Water of Leith, River of Death

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In spate, near Riversdale and the ice rink.
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What’s up ducks?

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.

How about this excerpt from Walter Savage Landor?

“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.

Name

“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.

Lethe

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.

William McGonagall

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McGonagall!

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.”

Down Under

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Upper reaches of the Water of Leith, Woodhaugh, Dunedin

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.)

A comparison:

  • 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.

Picture Credits

External links

Roman in Costafine Town

 

What connects George Harrison of the Beatles with Corstorphine? And what did the Romans do for us?

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In 1974, folk-rock duo Splinter had their biggest hit Costafine Town. It reached the Top Ten in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and the Top Twenty in the UK.

To people from Edinburgh, the name Costafine Town may sound strangely familiar.

Splinter

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The single – note the Dark Horse logo featuring the three Uchchaihshravas horses

Splinter were a folk-rock duo from South Shields in north east England, made up of Bill Elliott and Bobby Purvis. They existed for roughly a decade, from the early seventies to the mid eighties. It appears they did not weather the punk explosion well, and they never did manage to repeat the success of Costafine Town, a fact not helped by the BBC taking umbrage at the word “bloody” appearing in their second single and refusing to play it as a result. The song Costafine Town appears on their first album, The Place I Love.

Splinter’s sound has often been likened to Badfinger – which is not a bad comparison. But while Badfinger was Paul McCartney’s baby, Splinter was very much that of George Harrison. The duo wrote the songs while Harrison was one of the session musicians on many of the tracks including Costafine Town. They were also signed to Harrison’s Dark Horse label.

Splinter are not well remembered. None of Splinter’s music appears to be on iTunes or Spotify, but some can be found on Youtube. (There is also another band called Splinter from Weymouth. They are nothing to do with this one.)

Corstorphine Town?

So where did Costafine Town get its name from?

There is only one other Corstorphine of any note in the world, and that is a suburb of Dunedin in New Zealand. That’s even further away from South Shields than we are. “Corstorphine” is also an uncommon Scottish surname.

A clue can be had in that many English people drop the letter “r”, i.e. a word like “farmer” ends up being pronounced as “fahmah” without a “r” in hearing range. That gives would give us “Cawsstawfin” which is not far off “Costafine.” And “phine”, well that looks like “fine” doesn’t it?

According to Bob Purvis, one half of the band, in a report on Look North East (the local BBC news programme) back in 2008 this is exactly what his mother did:

“I thought it’s time we wrote a song about South Shields. I sat down, I had the tune, me mother came in the conversation while I was playing. And we talked about this place called ‘Corstorphine Town’. My mother had a thing where she gets her words mixed up. Quite a lot. And it should have been ‘Costafeen’ [sic], but she pronounced it ‘Costafine’. By that time I had ‘Costafine Town, it’s a fine town, I’m comin’ home.

No “Corstorphine Town” currently appears on the map in South Shields, but that is not surprising. Not only was the north east of England a significant target for German bombs during WWII, it was also heavily redeveloped in the decades just after the war. All that appears to remain of Corstorphine Town is a single pub called the Commercial Hotel. It is to be found in the Riverside area of South Shields. According to “John Simpson Kirkpatrick” on Youtube:

Costa Fine Town (real name Corstorphine Town) was named after business man Robbie Corstorphine, who settled in South Shields, but hailed from Corstorphine, a village west of Edinburgh.

It seems there is a bit of confusion here. Was it named after Mr Corstorphine, or someone from Corstorphine, or both? This is a riddle some local historians might want to try and solve. By coincidence there were two Scottish presenters on Look North East at the time who point out that Corstorphine is in Edinburgh where the zoo is.

Corstopitum Town

A member of the “Corstorphine Memories” Facebook group suggested recently that Corstorphine is a Roman name. This was mainly because the name “Corstorphine” resembles “Corstopitum”, which is an old name for Corbridge, one of the forts on Hadrian’s Wall. According to a certain free encyclopaedia (and you might want to check other sources):

“The place-name appears in contemporary records as both Corstopitum and Corie Lopocarium. These forms are generally recognised as corrupt. Suggested reconstructions include CoriosopitumCorsopitum or Corsobetum.

