I’m a curmudgeon, so the profusion of Christmassy stuff that starts to pop up everywhere around the end of October/start of November turns me into a grumpy old man. But now it’s December, so as far as I’m concerned we’re all allowed to start getting Christmassy. Every year, around now, a market and funfair-type stuff pops up in the middle of Edinburgh, around the base of the Scott Monument. A visit is the official start of my personal ‘gearing-up-for-Xmas’ process.
Eat roasted chestnuts (nice but, of course, horribly overpriced).
Admire the Monument. Is it the most gothically substantial monument to a writer ever erected? Pleases me to live in a city that – not now, but once open a time – thought a writer could be worthy of such gargantuan commemoration. (Though it’s true that the importance of Sir Walter Scott to Edinburgh’s and Scotland’s history goes rather beyond his literary contributions).
Note, in passing, that the Monument does not appear in The Edinburgh Dead because it wasn’t built until the 1840s, more than a decade after the year that novel’s set. But Princes Street, beside which it stands, does, and the man himself makes a fleeting appearance. In fact, I found a place for him in the book through one of the funnest little facts I uncovered in the course of research: turns out, he was a supportive patron of the legendary American bird artist John James Audubon, who – I never knew this before research – was in Scotland around the time of The Edinburgh Dead. There was an exhibition of Audubon’s painting at a big gallery just a stone’s throw from where the Scott Monument now stands; in the novel, all the city’s great and good are at that exhibition, including the august Sir Walter Scott.
Gaze up at the wheel, and ponder a ride.
Jump on wheel, rotate up, and get a view of the city that’s usually not there for the getting: across the lofty shoulders of the Scott Monument, looking down and to the East.
That gandiose slab of stone pretending to be a building in the middle distance is the Balmoral Hotel, by the way. Traditionally – I guess it might still be true, though I don’t know – the big clock you can just about make out up on its tower was deliberately set just a little bit fast, so that Edinburgh’s industrious folk would not be late for their appointments.
And, in departing, suitably freshened by the chill air, reflect on one final thought: Edinburgh + a cold clear winter’s day = some of the finest light to be had anywhere in the world.