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:

http://nwframeofmind.com/2013/12/30/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/

http://irenewaters19.com/2013/12/27/a-word-a-week-photograph-challenge-reflect/

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

http://travelwithintent.com/2013/12/26/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/

The joy of simply being

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The boy-child and Wham in simpler times. On Ivinghoe Beacon, Bucks. England. Photo: Su Leslie 2006

The boy-child with Wham in simpler times. On Ivinghoe Beacon, Bucks. England. Photo: Su Leslie 2006

At the boy-child navigates his teens, we see less and less of the spontaneous joy that characterised his childhood.

Actually, we see less and less of him.

So it’s nice to look back and remember a time when days were full of simple pleasures that brought an expression of sheer joy to his face. It didn’t take much – a trip to the beach, an ice-cream, hanging out with a friend, a chance to play on a windy hill-top.

It’s tough growing up, but I hope that as he creates his adult persona, the boy-child doesn’t lose the capacity for joy.

This post was written in response to the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge. Here are some other responses that I’ve enjoyed:

http://lenzexperiments.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/weekly-photo-challenge-joy/

http://blessinganimalcompanions.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/weekly-photo-challenge-joy-annies-freedom/

http://laraelkhoury.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/weekly-photo-challenge-joy/

http://thinkingthroughmylens.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/the-joy-of-the-unexpected/

http://ohtheplaceswesee.com/2013/12/28/weekly-photo-challenge-joy/

http://travelgardeneat.com/2013/12/28/weekly-photo-challenge-joy/

http://mygulitypleasures.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/weekly-photochallenge-joy/

http://longwalksanddarkchocolate.com/2013/12/28/weekly-photo-challenge-joy/

http://theonlyd800inthehameau.com/2013/12/28/weekly-photo-challenge-joy/

http://chelsealeighandherphotography.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/weekly-photo-challenge-joy-of-christmas-morning/

http://angelinem.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/a-little-saturday-joy/

http://marantophotography.wordpress.com/2013/12/28/weekly-photo-challenge-joy/

Six word Saturday: moving on?

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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:

http://catseatdogs.com/2013/12/21/six-word-saturday-17/

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.