Thursday, 22 November 2018

Edinburgh shopping walk - shop indie, shop sustainably

I was in Edinburgh yesterday to do my civic duty and once my appointment was over, I decided to spend a few hours walking around the city which first brought me to Scotland in the mid-90s.

One of the things that I had forgotten, but noticed straight away, was how many of the capital's shops, restaurants, cafes, cinemas and public spaces are independently-owned.  On arrival at Edinburgh Waverley, stepping out onto Princes Street, once of the first things I saw was this sign:

I knew then that I'd made the right decision to focus on shopping independent and sustainable as I made my way around town - locally-sourced coffee, front and centre, in the heart of town.

I set off up the Mound headed for Victoria Street, the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books, and a known indie shopping location - with everything from cheese (I J Mellis) to cheesy music on offer (Yes, we are talking about Espionage and yes, that's quite enough about that!).  The window displays here are great, I mean, you wouldn't get something like this in the window of M&S or Primark, would you?

And is it me, or are vintage board games having a moment right now?

At the foot of Victoria Street, in the Grassmarket, is an Edinburgh institution, vintage clothes emporium Armstrong's.  There are several branches around the city, and this was one of my favourite places to pick up an outfit for a Saturday night when I lived here. 

The Grassmarket is a great spot for independent dining and drinking, including Petit Paris, which I finally got to visit earlier this year after years of admiration from afar.  It was so worth the wait!

 But today I'm going Italian, with a breakfast trip to Coletti & Co on Lothian Road, a quick scoot along King's Stables Road (love that name!) from the Grassmarket.   Recently as part of my #livelagom project with IKEA, I picked up a lot of these tight seal jars and I was thrilled to see one in action on my table.

I just noticed my knife there, oops.  That was a cheese and chilli savoury scone but I was starving and it was so tasty I demolished it in short order.  Look how nice my coffee looks, it tasted great, too.  Anyway, I don't take sugar in my drinks but I do get annoyed at the wastefulness of sugar packets (and how tempting they are to tiny hands), so I loved this extra detail. It also reminded me that a zero waste supermarket has just opened not too far from here, on Morrison Street, for all your refillable shopping needs. 

But back to Coletti & Co - I was really impressed in the loos when I saw a stack of flannels in place of paper towels or electric hand dryer in the bathroom. 

If you're on Lothian Road, here's what to look out for:

From a new-to-me place to a very not-new-to-me place, Paper Tiger!  I've been shopping at Paper Tiger since the mid-90s.  It's an absolute institution as far as I'm concerned, and I try to get a new calendar or Christmas cards or notecards or gifts from here every year.  I love the collection of local candles in the window, but do think they could go one better and actually try to capture the essence of Edinburgh a bit more - imagine if the Meadows candle actually smelled of peaty woodsmoke and grass lawn, for instance? 

Inside the shop itself there are also plenty of books on sustainability and how to reduce your environmental impact.  I picked up a box of Miffy Christmas cards and continued along Lothian Road.

Past the Filmhouse....

And along to Lauriston Place, where I snapped this Police Box, like many in the city it's now a spot to pick up a takeaway coffee.  

I continued along to Forrest Road, where I snapped another independent Edinburgh institution, Potterrow, the home of Edinburgh University Student Association.  Entirely separate from the NUS, this was always a bit of a bind as an undergrad visiting other friends at universities around the country because I couldn't access the same discounts on services as they could, but with hindsight now, I value that independence and the benefits of negotiation and organisation from an entirely locally-focused stance.  

And then I made a turn up towards George IV Bridge, passing Greyfriars Kirkyard, the Greyfriars Bobby pub (another favourite student haunt) and the statue of Bobby himself.  If you're ever here, visiting the city, please please please don't rub his nose 'for luck'.  It's one of the most pointlessly destructive things you can do, if you want to 'earn' good fortune, do it by being a decent human being and don't vandalise our statues.  And don't get me started on what they do to the bull statue at the bottom of Broadway in NYC, it's making me cringe just thinking about it.  Keep your hands to yourselves!

