I was born in Edinburgh during the late unpleasantness (OK, 1942 if you must know). We lived in the centre, in an area not noted for its attractiveness, and yet I think the city as a whole was one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. It had an extensive tram network and very few cars. Trams were a good way of getting about this hilly metropolis. I think a few bus routes served the more outlying suburbs, and then in 1948 we moved to one such outskirt – Colinton Mains – to a housing estate which had been built for the Council but rejected by that august body on the grounds of poor soundproofing and internal stairs which were too steep. However, as rented accommodation it was, as I rosily recall, fine for us. Just through the fence at the end of our back garden was Oxgangs Farm, where the owner kept chickens, and which housed an old pine tree with a horizontal branch, on which Robert Louis Stevenson was reputed to have composed himself. Behind our houses the farmers’ fields stretched away to distant Swanston (where RLS had lived), and the Pentland Hills, where we kids played most weekends, unescorted and not worried about.
One drawback of this unbelievable remoteness was that we were not served by public transport initially. I had to walk the mile or so to Firhill, where the Colinton tram headed off to the even more remote – and separate – village of Colinton. I used the tram to get me to school in exchange for tokens. The school was Craiglockhart Primary, one of whose teachers was the then little known poet Norman MacCaig. (He was never my class teacher, but he did teach the boys Scottish Country Dancing – I don’t know who taught the girls. The lessons didn’t stick in my case.) After a couple of years a bus service direct to Colinton Mains came in, and I don’t think I used the trams much thereafter.
Why am I telling you this? Well the City Fathers, in their (cough, cough) wisdom, have decreed that Edinburgh’s internal transport needs will best be met by the reintroduction of modern, sophisticated 250-passenger trams, and the city centre is being torn apart to relocate and strenghthen underground services – gas, water, electricity, drains, telephone cabling and the like, before the tram rails are laid. It’s been going on for many months now, and recently the main thoroughfare – Princes Street (without an apostrophe folks) has been closed to traffic, and will remain so for a year.
The city is now one of the ugliest and unpleasant in Europe, and getting in and out by any form of transport is a ghastly and ever-changing series of diversions. It’s horrendous. And I suspect, as do many others, that this tram nouveau project will be an expensive and inefficient white elephant – nay, a white Mamuthus primigenius. Meanwhile the city centre is Donald Ducked.
I left Edinburgh when I was 15, and for most of my life I’ve not lived in a city. I really don’t like city life – I’m an unashamed country bumpkin. This afternoon I got off the bus in Dunbar High Street and walked along Queen’s Road (with an apostrophe) in the cold sunshine, blue skies and clouds. Over the sea to my left the heaviest clouds were discharging what looked like sheets of snow into the water. It was ravishingly beautiful. And not a ******* tram in sight, now or ever.