Anent fouer bardis, quha hauen on Corstorphyn wrutten. A short round up of four writers of local interest…
Diana Hendry’s poem Timor Mortis Conturbat Me takes its name from David Lindsay’s Lament for the Makars (c. 1500), which uses the phrase as a refrain. It means “the fear of death disturbs me”, and the original poem refers to the numerous writers that Lindsay had once known, but had died. One of these is Roull of Corstorphine (whence Roull Road).
Hendry’s poem is somewhat different in tone, and muses on her own future death. In one verse we are asked:
“Will it come on the way to Corstorphine Or when sitting on the loo? Will I need a lot of morphine Will a bottle of brandy do?”
Juliet Wilson, aka Crafty Green Poet. here writes here about the White Lady.
Wilson also has a blog and a Twitter account, which often includes material and photographs of Corstorphine and the surrounding area, especially of nature, flowers etc
Corinne V. Davis
Davis lives in Corstorphine and is author of the children’s series “Ralph is not…”- e.g. Ralph is not a Superhero (2010), Ralph is not a Vampire (2010) and Ralph is not a Spy (2011). She has written for pleasure since her childhood, and worked in education which is partly where she has found the inspiration for some of these books.
“What passing bells for these who die as cattle?/ Only the monstrous anger of the guns.”
Yesterday marked the centenary of Wilfred Owen’s arrival in Edinburgh. The great English war poet had been sent to Craiglockhart Hospital to recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, brought on by his war service.
His time in Edinburgh was short but fruitful. He wrote a lot of poetry here, and befriended various people who greatly influenced him, notably Siegfried Sassoon. What is less well known is that he also taught here at Tynecastle High School in Gorgie.
After leaving Edinburgh, he spent some time in England, and was sent back to the front in 1918. He was invalided out again, for a short period, this time for a gun shot wound. After that he returned to the front line, and died a week before the war ended. He was only twenty five.
Owen was born in Oswestry in 1893, a town technically in Shropshire, but with a then partly Welsh-speaking native population. Even the house he was born in – Plas Wilmot – had a name which was half-Welsh and half-English. Owen himself was not a Welsh speaker, but some people have argued Welsh metre influenced his poetry.
Wilfred’s father worked for a railway company, so he moved regularly around the north west of England. Other places in which they lived included Birkenhead in the Wirral, and Shrewsbury in Shropshire. In Shrewsbury, he became a pupil-teacher. He tried to enter the University of London, but his family could not afford the fees. Compared to Siegfried Sassoon, he came from a relatively humble background.
“Voices of boys were by the river-side. Sleep mothered them; and left the twilight sad.”
Pat Barker’s Regeneration (1993) is a fictional account of Owen’s time in Edinburgh. In an interview eleven years later in Contemporary Literature she states that:
“I felt like I had got myself into a box where I was strongly typecast as a Northern [English], regional, working-class, feminist – label, label, label – novelist.”
This is something many Scottish authors can probably sympathise with (not to mention all the other groups on the list). Barker’s book certainly broke her out of that mould and it became the first part of a trilogy.
Regeneration deals mostly with Owen’s time in Craiglockhart Hospital, as well as his friendships with other figures such as Siegfried Sassoon. Tynecastle is out of the mix.
The film version came out in 1997, and to be honest, even though I have seen the film twice, it has not made a deep impression on me. Owen is played by the actor Stuart Bunce. The film ends with Owen’s body being retrieved from the battlefield, and Captain Rivers (Jonathan Pryce) reading The Parable of the Old Man and the Young in tears.
Tynecastle High School
“Children are not meant to be studied, but enjoyed. Only by studying to be pleased do we understand them.”
While Edinburgh’s private schools are very good at celebrating famous ex-pupils and staff, our state schools tend not to. Thankfully, this has started to change.
Tynecastle High or “Tynie” might not be the first place you’d associate with famous poets, but the school has a few other surprises.For example, the series House of Cards is a massive hit in the States, but it would probably never have been made if the British series hadn’t succeeded. The British series starred Ian Richardson – another Tynie ex-pupil. (If you want to read about Craigmount’s cultural connections click this link)
The school put up a plaque to Owen in 2014. This is actually in the new building. The school he would have taught in is across the road next to the football stadium. It was actually built in 1912, so it would have only been several years old when Owen taught there.
