Burns, not Burns

Display in Music Library, Central Library

Not Mr Burns the Scrooge-like boss from The Simpsons, not Pete Burns, unique frontman of the band Dead or Alive, not Frank Burns character in the hit TV show M.A.S.H. and the butt of many a joke, also not Gordon Burns journalist and broadcaster, host of the Krypton Factor or indeed, not the wonderfully named Otway Burns the American privateer and later State Senator for North Carolina born just a few years after the Burns of today’s blog – Robert Burns, our National Bard.

Life is but a day at most.

Written In Friars Carse Hermitage

Robert Burns, fair fa’ his honest, sonsie face, writer of everything and the voice of Scotland since the beginning of time, even though he was born in 1759, and died in 1796, at the age of only 37.

Now health forsakes that angel face.

Fragment “Now health forsakes that angel face”, Robert Burns

Burns, Robert Burns, licensed to rhyme, lived his short live to the full, his many roles included exciseman, poet, republican, song collector, father of four.

I’m twenty-three, and five feet nine, I’ll go and be a sodger.

Extempore Burns 1781/82

His legendary excesses, his many loves and love affairs resulting in, at least, the four children mentioned earlier and his membership of the Crochallan Fencibles, an Edinburgh convivial club who had their meetings in the Anchor Tavern just off the High Street.

I flatter my fancy I may get anither, My heart it shall never be broken for ane”.

As I go wand’ring, A song collected by Burns, C1792

Robert Burns, so good they only had to name him once, is known as a great poet, with a catalogue of hundreds of works and these hundreds of poems and songs make up the lyrics of the great Scottish song collection since the mid 1700s. With a cannon of works as large as Burns has, it is the case that he is the go-to lyricist for all of the songsters since, well since him, Robert Burns.

God knows, I’m no the thing I should be, Nor am I even the thing I could be”.

Epistle To The Rev. John M’math

Our small display in the Music Library highlights the Burns collection of Jean Redpath with Serge Hovey. In 1976, when Jean Redpath began recording the complete songs of Robert Burns, Hovey researched and arranged 324 songs for the project but died before the project could be completed, leaving only seven critically acclaimed volumes of the planned twenty-two, Jean Redpath felt unable to continue without Hovey.

While winds frae aff Ben-Lomond blaw,
An’ bar the doors wi’ driving snaw,
An’ hing us owre the ingle,
I set me down to pass the time,
An’ spin a verse or twa o’ rhyme,
In hamely, westlin jingle.”

Epistle to Davie, A Brother Poet

Thereafter our display highlights the works of other notable poets, many known by, or contemporaries of, Burns. Many of these works, poems and songs by the people below and their contempories were collected by Burns on his travels round the country, this small selection demonstrate that although Burns is the pre-eminent lyricist in the Great Scottish Songbook, there are many others wordsmith for us to celebrate.

Owre the Muir, Amang the Heather (O’er the Moor, Amang the Heather) by Jean Glover
Jean Glover (1758 – 1801) of Kilmarnock was known by Burns as a fine singer and poet, it was he who recorded this song. Burns seems to have had some sort of relationship with Glover, possibly literary sparring partners, possibly more. 

Jock O’Hazeldean by Sir Walter Scott
The fifteen-year-old Scott met Burns at a ‘literary’ get together, where he prompted the bard with the name of a poet whose lines had just been quoted. Scott later remembered how touched he was by the gratitude shown by the great Burns.

Cam’ ye by Athol James Hogg
It is not clear whether Burns was aware of the work of the Ettrick Shepherd but Hogg was certainly aware of the former’s work. Hogg recounts in his memoir how he was in rapture when he heard Tam O’Shanter for the first time and how he learned it in an afternoon.

Farewell to Lochaber by Allan Ramsey
Allan Ramsey died a year before Burns birth, so was unaware of the talent to come. Burns was more familiar with the work of the great Ramsey. Burns was always willing to acknowledge the elder influence, he was not, however, always fulsome with his praise.

Auld Robin Gray by Lady Anne Lindsay
Born Ann Lindsay in 1750, she became Lady Anne Barnard when she married Sir Andrew Barnard in 1763. She accompanied him to the Cape of Good Hope when he became colonial secretary there in 1797. They returned to London in 1802. When Sir Andrew chose to return to the Cape in 1806, Anne decided to remain in London. Sir Andrew Barnard died in the Cape in 1807. “Auld Robin Gray,” written to the music of an old song, was first published anonymously; in 1823 she confided its authorship to her friend Sir Walter Scott, who in 1825 prepared an edition of the ballad. Lady Anne died in 1825 in London.

O! Are you sleepin’ Maggie by Robert Tannahill
The Weaver Poet was born in Paisley, in 1774, where he lived and worked all his short life. Prone to bouts of depression, Robert took his own life in 1810. Tannahill was a great admirer of Burns and was the first Sectretary of the Paisley Burns Club, one of the oldest Burns clubs, which was founded in Tannahill’s house in 1805.

Annie Laurie by William Douglas
William Douglas (1682(?) to 1741) soldier, poet and Jacobite. It was this last part which brought Douglas into direct, and at times physical, conflict with Annie Laurie’s royalist father. Annie and William’s flaming romance fizzled out and they both went on to marry others, but we are left with a wonderful song.

The Auld House by Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne
Carolina Oliphant was a prolific author and collector of songs and poems. Considered by many to be a national bard second only to Robert Burns.

Mary McNeill by Erskine Conally
Conally, born in the year of Burns’ death would have been aware of the Bard’s work. After schooling at a local high school, Conally was apprenticed to an Anstruther bookseller. He moved to Edinburgh and worked as a clerk to a writer to the signet. From there he went into partnership with a solicitor. On his partner’s death Conally took over and ran the firm. Although he never published a collection of his work, many are well-known, with “Mary McNeill” being the best known.

Song Gems (Scots) The Dunedin Collection which contains Mary McNeill is edited by composer Learmont Drysdale, who arranged a number of the songs in this volume. The list of arrangers/composers contains some names of composers/arrangers who crop up regularly in the “Scots Songbook” – J Kenyon Lees, C R Baptie, Ord Hume. In amongst these, there are a few notables in Scottish Music including Sir Alexander McKenzie, Natale Corri and Learmont Drysdale himself.

There is another book to mention in our wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous  display, which is a Volume of “Seventy Scots Songs” by Helen Hopekirk.  Hopekirk was born in Portobello in 1856 and became a world-famous concert pianist and composer, working and touring in Europe and America. After making her home in America, she visited her native Scotland many times during her long life, song collecting and composing. During an extended visit she played her own piano concerto in D major with the Scottish Orchestra in 1919.

So, gie bring to me a pint o’ wine and we will celebrate Rabbie’s birth on the 25 January with suppers and socially distanced get togethers, to drink whisky, or Scotland’s other national drink, Irn Bru, eat Haggis and too much tablet, whilst we recite the verse and sing the songs.

To everyone else born on the 25 January we celebrate you too, and raise a glass in hope that this year is better than last.

Explore Burns in our collections! Here are just a few suggestions –

The Complete Works of Robert Burns
Borrow the ebook

Robert Burns – complete classics
Borrow the audiobook

Burns Supper Companion by Hugh Douglas
Reserve print copy online

Burns Supper Companion by Nancy Marshall
Reserve print copy online

The Ultimate Burns Supper Book by Clark McGinn
Borrow the ebook
Reserve the print copy online

The Broons’ Burns Night
Reserve the print copy online

Burns Night: a freestyle guide by Boyd Baines
Borrow the ebook
Reserve the print copy online

The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection has lots more material available on Robert Burns and the Music Library has many CDS of Burns’ music available. Go to the Your Library website and search the catalogue for Burns suppers, Burns songs etc for much, much more.

