Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
Echoes of Edinburgh Vo i c e s o f t h e C i t y
Contents 2 ... Editor’s Note 4 ... Advancing History: MESH 6 ... Review: Rona Munro’s James I 7 ... Investigating the Stairways of the Mile 8 ... Reopening of Thistle Chapel St. Giles 9 ... Edinburgh: A ‘Schizophrenic’ City? 10 ... Da un lato all’altro del ponte 11 ... The State of Play: Interview with The Guardian’s Mark Fisher 13 ... An Interview With Calum P Cameron 15 ... The Voice of Edinburgh 17 ... Echoes of Edinburgh: Memories of a Graduate 18 ... Edinburgh’s Literary Voices: Reading the City 19 ... A Letter from the Wind of Edinburgh 20... Edinburgh: A Tourist Walk 21 ... Closing a Chapter of History: The Millenium Clocktower 22 ... Home Sweet Home, Eventually 23 ... Treasures of the National Library of Scotland 24 ... The Key to Winning Edinburgh in May Lies in its History 25 ... Gather
Max Aantjes Hilary Bell Ivana Cernanova Enzo DeGregorio Katherine Dixon Alex Hackett Alexander Johnston Charlotte Lauder Gideon Lovell-Smith Calum Mackie Hannah McGeechan Anna McKay Helena McNish Mathew Nicolson Charles Nurick Silvia Razakova Professor Richard Rodger Frances Roe Francesca Street Lindsay Thomson Mary Wienckowski
Guest presenters: Laura Nicol, Press Officer Black and White Publishing Zara Janjua, Reporter for ‘The Late Show’ STV Chiara Pannozzo, Digital Content Editor Baillie Gifford Alette Willis PhD, Professional Storyteller Peter Murray, MediaTrust Sam Riviere, Poet and Writer in Residence University of Edinburgh Kaye Nicholson, Online Production Journalist STV Lydia Willgress, UK News Reporter Daily Mail Online
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
Editor’s Note It is with great pleasure that I am able to welcome you to Retrospect’s 2016 issue of its annual Innovative Learning Week project: our ed24 magazine, this year centred around the theme Echoes of Edinburgh, Voices of the City. Admittedly, it is with even greater pleasure that I press ‘Save’ for the final time and put this edition – and, indeed, my committed team of writers – to bed, after a challenging 24-hours during which we have researched, written, edited, designed and published this magazine from scratch. The observing reader will note the absence of Retrospect’s Editor-in-Chief Kerry Gilsenan, whose boots I fill today, from the list of contributors to this issue. Kerry’s absence from the newsroom is only due to yet another impressive endeavour in which she, among a team of talented radio broadcasters at FreshAir, produced a 24-hour radio programme in parallel to our magazine event. Their hard work is all in aid of their charity partner Waverley Care, who support individuals in Scotland who live with HIV and Hepatitis C. The events shared the theme Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City, and our collaborative enterprise has created a print and audio archive capturing Edinburgh, past and present, in a vast array of creative formats. The tagline of this year’s Innovative Learning Week is ‘Ideas in Play’. This issue certainly exemplifies this in action, with content discussing the city in an array of evocative forms varying from poetry to personal reflections, historical features to typographic artwork. It is particularly pleasing to see so many creative writing pieces; this is an area into which Retrospect has expanded this year, and we are thrilled by the consistently high calibre of contributions to this section – today being no exception. Furthermore, Retrospect are very happy to include Professor Richard Rodger in our list of writers contributing to this issue. His piece on MESH, the Mapping Edinburgh’s Social History project, makes a fascinating addition to the publication. Certainly all of today’s writers and editors, whether new faces or old, have risen to the challenge of producing the magazine with impressive dedication and flair and this issue is a credit to their efforts. In addition, participants were helped along the way by a series of workshops and presentations from guest speakers who shared their media expertise on topics that included mobile reporting, storytelling, digital content editing and shorthand. I have received overwhelmingly positive feedback regarding the quality and usefulness of every one of these insights into the media industry and Retrospect is extremely grateful to each of the speakers who offered their time and support to our initiative. Thanks must also be extended to the History School and to the Innovative Learning Week team for their respective support with both the coordination and funding of this event. Enjoy this issue as it was written, in good company and with some great (well, a great deal of) coffee. Katherine Dixon
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
Mapping Edinburgh’s Social History By Professor Richard Roger In history there are transformations of politics, culture, economics; MESH, the Mapping Edinburgh’s Social History project, explores spatial transformations. More specifically, the project is concerned with exploring how spatial and social relationships inform the way in which a town, and later a city, functions. In the process, the MESH project hopes to find a place for the ‘urban variable’, a factor instrumental to the development of social history in the 1960s and 1970s, in historical explanations. Half a century ago innovative scholarship popularised the notion of the urban dimension. In The Image of the City (1960), Kevin Lynch tried to restore the social and symbolic aspects of the street and public places; the city was something to be ‘read’ not just through documents, but through systematic empirical study in the form of observation, fieldwork, and simple streetwalking. Lynch argued that ‘Every citizen has had long associations with some part of the city, and this image is soaked in memories and meanings.’ This posed questions about how citizens locate themselves within the city, and how they navigate around it using reference points, such as pathways, edges, nodes, districts, and landmarks. Understanding the city, the constitution of its communities, and the function of neighbourhoods were all central elements to planning debates about post-war cities, and were each championed by Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). Jacobs’s emphasis on neighbourhoods was highly influential in opposing an approach to planning based on the dehumanising effects of demolition prevalent in North American and British cities in the mid- and late-twentieth century. Memory was also given a more prominent role in David Lowenstein’s The Past is a Foreign Country (1985, revised 2015). As the study of everyday life thus gained a legitimacy in academic writing (such as in the works of Lefevre, Nora, de
Certau, Pred, Altman, and Low) it became clear, unsurprisingly perhaps, that city-dwellers developed a functioning mental map of each part of ‘their’ city. Residents’ everyday lives were governed by local factors like the parish church, local schools, nearby factories, credit networks, and the ‘local’ pub; the walk to work or school or to pray was peppered by passing local reminders and personal landmarks rather than grand buildings. Smells, sounds, and colours were all part of this sensory city: the smell of the brewery, squeal of tram wheels rounding a curve, repulsive urinals, smoke-blackened facades from steam-powered workshops, market traders’ distinctive calls, and shops with produce lacking the straitjacket of cling film – all were part of an un-sanitised urban experience. Some of these gritty urban voices have disappeared to be replaced by cultural quarters, leafy suburbs, theatre districts, and transport hubs. How does MESH engage with these themes? What can we hope to learn from mapping Edinburgh’s social history? And why is this task important now? Consider your personal data: credit cards, passports, insurance policies, bank statements, travel bookings, website registrations, and countless others. All of these data sets require an address as a point of reference. Whether it is getting married, having a baby, paying income tax, going to a GP, voting, reporting a crime, these, and many more, activities are all administered by district. Thus to have a fully-rounded view of the past we have to take these perspectives into account: they form the basis of decisions on how a business might operate, how subscriptions might be collected, or how contemporary public policy might be developed. In summary, this is why the Mapping Edinburgh’s Social History project is important: it seeks to understand the inner workings of the city, to provide a research resource and policy infrastructure, and to underpin
student projects and dissertations in years to come. Edinburgh is the test bench for this exciting approach. Think next of personal data generally, and how to map that: the customer list, the club membership, and others. Google Maps and other forms of satellite navigation are great and get users where they want to be, but they are often outdated. Equally Ordnance Survey maps are excellent for hill-climbing and exploring the outdoors. Both examples are licensed, have copyright restrictions, and impose limitations should you wish to publish your own data superimposed on their maps. Furthermore, Google and other proprietary mapping organisations may take down the functionality of their maps at any time. For historical and policy purposes these constraints pose major problems (See the table for a comparison of these).
