Literary Lockdown

Being under house arrest is no fun for anyone (at least with a small home)… However, I have been reading on Twitter that independent bookshops have received a massive boost in online sales during the lockdown. So perhaps there are one or two silver linings, in among the horror.

The other bonus is that I have been rediscovering the local area. I have to walk a couple of miles every day, and “staying in” for a few days, as recommended, has given me one or two non-CV19 health issues. The weather has been generally beautiful, and I have tended to go for quieter places. That means no Water of Leith, no Union Canal (at least from Wester Hailes down), and even staying off St John’s Road most of the time. Instead, I have been to Cammo (which is a bit too busy, but has quiet spots), Gogarbank (which is very quiet), Lennie (which is also quiet), Ratho and so on. All of these have their little secrets. It has also been delightful to explore some of the places near the airport without the constant thunder of planes…

However, I regret to say my personal reading has gone to pot. I am getting back into it, but I have been finding it hard to read, and to write too, because I have to spend a lot of my time walking to compensate for my health trouble. Nothing has gone to plan. (In case you’re wondering, the next book on my reading list is Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke.)

I certainly won’t be reading anything related to the Covid lockdown. This is despite being recommended the likes of the Andromeda Strain and Contagion by Amazon. No Love in the Time of Cholera or Death in Venice either.

Joking aside, CV19 has brought out the best and worst in people. Some folk act as if nothing is happening, and don’t seem to be aware one can transmit it without having little or no symptoms yourself. I have been particularly disturbed by the notion that the disease doesn’t exist. I can assure you it does. A friend of mine in the US has just spent two weeks in hospital with this supposedly imaginary virus, and is spending another week in quarantine at a hotel. He is physically tough for his age, thank God, and is recovering, but CV19  was all too real for him and his family. I don’t doubt that authoritarians would love to use the lockdown as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties after this is over – more phone tracking, making it easier for folk to be locked up without trial etc…  and all the latent Fascists and Stalinists have been creeping out of the woodwork, but notion that this horrible disease doesn’t exist is just plain wrong.

Anyway, I hope all of you are staying safe and well. Remember this is a good time to catch up on those doorstoppers you’ve put aside for a rainy day, or even to take up a new hobby. Lockdown is horrible, but we can at least make it bearable.

Tam Dean Burn attack

Earlier this month, a friend texted me, that the actor Tam Dean Burn had been knifed outside the Scottish Poetry Library. I looked online, and found all the major news outlets were carrying the story. The details were very hazy – he had been attending a memorial event for Tom Leonard at the Scottish Poetry Library by the Canongate, when a man attacked him in the street and stabbed him in the neck.

Nasty stuff, but Tam says he’s recovering well, and the man responsible has been arrested and charged. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Various rumours did the rounds. Was it politically motivated? Tam is pretty vocal about his views. Or was it as the papers tried to say, because the attacker had recognised him from River City? Well I don’t buy that. I think it was simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Edinburgh has a fair share of “radges” and that’s probably the simplest answer.

Clermiston Roots

Tam’s family is originally from Leith, and moved to Clermiston when he was very small. His brother is Russell Burn, who played in bands such as Win and the Fire Engines, and Tam himself was in a few.  He featured in the Big Gold Dream documentary.

Acting Career

Tam went to Craigmount High School iu the seventies, and would have been a near contemporary of the photographer Colin Jarvie and the novelist Louise Welsh. More importantly, Craigmount had a well respected drama department at the time, which was led by Ken Morley.

Tam is best known for his stage work, but he has appeared on both the big screen and the small one many times. Sometimes you’ll catch him reciting the works of Burns around that time of January, and other times you’ll see him playing historical characters in the likes of last year’s Outlaw King about Robert the Bruce, or Outlander, which is highly popular internationally. His first film appearance seems to have been Local Hero back in 1983. He has also appeared on a wide range of TV series including Fortitude and Taggart.

He has also appeared in a number of book adaptations, which include the 1990s Acid House based on Irvine Welsh and Young Adam based on Alexander Trocchi.

External Links

* Actor Tam Dean Burn stabbed after poetry event (BBC)

* Tam Dean Burn stabbed in Edinburgh street

* Tam Dean Burn page on IMDB

 

Buy Literary Corstorphine!

