Saturday, 26 June 2010

Somewhere in between

Ah wis staunin up at the Tap o the Walk the other day. Ah had been up toun layin flooers at a grave, an ah jist stopped fer a meenit oan the way hame, an tried tae picture in ma mind's een the auld hooses an the new developments they're proposin fer the area. They're important plans, fer the entry fae Leith intae Embra's aye been a busy urban junction, wi a lang history, yin that cannae be easy shoved aside an forgotten. Ah've lost count o the nummer o times ah've passed that way, on fit or oan a tram, oan the back o a bus or the back o a tractor, up an doon, an then back up again. Aw the time Leith Walk's been open, ah've used it, an afore they built the Walk, ah wid come up the Leith Loan tae Greenside, mibbe nip in at Picardy an see ma pal Jean, then tak a left at the Black Bull, doon past St Ninian's Raw an doon the Lower Calton tae the fit o Leith Wynd, then up the wynd past the Happy Lands an in at the Netherbow Port, say if ah wis headin tae the High Street fer some messages. Sometimes ah wid jist stop at Jean's an no get ony further...

If ye bide in the toun long enough, ye're sooner or later bound tae find yersel swingin roon that big roundabout, bein glowered ower by the lumberin beasts o Calton Hill an the St James an the Omni, wi big wa's o gless an concrete flashin afore yer een, wee shop-fronts an statues an trees an corners wi streets aw gang aglay an church-fronts aw wheechin past yer vision. It can feel a bit like bein oan the Jungle Ride at the shows, in fact a lot o the folk walkin past the area look like they've jist got aff the shows. Mibbe they're lookin fer a shootin gallery or a chairoplanes...

It's a lively area, lang kent as a gaitherin place, as a place o fancies an dances. We've had circuses an preachins an hingins an ither entertainments. Ah mind, no sae many year ago, how excited we were as we aw gaithered tae watch the Kinetic Sculpture when it wis pit up. Ye can see the Kinetic Sculpture in the photie up there at the tap. The roundaboot wis a lot bigger then, an there were nae trees, they had knocked doon aw the Greenside tenements oan the left an er, left a big dryin green, an the pavements were aw huddled against the sides o a huge empty space. It wis like three hunner square yaird o barren concrete an gress, wi whit looked like a dozen or so scaffoldin poles rigged up in the centre as a tower, wi fluorescent tubes attached tae the poles. The idea bein that the tubes wid light up dependin oan whit way the wind wis blawin an how hard it wis blawin, an it wid look like a Space-Age Christmas Tree, Mr Heath's 'Europe' come tae Embra. It wis oor Atomium, Modren Airt, in oor ain wee toun, were we no the bees knees? Me an ma pal Maisie Crabbit had got loused early fae oor work tae come doon fer the grand switchin-oan o the lichts, expectin there tae be a big crowd an a lot o shovin tae get tae the front, but it wis sic a dreich efternin an sae bitter cauld that nae ither bugger had showed face! The streets were emptier than a wet Sunday!

Ye see, tae pit ye in the picture, this wis durin the Emergency in '73, when Ted Heath wis gaun in the huff wi the miners, the Commonwealth were gaun in the huff wi the British an the Arabs were gaun in the huff wi abody else, an the country wis runnin oot o petrol, o coal, o power, o sugar, even o tinned pineapples, an a'body wis depressed. Ye had tae keep an eye oan the telly tae see when ye were gettin yer electricity cut-aff, an ye couldnae keep yer fire oan aw day, an ah had tae wear troosers under ma frock. The cooncil had tae be seen tae be daein their bit o belt-tichtenin an aw, so aw they had sent along this day wis an auld man wi a box, an aw he could play wis "Green Green Grass o Home" an "Chirpy Chirpy Tweet Tweet" an he looked a bit skelly when he smiled ower, which he wis daein far too often so ah had tae keep pittin masel somewhere in between him an Maisie. Ah had telt her if she cam doon Leith Street wi me she wid get a thrill but that's no whit ah had in mind. At last the corporation laddie threw a switch fer the lights, an ye ken whit Maisie an I got? Ah'll tell ye whit we got. We got a meenit. Yin lousy meenit o flashin lights then nothin. Darkness. An "Chirpy Chirpy Tweet Tweet"...