So my first disappointing indie experience of the day came from a cafe just a little further along from this statue.  I'm not going to name and shame, but I did walk out shortly after being seated due to a complete absence of customer-focused thinking.  Here are some personal bugbears - I was seated at a bar area, on an uncomfortable high stool, with a lovely view of an internal wall, next to someone who clearly did not want me sitting anywhere near her personal space, and due to the layout of the area, I was practically on her knee.  This made me feel deeply uncomfortable.  The place was really busy and I just got the impression straight away that I was going to be there for two plus hours when I really just wanted a pitstop.  It was almost lunchtime and the breakfast menu was still being handed out, even though they had stopped serving it.  If you wanted a coffee and cake, you needed to leave your seat, go over to the counter, choose a cake but then alert a server from your table to the fact that you wanted cake, and then indicate which one you want.  You could hardly get space to sit down in the first place, so the idea of trying to wander around the place and grab the attention of someone was too much.  Also the staff had different roles, so there's a seating person, a greeting person, a taking orders person and a paying person. No idea which is which, and there was a lot of 'oh that's not me, there'll be someone along soon to help you' going on.  Not helpful.  Not relaxing.  Also I had just had a scone an hour and a half earlier so really didn't want to eat, and there was no sign of whether there was a minimum on card payments.  The whole place was chaotic, cramped, poorly laid out and managed, just too much like hard work.  The menus looked like a GCSE Business Studies project.  I was only in there to get out of the hailstones.  Life is too short.  I walked.  

Just across the road from where I was, the National Museum of Scotland, which I visited to see the excellent Rip It Up exhibition just recently, so that put the idea in my head of having a cuppa in a museum instead.  There are so many museums in Edinburgh, lots of them free to enter, and I like to give something back whenever I can, so I decided to pop along a vennel to the Writers Museum just off the Royal Mile.  And then I got distracted by my favourite pub, the Jolly Judge, which had another 15 mins to go before it opened, so lunch there was out.  

Look at this courtyard, though, so pretty.  

And then I realised I was soaked through, tired, thirsty and needed tea, stat.  So I continued along the Royal Mile to the Real Mary King's Close, a tourist attraction which I never realised had a cafe at the back.  A big pot of tea was less than £3, so I was really chuffed with my decision.  I'll probably talk about Mary King's Close another time, as I've been visiting since before it was open to the public, but for now I wholeheartedly recommend the cafe and little shop there, too.  The museum shops around the city are really excellent, and complement the independent offering perfectly.  If you're looking for a souvenir of the city, or a book on niche aspects of its history, museum shops are the answer!

I skipped Cockburn Street, which is a real treasure of independent shops, cafes and pubs, to cut through one of the stepped closes down to Waverley Station.  I spied this cafe down at the bottom of Cockburn Street, and later found out via Instagram it belongs to a friend's cousin.  So I will definitely pay it a visit next time I'm in town.  I was instantly hooked by the ghost sign on the outside, I love these, and spotted several more over the course of the day.  

The Milkman received a nomination for coffee shop of the year 2018 in the Scottish Independent Retail Awards.  It definitely looks like one to watch.  

I wanted to head over to Rose Street, which is another hotspot of lunch places, bakeries, and shops, to find somewhere cosy to eat and do a bit of writing.  Sustainability was brought to mind when I saw a sharp contrast in how chains and indies do things.  TopShop staff were busy inflating shiny foil balloons for their Christmas window display, and the independent traders next door were attaching a natural and sustainable alternative to theirs, from what I could gather, brought along from the florist just around the corner.  This made me feel ridiculously festive all of a sudden.  

