Tuesday 31 August 2010
The end of Scotland Street?
For me, certainly. It's the Big Brother misadventure all over again. In that instance, I got hooked early on, told all the disbelievers how much it could reveal about human nature in the long term, how much more kindness was dispensed than vile behaviour, etc. Then decadence quickly set in and I stopped watching, except for the 'celeb' edition with Shilpa Shetty. And all those disbelievers said, 'told you so'.
Thus it is now with the latest of Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street novels, serialised in The Scotsman (better point out straightway that's not Scotland Street up top but Northumberland Street, close enough in Edinburgh New Town terms). It was bound to resonate: Edinburgh as I'd known and loved it, with recognisable types, not least in the shape of two characters who wore out the quickest, anthropologist Domenica and washed-up artist Angus Lordie. We all fell for perennial five- or six-year old Bertie, and the high watermark for me was his trip to Paris in Espresso Tales where he falls in with a group of existentialist students and makes his profound pronouncement on Melanie Klein, force-fed him by his mother Irene: 'she's rubbish!'
Downhill thereafter, I fear. The homilies get preachier; the characters have stood still, good only for cheap pot-shots (what's the point of baby Ulysses throwing up over mummy Irene because he, like the rest of us, can't stand her?) Bertie still touches the heart, but there's not enough of him this time. A colleague of AMcCS implied he's got a bit grand: the chauffeur and the limo sit outside the coffee shop on Dundas Street while he conducts interviews. And he thinks he's writing for ladies from Colorado. Hence the odious myth of a perfect Italy which is the damp-rag climax of the latest and most disappointing in the sequence, The Importance of Being Seven.
Anyway, the novels may stand still but Edinburgh has just enough dynamism to change a bit and yet stay itself. We only had a day and a half there - staying just a block up from my happy home of nearly three years in Dundas Street - after visiting the godson and family in the Borders, but I think I chose well for the three events I saw on the Friday.
Much the best was Pants on Fire's stunning 1940s revue-style treatment of Ovid's Metamorphoses, which I duly five-starred for The Arts Desk. I doubt if I'll see a more bracing or consistently inventive piece of theatre this year. The review, like the successful theatrical attempt at Gesamtkunstwerk, got a bit buried under all the comedy, which strikes me as marking out another kind of decadence for the Festival Fringe, but each to his own. After a late lunch out in Gilmerton with darlin' Ruthie, who's been putting some of her work to good use on her terrace
we headed back for a low-key but consummately done hour with Diaghilev in the shape of veteran Tony Tanner's one-man show Charlatan (reviewed under the Ovid in the Arts Desk wadge). And on to a curate's egg of a Scottish Chamber Orchestra concert, rounded off by haggis and chips from the Alba d'Oro ('established 1975', it proudly proclaims, as if that were history, five years before I went to Edinburgh). Wasn't because of that, I don't think, that I was sick four times on the train to London - all contained, you'll be glad to know; just part and parcel (and plastic bag, on the one occasion I couldn't make the loo) of an especially hideous cold, which may be the result of veering between heatwave Zurich and freezing late night Rosslyn.
At least I got to welcome all the pleasures sans the impediment that struck on the way back. And managed to give my second Rake's Progress talk at Glyndebourne on the Sunday without losing my voice completely - even if I sounded, as I apologised at the start, more like a cracked Nick Shadow than a clarion Tom Rakewell.