“But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”
Owen has been a huge influence on poets after him. Even song writers – Richard Jobson of Dunfermline punk band the Skids was a great fan, and even used the title of one of Owen’s poems Dulce et Decorum Est for one of their songs.
When one hears about WWI poets, I think it is best to bear two things in mind:
That there were many other poets at that time. Owen is one of the best, but we should try and remember some of the others as well.
Many of those who quote the poetry of Owen and other war poets, or promote it, are sometimes doing it for their own ends. Owen would not have agreed with some of them at all.
Wilfred Owen’s poetry will probably be taught to schoolchildren for a good while to come. It was at school that I first encountered his poetry, and I think most people do. I have mixed feeling about poetry being taught in schools:- for some people it might be the only time in their life they experience much poetry, but for some it can also be an off-putting experience, and they will never want to look at poetry again. I was lucky. I mostly had good English teachers who made me love poetry, much like I expect Mr Owen did with his pupils. But not everyone does.
If you’re revisiting Owen, I recommend reading him out loud or listening to some of his poetry on Youtube.
The picture of Wilfred Owen is out of copyright, and so now free to use.
Tynecastle High School. Original uploader was Warburton1368 at en.wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.
How much do you know about the Water of Leith? Edinburgh is unique among Scotland’s major cities in not having a major river running through its centre. But Edinburgh does have its own river. It wends its way quietly through the suburbs, an provides a corridor for wildlife and an inspiration for poets. It is also a river which shares its name with some surprising places.
“Oh, Water of Leith! Oh, Water of Leith,
Where the girls go down to wash their teeth;
And o’er the stream there is a house right knackie,
Of that grand old man, Professor Blackie.”
McGonagall? Possibly since some folk say this is apocryphal, but as we shall see later, William McGonagall (1825-1902) actually did write a poem about the Water of Leith. A pity since the image of women washing their dentures in the water is such a striking one.
“On love, on grief, on every human thing,
Time sprinkles Lethe’s water with his wing.”
Again, this is not quite what it might appear, but more on that later.
“Water” in the name is Scots for a medium sized river e.g. Afton Water or Douglas Water, somewhere in size between a “burn” (as in “Roseburn”) and a larger river such as the Esk, Almond or Forth. The “Water of X” form is a calque from the Celtic word order, and tends to be more common in northern Scotland.
At first sight, the Water appears to take its name from the port of Leith. Or does it? Numerous towns in Scotland are named after rivers, or more especially their mouths, which make for good harbours. Amongst these one might mention Aberdeen, Inverness, Ayr and smaller places like Inveresk. Leith itself is outwith the scope of Literary Corstorphine, but hopefully this article will be of interest to some of the folk down there.
The name “Leith” itself is a bit harder to interpret – it is almost certainly from Brythonic (old “Welsh”), and may mean either “grey” or “flowing”, or something else entirely. It is probably related to the name of the Leithen which flows down to Innerleithen.
Edinburgh has been nicknamed “the Athens of the North” from time to time, but the Leith certainly sounds a bit like the “Lethe” (Λήθη – roughly “Lee-thee” or “Leh-theh”), one of the famous five rivers of Hades, the ancient Greek world of the dead. These were:
Acheron – Joylessness
Cocytus – Lamentation
Lethe – Forgetfulness, drinking its waters would wipe your memory.
Phlegethon or Pyriphlegethon – Burning, similar to the western view of Hell.
Styx – The river which shades were famously ferried across by Charon.
So when people say we live out in the Styx, they are certainly not far wrong. If you drank the waters of the Lethe, you would end up forgetting everything. As Fenton Johnson (1888–1958) wrote:
“Now I can drink more gin than any man for miles around. Gin is better than all the water in Lethe.”
Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867) wrote in his poem, Spleen:
“II n’a su réchauffer ce cadavre hébété Où coule au lieu de sang l’eau verte du Léthé“
(“He failed to warm this dazed cadaver in whose veins
Flows the green water of Lethe in place of blood.”).
If you think none of this is relevant to our own Water of Leith, you would be far wrong. At least one person of note has associated places in Edinburgh with classical and biblical locations – literally – but you’ll have to buy my book to find out about that.
Ah, McGonagall, what can I say about him? The worst poet in the world? I don’t think so, but he was pretty bad-in-a-good-way. Now, again, I stray a wee bit out of our area – but his River of Leith is damn good:
“The water of St. Bernard’s Well is very nice, But to get a drink of it one penny is the price. I think in justice the price is rather high, To give a penny for a drink when one feels dry.”
Apparently, said spring water tastes like the finings from a gun barrel, but since I have tasted neither, I can’t comment on this comparison. And if you are molested by the bother of “dull care”, be minded that:
The scenery is so enchanting to look upon That all tourists will say, “Dull care, be gone.” ’Tis certainly a most lovely spot, And once seen it can never be forgot.
“Then away! away! to the River of Leith, That springs from the land of heather and heath, And view the gorgeous scenery on a fine summer day. I’m sure it will drive dull care away.”
If Edinburgh is “Athens of the North” and Dunedin is “Edinburgh of the South”, what is the relationship of Dunedin to Athens? Or the Lethe?
As you may know, quite a few places named after our Fair City. The best known one is Dunedin in Otago, New Zealand on the South Island. They went to a lot of trouble trying to remember the Old Country and there is a Corstorphine there and a Water of Leith to boot. Edinburgh, in return, has named an industrial estate in Canonmills after the city.
New Zealand’s Water of Leith was originally called Ōwheo and is culverted along much of its length. (Edinburgh appears to be trying to do much the same with the section of the Leith in Murrayfield.)
Edinburgh’s Water of Leith – 22 miles/35 km long, flows north east into the Firth of Forth (North Sea)
Dunedin’s Water of Leith – 9 miles/14 km long, flows south east into Otago Harbour inlet (Pacific Ocean).
This is not the only Leith in the southern hemisphere. The icy island of South Georgia, once famous for its whaling stations has its own Leith Harbour. Leith Harbour has a brook running down into it, but I haven’t been able to find out what it’s called.
Corstorphine Loch and a few other names
You may remember from a recent post that the ending of Stevenson’s Kidnapped mentions:
“We came by-way over the hill of Corstorphine; and when we got near to the place called Rest-and-be-Thankful, and looked down on Corstorphine bogs”
These bogs were the remains of the old Corstorphine Loch, which used to run from by near the Leith, over to the village of Corstorphine. Jamie and Ailean Breac walk over Corstorphine Hill to avoid these bogs, and also unwanted attention.
This loch would have fed into the Leith, and the Leith too would have returned the favour by feeding it with the occasional flood. The ancient Water of Leith seems to have been fairly sluggish, a situation which has been rectified by a series of weirs.
A few of the names along the water of Leith.
Balgreen – Baile is a common place name element, meaning a farm or village e.g. Balerno, Ballingry. Nothing to do with “ball green”, although that’s probably appropriate with the playing fields being there now. It’s actually a Gaelic name, meaning sunny (Baile na Grèine) or gravelly farm (Baile Griain). The element Bal- (baile) can be found down the road in Balerno, and turns up as Bally- in Ireland, and Balla- in the Isle of Man. The exact same name crops up near Ecclesmachan and Murieston in West Lothian.
Coltbridge – Originally refers to Cotts or Cottages that were built in this area. Cotts can also refer to parcels of land.
Riversdale – a modern ersatz name meaning merely “river valley”.
Roseburn – Apparently just “rose” (the flower) plus “burn” (as in small river) e.g. Blackburn.
Saughton – The “saugh” bit rhymes with “loch”, and is Broad Scots for a willow tree (seileach in Gaelic).
Stenhouse – The last bit “house” doesn’t appear to refer to a “house” at all. Older records call the place “Stanhope Mills”. Stanhope was the surname of the folk who held land there in the 16th and 17th centuries.
