Thursday, 29 March 2012

Kneecapped

I keep seeing an unsettling message on the sides of buses – ‘Try Praying’.  What I want to know is, who is this message directed at?  Is it specific to bus users or is it aimed at pedestrians and motorists as well?  Does someone at the advertising agency know something the rest of us don’t know? If so, isn’t it a little unchristian not to share?
Considering these questions made me remember a driver we had not so long ago who seemed a little, shall we say, overcome by events.   He got off the bus and disappeared, apparently to relieve himself.  Of course this is not unreasonable, one has to go sometime and I did occasionally wonder what drivers did for relief, as it were.  However, when he eventually returned his behaviour became somewhat...erratic.  He kept stopping the bus and opening the doors to shout comments at other bus drivers, car drivers or passing pedestrians.  Then he drew up, for no apparent reason, precisely in the middle of the road opposite a bus stop, opening the doors and indicating to the waiting passengers that they should cross the busy lane of traffic to board.  Interestingly enough, they did. 
By this point there seemed to be a fair bit of squawking going on over the radio and I suspected he was being told to stop, but we plunged on at speed, public transport desperados all.  Careering round the curve toward the Dean Bridge it all began to feel a bit like a Thelma and Louise scenario, but without the sunglasses or the good hair.  This of course, brings to mind the other time when you would rather not be exhorted to ‘Try Praying’—on the way to the hairdressers. 
We all know that bad things happen to good hair.  Mercifully good things also happen to bad hair—and my lovely hairdresser sends me out looking  as (temporarily) sleek and shiny as an otter in a fish farm.  I actually enjoy going to this cheerful, chatty place, flicking through shiny magazines  full of all the things we are supposed to think we want (no trashy ‘celeb mags’ here) and eavesdropping on conversations which,  interestingly enough, aren’t all about where people have been/are going to on holiday.
There used to be a terrific junior who made tea and washed hair.  She was very, very young, but all sort of wholesomely buxom and blonde, like a particularly pretty marshmallow.  She was also the most dedicated hypochondriac I have ever met.  As she lathered and rinsed and repeated she would tell me all about her latest maladies, which were many, various  and rather fugitive as far as diagnosis goes.  Rather endearingly, she told me she knew her GP thought she was crazy but she didn’t really blame him.  "I expect he’ll have me locked up as a loony if I keep on," she said cheerfully.  We spent a happy time discussing symptoms and strategies (she was a remarkably un-worried sort of hypochondriac), until she decided the next time she went to her GP she was going to say:  ‘I was washing this woman’s hair and she says you should consider my tonsils.' It will really annoy him and then he’ll have to do something to prove that you and me are wrong.  Then when I do get tonsils, who’s going to be laughing?
Sadly, I never did find out what happened with the tonsils, as she went to work somewhere else.  I feel a bit responsible about encouraging her.  If it happened now I could point her at one of those buses:  ‘Try Praying’. 

