The architecture of the subconscious

“This was a townscape raised in the teeth of cold winds from the east; a city of winding cobbled streets and haughty pillars; a city of dark nights and candlelight, and intellect.” ― Alexander McCall Smith, The Sunday Philosophy Club

“This was a townscape raised in the teeth of cold winds from the east; a city of winding cobbled streets and haughty pillars; a city of dark nights and candlelight, and intellect.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, The Sunday Philosophy Club.
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

It feels particularly appropriate to be writing about my hometown on Hogmanay. Edinburgh is – for the world at large – the city most associated with this Scottish celebration of  New Year.

I was born in Edinburgh, though I’ve never really lived there. It’s a town I experience in soft focus; an idealised place of ancient history and learning. I want to belong, but I don’t really. I can feel distain for the endless shops selling novelty kilts and postcards of the castle to tour bus crowds, but I have a visitor’s excitement at every street corner and close, every church and gallery.

"Auld Reekie - wale o ikla town"  -- Robert Fergusson

“Auld Reekie – wale o ikla town”
— Robert Fergusson

It’s a city of instantly recognisable architecture; the castle set high on the remains of a volcano and Scott Monument – the neo-gothic monument to Sir Walter Scott.

I love the way the city is bisected by the railway line and Princes  Street; the crisp, orderly New Town to the north, the medieval old town of haphazard buildings and narrow closes to the south. It takes only minutes to walk from carefully planned and laid-out squares lined with neo-Classical and Georgian buildings, fenced parks and statues of the worthy – to the jumble of centuries’ worth of urban life that is the Old Town.

Riddle's Court, 322 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

“… You peep under an arch, you descend stairs that look as if they would land you in a cellar, you turn to the back-window of a grimy tenement in a lane:—and behold! you are face-to-face with distant and bright prospects. ”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes
Riddle’s Court, 322 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

When I’m there, I imagine a giant game of hide and seek where I could tuck myself away down some cobbled yard and not be found for days – if ever.

Riddle's Court, 322 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013

“It seemed to him a very Edinburgh thing. Welcoming, but not very.”
― Ian Rankin, Exit Music
Riddle’s Court, 322 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013

If I were ever to set a story in Edinburgh (and I’d be in wonderful company – from Robert Louis Stevenson to Muriel Spark, Kate Atkinson and Irvine Welsh), it would be in the old town. Not because I don’t love the rationality and intellectualism of the New, but because rationality and intellect are my everyday life and if I’m going to commit to fiction it has to allow me to explore the aold structures and narrow doorways of my subconscious.

On Hogmanay I wish you all good fortune and fulfilment for 2014.

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh.

This post was written as part of the Phoneography Challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally. My choice this week – architecture.

Here are some other posts I enjoyed:

iPhoneography Monday: 12-30-13

http://sustainabilitea.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/phoneography-challenge-whoops/

http://firebonnet.com/2013/12/30/phoneography-challenge-selfie-reflected/

http://angelinem.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/phoneography-challenge-tequila-in-tulum/

http://weliveinaflat.com/blog/phoneography-weekly-waterloo-street-%E5%9B%9B%E9%A9%AC%E8%B7%AF/

http://piecesofstarlight.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/phoneography-season-sampler/

Reflecting on reflection

Sometimes reflection offers us more than we can hope to deal with. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Sometimes reflection offers us more than we can hope to deal with. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

“Reflect” is one of those words that has both physical and metaphysical dimensions. At one level, we’re talking about the action of light on a surface:

1. To throw or bend back (light, for example) from a surface.

2. To give back or show an image of (an object); mirror. [The Free Dictionary]

… and on the other we use it to describe a set of thought processes

4.   a. To think seriously.     

      b. To express carefully considered thoughts [The Free Dictionary]

At this time of year there seems to be a social expectation of reflection and renewal. From a wholly arbitrary point in the way we measure time – midnight on December 31 – we extrapolate a metaphor of change and (usually) improvement. Newspaper and magazine articles tell us how to phrase New Year’s resolutions that will last, how to make sure we stick to them, what other people resolve to do – even the top 10 resolutions. The media also tells us (as if we didn’t know) that hardly any of us keep New Year resolutions.

