A belated happy new year. We have not really been able to bring you up to date since our arrival back in Scotland. Our plans for our deputation work in January, like those of the Burns’ mice and men quote went agley early in the month by Ida’s appendectomy. She is now recovering well and getting stronger. We thank everyone who has been in touch with their good wishes. We had a good time with the family over the holiday period. We have been fortunate to be allocated a spacious Victorian tenement flat on the edge of the new town. It is a typical 19th Century apartment with bay-window, sandstone facade and half-wally-close and a pulley in the kitchen, looking out on a now rare cobbled street. It is close to Mubita’s school and was less than a mile from the Western General Hospital where Ida was admitted. It is near to Stockbridge as well with its quality butcher, fishmonger, cheese-shop and artisan bakers offering a contrast to the three chain superstores in the vicinity. The Doctors and Dentists too are all within walking distance.
There have not been too many blustery winter storms and we have enjoyed the many bright crisp frosty azure-skied mornings. The Pentlands, Lomonds and Ochils have been attractively dusted with snow for most of the time but the snell East wind and the long dark and short light still hold little allure for those more acclimatised to the tropics. We have had our medical check ups – a few boosters needed and have been to the Dentists – scale and polish remaining - just the opticians left.
At the end of January, Keith and Mubita flew south to pay a visit to Methodist House and had good meetings and conversations with Rosie, David, George and Bunmi. They were able to spend some time with Catriona who is now in her final year and should graduate in July. Gregor came up to be with Ida in our absence. The visit to London was interesting, one aspect was just looking at the modern way of housing of people. We have read since our return of the increase in homelessness, the people, as one Cabinet Minister memorably put it, you walk over going into the opera! Catriona is in a one bed-roomed flat with shared facilities in the Shepherd’s Bush-Kensington area where you have a huge spectrum of different types of properties. She has cramped one-room accommodation and living in London costs us a month’s salary, for the same money a decent flat and life in Edinburgh can be enjoyed. The area embraces decaying social or council housing, yuppy-gentrification of Victorian artisan properties, substantial Georgian terraced houses converted to hotels, hostels or studio flats for rent, detached pre-Raphaelite villas and Edwardian blocks of flats. Who owns and who lives in these properties is interesting to see. The property market is now regulated by the market for the benefit of whom? It seems many non-resident or non-citizen autocrats, oligarchs, business moguls and magnates are now substantial London property owners. As we look at Fair-Trade and ethical investments for our money and savings, should not a similar regard be given to the source of money being invested in the UK economy and property market. A related story that broke while we were there was that a Middle East potentate already the owner of a City Sky-scraper, a renowned Department Store, and the Olympic Village had purchased for £200m a row of three Regent’s Park mansions to convert to an urban palace. Ironically it had apparently been a hippy squat in 1970s!
Other changes we have noticed Freeview Television with its 60-odd channels and still often very little worth watching. The increase in purchasing over the internet especially books, DVDs clothes and groceries. It is possible to be ever more reclusive as the need for communal activities dwindles and individualisation intensifies. In a similar vein the commercialisation and privatisation of Hogmanay and Burns’ Night is also something that struck us. We went up to Princes Street to bring in the New Year and to our surprise found all the main public thoroughfares boarded off and access denied to ordinary members of the public. The barriers formed another artificial temporary gated-community for those who could afford or wanted to celebrate well away from the great unwashed. We joined a good-natured group of other plebs outside the gates opposite St John’s Episcopal Church to watch the fireworks.