 

If you have enjoyed this blog, why not consider buying the book? It’s a unique & ideal Christmas gift for anyone with links to this area. I include a lot in the book that doesn’t appear on this blog at all, such as maps and even more detailed discussion of some of the subject matter. Many people have told me that they were amazed about the content, and that they were completely unaware of it beforehand.

You can buy Literary Corstorphine for £9.99 from Gee’s/Corstorphine Post Office, which is on the corner of Station Road and St John’s Road. If you can’t see it on display, please ask to see a copy.

If you live nearer Leith than Corstorphine, it is also available in the Scottish Design Exchange shop, which is on the first floor of Ocean Terminal. Directions and details can be found by clicking this blue link.

You can also buy it online at Lulu.com (click on this blue link).

I know a lot of people expect content for free, but remember content creators can’t all live for free!

And to all of those who have bought copies, thank you! I have sold a number of copies already, but I do appreciate all sales.

 

Hidden History: Station Road & the east of Corstorphine

In this piece, I write about the eastern part of Corstorphine – Olympic athletes, artists, some lost local buildings and the Oscar-winning actress Rachel Weisz.

Colin Jarvie (1962-2012)

Colin Jarvie was an acclaimed photographer, who grew up on Traquair Park West, and later went to Craigmount High School. I only got to meet Colin a couple of times, though I knew his parents a bit. Colin was extremely disillusioned, and had just returned to Edinburgh from London, so I think it is fair enough to say that I didn’t catch him at a good time.

Colin was mixed race and adopted by a white couple. He talked about his experience of interracial adoption on the radio and elsewhere. While at university, someone once referred to Colin as a “black bastard”. He replied, “You’re right, I am black and I am a bastard.”

Some of his earliest work was photographing some of the bands on the Fast Product label. These would have included some of the bands that he was at school with at Craigmount (and I discuss some of them in my review of the Big Gold Dream documentary: he was also a near contemporary of the novelist Louise Welsh)

He moved to London in 1982, where he became involved with the London College of Printing. He later taught at the LCP. In 1986, he “discovered” a very young Rachel Weisz and photographed her for Rimmel. Weisz has always acknowledged his role in launching her career, and would attend his funeral in 2012.*

Grant Jarvie (1955-)

20180419_151148
Just a couple of Grant Jarvie’s books

Professor Grant Jarvie is Colin’s older brother. He is notable for books on sport.

It is interesting to note that two of Grant Jarvie’s early books were about the role of race in sport. They were written in the apartheid era, but one wonders whether Colin’s own experiences of racism were any influence in this matter.

On a more personal note, Prof. Jarvie has written about the sporting careers of his parents David and Margaret, who were both top level swimmers at the Olympic level; David later became a member of the GB Olympic water polo team.

The Paddockholm

Chris_Hoy_at_the_Homecoming_Parade_(cropped)
Chris Hoy

The Paddockholm is the actual site of the old Corstorphine Station, which Station Road takes its name from. The station was built in 1902, nationalised in the 1940s, and shut in 1968. The Paddockholm estate itself was built in 1983 by MacTaggart & Mickel who seem to have built half this area. (South Gyle Mains, some of East Craigs, Broomhall & Wester Broom in a very differ.)

There is very little now to suggest that the Paddockholm was once a station. At the far end, there is a footpath leading down the old line, through the former Pinkhill Station* and down to Balgreen. Otherwise, the Paddockholm’s railway past is best reflected in the big wall along its north side, and its narrow shape. There are plenty of bossy signs in the Paddockholm – mainly about how evil cold callers are. And cold they may be, since the Paddockholm rarely ever seems to be gritted or cleared of snow during the depths of winter…

“Paddockholm” as a field name long predates the railway, and originally refers to the frogs or “puddocks” that used to live there. “Holm” merely referred to a piece of dry land in the marsh surrounding Corstorphine and its loch.

In his autobiography, Chris Hoy speaks about how he used to used to play on this abandoned line as a boy. Hoy grew up on the boundary between Corstorphine and Murrayfield – I gather his relatives used to run one of the local garages.

Traquair Park

This street is where the aforementioned Jarvies lived. It has some terraced housing at its west end, but mostly consists of bungalows. I have it on good authority that the terrace is built on a bitumen mat to protect its foundations from damp. It seems you can take the loch out of Corstorphine, but you can’t take Corstorphine out of the loch.

