herald’s 5 star review hailed it ‘an incredible, dominating performance’.

up’ name is shared with a leading brand of dental veneers, very much a symbol of aesthetics over substance. This isn’t the band’s first trip to Scotland this year; their set at T In The Park was a sensation, with The Herald giving them a 5 star review hailing it as ‘an incredible, dominating performance’.

Covering their own song

As you’d expect, The Lumineers are a live band at heart, Schultz explains “Live music is a different animal than a record, and we just hope that people come out to the show because we put a lot of effort into our shows and giving people a night instead of looking down at our shoes, playing our songs like your hit and play our CD. And it seems like, as the word’s getting out, that there are people finding out about us.” Whilst Ho Hey might get the biggest cheer of the night, expect a significant roar from the Edinburgh crowd when they introduce their song Scotland and the line ‘Let’s drink to your health’ will no doubt go down well with a nation famed for liking a tipple. The big question that the band are now being asked all the time is what about the next album, “Yeah, yeah. It took us a long time to write the first one. I think we’re pretty aware of the fact that

we can’t just sit down, write a record, and then it’s done; it takes a long time. I’m trying to write every day if I can. I think the idea is to try and chip away at it as opposed to just sit down one day and then turn it on like a flick of a switch and expect everything to happen.” The frontman continues, “Overall, we use our live shows as a testing ground for any new material. We obviously don’t want to make an entire show of saying ‘hey this a brand new tune that none of you have ever heard before’, but with every song that made the album, we were able to test them out with audiences.” Reports are that they’ve been dropping the odd new track into their live set, including a duet between Schultz and Pekarek, so look out for a taste of what’s to come. And what of Ho, Hey the song that pretty much made them, “It kind of feels like we’re covering the song now when we play it,” Schultz says. “The song’s instant stickiness is undeniable. Its potency arises from its simplicity and, at less than three minutes long, its pithiness. But, it’s not as simple as it seems.” If you’re expecting the song to be their triumphant encore, be warned it sometimes features early in the set, but as we Scots say, ‘Hey ho’! ■ Dave McGuire


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15 Broughton Street, Edinburgh, 0131 556 3132 Issue 98 | leithermagazine.com | 23


The Quiff: From Beau Brummell to Morrissey The iconic haircut says look at me but don’t mess with me and certainly don’t mess with my hair

A

lex Salmond, Alex Turner, Morrissey, Mel Perkins, Tintin, Elvis, the Mohawks, the Princess Royal, Denise Mina, Nick Grimshaw, Emile Sandé, Imelda May… All have one thing in common: a quiff. Moussed, gelled, lacquered, Brylcreemed, the quiff has a sizeable pedigree and although it goes in and out of vogue it’s always a statement. Even if it’s not the full monty, retroAmericana version – short at the sides, bigger at the front – the quiff always seems to be around, from art school wannabes to 21st century bikers. A new book called Or Glory by photographer Horst A Friedrichs revels in the biker boys and ton-up girls of today. The quiffie 1950s was the golden age – the Teddy Boys and Rockers always had them, the blacker and shinier the better. Elvis’s much-copied coxcomb style is the most loved. It spoke of youth, vigour, potency and prowess. With this brilliantined bob you could swagger like a rooster and wow all the hens. In America the style was known as the ducktail (or the DA: duck’s ass). The look was so persuasive that in films from the 50s ¬– whether they’re westerns or biblical epics – the young male lead often sports an anachronistic quiff. Hard rock ’n’ roller Little Richard had an elaborate version that looked particularly badass. When early Elvis strutted his stuff sometimes his oily quiff became slightly awry making his fans all the more ardent. The girls wanted to put those unctuous strands back in place. But they needn’t have worried. The Teddy Boys loved fiddling with their hair and kept a comb in their back pocket for that very purpose. With one deft sweep of their arm – like drawing a six-shooter out of its holster – they could restore their barnet with an action that was at once vain, aggressive and theatrical. Succeeding generations of grease monkeys have reinvented the quiff. Musical sub-genres like Rockabilly, Dirtbox, and Psychobilly have all revived the style. Street gangs in Japan, like the yakuza, wear it and even teenybopper stars looking for an extra edge have had their stylist whip up a quick quiff – think of Justin Bieber and 24 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

