Princes Street, Tramworks and a Spot of Casual Alcoholism

Tramworks (n; pl): Areas of Edinburgh dug up for ridiculously long periods of time, causing massive amounts of disruption, for the purpose of installing (or preparing to install) sections of the city’s much bemoaned tram ‘network’; commonly prefixed by an expletive.Instagram tram tracks on Princes Street

“Oh my” “You cannot be serious?” “I don’t believe you!” Just three of the remarks that people have replied to me with when I’ve told them that work on Princes Street (we’re getting trams, had you heard?) is due to be completed ‘on time’. Well, this particular set of tramworks are “due” (note room for manoeuvre) to be completed ‘on schedule’ (said schedule presumably not being the one saying we’d have three lines in operation by 2011); meaning that Princes Street will once again open to buses, taxis and cyclists on June 30th.

Princes Street EdinburghThis is a bit of a surprise mainly because I’m not aware of any other set of central tramworks being completed anywhere near on time. It’s also a bit of a false celebration because there was only ever meant to be one set of tramworks on Princes Street and they finished almost two years ago; however, due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’ (the management seemingly the only people who aren’t able to foresee incompetence) they had to go back and dig it all up again.

Moaning aside, I am glad that Princes Street is once again able to be used. The fencing and other barriers that have festooned it for most of the last 11 plus months have not exactly sold the city to its full potential. Thank goodness they won’t be there during the festival (the traditional season for making money out of gullible tourists).

The jollity is slightly lessened, however, when you discover that York Place is to be closed for a year for yet more work and that Shandwick Place is little more than one massive hole; but I feel we should celebrate whenever possible (goodness knows there are precious few such moments in this project). More exciting is the closure of part of George Street for the festival season. Yes it’ll be a bit of a hassle [read: complete and utter pain in the backside], but they’re closing it to make it into a pub (the Spiegeltent, normally in George Square, no less); so that is clearly much more acceptable (it’s a ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality; totally not casual alcoholism…).

Whether Princes Street will indeed reopen this weekend remains to be seen (lets just say I don’t think anyone is holding their breath); but I think the council are missing a trick here: If you have to close streets for your ridiculous trams, put an interesting drinking establishment on it, then it will be much more acceptable and it’ll lessen the pain (unless you fall down a hole after having one too many).


The West End Summer Solstice: Fred MacAulay

Have you ever heard of the West End Summer Solstice? No, neither had I until last week.

That’s probably because it’s brand new this year. Over Friday and Saturday a variety of events and shows were put on in the West End of Edinburgh to celebrate the summer solstice, the ‘official start of summer’. Only one problem – no one told the weather.

Yes, true to form as the capital’s ‘quirky’, cobble-street-ed West End filled up with craft stalls, buskers, fashion outlets and other such hijinx (from ‘11am ‘til late’, so everyone could be involved) the heavens opened.

Shandwick Place Tram Works EdinburghThe cynic in you may well be questioning the suspicious timing of this event, when the area is suffering from semi-permanent road closures and shops are closing virtually by the week; well it’s partially sponsored by Edinburgh Trams, so perhaps you have a point. True to West End style though, it’s not to appeal to the mass market. If you’ve heard of many people on the line-up then you’re certainly doing better than me (or spend a lot of time listening to BBC 6 Music). In fact, I rather shamefully have to admit that the only two names I recognised were Fred MacAulay and Peppa Pig. (Perhaps I should have pretended not to know of the latter…)

I’d say that had it not been for Inspiring Edinburgh Tweeting about it (they’re @edinburgh_ if you’re interested) then I could well have completely missed the whole thing. Thankfully, however, they ran a competition to give away some tickets.

Shocker. There was a giveaway and I was suddenly involved. Magic how that happens… Anyway, for the mere act of commenting on a Facebook post at the correct time you would win a pair of tickets to the even being talked about. Wonderful. There were four such giveaways, but I went for the headline act – Fred MacAulay.

