Beltane Fire Society: my experience so far

Over the five years (oh god, has it really been five years already?) since I set up this blog, I’ve posted about most areas of my life at one time or another. I’ve written entries about my travels, my paid work, my geeky personal projects, my wedding, my slightly mad group of film making friends, my political views, my band, Scottish Country Dancing, mental health, and various other random topics. And I’ve written so much about urban exploration that I created a whole other blog just about that!

But I realised there was one notable omission: I’ve never written about Beltane Fire Society until now. That wasn’t a deliberate decision; it was really just that when I joined the society in 2014, this blog was going through something of an unintended hiatus (looking back, I only made three posts that whole year, and even one of those wasn’t really a proper post!), so I wasn’t in the habit of writing about stuff. I decided that now, having just done my fifth festival with them, would be a good time to put that right.

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Photo by Martin Robertson. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence

Beltane Fire Society, for those that don’t know, is something of an institution in Edinburgh. It’s the group that puts on the spectacular Beltane Fire Festival on Calton Hill at the end of April every year, as well as the Samhuinn parade down the Royal Mile (usually) on Hallowe’en. These events have been running for decades now, but my first encounter with them was when I went to see Beltane a few years ago, because one of my dancing friends was taking part in it. I loved the atmosphere and the spectacle of it right from the start and went back the two following years as well.

(Beltane and Samhuinn are two of the quarter year festivals of the Pagan calendar. Although there are Pagans in the society, there are plenty of people of other religions or no religion as well).

I decided I wanted to take part in Beltane, and in 2014 I finally got around to it. BFS isn’t a monolithic organisation. The tasks of running each festival are delegated to various groups within the society, which are quite fluid and change frequently. In addition to the very visible performance groups (the Reds and Whites and so on), there are also several less visible (but no less important) production groups dedicated to making sure everything runs smoothly and safely. Like a lot of newbies to the society, I started off in one of those groups: the Stewards.

The Beltane 2014 stewards, up on the hill waiting for the excitement to start

The Beltane 2014 stewards, up on the hill waiting for the excitement to start

Stewarding didn’t really come naturally to me, but that was actually one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I thought that learning how to talk to the audience members and deal with whatever situations might arise would be good for my confidence, and I think it was. Although I was still quite nervous when the night came, it all went smoothly and I had a great time. The public were overwhelmingly good natured and the worst that I had to deal with was one man who refused to move out of a performance space until I’d taken one of the After Eight mints he was offering me! I also got a far better view of the whole festival than I’d ever had as an audience member.

I stewarded for two more festivals following the first one. Both were more challenging for various reasons (the first because it was on a Saturday night so the crowds were huge, the second because I had to extinguish a stray torch ball, something which thankfully doesn’t happen very often), but I still enjoyed myself.

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Photo by Martin Robertson. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence

Being a steward was described to me by an experienced BFS member as a Beltane “gateway drug”, and I can see what he meant… the more I watched the other groups with their colourful costumes and mesmerising flames up close, the more tempted I was to join them. For Beltane this year, I finally made the leap and joined the Torchbearers.

The Torchbearers (Torchies to their friends) are the cloaked figures that walk solemnly alongside the procession at both Beltane and Samhuinn holding burning torches. They seemed a natural group for me to gravitate towards, since looking serious and ignoring everyone is pretty much my default behaviour in public places anyway. But also, I was looking forward to having some involvement with fire other than putting it out when it spread to places it shouldn’t. (Plus, the fact that the torches are fuelled by parafin-soaked balls of cotton gives the potential for all sorts of ball jokes).

The run up to the festival didn’t go quite as I’d planned, since I caught the worst flu I’ve ever had in my life and was stuck in bed for two weeks and could hardly speak for another two. But by Beltane night, all that was forgotten and I think it was probably my favourite BFS event so far – the view of the huge crowd and the other performers down below as I came up onto the Acropolis with my torch was so breathtaking that it was all I could do to stop myself grinning with delight and gazing around in wonder, which wouldn’t have been very in-character.

All painted and costumed up and ready to go for my first time as a Torchbearer

All painted and costumed up and ready to go for my first time as a Torchbearer

I returned to the Torchbearers for the Samhuinn that’s just passed. This time the costumes were more elaborate and, after a few false starts, I learned how to use a sewing machine and made myself a very nice red and green cloak. (Though unfortunately, given the weather on the night, it wasn’t a very waterproof cloak!).

But what really defines the Beltane Fire Society is the amazing, very welcoming community behind it, and that, more than the fire and face paint and cloaks, is what’s made me keep going back. As well as the public festivals there are always numerous social events going on behind the scenes that I wish I had more time and energy for. If you’re thinking about giving it a go yourself, I’d strongly encourage you to just go for it. I’m very glad I did.

I Now Pronounce You Mr And Mrs Gcat

Laura and I got married on the 28th of May. Since I’ve previously decided that going for a walk by a river, fitting new spark plugs to my car and finding an Android music player app that can do gapless playback were important enough life events to merit writing blog entries about them, I decided that this probably was too.

ceremony

For a long time, I didn’t used to think I’d ever get married. To be brutally honest, if it wasn’t for the rise of internet dating I probably wouldn’t have; I may be a bit less neurotic in some ways than I used to be, but I’d still rather ingest live slugs than attempt to chat someone up in “real life”. So it’s a good job I’ll never have to, now!

We’re just back from honeymoon (well, mini-moon… we might still do a bigger holiday later in the year) and it’s all still a bit of a blur. So far the most noticeable difference between being engaged and being married is that once you’re married you no longer have a wedding to organise, which believe me is a very welcome difference right now. But I guess since we’d already been living together for four years, bought a house together, adopted cats together, and so on, actually tying the metaphorical knot was never going to suddenly change everything the way it would have back in more conservative times.

guestbook

But enough waffling: what was the big day like? Well, the main thing I noticed was that it was over so, so quickly. After all the months and months of planning things, booking things, preparing things, I was left reeling at the end of the day thinking “Was that it?”. That’s partly because our ceremony was so short (not being religious, we went for a humanist-ish one, and didn’t have any long readings or anything like that), but even the other parts of the day seemed to be over in a flash.