And for a quick virtual tour of the Bard’s time in Edinburgh, read the Robert Burns in Edinburgh story on Our Town Stories.

Instant Digital Card promotion

Do you know someone who would benefit from free access to ebooks, audiobooks and magazines, but who are not a member of the library? This New Year you can get free instant access to Edinburgh Libraries Libby from OverDrive service without a library card. Thousands of best-selling titles for adults, teens and children are available to read on your phone, tablet or computer. It’s a fantastic way to make the most of your electronic Christmas presents and to save money. Please spread the word to relatives and friends!

No library card? No problem! From the 18 January – 16 February 2022 if you are over 13 years old you can sign up for an Instant Digital Card in seconds. All you need is a mobile phone number and the access code – Library2go. To find out how to get started go to www.edinburgh.gov.uk/IDC.

The Instant Digital Card gives you access to Libby for three months. However, you can keep on using the service for free by joining the library and receiving a permanent membership card. Join online through www.edinburgh.gov.uk/joinourlibrary
Contact informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk if you have any questions about our downloadable services.

Photographs in the vicinity of Lauriston Castle

The latest Capital Collections exhibition features a volume of 59 images dated between 1875 and 1900, but compiled in 1909. The photographs depict a variety of properties, mostly residential, in the area around Lauriston Castle. The book has the armorial bookplate of Macknight Crawfurd of Cartsburn, one of Lauriston Castle’s former residents!

Muirhouse – c1887

As the title suggests these photographs were taken in a relatively small area and highlight different properties that were in the area at that time. There is a variety of dwellings depicted, ranging from grand stately homes to workers’ cottages.

Many of these buildings still exist although their purpose may have changed. Others have since disappeared. You may be familiar with some of the place names which are still in use but some locations, such as Muirhouse, Pennywell and Royston look quite different today.

Silverknowes 1879

To see the complete collection, visit the Photographs in the vicinity of Lauriston Castle exhibition on Capital Collections.

Winter wellbeing

January is a time of renewal, reflection, and looking forward to brighter days. Winter invites us to slow down and take stock. So, as we head into this new year, Library Resource Management have curated four Health and Wellbeing collections that will be available at Stockbridge, Morningside, Portobello, and Wester Hailes Libraries.

Whether you want to learn practical tips, take a more mindful approach to yourself and your wellbeing, or if you want to keep up with your new year’s resolutions, here is just a glimpse into some of the titles available…

Learn about the workings of the mind
This Too Shall Pass by Julia Samuel – Samuel is a psychotherapist and grief specialist. Her book is comprised of intimate portraits of the people she’s worked with. Charting their progress as each client goes through a hard but transformative period in their lives.

The Orchid and the Dandelion by W Thomas Boyce – This book describes how four fifths of children are ‘dandelions,’ and able to succeed in most environments, whilst one fifth fall into the category of ‘orchids.’ Orchids are more sensitive to the world and have a higher biological stress response, but if they’re nurtured sensitively then they have the potential for great success.

I’m Not Crazy I’m Just not You by Roger R. Pearman and Sarah C Albritton – Most of us know if we’re introverted or extroverted, but are you thinking or feeling? Judging or perceiving? Understand yourself on a deeper level by learning all about your specific personality type – from Myers Briggs to Carl Jung. Our personalities shape our values, how we move around in the world, and underpin all our relationships.

Learn practical tips
Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers – In this popular book Jeffers urges us to take risks, take responsibility, and realise that whichever direction life turns, ‘you can handle it.’

When Likes Aren’t Enough by Tim Bono – It’s been proven that with increased social media usage our happiness decreases. This book offers tips on ‘attention training’ and ‘time management’ to improve our overall happiness.

Why We Get Mad: how to use your anger for positive change by Dr. Ryan Martin – What is anger? And who is allowed to get angry? Everyone gets angry sometimes, yet anger remains an often misunderstood and stigmatised emotion. This book includes techniques and tools to help manage anger in a positive way.

Rest and be mindful
Niksen: Embracing the Dutch art of doing nothing by Olga Mecking – This is perfect if you’re a fan of The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. Let go of worried thoughts and watch the clouds go by! The Dutch have proven that taking time out to do nothing at all helps with overall concentration and wellbeing.

The Art of Rest by Claudia Hammond – Hammond explores the top ten ‘most restful’ activities, from reading to watching TV to having a bath. Spoiler: Reading rates very highly…

Get out into nature
Wintering by Katherine May – If you find this time of year hard, learn to embrace the velvety darkness of winter with this book. A meditation on the quiet joys that winter brings and the importance of a season of rest and reflection.

By the Sea: The therapeutic benefits of being in, on and by the water by Dr Deborah Cracknell – Have you been for a dip yet this year? Many of us know the sea to have a replenishing, calming and even spiritual effect. Dive into this title and explore the emotional and physical benefits of being close to water.

Eat well
The dopamine diet by Tom Kerridge – Kerridge is a Michelin star chef, in this book he focuses on ingredients that are known to release dopamine (the happiness hormone) in your brain. Eating healthily doesn’t mean giving up the joy of food.

Broke Vegan by Saskia Sidey – Fancy trying Veganuary? Whether you’re a vegan or not, eating one or two vegan meals a week is proven to be beneficial for the environment. Sidey has compiled over 100 plant-based recipes for vegans on a budget.

Pop into one of the four libraries for the full selection or reserve a title online and pick up at your nearest reopened library.

Edinburgh’s brewing heritage

We’re indebted to the Scottish Brewing Archive Association who have contributed a brilliant new story about the history of brewing in the city to Our Town Stories.
Read the story and discover how Edinburgh became the brewing capital of the world!

Barrels of McEwan’s beer being loaded onto horse-drawn drays, late 19th century
Copyright: Scottish Brewing Archive Association

The story tells how Edinburgh once boasted over 40 breweries with the vast majority in and around the Canongate area. It starts with the monks at Holyrood Abbey who sank a well and used the water to brew their ale.

Follow the story and you’ll be able to spot the tell-tale signs from this important industry from Edinburgh’s past as you walk the city’s streets today.

Brewery related street names, 2015
Copyright: Scottish Brewing Archive Association

Discover how the development of transportation enabled the market place to expand and how automation was introduced to the workplace to increase productivity. As time passed, many of the smaller breweries were taken over by the larger companies and the story highlights several significant breweries which have since disappeared but remain familiar names.

Read the full story on Our Town Stories.

If you want to find out more about Edinburgh or Scotland’s brewing history, contact the Scottish Brewing Archive Association.

Green Pencil Award-winner 2021

We’re thrilled to announce the winning entry for the 2021 Green Pencil creative writing competition on the theme of Climate Change is ‘We need to stop this now!’ by Alfie Ross, from St. Mary’s Primary School.

And we’re delighted to invite you to listen to a specially recorded reading of Alfie’s poem by poet, Jeda Pearl Lewis.
Here is, ‘We need to stop this now!’

The winning entry for the 2021 Green Pencil creative writing award, ‘We need to stop this now!’ by Alfie Ross, is read by poet, Jeda Pearl Lewis.

You can enjoy all four of our finalists read their highly commended entries in yesterday’s blog post.

Green Pencil Award 2021

A big thank you to all the children and young people who entered the Green Pencil creative writing competition. We enjoyed reading all your writing.

This year’s theme tackled a very hot topic – climate change. P4-P7 aged children and young people in S1-3 were challenged to write a poem, piece of prose or story on the theme.

Once again, we were unable to hold an awards ceremony in Central Library, so here instead, you can listen to the finalists read their highly commended entries in these special Green Pencil videos.

Congratulations to all our talented finalists!