I was really intending to make it along to Social Bite for lunch but it was further along Rose Street than I remembered, and I was getting cold and hungry and my feet were wet and sore from walking through the hailstorm earlier.  I decided to call it a day, but will be back again soon.  City of Edinburgh council gets a bad press on lots of issues (trams, bins, the Christmas market) but one thing they are doing really well is supporting independent traders and making sure there is room for everyone, with the flagships of Princes Street and George Street, and a real sense of community in different areas across the city.  I didn't even get the chance to talk about the Shore, Morningside, Broughton Street and Elm Row, Comely Bank and Stockbridge - all of these are home to plenty of independent shopping, eating and drinking options.  I'm not really a recreational shopper, but I did enjoy my morning exploring and reminiscing, and would definitely consider doing all of my Christmas shopping with the indies of Edinburgh.  

Monday, 19 November 2018

Is anybody out there?

So that'll be five years and a couple of weeks since the last time I blogged, then?  I have been meaning to get back to it for a while, but the right time never came... until now!

I kind of lost the blogging bug after I went back to my day job full time - the darker winter nights made it impossible to get even half good photos, and I had a massive tech issue - my phone and my blog and my social media were all on different systems and platforms, and I think my brain broke a bit from trying to manage all of them.  

So what's changed?  Well, I have a project, and putting it on here is a way of motivating myself but also keeping a record of how it's going, the challenges I face (and hopefully overcome) and if anyone's still reading (or picking back up with the reading), get some feedback and input from you all.  After five years of working pretty much flat out, I'm trying to take a bit of a breather, and get various parts of my home and working life in order, but also to continue to share resources and thinking on some of the things I'm passionate about, namely sustainability, creative reuse and supporting small, ethical businesses.  

I was asked by IKEA Glasgow to join their #livelagom project this year.  Lagom roughly translates to "just right", and it really appealed to me because nothing has been "just right" with my home for a while.  Well, except the people and pets in it, of course.  But in terms of having a home that is welcoming, for its inhabitants and the occasional day time or overnight guest, we're just not there at the moment.  We have four bedrooms at home, two of which are used for actual sleeping in, and two of which are meant for working in.  Unfortunately my study is the larger of the two, and is the closest to the front door, which means it has become a dumping ground for 'things that need sorting out' - which is great, if you actually have time to sort anything out.  Then multiply that by five years of 60 hour working weeks... and the contents of two lots of parents' houses, and you can see how things might get a little out of hand. 

So after a pretty terrible year, I am ready to shift gears, prioritise myself and the way I want to live, and this seems like a perfect time to get started, with the support and encouragement of IKEA and my fellow #livelagom-ers too.  We had our induction at IKEA Glasgow a couple of weeks ago, and last Friday I had my personal shopping session with the lovely Joanna, who helped me select products which have been produced with sustainability in mind.

Let me talk you through them...

So I spent a grand total of £99, and I focused mainly on lighting... which I'm saving for another post another day, just out of shot is a floor lamp for what will become a functional guest room/office/workshop for me.  The lighting is important because a) I have terrible eyesight, b) the room has to work in a number of ways, so movable task-oriented lighting is as important as fixed lighting, and c) the main point of this exercise is to be more sustainable, so I wanted to make sure I could use low-energy, high-performance bulbs, too.

But more about that next time.  For now, I want to talk to you about the glassware in the photo.  I bought a set of 8 of the tumblers on the right, from the Vinter 2018 range.  These were a gift for my friend Wendy, who runs PQ Soy Wax Candles based in York.  She was here at the Country Living Christmas Fair in Glasgow at the weekend, and I dropped off a selection of vintage and surplus glasses and jars for her to use in her candle-making.  I spied these tumblers and I thought they would make the perfect container for a special range and added them into the boxes of glassware I was passing on, as an extra surprise.  They were very well-received, and Wendy kindly gifted us a couple of candles in exchange.  We've already tried out her It's Christmas candle - the fair put us right in the mood - and the soy wax burns cleanly away from the jar, so I know we'll be able to use the glassware again when it's finished.  So far, so sustainable.  Thank you Wendy, and thank you IKEA for bringing us together in real life - we've only ever chatted online before!

Image by PQ Soy Wax Candles

I'll update you again soon to let you know how I've been using my glass storage jars...