Those that know me know of my obsession for all things 'Sandy'. Alexander McCall Smith that is (though my Mum telling him I was a stalker was out of order). And my favourite series that he has written is of course 44 Scotland Street; so you can imagine how chuffed I am to be in Edinburgh. I even reread the first book in the series as a kind of refresher.
For those not familiar with this series I will explain. When Sandy was in America he was invited to a dinner with Amy Tan (as you do). At this dinner was Armistead Maupin, who wrote the wonderful Tales of the City series of books as a newspaper serial set in San Francisco. On his return Sandy lamented that no such series existed in a British paper and the Scotsman challenged him to do it. As it was published daily the chapters are short and something always happens. It's based around a building in Edinburgh (the 44 Scotland Street of the title) and its tenants and their friends and acquaintances. It's funny and charming. There are a host of great characters but undoubtedly my favourite is Bertie, long suffering gifted child, speaker of Italian, player of the saxophone, lamenter that he has to wear pink dungarees and sleep in a pink bedroom (to challenge gender stereotypes) when all he wants to do is wear jeans and play rugby. And he quite likes trains. Poor Bertie. Unfortunately for him his mother has him on the fast track to a brilliant but miserable future, Unbearable woman!
So of course as we drove to our apartment on our very first day I had my eyes peeled for all things related to the book. I was excited to be driving down Dundas Street and saw Cumberland Street (but not the Cumberland bar where Angus Lordie, artist and poet, takes his dog Cyril for a pint). I walked past it today.
The next day whenever S asked me what I'd like to do I said go to Scotland Street but he refused. My mother suggested that such obstreperousness stems from jealousy and who can blame him, after all I did invite Sandy to stay with us at Old Junee when I met him. Really I don't know what happens when I meet favourite authors, my brain turns to mush and I say the most embarrassing things or nothing at all. There was nothing untoward in the invitation. Sandy had mentioned wanting a place to write in Australia for awhile, though I think he was thinking more of somewhere splendid by the water.
On Sunday as we walked and walked around Edinburgh I had a feeling that we were close to Scotland Street. Really close. The night before I'd worried that maybe the whole street was fictional, but after consulting a map managed to locate it. And I was right. We must have walked within a hundred metres of it so many times that day.
On Monday S went to work so I was determined to go there. I consulted a map and walked in the direction I thought it should be. I made a few turns and just when I had decided I was definitely in the wrong place. I looked up and there was the sign. Ah...success. And then I looked at the numbers...41...42...43. And that was it. No 44. Oh well. A bit like 221b Baker Street I guess.I still walked up Scotland Street, which is very nice, though it was rubbish day when I took the photos so that adds a bit gritty Ian Rankin like realism to the scene. I saw the street where Angus Lordie lives and I think I saw Cyril his dog, though I didn't get close enough to check for gold teeth. I used to worry about Angus being a starving artist but now I've seen his digs I'm sure he's doing fine.When I was reading the books I used to wonder about the description for Bruce's hair - 'en brosse'. But now that I'm here I keep seeing Bruce-like specimens whose hair could only be described in this way. And have I seen Bertie? Poor wee Bertie? No, but I'm pretty sure I saw his classmate Tofu today.
Tomorrow we're going to Valvona & Crolla for some pan forte (Bertie's favourite).