I love this doorway….
It spills out of the bottom of the old towering sandstone building, right in the heart of Edinburgh, which used to house the local newspaper – The Scotsman. It is minutes from Wavelry Station, where the great and the good used to spill into the city northbound from the London trains and south bound from Inverness.
A few steps futher, with a left turn and you are puffing your way up narrow cobbled alleys towards the High Street, and the Old Town, while turning right has you on Princess Street in the middle of the New Town in moments. I imagine journalists in the past rolling out of this door and bumping into their next story in a matter of minutes. The High Court, and the Sheriff Court are mere yards up the High Street, and the pubs surrounding them would always be full of stories of the days preceedings.
Somehow I imagine journalists in times past being more woven into the daily lives of the city’s inhabitants, rubbing shoulder to shoulder with the criminals and the judges, with the shop keepers and call girls, with the butchers and the grave diggers. Sharing a beer or a dram and laughing together. In my imagination this would give a vibrancy and an imidiacy to the stories, which feel sadly lacking from the bland pages of todays offering.
Some might say it’s a reflection of the loss of local inhabitants and characters in the centre of the city, but somehow in Edinburgh I feel they are all still here, it’s the journalists who are missing….shut away in their shiney new modern building next to the Scottish Parliament, but dislocated from the beating heart and life of the city. It all just feels too corporate and bland.
I remember visiting the old Scotsman building in my youth, and being in awe of the huge printing presses and the type setters, the smell of the ink and the vast rolls of blank paper waiting to be covered in stories. It was pure magic…and this door was the secret rabbit hole into and out of the warren.
Or perhaps I’m just living in an imagined golden age in my head…..
… Now morn, with bonny purpie-smiles, Kisses the air-cock o’ St Giles; Rakin their een, the servant lasses Early begin their lies and clashes; Ilk tells her friend o’ saddest distress, That still she brooks frae scouling mistress; And wi her joe in turnpike stair She’d rather snuff the stinking air, As be subjected to her tongue, When justly censur’d in the wrong. On stair wi tub, or pat in hand, The barefoot housemaids loo to stand, That antrin fock may ken how snell Auld Reikie will at morning smell: Then, with an inundation big as The burn that ‘neath the Nore Loch Brig is, They kindly shower Edina’s roses, To quicken and regale our noses. Now some for this, wi satire’s leesh, Hae gien auld Edinburgh a creesh: But without souring nocht is sweet; The morning smells that hail our street Prepare, and gently lead the way To simmer canty, braw and gay; Edina’s sons mair eithly share Her spices and her dainties rare, Than he that’s never yet been call’d Aff frae his plaidie or his fauld. Now stairhead critics, senseless fools, Censure their aim, and pride their rules, In Luckenbooths, wi glowring eye, Their neighbour’s sma’est faults descry: If ony loun should dander there, Of aukward gate and foreign air, They trace his steps, till they can tell His pedigree as weel’s himsel …
from Robert Fergusson: selected poems, edited by James Robertson, (Polygon, 2000).