The Roman presence on Tyneside is well known. Wallsend, across the river from South Shields, was the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall. This effectively was the northern extreme of Romanitas for most of their time in Britain. However, various emperors did attempt to extend their power northwards, through various military expeditions, buying off local Celtic tribes, and building the Antonine Wall between the Forth and Clyde. Cramond was one of their main ports north of Hadrian’s Wall, but it has to be said that the Roman presence in what-is-now southern Scotland was intermittent. Someone has estimated that of the four hundred years or so that the Romans spent in Britain, a mere forty were spent manning the Antonine Wall and even those were not a continuous forty.

The question is not whether the Romans visited this area, but for how long and how often. EA Elders, in an article in the Scotsman in 1969, suggests a Roman road ran from Cramond, over Drumbrae and between the Gogarloch and Corstorphine Loch heading towards Kingsknowe. I find this route a bit questionable – personally I would have thought it would have headed further west, alongside the Almond through Cammo, Lennie and Gogar, and along the west flank of the Pentland Hills to Carnwath. This would bypass some of the hills and some of the open water. However, in support of this theory, a Roman coin was once found in a garden at the east end of South Gyle Road, near where it joins Meadow Place Road. Does this mean a Roman dropped it there? Possibly. But bear in mind that Roman coins were also traded outside areas of Roman control, used to pay off troublesome tribes and some were even in circulation long after the empire had collapsed. Roman coins have turned up in places such as Ireland, Scandinavia and even Iceland which is supposed to have been uninhabited in Roman times.

Roman names are fairly uncommon in Scotland for this very reason – there are one or two. Bonchester in the borders springs to mind, for example, but they are very rare. Most of the apparently “Roman” names in England and Wales are actually Celtic in origin. Names such as Londinium (London), Eboracum (York), Isca (Exeter), Venta Silurum (Caerwent) all come from Celtic origins. Some of the names of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall including Corstopitum/Coria (Corbridge) and Segedunum also appear to be Celtic. (Some names in these islands appear to pre-date Celtic languages too – mostly those of natural features such as rivers and islands.)

Since the name of Corstorphine is first recorded in the 12th century, it is very hard to work out its ancient origins. The most likely answer is that it is Celtic and/or Norse of some kind. “Cors” in Welsh means a marsh (in Gaelic, the word is corrsa or carrsa), which fits the bill well. This word often becomes “carse” in Scots.

External links

Dinnieduff: The Promised Land

cruickshankplaqueCorstorphine, a major force in Scottish culture? Well yes at one time it was, long before Tesco, shopping centres, and Wimpey/Barratt style housing developments that many of us live in. That was one of the premises of BBC Scotland’s Scotland The Promised Land (PL) which painted Montrose and Corstorphine as the twin poles of the Scottish Renaissance. Helen Cruickshank (see link for details) was of course connected with both of them.

PL was far above BBC Scotland’s usual dire standard. It was a good, but slightly misleading, basic introduction to an important aspect of Scotland’s cultural history. But of course, PL had numerous omissions – the Gaelic element of the renaissance (except arguably Fionn MacColla/Tom MacDonald) was missing – while certain neglected aspects such as the non-literary aspects of the Scottish Renaissance got a look in. If you didn’t know much about the Scottish Renaissance, you’d probably learn a lot. If you already knew a bit about it, you’d learn only a little.

PL featured a lot of talking heads. There were plenty of academics amongst them, but not enough writers. The actual Scottish Renaissance was centred outwith the universities. Notable figures of the renaissance such as Helen Cruickshank and Hugh MacDiarmid never went to university, and many of the protagonists’ working or lower middle class backgrounds would have meant that they were unlikely to do so either. Granted, some of the talking heads were “two-sers”, i.e. writers and academics such as Alan Riach and Raymond Vettese, but even their position was slightly different.

On the flipside, we got hear a lot from Hugh MacDiarmid’s grandson, and also the owners of Dinnieduff (Helen Cruickshank’s former home in Corstorphine) who seem good people and genuinely interested in their house’s history.

Further Reading

Helen Cruickshank’s Octobiography is fascinating. It is out of print unfortunately, but various libraries in Edinburgh have copies.