All three names are possibly connected to water – saughs (willows) like growing by water, gravel turns up near rivers, and “mills” speaks for itself.
Cors in Welsh means a marsh (in Gaelic, the word is còrrsa or càrrsa), which fits the bill well. This word often becomes “carse” in Scots.
Dean further down means a sunken valley. It is often “den” in Scotland and comes from the Anglo-Saxon denu.
In my recent post on Muriel Spark and her uncle Harry Camberg , I mentioned that she states in Curriculum Vitae that “He was buried in a Church of Scotland graveyard at Corstorphine.”
Frances Macrae tried to find the grave to no avail. Since then, I have found a Harry Camberg – on this war grave website, which includes a picture of the grave, and its bilingual inscription (English & Hebrew).
The Harry Camberg listed is buried (if I am reading this correctly) in Sandymount Cemetery in Springboig, Glasgow, in the Jewish section. He died on 30th March, 1922, and was in the HLI (Highland Light Infantry, I’m presuming). This ties in with how he doesn’t seem to be listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, because he died four years too late to be considered a war casualty, and also Spark’s claim that he died of delayed reactions to poison gas.
So what was Spark up to here? Did she genuinely misremember the event? Was she trying to hide/play down her Jewish heritage? The Church of Scotland reference makes sense in that regard.
Free libraries are all the rage – why don’t we have one here?
As council libraries close across the country, and Amazon, Google and Project Gutenberg* collectively conspire to remove the hard copy book from our lives, it is always a delight to find something which bucks the trend.
There are a few exceptions to this trend. The ersatz books, the arty books, the coming of the print-on-demand local literary history book… and of course the various book swops and free libraries… Corstorphine has its own book swop group on Facebook – see the links below. There are others, but they come and go.
Council libraries are free (as is the National Library), but they are paid for out of taxes and liable to closure by the whims of (local) government.
In an earlier post, I discussed the matter of introducing a small theatre into Scotland, here perhaps is another idea we could use to improve our area.
Free libraries in Edinburgh
Most of the free libraries I know of in Edinburgh, are in a small section just to the north of the New Town. One is on Scotland Street, another is near the Stockbridge Colonies, and another is in the Botanic Gardens. All three of these appear to be from the Little Free Library, a charity run in the States. However, the price range seems to be steep, running into hundreds of dollars. But as someone wryly pointed out to me when I mentioned this to them, “Any decent jyner cud knock one o thaim up.”
According to Edinburgh Spolight, there is a fourth, in Starbank Park in Trinity. It’s not a part of town that I visit very often, so I haven’t had a look at it.
Today, I found yet another, on Cobden Terrace colonies, one of the side streets off Haymarket. This one was “upcycled” from an old piece of furniture. This is perhaps the cheaper option. I am not sure if it’s an appropriate bit of furniture for the job but it is nicely painted up and it’s the thought that counts, right?
There are probably others out there, and certainly a few shelves of books for swopping in various shops, cafes etc. In many parts of Scotland, such as Athelstaneford in East Lothian, you can see old red phone boxes getting used.
The upside is that a lot of free reading material becomes available, and if you’re having a clear-out, they are a place you can put some of your unwanted/used books. They are a place where hopefully they shan’t be destroyed – I know from experience that charity shops dump a lot of their donations if they can’t sell them. If people knew just how much I think they might think twice about donating.
The writer may not get money but you can enjoy books you might not buy.
The downsides are as follows:
Potential for vandalism. You have to place such libraries away from would-be neds and trouble. A residential side street works better than a thoroughfare.
Some people take books out and do not give back. This is especially the case with the free library at the Botanics, where many of the people taking books out are tourists, who remove books and never give one back.
Monoculture – you can end up with books of one variety, often “chick-lit” and Aga Saga, but also thrillers and murder mystery.
There is also the issue of neds. In other words, you have to put the library into a spot where some eejits are not going to come and destroy them.
* Project Gutenberg is a force for good, unless you are a second hand bookseller or publisher of old books. The website is worth checking out. See links below for details.