The girl is Alentejo Aleja, don’t know who the cat on the left is

David Cameron has a rather limp kiss curl and Alex Salmond has a vestigial tuft that’s more Tintin than superhero

Bruno Mars. It seems everyone from Bowie to Beckham have experimented with the quiff. In the 18th century Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, gave her name to the upswept hairdo that made wearers look simultaneously taller and more imposing. Since the days of Beau Brummell men too have enjoyed elaborate upswept hair-dos. These pomaded pompadours were great fodder for the cartoonists of the day. No one can deny that the key to many people’s personality (and sensuality) can be decoded in their hairstyle. Superman was famous for his blue/ black hair and his shiny kiss curl. 1960s Rockers took to the style and for ItalianAmericans elaborate upswept hair was part of the goombah look. Mafia boss Tony Soprano may not have had the requisite number of follicles but plenty of his goons did. If a silverback gorilla went to the barber he’d asked for an Elvis quiff. It’s a style that’s got something of the marauder’s helmet about it that says: look at me but don’t mess with me (and certainly don’t mess with my hair). This may explain why many politicians opt for big hair – some with more success than others. David Cameron has a rather limp kiss curl and Alex Salmond has a vestigial tuft (visible only in profile) that’s more Tintin than superhero. Ronald Reagan wore a shiny black (dyed) helmet until the day he died. Those with street cred know when the sell-by date of their quiff is up.

Film critic Mark Kermode once had a Mr Whippy quiff, which has been noticeably dampened down (maybe because he doesn’t have as much hair as he used to). The quiff has never entirely gone out of fashion. It’s retro, it’s rebellious, it’s arty and, it has to be said, it’s high maintenance. First off you need to have the right kind of hair – fine hair just won’t cut it and baldies need not apply. Oh, and straight, black hair is best. Otherwise you’ll need to use hair straighteners and even a blow dryer. Even as the barber creates the initial look for you, you will need to recreate it when you get out of bed every morning. You might need lacquer to prevent the wind flipping it out of shape. You might even need to resort to the judicious use of a single hair-roller. It’s a fashion statement not for the fainthearted and really for guys who know more about anti-frizz than antifreeze. Volumnising mousse and hair gel also play their part. Be careful to avoid the undesirable Jedward swoosh! But, for the love of Mike, remember the most important thing and that’s not to look vain. One fashion website counsels: ‘the quiff is all about attitude, and you don’t want yours to come across like you’ve tried too hard’. ■ Kennedy Wilson ÊÊInfo: Or Glory: 21st Century Rockers by Horst A Friedrichs is published by Prestel (www.prestel.com). Thinking of trying a quiff yourself? Visit coolmenshair.com


AutumnFitness & Health Tracy Griffen

How to flex your literary muscles W

Think about Twitter. Haiku-like in composition, the art of a perfect tweet is becoming commercially useful. So perhaps writing is not a dying art

riting is like exercise. The more you do, the easier it gets. Writing, like exercise, is something that people think about a lot, but less often attempt. The thought is worse than the reality. I find the easiest way to write is by scheduling it in my diary. Like exercise, I need to consider it as a time commitment or it never happens. Otherwise deadlines loom closer and closer and writing gets put off. My favourite time to write is after lunch, 2pm or 3pm. I like to set a start time, so I can procrastinate before. I also like to prepare some rocket fuel (a.k.a. stovetop coffee), put on a minimal techno soundtrack – I find it easiest to write to music with no words (otherwise the lyrics get tangled in my thought process). I sit at my kitchen table and start to type. Anything. It doesn’t really matter what I type about as long as I get words out on the page. I quite often will type a few paragraphs of guff, just to warm up my ‘writing muscles’. In this way, writing is like exercise. It’s always wisest to warm up muscles before getting into the bulk of a workout. And like writing, when warmed up, I’m happy to continue exercising literary muscles. I’ve never known if this is how other writers’ write (I finally consider myself a writer, even though I’ve been freelancing for over 20 years). Fellow Leither contributor Marianne Wheelhaghan’s recent articles on how to write really resonated with me. Not only is she a top author, publisher and wonderful human being, but she also has the knack of demystifying the mysterious art of communicating through the printed word. Recently, many fellow Leithers articles have been about writing and the process of writing. As we move into a more text-based reality (the internet), written communication has become paramount. Think about Twitter. Haiku-like in composition, the art of a perfect tweet is becoming commercially useful. So perhaps after all writing is not a dying art. Write on...