Raghav Palanivel from Corstorphine Primary School reads his highly commended poem ‘A kid’s cry for justice’.
Alex Cook Ribes from Hermitage Park Primary School reads his highly commended poem ‘Mother Earth’.
Alfie Ross from St. Mary’s Primary School reads his highly commended poem ‘We need to stop this now!’
Lulah Thomson from Wardie Primary School reads her highly commended poem ‘My Highland Home’.

Come back tomorrow when the winner will be revealed…

Metamorphic – January 2022 exhibition in the Art and Design Library

The January exhibition in the Art and Design Library is ‘Metamorphic’, a visual meditation using traditional photographic techniques by members of Edinburgh LoFi.

Metamorphism is a process of transformation through which temperature and pressure cause profound physical or chemical changes.

Blue Seam – Stitched cyanotype on fabric by Ali Millar

This process usually refers to geological changes, but Edinburgh LoFi have chosen this theme for their 2022 exhibition as it seems apt both for the profound changes which have overtaken society in the past couple of years and also to refer to the physical and chemical reactions in traditional and alternative process photography.

The Edinburgh LoFi group was started in 2009 at the Beyond Words photography bookshop to promote and explore film photography. The group is now run collectively.

The Devonian North – detail from a Polaroid 600 installation by Elaine Robson

The group meets regularly to share their photography experiences across traditional, alternative and lomographic formats. They also run events, hold workshops and plan exhibitions. New members are always welcome and regular meetings are free to attend. You can find out more on the Edinburgh Lofi website.

Metamorphic runs until 29 January in the Art and Design Library at Central Library.

The Art and Design Library hosts 12 exhibitions a year and we warmly encourage artists who are interested in exhibiting to contact us via central.artanddesign.library@edinburgh.gov.uk for more information. 

Some of our favourite books of 2021

Edinburgh Libraries staff tell us which books have meant the most to them this past year.

Bageshri from Fountainbridge Library says “the best book I read in 2021 is The happiest man on Earth by Eddie Jaku.
It is an inspirational and heart-breaking story of an Auschwitz survivor. This story teaches us life values and make us appreciate what we have in our lives. Eddie faced so much hardship and horrors in life at Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Nazi death camp. He also lost his family and friends. But he still had so much of positivity and hope in life. Eddie has lived a life that many of us can’t even imagine. Even after all the pain Eddie went through in his life, he considers himself the ‘Happiest man on Earth’ and makes the vow to smile every day!
One of the beautiful quotes from this book is:

“Life can be beautiful if you make it beautiful. It is up to you.”

Such a powerful statement! It makes you think and reminds you to enjoy every bit of life.
It is an inspirational story of an inspirational man, which tells us all to grab happiness with both hands. Published as Eddie turns 100, this is a must-read book which will give you hope in the darkest of days.”
Available to borrow in print or talking book on CD.

Catherine from Muirhouse Library enjoyed reading Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.
“The loveliest A.I. you’ll ever meet is attached to a family home full of secrets. Strangely haunting!”
Available to borrow as an ebook, or audiobook or in print or talking book on CD.

Ian from Portobello recommends Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre
“LeCarre’s work, particularly those novels featuring world-weary taciturn SIS stalwart George Smiley, are internationally renowned as among the greatest espionage fiction novels ever printed.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the 5th story featuring Smiley but is possibly the best remembered thanks to several memorable adaptions in TV, film and radio, attracting an admirable list of major stars and Oscar winners like, Sir Alec Guinness, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Sir Patrick Stewart and Colin Firth to name but a few.

Released in 1974 during the Cold War between the powers of the West and the Eastern Bloc, just over a decade before the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and leaning heavily on the controversial “ripped from the headlines” defection of Kim Philby to the USSR in 1963, a time when LaCarre himself worked for MI5, this book eschews the sexy “Bang! Pow! Guns, Girls and Gadgets” spy worlds inhabited by 60s/70s spy contemporaries James Bond, Matt Helm and Napoleon Solo, instead focusing on the seedy, grimy and almost mundane reality of international spy craft in the 1970s, a world of Eastern European stake-outs, late night dead-drops and loyalties for sale to the highest bidder.

When ex-spymaster Smiley is called out of forced retirement to lead the hunt for a suspected Soviet mole deep within “The Circus”, masterminded by his old nemesis in the KGB, little does he realize the depth of the lies and corruption he faces, the secrets hidden at the very heart of the SIS which could send seismic shocks through the British intelligence establishment and change the lives of those involved forever…

If you’re looking for a quick read that you can pick up and put down on a whim, this isn’t the book for you, but if you want a dense, fascinating page-flipper that pulls you in with tons of intrigue, twists and gritty worldbuilding, this may be just what you need.”
Available to borrow as an ebook or audiobook, or in print or watch the film on DVD.

Enya from Morningside Library recommends Esmé Weijun Wang’s essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias.
It “is all about mental health and the journey of getting diagnosed and living with schizoaffective disorder. It’s beautifully written and conveys an understanding of schizophrenia that I haven’t had before, including the many hurdles in getting diagnosed when you appear to be high-functioning, and the multitude of misunderstandings and disagreements about what it means to be schizophrenic.”
Available to borrow in print.

Susan from the Digital Team recommends The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
“My favourite ebook of the year, The Mirror and the Light
was also quite a bittersweet read for me. I’ve been hooked on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall Trilogy since I first read Wolf Hall and it had been a long wait for this last book to be published. It’s not often though that you know the ending of a novel before you begin, but with Thomas Cromwell being a historical character his fate was well known to me. Mantel’s writing is utterly beautiful; full of descriptive detail that brings everything from the mundane to the magnificent to life. Her ability to convey the thoughts and inner workings of others is breath-taking and unsurpassed. It felt devastating when Cromwell died, like you were losing a person you intimately knew and cared for and this is a real testimony to Mantel’s writing abilities.”
Available to borrow as an ebook or audiobook or in print or as talking book on CD.

Fiona from Central Library puts forward Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes.
“This is a real librarian’s book! It’s based around a group of packhorse librarians in the Appalachian Mountains in the USA – yes, packhorse librarians really were a thing in the 1930s. These (mainly) women took books by horse or mule to houses and schools which were nowhere near a town or library. This novel brings out the importance of books and reading to those who are already socially isolated so it rang a bigger chord with me as I read it during lockdown two. The group of librarians depicted are all really strong characters and it was one of those books that I just couldn’t put down.”
Available to borrow as an ebook or audiobook or in print or as talking book on CD.  

Gema from Stockbridge Library particularly liked Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.
“It had me in because I found it very well-written without showing-off, and I loved that it was intriguing without a far-fetched explanation at the end. Everything made sense. I enjoyed that while I was avidly turning the pages, I was not only trying to guess who the murderer was; I didn’t even know who the victim had been!  And l loved the sense of humour. The author presents some very serious topics, but she also made me laugh. Good pace, without unnecessary descriptions or side stories… It was a long time since I’d read a book so fast.
And no, I hadn’t seen the series. Saw them later and it’s a pity that they couldn’t transmit all the wit of the book.”
Available to borrow as an ebook or in print.

Clare from the Digital Team loved This was our pact by Ryan Andrews
“This past year I’ve been discovering the downloadable graphic novel collection via Libby. Not the type you might be thinking of that’s all superhuman powers and unlikely physiques. No, the ones I’ve found are beautiful, delightful, soul-searching. I started with Relish by Lucy Knisley, a personal memoir into how someone develops and shares relationships through food, sprinkled with recipes. Then I tried Are you listening? by Tillie Walden, which takes you on a heart-wrenching road-trip into an unsettling, shifting landscape of dark memories. But my favourite so far, is This was our pact by Ryan Andrews. It’s a magical and gorgeously illustrated adventure for kids of all ages about the power of friendship, inspiring courage and imagination.”
Available to borrow as an ebook.

