I see the Guardian is asking for memories connected with the Scott Monument. This probably isn’t what they are looking for but I can’t resist publishing a provocative piece which first appeared in The City Talks. Colin Cumberland makes a pretty good case for getting rid of the monument which he describes as a “Gothic plook” and a “crumbling carbuncle”.
Colin, then managing director of Applecross Properties, began by comparing the two sides of Princes Street to the anti-smoking campaign which uses two sides of a face to show the ill-effect of smoking: one side haggard and slack jawed the other bright eyed, clear complexioned and youthful. He continued…
“Visitors to Princes Street will recognise the imagery. On one side there’s beauty, elegance and vitality; on the other, neglect, self-indulgence and drabness. But the comparison can be overplayed: whilst the model in the advert has an unblemished good side, Princes Street’s better half has to contend with that Gothic plook, the Scott Monument.
“Just to remind you, the Scott Monument was a result of a competition. The winner, George Kemp, was initially placed a rather distant third but the judges could not make up their minds and, after requesting further designs, Kemp was declared the winner.
“Kemp, a joiner to trade, borrowed bits from Melrose Abbey, Glasgow Cathedral and Antwerp Cathedral. This Gothic confection sits in East Princes Street Gardens, a decaying and pointless homage to unrestrained vulgarity.
“What does it do? What is its function? How do people use it? These are legitimate questions to ask of all the buildings along Princes Street but the Scott Monument delivers no satisfactory answers.
“I notice the theme in this City Talks is the importance of public spaces. Could I suggest that the City Fathers’ contribution could be demolition of the Scott Monument to release a chunk of the Gardens which citizens of Edinburgh could then really enjoy? The sculpture of Sir Walter himself is rather well done and I would be happy to see that remain. But for the rest, get rid of it.
“Princes Street has too many buildings which are not fit for purpose. If Princes Street is to be a world-class street then we have to create new buildings with big floor plates for trading. The new buildings could be completely commercial but we have got to get away from shops trading out of ground and first floors leaving three or four upper floors stacked high with scabby cardboard boxes for all the world to see. As a residential developer I would, of course, prefer some flats over the shops to ensure the centre of our beautiful city is lived in and remains an exciting vibrant place after the shops have closed for the evening.
“I don’t think I have singled out the Scott Monument unfairly. The problem with redeveloping Princes Street is the multiplicity of ownerships and competing interests so it is difficult to know where to start. The Scott Monument is in single ownership with a single interest. Come on. Be brave. Be visionary. Demolish this crumbling carbuncle to demonstrate that we are happy to embrace the possibilities of the future, rather than being trapped in the complacency of the past.”
Footnote: great rousing stuff from Colin. Sadly, Applecross Properties went bust in May 2009 but the Scott Monument is still there. (By the way I produced The City Talks newsletter for the former Edinburgh City Centre Management Company in 2006).
Snow has always been an adventure at Pond Cottage but this year it feels like an attack. Three weeks ago we only just managed to get away by digging a narrow track up the lane with the tractor. I followed Ray, King Wenceslas on a Kubota, as close as I dared, hanging on to the wheel while trees covered in snow leaned in to brush the screen, I could almost hear them muttering, “you’re bonkers trying to drive in this”.
The snow just kept on snowing. And when it stopped the temperature dropped and kept on dropping. Now the lane is so deep in hard packed ice the car has to be abandoned by the gate and even the tractor struggles to get past the house. The water is switched off at the road end to prevent pipes bursting. The house is only just above freezing but we never sit still long enough to notice.
Last New Year it was fun. Roaring wood fire inside, winter wonderland outside, every day a new ice sculpture hanging from the gutter by the back door. The snow was deep but soft and dry. This year it is maybe even more beautiful but the snow seems to have fallen harder and heavier on the trees. And it is not for melting any time soon.
It no longer feels like fun. In 17 winters at Pond Cottage we have never seen such damage. Branches snapped off or bent double and anchored to the ground by deep snow. One holly is laid across the path, leaves completely stripped by deer and rabbit. Oddly birches seem to be worst affected – sadly some young saplings have snapped in two – though you would think since they spread down from Scandinavia they would be equipped for this kind of weather. The Scots Pine look as if they are dressed for a walk on part in Lord of the Rings.
Back in Edinburgh streets have finally cleared just as a new arctic blast brings a fresh attack of white stuff across the rest of the country. Tonight’s news brings reports of chaos just about everywhere else. “Not a flake in Glasgow” says a phone message from Dougal . But what about Pond Cottage? I’m scouring the internet looking for the least threatening weather forecasts. BBC is about the best with light snow and lows of only minus 5 over the weekend. I’ll settle for that.