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Mad as hatters


Before leaving Cornwall I bought a hat from a woman named Claire Francis.  Claire has been making hats in Porthleven for seventeen years and does not seem in the least bit mad (presumably because no one has used mercury in making hats for a very long time, thus no more mad hatters), though Salt Cellar Hats is a deliciously eccentric place.   The old net loft workshop is just that--a work place/shop--with row upon row of bolts of felted fabric in colours both lurid and discrete, the hum of a sewing machine and quietly purposeful discussion making it a place both whimsical and serious.  In this shop reconstituted hippy meets potential fashionista (with any tendency toward madness confined to a whole section devoted to baskets up the appropriately rickety wooden stairs).  
And so I bought my holy grail of hats--an unassuming little linen number, the grey-ish, taupe-ish cream of a sandy Cornish beach on a cloudy day--the sun hat par excellence.  I discovered I have a small/small to medium head, as the delightfully detailed label on the inside crown of the hat informed me, which was interesting information as I have always thought more about the size of my hat (as in broad-brimmed, pillbox, etc) than the size of my head, if you see what I mean.  But during the eleven hours it took me to drive home I remembered a woman who owned a hat shop once telling me that quite often, the smaller the person the bigger the hat (as well as the reverse), as if some curious skewing of perception takes place, turning a hat shop into a place of fairground mirrors.  Which brought me back to mercury:  one of the symptoms of mercury poisoning is, curiously enough, distorted vision.  I spent a few miles wondering if there was any correlation between the number of tooth fillings and millinery dysmorphia.
It was a beautiful day for the drive north:  warm and soft and blurred at the edges, with blackthorn blossom foaming in the hedges and the improbably green grassy banks starred with buttermilk-coloured primroses.  I rolled down the car windows and loitered up the curiously empty motorways, watching the outside temperature reading climbing to 21 degrees, where it stubbornly stayed put until the sun extinguished itself somewhere over the left-hand side of Cumbria.
But just as I was rejoicing in the fact that there is a village named Lamancha in the Scottish Borders (and wondering if it would be possible to call your pub the ‘Quixote’--in a post-ironic sort of way), I drove into a wall of mist so thick you could have hung pictures on it.  It did not so much swirl and whirl as hang like a net curtain, occasionally twitched aside for looming glimpses of vaguely familiar landmarks before falling back again in impenetrable folds. 
Even in Edinburgh it had a curious effect--one navigates through cities largely by landmark.  But near things were unrecognisable and the occasional sightings of points of reference were unreliable, looking either improbably close or impossibly far.  My well- known route into the city had become a tunnel into a muffled, hallucinogenic world where every sense was intermittently undependable. I wondered briefly if the bottle of water I bought at the Westmorland Services might have said ‘Drink Me’ on the label.
As soon as I got home I took my new hat out of the bag and had a good look in the mirror...just in case.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Not reading on the M6

At the weekend I did not get on a bus; I got into a car to drive a significant distance--to west Cornwall, in fact. In one headlong dash, you might say. Rather than being just a long drive, this is a bit of an adventure for me. Since moving to the city driving a car has taken on a certain novelty value, so infrequently do I take to the wheel. There is a slight issue in that I tend to forget that driving is a participatory exercise--I forget I am not on the bus; that I require to pay some attention to what I am doing (my car is small and blue, in case you wish to manage your risk).

 For the last few years (actually only the past two or three weeks but it has felt like forever), it has been relentlessly grey and discouragingly chilly in Edinburgh--a bit like living in a refrigerated gym-sock, in fact. But the morning I left the sun was coming up as I passed the Devil's Punchbowl, the light all like golden syrup pouring over the hills while torn bridal veil wisps of mist melted away in the low places and dissolved between the trees. It was glorious, heart-lifting, fantastically dramatic stuff, and I would like someday for someone to explain this remarkable bit of geology to me--particularly as I nearly drove my car into it (see earlier re. lack of attention).

 You might ask why I was driving past the Devil's Punchbowl when there are more obvious (and quicker routes) to the M74 and The South. All I can offer in my defence is that I am a sucker for a scenic route and feel illogically drawn to the town of Moffat--I think it is the fantastic hardware store on the square and the way it turns its back on the motorway, so close it runs over its skirts.

 Motorways are, of course, another world altogether, and particularly motorway service areas-- artificial backwaters on a (usually) fast-flowing river fraught with potential hazards. They make me feel a bit like Stanley must have felt on coming upon Livingstone in Ujiji, finding a recognisably familiar reference point in a largely alien environment. (In motorway mythology I suppose Stanley would be Starbucks and Livingstone would be Costa, but the two of them would never have met, those particular concessions never seen in the same place at the same time.)

 I suppose in many ways service areas are dispiriting places, all stained concrete and despair, but if you are in the mood to sit and observe you will find plenty to catch your attention. Dramas both small and large are played out there: the tight-lipped parents handing children over for custody visits over Happy Meals (why hasn't Macdonalds been done under trades description for assigning an emotion to a cardboard box of ersatz foodstuffs? They cannot be 'happy meals'; they cannot even be 'mildly amused meals'...), the white van man staring tiredly out the window whose face is transformed as his phone beeps and he reads a text. The stunned, the sleepy, the happy, the sad; unconscious rudeness, indifference, good-nature, bad-temper, casual acts of kindness--all human life is there.