Traquair Park was built around 1890, and was originally a cul-de-sac. It takes its name from Maud Traquair, who was the mother of John & W. Traquair Dickson who were proprieters of Corstorphine House at the time. In 1925, the street was divided up into east and west sections.

We won’t keep the Red Flag flying here!

20180409_172730 (1)
The Auld Kirk seen through Corstorphine House Avenue

Station Road was built around the turn of the twentieth century. Like Castle Avenue, it takes its name from a long demolished feature, in this case Corstorphine Railway Station. But there are several others:

  • The former Chinese Consulate was near the corner of Station Road with Traquair Park West (number 43 I believe). When the People’s Republic of China decided to move their consulate out of Corstorphine, you might have thought that they would choose somewhere more proletarian instead… but far from it! The red flag now flies over Corstorphine Road in Murrayfield, next to the local tennis club. Arguably this reflects the somewhat confused politico-economic identity of the latter-day PRC. After the Chinese moved out of the consulate on Station Road, it was demolished, and a new block of flats built. Whether this was an economic decision, or something more cloak and dagger, I’ve no idea. The PRC has demolished vast swathes of historic buildings in the name of progress, particularly in cities such as Beijing, so this action is consistent with their more general policies.
  • Corstorphine House. This lends its name to several streets in the area including Corstorphine House Avenue and Corstorphine House Terrace.
  • The old archives, which were beside the Paddockholm. Truth be told, these were ugly warehouses, and won’t be missed by me. These have been replaced by flats in the last couple of years.

Notes

  • It is worth mentioning that Rachel Weisz’s sister Minnie is also a professional photographer. I couldn’t go to Colin’s funeral, because ironically I was at someone else’s.
  • Pinkhill Station still retains its old platforms and the former ticket office can be seen on the bridge above – this used to serve the zoo.

Picture Credits

From Wikimedia Commons CC by SA:

  • Rachel Weisz – Credit: Neil Grabowsky/Montclair Film.
  • Chris Hoy – Credit: Mark Harkin

The pictures of the Auld Kirk and Grant Jarvie’s book covers were taken by me.

External links

Literary Britain & Open Plaques

Corstorphine_Hill_Tower
I have plenty of pictures of Corstorphine Hill Tower, but here is one by  Mrabbits from Wikipedia.

Literary Corstorphine began because I felt that the heritage of this part of Edinburgh was being ignored. I hope that both the blog and the book will go some way to rectifying this.

Most of us city dwellers now live in suburbs, for better or worse. The city centre may be more accessible, and its history may be better documented and often more obvious, but every part of Edinburgh has some kind of history. Often unexpected.

Open Plaques

Open Plaques is a project to try and document various commemorative plaques around the world. It appears to be American, and at times can be irritating – for example it assumes most plaques in Scotland have been erected by English Heritage, even though that body doesn’t operate here (or indeed NI, Wales, the IOM, Channel Islands etc).

Again, while most plaques are in the centre of Edinburgh, many can be found scattered around elsewhere, and I have managed to get several west Edinburgh plaques included on the site:

  • Wilfred Owen’s on Tynecastle High School. (Not photographed yet. I intend to do this, but it is a school, so I will have to probably phone them first.) I have written about Owen’s time there in “Wilfred Owen & Tynecastle High”.
  • Helen Cruickshank’s plaque on Dinnieduff (Hillview Terrace, Corstorphine). See “Dinnieduff: The Promised Land”.
  • Corstorphine Hill Tower, which is dedicated to Walter Scott.
  • I have also photographed the plaque on the White Lady on St John’s Road. While I’m not so sure about including a Wetherspoon’s pub plaque, it does include detail about local history which I have dealt with in my articles “Western Gothic” and “Ghosts, UFOs and other such things”.

I’ve also added a few elsewhere in Edinburgh.

Literary Britain

While my blog attempts to be (shamelessly) ultra-localised, readers may be interested in “Literary Britain” as well. Despite its name, it covers Ireland and other parts of the world too. They have compiled an excellent map of the UK, which can be seen here. Hopefully this map will continue to become more detailed. And of course, I had to do my bit, and suggested Clermiston Tower/Corstorphine Hill Tower (see above), which is probably one of Edinburgh’s most underrated literary monuments.

Well worth a look. The latest entry is a discussion of E.M. Forster:

“I am lucky enough to work in Stevenage. Admittedly, this is not a phrase that you will hear very often but, nevertheless, I consider myself quite lucky. I have previously written about the astounding variety of literary heritage to be found near this Hertfordshire new town and, from time to time, I get to explore.”