Soon we will be packing and preparing for another New Year and I am looking forward to bringing the cottage back to life. But I might never wish for a white Christmas again.
Politicians can’t do drugs and drink. Pandering to the Daily Mail and the drinks industry means they are irrational about one and evasive about the other. While government policy slips and slides around the price (too low) and social cost (too high) of booze, I am enjoying the memory that I once managed to sneak alcohol into a government funded booklet about drugs.
This is nothing like a wiki-leak, but it does reveal something about the way public health policy can be shaped or distorted by political hamfistedness. Some years ago when NHS Health Scotland still had the more easily recognised name of Health Education Board for Scotland (dear old HEBS), I was hired to write a booklet about drugs for parents of teenage children. A friend was working on a companion booklet about alcohol at the same time.
I always enjoyed working with HEBS and not just because they paid well and on time. But on this occasion, as a parent of teenage children myself, I remember feeling pretty uncomfortable about the thinly disguised propaganda of the presentation. The timing was significant. We were within months of a Scottish Parliamentary election and the then Health Minister (I honestly forget his name but it certainly wasn’t Malcolm Chisholm) clearly wanted to make parents feel the government was taking care of them (even if it meant making them more scared about drugs than they needed to be).
My friend and I wanted to take a more evenly balanced and objective approach. I argued that we should be concentrating more on alcohol. The statistics backed me up. Besides I had fresh in my mind a conversation with the then Chief Constable of Lothian and Borders Police. Sitting next to him at a corporate dinner (I was no doubt clutching a glass of wine) I heard him tell a story about the increasing problem of underage drinking. Late at night one of his police cars had taken a young boy home unable to walk or talk.
“The parents asked what was wrong and when the police officer said it was drink they said ‘oh thank goodness for that, we were afraid it was drugs’”.
When the drugs booklet was published I remember noticing that some discreet editing had been applied to a section on First Aid which (to my mind) added an unnecessary frisson of fear.
However I had scored a victory. At my suggestion, the centre spread of the booklet – possibly the only part that young people would read anyway – was a factual A-Z of drugs and their effects. It began with alcohol.
PS Earlier this year I was delighted to discover NHS Health Scotland has reprinted that booklet, almost unchanged. The statistics on drug use are more encouraging than they were in the first edition. Cannabis, of course, has been upgraded again. But the A-Z still begins with alcohol.
Thank you, thank you Jim Naughtie. Yesterday was a pretty grim day news wise apart from that wonderful slip of the tongue on Today. And, oh, it was an accident waiting to happen, some people have names that invite mischief. Reminds me when I was a trainee reporter, on my newspaper in East Anglia we had an advertising manager by the name of Fluck. One day a very nice old lady came into the front office and asked to speak to Mr Clunt.
Perhaps the best thing about Naughtie’s verbal slip was that it seemed to be so highly contagious. Andrew Marr did the exact same thing just half an hour or so later on Start the Week and then, bless me, didn’t the hapless Herbert let it slip in the House of Commons in the afternoon. Accident or subconscious design?
The Right Hon Culture Secretary takes it all in good part apparently. But then he went to Charterhouse public school and Oxford. Hard to believe Jeremy Hunt’s surname has never inspired a schoolboy’s rhyming couplet before now. To say nothing of his politics.
Here’s something to cheer me up and maybe you too. I started the morning fed up with the snow, tired of people oohing and aaahing about how pretty it looks on Twitter, and wondering how much longer it can go on. Then I discover Tommy has recycled some old Christmas rapping on Facebook.
It’s wonderfully wicked. And probably a bit odd for a mother to be so proud of signs of her sons’ mis-spent youth. I daren’t tell you about the alphabet rap that Tommy and Bobby composed for the PPC (and don’t even ask what PPC stands for). Like a lot of rap the alphabet was infectiously, fiendishly funny – long before anyone said LOL I laughed out loud, sitting on my own in the car at traffic lights, when we got to the letter F.
I always wanted the boys to produce a Fringe show based on the PPC. But the ecard they made for Radio Magneticmay be a better alternative – the day it was released two (or was it three?) Christmases ago Sno Biz was briefly a YouTube top hit. And it recycles very nicely.
Now slightly concerned that the boys are becoming too respectable. There’s Tommy in Found, on the Fence Label and about to release an album with Chemikal Underground next year. Bobby, aka S-Type, gets promotion on the List for his new single on Scottish label Phuturelabs. And Dougal’s Radio Magnetic celebrates as the UK’s longest running internet radio station with a Winter Rave in Glasgow on 18th December.
Wish I could blame the parents.
(perhaps it is time to pay that long overdue tribute to Broughton High School. Back soon with the BHS hall of fame…)