That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, though. The venues excelled themselves and everything was perfect, just the way we wanted it. The ceremony itself, for all its shortness, was quite moving and about halfway through I found myself wishing I’d had the foresight to put some tissues in my sporran. (Judging from the loud sniffing noises emanating from the rows of people behind me, I wasn’t the only one). I didn’t even mind being the centre of attention as much as I thought I would. I think the adrenaline and the sheer joyousness of the occasion was carrying me through, so that I was still able to give smiles and hugs to the guests long past the point where I would normally have slipped into sour-faced, monosyllabic mode and wanted to go lie in a darkened room.

cake

One of the highlights was the fantastic best man’s speech that Alex wrote. Here’s an excerpt:

“I think who [gcat] is, really, is a very caring and non-judgemental person… and a bit of a nerd. And for me, that word has no negative connotations whatsoever. He’s not one of those trendy new nerds who are basically normal people who like superhero movies. He’s a proper, old-school nerd who gets absolutely obsessed with the most obscure subjects, regardless of whether anyone else is into them or not”.

I’m pretty happy with that summing up of myself, though he did then go on to make me sound completely insane by following it with a list of several of my obscure obsessions from over the decades, including some that I’d almost forgotten about myself. (I gave a short speech myself just beforehand, but that mostly consisted of puns referencing the fact that we got married on a canal boat).

Another thing that struck me was that the whole process of getting married wasn’t all as romantic as you might think. A lot of the time is taken up with practical and logistical stuff: making sure the cats’ litter trays have been cleaned out before you leave the house for the night, spending what seems like an eternity in a kilt hire shop watching your fiance’s uncle winding up the staff, and so on.

The Mini Moon

Due to June being very busy for both of us, and the wedding itself being quite expensive, we weren’t sure if we’d have the time or money to go on honeymoon straight afterwards. So we decided to compromise and go on a little trip up north the week after the wedding, possibly going for a more traditional holiday somewhere hot a few months later, once our savings had had time to replenish a bit.

Strangely, whenever I’m packing for a trip where I’m going to be “doing nothing” (and I certainly intended this to be one of those) I end up taking far more stuff with me than I do for trips where I know I’ll be working, or doing a lot of sightseeing, or whatever. I think I just worry that I’m going to get bored, and feel the need to take a large selection of books, DS games, etc.

cottage

As it turned out, we couldn’t have asked for a better holiday home, or better weather. We stayed in a cottage in the midddle of nowhere (well, technically it was next to one of the main roads through the Highlands, but main roads through the Highlands can still be quieter than our residential backwater in Edinburgh, so we weren’t disturbed much by the traffic). Although it had a few interesting features – cold taps that sometimes ran hot, a staircase so steep that a sign on the wall warned that it was best to use it as if it was a ladder – that was all far outweighed by the lovely location and great facilities.

And the hot tub.

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We spent a lot of time in the hot tub, and a lot of time lying in the garden in the sun afterwards. I made a valiant attempt at clearing the huge backlog of transport-related books that I’d been meaning to read, but it was no use – due to buying yet more of them in Kingussie and Aviemore, the backlog ominously grew even bigger.

Although we’d generously been given a huge selection of presents from our not-very-traditional wedding list on Amazon (which included plenty of board games and other fun stuff in among the more normal household items), we’d also been given quite a bit of money and gift vouchers, and we took advantage of the cottage’s surprisingly good wifi to spend some of that.

In addition to buying some sensible items, we also blew some of the money on hoes 😉 .

hoes

Our main outing on the mini-moon was a day out on the Strathspey Railway, which runs regular steam trains from Aviemore up to Broomhill, stopping at Boat of Garten on the way. In addition to the lovely views of the Cairngorms there was some interesting old railway equipment in various states of repair to look at as we puffed our way along the valley. We had lunch in the restaurant car on the way. Doing things like that always feels classy to me, as if I’m in Murder on the Orient Express… or better still, on the Excess Express from Paper Mario: the Thousand Year Door.

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New car

I decided it was about time to upgrade my ageing Skoda Fabia to something better. The Fabia’s been a good car mostly, certainly better than the Fiat Punto I had before, but it was getting to the age where it was accumulating niggling problems at an ever increasing rate: one of the back doors had got jammed shut (again) which, aside from being annoying in itself, would have needed fixed before the MoT; the body was no longer watertight and I would frequently find the carpets saturated with water or the inside of the windscreen soaking wet after a rainy night; the screen wash tank had started to leak and there was possibly a slow coolant leak as well as I’d had to top it up a few times in the past year or two; the engine was sounding more and more reluctant to start and I was worried that some day it would no longer start at all; the handbrake seemed to fail every year and need expensive repairs no matter how gentle I tried to be with it. Worst of all, the stereo I installed had broken and I was stuck with an old one with no aux input to connect my phone to!

The engine itself still seemed to work OK (it had been pretty reliable, only needing a few replacement ignition coils over the years) but had racked up over 110,000 miles which is a fair amount for a small petrol. So, with the wedding budget finally under control, it was time to look at new cars.

I didn’t expect to buy one so quickly. But on our very first afternoon of browsing car supermarkets, this grabbed my attention:

car

I’d been wanting to upgrade to something much more fuel efficient, and this eco model Seat Ibiza seemed to fit the bill nicely. Its carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre are so low that it’s exempt from road tax (even better than Laura’s £30 road tax Leon), and whilst I wasn’t naive enough to expect it to actually manage the quoted 80 miles per gallon on realistic journeys, it would certainly be a lot more economical to run than anything I’d owned previously. It also met my other requirements – 5 door, no smaller than the Skoda… and of course an aux socket on the stereo! Plus it’s a much nicer colour than my old beige car, which probably swayed me a bit.

I arranged to buy it the same day, after a quick test drive to make sure the 3 cylinder 1.2 litre engine (very small for a diesel) wouldn’t feel too underpowered. It was fine – while it’s not going to win any awards for acceleration, it actually feels quite a lot more powerful than either of my previous cars, so I was happy with that. I also checked the crash safety ratings after reading that one of the reasons this model is so efficient is that it’s unusually light – but thankfully, it has very good Euro NCAP ratings, so there’s obviously more to crash safety than just the weight.

(I won’t bore you with the details of the long saga of waiting for the small dent in the bonnet to be repaired that ensued after that. Ordinarily I would have been pretty annoyed and frustrated to have to wait two weeks longer than planned to pick up my new car, but since I ended up being stuck in bed for most of those two weeks with a horrible dose of flu followed by a chest infection, I had other things on my mind. I also lost my voice for a while, which gave me a good excuse not to have to bother with all the interminable phone calls to the dealer and get Laura to deal with them instead 😉 . And at least they were nice enough to throw in a full tank of diesel and a packet of Mini Eggs as compensation for the delay).

