The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

The Street Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Beyond a holiday

Over the half way mark now and have gone well and truly native – I know when the grumpy check-out people work their shifts in Tuodi so have arranged my shopping routine accordingly, we don’t stay in of an evening accessing old British sitcoms on Youtube and playing them through the telly in the flat, we know to scrape together the exact money when paying for things in shops and when we don’t have the change we give an Italian-like shrug, we cringe whenever we venture into the centre of Rome and hear Brits or Americans speaking or looking clueless.

Highlights so far:

1. Lucilla – who has gone from landlady for the month to dear friend – showing us around Castelli Romani and introducing us to her lovely family and showing us the most staggering hospitality. 

2. Richard and I putting together a seven hour playlist of classic British tracks that was unleashed in Yeah! last Monday and will exist for all eternity on Spotify – just waiting for the touch of a hipster’s finger to release the Brit genie from the bottle.

3. Any night with Alessandro and his unbridled passion for all things British. Even when he’s only being fuelled by green tea his enthusiam ignites the room. What a guy!

4. Ciak pizzaria – forget what I’ve said about any other pizza place – this is the real deal! It may even be as good as The Jolly… with the added bonus that it’s in Italy – wow!

All these things have made me feel like my little heart is about to burst.. hopefully there will be more experiences in the next week and a half…

Remember – ‘Don’t worry that your life will end – worry that it may never start… ‘ 

Seven days in -flagging, waving or drowning?

Sunday 6th April – One week into the social experiment (don’t call it a holiday – right?) that is my four weeks in Pigneto, Rome. Okay you backpackers, world travellers, ex-pats and exchange students – that may not seem that impressive to you but it’s four weeks out of my healthy comfort zone of one day fasts, limited caffeine and dairy diet, fresh (in comparison) Scottish air and soft Scottish water – so to me it’s a big deal. But apart from that I (we) are taking to it like ducks to water. So on this lazy Sunday afternoon as we sink a couple of beers in Yeah! to a consistently brilliant soundtrack – alternating between Morrissey and Pulp – here are some (general) observations so far:

1. Social capital is key – forget your northern european stay indoors culture. People get out and about, to see and be seen, even if it’s just to down an espresso on the way to work or back home – it’s five minutes of chat and goss. Totally invaluable!

2. There are a lot of very cute dogs and they seem to like eating bread when it’s chucked out for the birds in the park – what do the birds eat?

3. Everyone wants to practise their English which is a disaster for learning Italian – hey ho…

4. Everyone smokes and drinks coffee – along with the pollution – how does everyone look so healthy? It must be having access to loads of fresh fruit and veg and a good old mental attitude.

5. There’s a brilliantly integrated vibe whereby younger people, older people and cute little dogs can chill out together into the wee small hours. There’s no hint of aggression or any pressure to drink yourself silly (one week in we’re still working on that one…) Maybe it’s because the sanctified surroundings of Yeah! are something particularly special but I get the feeling that’s just the Italian way.

Pigneto in particular:

The Energy Park is a great place for chilling out, people watching and one cheeky little Jack Russell with a fondness for bread (see above). Today there was a demonstration to save the lake in the park from developers who want to build a shopping centre there. The demonstration was passionate with loudspeakers, banners and people banging on a padlocked gate. The gate did seem quite flimsy so I’m sure the banging was more symbolic than anything else but as two Jocks we were tempted to offer to kick it in for them if that’s what they wanted…  The police were there and even though feelings were passionate it did seem good natured with pregnant women and little kids in the crowd. Also there seemed to be no paranoia re filming the event. It seems like a good cause and I hope the people of Pigneto triumph!

We went to Marguri for a pizza the other night with our new good friend Alessandro. Checked tablecloths; people from little kids to really quite elderly crowding in quite late on; strangers sitting close together (gasp!); bright lighting (eek!) and just the complete Italianess was like The Jolly turned up to eleven (is it possble to feel nostalgic about an Edinburgh pizzeria when in Rome?) In short though – well recommended for a great quality Neapolitan style (puffy base) pizza.

Above was actually only our second eating-out night. First off was Food Art just down the road from Yeah! Highly recommended with a yummy veggie antipasti, Roman style (crispy base) pizzas and a litre of house red for only 5.50!!! They apparently make ther own seitan which I’ll try later as we’ll definitely be going back.

Tuodi is our local supermarket, just across from Food Art with a bigger branch just at the top of the pedestrionised bit of via del Pigneto. There’s also a Conrad half way between the two but think Tuodi has the edge for prices and choice. Finding it pretty hard tho to source any spices other paprika, luckily we brought our own packet of curry powder and Richard cooked up a spicy storm last night. We’ve invited Alessandro around for a curry night – R has told him (ironic humour here) it’s a national Scottish dish and I think he believes him…

Saw a terrific local band called Zman (there’s an accent on the ‘a’ which I can’t do on this keyboard) in Yeah! the other night. A four piece – guitar/vocals, bass, percussion, keyboards/saxaphone – playing sort of psychedelic folk-rock. A bit like early David Bowie meets The Doors with touches of Gruff Rhys’ Candylion and The Coral in their more acoustic moments. Well worth checking out.







