The title will make sense in a minute – maybe…
I think it’s fair to say that I have a “love-hate” relationship with Edinburgh, the place I live in, and have done – almost to the day! – for 20 years. For those of you who read my very first blog post, ending up as an Edinburgh resident is purely accidental. A “one year gap job” found me marooned in The East from The West. Then, I started to like it a bit (I was young, I made loads of funky pals and got pissed a lot – hmmm maybe some things don’t change in twenty years) so I stayed just a bit longer and – skip two effin decades – here I still am.
Some days, all I can think of is: “F**K ME – places to live are STUPID money in this bloody city!” or “No – Salt and feckin VINEGAR FFS!” or “Princes Street has run out of shops!?” But other days, (most days recently, to be fair) I have a word with myself: I realise I live in a city that many people would be delighted and privileged to live, work, explore and party in. And, one of the times this thought occurs to me is on my commute to work.
NO! DON’T STOP READING! This is not a post about my work! A post about my work would be very dull. Well, maybe not if I was a lion tamer or a knife thrower or a professional celebrity lookalike. But, alas, I am none of these things. Yet.
I generally walk to work (this is the “nae tubes, nae trains, nae buses, nae planes” bit…). To be fair, Edinburgh is a wee city so, if you both live and work even remotely centrally, you can probably do that thing where you don a pair of trainers that don’t match your dress / skirt and get your stride on. To get to my “normal” job, it’s a pleasant 35 min walk from Shit Street (my home street) to the office, which is totally doable (considering that if I went on the bus it’d take just as feckin long! <insert rant about Edinburgh traffic here>). But for the last 5 months – and for just one more month – I’ve been based at a whole other part of the city and the walk is an hour and 20 mins – which, let’s be honest, is just a bit too long to do every day. So I’ve been doing it once or twice a week. The first twenty minutes or so are the same as my normal commute though, and it’s during those twenty minutes that (if I can avoid thinking about the inevitable fuckwittery of the working day ahead), I am often reminded that my commute is pretty special. As I walk, I avoid stressing about the said inevitable fuckwittery by listening to podcasts (current fave is The Archers Omnibus) and taking in my surroundings.
Incidentally (I spy a digression…): The Archers. How BRILLIANT is The Archers?! How did it take me this long to get involved in this joyous experience?! I started my Ambridge love affair a year or so ago when Helen got all stabby with Rob and it was all over ‘tinternet so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Then, one year, one court case, a dead dog (RIP Scruff), a new lady vet, a tragic miscarriage, a case of IBR, the scandal of women in the cricket team, a break-up or two and a run over cat later I am hooked. I often find myself walking along shaking my head saying “Pip, you’re a spoiled brat! or “Lilian, get a grip – Justin is going to lose all of this money to his nasty ex and THEN where will you be?!” or “Anisha, just shag Rex and be done with it!” etc. This may be why passers-by avoid eye contact and cross the street as I pass.
Anyway, back to the commute…
Firstly, I pass Holyrood Palace, But, since it’s surrounded by walls and Her Maj keeps the hedges nice and high, I actually can’t see much from my route – other than peering through the railings. Though, just outside the palace, I do pass this:
This is Queen Mary’s Bath House. Allegedly, this is where Queen Mary used to bathe in sweet white wine. WTF?! Now, I may not be a fan of sweet white wine, (I’m more of a cheap red person) but I would still force it down rather than sit in a bath of it. But, actually, it’s more likely that it was used as some kind of summer house type thing. When I walk past it, I always think it looks a bit spooky and often imagine a ghostly figure is going to poke their head out of one of the windows (which, in reality, would more likely be the figure of a stray jakey). However, the spookiness is rather dampened down by the fact it’s right next to a busy pedestrian crossing.
And then a minute later, we get here:
The Scottish Parliament Building. Many people have written many words about this place. So allow me to sum it all up: it cost a shit-load of money (much more than They said it would); some folk think it’s a f**king monstrosity; some folk think it’s not. That just about covers it. For the record, I like it as a building – I always have.
Next it’s a pit stop at Starbucks (yes, I’m a CORPORATE WHORE!) for an en route coffee. This is quite a nice ‘Bucks, actually: it’s not full of students taking up too much space, hogging the free wifi whilst nursing a coffee for four hours. When I go there in the morning, it’s always Maria who is on. She is brilliant. She’s properly cheery – but also gets that I’m still essentially asleep at this point, so treats me with a degree of kind sympathy – and I like to think that her “how are you today?” and “have a good day!” is genuine, but maybe I’m being foolishly naive. She does always remember my order though.
Incidentally, just down the close next to that Starbucks, you’ll find the Scottish Poetry Library (well worth a visit) and the Serenity Cafe. The Serenity Cafe is a cafe run by those in recovery supporting other people in recovery and serving anyone who wants to come in. It’s a nice, welcoming wee place – and you can’t argue with its rationale. Unfortunately, I pass before it’s open, so Starbucks it is for me on the commute. But do support them next time you’re near by.
Opposite Starbucks is the Canongate Kirk.
I’ve never been in (I’m a heathen and none of my mates are rich / important enough to get married there) but it’s a great looking church. Apparently, they run tours – saw a poster advertising that in Maria’s Starbucks:
There’s a great statue just outside the church: it’s Robert Fergusson, who was a poet (you can see a pic here: he’s just out of shot in the pic above). It’s life size and it’s like he’s just walking along. You’d be forgiven for thinking he was a “living statue” (ie an out-of-work actor who has painted himself black and spends the day on a street corner, trying to avoid neds throwing things at him).
Next to the Kirk is the Canongate Tolbooth.
Such a cool-looking building! This dates back from 1591 and there’s info about its history here: someone who knows more than me about this stuff The main things I DO know about it: 1 – it’s got a museum in it that I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t visited yet; 2 – there are oyster shells embedded in its walls (look up, to the right of the clock) because back in the Olden Days folk thought witches couldn’t go near water, and they thought oyster shells would fool them into thinking there was water there; 3 – the Tolbooth Tavern is the pub in the building (worth stopping for a pint if you find yourself nearby: OK, so I’ve added a link to their website because I think that’s a nice thing to do – but please note that their website uses COMIC SANS and I wish to distance myself from this editorial decision on their part in every way possible – comic sans is NEVER acceptable).
After that, it’s a quick jaunt past the Museum of Edinburgh (definitely worth a visit) Moray House (which is part of the University of Edinburgh and where I spent a year of my student life many years ago, being stressed and drunk in equal measures) and then the commute gets a little less picturesque.
But, overall, the fact that I get to walk a bit of the Royal Mile on my route to work, I suppose, is pretty cool: in the scheme of things, walking past a royal palace, your national parliament and numerous cool old buildings on your way to work every day certainly beats having to sit in a traffic jam on the M8, or sharing a crowded space on a Lothian Bus / Scotrail train. I’m not cut out for crowded commutes: I value my personal space too much and I don’t want to start my day breathing in somebody else’s farts. For as long as I’m able (ie until I give up and have to buy an “affordable grown up place to live” which will undoubtedly be far outwith commuting distance) I’m all for walks to work with an Archers soundtrack. Ooooh-arrrrrrrrrrr.