Jo Caulfield: Lessons in Leith as tram project baffles

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I’ve been getting really excited about the new proposed tram route. Apparently it’ll run all the way from John Lewis at the St James shopping centre right round the corner to Harvey Nichols in St Andrew Square.

What’s not to love about that? A small glass of wine at John Lewis, then cocktails at Harvey Nicks. That’s the kind of shopping I like.

I still can’t quite get my head around the whole trams fiasco. Why were they needed in the first place?

As someone who spends a lot of time flying back and forth to London I can tell you the airport bus from outside Waverley Station does the job perfectly.

But let’s not criticise Edinburgh City Council too harshly. They have a lot of other good ideas, with their thoughts firmly on the future.

Along with the trams they’re talking about bringing back horse-drawn carriages, putting small children up chimney stacks and reintroducing whooping cough.

Yes, in their safe hands Edinburgh will be the futuristic intergalactic space-age city of which we’ve all been dreaming.

By the way, am I the only person who thinks that for £700 million they could have just built a big crane, lifted up the airport and moved it nearer to the city centre?

Anyway, enough about people who couldn’t organise a Belhaven-tasting event in the Belhaven brewery, on to much more important things. Me.

I’m what you would call “a social animal”.

I like meeting friends in the local pub. Or a visit to the whisky society. Or a trip to the wine bar. On other nights I’m quite contented to stay at home and socialise on my own with a bottle of wine and six cans of lager.

So this week I was more than happy when a friend suggested we visit a drinking establishment at the bottom end of Leith Walk. Wow! It was like the crazy bar-room scene in the first Star Wars movie.

If they’d had a pub quiz, the first question would have been, “What are you looking at?”. The second question would have been, “I said WHAT are you looking at?”.

But as the night wore on the locals became more friendly and I found myself speaking to an older gentlemen who was very knowledgable about the area of Leith.

Apparently Leith used to be a separate municipal burgh, with its own provost, magistrates and council. I never knew that.

Rose’s Lime Juice was founded in Commercial Street in 1868 and was primarily focused upon provision of vitamin C to the seamen of Leith. I never knew that.

Until 1923 there was no tram service between Leith and Edinburgh. No change there then.

At the boundary in Leith Walk it was necessary to change from a Leith tram (electrically powered) to an Edinburgh tram (cable hauled). Make your own joke.

Eventually we hightailed it back uptown and ended up in Niddry Street. I had a small beverage or eight in The Banshee Labyrinth, then The Beehive Inn and finally Bannermans. I spent a small fortune that night. And another small fortune the next day at the dry cleaners.

Seriously, say what you like about the bars in Niddry Street but they’ve got that whole clammy, damp, plague-ridden mosquito breeding-ground atmosphere totally nailed.

It’s like stepping back in time to the Victorian days: limited diet, basic sanitary conditions, your health under threat from diseases and infections. Edinburgh City Council would love it there.

But back on the High Street I was suddenly hit by a fantastic business idea. A guided tour of a NON-haunted house on The Royal Mile!

Think about it. There are so many ghost tours and haunted houses, my tour will definitely stand out. I would lead my customers into a darkened room and ask “Listen, can you hear that sound?” When they said “No”, I’d say “That’s right. You won’t hear any scary rattling sounds or frightening moans because nothing ever happened here. This is the ONLY non-haunted house in Edinburgh. That’ll be £10 each please. And don’t forget to tip your guide on the way out”.

The Americans will love it. If only I could think of someone stupid enough to put up the cash.

Which brings us back to Edinburgh City Council.

Finally, I have a busy few days coming up. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I’ll be down in Croydon, Sheffield and Manchester.

I’m not doing any shows, I just want to see three cities that have managed to build tram systems to a set budget and timescale.