Two Jocks in Pigneto

Well, one Jock and one Jockette trying to put as much distance between themselves and the endless Independence debate trundling on  back in Jockland – for at least a while. So what better place to hide out for a few weeks than the marvelously happening and creative Roman suburb of Pigneto. Prettier and with much more of a village feel than the neighbouring university-centric San Lorenzo; and much, much more authentic than the Notting-Hill-like-stop-on-the-tourist-trail that is Trastevere. Yeah! cafe has already become our second home in Rome – reliable wi-fi, charming staff, a staggering range of refreshments from super healthy veg juices to less healthy super measures of Talisker via tea, coffee and all manner of sweet and savoury tarts served up unbegrudgingly whether it be 7am or 1am – yes, you read it right – which means that surly ‘the coffee machine’s been turned aff, it’s after 8pm’ attitude is going to piss me off even more when I get home. Yeah!’s main thing is their devoted presentation of a constant and eclectic soundtrack – The Stones Sympathy for the Devil is playing as I type but we’ve already had Beady Eye, Jimi Hendrix and David Essex this afternoon. And I had my mind well and truly blown when Peter Cook’s Bedazzled emanated from their speakers the other day – I thought I was back in my front room!

Pigneto may be a little village size but there are numerous cafes, bars and clubs which will just have to be visited before the end of April. Watch out Pigento – the Jocks are in town!!   

Perche Roma?

Why indeed? As I start my fifth full day in Rome I realise that’s probably four days and a good few hours more than a lot of tourists / holidaymakers spend here. But – shock, gasp – I still have another 23 days to go. So – almost a month more than your average tourist / holidaymaker. So why am I here for that length of time – when there is no ‘reason’ as in work, study, family? Well, I don’t know if you’ve come to that general time of life when you are struck by the whole meaningless mess of it all… things that used to make you happy no longer have that same resonance, a simple trip or a few days in a new city might have served in the past to recharge your batteries and made everything right again – all that stuff just doesn’t seem to work anymore. So do you go somewhere new or go somewhere you’ve been before and loved and try for that ‘authentic’ experience? So – deep breath and fingers crossed – I’ve gone for the latter. Will keep you updated with all the tears, trials and  tribulations (hopefully some happy times as well!) Stay posted!



Oh, shut up!

ImageI know I’m meant to be getting on with my book and I’ve had to resist doing my blog for a while – although there’s been loads in the news to comment on. However… when that Old Etonian blubber boy gets up on his hind legs and sticks his oar in (an interesting image… ) to the Scottish Independence debate you have to wonder why the Better Together campaign can’t arrange to have him kidnapped, bound and gagged until September is over! Even better, the campaign should track down a elderly lady who appeared on the BBC teatime news a few weeks ago as a vox pop on the debate and commented in a lovely Lancashire accent – ‘Why do you want to leave? Better just to stay… ‘  It was like she was inviting everyone of us in Scotland into her front room for a cup of steaming hot tea, a nice scone and a cosy chat – not to berate us – but just to ask why… ? Why indeed.

What I’ve picked up on at street level is most people in Scotland just wish is was all over and agree that the whole farce is merely a very expensive vanity exercise for the would-be-King Alex. Nothing’s a done deal though – so I guess we have to be careful not to call it until the ballot closes on September 18th. In the meantime – tell the Home Counties Tories to keep a cork in it and if anything has to be said let our friends in the north (of England) do it. Plus here are a couple of apt tracks.

Happy New Year!

BrosHappy New Year, folks! And – if no-one else is going to do it – I’d like to wish myself Happy Anniversary as it’s a year to the day since I started my Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo blog. It’s been an eventful year with lots to write about and I’m so glad so many of you have enjoyed my posts. Thing is though – I have a new book due for completion in (hopefully) February/March so I’d better devote my time to getting that completed. As a result I may be quiet on the posting front for a while but as an early New Year thank-you to everyone I’m posting the opening chapters as a wee taster.

Briefly – the story is set in Edinburgh and centres on two thirty-something friends - Fraser and Cath. They’ve been kicking around the city since their student days, always just a bit short of making the grade – in work, relationships… life in general. As they drunkenly celebrate Hogmanay they wonder if their lives – and Scotland – will change for better or worse in 2014. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next nine months but I do know what happens to these two. It’s a rollercoaster ride of love, sex, power, revenge, money, property, the Independence debate,  murder plots, suspicious deaths, a few old queens, a Bros lookalike and a sinister right-wing organisation. Hope you enjoy it!

Chapter One

Jackie Bird appeared as a copper-tinged angel floating on high with Edinburgh Castle looming behind her both televised and in all its craggy reality beyond the giant screen in Festival Square. Fraser smiled up at her. He was glad that she was feeling a lot better this year and would be presenting the Hogmanay coverage the following night. That’s as it should be. His last one-for-the-road whisky warmed his belly and that made him smile as well.

