I have to confess I’m not daft about The Edinburgh Festival, with its ever-lengthening, scraggy Fringe. . . . Buskers. Fire-eaters. Unicyclists. Jugglers. Skinny beardies in cocked-back trilbies. Underpaid youngsters stuffing flyers into your hands.
If you like comedy, you’re guaranteed a laugh when you see some of Edinburgh’s special festival prices: £6 for a ‘schooner’ of lager, £15 for a fish supper. Our clubs and pubs see them coming a mile off - and they’re mainly coming from London.
Comedian Adam Kay, who’s doing two shows at the Festival this year, said, “I have arrived in Edinburgh from London. Soon every comedian will arrive in Edinburgh from London. Then our audiences will arrive in Edinburgh from London. I can think of a more efficient way of doing this.”
So if you’re a local, scunnered by the culture-hungry hordes or a visitor feeling ‘Festivalled-out’, I suggest you catch the 22 bus opposite The Balmoral and don’t get off until you reach the terminus.
Or rather, terminal. Because I’m recommending the antidote to all that frantic Fringe tomfoolery – a wee trip to Ocean Terminal.
Almost, but not quite, umbilically linked to The Shore by the Cooncil’s hesitation over the Leith tramline extension (Come on! It’s only going to cost £163million!), Ocean Terminal has to be the most chilled-out shopping centre on the planet.
Sir Terence Conran designed the place along the lines of an ocean-going liner. Natural light pours down from the glass ceiling and floods in from its sea-facing façade. You almost expect the ‘decks’ to tilt beneath your feet as you saunter along its galleries looking for fun, food or retail therapy.
There’s plenty of all three here because Ocean Terminal is one of only three shopping centres in the UK with three floors.
Sorry if it sounds like they paid me to write this. No such luck. I’ve just come to love the place over the 15 years I’ve lived and worked in Leith. It’s free to park and there are over 1500 car spaces. The multiplex cinema has enough screens to show arthouse movies as well as blockbusters and the auditoriums are big, with a better-behaved crowd than you’ll find in its uptown equivalent.
And the pharmacy’s open late if you run out of something essential.
On my last visit, a late Sunday morning, the centre was buzzing but there was a different feeling about the place. Smiling staff in uniform strolled along the malls, stopping to chat to stallholders and customers. There was an airy new reception space just inside the front doors, with an information desk and revamped juice bar right behind it. I wanted to know a bit more about the changes so I had a quick chat with deputy centre manager Michelle MacLeod.
“Online retailing has changed the way people shop. I was on holiday in Malaga with my daughter and she lay on her sunbed all day doing ‘Click and Collect’ on her phone. Folk don’t just want to shop in big stores any more. Our customers come down here looking for new experiences. That’s why there’s a full-size Venetian Carousel on the second floor. New street-food stalls like Elfalafel. And creative spaces where emerging artists, illustrators, sculptors, designers and makers can exhibit their best work.”
Michelle also recommended swinging by The Little Shop Of Memory, an archive of treasures from Edinburgh’s collective past where I was strangely thrilled to find a box full of the coloured wooden rods I’d learned to count with when I first started school well over 50 years ago.
Ocean Terminal itself is anything but stuck in the past, though. It isn’t just a shopping centre. It’s part of the cultural regeneration of Leith.
Mackerel: The sequel
You know that island in the Forth that looks like a ship? That’s Inchkeith, that is.
When the wind’s blowing offshore it doesn’t take long to scoot across there in a boat – round about an hour.
When my pal Willy offered to skipper me there for mackerel last week, I was out to Granton like a shot. I was joined by Ian Gardner, lead singer of The Jammy Devils and Conor from The Citadel. I’d scrabbled together all the flies I could think of that would look like a wee sprat or a sandeel and be good bait for a shoal of ravenous mackerel.
Willy did a superb job, simultaneously plotting our course on his tablet and making us cheese and ham rolls and cups of tea. Conor took the tiller and kept us heading for the west side of Inchkeith. It was a breeze. Just a drifting mizzle of rain but nothing hard or heavy.
Round the back of the island the sea was calm and we hung and drifted on the green swell. We were an hour off high tide – that’s dinner time for everything that swims or flies. A flotilla of puffins bobbed about with sandeels in their beaks.
A couple of seals poked their heads out to see if they could learn anything about fishing from us. And while I was still fannying around with my fly-rod, trying to choose the right lure, in went the handlines and up came the first mackerel, kicking and bucking, vibrating on the deck. These were three-quarter- pounders, all a foot long. They hit hard. Ian was swinging them in three at a time. But when I finally got my fly-line into the water I realized the problem: the mackerel were twenty feet down and my fly was only sinking to ten feet. It finished ‘Handlines 12, Fly-rod 0’.
That wasn’t the end of the fun though. As we swung back round to head home, the wind swung too. I heard Willy say “Uh-oh” and suddenly the boat was pitching and bucking through six foot swells. That naughty wind blew us all the way to Portobello before we could turn her round and tack up past Leith Docks.
At about 11pm, with salt spray stinging our cheeks, the sky exploded as the Tattoo Fireworks went off. We had the perfect view. Nothing had gone according to plan but it had been a great wee adventure all the same.
The wheels on the bike go round and round
The funny thing about the Olympics is that one minute you can be vegging out in front of an event you have zero interest in, like the final of the men’s omnium, a bizarre track cycling event; next minute, you’re on the edge of your seat for 160 laps as this 40km long, crazy circus plays itself out.
It was British rider Mark Cavendish’s third attempt to win an Olympic medal. He did his best not to, by causing a crash that put a Korean rider on a stretcher and the eventual gold medal winner, Italian Elia Viviani, on his bum.
But he rode an otherwise brilliant race, racking up points on almost every sprint and deserved his silver - even though he looked cheesed off that it wasn’t gold.