Of course, the most interesting question for me was: what would the fuel consumption actually be like? I didn’t expect to get 80mpg (except possibly when driving downhill at a constant speed of 45mph in top gear with a strong wind behind me for miles and miles) but I was hoping it would at least be impressive compared to my own car. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ve had the car a few weeks now and have been keeping a close eye on the miles per gallon indicator on the trip computer*. On journeys in town, with a lot of stopping and starting and waiting at traffic lights, the mpg still usually gets into the high 40s (the Skoda would have been at about 30mpg on those trips). On medium length journeys with a mix of city streets and motorway/dual carriageway type roads, it manages well over 60mpg – in fact, nearly 70 on my journey to work this morning. Pretty good for a standard non-hybrid, reasonably sized car.

The trip computer shows a miles-per-gallon value that the Skoda's one could only dream of. If trip computers can dream, that is. They're probably not that advanced yet.

The trip computer shows a miles-per-gallon value that the Skoda’s one could only dream of. If trip computers can dream, that is. They’re probably not that advanced yet.

One of the fuel saving features, though, is slightly disconcerting. If at any point you put it in neutral with the handbrake on and take your foot off the clutch, the engine turns off to save fuel. The first time this happened I thought it had stalled and was about to hastily try to restart it before the lights turned green, but as soon as I put my foot back on the clutch the engine came back on very quickly. At first I shied away from letting it do this, scared that the engine wouldn’t come back on and I’d be stranded in the middle of the road, but after experimenting with it a bit I got less cautious. I use it all the time now when I’m going to be stationary for more than half a minute or so, and the engine always restarts quicker than I can even put it back in gear. Sometimes it restarts itself before I put the clutch in – I assume this is to make sure the battery doesn’t get drained too much.

(I think memories of my mum’s long drawn out attempts to start her ageing Fiat Uno on damp days probably contributed to my anxiety that the engine wouldn’t restart! Actually I had similar worries when I first got a gas boiler without a pilot light, that it wouldn’t be able to light the burner reliably. One of these days I’ll convince my brain that this is the 21st century and being able to start a diesel engine or light a gas burner automatically is really a solved problem now).

The most important improvement over the Skoda! Seen here with tasteful purple cable attached.

The most important improvement over the Skoda! Seen here with tasteful purple cable attached. (Sidenote: it turns out that Windows really doesn’t like it if you try to call a file ‘aux.jpg’!)

One thing though: no Haynes manual for this model! I guess that’s no big deal as I never ended up doing as much work myself on my previous cars as I’d planned to do (just replacing the spark plugs and coils, changing the oil, and fixing the heater blower) but I’ve always had a Haynes manual… I feel lost and disorientated looking under the bonnet without one. Much as I like some of the other books that Haynes have branched out into, it seems they’ve dropped the ball a bit on their core business of keeping up with new car models, sadly (I noticed they don’t do one for Laura’s car either).

* yes, I know trip computers tend to overestimate the miles per gallon, so it’s probably not really quite as good as it looks from those numbers, but it’s still by far the easiest way of seeing roughly how much fuel you’re using on each individual journey.

 

Leave the EU? Sorry, not convinced

It’s still over three months until the referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU or not, but there’s already plenty of lively discussion online about it. What I find interesting is how much comment sections seem to be dominated by pro-leavers, despite the fact that (a) most opinion polls are showing either a lead for remain or a very close result, and (b) no-one, least of all the leave supporters, seems to have a clue what life would realistically be like if we left. I think that’s what prompted me to write this, in order to do a small bit towards redressing the balance.

Of course, the EU isn’t perfect – nothing so big and complex ever could be – but I find it alarming how many people seem desperate to get out when there is so much uncertainty about what would happen, and when most of the arguments for leaving are so paper thin. I’m going to respond here to most of the reasons I see put forward for leaving the EU.

UK and continental power sockets existing happily side-by-side, just like their respective countries within the EU. (Stop laughing at the back!)

UK and continental power sockets existing happily side-by-side, just like their respective countries within the EU. (Stop laughing at the back!)

“The EU is undemocratic”

I find it pretty ironic that people who complain incessantly about the EU being undemocratic want to return all of its powers to Westminster instead. That would be the same Westminster that, last year, elected a majority government that only 24% of the electorate actually voted for, and which left the Green Party and UKIP with only one MP each despite them getting 5 million votes between them (and don’t even get me started on the unelected second chamber). At least the European parliament is elected using a proper modern proportional system that avoids this kind of grossly unrepresentative result.

“But it’s not just the parliament, there’s a huge unelected bureaucracy alongside it!” I hear you cry. Um, doesn’t every parliament have that? I don’t remember the last time we voted on the make-up of the entire UK civil service, for example, and it’s a good thing too – imagine the chaos if we got rid of everyone who knows about the practicalities of running the country every time there was an election.

Ultimately, if the Eurosceptics are feeling that the European parliament doesn’t represent them, maybe they should try voting for MEPs who will actually engage as best they can and try to make the system work, rather than ones who are just going to moan from the sidelines like sulking children *cough*UKIP*cough*.

This doesn't really have anything to do with the article, except that it's in the EU, and it's nice.

This doesn’t really have anything to do with the article, except that it’s in the EU, and it’s nice, and I wanted something to break up the huge wall of text a bit.

“We need to regain our sovereignty”

A lot of Eurosceptics are adamant that we need every last bit of our sovereignty to be brought back from Brussels to the UK parliament. But they’re also usually adamant that they want to trade with other countries and not withdraw into isolationism, and there’s a contradiction there. The world doesn’t work that way. These trade agreements that the “Leave” side claims to want so much are all going to impose some sort of conditions on both sides. We’re not going to be free to do absolutely everything we want unless we cut ourselves off North Korea-style, and the Leavers are always quick to point out that that’s not what they want.

Once you accept that sovereignty isn’t an absolute thing anymore (maybe it never was), and that interacting with other countries is inevitably going to involve some compromises, it becomes easier to judge an arrangement such as the EU on its merits, rather than just throwing a tantrum about it stopping you doing what you want. The conditions imposed by international trade deals and treaties wouldn’t necessarily be any less onerous outside the EU – in fact, they could easily become a lot more complicated and demanding, since we’d probably have to negotiate a multitude of separate deals with various countries instead of just being party to a single EU deal.

“The EU is a failing institution”

I see a lot of “Leave” voters claiming that the EU is a “failing” institution and we need to get out so as not to be dragged down with it. I’m curious as to what definition of “failure” they’re using here – by almost any reasonable measure, the EU member states are very successful countries – prosperous, safe, healthy, well educated. If you rank the countries of the world in order of economic prosperity, life expectancy, literacy, equality, incidence of violent crime, or practically any other important factor, the top twenty is dominated by EU countries. If that’s their idea of “failure”, I’d love to see what success looks like!

Of course, some would probably claim that this is nothing to do with the EU and that all of those successful countries would be even more successful without it. There’s no way to ever know for sure since we don’t have a second Europe that’s identical except for EU membership to compare with, but what we do know is that the EU certainly hasn’t prevented all these countries from becoming successful, and has very likely helped at least in some ways.