Carol from Stockbridge Library choose two books Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart and The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elizabeth Gifford.
“I really liked these two books a lot. Both set in Scotland, but from very different perspectives in time and place. There are sharp contrasts between the urban rawness in Shuggie, which centres around the hardships of life and love between an alcoholic mother and her son, whereas The Lost Lights has the themes of love and loss set amidst the remote island of St Kilda. I listened to both books on Libby e-audio and really enjoyed listening to the spoken word. Definitely recommend.”
Borrow Shuggie Bain as an ebook and audiobook.
Borrow The Lost Lights of St Kilda as an ebook, audiobook or in print, large print or talking book on CD.

Bronwen from the Art and Design and Music Libraries chooses 1979 by Val McDermid
“Val McDermid’s 1979 is my favourite new book of 2021 – no contest! I’m sure I’m not alone. 1979 is the start of a new series of crime thrillers with the promise from the author of a new book set in each decade leading up to the present. Cast against the Winter of Discontent, the protagonist of 1979, Allie Burns, has started a new job as a reporter in the male dominated world of local newspapers in Glasgow. As a woman in a man’s world, Allie strikes up an alliance with investigative journalist and colleague Danny Sullivan. Keen to make her mark, Allie secures a scoop, the revelation of which is set to shock Scotland and the burgeoning SNP movement to its core. Together with Danny, Allie exposes corruption and terrorism and as their relationship and friendship develops on a personal note what it means to be gay in a world where homosexuality is still illegal. 1979 is very much a chronicle of the times both politically and socially. McDermid draws on her own working life as a young reporter in Glasgow in the late 1970s and I wonder how much of the racism, sexism and homophobia portrayed in the novel she experienced first-hand. The book is more than a period piece however with both plot and characters standing strong in their own right regardless of time and place. All the same as someone who grew up during the 1970s I loved re-imagining all the details of that time, the politics, the smoke-filled rooms, the music, the clattering typewriters and can’t wait for the next in the series. What will Val McDermid do with the 1980s I wonder?
Available to borrow in print or talking book on CD.

Nicola from Kirkliston and South Queensferry Libraries says her stand out read of 2021 has to be The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong.
“This amazing debut novel is written from first-hand experience by an author who grew up being part of the gang culture of North Lanarkshire, and all that that entailed in terms of camaraderie, football, violence and drugs & alcohol. It is looked at warts and all. From the very start I was fully invested in the life of Azzy Williams, the loveable rogue. There is an ethical code of sorts and Young Team is everything above all other allegiances. You watch and dread what may happen and must keep reading to the inevitable climax and showdown.

There are themes which are explored around masculinity and mental health. It is written with truth, and humour. This book should be recommended to young people to read. Graeme has so much to say and gives hope to those who have been written off, particularly young men.

I saw him participate in a discussion with Douglas Stuart, the author of Shuggie Bain (which was another brilliant book and worthy Booker winner). Graeme broke free of the restrictions put upon him and is an inspiration. I’m looking forward to his next book Raveheart, which will look more at the rave culture which was touched upon in The Young Team.”
Borrow The Young Team in print or on talking book on CD.

Robert from Muirhouse Library wants to recommend a book for our younger readers. It proved popular with his Bookbug group and on nursery visits. It is Hat Tricks by Satoshi Kitamura.
“Magical! You never knew what was going to come next! A real page turner!”
Available to borrow in print.

What was your favourite book of the year?

Snow in art

For our December cabinet display outside the Art & Design Library we’re displaying some wintry pictures and this is a blog post to go alongside it – to add a wintry commentary of sorts. Specifically, I thought I’d think about snow in art.

It’s snowing as I write this.

A cold wet snow, that’s falling in big lumps. We’re all chills and fevers in our flat; coughs are racking like boots against the (cold) floorboards. We have clammy skin, drippy noses, we’ve had too much tea, too much toast and soup. There is too little light, and condensation is rolling off the window-panes. It’s winter.

When I think about the Scottish winter and snow, and pieces of art that capture it, I think of Joan Eardley – immediately – of course. This year marks the centenary of her birth, and there have been some wonderful exhibitions across the city; please do have a read of our previous blogpost.

I find her the most beautiful and powerful of painters, for the sheer depth of emotion she conveys. In her painting, Catterline in Winter (1963), a row of cottages slips, like they are being tipped from beneath, off a snowy hillside. Above, unflinching, is a cold grey sky. The night has left its thumbprint in the shape of the moon, and we can feel how it lurks, in a vast forbidding way, all around us. There is a wetness in the snow and a bitterness. The picture is also a portrait of her Catterline home as Joan Eardley lived in one of the cottages, the furthest on the left, number 1 South Row. We can’t reproduce the painting here unfortunately but it’s on display in the left-hand cabinet half-way up the stone staircase to the Reference department.

In art historical terms, Joan Eardley’s work nods towards abstract expressionism, expressionism, romanticism, and en plein-airistes everywhere. But really, as an artist, she is herself, and she paints what it is like to be in the fields, and in front of the sea, in all that landscape and weather that’s happening out there. She moved to Catterline, a small village on the north-east coast from Glasgow. She painted outdoors, weighing down her work with ropes and anchors and stones. She wore oilskins. She got very cold…

As a child my family lived in Germany for a while, and I remember how snow happened properly there, every winter. Or at least in my memory it did. My dad gritted and shovelled the path in front of our house with a fluorescent orange snow shovel, and my parents dressed me in a red snowsuit. Which makes me think about the whiteness of snow – and how light and colour sit in relationship with it. 

Claude Monet was a master with regards colour and light on snow. He too dressed for the cold, in English tweeds apparently. I immediately think of his haystacks but he painted many snow-scenes.

Haystacks: Snow Effect by Claude Monet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

He shows so perfectly how snow covers and transforms the forms within a landscape. The haystack is such a strange lump of a shape; we feel how it sits there right from the middle out.

Another snowy treasure – the Limbourg Brothers’ page for February in the late medieval illuminated manuscript, Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.

Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, 
Limbourg brothers, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s part of a book of hours, a book of prayers to be said at canonical hours, made between c. 1412 – 1416, by three brothers, Dutch miniaturists, Herman, Paul and Johan. Cover the blue parts of the painting with your fingers and the snow feels so different – colder maybe? The blue is so strong. And precious. There’s an interesting blog from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the Limbourg brothers (mostly it looks at their earlier Belles Heures). And another all about the practical questions on drawing and illumination in the middle ages.

Another painting I wanted to mention was the German painter and printmaker, Franz Marc’s picture of a white dog lying down in the snow.

Dog Lying in the Snow by Franz Marc, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The dog was Franz Marc’s own dog, Russi. He paints him (or her?) in non-naturalistic colour; colour-wheel colours, that are pure and un-patterned – the brushwork is less busy than a Vuillard or a Bonnard. And the shapes are very soft and simple. The dog and the snowy ground it lies on are gently modelled and fit together like an interlocking wooden toy. The living creature and its environment are one, and neither seem to threaten.

Franz Marc was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter group, an art movement important to expressionism. There was no manifesto to the group, and although the work looked in many directions, it shared a commonality in its desire to express spirituality through art. The Blaue Reiter artists were interested in the relationships between art and music and colour; in medieval art and primitivism, children’s art and folk art. And they had a special interest in how colour might convey spirituality and be imbued with symbolic associations. Franz Marc painted many animals. I find them very dignified and beautiful. The poet Mary Oliver, titled a collection of poems, Blue Horses (2014), after Franz Marc’s paintings –

I do not know how to thank you, Franz Marc.
Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
is the piece of God that is inside each of us…

To be outside in the snow, and then suddenly inside, in the warm, looking out at the snow… This is a feeling we all feel. We feel contentment and comfort coming indoors after being outside and I associate these feelings very much with memories of winter and childhood.

Jill Barklem’s Winter Story has always sat in my head. It’s part of her Brambly Hedge series, published in 1980, about a community of mice – Mr and Mrs Toadflax and their family and friends.

