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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 99 - Festival curtain rises on the huddled masses


ONCE, in London, I tried to photograph a Chelsea Pensioner, resplendent in his scarlet uniform. "Not so fast," barked the military ancient outstretching a gnarled palm, "50p a snap". I paid up; he stood to attention, nose bayonet-sharp, eyes like chipped, barrack-square granite, chin jutting as if for frontal assault, mouth like a slit trench and saluted smartly. He was good value.

Now that Edinburgh has burst into tourist bloom and Princes Street and its environs are filled with strange accents, ranging from Stenhouse to Sarajevo, Corstorphine to Khartoum and Leith to Lahore, I assume my role as a mobile public monument, a small but masterly addition - when seen from certain viewpoints - to the Edinburgh skyline and therefore liable to appear in the viewfinders of the camera-clicking masses who are looking for all-too-rare examples of Calvinistic austerity mingled structurally with just a hint of classical discipline and elegance.

In this ancient, chewing-gum-flecked capital, I am often caught up in the swirl of tourists. They range from Balkan back-packers with the shoulders (both sexes) of furniture movers, long-shorts-wearing Americans, many with the legs, all beef to the heel, of Bavarian bullocks, Scandinavians with figures like flagpoles and the rest, in assorted shapes, sizes and garb like pick ’n’ mix sweets.

I see them enthusing over towers and turrets, marvelling at the spontaneous street theatre of road works, experiencing the real flavour of the Athens of the North when caught in slow-moving traffic lines, and poring over street maps with the concentrated scrutiny of Rommel contemplating an excursion to Cairo.

I WELCOME them all. Oh, send me your huddled, holiday masses, your beaten and baffled users of guidebooks, the wretched refuse of teeming travel companies yearning to be temporarily freed from culture seeking and desperately searching for something trivial, asking me to pin-point street locations that have defeated even taxi-drivers, or the way to any enclave of rest and reflection where they can, glassy-eyed, sink a drink or two while the Festival rampages around them.

I am an enthusiastic direction-giver, detailing routes until the visitors pluck at my sleeve and beg for mercy. While I am doing so, they have a chance to observe my monumental allure and usefulness. What do they see? A nobly-weathered domelet, set over an age-eroded, sloping forehead tastefully matching the recessional aspect of the chin thus producing a sense of elegant urbanity.

The body, suggesting cast-iron, though slightly rusty, probity, is supported by legs, hinting at miniature Corinthian columns, not, alas, of the best period. The glazing, tri-focalled, is set in tungsten-laminated frames of a pattern particularly used by myopic, monkish, medieval scribes.

Such tourists often walk round me and other monumental citizens of my age, viewing us close-up or from a distance, noting how our robust, vernacular aspects blend into the city’s more common and popular areas.

MANY of us have developed slight, time-related body tilts and, as the equivalent of listed buildings, are seeking government preservation aids. Meanwhile, I do not, like the Chelsea chap, charge a photographic fee, and as a pillar of society, I offer, also gratis, these tips to make tourists’ stay in Edinburgh more exciting:

When travelling on buses or sitting on park benches, it is considered impolite not to help anyone doing a crossword puzzle.

An amusing activity among citizens is attempting to cross roads when the traffic lights’ red man sign is showing. Visitors are invited to do the same and will soon appreciate that the activity is as hilariously-stimulating as dodging running bulls in Pamplona.

If visiting the High Court, permission has to be asked to try the famous echo in the Parliament Hall.

Please remember that offering tips to taxi-drivers is an offence that could carry severe penalties.

In Edinburgh, single yellow lines permit single parking, double yellow ones denote double parking.

If climbing the Scott Monument, remember to ask the attendant for a free yo-yo to play at the top.

For good-luck, it is customary to shake hands with parking attendants if there is not an "r" in the month.

Women are not allowed on the top decks of Edinburgh buses. If males see any, they should request the intruders - politely - to leave.

As an example of monumental chic, I am only trying to help.


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