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“We’ll still get access to the single market/visa-free travel/etc. if we leave”

Most Brexit supporters seem adamant that even after we leave the EU, we’ll easily be able to negotiate a deal that gives us all the “good stuff” (like access to the single market, and ability to go on holiday to France without needing a visa) but without any of the “bad” (having to accept immigrants, all those pesky human rights and environmental regulations). I’m at a loss as to why they think it’s going to be so easy. The principle of free movement, for example, is pretty central to the EU. No country gets full access to the single market without also allowing free movement, as well as having to comply with a lot of the EU regulations, and I see no reason why they would make an exception for Britain.

Yes, we could probably maintain access to the market and visa-free travel if we entered into an arrangement similar to Norway’s. But it’s not clear to me why that would be to anyone’s advantage; we’d still be stuck with most of the elements of the EU that the Eurosceptics hate, but without a presence in the European Parliament we would have much less influence over them.

“The EU costs us too much money”

Several points here: firstly, the amount of money we pay to the EU is very small relative to the UK’s expenditure as a whole, so even if we were able to claw it all back it wouldn’t make a huge difference to anything. Secondly, that money doesn’t just disappear – we get a lot of it back in farm subsidies, funding for science and technology projects, development funding for disadvantaged areas and so on. And thirdly, it would be pretty pointless leaving the EU in order to avoid paying this money if in doing so we cause the economy to shrink by much more than that amount (which seems quite a plausible outcome).

Finally, be wary of the outlandish claims for how much we would save by leaving that are being put about by the various Eurosceptic groups. I saw one claim (I think it was by the Taxpayers’ Alliance) of an impressive number of billions of pounds that we could save by leaving the EU. But when I actually read the details, it became clear that the money Britain pays directly to the EU was a relatively small component of the total – they’d also included the cost to UK business of complying with all the EU regulations on workers’ rights, environmental protection, and so on. So we wouldn’t just have to leave the EU in order to save that money – we’d also have to massively weaken our employment and environmental protections. Good for the people who are rich enough to own tabloid newspapers or fund the Taxpayers’ Alliance, no doubt, but not so good for the rest of us

This actually wasn't part of the EU when I took the photo 3 years ago. But it is now.

This actually wasn’t part of the EU when I took the photo 3 years ago. But it is now.

“We need to control our own borders”

Border controls seem pretty fundamental to the argument for leaving, but as always there is a lot of misinformation in this area. Most obviously, we already have full control over immigration from non-EU countries, but successive UK governments have done relatively little to curb it – there’s plenty of lively debate about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s hardly the EU’s fault either way. It’s true that the EU does require us to freely allow immigration from other EU countries (and in turn they allow Britons to move elsewhere in Europe, which a lot of people do take advantage of), but it’s far from certain that this would change in the event of a “Leave” vote. If we want to continue to have access to the single market, as most Eurosceptics claim they do, it’s likely we’ll need to continue to allow freedom of movement as well.

There’s also been speculation about whether the UK would need to introduce border controls on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland if we were to leave the EU, and about whether this could cause the tensions there to flare up again. I’ve seen some Brexiters claim that this is just scaremongering and of course we wouldn’t introduce border controls with Ireland, but surely they can’t have it both ways… if controlling our own borders is so fundamentally important that we have to withdraw from the EU over it, it makes no sense to be so relaxed about having an uncontrolled land border with a country that’s still in the EU.

Regarding the current refugee situation, it’s possible that leaving the EU would actually make it more difficult to “send back” refugees. (Personally I find the idea of sending away people who have fled from a war zone abhorrent, but I’ll leave that aside for the moment and talk about the practicalities). At present there are agreements in place that refugees must seek asylum in the first EU country they come to, so if refugees arrive in Britain having clearly come through France (for example), they can be sent back to France relatively easily. But if Britain cut itself off and closed its borders, those arrangements would no longer apply – the French would be fully entitled to say “Sod off, they’re your problem now”.

“We want rid of the European human rights laws”

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether it’s sensible for people to be clamouring to have their own human rights protections removed, the much-maligned European Convention on Human Rights is actually nothing to do with the EU – it pre-dates the EU by several decades, and leaving the EU would not take us out of the ECHR.

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“The EU is bloated and financially irresponsible”

I’ve worked on EU-funded projects, as well as on projects funded by various other means, and this has not been my experience at all. It’s fashionable to bash the EU as being wasteful with tax payers’ hard-earned money, but I’ve actually found the EU funding bodies to be the among the most rigourous about making sure their money is being spent properly (at least on the science and technology side, I don’t have any direct experience of the rest). On our EU projects we have to keep the funders updated regularly with detailed information about our work, as well as attending regular face-to-face reviews where we present our progress to them and answer questions. The reviewers have the power to immediately halt projects that aren’t delivering what they promised. By contrast, none of the UK or Scottish funding bodies or commercial companies that I’ve worked with have applied this level of oversight.

Of course, some would argue that all these science and technology projects are a waste of money anyway, and we shouldn’t be spending anything on them at all. I disagree whole-heartedly. We SHOULD be taking part in visionary projects, like the Human Brain Project. They may not bring tangible results straight away, but in the long term the benefits could be immense, and it probably takes an organisation like the EU to fund projects like this. No commercial company would spend so much money on something so risky, and it would be too big for most individual countries’ research budgets as well. For me this is one of the EU’s strongest points and something I find very inspiring.

“The EU is good for the rich elite and bad for everyone else – look at TTIP, and the treatment of Greece”

There are people on the left of the political spectrum who want out of the EU, citing the imposition of austerity on Greece, the now-infamous TTIP trade deal, legislation that might make it difficult to renationalise public services, and so on. I have some sympathy with their views, certainly more than I do with the anti-immigrant, anti-human rights mob on the right, but I think they need to be realistic about what would actually happen if we voted to leave. The Tories are going to be running the UK for at least the next four years and quite possibly for a lot longer, and the Tories are on average much more fanatically pro-austerity, pro-TTIP and pro-privatisation than the EU are – handing them absolute power to do whatever they want isn’t going to help us with any of those issues. The EU may not be perfect, but right now it seems like one of the few powerful institutions that might actually help to mitigate the worst effects of capitalism.

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“We want freedom from the EU’s red tape”

I think the people who want to get away from the EU’s regulations need to be careful what they’re really voting for. They might imagine with misty eyes an elderly village shop owner, free once again to sell irregularly shaped bananas in pounds and ounces without interference from the Eurocrats, but in reality, the politicians campaigning for Brexit quite likely have different ideas about exactly which strands of red tape they’d like to cut.

