Sometimes I feel my life is a little too rock and roll. In between watching Downton Abbey or the Great British Bake Off, spending my Sunday afternoons walking the dog and deciding how best to lace various types of food with alcohol whilst listening to Classic FM, I sometimes feel that I need to do something a little more middle aged (let’s be honest, we all know how hard the life of a twenty-something year old is). And that’s why this weekend I took part in Doors Open Day.
If you’ve never heard of this excellent idea before then here is the basic principle: buildings that are of interest in a city, but are not usually open to the public (or have areas that aren’t normally open) open their doors and let people have a look around. Let’s be honest, it’s not hard to grasp. Edinburgh’s – which is organised by the Cockburn Association – is, I think, quite late in the season (because of the festival) and so it doesn’t take place until the end of September – or last weekend, if you’d prefer.
Last year was the first time I’d really heard of the day, but armed with a leaflet my friend Mel (of Sharky Oven Gloves fame) and I went to explore a few places. We went to the Royal Society of Edinburgh – we’re totally not science geeks at all – and I got to the sherif court that day was well. We’d also intended on going to the City Chambers, but due to an administrative cock-up they were closed.
I’d said afterwards that I would look out for it next year and be organised so as to be able to go see lots more, but between my recent holidays and my general lack of personal organisation the weekend appeared before me and I’d barely read the online brochure.
So as I sat mid-Saturday morning eating breakfast, looking at the online guide I made a shortlist of places I’d like to go: The Scottish Parliament, The City Chambers, the Old Edinburgh Uni Vet School, an Anatomy Museum, Hermitage house (out at the Hermitage of Braid) and perhaps the museum of Edinburgh. I also realised that the National Museum’s storage facilities were doing tours, but sadly they were fully booked.
It was quite an ambitious list, bit I thought it was just about possible. It wasn’t.
We didn’t start out until after an early lunch – that’s just the way we roll – and then it took us an hour to get into town. It doesn’t take me half of that to get there for work in the mornings, even at rush hour. But through a combination of weekend bus timetables and Lothian buses’ usual levels of utter incompetence (and they wonder why people still drive into town…) it took a very long and frustrating hour to get to the bus stop. That still left us the length of the Royal Mile to get to parliament and then security to get through there before we even saw anything!
By the time we eventually got in to the building of many hairdryers (the ‘art’ on the outside resembles hair dryers) it was after 3pm, so we decided to take the place at a fairly easy pace. I’d never been inside this colossal waste of money before, but I’m pleased to say that it looks a lot better on the inside than it does on the out – although that’s a bit like finding out that you were narrowly pipped to the post in a competition to find the ugliest person…
I was actually surprised by how small it felt. Some of the hallways are actually quite narrow, and the gardens that look quite big if you ever see them on TV are actually really small. Even the main lobby isn’t overly large, and I imagine would feel even smaller if it weren’t for the wall of windows out to the garden and the giant skylights
One of the main attractions they were pushing was the Donald Dewyr Library – never normally open to the public. If I’m honest, I was utterly underwhelmed. Far from being some high-ceilinged, post-modernistic masterpiece, it was little more than a broom cupboard with a couple of impractical so-called ‘bookcases’ in it. And some oddly shaped desk that you weren’t allowed to “operate” unless you’d had “prior training in its safe use”. Uhm what? You mean to tell me that I’ve been using a desk incorrectly all these years?
The main attraction is, of course, the debating chamber. Leading up to it are the stairs where the BBC like to interview ministers and politicians, and again I was a bit surprised by how small they were – they look quite grand on TV, but in reality they’re, well, just a set of steps. I also don’t think the security man appreciated me turning round to my mum and asking how many politicians she thought had stood on these steps to tell bare-faced lies to a camera – he did not look amused (good job he didn’t hear the other unsavoury sarcastic comments that I made). In the chamber itself we were told about the various features it contains – an electronic voting system, desks with flip-up lecturns so MSPs who are going to ramble on for a while have somewhere to put their notes, and the pivoted lid of the Mace’s case (meaning that it doesn’t have to be taken away and stored elsewhere when not in use). If I’m honest though, the main thing I noticed was that you get a great view out over Dynamic Earth to Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags from the public gallery – something I imagine comes in handy if you’re there for a long debate.
By the time we left parliament everywhere else was either closed or closing, so we decided to leave the rest until Sunday and went for chocolate brownies in a little cafe on the Cannongate (it’s called Cafe Vivo) opposite Cannongate Kirk – they’re AMAZING, I go for one every time I’m down that part of town.
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise that I was incredibly disorganised on Sunday morning. In fact, I was making my mum’s birthday cake (here’s last year’s; this year’s will be here on Thursday) and it took, well, rather longer than I anticipated. The long and the short of it was that I didn’t end up going anywhere on Sunday – I guess the City Chambers will just have to be put on hold until next year. Again.