How cosmopolitan is Leith?

Some of you who have been following my blog, will know that I am a Leither and that I LOVE Leith. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Emily Dodd,  the Reader in Residence at Leith Library,  asked me to pop by and share some  of my memories of growing up in Leith. Our chat was a bit of a preparation for an event Leith Library and Emily are hosting on the 1st of December as part of Book Week Scotland called Memories of Leith, which is taking place on the 1st December.

This is Emily above – she usually takes the photos but I’ve pinched this one from her blog so you can see who she is – I hope you don’t mind, Emily? ;o) There will be three of us writers sharing our very different memories. The two other writers are Marianne Paget – another Marianne from Leith who is also a writer, what are the odds? And Millie Gray, a lovely writer who is the expert of all experts about life in Leith and written many books about growing up here.

As a taster of the event to come, Emily recorded each of us talking about our memories.  You can hear what I had to say about growing up in Leith on the Leith Library blog. Do go check it out, Emily  did a great job of getting me to talk!  You can find links to the other writers talking about their memories too.

The thing is, ever since Emily got me talking about Leith when I was small, I’ve not stopped thinking about. One memory is of when my dad took me and two of my sisters, Lorna and Emily, who is not to be confused with  Leith Library Reader in Residence Emily, down to Constitution Street to buy a Christmas tree – bought directly from the warehouse and straight off a boat from Norway (so Dad said).

Dad also bought a box of mandarins from the same warehouse.  It’s the first time I can remember seeing a Christmas tree and a mandarin. We three girls had to carry the tree home. Given it was about six feet long, and we were only 7, 9 and 11 years old respectively, it was a bit of a challenge, but we did it.

I was at the base of the tree, Emily, my younger sister, was in the middle and Lorna, my older sister, was at the top. Dad strode ahead, leading the way with the box of mandarins. He was so fast we lost him almost immediately, which was typical of Dad. It wasn’t an issue. We knew our way back home. As we walked we kept having to shuffle the tree to one side then the other to avoid the Christmas shoppers. It was a bit like being in an Eric Sykes sketch but we didn’t care, Christmas was only five days away and we were excited.

We walked on under the railway bridges at the Foot of the Walk and Jane Street and on to Fyffes Bananas at Steads Place.

It was getting dark by now and the street lights created a frosty orange glow. We came to the big iron gate of the Victoria Indian Rubber Mills Company on the right (now New Orchardfield). Lorna told us to put the tree down. In the absence of Dad, she was in charge (all of eleven years old!). We thought we were having a rest. But no. Lorna said she was doing a project at school on rubber and she was going to ask at the Mills for some samples. Emily and I were nervous. Children were seen not heard. You didn’t ask grown ups for anything.

Lorna pushed a brass door bell by the big iron gate. A small wooden door creaked open next to it. An angry man in a suit demanded to know what Lorna wanted. I thought I would cry. Lorna held her ground and explained. The man made a face, called her “pawkie” and  disappeared.

After a few minutes he returned and handed her a small box full of little samples of Indian
Rubber. Emily and I were so IMPRESSED. Lorna was a hero. She stuck the cardboard box under one arm, went to her place at the front of the tree, we picked it up and strode home. On that day that one stretch of road from Constitution Street, down Leith Walk to Pilrig Street had  taken me to Norway and Asia, Africa and India – and Lorna had got samples for her project just by asking for them. It could not have been more cosmopoliten or exciting. From then on anything was possible.

Later when we asked dad what “pawkie” meant, he laughed and said it meant lots of things from  lively and merry  to cheeky and shrewd, even sly and crafty.

Then other day I walked down Leith Walk  to take  photos of what is left of the Indian Rubber Mills and Fyffes Bananas and the old Railway Bridges. As I clicked away it struck me that while Leith Walk had changed, it still vibrates with life from around the world and still is very much a pawkie cosmopolitan place. I began to take photos of all the different businesses I saw and had to stop at Jane Street because I ran out of space on my memory card. I’ve posted some here.

How many different countries/peoples do you think  are represented just between Pilrig Street (the original boundary between Edinburgh and Leith) and Jane Street?  Hazard a guess? 🙂

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