At this point, the Leave supporters maintain that no UK government would ever dare to (for example) cut paid holiday entitlement or relax health and safety legislation, because they’d be annihilated at the polls for doing so, therefore we don’t need to EU to protect those things for us. I’m afraid I don’t have as much faith in our electoral system as they do. Of course the UK government could protect all those rights without any help from the EU, but the more relevant question is, would it? Frankly I don’t trust either the Tories or the system that elected them to do what’s right for ordinary people, so I’d rather those rights were protected at as high a level as possible and were as difficult as possible for the government to take away.

There are plenty of UK government decisions that are deeply unpopular but that we’re stuck with anyway, either because none of the parties that can realistically gain power have offered to reverse them, or because they simply lie about what their plans are, or because those particular issues aren’t the main deciding factor for most voters – the privatisation of the railways and the recent NHS reforms in England are two that come to mind. I can easily imagine the same thing happening with employment rights if we were to leave the EU – the Tories doing their “we really hate to do this, but there’s no alternative, we have to do it for the good of the economy in the long term” act as they remove the right to paid sick leave, then Labour (assuming they’ve ditched Corbyn and gone back to being New Labour by that time, which seems quite likely) not daring to reverse it in case they appear “anti-business”.

Anyway, this whole argument can just as easily be turned on its head: if no UK government would ever relax those regulations anyway, why not keep them protected at the EU level? Why would you want to remove that protection unless you’re planning to revoke those rights?

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It seems to me that a lot of Brexit supporters just hate the EU on an emotional level, and at this point are probably not going to be swayed by any kind of rational argument. It’s become a scapegoat for everything they don’t like about the modern world – immigration, human rights, environmentalism, meddling bureaucrats, and so on – and now they’re hell-bent on getting out, regardless of whether leaving would actually change any of those things, and regardless of what other damage might be done in the process.

And, as much as people claim that their views have nothing to do with xenophobia, I find it hard to see any explanation for some of the Leavers’ stances other than just not liking foreigners very much. They are fine with the fact that, for example, the people of Cornwall (or Scotland) might not get their preferred government in Westminster, because Cornwall only contains a minority of British voters (likewise Scotland). But when Britain doesn’t get everything its own way in the EU Parliament, because Britain only contains a minority of the EU’s voters, they go nuts about how undemocratic it is. Why? What is the difference between these two cases, other than the fact that in the first example everyone is British, but in the second example there are foreigners involved as well? I’m not trying to stir things up here, I just genuinely don’t understand.

Politics again, sorry (New Labour rant this time)

So. Jeremy Corbyn is now leader of the Labour Party. I have some mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s certainly nice that there’s finally a major UK party leader who has fairly similar political views to my own, something I don’t feel I’ve ever experienced before. But I have to admit I also worry in case all the warnings about him making Labour unelectable and leaving us with Tory governments for all eternity turn out to be correct.

If that does happen, though, I do feel that the so-called “moderates” and Blairites in the party really have no-one to blame but themselves. If they’d actually behaved like the “moderates” they claim to be rather than like a very, very slightly milder version of the Tory party, maybe Corbyn wouldn’t have won a landslide.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being a moderate, being a realist, compromising where necessary, trying to appeal to a broader range of voters, and so on. Those things all have their place and are probably necessary to some extent in a party of government. But in my opinion, Labour has gone far beyond that over the last twenty years. I would consider myself a natural Labour voter, and if I’d been old enough to vote during the 70s and 80s I probably would have voted for them then. As it is, the first general election I was able to vote in was 2001… and I’ve never yet been able to bring myself to vote Labour.

Trying to broaden the party’s appeal to people who weren’t traditionally Labour supporters, as Tony Blair did, was a sensible idea. But not if it meant abandoning the people who were already on your side… and as someone who considers myself a moderate left winger, I certainly did feel abandoned as New Labour introduced more and more policies that were in many cases actually further to the right than the preceeding Tory administrations. Tuition fees… privatisations… unnecessary wars… benefit sanctions… outsourcing of fitness-for-work tests to the monstrously incompetent ATOS… the Private Finance Initiative scam… I could go on, but you get the idea.

At least in the early days of New Labour, they did some good stuff as well, like introducing the minimum wage, and devolution for Scotland and Wales. These days the whole right of the party seems to regard traditional left wing voters as a nuisance, as naive, backward-looking troublemakers who have to be scolded and lectured like naughty children until they see the error of their ways. And then they wonder why they lost 40 of their 41 Scottish seats to the SNP, and why the grassroots party members voted in huge numbers for a leader who’s about as far removed from New Labour as anyone in the party.

Here’s an idea (although it’s too late to put it into practise this time round, I’m afraid): instead of constantly attacking Corbyn, why didn’t you, y’know, actually offer some sort of positive alternative that people might want to vote for instead? If Corbyn is really as big a disaster as you were all claiming, surely it wouldn’t have been difficult to explain why, and put forward someone who was clearly better?

But instead of any sort of reasoned critique of Corbyn’s policies, we just got a load of vague terms of abuse… “unelectable”, “extremist”, “hard left”, “taking us back to the 1970s”, and so on. Most of the articles I read from senior Labour figures focussed almost exclusively on the unelectability aspect. Now, I can see that as an insider in the party, it’s obviously very important to you to get elected. But as a voter, I don’t just want you to get elected for the sake of it. I want you to get elected and then do something positive with that power. I’m not going to vote for you just because you might be a little bit less bad than the Tories. I want to know what you’re planning to do about rising levels of poverty and inequality, the increasingly unaffordable cost of housing, the creeping privatisation of the NHS, and other issues that are important to me. Then, if I like what you’re suggesting, I might vote for you.

As for “extremist” and “hard left”… yes, maybe compared with the current political landscape in the UK, but if you step outside that narrow viewpoint and look to other similar countries, or back a couple of decades in the UK itself, Corbyn’s policies start to look quite moderate. Nationalise the railways? We had nationalised railways less than twenty years ago, and numerous European countries still do (and it’s worth mentioning that this one is very popular with the electorate as well). Free higher education? Scotland still has it, so do lots of other countries, so did the rest of the UK until relatively recently. A 50p top tax rate? We had that as recently as 2012, and it was significantly higher than that throughout most of Thatcher’s premiership. No nuclear weapons? The vast majority of countries don’t have them and it doesn’t seem to cause them any problems.

The fact that policies like these are now apparently considered “extreme left” by senior figures in the Labour Party is something I find very alarming, and it makes me think we could do with someone who’s going to drag the centre ground back towards some kind of sanity before it moves any further off to the right. Alternatively, if they really think all of that is now “extreme” and “unworkable”, they’re going to have to explain why, because I’m not seeing it.

