While much has been done to improve the area over the past ten years, knocking down most of the grey tower-blocks and building new, colourful housing, there are still stretches of wasteland, boarded-up shops and pubs, and signs of urban poverty that are hidden from, or largely unseen by Edinburgh’s tourists, Royal Visitors, and Festival-attendees.
There are also around Niddrie and Craigmillar various community centres and projects, the odd bit of modern art, a new library, and some hidden gems of historical and spiritual interest, some of which only come to light on Doors Open Days in September. One such place is the Thistle Foundation, a community for adults with special needs.
When only-child Robin Tudsbury (of the Blues and Royals – whatever that means) was on duty in the 2nd World War, his parents Lord and Lady Tudsbury were planning to set up a centre for ‘disabled ex-servicemen.’ Shortly before the war ended, Robin was killed in action, so his parents decided to build a chapel in his memory, naming it The Robin Chapel.
This Chapel – apart from being of great artistic value and beauty, with its simple, Baronial architecture, exquisite carvings, and stunning stained-glass depicting scenes from Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress – is a fitting tribute, in that it was set up to be a ‘non-denominational’ (what we now call, ecumenical) ‘temple of reconciliation.’
Glossing over the Royal connections, which interest me less than the military background, my part in this Official Visit – celebrating 60 years of the Thistle Foundation – was because in my ‘other life’ (as a professional singer) I am part of the choir that sings regularly in The Robin Chapel, performing music of a cathedral-style choral tradition.
I’ve made my thoughts clear on things Military and Monarchy elsewhere on this blog. Suffice it to say, I found the experience of singing God Save The Queen with the very women sitting a few feet away extremely surreal. Whether God (again, for my views, see elsewhere) poured bounteous gifts on her as we sang, it is hard to say. But I can report that for the duration of this ridiculous anthem, God did indeed save the Queen. Which was nice of God.
After The Queen and Prince Edward (who was kind enough to personally thank the choir) went off to visit less privileged people of Niddrie, we all got on with drinking The Thistle Foundation’s wine and eating salmon sandwiches. With her entourage of high security, accompanying military brass and heavy police presence dissipated, Niddrie-normality returned. One of our visitors (a former Robin Chapel musician) had had his car window smashed.
I guess The Queen, God, or any of Robin’s former Division couldn’t save that from happening. God’s promises to humankind are pretty vague without the vagaries of Church and State staking their claim. When God tried to wipe the slate clean with a cataclysmic flood, the subsequent rainbow was some kind of promise, apparently.
I see it this way: whatever social category, strata, or economic grade we belong to; whatever belief-system, or philosophy we subscribe to: we are all the same. God rains and shines on everyone. The amorphous rainbow is a sign perhaps that humans have the capacity for peace and reconciliation. That is why I choose to sing at The Robin Chapel. Long may it reign!
But while we wait for Kingdom Come, here’s this month’s offering from my poem-cycle:
Twelve Tones of Blue
Canto VII: Seven is a popular numeral, but flawed by the imagination’s limitations.
The Joys of Mary
The Days of the Week
The Deadly Sins Seven
The Layers of Heaven
The Plagues of Israel
The Trumpets of Wrath
Th'Amorphous Spectrum that Bows across the Damp Blue Sky