Aug 16 2010


It feels somewhat pointless to write about Edinburgh. It has all been admired, photographed, written about before, done to death. Camera lenses shine predatorily down the little cobbled alleys, which look untouched and ignored since the 18th century but whose images are saturated into millions of eyeballs across the globe. Tourists stop in the middle of the road to point or goggle, stride casually out in front of swerving cars and Scottish accents are about as common as a pint under three quid.

But I utterly love Edinburgh, feel like a walking cliché for doing so, like someone in love with a high class escort, want it to be my lovely little secret and not flaunting its wares for everyone and anyone, I should be rhapsodising over the dumpy one in the corner with hidden charms, Motherwell say, not worshipping this overpriced gilded tourist trap museum with the fucking bagpipe music squalling from every shitty tartan splattered shop on the Royal Mile where a can of coke is one pound fucking eighty and you can’t move for some dim-witted buffoon uncurling a map or expensive camera to take a shitty picture of something that Google images will throw up a thousand better images of.

And lurid placards for ghost tours take every inch of mystery or mystique away from the thought of a secret underworld that can now be summoned up by a spotty student on a work placement scheme at eight pm every night once you have paid your eight quid. There is such fierce competition that flyers all but guarantee a free supernatural entity with every booking.

There are mannequins in tartan mini dresses in shop windows and heaven forbid even tartan Doc Martens, what a wonderful way to combine two national stereotypes; over confident students with white made-up faces hurl flyers and extravagant lies about the genius of the fringe shows they are promoting at you whilst talking to each other in strident smug voices.

Oh yes, Edinburgh knows how to fleece you. But it does it so prettily.

Look, how can you be angry when no matter where you are, you can see Arthur’s Seat looming grandiosely over you, when the sea suddenly shimmers at the bottom of every steep hill, when buildings wear their ancientness so damn casually-a wonder down a fag strewn close towards the train station and there is a dark sooty building, not a famous one but just your average Edinburgh building, about as common as a New Look cardigan and I happen to see the date 1563 above the door. It is mind-blowing in its nonchalance.

I love the way the stairs down the steep closes are swayed and humpbacked by the centuries of feet traversing the same journey, such everyday casual history in the everyday not locked behind a museum cabinet.

And talking of museums, the National Museum of Scotland is superb. Utterly enormous and impossible to find ones way around like some sort of Escher doodling bought to life, it contains a formidable amount of Scottish history, the most terrifyingly exciting being The Maiden, a huge iron guillotine used, actually used to slice the heads of the unfortunate of yore. And you can actually touch this antiquated piece of murder, the last thing some people ever saw. That so beats a stuffed fox.

Death begets hunger and so off the main drag where I am starting to loathe humanity, especially posh humanity from the Home Counties and their sodding flyers. And why fly half way round the world to a new country and then queue to go into a bloody Frankie and Bennies?

There are some wonderful places to eat in Edinburgh that aren’t Frankie and Bennies and whereas you are robbed for snacks, drink and booze, a decent meal can be had for five or six quid. Khushi’s Diner is our first port of call, veggie curry, deep fried bread, some wonderful fried heart attack Indian street food with relish and two soft drinks come to a tenner and are served in a gloriously decorated room, all Indian bling and opulence.

In Delhi also comes highly recommended, a dangerously material and candle bedecked room  serving exquisite Indian food for about a fiver a head. It is exotic, womblike and snug, yes the Home Counties accents prevail but it is Festival season and there is no escape apart from when actually inside the magic of the theatre. Henderson’s is another superb vegetarian restaurant and deli, no ethnic nick knacks or clumpy lentil burgers here, it is white, clean yet unpretentious serving excellent food for around seven or eight pounds. I got cheese and biscuits for around two quid and so huge the chunk of cheese, I ate my fill there and then, gave some to my partner, wrapped it up, ate some with the napkin sadly still attached to it on the train going through Penrith then finished it on a crumpet the day after that in bed in Lancaster.

Around Haymarket, and up Lothian Road there are enticing charity shops, cheap cafes and takeaways and more an air of shambolicness and grubbiness. There are less tourists here and thus actual real Scottish accents ca be heard. It being Edinburgh there are still plenty of arty cinemas and bars though, cuddled up next to places advertising mighty fry-ups and cheap haircuts. A bakery has luridly hued cakes toppling towards the sky-they have an actual sheen on them. I yearn for the explosion of mock cream in my mouth and the accompanying familiar mixture of nausea and delight.

We treat ourselves to a meal at L’Artichaut, a renowned veggie restaurant but where the lunchtime meals are six fifty. It is wonderful. I have seldom eaten anywhere with linen napkins. They even have a little paper ring with a picture of an artichoke on. I feel a bit famous before realising I cannot afford to eat and have a drink of wine at the same time and reality dawns. Then I realise I am actually eating lime meringues with pink peppercorns and feel like a fatter Paris Hilton.

The charity shops in nearby Stockbridge add to the illusion as I pick up a coat to find its £250. Well heeled is not the word. My partner says he has never seen so many waistcoats in one place.

Then down towards Leith along the river, past beautiful old world cottages, estates and swans. Leith has become more and more gentrified but still has charity shops where things are under a tenner and workers cafes battle with bistros. Nearby Portobello has amusement arcades, a fine sandy beach and an air of old fashioned seaside charm. There are no yuppie flats here. Yet.

A recommendation also takes us to Duddingston a mile or so of curiously countrified walk from Edinburgh. It is an idyllic village but much like the rest of Edinburgh hides behind a façade of normality because I suspect that in order to live here, one must have to be very very rich. Time makes everything quaint-an iron collar outside the church used to punish long dead ne’er-do-wells is a cutesy relic to photograph although there are few tourists here, heaven forbid actually walking, leaving The Real Loch Ness Experience behind and stepping into the Frankie and Benny free countryside…

The Sheep’s Heid is meant to be the oldest pub in Scotland and is certainly dark and antiquated, furnished with what looks like the entire contents of an auction room. The prices are modern enough though.

That’s Edinburgh for you. A place where even the ghosts come at a price but you can’t get your wallet out quickly enough. I would move here tomorrow if I could.