As I am always keen to point out, literary heritage often pops up in the most unexpected of places. This is applies to Stevenage as much as somewhere like South Gyle or Livingston. Just because a town is “new”, doesn’t mean it lacks history.

Links to Open Plaques pages

 

For a Multilingual Edinburgh

20180811_122612
A “shelfie” of part of my library including Gaelic novels, alongside Mencius, Cervantes, Goethe, Patrick Süskind (the painting is Das Parfum), Turgenev etc in the original languages… an interest in Gaelic does not somehow block other languages…

I have tried hard to steer clear of party politics on this blog, but it greatly saddens me to see our MSP Alex Cole Hamilton try and use Scottish Gaelic as a soft target for campaigning. He seems to think if you are interested in Gaelic, you can’t be interested in other languages, despite all the research saying otherwise. Children in Gaelic Medium Education consistently outperform the other schools when it comes to learning French, German, Spanish etc. Frankly, ACH’s tweet reeks of  the “many of my best friends are […], but” mentality.

I am glad to say this attitude has not been shared by all of his party. Christine Jardine MP has said that she is supportive of Gaelic, and both Donald Gorrie and Margaret Smith have been positive about it too. The late Iain Farquhar Munro (Iain Fearchar Rothach) was a native speaker and a champion of Gaelic in the Lib Dems, and will probably be turning in his grave at these comments.

Well, I happen to be one of Alex Cole Hamilton’s constituents. I vote in pretty much every election. I think I have only missed one in twenty plus years. I have my own views, but I am not currently a member of any political party. I have voted for several different parties in the past, and yes, one of them happened to be the Lib Dems. Comments like this don’t endear me to them.

Literary Corstorphine will always back the Gaelic language. Many languages can be seen and heard in this constituency of course, and it is wrong to pitch them against each other, to say Polish is better than Cantonese or Urdu is superior to Broad Scots. Yet that is precisely what has happened here, and it seems to be becoming more and more common in British politics.

Our local Gaelic heritage

Djhm6gAXcAEU8P6
Lennie and Cammo on the western edge of the city. Both of these names derive from Gaelic – Lèanaidh means a meadow or land in a river bend, while Camach refers to the meanders themselves.

Does Corstorphine have a Gaelic heritage? Yes, more than you might think. Names like Drumbrae (Druim Bràighe), Cammo (Camach), Lennie (Lèanaidh), Carrick Knowe (Carraig) and Balgreen (Baile Grèine) all originate from it. Go up to Edinburgh Park and you can find busts of poets such as Iain Crichton Smith and Sorley MacLean, while more recently Gaelic writers such as William Neill and Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir have lived locally.

I write about Corstorphine’s Gaelic links in my book.

How to Bury a body like Wendy – Corstorphine Festival 2018

Dii4fExXkAA8OG2
The Corstorphine Festival Bingo Card: I think I mentioned all but two of these.

Literary Corstorphine has talked a lot about writing, but not very much on how to write. In this post, I’ll talk about just that, with a bit of a hand from several published authors.

If you get a bit stuck, kill someone.” – Wendy H. Jones

Who could say this but a crime writer and get away with it?

On Wednesday, 30th May, the Hub on St John’s Road, Edinburgh hosted Corstorphine Festival’s Writers’ Night. Hosted by Corstorphine’s own Cecilia Peartree, the line up included Wendy H. Jones down from Dundee, Jane Riddell, Ann Stenhouse, and Kate Blackadder. As well as crime, these ladies have published in genres as varied as science fiction, YA (Young Adult), children’s, family relationship, historical romance and literary fiction.

I include some potted biographies of the other writers below, but some of the discussion may be of interest. These are taken from my own, somewhat chaotic notes.

Literary Corstorphine

Yours truly opened the discussion, and pointed out that I was something of a “rank amateur” compared to the rest of the line-up. I was the only one discussing non-fiction (or is it fiction? Let’s not go all meta!) Anyway, I hope to gear this blog post more towards other people’s opinions!

Talking of murder…

My own question: There being a lot of murder writers around these days, I asked the obvious… how do they research certain subject matter without causing too much alarm to the authorities? Looking up firearms and body decomposition online will probably land you on a watch list!

Me: I jokingly suggested no Google as an answer to this quandary. They store everything.