Insofar as I’ve ever made New Year resolutions, I’m one of the vast majority who falls off whatever wagon I’ve hitched myself to – usually within the first few days of January. Most often I forget that I’ve even resolved to lose weight, exercise more, stop snacking straight from the fridge, keep a diary, write a play, phone my mum more often. Does that mean I didn’t reflect enough on my life? Or on the processes of change? Or does it mean that reflection is not a particularly straightforward process?

When we think of reflection, I suspect our first image is that of a mirror. We stand in front of it and a single image – us – is reflected back. But I think that in the normal course of life, reflection is more indirect, accidental and obscure. It’s more like the photo above – we glance in a shop window that contains mirrors and crystals and other shiny things and what we see is a kaleidoscope of fractured and distorted images. We’re there, but only as one element of a bigger picture. What is “real”? What is reflection? Background becomes foreground and the incidental is magnified.

That’s not to say that we can’t see ourselves clearly sometimes. But I do think it helps to acknowledge that life isn’t lived before a single mirror, and that what looks like a flaw in the isolation of one lens can be utterly beautiful in the interplay of many.

I also think that if you really want to change something, do it now. Don’t wait for New Year (although yes, I do know it’s only a short wait).

This post was written in response to Sue Llewellyn’s Word a Week Photography Challenge which you can find out more about here.

Here are some other posts on the theme that I enjoyed:

http://babsjeheron.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/winter-reflection-of-great-blue-heron-nesting-island-for-wordless-saturday/

http://soniajonestravel.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/a-word-a-week-challenge-reflect/

http://stevemcp2002.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/word-a-week-challenge-reflect/

http://zainabjavid.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/a-word-a-week-challenge-reflect/

http://emiliopasquale.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/a-word-a-week-photograph-challenge-reflect/

http://caughtbytheeyeofmankind.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/a-word-a-week-photography-challenge-reflect/

http://thinkingthroughmylens.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/airport-reflections/

http://geophiliac.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/a-word-a-week-photograph-challenge-reflect/

A Word a Week Photograph Challenge: Reflect

http://thoughtsandentanglements.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/a-word-a-week-photograph-challenge-reflect/

Reflections on 2013

http://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/nostalgic-reflections/

http://jeritilley.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/mirror-reflections-in-norway-not-the-quality-spa-resort-hotel-norefjell/

http://stevemcp2002.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/photos-photos-photos/

Six word Saturday: moving on?

Photo: Su Leslie 2010

After 14 years, is it time to put the house on the market? Photo: Su Leslie 2010

Summer: a good time to sell

This post was written as part of Six Word Saturday. Here are some others I’ve enjoyed:

Six word Saturday

http://moreatforty.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/six-word-saturday-6ws-christmas-edition/

http://inlovewiththelord.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/six-word-saturday-44/

http://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/six-word-saturday-94/

http://restlessjo.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/six-word-saturday-94/

http://bookmammalmusings.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/six-word-saturday-16/

Lonely without art

Abandoned barracks at Fort Takapuna, Auckland. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Abandoned barracks at Fort Takapuna, Auckland. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

I’m a morning person, so this is my favourite time of the year. With the sun rising around 6am, it means I have lots of “day” to do things in. Yesterday I found myself out playing with my new camera and ended up at Fort Takapuna, on Auckland’s North Shore.

I hadn’t been there since November 2013, when it was the site of NZ Sculpture OnShore – a biennial sculpture exhibition held to raise funds for Women’s Refuge in New Zealand.

To help out a friend, I’d volunteered to work at the exhibition. I expected to spend a few hours there, but fell in love with the event. Thirteen months later, I am a Trustee of the fund-raising charity Friends of Women’s Refuges Trust (FoWR), and a member of the Board of NZ Sculpture OnShore.

So I was excited to go back to the Fort – to see it emptied of all the art and all the people. It is a beautiful place; a cliff-top reserve facing east towards Auckland’s iconic Rangitoto Island. This site is a gift to the artists who exhibit here – a gift hard-won by the amazing women who have, over the years, created one of New Zealand’s premier art events here.

An Auckland sunrise - from Fort Takapuna. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

An Auckland sunrise – from Fort Takapuna. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

The next NZ  Sculpture OnShore exhibition is in November 2014. It will be the 10th such exhibition – and the 20th anniversary of the event. Perhaps, by this time next year, I’ll be fed up travelling to Fort Takapuna to play my part in the exhibition. But looking at these views, somehow, I don’t think so.

One

Flowers, people; sometimes it takes effort to focus on one thing in a crowded field. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Flowers, people; sometimes it takes effort to focus on one thing in a crowded field.

