What’s to be done with 1st March Spring Springing in Edinburgh – other than than to celebrate it? Edinburgh does celebration so well – every day.
Odd, and really rather lovely that, here in Edinburgh, I’ve had three separate conversations about Cornwall today – one of which began, ‘didn’t you write a piece about Apple Blossom and Bay Rum?’ I did. The couple are still in my mind’s eye, beloved characters then, as now. So here, as a brief deviation from Edinburgh, let’s head to Cornwall and …
A warm sunlit bay-window overlooks the ocean. Between two chintz covered wing armchairs a mahogany pedestal table, sweet smelling, polished daily, is an elegant exhibition stand for a large blue and white striped milk jug, a wedding present filled with bright flowers, daffodils preferred in season, for sixty-seven Springs.
Apple Blossom scent, Bay Rum cologne, Toffee pipe tobacco, baking smells wafting from the Aga in the mornings, casseroles and dumplings in the afternoons. He slept, smiling, thankfully home again, in his beloved chair. She read, quietly, overwhelmed with relief, in hers. Thank God for that lovely young surgeon.
I wake up pretty much every morning in Edinburgh wondering just how many more surprises a day in this city will bring. I’ve long ago lost count – every day is full of them – but in a strange way.
Edinburgh makes you feel you’ve always known her, whether you’re standing outside the modern parliament buildings or reading the weathered inscription on a grave dating back to the 1600s. It’s as though you keep bumping into people you know, or knew, anyway, at some point in your life – Robert Louis Stevenson, for example, this warm and sunny Sunday afternoon. And a great Edinburgh builder by the name of John Drysdale, who died in 1829. And you’re trying to remember the name of the lamplighter who carried his ladder each evening to clamber up Edinburgh’s last gas lamp, still in its original position. You knew him – could almost smell his sweet (toffee?) pipe tobacco in your nostrils, and you’ve a vague idea that he had an affectionate name for this lighthouse, I mean … ah, that was it! – he called this lamp ‘Lighthouse’ – but said the name was someone else’s lovely idea, a tribute, perhaps, in an island pool of light for some come to pray, and others come to stay (the Stevenson engineers having keen interest in lighthouses). Where does the memory originate? How do I recall the children (of a family of 10 who lived in the Watchtower) calling this illuminator ‘Uncle Lamp’ ? – while their Papa seemed only interested in folks called ‘Resurrectionist.’
One thing always leads to another here, and another, and another. I’ve made so many photographs during the course of this afternoon’s walk ‘n’ talk with my equally enthusiastic (and extremely knowledgable) companion, that I’ve decided to spread them over the coming days here on windinmywheels. As I keep discovering here, one can only take in so much at once – even though, as I’ve said, everything seems not only staggeringly, eye-wateringly beautiful but also, somehow and wondrously, familiar …
Such a lot of reflection and celebration of the gift of life happens in the wee small hours.
Here, images of the things that matter most to me pass before my eyes – nature, including the still, rooted knowing of plant-life; and the sources, shapes, sounds and touch of warmth, colour, scent, light, shadow, love, nourishment, restoration and rest.
In the wee small hours Edinburgh is largely quiet, and thankfully, and reflectively, so am I …
Proximity to the beach is among the many joys I revel in here in Edinburgh. A ten minute bike ride from my door and the views of sand and sea and sky – changing colour literally by the second – root me to the spot.
Much, much warmer than in recent days, it’s nonetheless still windy and decidedly chilly (what else, in February? – I hear you reply). But the scent and the dream of Spring is in the air – in children pedalling tricycles joyously along the prom, in couples laughing whilst doing stretching exercises on the sand, and in something intangible in the very space of the place that seems to be saying ‘phwoar, it’s gonna be great to get beyond lockdown!’ And in Portobello light, that’s right.
All in an Edinburgh day – from sunlit sea, to sunset, to fireside, to candlelight and shadows during our second power-cut of February 😊
Out and about on my bike today – it’s much, much warmer – so less opportunity for photos. Here’s an abstract though – posted to remind me that I’ve always loved them as an art form, and of the happy half-hour I’ve just spent ‘seeing what can be seen’ in this, or in any abstract. Wonderful tools for stirring imagination.
Edinburgh is a city with whom I am engaged in perpetual discussion! – with architecture, with colour and line, with suddenly come upon and breathtakingly startling vistas, with bookshops, with birdsong, with history (mine and the city’s), with music (I’ll walk a quartermile out of my way to trace the source of the sound of the Pipes), with poetry, wind, hills, coastline – and anticipated conversations with others who are haunted and delighted and vivified by it as well.
Engaged too with the reflection that settles in one’s soul’s having been calmed, and drawn, and enchanted by her colours and her reflections. Edinburgh may certainly be spoken to, but there’s immeasurable benefit to be celebrated in deeply listening to her too. Hers is a hard won, long won, weft and wisdom. And in such slow contemplation there’s a seeing sunrise, sunlight, sunset, moon and starlit spaces behind – whilst simultaneously seeing sunrise, sunlight, sunset, moon and starlit spaces ahead.