Having already agreed to have dinner with my dad that evening I gave him the other ticket and the pair of us wandered along to St George’s West to watch an hour of filthy-mouthed, brilliant comedy. Unsurprisingly, given the time of year, Mr MacAulay was clearly using it as a warm up show for the Fringe, testing out some new jokes and referring to his notes every so often; but it was free, so who really minds that? It’s not as if the jokes were all rubbish (although I have a feeling a couple won’t make it into the final show). With almost the right balance of filth, current affairs (i.e. “I pay my taxes, unlike some other comics, Mr Carr”), baiting of members of the audience and ridiculing public transport (and you guessed it – trams) I would say that his Fringe show is coming along nicely.West End Summer Solstice banner.

The ‘festival’ may be a little niche and slightly contrived; however, I had an excellent time and thoroughly enjoyed my first stand-up in far too long, even if at one point I thought I was going to have to explain what tea-bagging was to my dad. Perhaps now the weather can get on board with this whole summer thing, and if it does, I may well go see MacAulay’s finished article at the Stand later in the ‘summer’.


Instagrammers Anonymous: A Disjointed Week

It’s been an interesting week. A very odd week. But it appears that I still only need to ahve my phone with me for the Instagram addiction to continue. So here are three totally disjointed photos to represent it.

There is the on-going ‘Theme: Britain’ merchandise. Everything is red, white and blue. Including our kitchen roll. This, I’m sure you’ll agree, is completely unnecessary but also quite wonderful.

Jubilee kitchen roll

It’s rained pretty much all week, but there was a brief (and I mean very brief) glimpse of sunshine on Wednesday. Summer? What is this summer you talk of?

Edinburgh Castle

And finally it was Grad week in St Andrews (in case I hadn’t mentioned it enough), marking one year since my own leaving. We all got rather nostalgic and realised how much we miss the people that are scattered around the globe. This is my desk calendar from Nov. 2011, it now sits on my windowsill, I can’t bring myself to get rid of it.

St Andrews railway poster

There was also this fantastic graduate address from Tuesday morning’s ceremony. If you have any connection to St Andrews I suggest you read it. And possibly have a box of tissues to hand…


St Andrews +1: Was Graduation Really A Year Ago?

Who could believe it. An entire year has passed since I was doffed on the head with the graduation cap and the irrevocable “Te ad gradum Baccalaurei Scientiae, cuius rei in symbolum te hoc birretum impono” was uttered. I simply cannot believe Grad Week was a year ago. It just cannot be.

And yet, it so clearly is. This week gowns will billow and hoods will flutter in the St Andrews breeze as another gaggle of graduands traipse up to Younger Hall and process out as Graduates. They will enter the esteemed group of individuals that I am proud to say I am one of, a group 600 years in the making. And many congratulations to them.

Being a student is not, I fear, quite as many stereotypes would have you believe. Yes, it must be based on an element of truth somewhere, but I don’t think that particular ‘where’ is St Andrews. The problem with such an eminent institution is that from matriculation to graduation there is an expectation placed firmly on your shoulders. You’ve beaten (about) 12 other applicants for that place. You’re pretty damn smart. You WILL come out the other end a successful, well-educated, motivated, fantastical citizen of the world. Now try having that sitting on top of each and every deadline and piece of work you do. It doesn’t leave much scope for watching Countdown.A year in photos, St Salvator's, St Andrews

I say that it’s a problem, but really it’s not. In fact I think it’s quite the opposite. Yes, I found the idea an abhorrent distraction at the time, but now, using the wonder that is hindsight, I see that this pressure is also quite useful. I think it was – indirectly – one of the biggest motivators that not only got me through my degree, but it made me push myself to go that extra mile on every piece of work and every extra-curricular activity I did.

When you are surrounded by a group of your peers that are some of the cleverest in the country (if not the continent or the world) you have two options: you lie down and accept that they will always be better than you, or you push yourself to get to their level — and then beyond. The latter is the St Andrean mindset, of that I have no doubt, but it also helps you to prepare for the big bad world. A straight-talking, no-nonsense attitude that also makes you ask yourself some pretty tough questions and allows you to make enormous decisions — and that is invaluable for those who this week find their occupation going from ‘Full-time Student‘ to the slightly less glamorous ‘Unemployed‘.

