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'?

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