Windows into the soul are so important. Here we find ourselves sustained by what’s behind us, and by what is – here in this city, in this ‘window’, right now, and by the light that calls us forward. All this, so often seen in one and the same windowpane. In a bookshop, or a stationers, or our own home, or our own dreams, or – most beautiful among the firmament of the windows of the soul – the eyes of family or friend or beloved.
All this discussion, contemplation and reflection steadily leads us inexorably to metamorphosis – gives wings to ‘The Extraordinary Life,’ to ‘The Boy (or Girl) Who Loved,’ to what ‘Bunheads’ might think of as the Dance of Life. And a certain being at home with oneself, be the days warm or cold, happy or sad: all the while growing …
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Cities and their great institutions – universities, houses of prayer, mills and factories, shops and markets, homes and schools, sculpture, memorial, resting places, valediction and welcome, and the public parks and gathering spaces – are ‘slideshows’ in time. They speak of things seen in the gradations of light in the great sky and set before the horizon; they speak of some of what has happened in the past, distant and near, tough and rough and cruel and brilliant and tender and faithful and hopeful; the stuff of idiocy and of genius.
Cities speak of arriving and of going places; of walls that both invite and contain, of the costs of being outside and unaffordable tolls required of those inside; of pathways that turn out to be cul de sacs and of roads that lead everywhere; of what has happened, may happen, does happen, is happening, and did not happen (!) on the ground and under the ground – of the spiral staircases of life, up and down.
Cities speak of education, enlightenment and evolution; of the facile, the festival, the facetious and the febrile; of vivacity, dance and delight, love and devotion, mind-numbingly hard work, inspirationally creative industry, song and silliness, theatre, treachery, tragedy and trial, and of human preoccupation with opinions, felt (and sometimes misguided) ‘certainties,’ personally felt needs and desires, and the detail and consequences, for self and for others, of death.
Cities speak of soaring aspirations, of the sciences, of art, and of the arts, and of order and design – ancient and modern; and of diving, descent and despair, darkness, and the mysteries of the going and of the sudden returns of the light. They speak of brilliance and of ordinariness, of mediocrity and of the magnificent, of major and minor, of the sullen and the lacklustre, and of the searching, smiling and the shining. Of viewpoints and of voyages, of foresight, far sight and hindsight. They speak of kinship and of separateness, of arrivals and of departures, of poverty and of wealth.
Cities speak of what has been said and of what has been left unsaid. They speak of the cartography of life; of governance, of justice and of injustice, of love and of hate, of forgiveness and of punishment, and of tenderness (like leaving sticks at his grave for a beloved and faithful dog, Bobby, whose very own tombstone at Greyfriars was unveiled by the Duke of Gloucester as testament to his own watchful and abiding faithfulness.)
Cities speak of you and me, of what we hear, feel, aspire to, long for, believe in, want to eat, touch and be touched by, smell, reach out to, and see. We do well to try to read cities like Edinburgh – and to walk well, with good friends and family, in and around and to and through and returning to them. My thoughtful companion today asked me to reflect with her upon the power and the wonder that lies in what we, human city builders, both do and say. These things may well be remembered. How many decades have passed, she wondered aloud, in which the words of John Barbour, who lived between 1320 and 1395, have been thought sufficiently important that they should be passed on – some day to be inscribed in stone, in Scotland’s glorious capital city?
City ‘slideshows’ of history, present, and aspired to future – together with our words – matter.
Fredome is a noble thing
John Barbour, 1320-1395
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Don’t ever come to Edinburgh if you don’t want to be smitten by it, big time! Thank you, Tracy – charismatic and knowledgeable Edinburgh enthusiast and super conversationalist – for the wonderful tour of Stockbridge you gave me this morning, braving the beautiful but treacherous ice and snow to do so!
My first reader at primary school was a book I loved then and treasure yet – more than half a century later! It featured a dog called Tip and a kitten called Mitten. I’ve since encountered many a Mitten but never dear old Tip, until this morning in Stockbridge – long retired now, obviously. Warm and contented today, and becushioned on a wonderful sill with an interesting view, I fancied he was glad to see me. I thanked him for teaching me to read, but forgot to ask how he wound up in Scotland. You’ll have spotted Tip on your way down here. And I imagine you’ll also have smiled a greeting to a Stockbridge-Scottish Snowman who’s hoping, post-lockdown, to catch the first flight out to Hawaii. And you’ve almost certainly slowed a couple of times to gaze into wonderful bookshops, and – because who could be without one? – the most glorious old oil-lamp shop you’ve ever seen, or could have imagined.
Who was it that was telling me a day or two ago that Edinburgh is mysterious and enchanting and beguiling? She may, perchance, come to read this, and be glad, too, to have met up with Tip and a Tartan-Capped Edinburgh Snowman who hopes to be headed for some sunshine. To her, because she was and is right; and again now to Tracy; and to properly socially-distanced hosts at The Howdah; and to one of the city’s friendliest taxi-drivers; and to snowy Edinburgh her glorious self: thank you!
happy 85th birthday today to my dear and youthful Mum
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