MESH looks to improve this situation. Firstly a small team has mapped over 80,000 properties in Edinburgh. From Joppa to Corstorphine, and from Leith to Braid Hills, each property has been recorded, its gardens identified, and every address added to OpenStreetMap (OSM) – a resource that is available under a Creative Commons and Share Alike licence. Visit the URL www.openstreetmap.org/#map=16/55.9396/-3.2053 and then move around to explore the most detailed map of any British or European city with more properties added every day. Secondly, this geo-referenced map of 2016 is then ‘demolished’, that is, successively the area of the city created between 1950 and 2016 is removed, then that portion added between 1920 and 1950, and so on. This backwards projection means that we can obtain a geo-referenced map at a number of critical historical points back to about 1650. With each of these maps we can use address-based or area-based data (wards, parishes, sanitary districts, and others) entered in spreadsheets to superimpose a spatial distribution of occupations, voters, death rates, gender ratios, and other district-based measures on a historical map of the appropriate period. This allows us to observe and analyse patterns and re-interpret the history of Edinburgh in this period. Many data sets, such as Post Office Directories, a precursor to the Yellow Pages containing dates on businesses, institutions, and individual occupations, can thus be mapped to discover important nodes, landmarks, and locations in the city, and how these differed over time. At present some of our most pressing research can be divided into five main areas. Firstly, we are examining what physical
evidence remains of the ‘pre-modern’ (pre-1680) city. Equally, as history is made up of social, economic, and cultural processes, our second area of inquiry is examining how, if at all, these processes have found spatial expression in Scotland’s capital in the form of residential segregation, for example. For our third area of investigation we are also researching how jurisdictional responsibility, in the form of city councils, parishes, and wards, maps onto the social geography of wealth, health, and ethnic diversity. We are also interested in looking at Edinburgh’s mobility for our fourth area of research, which looks at whether institutions, markets, and professional networks migrated over time. Finally, as the industrial aspect of Edinburgh is reduced in favour of heritage, we are interested interrogating why that is the case, and the effect of this on urban renewal. MESH looks to facilitate further understanding of these and other historical processes at work in Edinburgh, and in other cities more generally. In so doing, MESH will not only provide a published Atlas and commentary on the development of the city but will also produce a more extensive e-Atlas, digital data sets, and, most importantly, tools that will enable the public as well as students and researchers to interrogate spatial transformations. It is our hope that more practitioner-based professions, such as architects, civic designers, town planners, urban studies, and policy-based fields such as transport planning, and those concerned with heritage, conservation, and the environment will all benefit from the project as well. For each of these fields, their understanding of the contemporary city will be improved by an ability to trace the historical evolution of streets and buildings, and to incorporate such elements in their visions for the future built environment. Equally, conservation studies will have a secure basis of mass, density and form on which to base their restorative work, or to identify amendments to earlier decisions. Additionally, where street views form part of local plans, urban planners will be able to create perspectives showing how “view corridors” evolved and why they continue to be important to local residents. The importance of space and spatial relationships, identified elsewhere as crucial to the development of lively, liveable cities can be incorporated into the built environment. The spatial transformation is thus about the present as much as it is about the past. MESH will ensure that all data and maps will be available as Open Access and Open Data – this is how the City of Edinburgh Council, for example, use the OpenStreetMap developed by MESH in their Transport portal. The MESH project is led by Professor Richard Rodger from the School of History, Classics and Archaeology with a small team, including research scientist Eric Grosso, Sophie McCallum, Wilson Smith, Michael Brown, and some volunteers. Also, an internationally distinguished group of academics – Bob Morris, Michael Lynch, Charles Withers, and Simon Stronach – head teams of historians who contribute their expertise, and data. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the project partners include Historic Environment Scotland, National Library of Scotland, City of Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh World Heritage, and Simpson and Brown, Conservation Architects. Bibliography Jacobs, Jane, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York, 1961). Lowenstein, David, The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge, 1985). Lynch, Kevin, The Image of the City (Cambridge MA, 1960).
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
Review: Rona Munro’s James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock (Edinburgh Festival Theatre 2016) By Enzo DeGregorio Whether it is the high fantasy of Game of Thrones or something more grounded in history like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, early modern period dramas are in fashion. The Edinburgh Festival Theatre’s recent revival of Rona Munro’s James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock, the first of the James Plays, is an eminent Scottish contribution to this genre. Set for the most part in fourteenth century Scotland, James I tells the story of the eponymous Scottish King (Steven Miller) as he tries to balance his sense of chivalric duty with the need to consolidate his unruly kingdom, having been held prisoner by the English since childhood. James’s struggle, which touches on the themes of identity, power and Anglo-Scottish tension, is reflected in his English wife, Queen Consort Joan (Rosemary Boyle), and Murdach (John Stahl) and Isabella Stewart (Blythe Duff), two schemers who have served as regent during his captivity. Munro’s James trilogy has been likened to Shakespeare’s histories, and indeed Isabella’s closing soliloquy is quite reminiscent of those found in Richard II. However, theatregoers should bear in mind that the resemblance to Shakespeare’s works starts and ends with structure. The language employed herein, though a mix of ‘proper’ English and Scots, is thoroughly modern. The various design aspects of James I are something of a mixed bag. Lighting effects supervisor Philip Gladwell’s occasional method of illuminating actors from behind so that the audience can only see their silhouette is hardly original, but nonetheless put to good effect. The play’s sound effects are good, as is the play’s opening song, during which the Scottish soldiers assemble onstage; the rest of the play’s music, employed mainly during moments of violence, is largely forgettable. Jon Bausor’s set design is quite good, with the raised back part of the stage convincingly transforming respectively into a battlement, James I’s throne or his seat above the Scottish parliament. The decision to have a gigantic broadsword stand on the right-hand side of the stage is an odd one however. Equally, twice in its Second Act the play experiments with portraying two scenes at once on the same stage to give the impression of simultaneity. This is a well-intentioned experiment, but when Sally Reid’s Meg diachronically delivers a child and hands a sword to the warring James, it unintentionally breaks the fourth wall to the audience’s detriment. Costume design is superb: James’s squirely attire and Queen Joan’s brightly-coloured gowns stand in stark contrast to Murdac’s gnarled battle armour and Isabella’s thorny green dresses. Where James I really shines, however, is in its cast. Miller and Boyle portray the royal couple at their most charmingly socially awkward, particularly in the wedding scene, and at other times truly capture each character’s inner struggles. Stahl and Duff ’s portrayals are equally great: while the Stewarts are the clear antagonists in the play because of their scheming, they are played with such nuance that they are not totally unsympathetic. This is all rounded off nicely by some light comic relief from Reid’s Meg and Peter Forbes’s Balvenie that never outstays its welcome. Despite some occasional quirks of staging, Laurie Sansom’s production of Rona Munro’s play fuses elements of old and new to create a very enjoyable production.
Investigating the Stairways of the Mile By Gideon Lovell-Smith
Breaking off from the Royal Mile, with its bands of tourists, shrill renditions of ‘Highland Cathedral’ and the knock-off tartan, are its closes and wynds. These architectural features, unique to Edinburgh are, in essence, just staircases allowing for a quick escape from the Mile’s chaos. They are dark and quiet places, crowded on both sides by buildings, but distinctly more peaceful than the noisy streets below and above them. They are also numerous, with 79 on the Mile alone. With names like Lady Stair’s Close, Toddrick’s Wynd, Blackfriar’s Wynd and even Fleshmarket’s Close, they each contain within them historical minutiae that are overlooked by the average passer-by, more focused on getting up or down them in one piece. This article aims to investigate the history of the closes and wynds, from their early appearance in Edinburgh’s architecture to the darker stories of their character as seventeenth century hotbeds of crime and poverty. Perhaps the best place to start this investigation would be in the history of ‘Old Town’ Edinburgh. After the Battle of Flodden in 1513, which saw the defeat of James IV of Scotland against the advancing English army, The Flodden Wall was built around the entirety of the city, enclosing the Mile (what was then Canongate), Grassmarket and the Cowgate area. Today, the wall’s perimeter is marked out with bronzed cobblestones and can be seen on the Mile. However, this confined area was not expanded until 1674, and by that time large tenements along the city’s main street dominated the architecture. Enclosed beneath, in between, and running through these buildings, were the complex passageways required to move about the city: the closes and wynds. The differences between the two are unclear, but while a wynd is historically open on both its uphill and downhill sides, a close was an entrance to a tenement complex. Nevertheless, the distinctions are superfluous in literature and in the modern day examples. Almost all of the stairs descend either to Cowgate on the left of the Mile or to Waverley on the right.
