Edinburgh, My Home: Jonathan Mills

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  • 22 March 2010

This article is from 2010

Edinburgh, My Home: Jonathan Mills

I first came to Edinburgh when I was 10 or 11. The first thing I remember, after living in Australia, where it can get terribly hot, was that suddenly my skin and my whole being felt comfortable. And the people all looked like me. There was something atavistic about that experience. (My mother’s father was actually born in Partick, but what was a little Aussie boy to know about the politics of the east and the west coast?)

This rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow, it’s like Sydney and Melbourne, or Boston and New York or whatever. My message is, let’s just get over it! Between the two cities there’s an extraordinary range and vibrancy of culture. We’ve got to get together.

What do I want? I want trains running all night between Edinburgh and Glasgow. So during the festival and the Commonwealth Games the celebrations can reverberate through both cities. Clearly they’re quite different, but the more linkages and connections we can make, of a practical nature, without losing the distinct flavour of each city, are surely in Scotland’s best interests.

Edinburgh is a city of legacy – all sorts of extraordinary people in science, medicine, academia, technology etc have lived here and shaped it. Where else do you have a railway station named after a novel? Literature is very much part of the city’s fabric – look at Ian Rankin, JK Rowling, Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson … You can walk around the streets and feel like you’re in another time. That’s its charm. Walking over George IV Bridge and looking down into the Cowgate, you can imagine all the stories that took place there.

The architecture means that you’re walking on top and below each other all of the time, it’s a bit like an Escher drawing. Going down those narrow closes on the Royal Mile and coming out on the Mound, looking down onto the Forth and beyond, it’s fabulous. Or onto the craggy rocks of the Castle, or towards Calton Hill … the views are extraordinary. Arthur’s Seat has to be one of my favourite walks. You feel like you’re on a country estate – it’s amazing how nature is inserted into the urban plan of Edinburgh. Turn a corner and you’re in the middle of the countryside.

One of the city’s great strengths is its visual arts scene. Not just the National Galleries, which are truly fantastic, but also places like doggerfisher, the Fruitmarket, the Ingleby Gallery and the Dovecot Studios – a fantastic initiative, not just looking at classical paintings and baroque masterpieces, but really interesting craftsmen – making silverware or textiles that tell an entirely different story.

On a day off, I’ll go to the Farmer’s Market on Castle Terrace. I’ll pick up some food, or pop into my favourite fishmonger at the top of Broughton Street, buy a decent bottle of wine from Raeburn’s or Villeneuve, some cheese from Valvona and Crolla, then go home and make myself a little snack. Then I’ll go sit in the Regent Terrace gardens near where I live. For later on, I love the Turkish restaurant Nargile on Hanover Street; Phuket Pavilion opposite the Playhouse for Thai food; or walking along Thistle Street, and eating at Café St Honoré.
In the job I’m doing, if you accept all the stereotypes about Edinburgh being conformist and respectable and po-faced, it makes it a fantastic place to have a festival! You can only be serious for so long. At least once a year you need to blow up and have some mayhem. You need that pressure valve.

Last year I got people absolutely furious and outraged because I’d used an 18th century toile as my brochure cover [a Timorous Beastie design], which when you looked closely, had people peeing in the gutter, and doing all the things that people do during the Edinburgh Festival. Oh, get a life! To suggest these things don’t happen, I mean, have you looked recently at the number of students in the city? It’s a place where you can’t neatly define the culture. You send up the things that you love best, and you should be able to laugh at yourself.

The Edinburgh International Festival 2010 programme is available to view at www.eif.co.uk


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