Festive lights

Charlotte Square, the elegant Georgian space in the West End of Edinburgh’s historic New Town. Over summer this is the home of the largest literary bash on the planet, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which I love going along to and indeed have been fortunate enough to take part in for quite a few years. At this time of year though it is back to being private gardens for those who reside in this very wealthy square, save for this lovely Christmas tree. It’s actually a “memorial” tree – you can donate to have a light in the name of a loved one to help Saint Columba’s Hospice, so you can light a light for a departed loved one and help a good cause at the same time, a lovely idea:

Light up a Life

Register House in the East End of the New Town is being used as a giant Advent Calendar this year, the Advent windows being projected onto the building are alternated with all sorts of animations and images and music. It’s rather wonderful to just see as you are walking home from work on a winter’s night:

Register House at Christmas 01

This blue and white, dome-shaped light installation is at the western end of George Street, lighting up the area – it’s large, covering the whole of a junction space in the temporarily closed road, so you can walk under and around it:

Christmas lights, George Street 01

Christmas lights, George Street 02

Hellboy: Kramupsnacht

Hellboy: Krampusnacht,

Mike Mignola, Adam Hughes,

Dark Horse

Now here’s a very timely seasonal treat for all the good readers (the bad ones aren’t allowed, they’re on a list and it has been checked twice): Hellboy in Krampusnacht. Actually this is a double treat as it sees HB’s creator Mike Mignola teaming up with superstar writer Adam Hughes (and I’m guessing Adam was most likely delighted to get to play in the Hellboy sandpit). The long winter nights are ideal for spook stories, and there is a long tradition of a ghost story around Christmas – just the other evening my long running SF book group enjoyed some classic M R James ghost stories for our final meeting of the year, in dark, wintry Edinburgh. And here we not only have a nice spook tale for a dark, winter night, but one with a distinctively Christmas theme but, thankfully, not the type of festive theme that lays on the sugar and heartstrings, no this is one more suited for us, thank you.

Krampus himself is an ancient piece of folklore, in latter centuries associated more as a dark partner of Saint Nicholas, but while jolly old Nick delivers presents to the good girls and boys and non-binary children of the world, Krampus punishes the wicked. As is often the case with such folklore, the origins stretch far further back, and more than likely the modern version of the last couple of centuries lifts from several earlier, pre-Christian fokloric versions. In the modern day Krampus has become better known in the Anglophone world, becoming something of a pop-cultural figure in horror and fantasy circles as a nice antidote to the artificial sweetness of much of Christmas, but his roots are much more steeped in that Mittel-Europa culture (the same that has been home to all sorts of wonderful mythic archetypes, from the vampire to the Baba Yaga), and this offering from Mike and Adam draws on that background.

It’s 1975, and Hellboy is making his way slowly through a deeply snow-filled forest in rural Austria, when the ghost of a woman appears, and begs him to save her little boy, before vanishing, leaving only an old-fashioned, carved wooden child’s toy in the snow. Pushing further through the icy forest he sees the lights of a lonely house and on approaching, the inhabitant, an elderly man, opens the door and hails him by name – he is expected, won’t he come in for some food and drink and warm himself by the fire? Naturally it is not what it appears – the old, genial man had previously made an appearance in a local church, causing a supernatural incident, specifically to draw Hellboy’s attention, for he has something he wishes to get off his chest, and a favour to ask, something only Hellboy can do.

And I’m not going to risk spoiling this for you by going any further on the story front. But I will say I enjoyed the hell out of this, no pun intended. As you’d expect from Mignola, the story is littered with references to folklore and myth, from the mysterious, solitary house in the woods, the dangers of the dark forest, through the dead offering advice and help, to the Krampus figure himself. There are shades of Dracula too as “Herr Schulze” invites Hellboy into his lonely, isolated dwelling to take food and drink; I almost expected him to say “Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring…” Unlike the Count, however, Schulze does drink wine…

Hughes’ art creates a lovely contrast between the icy blue-white winter forest and the warm, yellow glow of the candle and fire-lit home, and you can almost imagine knocking the snow off your shoes before stepping inside. That contrast is also carried over to a lovely vingette back at the BPRD with his adoptive father and Liz, by a roaring fire, hot drink to hand and Christmas tree in the corner, again standing against the cold, blue of the winter forest (a scene which, intentionally I imagine, recalls the like of James telling his yuletide ghost stories to friends in his college chambers), with great use of colour here to convey mood and atmosphere almost as much as the art itself does. Hughes also does a grand job of deploying his own fine style but ensuring it visually fits with that iconic Mignola Hellboy imagery, which is not the easiest balance to strike, but he does so admirably.

A lovely little seasonal one-off Hellboy gift to readers – do yourself a favour, take half an hour out of the frentic festive frenzy, treat yourself to a copy of Kramupsnacht and a hot chocolate or a nice mulled wine, and sit back (preferably at night, by the fire) and enjoy a good read.