Prior to 1674, these would have been the city’s main thoroughfares, while the closes and wynds connected the city. In a way, the claustrophobic quarters of Old Edinburgh can be reimagined within these tight staircases. For this reason, they can be appreciated as nostalgic remnants of the past. However, their condition today does not compare to earlier forms. It would be difficult, unpleasant even, to reimagine these spaces when the city lacked any drainage or plumbing. These alleyways would have been sewage dumps, and rife with disease. One such close, Mary King’s right off the Mile, is home to one of the more famous horror stories in Edinburgh. The close is unique as one of the last remaining underground closes found in the city, preserved in part due to the construction of the City Chambers above it in 1753. However, myth has it that when a plague broke out there in 1645, the council bricked up the area with the victims inside to die. While such potentially embellished stories can be found across all the Mile’s closes and wynds, their gloomy character emphasises the conditions that were present in these communities up until the nineteenth century. Other famous stories of Edinburgh’s history involve these spaces. After all, the famous murders by Burke and Hare in the early nineteenth century were carried out in their tenement on Tanner’s Close below the Edinburgh Castle. Yet these folklore histories detract from the important role the closes and wynds played in the growth of the city. Prior to the city’s second expansion into the New Town area in mid-eighteenth century, these collections of tenements around the Mile the comprised the city’s communities. As a result, there was a large disparity between qualities of living within them. Some famous residents lived on closes such as John Knox (Warriston Close) and George Heriot (Old Fishmarket Close) while Fleshmarket Close and Old Fishmarket Close were major sites of commercial activity. Others were the centres culture like the Old Playhouse Close, while at the World’s End Close, brutal citizen executions occurred. In these places, the city’s historic character can be understood. They were microcosms of city life, cities themselves. Outside of the castle, these closes and wynds are the oldest parts of the city, and within them, its historical essence can be found. Yet now, the spaces are overlooked. In J.B Gillies’ book on Edinburgh Past and Present, written in 1886, he writes of the closes and wynds, ‘Old Edinburgh is being fast improved off the face of the earth… Only “bits” remain and these are disappearing gradually.’ This was true then as it is now. Even in 1886, these architectural relics were disappearing. Many were incorporated into new buildings and removed, while others fell into disrepair. The ones that remain represent a small portion of the city’s historical ‘backbone’. In the end, these are unassuming relics. While the Royal Mile and the Castle above it are meticulously renovated and touted as examples of Edinburgh’s distinctiveness, these closes and wynds represent the trails of the city’s history, remaining after seven hundred years of expansion around them.
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City The Reopening of the Thistle Chapel St. Giles By Aantjes After being closed to the public for almost a year, St. Giles’ astounding Thistle Chapel will be reopened this summer. Last year a theft of various valuables, including a tassel from the Queen’s throne cushion, forced the visitors’ office to limit access to the chapel, and many tourists were only able to enjoy its interior via personal tours with the cathedral’s guides. The addition of staff members to guard the chapel during the summer months will allow the public to wander freely throughout the seat of Scotland’s ‘Most Ancient and Noble Order’ once again. The chapel, located on the south-east end of St. Giles’, was only added to the cathedral a century ago. However, the convincing Gothic style interior conceals its short lifespan and, with its surprisingly high roof, the chapel merges seamlessly with the older building. The chapel houses a beautifully detailed interior with richly carved oak stalls for Knights, and canopies overlooked by three royal stalls. Many helms, crests, and knightly and sovereign coats-of-arms can be found throughout the room, and beams of daylight break through the elaborately decorated windows. It is beautiful, although after a brief time inside it is clear that an improvement on the heating would be appreciated. A visitor should also know that, aside from being an aesthetic masterpiece, the chapel serves an essential role in Scottish tradition and culture. Instituted between 1909 and 1911, the chapel is the ceremonial home for the Order of the Thistle. This order has been recognised by the British monarchy as the most honourable chivalric order in Scotland; members of the order are indeed still appointed. Originally, the commissioners of the chapel wished to build it on the ruins of the church at Holyrood Abbey, which was destroyed in 1689, but the ruin’s walls were unlikely to hold a roof, and they finally decided to settled on its current location. Fortunately, for tourists, the current chapel is just a short walk from the castle. It truly represents a celebration of Scottish craftsmanship. One of the eager voluntary guides, after being dragged into the cold, will happily show you around and point out some less obvious aspects of the chapel’s impressive artistic symbolism. They will also mention the many Scottish architects and artists, such as Robert Lorimer, as well as the Scottish materials that were deliberately chosen by the commissioners. This could be disregarded as personal taste, but is more likely connected to the destruction of the chapel at Holyrood Abbey. According to tradition, this chapel was immediately destroyed after its completion by an outraged Edinburgh mob, who protested that the chapel was created from imported materials and shaped by foreign, particularly English, craftsmanship.This story is most likely fabricated, but the twentieth century architects clearly did not want to take any chances. The Thistle Chapel was built as a bastion of Scottish craftsmanship, tradition and pride, and is definitely worth a visit after its official reopening this summer.
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
An Interview with Calum P Cameron By Lindsay Thomson
Lindsay Thomson interviews Calum P Cameron, Edinburgh native and author of the Mediochre Q Seth series. A self-confessed ‘massive nerd’, he writes whenever he is not busy studying at the University of Aberdeen. Mr Cameron displays a self-deprecating sense of humour, and describes himself as ‘a Scottish cross between Sheldon Cooper and Snoopy the Beagle’. In his sixth year of high school, his peers voted him ‘most individual’ and ‘most likely to live inside a hollowed out volcano’. Lindsay: Hi Calum, thank you for agreeing to this interview. How has growing up in Edinburgh inspired you? Calum: Edinburgh is a city with a lot of history. You can see it in the buildings and the streets. In some places you can see the layers. And, honestly, I didn’t realise how fully I’d internalised the local stories as a child until I found myself at university reflexively correcting a Glaswegian on the details of Burke and Hare from memory with the same rapidity as if they’d mispronounced a common word or made a mistake in basic arithmetic. All three of my thus-far published novels take place largely in Edinburgh and revolve around mostly Edinburgh-based people – I actually know, in the privacy of my head, exactly where a lot of the scenes play out, often because I was looking at those locations when I thought up the scene. There’s a bunch of scenes set on rooftops in the third book purely because very few places have rooftops quite like Edinburgh has rooftops. There’s an incredible sort of sooty, grimy, mythic, profoundly Scottish undercurrent to places in Edinburgh and stories about Edinburgh which kind of gets
absorbed through the skin when you’re growing up there. I’ve yet to think up the right plot to explore that undercurrent in all the detail I’d like to, but a lot of it seeps out into everything I write the same way the rest of my background does. Lindsay: Which writers inspire you? Calum: That’s a long list, but there are a few standouts. Terry Pratchett comes in at number one, easily. Douglas Adams, Eoin Colfer, Neil Gaiman, Dianna Wynn Jones, Anthony Horowitz. I’d say Derek Landy, but I’m still bitter about the way he keeps somehow managing to steal my ideas before I’ve even had them. Lindsay: What are your ambitions for your writing career? I just want to keep some people entertained and make a positive difference to the sum total of diversity and originality in the world. And it’d be nice if I could get my work sufficiently ingrained in the culture that one or two people would read some of it even after I’m dead. If my writing could eventually help inspire some positive real-world social change or something, that’d be super rad. If I could somehow get an actual real-world income from it, well, that’s pretty much the pipe dream. Lindsay: So, what have you written? Calum: The only things to get published by a proper publisher were the first three-fifths (and a few short story tie-ins) of a book series which, for want of a better title, was referred to as the Mediochre Q Seth series. All three books fall into the incredibly vaguely-defined genre which I like to call ‘Modern Comic Urban Fantasy Young Adult with Dragons and Stuff ’. I’ve made a lot of promises to some very lovely people that I will finish the last two books and get them published also. Lindsay: What genre are your books? What draws you to this genre? Calum: Depending on how old you are, you probably use either the term ‘speculative fiction’ or the term ‘genre fiction’. Essentially, everything I write is somewhere in the Venn diagram where sci-fi overlaps with fantasy. It’s mostly what I read as a kid (it’s also most of what I read as an adult). As genres go, it’s… flexible, I guess? It has near-infinite scope for fun, and also near-infinite scope for philosophical seriousness. Your imagination only has to be constrained by the rules you choose to put there yourself, so whatever theme or question or aspect of humanity (or inhumanity) you want to explore, you can construct the perfect context in which to explore it as far as possible. But equally, if you’ve had enough of exploring deep themes for one day, you can also write a detailed description of a woman suplexing a dragon and nobody can stop you. Lindsay: When did you decide to become a writer? Calum: I’m not really sure. I think I decided to try to become a published writer when I was around fifteen, after being told by multiple independent people that one day I could be. The first time I decided to become a person who frequently voluntarily writes things in their spare time, I was in primary school. I had a friend with whom I would spend virtually all my free time at school, exchanging stories and story ideas. It just felt like these were things that I ought to write down, I guess. The first time I can remember deciding to write a piece of fiction at all was when I was around five. My mum encouraged me to. I think she probably wanted me to practise my handwriting. It was a very short story about my two imaginary friends. They were mice who talked and walked on their hind legs. Squeaky
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City was sleek and black and charismatic; Scratchy was fat and brown and kind of sarcastic. The story was about a monster in a forest trapping them in a force-field because he’d mistaken them for someone else, and them having to escape somehow. Lindsay: Why do you write? Calum: Because there are people who want me to. Because there are people who would rather I didn’t. Because reality is difficult to take if you don’t water it down with a little fiction here and there. Because I can, and I think I’m pretty good at it. Because I want to improve. Because the Wi-Fi is not working. Because it’s cheaper than medication. Because it’s easier than giving myself a massage. Because somebody has to. Lindsay: Where do your ideas come from? I think neurologists are still trying to work out the answer to that one. Less literally, they come from the things that go on in my mind: mythology, puns, existing works of fiction that I like, existing works of fiction that I hate, frustration at things that don’t exist but should, anger at things that shouldn’t exist but do, idle musings on why certain angles are never taken or on why, in-universe, they might be taken, unusual things I’ve seen and delightfully commonplace things I’ve seen. When I’m working in the laboratory or (formerly) walking my dog, all that stuff gets time to marinate and I guess some bits of it catalyse reactions between other bits. Lindsay: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively? Calum: I’ve gotten darker. There’s no avoiding that. The ideas I come up with now are more serious and heavy and occasionally creepy. I’ve also just gotten better, frankly. Less like stuff that already exists. More thoughtful. Cleverer. Also, weirder subject matter and weirder places of inspiration. These days I spend less time on the Wikipedia pages for classical deities and more on the Wikipedia pages for defunct branches of Gnostic Manicheanism… Lindsay: What is the hardest thing about writing? Calum: Finding points in the day when I, as an individual who is expected to justify his value to society through the medium of work-hours in return for being allowed to eat, have both time and energy left over for writing. Capitalism, basically. The hardest thing about writing is Capitalism. Lindsay: What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book? Calum: The fact that my education had reached the point where it needed all my time and attention just to keep up. I wrote the first and second Mediochre books in a year each. The third one took me three years. I’m still writing the fourth one. Lindsay: What is the easiest thing about writing? Calum: I guess the easiest bits are the grand acts of creation. When you first have a new idea and get to dive into the exciting question of ‘Okay, so then what?’ Those bits practically complete themselves. It gets harder once you need to fill in the smaller details that you didn’t necessarily care about to think through all the way earlier on. Lindsay: How long on average does it take you to write a book? Calum: Probably about a month or two’s worth of hours, spread between whatever pockets of free time I have at that point in my life, with some gaps for writer’s block thrown in on top of that. Lindsay: Any tips on how to get through the dreaded writer’s block?
