Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Changing Perspective

One of my favourite Father Ted moments is where Father Ted is explaining perspective to Father Dougal. You come in part way through the scene and the two Fathers are in a caravan somewhere in the Irish countryside. Father Ted is holding up a small plastic cow and says to Father Dougal; "small", and then, pointing out the window to a cow in a distant field, "far away". Father Dougal frowns for a minute before declaring "No, Ted. I just don't get it". On the train home from Edinburgh yesterday I saw a mother and child undergoing the same battle.

Which brings me rather conveniently to my trip to Edinburgh. Once upon a time (2001-2002) I lived in Old Reekie and made some rather good friends up there. In late 2002 I was offered a job in the 'shire, and took my leave of her. Initially I made regular trips back up but, as often happens, those trips became less and less frequent. The last trip was one for work and that was in August 2004. More fool me. Even so, I've managed to keep up with a few people, notably three fine women by the names of Ruth, Wendy and Rebekah. There's also been some somewhat looser friendships with some others. Anyhoos, having worked like a dog these last two weeks I thought it best to go and have a rest and renew those friendships. So on Friday I caught the 10.30am GNER from Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverly. Thanks to the Guardian, my i-pod and the sensational Mulatu Astatke's Ethiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974, the four and a half hours flew raced by. The jazz I was loving features in the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. Seriously, if you get your hands on it, it is phenomenal.

The lovely Wendy met me at Waverly and took me home. She had her work do that night, so after dressing herself up she took me to cocktails before setting me loose on the Edinburgh night. As she left me she mentioned that Hejira were playing at Whistle Binkies. As I looked somewhat vacant she told me the where (music hall on the corner of South Bridge and the Royal Mile) and the what (an acid jazz funk band featuring Adam Archibald and Phil McBride, both of whom I know loosely). Having nothing better to do I wandered up and in the process arranged to meet Rebekah there. Hejira were great, but then by playing to my love of funk they were always onto a winner. One of the essentials of being a great band is to clearly enjoy what you are doing and they were certainly giving the impression they were, although as Phil confessed the following night that wasn't strictly true... Rebekah turned up towards the end of the gig and we nattered away the midnight hours in some random Royal Mile pub.

The walk home was very an obstacle course of drunk Scots and the material that drunken Scots leave on the streets. Some of that material is pre-digested, and a whole lot of it isn't. I'd forgotten how different the late night crowd in Edinburgh is from the Oxford crowd. Given the facts that it is Christmas party season and that Edinburgh is just a wee bit bigger than Oxford this was still extraordinary. When I got home I put on a free CD I had got with Uncut magazine. I'm such a sucker for those... This particular CD was a celebration of the late John Peel's Festive 50. The Festive 50 is a chart that he would release each year based on his listener's votes. Some of the artists I recognised (The Wedding Present, who I saw late last year, Billy Bragg, who I'd like to see, and The Fall, who I wouldn't like to see), but much of the others were a mystery to me. However, part way through, in fact Track 9 of 15, I suddenly realised that I was really really enjoying a track. Some group called the Bhundu Boys were playing something called My Foolish Heart/Waerra. Looking at the sleeve notes I saw that Peel regarded the Bhundu Boys as some of the most perfect music he had ever heard. The BB come from Zimbabwe and combine African rhythms with, I guess, the blues. This resulted in me vainly scouring Edinburgh music shops all Saturday afternoon in the hope of finding an album. The scouring finally ended on Monday in Oxford's Virgin Music Store.

For Saturday evening I watched a stunning sunset (alhough to call it evening when sunset happens at 3.30pm is streching 'evening' a bit thin) from the Elephant House before meeting my old housemate/landlady Kirstin at the Filmhouse to see the movie The Devil's Miner, the story of a fourteen year old boy who mines silver in Cerro Rico, Bolivia. Cerro Rico is a mountain that has been mined for 400 years and the mining has cost an estimated eight million lives. The irony is that even though the conditions are horrific and that the mine is running out of silver there is still easily accessible silver there, that is if the miners were able to knock the top of the mountain off. But... the site is a UNESCO world heritage site and it can only be mined if the shape of the mountain isn't changed. So the miners dig deeper and more dangerously and thus more of them die each day.

Somehow I ended up Saturday at the house of Ian Braithwaite in Polwarth. I have never met Ian before, but he had mince pies and mulled wine, and Rebekah, Wendy, Phil and Fi were there and that seemed a good reason to go.

Sunday was spent hanging out with Wendy, mostly sitting in Costa Coffee on Prince's Street and avoiding the thousands of people below, and then exploring the German markets that spring up each winter in the Prince's Street gardens. We decided to take a ride on the Ferris wheel beside the Walter Scott monument (aka Thunderbird 1), and it was only as we started up that I remembered that I don't do heights all that well... Finally, I rounded up the day by taking a bus ride down to Portobello with Ruth to her cottage by the sea for tea and soup. We took it upon ourselves to walk along Portobello beach, me in my bare feet as I didnae need sand in my only pair of shoes...

I'd forgotten how much I enjoy hanging out with the people I know in Edinburgh. It's another place where I love and am loved in. Overwhelming to have three such places in my world that this is the case. Makes for a very comforting Christmas.

Time to run off now for more mulled wine and more mince pies. This time at the house of Sarah and Mike. Who have just asked me to be the Godfather for one of their twins. Again I remain overwhelmed...

Currently enjoying (as well as the Bhundu Boys), the Band, Everything But the Girls' Back to Mine (the second finest one after Groove Armada's majestic 2000 album) and Paul Weller's Stanley Road.

To brighten up my darkest day,
and the world fades away,
With her smile
-Wings of Speed, Paul Weller

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