I think what annoys me the most is when words like “modernisation” are tossed around, when it now seems to invariably mean things constantly getting more and more right wing. I’ve got no objection to parties updating their policies to be more relevant to the world as it is now. But I do object when “modernisation” always means more privatisations, more cuts to public services, more deregulation, and generally life getting more difficult for the majority as money gets siphoned up to the already-fabulously-rich minority. If that’s the sort of policies you really want to pursue, then fine. But, unless you’re going to actually explain why, stop pretending it’s somehow inevitable and even desirable. Stop pretending you still hold the principles of the Labour Party. And stop expecting people with left wing views to vote for you just because you’re wearing a red rosette.

One last thing: if you think the SNP did so well just because of nationalism, think again. I’m about the least nationalistic person imaginable… I see national borders as a sort of necessary evil. I’d be quite happy living in an independent Scotland, a United Kingdom, or even a United States of Europe as long as it worked well for the people living there. I voted SNP because I liked the policies they were offering (like free higher education, free prescriptions, no NHS privatisation, strong environmental protections, strong infrastructure investment programme, attempting to protect people from the worst effects of the Tories’ welfare cuts). The sort of policies I’ve always hoped to see from Labour but have always been disappointed. While Scottish Labour seemed to do nothing but moan about how we can’t afford any of that, the SNP got on with actually making it work, and have mostly done a pretty good job in my opinion, even within the limits of Holyrood’s current powers.

If you think more of the sort of negativity that basically lost you Scotland would have won you the next UK election, then fair enough. But I wouldn’t bet on it myself. I’ve seen a lot of people say “Oh, but Scotland’s very different from the rest of the UK, it’s much more left wing”. I’m not convinced. Historically it’s actually been fairly similar to the rest of the UK – if you look at past maps of election results, you’ll see a lot of blue in Scotland during the 1980s when the Tories were riding high, and similarly a lot of red during New Labour’s time in Government. It’s only relatively recently that the Scottish political landscape has started looking very different. Maybe the difference is not so much in the views people hold, but in the choices available to vote for.

2015

Wow, it’s been a long time since I posted much. About 2 years, in fact. I kind of want to change that… I was randomly reading back the old posts, and it struck me that (a) some of them aren’t half as bad as I remembered, and (b) I used to really enjoy writing this thing.

I’ve also got some other topics I want to start covering, some of which will be a challenge to write about, but hopefully worthwhile. And, even though it seems to be kind of considered bad blog etiquette, I want to get back to writing about any random topic that takes my fancy again.

But first things first… what have I been up to? I’ve been pretty busy… not busy enough to justify hardly posting here maybe, but still busy.

I bought a house. And spent quite a bit of my free time working on it. Nothing major, because it didn’t need anything very major done, thankfully… mainly just decoration and so on.

I got engaged to Laura, on 30th August 2014, the 3rd anniversary of our first date :). Wedding scheduled for May 2016, so still a bit of time left to save up, organise, panic, all that kind of thing.

I got kittens… Lily and Luna, who are now fully grown (though still quite tiny) cats. Like buying the house, as soon as I got them it seemed weird that I hadn’t done it much earlier. We always had cats when I was growing up but I never had any during the years I lived alone, and it’s only now that I’m starting to realise how much I missed having autonomous little balls of fur around the house that come and find me for cuddles whenever they feel like it.

I explored lots of amazing places. I used to post about urban exploration on here quite a bit, until I split off all those posts into a separate urbex blog instead (which is partly why this blog went so quiet). Anyway, after a bit of a dry spell early last year, I got back into it in a big way for the last few months of 2014, mainly exploring the abandoned railway tunnels under Edinburgh and Glasgow that I’d been wanting to do for years but didn’t think I’d ever be able to get into, but also covering a few more buildings as well as my first abandoned mine.

I travelled more. After my Berlin trip, I was certain I would have to do more city hostelling across Europe, having discovered how much I enjoyed it. I’ve managed 3 hostelling trips a year since then, mostly piggybacking off work trips as I did for the first one. In 2012 was Berlin, Madrid, then Seville (plus Madrid again). 2013 saw me visit Dubrovnik, Leipzig (and return to Berlin just after), and Munich (great beer cellars!). 2014’s destinations were Stockholm, Barcelona, and… Stockholm again (hey, that’s the downside of letting work pay for it, it means they get to decide where I go too, and sometimes it’s the same place I was just at! At least it was a nice one). It’s something I still want to do a lot more of and have plans for this year, though right now I’m torn between returning to places I really liked (Berlin especially, and the Spanish cities) and trying somewhere new.

I joined the Beltane Fire Society, as a Steward. BFS is something of an Edinburgh institution, putting on the famous Beltane Fire Festival that takes place on Calton Hill at the end of April every year, as well as the Samhuinn parade on Hallowe’en. This was one of those things I’d been meaning to get involved with for ages, and I’m glad I finally took the plunge in 2014. I met some really awesome people and had a lot of fun, as well as contributing to the running of the festivals.

I made some progress with my creative projects, not necessarily in the ways I had planned to, but I think I’m gradually narrowing my focus from the ridiculous number of projects I had on the go (and mostly not going anywhere) 2 or 3 years ago, onto a few that I genuinely want to pursue further. More on those later…

 

It was twenty years ago today…

(… actually it wasn’t, because I didn’t get this post written in time for that. It was still twenty years ago this month though).

I’ve kept a diary ever since the start of 1994. I can’t remember exactly why I started… I think I’d been given a little blue diary for Christmas and rather than use it for keeping track of appointments and all that boring stuff, I decided I was going to write down what happened every day in it. (I didn’t have many appointments to keep track of back then anyway. I was 14. All of my weeks were basically the same as each other).

It wasn’t actually the first time I’d decided to do this. I also tried to do it in 1991 and 1993, but both times I only got a few weeks into the year before abandoning it through laziness. 1994 was the first year I actually managed to keep it up for a whole 365 days, to my slight amazement. But by the time 1994 rolled to a close, it was firmly established as a part of my life. Even only a few months from the beginning, I was finding it interesting to be able to look back and see what I’d been doing every day. For 1995 I bought a much bigger diary (A5 two days to a page) and started writing in much more detail – I had been starting to get frustrated by the lack of space in my 1994 one.

1994-1999: this is how it all started

1994-1999: this is how it all started

I’ve essentially kept doing the same thing ever since. I’m not even 100% sure what I’m doing it for, but after this length of time it would feel really weird to stop. For most years I wrote the full 365 or 366 entries; the only one that’s missing more than a few is 1998. My clinical depression was at its very worst then and even living through the days once seemed bad enough, never mind reliving them for the questionable purpose of writing them down.