‘What do you think, Jackie love?’ he asked as he gazed up. ‘Back to my New Town address or along to the wild west and a warm bed with a warm welcome?’

She smiled a beguiling – but non committal – smile and faded from the screen. Fraser needed someone – or something – else to give him a sign. He glanced down Lothian Road and saw that the number 30 bus was stopped at the lights in front of the Picture House. It would be the last one of the night and if he didn’t want to rely on a night bus to the west side of the city he would have to get a move on and sprint the fifty or so metres from Festival Square to the bus stop round the corner. After six pints and the whisky in All Bar One he could just about manage a steady jog. As he turned the corner, and the bus glided past him, he made a quick plan B decision as to what to do if he missed it – he would simply turn round and walk down to Princes Street, cut up over Hanover Street and then he would be on Dundas Street and home. As it was, the fates decided that he should catch the number 30 as it had stopped to let on a couple. They looked like they had been arguing as they sat at the front, on separate seats, continuing to give each other the silent treatment. Fraser gave them the once-over as he got on – older and reasonably respectable looking – unlikely to start shouting crap at each other across the bus – wouldn’t be staying on for the full journey to Wester Hailes anyway. A quick glance up the back – a sleeping casualty of some office do, more than likely gone past his stop and another nodding-dog passenger who looked like he was going the same way. Fraser settled himself down around the middle of the bus and luxuriated in the sleepy silence. He could afford to close his eyes for ten minutes or so and not miss his stop.

After a couple of minutes Fraser was aware of the sulking couple getting off at the Fountainpark stop – he had pretty much anticipated that and didn’t have to open his eyes to confirm it. As the bus lurched on he became aware of someone moving from the back seat to the one directly behind him. Here we go… thought Fraser, there’s going to be some kind of proposition – drugs probably.

‘Live out at Wester Hailes? You manage to get your own place? I can’t – I’m still stuck at home, can’t move out. I’ve had my name on the Council list for years now, still can’t get a place. It’d be different if I was a sausage roll though. I’d get everything on a plate, then. Or a rag head. You just have to go along Gorgie or down Leith – it’s all chinks, sausage rolls and ragheads. You go into any of the shops and there’s no English spoken. You’re a foreigner in your own land, man.’

Fraser got a sinking feeling – he should have known that a trip on a number 30 would more often than not get you involved with some kind of mental. But offensive as this one’s language was he didn’t seem aggressive and looked like he could be easily handled.

‘You’re talking shite, man,’ said Fraser, barely opening his eyes. ‘Edinburgh would be a right shit-hole if there were only retards like you here.’

The guy from the back of the bus continued. ‘They don’t want to integrate – they keep themselves to themselves. They give each other jobs. They take money in benefits and send it out of the country to their families back home.’

Fraser opened his eyes and sat upright, fully taking the guy in. He was pretty nondescript – early twenties or so with lank, dark hair and dead eyes which didn’t attempt any contact. He spoke without emotion and in a constant flow like some kind of automaton who had been programmed with a script.

‘So, what you’re saying is people come over here, they don’t integrate but they’re in your face at the same time. They take all the jobs but live on benefits. Their families are all here but they’re somewhere else as well. Where are you getting all this mince from anyway? ‘

‘You just have to watch the news. Bombings, soldiers getting killed in the street. The EDL have got it right. And come next September we’ll show them with a “yes” vote.

Fraser sat bolt upright and opened his eyes. ‘What the fuck are you talking about? How’s Independence got anything to do with the crap you’re peddling? You’re just a fucking fuck-wit. You haven’t got a fucking clue.’

Fraser hated himself for losing it – he was aware of his own voice getting louder on the practically empty bus – he’d better rein it in as he didn’t want to get thrown off.

The guy continued, unperturbed. ‘Independence is the only answer. Scotland for the Scottish. Scottish jobs for Scottish people.’

Fraser looked at the face devoid of any emotion and decided it wasn’t worth continuing the argument.

‘Look, I’m going to move down to the front of the bus. Don’t bother me for the rest of the journey, okay.’

The guy swayed a bit in his seat and then shut up like someone had switched him off. The bus had just passed the Longstone Depot which meant that Fraser only had a couple more stops to go. He got off at the side of Quarry Park and walked up Dumbryden Gardens. He breathed in the crisp night air and felt his anger cooling. Ten minutes later he was breathing in the warmth and the spicy smells of his lover Chriz’s tiny flat.

‘You are late tonight, Fraser. I didn’t think you were coming to see me,’ said Chriz, the sing-song cadences of his Sudanese accent lulling and soothing.

‘I wasn’t sure myself. You know what it’s like when you get stuck in the pub.’

‘Not really. For a long time in my country it wasn’t legal to drink so I do not have a taste for it. Not like over here, you have a big taste for it, I think.’

‘Well, that’s for sure. Listen, Chriz – is it okay if we just sleep for a while? I’m pretty knackered – I had a long shift today and probably wouldn’t be much use.’