It’s worth the effort.

This post was written in response to this week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge.

Here are some other posts I’ve enjoyed:

http://shakespearesgal2.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/among-the-horse-chestnuts-the-long-walk-windsor/

http://mylifeinfocusblog.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/weekly-photo-challenge-one/

http://chrisbreebaart.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/weekly-photo-challenge-one-liverpool-mersey-front/

http://caughtbytheeyeofmankind.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/weekly-photo-challenge-one/

http://cosytravels.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/weekly-photo-challenge-one/

http://twoscamps.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/weekly-photo-challenge-one/

http://mikikuwabara.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/weekly-photo-challenge-one/

http://blackhillsreiki.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/weekly-photo-challenge-one-2nd-post/

http://brokenlightcollective.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/childhood-lost-2/

Six Word Saturday: Christmas shopping all finished

Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Photo: Su Leslie 2013

After the rush; time to relax.

Here are some other Six Word Saturday posts I liked:

http://whenwordsescape.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/six-word-saturday-121413/

http://sandraconner.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/six-word-saturday-my-life-today-in-6-words-2/

http://moreatforty.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/six-word-saturday-6ws-5/

http://lingeringvisions.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/six-word-saturday-its-snowing-again-time-to-make/

Six Word Saturday

http://genealogysisters.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/six-word-saturday-a-portrait-by-bachrach-but-who/

 

 

Wordless Wednedsay: insomnia

Post-wisdom tooth extraction, I have some nerve damage that's making it difficult to sleep. Prowling around in the early hours with a camera - this out-of-focus shot nicely captures how I'm feeling at the moment.

Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Post-wisdom tooth extraction, I have some nerve damage that’s making it difficult to sleep. Prowling around in the early hours with a camera, this out-of-focus shot nicely captures how I’m feeling at the moment.

Wordless Wednesday

Here are some other Wordless Wednesday posts I’ve enjoyed:

http://jobryantnz.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/wordless-wednesday-20/

http://gotthedirt.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/wordless-wednesday-continued/

http://moreatforty.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/wordless-wednesday-elf-on-shelf-play/

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: A Plague of Ladybugs

http://goingdomestic.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/wordless-wednesday-early-morning-snow/

http://publictransituser.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/wordless-wednesday-2-4/

http://thegoodenoughhousewife.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/wordless-wednesday-4/

http://fireflyphil.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/wordless-wednesday-11-december-2013/

http://newpillowbook.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/warm-wordless-wednesday-december-11-2013-which-is-15-degrees-f-colder-than-it-should-be-in-philadelphia/

http://portlandtreetour.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/12112013-wordless-wednesday/

I don’t want to hate Christmas

Pretty, sparkly things - love em.

Pretty coloured, sparkly things – love em. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

I think deep down I’m Spanish. Quite apart from loving the food (ok, maybe not the pork), the wine, Moorish and Gaudi architecture and flamenco music, I have a sneaking admiration for Latin Catholicism with its architecture, music, rituals, strong community and roll-call of saints, all of whom seem to have a festival or holiday devoted to them. And that’s at the heart of my innard Spaniard – I love festivities. I just adore any opportunity to step outside the everyday and celebrate!

So I should love Christmas, right?

Right. And I want to. I want to do craft things with hot-glue and glitter. I want to bake, host parties, wrap presents, send cards (but NOT those enclosed self-congratulatory form letters), put up lights, decorate a tree.

I want to be the one who always makes the fruit salad for the pre-Christmas barbecue that’s always held at Auntie Whatsit’s, who always gets stuck having to be Secret Santa for drunk Uncle Thingamy.

I want that stuff. I really do.

I’m an atheist it’s true, so the whole Christmas kick-starter is a not really for me. But I am a Presbyterian atheist – brought up in the Church of Scotland – so although I don’t believe in gods, I am sufficiently infused with  the doctrine that I can appreciate the moral and social dimension of Christianity. I just prefer to think of it as socialism.

I don't think I could ever be accused of spending too much. I

I don’t think I could ever be accused of “spending too much” on anything. I give home-made, hand-made, time, energy and love. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

And I’m a socialist, so it’s not the glorification of capitalist excesses that I crave from Christmas. The opposite in fact; I don’t think I could ever be accused of “spending too much” on anything. I give home-made, hand-made; time, energy and love.