External Links

Scotland the Promised Land website.

Rebecca West

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A lot of things come through Facebook – good, bad, and often ugly – but it was interesting to see this quote from Rebecca West (1892-1983), which many will agree with, and some even recoil from. Rebecca West was a highly interesting woman, and  a sometimes contradictory one.

She is also part of the story of literary Corstorphine.

Who she?

Rebecca West was born Cicely Fairfield in County Kerry. She was a noted journalist, author, literary critic, and also the “other half” of the science fiction writer H.G. Wells. Their son, Anthony West was a noted writer in his own right.

Her output was huge, and she contributed articles to major newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. It is difficult to summarise it all here.

Cicely (Rebecca) had a difficult childhood. Her father, Charles Fairfield was an Irish journalist who went bankrupt. He abandoned his family when Cicely was only eight, leaving Isabella, his Scottish wife, to raise them by herself. Isabella took the family to Edinburgh, where Cicely went to George Watson’s Ladies College on a scholarship. Cicely left school when she was sixteen with little or no formal qualifications.

Despite her father’s abandonment, she and her sisters all went on to lead successful middle class lives. One became an early female doctor and barrister.

Cicely herself would attend the Women’s School of Gardening at Kaimes Road in Corstorphine (on the west side of the zoo). This was a pioneering feminist institution – and other graduates included the Borders poet Madge Elder. Both of them would end up being involved in political activism, and the women’s suffrage movement.

She took her pen-name, Rebecca West from a character in one of Ibsen’s plays, a reminder of her career as an actress.

Novelist

West wrote fourteen novels, several of which were published after her death. Return of the Soldier (1918) is about the effects of WWI, while The Judge (1922) deals with the women’s suffrage movement. Many of her other works are romans à clef – i.e. disguised semi-autobiography such as Harriet Hume which is about an accomplished piano player held back by her husband (much as her mother Isabella had been).

Influence

No single form or genre was sufficient to contain her energy, and she lived as hard as she wrote. Rebecca West went everywhere, read everything, knew everyone. As Bonnie Kime Scott says in her editor’s introduction, “To read her letters in an informed way is to receive an education in the culture of the twentieth century.”

  • Hilary Mantel, in “Conservative Rebel”, a review of Selected Letters of Rebecca West, in The New York Review of Books (29 June 2000)

West accepted a DBE in 1959. By this stage, she had swung well away from the left-wing politics of her earlier life, so this was hardly a surprising decision.

She was responsible for covering many of the major events of the twentieth century – the beginnings of formal apartheid in South Africa in 1960, the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War, the trial of “Lord Haw Haw” and many others.

External Links

Ghosts, UFOs and other such things

pubsignThe one, and possibly only, Samhainn post.

An old area always has ghosts. The White Lady is the most famous local one – giving her name to a local pub. She is said to roam the area around Saughton Road North and Dovecot Road. Despite having walked, run, cycled and driven these roads, at all hours of the day, for a number of years I have never seen her. You’re more likely to see the Legless Drunkman of a night. I suspect she’s a bit shy, and appreciates neither the bright orange street lighting nor the twenty four hour traffic of the modern age.

Her tale is a run-of-the-mill ghost story. According to the sign on the pub, it is “named after Lady Christian Nimmo, known as ‘the White Lady’, who killed her lover, James, Lord Forrester, in August 1679, with his own sword. On the day of her execution, she wore a white hooded gown [as one does]. It is said that the ghost of the White Lady could be seen under the sycamore tree where the murder took place.”

The sycamore is no more. But its leaf has become a kind of a logo for Corstorphine.

According to some people it was supposed to be a cross-class relationship, so I doubt whether it would have worked out. (Which would mean Christian Nimmo was not a “Lady” but a “lady”, if you get my meaning). Other people say she was married, and others that she was his niece! Like a lot of ghost stories, one gets a sense of “haven’t I heard this somewhere before?” and you’ll hear the same kind of thing up and down the country.

The Forresters were actually a very dull family, and this ghost story is one of the few stories of interest about them. Despite this, they gave their name to Forrester Road, and a couple of miles away, an area called locally “Forresters” (home to Diane in Trainspotting no less), which in turn is next to Forrester High School.

