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Mr Levett's Scottish Tour: Part the Last.

In which Jeremy Levett and family reach Edinburgh, the final stop on their Caledonian oddyssey.

Photo: Oliver Bonjoch
I'd forgotten Edinburgh. It's one of the loveliest cities I know.

Colin and Paula are old friends of my parents, and their children only a bit older than my brothers and I. Their house, near Newhaven, is linked to Dorothy and Paul’s house on Corstorphine Road by a pleasantly long walk along the Water of Leith.

The path felt as though it had been built by someone digging through my dreams. If it weren't for the regular-but-unpredictable outcrops of dogshit it's damn close to heaven on earth. At times it's a steep-sided valley with fast-flowing water and greenery on all sides, with only the murmur of traffic and the looming silhouettes of viaducts far overhead to remind you you're in Scotland's first city. At other times, it's a straight, civilised watercourse, one storey down from the rest of the town, with flat bridges and buildings on both sides, like a shallower, wilder city canal. The path crosses over the river on all manner of bridges, and sometimes leaves the water's edge entirely, passing through neat gardens and streets of two-up-two-down tenements or rising a dozen metres to meet a road or circumnavigate a building, swinging you around on a cobblestoned waltz. Everything is green and alive, but the path is clear. Not by the actions of some local authority, but because hundreds, maybe thousands, of people use it, every day. But when we walked the path, the place (somehow) wasn't crowded; in the depths of the city, you can feel perfectly alone.

Photo: Richard Webb
It's got the good stuff: history, architecture, and all sorts of whimsical Fringey things by and sometimes in the water (weird little statues, follies, a rain shelter made of rebar.) The buildings on either side range from Elizabethan half-timbered things real and fake, through the skeletons of old mills (weirs and leats are the only remains of many more) to brand-spanking-new yuppie kennels. Tenement blocks and grand houses tower on the hillsides above. There was a pleasing lack of plastic trash, either in the water or built next to it.

My brother Oliver had left us for rehearsals and Stage Crew work for the school production (he's doing lighting). The day after we arrived in Edinburgh, the school theatre company rolled into town, for their show... at the Edinburgh fringe. What a total coincidence.

The production was "ASBO Fairy Tales." I wasn't overwhelmed by the concept (fairy tales - BUT WITH CHAVS AND DRUG REFERENCES LOL) the script (spotty and overly reliant on sudden scene changes and random narration), or the idea of private school kids pretending to be chavs (just because I didn't think they could do it without looking dumb, rather than from any stereotypes or issues of class warfare, comrade.) But it turned out to be pretty good entertainment; the acting was excellent across the board, and laughs were had. The only thing that let it down was the lighting - an endless sequence of painfully ghastly failures, which left the actors in pools of darkness, blinded the audience, set the curtains on fire, strobed us all into epileptic fits, and at one point caused all the lights to explode, sending showers of red-hot fragments across the stage, drilling into my body and stopping dead my beating heart, OLIVER. Still, I later heard they had totally unusual and unexpected full and near-full audiences for the rest of the week (still running at a loss, as all Fringe things do, but a less crippling one.) After the show I offered to help tidy things up, an offer perfectly timed to coincide with there being nothing to do but hobnob with the actors. We went down a Secret Back Staircase past a long line of nervy-looking young thesps wearing period costume and clutching various props, lining up for the next show. They really rush them through; the turnaround time at these venues would make pit crews envious. Most of the talent seemed to be Mikes: Mike Lovering (lighting, covering for Oliver's treasonable incompetence), Mike Howie (butt-ugly duckling) and Maik Keefe (mutely suave crack-piper of Hamelin.) It's odd how well I get on now with people who I just didn't have much contact with in school. Odd, and good. Mikes are cool people.

After that, Dad went off to Fringe it up on his lonesome while Mum and Dorothy bought Nick and I hideously overpriced, slow paninis and I browsed the fringe guide: trash, gimmicky trash, the same magnificent Flanders & Swann act we'd seen with Ned years ago, lolsorandumXD trash, shows that would have sold out five years ago, a variety show by Clarke Peters! Then we trotted up the Royal Mile, to look at buildings Paul had designed and be harangued by a million and one assorted weirdos in assorted weird costumes. So thick were the crowds that we got separated, upon which the heavens opened. The weather had been highly un-Scottish, and I was reminded of something our old Glaswegian neighbours would say in response to a sunny day: we'll pay for it.

We paid for it.

Photo: Alan Ford
The next day, Dad and I climbed up to Arthur's Seat and looked down on the city - the winding, picturesque tangle of the Old Town, the orderly grid-pattern of the New, weird spiky spires, office buildings that looked like a scaled-up 
Giant's Causeway, faux-Athenian ruins and fortified civic buildings (St. Andrew's House, Scottish government HQ, combines Art Deco stylings with no-bullshit Scots construction sensibilities, a match made in stony heaven). Tugs guided a big liner into the docks among towering cranes and grain elevators, the tops of the Forth Bridge cantilevers poked up from behind the hills over the firth. Little puddles in the rocks were black with dead midges. We came down on the path less travelled (read: one fumble away from a rockslide) and had lunch in the town - battered cheeseburger. I've said it before: I love a place that takes its cholesterol seriously. Then, armed with a memory stick, a street map torn from the Fringe guide, some bus recommendations from Dorothy and the TomTom capability of my new phone, I crossed town to give Andrew a copy of Office, and back again to watch some Fringe shows Dad had recommended.

On the 14th, we picked up Oliver and drove back south in beautiful sunlight, stopping to look over Morecambe Bay and buying dinner from a chippie by a railway bridge. The fish and chips were fantastic, but it felt strange; there were no chipsteaks on the menu, and the accents were Northern, not Scots. In the darkness, sleepy and happy, we arrived home.

Jeremy Levett has his own blog, here.

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