Street Haunting: A Leith adventure

In Virginia Woolf’s 1927 essay Street Haunting, the narrator imagines the secret lives of others in her neighbourhood as she walks through the wintry, lamp-lit streets of London. ‘What greater delight and wonder can there be than to leave the straight lines of personality’, the narrator asks, to feel ‘that one is not tethered to a single mind, but can put on briefly for a few minutes the bodies and minds of others’.

November is not the longest month in the calendar but it often feels like it is. A brooding time of mulching, damp decay and dark, slow and cold days. A month where is seems to always be 3.30pm and the light, like the year, fading away beyond control.

Yielding to a lack of control is a form of confronting demons. This year, I have been aided by finding Projekt42, a community gym at the end of the street in the New Kirkgate shopping centre. Nestled between Poundland and ‘Harvey Lidyls’, this empty shop unit has been transformed into a space for yoga classes, circuit training and a collective effort to boost endorphins in winter. Many classes are free and others affordable, making the gym a welcome contrast to commercial fitness studios in the city.

The other welcome surprise of November was to be cradled in a cabin in the Cairngorms for a week while a guest of Scottish PEN at Lesser Wearier. The Highland fresh air and solitude brought a calm focus. I got two of the most awkward book chapters (Streetview and The Right to Housing) written. I jumped in snow drifts. I watched pheasants roost in silverbirch trees and fallow deer tiptoe over fields. I burnt old drafts on the fire. And I felt well again. One day, I want to build my own cabin in the woods and offer the same generosity that I have benefited fromnto others.

This month I have been reading: Winter by Ali Smith; Out of the Wreckage by George Monbiot; The Givenness of Things by Marilyn Robinson; and The Collected Essays of George Orwell.

On Constitution Street, project highlights were interviews with Kristin Hannesdottir, Icelandic Consular, at Lamb’s House and Ani Rinchen Khandro at the Tibettan Buddhist Centre, and attending lectures by Ali Smith (on Muriel Spark), George Monbiot (at the Scottish Parliament where we discussed the Commons), Kathleen Jamie (at the Centre for the Living Book), Jackie Kay (The Radical Book Fair) and Katrin Oddstoddir on the Icelandic constitution (Nordic Horizons). I enjoyed presenting my work in progress talk at IASH with props including a gull feather, a bag of flour, a bone, a beer mat and a Persevere t-shirt.

The adventures in Leith continue.