Sculpture in the White Lady
Sculpture in the White Lady

Old Corstorphine does indeed seem to be doomed to destruction. The old castle got knocked down, leaving behind the doocot, and the Dower House. The sycamore whose leaf can be seen on railings around the area was blown down some years ago. Many of the old graves in the old kirkyard have been smashed up and flattened by the council. And of course the CYCC is now a burnt out shell. (I could list various other commercial and architectural mistakes in the area, particularly on St John’s Road!)

In some cultures, the desecration of graves (whether for “safety” or not) would be considered enough to bring down a curse on an area, and would explain such events.On one of the few occasions I’ve actually been inside Corstorphine Kirk, it rained tiny bits of plaster dust every time the organ was played. I had to brush my shoulders and scalp every few minutes as if I had a severe case of dandruff. No idea whether this problem has been fixed or not, but it was not endearing. I can’t imagine this makes the local spirits happy either.

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The Lady Well, to be found to the back of Dunsmuir Court.

Ladywell House, and the streets nearby, take their name from an old holy well (pictured). It’s hidden behind a small council estate, but to be honest, there isn’t much to see anymore. Featherhall may also take its name from this water source. The lady in question here is the Virgin Mary, and presumably before that some local pagan deity.

But if you want genuinely eerie – try Corstorphine Hill in the dark. The street lighting peters out there, and the trees close in…There are many rumours of sinister nocturnal ceremonies up there. The hill also features in a book on Scottish UFOs – and eldritch lights and objects continue to be seen up that way by various people. But it is worth mentioning the flight path to Edinburgh Airport does pass near there. Just as creepy – and in this case indisputable – is the former nuclear bunker to be found on its northern slope, now masquerading as a roads depot. It has, however, gained a bit more notoriety in recent years – and I include a link about it below. It features in one of Charles Stross’ novel, Rule 34.

Further Reading

  • Ron Halliday – UFO Scotland (discusses Corstorphine Hill etc)
  • Charles Stross – Rule 34 (novel featuring nuclear base and Clermiston)
  • Sue Walker – The Burning (novel set around the area of Dovecot Road)

Links

Corstorphine White Lady

White Lady of Corstorphine

Glowing object seen over Corstorphine

Edinburgh UFO sightings (note 1998)

Pictures of the Nuclear bunker

A Cuddie and an Ass

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Robert Cuddie (1821-1876) was a minor poet – more unkind folk might say poetaster – from Corstorphine. His work is mainly of local interest and published posthumously in 1878. I have been unable to track down any of his collections, and the only reason I know of him in the first place is that he gets a mention in several of the local history books.

His poems include The Corstorphine Games, and The Rival Bellman. Cuddie worked locally as a postman taking letters from Corstorphine up to Gogar. He also worked in the local library. I believe he still has relatives in the area.

When someone once made fun of his name, his retort was:
Though baith the twa o them are in
A rather stupid class:
A line micht still be drawn atween
A Cuddie and an Ass.

“Cuddie” is a nickname for a donkey, due to their pre-Reformation connection with St Cuthbert. “Cuddie” is also used to refer to racehorses, either in irony or in ignorance. The name “Cuddie Lane” (and variants) is often used for narrow roads and can be found in suburbs such as Colinton and Morningside.

As a point of interest, it shows that Broad Scots was still in strong use in the 19th century in Corstorphine, not something that can be said today.And just because we’re all Americanised now, don’tassume “ass” here means someone’s backside.

The Rival Bellman is about a spat between the ringers of Corstorphine Church and what is now the United Reformed Church.

Sadly, Cuddie seems to be one of the few Corstorphine poets to be noticed in the local history books. More’s the pity, since he’s not the best. Helen Cruickshank is much better, and underrated. She gets some attention in some of these books at least. William Neill – perhaps more South Gyle – is also much better and doesn’t get mentioned at all AFAIK. Both Cruickshank and Neill wrote in Scots – Cruickshank in the dialect of Montrose, and Neill in that of South Ayrshire and Galloway. Unlike them, perhaps, Cuddie was local born and bred.

