A Tour of My Neighbourhood
By elsie katz
Wake up and walk with me along my paper round of Watson Crescent. At 7.30 my buzzer blasts me into orbit and I scramble downstairs to meet my supervisor. I pick up last weeks pay and Linda shifts my work into the lobby; four hundred and fifty copies of the Edinburgh Herald and Post, strapped with tough blue tape into bulky bundles of fifty, to be delivered today.
I now unwrap my sleepy little daughter from her nest among her 'cuddlies', slot some cereal into her mouth, package her into her uniform and post her between the school gates. Home again, I get to work. I heave fifty papers inside my waterproof yellow bag and lift it across my right shoulder. Gripping the second bundle in my other hand so that the weights balance I proceed down the road. 'My, you must have good muscles' says the old chappie on the corner.
Maybe you think that all buzzers and doors and doormats and letterboxes and flights of sixty stone steps are much the same. Me too.
I zip through my work fast.Some doormats are unwelcoming, 'Oh no, not you again!' 'Beware of the fierce dog' 'All our visitors bring happiness, some by coming and some by going' and even 'Wipe your feet, stupid!' I only have one barky dog who snatches the paper from behind the door. And on one stair a little red-haired tot always peeps out to take it from my hand.
Watson Crescent is made up of traditional stone tenements, sixteen to a stair.* It was built in stages, the Harrison Park end, further away from the city centre was completed in 1906 and is 20 years older than The Golden Rule end. They serve real beer inside and the 'Oom-pah' jazz quartet with the big Sousaphone plays midweek. In addition to the residential housing, there are two corner shops, a few offices and small workshops and a boys club which doubles up as a playgroup.
I remember taking my turn on the playgroup parents rota, setting up the chute and climbing frame and filling the beakers with orange juice. And the time the Health Visitor came to give us mums a safe sex talk and it became a gossip session about certain men they knew by sight. Oh yes 'he didnae look well' and 'there were one or two where they said it was pneumonia, ah but..' I suggested that people might look ill because of stress or the flu rather that the Aids virus** and was soon 'put right' by the group know-alls who probably knew little more than the power of gossip and fifth-hand information.
In the summer the club building converts into a summer Youth Hostel. In the long evenings Euroyouth with backpacks loiter outside and ask passers by in a Deutsch or Francais accent 'which bus for Princes Street please.' And down the steps in the Park, mothers and old women sit smoking and chatting on the benches,while their children and grandchildren run and climb and cycle and push prams. Prince and Rover get let off the leash, white-clad bowlers skim the emerald green and the boys footie team kicks hell for leather between the posts.
Nine swans glide along the Union Canal. Missus broods on the same patch each year at Tollcross, breathing in the beer fumes from the brewery. I've watched her cygnets grow from little and cute into the noisy clumsy grey monsters in the Ugly Duckling fable. Sometimes, guarded by Mister who hisses if I come close, they cluster on the towpath. I circumnavigate the edgemost edge. Is it true an angry swan can break your arm?
Now then, there's no time to stand and stare when I should be climbing the stair! Still three hundred and fifty to go. The buildings are clean though one pongs of unspayed tom. Most outer doors yield to my touch when I press the Service button. It's not secure; I could be anyone. A lot of top floor dwellers place plants and shrubs near their door utilising the roof's skylight. So handy for overgrown houseplants. I put my umbrella plant out in a pretty wastepaper bin. 'She's put a bloody tree out there.' said the old misery next door. Two doors on my route are works of art; a big stencil of Christopher Robin, Pooh and Piglet and a mural of a huge bare spreading wintry tree backdropped by a vermilion sunset.
Near the end of the long straight crescent is a very old building with a Tennants lager sign hanging down and the arcane initials RAOB, CIU***affiliated. Once a mill it is now the Buffaloes Institute. Visitors are welcome. Admission is by tickets sold in advance and you have to 'know someone' to get in.It is a friendly place and draws a down to earth crowd. I was at a 'do' here on Friday and earwigged a typical conversation. 'Now Margaret's been doing school dinners since I was a kid' 'And I'm still here!' For £2.50 I get the chance to play bingo, a disco and a salad buffet. We heap our plates high. There's a stand-up comic tonight but I wish he would sit down as his jokes are atrocious. A group of women on a birthday celebration give him a hard time. When one of them makes a move down the hall he fights back verbally 'There's a good toilet at the Gyle Centre****. Away you go!'
I post my last paper and that's me done! Now for one of Life's dilemmas. Where shall I spend my money? I could go to a Step class but after my climbing this morning I don't think I need it.
* In an Edinburgh tenement (block of flats) the 'stair' is the hallway, the landings and the flights of communal stairs leading to the individual flats. The 'stair door' is the outer door and entry is through an entryphone which you buzz. Each flat also has its own individual front door.
** At the time that my daughter was attending playgroup (1991) Edinburgh was the Aids capital of Europe. Aids education sessions were readily available. In 1990 as a volunteer creche worker I attended two, one at Edinburgh Uni as part of the Science Festival then one on my Human Development (0-8) and Playgroup management course. I never managed a playgroup but the weekly college sessions were free as I was on the dole and I enjoyed all the education and project work. Then session number 3 came my way when I was a playgroup mum.
*** Royal and Antediluvian Order of the Buffaloes, Confederation of Industrial Unions (CIU is a fancy way of saying 'a network of working man's clubs')
**** toilet at the Gyle Centre. The Gyle Shopping Centre is several miles away from Watson Crescent. The comedian is simply telling the lady who is leaving the room to visit the toilet to go away and stop heckling him.