Magazine article The Spectator

The Other Edinburgh

Magazine article The Spectator

The Other Edinburgh

Article excerpt

A YOUNG German student spent the early part of this month having his face rebuilt by surgeons at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. The 22-year-old, who was in Scotland's capital to study English at summer school, was making a call from a telephone booth late one evening when two punks opened the door, dragged him out, forced him to the ground and kicked him repeatedly in the face.

They stopped and ran off only when a passer-by shouted at them - but not before relieving the student of his wallet, leaving him with a face reduced to red pulp and amnesia brought on by the trauma of this completely unprovoked attack.

It took place during the week Edinburgh enjoyed the dubious distinction of being host to a punk festival, an annual event which attracts over 1,000 punks from all over Europe, so we cannot be sure that the thugs who set about our visiting German were local. But there was no official apology or any mark of contrition from the city fathers (or mothers - this is a PC city) within whose bailiwick the savage attack took place.

It was not, however, an isolated event: a few weeks before a Japanese student was beaten up wandering round Calton Hill, an historic site overlooking the city but also the notorious haunt of rent boys and gaybashers alike. Only this week, a man walking in the city centre, near the Royal Mile, accidentally brushed against a Mohicanhaired girl, apologised to her, but was badly beaten by the two punks with her.

Those of you who have not recently visited this glorious, genteel city will probably be surprised at the very notion of Edinburgh hosting a punk festival. But this is not the city it was.

For my part, I never thought I would come to associate Edinburgh with the stench of urine. I have wonderful memories of school trips to the city when Castle, Scott Monument, Princes Gardens and Zoo made it a magical place for any inquisitive child. As an adult who made infrequent trips on business I regarded Scotland's capital as civilised and refined, if a little snobby and sleepy. But, though I knew Edinburgh had its social problems and share of bad housing (like every other city), I never associated the city centre with urban squalor. I do now.

The smell of urine and sight of dog excrement is what sticks in my mind every time I make the short walk from the back door of the Scotsman down the steps to Market Street, across the railway station and up Waverley Steps - that and the beggars' gauntlet of scruffy, intimidating, usually intoxicated youths demanding cash. When I first saw Trainspotting, a depressing film about Edinburgh heroin addicts, I thought how untypical it was of Scotland's great capital (most English folk, even the editor of this esteemed publication, think it is set in Glasgow). Little did I realise that the Trainspotting culture had invaded the very heart of our capital.

Large chunks of the centre of Edinburgh - Scotland's premier showcase to the world - have been allowed to deteriorate into a filthy, shabby disgrace. The people of Scotland deserve better of their capital; the citizens of Edinburgh should demand better. But, so far, they have chosen to lumber themselves with a do-nothing city council with different spending priorities and a politically correct culture that inhibits them from taking the harsh measures needed to clean the place up.

There was a time when Princes Street was one of the urban glories of the world. Today it represents all that has gone wrong with the city. On a recent sunny evening I walked its length, from east to west. It is a sad, schizophrenic experience, even in good weather. On one side is a vista to make the heart soar, Castle, Mound and Gardens combining to provide one of the great urban landscapes of the world; on the other, a sight to make the heart sink.

The pavement was littered with rubbish. Pedestrians picked their way through the cans, paper and even bottles that were strewn everywhere, mostly dropped by careless folk but some falling from overflowing rubbish bins. …

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