To me, the words of The Proclaimers in their song ‘Streets of Edinburgh’ hold a special, personal meaning in each verse.
Growing up on the English/Scottish border, I have a strong attachment to both England and Scotland. But one city in Scotland is among the few that have a distinct, homely feeling to me and, thanks to the Proclaimers, it’s one that can be described in song. However, even song can’t cover everything.
That city is Edinburgh.
A little background: The Proclaimers from Edinburgh
Formed in 1983, The Proclaimers are a Scottish rock duo consisting of brothers Craig and Charlie Reid from Leith in Edinburgh. They were responsible for popular hits such as ‘I’m Gonna Be’, ‘Sunshine on Leith’ and ‘I’m on My Way’.
‘Streets of Edinburgh’ is track number three on their album Angry Cyclist which was released on 10 August 2018. This song helps to put into words Edinburgh’s meaning to me.
As for my own personal background, the Scottish capital is not far from me and throughout my life it has played a role. I’ve been to Edinburgh for multiple school trips, work experience placements and have shared many precious moments there with those close to me.
What the lyrics evoke
“Along these broken pavements, I let my mind run free”.
In those first lyrics, the words are sending my mind to Edinburgh, to the streets. I close my eyes and imagine my feet on a pavement. I’m walking along, passing crowds of people each going their separate ways. I reach a crossing and there are roads, some leading down old-fashioned looking streets, others towards bustling parts of the city.
I reach the cinema and already I’m steeped in personal history, of times gone by with my partner, having a great time watching films. Then I walk a few feet further and I’m at the Edinburgh Playhouse. I’m then transported back to being in primary school, seeing ‘Aladdin’ for the umpteenth time. It never gets old though. Then down and across the road and I’m having dinner with my partner, the first time we went out to eat together in Edinburgh, not long after we’d first met.
“Down greasy pot-holed roadways, I watch the traffic crawl. But for the cars and buses, I give no thought at all”.
These words take my mind to the people in Edinburgh, those living there and those just passing through. However, I also give much thought to the cars and buses. I think about the people inside, I think about where they might be going and what is waiting for them at their destination. Do they have far to travel? Are they going home, out to have fun or just working?
“Depending on your viewpoint, this place is blessed or cursed”.
These lyrics here pack a punch because they are true of today’s society. When dealing with incidents of someone shoving past me in the street accompanied with a ‘so what?’ attitude, I can feel the city is ‘cursed’. But when adding up all the positives that come from Edinburgh together with the fact that people can be like that anywhere, I dismiss that silly notion and stand by my opinion that the city is ‘blessed’.
It is after all, a city of good times, good places and good memories. It’s the city in which I’ve seen Scotland’s democracy in action, escaped everyday life, spent days making memories with my partner, my family and close friends. It is also the city where I took a bus to the Co-op on Dalry Road and met Scottish comedy legends Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphill, who play the lead characters Jack Jarvis and Victor McDade in the Scottish comedy programme Still Game.
The mysterious intrigue beyond the song
The Proclaimers can evoke positive feelings about Edinburgh but I am also drawn in by the mystery and intrigue that lie behind the lyrics.
There are few cities in Britain where I can feel at home, that I want to keep going back to again and again, but Edinburgh is different and unique.
Whenever I’m in the city, I’m not just faced with immeasurable beauty but also intense mystery. It simply isn’t enough to just walk the streets of Edinburgh, I must also explore. Around every corner is the answer to a burning question: what’s there? But as soon as I find the answer, ahead is the next corner or hill that reignites that burning question. It doesn’t matter how many streets I walk down, how many new places in the Scottish capital I see, my curiosity is never satisfied. I walk down the roads and alleys I have been itching to investigate for ages, only to be left wanting more. Even standing atop Arthur’s Seat, looking down on the great city below, I haven’t seen enough, I’ve barely scratched the surface.
The city of nostalgia and wonder
Edinburgh: the capital city that is unapologetically Scottish, and quite rightly so. The city that elicits profound nostalgic feelings and happy memories of times both recent and long ago. The city of hustle and bustle, of opportunity, where my mind can run free. A truly ‘blessed’ city in the words of those famous Reid brothers.
But what is it about Edinburgh that triggers such intense wonder and curiosity? I have no idea. It’s been like that my whole life. And until I have turned over every stone in the city, I guess I’ll never truly have the answers I seek.