Brambly Hedge characters,
“Jill Barklem Sneeuw ill pag 4” by janwillemsen is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The details, the observation, the miniaturised world… each page is exquisite. She even made working mechanical models for the world that she drew; a mouse mill and a dairy. I think of Shirley Hughes too, and how she manages to capture the glow of windows and doorways and inside spaces, while outside, sits the winter cold. That glowing warmth isn’t budging, there’s no way the cold can get in.

Tove Jansson’s character, the Groke, is a hilly-shaped mound of a creature, that appears in many of her Moomin stories. She’s always seeking out warmth, but anything she touches turns to ice or snow or dies. And then of course there’s Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman for childhood snow at its most magical.

I remember listening a few years ago to a podcast on architectural design, specifically air conditioning in fact. The podcast talked a little about the pleasure we feel in moving from one temperature to another – about the cosy inside space, and the cool summer breeze. And design thoughts on creating a thermally fluctuating space to mimic this pleasure; on ideas about how we perceive temperature, and can we see temperature as more of a sense? Do we need to move away from thermally neutral spaces and recalibrate how we cope with, and sense, our thermal environment? You can listen to the 99% invisible podcast here.

And a few extra thoughts.

On snow, and joy, I’d just like to include Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. It works for me every time.

On beautiful book jackets – Tove Jansson’s Moominland Midwinter.

On frost fairs and the little ice age – the opening scenes in the film Orlando directed by Sally Potter. The young Orlando is a page in the Elizabethan court and falls in love with Sasha, a princess in the Russian entourage, as they skate through one of the Thames’ frost fairs.

Also a London Review of Books article on frost fairs by the poet John Burnside.

On ice skating and painting – Hendrick Avercamp!

On snow flurries – Alexander Calder and explore more on Calder by borrowing a book.

On any snowy painting by Pieter Breughel the Elder.

And lastly, any snowy woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige.

Books on all the artists mentioned are available to borrow from the Art & Design Library, Central Library. Please come and browse or search the Library catalogue online to reserve and pick up from a library of your choice.

Short stories for Christmas (for grown-ups)

Christmas can bring out something sentimental in authors and readers alike, something locked away for the rest of the year, like Bukowski’s Bluebird. This means that Christmas stories are a genre of their own, sentimental but sad and happy, stories which hold a mirror up to their characters at a magical, vulnerable, quivering time of the year, when the air between worlds seems thinner than ever.

Here, Hope from Central Library, highlights four excellent Christmas stories.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Marley was dead; to begin with.

But this doesn’t stop Marley coming back, the first of four ghosts to visit his old business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge. A classic known by children and adults alike, living on thanks to adaptions such as A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. I remember playing Tiny Tim’s mother in an assembly when I was seven years old (I think my costume was a pinny over my school uniform.)

This story of cruelty and redemption, of second chances, of warmth, love and conviviality, was written in Victorian England, but still speaks to us today. I think of it smelling of port and mincemeat, with the clutter of cutlery in the background, and the glow of a warm coal fire, flickering by the hearth. It’s a book to make you feel warm, even when winter is at its coldest, and maybe, that is why we still need it.

Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor by John Cheever

“Do you have any children Charlie?” Mrs Fuller asked.

“Four living,” he said, “two in the grave.” The majesty of his lie overwhelmed him.

This strange, sad, lovely story by John Cheever, published in The New Yorker in December 1949, is one of my favourites. A lonesome elevator operator in a high-rise building in New York, encounters everyone who lives in the building and has many drinks and Christmas dinners, throughout the day. Cynical and sentimental, this story looks at giving and the way that while Charlie sees Christmas as a sad season for the poor, perhaps this is not always the case?

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a grey fence in a grey backyard. To-morrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present.

I hate this story by O. Henry, but couldn’t not include it. The first time I read it I wept at the stupid injustice at the heart of the tale, where an artist and his lovely wife both sell their most prized possessions to buy one another a Christmas gift. It’s desperately sad, but it is about love, and beautifully written. And I remember it, even if it is with sadness and anger at this cruel, if sentimental Christmas tale.

Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story by Paul Auster

“The very phrase “Christmas story” had unpleasant associations for me, evoking dreadful outpourings of hypocritical mush and treacle.

A writer is tasked with the impossible: to write a non-sentimental Christmas story. He doesn’t know what to write, until chatting to his friend, cigar shop owner, Auggie Wren. It’s not a conventional Christmas story, but I would argue that it has a lot of sentiment, not in a sickly Hallmark kind of way, but in a way which is real, tender and true.
Listen to Paul Auster reading his story online.

It was also made into Smoke, which I think is a fantastic Christmas film.

What have you been reading?!

Our downloadable library has proved a lifeline to many during the pandemic and Edinburgh Libraries has seen usage of its ebook, audiobooks, newspaper and magazine services grow over this period. But, what have you all been reading over the last year and is it any different from anywhere else in the UK?!

You have borrowed over 205,000 ebooks from our Libby by OverDrive service this year! Surprisingly only three* of the titles on our top ten loans match those of the rest of the UK. Many of our top lenders have a decidedly Scottish theme or author –

  1. A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone – 1,050 loans
  2. The Thursday Murder Club* by Richard Osman – 938 loans
  3. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro – 689 loans
  4. The Hoarder by Jess Kidd – 652 loans
  5. In Dark Water by Lynne McEwan– 642 loans
  6. What He Knew by Marion Todd– 497 loans
  7. Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming – 432 loans
  8. The Sentinel* by Lee Child – 411 loans
  9. The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson – 407 loans
  10. The Coffin Maker’s Garden by Stuart MacBride – 402 loans

You read over 2.3 million newspaper copies last year through our PressReader service, making newspapers by far our most popular downloadable resource. The Scotsman however is our run-away favourite newspaper read –

  1. The Scotsman – 441,021 loans
  2. The Guardian – 161, 162 loans
  3. Daily Telegraph – 144,243 loans
  4. The Herald – 122, 476 loans
  5. Scottish Daily Mail – 91,279 loans
  6. Daily Mail – 74,421 loans
  7. The Independent – 61,467 loans
  8. Daily Record – 60,645 loans
  9. Daily Express – 44,670 loans
  10. The Observer – 25,510 loans

Again only four* of the national top issuers make it on to our Libby list with Scottish themes again dominating some of the top spots. Crime and thrillers also feature strongly. This selection comes from Libby, but we offer three audiobook services with a different range of titles on each –

  1.  Klara and the Sun* by Kazuo Ishiguro – 518 loans
  2.  A Song for the Dark Times* by Ian Rankin – 497 loans
  3.  Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan – 426 loans
  4. The Coffinmaker’s Garden* by Stuart MacBride – 383 loans
  5. The Cut by Chris Brookmyre – 335 loans
  6. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn – 329 loans
  7.  Lockdown by Peter May – 321 loans
  8.  Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie- 289 loans
  9. The World’s Worst Parents by David Walliams – 285 loans
  10. Cold Mourning* by Brenda Chapman – 281 loans

Our top magazines on Libby are pretty much the same as everywhere else except for the inclusion of The Week and surprisingly The New Yorker! Both our Libby and PressReader magazine services have over 3,000 magazines in them each. Top magazines on PressReader include the TV Times and Auto Express –

  1.  HELLO! – 2,831 loans
  2.  The Economist – 2,050 loans
  3.  New Scientist – 1,557 loans
  4.  Good Housekeeping – 1,432 loans
  5.  Woman’s Weekly – 1,368 loans
  6.  BBC Good Food Magazine – 1,283 loans
  7.  The New Yorker – 1,211 loans
  8. The Week – 1,052 loans
  9.  Radio Times – 987 loans
  10. Woman – 832 loans

Find out how to use our downloadable services at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/library2go

Christmas isn’t Christmas until you’ve heard…

Christmas, for many, would not be Christmas without… At this point there are a number of endings to that phrase, depending on your point of view. For those of the bah humbug camp, of which I am a part-time sympathiser, the finish to the sentence would be, knowing that it will soon be January 3rd. For some it would be a big decorated tree or the midnight service, the Queen’s speech or a large turkey and for some strange people, mince pies.