This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet Blog

After dark at the festive market

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It’s dark by half past three now, but the festive market brings light and noise and scents and life to the winter nights, with people browsing, eating, drinking, the aromas of mulled wine and hot cider and cooking food, and the bustle of excited people. It’s also a happy hunting ground for me to take some people-watching shots after dark:

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(look at the size of those frying pans!!! Handles the size of baseball bats!)

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Festive fair

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It’s that time of year when the festive market, ice rink and fair is set up in Princes Street Gardens, as well as more in nearby Saint Andrew Square, so I’ve been trying to take a few night-time photos of it all on the way home from work, some with the freshly arrived new camera, but mostly with older camera as weather has been too foul since new picture box arrived to take more than a few pics so far, rather frustratingly. The upper parts of Princes Street Gardens and the Mound by the National Gallery are where the market stalls and food and drink stalls are, while the lower part is where the kid’s funfair is:

Princes Street Gardens decked out for festive season

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I always enjoy trying to get some pics of the festive market each year, especially after dark (not a long wait for that given it is dark by about four in the afternoon this time of year) and trying to capture images of people and the items being sold. Since this means night shots but not using the tripod (too busy in the market and too awkward) and also not using the flash (too disruptive) it’s tricky to get a decent shot quite often, and a lot of what I shoot will end up being binned as useless, but sometimes they come out not half bad, like this display of metal and glass candle holders (click for the larger images on my Flickr):

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And I like trying to catch some “street” shots, candid moments of folks interacting with the stall holders and food vendors, again often find many pics simply don’t come out, too dark and they are moving, so I get blurred or shaky images, but again every now and then some of them work:

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With it being such a very long, dark night this time of year in Scotland, it’s quite a welcome sight to have so much light and life against the winter blackness. This lovely old double-decker Venetian Carousel is especially pretty:

Venetian Carousel

While this other carousel is actually an open air bar (complete with the hobby horses):

life is a carousel

Other parts of town, such as the huge Dome bar and restaurant on George Street, or Ryan’s Bar in the West End are always lit up rather brightly for the festive season:

The Dome at night

Ryans lit up for festive season

But not everyone gets to enjoy the food and drink and lights and open-air market – this homeless man was wrapped up against the cold and sitting on the pavement just a few feet from one of the entrances to “Edinburgh’s Christmas”:

not all are included in the festive spirit

Yuletide Edinburgh

It’s Edinburgh, it’s a few days before Christmas, and with the short days, long nights and the sun have set before 4 in the afternoon it’s the time of year to enjoy Edinburgh’s nocturnal aspect, and how lovely Edinburgh is in the long, dark, winter nights – here’s the view from North Bridge, which connects Old and New Towns, spanning the valley between them, with the massive Waverley railway station way below (you can see the station’s glowing glass roof on the lower right of this pic; on the far left the Fruitmarket Gallery right above the tracks on the edge of the station, City Art Centre across from it, up towards the centre the domed Bank of Scotland building and behind it Edinburgh Castle standing sentinel above its city. Down on the right, centre the neo-Classical National Gallery of Scotland – as always click to see the larger versions on my Flickr site):

And a close up on Edinburgh Castle at night – if you look at the larger version you can even see people standing on the battlements looking down into the city. This was about twenty minutes after the sun had set, and the western skies were splashed with magnificent reds and purples silhouetting the floodlit Castle for just a few, brief, magical moments, before the skies darken for the long night:

And one more of the Castle, this time taken from down in Princes Street Gardens, which gave me the angle to get Ramsay Gardens (the very expensive apartments right next to the Castle on the left) and the big Christmas tree on the Mound into the shot):

The annual festive fair and market is in the Gardens and the Mound at this time of year. Right by the towering Gothic rocket of the Scott Monument is a huge fairground ride for Christmas, basically like an old chair-o-plane ride on steroids, the difference being when this starts to spin around swinging out the hanging seats below the canopy it goes high – very high. Take a look here – the Monument is over 60 metres in height and you can see the ride goes up only a few metres short of our great literary monument, couldn’t resist trying to get an angle to fit in both, glad dad gave me a small gizmo to mount on top of the tripod, little ball-socket thing that you can loosen and tilt to easily through a variety of angles, very, very handy):

Looking along the lower part of the Gardens towards the flank of the National Galleries of Scotland – the part you can see here, the large, brightly lit plate glass windows are actually underground for the most part. The main building sit on top of the mound, but it extends underneath the plaza in front of the building, including this side which is exposed by the valley of the Gardens, and here there is a cafe, restaurant, meeting rooms and more, plus a connection to the nearby Royal Scottish Academy, which you can see the edge of above and to the right:

And here’s a view of Princes Street Gardens with the festive fair and Christmas market, taken from the steps leading down the Mound:

I love this old double-decker carousel (or gallopers, if you prefer the nice, old terms for such rides), gorgeous looking, ornately decorated piece of work:

Over in Saint Andrew Square there are more market stalls, a circular ice rink in the centre, with a round temporary bar in the middle of the rink, and also this splendid old Spiegeltent theatre:

Here’s a view of the circular ice rink from the small footbridge they added over it:

And there’s an ice rink – a more traditionally shaped one – in the Gardens right by the Scott Monument too:

And of course as well as food and drink stalls there are many selling items of all sorts from clothes to jewelry to, of course, Christmas decorations:

All combines to fairly brighten up the long, cold, dark winter nights.

