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Tuesday, February 23, 2010


In Edinburgh to complete the very last pieces of research for Blood of Kings, which goes off to the publisher at the end of the week. As ever, I can't fault the National Archives and the National Library of Scotland - invariably friendly, helpful staff, quite unlike the offhand jobsworths one finds so often in the 'great' English repositories, and excellent service, with documents still being brought to one's seat at the former. The city itself always manages to turn up a surprise or two, and on this trip it's been stumbling across the first day (or, more accurately, night) of shooting on the new John Landis film, Burke and Hare, which has a veritable 'who's who' of a cast including Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis in the title roles, along with the likes of Sir Christopher Lee, Tim Curry and Bill Bailey. Unfortunately I didn't see any of them as [a] I didn't know which film was being shot until I saw the details in this morning's paper, [b] I was more intent on finding somewhere to eat. The erstwhile car park at Edinburgh Castle also has an interesting artist's impression of the spur fortification built during the Marian civil war of 1567-73, recently discovered when the area for the military tattoo was being revamped; unfortunately the trench itself was covered over long before I got here and seems to be well on the way to reverting to a car park again.

Wherever I go, I try to read as many local newspapers as possible to get a 'snapshot' of an area and its concerns. It's interesting how these concerns are often similar, regardless of where one goes. Above all, people might be disillusioned with national governments in London, Holyrood, Cardiff or Stormont, but these feelings are as nothing compared to the vitriol directed against local councils. The citizens of Edinburgh have a particularly large cross to bear in the shape of an astonishingly silly and expensive tram system, which seems to be intended primarily to rip up some of the city's principal thoroughfares for as long as possible. How the enlightened city fathers who created the beautiful eighteenth century new town must be spinning in their graves... Unfortunately, though, Edinburgh is by no means the only place to suffer: local government in Britain sometimes seems to be a refuge for the mediocre, the incompetent and the venal, regardless of their political persuasions. Perhaps this is because of the sheer number of brickbats (yes, this one included) that get thrown in their direction, which is hardly likely to engender a sense of public duty. I know I'm wronging many able and highly conscientious councillors and council employees, but the simply crass policies inflicted on virtually every community that I know pretty well suggests that they are in a minority. Just be thankful that very few places have embarked on schemes that are quite as expensive or mismanaged as the Edinburgh tram system...    

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