 As I stood waiting to pay for my petrol (or liquid gold, as I now think of it) and water somewhere south of Birmingham, the man at the next till was buying soft drinks and crisps. "If you pick up any of those other crisps over there instead," said the nice woman at the till, "you'll save £4." The customer seemed unwilling, or unable to take in the information, so the nice woman tried to explain again and yet again, that there was a special offer and just changing one brand of crisps for another would save him £4. The man drew himself up, pointed out the window to the forecourt and said, "do you see that car over there? That's my car. It's a Bentley." "I know dear," she replied patiently, "but we don't charge extra for that."

Friday, 16 March 2012

A horse of another colour


Recently, I saw a horse standing outside disconsolately on the pavement outside the ‘The Scotsman’ newspaper.   The poor animal was wearing a large satin saddle cloth advertising a popular pizza delivery service and had a rather weedy looking  man dressed like an escapee from The Village People, on its back.  It was about as undignified as things could get for a horse, and you could see by the way it was holding its head it was feeling it and would have been humiliated had any police horses strolled past.  Even a horse only a short trot from the knacker’s yard should not be subjected  to such indignity.  
Looking at this horse reminded me of the man who travelled on the bus for a time who was always dressed in tartan trews and a good waxed jacket, but looked in every other way decidedly unkempt.  He was always losing his bus pass, so the drivers would issue him a weekly ticket until he got a new pass, which he would lose again fairly promptly.   He had the most bizarrely nicotine-stained finger on his right hand I have ever seen:  mahogany-coloured from middle knuckle to tip, with a satsuma orange cast at the outer edges, fading to a deep copper green at the tip.  I half expected to see the end fall off some morning.  He saw me looking one day and explained that it was what came of smoking discarded cigarette butts.  
‘I pick ‘em up, you see--easier now that everybody has to smoke outside.  They leave them on top of the council bins, don’t they?  I suppose you are going to nag me to quit,’ he said, in a resigned sort of way.  
‘Why would I do that? ‘ I asked.

‘Because you’re a nurse, aren’t you?  That’s why you go to work so early.’
Having assured him I did not belong to the medical profession he started to chat to me whenever he saw me.  It was always worth talking to him because he had an amazing sort of overlay in his head of how the city used to be and was always ready to share the fag ends of stories:  incomplete, slightly frayed, the greater part of the information often missing--but always worth having a pull at.  
One morning he told me about a roundabout not far from Holyrood, where there was once a public toilet in the middle.  ‘It’s all planted up with flowers now,’he said, ‘because a police horse went completely mad one day while on duty, jumped over the railings right down into the area outside the gents--killed  the horse, the rider and a postman on his way for a pee.’
‘Terrible, it was,’ he continued. ‘My grandfather saw it all because he was the head mason at the palace and at the castle.   My grandmother used to say, if only he’d brought a brick home from work every day rather than a bottle of beer, she could have lived in a palace too.’
He reflected on this for a moment, shifting his dentures about with a small sigh.  Just as I was expecting a sort of heart-warming, stickily sentimental Werther’s Originals moment he added:  ‘my grandmother was a bitch.’

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

You can go your own way


I think we have all, at one time of another, suspected that buses in Edinburgh have minds of their own. This was undoubtedly demonstrated on Sunday when the bus pulled over at a stop where no one got on or off. This is not unusual-- drivers quite often stop and have a quick skim of the Metro when they are ahead of schedule. But this time, after a couple of long minutes when nothing appeared to be happening, the driver leant over his partition and announced, ‘this is where the bus stops being a 24; it is going to be a 47 from now on.’ 