Christmas music is very much like mince pies or Marmite, you either love or hate it. The advent of online shopping means that you no longer have to follow Noddy Holder of Slade, around all the shops as he screams “It’s Christmas!” for the millionth time, and pushing stress levels through the top of your woolly hat. There is however, Christmas music to soothe the weary shopper, which would make the finish to the statement, Christmas just would not be Christmas without … music.

Your preferences would then be, to participate in music making or to sit back and allow yourself to be entertained in the concert hall or in your own home. Whether your choice is a trip to see Handel’s Messiah or the chance to sing in a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio or for the umpteenth time watching David Bowie duetting with Bing Crosby, heroin chic meets wholesome Hollywood, in a rendition of ‘The Little Drummer Boy’. The traditions of Christmas can be strong depending on faith, culture, creed or, and this is where the biggest traditions are, just what your family does each and every year. A Christmas tradition in our house, now thankfully passed but sort of missed, small children knocking on the door at some unearthly hour, to see if it is time to get up yet.   

We have chosen to highlight just a few of the hardy perennials, which unlike mince pies bring people together, in these sometimes fraught years, to share some moments of simple joy in the hearing of beloved masterpieces.

Handel’s Messiah a great favourite in the Christmas period and often performed on New Year’s Day. This work was not composed for the festive period, nor is it all about the birth of Jesus. The first part is, but the second section covers the death of Jesus, and the third, the resurrection. Handel (1685-1759) composed this work, based on biblical texts supplied by Charles Jennings (1700 – 1773), between August and September 1741, for such a huge work, that is an incredibly short period of time.  The work was premiered at the New Music Hall in Dublin on 13 April 1742. With its London premiere almost a year later, on 23 March 1743 at Covent Garden Theatre.

The Handel and Haydn Society will give their annual Christmas oratorio, the Messiah, at the Boston Music Hall, on Sunday evening, Dec’r 30th, 1860
Author unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Listen to Handel’s Messiah on Naxos

According to the preface of the Peters Edition of Handel’s Messiah, the composer took charge of 36 performances of the work, but each time amended or lengthened the work in some way, never conducting the same performance twice. A much-loved work which grew over the composer’s lifetime and by the 1900s had become the festive favourite work it is now. The remaining debate over the Messiah is whether to stand or sit during the Hallelujah Chorus. The story goes that at the London premiere, King George II, was so moved by the performance that he stood during this chorus, and as he did, so did all the audience. There are though some doubts about this event. There is much doubt as to whether King George even attended that or any performance of the Messiah. It is unlikely that all of the writers who were in attendance, neglected to mention the presence of the monarch and indeed the first mention of this event was in a letter some 37 years later. Stand or sit, the debate will continue no doubt.

Listen to A Ceremony of Carols on Naxos

Benjamin Britten’s contribution to the Christmas tradition, A Ceremony of Carols, was written mostly on a boat returning from America. Britten had left England in 1939, it would seem that he felt he should, perhaps, have been by that time regarded as England’s foremost composer, but wasn’t, so left to taste life on the other side of the Atlantic. It took three years to realise, perhaps, that he had made a mistake and home was where the heart was. Britten had been studying how to write for the harp, with a concerto for the instrument planned. The boat made a scheduled stop in Nova Scotia before attempting the arduous and dangerous wartime, North Atlantic Ocean crossing. It was in a book shop in Nova Scotia that he came across a volume called the English Galaxy of Shorter Poems edited by Gerald Bullet. With his study texts on the harp, his volume of Shorter Poems and an enforced longish voyage across the Atlantic, A Ceremony of Carols was begun.

Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten, 1965
Szalay Zoltán, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Listen to Saint Nicolas on Naxos

The original scoring of A Ceremony of Carols was for a three part chorus of (Soprano, Soprano, Alto) children’s voices with harp accompaniment. There is an edition a year later for four-part chorus (SATB). Seven movements of this work were first performed by a women’s chorus the Fleet Street Choir in the Library of Norwich Castle. The same group gave the first broadcast performance of the work, twinned with the composers Hymn to St Cecylia on the Home Service of the BBC on 25 January 1943. The work is dedicated to Ursula Nettleship, a singing teacher and choral trainer who later was responsible for assembling the choir that took part in the first performance of Britten’s Saint Nicolas in 1948, which is another Britten work often performed at Christmas time. Less well known, it was one of the first works to be written very much for the amateur musician. The score recommends the Tenor Soloist and a string Quartet, who lead the rest of the strings and the percussionists, be professionals.

Two hundred years or so, earlier, J S Bach produced another much loved and oft performed Christmas favourite. The Christmas Oratorio is a set of six cantatas conceived to be performed over six separate days from the first part on Christmas Day to the sixth part on Epiphany (6 January). Bach wrote the Oratorio over a short period of time and it has been identified that Bach stole for himself, using at least 11 sections from three earlier secular cantatas. Intended and first performed in the Christmas period of 1734/35 the six performances were split between two of Bach’s churches, parts 1,2,4,6 were performed at Thomaskirche, parts 3,5 at Nicolaikirche. The Christmas Oratorio BVW248 is a part of three oratorios written in 1734/35, the others are the Ascension Oratorio BVW11 and the Easter Oratorio BVW249, the Christmas Oratorio is the longest and the most complex of the three.

Listen to Anderson’s The Typewriter and Sleigh Ride on Naxos

Some more modern orchestral pieces which, like bells, ring out on Christmas Day. Leroy Anderson was born in 1908 in America, he was first taught the piano by his mother, a church organist and later went to study at Harvard, completing his Bachelor of Arts and also studying languages. Around this time his music came to the notice of Arthur Fiedler conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, who recorded two of his short works. During the war, Anderson was a translator and interpreter in the intelligence corp.  Anderson is perhaps best known for works such as Trumpeters Lullaby, Buglers Holiday and the Typewriter a work which he wrote in 1954 and uses an actual typewriter as a percussion instrument. This piece is best known to British audiences as the theme music for the long running Radio 4 quiz show The News Quiz. The News Quiz has been on the air since 1977 and the Typewriter, in a performance arranged for brass and performed by the James Shepherd Versatile Brass, has been its theme music since the beginning. 

Anderson contribution to the Christmas cannon is Sleigh Ride. Written in 1948 it has been a constant in Christmas programmes. First recorded by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1949 this piece was immediately successful and has been arranged for many different formats, brass band, concert band and it was given words in 1950 by American Lyricist, Mitchell Parish.  

Listen to Lieutenant Kijé Suite on Naxos

Another sleigh ride which is as Christmas as mince pies and mulled wine only much, much tastier is The Troika from the Lieutenant Kije Suite by Prokofiev. A Troika is a traditional Russian vehicle/sled pulled by three horses rigged in a line. The Troika by Prokofiev is much played at Christmas time and is from a suite Prokofiev composed for the 1934 Russian film Lieutenant Kije. Kije is a comedy of errors, and accidental invention given life through the fear of the rage of the Tsar. Woken by a shriek, Tsar Paul I demands to know who woke him, meanwhile elsewhere a clerk creating a military duty rota mistakenly writes down a name KIJE, an officer who doesn’t exist. Seeing this mistake, the name of the non-existent Kije is offered up to the Tsar as the culprit who woke him. This begins a series of events to which the non-exsistant Kije is banished to a Gulag, brought home from the gulag, pardoned, awarded damages and made a General. He is then discredited again, and the damages are demanded back. As ‘he’ cannot return the damages, he is demoted back down to Private and he ‘dies’ in poverty . 