Once you’ve exercised your grey matter, refuel

Around a year ago I wrote about favourite places to eat around Leith Walk, since then many new places have popped up. Regular haunts Cafe 9, Los Cardos and Out of the Blue have been joined by a fresh new batch of culinary yumminess.

Strong ‘stove top’ coffee fuels Tracy’s writing

The Stack dim sum restaurant, next to Out of the Blue on Dalmeny Street (where Joanna’s Chinese restaurant used to be many moons ago) has been serving hot and tasty dim sum for the last year or so. It was a regular haunt until I used online food diary www.myfitnesspal. com to calculate the calorific content of the average dumpling. A guaranteed way to ruin a good meal, as I discovered my average dim sum feast was clocking in at around 1,000 calories, so now it’s more of a treat after a hard day’s exercising rather than a staple meal. Likewise, the home baking at Bakehoven (recently opened on the back street of Halmyre, near Leith Late mural) has fuelled my cake addiction. Sinfully good, Kirsty’s Nutella and cinnamon cake rivals cakemeisters La Cerise on Great Junction Street. It’s a cute wee cafe, playing a decent indie soundtrack in the kitchen to enjoy your coffee and cake to. I have been wishing for the perfect falafel wrap to come to Leith Walk for some time. Finally my prayers have been answered in Babylon. Babylon Restaurant that is, newly opened on the corner of Albert Street and Leith Walk. I find it incredibly amusing that it used to be a video hire shop, where ultramodern VHS and Beta-max tapes lined the walls. Eschewing the shisha pipes, I prefer the cosy indoors, with friendly

service, affordable menu and good choice for vegetarians. If veganism is your thing rejoice, as Woodland Creatures pub down the Walk offer vegan dishes on the menu (brain doing mental gymnastics, thinking Woodland Creatures = squirrels = eat nuts = vegan). Speaking of veganism, popular bar Brass Monkey further up the Walk apparently also has a good selection. Are monkeys also vegan? Cafe Nemrut on Leith Walk (down from Los Cardos, same side) has been open for some time and from the exterior it doesn’t look like much. The atmosphere inside is also slightly lacking, however they make up for it with bonzer mixed mezze plates. Nemrut is a Turkish mountain notable for its statues that apparently surround a royal tomb. Nemrut on Leith Walk is notable for quick and affordable meals, well worth a visit (perhaps not on a first date). Looking to the future, a hotly anticipated opening is Serrano Manchego tapas restaurant planned for ex-Dalmeny bar. Looking at their Facebook page, it seems planning applications are on track for a spring 2014 opening. Ole! ■ ÊÊTwitter: @tracygriffen ÊÊFacebook: /griffenfitnesss

This month Tracy’s been ripening green tomatoes from the allotment, planning the next Balfour Street Boutique pop-up shop on 30 November and looking forward to the new benches planned for Pilrig Park (more opportunities for tricep dips) Issue 98 | leithermagazine.com | 25


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Mrs MacPickle Solves All Your Problems! Dear Mrs MacPickle, How does one potty train a child? Yours hopefully, Dawn Tidmum

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26 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