Place name stuff

A few of the old street names in western Edinburgh are preserved intact, such as Kirk Loan (church lane), but most are semi-Anglicized, such as

* the Paddockholm (i.e. Puddock Holm, frog marsh/island), the location of the old Corstorphine railway station.

* Redheughs (Reid Heughs), in South Gyle, former HQ of the Royal Bank, before they went to Gogarburn.

Others have been completely anglicised, such as Dovecot (Doocot) Road and Coltbridge (originally Coltbrig). Bucking the trend, some modern developments have made an effort to use Scots elements e.g. East Craigs(rocks/cliffs), South Gyle Mains(home farm), Gogarloch Syke and Hill Park Brae(slope/hill). However, it is questionable how many younger locals would know what any of these terms mean. Many Edinburgh folk have started to pronounce “loch” as “lock” in the last decade or two, so would probably say Cuddie’s “micht” as “mict” or “might”. A number seem perplexed by the likes of “haugh” or “heugh”. These are words that appear in local place names, and were used by ordinary people in the Lothians for centuries. That is, until the BBC came along, and so called “education” – both of which have worked hard to destroy Scottish culture deliberately, and largely succeeded.

Picture credits

Church of St John the Baptist (M J Richardson) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bleeding Ink – grassroots literature, part 2

Bleeding Ink, issue 5. (The current one)
Bleeding Ink, issue 5. (The current one)

Another ego post, apologies. This luvvie self-congratulatory stuff must stop soon.

Here’s a guide to each of the issues of Bleeding Ink. Again, I’m making no claims to it being a major or significant publication, but as promised, I said I’d try and cover all levels of literature in this neck of the woods. If any of you know anything about other magazines put out by local writing groups, please post a comment. And of course, if this stuff bores you to tears, and you want to read more about better known writers… there’s always other posts to move on to! (I’ve just posted on Roy Campbell, and a one time resident of the zoo for example.)

Issue 1 – Summer 2012

Artwork – Fountainbridge Library, by Alan Savage. Ink’s leaking out from the building. The other pictures are stock ones off the internet. Alan is an architect by training so he was the one to go to for an illustration of a building!

Tagline – “Let it bleed” (Sorry Rolling Stones)

Highlights – There’s some interesting poetry in here, covering everything from skimming stones to the dangers of having a hot shave at a Turkish barber. My favourite though is Rory MacCallum’s Invincible Machines, which reminds me of some of the happier times in my teens. To my mind his piece was as good as a lot of writing by the likes of Ian McEwan etc. Julia Boxer’s Uncle Ray (!) holds some promise – I hope she continues the story.

Other stuff – The foreword was provided by the novelist David Fiddimore (1944-2015), a supporter of the group. He also suggested having a red cover. Also includes Slighe nam Facal, a rare example of concrete poetry in Gaelic.There is also a guide to Fountainbridge on the back, which reminds people of its original name, Foulbriggs.

Issue 2 –Winter 2012

Artwork – Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens, a drawing by Michael Conway, who also illustrated #4. It’s angled to look like a postcard. Again, used quite a lot of stock pictures in this one. Astronaut Neil Armstrong got commemorated on the back cover (and more bizarrely in Sadie Massie’s piece about club sandwiches).

Tagline – “About Bleedin’ Time”

Highlights – John’s story about a whisky drinking goat. (Which is tame compared to his poem about a bike riding unicorn.) Julia Boxer’s Little Pink poems, which deal with a woman’s childhood and adulthood.

Other stuff – Contains small print about the terms and conditions of bringing goats into Fountainbridge Library.The rural issue? Several of the stories are set in the countryside, and one gives instruction on how to poach from rivers. I think this is the worst designed one in certain ways. It was meant to have a red cover but didn’t.

Issue 3 – Summer 2013

This issue is our only themed one so far, and dealt with the looming Independence Referendum. Group members were on both sides of the debate. Again, making no claims for our importance – the idea was that ordinary people had the right to discuss the issue, and that there wasn’t enough creative response to it either. Interestingly, most of the unionist material was more subtle than the pro-independence stuff.