Calum: Not really. I’m still working that out for myself. Reading other works that capture your mind in a similar way to how you want your work to capture other minds is something that often works for me. Or finding something else that’s easier to write and doing that for a while, like the psychological equivalent of crop rotation. Lindsay: What are your thoughts on writing a book series? Calum: I like it. Accidentally coming up with sequels is something I find myself doing a lot, so it’s nice to actually plan for them in advance once in a while. Lindsay: Thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview. It has been fascinating!
The Voice of Edinburgh By Helena McNish
Hetty Roberts was not best impressed by Edinburgh thus far. For one thing, it was raining. For another, it was dark. And cold. And windy. Perfectly unsociable weather, if you asked her, exacerbating what was already a difficult journey now she’d found the blackout order had extended this far north. The seemingly endless stairs leading up into the bowels of the city were slippery, hard to manoeuvre in her delicate shoes, and she was certain that the mist was rubbing off on her coat. ‘Just around the corner now,’ her contact, Daniel Lewis said. He seemed determined to keep this all hush-hush, beckoning her off the train with all the mystery of a fortune-telling crone, and she suspected it was because he thought it might impress her. A drop of freezing water hit her directly on the forehead, rolling down her cheek, and she wiped it away with a low sound of disgust. ‘Danny, I honestly don’t think-’ ‘Here we are.’ Hetty looked down. There was no signal that they were anywhere, except for a doorknob that seemed to be in a part of the wall that was set slightly further back from the cobbles. She blinked at him in disbelief. ‘Danny, this is a hovel.’ ‘Weesht.’ The decidedly Scottish expletive hissed through his teeth in much the same way the wind was whistling through the corridors of this warren of a city. ‘Some faith, lass.’ Hetty bit her tongue to stop one of her typically acerbic replies. ‘Faith is what brought me up from London on such short notice,’ she said instead.
given how far they had to climb to get there. It was – as ever – dark, and she had to put her hands out to either side of the staircase, running her fingers along the wall, to guide herself down. At the bottom of the stairs they took a sharp left, then a right, then through another door and along another corridor, until Hetty was sure she was being led into some kind of rabbit hole – then the space opened up very suddenly into a large, vaulted room, dim as ever, so filled to the brim with people that the space was definitively warmer than the corridor outside. Hetty gaped for a second before realising what she was doing and snapping her mouth shut. Danny looked back and beckoned her towards a table in the middle of the room, clearing its inhabitants with a wave of his hand; she found herself at least impressed he could be recognised despite the lack of light. ‘This guy,’ her companion assured her confidently, ‘You won’t hear a more beautiful voice anywhere in this city. He sings like he’s got the whole world on his shoulders.’ ‘He’d better,’ Hetty grumbled, resting her elbows on the rickety table before thinking better of it and retreating them back to her sides with a curse. Her companion rolled his eyes. ‘Come on, Hetty. At least admit you need this. You wouldn’t be up here if the scene down south wasn’t dire.’ ‘Of course it’s dire. Not a lot of it’s left.’ Danny waved her quiet suddenly – she opened her mouth to protest, but then, as everyone else in the crowd quieted too, saw a man suddenly standing on the stage, beneath two pale limelights. No entrance, no costume, no nothing. No music, either. Surely this couldn’t be it. Then he began to sing, and Hetty heard her fingers scratch the table as her hands fisted in surprise. He had the crowd entranced. Spellbound by nothing but a rich voice, crooning in a language she didn’t understand but could certainly feel. Danny was grinning at her, and she sighed. There was going to be no living with him after this. As soon as the mysterious Angus Fraser had finished his set – to rapturous and, she noted, seasoned applause – Danny slipped from his seat. ‘I’ll go get him.’ Hetty was left alone at the table, tapping her foot just for something to do, trying not to feel out of place. She didn’t have to wait long, thankfully, or she might have started ruminating again on the arduous train journey back home that awaited her, or the fact that there was no knowing what state her theatre might be in when she got back. ‘Danny said you wanted to talk to me.’ The much-larger-than-she-had-thought-he-might-be Mr Fraser had appeared out of nowhere, lifting out the other chair and sitting opposite her with no preamble; Hetty took a breath. Here, at least, she knew what she was doing. ‘Mr Fraser,’ she held out her hand; Mr Fraser took it, all the time watching her with a definite suspicious look. ‘Who wants to know?’ ‘Miss Roberts. I’m a talent manager, Mr Fraser. I’m here to offer you a chance to play the stages of London. I think you have a certain… je ne sais quoi, shall we say. One that I have been looking for.’ He slouched away immediately. ‘Ah. One of those. Well, I’m not going down to London. Fer one thing, it’s a shithole. Fer another, it’s damn dangerous.
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City And lastly,’ he sniffed, glanced away, his voice quieting like he was admitting something. ‘I’m needed here.’ Hetty opened her mouth, then closed it. Then blinked, considered her next move. ‘Needed… here? You’re a singer, Mr Fraser. An artist. You go where the work takes you. And, I assure you, I can offer you better work than here. The danger in London creates even higher demand for entertainment, believe me.’ Mr Fraser glanced back at her, and she found herself suddenly pinned by his gaze. There was something in it, something intense and focused. A look most people didn’t seem to be able to achieve nowadays. ‘You don’t think you’re the first to come in here and promise better things? I know how good I am.’ He leant forward, resting his elbows on the grimy table with far less care than she had, and she had to quash the urge to lean forward herself to meet him. ‘I stay because I need to.’ Now she was completely lost. ‘Need… to?’ she repeated; Mr Fraser gestured around the room, and she followed his hand, taking in the groups of people clustered around the tables, chatting at the bar, the shroud of half-darkness the underground venue threw over everything not seeming to dampen their spirits at all. She wasn’t sure she’d seen a place with more spirit. At least, one that she could remember. ‘You see these people. All crammed in here. With all that’s going on, leaving your house isnae the best idea, and yet these people came anyway. To hear me sing, ye ken. To listen to the talent I,’ here he pressed his palm to his chest, and Hetty swallowed, ‘Was given. They’re happy. Even at a time like this. That is what I can do here. That’s why I won’t leave.’ To anyone else she would have declared they were ridiculous, both wasting her time and their talent. But anyone else didn’t generally have as smooth a way with words as they did with music. ‘It can’t be as bad as all that,’ she countered. ‘You’re still here, aren’t you?’ His eyes narrowed. ‘I’m here by choice. And I will be until they call me up.’ ‘Dangerous words in a time like this.’ She tapped her foot against the stool, eliciting a sharp ring that silenced the crowd for a moment, eyes flicking to the ceiling before glancing around accompanied by rueful laughs. Mr Fraser, however, continued looking at her steadily, and though she sensed she was getting nowhere, she still drew another card. ‘I can make you a star, Mr Fraser. Singing to bigger crowds than this. Making more people happy. It has been enough for many others before you.’ He considered that, then returned with a question of his own. ‘Why are you trying so hard to convince me?’ ‘I recognise talent when I see it.’ ‘I would think a woman as smart as you could also recognise a lost cause when she saw one.’ Hetty eyed him for a moment, unsure if he was being brazen or complimentary – perhaps a bit of both – before shooting him a reluctant smile. ‘I’ll be my own judge on that account, Mr Fraser.’ He shrugged and sat back, but she was certain she saw a slight tipping at the corner of his mouth. Like he was amused. Or impressed. Hopefully the latter. ‘Suit yourself, Miss Roberts. But I willnae be swayed. I’m happy here.’