I have never before been on a bus that had an identity crisis ( though there was a spooky synchronicity with my last blog...). When I got home I had a quick look at the on-line timetable and there was nothing to indicate that any of the Sunday services on the 24 is particularly inclined to change into another service mid-route. Wouldn’t it be more pleasing (not to say a bit less frustrating for the people on the bus who expected a 24 to be a 24), if this was a whim on the part of the bus rather than a command from the Lothian Buses equivalent of The Fat Controller? Perhaps the bus had a bit of a moment and refused to go any further until it was allowed to be a 47? (Could that be why my bus stopped on George Street last week--not mechanically defective but on a 'go-slow' because it was not getting its own way?)

I was a bit sad to leave the bus lest it show any further schizophrenic tendencies, but my personal route, which remained unaltered throughout, took me to Calton. I am ashamed to admit I have not climbed the hill since moving to Edinburgh and perhaps I was drawn there by association after writing about David Hume, who is buried in the Old Calton Burial Ground. 

Between the burial ground and the hill, Calton is a monumental mason's jumble sale: Nelson’s monument (where the time ball lives and without which the ships in Leith would not have known when it was time for tea), Dugald Stewart ‘s (another philosopher—clearly you couldn’t move without falling over philosophers in 18th century Edinburgh), and the Robert Burns Monument (Clarinda, recipient of all those begging letters in the form of love poems, lived in Calton Hill Street just around the corner). The unfinished National Monument was intended as a tribute to Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic wars. It appears the good citizens of Edinburgh had short memories for sacrifice—the project ran out of money and the mini-Parthenon was never completed; its nickname was ‘the Scottish Disgrace’. There is also the City Observatory on top of the hill and the Political Martyrs’ Monument (in memory of 5 francophiles who pre-dated Peter Mayle in their admiration for all things French and were banished to Botany Bay where they no doubt failed to learn their lesson-- inventing Fosters and the beach barbie instead). 

St Andrew’s House—headquarters of first the Scottish Office and now the semi-detached home of the Scottish Government, was originally the site of Calton Gaol ( I leave you to draw your own conclusions), and the Royal High School was, for a long time, considered the logical site for a Scottish Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. Nor would we want to forget the Declaration of Calton Hill—a statement setting out the demands for a Scottish Republic. One only wonders if there might be a new monument to political martyrs on Calton Hill before too long?

Calton Hill is a splendid place for far-reaching views, as well as all those monuments. It is also a nice place for a wander, well supplied with paved paths, carefully designed to take people to from the places they are, to the places they wish to be. Nevertheless, between these prescribed paths run worn tracks of bare earth; shortcuts scarring the grassy hill. These are known as desire lines—the paths people will make by taking the shortest or easiest route between points. You can lay out the route you want people to take; you can signpost it and pave it, smooth every obstacle; you can make it as attractive as you like. But living creatures will still decide their best route, and they will create a line of desire, as—apparently-- will buses. Politicians and public transport planners, take note.









Saturday, 10 March 2012

A Handbag?

This morning I saw a driving license, one of the pink ones with a photograph, lying neatly on a raised bit of stone underneath some railings on Frederick Street.  It was clear that some kind passerby had picked up the licence, which must have been dropped, and placed it there where it would be easily spotted but out of harm's way.  I looked at the pleasant, open face in the photograph and wondered how long it would be before the young woman it belonged to realised she had lost this particular proof of her identity.

We are all, we are told, in constant danger of identity theft; vulnerable to card cloning, hacking, worms, trojans, scams and skims--never mind good old fashioned robbery.  Evidently women are particularly vulnerable to that last risk, inclined as we are to carry our lives round in our handbags--concentrating all sorts of valuable personal information in one convenient place.   And of course the handbags themselves have become so valuable they are often stolen to order--forget the cash and the cards, go for the Gucci, the Prada or the Hermes.

If a thief had gone for my handbag this morning as I was waiting at the bus stop or walking to my work, he might have found rather more than he bargained for.  I had an extremely ripe papaya in my handbag, which is a bit like carrying a hand grenade:  similar in shape, size, weight and explosive potential.  One false move could have led to a sticky end for my bag, its contents and the thief.

