Brian Monteith: Al fresco dining should make room for smokers

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It HAS taken an age but at last the city is actually thinking about how to make the city centre better for visitors and locals alike. I’m sure we could all come up with improvements – not least the removal of so much unnecessary pavement signage – but the proposals to erect some marquee or Gazebo-style awnings along George Street and in St Andrew Square is a positive start.

Of course it might be done badly and we could all live to regret it – if the experience of the trams is anything to go by it will not happen for another ten years and the price will treble. But by inviting comments from the public and civic amenity groups it should not be beyond the wit of man to erect something that is attractive, practical – and most important of all, temporary.

Edinburgh is a world heritage location and we need to be able to preserve the New Town in all its splendid glory by ensuring any construction can be taken down if necessary. And anyway, café culture is not especially attractive on a cold February evening, I doubt I am alone in thinking that having these awnings up all year just doesn’t make sense.

We also need to ensure that the cost of this enterprise is shared between the city council and the businesses that will benefit. Businesses already pay a great deal to the council for simply putting tables and chairs on the pavement – this new scheme should seek private business funding but also recognise businesses have made a contribution already, so it is only right that the council bares some of the cost.

By the council’s leading the development through its partnership, Essential Edinburgh, it will also be able to create some degree of uniformity in the design. The georgian buildings, although each having their own interesting facades do also have a rhythm and order so there should be a common style that is regular and simple, to reflect this and not detract from the buildings behind.

Oh, and another thing. Like many people, I hunt out bars in Edinburgh where I can sit outside and occasionally smoke a cigar or my pipe in peace without breaking the law. Others do the same for the enjoyment of their cigarettes. I am used to it in all weathers, so I know a thing or two about al fresco drinking. At the moment we are not disturbed by those that dislike smoking as they stay in the bars. Under no circumstances should smoking be banned under these awnings – it is not against the law to smoke outside and if a new rule such as this was imposed by the Council we shall end up with no smoking in the bars, no smoking under the marquees but smokers standing between both – blocking the pavements. A recipe for resentment and confusion.

I’ve sat outside in the bitter cold in Berlin, Copenhagen and New York to enjoy my cuban stogies and I don’t see why Edinburgh would want to be so intolerant. If we smokers had not braved the weather to enjoy our tobacco then I can tell you there would be far fewer boozers in Edinburgh and the rest of the UK – for many have relied on our money in these tough times.

Other than that, wining and dining outside in Edinburgh’s city centre can become a far more civilised practice. I would not go so far as to call it café culture but if it makes Edinburgh more fun and gives us an edge over other British cities we should give it 
a try.

The naked truth

FROM the fifties onwards towns and cities all over Europe went through a bonding experience as a way of healing some of the divides created by the Second World War. In 1954 Edinburgh twinned with Munich, the capital of beautiful Bavaria. It was a particularly apt twinning given both cities’ reputation for brewing beer.

Like Edinburgh, Munich is a cultural centre with beautiful galleries, opera houses, magnificent churches and wonderful restaurants. Now the good burgers of Munich have decided to lose all their inhibitions by creating six nudist zones in the city’s famous parks – nudity is not illegal in Germany and these nudist zones is a way of trying to accommodate those that want to sunbathe or stroll without a care in the world, or shove on the lederhosen and duffle coat.

It got me wondering if it’s the sort of thing our city fathers (and mothers) should be considering for Edinburgh’s parks? The councillors would no doubt want a fact-finding mission to see how the rules work – although I think as a qualification to being funded by taxpayers they would have to agree to go the whole way after entering the zones. An Evening News reporter would be dispatched to ensure they stuck to this requirement.

Where could we create our Nudist Zones? The top of Arthur’s Seat? West Princes Street Gardens or amongst the Braid Hills Whin Bushes. Calton Hill would be ideal but I am told it is nude most nights of the week already! Suggestions to the Editor of the Evening News in a sealed envelope marked “Edinburgh Bared” with the best idea will be mentioned in my column once I stop laughing.