Welcome Week 2022: Wherever You Are is Always a Starting Point
It’s Welcome Week!
And so much is new: the semester, the academic year, maybe even a new degree. There is a new monarch on the throne, and a new Prime Minister in Downing Street. The blackberries are fading now, but colour is on its way to the trees, and the lawns have greened once more after the summer heat. Perhaps you have unpacked your suitcases in the light of an unfamiliar window, and shiny textbooks sit on your IKEA desk with the gleam of an uncracked spine; you are pulling on your woollen sweaters in the chill of the morning, and eyeing your scarves in anticipation of the haar (your first one, when you watch Arthur’s Seat vanish before your eyes, will be magic).
In this corner of the Chaplaincy, September means the relaunch of Why Don’t You Write Me, our postcard-writing, art, heritage and connection project. The project is free to students, with a suggested donation for staff. Subscribers receive a monthly bundle of beautiful postcards and notecards, with the invitation to send one to another member of the University or someone who lives in Edinburgh, and the rest to friends and loved ones across the world. The project has had over 200 members so far, and 9000 cards have been sent across the University and around the globe.
For this month’s card selection, we place ourselves in Edinburgh old and new; life in this country as it once was, and what it might be for us, today. Our first card, Edinburgh (from Salisbury Crags), is by William Crozier (1893-1930), a Scottish landscape painter who studied at the Edinburgh College of Art. Painted in around 1927, its Cubist style harks to Picasso, its golden gleam to the light of Italy, where the artist had travelled. As I look at it this morning, I think of how throngs gathered on the Crags this past weekend to watch the Queen arrive in Edinburgh and lie at rest in St Giles’ Cathedral; how so many of us love to sit on the Crags of an evening, summer or winter, and watch the light fade over our beautiful city. Crozier’s view of Edinburgh is nearly a hundred years old, but today, you, too, can scramble up the same rocks to find your own.
Our second card takes us over the other side of Arthur’s Seat, to Edinburgh’s seaside at Portobello. Once a town in its own right, known for its pottery kilns, Portobello is today a suburb of Edinburgh, and students cycle down on a sunny evening to swim and feast at the ShrimpWreck or Civerino’s. It’s a photograph, this time, but one with a difference: taken in around 1890, I found it as part of a digitised collection of nineteenth century photographs of Scotland, held at the Library of Congress. Over a century old, it shows the same languid sea; the same throngs of paddlers and beach-dwellers; but the gentlemen are in top hats, and the ladies in corseted dresses. Women used horse-drawn ‘bathing machines’ to preserve their modesty if they wished to swim; but you, on a September day, can take to the waters in a mere swimming costume. Even this morning, amidst the crisp air, the water registers at a very tolerable 15 degrees.
Our third card, another photograph, takes us into the heart of the University: the chimney at the Energy Centre at King’s Buildings. Snapped in striking monochrome, this photograph is part of a large collection re-discovered and digitised in the Estates Department last year; the photographers and dates are unknown, but our WDYWM team sleuths have identified them as having been taken between the late 1950s and 1970s. They feature old cars, 1960s hairstyles, architectural prints for our central campus buildings, and this chimney. Built in 1970, it encloses the oldest structure at the KB campus: a brick chimney, built in 1921 for the coal-fired heating system. Today, the University’s heating infrastructure is a little different – but you can still wander around campus and find glimpses of a pre-green past.
For our fourth card, as one Queen leaves Scottish soil for the last time, we skip back some centuries, to images of Scotland’s most famous queen. Mary Stuart was Queen of Scots from 1542, acceding as an infant, until 1567, when she was forced to abdicate by Scottish nobles. She spent the remaining twenty years of her life imprisoned at the pleasure of Queen Elizabeth I, for whose alleged plotted murder she was eventually executed, on English soil, in 1587. Paintings of Mary are varied in style, from the iconic posed portraits, replete with the rosary whose faith would be her undoing, to scenic depictions of key events in her life. The Scottish National Galleries own many of these, and you can stroll down from George or Bristo Square of a lunchtime and wander through their warm red-walled rooms in search of a very different Queen of Scotland, in a very different time.
And, lastly, I come to you: or rather, my invitation to you. Our fifth card is a doodle by our Associate Chaplain and Head of Listening Service, Geoffrey Baines, who is also an artist and illustrator, and co-host of Why Don’t You Write Me. ‘Wherever you are is always a starting point,’ he writes, as his pen traces lines and squiggles and swirls and dots across the page. As we begin this new year, held in the ancient and humming, historic and pulsing, legendary and concrete time and space of this city, its crags and beaches, its campuses and museums – I invite you to reflect: where do you find yourself now? What lights on the horizon catch your attention with the spark of possibility? Wherever you come from, and whatever you carry into this new year, here, once again, is another chance to begin.
Why Don’t You Write Me is hosted by Dr Kitty Wheater and Revd Geoffrey Baines. There are places remaining for September. Book here for students; for staff, book here, or email email@example.com to make an alternative donation.
(Edinburgh (from Salisbury Crags), William Crozier, Scottish National Gallery. )