The Troika is the fourth movement of Prokofiev’s suite, based on an old hussar’s song, after a slow start, the impetus and combination of rapid pizzicato strings and sleigh bells gives the impression of a fast winter’s journey in a Troika. 

The film score for Kije was Prokofiev’s first foray into writing for the cinema. He seemed an odd choice for such a mainstream subject as he was based in Paris and known as a experimental composer fond of dissonance, and not greatly popular with Stalin, but Prokofiev was homesick and longed to return to Russia and he saw this as, perhaps, a way back.

Listen to Mozart’s German dances on Naxos

We have had Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, Prokofiev’s Troika, for a third sleigh ride, we highlight Mozart’s Die Schlittenfahrt or the Sleigh ride which is the third of three German dances written by Mozart in February 1791, shortly before his death in December of that year. The three playful little pieces give no indication, that this young man was unwell or in the last stages of his life. They are quirky little pieces and the third dance, known as the Sleigh Ride or Die Schlittenfahrt, Mozart adds to the orchestra for this movement only, two post horns and tuned sleigh bells. This is not a particularly festive piece and I don’t think it is all that often included in Christmas orchestral programmes or indeed is that well known. Mozart was very fond of a dance and an enthusiastic dancer which leads to another much loved Christmas tradition…

Attending the ballet makes Christmas, Christmas. An annual trip to a production of The Nutcracker with Tchaikovsky’s music to Dumas adaption of the E T A Hoffman Story of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. There are other sumptuous Christmas favourite ballets such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Hansel and Gretel. Not a musical tradition but certainly a must for some.

The hardiest perennial of all at Christmas time is the carol. Everyone has a favourite to sing at the top of their voice and watching loved ones in a carol concert can warm the heart of the coldest Scrooge. 

Portrait of Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1920s
Herbert Lambert (1882-1936), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Fantasia on Christmas Carols is Ralph Vaughan Williams work of 1912, features folk Carols, which RVW and Cecil Sharp collected in southern England in the earlier part of the century. The Carols in the first section of the work are “There is a fountain of Christ’s Blood” and “The Truth sent from above”. These rather sombre carols are brought to a close by the introduction of the Sussex Carol, known as the more jovial “Come all ye worthy Gentlemen”, there are excerpts and snippets from other carols woven throughout the Fantasia.

The work was commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival, a festival which has its origins in the early 1700s with an agreement between the choirs of three churches, Gloucester, Worcester and Hereford, to aspire to annual musical meeting. In the three hundred years since its inception, the festival has premiered many works including, in the same year as the fantasia, Ode on the Nativity of Christ by Parry, who commented in his diary “Vaughan Williams carol piece, very jolly”, 1913 Saint-Saens conducted the premier of his Oratorio The Promised Land, The Evening Watch by Holst, conducted by the composer, The Morning Watch by Arnold Bax. There have been UK premieres of works by Bernstein and Poulenc, also notable visits from Dvorak, Kodaly, Elgar and Britten. The Fantasia was first performed in Hereford Cathedral on 12 September 1912, conducted by the composer with Campbell MacInnes as the Baritone Soloist, not a seasonal introduction but since then it has found a place in the Christmas concert tradition.  

The first recording of the Fantasia was made in the 1940s by Leopold Stokowski famed for his long association with the Philadelphia Orchestra and for appearing in the Walt Disney classic animation, Fantasia, shaking hands with Mickey Mouse. Stokowski is also renowned for some of his slightly eccentric arrangements of great works. In 1943, he programmed an arrangement of The Fantasia on Christmas Carols for Orchestra, with no choir or soloist, full of less than subtle cuts and most probably by Stokowski himself, and almost certainly made without the consent of the composer. Stokowski, although Williams junior by 14 years, was a contemporary of Williams at the Royal College of Music and was a great standard bearer for Vaughan Williams work in America.  

Logo for the 1940 Walt Disney film Fantasia, as seen in the film’s original theatrical trailer,
Walt Disney Productions for RKO Radio Pictures, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Leopold Stokowski from “Carnegie Hall“,
United Artists / Federal Films, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

You can choose to go out or choose to stay in, brave a mince pie or have something tasty, (definitely something tasty), sit in your favourite chair or choose your spot in the concert hall. But if you do choose to sit in your favourite chair, then you can relax and enjoy all the great pieces of Christmas music that are on offer from our Naxos streaming service or borrow them on CD from Edinburgh Libraries.

If after all this, you find yourself drifting off, napping, during what seems like, the annual showing of a Christmas Carol, your eyes slowly closing, all the seasons excesses taking their toll. Just before Tiny Tim can utter his immortal line his face morphs seamlessly from  that of a small waif to the shaggy haired, lead singer of Slade in his garish checked suit,  Noddy Holder looms into your face screaming IT’S CHRIIIIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAAAAAAAS!

Slade in AVRO’s TopPop (Dutch television show) in 1973
AVRO, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL via Wikimedia Commons

I am sorry for turning your nap into a nightmare.

Blame the mince pies. 

From the Music and Art & Design Team – Seasons Greetings, and hopefully we are all given the New Year we deserve.

Photographing Edinburgh

A new story on Our Town Stories tells the history of photography in Edinburgh using images from Central Library’s unique and world-class photographic collection.

Newhaven fishwives, c1845 by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson

Starting with the mesmerizing pictures by the pioneering photographers of the Edinburgh Calotype Club and the remarkable partnership of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, this history takes you through the early days of commercial landscape and studio photography.

Family studio portrait, 1905, from Bill Hall’s Family Album
Reproduced by kind permission of William J. Hall

The story moves from the Box Brownie to the digital age and the camera firmly established as an intrinsic part of everyday life. 

New Year’s Day family gathering, 1964
Living Memory Association via Edinburgh Collected (www.edinburghcollected.org)

Read our Photographing Edinburgh story and take a look at Edinburgh through the lens of time!

Christmas and New Year library opening hours

Libraries will close at 5pm on Friday 24 December for Christmas and reopen on Wednesday 29 December.

Our libraries will then close again at 5pm on Friday 31 December for Hogmanay and reopen on Wednesday 5 January.

Visit the Your Library website for full details about which of our libraries have reopened, services available, opening hours and which services require an advance booking.

And don’t forget, you can download ebooks, audiobooks, magazines and newspapers throughout the holidays from Your Library online.

Very best wishes to everyone for the festive season!

Christmas Festival, Princes Street Gardens, 2006 by Bernard Murphy on capitalcollections.org.uk

A Place to Grow – Art and Design Library exhibition, December 2021

Through December (3rd to 24th), the Art and Design Library, Central Library, presents the exhibition of artwork ‘A Place to Grow’ by local artist C.E. Saunders.

C.E. Saunders, Behind my House

C.E. Saunders writes of her artwork and influences:

“My name is Clare Saunders, I was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland and have been creating and promoting my artwork for the past decade. My influences come from the Surrealists, Pop-Art, the Pre-Raphaelites and Post-Impressionism. The work I create is traditional, drawing, painting and collage and I tend to use water colour-based materials as well as fine liners and acrylic paints. I’m drawn to narrative and stories, film and theatre; this is often presented in the illustrative and bold appearance to my work.

In this exhibition ‘A Place to Grow’, some of the work is nostalgic and aspects of the city I grew up in are present. Lots of the pictures are from just before 2010 when I had left college and was attempting to ‘grow’ in a different direction or a different way. Nature plays a very solid role in this display, being one of my main inspirations, but is often interlaced with fantasy and dreams a homage to stories and stage sets.”  

The Art and Design Library welcomes applications to exhibit from local artists, schools and community groups. Email central.artanddesign.library@edinburgh.gov.uk for an application form and to find out more.

