Edinburgh Makar

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Edinburgh’s Unsung – they keep the gas flowing safely

Morrison St gas main replaced

Replacing a major gas main in Morrison Street, city centre

On 17th March I spent a happy morning with staff of Scotland Gas Networks (SGN).  They were replacing a major mains pipe in Morrison Street in the city centre.  I was intrigued by the complexity of what lies beneath our streets; and how skilled they have to be to work safely while keeping both the gas and the traffic flowing.

In the Orchard Brae area, where they are also replacing the old cast iron mains, I was shown how they detect the pipes.

Now for a poem …

Edinburgh Award Ceremony – Sir Tom Farmer


Sir Tom Farmer receives his poem

Handing over the poem to Sir Tom Farmer
(Lloyd Smith Photography)

I was honoured to read the poem I had been commissioned to write for Sir Tom Farmer on being given the Edinburgh Award for 2015.  Much as he has been given many honours over the years, it was a special moment for him to be recognised by his own city.  His philanthropic work in Edinburgh and beyond is well known.

Visitors from Norway

Literature across Frontiers

Norwegian visitors enjoying a meal

Recently Ottar Grepstad and seventeen of his colleagues from the Nynorsk Cultural Centre in Western Norway spent a study weekend in Edinburgh, exploring the city and learning about our languages and literature.

Some years ago I was invited to their Ivar Aasen centre to talk about Shetlandic language and literature.

It was a special treat to meet up with them again in Edinburgh.

Lighting up Leith

Christine's lines projected in Leith

Christine’s lines projected in Leith

Edinburgh celebrated World Book Day by bringing beautiful words from 11 Cities of Literature around the world to the streets of Leith.

From 3-13 March, poems will be projected from Creative Exchange onto the Royal Bank of Scotland on Leith’s Constitution Street, with one poem from each of the first 11 Cities of Literature featuring each night.



The projections are accompanied by a small exhibition within Creative Exchange, highlighting each of the UNESCO Cities of Literature featured and showcasing the poets whose work will be projected.

The participating cities are Edinburgh (Scotland), Krakow (Poland), Melbourne (Australia), Iowa City (USA), Dublin (Ireland), Reykjavík (Iceland), Norwich (England), Dunedin (New Zealand), Prague (Czech Republic), Heidelberg (Germany) and Granada (Spain).

This project is delivered by Edinburgh City of Literature Trust in partnership with Edinburgh’s sister City of Literature, Krakow.

Facelift for the Writers’ Museum

Writers' Museum

Poem for The Writers’ Museum

The Writers’ Museum in Lady Stairs’ Close, lying between the Royal Mile and the Mound, reopened on 22nd January after refurbishment.  The collections celebrating Burns, Scott and Stevenson are still the focus of the Museum but the main floor is now a more welcoming, flexible space which can host events; and the Museum has a more direct link with the work of the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust.  Definitely worth a visit, taking in Makars’ Court as you go!  I was asked to write a poem for the reopening and found that it had been beautifully framed.

Design and photo by Karen Scarlett

Writing poetry is hard work!

Thinking about words

Workshop with pupils at Granton Primary

On Tuesday 12th January I had a lovely afternoon with pupils from Granton Primary, hosted by the local library.  The library is joined on to the school so the children arrived through their own secret entrance!  They wanted to write poems with a Scottish theme.  Some chose historical figures, some chose contemporary heroes and some came from the world of literature.

Here are some of them just warming up to the task!

Bearing Light – the refugee crisis

Procession in Sassari

Bearing aloft the Candelieri through the streets of Sassari

On 10th January 2016 Scotland on Sunday printed ‘Bearing Light’, a poem of mine which reflected on the recent refugee crisis in Syria and beyond.  I hadn’t set out to write about that topic, but it just wouldn’t go away.








Not even five centuries can snuff out Sardinia’s

Candelieri, gratitude for the plague’s ending.

Sassari youths stagger under the precious burdens,

one per guild – cobblers, smiths – then step adeptly,

as lightning rods through crowds, to a steady drum.


We too mark borders of our trading guilds,

spheres of influence: horses ride out, banners raised,

bonfires lit. It’s pageant now: a flicker of history;

embers of memory, of pride and sacrifice. Times

pass – till son et lumière, a play of light suffices.


But still there’s darkness: nihilism, wintering,

a quenching of any kindly flame. Uprooted

from hearths, a plagued people is groping its way,

testing our boundaries of humanity; seeking

a welcome, the slightest spark of hope.


On 15th August, Feast of the Assumption of Mary, huge ‘candlesticks’ are paraded through the town. It remains the most significant festivity of Sassari in NW Sardinia.

Edinburgh’s Unsung – The Seafield Waste Water Treatment Works

A day out at the 'Sewage Works'!

What have I let myself in for?

I’ve been thinking for some time that in our city there are many unsung who perform vital functions.

Could I hold down a job at Veolia, the company which operates the Seafield Waste Water Treatment Works on behalf of Scottish Water? Definitely not!  It’s an amazing place with a small, highly skilled workforce looking after a state-of-the-art multi-million pound investment.   I was given a fascinating tour recently by the Operations Controller, Scott Mitchell.

I’m just tidying up a poem for them.  But meanwhile one or two photos.  And no, I didn’t have to wash my hair and all my clothes when I got home!

Makar at work

Trying to make myself useful

Biology, chemistry & physics in action

Six huge ‘digestors’ get to work