Artwork – Nick Baikie’s Scrabble Board, as photographed by me. The back cover shows a door sign in Dundee University written in Scottish English. I managed to find a sticker advocating independence for Venice – appropriate given our proximity to the canal!

Tagline – “Bleedin’ politicians! Bleedin’ referendum! Bleedin’ Union &Bleedin’ Independence. Who bleedin’ cares? We do!”

Highlights – Scotland Think It Over, a song by John Lamb who is a folk singer based in East Lothian. Alan Savage’s Seventeen Forty Five, a story about an alternate timeline in which the Jacobites won. John Robinson’s poem is a good summary of how citizens probably should relate to their government.

Other stuff – The one and only appearance of Geraldine Joliffe. Rory MacCallum’s poem Diet was a holdover from the previous issue, but was political enough to be included. Some of the material was, ahem, on the strong side. Probably the most anonymous material in any issue.

Issue 4 –Summer 2014

Artwork – Poet at Neu Reekie  painting by Michael Conway. Neu Reekie is the name of a regular Edinburgh arts show organised by Kevin Williamson and Michael Pedersen. It is named partly after Paul Reekie (See earlier on this blog.) The original painting is on a red background. One reader suggested it was a picture of Satan! The back cover has a picture of a very large rabbit being held up by a small man.

Tagline – “Bleedin’ Hearts (an’ Bleedin’ Hibs) Bleedin’ ’Eck! It’s back again! Batten down the ’atches!”

Highlights – The cover despite the problems with the ink rubbing off like cheap newsprint! Anne-Louise Lowrey’s poem about seagulls and Morag MacLeman’s about a pompous duck seemed to fit nicely together. Nick Baikie’s alternative take on what Bleeding Ink might mean.

Other stuff – Includes a little known quote from William Goldman’s Marathon Man which praises the beauty of Princes Street. First appearance of Anne-Louise Lowrey.Death and Graffiti is my personal favourite of all my own stories in the magazine, and is an extract from a novel.

Issue 5 – Summer 2015

Artwork – Exmoor Ponies on North Berwick Law photographed by me. I liked the image, but Dolina MacLennan when seeing it said she thought that the horses looked sad and underfed – each to their own a Dholaidh! The rest of the artwork comes from a number of photos I took of street stickers and unusual images like the monstrous Titan Arum flower that grew in the Botanics.

Tagline – “They ran as he fell and bled,/Slowly the black ace turned to red…” (from John Robinson’s poem Best Suit)

Highlights – Taking Notes by Morag MacLeman. Given that she had produced very short pieces in the past, it was great to see her tackle something longer.

Other stuff – The welcome return of Rory MacCallum.A short tribute to David Fiddimore. Regrettably this issue didn’t include regulars Julia Boxer, Sadie Massie and Alan Savage. Possibly the most facetious blurb I’ve written, but luckily some people do seem to have got the joke. Quite possibly the first time a Latvian language story has appeared in an Edinburgh writing magazine even if it was on a photo of a sticker. A lot of the copies only have one staple… hmm… The Alexander McCall Smith parody, No 44 Ladyboy’s Detective Squad, will raise a few eyebrows.

Five issues is pretty good going for a magazine which doesn’t get any state funding. Also the fact that there’s usually enough material by the deadline is a sign that our output is healthy.

Bleeding Ink – grassroots literature – part 1

Bleeding Ink, issues 1-4
Bleeding Ink, issues 1-4

Apologies for the ego post – I’m going to post occasionally about things I’m doing. Hopefully it won’t become too much of a habit.

This is where I get my ego trip! Edited by yours truly, Bleeding Ink is currently on its fifth issue. Another west Edinburgh based contributor is Nick Baikie, who appears in every issue. It’s the magazine/pamphlet/booklet of New Edinburgh Writers who are based at Fountainbridge Library.

It’s 24 pages long, costs a mere quid, and usually comes out annually in time for the Edinburgh International Book Festival. We sell quite a few there, although we have to hawk them outside the enclosure. One of the writers got escorted out when he tried to sell some inside the venue – ironically the theme of the festival that year was oppressed writers. On another occasion, we sold them using slogans like “support writers who won’t charge you twenty pounds for an autograph” and “read writing by writers” (there being a lot of books out there by celebrities and the like).

