Washington Post’s review of Edinburgh rounds on ‘fools on council’

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It was best known for lifting the lid on the Watergate affair which triggered the resignation of US President Richard Nixon.

Now Edinburgh City Council is set to be thrust into the limelight by the Washington Post - over its handling of roads and transport in the city.

A major new feature on the Scottish capital in one of the world’s most famous newspapers singles out the “fools on the town council” for criticism.

Its article on Edinburgh has been published just days ahead of the UK release of The Post, which sees Meryl Street and Tom Hanks play the publisher and editor of The Washington Post as they wrestle with whether to publish the so-called Pentagon Papers in 1971.

Amid glowing praise for numerous “Harry Potter moments”. as well as history and architecture echoing Mary Poppins, Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, the Washington Post has lifted the lid on what the “extremely friendly” people of Edinburgh really think about their local authority’s stewardship of the city.

Its writer, Tom Shroder, states: “Edinburgh has a cheap (about a buck-fifty a ride in town) and efficient bus system with frequent service to everywhere a visitor might want to visit.

“The drivers and fellow passengers alike are extremely friendly and more than willing to explain the system and point you to the correct stop, as well as discuss their recent doctor’s appointments, the town council’s foolishness and, of course, the weather.”

In his Washington Post article, published in the wake of mounting concern about the city’s streets becoming ‘chocked’ with visitors, Shroder said he “gradually understood that some of the most interesting places — and most of the best restaurants — were outside the heavily touristed areas.”

Describing an attempt to explore the banks of the Water of Leith, he adds: “To us, the real attraction was the path itself, dipping down from the busy surface streets into a tree-shaded, water-soothed landscape that might have been in the deep countryside, complete with weeping willows and small waterfalls, and occasionally emerging into architecturally stunning neighbourhoods dominated by buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries.

A short distance along, another path splits off up a forested hillside leading to the city’s modern art museum. A mile or so beyond that yet another path leads to the 70-acre Royal Botanic Garden, a spectacular array of specimen trees and plantings from around the world.

“Some detour signs had been put up (by the fools on the town council, we were inevitably informed) where the path had been partially eroded.

“The signage was blithely ignored by a steady stream of locals continuing along without concern or incident.”

The other major criticism of Edinburgh in the article is for its unpredictable weather, described as “a sky the colour of unlaundered sweat shorts spitting a misty drizzle one moment, and a glorious northern sun cutting through great galleons of clouds the next.”

Shroder adds: “It can be a bit challenging as to what to wear, but the upside is a ridiculous number of rainbows.”

The Washington Post’s writer appeared to be won over almost instantly by the city’s historic landscape - which famously inspired JK Rowling to write the first Harry Potter novel more than two decades ago.

He writes: “Just as I was settling in to the familiar hopeless mind-set of Day 1 in a new foreign city, jet-lagged, sleep-deprived and, more or less, lost, I glanced off to the right.

“There below us, a wide, swiftly moving stream of dark water flowed away beneath the graceful arch of a stone bridge, draped with vines, sheltered by ancient shade trees and bordered with quaint, stucco cottages with peaked roofs like something out of the Brothers Grimm.

“The cottage closest to the road had a red sandstone plaque built into the wall above the lone window and beneath the chimney.

It was the first of what I came to think of as our Edinburgh Harry Potter moments — when the ordinary Muggle reality suddenly parted to reveal something magical.

As it turned out, this wasn’t entirely fanciful thinking on my part.

“I only discovered later that JK Rowling herself said, in a 2008 speech accepting the Edinburgh Award, ‘Edinburgh is very much home for me and is the place where Harry evolved over seven books and many, many hours of writing in its cafes.’

“The city’s remarkably consistent buildings of mottled brown stone blocks, the most spectacular of them with sharply peaked roofs and ostentatious turrets, are clear inspiration for the architecture of the Hogwarts School of Wizardry. The tombstones in the fabulously gloomy Greyfriars Kirkyard in the oldest part of the city bear the names of some key Potter characters — McGonagall, Moodie and, most notably, Thomas Riddle, the birth name of Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort. Tourists flock to the cafes where the then-impoverished author wrote out her stories in longhand: the Elephant House, Nicholson’s (now called Spoon) and the baroquely gorgeous Balmoral Hotel.

“But more than these, it was the city itself, its mood of hard-edge coziness and sudden revelations around unexpected corners, that cemented the more literal Potter connections.”

Edinburgh Council Leader, Councillor Adam McVey, said: “That the writer was left ‘thoroughly charmed’ is testament to the city’s allure, and I’m sure his sentiment is shared with the many millions of people who come to visit every year.

“His praise of Edinburgh’s striking, historic architecture, world-class cultural offering and stunning natural heritage is indeed deserved, not to mention our award-winning Lothian Buses service and compact city centre, ideal for ‘wandering and discovery’. And while it might be a bit frustrating to come face-to-face with a diversion sign on a pleasant walk along the Water of Leith, I’m sure the writer will understand this small inconvenience is all about keeping our paths safe for both residents and visitors to Edinburgh.

“Tom Shroder is not alone in his admiration for the city – we regularly hear about Edinburgh’s high ranking amongst the world’s cities for quality of life, education, business, transport – and this is reflected in the feedback we receive from people who live, visit and work here.

“This piece offers a tourist’s take on Edinburgh as a beautiful, bustling and welcoming destination, touching on many of the things we love about the city, which I’m certain all those that read it will agree. That said, I’m not sure there’s much we can do to improve on the weather - any tips appreciated!”