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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.