During my researches, I have found several interesting links between our area and Muriel Spark (1918-2006). Spark is one of my favourite Edinburgh writers – and is best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Like Walter Scott, or Robert Louis Stevenson, she probably needs little introduction. The Guardian has described her writing style as “waspishness, its spirit, [with] its curiously posh-Scottish camp”.
Curriculum Vitae (1992) is her autobiography, and has been criticised for the various things which it does not deal with. However, it is also one of her most interesting works, particularly to folk who are interested in her Edinburgh background.
In Chapter 3, we are told:
“…My father’s younger brother, Harry, died of the effects of poison gas to which he had been exposed in the trenches during the First World War. I remember my Uncle Harry only as being first young and merry, next, suddenly thin, bent and ghost-like and very soon afterwards not there at all. He was buried in a Church of Scotland graveyard at Corstorphine. Some of my father’s sisters accompanies his wife, Bessie, and my parents to the funeral; they came afterwards to our house, wearing black clothes.”
WWI still casts a long shadow over our world, and it is one that seems to have grown ever longer since the centenary commemorations. None of its survivors are still with us.
The cover image provided is under “fair use”. I do not own the copyright on it, and trust that the estate, illustrators and publishers shall understand is used in good faith, and for the promotion of said work.
Is Corstorphine’s White Lady the prototypical gothic tale?
In a piece on Hogg’s Justified Sinner and the Gothic tale, the Canadian academic Ina Ferris states:
“[Charles Kirkpatrick] Sharpe recounts with relish the lurid (proto-gothic) tale: the woman’s murder of her aristocratic lover in Corstorphine on 16 August 1679; her hiding in a castle garret until discovered by a stray slipper; her abortive escape from prison dressed in male clothes; her execution at the Cross in Edinburgh’ and the local tradition of her ghostly haunting of the spot where she killed her love, ‘wandering and wailing’ with a bloody sword in her hand.“
This is obviously a reference to the White Lady. I have posted on the White Lady previously (see this link) and indeed she remains the best known of local spooks.
It would be unrealistic to claim that her story is a major influence on the Gothic novel, and it is questionable whether Justified Sinner is a true Gothic novel, although it does bear some similarity to the genre.
Who was Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe?
Sharpe (c. 1781–1851) was an avid collector of Scottish folklore. He contributed several pieces to Walter Scott’s The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.
Originally from Hoddam in Dumfriesshire, and educated at Oxford, he settled in Edinburgh at the age of thirty. According to the Dictionary of National Biography:
“Sharpe’s grand-uncle, Charles Sharpe, a Jacobite who fought at Preston, also possessed literary tastes, and was a correspondent of David Hume. Further, the family claimed kinship with the noted Grierson of Lag. Thus, while Sharpe could claim an ancestry of some distinction, intellectual and other, he was also from his infancy nourished on Jacobite story and tradition; and this phase of Scottish sentiment occupied most of his interest, and mainly directed the bent of his artistic studies and his antiquarian research.”
Sharpe wrote extensively on the religious conflicts of Scotland. He edited Kirkton’s The Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Year 1678. Sharpe’s account of Christian Nimmo, the White Lady appears in one of his footnotes, which I quote in full below.
Sharpe also wrote on witchcraft in Memorialls; or the considerable Things that fell out within the Island of Great Britain from 1638 to 1684 (1820). In A Historical Account of the Belief in Witchcraft in Scotland, Sharpe states:
“On the 31st of July, 1603, James Reid in Corstorphin, [sic] was convicted of sorcery, and afterwards burnt. He several times at Bannie Craigs, and on Corstorphine Muir, met the devil.”
Much of Sharpe’s account makes for painful reading. One might like to ponder how much things have changed and/or remained the same. The original spelling is retained.
