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Monday, 9 February 2009

It all boils down to brown sauce

HPSS12 We'll never see eye-to-eye until Glasgow chip shops start serving brown sauce!
Gogs, Edinburgh

I've spoken before about the relationship between Scotland's first and second cities, that would be Edinburgh and Glasgow for those outwith the UK; even though Glasgow is the larger of the two it's somehow still not the capital. I'm a Glaswegian but I can't say I have any deep-seated loathing for Edinburgers. I can't say I have a deep-seated loathing for anyone.

All said and done I have to say I'm not that fond of Edinburgh as a city. Too many painful memories but I'll get round to that in a minute. Even when I had a car it wasn't a place we'd think to take a drive to even though it's only about an hour away. I'm sure most of my American cousins will scratch their heads when I tell them that but the simple fact is we never did. The only time it feels like I ever went there was to attend some training course or other. I've never been to the Edinburgh Festival or the Fringe despite the fact I pick up the programme most years and study it carefully to see if there's anything of interest. But even when there is I still don’t go. We did get taken to the zoo a couple of times as kids. In fact I was in my twenties before I knew Glasgow even had its own.

And yet somehow through all that I've managed to investigate a huge amount of Edinburgh. Of course I was younger then when walking the length of my own shadow didn't exhaust me. Something about the place must have impressed me because when Carrie first came over I insisted on dragging her all over the city looking for wee independent knickknack shops that all had long since been turned into Subways and Costas. She didn't like the place and yet she took to Glasgow right away. The reason for this: the people in Glasgow were friendlier and the place felt less touristy. Dublin was a similar disappointment. There seemed to be hardly any ruddy Irish anywhere. In fact the first day I was there I walked into a Tesco’s to be served by a young Portuguese girl with a tenuous grasp of English. But that's a story for another day.

There is, as always, an element of truth in stereotypes: the typical Edinburgher is seen as posh, snotty, more refined, a bit aloof and Protestant Conservative; your average Glaswegian is more rough and ready, chattier, down to earth and a Catholic Labour supporter. But these are caricatures. I tried to find out the origins of the antipathy that exists but it feels like it's always been there. In 1700 Glasgow was the place to live and it was Edinburgh that had slums all along the Royal Mile but by the mid-1800s things had turned around completely; due to influx of Catholic Irish workers fleeing the Great Famine the population grew unexpectedly and Glasgow's slumland spread eastward from the Gorbals towards Bridgeton. Nowadays Glasgow has pulled down many of its slums and is engaged in serious regeneration. 1180612308171

The simple fact is that after generations no one has a clue how it all started. Kids are brought up with a chip on their shoulder, in some cases a whole fish supper, and they squabble about how that should be served. The first time I ordered fish and chips in Edinburgh (which is what a fish supper is) I was asked if I wanted "salt and sauce". I never thought about it (I may well have been inebriated at the time) and said, "Yes, please." It wasn't till I was outside in the dark and tucking in that I realised that my chips tasted funny. They'd slathered them in brown sauce which I am not fond of to start with. Now, in Glasgow, they offer you the traditional "salt and vinegar"; sauce (brown and tomato) is available upon request in sachets for those so inclined.

The fact is that this is one pissing contest that I expect to last a long time yet.

As I mentioned in my review of Laidlaw recently, Glasgow is known these days as 'the friendly city' so I was quite struck when I read a newspaper article which said that Edinburgh was officially the loneliest place in the UK because I've always found it a very lonely place to be. I had always assumed it was just little ol' antisocial me to be honest because I was every bit as lonely when I was in Aberdeen. But there you go; it's in the papers so it must be true.

A couple of days after I read by sheer coincidence I got an e-mail from a friendly resident of Edinburgh, Claire Askew, telling me about this collection and asking me if I'd like to submit something. I'm telling you, within ten minutes I had a poem written; I pottered with it for a couple of days but the guts of it never changed.

It's called 'Lonely City' and you can read it here.

So, what's this collection about? I'll let Claire explain:

this collection is a collaboration between Edinburgh writers and Edinburgh filmmakers, which aims to create a detailed picture of day-to-day life in the city, with all its foibles and issues, through the media of poetry and film.

