James Miranda Barry

I realised I’ve been remiss on my bathroom comments. That is because all was well. Water hot enough, pressure great, controls easy to understand. But wait! There was one, tiny, odd thing. The hot tap at the sink turns the wrong way! It is very odd. I am not the only person to try and wrench it the normal way as the tap is quite loose. I’m not sure if all hot taps in Scotland (or Edinburgh) turn in the opposite direction to the cold tap or whether it’s just the Royal Terrace Hotel…or, indeed, just room 512.

A late start to today as Mirinda had to make a work call which, in her own words, didn’t really achieve anything. We left the hotel at about 11 after a very decent sleep in. We wandered over to Queen Street, passing the statue of Sherlock Holmes. Apparently Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, not far from where the statue stands. There is also a Conan Doyle pub across the road. Mirinda likes the statue because she feels she understands everything about it. I think that’s just because she knows Sherlock Holmes, as she had no idea what the leek meant.

We managed to get as far as Hanover Street before Mirinda decided to go and look in a shop. I was despatched off to Starbucks to stare at George IV. I do not like shopping. I’m also not that keen on sitting for an hour in a coffee shop when I could be exploring. Obviously I was in trouble for going wandering and not being at Starbucks when Mirinda had finished her hours not-buying-anything shopping. In defiance, I managed to buy a raincoat later in the day in about 10 minutes, five of which were waiting for someone to serve me.

Statue of George IV in Hanover Street, Edinburgh

We then wandered down to Charlotte Square and to number 7, to be precise. This is the National Trust of Scotland’s property, Georgian House.

Prior to 1766, everyone in Edinburgh mucked in, in the Old Town as the New Town did not yet exist. The rich, the poor, the clean, the filthy, the plague-ridden, all of them lived amongst the slops thrown from windows and the filthy streets of horse manure. The town council of Edinburgh decided to improve things by promoting the building of a New Town. To this end they held a competition for designs and ideas from the great and the good. The winner was a young architect called James Craig.

Craig’s plan was for two squares (Charlotte and St Andrew’s) joined by parallel roads (Princes and Queens). Then other architects went mad and designed all sorts of buildings. This meant that the New Town was going to wind up being a bit of a mish mash of designs. The Town Council, therefore, approached Robert Adam (famous Scottish architect) to design the entire façade of Charlotte Square so it would remain a harmonious whole. This happened and Charlotte Square is, indeed, harmonious. There’s even a lovely grassy area in the centre that appears unmarred by human beings.

Number 7 was initially owned by John Lamont, his wife Helen and their five children. Of course, being a ‘gentlemen’ and having to keep up appearances, poor John was forced to live beyond his means and ended up having to eventually sell the property in 1815 having owned it for nine years. It then went through four more owners before the Trust took over in 1966.

It’s quite a nice house, reminiscent of Number 1, The Royal Crescent in Bath, and seems to have been quite comfortable. I say ‘seems’ because there was no running water, (obviously) no electricity and generally unheated rooms. The water would have been the worst thing. It was delivered to the house in barrels each day. Basically having a daily wash meant a little splash of cold water to either cheek then a very generous application of perfume. And that was the toffs. The servants just stayed smelly.

The first part of the tour of the Georgian House consists of a 15 minute film which highlights both the history of the house and the Lamont’s living conditions. Sometimes these video presentations are a bit dire but this one was excellent.

After this we wandered around each of the rooms, gradually working our way from the basement to the second floor then back again. Definitely an excellent choice…if you like that sort of thing.

After a brief stop at a National Trust teashop for the requisite cream tea and/or Victoria sponge, we wandered back up towards Waverley Bridge.

At the moment, Edinburgh is undergoing a big change. A tram system is being constructed which will travel along Princes and Queen streets. This means that most of New Town is a big mess of hoardings, crash barriers and restrictive dead ends. This is supposed to continue until the trams commence running in 2011. Being a big fan of trams, I reckon this is an excellent idea. However, the place is such a mess that I don’t think we’ll bother returning to Edinburgh before it is finished! Oddly, they had trams in Edinburgh once before but removed them.

The rain had started with a vicious wind whipping it up so we decided to buy a 24 hour ticket for a hop on/hop off tourist bus which took us all around the Old Town. It is always an excellent way to see a new city. We also learnt (we heard it three times) about the man who lent his name to Listerine and the first female doctor who had spent years pretending to be a man. It wasn’t until he/she died that someone realised, on her original application to join the medical corps, that her name was Miranda. She’d also had a few kids. I’d like to learn more about James Miranda Barry! And, obviously, I looked her up.

It’s uncertain if she was a female or not but if so, she was the first female to qualify as a medical doctor in Britain. Her name was not Miranda! Most believe she was born Margaret Ann Bulkley and lived as a man so that she could go to university and become a doctor. He/she died in 1865 and, apparently, the charwoman discovered the gender secret. She told everyone AFTER the funeral.

While very successful in the army as a surgeon and afterwards as Surgeon General, he did once get into an argument with Florence Nightingale. The name ‘James Miranda Barry’ appears to have come from a historical novel of the same name.

At the end of our bus ride, and back at Waverley Bridge, I left Mirinda at Costa’s while I went in search of tea, coffee, milk and sugar. There is a lovely shopping mall at the bridge however it only sells useless stuff and not essentials like food. I ended up walking down to the station and popping into M&S for stupid Fairtrade stuff. I’m not sure how fair it is buying sugar from Malawi when Tate & Lyle operates out of Norfolk where they grow English sugar beet. I guess they think it’s pretty damn fair in Malawi.

Then it was but a short stroll back up the hill to the hotel for an early evening rest and check of the football results. Chelsea won and Aldershot lost.

For dinner tonight, Mirinda forced me to go to an Indian restaurant that did not sell beer. I didn’t think such a thing existed. The two things are synonymous. Very odd. The restaurant is called Zaara and, although the food is excellent, the waitress is a bit dour and it seems that on a Saturday night, it is only popular with females and poor husbands dragged there by their wives.

And there’s no beer.

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