Public library and other stories

The turning of the new year is now well underway, light is returning to the land and it’s been a while since I shared any update from the Constitution Street project experience. Here are some things that come to mind in the here and now.

I let go of the blogging thread in January and February for a few reasons. It was winter and I was tired and quiet in a wintry way. It snowed. I got flu, full flu, for the first time. My car broke down for the last time on a country road in Fife. I had no hot water. I had little money. I felt rough. And yet, even in the throws of high fever with its night sweats and delusion, the street was my constant companion. I spent Hogmany at home in bed with Bon dog loyally guarding my sickness chamber. As revelers raged up and down the street and fireworks exploded on either side of the tenement- the official city display plus rogue ballistics from the Kirkgate- it sounded like a world at war. Then at about 4am there was a settling hush and the only noise I could hear was the lone voice of a songbird. There being no gardens in this part of Constitution Street, the dawn chorus of 2018 was from a resilient, persevering little bird atop a concrete perch. This made me hopeful for a good year ahead.

It was also my first Christmas on Constitution Street. As the year yawned its last days, Louise and I walked along the street to the Watchnight Service under a moonlit sky.  Bundled-up neighbours sat in coats and hats sharing an uncomfortable pew. All of us, most unlikely church-goers. After the obligatory hymns and prayers, we listened to Iain’s words from the pulpit about a family from Nazareth who had searched for room at the inn. The message about refuge and safety in an age of mass migration and homelessness was less than subtle. He concluded by asking in the paternalistic, sarcastic tone only Scots can perfect with any warmth: Well then, Merry Christmas. Have you lot no got homes to get too now? Away with you all! And we did. Get away home. Via the inn.

My January and February were filled with lots of conversation, more reading and a little bit of writing. Much of all three have taken place in public libraries and in Leith Library in particular, where at desks and in quiet corners there are new Scots learning English, toddlers throwing toys and old men kipping. I think Ali Smith would approve. I finished drafts of the book chapters on The Right to Work (Flitting from Port to Port), The Right to Freedom of Religious Belief (A Shout in the Street) and The Right to Freedom of Expression (The Making of Us).

Another known and strange companion has been a fox, sighted in glimpses at dawn and dusk on the street. He, for I am sure he is a he somehow, looks healthy and well-fed. Perhaps he sleeps in the secret garden of the church and feasts on disarded street food. He chooses when and how to make himself known, if at all.

I have recorded interviews with neighbours, including in the home of writer Vicky Allan, at Post Electric Studio with musician Rod Jones, in Printworks cafe with Sandy Campbell and in Nobles pub with Fiona Bryant. We talked about putting down roots, finding play spaces, anxiety, song lyrics, using our hands and, of course, all the in betweens. I spoke to pupils at Leith Academy as part of the Super Power Agency literary project about what I’ve learnt about interviewing. My friend Ercan Ayboga, whom I met at the TRISE conference, came to visit and the Gul family from Rocksalt cafe on Constitution Street took him to their Kurdish Community Centre. I said farewell to the co-working space at Creative Exchange, no.29, after five years of sharing the magnificient former Corn Exchange together. I had coffees and dinners with peer mentors Anne Bonnar, Gerry Hassan and Faith Liddell. And I found a peaceful productivity by the fire at my parents’ cottage in Abernyte.

I made my intention for 2018, my san kalpa, to receive and accept more joy. I am finding this in intentional and unexpected ways. Joining the Leith Community Croft (plot B) has provided wild space for Bonnie, has let me dig deep into the silty soil (we found a glow-stick today burried among the nightime debris) and the patch may yet come to yield strawberries in the summer months. Meanwhile, there is strawberry jam and croissants at opening hour with Zak in Toast .

At the Leith Dockers Club Burns Supper, I ate vegetarian haggis and drank (terrible) red wine with neighbours Louise Leach, Andy Mackenzie, Sally Fraser, Ben Macpherson MSP and Councillor Gordon Munro. Sally gave a femminist Reply from the Lassies and Gordon the Selkirk Grace (in which, as a committed aetheist, he invoked the stardust qualities of David Bowie for his Blessing).

I have been reading: So Much Blue by Percival Everett, Hannah’s Dress by Pascale Hugues, I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’ Farrell, Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Grzegorzewska and The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla. I listened again to a favourite podcast by A L Kennedy on Holding Hands.

Later this week, I come to the end of the Community Fellowship at IASH and begin the final month of my sabbatical from Voluntary Arts. I will particularly miss my roommate Sarah Brasil, the weekly lunchtime talks on everything from sacred comedy in the medieval ages to the rise of Hindu nationalism in Rajasthan. I will not miss the rattle and howl of the attic window panes in a January storm and having to wear my coat indoors.

The book isn’t finished but it is well on its way.  And that has to be good enough. Today marks a year of first mapping out the street project and setting out on this constitutional. I am now ready for the rights of Spring.

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