It must be a nightmare to have one's identity stolen or lost.  Who knows how many of us have doppelgängers somewhere on the planet buying zithers and Oxford Dictionaries and golf carts with our credit cards, while we go about our business all (temporarily) unaware?

Look at all the problems poor old Jason Bourne had when he got into a bit of a muddle about his identity--and they lasted for four films.  I always rather wondered what he was going to do if he ever needed a job reference...

Which reminds me of the old story of the poor lassie from the isles who was on her way to Glasgow on the steamer for an interview for a post as a nursery maid.  It was a stormy night and the girl, who was feeling very seasick, was leaning over the rail when she dropped her bag overboard.  She was found sobbing by the first mate, who took her to the Captain.  'Oh what shall I do?' she cried.  'I'll never get the job without the reference that was lost and my family are counting on me for a wage.'

'Not to worry,' replied the Captain, who was a kindly man and had a daughter of his own at home.  'I'll write you another one.'  And so he did.  It said:  'This letter is to attest that Miss Fiona Macleod lost her character on board the M V Maid of the Isles on the night of the...'





Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Darkening the lightness

This morning I noticed a large, grey-white globe sitting on a black cylinder, which in turn sat on top of a square black plinth,  near the main gate into Charlotte Square.  It looked, I decided, very like a giant, round lightbulb.  As we came round the square I could just make out the word, 'enLIGHTen' on a small poster on the gate.  Mr Google informed me that enLIGHTen is a joint Year of Creative Scotland and Edinburgh City of Literature Trust project to, in the words of their website:  'fuse words and cutting edge technology to light up the night sky during March.  Massive projections of famous quotes form the Scottish Enlightenment period will illuminate buildings along George Street and Rose Street...'  I  am not unhappy about a giant light bulb in Charlotte Square and no doubt David Hume would be pleased...as long as it is his words that are being projected.

Who doesn't love the sight of Edinburgh Castle lit up at night looking as if it has been spun from sugar? Where would Christmas be without lights, or Diwali or for that matter, Vegas?  Light represents goodness  and virtue and reason (except, perhaps, in Vegas).  We moved out of the dark ages and progressed (barring the occasional historical hiccup) to the age of enlightenment.

And so it follows that we dislike the dark, fear it, give it a bad reputation.  Kathleen Jamie in the essay 'Darkness and Light' in her book - Findings - writes, 'Pity the dark:  we're so concerned to overcome and banish it, it's crammed full of all that's devilish, like some grim cupboard under the stair.  But dark is good.  We are conceived and carried in darkness, are we not?'

When I was a little girl, my mother would tell me, 'There's nothing there in the dark that isn't there in the light.'  Which would have been a comfort, except that this was the same woman who was constantly warning me about the perils of hit and run drivers, strangers offering sweets, abandoned refrigerators, rusty nails, level crossings, and rabid dogs, cats, bats, squirrels and gophers (I spent years standing in the outfield when we were playing  baseball convinced a rabid gopher was going to spring up out of the ground and savage my ankles.  I had seen 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and though Mr Kline, my 5th grade teacher was in most respects good news, I understood he was no Atticus Finch, ready with a rifle to coolly dispatch a crazed, foaming rodent).   If all those hazards were lying in wait in the daylight, how on earth would I avoid them in the dark?

But without the dark, what would be the point of fireflies, or sheet lightning, or stars?  The moon would be a pale insipid thing, hardly worth mentioning;  the northern lights would become the aurora bori-isn't.  Bats and owls would be under-employed and vampires would go out of business.

The American Medical Association says the human species needs darkness to 'survive and thrive'.  It is well known that 24 hour daylight makes your circadian rhythms into something that resembles knotted string.

One of the things I've noticed since I've moved to Edinburgh from the Outlandish Isles, is that it is never, properly dark.  Never the deep, velvety, dark of the countryside.  Even in my flat at night the tenement lighting shines through the transom like a Edinburgh City Council nightlight.