Ms Tidmum, Fear not, help is at hand. Firstly, try not to get bogged down in the idea of ‘waiting till the time is right’ or your ‘child is ready’, much like there is never a good time to stop smoking or drinking, there is never a good time to potty train. One never thinks, ‘I’ll tell you what would make this weekend really special…letting our child piss all over the carpet’. And piss they will: you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, and you cannot potty train a child without a fair amount of widdling on the upholstery. The process of potty training is the process of finding that place within yourself where that no longer matters to you, if you are easy going it might take two days, if you are more high maintenance it might take three months, with most of us falling somewhere in between. Secondly, before you start in earnest, start floating the idea. Purchase a potty and leave it somewhere prominent. Play with it, put toys on it, generally discuss the idea of what might go into it. Purchase some knickers or underpants, featuring favourite designs/characters if your budget allows and again discuss the idea of one day wearing them. Then

create some sort of chart. You need to depict two of something, two sunflowers, two rockets, two busts of Che Guevara or whatever it is your child is into (one for wee and one for poo) and have a set of vaguely matching stickers, ladybirds, stars or black berets. Again, float the idea of what one might do to get a sticker onto one of the flowers/spacecraft/ revolutionaries. Finally, when you are in reasonably good humour (not pre-menstrual or hungover or expecting the in-laws or anything) you are good to go. State with an air of excitement that today is the day we are going to wear pants and use the potty! Maybe we might even get some stickers on our chart! Then dress the child in said pants and sit back and wait for them to pee in them. When they do say, “oops we didn’t make it that time did we? Maybe next time!” Maintain the illusion that the child was trying to get to the potty in time. Keep your cool and eventually something magical will happen and they will get the hang of it (unless it is making you or them horribly sad, in which case give up and try again a few weeks later). And when that magic progress appears, its rewards all round, fanfares, stickers and phone calls to eager grandparents for the little one, and a well earned celebratory pint/glass of wine for mummy! Bon chance my friend! ■


Green&Leithy Rebecca Jane Armstrong

Deli... Park Your Bike And Come On In

Raw Millionaire’s Shortbread L

ast month’s issue gave us some great articles covering the ideas of food consumption, preparation and sourcing and I would like to add a belated addition to these. We are deeply imbued in a culture of convenience, haste and desire. The steps between wanting to eat something and actually eating something are decreasing ever more rapidly. The joy is being sapped from our food. Our knowledge of ingredients is dwindling, the excitement of crafting our own meals has been replaced with the shrill ping of the microwave, and it’s no wonder we over consume largely unhealthy meals, both in terms of quantity and quality. This is where raw food comes in… the purest form of ingredients, unprocessed and unheated, retaining every single ounce of goodness. Anything from a big old salad to the unbelievably heavenly Millionaire shortbread I’m about to share. Just in case you still have some whacked out idea about raw food being minging hippie fodder, this recipe is full of awesome natural fats, minerals and vitamins. And its good, I mean eat-the-entirething-at-midnight-crouchedon-the-kitchen-floor good! Yes, the ingredients are pricier than buying a slab from the supermarket but here’s the thing; this is a treat, a dessert to linger over, to fall in love with, to write a

poem about. Oh yes and cacao? Its raw, unprocessed, from the source goodness, full of antioxidants and B vitamins. A dessert that’s good for you? You can thank me later…

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Makes an 8” circle (Raw, Vegan, Gluten Free) Base 100g Almonds 1 tbsp Coconut Oil 6 Dates

Line a small cake tin with parchment, blend almonds until fine then add dates and oil and blend until the mixture starts to ball together. Press into cake tin, cover and freeze for 10 mins. Caramel 50g Sultanas 6 Dates 2 tbsp Tahini 2 tbsp Maple Syrup (or Agave Nectar) 1 tbsp Coconut Oil 1 tsp Vanilla Extract 50ml Water 1/2 tsp Sea Salt

Blend all ingredients until smooth, pour onto base and freeze for 2 hours Chocolate 4 tbsp Coconut Oil 2 tbsp Cacao Powder 1 tbsp Maple Syrup.

