If you believe the hype, Edinburgh’s Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations are the greatest in the land.
The visitor numbers are spun quite brilliantly each year as the event is hailed a major success, and a revenue generator on a massive scale.
Edinburgh is my home city. Love the place.
I really want to fly the flag and tell folk the festive events live up to the all hype, and are all pure dead brilliant.
But, I can’t.
Rewind one month and I find myself at the market in Princes Street gardens for the second or third time. It is absolutely heaving. We concede defeat.
Trying to get near any of the stalls was like swimming against a high tide of human traffic, and the usual, disinterested stewards didn’t help – the guy standing at the ‘exit only’ sign with his hands stuffed in his pockets as folk piled in summed it up.
And, as for the stalls ... overpriced and drearily familiar is as kind as I can get.
There’s only so much gluhwein you can glug before feeling sick. Or skint ....
The magic the market genuinely had when it first arrived has long since been blunted by a sense we really have seen it all before; the same stalls selling the same stuff in the same place too.
In St Andrew’s Square the ice rink was left isolated after the stalls were shunted to the other end of George Street next to the Street of Light, while the spiegeltent went up to Festival Square.
All that did was stretch things out, and make more feel less.
The ‘Scottish market’ took all of two minutes to wheech round, and the Street of Light lacked a real ‘wow’ factor
It needed the interaction of live performances rather than a backing tape as the lights went on, and off, and on and off. The very fact we spent as much time enthralled by the rich, imaginative light display on the wall of Tiger Lily’s premises opposite it kinda summed it up.
True, I enjoyed walking round the city. I loved taking in the sights, the sounds and the atmosphere.
But I was still left with the feeling Edinburgh needs to tear it up and start again.
It’s been largely churning out the same attractions since the’90s – the star flyer? Yup, done it. Big wheel? Yup, tick – and seems content to bask in the smug PR rather than work to make the celebrations really special.
Take the torchlight procession. It used to be free. Now you gotta pay.
Always wanted to do it, so we stumped up and arrived at The Tron on a glorious December evening.
More than an hour later we had only just passed St Giles Cathedral. That’s a distance of maybe 100 yards.
Our torches remained unlit, while a DJ’s voice boomed ‘Happy Hogmanay!’’ with a frequency that curdled dark thoughts involving said torch.
The procession WAS a stunning spectacle, but we were so far back there was little time to drink in the stunning scene of tens of thousands of torches marching towards Calton Hill as we hoofed it down an empty Mound to play catch up. If only they’d had stewards with the spirit of the volunteers who made the London Olympics and Glasgow’s Commnonwealth Games; folk who interacted, smiled and kept everyone rolling along and added so much to the occasion.
We made it just in time to catch the fireworks. The thousands behind us didn’t.
Still who cares when the numbers make great headlines?
Well, I do.
Edinburgh’s a great city. It can, and should, do better.