‘It is no problem. I am tired also – the restaurant was busy tonight with lots of people here for the Hogmanay.’

Fraser smiled and drew Chriz towards him, pale Scottish skin – ‘peely-wally’, as his gran used to say – against the deep treacle shimmer of his lover’s body. He drifted off to sleep imagining what that idiot on the bus would say if he could see the two of them together.

Fraser awoke the next morning to the aroma of freshly brewed Sudanese coffee. Chriz handed him a tiny cup of the thick black gloop.

‘That will wake you up. Make you ready for the day.’

Fraser gulped it back, welcoming the almighty kick it gave his senses. He looked up, bleary-eyed to see Chriz silhouetted against the weak winter sun streaming in through the thin curtains. The curve of his beautiful head and the natural, unpumped, muscularity of his shoulders made Fraser ache with desire but his hangover acted like a straitjacket. He managed to speak, hoping his words wouldn’t sound like an invitation.

‘Are you working today?’

‘Yes, of course. We are going to be busy all day and I have to get there early to chop vegetables and clean the place.’

Fraser felt relieved and disappointed at the same time. ‘I hope they aren’t exploiting you.’

‘Ha! I am grateful for the job. And it is all done without the government knowing so everyone is happy.’

Fraser smiled. He was going to tell Chriz to be careful but decided that was a pretty redundant thing to say. The younger man was ten years his junior but years more streetwise.

‘So, Fraser – what are you doing today? Are you working?’

‘No, that’s me off for a few days.’

‘What are you doing tonight – for Hogmanay? Are you celebrating with Cath?’

Fraser smiled. ‘Easy seen you haven’t lived in Edinburgh that long. When you’ve been here a few years you find it’s a case of just trying to get through the whole sorry farce with as little involvement as possible. Same goes for the festival and all that crap!’

Chriz threw his head back and gave a throaty laugh which seemed to fill the small, sparsely furnished room. ‘You Scots are so funny. So cynical. You do not want to get involved with things that are on your doorstep.’

‘Aye – you could be right. Dour – that’s the word for us’

Chriz leaned forward and pressed his mouth against Fraser’s, his lips felt like the softest, plumpest leather.

‘You know – you Scots are so lucky, I don’t know why you moan all the time. You should have some time back in my country and then you can tell me how you like it.’

Fraser felt a pang of guilt. ‘I’m sorry, Chriz. I forgot to ask how your family’s doing. Have you heard any word?’

Chriz gave a resigned sigh. ‘My uncle’s restaurant was smashed up two days ago. I was hoping to go back and work there, invest the money I have earned here – but it is looking too dangerous to go back. I though it was all going to be so good for me, for my family… ‘

‘Yeah, things change, don’t they? That’s the only thing you can count on.’

Fraser stroked Chriz’s cheek – he felt the desire rise again but was aware that he shouldn’t hold Chriz back.

‘Are you going straight to work?’

‘No, I have to buy vegetables at Lidl to take with me.’

‘Well, if you go to the Wester Hailes one you’ll have plenty choice as no-one else’ll be interested.’

‘You say funny things Fraser, but they are all true.’

Chapter Two

‘Is there any point in watching this crap? Is Alex Salmond going to drop his trousers and flash his fat arse at us or are The Proclaimers going to spontaneously combust at the thought of singing 500 Miles for the zillionth time?

Fraser got no reaction from Cath who was slumped on the sofa beside him. She looked like she was slipping into a comatose state – the result of a drinking session that started at around seven and consisted of working through the drinks cupboard store. It all started out quite reasonably but turned increasingly hardcore with cocktails being made from whisky, vodka and Jagermeister bought in for the night mixed with the sticky dregs of cointreau, cherry brandy and other liquers that had been kicking around for a few festive periods. Still half an hour to go before the clock struck midnight but Cath looked as though she’d had it for the night, leaving Fraser to endure the televised Hogmanay celebrations on his own.

‘Wake up Cath. The Krankies have come on and Nicola Sturgeon is trying to bum wee Jimmy with a giant dildo. John Barrowman is there, trying to break the whole thing up!’

Cath’s body jolted upright, her eyes flashed open.

‘Christ! That woke you up!’

‘The Krankies aren’t even there. Neither’s Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon,’ yawned Cath, rubbing her eyes with the palm of her hand. ‘And anyway, I wasn’t even sleeping.’

‘Yeah, right. You were just doing your usual eyes-closed, mouth-open, fly-catching routine – were you? You should just get away to your bed.’

‘I can’t miss the bells,’ exclaimed Cath. ‘This could be the our last Hogmanay in Scotland as we know it!’

‘Yeah, well I don’t think you have to worry on that one.’

Cath looked at Fraser earnestly. ‘You really think it’s not going to happen?’

‘Nah, don’t think so. Going by the polls…’

‘But Fraser, seriously, what if it does happen? I don’t want a life taken from a shortbread tin – that’s why I moved from Dumfries – to get away from all that.’

