Helen Martin: Driven mad by barrier grief

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THE reader – I’ll call him George – was extremely angry. Not at me, but at whichever power had put Abbeyhill, where he lives, into “lockdown” on the day of the marathon.

He said residents couldn’t leave by car for several hours and some were even unable to get to work, because they had been given no prior notice, no leaflets, nothing.

He questioned if it was even legal to restrict free citizens’ movements in a non-emergency situation, and initially blamed the police, which ­explained why he was writing to me following last week’s column about the police state we now live in.

I knew exactly how he felt. That weekend, even for the “fun run”, our office at Holyrood had been sealed in. Staff couldn’t leave in their cars, or collect pool cars to carry out their work. Himself was concerned ­because his golf club was holding a charity event and he feared guests wouldn’t get through. None of us had received notice of the road closures and “blockades” that would affect work, domestic or leisure arrangements.

I did suggest to “George” that Edinburgh City Council was probably more to blame than the police. Tenaciously, he kept at it and eventually confirmed that, yes, the council’s events department was responsible, adding that they had left at least one barrier behind, obstructing the road for days after the marathon.

Flash forward to Thursday and another call from a reader with walking difficulties, living in a Grassmarket block shared by the disabled, the ­elderly and those dependant on wheelchairs or motorised chairs.

He said they’d woken up to find themselves trapped behind barriers set up for the Matrix Fitness Cycling Grand Prix taking place that night. Some were unable to negotiate the route they were herded down between barriers because of the hazards they would have to overcome and were imprisoned for the day.

Now we hear that the Gumball 3000 Rally featuring fleets of supercars is coming within the week with the council subsidising road closures to the tune of £10,000.

Not only are we barred from areas of our own city, sometimes trapped behind barricades patrolled by ­security guards and police, but now we have to pay for it.

If we have to get to hospital ­urgently (as happened to my step-son last year when his partner who had been seriously ill was about to give birth) it’s just too bad. The Event – whatever it is and whether it’s for charity or personal athleticism or deemed “a spectacle” – overrides ­anything else including it would seem, life or death emergencies.

The arrogance of failing to even warn people that they could be trapped, stranded or locked in, forcing them to abandon whatever plans they for their day, evening or weekend, is breathtaking, as is the ­assumption that they will be happy to pay even part of the costs incurred by the event-holders.

If services such as telephone, broadband, water or fuel are cut off without warning we would at least expect to be able to lodge a claim. Yet the council, which ropes in police to assist – far from giving us a refund or supplying helicopters so we can cross our own city – actually uses our ­council tax to throw cash at organisers.

Attracting visitors, spectators and participants in grand events is clearly more important to councillors than considering the city residents who live here and vote for them – or not. I would recommend “not”. An ultra-low turn out at the next elections in May 2016 might help make the point.


TRANSPORT convener Lesley Hinds says Sunday parking wardens are needed in the city to improve the environment for cyclists and pedestrians. Well, let them have it. My money will be spent in out-of-town shopping malls that have free customer car parks.

1D dopey over filming antics

SHOCK and horror, members of One Direction have smoked cannabis, just as many politicians, business leaders and most other professions have admitted to doing in their youth. The band’s fans may be eight or nine years old but the lads are music stars in their early twenties. What did anyone expect? That they would be sipping lemonade, sucking lollipops and playing dominoes?

Parents who have happily allowed their primary four daughter to worship a boy band had it coming. Of course the lads should be criticised – for being daft enough to film themselves lighting up.

JK’s Potter has Latin knock-on

THE most unlikely side-effect of the Harry Potter phenomenon is that primary school children in deprived areas of Glasgow and the rather less-deprived St Andrews are once again learning Latin, generally abandoned by mainstream state education as a “dead” language.

Of course it’s anything but. Labour comes from “labore”, day from “diem”, flourish from “floreat”, amorous comes from “amo”, vehicles from “vehicula”, let alone fully Latin words still used letter for letter such as ad nauseum or antenatal.

Even the most basic grounding in Latin helps to understand the “English” language today. If her young wizard has anything to do with putting it back on the curriculum (Latin for race course), JK Rowling will have done something really beneficium (beneficial) and veneficus (magical).