Though I may not have seen a single thing on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, three days in or near my Alma Mater gave as good a panorama of events as any I can remember. Central, of course, were Rona Munro's three wonderful James Plays: enough said about them already on the blog except to note that seeing them on consecutive evenings was a real festival experience, with much musing between.
James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock cheered us after a dreary first afternoon in Edinburgh; J had been up since the weekend and it had stayed unremittingly cold, drizzly and grim. Then off he went back to his tiny cubby-hole in the otherwise spacious New Club, still in the thick of his conference, I to our dear friend Ruth Addinall's in Gilmerton (no further from Princes Street than Belsize Park is from the centre of London). Waking there was bliss. Ruthie had gone off for her early morning swim, so I padded around snapping. Here in quick succession are glimpses of the space where she teaches her lucky pupils, looking out on the wee garden she's always coveted,
and the desk beyond the kitchen, quite a picture in itself.
Avian activity in the garden continues, despite the loss of a favourite blackbird to a sparrow hawk. The Putins are still here, Mrs P always eager to take berries from the lady of the house's hand.
Wish I'd been here when a flock of waxwings* landed early in the year. One is preserved in an Addinall special.
After a typically generous and healthy breakfast, I took the bus to the Queen's Hall for one of the best recitals I've ever heard, friendly cellist Alban Gerhardt and a pianist who should need no introduction, the versatile Steven Osborne in Britten, Tippett and Beethoven (with a melting Schumann encore). No need to reduplicate anything on the Arts Desk review here. Then lunch up the road at Mother India, a Glasgow branch of which I'd taken the student godchildren to recently, and to the nearby Dovecot Studios, a favourite venue since the discovery of both it - no longer the Infirmary Baths of old, which I well remember - and the work of the wonderful John Burningham.
Before we hit the studio proper, J wanted me to see what he'd already watched - four very beautiful films featuring the special Harris Tweed designs of Dalziel + Scullion, immersing the models in four different Scots landscapes for the exhibition Tumadh (publicity image pictured above). I have to go to Lewis with its inland beaches, and the river-valley setting for Recumbent, allowing the wearer to lie down boulder-like with its pads on the back, was so evocative. I'd have liked a Recumbent myself, but at c. £3,000 for a tailor-made commission it's a bit beyond my budget. Sadly there are no available images of the tweedwearers in landscapes beyond this one.
Upstairs, on the balcony of the main studio where the Burninghams had been hung, the space was shared by a delicious selection of Craigie Aitchison paintings, etchings and tapestries, and a celebration of the links between Dovecot Studios and the Australian Tapestry Workshop. A few of them appear below, above work in progress on Magne Furuholmen's Glass Onion design.
I'd forgotten what a strong painter Aitchison was. This showcase from the Timothy Taylor Gallery included several of his Crucifixions: apparently his Slade tutor had told him that the subject was 'too serious' for him, prompting the devil of opposition.
Over the road in the Talbot Rice Gallery of Old College, the show Counterpoint was more variable - a selection of eight artists representing '25 Years of Contemporary Art in Scotland'. Most topical was Ellie Harrison's installation After the Revolution, Who Will Clean Up the Mess?
On 18 September, 'the four large confetti cannons installed inside Talbot Rice's Georgian Gallery will only be detonated in the event of a YES vote'. Which, of course, is coming to seem increasingly possible, and all the very best to the idealists and their unknown future if that happens**.
The one exhibit I'd like to follow up is Alec Finlay's Global Oracle, much preoccupied with the future (futurist fantasy) of bees. The book produced on the subject, with a fine compilation of poetry and prose, is one I have to get. Below, Navstar Satellites.
The calm of Old College, with only a lone seagull for company
was in marked contrast to Potterville (see It's a Wonderful Life) down in the Cowgate. I guess it was always a mass of drinking dens - we used to enjoy frequenting Bannerman's, especially around concerts in St Cecilia's Hall, but now, or at least in festival time, the street has a daytime reek of beer and is lined with big pubs offering multiple screens (and free fringe events - godson Alexander and his new band Tumfy and the Deecers played a gig at 2am after I'd left. He says, none too approvingly, that the Fringe is really the Edinburgh Festival of Drink).