Cath started to look tearful. Fraser smoothed her hair back from her face – his actions were gentle but inside he was tense and irritated that his best friend was slipping into a maudlin state and didn’t seem to be making any sense. He had noticed generally that Cath’s tolerance level for alcohol had decreased over the years he had known her, while his – if anything – had increased. It was 14 years since they had spent their first Hogmanay – the big one, the millennium one – together and just over that length of time since they had first met. They had both come to Edinburgh to study and work – Fraser from the Isle of Lewis, Cath from Dumfries. Teuchters both, people said, that’s how they got on so well. Now here they were, all these years later, sharing a flat, making a living always a bit short of what they had hoped for, occasionally visiting their respective home towns. They had stopped feeling guilty a long time ago about not being with their families on New Year’s Eve, they always had a good excuse though – what with Edinburgh being the Hogmanay capital of the world and everything. In reality though they usually wouldn’t set foot out of the flat and would huddle together in front of the TV, get pissed, slag off the televised celebrations and curse the fireworks as they rattled the windows.

‘Cheer up – Cathy, love. Look at Jackie Bird there – she’s got about twenty years on you and she was at death’s door last year but there she is – a ginger goddess. She should be an inspiration to you!’

Cathy managed a smile. ‘I’m sorry, Frase – for being a miserable cow. But this time of year always gets me down.’

She sniffed and and wiped her face with the sleeve of the padded plaid ‘workie’s’ shirt she would always wear when slobbing around the flat. Fraser loved Cath dearly but he couldn’t help wishing that she would just ‘do something with herself’, smarten herself up a bit, after all it was New Year’s Eve – she could have made a bit of an effort. He remembered the customs he grew up with – how you appeared on the eve of the new year was how you would be for the whole of that year. His mother would clean the house from top to bottom, do her hair, put on her best frock and be sitting down with a Bailey’s in time for the bells – hopeful that the ritual would see her right for the next 365 days. This always made Fraser laugh as Hogmanay seemed to be the only time Fraser ever saw her or the house smartened up. But it was a tradition and you couldn’t argue with that.

The clock ticked on towards midnight and Cath slipped back into her comatose state. Fraser leaned over and kissed Cath’s face just as the bells ran out, there was a flicker of life as she murmured a ‘Happy New Yeaaa…’ before passing out completely.

Fraser struggled desperately not to feel badly about Cath. She was his best friend and the only one he could count on to be there. She was always there – he was used to it and it made him feel uneasy when she passed out or they had argued and weren’t speaking for a while. They actually had had a bit of a tiff earlier that evening. Cath had been dumped a few days before and was in a morose state before starting drinking which always led to tears and blackouts. Fraser had tried to cheer her up by making a remark about being like a pair of vintage Levi’s – a bit ripped and beaten up but solid gold to a collector. Cath then reminded Fraser of the time he had entered a ‘mini-Bros’ lookalike contest when he was eight, back in Stornoway.

‘Well, everything comes back into fashion eventually, doesn’t it? I’m sure we’re due a Bros revival soon. All you’d have to do is dig out the jeans, get the bottle tops on your boots and bleach your hair , we’d be quids in. God, I loved Bros when I was wee,’ laughed Cath, which was about the last coherent thing she said before blacking out for the first time at around eight thirty.

Cath knew that story always got to him – he felt so proud at the time but now when he looked back he felt ashamed of the tiny little parochial life that was his whole world at the time.

‘No, no sign of life,’ said Fraser out loud as he prodded Cath’s comatose figure. ‘Time for bed, I think.’

He attempted to give her a fireman’s lift through to her bedroom but found that since the last time he had had to do this for her she had gained a few extra pounds. Instead, he gripped her by her armpits and slowly dragged her through, before gracelessly dumping her on the bed. ‘Dumped for the second time in as many days, poor bitch,’ he thought to himself. ‘Never mind, time for a bit of action.’

Fraser slipped quietly out of the furnished flat in Dundas Street which he and Cath rented together. It was your typical Georgian New Town type of rental property: a huge town house spread over a few floors, divided up into separate flats each containing one or two bedrooms. It appeared like a typical tenement building from the outside but once past the main entrance and the slightly awkwardly carved up landings and narrow, individual entrance halls you were then aware of the faded grandeur of the original property. Intricately decorative cornices edging impossibly high ceilings, dark wooden floorboards with oriental-style rugs. The rugs, like the furniture in the flat, were of a good old-fashioned quality – worth a bit at some point – but worn and shabby looking. Fraser smiled when he thought of the time his father had helped him move into the flat. ‘The rooms are like barns with a right load of old junk in them. You’ll be paying for the address of course,’ said his dad shrewdly.

Fraser denied this. He would say that he and Cath wanted to live there because it was central and big enough for the two of them to have plenty space. Fraser knew the truth though, there was much snob value in living in the area. He felt a kind of detached superiority every time he gave his address when ordering something over the phone or telling people where he lived. ‘Yes, it’s just over in the New Town. I know, I’m really lucky.’