2000-2005

2000-2005

I think it was around the year 2000 when I decided how great it would be if I had my entire diary on computer, so I’d be able to search through it easily, and in case the original paper copies ever got lost or damaged. And so began what my incredulous mother dubbed “The Great Diary Digitisation Project”, as I worked my way through the years, typing in every single entry. (OK, OK… I freely admit I had no life back then and was probably borderline Aspergers!). It was a pretty massive task and I couldn’t always be bothered with it for long, so it took me about 3 years before I “caught up” with myself and had an electronic copy of everything. Over the next several years I managed to fall behind with the typing several more times, and at the start of 2012 I decided to stop writing a paper copy and just type it straight into the computer, which is what I’ve done ever since.

2006-2011: the final paper diaries before the great digital switchover of '12

2006-2011: the final paper diaries before the great digital switchover of ’12

So… yeah. 20 years worth of day descriptions feels like quite a lot of work, and in a way it seems sad that they’ll probably never be of use to anyone other than me. I considered starting a new blog at the beginning of 2014 and posting my diary entry from 20 years previous each day, but I didn’t have to read very far into 1994 to realise that could be a very bad idea! Then I thought “What if I anonymised it first?”, but it would be a hell of a lot of work to do that effectively. In any case, I doubt anyone would be interested in reading it. Most of my life hasn’t been particularly exciting, and at the same time it wouldn’t even have the “This is how a typical Scottish teenager lived in 1994” type of appeal, because I wasn’t a very typical teenager.

I don’t think it would even make much sense to someone without a lot of background information. Here, for example, is the very first entry of 1994 (my writing has come on a bit since then!):

New year’s day. Went to beach twice. Had meat but no beans. Fixed mixer. I won Countdown.

which doesn’t mean a lot, but makes sense to me because I know that we always used to go to my granny’s house in Dundee for New Year, where we would walk her dog on the nearby beach, play her Countdown board game in the evening, and more often than not there would be several broken appliances waiting there for me to fix. (Though I did decide to clarify that it was New Year’s Day, just in case anyone reading didn’t know that the year starts on 1st January).

Oh well. I still enjoy reading back over it from time to time. If nothing else, it reminds me how much better my life is now compared to most times in the past! 🙂

 

New Urban Exploration Site

Over the last few months, an increasing proportion of the posts I’ve written on here (not that there have been very many, which I’m hoping will change this year) have been urban exploration related. I’ve decided to give them a home of their own, as I doubt most of the people who are interested in them will be interested in reading the rest of this blog (and vice versa). So, I give you:

Gcat’s Urbex Site

All of the urbex posts from this blog have been moved across, but there are redirects in place so any links or bookmarks that used to point to them should automatically go to the right place on the new site. There are also many newly written posts describing my exploring adventures over (mostly) the past couple of years, so if that sort of thing interests you, do check it out 🙂

 

Cycling

I’ve been enjoying cycling to work lately. It’s only about 3 miles from the new flat, so easily do-able. (The old one was 7 miles away. I suppose that’s also do-able in theory, but not for someone as lazy and unfit as me 😉 ). It’s got more enjoyable since I replaced practically every part of my rusty old bike that could be replaced. Previously, going uphill made me feel like I was going to die of exhaustion, going downhill made me feel like I was going to die if something pulled out in front of me because the brakes weren’t very good, and going along on the flat made me realise I must in fact be dreaming because, as you quickly discover once you start cycling, there aren’t any flat bits in Edinburgh.

Since I started cycling, I’ve noticed 3 things:

  1. There aren’t any flat bits in Edinburgh. No really, there aren’t. Even the streets that seem pretty flat when you’re driving or on foot turn out not to be once you have to cycle on them. (I know I mentioned this already, but it seemed annoying enough to be worth mentioning twice).
  2. People really don’t expect cyclists to stop for them at zebra crossings! When I approach the crossing near my work in the car, people step out in front, expecting me to stop (quite rightly). But when I cycle up to it, they come to an abrupt halt on the pavement and look nervous, then look amazed when I actually do stop to let them cross. They smile and wave and thank me as if I’ve done them a great favour.
  3. At the smallest mention of cycling, some people will start practically frothing at the mouth and immediately coming out with “They should have to pay road tax!”, “They should be prosecuted when they go through red lights!!”, “They should have to pass a test!!!”, “They should be fined for riding on the pavement!!!!”. And so on.

It’s probably evil of me, but it amuses me no end when people get worked up about stuff like this. Their reaction just seems out of all proportion to what provoked it. What on earth, for example, would be the point in charging cyclists road tax? What material difference would it make to anyone else? I could be a smart-arse and point out that motorists don’t pay “road tax” either, they pay Vehicle Excise Duty, or that the roads are funded through general taxation rather than anything specific to road users. Instead I’ll just point out that the level of tax paid is now based on emissions per kilometre, and cyclists don’t cause pollution so it seems completely fair and reasonable to me that they don’t pay the tax. Zero-emission (and very low emission) cars don’t have to pay it either.

Going back a few years, the criteria was engine size. Pushbikes don’t have engines so there was no reason to charge them under the old rules either. Even if you based the tax levels on amount of wear and tear caused to the roads I’d be surprised if the damage caused by pedal cyclists was even measurable at all compared to what cars, lorries and buses do. It’s probably more on a par with the wear caused by pedestrians and no-one seems to be suggesting charging them to walk on the pavements or cross the roads. In fact I’m struggling to see any sort of reasonable objective criteria that would justify charging cyclists road tax. Emissions doesn’t work, engine size doesn’t work, wear and tear doesn’t work… maybe “how much they piss off Jeremy Clarkson” would, but that’s about it.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m a frequent driver myself and I know how easy it is to get wound up by people (pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers alike) doing stupid things on the roads. But I don’t feel the need to demand that whole groups of road users be punished through legislation just for annoying me. Yes, it’s irritating to see cyclists sneaking through a red light or along a pavement when you’re stuck in a jam, and maybe it seems like a double standard that they can usually get away with it and you can’t. But you have to get some perspective. Cars are massively more dangerous than bikes are – a recklessly ridden bike is annoying and sometimes inconvenient, but a recklessly driven car can be terrifying and life-threatening. Driving a car through a pedestrianised area, or going through red lights, or driving after a few drinks can very easily land innocent bystanders in hospital or worse. That’s why you need to pass a test before driving a car and why breaking those rules will get you fined or banned. Doing the same things on a bike, while inadvisable, is pretty unlikely to cause serious harm to anyone except the cyclist themselves. That’s why you DON’T need to pass a test before riding a bike and why the rules are not enforced so strictly. It seems quite reasonable to me.

