A Nightmare On Princes Street

There are some places with which you feel an immediate affinity, as if the city itself has thrown a welcome party in your honour. An inexplicable sense of home from home, of harmony, abounds as you seem to slip effortlessly into place, tapping into the local energy and immersing yourself in its intrinsic flow.

Sometimes, however, the opposite is true, and it can seem as though the city — or even country — is doing anything and everything in its power to cast you back out again. Shops close and streets seem to empty before your very eyes. You feel forever like an outsider; a foreign body that must be expelled as hastily and mercilessly as possible.

For me, Edinburgh has always ranked among the latter, proving a veritably bucking bronco of which I cannot get hold. Try as I might to synchronize myself with the city — and oh how I’ve tried — I invariably find myself out of step with its elusive rhythms. At first I blamed the trams for the disturbance (everyone else was), but I have since realised that it is me that is causing the disruption.

Scott Monument View

I’ve always loved Edinburgh, from fleeting visits in my childhood to reconnect with relatives and make the most of the January sales to the summer of 2010, when I left Aberdeen to start a new life in the country’s capital as a University graduate. It has always appealed to me. But, sadly, the feeling has never been mutual.

I remember travelling through from Aberdeen for friends’ birthdays and to catch films not shown at any of the local cinemas. Each time I would drastically underestimate the length of Princes Street, and find myself haggling my way onto a Lothain bus with precious little idea of where I was actually going. But I always put this down to an inadequate period of adjustment.

It wasn’t until I was living there that I knew that we would never see eye-to-eye, however. Arriving in town to pick up my keys from the estate agent, I found myself trying unsuccessfully to navigate the hordes jostling for space on the Royal Mile. It was festival season, and there wasn’t enough room on the street for me, let alone my rucksack, suitcase and increasingly misshapen sombrero.

Edinburgh Staircase

From my first time inside one I knew that I wanted an Edinburgh flat. With their tall bordered ceilings, large Georgian windows and cavernous spiral staircases, the flats of my friends were always a source of envy, particularly while I was living with slaters, a crazed neighbour and a carpeted bathroom accessed through a sliding door.

My own Edinburgh flat was a thing of beauty: two bedrooms, a reasonably sized kitchen and a living room that was so large it still felt empty even with three settees crowded around the television. Even it seemed to be against me (and my flatmate), however, as it soon became plagued by moths, mice and money-grabbing stair-cleaners.

But more than anything it was the size of Edinburgh — the sheer scale of its languorous sprawl — that kept catching me out. I was used to living in small towns, with even Aberdeen often feeling more like a large village than a major city. Rather than nipping out for groceries, down the road to work and around the corner to see my friends, I was ever-reliant on a bus service that seemed to run in a different time-zone. In the year before I moved out I don’t think I was on time once, for anything.

Newhaven Harbour

In 2012, after having returned to Dundee with my tail well and truly between my legs, I traveled back through to Edinburgh for a week’s work on the set of a promotional film. I needed to raise money for a planned trip to Corfu, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends. Instead, over the course of twelve hour days I found myself variously hosing down a part-time fishmongers and struggling against gale-force winter winds on a pier at Newhaven Harbour where I was tasked with looking after a time-lapse camera.

Nowadays my visits are largely limited to occasional nights out and the annual occasion of Edinburgh International Film Festival. But even on these irregular visits I find myself running uphill in either searing heat or monsoon-like downpours (or, every so often, both). Just last month I misjudged the distance to Sainsburys, and found myself walking for almost an hour just to buy chocolate cake and a towel. Before that I had to mad-dash to the airport in a taxi after stopping to pick up contact lenses on my way to Russia.

And yet I keep going back. There is something about the place that is so endlessly, stubbornly attractive, so much so that I get unearned pangs of homesickness whenever I see its various landmarks on film. I think it’s the European air that blows across its grand gardens and ancient architecture, its history of innovation and almost tangible culture of inspiration. Not that flattery is likely to get me anywhere.

But what about you? Is there anywhere that you’ve felt strangely, inexplicably unwelcome?

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2 thoughts on “A Nightmare On Princes Street

  1. Edinburgh was my first living away from home city (I’m from Australia) and I loved it. But I know what you mean, some places you go to seem to kick you in the butt at every turn. It’s like it’s telling you to ‘Get Out.’ I got that in Vienna 🙂

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