Thursday, 21 February 2008

Old Town tales

There's been a surge of interest in Edinburgh's Old Town and a high rate of hits on this site, around the Caltongate articles which I've put up in the past couple of days.

For the benefit of my American buddies, and anyone else who's passing, I've pasted in a couple of articles from a few years ago which describe other aspects of Edinburgh's Royal Mile, which you may find more interesting.

Furthest down the page is an interview with Benedetta Tagliabue, the architect and widow of Enric Miralles, who designed the Scottish Parliament which now stands at the foot of the Royal Mile. Six years ago, the then Scottish Executive had put a wall around Benedetta, and journalists were not meant to interview her in Scotland. Brilliant tacticians that these government goons are, they overlooked the cheap flights available from Edinburgh airport to her home in Barcelona, so cheap that even the Scotsman was prepared to foot the bill when Benedetta agreed to meet me.

Immediately below is a piece I wrote with the help of Richard Demarco and Charles McKean, who accompanied me on a walk along the Royal Mile, discussing both its history and architecture and its increasing state of delapidation.

Ricky is a force of nature, who has Edinburgh running through his veins. About five hours into our walk, he told the story of the 12th century King David and the Holy Rood ("rood" means "cross"), as we wandered down past the gaggles of tourists on the Canongate.

Lingering over every detail, as if he'd been a witness to the events, Ricky described King David taking his horse, and against the advice of his courtiers, riding out alone to hunt. The fears of his subjects appeared justified when in the dark of the forest, David was startled by a stag and thrown from his horse. Lying prone on the floor it seemed certain that the beast would gore him, but as David reached up to protect himself from its antlers, miraculously a holy cross appeared between them. The king was truly blessed.

All this Ricky revealed to rapt attention as we ambled along. And then, with exquisite timing, he swept up his arm to the sight above our heads and pronouced with a voice from deep within: "Behold. The Holy Rood of God." And there were the cross and antlers which sit on top of the Canongate kirk.

That's the only time I've heard "Behold" used in anger before or since. But it's a word worth bearing in mind if you want to make an impact in public speaking. Buses screeched to a halt; dogs stopped barking; tourists, bagpipers, buskers and drunks all looked up; people rushed out of shops to see what was going on. And there was Ricky - then in his late 60s - who'd jumped up on to the wall, posing for a photographer in the shadow of the Kirk.

That was just about my favourite day in journalism. Apart from the time Natasha Kinski entertained me in a caravan in Ayrshire. But that's another story.

Pictures, from the top: The Holy Rood, on the Canongate Kirk; Ricky Demarco; Natasha Kinski. The serpent is saying: "Shouldn't you be trying to find an e-mail address for that strangely attractive chunky guy you met near Culzean?"

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