With that he stood, carefully picking up his chair and setting it back before stepping away; Hetty, in a sudden rush that was born of his unpredictability, stood too and hurried after him. ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ They stopped together by the door back into the windy corridors of the building, Mr Fraser seeming much taller now he was standing so close to her. Hetty blinked. ‘Erm… no. Thank you. But I’m not finished-’ ‘Well, I am, Miss Roberts. Unless you want to have a drink with me.’ ‘I don’t,’ she said immediately, before she thought about it. Mr Fraser smiled and shrugged. ‘Well, then.’ ‘You have my direction,’ she called as he opened the door; quite unlike her. ‘Should you change your mind.’ Mr Fraser reached into his pocket and brought her card up in his hand, tripping it expertly through his fingers. ‘Yes ma’am. And be careful out there. Never know what’s going to fall from the sky next these days.’ With a soft grin he pushed through the door and away and Hetty was left, quite unlike her again, staring after him.
Echoes of Edinburgh, Memories of a Graduate By Frances Roe 13:48. What to do now? 12 minutes left in this city; I have those downloads I could watch, but then again when am I going to be able to look at Edinburgh again? The light on the stone the golden glaze is always so potent, this train smells, I’m going to miss everything about it, I already do and we haven’t even left the station, the station, I won’t miss that in a hurry, the people watching yes, but the chill and the pigeons nah always in my face I like the station as a symbol of my departure though in a pretentious way, crowded with all these people I could have met, potential friendships, damn, I’m glad I’ve graduated, any more of this philosophical nonsense and no one would want to employ me, as if anyone wants to employ me now. *Message notification* Aww that’s nice, ‘Don’t be a stranger for the rest of my life’, as if I would never see Sam again? Imagine a world without Sam, impossible, now I know him I can’t un-know him… sitting on the Bruntsfield Links, the sun warming our faces, the gentle breeze carrying the smell of those two guys’ weed over to us, children playing conspicuously and strangely close to the weed guys, talking about what we were looking forward to in our final year, a luminous mist floating towards us as we waited for Florry, and the meal, my god what a meal, burgers and milkshakes and fifty per cent off, we lived like kings this year, I should have saved more, how am I going to survive, milkshakes are delicious but they don’t, wait, we’re off ! My last sight of the city, four years, the memories of four years condensed into my brain, I wish I’d written more down. I have four hours, four hours twenty-two minutes, might as well start whilst they’re only four years late rather than twenty-four years late. The first time I got to this station 2012, what a year, the glory of the Olympics, Tenerife, eighteen years old, I was young, we’ve all changed all of us, in the cab ‘where to pal?’, who knows! Who knew? ‘Darroch Court please’, ‘first year are you?’ ‘indeed’, its sunny, its beautiful, freshers, I was the freshest of freshers, fresh off the train, fresh like flowers, saplings, mango, but more naive than mango, mango seems like a worldly fruit, mangoes know things, heaving that bloody suitcase out of the cab at Darroch, tension in my chest, the weight of the potential that the next four years could hold, crushing, Atlas-like but more focused on alcohol and boys than Atlas probably was, probably, probably, possibilities, all these fresh-
ers with their parents, me alone, too far for my parents, ‘you’ll be happy to be free of us when you’re there!’ sure, nice try, ‘we’ll cramp your style’, you’ll cramp my style? is this 2004, who says that? what style did I have, I was 18, my style was not being seventeen anymore, nonsense. What is that smell? The smell of those smelly hops will always bring me back to first year, never have I known a city to smell so pungently, it always brings me straight back, back to Darroch, lugging that bloody suitcase up the stairs, second floor, my weight was gluing me to the floor of the corridor, Atlas was back, every step he was there, which key is it? Three keys for one door? What are people so afraid of here? Alright this one fits, on the other side of this door could be the best or the worst thing to happen to me here, (dramatic fresh mango), number three, door number three, which key is it this time? Let me see, I’ve already smelt so many new weird things let me see something new, see, ‘hello?’ ‘hi’. 15:34. Time flies, time to use my fifteen minutes of wifi, stingy bastards, *TimeHop notification*, what would Virginia Woolf think of TimeHop? Disrupting linear time, forcing us to remember, clock-time must be pissed, it has been undermined by an app, a social media app as well not even a life-changing one, what a horrific picture, who told TimeHop I wanted to see that, second year, me and Imogen, in that hell-hole Hive, Hive till five, the walls sticky with sweat and vomit and Sourz and vodka and who knows what else, a humidity that Miami would be envious of, the thick, stagnant air laced with body odour and urine, that’s one place I’ll be happy never to step foot in again, why on earth did we go there every week, what was there left to explore past the throb of the chart hit dance floor, Nicki Minaj no more. I don’t even remember that picture being taken, we look so pissed, eyes half shut, lipstick across our faces, a beautiful pair, nostalgia tells you the truth sometimes I suppose, we had a good time though, the days after were the worst but also the best, headaches and too much pizza, all add to the multi textured patchwork of my university years, a few patches I wish weren’t there that one for instance, him? Really? Yuck, what were you thinking? 16:06. Home soon, Peterborough, we’ll be at Kings Cross soon, we? I. Who else am I thinking of ? The multiple versions of me? First year me, shy, naive, second year me, still shy but getting there, third year me, finally the best me so far, less shy, more of a worldly mango, ripening in the malty Edinburgh chill, fourth year me, the best year, if I’d only done three years that would be like opening an avocado when it was still hard, so close, but disappointing, fourth year me, perfectly ripe, ready for the world, at least my image of the adult, non-student world that is here in my head, busy, pounding, hectic, expensive, nerve racking, Atlas is back, will he ever go? Maybe when I’m 65 and I finally have free bus travel, Atlas will be happy with that, he likes buses, you can see so much, top deck, front seat seeing the world from a new perspective, look up, look up, you’ll see something new. 16:22. Kings Cross. London. Home?
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
Edinburgh’s Literary Voices:
Reading the City By Anna McKay
‘Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream’ (Hugh MacDiarmid, ‘Midnight’)
Edinburgh is world-renowned for its vibrant literary history. For centuries, the city has been home to some of the world’s most prolific and skilled writers, providing a vivid playground for their imaginative experiments. The city’s dark underside, its streets piled one on top of another, has inspired some of the greatest works of gothic fiction and detective fiction, whether in the eighteenth or the twenty-first century. Literary travellers, be it Tobias Smollett’s Bramble family or Scott’s eponymous hero of Waverley have been entranced over and over again by the city and its people, and numerous literary pub tours available today retrace their steps, viewing the city via its multiple and various literary voices. Time and again, writers and readers have fallen in love with Edinburgh. In Smollett’s late eighteenth century picaresque novel The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker the Bramble family embark upon a tour of Scotland and England, offering often unintentionally amusing criticisms of their destinations along the way in letters to their friends and family. The family are, however, for the most part charmed by Edinburgh. One of the party, Sir Watkins Philips, celebrates the city’s cultural entertainments, announcing, ‘All the diversions of London we enjoy at Edinburgh, in a small compass.’ Enamoured of the capital, the effusive Matthew Bramble declares that ‘Edinburgh is a hot-bed of genius’, name-dropping the great philosophical thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment for whom the city was home, and proclaiming that ‘the castle is an instance of the sublime in scite and architecture.’ Inspired by Smollett’s final visit to Scotland, the novel gives voice to the city’s power to enchant and delight. Half a capital and half a country town, the whole city leads a double existence; it has long trances of the one and flashes of the other; like the king of the Black Isles, it is half alive and half a monumental marble. In this extract from his Picturesque Notes, Robert Louis Stevenson describes Edinburgh’s essential ambivalence, its unique fusion of urban and rural existence. Anyone who ventures out into the city will find it impossible to refute his claim. Arthur’s Seat quite literally imposes an element of the countryside onto the cityscape.
