After much ado, Literary Corstorphine is here. It’s taken too long, I know… but further details will follow, when I get a few more things ironed out. Many thanks for your patience.
After much ado, Literary Corstorphine is here. It’s taken too long, I know… but further details will follow, when I get a few more things ironed out. Many thanks for your patience.
Does the public notice public art? Not much in South Gyle it would seem, and there is a lot of it.
“We were on assignment, trying to kill two birds with one stone. Destroy a piece of corporate art and trash a franchise coffee bar.” – Fight Club
In a memorable scene from the film Fight Club referred to as “Operation Latte Thunder”, a group of urban guerillas decide to destroy a franchise café by rolling a giant spherical corporate sculpture into it. The whole thing goes awry, ending up with the death of one of the main characters.
A similar hatred of corporate artworks is exhibited in the Simon Pegg vehicle, The World’s End. It is about a school reunion – and pub crawl – gone horribly wrong. The characters spend much of their time moaning about the changes that have occurred since 1990. One of these changes is an oddly bland looking metal figure about twenty or thirty foot tall. It features heavily in the plot later on, and not in a good way.
South Gyle is full of corporate and public artwork, some of which is more successful than others. Many of these artworks lack plaques, or any other obvious indications, as to where they came from. In these cases I have had to use nicknames or guess.
There is an odd sense of Soviet-style decay about some of these areas. For sure, the USSR fell in 1991, and a lot of these places seem to date from the early to mid nineties, but the decay is already there.
I apologise again for the quality of some of these images!
Our journey begins on the South Gyle Access road, opposite Forrester Rugby Club. Here to the west, we see our first sculpture, a set of stainless tubes, which I call “the Pan Pipes”, reminscent of the Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik.
From the Flassches Yard (industrial estate) side, we see that the artwork is complimented by the inclusion of three metal bollards, which align perfectly with the symmetry of the Pan Pipes. The South Gyle Access side is obscured somewhat by a set of three young pines. It is unclear if the Pan Pipes are solar-aligned or not.
From here, we can proceed in two different directions:
South Gyle Crescent
The first section of South Gyle Crescent takes us past one of several food vans. The first one is called the Chargrill Company, which sells a selection of hot meats and sits outside the College of Animal Welfare. (A similar juxtaposition can be seen over on Hanover Street where a branch of Oink Hog Roast sits above a health food store offering various vegan products).
Across the road, a bit further down is a Chinese takeaway van, which for some reason is called “Noduru”- a Japanese word, and which is also written in pseudo-Hiragana (a Japanese script). Japanese/Chinese – these daft westerners will never know the difference!
Behind one of the buildings, we find three endearing sculptures, one of a pigeon and two other birds. Their effect is somewhat undermined by the boarded fences nearby and the wasteland beyond, part of which is guarded by an entry post which would have not been out of place on the Iron Curtain.
Sie verlassen den Amerikanischen Sektor… Papieren bitte!
We then walk down South Gyle Crescent, past the flying saucer like Bank of Scotland buildings, the well-hidden Edinburgh University archive library, until we reach a small roundabout, and the former headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Turn left here and you are on Redheughs Avenue.
Here we see easily the greatest artwork in South Gyle, Eduardo Paolozzi’s Wealth of Nations (1993). It is nicknamed by some people “the Chiseller” due to its proximity to the big bank building and the objects in its hands. Below its feet is a quote from Einstein, “Knowledge is good, but imagination is better”. If you’re going to look at any artwork in this area – check this out, and the herms of the poets in Edinburgh Park.
Further down on the left (south), one finds another sculpture outside an RBS building, this one I call “the Screw”. Perhaps another banking metaphor. I have never been right in to look at it, since there is a security guard posted at the gate, and hmm…
We then reach another roundabout, this one an attempt at some kind of Zen garden, basically gravel and large rocks scattered at random controlled by weedkiller.
Edinburgh Park has a different feel to it. It begins just after “the Screw”, and is leafier. Most of the trees here too are stunted though. The bus shelter pictured used to have poetry on it many years ago, but this is all gone. There is a history of Edinburgh on it (and near another bus shelter further down), but you are more likely to see adverts for yoga here than literature these days.