Fraser wasn’t a snob, but with his working class Western Isles origins and his failed career opportunities he was only too aware of snobbery from others, especially living in Edinburgh. Flaunting his New Town address was just a pre-emptive strike. But having stayed in the flat in Dundas Street for a good few years now Fraser was feeling less enamoured of the place. He was sick of renting but he knew that he could never afford to buy anything near this good. Similar properties in the area went for anything upwards of £300 000 and even if he had the money his Highland sensibilities told him that was a ludicrous amount for a two-bedroom flat.

Fraser hurried eastwards along the wide boulevard-like Queen Street with its elegant buildings on one side and its ‘secret gardens’ on the other. These large expanses being more like woodlands than gardens, fringed and obscured by tall trees – belonging to the surrounding New Town properties and protected by high pointy black railings. “To keep the riff-raff oot,” said his father. Fraser fingered the largest key on the ring in his pocket, knowing that he could unlock one of the gates and go in any time he wanted. He would go there some nights when it was warm, usually when he had picked up someone he didn’t want knowing his address. The high winds that had stopped and started over the last fortnight were picking up again – right on cue for Hogmanay. Fraser drew his jacket tighter around him as he shivered and thought of the winds which blasted the little croft near Stornoway where he grew up. He couldn’t stand the weather there and was finding that it was getting just as bad in his adopted home-town. He reckoned if he got lucky, it would have to be the pick-up’s place or his. It was too cold for al fresco. Queen Street was surprisingly quiet considering the juggernaut of organised entertainment rumbling on just up the road – although it always seemed quiet as if people thought that you needed a permit, like you did with the gardens, to walk along the wide Georgian streets. Or it could just be lack of interest in the tired grey buildings that hadn’t had a schemie make-over like the former banks on George Street converted into faux-luxury hangouts for hairdressers and office drones to blow their wages on rip-off cocktails and prosecco. Fraser stopped outside the Portrait Gallery to zip up his jacket against the cold – the stone effigies of notable Scots looking down on him. He swore one of them spoke:

‘Not at the party, Fraser? Quite right – you’re getting a bit old for that game.’

Fraser scowled at the impassive and now-silent statue. ‘Bloody cheek!’ he murmured. ‘I’m only 34 and I could easily be down on Princes Street sticking my tongue down someone’s throat – and they’d be happy about it. I’m not past it – not by a long chalk!’

He was getting dangerously close to the revelry now with St Andrew’s Square gardens – all pimped up with a pop-up big-top and high-end burger huts – just a block away. A smell of charred meat wafting down from St Andrew Square. He was reminded of hunger as well as the cold now but wasn’t tempted to walk the short distance to the hub of activity. It would be a seething, puking, heaving mass moving like a human tidal wave from the epicentre of Princes Street gardens and Fraser could well do without being caught up in that scene. He huddled in the Gallery’s Gothic arch entrance just as the familiar bass line of West End Girls cut through the muffled cacophony of other sounds – snatches of fiddle music, screams, laughter, distorted sound system, the Rezillos – making him feel like he’d been trapped in an infernal sound tunnel. He had to escape. Where to go next? Fraser stepped out from his shelter and looked along to the end of the street where Queen Street becomes York Place. The Omni Centre appeared like a frosty ice palace on the horizon casting a ghostly halo in the sky. He imagined it as some kind of alternative bat signal calling him to the area around around Broughton Street and Picardy Place – the so-called gay triangle – the nearest thing Edinburgh gets to a village. The usual places on Broughton Street would be closed by now but C C’s would just be warming up.

Safely past the bouncers and getting the usual hand stamp Fraser stepped into the humid warmth of C C Blooms. Fraser surveyed his surroundings and saw a few familiar faces. He wasn’t really into the ‘scene’, but he was on nodding terms with a few people and they were usually the ones he would end up with if he was desperate of an evening. But he much preferred encounters with out-of-towners, no strings, no baggage, no complications – usually. The place was busy but just a Friday/Saturday night type of busy with nothing special going on for Hogmanay. Even so the bar was still mobbed, Fraser didn’t recognise any of the bar staff so had to just push in. He sidled up beside a surly looking drag queen dressed like a panto dame who had just been served. Drinks in hand, he/she turned and gave Fraser a disdainful look.

‘What’s up with Widow Twankey?’ laughed Fraser.

The barman didn’t respond but gave a slight nod. He looked tired and fed up.

‘A pint of Stella, mate,’ said Fraser, acknowledging there was no time for conversation.

He got his drink and surveyed the length of the bar, his gaze fell on a non-regular sitting at the far end. The guy was probably in his late forties, had a moustache and was dressed in a slightly tatty looking dinner suit like he could be some kind of cabaret singer type comic act. His concentration appeared to be divided between balancing on his bar stool and guiding his pint to his lips. He looked wasted. Fraser continued to stare until the stranger looked up. They held each other’s gaze for long enough to know that a connection had been made. Fraser knew that the other was probably incapable of making the first move plus he was starting to get jostled where he was so he squeezed through the throng and made his way to the end of the bar. The stranger offered a limp hand and slurred his words: ‘Dave from Darlington, how you doing mate?’