James Hogg paid testament to the rock as a source of inspiration in his Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, perhaps one of the darkest and most compelling depictions of the city in fiction, in which he equates the natural, unruly wilderness of the hill with the intrusion of the supernatural within the rational landscape of the capital. After reading the novel a trip up Arthur’s Seat is never quite the same. The site of one of the book’s most frightening and disturbing episodes, any visitor will find themselves constantly looking over their shoulder, or jumping at ‘the wild shades of the hill’. The city’s dark streets powerfully externalise Robert Colwan’s descent into insanity, providing a compelling backdrop for the capital’s state of religious and political turmoil during the eighteenth century. It is, quite simply, a must-read for those with an interest in the city and its past. In keeping with Hogg’s powerful depiction of the capital as a supernatural space, Edinburgh is the literary home to one of the most successful series of fantasy books for children in history: J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter saga. The Elephant House, a café on George IV Bridge, was famously one of Rowling’s regular haunts while writing the novels. The café also lists Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin among its patrons over the years. Ian Rankin’s hugely successful ‘Rebus’ series is steeped in the city and its culture. Detective John Rebus’ voice brings out the comedy and violence which abounds in this metropolis as in any other, and when reading the books it is impossible to walk the city’s streets without recognising crime scenes. Edinburgh’s own duplicitous Deacon Brodie provided inspiration for Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, located on the Royal Mile, is named after the notorious criminal; respectable tradesman by day and villainous burglar by night. Another must-visit pub on Frederick Street, the Jekyll and Hyde, was inspired by Stevenson’s work, and the famous Conan Doyle opposite Picardy Place marks the birthplace of the famous Sherlock Holmes author. Walter Scott is repeatedly commemorated in the city, with the imposing Scott monument on Princes Street and a train station in his name. Currently, the ‘Great Scott’ initiative is celebrating his works and connection to Edinburgh, with quotes from his many novels plastered around Waverley Station. In many ways, the city has thus been literally and culturally shaped by the literary productions it inspired. Even the polite middle classes of the city have found their voice in its literature. In Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie we see a group of schoolgirls led through ‘the reeking network of slums which the Old Town constituted in those years. The Canongate, The Grassmarket, The Lawnmarket… names which betokened a misty region of crime and desperation’. Spark’s work is constantly aware of the multiplicity of perspectives concerning the city; as she reflects upon her education, her focaliser Sandy recollects ‘other people’s Edinburghs quite different from hers, and with which she held only the names of districts and streets and monuments in common.’ While her narrative is questionable in many ways, which cannot be discussed here, her account does bear this grain of truth. As much as it is a physical, architectural landscape, Edinburgh is a cultural construct, a product of and inspiration for the imagination, creativity, ideas and character of its people and visitors.
Letter from the Wind of Edinburgh By Alex Hackett
I’ve been pulling at your insides for weeks, near months. Because oh, you’re fleshy and delectable. Sometimes I can sway your bones sideways, be magnetic. Other bodies move like iron filings over hard cobble faces. Bend your ankles on bulbs and balls of rock and stone. I am kinaesthetic, omnipresent. When I’m not there by the hard film of your synthetic earths, then I am whirling the North seas, drinking up and out. Fooling skin into tides. Creasing your body into bent shapes. Crunching faces. Speak to me and I’ll envelop your words, taken in grasp and gasp. Write me a letter, all papers are held in hands before nestling in companion treetops. High on rocks for Arthur you can sway in my arms. On hills habiting sheep, you can rest, whoosh in that skin. I’ll cushion your head with rain and numb the warmth from tender hands. Blast cheeks and redden to rose. Then stroke hair across your face and remind you of gentlest touch, forgotten ways. Just one, but I can shake your beds in tenement blocks, tremble glass panes. I’ll tease you with a gentle graze, a phantom touch. Wait it out through blusters, blisters. Nothing but elemental, naivety and hopes of calmer climes.
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
Edinburgh: A Tourist’s Walk Our resident sightseer goes on a walk from the St. James’ Centre to Edinburgh University. By Hilary Bell I arrive for my holiday in Edinburgh on a blustery autumn day. To clarify Edinburgh’s definition of ‘blustery’, there is a categorised hurricane occurring. With narrowed eyes the receptionist at my hotel tells me distinctly not to open any windows, and to avoid Arthur’s Seat ‘if ye know what’s good for ye’. Arthur’s Seat aside, simply heading up to the National Museum of Scotland is a struggle. I am hungry, and I am on a mission for ‘The Best Nachos’, following orders from some Student Pals. I cross North Bridge, Google Maps on hand, glad to have turned my back on my hotel which is inside a shopping mall, as if an ardent bargain hunter has just set up camp. This hotel is set to be demolished, to be replaced by what some are calling ‘Mr Whippy’. From the (Googled) pictures, it transpires they will be building a giant, golden, scrunched-up roll of ribbon, which doesn’t seem to evoke ‘Edinburgh’ at all. Nevertheless, some people are speculating that this new, shiny hotel will be (I quote) ‘too shiny and reflective’ which I personally think would not be detrimental; adding a bit of shimmer to the dark city walls wouldn’t go amiss. I plough on through the typhoon, feeling thoroughly Scottish amongst the whisky shops and Pizza Hut. The ploughing gets a bit harder, though, as I stumble upon a never-ending stream of people. Confusion reigns. Who are these people? Why are they all going in different directions? I battle further and it soon transpires that I am on the Royal Mile. It’s vastly different to all of the romantic ideas I had previously held of the Royal Mile. There is no Queen being transported from the Castle to Holyrood Palace in her regal carriage. There are no royal footmen or men in fluffy hats (or is that just London?). In particular, there is no royal music, bar the wheedle of one pair of bagpipes. Overwhelmed, I am sucked into a whirlpool of Edinburgh’s people-traffic. I am swirled past the Mercat Cross, St. Giles’ Cathedral and a market stand proffering genuine Viking jewellery. Finally, I am spat out at a welcome crossroads, shuffling, bewildered, towards the National Library of Scotland. There, I do not belong. ‘You can’t come in’, says the Lady at the Top of the Grand Staircase. I question her, but with no proof of identification or address, I am rebuked. ‘We’re not that kind of library’. Entry declined, Lady at the Top of the Staircase tuts and resumes more pressing tasks. Turns out, the NLS is not a lending library either. What it does offer, however, is over fifteen million printed items and two million maps. What’s more, volunteers the guide book, in case of fire, the entire library will collapse in nine minutes. Overwhelmed by library facts (it is also a copyright library, one of only six in the United Kingdom and Ireland), I slouch into their gift shop, and am soothed by the array of picture books and souvenir pencil sharpeners. But my journey is not yet finished, and excited by the sudden spaciousness of the pavements I strive towards the other national treasure in the area - The National Museum of Scotland. It boasts some rather glamourous large steps, but I enter the underground way. The main hall of the museum is most impressive, resembling a land-locked Titanic filled with toddlers smashing Lego bits together. Light streams in through the ceiling and I feel quite poetic. And yet, time stops for no (wo)man, and I have a task. Google Maps leads me through an underpass boasting a jolly busker, and into what it seems is a building site. I have never heard of nachos on a building site, but I continue on, and eventually find I have reached Teviot Row House, the Hogwarts of Edinburgh. Mission complete, I order my lunch (no jalapenos please) and peer at all the books on the walls.