Down at Loch Ross, the pond in the middle of Edinburgh Park, one can find the herms of numerous 20th century Scottish poets. Along with the Paolozzi behemoth, these are the most interesting artworks in South Gyle. This is the herm of Meester W.S. Graham. Another poet can be seen in the foreground. If you wish to know more about the sculptures, or see more pictures, you’ll have to buy the book!
“Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Cygnet-fying nothing…” – Shakespeare (kind of).
Wildlife occasionally wanders into Loch Ross. I have seen swans, geese, oystercatchers, moorhens and frogs in this area.
This could be just about anywhere…
And yes, I had to photograph one of these. We paid enough, didn’t we?
How’s that Zen Garden working for you? (It is unknown if the owners of Nudoru Chinese takeaway contributed to this landscape sculpture in any form.)
The Gyle Centre
The artistic contents of this carparks include a kinetic sculpture which no longer moves…
A mottled cube called Concrete Jungle by Alan Watson (1994)…
Stacked Stades by Marion Smith (1994)…
A former fountain and waterway, now filled in with plants…
A giant chessboard near the bus stops, which I have never seen anyone use in over twenty years… although you can apparently request giant chess pieces inside the centre.
There is also a metal relief map of the Gyle Centre.
Who knows what this is? The plaque is missing and no one has bothered replacing it for years on end. Note the face at the top. Presumably 1994 like the rest…
Veil by Jake Kempsall (1994)…
Fossil Tree by Bill Scott (1994)… a hard one to photograph, surrounded by bins, lights and hedges.
Ian Hamilton Finlay?
Near the Gyle Centre Petrol Station, we encounter this structure. The basic form suggests a Greek temple. Inside are a set of Stelae which resemble Ian Hamilton Finlay’s work. The inscriptions are hard to read but refer to the likes of Ariel and Hesperus. These deserve a return visit from me, but I didn’t have much time to look at them. I have seen them many times before, thought they were just bollards and never properly considered them.
Appendix: The Badlands of South Gyle
This is the area to the north of Edinburgh Park Station. It is not really worth visiting. Here you can find numerous spaces which have been empty for years. There is a large substation, with some trees, what look like crosses between bomb sites and rice paddies. Happily this area has been colonised by spiky teazles.
More bizarrely two hotels overlook this wasteland.
Teazles – dipsacus – a plant formerly used in wool carding and a good coloniser of the badlands.Other flowers and rushes have colonised a few areas.
Burdock and broom…
And here is a mysterious pay car park in the middle of nowhere.
And a rarely used putting green near Loch Ross and the Edinburgh Park Central tram stop.
A little bit of ultra-local non-literary history and a bit of an anorak post. I hope it is of interest to somebody.
South Gyle was once described to me as a “new town” . I can’t disagree with this assessment. But over the next couple of posts I will look at a few aspects of its history, with a very dodgy camera – and my apologies for that.
Recently, however, I think I have uncovered an aspect of
Old South Gyle
What are some of the oldest features in South Gyle? Given that most of the area was truly a marsh, there is very little evidence of ancient settlement.
There were a few farm buildings here in the recent past. Most of which have gone, except for a stretch on South Gyle Road which I mention later. The railway line was built in the nineteenth century, but appears to have gone numerous improvements and South Gyle Station was opened in 1985. Except for the section on Glasgow Road, most of the other buildings in South Gyle originate in the late twentieth century.
The bypass dates to the 1980s.
South Gyle Road
Currently, South Gyle Road runs westwards from Meadowplace Road on the edge of Broomhall, and continues more-or-less in a straight line through the Wester Broom Estate built by MacTaggart and Mickel in the 1970s. To its north west is South Gyle Gardens and Gylemuir School which I imagine to be ’70s or ’80s in origin.
South Gyle Road then crosses South Gyle Station. The station itself was opened in 1985, but the bridge looks to be earlier. At South Gyle Station, the road is blocked to large vehicles. On the other side, it provides access to the South Gyle Mains estate again built by MacTaggart and Mickel, this time in the late 1980s-early 1990s. “Mains” is equivalent to the “home farm” south of the Border. (The same company has built estates at the Paddockholm near Station Road, and another in Craigmount – their post-1980s architecture is distinctive and partly based on Scottish baronial.)
