Last Saturday afternoon, I persuaded my husband to come with me to see the film version of Where the Crawdads Sing
at the Everyman cinema on the fifth floor of the new St James Quarter Mall. Its design may look alluring enough on paper, but the reality has not received overwhelming approval from Edinburgh's citizens.
I won't repeat what the curly bit of metal swirling out of the top of the hotel in the middle is generally called, but it isn't a favourite spot of mine either. It has an outlook, a view down the steep curve of Leith Walk, still scarred by the endlessly unfinished tram extension, out across the distant shimmering surface of the Firth of Forth. It's bold. It has grand intentions, but it has leaked rainwater and shockingly downgraded the shopping side of Princes Street. In my entirely biased view, it's a monstrosity best avoided by anyone over 65.
The film was recommended. I had read the book and, not having previously climbed higher than to visit Hotel Chocolat on the second floor, I was curious to see what the upper floors of the mall were like. When we reached the cinema, a young barista suggested we take the lift. I understood her to say the film was showing on Level 5 and we should press the top button. So we pressed the button marked 5, but before we moved three people joined us and left at Level 6. We then pressed Level 5 again and returned to where we'd started. Puzzled, we pressed Level 6 and emerged into a long dark empty bar. No-one to ask where to go from there. We returned again to Level 5. This time the barista came up with us. When we got to the empty bar on what was effectively Level 6, she pointed out a dimly lit sign at the far end saying 'Toilets and Screens'. Thrifty, I thought. I later realised I must have misheard or misinterpreted Screen 5 as Level 5. Tsk, tsk.
The cinema itself is small, but the seats are comfortably cushioned sofas for two, with plenty of leg room. There was even a shelf to lay my stick on. Throughout the loud and ghastly trailers of upcoming features, baristas kept coming to other clients with pre-ordered trays of drinks and towers of popcorn. For once in many a long year I could snuggle up to my husband as we watched.
And it was a nice film, beautifully shot and well acted. Very lush, very visual, very Hollywood. All those beautiful faces and well-toned bodies attempting to inhabit the characters as they might have been. None of the raw anguish or intellectual depth of the book though. Was it worth £15 a head to see it? No comment.
Afterwards, my husband persuaded me we should eat, so we made our way to Bonnie & Wild on the fourth floor, billed as the 'Scottish Marketplace'. As we entered its premises, lined with trendy street food stalls, it didn't shout in your face Scottish. No sign of haggis, neeps and tatties, or even kilts. Instead, the flavours were more gently international. Crêpes sweet and savoury, Chinese salt and Oriental, heavy on pork and beef, Sri Lankan vegetarian, Indian, award-winning burger and burritos.
Since our return from our recent extended stay in Morocco, my husband has been getting used to a new pair of dentures and can only eat soft food without squirming. Also, as a Muslim, mainstream meat and alcohol are off limits. So we ended up with fish, a copious 'Creel Caught Platter' of salmon, prawns, thinly threaded langoustines, gherkins and mackerel pâté. We washed this down with apple juice (me) and Irn Bru (him) – the latter apparently has a rather good export trade with Algeria, if that's of any interest, but whether it outsells whisky there or elsewhere I have no idea.
It wasn't cheap. It was noisy. But it was very cheerful, apart from the man at the till who displayed all the charm of Ebenezer Balfour at the House of Shaws. A fin de Festival spirit was in the air. A friendly young waitress took pity on my evident debutant gaucheness and explained the protocols of ordering. I was given a buzzer which flashed red and vibrated when our food was ready for collection.
My husband observed that we were probably the oldest people there. I was wearing my trendiest outfit: a long ruffled dress I had bought two Christmases ago from Seasalt and had scarcely worn, Edinburgh's climate being what it normally is, and a pair of white Adidas trainers bought in Morocco to help me walk more comfortably. I was therefore pleased to see a fair number of young women dressed like me, although naturally they didn't look like me, not having white hair and moving nimbly through the crowds like whippets.
We didn't make much of the Festival this year, being exhausted after our trip and having suffered from nasty colds as a result. I hadn't the patience to comb through the small print list of writers at the Book Festival in search of someone I really wanted to see. Weel kent names I had seen often enough before. As for the rest, did they really have anything to say I wanted to pay to hear? As for other events, posters advertising Medea
sounded interesting, but did I want to be plunged into more misery than daily news headlines were already exposing me to?
It's a strange experience getting older than you would prefer to be. You're not ready for the way age creeps up on you and slows you down, diminishes your hearing and your eyesight, creates stress and confusion over small things, threatens to deprive you of old friends suffering from one serious affliction or another and makes you worry about what may happen to whoever next. It certainly tightened my grip on the escalator handrail, negotiating my way down the mall's vertical, and only marginally welcoming, world.
But hey, let's not be too gloomy. We actually had a very pleasant evening and hope yetawhile for many more.
Gillean Somerville-Arjat is a writer and critic based in Edinburgh