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.
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.