Closing a Chapter of History: The Millennium Clock Tower By Mathew Nicolson
The Millennium Clock Tower, housed in the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, was completed in 1999 to mark the end of the twentieth century. To Eric Hobsbawm the ‘age of extremes’ saw vast technological progress, a transport and communications revolution, the development of a globalised economy and mass politics, the rise and fall of totalitarian ideology in both Communism and Fascism, the collapse of empires, the invention of weapons capable of wiping out humanity, space travel and some of the most horrific genocides in human history. How can such a century, filled with incredible human achievements and monstrous crimes, be represented in a single piece of art? The combined team of sculpture-mechanic Eduard Bersudsky, furniture-maker Tim Stead, glass artist Annica Sandström, clockmaker Jürgen Tübbecke and illustrator Tatyana Jakovskaya managed to achieve just that. Standing ten metres high, only barely fitting into the museum’s gallery, the clock tower is an awe-inspiring sight. The metallic and wooden frame give the clock’s exterior a charcoaled quality; inside, a mesh of cogs and wheels, seemingly turned by an Egyptian monkey, are fronted by a pendulum mirror that focuses the real world into this nightmarish vision. The figures of Hitler, Stalin and Lenin appear to orchestrate this display of synchronised madness while Death rides the pendulum, surveying all. Above, a human figure is sliced by a wheel powered by the cogs. According to the Museum, this level represents ‘humans caught up in the wheels of time, progress, war, politics, belief and disappointment.’ Further up, twelve figures represent the hardships faced by humanity throughout the century, including war, slavery, famine and persecution. At the top a female figure carries a dead man, a symbol of mourning for the century’s tragedies. If caught on the hour, the Clock Tower shows these processes in movement, arranged to Bach’s Third Movement of Concerto in A minor, Allegro BWV 593. Deeply powerful and moving, the Clock Tower does not provide an uplifting experience for the viewer. It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that some visitors to the Museum have reacted negatively to the Clock Tower. The Museum’s website quotes Ross Watban, Senior Curator of Applied Art and Design, who states: ‘We’ve had people who object to it, saying it’s not the sort of thing to show, that it’s too depressing.’ Such a response is understandable but misses the point of the clock. Watban adds, ‘I don’t feel it’s harking back to awful things in the past, but rather acknowledging them and looking forward to a brighter future.’ It is indeed important to recognise the intense suffering endured throughout the twentieth century, largely by human hands, in the hope that we can close a page on this dark chapter of our history. Nevertheless, the Clock Tower is not entirely negative, as it features a series of animated characters in the central panel, including a figure resembling Charlie Chaplin. This represents periods of cultural progress through the century. Watban also describes the positive responses the clock can elicit: ‘Others love it, with crowds gathering to see it in motion. The moment the wonderful music starts playing, people are drawn across to the clock and most are delighted by it.’ As time marches on and the twentieth century recedes further into history, understanding its integral role as a transforming period in the progress of human civilisation across the globe becomes ever more important. There will be numerous academic treatments of this theme to join those which already exist, yet works of art like the Millennium Clock Tower are able to focus the mind and imagination onto this period in a way books or articles struggle to do. They will also one day prove valuable in their own right as a historical source of how the century was perceived and remembered by the generation raised in its final years. Despite its bleak nature – perhaps even because of it – the Clock Tower is a highly enjoyable sight and well worth visiting.
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
Home Sweet Home, Eventually. By Charles Nurick
Edinburgh is a great city. It is full of fascinating history, unique individuals and meandering side streets. To many it is a city to tick off the bucket list, whether that be for the annual Fringe Festival, the fables of ghosts and ghouls that wander the streets or even just to sample some of the plethora of whiskies that litter the city and surrounding area. Few have bad things to say about it – aside from its bitter winds and terrible potholes – but Edinburgh has not always been the place I now happily call home. Moving from a small village of no more than 30 people (technically too small to be classed as a village, instead categorised as a hamlet), the sheer scale of Edinburgh was enough to terrify a self-confessed country bumpkin such as myself. While others scoffed – ‘Mate, Edinburgh is barely a city’, ‘If you think this is bad, you should go to London’ – I instead took baby steps to acquaint myself with this vast expanse of grey that was now my home. Although Edinburgh was not exactly a totally alien land when I first came here for university, I came to it with a new perspective. My mum was a local and we had visited frequently, mainly for trips to the National Museum of Scotland, ever since I was a toddler. More recently I had experienced my first taste of Auld Reekie’s nightlife whilst visiting my elder brother. Through all of these adventures I still had that guiding hand, the back-up should things all go to pot. But now I was alone, with Edinburgh ready and waiting to swallow me up if I gave it the chance. Undoubtedly, things were different now. I was older, supposedly wiser and more capable of surviving in the big city. It was a slow process that saw me stick to what I knew: my halls, the university, the student union and the local Tesco, but as time went by, my steps became more varied, more adventurous. It was Edinburgh that encouraged this. Not a person or a group, but the city itself. The streets of Scotland’s capital encourage exploration. Their very nature is an intriguing one, one that implores you to wander down on a whim in the hope of finding one of the city’s numerous hidden gems. Each street has its own unique characteristics. The tenement-lined Marchmont Road slopes leisurely down towards the green of the Meadows; in summer awash with footballs, frisbees and failed barbeques. There’s Nicholson Street, a hub of students, cafés, charity shops and everything in between. Or Cowgate, in the literal depths of the city, where many have fallen foul of the all-too-cheap drinks and regretted it the next day. The Royal Mile sees thousands of tourists every year, posing for selfies, trying on knock-off kilts or ogling the castle that dominates the Edinburgh skyline. Winding down towards the New Town of the city is the ever-so frequently mispronounced Cockburn Street, where quirky boutique shops cling to the steeply cobbled streets like spiders to a web. Out of the old and into the new, and you find yourself in the bustling centre of Princes Street.
Gardens on one side, shops on the other, Princes Street is the capitalist paradise of Edinburgh. A few blocks over lies George Street, the polite and civilised Georgian cousin, home of high fashion and even higher prices. This is but a drop in the ocean of what Edinburgh has to offer, but there is any number of twists and turns that make up the fabric of the city. The more I explored, the more I began to embrace Edinburgh; not just as a city, but as a home too. It’s an age-old adage that the more you put into life, then the more you get out of it, however it really does ring true when talking about the ancient streets of Scotland’s capital city. Everyone who visits finds their own route for the same journey, something which Edinburgh actively encourages with its plethora of closes and wynds, cutting off from the main thoroughfares like the branches of a tree. It has taken time for me to fully enjoy and accept this city. It can be dark, it can be gloomy, and it can be frightening at times. Nevertheless, it can also be the opposite of all these things and so much more. With cafes, restaurants, parks, shops, museums and even an extinct volcano, there is so much more to Edinburgh than I first realised. It has gone from being a necessary accessory to my studies into a place I happily call home, despite the chagrin of my parents. It is a wonderful thing to feel both like a local, and yet still have so much left to explore: with Edinburgh the adventure is never truly over. So thank you; you’ve taken this country bumpkin and given him a new home, a new life and a new love.
Treasures of the National Library of Scotland By Ivana Cernanova
The National Library of Scotland’s (NLS) collections are home to some 24 million items, which include a number of valuable manuscripts, photographs, books, pamphlets and other prints, forming part of the Scottish, and more widely European, cultural heritage. Most of the time these rare treasures remain hidden away in the safety of the library’s walls. However, throughout the year, the library staff bring some of them into the spotlight, setting up themed public displays in the NLS George IV Bridge building. Running from 26 November 2015 until 13 March 2016 as part of the regular treasures displays, The Book Beautiful exhibition showcases some of the most beautiful books that have ever been printed. In addition, the gloomy history of the Scottish contagious diseases comes alive in the Plague! exhibition, open from 11 December 2015 until 29 May 2016. The Book Beautiful Celebrating printed books as works of art, the exhibition displays the rarest and finest of them all. The unusual set-up presents nineteenth and early twentieth century private press productions paired with rare fifteenth and early sixteenth century books that served as their inspiration. The display centres on the work of William Morris (1834-1896), an English writer, poet, artist and designer, who was fascinated with the high-quality techniques of Renaissance printers. Morris founded the Kelmscott Press at Hammersmith in the hope to revive, and to even surpass, the art of the early printed masterpieces. As he claims himself, ‘It was the essence of [his] undertaking to produce books which it would be a pleasure to look upon as pieces of printing and arrangement of types.’ Rejecting the industrialisation and mass production trends in nineteenth century printing, emphasis was, instead, placed on the use of the best possible materials and creative designs to achieve lasting beauty and harmony of page layout, type, illustrations and decorations. Morris’ efforts certainly paid off in the case of the 1896 Kelmscott Press edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, considered an artistic triumph of the printing industry and described as ‘a pocket cathedral’ by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), the author of the 87 woodcut illustrations included in the volume. Morris’s work is displayed next to the 1545 edition of Francesco Colonna’s La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo, produced by the famous Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, with which it competes for the title of the most beautiful book ever printed. Other books on display include different editions of the Bible with exquisite engravings of Biblical scenes or rare illustrated editions of Dante, showcasing not only the beauty of the intricate illustrations and decorations, but also the highest standards of printing and remarkable typeface designs.
