Enchanted in Edinburgh: Day 2 - Music and Lace


Today has been a strange day, and in fact it began thus. I slept badly, woken up periodically by the heat and by sirens outside on the road, then by my own half-anxious thoughts. To tempt sleep, I listened to an episode of "In and Out of the Kitchen", a ten-year-old BBC radio comedy about a cookery writer, Damien Trench, his partner Anthony, agent Ian, their builder Mr Mullaney, and other characters so beautifully drawn that they can't help bring comfort in the shadows. I have listened to all four series so many times now that I know each episode by heart, and as yet, it hasn't failed to return me to a state of dozing, if not deep sleep.

Finally, I dragged myself up at my 7am alarm, remembering that the previous evening the washing machine in my Air BnB had ceased to be able to drain its water, and that my half-clean clothes were sitting locked inside a pool while the machine flashed "F05" dramatically. For those wondering (and I'm sure none of you are), a button from a piece of clothing of a previous resident had become lodged in the drain filter, causing the machine to shudder disturbingly. I had reported the problem, and awaited a mystery man at 9.30am to resolve the issue. At 8.30am, however, I needed to teach an academic lesson to one of my favourite students, so I dressed in the only clean clothes available to me (a rather odd look) and half-heartedly made myself a un-smashed avacado on toast. My student is in Sardinia at the moment, in the family's glorious villa by the sea. It was lovely to see her, albeit electronically; I find that teaching can pull me out of the worst mood: shifting the focus to someone who needs my help is, for me at least, a wonderful form of medicine.

The machine man arrived at 9.28am, and I needed to leave the house at 9.35am. I left him to it, and walked rather more quickly into town than I had the previous day. For some reason that I couldn't fathom, there was a strong smell of rubbish pervading along most of my route, perhaps from a waste disposal lorry whose whiff lasts minutes longer than its physical presence. Apart from this, however, the second day walking along my new daily path was reassuring: certain shops were now familiar; the Scandinavian Bakery, the bright green organic food shop, innumerable wine bars and independent cafes and restaurants. All were presented with such care and character, and I made vague notes to myself to try each of these delicious-looking places, though time and budget are likely to prevent me from actually doing so!

Today, the entry procedures at the National Records were much quicker, and I was with my beloved sources within minutes. I'm technically a musicologist now, but my first two degrees were in History, and I can't help refer to my primary material as "sources"! Today, my task was to sift through the household and personal accounts of two Scottish aristocratic families, the Gordons and the Earls of Morton. Fortunately, my task was not as huge as that sounds, because I was mainly interested in their expenditure in London, and, in the case of the Gordon family, their London accounts were labelled as such. I was looking for purchases of music, instruments, and events in which music might have played a role, and I was particularly interested in the musical pursuits of the famous Jane, Duchess of Gordon, and three of her daughters, Louisa, Susan, and Georgiana during the London season. Jane was a celebrated hostess: when in Scotland, she hired the services of the famous fiddler Nathaniel Gow for her parties; in London, she made regular payments to his London-based younger brother, John Gow, presumably for similar gatherings there. Once I have gathered all this data, I'm hoping that it will contribute to a bigger picture of the role Scottish music (and particularly dance music) played in polite London society, "transferred" in a sense from Scotland by Scots resident temporarily or permanently in the English capital.

As I sifted as quickly as I could through the expenses of this exceptionally wealthy eighteenth-century family, I mused upon how different my life would have been from theirs during that period. As the daughter of a musician, I might have been able to pursue a musical career, but only until I was married, and even then, I would been restricted to being a singer or perhaps a keyboard player. In general, I would have been very envious of Louisa, Susan and Georgiana, who seemed to be able to purchase whatever they liked in London's best shops and warehouses, the bills forwarded to their father's banker at Coutts. I spent some moments imagining them, bedecked in the latest fashions, shopping excitedly for lace, artificial flowers, new hats, new gowns, and music for their entertainments at home. Household accounts and receipt books, however, tend to feature more ordinary spending, and it was fascinating to encounter so many bills from tradesmen of all kinds, many of whom made their living from the custom of aristocratic families such as the Gordons. Seeing how many pints of milk and how many cucumbers someone bought on a particular day over two hundred years ago brings the past into such close proximity that you can almost escape the present - I love it.

I left the National Records, and headed to Princes Street, where I searched for a selfie-stick. Bear with me. Those of you who watch my video podcast, "Pitch Point", will know that I promised an Edinburgh-based episode for this coming Friday, but I entirely forgot to take my selfie stick from home, without which footage of me walking around the streets of the city would be almost entirely impossible. There was a time when purchasing a selfie-stick from a tourist shop on Princes Street would have been the work of a moment, but now the fashion is for those rather addictive rainbow "popping" fidget toys, and selfie-sticks have had their day. I was informed by a helpful man in EE that Superdrug sold them, which seemed unlikely, but turned out to be entirely true. Having purchased one (black rather than pink), I walked back past the Scottish National Gallery in the blistering sunshine, picking up an ice-cream on my way. Then back to my little flat, where my washing had been washed and hung to dry by my conscientious Air BnB owner. She'll be getting a rave review!

Cheerio the nou,