Wendy H. Jones fielded this question. She had worked in medicine, including a stint in an eye hospital in east Jerusalem where she would frequently encounter members of the public who had severe injury or trauma to other parts of their bodies. This meant that she is already au fait with a number of medical details.

She cultivated a friend in the police in Dundee and discussed. They will be able to provide you with a lot of up-to-date information.

  • Crime has been changed. Bodies can be fingerprinted and processed through the database in five minutes for example.
  • MITs (mobile incident teams) are also deployed across Scotland, since the merger of the forces.

Wendy admits “you have to play a little fast and loose” when it comes to such matters.

Research

Audience question: “How do you put yourself into the mindset of historical characters?”

Anne Stenhouse: She is adamant that she writes historical romance, and not historical fiction. Some research is necessary, but not so much as to bog the project down.

Anne points out that the position of women in the Regency Period was extremely different. Girls did not speak to adults in the same fashion that they do now. Women were effectively property until/unless they came to be widows – if that happened, then they gained a certain level of rights which were otherwise delegated to their fathers or husbands.

Wendy H. Jones: Two of her young adult novels are set in historic cultures: The Warriors in China and another is set in ancient Egypt. Wendy says that research is important as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the book.

Cecilia Peartree: Setting some of her work in 1950s Berlin provided a number of challenges, particularly as the city has been constantly changing over the past sixty years or so.

Consistency

And now onto the bane of writers (and film producers)… consistency. The way to deal with this problem is to go over your work thoroughly, and making charts & notes to keep track of it. And before publication, it is wise to have a number of people go over it, to try and find what you have missed. The ladies were extremely open about some of the issues that they had encountered in their own work.

Jane Riddell: Jane found out that one of her character was pregnant for 18 months.

Cecilia Peartree: Among her writing issues were a dog which had three different names in a single novel, and a baby which changed gender.

Wendy H. Jones: She recommends keeping tight control of what your characters look like – be consistent with things like eye/hair colour etc. All of this can be achieved through keeping notes separate to the story itself.

Other problems

The writers also pointed out some miscellaneous problems encountered by today’s writers:

Kate Blackadder: Kate points out that there has been a sharp decline in magazine outlets, partly due to the internet.

Jane Riddell: Jane discussed the difficulty of finding a readership within cyberspace. She also says people often have to see something seven times for it to stick in their mind. Advertisers know this, which is why they are so persistent in repeating images.

Cecilia Peartree: There is a danger of real life intruding too much into novels. Cecilia does a lot of work in committees and there is the concern that if this features in her work too much that people will assume it is based on her real life and Corstorphine in general.

Chewing Gum on the Mantelpiece

Wendy H. Jones: Chewing gum on the mantelpiece is a metaphor for something mentioned early in a novel. It has to be relevant later in the plot, because a crime reader will assume it is a clue in the plot, and will be disappointed if it is left unresolved.

She has to do a lot of plotting “to keep track of the bodies and to control the police” within the story.

Characters that bully you

Wendy H. Jones: Sometimes she says “characters start to bully you”, i.e. they start to take on their own identity and dictate to you their likes & dislikes. This can sometimes be little planned. One character, for example, she felt would be a whisky drinker as she was writing the story.

My own trumpet

I talked about Corstorphine’s links to Elizabeth Gaskell, Dickens etc, the sculptures of writers in South Gyle and read out the Rival Bellmen by the local writer Robert Cuddie.

On a very different note, the audience learnt about Daphne du Maurier’s uncle. He was a one-time editor of the Daily Mail, who held some unusual notions about Edinburgh. Were Corstorphine Hill and Gogar featured in the Bible? Probably not, but he thought so.

Biographies

Jane Riddell

Jane writes novels and short stories about exotic locales and often uses photographs for inspiration. She works within contemporary fiction, and the family relationship genre. She has also written a series of books featuring a cat… the Bakhtin Chronicles, based on the Russian philosopher of the same name.

Her non-fiction work – Words’Worth: a fiction writer’s guide to serious editing – speaks for itself.

Anne Stenhouse

Anne writes historical romance, which is often set in Regency London. She sometimes uses Edinburgh’s New Town for inspiration. Her other works include a novel about Travellers set in Midlothian & a new novel set in the world of community theatre.

Kate Blackadder

Kate writes novels, short stories & serials, many of which are set in Scotland e.g. Melrose, Edinburgh and the Highlands. She says it is easier to set short stories in various locations than novels, as they require less grounding.