Basically, we want to gather 100 poems by Edinburgh writers, each poem no more than 100 words long.  Once we’ve done this, we’ll pass them on to a carefully chosen group of young filmmakers who will get to work on creating 100 short films to accompany the poems.  We then intend to showcase the poems and the films together, both online and at events across the city throughout Spring and Summer 2009.

Okay, I know what you're saying: You're not an Edinburgh writer, Jim. And you'd be right there. The simple fact is they're spreading the net a little wide to include Edinburgh and surrounding area. Now, I'm not sure where the line is being drawn but I was glad to be asked and I can't wait to see what a filmmaker might make of my wee poem.

The poem is biographical. It dates from about 1982, the first time I was sent through to Edinburgh on a training course. Having nothing better to do, and as I recall not having a TV in my room in the bed and breakfast, I took to wandering the city late into the evening. One of these sojourns found me strolling along Rose Street which is basically a glorified lane that runs parallel to Princes Street, Edinburgh's main thoroughfare. Since then it's been tarted up but in the 1980s it was a bit rough.

Anyway, I stumbled across a wee corner pub that had an advertisement in the window for go-go dancers. How 1960s, I thought. And so I sneaked in through the swing door and ordered a pint. It was a small place and I really couldn't see where the dancer was going to perform but I didn't have long to wait. A scantily-clad young lady came out with a handful of change, plonked it in the jukebox, made her selections and climbed a small podium in the corner of the pub. It must have been a good five feet off the ground and with not a great surface area but I wasn't complaining. I drank and she danced and much to my surprise (okay, and delight) during the third song (Centrefold by the J Geils Band) she took her bra off. Now I led a pretty sheltered existence as a young man and this was the first time I'd seen anything like this. I must have been a picture sitting there with my mouth hanging open.

Anyway, the song ended, the top went back on, she clambered down and sat at the bar. I think about a half-hour later everything was repeated and following the end of that set a third followed by which time I was quite drunk. But even as drunk as I was there was no way on earth I was going to go over and try and spark up a conversation. So, seeing that three sets was going to be it I left and made my way back to my B&B. It is my suspicion that this was the same night I encountered the chip shop I mentioned earlier.

Anyway, the next night was I not to be found down Rose Street in time for the young lady's first set. Yes, of course I was. And a young lady did arrive and partially disrobe at the end of each set but it wasn't the same girl and it wasn't to the dulcet tones of Mr Geils either. The second one had her own way with her I have to say, she was shorter and curvier and danced a lot faster, but it wasn't the same. Nor did the girl reappear on the third night; it was a different one again.

Anyway, by this time my week was up and I had to head off home. It was years later before I was sent back and, yes, I did head to Rose Street on my first night there only to find the pub had had a refurb and there was a potted plant on the stand in the corner. Now, of course, I have no idea what that first go-go dancer looked like. I can't remember her face or her body but every time I hear Centrefold it makes me feel a little sad. Queer bugger aren't I?

Anyway, any of you who feel you might fall within the Edinburgh and surrounding area catchment should pop over to the site and see if you meet the criteria.

In the meantime let me leave you with the video to Centrefold.



J.C. said...

Amazing post Jim, what stuck me about it is the detailed elaboration of your personal ideology about the place (Edinburgh) and your comparison to Glasgow. I guess one can only learn about certain things through the eyes of an insider. Cheers.

McGuire said...

Another belter Jim. I don't know were to begin. I re-read all your essays a number of times.

I love Edinburgh but I realise as a Weegie, I'm not meant to or the native Burghganites don't love Glaswegians. I've been only a handful of times over the last three years, generally staying at some flats and getting wild drunk. Last time I was there was to see Hugh MacMillian and Rachel at the Forest Cafe.

At the end, I met Claire Aschew and a few others, ended up 'befriending' a small crowd and spending the night and morning with them. (I must say many of the people I met seemed to hold me at a distance and be quite dismissive, not sure if that's because I'm a Glasgow boy or because I was over friendly.) But, I've had a great time, although the capital certianly can be quite lonely; ya know, it's not only the volcano that's dormant. ;)

The old sauce/vinegar debate. I love salt and vinegar but I also love brown sauce, though it wasn't until I was in Ediburgh I discovered they put it on regardless.

