Ink, charcoal and gesso on paper –
Leith was an independent burgh with its own provost, magistrate and council up until 1920 when it was suggested that it merge with Edinburgh. A referendum of Leithers was held who defiantly rejected the proposal 26,810 to 4,340 votes. However the vote was ignored and the merger went ahead anyway.
In the sharp low sun scaffolders swagger, their tools singing out a song for Leith. Ice on the water traps violet streaks of diesel and pigeons coorie doon on the south side of roofs. In a cafe, ceramic figurines of black minstrel singers stare out at the street their mouths wide in silence. It is 2016. ‘Hiya doll, how ya doin’?’ ‘Three bacon rolls and two stovies.’ ‘Yous waitin’ for fried bread?’ I meet David who is looking for his brother at the bus stop. They are going to get their hair cut. He has spent the morning at a men’s group at the YMCA. He tells me they cook together- macaroni cheese, apple pie, all sorts. Says it gets him out of the house, and he enjoys the craic. Along Ferry Road I am thinking about the ‘dazzle’ ship moored at the docks whilst walking past a tanning salon that offers vajazzles. I chuckle, playing the sounds of the words around in my head. A couple kiss at the pedestrian crossing. The launderette is still here where I would soak in the warmth and whirrings, a place for conversation or introspection depending on the day, a space for thinking. The sun casts long shadows on the street.
Snow sky blooms. Vast clouds of darkest grey. At the Albert docks a man appears at my left shoulder. His glasses are spattered with sleet as he looks up at the cranes.’Do you know what the name of the middle crane is ?’ ‘Its a level luffer’. He goes on to tell me he used to work for the company that made them in Carlisle and explains their engineering principle. He talks about how after the war you could visit the warships and submarines docked here and how the quaysides were chocked full of cargo and stevedores. Does that job still exist, or even the word ? Perhaps it has slipped quietly away with the level luffer, archived in an underground climate controlled library beneath the permafrost. The man in the gabardine coat takes his leave, happy to have passed on the naming and explanation of a crane. The snow doesn’t come to Leith, but maybe up in the hills it is falling, drifting over our hidden repository of lost things.
Cold. Rowan trees scatter red confetti on passers by. Lost gloves and lonely hats placed on window sills. Betty tells me her uncle had been a hairdresser in Leith and was so small he had to stand on an orange box to cut hair. Newspaper clippings on the wall of the cafe. Mince and tatties and mushy peas. How cold is it ? Very, but not enough to turn on the heating. A young woman shouts ….’Why is everything shit ?’. Stockings wrinkle below the knee. Two soft fried eggs. She’ll make herself a hot water bottle when she gets in. She squeezes herself at the thought and smiles. Outside the day moves on quietly, trying to see the best in it.