The State of Loud – finding quiet in a chaotic world

I suffer from sensory overload, which means that the over-stimulation of the modern world causes me physical pain and anxiety.

I have a strategy for when this over-stimulation happens (regularly) and a map in my mind of places I can go – for free – where I can take a few moments to get myself back in control when the state of loud becomes too much.

I hope my tips help you. All these places are free and you should not ever encounter any objection to being there, so go for it, if you find life in the state of loud too much.

These are my favourite calm places in Edinburgh, there a many, many more in this beautiful city, but the list is just for starters.

1. Public gardens
The National Health Service (NHS) Astley Ainslie Hospital and Royal Edinburgh Hospital grounds on the South Side of the city, are stunningly beautiful and free to walk through and enjoy.

There are many, many places within these two hospital sites that have special spots to sit still and enjoy nature, with no one rushing you or telling you to move on. If you’re in Edinburgh city centre, and can’t get to the South Side of town, try going to the idyllic Water of Leith where you can meander for miles in peace and quiet along the famous Water of Leith river-way and listen to the tinkle of water as you walk by.

water of leith

2. Prayer rooms at airports – airports are hell for introverts but if you’re sick and tired of the neon lights, piped musak and glittering shops begging you to buy endless quantities of stuff, then head to airport’s prayer room. Every airport has a prayer room and it’s usually empty. Sit there and gather your thoughts for a few minutes, enjoy the peace and quiet and get your energy back to face the world. Prayer rooms are free spaces to use and you don’t have to be religious to use them.

3. Libraries  – it’s goes without saying that libraries are safe and quiet spaces with which to engage with your mind, without the rabble of car traffic and endless people. You don’t need a library card, just go find your seat and listen to your own heart beating while you scan the glorious bookshelves. There are always toilets too.

4. Galleries – exhibition spaces – my favourite quiet gallery space in Edinburgh is the National Portrait Gallery on Queen Street. It has a sublime central foyer area that has benches around it (you’ll always get a spot). Its stunningly beautiful, stained glass windows dapple the light. Portraits of famous Scots will stare down at you as you sit in the peace and quiet, and contemplate your own inner world. It’s also next to the loos too and that’s handy. It’s free, central, gorgeous and my top place for a bit of inner city soul reflection.

5. Churches – mosques – I am not religious but I really value the inner world of silence that is always prominent in religious buildings, so find a church or a mosque (although I don’t know the policy on just walking into a mosque) and go sit, think, and regain your energy before you head back out into this chaotic world. They are free to use and you don’t have to be religious to use them. No one will bother you, ever, so take the time to use them. That’s what they are there for, even if you don’t believe in god, chances are you are spiritual in some respects, or if not, maybe by using these places you will become spiritual.

6. Theatre foyers – another Edinburgh quiet space favourite are theatre foyers. You can go sit a theatre foyer and no one will ask you what you are doing there. You can gather your thoughts and take a big slice of peace and quiet, all for free. Take time to admire the theatre posters from yesteryear that will almost always be gracing the walls of any theatre foyer.

Edinburgh is my city and I adore it. It’s a city full of special places and with nature and quiet spaces weaving through it. You will know the quiet spaces in your own town/city. Use them regularly and get your mojo back every single day. You’ll feel better for it.



Turrets and inner-city apartment living

I’ve got a serious addiction and it’s not cheap to service. I’m not addicted to shoes, handbags, or expensive make-up (well not much), botox or surgery (don’t believe in that stuff), designer clothes or holidays (not really). I’m addicted to houses.

I’m not some slum landlord, or mega-rich property mogul, nor do I own any of these objects of my desire. My love affair with grand houses – always way, way, way out of my price-range, started very young, and now – in my early 50s – it’s as insane-inducing as ever.

I blame Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and Thornfield Hall, a main ‘house’ character in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and Manderley, the house so prominent in Daphne du Maurier’s gothic thriller, Rebecca.

How painful it is to have to accept – like some lovelorn groupie – that I’ll never own a Manderley or a Wuthering Heights or a Villa San Antonio on the Italian Lakes or a mansion a la My House in Umbria or a Portofino castle a la Enchanted April or a mini-Downton Abbey or a Bamburgh and Alnwick Castle. I will never be able to swoon around a Scottish turreted estate a la Monarch of the Glen, and run my hands over the thousand-year-old thick brick walls and breathe in the scent of yesterday and know that I possess all that, that it is all mine.

I just love the romantic notion of grand houses, their structural cheekbones, their scent, the silken curtains moving in the breeze against beautiful bay windows open to stormy skies, the heavy wood furniture that speaks of solidity, security and self.

I’m nuts for online house perving. I stand outside estate agents windows in my city and stare at those photos – you know the ones – where the sky is always azure-blue, and the sea never far away.

I am one of those weirdos who loiters on pavements beaming with pleasure, saying over and over – god, that’s beautiful, look at that, that’s just stunning, look at that turret, that tower, those windows, I wonder who owns that, it’s huge, god I love it.

Edinburgh, my city, is the perfect place for house-lust, for perving at physical brick-flesh. In my neighbourhood the streets are lined with these thick brick historic structures, and so the high – my addiction high – occurs daily.

Ironically though, I know I could never do the country thing. The country and I do not get on, never have and probably never will. I tried it once and it didn’t pan out well.