On one side of the road, we see a row of farm workers cottages, covered in beautiful red ?pan tiles, which has survived well into the present day. I’m guessing that these date from the 19th century, although they may incorporate even older features.
On the other side, we find Gogarloch, named after the marsh. The streets here are named “Syke” (a ditch), “Haugh” (a meadow) and “Muir” (moor or heath). This was formerly “Westholme” and was built in the mid 1990s by Wimpey. The rest of the road curves round to become Gogarloch Road, and the so called west end of “South Gyle Road” is swallowed up in an extension of the Gogarloch Estate and is blocked off.
Finding a ghost hedge?
It is always great to see trees flowering in this area. While the cherry trees along Meadow Place Road are fantastic, I also like seeing the hawthorns in bloom. They are the real Queens of the May. They are often known as “quickthorn”, because they can produce a spiky hedge fairly rapidly – certainly faster than beech, but not as quickly as leylandia perhaps. That said, it is often hard to age a hawthorn tree, because they don’t tend to produce a single large trunk.
In old Scottish folklore it was considered bad luck to cut down hawthorn trees. (A similar taboo applied to dookits/dovecots – which is probably why Corstorphine’s dookit has long outlived its castle.) While I doubt the hawthorn tradition is well remembered in Edinburgh, I was amazed to see that some local trees may have survived the MacTaggart & Mickel and Wimpey developments of my lifetime.
Recently, when I was passing the South Gyle Roundabout, I noticed a solitary hawthorn flowering in the middle of it. What drew my attention to it, was that it seemed to line up with other hawthorn trees that ran along the south side of South Gyle Road. South Gyle Road is blocked off to the rounabout now, but sure enough, where it was blocked off, there was another hawthorn. The roundabout itself presumably dates to the 1990s.
The flowering hawthorn in the middle of the South Gyle roundabout.
Here I have taken a shot from the end of South Gyle Road. There is another hawthorn here in the vegetation, which lines up with the one on the roundabout, and some of the others further down the road. South Gyle Road is blocked off from the roundabout.
Looking in the other direction down South Gyle road to the east, one can a couple of flowering hawthorns. They are surrounded by other trees, presumably planted by MacTaggart and Mickel, or maybe Wimpey. It is unclear whether the hawthorns were but they seem to line up with the other ones. (The road curves around to become Gogarloch Road near the red car.)
The same two hawthorns from the back. There is no hawthorn hedge on the other side of the road.
Continuing further down, where South Gyle Road curves off and becomes Gogarloch Road, there are no hawthorns at all.
Further down the road, on the same side, they reappear. This is the first real “hedge” we see on this road heading east since it consists of several trees.
There is another grouping of them, they seem to be tidier, but it is unclear if these were planted more recently or are original parts of an older hedge. These look younger.
Here you can see the old cottages on the left which are the oldest buildings in this locality. Opposite them, the best preserved piece of hedging can be seen. This is definitely older than the South Gyle Mains estate, but perhaps not as old as the cottages. This may be the only bit of very old hedging, but it does seem to line up with the hawthorns further down, and even the one on the roundabout, suggesting they date back to when it was a mere farm track.
The same section photographed from behind… apologies for the glare.
And the same section again, looking back westwards from over South Gyle Station carpark.
There’s a big row of them there. These are mixed in with elderberry trees and do not look well managed. Certainly in the nineties it was possible to see the remains of what looked like an old farm fence with posts and barbed wire, possiy dating back to when the South Gyle Mains really did have a “mains”.
Finally there appear to be two lots of hawthorns next to the station.
This hawthorn between the gates does not look like much, but before the gates were built it used to be two or three times the height. I used to call it the bag tree, since bits of old shopping bags used to flutter around in its upper branches.
Finally, there are some along the embankment before the bridge. It is unclear whether these date to the building of the station in 1985, or back earlier to when the bridge was built.
This is the view of this row from the other side. It is not so clear due to the camera problems. The other trees appear to be beech.
Lastly, down the side of the railway line, along the path which leads from the station carpark to the Gyle Centre, there are some other hawthorns mixed in with other trees. These I can date with reasonable certainty to the 1990s. A few older specimens may have remained by this stage, but most of the specimens appear to be younger and their trunks are smaller. This section appears to be unconnected with my suspected ghost hedge, and is a complete mess and badly maintained.