The cooncil couldnae afford tae pay fer the electricity. Consequently the thing wis nivver switched oan an it jist stood there lookin like a bit o lonesome left-ower scaffoldin. The cooncil took it doon eventually an tried tae pretend it nivver existed. Ah dae believe it's still takin up space in yin o the cooncillors' gairden huts. Ye aften hear folk stoppin in the street an gaun 'Intit a shame' an 'ah fair miss it me', but ah cannae see them pittin it back up somehow. They likely couldnae switch it oan anyhow, ah'm sure it must've had a roond-pin plug oan it...

Of course there nivver used tae be a big empty space there. Aw naw. There used tae be a triangular block o tenements fu o faimlies facin ontae Picardy Place, Greenside Place, an the top pairt o Broughton Street, which used tae continue up past the cathedral till it met Leith Street. If ye can imagine the Greenside frontage, lookin oantae the Omni, as bein oan a line wi a lower continuation o Little King Street comin doon the back o John Lewis, which by the by is a wee joke ah'll tell ye aboot some day, ye'll hae the picture. This block wis demolished in the 60s tae make way fer an inner ring-road intersection that nivver came aboot, thank the lord. They wantit tae drive a dual-carriageway richt through the toun an alang Queens Street, can ye imagine? That nivver happened. We're lucky in a way that sae many o their great plans fer oor touns nivver come tae pass, but then, mibbe it wis aw fer the best, fer if we hadnae levelled aw thae hooses, whaur wid we have put the Kinetic Sculpture?


  1. Ye seen the wee gunslinger lately Sophia?
    Ma wee Spanish mate is still lookin fur his drumkit...

  2. Ye see a lot o' sights doon the Walk, many o' which ye wish ye hadnae. An auld wummin pushin a pram fu' o' drums aw the way doon the Walk past Balfour Street stoppin at the Store oan the way fer milk an' fags an' bumpin intae auld Mrs Fairgrieve an' her funny brother an' haein tae spin a tale aboot jynin the Sally Army is yin ah've nivver seen.

    No noo, no iver, no nivver. Honest.

  3. I love the way to tell a story... I can see it so vividly...

    I hope you write for a living.... it's better than doing stairs.....

  4. Ah guess ah wis born tae scrub tris, but ah mind sayin the same thing tae ma pal Muriel when we baith did stairs in Marchmont. Ah said tae her 'Muriel' ah said 'ye should try writin fer money. Ye could write aboot that teacher that bides up number 14, aye the stuck-up yin that looks doon her nose at ye an' only geied ye half a croon fer yer Christmas last year. Her that's got a photie o' Mussolini hingin in her lobby'

    She did as well. Ah've no heard fae Muriel since, but ah dinnae mind. She wisnae the hardest scrubber an' she nivver did her bannisters right so she wis nae loss tae the stair-cleanin industry.

  5. Any idea where the Kinetic Sculpture is noo? I used tae love that hing.

  6. Ah'm afraid no naldo, ah wish ah did. Like as no it'll be sttin rustin awa in that cooncillors hut still. Ah tell ye it wis afore its time. If it wis tae be pit up noo, fowk wid rave aboot it. If no at Picardy Place ah could see it back up doon at the Modren Art Gallery. Whit ah huv found tho, is twa lovely wee photies o' it oan Flickr. Here, hae a wee peek...

  7. Quality pics, thanks for that.

    Aye it hardly ivir worked but when it did, it wis thr biz.

    Nice tae see maroon buses makin a comeback anaw - that Liz Hurley dress thing's been an ongoin disgrace.