I write a fair bit about Dunbar, the town on the east coast where I grew up, though I don’t think I’ve written quite so much about where I went to primary school in the east of Edinburgh. Craigentinny isn’t the most glamorous part of the capital. But like most places, it has charms, perhaps more hidden than others, certainly, but there are charms nonetheless. The other day, I was in Edinburgh and had the urge to walk all the way to the Craigentinny Mausoleum, which is a good mile or two out of the city centre. I had passed it many, many times, mainly on the way out to Prestongrange, where I used to work, and hadn’t stopped in a long while. From memory, I knew it had something to do with someone called Christie Miller, which has a personal resonance as the special needs unit at Craigentinny Primary was split into two classes, Christie and Miller. So, out there I walked and came upon this huge upturned box sitting amidst bungalows and a bowling club. At either side of the mausoleum were epic Roman scenes, capped by cherubs, reliefs and much else besides. As it turned out, it was the mausoleum of a book collector and MP, William Henry Miller, who lived in Craigentinny House, across the road from the primary school. The mausoleum, or Marbles as they are known, were designed by David Rhynd with the friezes sculpted by Alfred Gatley of Rome. Apparently, the Marbles were funded by one of Miller’s relatives, Samuel Christie-Miller, hence the street they sit on is called Christiemiller Avenue. They are worth a diversion, if you’re in the area, incredibly incongruous as you survey them in the midst of a perjink street of bungalows and next door to the local bowling club.
I was out for a walk to help me think and clear my head before the exam for my OU course, which was the next day. Being in familiar surroundings meant I was distracted and in the midst of memories rather than dwelling on what I needed to know for the exam. I walked from the mausoleum down towards my old school. I used to go there by taxi from Dunbar every day. When I was diagnosed as being autistic, my local school didn’t have suitable facilities for me at the time. (Ironically, Dunbar Primary now has a autism unit.) So, off I went to Craigentinny. It looks much the same today, except there are more trees. I remember when the trees were planted and we were told not to pull the saplings up. The huge field at the front of the school is pretty much all trees and the garden we used to work in to the side nearest Craigentinny Road is heavily covered by trees whereas I remember it being very light and empty. It was a strange experience and I was lost in nostalgia as I walked by the school then round the side. I could have walked in the playground since Edinburgh City Council have a commendable policy about opening school playgrounds for local kids to play on non-school days but I was fine with just walking by, thinking through the layout of the building and seeing memories from long before. I have a great fund of stories from my school years, particularly from when I was at Craigentinny and some time I might share some. My last sight before I moved on was from Craigentinny Road looking back towards the school with Arthur’s Seat rising high above, not at all a bad sight.
My walk then took me through Lochend, walking past some colossal four-in-a-block houses with no doors at all noticeable until you realised the doors were all at the back. When I used to go to see Hibs as a kid, we used to park at the eastern side of the ground in Lochend and so, even without being at school nearby, I know it well. One major difference about the surroundings is as you walk towards Hawkhill Avenue and the ground just beyond. There used to be a Kingsmill bread factory there and it’s gone now, replaced by flats. Fine looking flats, incidentally. Easter Road is also different from when I was a kid. The East Stand used to be basic, bucket seats with a low roof, now it’s all modern and huge, while the West Stand used to be old, wooden and vastly inadequate, now it’s a lot sleeker and modern. The West Stand looked quite a lot like the Main Stand at Tynecastle but of course the Hearts have kept their old stand for far longer than probably sensible and the bulldozer is near.
I walked along Brunswick Road, which has also changed with new flats being built on the site of the old Royal Mail sorting office. There is an ethical society based on Brunswick Road which has recently painted a new mural outside (for more details and for the cool police box nearby on Leith Walk, see the Tumblr). My feet were knackered by this point so I headed up to Ocean Terminal in Leith to sit and look out over the harbour for a bit before I went back up to the city centre to catch the train back home to Glasgow, sitting reading the paper as the train edged back westwards.
A lot of people have different ideas about Edinburgh. Hugh MacDiarmid called the city ‘a mad God’s dream’ and I think that pretty well fits. There are very glamorous bits of Edinburgh, others less so. I was born in Seafield, in the Eastern General Hospital which is now defunct. It sat next to a sewage works. Craigentinny sits in a working-class part of Edinburgh, a whole long way removed from the New Town, Bruntsfield, Comely Bank and all these posh places. I have more of an affinity to the places people don’t write about in Edinburgh. I like the Royal Mile but it’s very obvious, very touristy. The really interesting things about Edinburgh are under the surface and beyond the city centre. Craigentinny is just one of those places. It has a deep personal resonance for me, sure, but it’s more than that. I always like to quote French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro on this. ‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing’. I’m lucky because I find much of life interesting. If you don’t know Edinburgh very well, and you have the opportunity to be there, please walk a little bit beyond the city centre in any direction. Some bits I would avoid, admittedly, but in any direction, go for a walk. I sort-of slagged off Hearts earlier but right near Haymarket Station is a clock that doubles as a war memorial to those Hearts players and supporters who perished in World War I. That is a fascinating story, whether you like football or not, whether you like Hearts or not (and I really don’t). Edinburgh is a mad God’s dream, without a shadow of a doubt, with mausoleums in sleepy suburbs and much else besides, just ready to discover if you look the right way.