Blend until smooth, spoon onto caramel and freeze until ready to serve. (Remove from freezer 10 minutes before...) ■

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What’sOn entertainment

Alan Breck Lounge 159 Constitution Street  0131 476 2581 Every Mon: Debating Society with Illand and Simpson Every Thu: Scarf Tying Class with Miriam, Irene & Isobel 8pm Every Fri: The Leg and a Wing Club 8pm Every Sun: The Derek Lovell Experience 4-8pm

highlight of the month

Boda Bar 229 Leith Walk  0131 553 5900  bodabar.com Every Mon: Chan Bang music 9pm Every Fri: Free Mezze 5pm Carrier’s Quarters 42 Bernard Street Sun: 6.30pm Jammie Devils Dalriada 77 Promenade, Portobello  0131 454 4500  dalriadabar.co.uk Every Wed: Topical Quiz 8.30 Every Thu: Freestyle with Mike 8pm Every Fri: Sing-a-Long Sesh, 9-12pm Every Sat: Sean-Paul & Pals, 3-6pm Every Sat: Live Acts, 9-12pm Every Sun: Jed & Friends, 3-6pm Elbow 133 East Claremont Street  0131 556 5662 Mon: Movie night, 8pm Tue: Pub Quiz, 8.30pm Fri: Selection of DJ’s & Live Music Sat: Ambidextrous, 8pm, fortnightly Embo 29 Haddington Place,  0131 652 3880  embodeli.com Exhibition: Mon/Fri 8am-4pm Sat 9am-4.30pm The Granary 32-34 The Shore Acoustic Sets: Wed 8-10pm, Thu 10-12am, Sat 10-12am & Fri Pianist 5-7pm Hemma 75 Holyrood Road  0131 629 3327  bodabar.com Every Mon: Do it Commando! Boot camp 6.30pm Every 2nd Tues: Bake Club Lily Vanilli Every Wed: Lill Fredag (Little Friday) Iso Bar 7 Bernard Street  0131 467 8904 Wed: Quiz Night 8pm Sun: Open mic with Sylvain 5pm onwards Joseph Pearce’s Bar 23 Elm Row  0131 556 4140  bodabar.com Every Tue: Jogging Club 7pm Kelburn Garden Party Winter Warmer Studio 24, Carlton Road 7 Dec: 10.30pm-3am Tickets: £6+BF advance/£9 on door 28 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

French Film Festival 21 UK Edinburgh Filmhouse Various Venues Nationwide Till 7TH December 2013  frenchfilmfestival.org.uk

After celebrating two decades last year the French Film Festival UK comes of age in 2013. Yup, they are 21 years old and have put together another memorable anniversary programme including an exquisitely restored version of Jacques Demy’s Lola with an, ahem, personal Kilderkin 65 Canongate  0131 556 2101  facebook.com/kilderkin Every Tue: Pub Quiz 8pm, cash jackpot Every Thu: Booze School Every Sun: Kilderkinema Every Sat: Edinburgh’s oldest open-mic night 8pm Leith Cricket Club

Regular live gigs (check at Parlour Bar) Limbo Xmas Bash

Voodoo Rooms 19A West Register St 7 Dec: Pumajaw, Law & Much More! 7.30pm -1am Nobles 44a Constitution Street  0131 629 7215  noblesbarleith.co.uk  facebook.com/noblesbarleith All free entry Every Mon: Quiz Murray Briggs 9pm Every Tue: Jamnastics & Lewis Gibson 9.30pm Every Wed: The Jack O’ Diamonds 9.30pm Every Thu: Nathan Fynn or Bluegtass Session 9.30pm Check website/facebook (above) for unlisted Fri/Sat Gigs The Parlour 142 Duke Street  0131 555 3848 Every Wed: Quiz 8pm

Pressure Valve Open Mic Night @ The Pear Tree 38 West Nicolson Street  0131 667 7533 Every Sun 8pm: Featuring a fine variety of music, comedy, magic acts & more.