Retro Robots

The annual Christmas market and winter wonderland fair are running now in Edinburgh around the Mound and Princes Street Gardens, and of course I took a few photographs on the way home from work one evening. It’s not the easiest to shoot – a tripod is useless in the busy market so it means hand-held after dark photography and I don’t normally use the flash either, so a fair chunk simply don’t come out, but sometimes you get lucky, and this series I shot of a traditional toy stall with hand-carved wooden toys, the old tin-type toys, clockwork wind-ups and these gloriously retro, 1950s style robots. I was really pleased considering I was shooting hand held, no flash and at night that these came out so clearly

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In fact they got picked up by one of my favourite sites, BoingBoing, who ran a couple of them on their blog, which was rather nice

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wonderful toys

I do love the traditional toy stall, doesn’t matter how old you get there is something still magical about them that makes you feel like a five year old craving Christmas. And on a cold, dark, December night in winter how nice is to see this splash of colour, life and magic?

The Night Before Christmas

Yes, I know I have posted this one some previous Christmas Eve posts, but the hell with it, it’s been a seasonal favourite of mine since I was a very small boy. I adored Tom’n’Jerry (and Bugs, Daffy and the rest) as a kid – the humour, the precise timing to music, the richness of that 30s and 40s animation, so much better than most modern kid’s animation (outside the feature films) and best of all I watched them all with my wonderful dad, which makes those memories all the warmer. The two of us still love watching them now, some things you never grow out of. In fact I went to my second home at the Filmhouse just a coupe of weeks ago to see an afternoon of classic cartoons, so wonderful to see them in a cinema where they were meant to be seen. Lots of young kids in the audience and oh how they laughed, probably never seen a cartoon so beautifully done on Nickelodeon or any other kid’s channel today. And it made me smile to think that 70 to 80 years on Fred Quimby, Chuck Jones and company were still making kids – and adult big kids like me – laugh out loud in delight. I think that would have made them very happy and it’s a lovely way to be remembered to future generations, isn’t it. But today us Christmas Eve and that means this particular Tom’n’Jerry cartoon:

Christmas streets of Edinburgh

Yep, Christmas beckons, the horrid and unwanted, useless tram works mean Princes Street is still closed to traffic, but at least in the meantime they are using the now vacant street space for something fun, like this open air cafe-bar stalls and the pair of old Routemaster buses now being used as booze buses. Hot drinks, food, booze, but at this time of year on a frigid December night I think the sign declaring “warm inside” is even more attractive!

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Edinburgh sparkles

As part of the seasonal Edinburgh Sparkles campaign the annual German Christmas Market is on the Mound, the craft and food stalls and fair in Princes Street Gardens, including the open air ice-rink:

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The market brings a lovely sense of light and warmth into the long, chill winter nights, the smell of cooking food, the crowds and the aroma of hot, spiced drinks being consumed, a lovely little oasis of life in the black winter months:

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And it’s a good place to chat to the market traders and craftes while looking for something a bit different for a present:

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There’s much yummines to be had!

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And you can get some nice Christmas decorations too:

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I’ve bought some of these painted glass candle globes as present before, couple for myself too:

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And no matter what age you are there is always something magical about the toy stall, isn’t there?

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Christmas market at night

The traditional Winter Wonderland in Princes Street Gardens is up and running, the small fair and the German Market on the Mound. I felt very sorry for them during the heavy snow, all set up but with hardly anyone going round them due to the weather. Even the other night when I took some of these it was much quieter than it usually is, despite there being no snow for a few days. Bitterly cold, sure, but it always is in December when this is here and it doesn’t stop people, but a week to Christmas and even on late night opening there were people around but nowhere near as busy as I normally see it at this time of year. Still pretty to walk around though, the light and warmth and the smell of hot, spiced drinks and food against the cold, dark, winter night.

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Just as I pressed the shutter the lady leaned forward with something from the stall and kids all smiled at just the right time. Sometimes you get lucky in street photograpy (and also lucky it came out considering it was night and it was all freehand and no use of flash)

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Chocolates and sweeties!

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Hot, spiced drinks warm the bones in the cold night

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Toys!

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Sausages!

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Looking across Princes Street Gardens, the ice rink down below in the valley, the National Gallery of Scotland behind it and above it all Edinburgh Castle.