We invest so much into beginnings. We wish for better. Or for different. Or for change. And New Year is the classic time when we decide this is the moment that it’s all going to happen. It’s a time to breathe in new possibilities and exhale what’s past. Despite all the partaaays!, and Auld Lang Synes, and live-like-every-day’s-your-lasts, an indefinable profundity drapes itself around the start of a year. And what better place to be at such a time than the home of Hogmanay: Edinburgh.
Even before we’d arrived at the top of the Waverley Steps by the station, there was an expectant thrum about the place. It was New Year’s Eve or, in northern parlance, Old Year’s Night. Roads were being cordoned and stages erected amongst the shoppers and sightseers of Princes Street. Unlike London at times of mass gatherings, Edinburgh did not appear to groan under the weight but rather to expand happily to receive the flood of anticipation, awe and anxiety that comes with one year’s end and the next’s beginning. I deposited my daughter at the hip eatery Indigo Yard on Charlotte Lane with an agreement to meet in a couple of hours’ time.
Free! I tripped along Queensferry Street, past Randolph Crescent (which always makes me think of its namesake in London’s Maida Vale where I used to live), towards the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Suddenly I was in Alexander McCall Smith’s book A Work of Beauty ‘under the towering Dean Bridge’ and in the cobbled streets of Dean Village. I’ve been there before, but in that moment it felt fresh and new.
To arrive moments later at Nathan Coley’s illuminated installation There will be no miracles here, is surreal in the very finest way. What more thought-provoking piece of art could you wish for when mangers and shepherds have still to be mothballed. I am perhaps particularly sensitive to the concept of the miraculous: this time last year I had just come through a major operation and, in truth, was not sure whether I would still be around a year later. But here I was. Here I am. A miracle of sorts.
The Joan Eardley A Sense of Place exhibition at Gallery Two (until 21st May 2017) is a profound experience in its own right. Eardley tenaciously sketched and painted the tenements and people of Glasgow’s Townhead and the brutal and evocative landscape around Catterline just south of Aberdeen during the 50s. The exhibition is a tour de force that encapsulates the human and, specifically, one individual’s relationship with time and place. For Eardley this began with buildings in Glasgow and then extended to people – particularly children – who she portrayed with a curious and memorable blend of gritty macabre and Pierrot sentimentality. In Catterline, her initial focus was on the ramshackle fishermen’s cottages, rather than the stunning coastal views below the village. As you progress through this well-curated exhibition you are drawn into Joan’s world of urgent painting. From fishing creels to graffitied shopfronts, her’s is an emotive and at times jarring vision. You feel that she wanted to capture this moment, this place, to stop them being lost.
As I walked back to the meeting place I’d set with my daughter, I enjoyed the failing light and the drizzle. There was something about the water-smeared festive lights that brought a fitting wistfulness to the glitzy shop windows, fairylight-draped hotels, and spinning fairground rides. The fireworks later would be fabulous, but we were not staying to see them this time. Our moment here was done. As we sat on the train back south to Berwick-upon-Tweed, I felt strongly the creative miracle of time and place. And I thought how I would love to live 2017 not as if each day were my last but as if it were my first. Now that would be a miracle.
What can I say? I laugh in the face of resolutions. If I do make them, I keep them a secret. The sort of things I’d like to be – more organised, less tense and stressy, more focused – are simply not possible to achieve through resolutions. Overall, I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to do something the only way to do it is to get on with it. Waiting for the beginning of a New Year to commit to something is simply a form of procrastination – a way to let yourself off the hook. So, having already written my own get-out-of-resolutions-for-free card, here goes.
– Get up earlier on at least three days a week (aim = 6am)
If I’m going to fit all that exercise in (see below) and maintain normal life, this is a must. I’d also like to reinstigate something that has slipped of late: a time of peaceful personal and spiritual reflection.
– Eat no meat or fish on two days a week
If I had the time (and the ingredients) to create Yotam Ottolenghi recipes every day, this would be easy. Realistically, we may be facing a bowl of warmed up lentils twice a week. However, I have expressed my reservations about how our society grows, feeds and produces meat (and fish) on a number of occasions and am determined to edge towards putting my eating where my principles are. I’m hoping I’ll discover some new and exciting ways with veg and dairy.
– Exercise on at least five days a week – even if it’s just a turn round the historic walls of Berwick
The Husband & I are aiming to do a 26.2 mile coastal walk with Shepherds Walks in May – so this is an absolute must.
– Drink no alcohol on at least two days a week
This could be the hardest to achieve. I am not a one-glass-of-wine kind of girl. I also find it increasingly difficult not to have a drink every evening. It’s the 8pm crumble that gets me every time. The ‘oh, why not? I won’t have one tomorrow.’ Fact is, I enjoy a drink with friends and I don’t want to drink myself into a situation where the only thing left is to give the wine up altogether.
I shall keep you posted on how it all goes. Meanwhile I’m popping downstairs to let the Husband and 13-year-old know. I wonder how they’ll take it?