favourite, Anouk Aimée, (only sad to see that Charlotte Rampling doesn’t seem to be onboard this year!). They offer the usual raft of UK premieres – more than thirty – including erstwhile Edinburgher Sylvain Chomet’s first live action feature Attilla Marcel and the first two parts (Marius and Fanny) of Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille trilogy directed by Daniel Auteuil. Also look out for tributes to Maurice Pialat, Bernadette Lafont and Louis de Funès. Above: Still from Aujourd’hui (Tey)

QABALALA! Leith Docker’s Club 17 Academy Street 15 Nov: Zed Penguin, Numbers Are Futile & James Metcalfe 8pm-1am, £5 Saturday Night Beaver 36 Blair Street 3rd Saturday of the month, 10.30-3am The Shore Bar  0131 553 5080 Tue: Infinite Trio 9.30pm Wed: Folk Session 9.30pm Thu: Kevin Gore 9pm Sun: Jazz - Ellis & Kellock 2pm-5pm Sofi’s 65 Henderson Street  0131 555 7019  bodabar.com Every Mon: Cult Movie Night Every Sun: Piece & Jam Open Mic, 7pm The Street 2 Picardy Place  0131 556 4272  thestreetbaredinburgh.co.uk Wed: Pub Quiz, 8pm; Thur: DJ LL Honky Tonk, 9pm Fri: DJ Trendy Wendy, 9pm Sat: Pre-Club parties & DJ’s Sun: A guest Club Night each week! Victoria Bar 265 Leith Walk  0131 555 1638  bodabar.com Every Tue: Language Café 7pm


Victoria Park Hotel 221 Ferry Road  0131 477 7033 Every Tues: Leith Folk Club £7

the arts

Artist Book Group Exhibition McNaughton’s Bookshop 3a Haddington Place Till Dec 23: Tue City Art Centre Market Street Till March 2: Walter Geikie Artist of Character Till Feb 23: Citizen Curator: Leith’s Artistic Heritage. Mon/Sat 10-5pm Sun 12-5pm, Free Concrete Wardrobe 50A Broughton St.  0131 558 7130  concretewardrobe.com December Maker of the Month: Charlotte Duffy, a.k.a.Waste of Paint Productions is creating the Concrete Wardrobe Christmas display The Danish Cultural Institute 3 Doune Terrace  dancult.co.uk Till 19 Dec: Star Sailor Exhibition, Mon-Thur 10am-4pm Institut Francais D’Ecosse 13 Randolph Crescent  0131 225 5366 14 Nov: La Traversee de Paris Screening & Banquet 6.00PM £15 The Leith Gallery 65 The Shore  0131 553 5255  the-leith-gallery.co.uk 9-30 Nov: Two Wise Men from the West Exhibition Out of the Blue Drill Hall 36 Dalmeny Street  0131 555 7100  outoftheblue.org.uk Weekly classes: Drama, dance, yoga, martial arts, music, aerial classes and art workshops Fleamarket last Saturday every month 10-3pm Talbot Rice Gallery University of Edinburgh, Old College,  0131 650 2210 Till 15 February 2014: Mark Dion 200 Years, 200 Objects & Claire Barclay. Another Kind of Balance, Tues/Sat 10am-5pm, Closed 15/6 Jan. Free

community

Adam McVey  0131 529 3279 Leith Ward SNP Surgery 3 Wednesday every month Leith Library 6pm. Appointments any time Malcolm Chisholm  0131 558 8358 MSP Edinburgh North & Leith Advice surgeries every Saturday morning. Leith Library 10am, Royston Wardieburn Community Centre 12pm Mark Lazarowicz  0131 557 0577 MP for Edinburgh North & Leith Weekly surgeries every Friday (no