Her stories have been published in a number of places, but she has put them into three collections, which are available on Kindle.

Her breakthrough came after winning a competition in The People’s Friend.

Wendy H. Jones
Wendy writes about crime in Dundee, which is apparently the murder capital of Scotland. It is also, as she told us, the last resting place of one of the prime suspects in the Jack the Ripper case – William Henry Bury, who was executed at the Bell Street Police Station.

She has had two series of crime novels published and a third on the way. Many of these start with the word “Killer” e.g. Killer’s Crypt, Killer’s Craft etc. Her protagonist is D.I. Shona McKenzie, a native of Dundee, who was raised in Oxford and thus brings something of an outsider’s eye to the city.

Wendy has also written YA novels – the Fergus & Flora series, and a children’s book, called Bertie the Buffalo.

Cecilia Peartree

Cecilia Peartree is the pen name of a locally based author, who largely writes crime novels, and has also dipped her toe into science fiction.

Her crime novels are set in the fictional Fife town of Pitkirtly. She has also used 1950s Berlin & Barcelona as backdrops to her work.

External links

 

 

 

Sheena Blackhall on Angus Calder

Sheena_Blackhall
Sheena Blackhall

Chapman  magazine has produced a commemorative issue celebrating the life of Angus Calder (1942-2008) – number 110, if you wish to seek it out. I have discussed Angus a wee bit previously in my piece on Byron and Scotch Reviewers, and I give him a substantial entry in the book. It is quite amazing to think that it is nearly ten years since he passed away. I have many thoughts about how he was treated by certain people later in life,  especially certain academics, which are not fit to repeat… however, Joy Hendry, who edits Chapman certainly never fell into that category, and I witnessed her myself visiting him right up until the end.

 

Angus Calder

It is very difficult to pigeonhole Angus Calder. He was a poet to some people, a literary critic to others, a historian to yet other people, and an Edinburgh character to others. You find him in many places – he wrote an episode of The World at War; he was instrumental in helping modern East African literature emerge; he wrote on Byron, and he was also an erstwhile political campaigner. He could sometimes be mercurial and controversial, other times friendly, sometimes highbrow, and sometimes his common touch belied his background and career. His knowledge of sport was also frighteningly detailed.

As I say, there isn’t really enough space here to discuss him fully.

Sheena Blackhall

Ms Blackhall is probably the most notable living poet from the north east, and often writes in a very natural form of Doric. I was interested to see her poem Woodland Burial: Angus Calder 1942-2008 was included in Chapman, as I happened to be at the funeral at Corstorphine Hill Cemetery myself. It captures much of the atmosphere of Angus’ burial, his family members, his ex’s, and the songs and poetry.  She says, “You lie near a row of Polish generals” – these are very much visible as you enter the woodland burial section of the graveyard. One or two details have been excluded from the poem – the man who asked Angus’ son Gideon to “speak up” is mercifully missing.

Picture Credits

Sheena Blackhall  / CC BY-SA 2.0

The picture of Elizabeth Gaskell originates on Wikipedia, and falls under the creative commons licence. The picture was uploaded by the subject herself.

External links

John Herdman and the zoos of Edinburgh

In this piece, I discuss John Herdman who has featured Edinburgh Zoo in his work on a number of occasions… which leads me onto another Edinburgh zoo of a slightly different nature.

Introducing John Herdman

Pagan’s Pilgrimage (1978) was my first exposure to John Herdsman’s work, back in the nineties. Back then I used to go on holiday in Pitlochry in Perthshire, and would often go on short trips to the surrounding towns and villages. John and his wife Mary used to run a second-hand bookshop in a converted petrol station in Blair Atholl, which was the next stop up the line.

Many years later, and John & Mary both moved to Edinburgh, where they became involved in the revival of The Heretics, which I discussed earlier on this blog. This is how I came to know him, and I am also immensely grateful to him for contributing a foreword to the book of Literary Corstorphine.

Herdman’s works are more firmly rooted in Scottish literary tradition than many contemporary writers, who seem to have forgotten about it entirely. Herdman’s works has a kind of magical realist, or even Gothic. quality about them – the settings are often mundane enough, but the plot elements and characters are not.

