I love West Port. Every time I walk along it I see something new. Where else would you find a shop front proclaiming, ‘V. Good, Defence Lawyers’? Yesterday I noticed that the adjacent laundrette and sex-shop both had copies of the same sign in the window: ‘Staff wanted. Apply with CV within’. I walked through the Grassmarket wondering how I would construct a CV which would suit what is presumably one job. Then on Victoria Street, one of those little A-boards which say ‘caution, slippery surface’, except someone had adapted it to read ‘caution, ghosts’. Aw! And the great old stone church-converted-to-restaurant that burned right out in a tremendous fire last winter is open for business again. That’s extraordinary: it still looked like a sooty shell in June.
That was in the morning, on the way to the National Library. I walked that way again last night, to a late ‘Hot Chocolate’ concert in Old St Paul’s. The city was buzzing. Not the winter crowds: forlorn girls with barely enough flesh or cloth to cover their bones keeping out the sleet and the pain in their feet with bottles of spirits (I join them occasionally. We are the most prosperous generation in history). This, though, is the festival crowd, where mere revellers are outnumbered by middle-aged cultured couples, European herds led by fierce brolly-women, and most of all, young artists of every sort, choristers in black, actresses in corsets, buskers in kilts, comedians in jeans and t-shirts, tumblers in colourful dungarees, crafters in shawls.
Usually during August I feel as if my city has been occupied by invaders, and lie low in the cloisters of the National Library until they disperse and I can reclaim it. But this year I’ve been part of the Festival. I’ve been to four concerts, two as audience and two, with Sospiro Baroque and The Choir of St John’s as singer. In the been to an opera, Montezuma where male and female sopranos competitively explored German Liberalism in the context of the native Mexicans, and a play about the Darien Scheme, Caledonia, as a sop to my neglected history research. In Caledonia I was surrounded by English audience members who didn’t know the story, and were baffled first by the sheer daftness, and second by the extraordinary mixture of boldness and self-doubt, local obscurity and global ambition of the Scots both in the story and putting on the play. I loved it, and that was when I thought, this is my festival.
I also spent a week at the West End Fair selling my guide to the Old Town, Layers of Edinburgh, amongst other things. There’s time to stop and think, standing in the sun at that hub of Edinburgh where all my roads always meet. I thought, I don’t want to choose between illustrator, historian, ecologist and writer. I want to use all four at once, as Layers of Edinburgh does, because that’s what this city has made me. Ali Bali Jewellery was demonstrating the potential of on-line marketing. So here I am, here’s a clip of Layers of EdinburghLayers of Edinburgh, an illustrated guide to the Old Town, and here is where I can tell you about what happens next.