‘Yeah, alright. I’m Fraser. I’ve been through Darlington a few times, it seems okay.’

‘It’s good for changing trains, that’s about it. Are you from Edinburgh yourself?’

‘Not originally. I’m from a wee place near Stornoway. You know – in the Western Isles.’

‘I don’t really know that neck of the woods, mate. I’m just up for my company’s New Year do. I work in plastic – selling 3D printers, that kind of thing.’

‘Work in plastic, eh? That sounds like the start of some joke.’

‘I usually get that reaction. It’s plastic trays I do.’

‘Is that a good business to be in then – plastic trays?’

‘Well it’s not like you think. They’re not like tray trays. They’re trays that they use in operating theatres, for organising all the surgical instruments. You know not many people realise the importance of an item like that. But if you were to put your hand on the wrong instrument at a crucial moment, well it could be fatal.’ Dave slowly moved his hand up his thigh towards his groin as he spoke.

Fraser stifled a laugh at the cheesy chat up. ‘Aye, I know where you’re coming from, mate. I’ve trained as a nurse.’

‘Oh, so you’re a nurse then?’

‘Well no, I didn’t finish my training. Too squeamish.’


‘Sounds daft, eh? I wanted to be a psychy nurse, I didn’t realise you had to do all the blood and guts stuff in training though. So I chucked it. I do bits of care work here and there though. I’m working at the Royal Ed at the moment with the psycho-gerries.’ Dave gave a blank look.

‘You know,’ explained Fraser. ‘In the psycho-geriatric ward. It’s okay, you spoon food in one end and wipe up what comes out the other. You do much the same as the nurses but the pay’s crap. That’s enough about me though. What do you like to do when you’re not travelling in plastic? And what’s with the ‘tache – are you a Freddie Mercury fan, then?’

‘Noooooo, I grew this for a charity thing and thought I’d keep it for the work’s do – for a laugh . When it comes to music I’m more into the classic Rat Pack stuff – you know, Sinatra, Dean Martin, that kind of thing. And I think Robbie Williams is a class act.’

Fraser raised an eyebrow. ‘You won’t like the music here then, it’s always pure eighties. That reminds me – the Pet Shop Boys are playing up the road. You didn’t fancy going to see them?’

Before Dave could answer a high pitched shriek cut through the pumping Kylie soundtrack. It was Kenny, a young lad Fraser knew vaguely from the scene. It was rumoured that he rented himself out and was a favourite with some of the old queens who weren’t too fussy. His appearance was like his voice: thin and reedy, and tonight he looked pale and sweaty with wild eyes.

‘Hi-yaaa, Fraser. Fancy seeing you here! I’ve heard the Pet Shop Boys are coming here after they finish their set up the road. Have you heard that too? It’s sooo exciting! Are you going downstairs? They’re playing non-stop PSB there. It’s totally brilliant!’

‘Ha!’ laughed Fraser. ‘What would those two old queens want to come here for? They may be desperate but they’re not that desperate!’

‘Is there a downstairs? I didn’t realise,’ cut in Dave.

‘I wouldn’t worry, mate,’ answered Fraser. ‘Unless it’s a super glue dance floor the size of a postage stamp and last-choice-of-the-night desperation you’re after, you’re not missing anything.’

Kenny looked crestfallen and gave a strange whimper of a farewell as he scurried off. Dave – who had been concentrating hard on not appearing drunk seemed to give up the pretence and slumped in his seat, his eyes downcast.

‘I didn’t realise this was that kind of place. I thought it was just an ordinary pub,’ he mumbled.

Fraser wasn’t convinced but played along.

‘Yeah, it’s pretty much an open-door policy these days – depends who you get on the door. I can see how you got confused.’

‘Were you – are you – going downstairs… ?’

‘No, mate – I’m not desperate.’

‘I can see that.’ Dave looked Fraser in the eye. You know who you remind me of, Fraser?’

‘Tell me.’

‘I was in Vegas earlier this year and – you know how I like my Rat Pack stuff – I went to see that guy that used to be in Bros – that lot from the eighties, you know… ‘

Fraser nodded and cut him off. ‘Where’s your hotel then, Dave?’

Dave drew a plastic swipe card from his jacket pocket. He peered at it and read the words: ‘Novotel, Edinburgh Park’.

‘Christ! That’s practically out by the airport.’

Fraser weighed up the situation and decided that Dave was trustworthy enough not to nick anything from the flat or else turn into a mad stalker type. Plus judging by the state he was in he would probably just pass out. That suited Fraser fine – at least he would have a warm body in his bed for the night. He took the card from Dave’s hand and put it back in his pocket for him.

‘Come on then Dave, get your coat, we can go back to mine.’

Never Mind The Tinsel – It’s Nearly Over!


