Last weekend was Doors Open Day in Edinburgh (or to be correct, Doors Open Weekend – D.O.W.) This is one of my favourite events, outwith Festival and Hogmanay: a chance to visit places not generally open to public viewing - for free! There is so much hidden from view in this Great City, and much of it, as it were, underground.
All of the cemeteries mentioned in the following poem were featured in this year’s D.O.W. The news story that inspired it was ‘true’ (it was in the papers, so it must be); a couple who discovered that ‘camping’ on Calton Hill was not what they were expecting. At least, that is what we are led to believe...
for Jo and Dave, my Festive Friends
Early evening, middle-of-May
on a brightly coveted summery day
Folk parade on Princes Street;
skimpy tops and sandaled feet.
In a week or two the tourists descend.
A few months later the Festival ends
(tradition decrees it opens with sun;
climate ensures it closes with sleet!)
In the crisp air of a late warm spring
someone is standing on Arthur’s Seat
clapping an echoing echoing beat
into reverberant chambers beneath.
From Calton Hill one can almost see
this monotonous applause resound
around gravestones; drift through
the broken monoliths, empty booths,
grandiose towers, hiding the truths
of Edinburgh’s hidden underground.
A tour-bus drifts along Regent Road
announcing its magical mysteries
of spooky graveyards, obedient dogs,
body-snatchers and haunted closes.
History students along the Royal Mile
lead Ghost Tours, robed in motley disguise;
through the unstained, puritanical panes
where two or three gather in Canongate Kirk
for Edinburgh Symphony Baroque:
They do not see at the foot of the graves
the gory remains of recent assignations.
At the bottom of the hill, where the tourists
are not led, hidden from the monuments
of poets, politicians, anthropologists,
these catacombs are littered with shards
of tin foil, needles, swabs and silver spoons;
The wealth of this nation, subverted. A sharps
bin tucked inside a wall provides a vague attempt
to prove “Auld Reickie kens beneath the moon.”
Across the road, straddling the tunnel where
the Route of the Flying Scotsman thrusts
into the firmament like a corny euphemism,
every booth is a self-contained cottage. Here
are empty sachets of lube, bottles of nitrate,
shreds of loo-paper and soiled extra-strongs.
A young man emerges and strolls along
Regent Road, nonchalant: rows of coaches
shielding the entrance. It has its uses, Tourism.
The Boy-Racers perform their own form of
Cruising; posing and preening up and down
While their hens apply lippy and artificial tan.
And in Old Calton, coloured condoms strew
The grasses; mainly used as party balloons:
Bring a Bottle, fancy dress, slap and tickle,
You can picture the rest as the Buckfast
Vomit trickles down the walls and stones.
Meanwhile, back on Calton Hill, some visitors
Have pitched an entirely different sort of camp…
“Someone ought to tell that couple:
If they go down to the woods today,
They could be in for a big surprise.”
But it seemed such a pleasant little spot,
Though the ground was a “wee bit” damp.