[Another entry from our friends at the Spayne and Spigwell Advertiser, whose reporter, Gladys Weems, is still posting occasional notes from her visit to the Edinburgh Festivals in August…]
We Walk in the City
As a fan of the theatre, but unfamiliar with the author in question, I was fascinated to see a daytime event billed as They Walk in the City: A J B Priestley Walking Tour of Edinburgh. I had no idea there was any connection between Priestley and the city of Edinburgh, though I’ve no doubt he went there at some point in his life. That we started on Picardy Place, by a statue of Sherlock Holmes and the birthplace of his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, only added to the intrigue. I knew the two men’s lives overlapped by some three decades, but was there some specific connection?
Well, if there was we weren’t told about it, as our guide, a charming Yorkshire lass who introduced herself as Jenny Villiers, didn’t let us linger long enough to ask. She led us straight to the crossing opposite the tram terminus. Warning us to take care as this was a dangerous corner, she led us across and onto Queen Street.
“Although we’re in Edinburgh, Scotland”, she said, “I want to take you on a very English journey, and I hope by the end, we’ll all be good companions. If you follow me to the right and down the hill, we’ll come to the Linden Tree pub at the end of Eden Lane.”
And so it began. After this cheery start, she seemed more keen to lead us on and encourage us to talk amongst ourselves, than explain anything. Any attempt to ask about what Priestley had to do with the streets, views and locations visited or passed was met with some waffle, seemingly unconnected, or a question to another member of the party. As well as that, she kept getting calls on her mobile phone, apparently from her boyfriend, who, she said, was a bit miffed that she was leading a walk on his birthday. She kept telling him that she’d make it up to him, “when we are married,” which was supposed to be happening very soon. A few of us speculated that it would be a surprise if it happened at all.
We turned back towards town up Dublin Street, and one or two of our number were beginning to get a bit fractious, demanding to be told exactly what any of these locations had to do with the Yorkshire playwright. But Ms Villiers merely asked, with some agitation, what the time was. This amused some of us, since we were actually standing outside Conway’s Timepiece Emporium, which had a number of clocks in the window, all agreeing that it was three thirty in the afternoon. When this was pointed out, Jenny insisted we had to get a move on, or else we wouldn’t be finished before the thirty first of June, which seemed an amusingly random exaggeration.
By now the party was giving up trying to understand what was going on and talking increasingly among themselves, which became more interesting than anything Ms Villiers was describing, even the oldest buildings in the New Town — the second time we passed them. When one of the party pointed this out, Jenny merely laughed and said, “Oh yes. I have been here before, haven’t I?”
At that moment a uniformed figure called out, “Are you lost, miss?” from over the road.
“No, no, inspector,” our guide answered, “just taking these good people on a tour; it’s a Fringe event.”
Well, things became no clearer as we went via St Andrew’s Square and along Rose Street. She pointed out strange but irrelevant things, like our reflections in the long mirror in Jenners’ window and three men in new suits who passed us as we crossed Hanover Street. In response to persistent questions about Priestley’s connections, if any, with Scotland, she merely said, “It’s an old country.”
I think we were all relieved when the thing finally came to an end at the Rose and Crown pub, where she said we should all go in and have a drink or six. As we got to the bar, there was a discussion as to whether we should buy her a drink — or even ask for our money back.
Then a lady from Farbridge (wherever that is) pointed out that we hadn’t actually paid yet, and, being British, we all felt guilty and turned to our guide to see when she was going to take our cash. But there was nothing to be seen of her.
So your correspondent can’t say the experience was a total waste of money, but nor can she work out what on earth any of it had to do with John Boynton Priestley. Life, eh?