Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Now You See it…

Today, being St Andrew’s Day, the Burghers of Dunedin were allowed to look around their own castle – for free!  It was good to maunder about and hear local accents, in all their rich variations.  My favourite sight (aside from the exhibits, given that it’s mainly an elevated War Museum) was an Asian family who’d gone up there with a take-away, and sat up on the ramparts on a park-bench, opening the foil containers.  Curry on the Castle!  And why not: it’s their Castle too.

As for the rest of our St. Andrew’s Day celebrations in Edinburgh, the launch of a new exhibition at the Museum of Scotland, and the long-awaited re-opening of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery were both postponed due to industrial action.  I’m not sure I go for Nationalistic Pride; it’s mostly puffed up and proud, rather than a genuine sense of taking pleasure in who we are or what we have achieved, as a Nation.

My second-favourite sight was a pair of phone-boxes, tucked inside the Castle entrance, which I snapped with my mobile phone just before it got dark (at about half-past two.)  Surely a National Emblem of who we are, as British, not just Scottish; but sadly, it is mainly seen as sentimental or nostalgic – or a tourist photo-opportunity.  When I first came to live in Edinburgh, there were twelve red phone-boxes along the Royal Mile – including the two inside the castle. 
Now there are eleven.

Where did the twelfth – dare I call it the Judas phone-booth – go, I hear you call out.  It just happens that I have in my sad collection a before-and-after shot.  Some ten years ago, when the over-budget building-site on Abbey Strand was the subject of as much heated debate as the trams are today, a wee red box stood, snuck into a corner by The Queen’s Gallery.  With a bit of Scottish Imagination, they could have used it as a Security Box.  I suspect this was reason it was removed: for ‘security’ – which is another word for institutional fear and public paranoia.

A phone-booth’s a phone-booth, for a’ that, said the Bard (at least, he might’ve).  Maybe, but not when you look at what has replaced our Great British Beacon.  As you travel down this famous thoroughfare (which, I accept, is not altogether consistent in its architectural or cultural display) that links the Castle to the Royal Palace, you'll see the Saint Matthias Phone-booth, one of many ugly and totally impractical designs which have replaced the faithful red box; the 13th Apostle chosen to spread the word in the absence of the betrayer (or betrayed). 

It’s not even a box: it’s an abomination!  But some would say the same about the Parliament Building, the trams, or more importantly, the social, cultural, and economic apartheid that divides this silly wee country, and stops us from being truly proud of who we are.  If Scotland should ever gain independence from England (or do I mean, Britain? Nah – England) it will take more than whisky, tartan, tins of shortbread and North Sea Oil to sustain an economy.  It will need the Guid Scottish Citizens to stop arguing with themselves.  But that is a National Occupation, right enough.

I have a strong belief that the only thing that will save the world is Art – the ‘lie’ that helps us to understand the ‘truth.’  Last week, I went to the Scottish National Gallery to hear a singing harper performing traditional Scots airs, as a prequel to St Andrew’s-tide.  Once I’d struggled past the crowds on Princes Street and The Mound, gathered to see the ‘Christmas Lights’ being turned on, I discovered that the performer had not been able to get through the throng with her clarsach, and the recital had been cancelled (or postponed, perhaps – I do not know.)

So commerce and consumerism had won over Art and Music, once again.  Yet I take hope from one thing that I learned at the Castle today.  When the King of Scotland plonked his hoary arse on a lump of stone and said, ‘Aye, Right,’ he was invested with other emblems of kingship (besides a cold bum or piles, assuming he was a true Scot.)  A sword, representing Justice, or Defence (righteousness or aggression – you decide); a sceptre, to rule with discretion and integrity; a reliquary shrine, for taking of the oath, and finally; a bard, to recite the king’s genealogy.  A poet – hurrah!

Art is important.  More than that, it is imperative.  In his Lament for the Makaris, William Dunbar lists some of the things we celebrate as Scottish: 

          Art magicianis and astrologgis,
          Rethoris and theologgis…
          In medicine the most practicianis,
          Lechis, surrigianis and physicianis…

And he goes on to lament that none of these can be delivered from death.  But if Art exists outwith time (as some view the existence of God), then we have art and music, design and architecture, photography and literature, poetry and sculpture – et cetera.  The best of Scottish.  And there, standing tall in the Museum of Eternity is my old friend, the Phone Box.  Designed by a Scot, I’ll have you know. (Well, sort of: Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.)  Let it wear its perforated crown – with pride.

No comments:

Post a Comment