Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A Nation of Inventors

For the last couple of days I've been playing host to two friends from Australia. Actually, one of them, Linsey, is living in London while her husband is on a temporary contract, and her son, Locklan, is visiting for the Easter holidays. They arrived in Edinburgh at the start of the week by train, and I was eager to meet them both as it had been many months since we had last met up in London.

They were continually exclaiming "wow" as we wandered through the streets from the station to their hotel, impressed by the ancient buildings. I'll admit that I take the city for granted these days, and it's only when visitors come and point out the beauty of the city that I'm reminded just how great it is.

Checked in they were keen to do something with what remained of the afternoon, and so we headed off in the direction of the Royal Mile and the oldest part of Edinburgh. Ignoring the blot on the landscape that is the never ending tram works, we worked our way up in the direction of the castle. Rather than take the road route I decided to take them up and through small closes, taking us through dark, low and narrow alleyways, throwing us back to medieval times. I stopped at one point to point out an old window, only half glazed. It days long gone the equivalent of council tax was based on your windows, and so many people would only have half their window glazed in order to reduce their tax liability. Some would brick them up altogether. My Australian visitors only remark was: "well, it is Scotland afterall"!

We made our way down the Royal Mile toward the Deacon Brodie pub where we turned south along George the 4th bridge. In the mid-1700's Deacon Brodie was a skilled cabinet maker, and a member of the town council. However, by night he was a member of a gang that carried out numerous burglaries on the wealthy. His job during the day involved replacing or repairing lock mechanisms of houses, which put him in the perfect position to gain entry to his targets. He was eventually caught and hanged in 1788, ironically by gallows invented by himself! It is said that Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired by Brodie's story for his novel about Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde.

We eventually arrived at the Museum of Scotland, housed in a modern extension to the original museum on Chambers Street, which is currently closed for two years for refurbishment. The new extension stands opposite the statue to the faithful dog Greyfriars Bobby.

As we wandered around the museum I was reminded, and suitably impresses, at just how many inventions, that we take for granted today, were made by Scots. It is an enormous list but includes: penicillin, tarmac, liquid oxygen (that took man to the moon), the telephone, the television, postage stamps, vacuum flasks, golf, the fountain pen, radar, and on and on the list goes. Then there are other famous Scots such as the engineer Thomas Telford, the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and from stage and screen, Harry Lauder, Billy Connolly, Ewan McGregor and of course the original, and in my view the best, James Bond 007, Sir Sean Connery.

I left my visitors after a very enjoyable meal at Browns on George Street. I will meet them again today to wander down the Royal Mile, after visiting Edinburgh castle, to such places as John Knox's house and the Palace of Holyrood House.

No doubt I'll be as equally impressed as they will be.

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