So, if you see me in court over the coming months, charged with scrawling neatly reasoned syllogisms on public buildings, you can be sure I will have my defence ready to hand:  'Your Judgeship,' I will say.  'There were mitigating circumstances...I am suffering from too much enlightenment.'






Sunday, 4 March 2012

Deliverance


 Spring may have been put on hold for the moment, with the wind getting spiteful from the north-east and great, grey, grumpy clouds playing dodgems  on the horizon.  Hail may be rattling off the slates like shrapnel,  but I don't mind, because light has returned to the world.   The landmark day when the streetlights turn off as I wait in the cold has been and gone; the desperate, dark mornings  quickly left behind.   The paperboy, who I watch zipping along the pavement each morning on his slightly-too-small bicycle now rides with his light off, though he has yet to reveal himself by pulling his hood down--I suspect he never will do anything so sartorially risky.

I also suspect he may be an endangered species.  In the age of digital everything (including this blog), paper routes as a source of income for the young must surely be under threat.  Do teenagers mow lawns any more,  I wonder?  I had a short career as a gardener when I was teenager, mowing the lawn for an older gentleman who lived in what Americans are trained to call mobile homes (the word 'trailer' having become a pejorative--or something you watch before the main film at the cinema).  His lawn was the size of a dozen handkerchiefs sewn together and I was given one of those old manual push mowers to cut the grass, and a pair of scissors to trim the edges.  My employer looked like a cross between Colonel Sanders and Homer Simpson.  He lived alone and had no thumbs--something to do with air plane propellers, I seem to remember.  Homer Simpson comes to mind, not just because of the lack of digits (though Homer does have the material advantage of thumbs), but because my employer was usually dressed in only a t-shirt and y-fronts when I knocked on the screen door each week to collect my $2.  I do not recall being unduly disturbed by this at the time, as I assumed it had something to do with his missing thumbs-- buttons must be tiring, I reasoned.  I don't think I ever mentioned this eccentricity to my parents; nevertheless, I didn't work for him for very long.  Babysitting paid better and the only people in their underpants were four year olds. 

Now of course,  he would probably live in sheltered accommodation.  That's where I see the paper boy delivering each morning--to the sheltered accommodation by the bus stop.  All through the winter there was another regular--a district nurse who would arrive, ring the buzzer and wait to be admitted.  One morning she pushed the intercom and announced herself:  'Hi, it's me--come to give Mr Campbell his injection.'  Instead of the usual buzz and click of the door unlocking there was a pause.  Eventually a voice said, 'He's gone.' 

 'What do you mean?' asked the district nurse.  

'You don't need to bother, hen,' the voice replied.  'He's dead.'

'But he was fine yesterday,' the nurse protested.

'Aye, well he's dead the now.'  Pause.  'You can come and look at him if you want.'  Pause.  'But he's still dead.'

Spring did not come soon enough for Mr Campbell.