Merry Christmas or happy mid-winter, celebrate light over dark, Bacchanalian/Saturnalian festival time! Let’s put aside the whole business of whether you-know-who was born where-ever or when-ever there’s one thing we can be sure of in places where Christmas is celebrated – even if, as an individual, you decide to opt out – resistance is futile! Everywhere you look – it’s tinsel and yo-ho-ho, traditional Victoriana mixing with rampant consumerism, wall-to-wall Christmas on TV – there’s no way you can treat it as just another day!

Personally speaking I gave up on the whole nonsense years ago and it’s with some smugness that I observe the day’s ritual for other people – turn from that initial excitement of unwrapping the presents, getting the food started and drinking too early to – disappointment at the presents, stress that the food’s not going well and that the booze is running out to – eventually, at the end of the day – feeling the worse for wear and wanting to brain your relatives with the empty bottles! Do I miss those days? Not really!

So if you are ‘opting out’ – have a great day and here are some tips -

Don’t get intimidated by the tinsel! Avoid the telly by breaking out the box sets or look at your hard disk library with all those long films you’ve never got round to watching.

Start drinking early (I can agree with the traditionalists on that one!).

Get yourself a takeaway.

Weather permitting take a good bracing walk and greet people you meet with ‘Happy Whatever-religious-or-non-denominational-festival-you-choose’!

Feel smug that you’ve avoided the whole queasy mix of greedy consumerism and tacked-on sentimentality made to simmer in a pressure cooker of families being forced together on a day that can never live up to the hype.

Finally – and seriously – many people find themselves alone at this time of year. Or perhaps not even alone – but struggling with depression and not able to laugh at the whole tinsel farce. But to borrow the slogan – ‘Depression and loneliness are not just for Christmas’ … So if you’re thinking of helping someone who may be isolated and/or struggling at this time make it an early New Year resolution to get in touch and help out long term – it’ll do you the world of good too!

Check out the following sites if you feel you can (or need) help:

Strictly Talent

StrictlyCongratulations to Abbey Clancy on winning Strictly and thank god that good sense prevailed and the best dancer won – well, one of the two best and the other one certainly wasn’t Susanna Reid.  She was the bookies’ favourite and her popularity was a classic example of BBC nepotism mixed with a large measure of the Brits loving an underdog . When certain BBC news readers and other ‘nation treasure’ types (if ever a term was overused… ) do things like Strictly I’m always reminded of the analogy of a dog walking on its hind legs: it doesn’t matter if it’s done well – the marvel is that it’s done at all.  OK – that’s my second dog reference – I promise I’ll stop now.

Seriously – it’s marvellous that women of a certain age who are normally beaten with the mumsy stick are given the chance to ‘not be invisible’ (fast becoming another well-worn phrase… ). However it’s a dance competition at the end of the day and letting somebody win through sympathy is patronising in the extreme.

I love Strictly – from  Brucie‘s ancient cheesy routines to the endless gay innuendo – basically like a pantomime with high production values. And I think the whole subtext of the East-European-supreme-machine (we will do the job better and on time… ) dominating proceedings  is fascinating. Is it time for a backlash though? Was it just coincidence that the ‘Kevin from Grimsby‘ pairing with Susanna Reid did so well? A Daily Mail wet dream coupling if ever there was one… ‘come on you plucky little triers – you may not be the best but at least you’re British’. And don’t even get me started on the incidents of possible racism in the voting but again that’s the British public for you…

So with the whole Daily Mail/Mumsnet/BBC Breakfast support behind Susanna Reid it’s even more of an achievement for Abbey Clancy – so well done again. A final thought – the Mail and the other Sundays of that ilk are probably quite relieved with the result as they didn’t have to make Susanna and Nigella compete for a cover story. I think that would have just been too much for them!

Nigella Lawson – the drugs laws don’t work


Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Originally posted on The Edinburgh Enlightenment:

The drugs don’t work

Imagine being Charles Saatchi and finding out your wife and mother of your kids is taking  the class A drug cocaine. Would you not try to strangle her too? So he loses it and gets cautioned by the police – it’s a fair cop.  She goes to court swears an oath and gives details of taking the illegal class A drug cocaine in court. The Police don’t even give her a caution. Looks like Nigella got off very lightly.

Yet all I am hearing this morning from the ‘media darlings’ is ‘poor old Nigella – she’s the victim.’

Imagine if a normal working class nobody mum was in court and admitted taking cocaine under oath. Do you think she would be called ‘the victim’? The same papers and people would be demanding they are banged up for being a terrible mother or human being.

David Cameron…

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Drugs, Cupcakes, Privilege and Class – whose team are you on?

Nigella LPoor old Nigella – being accused of being a wacked out cokehead who can’t function without a team of – maybe not so – dedicated helpers. Oh, I’m sorry – what point was she trying to make again? After all, it’s no big deal at the end of the day, is it? The whole chattering class-North London media-set floats on a wave of the white stuff. The difference with the middle classes taking drugs, of course, is the presence of a comfortable safety net of money, privilege and friends in high places. Cut to those young girls in Rochdale who can’t boast any of those things.

So ruined lives and written off as pieces of white trash verses a possibly damaged US charm offensive – I know who deserves my sympathy more.

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