Always available seasonal reads!

Get in the Christmas spirit by indulging in a seasonal read. Can’t be bothered getting off the sofa to get one? No problem as we’ve got some great “always available” titles that you can access on your phone, tablet or computer.

Nothing like a festive romance set in the country to get you in the yuletide mood. A Country Village Christmas by the very aptly named Suzanne Snow will be available on Libby throughout December. Can the magic of Christmas bring two lost souls together in love? Olivia doesn’t have time for Christmas or for romance. This year, she’s spending the festive season packing up her dad’s old house. But her dad failed to mention she wouldn’t be spending her time there alone…

‘I absolutely loved this beautiful, cosy, heart warming read that was so much more than just a Christmas book. This was the perfect escapism read.’

For something completely different try listening to James Patterson’s19th Christmas on our BorrowBox service. Christmas is coming, but crime never stops for the Women’s Murder Club. Sergeant Lindsay Boxer is looking forward to spending time with her family, but when she receives a tip-off that the biggest heist ever to hit San Francisco is being planned for Christmas Day, everything changes.

“Murder, mayhem and mystery. It’s a slow burner opening, stick with it as it picks up pace. A most unlikely twist, the ending is not obvious even to seasoned Paterson readers. Thought that it was going to be a dud but no it’s a cracker.”

Set on the Scottish island of Islay, The Christmas Secret by Karen Swan, is a gripping story filled with emotion. Head to BorrowBox to hear how Alex Hyde, business adviser,  heads to Kentallen Distilleries to help CEO Lochlan Farquhar, before he brings the company to its knees. But as she gets closer to him, boundaries become blurred and Alex finds herself faced with an impossible choice as she realizes nothing and no-one is as they first seemed.

“If you’re anything like us, then a book by Karen Swan has become synonymous with Christmas, and her latest is arguably her best yet … smart plots, brilliant characters and juicy romance”

Get traditional with an ebook by the world’s most famous Christmas writer – Charles Dickens. Read his A Christmas Carol, preferably with a mince pie and a glass of port in hand. Available on Libby by OverDrive.

Ebenezer Scrooge is a mean, miserable, bitter old man with no friends. One cold Christmas Eve, three ghosts take him on a scary journey to show him the error of his nasty ways. By visiting his past, present and future, Scrooge learns to love Christmas and the people all around him.


Listen to a classic Christmas murder tale with A Mystery in White by J.Jefferson Farjeon with uLIBRARY’s Talking Books book group.

‘The horror on the train, great though it may turn out to be, will not compare with the horror that exists here, in this house.’ On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home. Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

Find full user instructions for all our downloadable services at Your Library and lots more always available titles on Libby.

The Music Library adds a drum kit to their Music Studio!

Whether like BBC weatherman, Owain Wyn Evans, you are taking up the challenge to drum for 24 hours non-stop for charity, or if you want to crash your crash cymbal like Cozy Powell, beat your bass drum like Buddy Rich or be a drummer like Ringo Starr, we’ve got the answer!

Buddy Rich during a concert in Cologne (Germany) on 3 March 1977
by Paul Spürk, Paul Spürk, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

If you just want to practise your single strokes, double open stroke rolls or polish your paradiddles or adjust your diddles, we might be able to help you. Beat a path to our door!

If you understand this –

or would like to, don’t sit at your table drumming your fingers, when you could be here drumming on a real drum kit. 

The Music Library has a now got a drum kit which we have placed in our Music Studio. For most of the week we will ask players to play with headphones but at some points of the week, we will be able to let you play through the practice speaker.

The kit we have is a Carslbro CSD500 which comprises of:
1 x Commander 500 Sound Module

1 x 8″ Mesh Bass drum pad pad with bass kick pedal

1 x 10″ Mesh Dual-zone Snare pad and rim shot

3 x 8″ Mesh Dual-zone Tom pads

1 x 10″ Single-zone Hi-hat cymbal pad

1 x 12″ Dual-zone crash cymbal pad with choke

1 x 12″ Dual-zone ride cymbal pad with choke

1 x Hi-hat controller pedal

1 x sturdy 4-legged drum rack.

All this can be played through a Carlsbro 30w drum amp or through headphones. The Commander 500 sound module has lots of preset drum kit sounds, songs and a metronome to play along to. The drum kit is housed in the Music Studio with our second piano. We are hoping that you will come along and take advantage of this practice station within the library.

The Music Studio will be open when the Music Library/Central Library is open, which at present is:
Monday and Wednesday: 1pm – 8pm
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday: 10am – 5pm
Contact the Music/Art & Design Team on 0131 242 8050 or alternatively email us on central.music.library@edinburgh.gov.uk

If you’re emailing, give us your preferred date and time and we will get back to you with whether the piano/drum kit is available on your choice of day.   

Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band play the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney, Australia, 2013
by Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Moredun Library has a makeover!

Moredun Library has had a bright and cheerful makeover, in collaboration with Out and About Edinburgh (Part of the Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust) and Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre.

A group of young people from Goodtrees Neighbourhood Centre and the Out and About team were keen to help brighten up public spaces in Moredun, by creating pieces of artwork in the community. A professional mural artist from Spectrum Arts was invited to work with the young people and together the group came up with a design for the front of Moredun Library.

The brief was to give the front of the building an eye-catching identity to show passers-by what the library is all about. What was previously a drab and dull shutter, is now a brilliant work of art created by local young people. The colourful backdrops are decorated with symbols representing some of the important things they associate with the library, including books, speech bubbles, thought bubbles, lightening bolts and even an appearance from Bookbug and other characters.

Book Week Scotland programme 15 – 21 November 2021

Central Library – Book Café online

Scottish novelist, Jane Alexander reads from her recently published short story collection, The Flicker Against the Light, for our Book Week Scotland BookCafé session.

Ms Alexander is the author of two highly-acclaimed novels; she completed her PhD in 2018 and is currently a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. Her fascination for and study of the uncanny makes her the perfect guest for the current socio-political climate.

Book your ticket via Eventbrite to join the BookCafe on Wednesday 17 November at 1pm.

Westerhailes Library

  • Zine-making session for young people on Wednesday 17 November at 5.30pm
  • Book Cafe on Thursday 18 November, from 10.30am to 12.30pm
    Drop in for a tea or coffee and chat about books with our friendly team!
    Get specially tailored reading recommendations; sign up for our ‘Personal Shopper’ service; get help with accessing online resources, including free access to online ebooks, audiobooks, newspapers and magazines.

South Queensferry Library

  • Poetry discussion group, Monday 15 November, at 7pm
    South Queensferry Library’s very first session of their Poetry discussion group will take place, kicking off with a discussion about the attendees’ favourite Scottish poet/poem.
  • Scottish Book Nook, Wednesday 17 November, at 7pm
    They’ve asking library users to come along and tell us about a favourite book they think is a Scottish hidden gem.
  • Storytime, Friday 19 November, 10.30 – 11am
    Children’s storytime featuring some fantastic Scottish stories

Online event

Join Edinburgh Libraries and Lavender Menace for an exceptional hour with inspiring writers, poets and panellists on Thursday 18 November at 6.30pm.

By film, especially for Book Week Scotland, Bob Cant, editor of the first published queer oral history in Scotland (1993 and 2008) talks about his background as a Scottish gay man, his life as a gay writer, trade unionist and activist, and his experience organising his book. He comments on directions queer oral history might take today. His film also includes clips of four interviewees on their views of the book.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion hosted by Sigrid and Bob of Lavender Menace with esteemed guests: Ann Marriott – General Manager, LGBT Youth Scotland; Jaime Valentine – oral historian, OurStory Scotland and Rowan Rush-Morgan – archivist, oral historian and PhD student.

Book your free ticket via Eventbrite to join this fantastic online event.