appointment required) 4pm Stockbridge Library. 5pm Constituency Office, 5 Croall Place. 2nd Sat every month (except hols), Wardieburn Community Centre 10am Gordon Munro Leith Ward Labour. Advice surgeries: 1st & 3rd Monday of each month at Leith Community Education Centre, 6.30-7.15pm. 2nd Tuesday of the month at Victoria Primary School, 6.30-7.15pm. Last Saturday of each month at Lochend Y.W.C.A. 12noon-1pm. Deidre Brock  0131 529 4187 Leith Walk Ward SNP Advice Surgeries: 1st Tuesday month McDonald Road Library 5.30, 2nd Friday of month Leith Walk Primary School 12.30, 3rd Saturday of month McDonald Road Library 10am Aerobics Classes  Lianne on 07779064991  rorybremner@hotmail.com Tuesdays at 6pm Pilrig Church, no need to book. £3 per class, £2 concessions. Have fun and get fit Balfour Street Boutique Griffen Fitness Studio 3 Balfour Street Nov 30: Browse lots of gifts and homemade goodies by locals, 11am - 4pm Junk ‘n’ Trunk Car Boot Sale, 4 Marine Esplanade, Leith Every Sat: 9am Leith Library 28-30 Ferry Road  0131 529 5517 Bookbug sessions: 0 to 4 year olds and parents/carers. 1st and 3rd Tues & 2nd and 4th Wed of every month 10.30-11.15am Fri: Craft Time (ages 4-11) 2.30pm Book Group: 2nd Tues of month 6.45pm & 4th Tues of month 2pm McDonald Road Library 2 McDonald Road  0131 529 5636 Every Fri: Craft for Kids (ages 4-9) 3-4pm Bookbug Sessions: 2ND Fri of month 1-1.30pm; Last Fri of month 10.30-11am; 2ND Sun of month, 2.30-3pm; Polish Bookbug Session: Every Tues 10.30-11am; Urdu Book Group (women only): Last Mon of month 2-4pm; Book Group: Last Mon. of month 6.30-7.30

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Lumineers g | Hey, Ho, it’s The Why Banksy is wron the naws | On writing a novel and Scotland: The ayes

theleither TheLeither Issue 98 | leithermagazine.com | 29


CrosswordNo.73 across 1

Short fat lady of the night! Sweet (4,4)

5

Slash, pressman feared (6)

10 Iconic monument, fort that is tasty blue maybe (6,2,7) 11 Pit eels wriggled for letter (7) 12 Pitman Capone found this (7) 13 Pleasant island that is ready for action (4,2,2,) 15 Dahl perhaps found in a ring of bright water (5) 18 Files, spars out (5) 20 One of 26... (8) 23 ...Ditto (7) 25 Oddly we learn to give fresh life to (7) 26 You’ll find 10 here (3,6,6) 27 Desire new stay (6) 28 Estimated that mop raced round (8)

Down 1

Sent.stop.crazy.ed! (6)

2

Confused. I'm a noun to 26, so that's carried (9)

3

Believed that last of last corroded (7)

4

Could be hen or flower (5)

6

In committee, scab I netted (7)

7

Oddly more underdone (5)

8

Using organic solvent lanced railway badly (3,5)

9

Shoe or line (8)

14 Reactions caused by beast, I stand out (8) 16 Wets? (9) 17 Body burn by him (8) 19 Spoiled satin, ed! True (7) 21 Express! (3-4) 22 Near death primarily shut (6) 24 Tumshies found in Tyneside records (5) 25 Fun and games in 26 so straddled horse with love (5)

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answers: crossword 72 across

1 Backdrop 5 Shoved 10 Camps with intent 11 Leakage 12 Molests 13 Editions 15 Ridge 18 India 20 Ensemble 23 Chilled 25 Paragon 26 Railway terminus 27 Stride 28 Get ahead

down

1 Buckle 2 Commanded 3 Distant 4 Olive 6 Handler 7 Views 8 Detested 9 Chemists 14 Open days 16 Diligence 17 Discerns 19 Allowed 21 Marimba 22 Unused 24 Icier 25 Piece

30 | leithermagazine.com | Issue 98

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William Sloan says we read to find out more about ourselves: “Tell me about me. I want to be more alive. Give me me.”