Plague! A cultural history of contagious diseases in Scotland Follow the rat trail up the stairs of the George IV Bridge building, and enter through the glass door of the NLS exhibition space into the gloomy world of the cramped Edinburgh close, full of dirt, pests and illnesses. The setting with dim light, echoes of church bells ringing and babies crying and the faint groans of suffering victims somewhere in the distance create a sensation that remnants of the contagion must surely still be lurking in the shadows and dark corners. The rat trail continues, guiding visitors through the history of contagious diseases in Scotland, from the first black death outbreak in 1349, followed by further epidemics of plague, as well as cholera, smallpox, typhus, syphilis or leprosy, all the way until the twenty-first century. Through the various displays of medicinal books and collections of poetry, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, diaries and personal correspondence, the exhibition explores the society’s reaction to contagion, ranging from attempts to prevent and treat the disease, to the expression of fear and misery through religion and literature. In addition to items from the NLS’s collections, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s account or a 1790 book about the medicinal use of plants, the exhibition draws upon the resources of the Science Museum in London, the National Museum of Scotland, the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, to put a large range of personal and scientific objects pertaining to contagious diseases on display. The highlights include a sixteenth century Gaelic charm wheel used for protection against illnesses, a seventeenth century medicinal chest given by Cosimo III, Duke of Tuscany, to John Clerk of Penicuik, and, notably, various specimens of infected organs and body parts, including, for example, a hand of a leprosy victim or a skull showing symptoms of syphilis. The exhibition not only offers a unique insight into the understanding of contagious diseases in the past, but it also incites the visitors to reflect on the perception of epidemics in our own time. In the end, despite the undeniable advances in medicine and hygiene, we still fear the suffering and misery of contagious diseases just as much as people did hundreds of years ago.
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
The Key to winning Edinburgh in May lies in its History By Alexander Johnston
In more ways than one, it is a good thing that Scots now appear to have bucked the trend in politics, becoming more politically active. Within the space of two years, the elections to the European Parliament, the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament will have taken place, in addition to two referendums on Scottish Independence and the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. In light of all this, it seems that Scotland is the place to be for a political enthusiast. Focusing particularly on Edinburgh, the House of Commons election last year recorded a staggering turnout of 71.1%, significantly higher than the 2010 outing (63.8%) or the British average (66.1%). All will agree that greater participation in the electoral system is stimulated by a greater interest in the affairs of government. This in turn leads to more talent, which ultimately leads to a better governed country. However, the Scottish electorate will need this level of enthusiasm to survive the seemingly endless barrage of elections that they have been enduring and will continue to endure for the next year. The major parties are preparing for a battleground in the capital in May. As a result all should look back at Edinburgh’s historical precedents. There are lessons to be learned here which an election strategist would do well to heed. Firstly, we have the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party’s announcement that its leader, Ruth Davidson, intends to stand in Edinburgh as a constituency and list MSP, having previously represented Glasgow on the regional list. Davidson’s decision to stand in Edinburgh is an intriguing one, harking back to the early 1990s when the Conservative and Unionist Party confidently held a number of constituencies in Edinburgh, the Lothians and the Borders. Her choice of seat, Edinburgh Central, is a brave decision. Unlike the areas of southern Edinburgh where the Conservative vote has managed to maintain a share around 20-30%, only 15% of voters chose to back the Conservative Party in the last election in 2011. What her decision does show is a determination of the behalf of the Conservatives to fight outwith their traditional safe zone in the borders and on the regional lists. Davidson is a competent orator and a media-friendly politician, essential traits in modern
campaigning. Until the 1960s the Conservative party was branded entirely separately as the Scottish Unionist party, and typically did much better at the ballot box, the high point being the general election of 1955 when the Unionists achieved 51% of the overall vote, a figure that has yet to be surpassed. Modern historians debate exactly why they began their slow decline, but there is a general consensus that their rebranding did not help. Scots have always liked the idea of separate institutions with a distinctly Scottish focus, something that Scottish Conservatism has lacked whilst its competitors, be they in the form of the Liberals, Labour or more latterly the Scottish National Party (SNP), have exploited. Those on the Labour and SNP benches should be mindful that politics is a game that changes swiftly and often unexpectedly. The classic ‘Tories are the party of Thatcher’ argument is only going to get weaker with time. Furthermore, strengthening the Scottish Parliament may prove to be a blessing in disguise for many on the Scottish right. With more power and a larger platform, the Conservatives may have a chance to build an identity that separates them from their generally unpopular English brethren. As such, if the lessons of history are studied and heeded there could, finally, be good times ahead for the Scottish Conservatives. The Conservatives should allow themselves some cautious optimism; things do not look at all bright for Labour. After their defeat in the most recent Westminster election, they will be scrabbling to avoid a second humiliation. To further depress the Labour faithful, Edinburgh has historically not been kind to Scottish Labour. Leith was traditionally the only real ‘stronghold’ of the party but even that fell to the SNP in 2015. Elsewhere Scottish Labour often viewed Edinburgh, particularly the south end of the city, as a Liberal-SNP-Conservative battleground, and only occasionally felt able to challenge in Edinburgh South. Labour will, however, take solace and perhaps inspiration from Ian Murray’s surprising 2015 victory in Edinburgh South. Murray, defending a majority of less than four hundred votes, was actually able to increase his share of the vote.
The key to his success was to distance himself from the high political battles involving Miliband, Murphy, Balls and others. Instead, a sharp focus on his own record as an MP, and a campaign emphasising local issues, ensured his survival during the wave of Labour annihilation. Local politics have long been the bedrock of Labour in Scotland, particularly at council level. The dominance of local Labour parties in the 1960s and 1970s was absolute, and provided a good level of grass-roots support. With the introduction of a preferential voting system for Scottish councils in 2007, bringing the proportion of seats won more closely in line with the proportion of the vote, Labour lost their monopoly. Ever since, they have been haemorrhaging support to the more vibrant SNP. This does not necessarily spell the end of the Scottish Labour party, but they must learn to adapt to the new political landscape, something that the other parties have been doing for almost two decades. Labour’s leader, Kezia Dugdale, and her election strategists will have an enormous challenge this election. Nevertheless, recent history has shown them that, if Labour play their cards right, they may just have what it takes to win the crucial battle in Edinburgh. Finally, there is the SNP, the now undisputed titans of Scottish politics. The Nationalists are historically quite peculiar in that they do not have an establishment history. Furthermore, they also seems to defy some of their own conventions. Since the 2015 election, the Nationalists in Westminster have a disastrous record - two MPs have already been withdrawn from the whip due to police investigations into corruption. Yet, this does not seem to dent their support in Scotland in any way. One of these MPs, Michelle Thomson, represents Edinburgh West. This may come back to bite the party’s support in the capital as the campaign gets under way.
The SNP need to be aware of the problems that affect all long-governing parties. All tend towards mismanagement, complacency and in some cases corruption. The ANC in South Africa are the most blatant example, though drawing comparisons between them and the current SNP is difficult. Closer to home we might look at the end of the Thatcher government and the factional infighting of Major’s government in the 1990s, brought on in part by a lack of change. Even further back, the Macmillan government of 1963 proved that, every now and then, the electorate has had enough and wants something new. Macmillan and Major were also challenged by competent and charismatic opposition leaders in Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. This perhaps is the ultimate strength of the SNP, the lack of a capable and unified opposition. This kind of opposition takes years to develop, and certainly will not be in existence by May; but if history has shown us anything, is it that politics is an ever-changing game. The election in Edinburgh appears to be the SNP’s to lose. Strategists will be hoping that the behemoth that is nationalist politics will not succumb to the traditions of history. Then again, the SNP have a habit of making a whole new history for themselves.
Echoes of Edinburgh: Voices of the City
Gather is an annual festival, which celebrates our diverse community, culture and global citizens at the University of Edinburgh. The festival is a space where we come together, cross boundaries in new ways, showcase global culture, harness new opportunities and skills and connect with our individual or collective identities. Itâ€™s a huge amount of fun and weâ€™re very proud to have events independently organised by students, staff, societies, collaborative groups and members of the local community around University of Edinburgh. This year, our programme boasts 50 events including a mini Highland Games, the Gather Film Festival and a collection of workshops exploring perceptions of images included in the PhotoSoc spring competition. You can find the full programme here: https://gatheruoe.wordpress.com/events And our facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/eusaglobal
Introducing Innovative Learning Week 2016's 24-hour edition 'Echoes of Edinburgh', another ed24 magazine by Retrospect written, edited and d...
Published on Feb 18, 2016
Introducing Innovative Learning Week 2016's 24-hour edition 'Echoes of Edinburgh', another ed24 magazine by Retrospect written, edited and d...