My problem with Christmas…

… is that you can’t do it alone, and the people around me are just “not that into it.”

This goes all the way back to childhood. My parents (also Scottish Presbyterians) never really embraced Christmas. I suspect this is partly because – until recently –  Christmas wasn’t that big a deal in Scotland (compared to Hogmanay a week later) so their own Christmas memories were of not much at all; partly because there was never much money for “extravagance”, and partly because we emigrated across the world when I was five and for most of my childhood Christmas was just an acute reminder of how lonely it can be when your entire family consists of five people.

As an adult I’ve tried all sorts of approaches to Christmas, from spending it with boyfriends’ families, to hosting fellow expat “waifs and strays”, to staying in bed with a good book and left-over pizza. Sometimes it’s worked; other times, not so much.

But since the boy-child was born, I’ve tried – really, really tried – to create the kind of Christmases he might remember fondly, instead of the kind I had which are funny in retrospect only because I’ve chosen to laugh about them rather than cry.

In this, I have to say the Big T isn’t much help. Kind and generous to a fault, he has over the years participated in all of the manic Christmas-like activities I’ve tried, but really, his heart’s not in it. While I want to grab every excuse for celebration by the throat, wrestle them to the ground and wring every ounce of potential enjoyment out of them, he’d rather not.

But really, even if the Big T embraced Christmas with the slightly fanatical zeal I manifest, it wouldn’t make that much difference. Without an extended family to participate in festivities with, it is (see above) an acute reminder of how lonely the holiday season can be when your entire family consists of three people.

Since we moved back to New Zealand (so the boy-child could have a Kiwi upbringing) we have tried to “do” a family Christmas with the Big T’s folks. Sometimes it’s been ok. One year we managed to get all the siblings and their kids to my parents-in-law’s house and that was fun, if fraught by the break-up of a marriage and both partners trying really hard to be civil to each other. Last year’s Christmas co-incided with my father in law’s 80th birthday and that was nice. But in general, my in-laws aren’t a particularly close or cohesive family, so trying to get together for Christmas is really not a priority.

And that’s ok. I don’t want to force people to do stuff they’re unwilling to or uncomfortable with. I just feel kind of sad.

The boy-child's advent caledar; made by a cousin and given to him when he was four. Still in use 12 years later!

The boy-child’s advent calendar; made by a cousin and given to him when he was four. Still in use 12 years later!

In the meantime, the boy-child is growing up. This year the “what shall we do for Christmas” talk centred around the bits of our home-grown tradition we’d keep and what we’d abandon.

 Still in:

  • The boy-child’s Advent Calendar. Who wouldn’t want chocolates, cash and gifts every day until Xmas?
  • The cornucopia filled with Cadbury’s Favourites. I don’t remember how this started, but it’s fun
  • Christmas lights (though not outside)
  • Our “posh” Christmas Eve dinner (if I can find a good restaurant still open on Christmas Eve)
  • Making a batch of Scottish tablet (not yet made)
  • Making a donation to the City Mission
  • “Santa” gifts (the little tokens we buy each other to prove we haven’t completely lost interest)
  • Midnight carol service (for me). The devil may have the best tunes, but the Church lets everybody sing theirs

Out:

  • Our traditional pine Christmas tree. We’re all allergic to it (especially the Big-T whose job it’s been to go buy it) and I hate vacuuming up pine needles every day. It’s been replaced with a very cool, post-modern “light-tree”
  • Baking Christmas cakes
  • Christmas whanau brunch (but only because our brunch-mates have more pressing family commitments this year)
  • Mystery presents – we all have something expensive we really, really want so we’re using the bulk of the Christmas budget to subsidize these items
  • Christmas Day. Why try and create an event when really, there’s nothing to create it out of? And of course …
  • Christmas Dinner (no menu planning, last minute dash to supermarket, trying to be creative with left-overs). Budget for that added to Mission Donation.

The "light tree".

The “light tree”. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

So part of me is sad (the Spanish part that craves ritual and festivity), but in truth I’m a bit relieved that the pressure of trying to make something out of nothing has disappeared. I won’t be creating warm wonderful Christmas memories for the boy-child to cherish, but on the other hand without expectation there’s no disappointment.

Aand this way we might just get through the day without any of the huge fights that have accompanied my attempts at seasonal cheer in the past. So perhaps no good memories, but no horrible ones either.

And on balance I think I’m ok with that.

For this year at least.