I couldn’t deal with the panic I felt at the distance between myself and the nearest Italian cafe and a strong cappuccino, the anxiety at the void of fashionable people, men in stylish suits, with designer beards, women with leather laptop bags and bright red lipstick, the emptiness of a country town’s high street after dark, the fact that there were no hidden restaurants down secret alleyways, where dangerous liaisons could potentially start and end. There was also the scramble to get a decent phone signal and the long, long drive to the train station.

So I returned to the inner city and small flats in search of good Italian coffee and a strong phone signal, forever secretly addicted to bricks and mortar, echoing corridors and big skies with indigo horizons above chimney pots.

And as I grow older I have to face facts square on, that my addiction is ridiculous, because I have to view it as that, a nonsensical flirtation with a past fantasy that in practical terms would be downright dangerous to the health of one’s mind and bank account if it were ever to come true.

Back in the real world I’m a dab hand at dealing with tiny spaces, mini bathrooms and kitchens in cupboards. This state of smallness or drabness comes to me as a challenge, to be reinvented with richly-coloured velvet throws and dashes of Indian exoticism, and gleaming neon white walls that magnifies space, decorated with my favourite artwork.

Think positive, I tell myself everyday. Flat life is not all bad. It provides endless comic material for my writing.

There’s Godzilla, the stomper who lives in the flat above me, Mr Peabody, the mathematician at the university, who lives opposite, who slams his front door – never closes it gently; there’s Miss Thames Estuary, the woman on the ground floor, so named, because she never smiles – not ever and has features the colour of damp mud, so grey and unfriendly that this was the only thing to call her.

Here comes the world’s most boring man, I say to myself when I leave my building, seeing the stooping greying creature I’ve nicknamed W.M.B.M. Those letters slip off the tongue and whenever I see him I groan inwardly and invent some meeting I have to attend.

W.M.B.M loves to tell me about his collection of train timetable almanacs, his wife’s shingles and the newsletter he’s writing for his club – Train Timetable Almanac’s Weekly (I made that up, not sure if one exists).

Maybe W.M.B.M was once an interesting handsome young man, but he left that persona in the waiting room at Carlisle Station.

Would I ever have met any of these characters if I had been separated from life by acres and acres of grounds, and high walls and fields and countryside. No.

There’s also a sense of security in an inner-city block of flats, that no real harm will eventuate, that high off the ground you’re away from possible burglars or criminals, and that in a city you’re never far from possible burglars or criminals, and that in a city you’re never far from someone to talk to, a hospital if you need one, a late night cafe or bar or a helping hand.

But I’ve had to teach myself to love flat-life, and generally I’m a terrible student. There are big sacrifices you have to swallow on a daily basis. Forget a garden – I have weaned myself off ever being a gardener; forget spacious rooms and multiple bedrooms and outhouses and porches. I try (unsuccessfully) to meditate myself out of wanting any of those on an almost daily basis.

My sweet little flat with its tiny bathroom, mini cupboard kitchen and strange neighbours, how I love you, I try to tell myself. You protect me, but who am I kidding, you’ll never be enough.

Oh Scotland, Jamaica!

I’m digging deep this week, going back two-to-three hundred years to take a look at Scotland and Edinburgh’s proud (and not so proud) history, and the stories that are emerging are proof of the steely determination of Scotland’s ancestors in fighting for a better way.

Given that I’m an immigrant into this lovely land, and that I’m a fairly well-travelled individual who love finding links between nations, my focus for this story is the slave trade and Scotland’s part in it.

I want to celebrate the women who paved the way for change, and who continue to demand recognition for their Scottish ancestors who fought to end slavery.

There’s plenty of information out there on Scotland’s slave-owning history and the wealth that was acquired on the back of Scotland’s presence in the Caribbean in the 18th century; the sugar and tobacco trade that was made possible because of the Scottish exploitation of slaves but I want to focus on the women of Scotland in the early 19th century and what they did to end the slave trading ways of Scotland. 

Elizabeth Pease Nichol, Priscilla Bright McLaren, Jane Smeal and Eliza Wigham are not names that many people recognise, but these four powerful Scottish women set about ending Scotland’s slave days and bringing freedom to the men, women and children in the Caribbean who had for so long been the ‘property’ of their Scottish masters.

These four amazing Scottish women were the first suffragettes, because they were actively seeking emancipation for slaves and by association, women. In an era where women had almost no rights, and were the ‘property’ of their husbands, these women broke plenty of rules to get noticed. The Edinburgh Damned Rebel Bitches history group takes its name from Duke of Cumberland’s 18th century description of female Jacobites. The DRB group wants Edinburgh to recognise the strategic efforts of these amazing women by honouring their memory in the 21st century. Edinburgh is a beautiful city filled with momuments to famous men from history, but where are the statues of Edinburgh’s important women from history?

The happy ending to the slavery story – if it’s possible for there to be a happy ending – is that Elizabeth Pease Nichol, Priscilla Bright McLaren, Jane Smeal and Eliza Wigham got the law changed and in 1807, slavery was abolished in Britain, meaning that no Scottish, English or Welsh ship could carry slaves to any parts of the British empire. Slaves weren’t fully freed until the 1830s though.

Whenever I take a walk around Edinburgh’s New Town and walk down Dundas Street, I  spare a bitter thought for Scottish lawyer and London Parliamentarian Henry Dundas and the countless others who profited from the skills and despair of Caribbean slaves. Dundas’s statue rises up above St. Andrew’s Square at the East End of George Street. It’s hard to see his face, he’s too high up; maybe that’s a good thing.  



Source: Damned Rebel Bitches group –