Time out in the comfort of the New Club quickly yielded to Sister Marie Keyrouz and the Ensemble de la Paix in Greyfriars Kirk. The chief virtue for me was getting to hear music inside the Kirk for the first time ever. I never went in during my university years, even though my most regular haunt in first year, the Bedlam Theatre, is as close as could be, and only once or twice walked through the extraordinary graveyard. Anyway, quick shot of the done-over interior
and of the Greyfriars Bobby merchandise.
The faithful wee doggie's grave is close to the main entrance
keeping most tourists away from the fascinating decrepitude of the rest. I don't have any details about the chapels abutting the houses to the south, but admire how buddleia and ferns thrive.
This ensemble on the north-eastern side struck me as so quintessentially Scots.
So to James II: Day of the Innocents, a late-night drink in the astonishingly transformed space of the Dick Vet College and back to the Lambtons' at Chapelgill, Broughton-by-Biggar, where we've seen the godchildren grow up over the years. Here's the beauteous Kitty, sweet 18 and soon off to Aberdeen Art College, with her new kitty Milo (I could bore you with some very cute solo kitten shots but let's leave it at this).
The next morning was taken up with review writing and other chores, but we managed an afternoon excursion to one of my favourite botanic gardens, or rather arboretum, nearby Dawyck. I always like to head up the hill via the mossy stone terraces of Sir John Naesmyth's commissioned 1830s stonework
and the view towards the (private) house, designed by William Burn to replace the one that burnt down in 1830
towards Heron Wood and the cryptogamic sanctuary. The beeches were looking lovely as ever - father Lambton is inspecting a grey squirrel in a trap at the foot of the nearest, part of a campaign to save the reds -
but there was little sign of above-ground fungal activity other than these young 'uns barely visible.
I love the mosses and lichen wrapped around, or dripping from, the silver birches at the top of the garden, but I've already shown them in all their glory in a mycological post as well as one from 2009, so here's a record of one of the oldest trees, a European larch (Larix decidua) planted in 1725. I like the idea of Naesmyth going round planting this and its like in the company of the great Linnaeus.
Nearby is the peeling bark of Betula chinensis, the Chinese dwarf birch, looking in both layers like a pianola roll (aren't the dashes purely ornamental?)
One conifer I should have noted down the name of really does boast blue cones
and the variety of greens across the valley was especially stunning at this time of year.
Must go back at the right time in spring to see the amazing blue meconopsis, which I've failed to grow down here. But that will depend on the future of Chapelgill; by then, Christopher may have moved back to Edinburgh.
After tea and cakes from Dawyck back home, it was time to catch the bus from Peebles for James III: The True Mirror and excellent fish and chips next door. This time J accompanied me back to Ruth's afterwards and we had another sunlit morning in her ineffable company before heading back for the train via lunch with Alexander in the superb Cafe de St Honoré. It won in two categories this year at the 2014 Catering in Scotland Awards - 'Sustainable Business of the Year' and 'Chef of the Year' (Neil Forbes, who uses only sustainable local produce). Check out the website, a beautiful piece of work. Over two days, J could attest to the restaurant's excellence across the board, though I'd have liked more spice and/or seasoning on my risotto. Since the diplo-mate does not permit any but the most remote of shots, here's a severed shot of our boy, much in demand now as a saxophonist, at lunch with J's hand to the right.
More on Alexander 'Betty' Lambton and Kurt Vonnegut in a post to come.
*Thanks to Sue below for banishing the 'lap'
**It didn't, and Europoliticians J knew didn't think it would, despite the polls. Received some quite strong pleas from the 'bettertogether' campaign which I brushed aside. Had I had the chance to vote, I would probably have abstained, if there had been a politically-active category for doing so, since the polyphony of voices pro and con never resolved for me. And from what I gathered from reading a City analyst, a 'yes' result most likely wouldn't have been a financial disaster, just have made things either a little bit better or a little bit worse.
Anyway, I'm not unhappy with the result, and nor, it seems, were many of the 'Yes' voters interviewed in Glasgow's George Square by the World Service (apart from a very unstable sounding Australian Gaelic speaker). Scotland has wrung more measures from a panicky Cameron, so - onwards and upward for that country I love so much.
22/10 But oh, it could all turn nasty if the appalling self-interest of Cameron in threatening to limit the powers of Scots MPs in Westminster goes through. Is this man totally cut off from the real world, and so in fear of the lunatic far-righters that he would so go against popular opinion? It seems so. All the more reason, then, to carry on what 84 per cent of Scottish voters began.