Friday, 2 March 2012

Coffee and Culture


This morning I woke early to a proper pea-souper; everything shrouded in the sort of mist that makes you expect to meet Spencer Tracy lurking around the recycling bins, though sadly I am neither  Ingrid Berman nor, less disappointingly, Lana Turner (see  the 1941 MGM version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde).  Robert Louis Stevenson obviously knew a thing or two, making Edinburgh the setting for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.  Being a city with a famously split personality, Edinburgh lends itself to gloom and mist and all things faintly gothic (we even have the right lamp posts and railings for it), as well as elegance and proportion and light and Reason.
As I made my way to the bus stop the mist began to lift, melting into the sort of day that makes you believe in spring, even though you know in your heart betrayal is inevitable.  For the moment there are ribbons of crocuses framing the gardens in Charlotte Square and snowdrops between the trees along the Water of Leith, where the mist still lies in twisting silver streamers. 
The streets are sprinkled with other early risers, clutching their paper cups of coffee with those baby beaker lids and  I notice a new dispensary, offering the curious combination of coffee and tapas.  I am not certain which order this comes in or if they are meant to go together, but it is an intriguing concept.  I cannot help but wonder if they will survive long enough for it to catch on.  The rapidity with which businesses come and go in Edinburgh has surprised me—though it shouldn’t, given current economic conditions.  Nevertheless, when you have lived in a place where the shops are so eternally unchanging they still have items priced in old money (6d for a nail), the turnover in Edinburgh feels remarkable.  Even more remarkable is the fact that it appears that the vast majority of these start-ups are selling either coffee, cupcakes or haircuts.  In my little neighbourhood the per capita provision of hairdressers must be about one hairdresser for every ten residents.  Given the rate of attrition, it seems to be it might be a good idea to combine forces and open a hairdressing salon that serves coffee and cupcakes...and possibly tapas.
I am so engrossed in these inconsequential but diverting thoughts (time spent staring out a window is seriously undervalued), that I have failed to notice that the bus, as if wishing to give me something to write about, is going very slowly indeed, hurbling and burbling its way along George Street.  Interestingly, it idles perfectly contently when we stop; it just seems to have lost the will to move forward...Well, it is Friday so I know how it feels.
The bus driver gives up before we reach the point of no-return of St Andrew’s Square, apologising for the inconvenience.  It is encouraging that the handful of passengers pile off the bus making good-natured remarks to the driver; I imagine we would be less cheerful if it were cold and dark and raining. 
My walking route takes me past the City of Edinburgh Council offices, where I pass the sculpture which stands on a very high, very small metal platform—a sort of  modern day Simeon Stylites of the Scaffolding.  The sculpture (which I am informed by the interweb cost £100,000) is called ‘Everyman'.  He is a amiable looking chap wearing black trousers and a white shirt, standing with one hand on his hip, a slight smile on his disturbingly red lips—not so much 'Master of All He Surveys', as 'Possibly Paralysed Onlooker'.  My former employer once told me she always called the statue ‘The Apotheosis of the Civil Servant’. 
Continuing on my way, I call into a place on the Royal Mile for a coffee--which makes me wonder:  if it were sold on a bus, would coffee be called an 'expresso'?

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A Late Starter in Edinburgh

You could say I came to commuting late in life.  You might say I came to cities late in life.  It has all been a bit unexpected but, as it turns out, it has been no bad thing.  Because almost every idea I had about living in a city was wrong.


Which brings me to buses.  When you live in a city, and are lucky enough to work in the city, you will probably take a bus to work if you cannot walk.  If, like me, you grew up in America and then moved to one of those windy, wet islands on the top left-hand side of Scotland (living there for more years than you might like to think about), your experience of buses will be limited to the Greyhound Bus you took from Los Angeles to New York City when you were young and didn't know any better.  Or the 917 Citylink service from Portree to Inverness, when you were young and only had a moped.


It turns out taking the bus to work every day isn't anything like I thought it would be.  And I am not anything like I thought I would be, on a bus, commuting to work, every day.  And the world from the bus is not anything like I thought it would be.


It is important to understand that I am a reader.  I have been known to panic if I do not have at least three unread books waiting for me on my bedside table.  If my reading habits were ever under threat I would stash books in saucepans and behind bath panels like a secret drinker.  When I understood I was going to be a commuter I thought I would pass that time usefully, reading improving books or writing the great British novel in twenty minute shifts.  And people do this--at least the reading part.  I see people with their novels and newspapers and their Kindles, utterly absorbed, oblivious.  So I began to ride the bus with a book or a notebook in my handbag; armed with words; my sword and shield to guard me in this strange new life.   They stayed in my bag, sheathed...as it were.


It turns out, I do not read on the bus, nor do I write on the bus.  Because the stories are there:  on the bus, outside the bus, waiting for the bus, walking home from the bus.  Maybe it is something about moving through an increasingly familiar landscape that nevertheless changes every day, that makes the mind wander.  Or maybe it's just those turning wheels that send your thoughts spinning off in almost any direction other than a straight line.


As I said at the beginning, nothing about my life in this city has turned out the way I expected it to be.  There is almost always a new story to think about... when you are not reading on the bus.