Love your explanation of the poem, comic and sad in equal measure. I sent a poem to that Edinburgh collection but I wrote it regarding the mighty Edinburgh Rock, I never expected it to get through, because of the odd manner by which I approach the subject (Just posted it on my blog actually).

One thing I'll say about Glaswegians is we can be awfully insular. Literally, we believe Glasgow is the only City that exists, everywhere else is merely a 'weekend outing' and not real in the slighest.

Sorlil said...

Salt and sauce, eh? Well seeing I've never had a chippy in Edinburgh! What can I say, Glasgow just has that nostalgic something about it and the folk are so down-to-earth. I love Glasgow, I lived there from ages 2-9, then travelled up for five years of uni. I'm too used to living out in the sticks to ever want to live in Glasgow again but it's the best city in the world, for sure!

Jim Murdoch said...

Jasko, thanks for that but the fact is that Carrie, a foreigner, an outsider, found exactly the same.

McGuire, you never know about the Edinburgh Rock thing. I like your quirky approach to your subjects.

And, Sorlil, what Carrie was so struck with when she first arrived here was how wee old wifeys at bus stops would start talking to her as if they'd known her all her life. America may have the 'have a nice day' culture but it's so superficial. That said, when I was over there I did have a lovely wee chat with a young black girl who was on her knees mopping up a spill in the soft drinks isle; apart from family she's the only person I remember.

Conda V. Douglas said...

Oh my, Jim, fun post. Odd that the same thing seems to happen everywhere. Here, in Idaho, it's between Boise and...the rest of Idaho. Unlike your story, we know when the animosity started. When Idaho became a state, Hailey had the most population and was the front runner for the capital. Boise won.

Dick said...

I passed through Glasgow in the back of a windowless van at dead of night and spent two days in Edinburgh at a conference so my impressions are somewhat canted. This was a fascinating read, Jim. Great tale at the end.

Jim Murdoch said...

There are those who would argue that in the back of a windowless van is the best way to see Glasgow, Dick.

Jim Murdoch said...

Yes, Conda, there were a few squabbling cities/towns I ran across. People really do like to split into groups based on just about any given criterion.

Marcy said...

Cultural identity is something that I think about quite often. The 'friendly' versus 'lonely' places concept intrigues me. I happen to live in a decidedly non-friendly place - the perceived 'have a nice' day culture of the U.S. is indeed superficial. I call it "corporate friendly" and it irritates me to no end.

You may have just inspired a blog in me as well.

An aside: Still thoroughly enjoying your posts and the fact that this isn't a place one just quickly scans fifteen minutes before leaving for work, or between the other busy-ness of one's day. It's rather like settling down with a good book. So I thank you for that.

Jim Murdoch said...

Marcy, I'm always puzzled how a place can have an identity but they most certainly do. I always tend to think I'm projecting but when you hear a lot of other people talking the same way you do have to wonder.

Glad I'm still managing to come up with the goods as far as the blog goes. Your post is finished - my wife's just proofread it and sent it back to me - but I've completely forgotten what the hell it was all about. It'll probably be up next week. It's not all about you by the way so don't build yourself up for a fall.

Marcy said...

"It's not all about you by the way ..."

Well, thank goodness for that. I think it might be a bit ... odd if it were.

A passing drop of inspiration is just that: a drop. A simple thing indeed. What it turns into is about you, and not at all about me.

Jim Murdoch said...

Well said, Marcy. That's what I get for trying to be clever.

drodbar said...

I've always thought Edinburgh was rather nice, albeit not as attractive as Tobermory.

I do like Glasgow Green.

Jim Murdoch said...

You know, Drodbar, I don't think I've ever been to Tobermory but I did used to live just across the blue bridge from Glasgow Green and I had to cross it every day to go to work. It was not a place I frequented other than that I have to say. I preferred Victoria Park when I lived in Jordanhill in fact that's where my third novel is set. I did get the first paragraph of my fourth novel whilst crossing Glasgow Green so I guess it's not all bad.

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