Flocks of Flying Haggis over Portobello

The hotel breakfast was just shy of disgusting. I eat  while simultaneously  dry wretching.  Like many attempts at web design, it’s not a pretty site. I am being served by a deep voiced tattooed lesbian who is actually the best thing about the dinning room.  She strikes me as a cross between KD Lange and Dawn French.  Half way through the breakfast she gruffly asks the obligatory question “ is everything okay with your breakfast, sir”. I try to answer but I am still dry wretching.  It is just plain wrong to eat microwaved black pudding in Edinburgh.  Edinburgh of all places is black pudding heaven – black pudding is a relative of haggis, cousin I think.  My foster brothers  sisters and I used to wait outside the cottagein Lochinver to see if we could catch the flocks of haggis do their early morning flight over the highlands as granddad munro said they would.  I finish my breakfast and sprint up to my room to continue the article that I am writing for the guardian. Eleven oclock comesround too soon and I hear a pip pip from the cobbled street outside the window. 

I think he looks  like  Hagrid would have looked before he got into drinking and Hogwarts home cooking –slightly rakish, a mop of curly hair and a less gravely accent,  quietly spoken even but no less confident in himself.  He has the inquisitive questioning look as if all questions are held  in statis then swilled around before being answered. Michael Visocchi the sculptor has just set off in his van from outside my hotel in Edinburgh we are wending our way through the streets of Edinburgh to his artists studio.   “then we’re going to Calums for lunch” he says  grappling the wheel.  I love Edinburgh. 

We are working on a commission for The City of London. My poem shall be inscribedwithin his sculptor or his sculptor will be the backdrop for my poem.  This is the first time I will see a life sized example of the sugar cane  part of the sculpture.  Where else would an artists studio be than in Portobello. The majority of the studio is used by the artist Calum Colvin whom I met at the wedding of Jamie Byng a few years ago. I liked Calum, and we got on  good. But how best to be introduced to a meal with artists than throughtheir studio’s.  Nice coincidence.

We walk past a large skip with all kinds of things protruding from it – an old Victorian clock, a broken chandelier, a painting of bridget bardot in Spanish gown in a mock gold frame. The courtyard opens to  a waterfall of ivy pouring  over its walls and a lamberetti lies on thefloor “it’s been used in one of calums pieces” says Michael.  For some reason it remindsme of a prostrate Hare.  Finally, the studio.  The walls are lined with massive bubble wrapped paintings ready to be flown to an exhibition in Belgium. From a back door Mr and Mrs Colvin emerge - Calums parents, artists themselves.   We discuss writers and Mr Colvin tells a funny story about the bust of Alisdair gray.    The writer Jackie Kay shall be using a painting owned by Mrs Colvin for her next book.  How brilliant to have artists as parents.  If I’m ever a parent I suppose  that’s what I’ll be.

The entire place is a collection  of  broken  “sets”,  a black crow sits on a painted chair.  I look into Stereoscopes. The stereoscopes is the Victorian version of Virtual Reality and is made with mirrors and  imagery.  Michael takes me through Calums studio into his own -  a large space full to bursting with his  visions. I absolutely love it.  Calum has been in this studio seventeen years and Michael eight years. In less than a week they are bothleaving as the owner wants the property. Though they don’t show it I think it must be  a traumatic time.  After seeing the life sized model from michael – very impressive – we head for calums house. I call Francis the editor at my publishers Canongate and it turns out he lives one hundred yards away from the studio. What are the odds on that.

Calums House is a gorgeous Georgian spacious and lush place. His wife has made abeautiful meal,  perfectly placed lasagne with an asparagus spears and avocado salad and some gorgeous balsamic dressing. . I am so hungry.   Their garden has gages, apple trees pear trees plum trees lettuce, tomatoes and much much more  and the conservatory has a forest of tomato and military lines of basil and there’s a  vine too with grapes hanging and purpling before my eyes in the conservatory.

Calum’s built a studio in his garden. It’s where he’ll be working.  Myself and Michael bring strawberries and cream and wine.  I rush off which is not cool because you should never rush food or the conversation that goes with food and the fruit picked and blended into a beautiful mix for us looks absolutely absolute absolutely goreous.  But it was delicious all of it. Calum and  his wife are like Paul and Linda Macartney.  I think I am going to call them Paul and Linda from now on. I still don’t drink but it doesn’t stop me buying wine for good people. Clumsy I leave in a flurry of apology. Wish I could say more about this time at  cause the conversation was great and the food too.  Francis is outside in the car withhis son.   

Later on, on stage at my reading in a tent in The Meadows, I will talk about meetingMichael and Calum.  I’ll talk about the mirrors in the stereoscope and how I looked at one piece and said to Calum “this is amazing. I feel like your art gives me a way of seeing into myself and the world around me”. I will speak of his profound reply “it’s a mirror lemn”. And I will speak of how all art is a mirror to the world. And I will speak of his firmer response “no lemn. It is just a mirror. You’ve been looking at a mirror, the art is over there”.     Thereading goes well. Francis from Canongate comes to the reading which is important to me and John Morgan the director of the  Edinburgh Fringe is there too. John was  producer at Contact Theatre when I was writer in residence there and it’s great to see him.   The mirror thing. It didn’t happen.

To think of these two vibrant artists folding away the four dimensions of art and packingthem into carriages to take them to a new space is  disturbing. It would make a  beautiful film – the end of the studio. These fundamental changes in an artists life serve as portals for the  artist into the next stage.  If exhibitions are the flags in the mountainside of an artists journey then studios are the base camps from which those sojourns are made. Every now and then the artist looks back to see how far he has come, but it’’s all mist. It’s all mist. He has travelled so far that he is in the clouds inside imagination. It’s a lonesome journey. But for anyone who has been up a mountain, it’s breathtaking!  

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