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Marianne Wheelaghan returns with the second part of her article on how to go about writing a novel or story

Y

ou’ve written your story. Your details are engaging and polished. You’ve even smuggled an old fashioned plot into it somewhere. Again, you ask your friend to take a look at it. She says she loves the details and the story but – uh ho – she calls your characters ‘uninteresting’ and ‘not credible’. Agh! There’s that dagger in your heart again! You don’t want to believe her but you know she’s right. You realise you don’t much like your characters either. Take heart. It’s a common fault for beginner and experienced writers alike to not know enough about their characters. Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “In truth great loves springs from great knowledge of the beloved object, and if you know it but a little, you will only be able to love it a little, or not at all.” So it is with our characters. If we don’t know all there is to know about them, our readers are in danger of loving them only a little, or not at all. The first step to creating an engaging, ‘credible’ fictional character, is to get to know your character better than you know your best friend. Whether you draw your characters from life or fantasy, or somewhere between the two, you must know their superstitions, their taste in books, their weaknesses, their strengths, their fears, their friends, their enemies…in other words, what makes them tick. But, a word to the wise, you don’t need to know absolutely everything about your character before you start, just enough to get going. Character, like plot, should emerge from the writing rather than be foisted onto it. Here’s Graham Greene on the subject, “One never knows enough about characters in real life to put them into novels. One gets started and then suddenly, one cannot remember what toothpaste they use… No, major characters emerge; minor ones may be photographed.” And here’s the thing: get ‘character’ right and you’ll get ‘plot’ right. How do you get character right? Janet Burroway in her book Writing Fiction says, “...Character begins with

In truth great loves springs from great knowledge of the beloved object, and if you know it but a little, you will only be able to love it a little

a person in trouble; and trouble most dramatically occurs because we all have traits tendencies, and desires that are at war with the world and other people, but also with other of our own traits and tendencies and desires…all of us are gentle, violent, logical, sentimental, tough, cowardly, lusty, prudish, sloppy, meticulous, energetic, lazy, manic and depressive.” In fiction, readers especially empathise with characters who are ‘at war’ with themselves. Think of Hamlet, a decisive man who procrastinates, or Dorothea Brooke of Middlemarch, an intelligent, woman, until it comes to making decisions about men. And then there’s Dr Jekyll (and Mr Hyde), was there ever a more extreme fictional example of someone at war with himself? Why do we empathise with such characters? Because, like us, they are unsure and imperfect.

Randle P. McMurphy

Like us too, all they want is a chance to achieve their dreams. But being ‘imperfect’ is not enough. Remember, in the previous article we said that a character must have a conscious or subconscious desire, and it is this desire that gives your character purpose and drives him or her into action? Now here’s the important bit: if you can show a ‘goodness’ behind your character’s purpose, we will empathise with that character, no matter how different the character is from us. Don’t believe me? Here’s Aristotle: “(In fiction) there will be an element of character if what a person

does reveals a certain moral purpose; and a good element of character, if the purpose is revealed to be good.” Not convinced? Think of Hannibal Lector in Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs. In real life we wouldn’t Hannibal anywhere near us, he munches people’s flesh, for heaven’s sakes! However, in the fiction the people in charge of him treat him so badly that we empathise with Hannibal’s desire for justice. What about Ken Kesey’s McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? In the story we are right behind McMurphy’s desire to get away from the care of Nurse Ratched, who is horribly cruel, but in real life we’d want nothing to do with him. Aristotle says we will empathise with any character even “a woman or a slave” (it was the olden days) as long as we see some “goodness” in them. Why? Because even though we make mistakes and are less than perfect, we don’t like to think we are bad. Sarah Millican, stand-up comedienne and writer, was on Who Do You Think You Are? the other night – you know, the TV programme where celebrities look into their past? The thing she was most pleased to discover about her great great great grandfathers was that they were basically ‘good’ people. This is what we all want, to be one of the good guys, or at least related to them. So, how do you keep readers reading? Write about them. In his book The Craft of Writing, William Sloan says we read to find out more about ourselves: “Tell me about me. I want to be more alive. Give me me.” ■ Issue 98 | leithermagazine.com | 31


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