About this time it is certain that one lady at least carried a similar weapon of defence, though probably not to protect her chastity. ” August 26, 1679. This day did Christian Hamilton, wife to A. Nimmo, merchant, kill James Lord Forrester with his own sword, in his garden at Corstorphin. She confessed the fact, and pretended she was provoked thereto, because he in his drink had abused her and called her w___e. Being apprehended and imprisoned, the sheriffs of Edinburgh gave her an indictment to the 28th of August, when she made a long discourse of the circumstances and manner of it, seeking to palliate and extenuate it, yet subscribed her confession of the fact; and for putting it beyond all cavillation, they also adduced three witnesses, two men and her woman, who saw it: but she having pretended she was with child, the sheriff and his deputes directed a commission, recommending to Doctors Stevenson and Balfour, &c. to visit her, and report; who having done so, they declared that after trial they could perceive no signs of her being with child. However, if the pannel had been with child, she did not deny but it was to Lord Forrester, which was both adultery (she being married and not divorced) and incest, she being my lord’s first lady’s niece, and sister’s daughter; so that the visible judgement of God may be read both upon her and him. Her affirming herself to be with child was but a shift to procure a delay. On 19th September Christian Hamilton gave in a bill to the lords of privy council, representing that the sheriffs gave her no time to provide herself with advocates, so that she had omitted her defences, and begged the council would examine her witnesses, and take trial of the manner of the commission of the slaughter, viz. that he was then drunk, in which condition he commonly was very furious; that she was exceedingly provoked; that ho run at her with his sword; that she took it from him to preserve herself from hazard; and that he ran upon the sword’s point, and thereby gave himself the mortal wounds whereof he died, and so killed himself; and she stood only upon her lawful defence. This relation was known to be false, and therefore the lords of the privy council did now little regard it, tho’ it was relevant in itself. She was a woman of a godless life, and ordinarily carried a sword beneath her petticoats. On the 29th of September she made her escape out of the Tolbooth, in men’s apparel, in the glooming, about 5 o’clock at night, but was the next day found at Fala-Mill, where she had staid, and did not hasten to the English Borders, and was brought back to the Tolbooth on the 1st of October, and was beheaded at the Cross of Edinburgh the 12th Nov. She was all in mourning, with a large wail, and before the laying down of her head, she laid it off, and put on a whyte taffetie hood, and bared her shoulders with her own hands, with seeming courage eneugh.” Fountainhall’s Decisions, MS. His lordship adds, ” Mrs Bedford, who murdered her husband, and committed adultery with Geilles Tyre, was this Mistris Nimmo’s [cousin] germane, and of the family of Grange. And they say that the Ladie Warriston, who about 100 years ago strangled her husband Kincaid of Warriston, she was of the same family.”
It is remarkable that Lord Forrester was one of the Presbyterian zealots of the times, and had erected a meeting-house near Edinburgh, after the indulgence granted in the year 1679. It was also reported, that a dispensation from the pope to marry the woman who murdered him, was found in his closet after his death, and that his delay in using this was the occasion of her fury. Popery and Schism equally dangerous in the Church of England, p. 39. – ” The inhabitants of the village of Corstorphine still relate some circumstances of the murder, not recorded by Fountainhall. Mrs Nimmo, attended by her maid, had gone from Edinburgh to the Castle of Corstorphine in search of Lord Forrester, but not finding him at home, she sent for him from the ale-house in the village, where he had been drinking all the morning. After a violent altercation, she stabbed him repeatedly with his own sword. He fell under a [sycamore] tree near the Pigeon-house, both of which still remain, and died immediately. The lady took refuge in the garret of the castle but was discovered by one of her slippers, which dropt through a crevice of the floor. It need scarcely be added, that till lately the inhabitants of the village were greatly annoyed, of a moonlight night, with the apparition of a woman, clothed all in white, with a bloody sword in her hand, wandering and wailing round the pigeon-house and the tree, which stand very inconveniently within sight of the cottage gardens.
The quoted text comes from Ina Ferris’s Scholarly Revivals: Gothic Fiction, Secret History and Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which can be found in ed.s Heydt-Stevenson & Sussman (2008) Recognizing the Romantic Novel: New Histories of British Fiction, 1780-1830 Liverpool University Press
“This collection” [sic] came out in 2009, and featured a hundred poems by Edinburgh writers, each a hundred words in length. The full set can be accessed by clicking on this blue link. There are three poems of local interest here: their brevity makes it difficult for me to quote much from them. You can thank copyright law for that!