The good news though is that every issue has “washed its face”. We have got some copies into bookshops – not Waterstones and Blackwells – but most of our sales are face to face. We sell them on the street, as well as to friends& family. (I was recently lucky enough to meet some of the members of London-based Push who sell a lot of their magazines outside football games. Which is not the kind of place arts quangoes go anywhere near. Their magazine is thriving!)

Bleeding Ink contains short stories >1500 words, shorter poetry, and even in one case a play script. It has published material in Broad Scots and Scottish Gaelic, as well as English. It’s only available in hard copy. We did do a version of #1 in large print for a disabled friend of one of the writers, but otherwise we’ve stuck to the A5 format. I try and pack as much into them as I can so readers feel they’ve got good value, but poetry is problematic to format. It usually gets put into double columns and a slightly smaller font size. The graphic design could probably be a lot better, but I don’t have much expertise in that area.

Copies of the magazine have found their way into the hands of various writers and publishers who are a bit better known than us. Denise Mina, the crime writer has bought a copy (thank you!). Novelist David Fiddimore (RIP) bought the first four issues, and was kind enough to contribute a foreword to the first edition. Others include Joy Hendry of Chapman magazine, James Robertson, Ken Macleod, John Herdman etc. I just hope that they’ve read and enjoyed them! Needless to say, in my experience, some professional writers seem to remember their amateur days better than others.

So last but not least, what’s the point in it? Michael Conway, who did some of the cover artwork, has complained it could be seen as “vanity publishing”. Well, kind of, but not quite. We’re not losing money hand over foot. We don’t print it, but we do publish it. While I try to get at least one piece from each group member, it doesn’t always work out that way. Not everything submitted gets printed though. If it’s vanity, it’s vanity for me perhaps, because editing and selecting your own material is very different from dealing with other people’s. What else?

  • It gets the material out there. It may vary in quality and style, but it gets it seen. It has had positive feedback from some quarters, and there is a good chance that something in it may catch someone’s eye.
  • It helps the members of the writing group focus on producing material and working to a deadline, which is something that they’d have to do in a “real” situation.
  • It proves there’s life beyond the literary establishment. We don’t receive a penny off the state, our writers are currently unknown and the material’s different to some of the things mainstream publishers put out. Every issue is in the NLS for posterity.
  • I’d like to think that it’s good for the self-esteem of group members. If it boosts anyone’s confidence and makes them happier, that is never a bad thing.

In the past of the group (before my time), there were occasional volumes like Voices from the Bridge which included Nick Houghton (one time resident of Forrester Park). One member of the group went on to win the MacAllan short story competition, and others have ended up getting published “for real”.

External Links

Review of Bleeding Ink No. 4 on Scottish Books (This website is well worth browsing in general by the way)

CYCC – Fire, Freemasonry and the Gaelic novel

CYCC from near Corstorphine Library
CYCC from near Corstorphine Library, Kirk Loan

Located on Kirk Loan, the CYCC/Corstorphine Hub is the former home of Corstorphine Library and probable basis for Gymnippers Diciadain by Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir. The building is currently a burnt out shell, but used to contain a fitness club, youth centre, Masonic lodge, and also hosted the Corstorphine Literary and Geographical Society for a number of years.

The first public library in Corstorphine was founded back in the 1830s, and was a subscription library. In 1892, it moved to the CYCC, and became a council-run library a few years later. In 1936, it moved to its current building, which is next door. It’s curious to think that all of this occurred when Corstorphine was still a proper village and not engulfed by Edinburgh.

View from by Bowling Club
View from by Bowling Club

At the top of the building, one can still see faded Masonic lettering on the walls, which has been damaged by rain and water ingress since the roof fell in. Conspiracy theorists will be disappointed though – before the lettering faded away, it was clearly a noble statement about brotherly love, rather than something about worshipping Satan or trying to establish a global government. (Sorry to any beleaguered Freemasons reading – that was a joke.) Although at one point, as conspiracy theorists might be interested to know, the Mormon Church held branch meetings in the lodge there. The painted lettering looks to have been very fine, and it is a great shame to see it destroyed like this.

