the athens of the north

I’d forgotten Edinburgh. It’s one of the loveliest cities I know.

Colin and Paula are old friends of my parents, and their children only a bit older than my brothers and I. Their house, near Newhaven, is linked to Dorothy and Paul’s house on Corstorphine Road by a pleasantly long walk along the Water of Leith.

The path felt as though it had been built by someone digging through my dreams. If it weren’t for the regular-but-unpredictable outcrops of dogshit it’s damn close to heaven on earth. At times it’s a steep-sided valley with fast-flowing water and greenery on all sides, with only the murmur of traffic and the looming silhouettes of viaducts far overhead to remind you you’re in Scotland’s first city. At other times, it’s a straight, civilised watercourse, one storey down from the rest of the town, with flat bridges and buildings on both sides, like a shallower, wilder city canal. The path crosses over the river on all manner of bridges, and sometimes leaves the water’s edge entirely, passing through neat gardens and streets of two-up-two-down tenements or rising a dozen metres to meet a road or circumnavigate a building, swinging you around on a cobblestoned waltz. Everything is green and alive, but the path is clear. Not by the actions of some local authority, but because hundreds, maybe thousands, of people use it, every day. But when we walked the path, the place (somehow) wasn’t crowded; in the depths of the city, you can feel perfectly alone.

It’s got the good stuff: history, architecture, and all sorts of whimsical Fringey things by and sometimes in the water (weird little statues, follies, a rain shelter made of rebar.) The buildings on either side range from Elizabethan half-timbered things real and fake, through the skeletons of old mills (weirs and leats are the only remains of many more) to brand-spanking-new yuppie kennels. Tenement blocks and grand houses tower on the hillsides above. There was a pleasing lack of plastic trash, either in the water or built next to it.

We reached Colin and Paula’s, and chilled in their garden with smartphones, G&Ts and discussions of China. Morag had just returned from the place and had many stories to tell and compare to my parents’ own anecdotes. My knowledge of China in the last hundred years begins and ends with the Sino-Japanese War, and even that ain’t exactly comprehensive. I really should learn more. A buzzard circling overhead was suddenly mobbed by seagulls, making ungodly noises and high-speed passes. One of those things I hear about but don’t see often.

After a huge, delicious casserole, Parents retired to discuss music for the parents downstairs while Olly and I were dragooned into tech support. Being nice, normal people, Andrew and Morag aren’t immensely tech-literate; they were excited at the DWM Flip 3D thing Olly used (which had us both discreetly rolling our eyes; he thinks it’s a gimmick and I find pointless CPU-hogging GUI shite actively offensive. Yes, I’m running on minimal graphics right now, and only the lack of noticeable changes in performance is stopping me doing it on High Contrast White) and, more to the point, their computers were crammed with awful manufacturer bloatware and a few months of accumulated internet crap. I taught Andrew how to use utorrent, installed Spybot and cleared a decent part of the trash off their laptops, while we both (unsuccessfully) tried to work out what the hell was up with Morag’s machine that was blocking Facebook. It wasn’t some sort of residual Great Firewall of China thing, because she could accept lots of other Party-unfriendly content with no problems; it wasn’t a cache or cookie problem, and it wasn’t a browser issue (we tried Chrome and *shudder* IExplore.) They were both still using Norton, but there was no time to fix that. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get Sibelius or Photoshop working, and didn’t have a memory stick with my copy of Office for Andrew, so I took numbers and promised to return.

The warm, self-satisfied glow of having a nice fast functional machine is always worth the frustrating tedium of crawling up a computer’s arsehole and breaking things.

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One thought on “the athens of the north

  1. It’s got the good stuff: history, architecture, and all sorts of whimsical Fringey things by and sometimes in the water (weird little statues, follies, a rain shelter made of rebar.) The buildings on either side range from Elizabethan half-timbered things real and fake, through the skeletons of old mills (weirs and leats are the only remains of many more) to brand-spanking-new yuppie kennels. Tenement blocks and grand houses tower on the hillsides above. There was a pleasing lack of plastic trash, either in the water or built next to it.

    I’m sold!

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