Sunday, 18 October 2015

a mad god's dream

"But Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream 
Fitful and dark," - Hugh MacDiarmid (1892–1978): “Edinburgh”

So I travelled to Edinburgh. Every time I visit my capital city, I step up out of Waverley Station and think all this is only two hours away from me, and people travel halfway across the world to see it...

I love Edinburgh, and I particularly love the quote above by Hugh MacDiarmid. It describes Edinburgh perfectly, and I like to tramp about the city, the words curling around in my head, imagining myself walking through some marvellous and bewildering landscape. Despite it being October, the main streets were still full of tourists, and I was glad to escape to Leith, where the doors are guarded by lions and foxes, and ghostly tailors still advertise their wares above modern shops. I soon found my destination, about half-way down Leith Walk, and I was welcomed into the flat by Hope, and a large, white, wolf-like dog. I was offered a glass of beer by Hope's flatmate, Anouk, and sat down to rest my feet and admire the kitchen. There was a big black stove, a window looking out onto the garden, a rocking chair AND a rocking horse. Yes, a proper rocking horse, with real horse-hair, leather straps, and bright paint.  I'm so jealous.

Artistic, imaginative, and more than a little quirky, the flat decor suits both its occupants down to the ground. Hope is a journalist and writer, who is currently working on her first novel, and Anouk crafts fantastically beautiful fabric dolls. I've linked to both their blogs so you can go and see their work for yourself. It was lovely to sit chatting about art, books and creative things, while listening to music and eating plates full of spaghetti, slowly getting sleepier and sleepier. The next morning, (which was lazy and full of croissants, honey and tea) I headed off to a photography exhibition at NMS. On the way, I found this chap setting up the stall for the Edinburgh Tool Library. They can be found at the Leith Walk Police Box on Croall Place, every Saturday, from 9am -1pm.

The idea is that instead of buying expensive tools that will maybe only get used once or twice, groups or individuals can join the library and borrrow the equipment they need. The organisation will also provide training. After a quick chat and a photo, I continued on my way. Entry to "Photography: A Victorian Sensation" cost me £10 and I could go in and out as I pleased from 10am-5pm. Although  (ironically) photography was not allowed in the exhibition, they did have 'selfie spots' where visitors where encouraged to take photos of themselves and tweet them. Despite not having a twitter account, I made FULL use of the dressing-up facilities and spent rather a lot of time posing in front of the mirror. Funnily enough, after removing the heavy Victorian-style skirt, I felt practically undressed going about in my normal clothes. I'd discovered the exhibition through Joan Lennon's post on The History Girls blog. You should go and read her brief review of the exhibition, and see if it inspires you to go too! I studied the history of photography at uni, making the first part of the exhibition an excellent exercise in what I'd remembered...or forgotten. The part I liked best, however, was looking through all the old photos. Cleverly, although the actual photos were on display in the cases as well, the exhibition designers had provided viewing boxes with the digital images, allowing you to zoom in and out of the photos at your leisure.

 Later, I met up with my younger brother,who is studying at Edinburgh, and he took me to Teviot, his student union. Safe to say, it was far better than MY student union, which was a sixties monstrosity. This one has a restaurant in the old library, with all the books still safely behind the original glass cases. There were leather chairs, and nice corners to sit in, and a twisting staircase that looked like something out of Harry Potter. The food to be expected. Cheap and filling, but nothing to write home about. I had pasta - my brother had 'The Balmoral Burger' (which is a venison and haggis burger to the uninitiated...) After lunch, I marched him along to the museum, on discovering that -despite being in Edinburgh for two years- he'd never been. 

Back at the flat, preparations were under way for a 'Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness' autumnal party. Hope made chocolate brownies, measuring ingredients out in bowls; Anouk made a spicy chorizo stew. We started on the wine. Guests arrived, two little children included, who fell on the rocking horse with glee (the youngest one poking at the horse in confusion, saying 'button...button?' to her mummy. It was gently explained that this toy didn't have a button to make it go.) 

I'm not really a party person, but everyone was so friendly, and I found myself talking to illustrator Joanna Robson and doll-artist Crystal, while tucked in a corner beside the music. It was great to eat good food, relax and chat - but my busy day and walking around the city caught up with me, and I crept away to my cosy little bedroom under the stairs. 

Next morning, I had time for a quick wander around the Out of the Blue Drill Hall, which was running an eco-fair that day. It was full of people: some manning stalls, some enjoying the food at the award-winning cafe, and others standing around chatting - a real buzz in the atmosphere. I particularly liked the selection of locally made artwork available: the drill hall offers studio space, as well as training courses and running a whole hosts of shows and events like this eco-fair. The wall outside was brightly painted too - with these fantastic, shamanic-style murals.

My final stop before catching the train was to grab some refreshments at Artisan Roast on Broughton Street, recommended by barista Anouk, although she wasn't working that day. I ordered a rose petal and black pepper hot chocolate, a blueberry and coconut cake, and headed through to 'the mooch', which is the comfy retreat at the back of the coffee house, with a wood-burning stove (alas, unlit), leather cushioned couches lining the walls, and a guitar hanging up, just in case anyone wanted to play a little music. I found it was easier to write and eat at the same time by sitting on the floor with my back against the couch. No one batted an eyelid. A girl was asleep at the other side of the room. My fellow 'moochers' were a real mix - students, young parents, gently ageing hippies...

In this atmosphere, I managed to write another 500 words of Northspell (which will be appearing soon), demolish the beautifully light and fruit-stuffed cake, and finish ALL of my hot chocolate. I couldn't taste the black pepper as much as I had thought I would, but perhaps it subtly combined with the rose-petal to mellow the richness of the chocolate. All in all - a perfect place to relax, with great sweet treats and hot drinks. I'll definitely be back.