>> The Royal Mile
Sauchiehall Street <<
This week Scotia Extremis takes a stroll along two great Scottish thoroughfares, both well-trodden but very different in nature and purpose. The Royal Mile is Edinburgh’s historic grand promenade, stretching from Holyrood Palace at the lower end up to Edinburgh Castle at the top, taking in some of Edinburgh’s best-known tourist sights and offering a range of small shops selling a popular if unrepresentative image of Scotland – whisky, tartan, shortbread – to the millions of tourists which pass through it each year. Sauchiehall Street is Glasgow’s oldest main drag, equally well-defined in that it runs from the Royal Concert Hall in the city centre out to Kelvingrove in the West End. It offers a very different experience, and is perhaps more the haunt of locals than tourists as it turns from high street chains down to fast-food emporia, getting slightly more worn at the edges as it stretches west. Both thoroughfares provide a window on the extremes of urban Scotland – from the chocolate-box photogeneity and occasional faux-Scottishness of Edinburgh to the unfakeable, uncompromising blue-collar grit and realism of Glasgow.
The Royal Mile
by Alasdair Paterson
Volcanic jizz on a world tour
found its sweet spot of latitude
and got embedded, crag and tail.
In due course history, fortress
down to palace – pecking orders
and disorders, death and soirées,
epiphanies, piss on cobbles,
persistence of the hellfire gene.
And here they came in cavalcades
we’d see the bill for later on –
the royal actors, performing
those slow waves, top of the bill,
off to stain a stage somewhere
maybe with their blood, more likely ours.
But where I’d barge to the tryline
there’s that Parliament we built;
the People’s Story cleared a space
for some tartan tins that shipped
Father’s shortbread recipes
to the high teas of the world;
just across the road, my books
in the Scottish Poetry Library
sit where the crack is sparkiest;
and down here, love, is where we used
to browse and buy all the maps
of where we’d been and wouldn’t get to.
Read the signs there: Paterson’s Land.
And that’s true. It’s my mile too.
by Janette Ayachi
Sauchiehall Street is space-blue and silver in winter
her alien-hex skin pressed with diamonds and dust, her slick vertebrae
makes way for the applaud of cars where a therapy of ignition tracks her spine
to spill champagne and socialists, tranquilize pedestrians, run ladders in pre-war stockings.
In summer she gives you that look like someone horn-struck
and about to undress in front of you, so you blank out all the side-streets
concentrate on her striptease breaching dilated pupils – on those nights she reaches for lovers,
seduces them under her skirt of shuttered shops; velvet saunas, skyscraper hotels, cocktail hours.
This street is more hysterical than historical, as most women tend to be marked,
her lips too numb for kisses, so she spits into the mouth of pollution, swallows traffic
When bleached by the gulf of self-loathing she lets knives flash under her street-lamps,
bends to gear violence into her palm like loosened fruit still sore from its secular branch-snap
prone to flex post-mortem.
She hoards the hooligans in their hoods, samples a taste of their furious hunger,
holds them the same way stags grip those wretched birds of paradise in their midnight antlers.
Oh Sauchiehall Street you are a hall of mirrors with your music-hall name delivering illusion
Glasgow’s graceless steps palpitate towards stampede to unhinge your promised land,
shadows display a promenade of romances on The Locarno Ballroom dance floor.
The sad bottled eyes of French girls in polyester on their way to Kelvingrove
awake in clusters with their faces creased like abandoned linen
dizzy from the smell of cordite in their dreams.
This street is not a language or a place to salvage euphoria,
oh no, there is a helpful smile in every aisle if you trust the magician’s saw
and newsreaders on every corner to renegade tomorrows cry of surrogate heroes.
Her sign posts promote neutrality to scaffold the future, because despite bomb blasts
Mackintosh still coloured tearooms with stained glass and Art Deco reigned
over posh shops, luncheon frills, high-end theatres where Sinatra sang
those years after open-air suffragettes paraded taffeta and no surrender
or cadmium orange tramcars ivory trim with plum dashes pulsed over cobbles –
the internal grits and gifts of life, a gold-gilded cinema-mad city, smokeless, slow. Burning.
Alasdair Paterson’s most recent poetry collections are On The Governing Of Empires (2010), Elsewhere Or Thereabouts (2014) and My Life As A Mad King (2016). After a career directing academic libraries he now lives in Exeter, where he presents the monthly Uncut Poets event at Exeter Phoenix and chairs ExCite Poetry, organisers of the annual Exeter Poetry Festival.
Janette Ayachi is a Scottish-Algerian poet living in Edinburgh. She has been published in over sixty literary journals and anthologies, and is the author of Pauses at Zebra Crossings and A Choir of Ghosts. She edits the online arts journal The Undertow Review and performs across the U.K. She was Digital Poet in Residence for The Poetry School in 2015, and has an MSc in Creative Writing from the University of Edinburgh.