Rob A. MacKenzie’s Corstorphine, Midnight can be found here. It paints a slightly grim picture of the area, through which a burning “Underwood” wanders seeking his ex-lover. MacKenzie’s Corstorphine is the land of “charity shop” (accurate), “supermarket aisles” (accurate) and “the vigil of neon alphabets” (a bit exaggerated). Even a short piece like this has several different interpretations – is the name “Underwood” actually a reference to the dark wild element which underlies human civilisation, and which is always waiting to come forth, or is it some backhanded reference to the 1990s sport? He shares his name with a couple of England rugby players of the period, but the poem also refers to the “Mexican Wave”, which was fashionable in football back then. This just goes to show all of the strange, and possibly unintended, meanings one can derive from poetry.
Last but not least, Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir has a poem called Dùn Èideannan. I have discussed Mac an t-Saoir on this blog previously – he has lived in Broomhall, and seems to have written a novel Gymnippers Diciadain which appears to be inspired by the CYCC.
Crafty Green Poet
I can’t remember whether I have mentioned her on here before, but “Crafty Green Poet” (true identity unknown to me) writes regularly on her walks around Edinburgh – these include places such as Corstorphine Hill, Cammo etc. Her blog can be found through this link.
The book of Literary Corstorphine is long overdue. Why? In short, two things – this is the first time I’ve been involved in such a project and secondly, a bit of a financial blip I don’t want to go into. I have found the writing and editing easy enough – it is the design and formatting which have been an issue. I’m sorry if folk think I’ve gone down the mañana route – but it will be here sooner rather than later!
Given the rave reviews I kept hearing of Trainspotting 2, I went in with low expectations. I’m like that. I’m not one for hype. T2 has quite a few connections to this bit of Edinburgh, like its predecessor, whether it’s the scenes at the airport, or on the tram. We also get to see Diane Coulston (Kelly MacDonald) again, who is still far posher than the original character in the book who lived in Forrester Park and went to school over the road…
The action is supposed to take some twenty years after the original, but includes numerous clips and references to the original film, so that in no way is it a stand-alone piece. (Choose what?) We get to see quite a few actors from the original film too – whether we need to or not – and some of them seem to have a couple of lines (Shirley Henderson’s Gail Houston?) and/or play little part in plot development.
There are quite a few plotholes, loose threads and badly resolved scenarios in T2. They are a little hard to explain without giving too much away. But there are some good points as well. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is the true hero of the story, and is curiously likable.
Trams and Brexit
Heroin addiction and theft may be some of the last things most people could think of as “cool”, but T2 manages to top the stigma of the original by managing to deal with two of the Cinderella causes of the last few years – trams and the EU!
T2 has probably been the single best thing to happen to the beleaguered Edinburgh Trams Project. They have been controversial to say the least, and the city must have leaped at the chance to bask in the reflected glory of a new Trainspotting film. There is a great scene where Renton rides from the airport into town on the tram (which is pretty expensive in real life – ouch!), and you get to see speeded up footage of the journey from a roof cam. South Gyle has never looked so good.
T2 contains some very transparent Europhile propaganda. A bit of a case of too little, too late, you might think, with Brexit and all…significantly, one of the major characters of Porno, Nikki, is turned into Veronica, a “new European” from Bulgaria, and Renton talks with a Slovenian woman near the beginning who welcomes him to Edinburgh. There are two very short scenes which are filmed in Amsterdam and somewhere in Bulgaria (so short I’m not sure what the point in sending a film crew over to either of these places was),but this does seem to tie in with the pointless cameos of certain characters from the original. In another part, the characters apply for an EU development grant and make a sentimental appeal by showing footage of old Leith. (Much the same happened in Filth also an Irvine Welsh adaptation – a few short scenes in Hamburg, that almost seemed tokenistic.) In the original Trainspotting, there is a scene in London and a cameo from an American – maybe this demonstrates shifting loyalties, although the director Boyle is himself English of course.
