March, 2017

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Home sweet home

Phew. We are home again. Bedrooms are (re-)painted, oven and hob now wired in so I can cook again and everything else inside the house should be finished in a couple of days bar the painting of rooms with ceilings too high for me even to contemplate. I feel dizzy just looking up.

This was our first taste of real city living for four months (although it feels like it was only a few weeks ago we were packing the van to move out!). This is what I learned.

Living a ten minute walk from school is great when you are the one not having to drive into the city every morning. It’s also good when you are seventeen and have free periods so you can come home and interrupt me watch random YouTube videos work on your homework. If you are a teacher, you will spend a lot more time at school. 

I like having my space. During the day was fine as the flat was empty but come the holidays when there was nowhere to hide… different story. I ended up in random coffee shops in the vicinity for a bit of sanity. For some reason people talking around me while I am writing is a lot less distracting than random family members appearing at just the wrong time. Now we are home and the boiler is no longer in one of our normal rooms in the house, I have a room of my own, with a door I can shut (a lock might be next…) and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest that it is also full of the boxes we have not yet been able to unpack because all of that is lying behind me. All I have in front of me is our old kitchen table with laptop and piles of paper and a window looking out onto trees.

Fast internet access is addictive. That would be Netflix and four seasons of Suits, then. Our ‘normal’ internet isn’t fast enough to load the Netflix home page. Fibre is always just four months away from our exchange, it appears.

Living two minutes from a shop with fresh baguettes means you regret bringing the bread maker with you and end up spending enough on those baguettes to have bought a new bread maker instead.

On evenings when there is either a football or rugby match, there is no such thing as parking. On one evening, it took about 35 minutes to get home from Peebles, and 50 minutes to park the car somewhere and walk home. This is not an exaggeration. This happened only once because…

The answer to all transport is to live near the Union Canal and go everywhere on bike. Specifically, on a Brompton, which folds up to the exact size which fits inside the lockers at the art gallery and which you seem to be able to take into any shop in Edinburgh. There was only one day over a whole winter when I decided not to go somewhere on the bike and stayed at home instead. I would not have a car if I lived ‘properly’ in the city. I would join a car club for the times I needed a car for something. Which would be virtually never. I used the car almost only for dance runs to Peebles (and Edinburgh, but that was because I was being soft).

It was mainly fun. And now I am glad to be home, even if we are still disoriented sometimes at rooms that aren’t where we last saw them and the only thing we can find everywhere is dust.

Fortunately the house no longer looks like this:

Learning from dancers

You might not be surprised either that I spend a lot of time driving back and forth between two dance schools or that a lot of the conversation en route is about dance. LoLo came up with something recently which made me stop and think. It was about the value of correction, and we thought there was a lesson in there from the way dancers approach being corrected. 

‘Correction is the teacher giving you some of their time just to you to help you improve and it’s better than just being ignored. In some schools, if you’re being ignored, they don’t think you’re good enough so they don’t bother to say anything. Instead of saying, You’re good but this is how you could be even better, you get nothing.’ (LoLo)

Dancers view correction not as something to be feared, but as something they crave because it is how they get better, and because they know that although nothing they ever do will be perfect, they can always improve.

Not all correction is equally valuable, however. What we really want is specific correction.

‘Lift your leg higher’ is not wildly helpful. Breaking down the movement into all its constituent parts and going through them slowly, possibly also helping to move your leg as you step through it so you can feel what you should be experiencing – that is helpful.

Correction is different from criticism. 

‘With correction, they want you to be better and they’re helping you to do that. In some schools they will just criticise you, like say you’re never going to get anywhere.’ (LoLo)

And nobody likes or benefits from that.

There is also something about the way in which correction is received.

‘Some choreographers are open to other ideas but you can’t just say “I don’t accept that” or be rude in any way to them. Dancers are some of the most polite people on the planet.’ (LoLo)

An example of the way dancers approach their classes is the ritual at the end of each class called the révérence (French pronunciation, please). This is a simple or elaborate set of steps ‘which exemplifies ballet’s traditions of courtesy, dignity, elegance and respect’ (Eliza Gaynor Minden – LoLo quote from her Ballet Bible aka The Ballet Companion).

This révérence is a thank you to your teacher or the ballet master and to the accompanist, your partner if it was a performance, and the conductor for the music. And all those curtseys or bows at the end of a performance are a simple révérence – the dancers are saying thank you to the audience.

We think those traditions would go a long way to making life more harmonious, and that seems like something we could do with a lot more of at the moment.

Back to that ‘I don’t accept that’ concept we mentioned earlier. Have you noticed how it seems to be becoming the standard government response to any suggestion that something might be amiss? That attitude would not get them past their first dance lesson, and more widely it struck us that there might be something we can all learn from dancers. Correction given and received in the right way can only make us better.

Closer to home

Do you find yourself thinking you know some cities that you have only visited better than the ones you have lived in? Well, of course, you know them differently. As a tourist, for one thing, when you have time to wander around, find what events are happening and not have to think, what else do I have to do that day. 

I realised that I have this problem when it comes to photography. Wandering around Edinburgh I’m concentrating too much on where I’m going and what I have to do and simply not seeing everything that is around me. Which is why so many of my photos are from other places.

I hope to correct that imbalance slightly this week.

The Union Canal runs through the heart of Scotland, connecting the centre of Edinburgh with Falkirk. It’s where I do a lot of my running because once you’re about four miles out, the city disappears and you are running along the towpath beside open fields, in the shadow of rows of trees and under beautiful stone bridges that take you back to a different time.

The trouble with running it is that I never have my camera with me, and even if I did, I would not be stopping to take photos. So last week, everything went well and I found an hour to jump on my bike and get out to the parts of the canal that make the distance out to there worthwhile. And here’s what I came across.

Just over a mile from the city centre:

But it gets a lot better later on just because the water equals reflections everywhere:

And bridges with the sun behind them give us real contrasts:

Welcome to a different world:

And my favourite (yes, I got the birds in it!)

Maybe I will have to find a way of taking that camera with me on my runs after all…