Besides, would you really want all the traffic laws to be enforced strictly all the time? For fairness you’d have to enforce them at least as strictly against cars. Some people would claim that the laws are already enforced with an iron fist against the poor beleaguered motorist, but it’s easy to see that that’s not quite true. If you drive at 31MPH in a town, or 71MPH on a motorway, do you always get a ticket for it? No, although it’s technically illegal, in practise you almost never get a ticket until you’re over the limit by quite a generous margin. If you park on a pavement or on a double yellow line in a quiet residential street but aren’t actually causing an obstruction, do you always get fined? Again, no… I’ve done it plenty of times and never been fined yet. The truth is, motorists get away with a lot of minor infractions that are theoretically against the rules but in practise aren’t likely to hurt anyone. Seems fair enough then if cyclists do too.

In the end, forcing cyclists to pay tax and pass tests, or punishing them for every trivial, harmless technical violation would just discourage people from cycling, and that would be a bad thing. Cycling has a lot of advantages… it’s healthy, it’s non-polluting, it saves fuel, it cuts congestion, and it’s much safer for other road users. We should be encouraging it, not discouraging it, because everyone benefits indirectly if more people cycle.

And anyway, if you’re still convinced cyclists get much better treatment, there’s an easy solution… bikes aren’t that expensive… come join us ;).

Edinburgh’s never-built inner ring road

(or Not-Lost Edinburgh).

I’ve been following the excellent Lost Edinburgh Facebook page for a while now. Though sometimes it does get a bit depressing to see pictures of all those amazing buildings and streets that either aren’t there anymore or have been ruined by more recent developments. But when I found detailed plans online for Edinburgh’s (thankfully never built) inner ring road recently, I realised how much worse it could have been. So this blog entry is a tribute to some amazing places that haven’t been lost.

The road plans fascinated and horrified me, a bit like a horror film that you somehow can’t bring yourself to stop watching. The audacity of them seems incredible now, although it was probably par for the course back in the 60s. Basically, as far as I can piece together from what I’ve read, the plan was to have an inner ring road (possibly a full three-lane motorway but definitely at least a dual carriageway) encircling the city centre, running through Haymarket, Tollcross, the Meadows, St Leonards, Waverley, Leith Street, Inverleith, Craigleith, and back round to Haymarket again. When I say “running through”, I really do mean right through. Many of these places would have been either destroyed or at least blighted forever under the plans. In a few places (such as under Donaldson’s School) the road was to be in tunnels, but these were the exception.

Here’s a map I made of the plans (only intended to give a rough idea of the route, may not be fully accurate):

ringroadmap

Here is a link to a scan of one of the original plans (frighteningly it says “Phase 1” at the bottom – if this was only phase 1, god knows what might have got wiped out by phase 2+), and here is a Google map where someone (not me) has added the road routes to a map of present-day Edinburgh (though I don’t think the branch going straight through Arthur’s Seat is supposed to be there. It was bad, but not quite that bad!).

In addition to the central ring, two other motorways would have branched off and joined up with major routes into the city. The A1 would have left the ring road at St Leonards and cut right down the side of Holyrood Park, obliterating the Innocent Railway route and passing very close to Duddingston Loch and the nature reserve. The M8 was also intended to come right into Edinburgh and terminate on the inner ring road. In contrast to the damage that would have been done by the ring road and the A1, this might actually not have been too bad – it was mostly planned to use vacant land parallel to the railway line (where the tramline is now being built) and the route of the old railway line into Princes Street Station (now occupied by the West Approach Road) so the demolition required would have been minimal compared to the other roads.

At first I wasn’t sure whether this was all a wind-up, or some over-zealous student project that wasn’t ever seriously intended to be built. But then I saw this. At some point, someone was serious enough about it to build a huge, detailed scale model of the road through the east end of the city, so it seems probable that the plans were actually genuine back in the late 60s.

But enough background. Onto the not-lost places!

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This is Duddingston Loch, a tranquil wildlife reserve on the edge of the stunning Holyrood Park. Under the plans it would have had a motorway running right alongside it.

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On the Innocent Railway, now a popular traffic-free walk and cycle route into the city, Scotland’s earliest railway tunnel survives. The junction between the A1 and the inner ring would have been near the top of the tunnel and the A1 would have followed the old railway route along the edge of Holyrood Park for some distance.

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The Meadows. A lovely green space in the heart of the city, with imposing old tenement blocks on the south side and views of Arthur’s Seat. Always busy with pedestrians and cyclists, especially in the summer. Melville Drive, the road through the park, would have been turned into a motorway if the plans had gone ahead.

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Tollcross, a historic meeting of routes at the bottom of Lothian Road, with some impressive old buildings. The inner ring road would have had a large roundabout junction right here, which looks as if it would have taken out at least a block in every direction.

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A nice green stretch of the Water of Leith Walkway, behind the modern art galleries on Belford Road, offering a much-needed escape from the noise of the city. The motorway would have emerged from the tunnel under Donaldson’s and crossed the river at this point.

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Inverleith Pond, on the edge of Inverleith Park near the Botanic Gardens. The ring road would have gone either straight past the pond or straight through it, depending on which map you go by. It would then have converged with the river again, following its north bank opposite the Stockbridge Colonies closely for a while before crossing over again at Canonmills.

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Picardy Place roundabout, by the Omni Centre and the Playhouse at the Edinburgh end of Leith Walk, would have become a large motorway junction with an elevated roundabout.

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At Waverley Station there would have been another major junction, with motorway slip roads flying over the tracks to the east and replacing Market Street through the arch of the North Bridge.

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The Pleasance area certainly wouldn’t have lived up to its name as the inner ring road would have been built either on top of it or much too close for comfort for most of its length. It is likely that the courtyard (now part of Edinburgh University and a major fringe venue) would not have survived.

Although not part of the same scheme, there was also a proposal to turn the Union Canal into a motorway into the city at some point, presumably an alternative route for the M8 into the centre, similar to what was done with the Monkland Canal in Glasgow. This never came to pass either and the old canal (now fully restored) survives as a popular walking, cycling and boating route instead.

So there you go. People may somewhat justifiably bitch and moan about the disruption caused by the tram line construction, but the ring road plan was on another level entirely. It’s easy to complain about the traffic congestion as well, but it’s far from certain that the planned motorways would have helped much in the long term. After all, Glasgow does have a motorway network built right into the city, but the traffic levels have caught up and large parts of it are at a standstill again during rush hour. For all its flaws, having had a glimpse of the alternative, I’d much rather drive on Edinburgh’s antiquated road network as it is now.