I left St Andrews jobless, and had pretty much no sensible option other than to move back to my parents’ house. It is hard. If you disagree, then how would you cope when faced with an economy in the worst state it’s been in for decades, where graduates are ten to the dozen and there are a hundred people applying for the same job as you? Suddenly getting into St Andrews starts to look like it was a piece of cake. A truly terrifying thought. Yes, some people will have jobs lined up, but a large proportion (if not nearing the majority) will not. It’s a hard fact; but a fact none the less.

If I look back, I had a pretty crap time last summer. No matter how many jobs you apply for getting a rejection letter/email (or worse still, not hearing back at all) does not get any easier. You can tell yourself that ‘it’s their loss‘, but they have still just told you that they have found someone better than you. And that hurts.

It is here that the St Andrews mentality is completely and utter invaluable. That tough shell can take the rejection, bounce back and sit up until 3am filling in that next application. It can look at the grim reality of the job market and sniff out that elusive opportunity. And most of all it knows how to compete with the very best. How to put on a smile at a networking event when what you really want to do is cry, how to write fluently about how it really wants that job with the temping agency when the notion really fills it with dread, and it knows it has what it takes to see the battle through, however long it takes. It is a lifeline, one years in the making.

I remember the address from our Honorary Graduate – well, the hero that is David Attenborough is not something I’m likely to forget – where he congratulated us, but I recall also the graduation address from my ceremony – one year ago today – and being told that life was tough, but that they knew we would pull through and go on to do a great many things. No two of us would take the same path, but a great many of us would reach where ever it was we wanted to go. That was hard to believe during the months when yet another email popped into my inbox with a merry ping and the first line of ‘We are sorry to inform you…

Yet, the shell held. A year later I am gainfully employed in internet marketing — where I want to be — but I am one of the lucky ones. There are many more who are still struggling to get exactly what they’re looking for. And I am by no means where I intended on ending up; but I am most certainly now on my way.

I am also reminded of something I heard in February of my fourth year — which was requoted during that graduation address — the words of the future king and fellow St Andrews graduate: St Andrews is by “far and a way the best university in the world”. And whilst I would never claim to be anything less than utterly biased, I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree.

Congratulations Class of 2012, you have doubtlessly earned the honour you have been given this week.

Enjoy this week, it will fly by. It is a time of great joy, as well as a parting of ways. But if you take one thing from your time in St Andrews let it be a statement — one you won’t yet fully understand, one which I have only fully understood the significance of since leaving —  put into words by Prince William that windy February day: “St Andrews still has that uncanny knack of feeling like home.”A year in photos, st andrews, sunlight


Cheers Dad: Fathers’ Day Chocolate and Tia Maria Cake

The recipe in this post has moved to The Usual Saucepans.

Socks? No. Tie? Too boring. Toblerone? Done it quite a few times. Then what would be a suitable fathers’ day gift to say thank you?

Icing dribbling over the side of the cakeFor Mothers’ Day we (my brothers and I) cooked dinner – including chocolate and mango mousse – but that doesn’t really seem like being helpful as he’s not cooking tonight. As a compromise we’ll take him out for lunch. Not today as my esteemed siblings are absent (and every dad and his dog will be getting treated to same-y, rubbish menus today) so we will take him out later in the week when we can all enjoy it.

That just leaves one problem. Being the bestest of the bestest son (and fabulous with grammar) how on earth do I tell him that we’ve done nothing except get him a card of a meerkat mowing the lawn (seriously)? The logical solution (in my head) was to make him a cake, one which he would enjoy.

Fathers’ Day Chocolate and Tia Maria Cake

[Please find the recipe for the Chocolate and Tia Maria Cake over on The Usual Saucepans]
Dad in coffee beans on his cake