WHEN to the sessions of sweet,
silent thought I summon up remembrance of things past, images of a
nearly-forgotten Edinburgh flicker and fade like scenes from ancient
I see bemedalled commissionaires ruling, with iron
voices, serpentinal cinema queues, long, bell-tolling, autumnal Sundays,
enlivened by peppermint-pure prayers and Fisherman’s Friend lozenge,
blow-torch sermons, girls with hairstyles described as "beehive" but which
resembled wombats’ sporrans, young men with heavily-creamed hair that
acted as skating-rinks for insects and - the height of late 1950s chic -
young women wearing starched underskirts that crackled like distant forest
The sounds? Cloth-capped comrades of the Bolshevik
banner, time-frayed academics and Bible-waving evangelists at The Mound
speakers’ corner, all pointing to true political, philosophical and
religious paths with, generally, yawning gulfs between them and the lumpen,
languid proletariat, sporadic and spasmodic one-man bands, sometimes
thumping their war-song to Edinburgh gales, the heavy classics that were
on everyone’s lips, like I Want To Be Bobby’s Girl and Livin’ Doll and,
most important, the steely wake-up call for a city sunk in self-righteous
slumber made by dawn-cracking tramcars.
In my dreams, trams move on
shadowy, cerebral streets, stately galleons, dipping nor-nor-eastwards to
the salty, steamship-funnel-flecked docks of Leith, sailing sedately along
Princes Street among barging buses, vulgar freight carriers, the common
run of cars and the pedestrian surge, or cruising sedately on the
superior-upholstered No 6 Marchmont Circle route that catered mainly for
the best of the bourgeois breed and middle-class voyagers.
AS IN a
gleam of ancient sunlight, I see the familiar yet strangely
exotic-sounding destinations loom at my wind-blown, subconscious tram stop
- Gorgie, Joppa, Comely Bank, Restalrig and Goldenacre. For me they were
as entrancing as the South American peaks, Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, and,
in a pioneering spirit, I would sometimes take a No 7 tram ride to Stanley
Road or other numbers for faraway destinations, merely to see how the
Edinburgh’s trams, unlike the multi-coloured,
rickety-as-rickshaw Glasgow ones that screeched like tenement stair
squabbles, were as upright as church pews and were not only
people-carriers but also soberly-hued, sturdily-engineered symbols of the
concept of predestination.
Passengers never suffered from
piped music pollution, and although I heard some culturally-minded
passengers say they would liked to have seen string quartets, perhaps
comprising retired local instrumentalists, playing light classical and
musical comedy selections on upper decks on carefully-chosen routes, the
idea struck no sympathetic corporation chord.
In 1956, the last Edinburgh
tramcar ground its way to oblivion but I, and many other veteran municipal
travellers, still miss them despite a recent report by the National Audit
Office that most of the seven new tram and light-rail systems built in
England since 1980 attracted far fewer passengers than expected, had
"little impact on reducing road congestion", and were not properly
integrated with other transport.
EDINBURGH trams will,
doubtless, run on fully-integrated lines, but, the report aside, I have
some unease. The Paris-based company, Transdev, has landed the £750
million contract to run the city’s tram system that should have two routes
running by 2009. One will travel in a loop from St Andrew Square to Leith,
Granton and Haymarket, and the other, from St Andrew Square to Edinburgh
Airport, will include Princes Street, Haymarket and Gogar roundabout.
proposed third line, linking the city centre to Newcraighall via Cameron
Toll and Kinnaird Park, should operate four years later.
nothing against France, although its people live in a state of controlled
tipsiness from the age of five, induced by vin ordinaire, do not love
animals unless cooked and only stop waving their arms to go to sleep.
wanted a British-to-the-steel-backbone operation but, since the Frenchies
will put us on track - Gaul and wormwood to some Edinburgh tram-lovers -
let us, sacre bleu, go the whole cochon and import Gallic drivers,
possibly short, blue-vested, beret-wearing people who could operate
onion-festooned trams and steer with characteristic elan while, in special
compartments, traditional French three-piece accordion bands played music
in threequarter time. It could turn our trams into transports of delight.
If I am dreaming, let me dream on.