The Edinburgh police box

Update, Dec 2017: my latest visit to Edinburgh yielded two more police boxes (George Square | Little King Street), plus pics of the Barnton box from every angle. Sadly, it’s still in pretty poor shape, while the Barnton hotel has been transformed into nine boutique flats for the over 55s(!) and the garage site is now home to a block of retirement flats. The Royal Mile police box, now a ticket booth, is one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in Europe per square foot, but this form of reuse can be challenging. Latest: @Leithpolicebox and Leith Walk Police Box – same?

I bagged two old Edinburgh police boxes on my visit in December:

It turns out they are a thing! Next sighted on a post on Urban Ghosts, which led me onwards to Planet Edinburgh’s cultural historyThe Edinburgh Reporter’s collection, a map and Flickr album.

My box was the Barnton Box. I could have sworn it wasn’t there the last time I passed, nearly three years ago, but Wikimedia Commons has a picture from April 2006, and here’s now, or at least June 2014, courtesy of Google Street View. It looks rather unloved. (And WTF is going on with the Barnton Hotel and the petrol station?)

It just goes to show how you stop noticing things when you walk past them every day. Now I just need to find an older picture with the 20 bus stop outside, maybe a 1970s Google Street View, with me, my brother and my mother waiting for the bus.

Next time there’s a sell-off I might even be tempted. After all, there’s a red phone box in the garden of a house at Friheden, so why not an Embra police box too? (Turns out you can rent a phone box, should you want to.)

a red phone box - now how did that get there?

a red phone box – now how did that get there?

And what do you know, this weekend sees the Edinburgh Police Box Festival (@Edinburgh_box; #policeboxfestivalFacebook; mapstory), celebrating this iconic piece of street furniture and its new eclectic uses. Now that’s what I call a festival.

Updates: and now there’s the Embra police box book, aka From cuffs to community by Dane-in-Edinburgh @Photina_dk. I’m sure it’s gorgeous osv, but at £25 that’s Danish prices. You can take the girl out of Denmark…The Police Box on Drum Brae, open on Doors Open weekends (lots more police box news)…



Robert Macfarlane’s Old Ways

Last updated: 10 March 2018

Finally completed Robert Macfarlane‘s The old ways, started last summer. A reading in the garden book.

Reviews: Amazon | GoodreadsLibraryThing | three and a half pages of quotes in the book itself

Nature writing fans for whom Robert’s fame precedes him love it, others find the writing tending to the flowery. Falling somewhere in between, the less nature tinged sections, in particular the account of his grandfather’s final walks and funeral (p202-205 in the Penguin edition) and the chapter on Edward Thomas (Ghost) are what made me linger, as did walks in the strange but familiar landscapes of the Hebrides, Palestine and the Himalayas, “improvised pilgrimages of varying levels of seriousness and sanctity” (p235). See Rites of way: behind the pilgrimage revival for more on this particular type of walking challenge.

The book as an artefact has received some care and attention. With a Keep Calm era style cover, the text is divided into four evocatively named parts. Tracking covers England, with one word elemental chapters (track, path, chalk, silt). Following ventures to Scotland (water – south and north, peat, gneiss, granite), Roaming takes Bob abroad (limestone, roots, ice). Finally, Homing brings us back to England (snow, flint, ghost, print).

The final 70 pages or so consist of a glossary, notes, bibliography, acknowledgements and index. This last is interesting. Fairly conventional in conception, it includes the following categories:

  • animals, fish and insects
  • artefacts and artworks
  • birds
  • books, writings, stories and film – includes “books that choose the reader”
  • buildings and stuctures
  • countries
  • flowers and plants
  • ideas and practices
  • illusions and mirages
  • institutions
  • islands
  • maps and map making (but no maps)
  • mountains and hills
  • paths and tracks
  • people
  • places
  • rivers and streams
  • rocks, minerals and earth
  • seafaring, sea roads and vessels
  • songs and music
  • towns, villages and cities
  • trees, woods and forests
  • weather

As an indexing experiment, I’d like to have seen the entries mirroring the poetical tone of the text, perhaps tying in with the synopses at the beginning of each chapter.

From the chapter on Granite/Scotland (p198):

We tend to think of landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us primary sensations of touch and sight. But there are also landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in the memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality, and such places – retreated to most often when we are most remote from them – are among the most important landscapes we possess…these, perhaps, are the landscapes in which we live the longest, warped though they are by time and abraded though they are by distance. The consolation of recollected places finds its expression frequently in the accounts of those – exiles, prisoners, the ill, the elderly – who can no longer reach the places that sustain them.

Update, 2 March 2015; Macfarlane’s new one, Landmarks (Amazon | Spectator | Gdn), is about to go large. Intriguingly, if wearingly, this is described as a “field guide to the literature of nature, and a glossary containing thousands of remarkable words used to describe land, nature and weather”. See Macfarlane’s word-hoard, doubtless the first of many pieces (and an exhibition | another):

I organised my growing word-hoard into nine glossaries, divided according to terrain-type: Flatlands, Uplands, Waterlands, Coastlands, Underlands, Northlands, Edgelands, Earthlands and Woodlands…Each of the nine glossaries is matched with a chapter exploring the work of those writers who have used words exactly and exactingly when describing specific places.

It seems that there are several other word hoards doing the rounds – see this review of Uncommon ground, with accompanying glossary. As Macfarlane writes: “Smeuse is a dialect noun for ‘the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal’; now I know the word ‘smeuse’, I will notice these signs of creaturely movement more often.”

As John Burnside points out, “Landmarks goes further by enriching, not only our vocabulary of land terms, but also our ways of seeing.” Having recently bought a tree book I’m in with the naming things meme, but re this book I think I’ll stick with this entry from The Digested Read:

Mon-biot: the early morning tweet of the excitable green finch that would have been better off deleted.

Ladybird Books

Updates: Ladybird exhibition in Bexhill, then on to London with a talk from John Grindrod, all to celebrate Ladybird’s centenary. See another paean and Ladybird, the book, then, finally! Ladybird books introduce Peter and Jane to hipsters and hangovers, critiqued by Zoe Williams. More: Helen MacDonald revisits What to look for in winter@LBFlyawayhome‘s 2018 advent calendar…

Inspired by a recent Timeshift programme on The Ladybird Books story: how Britain got the reading bug I had a look on my bookshelves and found I have:

  • Lives of the great composers 1 (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven) and 2 (Handel, Haydn, Schubert), from series 662, 1969
  • Flight 1: Australia (1958), Flight 2: Canada (1959), Flight 4: India (1960). from series 587,  the Ladybird Book of Travel Adventure, 1960 (these were originally my brother’s, or perhaps even inherited from older cousins)

What else did we have? Certainly What to look for in… and others from the nature series (pics), which I’m annoyed I didn’t keep and am almost tempted to get my hands on via one of several Ladybird fanatics, such as Ladybird Fly Away Home or The Wee Web.

What a lot of text though! Here’s a pic from Dirty Modern Scoundrel’s imaginary Ladybird Book of Modernism (more):

Update, 22 June: similar were the Observer’s book series, which Wikipedia tells me were published from 1937-2003. I have our copies of trees and wildflowers, plus an early treasure, the Observer’s book of dogs.