So any literary connection? Well, I could add William Neil lived further along South Gyle Road, but that is for another day.
Submission (1997), a novella by Paul Reekie, in the Children of Albion Rovers compilation.
Kelly got her degree. Replying to an advert in the paper she was a salesperson in a car showroom in Corstorphine. She got the punters interested… aye you know… Old Rab comes around later and gets them to sign. Teamwork. How was the parlance? ‘Close the dead’.
While there is no car showroom in Corstorphine proper these days, there is one up on the Glasgow Road, between St Thomas Episcopal Church and the Marriot Hotel. This is a Jaguar showroom. This is not necessarily the showroom in the novella, but it could be the inspiration for it. I gather from certain sources that Submission was the problem piece in Children of Albion Rovers and had to be altered for legal reasons. However, I doubt the contemporary Jaguar car showroom was the legal reason. Some of the more delicate readers of this blog will doubtless be horrified by some of the language in the volume, but you can’t say you weren’t warned. This blog aims to discuss all the writing from this part of the world, not just the stuff from the “easy reading” section.
There used to be another briefly, on St John’s Road where the sign salesroom is now. But as I understand it, that was a place where one could rent classic cars, rather than buying them. This probably post-dates Submission anyway.
Paul Reekie was really a Leith writer, well Fife originally, and the obligatory Hibs fan. He was also what you could call a “difficult person”. Not in a bad way, but stubborn, and holding fast to his beliefs.
Difficult people often remain difficult after death. They can remain thorns in the sides of the people who disowned them. Or those who try to co-opt them after death. Memory is a tricky thing, but a written output helps keep that going a little longer.
Paul Reekie’s name has appeared in print a number of times more recently. And why? Austerity kills. Not just the body, but the soul too. Reekie appears regularly in lists of people who have been killed by vicious austerity policies. The fact that he was known by Irvine Welsh, Kevin Williamson and Alan Bisset etc. means that he has had a higher profile than some of the other victims. Photographs of him a few years apart show a shocking physical decline, aging much quicker than he should, partly the result of government inflicted stress.
“Paul Reekie is definitely seen as the ‘one that got away’, probably the biggest talent in a gifted group of Edinburgh writers that emerged in the 90s, but the least known, and one whose influence on the others has only become more apparent through his absence.” – Irvine Welsh
Reekie’s output was tiny, but he just won’t go away. The name “Reekie” puts you in mind of the whole city, both Auld and “Neu”. In a tribute to Paul Reekie, Welsh wrote that it was not surprising how little Williamson got out of him, but how much. The fact that he had champions like these, and appeared in Children of Albion Rovers anthology alongside better known writers means he won’t just scarper off and fade away like certain forces wish he would. In fact, I’ve talked about him several times recently with various groups of people. I never got to meet Reekie, but I know of him through friends and acquaintances we had in common. And that is how the collective memory works.
A memorial event to him at the Book Festival turned into pleasant anarchy. In one corner you could see generic festival goers, who had obviously seen it “on the programme” and wondered what they’d stumbled on. In another football fans who may have never attended any other events there before or since. In another friends and relatives. And then on stage, writers who came all the way from Japan next to Leith characters. One minute it was poignant, with folk practically in tears. Then drunken football songs, which somehow managed to avoid sounding as tribal as they normally do. The staff themselves looked even more confused.
Paul Reekie may well have the last laugh. And I hope he does.
Given that we had quite a few common acquaintances, and even friends, it’s amazing I don’t remember meeting Paul Reekie. Yet I’m coming to think that I probably did, at a Burns Supper at the former Postal Worker’s Union near London Road. Given that he was apparently sitting at a table with friends of mine, I must have spoken to him. Given that I remember relatively little of the proceedings, I must either blame the alcohol, early onset dementia, or some kind of extra-terrestrial encounter. (All of these are apparently common causes of memory loss.)
I find this kind of thing frustrating. I’ve met a good few writers through one thing and another. Still I would prefer to remember Paul Reekie, than my brief encounter with Robin Jenkins at a Waterstone’s book signing many years ago. I’ve never been able to bring myself to read any of Jenkins’ work since. A shame since Ionce enjoyed it!
Would a memory of Reekie have the same effect? Nah, I suspect something of himself came over in his work…