Memoirs of my Aunt Minnie (1974)

In Memoirs of my Aunt Minnie we meet Mr. Crum:

“Mr. Crum was older than Mr. Clinkscales and had not always been a waiter. For many years he had held the post of keeoer in the Reptile House at the Zoological Park, Edinburgh, and during this period seemed to have taken upon himself something of the reptilian nature, for he had the hooded lids of a snake and experienced no greater delight than spitting venom from a lipless mouth. He had the tensed, seeking nostrils of an animal and his blood heat was the subject of persistent though unconfirmed rumours. This was the depraved and malicious man with whom Aunt Minnie was now to fall in love.”

Ghostwriting (1995)

Ghostwriting is something of an eschatological horror. At one point the two main characters, Torquil Tod and Leonard Balmain, decide to meet each other in “the lounge bar of a hotel in Murrayfield… He specified a table in the corner beside the French windows.

Later in the novel, Torquil has a horrific nightmare vision of Edinburgh Zoo in which the animals are fighting each other and under the shadow of some kind of deadly plague.

The Sinister Cabaret (2001)

This book also mentions the zoo, albeit more fleetingly. Like Ghostwriting, there is a mention of bears, and I can’t help but wonder if this is a reference to Wojtek the fighting bear who ended up in the zoo in his “retirement”.

Another Edinburgh Zoo

And now to that other “zoo”…

During the 1908 Exhibition, Saughton Park hosted a “Senegalese village”, and actual Africans were included. I must admit I know little about this episode. Were they paid at all? Did they come over voluntarily? Either way, the Edinburgh climate must have been “Baltic” for them, considering they had to wear clothing better suited to the tropics, and presumably slept in the huts too.

Some “Irish cottages” were also included in the exhibition, although you would have to be an expert to notice much of a difference from certain Scottish ones of the time. Whether Irish people were included, I don’t know. Needless to say, there were plenty of Irish in Edinburgh at the time, and precious few people from Senegal, so they would have been far less of a novelty.

The term often used for these exhibits was “human zoos”. It seems to me though that there is a fine line between such things and some of the heritage villages that can be found around these islands. A modern commentator would probably claim the Irish cottages fell into the latter category, and the African village into the former.

External Links

Murrayfield Comprehensive, Maeve Binchy etc

Tynecastle_High_School
The new Murrayfield Comprehensive building?

In Ian Rankin’s A Good Hanging (1992) we read about a sleazy character called McKenzie, who was caught loitering around:

“Murrayfield Comprehensive. He wasn’t charged, but it’s on record that he was taken to Murrayfield Police Station and questioned.”

The eagle-eyed will spot three things amiss here:

  • Scotland doesn’t have comprehensive schools (as far as I know).
  • There is no secondary school in Murrayfield.
  • There isn’t a police station either.

Now, I’m presuming that Rankin didn’t want the character or the setting to be associated with any real location, which is something he does in many of his novels. But let’s assume for a moment there actually was a Murrayfield Comprehensive… where would it be?

  • Tynecastle High School (pictured) is not far from Roseburn, and is the best candidate. It would have been in the old building back in 1992, across the road.
  • Two girls’ schools – Mary Erskine’s and St George’s. Probably not, since they’re private.
  • Royal High School – too far away. More like Davidson’s Mains.

As for the local cop shop – there doesn’t seem to be one for miles!

Tynecastle High School, by the way, has a much more significant literary connection, as I stated in a previous article. Murrayfield/Roseburn also has connections to John Lennon and Quintin Jardine.

Maeve Binchy

murrayfieldspate

I’ve never been a great fan of Maeve Binchy, to be honest, but I suspect her books were never directed at someone like me. She does seem to have a big fan base though, so who am I to judge?

Her book, A Few of the Girls also mentions Murrayfield, this time as a byname for rugby:

“Murrayfield was a great outing, Michael said. They always loved the year when Ireland played in Cardiff Arms Park and Murrayfield. Two great weekends – win, lose or draw.”

Binchy died back in 2012, and the book is dated 2015, so I’ve no idea whether this is a posthumous book, or a newer edition.

When it comes to Murrayfield Stadium – and indeed Tynecastle nearby – there are so many non-fiction books that mention them, that I have lost count. So, I have tended to concentrate on creative writing instead.

Andy Jackson’s poem about Murrayfield is featured in Umbrellas of Edinburgh (2016), which I discussed earlier this year.

Picture Credits
Tynecastle High School. Original uploader was Warburton1368 at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

External Links