We all know that this city faces brutal spending decisions, and every penny has to be worked till it screams. It’s only natural, then, that should someone rock up with an idea to revitalise a building like the old Royal High School, you can imagine planners crashing to their knees with tears of gratitude running down their wee faces. A big building like that takes a lot of looking after.
Let’s be honest, the original notion of an “arts hotel” sounded just lovely, if a big vague. Trust me, I love a bit of art, but the idea of a Bruegel-based breakfast bar and Salvador Dali-inspired lifts makes me feel a bit queasy.
Of course, we now know that the art in question is the new brutalist school of look-at-me-I-have-a-ton-of-cash-and-nae-taste. The design, when us peasants finally got to see it, looks like someone thought what Edinburgh really needed was a dose of Inca Industrial.
It seems that in order to warehouse and tend to the needs of the very rich and weary traveller, huge copper-clad wings need to be stuck on the side of the old girl. They’ll glare down over the city, like 21st century Easter Island statues re-imagined as the faces of those strangely expressionless contoured and bronzed Kardashians.
Tacky, baby, tacky.
You know, if this was the only idea in town, then I’d probably suck my breath in and say, ok, let’s do this. The Royal High is a beautiful building, so let’s get the lights on again.
But we don’t have to bend the knee to our Inca Kardashian overlords, because there is another use.
St Mary’s School of Music would like to move in. And someone would like to help them do it, to the tune of millions. They have a truly imaginative design that doesn’t punch you in the face every time you look at it. There will be outstanding teaching and rehearsing spaces, and a new performance venue.
They’ll give more access to music classes for the whole city, although if I were a resident in the immediate vicinity I might draw the line at the terrifying possibility of amateur bassoon players so close at hand. I speak as someone who had her school violin removed as a result of a petition by the neighbours.
And of course, first-class training to create Scottish musicians who will, one day, create wonderful music on stages all over the world.
What is not to love? What is to stop this fantastic gift? Well, two things, my fellow peasants. One, it turns out that the hotel developers, cunning fellows no doubt, can take their pleas all the way to the government
Secondly, us. The fight for the music school isn’t over. If we’d rather have this wonderful old school being turned back into a wonderful new school, then we need to let decision-makers know.
There is a campaign called Perfect Harmony. It’s bringing St Mary’s, the city and the people who want to turn it into a music school together. You can join the Harmony Army.
There’s a rally for those of us old enough to prefer a good old protest meeting, and that’s at the Canongate on evening of the 22nd. Come along and get involved.
This will be the most melodic rally I’ve ever been to because the pupils of St Mary’s will be performing. In my young day, it was all angry feminist consciousness-raising enlivened by someone singing a self-penned ditty about oppression. Hence the anger.
In the online world, you can pester your councillor, nab your MSP and email your MP. There is twitter, of course, but I haven’t got a Scooby how that works, so you’re on your own there, comrade.
Next stop the Scott Monument
This is what the city might look like if Donald Trump bought it. Why not go the whole hog and hollow out Castle Rock and get ourselves a new shopping centre? Let’s AirBnB Holyroodhouse. Heck, there must be room for another nine-star hotel on the esplanade. Why has no-one stuck an escalator up to St Margaret’s Chapel?
The Scott Monument? Gee whizz, there’s a building that seriously needs a couple of lifts. Slam ’em on the side.
I can almost hear the stones of the Royal High weep. The old girl deserves better than copper bingo wings.
No need to red flag campaign
Ah yes, I can hear the angry sisters and the old socialists at my back. But surely, comrade, you keep the Red Flag flying here and have no truck with private schools? Yes, St Mary’s is a school that charges fees, but they prize talent above profit and make serious efforts to help young people with the funding needed to make sure their gift for music flourishes.
Also, come the revolution, I will of course seize the school so we can have some decent music at the May Day march past . . .