It’s the cruellest of ironies: growing up in one ‘new town’, then, many moons later, residing on the fringes of another ‘New Town’, so wildly different as to be practically an alien landscape – if the aliens all drove 4x4s, named their children Quinoa and Xavier, and had an enduring penchant for brightly coloured corduroy.
Yes, you could say that Scotland’s first modern new town, East Kilbride, is to Edinburgh’s world-famous New Town what a microwaveable burger is to steak tartare. They should be twinned as some sort of puckish conceptual art experiment – a permanent reminder of our nation’s rich tapestry.
Not that I’m ashamed in any way to have E.K. stamped on a certain part of my anatomy; no sniggering about where the dot goes, OK? Yep, I was born, bred and, some might say, lightly scarred in a town famed for Dee Hepburn, Skoal Bandits and the roundabout.
Yes, when we were young and CB radio was the latest exciting development in technology (Millennials, think of it as an ‘app’ that let you talk to truck drivers and weird people call Shuggy, who lived in their bedrooms with the blinds down), East Kilbride enjoyed the moniker or ‘handle’ of Polo Mint City, such was the prevalence of roundabouts in this town planner’s experiment.
Quite fitting that because, in a roundabout way, I have arrived at the point of this stagger down memory lane. The point being roundabouts, specifically the one at the top of Leith Walk, before you hit the unholy death ride that is Picardy Place. I say roundabout but now it’s just a circle of tarmac with a kerb fringe – a kind of monument to absence, if you will. The absence in question is the old clock that used to stand proudly in the middle of what was once an attractively landscaped piece of street furniture. It was taken down in 2007 to make way for the trams that were to stretch down the Walk. But just as the promised trams never appeared, so the clock’s promised return proved to be a wholly ethereal claim, destined to take flight like kebab-stained napkins on a windy Sunday morning.
Like many residents, I liked that old ticker, so I did a bit of digging – although not as much as the contractors called on to uproot it ten years ago (seemingly the clock was ‘reluctant’ to leave; maybe it knew something we didn’t).
Anyway, a cursory online search reveals only so much – the trail goes cold around 2016, when an article in this esteemed paper reported that the council were planning on turning the awe-inspiring ring of concrete which the roundabout has become into a T-junction – apparently the existing road layout is a danger to cyclists in particular. To be honest, I can understand such logic, but I can’t understand the missed opportunity for erecting some kind of temporary monument in its place.
Then it struck me. If London’s Trafalgar Square has the 4th plinth – a pedestal for temporary artistic expression – why not have an equivalent for Edinburgh? Yeah, until the T-junction is ready to rock, how about we use this sad-looking circle as the venue for all manner of creative comment in physical form?
But before anyone screams in horror at the prospect of yet more bogging public art blighting our streets, let me reassure you, this experiment will be strictly vetted. As an E.K. lad, I know all too well the pitfalls of highly visible contemporary sculpture.
We lived within a short drive of a family of giant metallic turds, which invaded a major roundabout down the road one evening. I think they were supposed to be spheres of urban energy or something. God knows. But for us they were forever unsightly droppings, giving rise to our little ditty of the time: “From whence they came, we never knew, but they always reminded us of poo.” But with careful consideration, we can avoid such a fate. Maybe, true to the democratic mores of our times, open it up to a monthly vote in this very paper. Allow me to kick-start this with a few suggestions for the kind of monument that should, or indeed could, grace the London Road roundabout. Any resemblance to sarcasm or satire is entirely unintentional/fortuitous.
The Bronze Traffic Cone: A functional celebration of the ongoing endeavours of our brave road workers. Very sympathetic to the topography of the local area.
The Eternal Flame of Burning Tenners: A huge mound of cash burning in perpetuity. A pointed metaphor for our council’s economic husbandry of late.
The Holy Cruet Set: As close as we come to religious art. A giant salt cellar and broon sauce bottle in the style of American sculptor Claes Oldenburg.
Or how about a clock in a nicely landscaped setting? It might just work.