And there are other things in it. The Scottish Parliament. Harvey Nicks. I’m not much a fan of the latter, but devolution is at least still popular. There are the usual tedious football references (Is Hibs the only team people locally support or have heard of?) and the city’s so called saunas get a look in.
Trainspotting in Time
Twenty years is a significant chunk of anyone’s life – nearly as long as I’ve lived where I have – but in some terms, it is interesting to see what has and hasn’t changed in all those years. The airport has become notably stranger – as you can see in the film – and more threatening (ugly security measures everywhere). The actors all look amazingly similar to their old selves – apart from Robert Carlyle – and the film has messages about the danger of revisiting the past.
Although there is twenty years between the two films, the relationship between the books and films are a bit more complicated. Time for a bit of Trainspotting in Time:
Trainspotting – Book 1993, Film 1996 (three years between book and film)
Porno (Trainspotting 2) – Book 2002, Film 2017 (fifteen years between book and film, a whopping twenty five years after Trainspotting the novel, more if we go back to when some of it was written)
In other words, Trainspotting was a product of the late eighties and early nineties, filmed a few years later. T2 deals with four different time periods –
The Seventies? – We see footage of the characters’ childhoods.
The early Nineties (and Eighties) – all the references to the original film and novel.
The late Nineties and early Noughties – when Porno itself was written.
The Modern Day – where most of T2 is actually set.
This mashup can be seen in the soundtrack. Trainspotting mixed up nineties and seventies music, Trainspotting 2 includes music from the seventies, eighties, nineties (1690s?) and the present day. This is probably one of the reasons it is less iconic, along with the constant references to the original.
This may all seem like nerdy number-crunching – it is – but if you’re interested in where and when certain things are based, it leads to some interesting questions. I even suspect I know what the real life counterparts are to certain people and places in the book… but I’m saying nothing.
Dame Sarah Mair (1846–1941) is perhaps best known as the founder of St George’s School for girls, which is located to the back of Coltbridge. The Spurtle – the Broughton & Canonmills freesheet – reports that 29, Abercromby Place is soon to receive a blue plaque commemorating her. The Spurtle describes her as a campaigner for women’s suffrage, and an educational campaigner.
Mair came from a well-off background, based in the New Town, and was a descendant of the much lauded Welsh actress Sarah Siddons. According to the ever reliable Wikipedia (!), “Mair started the Edinburgh Essay Society, soon renamed the Ladies’ Edinburgh Debating Society when she was nineteen” in the year 1865. She was a keen member of the Edinburgh Ladies’ Educational Association, which campaigned for female access into universities. She later ran the Edinburgh Association for the University Education of Women, for which she received an honorary LLD in 1920 from the University of Edinburgh. These are just a few of her achievements – and more detailed information can be read at the links provided.
She was also responsible for the Ladies’ Edinburgh Magazine, aka The Attempt, which she edited into the 1870s.
A Safe Feminist?
This is not the first time this blog has mentioned pioneering feminists – Helen Cruickshank and Rebecca West are both featured in earlier entries. It is probably fair to say that Mair has more in common with the West than Cruickshank, but she appears to be to the right of both of them and eventually accepted a DBE.
There have been a number of lists or booklets about Scottish feminists or women pioneers recently. It is notable that many of the entries are people in higher education (something which most *men* could not afford until a few decades ago), Dames (in the proper sense of the word), pioneers of “the Rural”, daughters of the aristocracy etc. Sarah Mair certainly fits the bill with her pukka roots and polite manners.
Rightly or wrongly (depending on your POV), Mair appears to have rejected violent methods of protest, or at least ones that would create too much of a stir. As an historical figure, Mair’s legacy is a great deal “safer” and less subversive than say, rabble rousers like Ethel Moorhead who had promoted civil disobedience and ended up being the first suffragette to be forcefed. Mair’s safe legacy is probably partly the reason that the City of Literature and Historic Environment are promoting this plaque… and a very conservative place such as the Royal Scots Club is willing to allow them to put one on their wall.