The other half of the building still has the sign “Elite Fitness” on it. This appears to be where the fire started, from a faulty heater. Given that children were in there at the time, it is extremely fortunate that none of them were seriously hurt. Since there used to be a children’s club in there, and Màrtainn Mac an t-Saoir lives/d in Broomhall/Wester Broom, I suspect it was the basis for his Gymnippers Diciadain*. Certainly I know for a fact his family used Corstorphine Library next door. It concerns a platonic romance between two Gaelic speakers, Caroline and DJ, whose children attend a weekly gym class together. Sorry to be a tease again, but yes there will be a further post on this – with quotes – at some point in the future. I’ll even attempt to translate extracts.

According to Gaelicbooks dot org – “Bha an leabhar seo air geàrr-liosta SALTIRE MAIN LITERARY PRIZE 2005 (comhla ri Kate Atkinson, Ali Smith agus feadhainn eile).” (This book was shortlisted for the Saltire Main Prize 2005 (along with Kate Atkinson, Ali Smith and some others))

For those who are interested in helping getting this building properly refurbished, there is a fundraising shop on St John’s Road inside Lucy’s Café. Personally, I don’t find it one of the more attractive older buildings in Corstorphine, but the fire was still a crying shame.

Across the road can be seen Corstorphine Kirk. In the graveyard can be found relatives of the local poet Robert Cuddie. Unfortunately, the graveyard is very badly maintained and the city council has vandalised many of the stones in the name of health and safety. The kirk and original village are on an old island in a marsh. On one side was the Gogar Loch, which extended from just beyond Featherhall/Ladywell, over Gyle Muir & Gyle Park to Gogar. On the other was Corstorphine Loch, which ran from round about the Paddockholm & Traquair Park, over Carrick Knowe Golf Course to the fringes of Murrayfield. Nearby Sycamore Gardens is named after the great sycamore which was haunted by the spirit of the White Lady (hence the pub name on St John’s Road). The sycamore itself is one of the most overegged symbols of Corstorphine and sycamore leaves appear in some of the railings in the area. Lord knows why, since as larger trees go, sycamores are as good as weeds. Like the castle of the Forrester Family, the sycamore is gone, and doesn’t even exist as a stump. I remember it coming down.

Mystery hole in the wall

The mystery hole on Saughton Road Nth (near CYCC & Bowling Club)
The mystery hole on Saughton Road Nth (near CYCC & Bowling Club)

I’ve put this photograph up so that readers can have a go at trying to work out what this is. Has it got any significance at all? It’s between the end of Kirk Loan and the gate into the bowling club.

We often overlook stuff like this, but since my tour of Kirkcudbrightshire (see the second post), I’ve come to realise that the apparently ordinary is not always so ordinary.

I’m guessing the wall is late 19th/early 20th century in origin, and the fact that the stone is near the bottom means it is likely to have been there since the wall got built. It’s not unlikely the stone came from elsewhere, so it could be stone that came from the castle, or even a prehistoric cup and ring stone (there are some of those up on Corstorphine Hill). If it’s part of a cup and ring stone, this would be pretty fantastic – these are about the nearest things that we have to writing from our own Stone Age.

Or is it just somewhere a bolt was put?

Notes

* “Gymnippers” pronounced as in English. “Diciadain” as “Jeekee-ahdun”, which means “Wednesday”.

External Links

Gymnippers Diciadain (in Gaelic)

Corstorphine Youth and Community Centre/Corstorphine Hub

Auld Reekie oot west

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.

Glasgow Road, Maybury - looking towards Corstorphine. The Jaguar showroom is behind the nearest bus stop.
Glasgow Road, Maybury – looking towards Corstorphine. The Jaguar showroom is behind the nearest bus stop.

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.

Update

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…

External links

The Paul Reekie Blog

This lost genius: The legacy of the late Scottish poet Paul Reekie

Claim welfare reforms drove writer Paul Reekie to suicide

Picture Credits

Glasgow Road (Thomas Nugent) / CC BY-SA 2.0
(Apologies, this is the best picture I could find. Some time I’ll try and replace it with one of the actual showroom – if people are interested!)